Stellar News for a Picture Book Debut
I’ve had to wait to add this post with great news — as I’ve written in the past, much of publishing consists of having to wait to announce news — but today is the day! My debut picture book, Ways to Play, illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo and published by Levine Querido, has a publication date, a cover image…and a starred review!
The starred review is from Kirkus, which is usually the first to review a forthcoming book. Though a negative review doesn’t necessarily condemn a book, a favorable (and especially starred) Kirkus review sets the tone for a publisher’s promotional efforts. So what did Kirkus say about Ways to Play?
Inspired by her own childhood, Miller-Lachmann, who is autistic, is keenly aware that there are many ways of having a good time, and the straightforward, spare first person narrative centers Riley’s experience. Although it’s never explicitly mentioned that Riley has a diagnosis, it seems likely that the child…is autistic, and many neurodivergent children will feel seen and affirmed.
The review goes on to praise Gabriel Alborozo’s artwork for its “nostalgic charm” that recalls “mid-20th century comic strips.”
Ways to Play is the story of Riley, whose Bossy Older Cousin, Emma, thinks plays with toys all wrong. Riley lines stuffed animals up by size, which comes in handy when matching the right stuffie to the right chair at the tea party. Riley also sharpens crayons to perfect points and makes pictures out of the waxy spirals that remain. But it takes the help of the family dog for Riley to show the cousins that there’s no right way to play. It’s a story for young children whose days are filled with toys and all kinds of play, as well as disagreements on how to play.
Introducing this book and its reception gives me a chance to talk about my wonderful illustrator. Gabe, who lives in the UK, is also autistic, and this book represents a collaboration between two neurodivergent creators. What does that mean in real life? In our case, it involved a lot of “parallel play,” with divergent views on some aspects that led to unexpected results. This was also the process Zetta and I pursued with Moonwalking, which meant that our initial drafts needed a lot of revision before the two stories came together as one. In the case of Ways to Play, I’d conceived of Riley as a girl, and Gabe illustrated the child as a boy, though really the first person narrator could be either or nonbinary. Our separate visions led to a wonderfully inclusive result. For Riley and the cousins, there are also no “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys.”
The Kirkus review pointed out the retro feel of the illustrations. We writers and illustrators stand on the shoulders of the greats who came before us, and my favorite comic strip growing up was Peanuts. I connected with Charlie Brown’s social awkwardness and Linus’s obsession, and it came as no surprise when autistic commentators claimed Charles M. Schulz as one of us. My daughter, also a Peanuts fan, and I named our dear little bichon frise Charlie in honor of Charlie Brown, and our Charlie lives on in the Charlie who plays fetch in the same style in Ways to Play. While the Charlie of the picture book looks very different — he’s a large gray “floof” (as fluffy, hairy dogs are called) instead of a small white floof — I feel our beloved pooch lives on in the pages of this story.
Ways to Play will launch on August 8, 2023. Stay tuned for more news and possible launch events!