Critter Lit

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Interview with Debut Author Özgen Halil

Authors, debut interview, publishingLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have debut author Özgen Halil, who recently self-published her first book, HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN. I’m thrilled to have Özgen with us today to offer some insight into the self-publish side of publishing and what that process looks like. So without further ado…please welcome Özgen Halil!

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Where do you live?

I now live in a village called Weavering in Maidstone which is in Kent (The Garden Of England) in the UK. We moved here just over a year ago but mostly I have lived in South East London/UK and spent a couple of years in Sydney Australia when I was a child.

Özgen with her brother— circa 1970s

Özgen with her brother— circa 1970s

When did you know you wanted to write picture books? 

I always loved writing a story, whether it was at school or just at home - I love being creative. My first memory of that was when I around 6 years old and I remember writing a really funny story about my brother with illustrations just to make him laugh. As children, we were really close and still are as adults. It’s always been on my mind to do this but it wasn’t until last year that I had the opportunity to finally put things into action and I wrote Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again.  

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Can you tell us more about your decision to self-publish and what that process has looked like for you?

Honestly, I don’t think that I actually sat down and thought about which route I should go in. It just felt natural for me to do it myself. As a person, I have always been very independent from a young age and my attitude in life has always been “If you want something - YOU have to go out there and get it!” I am a real grafter and always work hard and do my best. Besides, I don’t think I would know where to start to get a publisher.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My instinct was to go on a self-publishing course to see what the process would be. Apart from writing the story, I had to find the right illustrator for the book (my own illustration abilities are work-in-progress) so that took a little bit of time searching and speaking to various illustrators. Once I instructed my illustrator (Sarah-Leigh Wills - who did such an amazing job with the illustrations), I then searched and found printers and got together a launch team in readiness of the release and in between, I got my website together and social media accounts set up. Each step of the way has been very important and at times quite hard and now that the book is ready, I have my marketing hat on, to the next level of promoting the book, getting the story out there and scheduling school and library visits. It's full on.

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

If I have an “off-day” I just leave it alone and come back to it later. I get away from my desk and do something different or I just go out for a walk. If it’s not happening that day, I won’t force it. As for new ideas, I don’t have any special strategies in place - I guess it also depends on what sort of mood I am in - some days I am more productive than others. I can say that the story comes first, that’s my starting point, and then I map out the characters. Usually I have an idea of how I want the characters to look like. For example, I wanted Dotty Donkey to have goofy teeth and Henrietta Hen to have a handbag and a necklace. I think of ideas all the time.

Anything you can't live without while you write?

My desktop computer. I spent years typing documents in my previous jobs and at speeds of at least 80 words per minute so it’s just easier and quicker for me to type. I prefer a desktop computer to a laptop or anything else. 

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Awww there’s lots, but one that really stood out for me is Oliver Jeffers. I used to read his books to my younger son and I loved them just as much as he did. His style is simple but really effective and the stories are so cute. I really admire him -  he’s very talented.

Dream project to work on?

I’m a newbie so my first children’s picture book - Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again, has been a dream project to work on. However, it would also be a dream to work on projects that enables me to give to the community, especially vulnerable children and to make their lives better in any way - I would love that.

 Tell us about your debut book.

Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again is about a Hen and her best friend Dotty Donkey, together they go berry picking in the woods only to find themselves in some danger. There is a happy ending - because we just love happy endings. The book promotes friendships, kindness and sharing and is suitable for the ages between 4-8 years old. I have based Henrietta Hen’s character on my mother’s personality. She is my mother all over!

What's up next for you?

I have already written Chi Chi And The Birthday Surprise and hope to write further children’s picture books in the coming year. I will release information about that book in early 2020. Also in the pipeline is The Evil Eye Quartet starting off with “White Wings” and these books will be suitable for young adults.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Hmmm.…it’s between E.T. and Top Gun (only because I used to fancy Tom Cruise)…ok its E.T.— I loved that film so much and I had the lunchbox, keyring and the toy - what an amazing film!


Huge thank you to Özgen for stopping by Critter Lit today! Thank you for sharing your work with us and best of luck on all your future projects!


ÖZGEN HALIL’S love for children’s picture books started from as young as 4 years old. Her mother read stories to her and her brother and she would tell them funny stories about where she came from (which was a small village in Cyprus) to keep them entertained. Later on at primary school, Özgen often visited the local library to borrow books such as The Cat In The Hat by Dr Suess, The Adventures Of Tin Tin by Hergé and the Asterix series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo which she loved reading. As an adult, she spent over 25 years in the corporate world as a Legal PA/EA, and finally plucked up the courage to publish her first children’s picture book called Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again as a self-publishing author. She loves animals but hates spiders (after one crawled up her leg when she was 3 years old). Her goal as an author is to be able to bring happiness into children's lives and contribute in making their lives better.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Özgen Halil visit her online or follow her on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ozgenhalilbooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ozgenbhalil/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dearozgen

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/ozgen5382/

TO DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY of Özgen’s book, click here. To purchase a paperback copy of Özgen’s book, click here. A portion of each sale goes to the children's charity Demelza.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a paperback copy of HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 10th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Lisa Rogers

Authors, book release, debut interview, InterviewsLindsay Ward9 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This will be our last interview post for a couple weeks until October 3rd, as I’m about to have baby no. 3 any day now…!!! BUT today, I’m thrilled to be featuring the work of debut author Lisa Rogers, whose new non-fiction picture book, 16 WORDS WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEEL BARROW”, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, releases on September 24th with Schwartz & Wade books! So exciting! This fantastic book has received multiple starred reviews and is a must read for any picture book or poetry lovers out there! I’m so happy Lisa could share her work and process with us today…so without further ado, please welcome Lisa Rogers!

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Where do you live?

Just west of Boston, at the halfway point of the Boston Marathon. It’s the place to be each year on Marathon Monday, cheering on all of the participants—my hands always are sore from clapping. Actually running it—which I’ve done four times—is even better. What a thrill and honor! 

When did you know you wanted to write picture books? 

