Rita Meade’s Edward Gets Messy, an August Popular Pick, is the story of a pig who learns that being untidy and going with the flow can be fun. Meade, a librarian and SLJ reviewer, talks about the origins of the tale, the relationship between her text and illustrator Olga Stern’s artwork, and the role of libraries in encouraging kids to embrace the messy side of life.
This is your debut picture book. Why did you feel that this was a story you wanted to tell?
Writing about a very particular pig who likes everything to be “just so” was fun and challenging for me to write, and I loved the idea of being able to highlight the importance of art and creativity. At the same time, it was an exploration of my own anxiety issues, which I know are common even in young people. Subsequently, the story has themes of learning to go with the flow, not panicking at the slightest problem, and attempting new things—all of which I’ve tried to put into practice for myself. Through Edward’s perspective, I wanted to underscore the fact that it’s normal and even necessary to worry sometimes, but it can also be great to open yourself to new opportunities and discoveries.
There are always some kids who will dive right into any activity and others who will hold back and weigh their options before giving something a try. What kind of kid were you?
I was—and still am!—a mostly cautious person. I prefer to think things through before taking a risk or jumping right into something, which is good in many ways, but can be disadvantageous in other way (you can miss out on some great things in life if you constantly let fear get in your way). I had a happy childhood, but I was not very outgoing with my peers or wildly adventurous—I very much lived within my own imagination and, of course, within the different worlds that books provided. This was not ultimately a bad thing, but there were times that I felt like insecurity prevented me from being more confident and participating in certain activities that I really wanted to but didn’t out of fear of failure. Over time, I’ve learned how to find a balance and differentiate between good risks and bad risks—good risks are the kind that you’d regret not taking, and it’s important to recognize that for yourself, like Edward eventually does in the story.
Of course, we all know that life can be messy. How do you encourage kids to go for it and embrace the untidy aspects, especially when it comes to creative pursuits?
Making mistakes is definitely a part of learning—the trick is to not let it discourage you from trying again. One of the great things about the library is that kids have a chance to explore their interests and talents in a safe, uncritical environment. It’s always a goal to encourage the children who come into my library to be creative in whatever way is comfortable for them, whether it’s through literature and writing or more external means like art or performance. Working with kids has taught me how important it is for everyone to have a space in which they can experiment and grow. (Of course, “clean up time” is still an important part of most programs as well, if only to help kids develop a sense of responsibility and pride in their space!)
I love the fun illustrations and the way words like plop, splat, and squish are incorporated into the images. What was your reaction to seeing the artwork for the first time?
I actually got a little emotional because Edward was just so expressive and endearing. Lacking any artistic skills myself, I had no expectations of what the book might look like. Olga Stern completely blew me away with her immense talent, creativity, and thoughtful interpretation of the story. I included the sound words in the manuscript because, having worked as a children’s librarian, I enjoyed doing storytime and I wanted the experience of reading the book out loud to be interactive and engaging for both the reader and the audience. Along with the narrative, Olga incorporated those sound words into the illustrations in a very natural way, and I feel the pictures complement the text perfectly. Each page is a delight to look at, and I find interesting new details in the illustrations every time I read the book.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
I’m working on a couple of new picture book manuscripts, which I hope to be able to bring to fruition in the near future. In my spare time, I host a podcast for Book Riot called Dear Book Nerd, a bookish advice show in which a guest cohost (usually an author, librarian, editor, or some other kind of book-related person) and I discuss listener-submitted questions relating to “life, love, and literature.” It’s always a lot of fun and very educational for me. And, of course, we’re right in the middle of summer, which tends to be the busiest season for libraries (or at least it feels that way). When we’re not helping students with their summer reading lists, we provide many special activities, and every day is its own little adventure. As my fellow public librarians know, there’s never a dull moment at the library!