Posts Tagged ‘Highlights Foundation’


Emerging Beauty: Interview with Sarah Aronson

March 29, 2020


A couple of years ago, I took an amazing class at the Highlights Foundation with Sarah Aronson, author of a some amazing books, including Just Like Rube Goldberg. I interviewed her as part of my quarantine series for many reasons. At the top of the list: she offers terrific advice for parents and kids, is a true creative spirit, and believes in the power of play.

A bit about Sarah:

Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three novels: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe. Her most recent books are part of a new young middle grade series about the worst fairy godmother ever, The Wish List. She is the cofounder and organizer of the Writing Novels for Young People Retreat at VCFA and has served as an SCBWI mentor in both Illinois and Michigan. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.


What inspires you and why?

This is the essential question, right? Inspiration is the magic start button to all my stories and it comes from all sorts of places. Of course, imagination. And memories. These things (which we now have lots and lots of time to nurture) are always an important part of my character development. But the world offers a variety of clues, too. Sometimes, I get ideas at the lake. Or from something I’ve read. Or overheard. (Don’t tell the three men who talk very loudly at my coffee shop, but I turned them into the Worsts in The Wish List!)

You talk a lot about the power of play. Can you explain what this means?

At first, “the power of play” meant “no expectations.” It also means writing what makes me happy. Or what sparks MY imagination. It means letting inspiration take my intuition where it leads. When I dared myself to play, what I was first saying is: embrace the process. Stop trying to be perfect. Stop apologizing for not being the smartest person in the room. You still have a lot to say.

Practically speaking, the power of play has widened the way I get ideas. Now I draw. I doodle. I make squares. And lists. Anything to get the pencil to the paper and open the portal to creativity. In this world of tricks and gadgets, I am a lot like Rube Goldberg. I wake up and ask: what is tickling my imagination?

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

I was dared to write in 2000. I thought about it for maybe ten minutes. My daughter was reading Esperanza Rising. My son was reading Bunnicula. I decided that their books were more fun than mine. That day, I started writing.

What is your process as a writer?

On the best days, I wake up, do my morning pages and switch over to the computer or the notebook. Since the temptation of social media is hard for me to deal with, I use the pomodoro method. 25 min of writing. Followed by 5 min of thinking. I do that about three times. Then I take a break. The rest of my day is a combination of yoga, walking, reading and more writing. At night, I will spend a few minutes working on a “secret project.”

When I’m stuck, I will walk/doodle/make lists…ANYTHING to open the door. I’ll take anything. If nothing happens? It’s okay. I don’t get stressed. Tomorrow is another day.

Because of quarantine, I’ve had to make myself a schedule that includes writing spurts, teaching, reading and yoga. I should dedicate my next book to savasanah. I get my best ideas when I am on the mat focused on the poses. It is really easy to get distracted and sad. I miss seeing friends. Structure has been good for me.

What is your favorite book and why?

The Carrot Seed.
It’s a perfect book about determination. I could talk about it for hours. The subtext in the illustrations is amazing. When I’m stuck, I study it.

I love all kinds of books–all genres. I strive to read a little bit of everything. This year, I loved The Bridge Home, Other Words from Home, and Lovely War. I am in love with Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann’s Honeybee. I could read Lindy West all day. Every day. I love mysteries, too. I just finished Parachutes by Kelly Yang. SO good.

What is your favorite book you wrote and why?

So, I know that many writers like to talk about “the book of their hearts,” but honestly? EVERY book comes from my heart. Writing is too hard to do to write a book I don’t care about deeply! And every book I’ve written–even the ones that never found an editor–has changed me as a writer, deepened my process. I love every one of them. Of course, writing The Wish List was amazingly special because it was my first series. It was so much fun to follow Isabelle’s story through four books. Just Like Rube Goldberg has been the greatest joy. We always say “trust the process” but when you are writing a picture book, you also have to trust a whole lot of people–especially the artist. Robert Neubecker’s work still STUNS me.

What advice do you have for parents at this time?

Let your kids read.
Let them write.
Let them play.
Let them make inventions.
Let them be a little bored.
I think this pandemic is going to change the way we do everything. I believe that play is the key to creativity. Put down those devices. See what happens. When I do that, I discover whole worlds!

What advice for kids do you have at this time?

Most of all: Have fun. Find your passion. You are perfect the way you are.
Also: Be easy on yourself. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.
Also: Read what you want. If you want to reread a book 100 times, that’s good with me.
Create what you want. Find heroes. Strive to understand and engage with people not like you.
This world is YOURS. You are amazing. You give me hope. What advice do kids have for me?
In Just Like Rube Goldberg, I wrote:

In the wake of disaster, it can be hard for people to focus on their dreams. It can be even harder to feel hopeful.
But Rube didn’t give up on his dream.

And YOU shouldn’t give up on yours.
In fact, you should make your dreams a priority. Because this pandemic will end. And we need all of you to follow those dreams and make this world a better, kinder, more compassionate (and full of joy) place.

Where can people find you? (social media etc)

My website:
On HF Gather every Wed morning
On Twitter: @sarah_aronson
On IG: @sarahnaronson
On my newsletter every Monday.

If you have made a Rube Goldberg machine, share it on flip grid:

Now y’all know why Sarah’s one of my favorite teachers—her advice and perspective is the best. Thanks, Sarah!

Stay well. Find emerging beauty.




Emerging Beauty: Day 5—music, theater, art, and writing

March 23, 2020
people at music concert

Photo by Craig Dennis on

So many people are offering free online concerts, theater, and classes in the arts. Take advantage of this time to dapple in a few. Here’s how:

Art they offer a list of free university online art classes a free list of online drawing classes  an online magazine with great information check them out- lots of free offerings

-Highlightsfoundation: free information and webinar for illustrators

-#comicsschool on twitter: offering 5 days of lessons

Music and Theater: offers information about how to stream free Broadway shows.

-check out one of my local favorites on Facebook: Leon Joseph Littlebird the Met is offering free streaming

-the Dead & CO on Instagram- free streaming of their shows

-google your favorites musicians and see what they are offering on social media- many


-The New York Times and NPR list free events

Write offering discounted on-line writing sessions ($10) 10 universities offering free writing courses online

-Highlights foundation: free information and webinar for writers

-google your favorite authors: many have free tips and offerings during the              Pandemic


Stay well. Find emerging beauty.