As a child, I was a huge reader, fascinated by folktales, fairytales, and poetry, and the illustrations that accompanied them. My goal was to be a writer and artist. I wrote poems, drew all the time, and started a little family newspaper. I grew up to become a news reporter and editor. Then, when I thought it wise not to be working on deadline with a small child on my lap, I changed careers and eventually became an elementary school librarian. After years of immersion in children’s literature and learning from my students, I realized that writing picture books was what I had to do.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you? 

You would think that my two careers would set me up perfectly—and they have—but I had so much to learn! Writing for children is incredibly complicated. This year one of my students wrote to me, “You taught me that a book is not just for reading, it is more.” Getting to that “more” is my goal. For me, it means writing about a topic close to my heart. I was lucky to submit the manuscript for my debut to an agent who saw its potential, and she sold it very soon after we signed. In the meantime, a committee of writers also chose that manuscript for a Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. That award was a wonderful boost as I pursued publication. Groups like SCBWI, the 12 x 12 writing challenge, and The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass. have been crucial to supporting me in my learning.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I don’t have a standard routine, partly because it’s hard for me to sit down. I do most of my writing in my mind while I’m doing something else. A phrase or sentence comes to me and that starts the whole process. I can sit down and set goals and get writing and revisions done (that’s where my deadline experience kicks in), but the inspiration really has to be organic. My favorite spot to get words down is on my patio where hummingbirds sometimes mistake me for a flower.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas? 

I live on a beautiful pond, and love to take a break on a late summer afternoon, hop in my kayak, and boat over to our little town beach for a swim. The combination of exercise and quiet boosts my creativity. If it’s blustery, I get out a canvas and do some painting.

Anything you can’t live without while you write? 

A pencil and any scrap of paper. Writing for me needs to be tactile, at least when I’m beginning a story, but also when I’m trying to find the heart of it. I’ve even written in the sand while on a run at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, because I didn’t want to forget my thought. 

My daughter gave me a Moomin notebook with an attached pencil, which I adore, and which I used to write my next book, HOUND WON’T GO. Speaking of which, a big dog is essential to get me moving after I’ve been sitting too long. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?  

So many! I adore picture book biographies and nonfiction, and so do my students. When we read a great biography, they are so absorbed that they can’t believe it’s true. I look for that sense of wonder in any book, like Sophie Blackall’s Hello Lighthouse, Jessixa Bagley’s Boats for Papa and Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead’s collaborations. Margaret Wise Brown has been a longtime favorite, and I love Mac Barnett’s new biography of her. Illustrators: Shane Evans, Juana Martinez-Neal, Christian Robinson, Melissa Sweet and of course 16 WORDS illustrator Chuck Groenink! When I find a picture book that resonates, I want to live in that world.

Dream project to work on?

16 WORDS has been a dream project from beginning to publication! I couldn’t be prouder of this book.

Tell us about your debut book.

My debut, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW” (Schwartz & Wade Books) is about the inspiration for Williams’ favorite, and most famous poem. He wrote those sixteen words after noticing Thaddeus Marshall’s wheelbarrow outside in the rain and felt it was the most profound, moving image he had ever seen. 

Williams was a doctor as well as a poet, and Marshall was his neighbor and patient. The book parallels their lives of work and caring. The poem was written nearly 100 years ago, but Marshall’s role was only recently identified. When I learned about him, I had my own inspiring moment, and that’s what started this whole adventure!

What’s up next for you? 

I’m excited about HOUND WON’T GO, inspired by my incredibly stubborn, lovable, gigantic rescue hound. He’s brought so much fun and joy to our lives. One day when he, as is typical, refused to move because he wanted to go one way and I the other, the first few lines ran through my mind. My editor, Christina Pulles at Albert Whitman & Company, loves the manuscript as much as I do. HOUND will be unleashed, with delightful illustrations by Meg Ishihara, in spring 2020.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Working Girl! That puffy hair, those padded shoulders! Sneakers with office wear! I love it for its iconic 80s fashion. You’ll never see me in shoulder pads, but that was one empowering movie. 


Huge thank you to Lisa for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut! We can’t wait to see HOUND WON’T GO next!


LISA ROGERS is an elementary school librarian and a former newspaper reporter and editor. She grew up in West Long Branch, NJ, not far from where Thaddeus Marshall, the inspiration for William Carlos Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow," tended his garden. 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW,” (Random House/Schwartz & Wade Books) is her first book for children. HOUND WON’T GO, illustrated by Meg Ishihara, will be published in 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company. Lisa lives near Boston with her family and hound dog.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Lisa Rogers visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @LisaLJRogers

Facebook: LisaLabancaRogers

TO ORDER Lisa’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW”?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 26th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Amanda Jackson

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Debut Interviews, publishing, InterviewsLindsay Ward5 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by debut author Amanda Jackson, whose new picture book, MY SHAPE IS SAM, comes out September 17th! I’m so thrilled to be sharing this brilliant book with you all today! And bonus— Amanda’s book is illustrated by fellow illustrator, Lydia Nichols, who I studied illustration with at Syracuse. I can’t wait for you to all see this fantastic book these two incredibly talented women created.

So without further ado…please welcome Amanda Jackson!

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Where do you live?

I live in Beaverton, Oregon, about 10 minutes from downtown Portland.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

My husband and I moved to California in 2016. We’d gone for his job and quickly realized we wouldn't be staying for as long as we’d planned. In the meantime, I was offered a job working with a child with autism. However, without a commitment to staying in the area, I couldn’t, in good conscience, accept the position. It was that instability that kept me jobless, and presented a gift in disguise. I remember having to make the decision to stop worrying about what to do with myself, and try to make the most of this unstructured, uncertain time.

