Christina Geist, BUDDY'S NEW BUDDY

Christina Geist, BUDDY'S NEW BUDDY

New York Times bestselling author Christina Geist returns to talk with Zibby about her latest picture book, Buddy’s New Buddy. The two discuss the story of how Christina first began writing books for children, how long she wants to follow Buddy and Lady, and where her illustrator leaves Easter eggs for sharp-eyed readers throughout all three books. Christina also shares the two recent times she felt insecure in new situations and how they inspired her to have more compassion for young kids.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Christina. Thanks for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Buddy’s New Buddy.

Christina Geist: Thank you, Zibby. It’s so good to be back.

Zibby: This is so great. When I interviewed you years ago for Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School!, I didn’t know you. You walked into my apartment. We had this major bonding moment. I’m like, oh, my gosh, I have so much in common. I like her so much. Now we’ve had all these experiences before the next one came out, from lunches to joint events. It’s just so nice. It’s the greatest thing that’s happened from this podcast, is meeting amazing people, honestly, like you.

Christina: I feel the same way. Thank you, first of all. It was three years ago when Sorry, Grown-Ups came out. The one fun part about how long it takes me to get a picture book from manuscript to publication is that you do have time to build all these relationships in the meantime. It does give me a chance every three years to reflect on what’s happened since the last book. It’s been three years. Oh, my gosh, what a three years it’s been since 2019 to 2022. I always say this phase in my life, this whirlwind of my forties, has just made my world so much wider. I feel like we have that in common. I look at all that you’ve done with the podcast and with your business and with your own books. Your world just gets wider and wider. Sometimes I wonder, will she still remember me?

Zibby: What? What are you talking about?

Christina: Your world is so wide. The number of authors you’re chatting with and friends that you’re with all the time, I’m just in awe of you and the number of people and relationships that you’re managing on top of your family, which is number one. Cheers to you.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s very kind, but it doesn’t work like that. Nothing can take away my memories and relationships because more relationships come. There’s plenty of space in there for everybody.

Christina: Good, I’m glad to hear it. That’s the spirit of this new, sweet book, Buddy’s New Buddy. I didn’t even intend for that segue, but there it is.

Zibby: That was a brilliant segue. I love it. I love Buddy’s New Buddy. It was so awesome to get a preview of this book a few weeks ago. In case this is the first time people are meeting you, talk about the whole series and how it came to be and how this installment is so meaningful.

Christina: Happy to. My background, my like yours, Zibby, is in more the marketing and branding world of writing. Coming up in my career, about ninety percent of my job in corporate America was always dependent upon writing. I had very creative ways to express myself, even though it was through the lens of my job and my work, all the way up until I had my kids. Then when they were three and one, I waved the white flag and quit my job in the design office at Johnson & Johnson, which was kind of a dream job as a strategist in the consumer marketing world, but I just couldn’t make it all work. All of a sudden, I was home with my two kids, who were three and one. My whole life was the playground and preschool and bedtime and friendships and all of these transitions you go through as a parent and through the lens of really seeing into their world. My mind almost just opened up and had creative space to start to think about writing in this way, in children’s stories. These characters, Lady and Buddy, a brother and sister, started to dance around in my head, is the best way for me to describe it, when I was raising my kids. When they were three and five, so a couple years later when they were finally getting dropped off at the same school at the same time every morning — I’m sure many moms out there can relate to that moment of, oh, my gosh, I just dropped off at the same location.

Zibby: I’ve never actually done that. I’ve never had all kids dropped off at the same — unless I send them to their dad’s, I am dropping them at all sorts of other places.

Christina: That’s the difference between you and me because I only have two. One of my friends said God gave me what I can handle. I have two children. You have four. You can clearly handle more than me.

Zibby: That’s not necessarily true, but thank you for that.

Christina: Well, you’re doing it, fifteen years in. I was dropping them. I decided to just commit the time to writing these stories down the year they were in preschool and K. I wrote ten manuscripts in a creative sprint. That was ten years ago. It took me two years to get a meeting, ultimately, at Random House where I felt like — the biggest case of imposter syndrome you can ever have is walking into Random House headquarters in New York City with your pile of Word doc manuscripts and just wondering, is there anything here? I had hoped to have coffee with the lowest person on the totem pole. I was asking to have coffee with an intern in the children’s department and asked a friend to help me with that. That friend, who’s very bold, ended up emailing my material to the president of the children’s division, Barbara Marcus. There I was then meeting with Maria Modugno, who’s on her team in editorial, and thinking, oh, my gosh, this was the coffee I was supposed to be having with an intern. Here I am now in Maria’s office. I sold a book that day. That was Buddy’s Bedtime Battery, which was published in 2016. Three years later, Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School! was published, which was also very close to the original manuscript I had written several years earlier.

