Meeg Pincus (she/her), M.A., is the author of 26 picture books in the trade and school/library markets. She’s been a nonfiction writer, editor, educator & diverse books advocate for over 25 years. She lives, writes, sings & homeschools with her family in coastal Southern California. Meeg is represented by Jenna Pocius at Red Fox Literary.
Meridth McKean Gimbel is an illustrator, author, and world champion taco cruncher whose work has received several fancy schmancy awards such as the National SCBWI-LA Mentorship award. They are passionate about creating books that are like a snuggly blanket, an open window, and a very accessible door. (Meridth is also passionate about donuts, corgis, and ghost stories.)
I had the opportunity to interview Meeg and Meridth, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Meridth: Hello Geeks OUT! Thanks for having me! Believe it or not I used to be a competitive discus thrower and weightlifter. I had a serious injury in college, where I couldn’t walk for 6 months, that permanently took me out of competition. As a kid I had always wanted to be an illustrator or writer, but that type of career was highly discouraged. Losing the ability to pursuit one of my passions gave me the push I needed to pursuit the other. I’ve been illustrating as a freelancer for 15 years now and this is my debut as a children’s book illustrator.
Meeg: Thank you so much for inviting us, Geeks OUT, so happy to be here! I’m Meeg Pincus (she/her) and I write “solutionary stories” – nonfiction picture books for kids about solving problems for people, animals, and the planet. I’ve been a writer/educator for 25 years and I’ve had the joy and honor of publishing 27 picture books.
I also do lots of other things: sing with a women’s acoustic group, volunteer/advocate with LGBTQ+/trans-related nonprofits, cook plant-based food for my family, talk on the phone with my besties (yep, the actual phone!), read and share diverse books, make art, manage chronic illness (my own and my kids’) and my kids’ homeschool studies, eagerly await new seasons of Queer Eye and The Great Pottery Throwdown…
What can you tell us about your most recent project, Door by Door: How Sarah McBride Became America’s First Openly Transgender Senator? What inspired you to create this book?
Meridth: Door by Door is a picture book biography about Senator Sarah McBride written by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by me. I get teary eyed every time I read it. In this biography we read that two things were very clear to Sarah, as a young child. She always wanted to change the world through her leadership and service, and that although she had been assigned male at birth, Sarah knew she was a girl. The story follows Sarah as she grows into her leadership roles, and as she embraces her gender identity, eventually sharing it with her loved ones and the world. Senator McBride became the first openly transgender person to address a national convention, to work at the White House, and to become a state senator. This story shows, as Senator McBride has said, “[that we] can grow up as [ourselves] and dream big dreams all at the same time.”
Senator McBride is such an inspiring, well spoken, and graceful person so it’s been neat to illustrate a book about her life. And I will say that as a non-binary kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I didn’t have the privilege of reading about gender diverse characters who did great things. I’m delighted I get to be part of this team that created such an important book.
Meeg: Please see Meridth’s answer for a beautiful description of this picture book biography of Senator Sarah McBride. I was inspired to write it amidst a decade-long journey that began with reading Sarah’s coming out story in our college alumni magazine in 2012 and realizing with great emotion that, while I’d been working for gay rights for 20+ years, as a cis woman, I really didn’t know much about trans rights or trans experiences. So, Sarah’s story inspired me to dive in and learn from other trans stories, which then made a huge impact on my own life when a very close loved one came to me for support around their gender identity. I had such better understanding and resources to offer than I would have without those stories.
As I had the honor to walk alongside my trans loved one on their transition journey and to get involved in the trans advocacy community, I kept thinking back to Sarah’s story. As a children’s book author, I knew hers was an important story that kids could relate to, and I approached her about writing it – before she became a senator, actually! Fast forward five years, and we have Door by Door!
How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, especially picture books? What drew you to the medium?
Meridth: I have always loved stories and art. I went through a series of traumatic events in my childhood, and when I was in the thick of it, I didn’t really know who to turn to, so I turned to books. Books were my lifeline then. I know how important and powerful books can be. So, I find it really fulfilling to make books that can help kids feel loved, empowered, and seen.
