An interview with M.H. Clark and Beya Rebaï in partnership with Compendium, Inc.
The Children’s Book Review
There can never be enough books in the world to celebrate and encourage unconditional love. Award-winning writer and poet M.H. Clark‘s heartfelt words combine with Paris-based illustrator Beya Rebaï’s colorful artwork in an expressive and inspirational picture book ready to be gifted to the ones you love. Here, they discuss their stunning collaboration, Over and Over.
Bianca Schulze: In a world marked by uncertainty, Over and Over is described as a reassuring tale celebrating the gentle rituals that ground a child’s world. What was your seed of inspiration for writing this poem and ode to unconditional love?
M.H. Clark: The inspiration for Over and Over came from a tiny, accordion-style book I had as a child. It simply listed the seasons, one by one, and then the months of the year. I remember the satisfaction and delight I felt in reading it through, and eventually memorizing it. I loved knowing what came next—that after July was August, and after August was September, and then, at the very end of the year, it would all begin over again. For all of the unexpectedness in our world, there are always predictable rhythms to our days, weeks, months, and years. All of us, but especially children, can find comfort in the cycles of things that repeat themselves predictably, no matter how complex the world may be.
Over the pandemic, the children in my life have felt their worlds shift in big and challenging ways. I wanted to write Over and Over as a source of comfort for them, and a reminder of the small routines that can both ground us and bring us together. No matter how changed our days are, we are still waking up together… putting on our shoes… we are still looking up at the sky, watching the shapes of the clouds change. There is a deep calm in this—in the things that we do over and over, the things that stay the same.
Writing poetry that reads effortlessly is no easy feat. Did the words for Over and Over come easily to you?
M.H. Clark: What a great question! When writing rhyming books for children, I often feel that the first stanza somehow “finds me,” without my even looking for it. It tends to come fully formed and feels almost like a bird who’s just flown in an open window, and is asking for my care. I’ve always found that if I pay attention to the rhyme structure and meter of that first stanza, the rest of the book comes very naturally. Maybe not effortless (there are always tricky spots!) but fairly seamlessly.
The poem follows a young girl and her father as they enjoy the simple pleasures of each day—from sitting down for breakfast to gazing at the clouds to counting the stars before laying down to sleep. It also follows the seasons of the years. There feels like there is a lot of metaphor to prompt some pretty deep thoughts, but also, it’s a humble story of a father-daughter connection. At face value, what do you hope readers will take away from reading Over and Over? And for those willing to ponder the poem on a deeper level, what do you think they’ll find?
M.H. Clark: Thank you for this deep and sensitive question! I think, at face value, this book is about the beauty of being together with someone we love as the little, cyclical, everyday details of our lives unfold—making a birthday cake, lying on the grass, putting on our coats and hats. It’s about paying attention to the world, and the slow, subtle changes of it—touching the world deeply in small ways.
On another level, there’s an understanding that we are also a part of this passing of time, and that each small act on every seemingly ordinary day becomes part of something much bigger. It’s as Annie Dillard says, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I think those who read this poem in this way will find a reminder that each little moment is an integral piece of our much, much larger lives—and that it is a gift to be building something slowly and intentionally and even repetitively with someone we love.
Each page honors the magic in the familiar and the simple wonder of togetherness with poetic storytelling and captivating imagery. Beautifully informed by the words, the artwork elevates the story with a palette of cool-toned colors and splashes of peachy reds. Will you share your thoughts and feelings on how the text and illustrations work together?
M.H. Clark: To me, Beya’s illustrations bring so much light, life, and energy to the text. The richness of the palette is such a powerful reminder that the world itself is brilliant when we offer it our attention. And the characters themselves (along with their sweet, old dog) are such a profound illustration of everyday togetherness It is meaningful to witness them as they move through their days.
Beya Rebaï: We chose a color palette that matched the calm and serene atmosphere of the story. There are blue and green tones that capture the softness of the vegetation, and touches of bright red that enhance the whole and give dynamism to the illustrations. I wanted the drawings to reflect the beautiful simplicity of everyday life and invite readers to travel through the pages as well as through the seasons.
Beya, would you like to share how you created the artwork? And do the stunning colors you used have any fancy color names as some paints do?
