Local author and mom Venus Martinez Sharp based her recent children’s book on one of her three sons. (Image via Sharp’s website)

Considering creativity with Venus Martinez Sharp, South Bay mom and author of the new local children’s book Sami and the Orange Balloon: Adventures Over Campbell

There are two strengths at which children far outstrip their adult counterparts: creativity and a sense of adventure. Kids possess them both in abundance, sweeping up all those around them. Case in point, how many of us still construct blanket forts or maintain imaginary friends?

Beyond book writing and kid wrangling, Venus enjoys flamenco dancing and scuba diving. (Image via Sharp’s website)

In her picture book, Sami and the Orange Balloon: Adventures Over Campbell, Venus Martinez Sharp celebrates these childhood traits through the adventures of Sami, a young boy who constructs a hot air balloon — using only his creativity and an orange crayon. This South Bay adventure unfurls as he glides over the rooftops and downtown buildings of Campbell — even sailing passed the iconic water tower at the story’s climax. Along the way, he overcomes a series of obstacles by utilizing random items he’s brought along from home. It’s a playful view of problem-solving through resources and a little imagination. It’s also a tongue-in-cheek reminder that sometimes it’s helpful to consider things from a different angle — figuratively or literally.

We caught up with Sharp ahead of her upcoming book launch to discuss motherhood, life in Silicon Valley, and navigating rambunctious children.

Taking in a bird’s eye view with Sami. (Image via Sharp’s website)

You’ve said you were inspired to write this book after watching your son Sami collect some of his favorite things for a short car ride. I’d love to hear more details about that memory and why it stuck with you.

Just a little background: Sami is super imaginative and super playful. He reminds me of Andy from Toy Story. He’ll have conversations with his toys — or even inanimate objects like a spoon and a fork… And suddenly they’re talking.

So we’re running late, and he came out with this green Ikea storage bin — he must have emptied the contents — and he had put all these things that he’d been loving recently. Some Lego pieces got thrown in, his Harry Potter wand, his goalie gloves (I guess he thought he was going to use those in the car), and his big, broken, orange crayon.

What is Sami’s personality like?

[Chuckles.] He is a rough-and-tumble kind of kid who will just stumble through life. He doesn’t have a filter. And he’s very determined — even if it’s not always… desirable. But I decided another reason to write this book is that I have to celebrate who he is and I have to focus on the positives. So even though his personality [chuckles again] creates a lot of challenging situations, I have to focus on the positives and celebrate who he is. He’s the most challenging in the family, but I also love him to bits.

Of my three boys, Sami’s probably the most affectionate. He’ll always gives me hugs and kisses — and flowers. Wherever we are. Which is a little scary because he’ll pluck flowers from people’s gardens or a business. And then I’m like “Wait… where did that come from?” He has good intentions.

Having a Campbell story without the iconic Campbell Water Tower would be like a Paris film without an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower! (Image via Sharp’s website)

Why Campbell? What about this place makes for a good story?

Well, I wanted it to be in our hometown… making it ours. Writing about it, makes it more home for me too… making it mine. Sami was born here in California. My other two older sons were born in New York. But they’ve pretty much become Campbell kids.

It’s so important to feel like you’re a part of a larger community. I love the fact that it’s reminds me a bit of New York city in that it’s becoming so ethnically and culturally diverse. My kids are such a mix of different cultures and ethnicities. That’s why I kept their names in the story because it reflects their Egyptian and Latino heritage.”

Tell me more about the choice to combine illustrations with photos. How does that visual style compliment the text?

I think it’s because Sami is so imaginative that I wonder if some things are added on that aren’t really there. It very well could be! With traffic lights, he’s asked “So why is it just yellow? Why can’t it be orange?” And he’s said, “Red light is my favorite.” I said “Really? I just want to go. I don’t want red.” And he’s like “Because it gives me time to think.” He’s so imaginative that maybe he’s thinking “I’m going to stop here and take this all in. What would I change?”

“I want to inspire kids and adults … to create their own futures or create their own lives.” Storytime with Venus Martinez Sharp. (Image via Sharp’s website)

Anything else you want your readers to take away from your story?

I want to inspire kids and adults (whoever’s reading it, the parents or the teachers) to create their own futures or create their own lives. Maybe not with a crayon in thin air, but feel empowered. I think that’s important that kids have that idea in their mind too growing up: that they can influence their surroundings, that they can decide where they want to go in life.

(Editor’s Note: This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Attend the launch party at 2pm, Sunday, October 20th for a read-aloud, book signing, activities, and refreshments at Art Beat. See the full details here.

Sami and the Orange Balloon is available now via Amazon.

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Johanna Harlow

Journalist with a fondness for micro-cultures and all things quirky.

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