Q&A with Author Johnette Downing
How long have you been writing children’s books?
My father was an avid reader and he had a library in our house. It was a small room, but there were books on all four walls, from the floor to the ceiling. As a young girl, I would go into the library, read, play “librarian,” and visualize my own books on that shelf.
My parents were also singers and musicians, and I grew up reading and singing with my family. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a writer, musician and singer. For me singing and reading naturally go together, which is why many of my books are also songs.
In the sixth grade, I began writing my poetry, songs and stories in a “Nothing” book, a bound book of empty pages that my aunt gave me. I suppose I can say I have been writing my entire life, but only started writing it down on paper in the sixth grade.
What did writing Petit Pierre mean to you?
The first rules of writing are to write what you know and to write what you love. These two rules come naturally to me because I believe when you write from the heart it rings true to others. For my thirty-year career, my passion has been sharing Louisiana roots music and books with children the way my parents shared them with me.
I am blessed to be a native of Louisiana, a place steeped in rich natural, cultural and historical heritage. With this wealth of resources comes a responsibility to be a steward for the generations to come. Having the opportunity to partner with the New Orleans Pelicans and the Audubon Nature Institute to write a book to gently teach children about coastal restoration is a dream come true for me. So much of my childhood was spent enjoying the natural and cultural wonders of our state, and being able to give it back in such a meaningful way fills me with gratitude beyond measure.
What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will take away from this book a better understanding of the integral part each of us plays in preserving one of Louisiana’s unique treasures; the wetlands, and the flora and fauna living there. Just as each friend in the story gives something to help Pierre build a home, we too can do our small part for the greater good.
Could this book have been set in a state other than Louisiana?
I suppose any state with a wetland could have been a setting for this book; however, few states would have had the dedicated partnership of an NBA team, a nature institute, an author/musician and an illustrator coming together for the purpose of creating a children’s book as a way of heightening awareness of our coastal wetlands.
Did you ever think an NBA team would ask you to write a children’s book?
The thing that impressed me the most about the New Orleans Pelicans asking me to write a children’s book, is that they wanted a real children’s book by a real children’s book author. I must admit at first that I was afraid I would be writing about a pelican wearing a uniform and playing basketball, and somehow he ends up in the wetlands. I was thinking: how am I going to make this uncontrived? But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the team requested that no team references be in the book. They truly wanted a real children’s book for the sake of teaching children about the importance of coastal restoration.
What does it mean to be a Wetlands MVP?
Being a Wetlands MVP means you have pledged to do your small part in making the wetlands a healthy, thriving environment for animals, plants and humans.
It does not take a huge commitment to help restore the wetlands. By simply picking up litter, recycling, reducing your waste, and reusing household items, we can reduce our impact on coastal erosion and contamination.
When I go for a walk, I often bring a bag with me and I pick up trash in my neighborhood until the bag is full. I then put the items either in the trash or in the recycling bin for proper disposal. This small effort helps prevent litter in my neighborhood from going down storm drains and ending up in a wetland.
How can the children of Louisiana help Pierre thrive in our wetlands?
Children can help Pierre thrive in the wetlands by taking the Friend a Pelican Wetland MVP pledge in the back of the Petit Pierre and the Floating Marsh book. By taking the pledge, children agree to do their small part to ensure the wetlands continue to be a rich natural home for pelicans as well as other animals, plants and humans. The wetlands serve as buffer zones against storm surge and coastal erosion so that we can enjoy the natural beauty of our state for generations to come.