A Feather in My Cap

Finally I can say something. My new picture book, "Does A Feather Remember?" was just announced the other day in Publishers Weekly. I am really excited about this book for many reasons. For one, it is a poem I wrote that is very different from what I have done in my other books. I have written poems as long as I have written sentences. My poetry tends to be more evocative. It's a completely different side of my soul.

Little Brown Books for Young Readers will be publishing "Does A Feather Remember?" A new publisher and a new editor. Another reason to be excited. My editor asked me to write a little piece about writing "Does A Feather Remember?" and I wrote this:

Nina’s Notes on writing “DOES A FEATHER REMEMBER?”

I was walking on our neighborhood beach on Lummi Island in the San Juan islands in Washington state. It was June 15th in 2009. I spied a beautiful feather on the beach and picked it up. I had been saving feathers for years and had a vase where I kept them- a bouquet of feathers instead of flowers. I held that feather- it had belonged to a bald eagle, and I thought about the native American legend that eagle feathers are to be left where they are found so that they can return to the heavens, and the thought crossed my mind, “does a feather remember it once was a bird?” Does that feather “fly” back to heaven like the bird it once was? As I walked on the beach- a favorite meditation method for me- I started to write a poem in my head which became “Does A Feather Remember?” The original poem contained eight couplets and they reflected memories of “origins” like, “does a chair remember it once was a tree?” “Does an ocean remember it once was rain?” These were deep and soulful questions, and they came at a particularly difficult time in my life when I was dealing with a major family crisis with two of my stepsons, both in their early twenties. I continued working on the poem and submitted it to Connie Hsu at Little, Brown. We had met at an SCBWI conference and we bonded over the coincidence that we share the same birthday. Connie helped me build on the poem I started to find the flow to take the “origins and remembrances” and make them build on each other, ultimately bringing the bigger and bigger thoughts back around to the child reading the book, “will you remember you once were a child?”

The decision to not illustrate my own book was an interesting one. I am both an illustrator and a writer, but we felt that my style was just not right for the text. I was actually very happy to let someone else illustrate one of my “babies” for the first time in my career. Connie suggested Renata Liwska and I went to my local bookstore, Secret Garden in Seattle, and picked up “The Quiet Book” and “The Loud Book,” and found her work very sweet and endearing. (I have never been accused of being warm and fuzzy in my illustrations!) I checked out Renata’s work online as well and felt good that she would add the right look and feel to my poem. I was also happy to see that Renata was originally from Poland. My heritage is mostly Polish and Russian; my last name used to be Ladinski, but it was changed by my grandfather to Laden. Maybe our DNA remembers we once were related?

I am very excited to see “Does A Feather Remember?” coming to life. This will show that I do have a poetic side, and a deep one at that. There is more of this in me and I hope it will help children see the beautiful and reflective nature of not only the world around us, but how we remember it.

Nina Laden
February 2, 2012

And yes, I am NOT illustrating this book. This will be the first time that someone else will illustrate my words. I am very excited to see what Renata Liwska will bring to the table. Her work is soft and sublime. My work is edgier. Her style will add layers of comfort to my words that they need. It feels good to let go and let this happen. I did try a few different styles and techniques which I'll show here.

I tried a retro look, a dry brush approach and the collage that I put at the top of this post. They all were interesting, but ultimately they did not work for my editor and publisher. Creating a book is a team effort and I was happy to let the team choose another big player. I am so looking forward to seeing Renata's sketches and then her final illustrations. This is a new place for me to be- a different perspective. 

It is also letting me work on other books, which I am doing in earnest, and I hope to have some other new announcements soon. In the meantime, I'm so happy that this "Feather" is flying. The book will hopefully publish in Fall of 2013, which can't come soon enough.

With Love,


  1. Ah, Nina! Wonderful-feather-fulness. I'm excited to see and read "Feather."

  2. This sounds like a lovely book, Nina. I think the illustrator they've chosen is a good fit for the themes that sound like they are in your poem. I really look forward to reading it. I also look forward to seeing where else these new perspectives take you in future work. Thanks for posting.

  3. Thanks, Wendy and Kjersten for your votes of confidence! I'm looking forward to finding ways to do other collaborative works. It's nice to be able to mix things up, too. Brains like freshness!

  4. Congratulations! I'm looking forward to seeing it (and I just love that it is a poem)!

  5. Dear Nina,

    I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to illustrate DOES A FEATHER REMEMBER. It is wonderful and you are wonderful to me for sharing it.

    I have to say I have been having so much fun drawing it so far, It has opened up my imagination to lots of new ideas and introduced new characters and critters for me to draw.

    Thank you,

  6. Renata- I am thrilled that you are doing FEATHER! I not only look forward to seeing your gorgeous illustrations, but I also hope we will meet sometime in the near future. I am also thanking YOU.
    With warm wishes- Nina


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