Gabi Snyder, author of the new children’s book Count on us!, moved from Austin, Texas to Corvallis in 2013 when her husband accepted a position at Oregon State University. After spending a few years studying psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, Snyder was no stranger to the Pacific Northwest. After graduating from college in Seattle, she studied writing at the University of Texas, drawn to the program by her childhood love for creating poetry and storytelling.
“I still remember the thrill of writing one of my first stories,” she said, “about a chewing gum that escapes from the gum factory and heads towards Hollywood.”
While Snyder originally focused in school on adult fiction, her interests soon led her to writing children’s books. Constantly informed by nature, the memories of a lifetime and the upbringing of her children, Snyder said she enjoys tapping into her memories of childhood emotions and the feeling of experiencing particularly poignant moments.
“I think the study of psychology, especially child development, played a role in my interest in writing for children,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated by how our brain develops and the factors that influence how we learn and how we learn to interact successfully – or not – with the world and people around us.”
His most recent book, Count on us! (Barefoot Books) strives to help children interact with the world in general, especially as it relates to climate change. In writing it, Snyder said she hoped to capture how a movement can grow exponentially, from something small to something huge and powerful. Inspired in part by conversations with her young daughter about the state of our environment, Snyder delved into how best to help future generations cope with a world plagued by climate chaos.
How could we make a dent in such a huge, complex and overwhelming problem caused by many things that seem to be linked to the way our society works, she wondered. Hoping to limit the possible results of apathy and inaction, she decided to write something hopeful and inspiring to help children focus on what can be done.
Snyder said parents and educators can lead by example and demonstrate that when we join forces, it gets easier. While everyone’s first steps may seem a little different, we must strive to inspire others to join the fight – starting with our children – so that our actions reverberate outward.
“I want kids to know that big business (especially big polluters, like oil companies) and governments have a lot more power to fight climate change by creating rules and laws for plant protection. So while actions like recycling and planting trees are important, we need to show our kids that it’s also our job to speak out, to let our leaders know that climate change matters to us.
Count on us! is available for pre-order. The back section of the book contains information on activism, a list of inspirational ideas and an easy day-to-day guide to taking small actions. Snyder will also appear Sept. 19 at PNBA 2022 in Tacoma (open to booksellers and librarians). We spoke with Snyder about his inspiration for his work.
What is your writing method and how would you describe your writing process?
Snyder: I like to start the day with “morning pages” to clear away cobwebs and capture anything that worries me or wants to remember. I write these pages by hand in a lined notebook. After that, I find it helpful to set aside some time to work on my ongoing manuscripts.
When it comes to my process for working on a particular picture book manuscript, I usually write a first draft by hand and then type it on my laptop. I also like to let my drafts “marinate”. So after writing a new story, I usually put it aside for several days or even weeks. If, after pickling, I still think it’s worth pursuing, I revise. Usually, after a period of marinating, I will have new ideas to solve the problems I have with the manuscript. After a few more review/marination cycles, if I still like the story, I send it to a reviewers group for comment. They usually see problems that I hadn’t even thought of. A story may go through a few more review cycles before I deem it ready for my agent. And sometimes I realize that a story just isn’t working and I end up shelving it for weeks, months, or even years.
I also find that my writing “flows” better if I walk around before or between writing sessions. In fact, I love taking my notebook and pen with me on long walks. I’ve worked through tricky plot issues while walking, and had countless ideas that popped into my head while walking around my town or hiking in the woods. I think it’s a combination of the repetitive motion involved and the inspiration that can come from a change of scenery.
How did you get in touch with your illustrator, Sarah Walsh? Have the two of you ever collaborated?
The publisher, Barefoot Books, chose Sarah to illustrate the book and I think she was a terrific choice. I had never collaborated with her before, but I love her beautiful and dynamic art. Check out the Etsy shop she shares with her husband, Colin Walsh. They describe their creations as “weird and wonderful”, and they really are!
Tell me more about the roles of environmentalism and activism in your life. When and how did you fall in love with them?
My daughter inspired me to get more involved in activism. Together, we participated in marches, including the Women’s March. Recently, my daughter and her friend researched the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s and created their own feminist zines to share with their classmates. They have researched and written on a variety of issues, including school dress codes. She inspires me!
I also became aware of the concern of many children, including my own, about climate change. I want the children to know that over there is hope and that they don’t have to feel responsible for solving this giant problem alone.
In the age of technology, how can we give young people a taste for nature and the outdoors?
In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with an abundance of beautiful outdoor spaces, and many of us live near walking and biking trails. I think family or classroom nature walks, preferably screen-free, are a great way to cultivate an appreciation for nature and also to practice mindfulness, which can be especially beneficial when we feel overwhelmed or overstimulated by technology.
And I think getting kids outside in a variety of natural environments can help pique curiosity and a love of nature. My favorite place to get out in nature is the ocean. For my husband, it’s the mountains. And we all love hiking in the woods a few miles from home.
My picture book 2021, Listenprovides a model of how parents and educators could use a listening walk to cultivate an appreciation for nature by taking time to tune in to the sights, sounds and sensations on a walk .
What is your advice to parents of young children when it comes to talking about the state of the world in terms of global warming/climate chaos?
I believe that children deserve to hear the truth, but with information shared at a level appropriate to their level of development. So, without using a lot of dark and catastrophic language, we can teach very young children that climate change is real and that the world must respond with planet-friendly practices and laws. We can talk to children about the positive actions we can take, positive actions that many are already taking.