Today I welcome author Lindsey McDivitt to the Grog Blog. Her newest picture book, Christmas Fairies for Ouma debuted yesterday, November 1st! Congratulations, Lindsey!
This is the first Christmas picture book I know of that showcases South Africa. In Christmas Fairies for Ouma, little Tessa draws a picture of fairies on a postcard to send to Ouma. It’s addressed to Ouma, Cape Town, South Africa. No address or name. From the kindness of postal workers and strangers, the postcard travels from America to South Africa. And through the journey, we get glimpses of the culture, especially in Cape Town. A heartwarming story based on the author’s childhood. Teachers could use this to find the places mentioned throughout the world and plot the postcard’s journey. Students, in turn, could send a postcard to a faraway family member or friend.
1. Please tell our readers about your background, including how you are connected to South Africa.
I’ve been writing picture books for about ten years and this is my first published fiction. My other three books are picture book bios including one of Nelson Mandela, the first black President of South Africa. I was born in South Africa—my family has been there for many generations, but were originally from Europe. When I was almost five I emigrated to the United States with my parents and little sister Tessa (the star of Christmas Fairies for Ouma).
2. In your author’s note you tell readers that this story is based on your childhood. What brought this memory to your mind to develop as a picture book?
The family story of how my sister and I mailed a picture to our Ouma without postage, name or real address has long fascinated me. Almost unbelievably it reached her! I’ve thought for a long time that it would make a fun picture book, but I didn’t know how to proceed until I read a newspaper article about kindness. Kindness is contagious. I imagined how many people had to pass on the folded-up picture—knowing it really belonged in the trash! That’s how the picture book finally came together. With many, many revisions of course.Toddler Lindsey barely visible bottom right--high five with Ouma!
3. Does your postcard still exist?
The original card my sister and I made was green construction paper—just folded up. With Gold Bond stamps! Anyone remember those sticky coupons? Unfortunately the card was not retrieved from my Ouma’s belongings when she passed away. Sadly that’s what happens when you live across the world from loved ones. But I do have a tiny china dog that hung on her Christmas tree! I think of her with love when I hang it on my own tree.
4. How did you land this publishing deal with Familius?
I’m very fortunate to have Kelly Dyksterhouse at Tobias Agency as my agent. Christmas Fairies for Ouma was the first contract Kelly landed for me.
5. Do you like working with a smaller publisher? Advantages?
I really couldn’t compare as all four of my books have been published by small publishers—Sleeping Bear Press, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers and now Familius Books. I’ve been very satisfied—they all create beautiful picture books!
. 6. Did you have any say in the illustrations? Has the illustrator been to Cape Town? Did you have to check that illustrations were culturally correct?
Katarzyna hasn’t visited South Africa. She and the publisher really wanted to ensure the accuracy of the illustrations so I was able to give feedback on first sketches, and then illustrations. I created a Pinterest Board for her too—pictures are really helpful. Cape Town is truly one of the world’s most beautiful cities and it’s wonderful to see it in Katarzyna’s lovely, whimsical art!
7. Since this is a Christmas book, what is your favorite Christmas memory from South Africa?
Sitting at the dinner table on Christmas Day with family! We were only able to visit every three years so it was very, very special. Paper Christmas “crackers” were tradition—two people grasp each end and with a crack they’d spill their contents. A riddle, a tiny prize and a paper crown. Everyone would wear the silly paper crowns for the entire meal! And the riddles were great fun.
8. And since this is about your Ouma, can you share a special memory about her? I love how each mail worker reflects about their own grandmother and how you used the word for grandmother in each language.
When I was three and four years old and still living in South Africa, I loved helping my Ouma collect the eggs laid by her chickens in the backyard coop. I was about seven (the age the card in the book was mailed) and the chickens were gone, Ouma and I cleaned out the chicken coop and made it a playhouse for me! It had a brick floor and made a perfect little playhouse. Really.
9. What are you hoping readers of all ages take away from this story?
I believe we should all be motivated by kindness year round, but I’m hoping readers will be inspired by the magical aspect of a chain of kindness stretching around the world, especially at Christmastime.
Nelson Mandela once said, there “can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.” Perhaps readers will take action in their own communities. I’d love that.
Grandchild/grandparent love has its own magic also. Even across great distance. These days we have cellphones and video chats. But a letter in the mail is still special and they’re lasting. I treasure letters from my Ouma. Write a real letter once in a while. You’ll make someone’s day.
10. Are you able to share what you might have coming up?
I’m so thrilled to say that in the not too distant future there will be a non-fiction picture book coming. Another one based in South Africa on a very timely topic.
Lindsey McDivitt is the author of three biographies for children including A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation (2021). Her first fictional picture book, Christmas Fairies for Ouma, releases in 2022 from Familius Books. Find her at www.lindseymcdivitt.com where she reviews picture books with accurate images of aging and older adults on her blog “A is for Aging.”