Molly Beth Griffin was a very shy child. “I remember being in Kindergarten and having to dictate a story to a parent volunteer, who would write it down for me.” This was just about the worst thing anyone could ask of young Molly, who felt uncomfortable being put on the spot, and didn’t like speaking to strangers. The outcome? She decided she hated writing. It wasn’t until later when she was able to write on her own that Molly realized that she enjoyed writing – as long as it was done on her terms. That realization set Molly on a wonderful writing path, full of awards and prestigious fellowships and the creation of several beloved children’s books, including her up-and-coming picture book, Ten Beautiful Things.
Q: What impact did winning two Minnesota State Arts Board grants and the McKnight Fellowship have on your writing career?
A: The grants were both a huge time commitment, but they were wonderful boosts to my career. With the first grant, I developed a series of picture book manuscripts, one of which evolved into Rhoda’s Rock Hunt. I was also able to bring to life a community program called Picture Book Salon, which is a free gathering of picture book writers and illustrators of all levels who want to support one another’s new endeavors and generate energy around picture book creation., Salon has been around for more than 9 years now. The project I worked on for the second grant resulted in a huge and exciting Queer Young Adult reading event.
The unpublished manuscript that I submitted to the McKnight Fellowship – which only offers one award for children’s literature a year – was an earlier version of Ten Beautiful Things. The McKnight Fellowship gave me a huge vote of confidence in my work, but it also gave me financial assistance at a time when I needed it most. During that period of my life, I was at home with a toddler and a kindergartner and appreciated the extra income.
Q: Your website says that you’re a “Children’s literature writer. Reader. Teacher. Thinker. Advocate” – How do these impact your writing?
A: The big idea here is that the act of writing is just a part of what it means to be a writer. The other part, which is just as important, is making sure that you’re a good literary citizen, meaning that you support other writers in your community and help to connect readers to great books in whatever way you can.
Q: Your portfolio covers a wide literary range – poetry, Young Adult novels, children’s picture books – but the main focus of your style seems to be children’s literature. What triggered your passion for children’s books?
A: I’ve always loved being around kids. I’ve been babysitting since I was 10 years old. I’ve worked in daycares and preschools, and then as a nanny until I had my own children.
I was actually going to be a teacher. I have most of an elementary teaching license in addition to my English degree. But I decided that my real passion was helping kids become readers, and although teachers absolutely do that, they also have to do a zillion other things that I wasn’t as excited about. So I decided to go into kid lit. I’ve always loved writing and children, so writing for and about children is a natural fit. Kids change quickly and that makes for exciting stories!
Q: What kind of response have you gotten from parents, schools – maybe even children – about the books you’ve published?
A: My favorite kind of fan mail that I get is from parents saying how pleased they are to have found a book they don’t mind reading over and over again. I’ve heard from teachers that love Rhoda’s Rock Hunt and use it as a way to kick off the geology unit in their science class. Sometimes families will send me photos over social media of kids collecting rocks or reading the book on family camping trips. I’ve gotten some really moving emails from teenagers and young adults who have read Silhouette of a Sparrow that talk about how it has helped them feel good about being themselves.
Q: What do you believe the key element is in writing a good children’s story?
A: The most important element, I think, is CONNECTION. All the elements of picture bookcraft – characters, plot, setting, theme, etc. – boil down to that: how do we help kids connect with the story? How do we show them that reading belongs to them? We do that with great characters, engaging plots, vivid settings, themes that speak to their struggles, and language that makes the read aloud experience fun. It’s all about connection.
Q: You have a story being released this month, Ten Beautiful Things. In your own words, what is this story about?
A: Ten Beautiful Things is about helping ourselves cope with change and with hard times by noticing the beautiful things in the world around us.
Q: What was the inspiration behind this story?
A: The original draft was a story about a girl on a road trip heading to Sandhill Crane migration, and how she didn’t want to be there. I wrote it on a trip through Iowa to Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska. It was a dual narrative with the human characters in one storyline and the birds in the other, and they would eventually meet in the middle. In the end, seeing the birds would ultimately change the girl’s mind about the trip. In later versions, the character is moving somewhere she doesn’t want to go, but it’s still about opening our eyes to the amazing things around us to change our minds about a new place. Hopefully, after reading, both kids and adults will be inspired to look for the beauty around them, especially during difficult times.
Q: The story has some beautiful artwork in it. Who was the artist behind these illustrations, and what role did you play in their creation?
A: The illustrations were created by the talented Maribel Lechuga, who lives in Spain. My editor was working with her on another project and chose her because she thought her style would be a great fit for the book. My job was to stay out of the way and leave Maribel to her own creative process. That’s part of why I love working with picture books. They bring talented creative professionals together to make something wonderful.
Here are some of our favorite illustrations from Ten Beautiful Things.
We asked Molly what some of her favorite illustrations were. Here are some of the ones she picked.