We find Buddy in the first book at about three and a half years old struggling with his bedtime routine, as many of us can relate to, and then a couple years later going off to school and experiencing that transition in my own unique way, which is very different from a lot of the off-to-school books, which tend to be kind of sad, shy, scared. Sorry, Grown-Ups is all about empowerment and pushing the grown-ups away. Only kids and teachers can go to school. In this new story, we find Buddy a little older. He ages a bit in each book. Now, in my imagination, he’s in about first or second grade. His best buddy has just moved all the way across town. That might as well be all the way across the world when you’re a little person. I wrote this story in 2019 before COVID, in the fall of 2019. As I mentioned, it takes me about three years to get a book into the publisher and then have all the illustrations and be getting into the production cycle and all the things that happen on the publication side. In that three years, the whole world has turned upside down. So many of us have either moved or had people close to us move or experienced loss in other ways that are even more profound than someone moving away. We find Buddy on page one kind of feeling sad, which is different. Most books don’t open with someone feeling sad. Here he is looking out the window at the moving van across the street as his best buddy moves all the way across town. There he is. Don’t worry, it has a happy ending.

Zibby: Perhaps Buddy makes a new friend. I don’t know.

Christina: He does, yeah. The premise of the book is, who will do all of his things with him now, all the things that he’s used to doing? So much of being young is routine. So many of our little people have had their routines completely turned upside down and then reinvented. I feel like this back-to-school 2022 will feel, hopefully for many of us and for our kids, a real return to routine in a way that they crave and I know we all do too. For Buddy, that really feels for him like, who will I do all these things with now? His very helpful big sister, Lady, who is omnipresent in all of my stories as this gentle hand, they have a very loving sibling relationship I think we can all aspire to in our homes. Lady, who’s a couple years older, is just a few steps ahead of Buddy. She suggests to him, “How about making a new friend? All you have to do is find the things you have in common.”

What she does is she sketches out on her little easel in a line drawing, all the things that Buddy might have in common with someone, even his favorite cookies or karate or the game that he likes to play, which is called Robo Chargers. In my mind, Robo Chargers is like a version of chess, but it’s with little robot pieces. The little robots can do different things. Some can jump. Some can go backwards, etc. Who will he play Robo Chargers with now? She sketches this out for him. “You just have to find something you have in common.” Of course, the next day, he doesn’t find anything. She says, “It’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day,” which is something we say in my family. Tomorrow’s a new day. Sure enough, tomorrow, a new girl comes to school. Her name is Alison, which is my sister’s name. Mr. Teacher introduces her to the class and says, “Please welcome Alison. She just moved here all the way from across town.” She says to him, “My real official name is Alison, but nobody really calls me that. Everybody just calls me Sunny.” Buddy can’t believe his ears. This is my favorite page. Buddy has a real official name, and nobody calls him that either.

Zibby: The illustrations are so amazing. For people listening, he’s just sitting there with his eyes basically popping out of his head gripping his desk being overjoyed.

Christina: Hold on. I have a real official name too, and nobody calls me that either. Everybody just calls him Buddy. He’s never met anyone else with two names before. There begins this friendship between Buddy and Sunny where they discover all of the things that they, in fact, have in common. It’s fun to read with my little people because so many of them have real official names, and nobody calls them that either. Maybe they’re a William, and they go by —

Zibby: — Maybe it’s me.

Christina: They are Elizabeth, and they’re Zibby. They’re William, and they go by Liam. Olivia goes by Livy. Hands shoot up. All of a sudden, we have something in common to talk about as we’re reading this story. When you write picture books, they’re really just a golden ticket to go see little people and spend time with them. I’m always looking for those connection points in a story as well when I read it aloud because that’s the whole point of writing a picture book.

Zibby: I love that. I love that so much. By the way, I did not like — I don’t know how Buddy’s going to feel when he gets a little bit older, or how Sunny’s going to feel. I did not like having a nickname and having to go through that on the first day of school all the time, and so I made a point to name all four of my kids something that they would not have to always say, my name’s this, but I go by this.

Christina: I think Zibby’s pretty awesome, so I don’t know how much I’m going to sympathize with you on that one.

Zibby: It was a pain for every schoolyear. I was like, no, no. What’s your name? It was just a pain for me. Now it’s nice. Great. I’m forty-five years old. Things have changed. As a kid, it’s sort of a pain to have to keep going through that every year.

