Wednesday, June 9, 2021

When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children: Book Review and Craft Chat with Janie Reinart by Kathy Halsey

Book Review
It's a pleasure to review author Janie Reinart's debut picture book, When Water Makes Mud: a Story of Refugee Children, illustrated by Morgan Taylor and published by Blue Whale Press. (Please note that the publisher's profits are being donated to UNICEF.)

A lyrical, heartfelt picture book, this story of Big Sister and Little Sister highlights the refugee situation in South Sudan via the resourcefulness of children and the strength siblings can give each other through kindness and imagination.

Author Reinart creates a reassuring, child-centric problem for the two sisters that kids around the world can identify with - what to do when you're sad, when you have to move, or worse, when you may even have nothing but the clothes on your back and little else? The immediate problem is solved as big sister relies on critical thinking, problem solving, and her environment to soothe her sister's feelings. A stick sketches a story from home, pebbles create a puzzle, a bag becomes a balloon, and finally Big Sister creates a doll that brings happiness to Little Sister.

The magic of creativity and reality is woven together by Janie's poetry, illustrator Morgan Taylor's warm, yet realistic illustrations, and a stunning final photo by Nora Lorek of ten-year old Susan James with a real clay doll. (See the true ingenuity of Bidibidi's children and their toys photographed here in the National Geographic article.) Although Amazon indicates the book is for ages 4-8, this fictional account grounded in real world problems is a perfect introduction for older children to discuss poverty, imagination, and the design process. The perfect question may be, "How can first world children make something out of nothing and help others as Big Sister has?"

Authors Marcie Atkins, Sherri Jones Rivers, Kristen Fulton, Kathy Halsey and Janie Reinart kick up their heels at a nonfiction retreat in Georgia, 2014.

Craft Chat with Janie Reinart

Chatting with Janie about children's books and writing is something we've done together since we first met at the WOW Nonfiction Retreat, 2014, with amazing writers, many who are now published authors. Today I'm kicking up my heels for Janie's debut picture book and the years of writers' craft that brought When Mud Makes Water to fruition.

Kathy: I notice lots of repetition and parallel structure  in your lyrical text, such as “something from nothing” and the structure of “something is something until . . .” Here's an example ,“A bag is a bag until . . .” Was that a “happy accident” or did you plan it?

Janie: Kathy thank you so much for interviewing me on the GROG. The repetition and parallel structure was more like a “happy plan.”  I wanted the text to be playful and invite the child reader to interact and say the lines with me. 

Kathy: Please share the inspiration that photographer Nora Lorek and writer Nina Strochlic’s National Geographic piece had on your story. Many writers wonder how to get photo permissions. Did you reach out to the NatGeo team or did your publisher? How does that work?

Janie: The photos pulled me in and the story grabbed my heart. In my case after reading the article, I noticed that Nora was on Instagram. I gathered my courage and contacted her. Nora gave me her email and we began to correspond. She became my inspiration and resource. Nora asked to see my story when it was done. She loved the story and said it reminded her of this photo. When I clicked on the link it was the very picture of Nora’s that started the story for me. I wanted the picture in the back matter.  It was so important to me for children in the USA to see that photo to empathize with children in other places in the world. Nora directed me to her agent in London. I purchased the photo. 

Kathy: Illustrator Morgan Taylor’s work is evocative, yet realistic. What surprised you most when you first saw Morgan’s art?  Are you collaborating with her for book promotion? 

Janie: I saw sketches early on and was blown away by Morgan’s talent.  Her use of color and the emotions captured in each picture takes my breath away. Morgan and I are collaborating on book promotion and hope to do some virtual author/illustrator visits together too!

Kathy: Janie and I would like to share a post that highlights illustrator Morgan Taylor's illustration background and process for this collaboration with Janie here.

Kathy: I know  you’ve begun virtual author visits. Will you share some of your highlights and challenges for our readers, please? How did you tailor the visit to different age groups? 

Janie: I love working with all ages. I divide my author visits: K-2nd grade, 3rd-5th grade,  6th-8th grade, and high school.  I include singing and reading the picture book story with K-2nd grade. With 3rd-5th grade and up, I include a readers theater version of the story and more writing prompts. These are some of the best responses I received this year to the question--Why do we write? 

“We write to change people’s lives.” 3rd grader in Minnesota

“We write to bring joy.”  3rd grader in Cleveland

“We write to express our emotions.” 5th grader in Cleveland

I loved a response from a kindergarten group in Cleveland. The students were sitting on a rug. Interspersed during the visit, I told jokes. There was always a pause--then they would literally fall on the floor laughing. It was so much fun to laugh with these students! 

A challenge was having kindergarteners on individual computers. They all had to be muted to keep the noise level down. I also couldn’t see anyone when I was sharing my screen. The teacher sent me little videos of the kids following along singing and doing the hand motions.

Kathy: What are you working on now? 

Janie: My husband and I previously traveled to France to walk in the footsteps of a saint. I am working on a rewrite of that story.

Janie revels in playing with words. As an author, educator, storyteller, and poet, words are her tools. Janie’s passionate about encouraging emergent writers of all ages to find their voice, share their stories, and experience the sheer joy of writing. She lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio with her charming husband. Janie relishes reading historical novels and poetry, writing picture books and singing, and delights in playing with her 16 grandchildren.






  1. Great post, Kathy and Janie! So nice to get a back-of-the-scenes glimpse of how this book came together.

  2. Great interview and enjoyed the behind the scenes info on
    both creators.

  3. Wonderful interview between two of my CP's! I've been on the journey of WHEN WATER MAKES MUD: A Story of Refugee Children. My copy of the book is arriving tomorrow! Congratulations Janie and Morgan!

  4. Great interview, Kathy, & insight into your writing process, Janie.

    1. Thanks, Patricia. It is always fun to celebrate a friend's book.

    2. Thank you, Patricia. It is so exciting to write about something that speaks to your heart.

  5. Great post. Congrats, Janie! I look forward to reading your book!

    1. Thank you, Tina. It is exciting to hold in my hands.

  6. Thank you. This post was fun to read. The book looks fantastic. Congratulations! Audrey

    1. Audrey, thanks for stopping by to share in the debut fun!

    2. Thank you, Audrey for celebrating with me.

  7. So thrilled for you, Janie!! Little did you know what was in store when we participated in the Wow! Conference in Georgia. Your gifting shines through.☺️

    1. Jarm, those were magical years and retreats! The books and the talent that came from there carries on today.

    2. Jarm, It doesn't seem that long ago. It was fun to be with you.

  8. So much fun! I love how much interaction you had with the young readers (well, listeners as you read). Congratulations!

  9. This is so wonderful! My book should be here tomorrow! I met Janie at WOW, but I think it was 2016. Wonderful interview, Kathy, and again, congrats, Janie! I am thrilled for you!

  10. What a great interview. Wonderful, insightful questions. Janie your heart is all over this page. It is certainly all over your wonderful book. So proud of this fabulous project.