Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia talks about Arthur Wants a Balloon illustrated by Erika Meza

Happy book birthday to Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert Bedia, Erika Meza and Arthur Wants a Balloon 🎈

Arthur Wants a Balloon is one of the most beautifully illustrated, sensitively written picture books I have read this year and highlights the effect that parental depression can have on a family. It’s a story of suffering but also a story of love and hope.

The Story: When Arthur and Papa walk through the park Arthur always looks out for the balloon seller. Although Arthur and Papa have lost their smiles, balloons still make Arthur smile. He wants to take a balloon to Mum in hospital but Papa says no. Arthur resolves to change Papa’s mind but one morning he opens the front door and sees a bundle of balloons in a tree. When Arthur gives a balloon to Papa he realises that it wasn’t really a balloon that he wanted to give to Papa but something else – something that money can’t buy.

Liz has used very few words to tackle a sensitive subject in a child friendly way. Her text and Erika’s illustrations work perfectly together to convey emotion and also provide a stimulus for readers to discuss their own feelings and situations.

Congratulations on the publication of Arthur Liz and thank you so much for answering our questions. Arthur Wants a Balloon is such a beautiful book.

Thanks so much for having me on Story Snug today!

We find it fascinating talking to writers about their writing process and the inspirations behind their ideas. How did you become a writer?

My dream started over a decade ago. After college, I worked as a researcher, a teacher and an audiologist, prior to staying at home to raise my two children. I‘ve always loved writing and creating stories, but one day in 2007 I sat down and wrote my first children’s story. It was terrible, but I was hooked. I spent the next decade learning as much as I could about writing for children. I read books on craft. I read oodles of picture books, as well as, middle grade and young adult novels. I joined organisations and groups devoted to the Kid Lit community, such as SCBWI, the 12×12 Challenge, and StoryStorm. I attended conferences. And, of course, I continued writing. Until in 2018, my first picture book manuscript was acquired.

It’s really interesting for aspiring writers to hear how long it can take to learn the craft of writing and become published.

How / where did you get the inspiration for Arthur Wants a Balloon from?

The inspiration for ARTHUR came from my two children and their ability to express empathy and hope in tough moments.

As writers know – inspiration can come from anywhere. It’s all around us. But sometimes there are significant moments we remember from our past that flood in when we are writing. That’s what happened for me with ARTHUR WANTS A BALLOON.

I have suffered from mild bouts of depression in my life. The first bouts were after each of my children were born. One vivid memory was when my newborn daughter was crying inconsolably one day and I had tried everything to soothe her, but nothing was working. I was exhausted and distraught and struggling to keep it all together. What I remembered the most was not how deeply sad I was or how out of control I felt – it was the genuine compassion of my very young son asking if I was okay and if he could help. With that simple, small gesture – I knew I wasn’t alone and that someone cared. Another instance came a few years ago when my husband was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. As a family, we reeled from the diagnosis and everything that went with it. Shortly after his diagnosis, I was dropping off my daughter at school and she turned as she got out of the car and said – “Mom, I’ll be strong for all of us, especially dad.” She turned, shut the door, and trotted off to school. At the time, I was writing the final drafts of ARTHUR. It was her absolute resolve and strength that solidified Arthur’s character and the story line for me.

What amazing children you have! Children often show compassion in the simplest but most effective ways and often understand more than we realise at the time.

We love the illustration showing Arthur holding ‘the strings tightly in one hand.’ Do you have a favourite illustration from the book?

Oh, yes! That is a lovely illustration. It brilliantly captures Arthur’s understanding and realisation at that moment.

That is a difficult question without saying – all of them. Erika’s illustrations are gorgeous and breathe such life into my words. I am so grateful to have had the chance to work with her on this project. If I had to choose just one – it would be when Arthur gives the balloons to his papa. At that point, Arthur realises what he has wanted all along – to bring a smile to his papa’s face. When I first saw the sketch of this illustration, it brought tears to my eyes. It is a moment in the story of such innocence, yet such profound meaning for both Arthur and Papa.

We love the way that Erika uses bright colours on stark white or grey backgrounds, her illustrations really are stunning and perfect for the subject of the book.

You’ve had a busy autumn as your picture book, Bess the Barn Stands Strong, has also just been published. Can you tell us more about the story?

Yes! It has been a very busy autumn! I am trying to savour every moment. My debut, BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG, illustrated by Katie Hickey and published by Page Street Kids, came out on the 8th of September.

It is a timeless story about a strong and loving barn named Bess that sees her farm and those she loves through celebration and adversity season after season, and with her steadfast strength into a bright future. It is a story of community, friendship, perseverance and the generosity of spirit and heart.

Do you have a favourite location or environment to work in?  

Haha. I am not a great one for sitting still in one place for very long, I tend to move around when I work. If I need complete quiet, I work in my office where I can shut the door. Most of the time, I either work at my kitchen table or outside on my back deck when the weather is nice. A few things are constant wherever I work – my legal pad and colorful markers for my early drafts. I am an old-fashioned, I guess. I love to write out my first few drafts on paper, then I use my computer for later drafts and revisions 🙂

That’s interesting. I struggle to write on paper, I think I would use quite a lot for all the drafts that I write!

We’re always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Do you have a favourite picture book from your childhood?

That is a great question! One of my favourite picture books as a child was THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK. I grew up with Sesame Street and one of my favourite characters happened to be “lovable, furry old” Grover.

Now as a writer – I still love it. It is a wonderful example of a meta story, where Grover (the main character) talks to the reader knowing they are reading the book and will turn pages… and will eventually reach the end of the book. The book fascinated me as a child and conceptually, it still does as an adult.

Are you able to tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re currently working on? 

I have a few projects out on submission right now, so my finger crossed for those. I am slowly delving into a middle grade novel I have wanted to write for a long time.

Oooooh! That sounds exciting – good luck!

Thank you so much again for having me on Story Snug!

You’re very welcome!

Best Wishes and Happy Writing!

Thank you! You too!

About Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia

Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert Bedia grew up in the rural Midwest surrounded by fields, blue skies, and animals. She went on to become a researcher, an elementary school teacher, and later worked as an audiologist.

While raising her children, she returned to her creative roots and started writing books for children. Liz lives in central Iowa with her husband, two children, and two enormous dogs.

Elizabeth’s website / Twitter / Instagram

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