Author Spotlight: Michal Babay
Aug. 19, 2022
We are excited to feature author Michal Babay and her recent picture book, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING LUNCHROOM, illustrated by Paula Cohen (Charlesbridge), out now. Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Hi, and thank you for having me on Kidlit 411! Although I didn’t begin writing seriously until I was 40 years old, it’s always been a dream of mine. In fact, my parents had saved boxes full of humorous limericks, haikus, and short stories I wrote as a kid. For me, the sillier the better! And as you can see from The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom, I still adore writing silly, chaotic humor.
I wrote for local newspapers during and after college, but in the end, I realized that working with kids brought me greater joy than chasing news stories. So I changed paths, put writing aside, and went into teaching. Looking back on this decision now, the only thing I regret is that I didn’t realize it was possible to be both a teacher AND writer. After all, elementary school is the perfect place to find hilarious story gems! Especially if, like me, your sense of humor is almost exactly the same as the seven and eight year olds you teach.
But eventually, after years of teaching and then staying home with three kiddos of my own, I finally found my way back to writing. And this time, it felt natural to try my hand at the genre I was reading most often - picture books. Writing for children combines everything I’ve been throughout my life: writer, second grade teacher, mother, observer, and lover of everything silly. My goal has always been to share my love of reading and books with kids. So if one of my books can turn a child’s bad day around, making them giggle and feel joy, it is truly an #AuthorGoalAccomplished for me.
Congrats on your recent picture book, The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
Thank you! I actually wrote an Author’s Note at the end of The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom about my inspiration. I also explain why I chose to set this story in a school lunchroom, and the importance of being able to change one’s perspective in certain situations:
“The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom is my way of saying thank you to a story that influenced my entire life. In the original Yiddish folktale, popularized by Margot Zemach’s classic book It Could Always Be Worse, a poor farmer and his family live together in a tiny house. Life is chaotic, loud - and very crowded. The farmer asks his wise rabbi for advice on how to handle the difficult situation. Over the next few weeks, the beloved rabbi instructs the family to bring a horse, goat, cow, and chickens into their house. The hut becomes even more chaotic, loud, and crowded! Finally, the rabbi tells the farmer to put all the animals back outside, and the family delights in their quiet, spacious home. Although their hut remains as small and crowded as it was at the beginning, the family’s perspective has changed so much that their home now feels wonderfully roomy and peaceful.
My hope is to share this timeless Jewish wisdom of sameach b’chelko (being content with what you have). As a former elementary school teacher, I purposefully set my retelling of this folktale in an overcrowded school because that, unfortunately, is our modern reality. Schools have more students than space and less money than needed -and teachers work twenty-five hours a day.
…Let’s take a moment to celebrate educators. These amazing people are experts at advocating for change, being resourceful, and inspiring students to shift their perspective.”
Was your initial road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Like most of us, I’ve had a long and winding road to publication. I thoroughly believe, however, that every twist and detour has been a necessary part of my journey.
To paraphrase If You Give a Mouse a Cookie:
IF I hadn’t read a bazillion kidlit books with my students (and later, my own kids),
THEN I wouldn’t have realized how much a book can affect the mood and perspective of a child.
IF I hadn’t taken my heart in my hand and started writing silly stories that made me smile,
THEN I wouldn’t have realized how much I wanted this to happen.
IF I hadn’t received so many agent rejections,
THEN I wouldn’t have written more and more stories in the hopes that one of them was THE ONE.
IF I had not taken writing classes online and looked for a critique group,
THEN I wouldn’t have kept going in the face of rejection.
IF I hadn’t kept writing and trying again and again,
THEN I wouldn’t have decided to attend an SCBWI conference in Florida and meet my writing group in person for the first time.
IF I hadn’t left my comfort zone and gone to that conference,
THEN I wouldn’t have submitted a story to Yolanda Scott for a paid in-person critique.
IF I hadn’t asked if this was something she wanted to see again,
THEN I wouldn’t have revised and submitted it to her after 20+ agent rejections of that same story.
IF I hadn’t reached out to Laurel Symonds for the FOURTH TIME when Charlesbridge offered to publish my story,
THEN I wouldn’t have matched with the most amazingly perfect agent for me in the world.
IF my 6 year path to publication had been anything different,
THEN I wouldn’t be celebrating the publication of The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom with Charlesbridge or writing this blog for Kidlit 411 today.
We love that! What projects are you working on now?
I just finished a big revision on a picture book manuscript about three dog friends. It makes me laugh and hopefully, when we send it out on submission, it makes editors laugh as well! I’m also working on an early graphic novel manuscript. It’s nerve-racking but exciting to be writing in a fun new genre.
What are some of your favorite classic picture books? recent ones
Well, of course one of my favorite classic picture books is It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach!
As for recent books, there are so many wonderful new ones that I had a REALLY difficult time choosing, but here are some of my favorite humorous (new and upcoming) picture books:
Can U Save The Day? by Shannon Stocker and Tom Disbury
First Notes of Spring by Jessica Kulekjian and Jennifer Bower
How To Return A Monster by Charlotte Offsay and Katie Rewse
Larry’s Latkes by Jenna Waldman and Ben Whitehouse
Lillybelle, A Damsel NOT in Distress by Joana Pastro and Carolina Coroa
Listen Up, Louella by Ashley Belote
Mendel’s Hanukkah Mess Up by Chana & Larry Stiefel and Daphna Awadish
My School Stinks by Becky Scharnhorst and Julia Patton
Rosie the Dragon and Charlie books by Lauren Kerstein and Nate Wragg
Spellbound by Jess Townes and Jenn Harney
Tabitha And Fritz Trade Places by Katie Frawley and Laurie Stansfield
Vampire Vacation by Laura Lavoie and Micah Player
Viking In Love by Doug Cenko
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Keep writing, keep querying, DO NOT GIVE UP. I know this has been said 10,000 different ways, but that’s because it’s really good advice. We have chosen a very difficult career because it’s so subjective - one person may hate a story while another person adores it. That painful pass which just popped into my email? I’ll take 24 hours to lick my wounds. After that, I’ll grab my laptop and start writing again. Because stopping to try means I’ll never know which success is waiting for me just around the next bend.
“Most people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.” – Napoleon Hill
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I grew up in the desert, in Arizona. So I’ve had extreme close up encounters with rattlesnakes, javelinas, coyotes, scorpions, horney toads, and a bat hanging upside down outside our front door. The most unpleasant encounter, however, was when a giant tarantula skittered out of my school closet one morning. To this day, even though I don’t live in Tucson anymore, I shake out my clothes before putting them on, just in case another tarantula stops by my closet to visit.
Where can people find you online?
Instagram: @micbabay Twitter: @MicBabay Website: https://michalbabay.com/
Michal Babay is a former teacher and elementary school resource specialist who decided to follow her writing dreams. She is the author of I'm a Gluten Sniffing Service Dog, The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom, and the upcoming On Friday Afternoon. Michal lives in California with her husband, three kids, three dogs, one cat, and a bearded dragon named Gus Pirate Potato.
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