Meeg: I’ve loved books and have been writing and illustrating stories since before I could even read! My parents were professors and I used to take their extra “Blue Books” – little lined booklets for written exams – and make stacks of my own books, first with scribbles and pictures and then with actual words. I have one in which I wrote my own author bio, at probably age six, that says “[Meeg] loves books. She can hardly stop making them.” (Ha!)
I’ve been working with words and books professionally my entire career, from journalism to academia to book editing, and eventually I found writing children’s nonfiction to be the perfect blend for me as a writer, artist, researcher, and educator.
How would you describe your creative process? And what went into collaborating with others for Door by Door?
Meridth: At my core, I love to research. I read Senator McBride’s memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different, which is so moving. I also read a lot of articles, watched documentaries, etc. on trans history for the spread that talked about trancestors. (I will say that one must research carefully. Trans history has not always been respectfully represented.)
I submitted rough sketches and then my final illustrations to my editor, Kelly Delaney at Crown Books for Young Readers to review. She then would share my art with Meeg Pincus, the author, and most importantly with Senator McBride. I think because of the personal nature of Senator McBride’s journey of embracing her gender identity and life aspirations, we could not have done this book without her feedback. Senator McBride was really generous with her time and an integral part of helping us create a respectful representation of her life, including her pre-transitional moments, which needed delicacy.
Meeg: When I get an idea for a nonfiction picture book, the first step is research, research, and more research! Reading books/articles, watching documentaries/video clips, interviewing people.
Once I have what I feel are enough facts on the subject, I dip into my creative mind and try to come up with an innovative approach to sharing it with kids. For some of my books, that means poetry, for others lyrical storytelling, some are more serious and some more lighthearted. I let the subject and the voices of the subjects guide me to how to write it – within the picture book structure that I’ve studied and practiced and is now second nature to me!
Again, Meredith gave a great answer about our collab on Door by Door. Every picture book takes a village to create, which is why I love writing picture books! I teach a workshop for picture book writers that compares it to writing stage plays, and a big part of that is that the writer is just one piece in a full visual production. All the pieces must work together cooperatively, and every piece is crucial, to create the final artwork. In picture books the main players are the author, illustrator, editor, and art director but also like a theatre, there are all the people on the business side that get the artwork to the public as well.
As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
Meridth: Oh goodness, there are too many to name. Here’s a very condensed list of some creatives that I love:
- Author/Illustrators I adore: Vera Brosgol, Adam Rex, Isabelle Arsenault, Lorena Alvarez, Carson Ellis, Luke Pearson, Anoosha Syed, Wallace Tripp, Tomi Ungerer
- Authors whose books I love to read: Neil Gaiman, Charles Dickens, Angie Sage, Terry Pratchett, Kate DiCamillo, Kelly DiPucchio,
- Illustrators: Julia Sarda, Ivan Bilibin, JC Leyendecker, Kay Nielson, Eyvind Earle, Luisa Uribe, Maribel Lechuga
- Animation: Cartoon Saloon (Studio that created Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea), Laika (Studio that created ParaNorman), Over the Garden Wall
… Hard to stop, there is so much to be inspired by.
Meeg: My first creative influence was children’s author/illustrator Richard Scarry, whose books I just loved. (I even wrote to him in Switzerland when I was five and was over the moon when he wrote me back!) Judy Blume was also a huge influence for me as a kid. My mom’s best friend was a fine artist, and she was a great influence and encouragement to me as a creative as well.
Later, influences include so many writers and fine artists I don’t even know where to begin! I’m drawn to art that gives me a visceral emotional response – that can be anything from joy to tenderness, grief, rage, existential wonder; and it can be any art from writing to sculpture to collage to theatre to music to cartoons.
Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?
Meridth: When I was a kid, I was a mega fan of Roald Dahl. Mostly The Witches, Matilda, and The Twits. I loved the absurdly dark and twisted nature of the worlds he created. It really resonated with me, and it felt really empowering to read about how kids in his stories confronted the baddies. (I still love his books, but he has a complicated legacy that can’t be overlooked.)
A lot more stories have been published featuring gender diverse characters since I’ve reached adulthood, which is so exciting. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe is one of those books I needed growing up. I feel like a lot of cis folks don’t understand what it means to be non-binary. It would have given me a lot of peace and validation in my youth.
