I am excited to be featuring Hannah Holt’s debut picture book. Hannah and I met years ago through the 12×12 Picture Book group. And became closer over the years as our writing journey took twists and turns. Now on my family trips to Portland, Oregon we make a point to meet-up. Hope you enjoy the review and interview.
Synopsis for The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall (from Amazon website):
Told in a unique dual-narrative format, The Diamond and the Boy follows the stories of both natural diamond creation and the life of H. Tracy Hall, the inventor of a revolutionary diamond-making machine. Perfect for fans of Rosie Revere, Engineer, and On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein.
Before a diamond is a gem, it’s a common gray rock called graphite. Through an intense trial of heat and pressure, it changes into one of the most valuable stones in the world.
Before Tracy Hall was an inventor, he was a boy—born into poverty, bullied by peers, forced to work at an early age. However, through education and experimentation, he became one of the brightest innovators of the twentieth century, eventually building a revolutionary machine that makes diamonds.
From debut author Hannah Holt—the granddaughter of Tracy Hall—and illustrator Jay Fleck comes this fascinating in-depth portrait of both rock and man.
What I Like:
Love, love the parallel stories of the creation of the diamond and the journey Tracy Hall took to become an inventor. I love how the lyrical prose and emotional beats match at every spread. Brilliant writing!
Find The Diamond and the Boy at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
Now onto the interview with Hannah!
1) Writing for children is not your first career. Tell us about your background and how you came to write picture books.
Sure! My degree is in civil engineering, and I used to design transportation master plans for cities. My former career was all about keeping communities connected physically. My current work is about making emotional connections.
I enjoyed engineering, but my job had a demanding schedule with many public open houses. When my children were born, I transitioned to a work-from-home editing job. Then one Christmas, we were short on cash, and I thought, “I could write stories for family members for presents.” That launched a decade long journey into children’s publishing.
2) I understand this book is based on your grandfather’s life. Did telling a personal story, present any unique challenges? Any particular joys?
Writing about my grandfather was mostly a joy! My uncle let me wade through his garage one afternoon and bring home boxes of Grandpa’s personal papers. I also enjoyed interviewing family members and researching my grandfather’s successes.
On the flip side, it was difficult reading about the bullying my grandfather experienced as a child. I don’t delve into specifics in The Diamond and the Boy, but there’s a reason he learned to hide in the walls of his school. Reading about these hard times helped me understand his life and development better, but it was gut wrenching at times.
This sounds like a really special experience.
3) The story has two parallel narratives. I love how you lined up the beats of the two stories. How did you decide upon this structure?
My parallel version of this story came as a result of responding to failure. My first agent and I did not part ways on happy terms. She wrote a long and hurtful note when we separated, and after that I wasn’t sure if I could or should go on writing. For the next month, I didn’t write a thing. Instead, I did a lot of soul searching. In the end, I came to the following conclusions:
I liked writing and missed it.
I couldn’t control whether or not anyone else liked my writing.
I could improve my craft.
I could become smarter about how and where I submitted my work.
This story, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, was one of the first stories I revised after this writing break. Previously, I had tried writing the story about Tracy’s cleverness or rocks that sparkle, but those ideas no longer seemed important.
Instead, I saw the need for resilience.
Graphite needed to become resilient…Tracy had to become resilient…
And I needed to get over myself, too, if I wanted to write this story well. So I threw out all my old drafts and started from scratch. Writing a story in parallel about change and resilience seemed natural because it was the journey I was on myself.
This story went on to attract interest from multiple houses.
Lasting success takes hard work and resilience. I’m really glad I didn’t give up!
Thank you for sharing that personal story. I’m so glad you were resilient!
4) Pretend this is the year 2028, what types of books would I see your name on?
I’d like to have a middle grade novel accepted for publication. However, I’m also happy to keep writing more picture books. I love the challenge of telling complex stories in 800 words or less. Picture books are my favorite creative outlet.
5) Any books in the near future we should be on the lookout for?
My second book, A Father’s Love, comes out this year just in time for Father’s Day. It’s a lyrical non-fiction picture book that celebrates different types of animal father’s from all around the world.
Some rapid fire questions.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
Napping. I’ve spent the last month prepping for a book launch. Napping sounds really good right now.
If you could interview any person living or dead, who would it be?
Edwin Chadwick. That’s just my answer today. Ask me next month, and I’ll come up with someone different.
Favorite pick me up snack/drink?
What book is on your bedside table?
Smart But Scattered
Where can readers find you on the Internet?
About the Author:
Hannah is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer & Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.
Thank you, Hannah, for stopping by today and sharing a bit about yourself. Wishing you many future successes!