Today we're talking with Lori Stewart, author of Grandma, Aren’t You Glad the World’s Finally in Color Today!
FQ: As a fan, let me begin by saying I love this book, and will absolutely treasure it so that my daughter can one day show her children (gulp) all about life…and family.
STEWART: Thank you so much Amy – I’m so thrilled you liked it!
FQ: I have to begin with the past you presented so effortlessly. Are you one of the lucky ones who got to read and learn from those photo albums that Grandma had saved? If so, can you tell our readers the happiest memory of Grandma’s house?
STEWART: Yes I did get to thumb through the old family photo albums – in later days, photos that only made it as far as the dresser drawer!
Memories of Grandma’s house are all of lingering impressions and simple events: I can still see Grandma leaning out of the open top of the Dutch door, watching for us to arrive, and waving as we left: I remember the smell of freshly baked sourdough bread that went straight from the oven into our anxious little hands. I remember the lemonade cocktails she made for us, layered with orange and cherry juice to match the setting sun. I remember sitting in front of the red brick fireplace making wreathes from the nuts and cones and seedpods we’d gather in the yard; wreathes we still hang over the mantle during the holidays. It may be that we keep the good memories and discard the bad, but Grandma’s house really was happy and warm and safe – or so it seemed to me.
FQ: The timeline idea was a perfect addition to the book; in fact, most of the notes written I had no idea about. How did you choose these in particular? Was the tale mapped out in your mind earlier than when it was written, or did the idea just ‘spark’ to add the timeline in?
STEWART: The timeline and the tale and the title are all of a piece; so let me start with the title.
A friend was talking about funny things kids say, and she told me about her granddaughter walking down the hall looking at all the old photos and turning to her and saying, ”Grandma, aren’t you glad the world’s finally in color today! I knew immediately that would be the title and I new exactly what the book would be about.
I flashed back to a couple of things….one was my great aunt’s legacy tape, where she talked about the her childhood: what her school was like, how she got there, how she curled her hair, and how it was cool to wear her galoshes unbuckled.
The other flash back, was to a poem I had written years before as part of an invitation to my mother’s 70th birthday party. I looked through the Columbia History of the World (print version) to find out what was new…what had been invented since 1923, when she was born. So I turned that invitation into the section of the book that starts with:
“It all started way back, way back in the day,” through
“When gold was the standard and LIFE cost a dime;
In fact it was just a few years before TIME”
And that’s where the timeline came in. I started illustrating that section of the book with a timeline, but it was terribly cluttered and not effective. My editor/friend said..."why don’t you stretch the timeline through the whole book?" It was a brilliant idea...and all hers...and I jumped on it.
As to subject matter for the timeline piece, I knew I wanted to stay away from politics and wars and famous deaths. I wanted to focus on inventions and events somewhat associated with the subject of that page. So, thank heaven for the Internet. I just kept Googling –timeline clothes, timeline music and so forth, and picked what I thought was either important or peaked my interest!
FQ: Are you a fan of children’s books? Such as, do you wish to see those Charlotte’s Web and Winnie the Pooh authors arrive on the scene again? What is your favorite children’s book?
STEWART: Yes I love children’s books and am particularly partial to Dr. Seuss. But I think my favorite children’s book is The Velveteen Rabbit. I weep “real“ tears whenever I read it.
FQ: Do you feel, as a person and a writer, that there is a way this world can combine the old with the new? It seems that technology has taken over everything – with children (and adults), spending more time buried in a cellphone texting than actual reading. How can we get that passion for the book back in our children?
STEWART: Yes I do think we can, in fact I think we have to combine both old and new. As Steve Jobs said, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
But getting children engaged in reading is a different subject. I think reading aloud to children everyday is terribly important. And I think cuddling up on a couch with children and reading to and with them is important. It’s the only way I know to get them ‘lost’ in a book, and that’s an experience I want every child to have. E-books are great, but I’m not sure they are the best reading tools for young children. It’s too easy for a young child to get distracted and start doing something more interactive. But reading starts with the parents, and grandparents and teachers turning off their phones and electronics, and spending time reading out loud to the children.
FQ: How do you feel about the ever-growing world/industry of genealogy? It seems to be growing, with more and more wanting to know where they ‘came from’ so to speak. Are you a historian in that respect?
STEWART: I think it’s important to people that they know who they are and where they came from. Interestingly, that will probably be the subject of my next book. I was one of the lucky ones who grew up with old photos and family stories, and the chance to ask a lot of questions. But not everyone had that. The genealogy industry may not be able to give everyone the answers they’re looking for, but it does teach people to ask the questions, and shows them where to look for the answers.
FQ: Family photos...a new way of doing things, of course. Is there a way we can make sure that the technology we have is used to keep the photos for the next generation to enjoy, like our Grandma’s did for us?
STEWART: Technology can be great, but its up to us to use it well. Years ago, photography (the equipment, the film the developing process) was expensive. So people took fewer photos and preserved them carefully in photo albums. It seem as photography became more accessible and less expensive, people took more photos and ended up putting them in dresser drawers. Digital technology has made it easy to take thousands of new photos and scan hundreds of old photos and store them all on chips. People probably won’t put these photos into albums, but those who care can easily create photo books of certain periods or memorable events, or slide shows in digital picture frames, or sliding screen savers, or maybe they’ll just share them on social media for others to enjoy.
FQ: Can you explain a bit about the non-profit organization you founded for wildlife conservation? It is extremely necessary work, as well, and it would be interesting for the readers to learn about your ‘community’ coming together, and perhaps how to get something going in their own area.
STEWART: AFTA (Art For The Animals) was established to support wildlife conservation through community development. We worked with conservation organizationswho, after 40 years on the ground in the developing world (Africa, India, South America, Indonesia, Mongolia) realized that if you were going to save wildlife in those areas, you had to give the people who lived there a way to make a living from conservation. Several of these organizations started ‘conservation enterprises’ – economically and ecologically sustainable businesses such as conservation coffee production, eco-tourism, or arts and crafts. One good example is the work Painted Dog Conservation is doing in Zimbabwe to educate the world about the destruction of wildlife by illegal poaching and the insidious use of wire snares. Painted Dog Conservation contracted local artists to create sculptures made from these snares, which are removed from the bush by their anti-poaching units.
AFTA’s Art for the Animals was a fundraising program that created donation packages as holiday gifts. A donor, who made a contribution to save a wild African dog, would receive one of the snare wire sculptures as a thank you gift. So the program provided funds for conservation and research; income to local artisans – giving them the incentive to preserve their wildlife; and it created original art for holiday gift giving.
We recently made a decision to get out of the gift bundling part of the program. The Internet made it easy for third world artisans to market directly, and larger organizations had incorporated many of our ideas into their own programs – making our involvement less necessary. So our mission is being accomplished by technology, and the adoption of ideas by those with greater resources, and that is what we were after.
FQ: I always ask this question of all writers: Is there one writer (living or not), who you would love to have lunch with and talk to? If so, who would that be and why?
STEWART: Oh...that is such an impossible question! My first thought was Ralph Waldo Emerson, because his optimism and larger truths resonate and I think I would be a better person if I knew him. But, if we’re talking about great thinkers, then why not Plato or Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Socrates or Gandhi, Einstein or Hawking. Or if we are looking for writers, I would say Steinbeck, because he’s familiar and knows this place and the stories I would love to know.
FQ: Are there more children’s books in the works?
STEWART: Yes definitely. I love writing them, and as long as I think I have something to say, I’ll carry on.