Tracy Subisak has illustrated such picture books as Grizzly Boy (by Barbara Davis-Pyles) and Shawn Loves Sharks (by Curtis Manley). Her debut as an author/illustrator, Jenny Mei Is Sad (Little, Brown, June 15), “intelligently and sympathetically demonstrates that children have complex emotional lives too,” according to our reviewer. The book made Kirkus’ list of the Best Picture Books of 2021. Subisak answered some questions over email.

What inspired you to create this book?

I began writing this book a month after my mom passed away, and it was completely inspired by all the ways my friends supported me during the time of grief. Before that time of my life, I didn’t know how to be a friend to someone who’s sad—my friends showed me that validating feelings; listening; and offering gems of happiness, distraction, or love were great ways to help. 

What was it like having a book come out in 2021? How did you connect with children in this socially distanced year?

Nearly every event was digital, but I was also lucky to say “hello” and read my book to people all over the country and world. It’s been so special to hear and see how Jenny Mei Is Sad has impacted children and how adults can open up conversation through social media and personal messages. 

Who is the ideal reader for your book, and where would they be reading it?

The most ideal reader for this book is…you! Anytime and anywhere! Everyone has been affected by sadness in some way. To be sad and read this book, you might feel connected to ways you could get support and know that sometimes it’s hard to express. To be a friend of someone who’s sad and read the book, you might understand what it’s like not knowing what to say—and that just being there can be enough. 

What qualities, in your opinion, make for a standout picture book?

Any book that I can feel connected to, can learn from, that takes me to a new world—this includes when the illustrations and words tell a complete story together. I also am a sucker for funny books! 

It’s story hour at the library. If you could have anyone in the world present your book to the kids, who would it be?

TikTok’s Your Korean Dad, aka Nick Cho, would be amazing. 

What children’s book most dazzled you this year?

I absolutely love I Do Not Like Yolanda by Zoey Abbott, My Love For You Is Always by Gillian Sze and Michelle Lee, and The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder and Catia Chien.