Episode 105 – Interview with Meredith Lesney and Encouraging our Children to Work Toward Their Dreams

In this episode we talk with Meredith Lesney about her book on adoption and family called Spaghetti and Meatball and about encouraging children to work toward their dreams. 

Our Guest: Meredith Lesney

Meredith Lesney was born in Seoul, South Korea and at four months of age, she was adopted into a family in the United States. She grew up in Pennsylvania with her parents and older sister. Meredith attended Lock Haven University where she completed her B.S. degree in Library Science. She also has two Masters degrees in technology from Wilkes University. She currently works as a middle school librarian. 

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. I’m very excited to introduce you today to my guest. Her name is Meredith Lesney, and she is the author of Spaghetti and Meatball, a wonderful picture book about adoption and about family. She is a teacher and a librarian and the illustrator is one of her dear friends, Felicia Parish. And she’s also a teacher at the very same school where Meredith is. And so it’s a really unique story. They wrote this book together, and I just can’t wait for you to hear from her today. Thank you, Meredith, for joining us today.

Meredith:

Thank you so much for having me.

Terrie:

I’m so happy to get to talk with you. You are my first author who I’ve interviewed, who was recommended by a child who loves your book.

Meredith:

Oh, that’s wonderful.

Terrie:

And I think that’s just so cool. I mean, what a great way to be introduced to someone, but one of my friends, her son loves your book, and he’s also Korean and adopted from Korea. And I know you were adopted from Korea. You want to start by telling us a little bit about your adoption story?

Meredith:

Sure. I was adopted from Seoul from South Korea when I was about four months. My parents had already adopted another child, my sister, who is about two and a half years older than me. I was adopted through Eastern Welfare. And actually about 10 years ago, I had taken a trip back to Korea to visit my Homeland with my adoption agency. We went, and it was amazing. I got to hold all of the babies that were put up for adoption and you know, got to see the entire country. And it was just an absolute wonderful, amazing experience.

Terrie:

That’s awesome. I love Seoul. We’ve been there on mission trips–gosh, two or three times. We used to work in a Korean church in LA and took a group of youth to Korea for a cultural trip and a mission trip one summer. And that was so much fun. Loved it. I wish I could go back sometime.

Meredith:

Me too.

Terrie:

I love your book. I think it is adorable. Can you tell us a little bit about the story and how it came about?

Meredith:

Sure. Well, my favorite cousin, his name is Bailey, one year for my birthday he gave me a stuffed animal, and I was just like, “he looks like a giant meatball.” He was like this big round duck. And so I brought him–I’m a middle school librarian–So I would always tell my students stories. So I was like, I going to bring Meatball into school and start telling them stories about Meatball. So I started telling them stories and they’re, they’re like, “You should write a book, you should write a book about Meatball.” And I’ve always told them that I wanted to become an author. It was like my lifelong dream. And they’re like, “When are you going to do it?” I’m like, okay, okay, I’m going to do it because I always tell my students, you can do anything you want to, like, if you work really hard, you have to at least try. So I’m like, I have to do it. I’m just going to sit down, and I’m going to write. And they always tell you to write about something that you’re familiar with. And so I wanted to write about my adoption story, because it’s very, very important to me and I thought, well, I can write about Meatball’s adoption story. So my best, one of my best friends as well, she is the illustrator to the book. So it was just kind of like, you know, the librarian and the art teacher in the school. Let’s do this.

Terrie:

I think that’s so awesome. You’re both educators and you know the importance of books, especially as a librarian and how important reading is to children. And so it’s just like a perfect pairing of you two writing. I love it. I’m a teacher too, so that’s near and dear to my heart. In an interview, you mentioned that you’re working on some other stories too. So are we going to see Meatball again in some future stories?

Meredith:

Definitely. I have lots and lots of ideas. You know, being a teacher, you get lots of ideas, you meet lots of different kids and sometimes some of their personalities come out in my stories, but in each of my stories, you know, the first one, I always have like a quote like “love makes a family.” I write that in all of my books when I sign them. But I also want to have some sort of learning, some sort of lesson, some sort of difference in a character or just something that’s not just the normal story. I’ll give you a little hint. The next story. Meatball’s best friend. Her name is Felbow Macaroni, like elbow macaroni, but her name is Felbow. Yeah.

