Meet Miranda Paul and John Parra, the award-winning author and illustrator behind Little Libraries, Big Heroes, a children’s book that tells the origin story of the Little Free Library movement and the ordinary heroes who bring it to life. We asked Miranda (pictured above at Little Free Library HQ) and John all about their experience writing and illustrating this wonderful book. Don’t miss our upcoming giveaway of Little Libraries, Big Heroes—sign up for our weekly e-newsletter here!
What inspired you to write Little Libraries, Big Heroes?
MP: The idea of these mini lending libraries is ingenious! I saw my first LFL somewhere in Wisconsin, many years ago. It seemed like an easy and creative solution in areas where books were relatively scarce (such as the village where I taught in Gambia, Africa), or where someone wanted to actively build a reading culture. Thinking about the concept led me to reflect on my own childhood. My elementary school had its “library” in the main office, and our librarian was a secretary who stamped cards—there was no dedicated library with a trained librarian. But once a month, Bookmobile Bob came from the Brown County Public Library in his silver bus filled with books. Little Libraries, Big Heroes is partly dedicated to him!
What’s your process for writing? Where do you like to write?
MP: I just moved—so I’m still setting up my new office, which overlooks a creek and woods (pretty idyllic). But where I like to write and where I get to write are two different things! I’m on the road a lot. I’m grateful that I’ve trained myself to write almost anywhere—on planes, in hotel rooms, and on dinner napkins! My luggage always has pens and spiral notebooks.
John, what’s your process for creating art for a book like this?
JP: For Little Libraries, Big Heroes, like many of my other picture books based on biographies, the first official step is the research. In this case, I reached out to founder Todd Bol to see if he was willing to speak to me and provide possible reference material that I could use for creating the work. Todd was extremely helpful and wonderful in this regard. I think my first phone call with him went so well that we spoke well over an hour. He talked of his childhood, focus, motivation, and how his whole adventure in Little Free Libraries started. We stayed in touch throughout the project, and I even had dinner with him and his wife here in New York. I also researched online and obtained reference material for additional info and inspiration. The follow-up step was to sketch all the characters. Todd of course is there, as are many other real people mentioned in the book. Soon settings and backgrounds were established and a few Easter eggs thrown in for good measure. All sketches are usually scanned so I can manipulate composition and size. Once the drawings were approved by the publisher the final process was to paint. I still work mostly traditionally using acrylic on board.
Is there something you discovered about Little Free Libraries that surprised you?
JP: My biggest surprise came when speaking to Todd when gathering the research. I asked him what his favorite book as a child was. I thought he must have loved books when he was young to have started LFL. He mentioned he didn’t have any due to a undiagnosed dyslexia condition that made it hard for him to read. He said some of his teachers even gave him a hard time and made him feel like he wasn’t smart. His mom knew best of course that he was actually quite brilliant and was able to problem solve in other amazing ways.The other surprise I learned: as of today, there over 90,000 Little Free Libraries in 91 countries. Considering that this idea started only ten short years ago, that is amazing!
MP: I continue to be amazed by the different designs and styles of Little Free Libraries, of course. In regard to the organization, though, I’d always thought it was more of a grassroots effort. As I did research, I learned that the organization started that way—and still carries that feeling—but that LFL’s reach was now incredibly large. The number of resources that LFL has developed to help stewards take care of them (including “winterizing” your LFL) is pretty remarkable. The information is organized and there are so many ways that LFL helps stewards and stewards help each other. These little boxes truly connect us in every part of the world!
You often do school visits to talk about your books. What’s your favorite part about school visits?
MP: I like when I can make the kids laugh! And I like answering their questions. When they feel an emotion, or as though someone is listening to them, they associate books and writing with something they want to be a part of. They feel like they, too, can make a difference or realize a dream. Kids are wonderful and generous people.
Miranda, tell us about your own Little Free Library!
MP: I have a commemorative first-edition replica of the one-room schoolhouse, the first Little Free Library that Todd made from a recycled door. We recently moved it from one house to our new house, and it’s been so fun to see the dog-walkers, kids on bikes, and neighbors stop by and puzzle at what it is, or take (or give!) books. Todd’s signature is etched into a metal plate on the side of it, and every time I fill it I can’t help but feeling like I’m keeping up his legacy.
JP: Todd was always so happy that people were reading and interacting more because of LFL in neighborhoods. He once told me that his goal in life was to leave the world a better place. I think he has more than succeeded in adding goodness and connections all over the world.