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Meet

Author & Illustrator

Sophia Gholz

Kayla Harren

Sophia Gholz is an award-winning children’s book author, music lover, and magic seeker. Sophia enjoys writing fiction with humor and heart. When writing nonfiction, she pulls on her love of science and her family background in ecology.

Kayla Harren is an award-winning children’s book illustrator. In addition to her many illustrated books, Kayla is co-creator of Mongabay Kids’ own Doug Beetle. She loves animals, playing volleyball, hiking, and eating cookies with frosting.

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A chat with the author, Sophia:

For readers who have not yet found your book, can you tell them what it is about and why they might like reading it?

Sophia: The Boy Who Grew a Forest shares the true story of Jadav Payeng, a man in India who single-handedly planted an entire forest over the course of his lifetime.

When he was younger, Jadav Payeng was devastated by the erosion and destruction of his island home. So, he took matters into his own hands and began planting one seed at a time.

Jadav’s forest is now over 1300 acres and provides a home to many animals, some endangered. Jadav is still planting today and his hard work has now been celebrated around the world.

From The Boy Who Grew A Forest by Sophia Gholz. Illustration by Kayla Harren, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What inspired you to write this story? What kind of research did you need to do to write this story and how did you do the research?

Sophia: I first heard about Jadav Payeng through a short documentary film called Forest Man. You can view the film online and it is another great way to get to know about Jadav and his forest.

My father was a forest ecologist and a scientist, and I grew up learning about the importance of trees and our natural world. When I heard about a man on a mission to reforest an entire island on his own, I was drawn to this story.

As for research, most of my research was done online. I read every news article that I could find about Jadav and listened to every interview. Then I reached out to several people who had met or interviewed Jadav as well, including the producer of his short documentary film.

All the while, I tried to reach Jadav himself. It actually wasn’t until after I wrote the manuscript that I was finally able to reach someone in India who knew Jadav.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you make it happen? What advice do you have for our readers who might want to write a book some day?

Sophia: When I was a little kid, I loved making up stories. I always loved books and dreamed of being a writer one day. However, I was too nervous to share my writing for many years. First, I thought that I might be an artist or an actress or share stories in some other way.

While I had fun trying these other things, storytelling was what I really loved and wished to do. Long after I’d grown up and had a career in a different field, I finally found my voice and decided to be brave. That’s when I began to focus on writing. I’m glad I did.

My advice for anyone who thinks they might like to write is this: read a lot.

Read all sorts of books and think about what you like most about those books. Do you like the characters or the voice of the author or the style of the story? When you start to read like a writer, you begin to learn what other authors do to make their stories shine. These are tools that you can pick up to help you begin to learn about the craft of writing.

My next advice is to write. Write as much as you can. You don’t have to write whole stories or books. Just play around and use your imagination.

Writing is like exercise, the more you do the stronger you become.

What would you like readers to take away from reading your book?

Sophia: I hope that The Boy Who Grew a Forest ignites a spark in everyone who reads it to go out and care for our beautiful planet.

I’d love young readers to be inspired to plant or to learn more about animal habitats, biodiversity and science in general.

But most of all, I hope that Jadav’s story helps readers see how much power each individual has within. It only takes hard work and a dream to change the world.

From The Boy Who Grew A Forest by Sophia Gholz. Illustration by Kayla Harren, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A chat with the illustrator, Kayla:

When did you know that you liked drawing? When did you decide to do it as a job and how did you make that happen? What advice do you have for our readers who might want to illustrate books some day?

Kayla: I have always loved drawing. I decided to try making art my career when I was choosing which college to attend after high school. I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York City and studied illustration. In art school I learned about all kinds of ways to make images and really fell in love with children’s books.

My advice to future illustrators is to be observant. Carefully look at the world around you, it is full of beautiful details and colors and textures. Keep reading, drawing, and experimenting. Nothing will be perfect right away.

From The Boy Who Grew A Forest by Sophia Gholz. Illustration by Kayla Harren, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When did you know that you liked drawing? When did you decide to do it as a job and how did you make that happen? What advice do you have for our readers who might want to illustrate books some day?

Kayla: I have always loved drawing. I decided to try making art my career when I was choosing which college to attend after high school. I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York City and studied illustration. In art school I learned about all kinds of ways to make images and really fell in love with children’s books.

My advice to future illustrators is to be observant. Carefully look at the world around you, it is full of beautiful details and colors and textures. Keep reading, drawing, and experimenting. Nothing will be perfect right away.

From The Boy Who Grew A Forest by Sophia Gholz. Illustration by Kayla Harren, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When did you know that you liked drawing? When did you decide to do it as a job and how did you make that happen? What advice do you have for our readers who might want to illustrate books some day?

Kayla: I have always loved drawing. I decided to try making art my career when I was choosing which college to attend after high school. I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York City and studied illustration. In art school I learned about all kinds of ways to make images and really fell in love with children’s books.

My advice to future illustrators is to be observant. Carefully look at the world around you, it is full of beautiful details and colors and textures. Keep reading, drawing, and experimenting. Nothing will be perfect right away.

From The Boy Who Grew A Forest by Sophia Gholz. Illustration by Kayla Harren, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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