Beya Rebaï: To illustrate a text I have to feel it first. When I read the words of M.H. Clark they moved me so much and I tried to use those emotions in my illustrations. As for my process, I first presented what inspired me in the text in the form of very basic sketches. Then with the feedback of the artistic director, I gradually refined the illustrations, adding the details needed to enhance a reader’s understanding of the story. Along the way, I did research on the fauna and flora present according to the seasons. I love to immerse myself in botanical books to bring the technical touch so that children can recognize the species of flowers and animals in the illustrations.
Do you each have a favorite moment in the book? A piece of art or particular phrasing?
M.H. Clark: I’m very much in love with the gatefold spread! I can just imagine a parent and child unfolding it across their laps and looking at all the details together—the way the whole year is represented in the illustration. To me, a gatefold spread always feels like a surprise treat, but this one feels exceptionally perfect to me.
Beya Rebaï: My favorite scene is when the dad and daughter look up at the sky and guess the animals. I loved illustrating this moment because it reminded me of when I was a child and when I invented unlikely animals with my imagination.
The book has been designed beautifully with a debossed hardcover and a captivating gatefold honoring the wonder of the changing seasons. I imagine Over and Over making a heartfelt gift book to share between a parent and a child. Who do you each imagine gifting and receiving your book?
M.H. Clark: I think the gentle, lyrical words of this book make it a great bedtime story for very young children, so I see it as a beautiful baby shower gift, or gift for a young child’s birthday. I also think it makes a wonderful anytime gift—especially from a parent or grandparent. This book really is all about the beauty in sharing everyday moments, so it makes for a perfect impromptu gift too.
Beya Rebaï: I can’t wait to offer it to my dad because I was really inspired by him and our relationship. I think he will be very moved. I also think it beautifully honors single-parent families so I’ll be offering it to my loved ones in this situation
Personally, when I gift a child a book, I often enjoy pairing it with something else—a toy, a sentimental trinket, something useful, or even a cozy blanket. What would you pair with Over and Over as part of a gift?
M.H. Clark: A cozy blanket is a lovely idea for a pairing with this title! It’s a comforting object that can come with you wherever you go, and can be used for so many of the moments that appear in the book—lying on a grassy hill and looking at the clouds, snuggling up while stargazing, or eating a piece of fruit together on a fall picnic. In fact, there’s a classic plaid blanket in that picnic illustration!
Beya Rebaï: I would definitely pair it with an illustration for a child’s room!
And can you picture kids and their grownups reading it? If yes, describe what you visualize.
M.H. Clark: To me, the gentle rhymes make this a classic bedtime story. I can see a child tucked in and ready for bed, reading this with a parent or caregiver, and savoring the comforting feeling of familiar rituals. The gatefold spread offers one more moment together before sleep, with the ritual of a goodnight kiss built right into the text.
Beya Rebaï: I can see the child and the parent lying on a large blanket in a meadow on a summer afternoon under a tree, just like the illustration I made!
For parting words, is there anything else you feel we should know about Over and Over or yourselves?
M.H. Clark: I hope this book becomes a treasured part of a family’s time together! And that it serves as a reminder that the things we do over and over are some of the most precious and meaningful parts of our lives.
Beya Rebaï: It was an absolute pleasure illustrating this great and moving story and I hope children will enjoy discovering all the details I put into the illustrations.
Over and Over
Written by M.H. Clark
Illustrated by Beya Rebaï
Ages 3+ | 28 Pages
Publisher: Compendium | ISBN-13: 9781970147773
Publisher’s Synopsis: Over and Over follows a young girl and her father as they enjoy life’s simple everyday pleasures—from sitting down for breakfast to gazing at the clouds to counting the stars before lying down to sleep. With gentle rhyming storytelling and captivating imagery, each page honors the daily routines that help a child feel safe within the world. This book is a beautiful bedtime read to soothe the anxious feelings of a child and strengthen a family bond.
- Over and Over‘s main characters highlight a touching bond between father and daughter
- Vibrant oil pastel illustrations work to ease a child’s anxiety and remind them they are deeply loved
- Includes a debossed hardcover and an alluring four-page gatefold of all four seasons
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This interview—M.H. Clark and Beya Rebaï Discuss Over and Over—was conducted between M.H. Clark, Beya Rebaï, and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Bedtime Stories, Fathers, M.H. Clark, Picture Book, and Rhyming Text.
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June 28, 2022 at 12:37PM Bianca Schulze