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Mother Stories

Cleo Wade On Her Debut Kid-Lit Book, New Motherhood, & More

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Liza Voloshin

Which way do I go? That is your choice to make, said the Road. / But what if I go the wrong way? The Road curved a little, almost as if it was giving me a hug, and said, Do not worry. Sometimes we go the wrong way on our way to the right way.

These lyrical, reassuring words are part of beloved writer, poet, and activist Cleo Wade’s debut children’s book, What The Road Said. Officially out today, Cleo’s first journey into kid-lit is already a best-seller, joining her other popular titles for grown-ups, Where to Begin: A Small Book About Your Power to Create Big Change in Our Crazy World (2019), and Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom For A Better Life (2018). Coincidentally, her voyage into writing for children happened as she became a mother herself, to a daughter named Memphis Love who was born in January 2020.

Below, we chatted with Cleo about experiencing her first year as a parent during a pandemic, her favorite kids’ books as a child and now as a mother, how What The Road Said came to be, and much more. Enjoy!

How would you describe your new book, in a nutshell?
“This book is about the journey of life and the questions we ask along the way. I hope this book will encourage curiosity and remind children that they are never alone.”

Did you always know you wanted to do a kids’ book?
“Honestly, no! I started writing this book as a poem that was kind of a love letter to my childhood self. It was all the words I wished I could have heard as a child. After I had worked on the poem for a couple of years, I decided I wanted to turn it into a children’s book. The book was about 75 percent written when I found my publisher, and then I found out I was pregnant. So, what started as a book for my childhood self, ended up being a book for my daughter.”  

What was the process like writing it?
“Finding an illustrator was definitely one of the hardest parts because I wanted a book that felt more like a throwback to classic children’s books that were painted by hand. I looked through dozens of portfolios, then finally found Lucie de Moyencourt via Instagram. When I reached out to her, she not only said yes, but I also found out she was also pregnant and we ended up having our daughters just a couple of weeks apart.”

Do you remember some of the books you loved most as a child?
“I really enjoyed Roald Dahl books growing up because I just loved Quentin Blake’s illustrations. I also loved The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Berenstain Bears, anything by Shel SilversteinCorduroy, and The Little PrinceI have always been attracted to stories that emphasized the fun and silliness of life and the importance of being different and accepting of others.”

What about now that you’re a mother—any favorites you are reading to Memphis?
“Memphis loves the book Undefeated by Kwame Alexander. She is truly mesmerized by the incredible illustrations. We also love Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown before bed and a book called The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen.”  

How have you felt your creativity shift and evolve after becoming a mother?
“Honestly, the first year of motherhood is so intense and you feel so many shifts in so many directions. Your relationship with yourself, your partner, your friends, and your family all shift so much it is hard to keep up with all the changes. I am sure my creativity has shifted, but I don’t know if I have had the time or space to really understand how. I do know the creativity is still there and I am grateful for that! And it’s certainly nurtured by motherhood.”

How has it been experiencing your daughter’s first year of life mostly during lockdown?
“I am so grateful for the uninterrupted time to just cocoon and be with my family every day, but it is definitely hard to see my daughter day after day in the absence of a community of peers. I have no idea what it will be like to see her play with a group of other children one day.”

What excites you most about motherhood?
“I really have no idea what’s going to happen each day. Is she going to grow a new tooth? Walk? Say a new word? Understand something new? My daughter’s unfolding is so exciting and such a joy to witness.”

What makes you most nervous?
“Probably that I really have no idea what’s going to happen each day! Haha.”

Can you share the story behind your daughter’s beautiful name?
“I was traveling through Egypt a few years ago and took a wonderful tour that covered the country’s history. I learned about the city of Memphis, which was Egypt’s first capital, and was so enchanted with the city’s history, I knew that if I ever had a child, I would want to name them after this special place. My partner Simon chose her middle name, which is Love.”

What are some things you’re looking forward to in the year ahead?
“I am just so excited to put this book in the world. It truly means the world to me.”

What the Road Said is now available via Bookshop, Amazon, and your local bookstore!

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