I recently met Jolene Gutiérrez at a bookstore event. When she told me about her newest book, Too Much: An Overwhelming Day, with illustrations by Angel Chang, I couldn’t wait to read it. Why? Because we both have kids with sensory processing issues, the subject of Too Much.
Too Much is the book I wish I had when my oldest was little. It’s a beautiful rhyming first-person story about Sensory Processing Disorder that shares a little girl’s feelings of overwhelm when the world gives her too much sensory input. This is the BEST picture book about sensory issues I’ve ever read — probably because not only is Jolene a gifted writer, but she also has personal experience with neurodiversity.
I wanted to interview Jolene so you could meet her, too… and get to know her amazing books!
Author Interview with Jolene Gutiérrez
Melissa: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Jolene: I’m a neurodiverse woman surrounded by neurodiverse family members and students, so that is one of the lenses I write from. My kids are Mexican American, so I’m also passionate about helping tell the stories I looked for when they were young. To that end, my daughter and I have co-authored The Ofrenda That We Built, a Day of the Dead picture book that will be illustrated by Gabby Zapata and published by Chronicle in 2024, and my son and I have co-authored Mamiachi and Me, a picture book about an all-female mariachi group that will be illustrated by Mirelle Ortega and published by Abrams/Appleseed in 2024.
And I’m passionate about helping share stories that I would love to use in my teaching. Along those lines, my friend Minoru Tonai and I have co-authored a picture book based on Minoru and his family’s imprisonment at the Amache incarceration site during World War II. This powerful and important story will be illustrated by Chris Sasaki and published by Abrams/Appleseed in 2025. I’m also a contributor to If I Could Choose a Best Day: Poems of Possibility that will be illustrated by Olivia Sua and published by Candlewick in 2025.
Melissa: Why did you write TOO MUCH: AN OVERWHELMING DAY about a child overwhelmed by her senses?
Jolene: Because I was that child, and my kids were, too. That’s the simple answer. As a child, I didn’t understand why other people seemed at ease in the world and why I struggled so much with certain things. My daughter was my first child, and some of her sensory sensitivities were different from mine, so I didn’t recognize them. I made sure she had sunglasses, soft clothes, and choice in food because even though I didn’t know I had Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), I knew some of the things that made me more comfortable. But sound, touch, and movement were some of my daughter’s other sensitivities, and I didn’t initially recognize that.
We would go to storytimes or the playground, and she would have a meltdown. I felt like such a horrible mom because I saw all of these parents who looked successful, and my daughter was vomiting on the library carpet or screaming by the slides. This book is the book I needed then because I might have put the pieces together when she was three instead of seven. It’s my hope that this story will help kids feel seen and help caregivers and teachers recognize how it feels to live as someone with sensory sensitivities.
Melissa: I can relate to everything you just said! You and I have spoken about parenting kids with sensory processing issues. I know your book will make kids like ours feel seen! Can you share something parents can do to understand or support their children with sensory processing issues?
Jolene: I would encourage parents and caregivers to give children some choice and voice. I hated some of the clothes my parents dressed me in when I was little because they were itchy. I didn’t like some of the foods I was served because I have a hard time with some textures and smells. If I could’ve chosen my own clothes and food, my parents probably wouldn’t have labeled me “high-maintenance” or “picky.”
So, I advise giving kids choices when possible and also observing them—what seems to overwhelm them? What seems to calm them? We can help kids supplement their own sensory diets in this way.
Melissa: What do you wish that readers understand after reading this book? Especially readers who don’t have sensory issues?
Jolene: I hope that by walking through the day with our main character (named Birdy by brilliant illustrator Angel Chang), readers will understand how simple daily activities like waking up, eating, getting dressed, etc. each contain elements that can be overwhelming to some people. I’m hopeful that by seeing how these experiences build to a point of overload, readers will better understand how sensory overwhelm happens.
My wish is that this book will allow kids and the adults in their lives to see themselves within the pages, to understand that they’re not alone, and possibly learn some strategies that can help with sensory overwhelm. I’m also hopeful that readers who haven’t experienced that “too much” feeling will become more compassionate and understanding after seeing the world through Birdy’s eyes.
Melissa: What are some of your other books for children?
Jolene: I’ve also written the picture book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, iillustrated by Heather Beall and published by Clear Fork/Spork, the middle grade nonfiction book Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks, published by Lerner, and the middle grade nonfiction bilingual series Stars of Latin Pop: Shakira, J Balvín, Ozuna, and Sofía Reyes, published by Rourke.
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About Jolene Gutiérrez
Jolene Gutiérrez grew up on a farm in northeastern Colorado, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She is an award-winning teacher-librarian and has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy since 1995. She’s a wife of 25 years and a mama to two young adults, three dogs, two cats, and an ever-rotating variety of other rescue animals. Jolene is an active member of SCBWI, The Author’s Guild, and KidLitCollective, and a co-creator of #KidlitZombieWeek and the Picture Book Gold group. Jolene is represented by agent Kaitlyn Sanchez of Bradford Literary. Learn more about her and her books at www.jolenegutierrez.com or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @writerjolene.