I’m always thankful that November encourages thoughts of #gratitude and sharing.
It feels like the perfect time to feature Mia Wenjen’s book,
FOOD FOR THE FUTURE: Sustainable Farms Around the World
(Barefoot Books / Illus. Robert Sae-Heng).
About the book:
Mia Wenjen’s rhyming picture book features twelve amazing farms from around the world. We’re thankful for each one–from vertical gardens in Singapore to ancient terrace farms in Chile–and humans who have created sustainable farms throughout history.
Wenjen shares 12 ways we can grow food while caring for our planet!
ED note: DEAR EARTH’s Earth heroes love this book!
But don’t take our word for it.
FOOD FOR THE FUTURE is a Junior Library Guild Gold selection,
One of 100 Outstanding Picture Books of 2023 by dPICTUS.
and featured at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair
“A dozen sustainable farms around the world offer intriguing possibilities for the future of agriculture” – Kirkus Reviews
“An exciting overview of traditional and innovative farming techniques that will warrant repeated reading, for casual browsing or classroom use.” –Sally A. James, School Library Journal
Many #kidlit friends will know Mia Wenjen as PragmaticMom, the wonderful Diverse Books blogger and co-founder of Read Your World Celebrates Multicultural Children’s Book Day. But today she’s got her children’s author hat on.
And we have Questions!
Rejection #gratitude (You read that correctly.)
Q 1. What was the inspiration for this wonderful book?
Mia Wenjen: It probably won’t surprise my fellow children’s book authors, but the inspiration came from a rejected manuscript. Two editors liked a rhyming picture book manuscript that I wrote about good luck symbols around the world. One of them wanted to buy it but her sales and marketing team didn’t think they could sell it. She offered to meet to kick around other ideas.
Writing tip: Do your publisher research!
I knew the publishing company since I have been blogging on their books and attending their events for more than a decade. I had just reviewed two of their books on sustainability and I knew it was an area of focus for them. When I suggested sustainable farms, the editor was enthusiastic so I wrote it and and had it on her desk in two weeks, and 16 months later, FOOD FOR THE FUTURE went out into the world.
Which Came First?
Q 2. Sometimes a rhyme or phrase will pop into my head and eventually become a book. Which came first for you with FOOD FOR THE FUTURE—the rhymes or the concept?
Mia Wenjen: The concept definitely came first. Right before I suggested sustainable farms, I had a moment of panic about whether or not I could actually deliver this idea. Three farm images flashed through my head. The first was the oyster farm tour in Duxbury, Massachusetts that my husband, son and I went on a few years ago.
The second was the circular farm in Senegal that I had seen on social media a few years ago. The farm looked like alien crop circles in the midst of a desert so it stuck in my mind.
The third were the salt ponds that I saw in Hanapepe while on a family vacation in Kauai, Hawaii. The white salt against the rust red soil was so visually stunning!
Rhymes and Revision
I struggled more with the rhymes, especially the one about Fenway Park’s rooftop garden. I think that one went through more than 10 iterations, with various editors at Barefoot Books helping to shape it!
Q 3. Do you have a garden? How has this book inspired you?
Mia Wenjen: I have a small garden with mostly cherry tomatoes and Japanese cucumbers. I can’t get Japanese cucumber seedlings here in the Boston area so I buy seeds from a Japanese farm in California and sprout the seeds myself. For some reason, we struggle to produce regular sized tomatoes. Despite fencing, the critters always win!
I am personally inspired to grow a food forest. (See Illus. at the top of this post.) It’s my type of garden because it’s wild and doesn’t need much care at all. I love that everything is edible. It’s like foraging (which I have taken two classes on) but even easier! Too bad my yard is too small for a food forest!
Q 4. How has your blogging and work as co-founder of Read Your World/ Multicultural Children’s Book Day influenced your journey as a #kidlit author?
Mia Wenjen: As a children’s book blogger for over 12 years and co-founder of Read Your World Celebrates Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I make a lot of book lists. Sometimes I will notice a hole where I just can’t find many books on a topic. If it intersects with subjects I am interested in and feel qualified to write about, I gravitate towards filling this hole.
Trends and Misconceptions
For example, there was a trend of ninja picture books a few years back. I love ninjas and the books were really fun but they didn’t necessarily portray ninjas as culturally accurately as I would have liked. I thought of something similar … sumo. It’s also something that people love but have misconceptions about.
Sumo does seem humorous but they are not fat men in diapers. My debut picture book, SUMO JOE ( Lee & Low / Illus. Nat Iwata), was a way to showcase sumo as a sport, a part of the Shinto religion, and an important cultural symbol of Japan.
Q. 5 What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
Mia Wenjen: I self-published Changing the Game: Asian Pacific American Female Athletes via a Kickstarter in 2020 and it finally sold this past January to Scholastic for their book fairs and flyers. It was supposed to be available in June but they haven’t printed it yet. Now, I realize why, given the push back against diverse titles for their book fairs.
Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime, illustrated by debut RISD graduate Kai Gietzen and published by Eifrig Publishing comes out in May, just in time for the Paris Olympics. A stay-at-home-dad is trying to get his toddler to take a nap, but she battles to stay awake in this three round match that includes boxing idioms.
We Sing from the Heart: How the Slants® Took Their Fight for Free Speech to the Supreme Court illustrated by Victor Bizar Gomez comes out in Fall of 2024 through Red Comet Press. I met Simon Tam when he was collecting support from the Asian American community for his law suit. I wrote a letter of support for him and we kept in touch over his nine year court case. I am honored that he agreed to write this book with me.
Finally, Postcards from Malcolm X: How Yuri Kochiyama Became A Civil Rights Activist comes out in 2025. It is illustrated by Keith Henry Brown and published by Red Comet Press. Many people know that Malcolm X died in the lap of a woman but no one really knows much about her. This is the story of Yuri Kochiyama’s friendship with Malcolm X and how he influenced her as an activist, and inspired her to carry on his work.
Wow! So much to be #grateful for.
And we’re equally grateful to have Mia Wenjen on the blog today.
To learn more about her books and projects, check out these links:
PragmaticMom blog: https://www.pragmaticmom.com/
Mia Wenjen Website: https://miawenjen.com/
PragmaticMom Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pragmaticmom/
PragmaticMom X/Twitter: PragmaticMom (@pragmaticmom) / X (twitter.com)
PragmaticMom Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100064493391981
PragmaticMom Pinterest: PragmaticMom (pragmaticmom) – Profile | Pinterest
Mia Wenjen YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCe4MtvQVGVFcnikXF96ikLA
Happy Thanksgiving to ALL.
Plus… Blake Harris on his new release HOLIDAY HIGH.
AND…I’m happy to report that December is full of CHRISTMAS AHOY! events and signings for me,
but rumor has it there may be a Class Blog Takeover. Uh OH!