Aug 8, 2023

ARMANDO'S ISLAND: Interview With Author Marsha Diane Arnold


to a new and important picture book, ARMANDO'S ISLAND, and to its creators, Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrator, Anne Yvonne Gilbert

Marsha Diane Arnold

 It has been my pleasure and an honor to review this impressive new offering (HERE) and several other previous titles by Arnold, HERE and HERE. She has kindly agreed to discuss some of my questions and I'm delighted to share that conversation with readers today, on LAUNCH DAY for ARMANDO's ISLAND.

SB: Thanks for taking time to respond to my questions, Marsha. ARMANDO’S ISLAND is such a lovely, lush, and important new picture book that I’m imagining you are quite busy celebrating its release today. I'll get right into it so you can go back to cake and tropical treats!.

Which came first for you in this writing- the topic of the rainforest, the character Armando, or something else? Readers love hearing the story behind a story.



First, I should explain that I wrote this story over twenty years ago. I don’t have a lot of my early notes. I’ve always loved nature and wildlife. I feel most at home in nature, surrounded by wildlife. I’ve been involved for decades with organizations that work to preserve nature and our precious wildlife. For me to write a story, a fable really, about the destruction of the rainforest, was not a big leap. To answer your question, I started with the rainforest and its wildlife

SB:  From that response, I wonder if you could share more about your research process and decisions in terms of writing fiction or nonfiction, writing realistic contemporary or taking a slightly fantastical/magical approach? How did you “land” on the storytelling approach here?



I’m a storyteller at heart. I enjoy writing fiction stories and I often use anthropomorphic animals.  I feel young children naturally relate to stories and talking animals. In my Lights Out, also from Creative Company, I wanted to write about how light pollution affects animals, but I didn’t want to do it with non-fiction. I chose to write the tale of a group of animals, searching together for Darkness, trying to escape the constant light that surrounded them. So too I decided to write a fable-like story of the rainforest and its destruction. 


My memory is that I wrote this story fairly quickly and didn’t research extensively. I already knew what was happening in the rainforest. I already knew a bit about the wildlife that lived in the rainforest. I needed a setting and I did think about other places, like Indonesia, but the wildlife of the Amazon rainforest called to me. 


But your questions caused me to think again. I have almost no notes on my computer, but I wrote the story over two decades ago. I searched my file cabinet and lo and behold! There, in a drawer rarely opened, was a long forgotten file entitled Armando’s Island. In it I found a 1993 note from the World Wildlife fund about tropical rain forests! I found a brochure from the Rainforest Alliance, information from Amazon Watch, and notes I’d taken from other books about the rainforest. I was probably collecting information for years before I sat down to write. This often happens with me. An idea tumbles in my head for months or years, I collect information as I come across it, and finally sit down to write the story.


SB: An aside... I recently moved and downsized many things, but transported some of my own writing files (hard copies), even ones I hadn't opened for years. Your response encourages me to think that I might one day be glad i did. Thank you.

 Back to the subject at hand...

Do you dream of the rainforest, of visiting it, of returning to it? Do other habitats and global destinations call to you?


My husband and I had a tiny casita in Costa Rica for a time. It was near the forest. Toucans, peccaries, and monkeys surrounded us. To me, that was heaven. And yes, I’d love to visit more rainforests around the world. The setting of my first book, Heart of a Tiger, was India, yet I’ve never visited. Besides the Amazon, I’ve longed to visit India and see a tiger in the wild.


SB: My review mentioned the challenges felt by individual protectors standing strong against more wealthy and powerful forces. Would you share your thoughts about that, and about how young readers might retain their purpose and determination when feeling very small or helpless?


MDA: I think we all feel small and helpless against the forces of destruction. My May 2023 book One Small Thing had this exact theme. It’s a “cozy” book, even though Raccoon loses his home to a lightning strike in it. The other animals don’t know how to help, until they each realize that they don’t have to do something big.  Just one small thing will benefit. All those small things together can make a big difference. Each of us can do “one small thing” to help the rainforest, whether it’s eating local beef and fruits or avoiding products with palm oil. Perhaps, most importantly, we can start by learning about the rainforests and their wildlife. When we learn about them, we will care. Only when we care, will we have the will to do something.


I’m currently working on an Activity Guide foArmando’s Island. That will be one way to learn about the rainforest and how to protect it. I hoped to have the guide on my website by launch day, but it is likely to be available be early September as schools resume.


SB: Is there something else about this book that you’d like readers to know?



The illustrations are magnificent. As my grandson says, “They’re so detailed.” Anne Yvonne Gilbert is a world-renowned illustrator and I am humbled to have had her do the illustrations for Armando’s Island. If you, like me, can’t fly off to a rainforest right now, just open Armando’s Island and sit for awhile with the beautiful wildlife Anne Yvonne has painted.


SB: I can't wait to do that very thing. (I reviewed a file of the book.) My preordered copy should arrive today!

I have no doubt that you are busy celebrating the release of this wonderful new book, but you are also likely to be involved in writing/planning for new works and upcoming releases. Are you able to share any news or hint at some sprouts?


MDA: The truth is that I’ve had two books come out this year and with all the PR for those, plus the manuscript consultations I do for other writers, I’ve had little time to work on my own projects. However, I did sell a manuscript in January that I am very excited about. It hasn’t been announced, so sadly, I can’t share about it quite yet. It is non-fiction, most unusual for me, but it’s not about a person or an animal. Wait until you see! Look for it in spring 2025! 


I do have several stories I am eager to begin work on or finish up. A couple of those are about animals. Probably not a surprise.


Thank you so much, Sandy, for your interest in my work and the rainforest!


SB: Diane, I am so grateful for having this opportunity to share the book and your responses with readers here. Thank you again for sharing your time and thoughts. Congratulations on the importance and success of this latest release, and the upcoming new title-- I'm so excited to learn more!

Readers, you can read my recent review HERE, and praise from others HERE, and HERE.


Marsha Diane Arnold


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