We Belong: An Interview with Author Laura Purdie Salas

Explore and celebrate who you are and who others are too! The new picture book We Belong by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Carlos Vélez Aquilera invites others to notice the diversity of our world and affirm that we all belong, just as we are.

Read today’s post to find out how Laura Purdie Salas began writing the book, the challenges of this project, and how to help others feel like they belong.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

The idea for We Belong actually came from editor Carol Hinz. In 2018, I sent her a manuscript that dealt with opposites and labels and how descriptions like big or small and black or white and happy or sad are awfully limiting when describing humans. At the end of that manuscript there was a little sign at a carnival that welcomed everyone. That bit rhymed, though the rest of the book didn’t. Carol rejected the manuscript, but said, “I love, love, love those two stanzas of rhyming verse you wrote for The Everyone Carnival! What would you think of potentially writing an affirming book for young children all in verse?” So I dove in!

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong?

In the moment, I have often felt like that, especially when I’ve been the new person. When my family moved after 7th grade…when my husband and I moved from Florida to Minnesota without knowing a soul up here…when I tried drum corps for the first time…when I went to my first writing conference. All of those times, I felt like everyone else all knew each other and knew what to do, and I felt like the oddball. 

In a bigger sense, though, I always feel like I belong here in this world. Nature and books reinforce that feeling. When I’m sitting on rocks along Lake Superior or on my deck watching the quaking aspens—and of course when I’m with people I love—then I know I belong.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The most difficult thing about writing We Belong was trying to be both universal and specific. I wanted every reader to be able to connect. But I wanted specific scenes and actions and sounds so that it wasn’t just an abstract concept. I didn’t want it to sound like a greeting card! 

What’s your favorite part of the artwork?

I really adore Carlos Vélez Aguilera’s nighttime scenes. Those fireworks! And I love the spread that shows earth from space, when the kids are sitting in a planetarium. That spread holds the key to the book for me.

What do you hope young readers get from this book?

I hope they get a sense of perspective. It’s so hard to have perspective as a young kid. Seeing different places and meeting people who have lived different lives than you do gives you perspective. But most of us live in one place and hang out with people a lot like ourselves. Books give you a chance to eavesdrop on other people’s lives and think about what it would be like to be someone else. When we wonder about how life is for other people, we grow into better human beings.

What can we do to help people feel like they belong?

Smile and say hi! When you’re some place you’re comfortable, look for the new person. Make a point of saying hi and seeing if they have questions. I mean, it might even be somebody you already know, but it’s their first time at book club or volleyball practice or whatever. It’s such a small thing—smiling and saying hi. But it helps!

Share this introductory video with your students

Praise for We Belong

“An upbeat, empowering celebration of human diversity.”—Kirkus Reviews

“[T]his buoyant picture book promotes a hopeful vision of unity and camaraderie.”—Publishers Weekly

“Salas took the challenge and created the lively new book with three things in mind to present to her young readers: rhyme, opposites and the idea of belonging.” – Pioneer Press

Connect with the Author and Illustrator

Laura Purdie Salas

Carlos Vélez Aguilera

We love Lerner authors and illustrators! Find more interviews on the Lerner blog here.

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