Brad Herzog's W IS FOR WELCOME

With Independence Day still on our minds, I'm thrilled to share a new book by Brad Herzog that stands for everything that America is about: W IS FOR WELCOME. He is here to talk about this important book.
      All of the 40-or-so books that I have written matter a great deal to me. But, frankly, some matter more than others. Many are compelling, but some are also cathartic. Many are educational, but some also aim to be enlightening. Many fill a need, but some are downright necessary. That’s how I view my latest rhyming alphabet picture book, W is for Welcome.
      A collection of poems and sidebars reminding readers of the value of immigrants—their challenges, their contributions, their humanity—shouldn’t be some sort of statement in 2018. My goodness, it should be unnecessary in a nation that was founded by refugees, prospered due to immigration, and has long stood as an (largely) open-armed beacon to the world. But in the past couple of years especially, America seems to have taken a terrifying step backwards in our understanding of the people who arrive on our borders and, indeed, of our very own personal and national histories.
      So I approached Sleeping Bear Press with an idea for my 11th alphabet book with the Michigan-based publisher. Nine of the others were about sports—H is for Home Run, T is for Touchdown, K is for Kick, etc. But one of them, S is for Save the Planet, was about how to protect the environment. I saw this new book as akin to that one.
      Each time I create one of these A-to-Z tomes, I put a puzzle together. Twenty-six letters, reams of possibilities, pick the most important aspects of the subject matter and place each accordingly. When I can, I do my best to begin each book with some sort of appropriate introductory narrative, and this one was perhaps my best example of that. The very first poem summarizes the sensibilities of the book: A is for America… a dreamer’s destination… made up of people who are here… due to immigration. With the next letter, I hoped to convey that—perhaps with the exception of full-blooded Native Americans—we all come from somewhere else. So B was for the land bridge over the Bering Strait. When C provided Culture, D offered Diversity and E celebrated Ellis Island, I was off and running.
      I soon realized that the best way to summarize immigration—emotionally and informationally—was to explore three aspects of it: the people (immigrants who accomplished so much, from John Muir to Albert Einstein), the places (whether it’s the Statue of Liberty calling to immigrants or the White House designed by an Irish immigrant), and the process (a spread of N for Naturalization and O for Oath of Allegiance worked particularly well). Of course, I also wanted to convey the remarkable challenges faced by the brave men, women and children who seek the American Dream—the perilous trips (J for Journey), the countless reasons for arrival (Q is for Quest), the ordeals from which they hope to escape (R is for Refugees). So I concocted this alphabet soup, tweaked, moved stuff around, added a dash of seasoning here and there, and came up with what I feel is one of my most delicious books for children. And, let’s face it, for adults, too.
      There remained two more elements—the illustrations and the title. Sleeping Bear Press came up with an idea for the illustrations that was both financially sensible and creatively satisfying. With only a few exceptions, most of the drawings and paintings in the book have been taken from previous Sleeping Bear productions. This means varied styles throughout the book, but I believe that only adds to the message. Plus, they actually complement one another well. So the book is “Written by Brad Herzog, Illustrated by a collection of nationally acclaimed artists.” And given that the surnames of those artists range from Monroe and Knorr to Graef and Juhasz, the variety perfectly underscores the diversity theme.
      Finally, the title. Here was a challenge. I believe that this is a book with an overt message, but we wanted to make sure that it was going to be as widely embraced as possible. How does a title accomplish this balancing act? Well, SBP came up with the subtitle: “A Celebration of America’s Diversity.” I came up with “W is for Welcome.” And really, doesn’t that say it all?
      I’m immensely proud of this book. I humbly believe it should have a special place in every school library, every public library—frankly, every officeholder’s office. It stands as a paragon for what I have always hoped to achieve as a children’s author: Educate while entertaining. And, naturally, I dedicated it to my ancestors who arrived in America more than a century ago from Central Europe… and to “anyone who has had the courage to seek refuge, opportunity, freedom, or family in a foreign land.”

From e: I shared the book trailer the other day, but it's worth sharing again...

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