When Writers Make Magic

An Interview with Janie Reinart on her debut picture book dedicated to Refugee Children

What do you do when you see a photograph that takes your breath away?

Well, Janie Reinart breathed that photo into words.

A captivating picture of a young refugee girl and an article about South Sudanese kids’ creations led Author Janie to create her own art – WHEN WATER MAKES MUD: A STORY OF REFUGEE CHILDREN.  

See the original photo by Nora Lorek, which first appeared in See the Ingenious Toys Made by Refugee Children, printed online by National Geographic, December 2018, here.

WHEN WATER MAKES MUD is a picture book inspired by true events of war, real children of our time, and the hope of humanity. This book tells the story of Refugee children at a camp in Uganda, with profits providing aid to children worldwide through UNICEF.

Illustrated by Morgan Taylor and published by Blue Whale Press, Janie tells a heartfelt, sisterly story in the aftermath of escaping war and losing one’s home. Two siblings, left with nothing, create something – kindness in the face of war and hope in the face of despair. Likewise, Janie creates something warming, inspiring, and honest…just like when water makes mud.

I have the pleasure of calling Janie not only my critique partner, but my friend. Years ago, when she invited me to join a critique group through Reforemo connections, I gladly accepted with an “I’d love to join in when I can” kind of answer. Four years later, I am an adamant member who makes sure she “can” almost every week. I tell no lies when I say Janie Reinart has helped me become the experienced and agented writer and kid lit fanatic I am today. So, it is an honor to interview her here on my blog and celebrate her debut picture book, WHEN WATER MAKES MUD.

Melissa: Janie, I mean every word I say about your credibility as an author and your genuineness as a friend. Thanks so much for being here with us today.

So…let’s start at the beginning. What was it about Nora Lorek’s photograph that first spoke to you and inspired the story? How did you first stumble upon it, and what were your first steps in connecting that photograph and article to the story you would write?

Janie: First, let me say hello and thank you for inviting me to your blog, Melissa. I remember when you joined our critique group. We have the best group. Shout out and hugs to Pamela Courtney, Charlotte Dixon, Kathy Halsey, Marietta Apollonio, and Monique Wakefield. I was so impressed with the excellent questions you asked to learn about the craft of writing picture books. I love your writing and look forward to interviewing you for your debut picture book.

A National Geographic article about refugee children making their own toys from mud, paper and plastic caught my eye. The exquisite pictures in the article started the picture book story for me. I was inspired by the children and the complexity of the invented toys they made from found objects using their imagination and critical thinking skills. Children without toys—yet children who play. Play is the work of a child. Their hope becomes our hope. The universal themes of play, hope, and dreams inspired my story.

I watched videos and read more articles about the Bidibidi Settlement. I noticed Nora was on Instagram. I gathered my courage and contacted her to ask if she would consider confirming what animals might be found in the Bidibidi Settlement. Nora was gracious enough to give me her email and became my inspiration and resource. 

Nora asked to see my story when it was done. She loved the story and said it reminded her of a photo. When I clicked on the link it was the very picture of Nora’s that started the story for me. I wanted that picture in the backmatter.  It was important to me for children in the USA to see that photo, to empathize with children in other places in the world. Nora directed me to her agent in London. I purchased the photo.

Melissa: This picture book is lyrically heart felt, with succinct text, repetition, emotion, and page-turning hopeful anticipation woven throughout a mere 184 words. We know there are many ways to tell a story, including picture books. How did you decide the way you wanted to tell this one – a story inspired by REAL children on TRUE events – aimed for a childhood audience?

Janie: For me, the way into my fiction story based on true stories of refugee children was finding the structure. When I started working on the manuscript, I knew I wanted a playful structure to match the heart of my story—children playing with toys they created.  A picture book that stuck with me and had the playfulness I was looking for became my mentor text—Miranda Paul’s, Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle illustrated by Janson Chin.

Melissa: Serious topics for young children is always a big undertaking, but I know firsthand you always do it so well. Did you have any challenges, setbacks, or hiccups in writing this story and keeping it true to the events refugee children have faced?

Janie: My focus all along was to celebrate the children’s ingenuity and capture their playfulness. Thanks to you and our critique group’s suggestions, the story came together. I wanted the story to be a discussion starter about refugee children and present an action step suggesting readers donate to a charity. The publisher’s profits are being donated to UNICEF.

Melissa: Yes, which is such a wonderful aspect of this whole project.

Once the story was complete, what was your process in getting this published? How did you come to publish with the wonderful Blue Whale Press, and what was the editing process like, as well as collaborating with the amazingly talented illustrator, Morgan Taylor?

Janie: When the story was finished, I submitted to twelve different editors and agents. (Only heard back from three total.)

Alayne at Blue Whale was the first to reply to me.

Here is the timeline:

Sent submission to Alayne/Blue Whale Press—Feb. 3, 2019

Alayne sent an email back on Feb. 3 asking for more author notes.

Alayne emailed for a phone call on—Feb.10, 2019

Contract finalized—Feb.19, 2019

Release date—June 1, 2021

Alayne made wonderful suggestions for changing a couple of words and adding one line to make the manuscript more lyrical. I love Morgan’s work! Her illustrations capture so much emotion and tenderness. Her choice of colors add to the joyfulness of the story. I hope we get to collaborate on another book.

Melissa: Wow! Thanks for sharing your timeline with us. I am sure fellow writers would appreciate that!

How have your marketing, promotional, and author visits been going? Can you share your experiences and possibly some advice for fellow authors?

Janie: It takes a village to write and promote a book. I would like to thank my CP’s again for all their support, encouragement, and suggestions. When we work together as writers, we are not alone and the journey is spent in good company. Enjoy every moment of the journey. I love the virtual visits and working with the students. A third grader in Minnesota gave the best response to this question—Why do we write? Her answer, “We write to change people’s lives.”  My advice is to remember why we write and connect with our readers—heart to heart.

Melissa: I remember you sharing the first drafts of the story with us as a group. It’s funny how when the book was eventually born, how happy we all felt and proud to have been along for the journey to publication. And we are so genuinely proud of you.

Now a tough question….

What was the most challenging/toughest part of WHEN WATER MAKES MUD – encompassing the moment of the initial idea all the way to getting that published book in your hands?

Janie: The hardest part was the delays brought on by the pandemic.

Melissa: And now the fun ones…

What was the best part about your experience with WHEN WATER MAKES MUD – encompassing the moment of the initial idea all the way to getting that published book in your hands?

Janie:  The best part was getting the phone call from Alayne wanting to acquire the story. She loved the story as much as I did. The next best part was holding the book in my hands and sharing the book with my grandchildren.

Melissa: Ah yes-that amazing phone call that makes the dream a possibility, and then holding the book in your hands that makes the dream come true!

What is your favorite line of WHEN WATER MAKES MUD?

Janie: “We come little sister and me, with nothing…but our dreams.”

Melissa: A very powerful opening line indeed. What’s next for you?! Tell us about the next something from nothing you are currently working on.  

Janie:  I am subbing a story about birds, reworking some other stories, and researching material for a story about a woman from Ohio. Yes, it has to do with birds.

Well, thank you again for your time and sharing all of this with us. We look forward to seeing your next birdie book take flight. (see what I did there?)

Author photo (Janie: 6/01/21)


With her words, Janie Reinart makes something from nothing. From paper and pencil to page turns, she crafts stories celebrating the creativity and playfulness of children. Janie encourages readers to use their imagination, find their voice, share their stories, and believe in their dreams. She lives in Ohio with her darling husband and delights in playing with her 16 grandchildren. www.janiereinart.com




Book Trailer