Terrie:

Okay, cool. I love at the end of your book, you included drawings of Meatball done by your different students. I thought that was brilliant.

Meredith:

Yes. I get so many different pictures. My wall, the one wall in my library is just all pictures that kids, they drew for me of Meatball. So I just went up and I took pictures of each of them because I get so many of them, you know? So I wanted to show them that you know, what they do is important as well.

Terrie:

So can you talk a little bit about the importance of books in a child’s life?

Meredith:

I always say it’s where you get your foundation for education. You know, when your parents are reading to you as a child, you can see, you know, being a teacher, how books have affected children in what they like to do. And their test scores, like, reading just makes them so smart. Their vocabulary is just outstanding. And I always tell the kids, it doesn’t matter if it’s a book, it’s a magazine, it’s a newspaper. If you’re reading something, read something that you’re interested in. You know, books are just everything, everything to me.

Terrie:

Yeah. I have a lot of students that I teach online and many of my students are in Asia and they love to memorize lists of vocabulary. And I’m like, but you don’t own it until you use it. If you just read, you’re going to gain that vocabulary. If you just, especially cause they read on a Kindle a lot, I’m like “Just hold your finger on it, it’ll tell you what it means. If you don’t know what the word means.” And you’re going to pick it up a lot faster and it’s going to become yours much faster if you gain it that way than memorizing definitions. And then it’s more fun too. I mean, come on.

Meredith:

Right.

Terrie:

I always ask people what their favorite books are to read to the children in their lives. Do you have some favorites as a librarian? I know you said you’re middle school and we talk a lot about picture books on this podcast, but I would love to hear what books you recommend. Well, first of all, what picture books do you love to read to children? And second, what are some good wholesome books for middle schoolers to read?

Meredith:

I love Patricia Polacco, all of Patricia Polacco’s books. I love, I mean, there’s so many picture books that I don’t know if you’ve ever read one. It’s a really great book. There are just so many. And I love like all of the classic books like Sylvester and The Magic Pebble, just things that I’ve read in my, you know, childhood that I’ve loved. I don’t think I’ve ever read a picture book that I’m like, “eh, didn’t like it.” You know, I wish I dealt more with picture books. I love writing picture books because I love the art with it, you know, to be able to work with a friend and to be able to describe what I’m picturing in my head. But you know, I truly love middle school books as well. Some of the wonderful books that I love there was Dumpling Days.

Meredith:

I read Dumpling Days. It’s about a Korean and an American and going back to her roots. Also, I don’t know, this is a young adult book, but it’s called I Will Always Write Back. It’s about a girl who, and this is a true story, about a girl who had a pen pal, her seventh grade teacher said, where would you like a pen pal? And she said, Zimbabwe, they developed this lifelong friendship. And it was just such a learning experience. I just actually listened to it because I always, as I’m doing walking my dog and everything, I listen to books and this is like the third time I’m listening to that book as I walk.

Terrie:

Yeah. Well, I have several students who’ve been asking me what books to read over the summer. And so I’m always looking for middle school and high school level books that I can recommend cause I don’t have time to read all of them. What’s what? And so I recommended some that I’ve been reading, but I love hearing of other ones that are good. Okay. And when you were a child, what were your favorite books to read?

Meredith:

I loved a book, it was called Spectacles. I took it out every single time I went to the library and I remember my mom telling me that I had to let another child take it out, and I would get– it was about a little girl who had glasses and whenever she took her glasses off the shapes of things that she would see, she wouldn’t be able to see, like she would say, oh my goodness, there’s like a wooly mammoth, but it was really just kids in her class. You know? I don’t know what, why I love that book so much. I remember Fred and Ted, like I remember all of the books my mom used to read to us like every single night before we went to bed. So it’s probably where my love of books started from.

