There are many important journeys in literature. But up until Leah Henderson’s new picture book YOUR VOICE, YOUR VOTE (releasing on Dec. 19 from HarperCollins), I’d never read about a child’s journey to a polling place. It’s an uplifting journey, filled with community and purpose; but also obstacles, which mirror the very real obstacles many face in their own journeys to fulfill the most important task of any democracy. I caught up with Leah to learn more:

Me: Congratulations on your inspiring new picture book, YOUR VOICE, YOUR VOTE! And just in time for what’s sure to be another crucial election year. Casting a ballot is not the usual picture book quest. What inspired you to write this story?

Leah: Hi, Jonathan and thank you. You’re right, casting a ballot isn’t the usual picture book quest, but more and more I feel talking about the importance of voting in every election is vital. So why not start with the very young?

As far as inspiration goes, this story actually started with my editor. But soon, Quetta, her mom and grandma were on their way to the polls in my head as well!

 

Me: Since I first met you around your middle grade debut, ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, you’ve published an impressive array of picture books and novels. How do you choose your projects?

Leah: I’m someone that is all about feelings. If I don’t feel something about the topic or characters, I have a hard time finding my way into the story or experience. Now granted, I “feel something” about LOTS of stories, but it’s the ones that won’t leave me alone—the characters that won’t stop talking, the places I can’t stop seeing, and the experiences I have a million and one questions about—that usually gain my attention and time.

Me: The illustrations by Keisha Morris are very vivid, textural and warm – with nice attention to detail: I had to go back myself to hunt for the (spoiler alert!) lost ID. What was your involvement, if any, in the illustration process?

Leah: I truly love Keisha’s illustrations. I feel like they bring Quetta’s community to life in the best possible ways. With picture books, there is often a lot of trust involved in sharing your words with an illustrator and letting them do their thing (if you aren’t blessed with art skills). I was given a few illustrators to consider and Keisha was my first choice and she definitely came through! Once her early sketches came in there were only a few small request changes on my part.

 

Me: I make sure to vote in absolutely every election, big and small. Luckily the county where I live instituted early voting years ago, and since the pandemic has readily adopted mail-in ballots. But there was also a sense of community and camaraderie in the long lines I remember from certain past elections that your book captures so well (as well as the opportunity to bring future voters to observe). By which method do you vote these days? And do you have any tips on how as citizens we can help eliminate voting barriers that exist in counties and states not our own?

Leah: Because I am often traveling around election day, I usually vote by mail. But when I am able, I will go to my local polling station. There is definitely something to be said for truly seeing the process at work. I just wish there weren’t so many hurdles for some to take part in the process. One of the main things those of voting age can do is vote! Vote for leaders who understand the need for fair elections and equal access to voting. For future votes, getting involved in our communities is often the best way to start. I know that’s not an original answer, but it is the truth. Getting involved in your community, helps your community and those who live within and around it.

Me: Can you share what you’re working on now?

Leah: I am always working on something. But right now I am fiddling with a couple picture books and another novel, none of which look like either of those things right now. But hopefully one day they will.

Me: Go Quetta and all future voters! Wishing your book much success! See you at Books of Funder…

Leah: Hahaha! Thanks! And thank you again for asking me to stop by and for sharing my work with your readers.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Me: And thank you, Leah! Everyone can learn more at Home – Leah Henderson (leahhendersonbooks.com)

 

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