Meeg: Two books I read many times over were The Diary of Anne Frank and Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. I related so much to these Jewish girls who had so much emotion, so much to express, so much they were afraid of; they didn’t know where they fit into the world, but they wanted to be brave and make a difference somehow. Clearly, I saw myself in them, and I still relate to them!
These days, I love reading memoirs, particularly by people who may not “fit in” to the mainstream dominant culture – be that due to their race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, disability, body size, immigration or socioeconomic status, etc. – people grappling with these same kinds of struggles and finding their voices through telling their stories. I love getting to know different people’s life experiences, which I always find opens my eyes to new ways of seeing and reminds me how alike we all are in so many ways at heart.
Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?
Meridth: If we’re going to be friends, I need you to know that I’m a big fan of sweets. One of my favorite tasty treats are alfajors. It’s a yummy chocolate covered cookie/sandwich that I discovered while living in Argentina. My husband makes pretty good homemade alfajors, which I am always happy to consume.
Meeg: Hmmm. I worked as a character at Disneyland as a teenager, and I cannot go a day without eating dark chocolate?!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?
Meridth: The question, of course, is what superpower would I have if I could have just one? I would have the ability to stop time whenever I feel like it. And I would use my superpower in the most boring way. There would be no crime fighting for me, thank you very much. I would just be really productive and take a whole lot of naps.
Meeg: I guess a question about the current book bans of LGBTQ+ and race-related children’s books. Given my roles personally and professionally — in the queer, publishing, and education communities — these books bans are weighing heavily on me, and I’m extremely concerned about them. Cutting off children from seeing themselves reflected in books and learning about others with different experiences and identities than them in books, and from learning about important history and social movements, is cruel and dangerous to a healthy, inclusive, democratic society. It’s a very intentional step toward just the opposite.
What can we do to stop these book bans? Most are taking place locally, so showing up at school board, city council, or library board meetings to oppose book bans makes a huge difference. We can write letters to decision makers, purchase banned books to show publishers we want them, donate banned books in communities where access is cut off in public schools and libraries, and donate to organizations fighting book bans. What we can’t do is let the loud minority trying to ban these books and topics win just because they’re the ones showing up.
Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
Meridth: Currently my projects under the radar, but I am finishing up a zany picture book proposal, and I have a dark graphic novel pitch coming down the pipeline too. I love to write and illustrate stories in a wide variety of genres. I want to make silly, dark, serious, nonfiction and fiction, picture book, middle grade, and graphic novel stories.
Meeg: I’m working with some theatre folks who are adapting a few of my books into stage plays for children, which is exciting. I’m teaching workshops with The Writing Barn to picture book writers, which is motivating. And I’ve got a picture book in the pipeline for 2024 (a collaboration with the Smithsonian’s wildlife conservation arm), a true story about a crane who doesn’t fit in with her species but must help save it, which I realize is fitting, given my other answers!
What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, to both those interested in making their own picture books one day?
Meridth: Who you are and all the experiences you have had, good and bad, have given you a specific point of view. We need your stories, told from your perspective. Believe in yourself, take your craft seriously, and do the hard work.
Meeg: I’d say immerse yourself in the picture books you love. Read them all, study them, figure out what works about them for you. Remember that creating picture books is a craft that takes study and practice, and dive into it. And, most of all, write and/or make art about what you are most passionate about, what’s deep within you, and that will shine through.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Meridth: Again, I’ll try and narrow it down;
- The Accursed Vampire by Madeline McGrane
- Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne
- The Prince and the Dressmaker by and anything by Jen Wang,
- A Costume for Charly by CK Malone, illustrated by Alejandra Barajas
- When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
- Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
- The Tea Dragon Society by K. O’Neill
- Everything by David Roberts
- Everything by Edward Gorey
- Everything by Arnold Lobel
Meeg: I curate all the book lists for the nonprofit Trans Family Support Services (TFSS), so I would encourage you to check out the TFSS Bookshop (which supports TFSS and indie bookstores) to find all kinds of books specifically about trans experiences and issues: https://bookshop.org/shop/tfss.
I also have my own Solutionary Stories Bookshop, and here’s my list of nonfiction picture books by and about LGBTQ+ solutionaries: https://bookshop.org/lists/great-nonfiction-picture-books-about-lgbtq-solutionaries.
And I hope to be adding more and more books to these lists every year!