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Q&A: Ethan Murrow's Massachusetts Book Award

Ethan and Vita Murrow receiving Mass Book Award

Professor of the Practice Ethan Murrow and co-author Vita Murrow were recently recognized in a ceremony at the State House for the Massachusetts Book Awards. They received a Picture Book/Early Readers Honors award for their book Zero Local: Next Stop: Kindness. We asked Ethan a few questions about their illustrated book.

What inspired you to write/illustrate Zero Local: Next Stop: Kindness?

A few years ago, my creative partner (and spouse) Vita Murrow and I had been working through different ideas for our next book that focused on "paying it forward" with simple acts of kindness. About this time I was on the Orange Line on the way to work and saw the same person walk up to the driver and say "thank you, have a great day" and another time "excellent ride, thanks so much!" I was surprised because the stereotype of Boston commuters is that we can be a grouchy bunch of impolite weirdos. When I shared these interactions with Vita and how happy it made me to see someone be so nice, her first response was, “then you should do it too”. So I did, and now when I ride the train if I can catch the drivers eye I will thank them or wish them a good day. Zero Local was born from these interactions and the simple ways a small act of kindness can have positive ripples. 

Why did you decide to have this book be nearly wordless?

Wordless or mostly wordless books provide many different access points for all types of readers, whatever their experience, knowledge, comfort and understanding might be. We want our stories to be highly accessible and this format helps to open the door broadly for young people. We are also committed to stories that are image forward and function like silent films, using gesture and expression to help tell stories. We like the way this approach forces us to distill our story down to the essentials.  

What advice would you give to someone interested in making a book?

Your personal stories are important and need to be told but they will likely be stronger and more successful if you craft them collaboratively, seeking out lots of feedback, input and editing. Keep your future readers at the forefront of your mind, the only way your book will thrive is if they enjoy it. Ultimately any book is for them, not for you. So put your work in front of readers who think differently than you as much as possible and ask them to tell you how to improve your projects.

Top Image: Ethan and Vita Murrow receive their Massachusetts Book Award at the State House. Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts University.

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