Christina: It’s true. For Buddy, on his desk, he has crossed out his name and written Buddy. Tim Bowers, my illustrator now of three books together, he captures those little details so brilliantly. At Buddy’s desk, you can see his little nametag is scratched out. He’s written Buddy. Then behind him is Briley. That’s one of Tim’s granddaughters. We always sneak little things into each book as a wink and nod to our families or friends. Even to readers who have been with me for the previous two books, they’ll recognize that the Robo Chargers that he’s playing with have similar little robot designs to the robots he was playing with in his bedroom in Buddy’s Bedtime Battery when he was just a toddler. You kind of get to grow up with him on each new adventure. There’s Lady always in the background cheering for him as he makes a new friend.

Zibby: How far are we going to go with this series? Is Lady going to go to college?

Christina: I can’t answer that question. In my heart, I feel like I don’t want him to grow up any more from here. I don’t know. I have written so many stories about them, but I don’t know if the next one will be Lady or Buddy or if I may move in a different direction. I always want to get the story out into the world and take a deep breath after waiting for three years and really enjoy its moment before I start to think about the next thing. I should probably do that differently because then I would tee things up. I like to give them their moment and give them some time. I think he’s going to stay right here where he is. I don’t think he’ll get older.

Zibby: How nice to have that option.

Christina: I know. My own kids, as I mentioned, I had this first sprint of writing these stories when they were five and three. They are just turning fifteen and thirteen right now this summer. That feels a little bit mind-bending. They’re both taller than me. I now have the smallest feet in the family. These stories stay young, so that’s pretty special.

Zibby: That’s another good title, “The Smallest Feet in the Family.” I think that would be a good something. You should write that essay. You should just write an essay about it, what it feels like.

Christina: You know what? That’s a great idea. I will do that. Thank you.

Zibby: You can publish it on Moms Don’t Have Time To, our new content site, which is launching very soon.

Christina: I’m going to do it. I will do it. Thank you for that idea. Gosh, you’re good.

Zibby: Oh, well, you know. I know, it is crazy. Sometimes I’m like, how could they get — my son is so big and strong. He’s a man. I’m like, how is this even possible? How is this extra body in my house? It’s like a friend. I know this sounds ridiculous.

Christina: It doesn’t.

Zibby: He was just a baby. He was just this tiny little thing. Now all of a sudden, it’s like I have a houseguest all the time. Not a houseguest. You know what I mean. It’s a full-on person.

Christina: You know it’s coming. You know that inevitability of it all. Then I think for some reason with my daughter, who’s fifteen, it wasn’t as shocking because I’m a female. I’m a woman. I went through the same transitions that she’s going through, so it wasn’t as shocking to me. With my son, there’s something about it that is — he’s thirteen. He’s just on the edge of all of this really significant change. Some of his friends, their voices have changed already. You’re seeing these little guys who you’ve known since they were toddlers, and you’re now sort of looking up to them. As a parent, I always just take a minute and say, all right, I’m glad I exerted my authority in toddlerhood and that we got that done because it’s very hard when you’re looking up to someone to have that same influence as a parent. There is something physical about it that just feels different.

Zibby: Totally, when he can pick me up and I can’t pick him up. I have to say, Buddy’s New Buddy comes at such a good time because we’re going through all of this as my kids have started different camps this summer and everything. They’re like, “Do you think people are going to like me at camp? Do you think I’ll have friends?” I’m like, “Do you know that every kid who goes to camp is saying that and thinking that? If they’re not articulating it, they’re feeling that. It is such a normal thing to say.” Then it was so great because my daughter came home after her second day. She said, “I made this great friend. By the end of the day, we were both like, can you believe we weren’t even friends five hours ago?” I’m like, oh, thank god.

Christina: I feel that we are all going through this all the time. We push our kids into new situations with such frequency. They start the new camp. They start the new class. They start the new school. They are new all the time. I recently went to a tennis clinic after really not picking up a tennis racquet since eighth grade. I went to this clinic. It was all adults. It was all friendly people, some of whom I already know, I was already friends with. I was so self-conscious to show up there and hit this tennis ball. It was ridiculous how I felt. Did I feel comfortable in this outfit? All of these things, these insecurities were just bubbling to the surface to go hit a tennis ball for an hour on a Saturday morning. I reminded myself, I am doing this with my kids constantly. It doesn’t matter how old you get. You really have to adapt to feeling new. You’re putting yourself into those situations as an adult. I challenge everybody to do that.