I’ve always loved writing, but had never tried writing for kids. Because most of my professional life has been spent with picture book readers/listeners, I started there. I wrote my first picture book story (which will of course never see the light of day) and realized this was “my thing.” That realization made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. And it was such a clear realization too. Like stumbling across something I’d been looking for my whole life. It was magic, and I dove in head-first.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

In mid-2017, I participated in a Twitter pitch even called Pit2Pub. That’s where I connected with Charlotte Wenger, then an editor with Page Street Kids. She requested the manuscript for My Shape is Sam, and made an offer a couple months later! So exciting. It’s been a wonderful couple years of working with Charlotte and all the wonderful people at Page Street. They’re so collaborative and honoring of their makers’ hopes for their work.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Sure! I’m not a routine writer. I spend a lot of time at my desk, but it happens whenever I have the time. But I love to write, so there’s rarely a day I don’t do it. I’m always in the midst of a few projects at different stages. My favorite stage is revision. It’s not as overwhelming as a blank page, and it always reminds me of throwing pottery - the calm of having already done the work of getting something on the wheel, and then I just have to keep shaping it until it’s beautiful.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

The best thing I’ve found for new ideas is reading. Lots. Good work is so inspiring, especially if I’m feeling stuck in one of my own stories. Like a palette cleanser, it helps me push “reset” and see my work with fresh eyes.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Hmm the only thing I can think of is quiet. It sounds fun to write with music on (especially to influence the mood of my story), but my brain just doesn’t work that way.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Oh my gosh so many. Several picture book authors that come to mind first: Julie Fogliano, Ryan T. Higgins, Anna Walker, Oliver Jeffers... there are so many more. I’m inspired by the ability to pack a punch with a few simple words. That’s one of the reasons I adore this craft. And a few of my favorite illustrators: Lydia Nichols, Fiona Lumbers, and Beatrice Alemagna.

Dream project to work on?

A series. I would LOVE to work on a project that extends beyond one picture book. To create characters that readers get to know (and look forward to!) through multiple books. Ah that sounds like so much fun.

Tell us about your debut book.

MY SHAPE IS SAM is about Sam, a square who lives in a world of shapes. Everyone has a job to do, depending on their shape. But Sam doesn’t like stacking like the squares. He wants to roll like the circles.

My hope is that this story helps readers challenge norms that don't fit them. And that they continue to discover who they are, in spite of prescriptive expectations.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve always got projects in progress, so for now, more writing and revising!

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Ha! Hmm. Crossing Delancey is way up there. It stars Amy Irving and Peter Riegert, and it’s not super well known. I’m such a sucker for the unlikely lovers trope, plus the music is great (I think it’s the only soundtrack I own!), I’ve seen it a million times.


Huge thank you to Amanda Jackson for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut and can’t wait to see what you do next!


AMANDA JACKSON writes stories for kids and their grown-ups. She's pretty sure there's nothing better in the world. She grew up in Pennsylvania, where she discovered her love of making: drawing, crafting, sewing, cooking, storytelling. Anything to give her imagination a voice. When she was six, someone gave her a journal. She instantly felt at home with the magic that happens when words come from inside, pass across the page, and connect with someone else. In her twenties, Amanda moved to Portland, Oregon, and cozied right into the land of gray skies and creative living. She finished her degree in Human Development, worked with lots of awesome kids, and married her love. Of all the happies in her life, writing is one of the happiest. And she’s beyond thrilled to share her words with you.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Amanda Jackson visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @Amanda2Jackson

TO ORDER Amanda’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of MY SHAPE IS SAM?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 19th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Cassandra Federman

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Debut Interviews, Illustrators, InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited to have Cassandra Federman stop by today! Her debut book as an author/illustrator, THIS IS A SEA COW, just came out September 1st and IT IS ADORABLE! I can’t wait for you all to check it out!

So without further ado, please welcome…Cassandra Federman!

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Where do you live?

I’m originally from Massachusetts, but I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past 12 years.

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

About 5 years ago. I pitched an idea for a picture book to my husband (also a writer) and he encouraged me to go for it. He even got me a membership to SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for our first anniversary. I think he might know me better than I know myself.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

A lot of hard work! I hadn’t done any sketching since I was a teen, so I had a lot of catching up to do. I taught myself Photoshop, since that seemed to be the way the industry was heading. I went to as many SCBWI events, mingles, and conferences as I could. I started a critique group full of amazing individuals that I’d met at those events. I applied for every contest I could find through Twitter, kidlit blogs, and SCBWI. Finally, in 2017, I won two mentorship contests. The dummy I polished with the help of my mentors landed me my agent, Jenna Pocius. Jenna put two of my dummies out on submission and the second dummy sold in 48 hours!

Can you share a bit about your process?

Sure! The manuscript always comes first for me. I know that a lot of illustrators work the other way around, but I think I’m more of a writer who illustrates than an illustrator who writes. The manuscript goes through several rounds of notes with my critique group before I send it to my agent for her thoughts. After she’s signed off, I create the book dummy. The style of illustration I use really depends on the book. For instance, This Is a Sea Cow, was designed to look like a child’s school report, so I use a lot of photography and found objects. I also hand lettered it so that the writing would look like a child’s. Other dummies of mine include a graphic novel where I use ink and half tones, and an underwater story using watercolor and various other traditional media that I scan into photoshop. Once I complete the dummy, I send it back through my critique group, then to my agent for notes. Finally it goes out on submission and I start working on the next thing. (If I’m not working on something, then waiting on responses is excruciating!)

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I think I’m lucky to be an author-illustrator because I can switch back and forth between writing and sketching, which allows me to keep the creative juices flowing. A tool I’ve found very helpful is Google docs. Whenever I get an idea I just pop it into a google doc with some notes. That way I’ve always got a list (that I can access from a phone or an iPad or a computer) of ideas to go back to.

Anything you can’t live without while you write/draw?

A digital tablet of some kind: iPad or Wacom Cintiq.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Kate Beaton, Jon Klassen, Dan Santat, Sophie Blackall, Shannon Hale, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Mo Willems, Ame Dyckman, and the list goes on!

Dream project to work on?

Oof, I don’t know. I guess any project that changes childrens’ lives for the better. Whatever THAT project is, I want to do it.

Tell us about your debut book.

This Is a Sea Cow is a fourth-wall-breaking book designed to look like a second grader’s school report on sea cows. The subject of the report does not like her portrayal, so Sea Cow--or Manatee as she prefers to be called--comes to life to set the record straight.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve got some exciting stuff in the works that I hope to be able to talk about soon!

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

The Princess Bride. I walked down the aisle to the theme song.


Huge thank you to Cassandra for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut! We are so excited to see what you do next!


