Wednesday, April 1, 2020

HOW LONG IS FOREVER Is a Sweet PB Treat - No Foolin' - by Kathy Halsey

Happy April, GROG readers. If you've been hunkered down, you may notice kids ask questions that are VERY hard to answer, like HOW LONG IS FOEVER? Don't despair because debut author Kelly Carey and illustrator Qing Zhuang have the answer to that question with their picture book from Charlesbridge launching April 7, 2020. 

Book Review

received an advanced copy of this delicious book from Kelly Carey, a New England friend I met at NESCBWI and the Whispering Pines Writing Retreats. (Note that Kelly didn't bribe me with the scrumptious blueberry pie featured in this book.) 

I love a book that has multiple hooks and HOW LONG IS FOREVER has some great ones: seemingly unanswerable questions, whip-smart grandparents who know how to keep grandkids busy, and DESSERT.  

Like most kids, Mason doesn't like to wait, especially when it involves Nana's blueberry pie. But Grandpa's smart and asks Mason a philosophical question about time to occupy his mind. Mason's sure he has the answer as he and Grandpa wander through the family's farm. Picture book writers will appreciate the comparisons Carey sets up for Mason: is forever as long as it takes to plant corn, or as long as Grandpa's had his tractor, or as long as water's raced down the streams? Readers will be delighted by the heartwarming ending.

HOW LONG IS FOREVER is a book that will stand up to multiple readings and audiences. Amazon pinpoints an age range of 3-7, but educators and librarians can use this picture book for older ages to discuss and write about abstract topics. The story taps into the universal theme of waiting, the concept of time, and the love between grandparents and their grandchildren. The warm, timeless quality of Qing Zhuang's colored-pencil-and watercolor illustrations add to the special, everyday moments between generations. Grab this book for Grandparents Day, Mothers' Day, or any day you want to celebrate simple, family times together. 

Interview & Craft Chat with Kelly

K: How did you decide on this topic that is rather esoteric in nature? How do you think other abstract topics like this could be approached by PBWriters?

Kelly: I think kids are amazing philosophers and if given the chance will jump at exploring abstract topics. They have an unsoiled view of the world and their approach to heavy themes can be fantastic and refreshing. 

In How Long Is Forever?I flipped the script a little bit. Kids are usually the ones asking the questions, but here Grandpa is asking the question and Mason has to find the answer. I’ll chalk that up to my Jesuit education at Fairfield University. The Jesuit style of teaching looks for the teacher to ask just the right questions so that the student discovers the answer on their own and in the process has a more rewarding and significant learning experience.  How often have you been cautioned to let your main character solve their own problem? That’s the Jesuit method and picture books are a great vehicle to ask questions and help guide young readers as they find their own answer. 

There are some wonderful examples of picture books that ask big esoteric questions. Books like:  Where Does Thursday Go?by Janeen Brain,What Color Is A Kiss by Rocio Bonilla and What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada. I hope that How Long Is Forever? will be a nice addition to this list and I hope it encourages kids to think about what is forever in their lives.

K: Did “intergenerationality” come into the story naturally – grandparents instead of parents? Why did you make that choice? 

Kelly: The story always featured my main character and a grandparent. That intergenerational span created the vehicle to explore the different perspectives an eight year old and an eighty year old bring to the question of forever. However, the original story was about a boy impatiently waiting with his grandparents for his parent to arrive home with a new sibling. That plot line changed for two reasons. First, the new baby theme really took over the story and I lost the deeper exploration of forever and the differing perspectives offered by both young Mason and his grandfather. Add in Patricia MacLachlan’s All The Place to Love that had explored the theme of expecting a new sibling so masterfully, and I decided it was time for a revision.

I thought hard about my audience and my main character. What makes an eight year old impatient? The answer was lots of things much simpler than a new sibling. I replaced the new sibling with dessert. Now Mason complains that waiting for Nana’s pie is taking forever. By removing the complicated arrival of a sibling, the story focuses on Mason exploring the meaning of forever.

I’m glad I revised. Once you get that first draft done, and you create your main character, it is helpful to do a deep dive into what matters to your main character. Then consider what books already exists in the market. Using this strategy, I found a way to tweak my story that not only made it more unique, but also allowed the central theme to really resonate.

K: How did you build a local writing community?

Kelly: A few years ago I took a workshop at the NESCBWI conference taught by Matthew Winner. Matthew was talking about using social media as part of your writing career. What really resonated with me was Matthew’s advice to be authentic in all of your interactions; whether old fashioned in person or on social media. I really took that to heart and worked on it LONG before I had a book contract. 