Terrie:

Yeah. That’s cool. Can you tell us even just a little bit more about, I don’t know, where your heart is when it comes to why you write picture books, what you want children to gain from your books and how you want them to help families, that kind of thing. Can you speak to where your heart is?

Meredith:

I think that, you know, growing up in today’s society, I don’t think it’s easy for kids. I think there’s so many things that they have to go through. And I think that there’s so many different family structures and just issues that kids go through. I would like to touch upon them just to make kids feel that it’s okay. Like you’re normal, like everybody’s different and that’s wonderful. Like I know my students say stuff like you’re a little weird and I’m like, that’s okay. I own my weirdness. Like I’m okay with that. You know, like, I want kids to feel comfortable in their own skin. I want them to make the friends that make them happy and to do things that are not for anybody else but themselves. So that’s what I really want to bring out in my books. Like, you know, love yourself, be happy, find what makes you tick, you know, what makes your life complete?

Terrie:

How can people contact you if they would like to have you, do you do, do you speak at other schools? Do you have time to?

Meredith:

I do. I have, you know, I am a teacher, but I do have, you know, summers off. We, you know, before COVID hit, we were doing bookstores and we were doing public libraries and we went into like a good amount of schools, but then COVID hit and nobody was leaving. Nobody was going anywhere. So it’s kind of died down a little bit. We’re getting back into the swing of things this summer, but still people are still being careful, you know? And I completely understand that. And when I meet people at conferences and stuff, I say, “You know, hey, if your kids want to meet Meatball, I can zoom with you. You know, I have stuffed Meatball at home. He would love to meet your kids!” But we would do Zooms or anything, you know, people want, they can contact me. It’s ilovemeatballsandwich@gmail.com. You can email us if kids want to email Meatball and ask him a question. You know, Meatball definitely will write back and answer their question.

Terrie:

Is there anything else that you would like to share today?

Meredith:

I think it writing a story about something that you’re so passionate about and, you know, adoption and just adding the little, this was my dream and it sounds cliché to say, “Oh, I tell everybody to follow their dreams, but it’s really true.” Like I never thought I would be able to publish a book ever in my entire life. It was one of those dreams that you don’t know if it’s really ever attainable. So I want people to know that. Just try and just, if you want to do something, it can’t hurt to try

Terrie:

That’s right. And don’t give up.

Meredith:

No, never give up, never give up.

Terrie:

My dream is to also write picture books and I haven’t been published yet, but I’ve been working. I shifted from writing devotional books to writing picture books about five years ago. And so the first thing was the learning curve, you know, learning how to write a picture book, what all that entails. And I had written one for my daughter. She’s– I have four kids and three of the four on the autism spectrum and she’s always been very fearful and shy. And so I wrote, and she loves dragons. So I wrote a picture book just for her, it was just for her about a little dragon who’s shy and isn’t all ferocious and had it printed up for her for Christmas. And I actually told her to draw me some pictures cause she likes to draw. And so she actually illustrated the book without her knowing it and oh,

Terrie:

It was just so much fun. But of course, when I sent that off to publishers, they’re like it’s too long.

Meredith:

I know, I know it. You definitely have to develop a tough skin when it comes to, you know, sending out your work, you think, “Yeah, I can do this, I got this, I got this.” And then you’re like, you get rejection letter after rejection letter and it, you know, it gets, it gets you but you just have to keep at it.

Terrie:

That’s right. Yeah. Just never give up. Okay. Well I really appreciate you sharing with us today and I highly recommend that people read your book. It is just adorable and I love that Meatball finds his forever home. It’s just really wonderful. Thank you for sharing with us and thank you for this wonderful book.

Meredith:

Thank you so much.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark” a podcast celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to contact Meredith or Felicia, you can reach both of them through the email address. ilovemeatballsandwich@gmail.com. Both of them can be reached through that email. You can also find out more about them on Amazon author pages. And if you would like to join my mailing list and get in touch with me, you can reach me at Terriehellardbrown.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share, and we would love it if you would comment on the podcast on my webpage, you can go to the transcript page and comment, ask questions, and we will always answer your questions and respond to your comments. We appreciate you and we appreciate you joining us today.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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