CASSANDRA FEDERMAN is a writer and illustrator in Los Angeles, CA. She is originally from Massachusetts, but like manatees, she hates to be cold. She wanted to grow up to be a comic book artist and a marine biologist. She decided this book accomplishes both of those things. In college she studied abroad in Belize, where she rescued an orphaned manatee. She hopes this book will result in the rescue of many more.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Cassandra Federman visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter/Instagram: @CassFederman

TO ORDER Cassandra’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THIS IS A SEA COW?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 12th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Author and Illustrator Susan Reagan

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Vet Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today I’m very excited to be sharing the work of one of my dear friends and critique partners, Susan Reagan! Sue is an incredibly talented illustrator and writer and I’m thrilled to have her with us on Critter Lit. Her newest board book, SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK, written by Emilia Zebrowska, published with Creative Company this month. Her work is stunning and I can’t wait to share it with you all!

So without further ado, please welcome the fantastically talented Susan Reagan!

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Where do you live?

I live in Tremont, a neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. Our neighborhood was once called the Southside. We sit directly between Cleveland’s Downtown and the Steelyards that once fueled the economy and life of the neighborhood. I love living in a city neighborhood!  It’s full of history and diversity and is my greatest inspiration as an artist. 

How many years have you been in publishing?

Quite a few. The first books I illustrated were for Christian publishers. But it wasn’t my primary source of work, I worked for American Greetings as an illustrator for the first half of my career. I still freelance for them; it’s my bread and butter work.

How did you first get published?

I had a brief stint with an agent back in the mid 90’s who got me my first book. It was MY LITTLE BOOK OF BIG BIBLE PROMISES. But it wasn’t a leap into publishing. I stayed with American Greetings for a while after that.

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

I have always illustrated full-time but for many markets. It’s only over the past five years that I have decided to dedicate myself mostly to publishing and picture books (I still have bills to pay so I do some other freelance too). I am working on my writing. I have a couple of manuscripts just about ready to share with my agent. They have been in the works for years. Writing is much more challenging for me than illustrating but I love to push myself. I have also started teaching illustration as adjunct faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I’m loving it! 

What inspires you to create picture books?

My own manuscripts are based on visual puns or a funny phrase. I like silliness but the books I love to illustrate are more serious or complex. My drawing style is more observational and less character design driven. I love the use of line and I love a subtle limited color palette.

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

I guess what surprised me most is just how involved the process is and how different it is from the other types of illustration I’ve done. It’s a slower paced business and it took some time for me to adjust it. I‘m accustomed  to a quick turn around on assignments. But I love how much time I get to spend with a book while illustrating it. I love having time to really think things over.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

I draw, design, paint, concept, every day!

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

The toughest part is sending out finished work and waiting. Even when you know the work is good there is something about waiting to hear from a creative director or an editor that makes most artist anxious. Most of us are naturally tough on ourselves. We don’t do this work just for ourselves. We want to hear that it worked; that we created something acceptable, beautiful, funny, touching, informative, whatever the goal. Also, I feel the weight of illustrating someone else’s story. I want to do right by them. I know how hard they worked to create their beautiful writing.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I was feeling a bit rusty a few years back. I got so caught up in the business of illustrating and creativity that I got a little lost. I went back to my first love of drawing people. I participated in The 100 Day Project on Instagram and made a drawing a day of people I observed. It really energized me. I loosened up my line work and started trusting my instincts again. I made so many discoveries that are now a part of my illustration style.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Coffee is important. I think better when using my iPad and sitting in my living room than I do anywhere else. Also I like quiet when I am thinking so no music or background noise. If the windows are open and it’s a cool day— that’s the best!

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

My critique group without question! For over five years now I have benefited knowing these very talented women, one of which is the writer of this blog. Lindsay Ward, Betsy Snyder, Kellie DuBay Gillis, and Alissa McGough. Each one so smart, honest and talented! We give each other honest feedback and support each other’s successes and dreams. I have learned so much from this amazing group!

Recommended reading?

I’m reading THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colton Whitehead. I would highly recommend it!

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Last January I signed with Stephanie Fretwell-Hill at Red Fox Literary. I have already signed on to illustrate a book by Beth Anderson, who has visited this blog. She’s an amazing writer. I love AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET and I can’t wait to get my copy of LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT. The title I will be working on is PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN, about Prudence Cummings Wright and the ways that women used their skills and ingenuity to contribute to the American Revolution. I’m just getting started!

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

Take the work seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. Actually I have probably been told that a 100 times, I need to listen better.

Tell us about your newest book.

SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK, written by Emilia Zebrowska, from Creative Editions just released this month. It’s a sweet little bed time board book  in which one last game of Simon Says turns into a fantastical journey into the night and off to dreamland.

Another recent release is YOU AND ME, another board book from Creative Editions, written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. It made the American Library Association’s list of Notable Children’s Books for 2019. I was pretty happy about that.

What’s up next for you?

I just turned in LIGHTS OUT. I am very excited about this book! It’s a wonderful story written by Marsha Diane Arnold, published by Creative Editions, about the disruption that happens in nature and animal behaviors from too much light. It releases next fall. Here’s a sneak peek:

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

I’ll have another board book Creative Editions titled READY OR NOT. And then as mentioned above, PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN IN 2022.

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

I would say to remember that sometimes it can take a while to have the breakthrough you are looking for. Work on what you love and seek good critiques and don’t be afraid of an honest opinion. 

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

I don’t necessarily have a favorite but I remember laughing so hard at A Fish Called Wanda and Raising Arizona that I thought my sides would split. Wonder what I would think now?


Huge thank you to Susan Reagan for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see all the fantastic books you have coming out!


SUSAN REAGAN’S picture books include YOU & ME by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (Creative Company, 2018), SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK by Emilia Zebrowska (Creative Company, 2019), and LIGHTS OUT! by Marsha Diane Arnold(Creative Company, 2020). She is currently illustrating PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN by Beth Anderson (Calkins Creek, 2022). Susan graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Columbus College of Art and Design. She teaches illustration techniques as adjunct faculty at The Cleveland Institute of Art. Susan lives with her husband and three “mangy mutts” in Tremont, a historical neighborhood of her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Susan Reagan visit her online or follow her on social media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/susan_reagan/

TO ORDER Susan’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 5th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Ashley Franklin

Authors, book release, debut interview, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to feature debut author Ashley Franklin! Her new picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, illustrated by Ebony Glenn, released this past July with HarperCollins. I love the story, message, and charming illustrations in this book, which I think Kirkus Reviews sums up perfectly:

A feel-good picture book and a great reminder that classic princess roles can be reimagined to embrace inclusion, diversity, and body positivity.”

