Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Kind Words Are Like Honey

Part 2 of an interview with Bonnie Clark,
Author of Taste Your Words


Teach kids about the power of words and the importance of kindness with Bonnie Clark’s charming picture book, Taste Your Words (Worthy Kids), that cleverly illustrates why we should think before we speak.

Amera’s having a bad day. Her best friend ruined her cupcake and they both said mean things. When Amera brings her bad mood home with her, her mom tells her to “taste her words.” Amera’s mean words taste like rotten eggs, spoiled milk, and lemons! As Amera realizes that her mean words make her feel bad and others feel worse, she starts saying the kindest, sweetest words she can find.

Taste Your Words is an excellent resource for parents who want to teach their kids to think before they speak. With humorous text and lively illustrations by Todd Bright make it easy for even the youngest children to understand the power of their words.

Q: The concept of tasting our words is Biblical. Where can we find that idea in scripture?

Proverbs 16:24 (NLT) says, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” This verse was a big inspiration when writing the manuscript for Taste Your Words because I loved the imagery of kind words tasting sweet!

I really wanted Proverbs 16:24 to show up subtly within the illustrations and not overtly in the text. In the spread when Amera is home sulking about her yucky day, there is a hand-lettered chalkboard hanging on the wall behind her with Proverbs 16:24 written on it. I hope it gets noticed by the readers, especially the adults. I actually have a chalkboard like that one hanging in our kitchen, and I hand-letter family verses often. This verse has made it “on the board” quite a few times.
While I chose that particular one as inspiration for the story, the Bible is full of verses about the power of words:
  • Proverbs 18:20 (NLT) – “Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.”
  • Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) – “Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.”
  • Proverbs 15:4 (ESV) – “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
  • Proverbs 18:4 (NLT) – “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook.”
  • Proverbs 18:21 (ESV) – “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”
  • Proverbs 25:11 (CEV) – “The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.”
  • Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
We can impact the world and be a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, beginning with the words that we speak to one another.

Q: How can using the sense of taste help parents teach kind speaking habits?

Taste is a primal sense that is developed very early in life—infancy, in fact. It is after the introduction of food (what we put in our mouth) that kids learn about using their words to communicate (what comes out of our mouth), so it is an easy and fun mental leap for a child to imagine that words can have a taste. A yucky taste from food elicits a strong negative response in the mind and body. A yucky word can have the same effect on the person to whom the unkind word is spoken as the person who is doing the speaking. Taste Your Words creatively demonstrates that the words that we speak nourish our souls in the same way the foods that we eat nourish our bodies.

This review that came from the parent of a “sensory seeking” child, really means a lot to me. “This book totally captivated the attention of my two-year-old and my four-year-old and caused them to laugh out loud during the yucky parts. [It was a] super helpful tool for my sensory-seeking/sensory-avoiding (SPD) son who lacks natural empathy towards others. All other books are pushing kids to imagine what the other children feel when a mean word is said, but this book uniquely turns the experience inward in a sensory-rich way which totally resonated with my son (FINALLY!). This book is a gift for parents. We've been using, “How did that word taste?” successfully in my household already, and we just got the book yesterday.”

Q: How is the message of Taste Your Words relevant today in light of the current cultural climate?

I try to practice “social media distancing,” especially when it comes to controversial discussion and heated debate. I was already bracing myself for a stormy presidential election year because four years ago I had to get off all social media to stay sane. This year my first book debuted in the middle of COVID-19. I do have to be online to homeschool my three kids, sift through the news, and promote my book, but it’s hard to not see the hateful discourse.

While the book is a children’s book, the message has never been more relevant for adults as well: Taste Your Words. No matter your position or politics, choose your words carefully. Nothing is either/or. People are fearful about different things, and we should all be respectful. Listen and respond with love. That’s the only way we can possibly be the UNITED States. I’m hopeful. I’m grateful.  Taste Your Words is my contribution to 2020.

Q: The illustrations for the book are fantastic. Can you tell us about the illustrator for the book, Todd Bright?

This is my favorite part of my story to publication. My illustrator is Todd Bright, who I mentioned is my stepbrother. My dad and his mom married about 12 years ago, so we didn’t grow up together, but I have always admired his work as an animator. He has worked for Disney/Pixar and others on ridiculously big animation projects such as Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Curious George and others. When I started writing picture books years ago, I had the crazy idea that Todd could illustrate a book for me. (I’m driven remember?)


First of all, I was unaware that that’s not how it works—you don’t get to pick the illustrator when you’re an author. Second, I was a newbie, and he was a seasoned vet. And third, the book I pitched to him wasn’t very good. He politely declined. I kept on writing new stories (because the whole driven thing) and was well into the process when somehow the subject of my latest project was brought up between he and my sister on a family beach trip. This time he expressed an interest in illustrating the story, and I jumped at the opportunity.


Q:  Is there a special reason why the family depicted in the book is a blended family?

Taste Your Words has become a special gift—a blended family collaborative since I was able to work on the book with Todd. The main character, Amera, has the likeness of my youngest daughter Amera. I didn’t make this request because I wanted him to have creative liberty to see the illustrations as he wanted them to be, but it was a sweet surprise. I named the little brother in the story Remy, which is Todd’s son’s name, and he looks like him too! I love that the family depicted in the story is a blended one. Amera and Remy have different skin tones in the illustrations and in real life! I hope children who are a part of a blended family pick up on this subtle story within the story.

Q: How did you get into writing children’s books and why is it such a passion for you?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and journaling to get my thoughts out of my head. I feel lighter and clearer after I’ve poured my heart out on paper. In high school, my favorite classes were always literature and writing.  I have a business degree from Georgia Tech, but the only classes I remember enjoying were my English/writing classes and one on Shakespeare. I guess I didn’t pursue writing professionally because I didn’t think that was an adequate profession. So, I was over-educated and under-prepared for the toughest job of my life—stay at home mother to three kids (ages 3 and under).

My mom recently found the very first picture book I wrote and illustrated: The Lifeguard Who Couldn’t Swim. It was so fun coming across this and sharing it with my kids because truly the whisper of writing has followed me through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This should have been a clue over the years to pursue writing as a career! Having children of my own made me fall in love with picture books again and re-discover what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I had my firstborn, I wrote another picture book, Sleepy Town and had it printed and bound just for him. As I had more children, and we would frequent the library, I started to wonder what it would look like to be a “serious” writer of picture books. I was in the throes of raising littles, but I also call this stage “research.” In 2015, I joined a kid lit critique group and my pursuit and dream of becoming a published author began.

It is my hope that children who read my books will see themselves somehow in the story, the illustrations or in the emotions and feelings that come up. I want my books to be a safe space to explore emotion, to feel encouraged to like who they are, and to be inspired to make the world a better place by being themselves.


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