I did it recently where I did a yoga class that my friend teaches — I’ve barely ever done yoga in my life — and that tennis class. In both cases, I felt so deeply insecure and reminded myself that this is how my kids feel all the time and to just take a minute when they come home and they make that one friend and celebrate that because it is really hard. It is hard to put yourself out there. It is hard to be vulnerable. It’s hard to feel all those things and then, at the same time, go in anyway and make those connections with people and do it anyway. It’s our human instinct to not be alone. It’s our human instinct to connect with people, but sometimes it’s just really challenging to do that. For me, it’s N of 1. One thing in common with one person, it starts there. I do practice that in my life, whether I do it consciously or not. That’s exactly what Buddy and Sunny are doing here. They’re finding one thing in common one day at a time. It’s a rewarding story to share because I just feel we all need that right now.

Zibby: By the way, I cannot believe, actually, that you are feeling insecure when you go into those situations because in my mind, you are so personable and articulate and friendly. I wouldn’t even think that you would still be worried about things like that, honestly.

Christina: We all are. Everybody is. I have it all the time. We started at a new school this year. The kids started nineth and sixth grades at a new school. We all went through this feeling of being new, the whole family. Showing up to this place, what do the parents wear here? I’m used to this community in New York City. I know how to show up. I’m not a self-conscious person, but I just think it’s hard to completely go into every room you ever walk in or every Zoom you ever walk in and really feel completely confident. I hope this story will remind all of us to just give ourselves a break and take a deep breath and look for that one thing in common that you have with one person in the room. Just start there. I’ve been reading Bookends and relating so much to your story when you were talking about going off to college and going off to business school and going into these different situations when you were in your twenties. I feel all of that so deeply because I remember all of that, too, in that phase of life and just feeling untethered and kind of floating around. Who am I supposed to be in my career? Who am I supposed to be with my friends? Comparing yourself to everyone your age and what they’re accomplishing at that moment in time, are you on par with your peers? Have you fallen off the path in some way? All of that insecurity is very real. You’ve brought me back to that in that phase in my life. Then this picture book brings people back to it in that phase of childhood. Maybe by acknowledging it a little bit and kind of honoring that you felt that way at that point in time, you can also celebrate, hey, look at me now. I’m doing all right.

Zibby: I also think that, per Buddy’s chart of things you have in common, I often find that books are what we have in common. I encourage my kids and everybody — when I’m feeling nervous, I’m like, what are you reading? Let’s talk about books. What are you reading? What do you like to read? Oh, okay. I feel like that’s such a shortcut. I also, by the way — I don’t know if this helped them at all. My mom used to tell me this. I wasn’t sure I found it helpful either. Now of course, I’m repeating everything, which is that everybody’s favorite word is their own name. I’m like, go in and make other people feel comfortable. When they tell you your name, take the time to say their name back. Say, Jenny, do you want to go do this volleyball thing? Just try to make everybody else feel good because they’re all having a hard time. View that as part of your role. Say their name. Make them feel comfortable. Be a giver.

Christina: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. In our household, we call it, make your tent bigger. Open the sides of your tent.

Zibby: I love that. That’s awesome.

Christina: Just let people into it. It doesn’t help you or serve you to try to cut people out or be exclusive. When my daughter was going through some friendship stuff when she was in elementary school — certain friends liked certain things. Others didn’t. How do you get them all to work together? I was like, maybe they don’t work together. Maybe that’s the friend that you love to do this with. That’s the friend that you love to do this with. They can both fit inside your tent. They don’t all have to merrily coexist. You can have these friendships in different pockets of your life based on the thing you have in common with that person. Maybe it’s your book club or whatever it is, the act of running you like to do, whatever. They don’t have to all be best friends. You can have these independent relationships with each of them, which I think is a struggle for some kids because they want to just be in a friend group. In some cases, you might just have that one friend that you both like to go draw. Just do that together. Make that the thing that you both like. You don’t have to have everything else in common. It can be one or two things. I think we’re all navigating that, even into adulthood. I’m with you, though, on the things that our mothers said that we’re now like, she was pretty smart, right?

Zibby: Christina, it’s always so fun talking to you. I would never forget you no matter how many bazillion people I meet. I have so much respect for you. Honestly, I just like you so much. Thank you for coming back on. Congrats on your new book. I’m glad that you are my new buddy.

Christina: Yes. Thank you, buddy. It’s so good to see you, as always. Congrats on Bookends. I can’t wait to finish. Actually, I’m resisting finishing because then it’ll be over.

Zibby: Thank you for reading it, so much. Thank you. Thank you for reading. Bye, Christina.

Christina: Thanks, Zibby. Take care.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Christina: Bye.

Christina Geist, BUDDY'S NEW BUDDY

BUDDY’S NEW BUDDY by Christina Geist

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