So without further ado…please welcome Ashley Franklin!

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Where do you live?

I currently live in northwest Arkansas. 

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

I didn’t know I wanted to seriously write children’s books until I had kids of my own. I wanted to write books that had characters that looked like them and their family members. I also wanted to write books that I felt I needed as a kid.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I’m a work from home mom, so my process is probably a bit unorthodox for most. For example, I don’t write every day. I spend a lot of time thinking things over in my head and taking notes on my phone.

I’m still trying to get the hang of waking up early to write, but I do find that I am most productive once the kids are in bed and I’ve chugged some coffee.

I’m a quick writer and a slow reviser when it comes to picture books because those early drafts are really me compiling those mental and phone notes and seeing what comes of them.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Honestly, I do two things: watch cartoons and consult with my kids. I watch cartoons to check out popular themes and see how they’re tackled and why they worked. My kids are in elementary school, so their perception of things is still pretty spectacular.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A good pen! I prefer to draft using pen and paper, but I cannot stand a pen that doesn’t write smoothly!

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Tara Lazar—I admire people who can be funny on purpose. That’s not my gift at all!

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow—I love her way with imagery. She’s very detail oriented and can really paint a picture. Reading her work challenges me to slow down and really be more deliberate with imagery in my own work.

Vashti Harrison—Everything she does is ridiculously gorgeous. She’s just amazing. That’s not much more you can say.

Dream project to work on?

That’s a tough call. I don’t really have an answer for that because right now I feel like any project I’m working on passionately is a dream project.

Tell us about your debut book.

NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE features a talented young girl named Tameika who is great at singing, dancing, and acting. Tameika auditions for the lead role of Princess Snow White in her school’s musical because it’s one of the few roles she hasn’t played and Snow White is her favorite princess. Unfortunately, Tameika’s confidence is shaken when her peers question if she is right for the part because of her appearance. Tameika has to decide if she will let what others say keep her from pursuing her dream role.

What’s up next for you?

I’m continuing to write picture books, but I’m expanding into middle grade. The middle grade bug bit me thanks to a middle grade short story I wrote as a contributor to an upcoming middle grade anthology. It’s called Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices and is scheduled to be released May 5, 2020.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie? 

Umm...I was born in the 80s, so I’d have to go with a movie I remember most vividly, and that’s Oliver & Company.


Huge thank you to Ashley for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut book— we can’t wait to see what comes next for you!


ASHLEY FRANKLIN is a writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. Ashley received her M.A. from the University of Delaware in English Literature, where she reaffirmed her love of writing but realized she had NO IDEA what she wanted to do about it. Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family. Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, was released July 9, 2019 by Harper Collins.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Ashley visit her online: www.ashleyfranklinwrites.com or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @differentashley

Instagram: @ashleyfranklinwrites

Facebook: Ashley Franklin

TO ORDER Ashley’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 29th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Illustrator Noël Ill

debut interview, Holiday Books, Illustrators, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by Noël ILL, an incredibly talented illustrator, whose new board book by Carole Gerber comes out this month with Familius. I love the art in this book— it’s charming, fun, and the perfect new book to share with your little ones this Halloween!

So without further ado…please welcome Noël ILL!

Artist_Portrait_Noel ILL.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in the Inland Empire. It’s in Southern, California, Southwest of San Bernardino County. There are beautiful mountains and sweet smelling orange trees everywhere.

Noël Ill dressed up as a kitten for Halloween when she was little.

Noël Ill dressed up as a kitten for Halloween when she was little.

When did you know you wanted to illustrate picture books?

As a kid, I was always drawing and my favorite assignments in elementary school were when the teacher would ask the class to write a short story and draw a picture to go with it. I knew then that I enjoyed illustrating stories. It wasn’t until I was in community college, before I went to art college, that I took a children’s literature class and realized I would love to illustrate children’s books. It was my main goal when I headed into ArtCenter.

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

It involved a lot of daydreaming and a little bit of confidence. After I graduated from ArtCenter, I was hoping to somehow get into illustrating children’s books, but I had no idea how. So, that’s where the daydreaming part came in. I was just dreaming of doing it with no actual tangible plan. Then I came across a job posting from ArtCenter’s job board where a local educational publishing company was looking for an illustrator to illustrate bilingual English and Spanish books with Hispanic themes. I immediately applied. I’m half Mexican and I felt very confident that with my illustration skills and my Hispanic cultural background combined, I would be a great fit for the job. I got the job and I still work with them today. The company is called Lectura Books and I’ve illustrated 11 books for them. I also post a lot of my original artwork online. That’s how the art director for If You’re Scary And You Know It! came across my work and got in contact with me. I’ve been illustrating professionally for over 10 years and even though I have illustrated many books for the educational market, this book is actually my first book in trade publishing.

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Can you share a bit about your process?

First I start with looking up reference. I look up online the subject matter I will be working with. Or, if I have the time and the assignment has to do with something like for example, a horse, I will actually go to a place where I can see a real horse and take pictures of it and just observe the horse’s personality. Then I start sketching ideas in my sketchbook with pencil. I sketch out character ideas and layout composition ideas. After that, I move over to the computer where I began creating the illustration digitally.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I do anything but art! I will even start to organize the clothes in my closet or organize boxes in my garage and then I start finding old stickers and trinkets I forgot I had which then starts my imagination going. It goes from, “Oh, I didn’t know I still had my sticker collection from the 1990s.” to “ I need to start drawing my own line of stickers!” It’s not too hard for me to get new ideas. So many things inspire me every day.

Anything you can’t live without while you draw?

Not really. The only thing I tend to always have or at least remember to have with me is a bottle of water to drink.

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Yes, all of the illustrators that worked with Hallmark in the 1980s. I loved their greeting cards, the paper goods, the sticker sheets, plush toys, everything. I also love a series of books about holiday traditions by Edna Barth and illustrated by Ursula Arndt. I re-read the books almost every year. Probably the most popular book of that series would be the Halloween one, Witches Pumpkin’s and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols. I love learning about the history of holidays and the line-art illustrations in them are great. I’m also hugely inspired by mid century illustrators. I’m drawn to the shapes and colors and creative use of space.

