When my daughter was three, I was offered a job teaching in a graduate program that allowed me to work from home year-round—with an exception. Each January, I would travel to take part in a residency devoted to the study of children’s literature. The trip would last for ten days, during which my colleagues and I would lead workshops and give lectures and get to know our students, and then we’d all say goodbye and fly back to where we came from. I knew that being away would be difficult, but I wanted the job and trusted that it would get easier with time, so I said yes.
I’m from the San Francisco area and have lived here all my life, so packing for Saint Paul, Minnesota in January was no easy task. But more pressing than the question of heavy coats was the question of how to say goodbye to my sweet kiddo for so long. How do you help a three-year-old understand what a span of ten days will feel like? Or is it better not to? Should I make it sound fun—like a novelty—or let her know how terribly I’d miss her? It was uncharted territory. My wife told me about the fun plans she was making for the two of them. Usually she was the one who traveled for work. It was a reversal of our roles, and we both knew it would be good for everyone. We were navigating family life as two working mothers. We were figuring it out.
Still, after they dropped me off, I sobbed at the airport.
As the days passed in Minnesota, I remembered what it was like to be a writer out in the world with other writers. My favorite job perk was sitting in on my colleague’s lectures. I’d published a few YA novels at that point and though I loved the idea of writing picture books, I had no clue where to begin. Still, I scrawled pages of notes on the emotional life of the child and the interplay between text and art, hopeful that I’d find a story to tell. All the while, I missed my wife and daughter terribly.
And one day, I realized that the story I wanted to write was already unfolding.
One thing I love about picture books is how honest they can be, and how beautifully simple. Here is mine: I went away for my job. My wife took time off of hers. Our daughter missed me sometimes, and had fun without me, and got her Mama all to herself. They played and snuggled and made big plans. And then I came home, and we were all together again.
Kaylani Juanita’s gentle and vivid and joyful illustrations bring such tenderness and whimsy and delight to the text. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more beautiful visual language for it. I hope this book will help children who are missing someone they love feel seen and understood.
Nina LaCour is the award-winning author of several books for young adults, including We Are Okay, which won the Michael L. Printz Award, and Hold Still, which was a William C. Morris Debut Award finalist and won the Northern California Book Award. Nina LaCour lives in California with her wife and daughter.
Kaylani Juanita is the illustrator of several books for children, including the Stonewall Book Award winner When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff. She is also the illustrator of Magnificent Homespun Brown by Samara Cole Doyon, A House for Every Bird by Megan Maynor, and The Little Things: A Story About Acts of Kindness by Christian Trimmer. Kaylani Juanita lives in California.