All Welcome Here by James Preller and Mary GrandPré

Happy, happy, happy Friday! I spent a super inspiring week celebrating story and school libraries with students and educators near San Antonio and Austin, Texas. I am excited and honored to end the week by celebrating All Welcome Here with James Preller and Mary GrandPré. I wrote the words in purple, James wrote the words in black, and Mary wrote the words in orange. Thank you, James and Mary! 

Caldecott Honor artist Mary GrandPré’s cover illustration for All Welcome Here is just a glimpse of what she’s achieved inside, where Mary has created a vivid, warm, welcoming world. I won’t go into the brilliance of her technique. We’re all aware of Mary’s gifts and ability. But when I look at what she’s done here, it strikes me that Mary’s signature talent is her deep intelligence. She is so smart and intentional in her artistic decisions. Every inch has a purpose. I can’t wait for people to see it.

All Welcome Here is about kindness, laughter, lightness, acceptance. It was written in late 2016, a direct response to the current political climate. It is a book dedicated to public school teachers everywhere, who open their hearts and their classrooms to every single kid who comes through that door. The spirit of America that I long for – the world I dream of – is already happening in so many classrooms. I wanted to celebrate that vision of hope and happiness.

On June 16, 2020, I’ll experience that terrific feeling of, wow, we made that! It didn’t exist and we put it out there into the world. On a personal level, it’s amazing to share that with Mary GrandPre, a creative endeavor that will connect us always. For that moment, on that day, it’s ours. And then, instantly, it’s for everyone else. I feel grateful, and blessed, we have this thing together. Hopefully readers will connect with it, too.

Picture books are little miracles of alchemy. So many people, from editor to art director to writer and artist and agent and publisher, come together to make this bold, bright, joyous object that only truly lives when it is in the hands of a child. It’s nothing without that kid. And an absolute wonder when it all comes together in unity of heart and design. I mean to say: I don’t understand picture books, I just love them. The not-ever-really-knowing is the best part of the magic.

Illustration Credit:Mary GrandPré

James Preller’s manuscript for All Welcome Here was such a joy to work with. Initially, just the idea of illustrating his haiku was exciting to me because of it’s beautiful rhythmic structure. However, once I realized it was also beautiful in its message that all children are welcome here, it became even more of a meaningful book to collaborate on. As we follow the characters from that first morning at the bus stop, through each experience at school, ...The Reading Rug, The Library, Recess, to name a few, we learn that there is a place for everyone, and that friends come in all forms. With various ethnicities represented, James also sensitively includes various personalities in his child characters... the shy child, the outgoing, the inquisitive, and even the fun loving one who might make a “Splash” at the drinking fountain.

The cover illustration for All Welcome Here
is a montage created from the interior illustrations. It shows a variety of children gathered around, excited and interacting with each other. Various school supplies float around them denoting some of the activities they will experience in their school day. There is a sense of anticipation and friendship portrayed in children.

The first day of school can be a backpack full of emotions. Simply not knowing what to expect... who will be my friend?, what is my teacher like?, where do I go?.. all kinds of things that can feel scary for a child just starting school. That’s another reason why I love this book so much... in addition to be all inclusive for children, it also eases those feelings of uncertainty by infusing laughter, excitement and discovery into the writing, and shows us how wonderful school can truly be.

Picture books are a great tool for opening minds, and imaginations to new experiences, as well as opening up discussion between child and adult. If the writing and the pictures blend well together, they can create magic, and transport the child to worlds they’ve never dreamt of. With characters that the reader can connect with on an emotional level, it can be a wonderful way to not only entertain, but also to help prepare and teach a young child, I think All Welcome Here does exactly that.

Look for All Welcome Here on June 16, 2020. 

James Preller is the author of many acclaimed books, including the Jigsaw Jones series, the Scary Tales series, and the novels Bystander, Blood Mountain, and Better Off Undead. He lives in Delmar, NY.

Mary GrandPré is best known as the beloved artist for the Harry Potter series; she is also the Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator of The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock. She lives in Sarasota, Florida. 


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