Dream project to work on?

I have so many! Besides wanting to team up with a manufacturer and become the next Lisa Frank, I would like to team up with one of the “big five” publishers and illustrate a book that helps children with dyslexia. I have dyslexia and I went through almost my whole academic life without knowing. I didn’t get diagnosed until I got to college. I always wished I could have started learning about it sooner. I think I would have been more confident in reading and writing back then had I known. It would be great to contribute to a project that helps kids with that.

Tell us about your debut book.

It’s called If You’re Scary And You Know It! written by the amazing, Carole Gerber. The book is Halloween themed with 10 full color spreads illustrating follow along movements and actions set to the tune of If You’re Happy And You Know It! Each page introduces the reader to a different child character in their Halloween costume, performing an action, whether it’s howling at the moon like a werewolf, shaking a limb like a scarecrow or bending your knee like a boney skeleton. It’s a great audience participation book and I know kids will have lots of fun following along.

What’s up next for you?

Currently, I am excited to get sketching more original ideas for the greeting cards and products I sell through my website.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

I love this question! There were so many good movies in the 80s it’s hard to choose, but I am going to say The Chipmunk Adventure. You can’t go wrong traveling the world in a hot air balloon singing rockin’ songs.


Huge thank you to for Noël Ill for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your adorable board book out in the wild this month!


Noël ILL earned her BFA with honors in illustration from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Throughout her design and illustration career, she has had the opportunity to apply her artwork and tasteful design sense to the publishing and entertainment media fields. Her more notable commercial work includes production art for the quirky HBO animated series, The Life and Times of Tim, the “Be Mine” sticker pack for Facebook stickers, and “The Sweetest Little Ghost” her licensed illustration for Papyrus greeting cards.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Noël ILL visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @noelillart

Instagram: @noelill

Facebook

TO ORDER Noël ILL’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 22nd! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author June Smalls

Authors, debut interviewLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s interview is with June Smalls, whose debut picture book ODD ANIMAL ABC’S, illustrated by Claire Sedovic, released in May. We are so thrilled to have her with us today!

So without further ado…please welcome June Smalls!

June+Smalls.jpg

Where do you live?

I live just outside of DC in the Shenandoah Valley.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

It’s funny, but when I first started thinking of writing for traditional publication, I thought of romance. But just because I liked to read it didn’t mean I was any good at writing it.

 When my child was little she loved books. I caught myself reading her picture books even after she’d fallen asleep. I loved the full and beautiful stories with short and pithy lines. I remembered the joy of discovering library books as a kid. Then I had one idea…it led to another… and then I couldn’t shake it. I had to write kid lit.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

I’m an overnight success. It only took about 5 or 6 years to get there.

Like many writers, I had a lot to learn. My first picture books were way too long, I wasn’t leaving room for the illustrator, and I sent things out before they were ready (*The Horror!*)

Luckily, I love learning. I joined SCBWI. I joined critique groups. I attended conferences and classes. Bit by bit I improved and learned patience.

I’d gone from getting form rejections to personal rejections and finally I had two offers of rep from agents.

I signed with Rebecca Angus at Golden Wheat in 2018, sold two picture books with her and I did my first two work for hire books as well in the same year. I went from nothing for a few years to GOOD GRAVY! Four books with my name on them.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I’m weird and don’t have a single process. Some books come to me like a lightening bolt and I jot down a rough draft quickly. Some ideas need to marinate for a while. I toyed with one idea for months without writing more than the title idea.

When I write, I prefer to get comfy on my couch, noise canceling headphones go on (this also lets my family know it is writing time and not to bug me needlessly), and work on whichever project is speaking to me at the time.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I tend to have a number of projects going at once unless I’m on a deadline. For me this keeps things fresh and interesting. Sometimes I just take a few days off writing and daydream instead. I do not live by the ‘write everyday’ rule. But I tend to write or research most days.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Not really. I love my headphones since they get me in the zone. But I’ll write anywhere and everywhere by any means necessary. On receipts in a restaurant, on my phone in a waiting room, or at my computer with a soda and dogs at my feet. I just have to write!

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

All of them! Inspiration can be found in everything. I love the humor of Ame Dykman’s Wolfie the Bunny illustrated by Zachariah OHora.

I love the read-aloud-ability of The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley.

I love the heart and art of Swan by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad.

I LOVE The Dot by by Peter H. Reynolds.

Just try to read these without feeling inspired. There are many more, but this could be a blog series by itself.

Dream project to work on?

Well, I’m a huge Scooby Doo fan…

Seriously though, my personal dream projects are the ones that make kids want to pick up another book. Whether to continue laughing or to learn something new because I’ve sparked their curiosity. There is no one book that is my dream. This may sound corny, but it’s all I’ve got.

Tell us about your debut book.

Odd Animal ABC’s is illustrated by Claire Sedovic and her amazing watercolors.

Those classic animals have been overworked so the odd animals who have been overlooked take over the alphabet and send the classics packing.

It's time for Aye-Aye, Fossa, Numbat, Xenops and more curious, yet real animals to shine.

Some letters even get more than one odd new animal. (This was not because I liked both animals so much that I couldn't choose just one... really…)

What’s up next for you?

I have a lyrical non-fiction called She Leads: They Elephant Matriarch coming out in spring of 2020 with Familius. I also have several picture books, a chapter book, and novelty books out on submission.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Only one!? The Princess Bride. The cast, the sword fights, the rodents of unusual size! Just a great all-around movie… oh yeah, and the love story too.


Huge thank you to June for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut and all your upcoming projects!


JUNE SMALLS lives in Northern Virginia with her hubby, the kid, and her own odd assortment of animals. She writes children’s literature for the trade and educational markets.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about June visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @June_Smalls

TO ORDER June’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ODD ANIMAL ABC’S?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 15th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Hannah Stark

Authors, Interviews, debut interviewLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut picture book author Hannah Stark. Her first book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, illustrated by Bob Kolar, comes out on August 6th with Clarion Books and has received fabulous reviews. Vehicle books are big in our household so I can’t wait for this one to come out! We are so excited to have her with us today to share about her debut book and her road to publication.

