The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall written by Hannah Holt, illustrated by Jay Fleck, will be out October 2nd, 2018, and today we’re sharing the cover with you!
“The Diamond & The Boy is a two-tale picture book—a side-by-side telling of the story of natural diamond creation and the life of inventor Tracy Hall [who invented a machine to create human-made diamonds for manufacturing]. This book shows how journeys can triumph over beginnings and how one person can rock the world.”
Yes, this is the biography of the person who invented lab-created diamonds, the kind first used for industrial cutting uses. It’s simultaneously the biography of a natural diamond and its formation.
Told inventively and lyrically, each page is split into two sides, one about the boy, and one about the diamond. Their sections parallel in that they both start with the same word or phrase, and they continue to mirror one another thematically in how both the graphite and the boy experience “heat,” “pressure,” “waiting,” and other concepts in different ways as their journeys progress, together. You’ll just have to read it to see how stunning and smart it is!
There’s also back matter with not only more about Tracy Hall‘s life, but about the history of lab-made diamonds as well as natural diamonds including, briefly, the colonization and conflict surrounding them, which is important to be informed of in any discussion of those precious rocks.
And Hannah’s going to tell us a little more about it!
But first, here’s the cover! I love the bold, graphic illustration and the emanating quality of those shining lines. Plus, the pencils in the boy’s pocket—an essential for an inventor!
This Picture Book Life: What is your particular connection to the subject matter of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY?
Hannah Holt: The boy in this story, Tracy Hall, is my grandfather. I first heard his story as a small child in my mother’s arms. Whenever I visited Grandpa Hall’s home, I loved looking at the models of diamond presses. This story has been beating in my heart for as long as I can remember.
TPBL: Please tell us about your reaction to seeing the cover for the first time, and the illustrations throughout. What’s a detail that surprised or delighted you to see?
HH: When I first saw the cover, my heart just sang. The bold lines, the way the colors popped—I loved everything about it.
Seeing this story illustrated was an amazing experience. Jay’s work is stunning. In addition to the beauty of the work, I was delighted to see he had illustrated some of Tracy’s childhood inventions and made them scientifically accurate. An attentive visual reader could possibly recreate them as DIY projects!
TPBL: What was the process of deciding to tell the story by way of parallels—the diamond’s journey and the boy’s side by side?
HH: A couple of years ago, I received a particularly lengthy rejection letter. It went above and beyond listing the deficiencies of my work and launched right into my obvious personal flaws as well.
A few days later, I stood in the children’s section at Powell’s Books when the words of this rejection letter started ringing in my head. I thought, “What am I doing? I’m a nobody. What could I possibly add to all this?”
At that moment, it felt like all the air was being sucked out of the room, and I had to sit in one of the children’s chairs. After I finally caught my breath, I left the store and decided to leave writing, too.
For the next month, I didn’t write a thing. Instead, I did a lot of soul searching. In the end, I came to the following conclusions:
1.) I liked writing and missed it.
2.) I couldn’t control whether or not anyone else liked my writing.
3.) I could improve my craft.
4.) I could become smarter about how and where I submitted my work.
This story, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, was one of the first stories I revised after my writing break. Previously, I had tried writing the story about Tracy’s cleverness or rocks that sparkle, but those ideas no longer seemed important.
Instead, I saw the need for…resilience.
Graphite needed to become resilient…
Tracy had to become resilient…
And I needed to get over myself, too, if I wanted to write this story well. So I threw out all my old drafts and started from scratch. Writing a story in parallel about change and resilience seemed natural because it was the journey I was on myself.
I set a goal that year to get 100 rejections. I didn’t make that goal. However, that’s only because I signed with my fabulous agent first, and we had the good fortune to start selling books shortly thereafter. Embracing rejection led me to so much more success than resisting it. This story—this experience—fundamentally changed how I view challenges.
TPBL: I’ve read the manuscript and those side-by-side spreads are like beautiful poetry. Will you describe the process of pairing non-fiction subject matter with poetic text and how that developed?
HH: I’ve always liked poetry and playing with words, but Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming had the biggest influence on this revision. Her lyrical narrative, purposeful line breaks, and masterful storytelling inspired me to push my own writing further.
Initially I wrote one stanza of rock, and then one stanza of Tracy. Rock, Tracy, Rock, Tracy… I didn’t map it out ahead of time. They lined up naturally. Of course, I had to do many revisions—tightening the language, refining the storyline, and making sure I had enough page breaks—but my first side-by-side draft flowed easily.
TPBL: What’s something fascinating you learned while researching this book?
HH: Oh, so many fun little things! I learned new scientific tidbits, like you need as much pressure to make diamonds as a hippo balancing on the head of a pin.
But for me the most fun was getting to know my grandfather better. For example, I learned he was once smitten with a girl named Catherine. Catherine is not my grandmother’s name.It was also interesting to read about the poverty he experienced in his matter-of-fact terms. Like, he joined the ROTC so he would have something free to wear. Two meals a day was enough to survive. Underwear was mostly optional clothing.
Reading about his life in his own words, before he became “Tracy Hall the famous scientist” was one of my favorite experiences. I would encourage children and teens to keep a journal. Someday the present will be the past, and personal histories are a way to keep time ever-fresh.
Big thanks to Hannah, for sharing about her writing process and the book with us, and to Balzer & Bray for the cover image!