First, I attended workshops, meet & greets, and conferences with the mantra “be a sponge not a sprinkler”. I didn’t go to make sure everyone found out all about me, my projects, and what I knew – I went to learn what other folks were working on, what they had to share, what advice they wanted to offer. The result was that I found deeper connections and discovered meaningful ways that I could offer help and advice after the initial meeting. If I learned that someone was working on a mystery about ghosts and I read a really good ghost mystery, I’d send that new friend a quick email offering up the book as a possible mentor text or comp title. If I came across an agent’s wish list that mentioned themes that coincided with a project someone had mentioned, I’d ping them with the link. Almost universally, I’ve noticed that folks I’ve reached out to help have been quick to return the favor. Those are the relationships that I value and that are truly valuable. 

I also make it a priority to recognize authors and illustrators who are doing great work. If I read a picture book that I love, I send out a tweet tagging the author, illustrator and publisher. I post reviews on Goodreads if I finish a swoon worthy middle grade. Compliments are free. Why not hand them out like you’re flinging candy from a parade float? It’s fun and joyous, and unlike candy – calorie free! More often than not, I get a thank you from the creator and BAM we are connected. 

You need to get out into the community by taking workshops, going to conferences, finding critique groups but be sure you approach each new colleague looking to find out how you can help them as opposed to what you can get out of them. Be a helper and the karma universe will reward you by sending helpers into your path too!

K: How do pre-pubbed writers prepare for launching their first book? What’s the best thing you’ve done for your launch? 

Kelly: The best thing I’ve done to support my debut launch is joining The Soaring ‘20s Debut group. We are a group of authors and illustrators who all have debuts launching. There is a huge learning curve to all the marketing efforts that go into a book launch; pooling my energy and knowledge with those of 36 other folks has been key! 

I could never accomplish everything individually that the debut group is doing collectively. We’ve got folks working on our website, a team running a blog, a committee handling giveaways and the efforts go on and on! The amazing illustrators in the group have produced wonderful book birthday graphics that I would never have been able to manage. Some members are librarians while others are booksellers and their expertise is super helpful.

My advice is to seek out a group of folks with debuts launching and pool your efforts. Kirsten Larson, author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS (Calkins Creek, 2020) has put together a fabulous guide for starting a debut marketing group. You can check it out here.

K: How do you launch a book in a time uncertainty like this? 

Kelly: Some of my launch activities are getting a derailed by the need for social distancing and quarantine orders but folks can still order a signed copy of How Long Is Forever?by visiting books from your local independent bookstores is a wonderful way to not only support authors but to help out bookstores that are struggling under the pressures of dealing with the pandemic. 

If you are looking for ways to make homebound days fun, you can find an activity guide to accompany the book and links to blueberry dessert recipes here


Kelly Carey’s debut How Long is Forever? releases from  Charlesbridge April 7, 2020.  Her award winning magazine fiction stories have been published for over a decade in Highlights for Children, Girls’ World, and Clubhouse Jr.

She is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature and an active member of SCBWI. She belongs to The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and is the proud co-founder of the blog 24 Carrot Writing (  Kelly’s writing received the Higher Goals Award from the Evangelical Press Association in 2008, 2009 and 2015. Kelly lives in Upton, MA with her husband and three children. Learn more about Kelly at her website 


  1. magical ! Your book can be in the best seller list with a little push. Try for reviews and marketing. I can also help create a free marketing strategy specific to your genre and book.

  2. Looking forward to this deliciously philosophical book. Congrats, Kelly! We're publishing house sisters, btw. (I have three books with Charlesbridge. They are awesome to work with!)

    1. Michelle, thank you for stopping by the GROG. I really like Chalresbridge books.

  3. Great interview today. Thank you Kathy and Kelly!

  4. Congratulations on this lovely book, Kelly.

  5. Cheers to you Kelly and your wonderful book! Hoping to get to your future Silver Unicorn celebration!

  6. This looks like a picture book worth waiting for! Great review & insightful interview!

  7. Enjoyed the interview Kathy and Kelly :) Congrats Kelly! I'm looking forward to reading your book.

  8. I LOVE that motto: Be a sponge, not a sprinkler. And I love the idea of asking the right question that will guide a student/child in finding their own answer. Looking forward to reading your book!

  9. Congratulations, Kelly, on your book. I love that it is intergenerational! I liked that you shared our social media interactions should be authentic. Great way to connect. Thanks, Kathy, for the post!

  10. Thanks for the great interview and review Kathy and Kelly. I'm sorry about the launch cancellations ... it's a hard time to be sending books into the world but I'll be on the lookout for this one!

  11. Congratulations to have this nice book for you.
    Please share your story with us, we will feature you. Visit on Asian Community News