So without further ado…please welcome Hannah Stark!

Hannah Stark Author Photo.JPG

Where do you live?

I live in Brooklyn, NY.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed writing but never thought I’d share it with others, namely keeping travel journals and pocket notebooks. In 2004 I started teaching third grade in the New York City Public Schools.  We did a project with the book Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier. I was inspired by how this picture book grew awareness for the organization Heifer International and was positively impacting so many people.  

My boyfriend at the time ran a non-profit in Senegal and we spent a summer living in Dakar. While he worked I did a ton of reading, writing, and exploring. I started writing down stories I heard the kids tell and making up stories of my own. By the end of the summer I had a notebook of stories drafted. I never did anything with those stories but for the first time my writing had arc. For the first time, I wondered if I could someday write my own picture book. 

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

In 2013 I decided to apply to author/illustrator Pat Cummings Picture Book Boot Camp in Brooklyn with half a draft of TRUCKER AND TRAIN.  Pat saw potential in the story from the beginning. She really challenged me to walk out of Boot Camp with a polished project and somehow I did. Afterwards, she encouraged me to start submitting the manuscript. Five editors passed on the project before Lynne Polvino at Clarion Books/HMH Kids believed in it and helped me bring my story into the world.

Can you share a bit about your process?

As a third grade teacher and single mom I write in spurts when my schedule (and energy level) allow. The first drafts of TRUCKER AND TRAIN were actually pecked into my phone while riding the subway to work. There are post-its of first lines hanging on my kitchen wall. I add to them when I cook or clean. Sometimes my boys help me with them over dinner.

I like writing by hand and draft in pencil in an oversized artist’s book. When I feel ready to move forward with a page or draft I type it up, print it, and then revise on that page in pencil. When I’m happy with my revisions I edit them on the computer, print it, and repeat the process over and over.  

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

For me, there are many ideas but not enough time. When I don’t get to look at a project for a few weeks because things are busy I usually start by just sitting and reading beautiful writing. These days that tends to be something by Jacqueline Woodson or Mary Oliver.  

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

There’s nothing concrete. I think the only thing I really need is a reminder to be patient with myself.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

I’m really inspired by Sophie Blackall and how she persisted with her career as a single mom. The Horn Book just printed her Caldecott Medal acceptance speech and she describes working on books at the kitchen table while her kids did their homework. That sounds a lot like my home.  

I’m also inspired by Rob Sanders who I was in a course at the Highlights Foundation with in 2018. He’s also an elementary school teacher and has been creating books in the hours when school is not in session. I’m so inspired by his career that started as a teacher with a writing passion side hustle. I’m so happy to see his career really take off with the releases of PRIDE and STONEWALL. He’s also a super sweet person.  

Dream project to work on? 

I’d love to write humor. We laugh a lot in my classroom and I think I get kid humor but I’ve never tried anything like it before.  

Tell us about your debut book.

My book TRUCKER AND TRAIN is about a big rig named Trucker who loves to rule the road with his size, strength, and mighty horn. One day he meets the larger, stronger, and louder Train. Trucker quickly realizes that Train is bigger, stronger, and louder but isn’t using his might for power. Instead, Train is well-adored by the other vehicles. TRUCKER AND TRAIN is a story about using our strengths for good. 

I was inspired to write the story when my son was three. I saw how some kids in his class relied on their size and strength during play since their verbal expression was just starting to develop. I hope the book is seen as more than a book about trucks and trains for vehicle loving toddlers. I hope young readers and their adults will use it to open up conversations about kindness, compassion, and the idea that with great power comes great opportunity.  

What’s up next for you?

I’ve been working on three non-fiction and historical fiction manuscripts. I love history and untold stories that kids can connect to today. The projects are geared towards an older reader than TRUCKER AND TRAIN but they are true passion projects and I love developing them. My goal is to get two of them submitted this summer. Fingers crossed!

And last, but not least, favorite 80’s movie?

Without a doubt it has to be Sixteen Candles.


Huge thank you to Hannah Stark for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut picture book, we are so excited for you and can’t wait to see it on shelves!


HANNAH STARK grew up watching her mom, Marisabina Russo, create picture books in her studio. She remembers a house filled with children's books as well as bags of teaching materials because her father was a teacher. Today Hannah's home is filled with picture books and teaching materials, too. Hannah has been teaching elementary school in the New York City Public Schools for fifteen years. She loves making and sharing resources for other educators and teaching kids to write. She was inspired to write her debut book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, while playing with her sons, Jackson and Travis. When not writing or teaching, Hannah can be found taking road trips and train rides to unfamiliar places.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Hannah visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter

Instagram

TO ORDER Hannah’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of TRUCKER AND TRAIN?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 8th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Illustrator Christopher Denise

Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward10 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have the incredibly talented illustrator Christopher Denise stopping by to chat with us! I’m a huge fan of Chris’s books and I’m thrilled to share his work with all of you today! I was lucky enough to meet Chris and his lovely and talented wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise a few years ago at a writer’s retreat in Vermont. You can read Critter Lit’s interview with Anika here. Their newest book, BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE came out earlier this month with Henry Holt and has received wonderful reviews:

"This sweet picture book acknowledges the special place each sibling occupies in a family. . . Kids will savor adorable details, such as children's artwork on a bedroom wall and winsome animal students lined up for school in a tree. Charming and comforting."Kirkus Reviews

So without further ado, please welcome Christopher Denise!

C_DENISE_HEADSHOT_2019 copy.jpg

Where do you live?

We live in Rhode Island in a little bayside community just outside of Providence. We love it here! We found an old beach house, fixed it up (most of it), and built a studio out back. The best part is that we can walk barefoot to the beach.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I started in publishing before my graduation from Rhode Island School of Design in 1990. So, about 29 years ago. My first book, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, was published in 1994.

How many books have you published?

Bunny in the Middle just published this July. It is my twenty-fifth book in trade publishing. When I first started out I published a number of books for the educational market.

Do you illustrate full-time?

