Today, we’re chatting with author Nicholas Solis to discuss his new picture book, The Color Collector illustrated by Renia Metallinou.
The Color Collector is a poignant story about newness, friendship, and common ground. When a boy notices the new girl picking up all manner of debris and litter on their walks home from school he wants to know why. So she shows him the huge mural she’s created in her room that reminds her of the home she left behind. He learns all about where she’s come from and they both find how wonderful it is to make a new friend.
Q: Please tell us a little about yourself. Your background, where you were born, your current family life and anything else you would like to share.
A: Hello everyone and thank you for having me, Charnaie! I’m a huge fan and my wife absolutely loves you on instagram. My name is Nicholas Solis and I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. First and foremost, I’m a husband and a father. My wife and I have a baby boy, Leo, who is about to be one year old. I’ve been an elementary teacher for 21 years and I think it’s the best job in the world, even with this extremely crazy year.
About 7 years ago I started taking writing seriously. I took as many writing classes as I could find, and I slowly built up an amazing writing community around me. They are some of the most supportive people you can find.
Q: How did you become interested in being a writer? Did you always aspire to write books and tell stories?
A: I’ve always been interested in writing. When I was a kid I would write
knock-off Encyclopedia Brown detective stories and really deep poetry for a 10 year-old. I also remember just loving creative writing time in school. While other kids looked like they were being tortured to write a whole page, I was already on my fourth one.
I’m not sure if I always wanted to be a published writer though, but I knew
that I loved writing. I would write funny blogs when traveling and crazy stories for the students in my classroom. I loved entertaining people with my words. Throughout my teaching career a lot of my students have been the guinea pigs for a lot of these stories. In fact, when I shared the mock up of my first book, The Staring Contest, one of my students found a grammatical error. I emailed my editor right away and was like, “My 10 year old student found a mistake I missed!”
Q: How did you come up with the storyline for The Color Collector?
A: There was this piece of art hanging at this gallery in Austin, TX. The girl
had the saddest eyes I had ever seen and she was catching colorful leaves as they fell. I kept wondering why she was so sad, and the story started forming in my head. But it never flowed right. It was too long and too disconnected. I worked on it for weeks, but couldn’t get it. Then one night I woke up at 2am and the story was fully formed. I scribbled it all down, terrified that I would forget it. The text was sparse and read more like a poem than a story and I loved it. So the short answer is weeks or 30 minutes depending on when you feel it really came to life.
Q: What messages are you hoping readers will take away from The Color Collector?
A: My parents divorced when I was younger, so I moved around a lot. That
meant starting new schools as well. 7th grade was especially tough for me because I moved in the middle of the school year. I was miserable. But then one day, this kid named Dylan said hello to me. That’s it. He saw a quiet kid sitting alone and he said hi. But that one little action completely changed my world. We became friends and then I became friends with his friends. That led to me coming out of my shell and making more even friends. It was this ripple effect that completely changed the trajectory of my life. This book is about empathy and kindness and finding beauty in the things people toss aside. My greatest joy would be to know that this book
inspired someone to simply say hi to a new kid in class.
Q: Are there any authors you can recommend that you enjoy? Either for children or adults.
A: My go to recommendation is Shel Silverstein. When I was a kid, I remember climbing on top of my roof to avoid the world and just devouring his poetry. It was fun and quirky and it made me feel not so alone. Lately, I’ve been on the hunt for Own Voices authors. Celia Perez is awesome and really nails what it’s like for kids that might not fit one particular mold. Cristina Soontornvat is a personal friend of mine and she is on fire right
now, killing it in both fiction and nonfiction! I also really enjoyed Ernesto Cisneros book Efran Divided. David Bowles is also so prolific, I’m having trouble keeping up with everything he is producing.
Q: What is a book (or books if you have more than one) that you recommend often to others?
A: Following the Shel Silverstein recommendation, you can never go wrong with Where the Sidewalk Ends. On a picture book kick, I would say Dreamers by Yuyi Morales is so beautiful and Eyes That Kiss in the Corners is the perfect book to spread love and acceptance right now. For something a little more obscure, I would recommend Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. I love Hatchet and this book has that same sort of wilderness, survival appeal.
Q: Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
A: What a great question! I think the best thing that any parent can do is model, model, model. Surround yourself and your child with books and then just read in front of them. I do a great job of this when I’m teaching, but I need to do more of this at home now that I have a 1 year-old running around. I didn’t mind it before, but now that I know there are littles eyes watching me all the time I would like to move away from screens and move towards a book.
Q: Hardcover, Paperback or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?
A: I’ve tried e-books before but there really isn’t anything better than a book with actual pages you can turn with your fingers. Most of the children’s books I’ve been reading are hardcovers, but a good paperback you can shove into your backpack and pull out anywhere is hard to beat.
Q: Fiction, non-fiction or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?
A: Fiction all day, every day. I know I should be more well rounded, but I love fantasy and world building. I’m working on a middle grade novel, so any book I read I analyze how their story and their world came to be. I am currently reading a biography, but fiction still captures my heart and imagination!
Q: What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
A: I’m currently reading The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas. I’m looking for a new fantasy novel to bring into my classroom and her book is terrific! I’m also reading A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak. Maybe that is why I am on such a Shel kick again.
Q: Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?
A: I’m extremely excited about my next book, My Town, Mi Pueblo. It is with Nancy Paulsen Books and will be coming out late summer, early fall. Two kids, from opposite sides of the border, decide to visit the town on the other side of the bridge. As they spend time in the other’s town, they marvel at the different sights and sounds. But they soon discover that they have more in common than they do differences. It is in both English and Spanish, and I’m excited to see it in kids’ hands!
Q: How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
A: Feel free to check out my website, http://nicholassolis.com, and my instagram and twitter handles are @teachsolis! Thank you for having me on today!
Nicholas is an award-winning elementary teacher with a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas and a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration from Concordia University. He has traveled the world and taught students in Tanzania, India, and Morocco. From all of his travels he has learned one important lesson: No matter the circumstances, kids are kids. When he’s not traveling, he enjoys spending time with his wife, their dog, and his brand new baby boy in Austin, Texas.