I do! But it’s not necessarily like most full-time jobs. My wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise, is a kid lit author so in addition to our careers, we share responsibilities for taking care of all the house and family things. If I am on a deadline, she will step in and make sure all the home things happen. If she is in the thick of a project, I will take over. It’s not uncommon for either one of us to be back at work on a Sunday night.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I am inspired to create picture books that I like to read. Humor is big for me. I love to laugh and I love surprising and funny picture books! I also try to keep myself in a state of wonder. Children are fascinating and have such a truthful and amazing way of seeing the world. If you can tap into that, there is always inspiration.

What surprised you the most working as an illustrator?

The degree of tenacity that is required to stay in the field surprised me. While at RISD, I was fortunate enough to study with David Macaulay (Cathedral, The Way Things Work). Just before graduation, we had a long chat and he told me that it is not always the most brilliant or the most talented that make it in this business. You need the grit to stick with it, day after day, year after year.

What is your favorite thing about being an illustrator?

The ever-changing challenges of each book. Every author that I work with has a distinct voice and requires me to start over, to start fresh. I try to get myself into a beginner’s mind at the start of each project so I that I can respond to what is in front of me and what that particular book is asking for in terms of pacing, character development, and even the look of the book. It’s a wonderful way to be constantly in a state of growth and exploration.

What do you find difficult working as an illustrator?

The hours can be tough but I have gotten much better at managing production schedules. Even more difficult is managing the uncertainty of the market. You never really know how a book is going to land and if it will find its audience. That can make it difficult to plan and can be a challenge when raising a family.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Spending time with my family is hands-down the best thing I can do to generate new ideas or get a fresh perspective. It gets me out of my own headspace. The dinner table at our house is like a brain trust and the perfect place to beta test ideas.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

This sounds odd but I am habitual about routine. I need to show up in the studio and get in my hours. After so many years at this job, I know what works. I’m very good (an expert, actually) at breaking routine when I want to, but if I have too many days of distractions that take me out of the studio, I get very grumpy. Also exercise! It’s another way to get out of my own headspace and come back fresh.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

A few years ago I was asked to speak at Kindling Words East as a guest illustrator. I really didn't know what to expect but it was such a good fit for me, I ended up joining the committee and being their Resident Illustrator — and in many ways, finding a family. It truly is a safe and trusting place where we can discuss kid lit and the real nuts and bolts of living a creative life.

What is your favorite picture book?

A very tough question. I am going to skip listing the classics. But I can’t choose just one! I have so many favorites in different sub-genres of picture books and they change all the time. I do love I am Small by Emma Dodd. Swan by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad, is a big favorite. Also Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli, and Days Like This by Simon James.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Hmm, another tough question. In a way, living as an artist and spending my days in the studio, I am living the highlight every day. I’m grateful for the good reviews, the stars, the acknowledgements, and certainly when something happens like your book lands on the NY times list! But looking back at highlights can be tricky because comparison is inevitable. Comparing what was then, to this day in the studio. It just doesn't not feel right to me. There are things I am proud of. Firefly Hollow was a journey that required me to grow and change in different ways. Recently, I completed and sold my first picture book manuscript and I feel great about it. But really today, with all the possibility it offers, is the highlight.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started illustrating?

Don’t spend too much energy trying to prove yourself or working towards becoming something that you think that you should be. Allow the work to grow and to change. Just relax and have fun with it! Work hard at refining your tools but focus on allowing your individual, authentic voice to emerge.

Tell us about your newest book?

Bunny in the Middle written by Anika Aldamuy Denise!

We created Bunny in the Middle to celebrate the unique (sometimes challenging), but ultimately very special experience of being in the middle. Our middle is fearless but wise. She holds a unique place in the family. So we wrote a book to celebrate her — and all the middles out there.

What’s up next for you?

Oooo, I wish I could say more! Just last week we reached an agreement to publish my very first book that I have written and illustrated. Check the PW rights report-it may be in there this week!

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Yes, the standard advice is true. Read tons of picture books. Your local librarian should be your best friend. If you can, volunteer to read at a story hour at your local independent bookstore. Reading aloud to an audience is one of the very best ways to really understand what makes picture books work. Once you get going, avoid the comparison game. I know that we all seek recognition for our efforts and award time can be tough for many. Don’t fall into that trap, it will not serve you. Celebrate great books and achievements by your fellow authors and illustrators — especially if they are underrepresented in the industry.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

I guess Star Wars falls in the wrong decade so I would say Back to the Future with Raiders of the Lost Ark being a close second.


Huge thanks to Christopher Denise for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on all your success and your first author/illustrator project— we can’t wait to check it out!


CHRISTOPHER DENISE is an award-winning illustrator of many critically-acclaimed books for young readers including Alison McGhee’s Firefly Hollow, Rosemary Wells’ Following Grandfather, Anne Marie Pace’s Groundhug Day, as well as several in Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. His books have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and have been recognized by Bank Street College of Education, Parents' Choice Foundation, and the Society of Illustrators. Christopher lives with his wife and collaborator, Anika Denise (Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bunny in the Middle). They live on the coast of Rhode Island with three exceptionally nice people who happen to be their daughters.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Christopher, visit him online at http://www.christopherdenise.com/ or follow him on social media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christopherdenise/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Christopher-Denise-Illustrator-385062757194/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cadenise

Blog: http://christopherdenise.blogspot.com/

TO ORDER Christopher’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 1st! US addresses only please.

Interview with Author/Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited about today’s interview because our guest is…wait for it…

DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI!

I absolutely adore Debbie’s books and I’m thrilled to have her on Critter Lit and share her fabulous interview with you all. Debbie’s newest book, I’M WORRIED, written by Michael Ian Black, just released in June. If you haven’t read this series, you are missing out! I’M WORRIED is the third book in the I’m Bored! Series. The art is playful and wonderful and the text is spot on. Go check these books out! Debbie also offers incredible advice, templates, and posts about writing and illustrating children’s books on her site inkygirl.com.

So without further ado…please welcome Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

DebbieOhi-PhotoAnnieTruuvert-201807-DSC_0410-flat1000.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in Toronto, Canada.

How many years have you been in publishing?

It depends what you mean by publishing.

My first children’s book came out in 2012: I’M BORED was written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me, and was published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. My first book for grown-ups came out in 2001: THE WRITER’S ONLINE MARKETPLACE published by Writer’s Digest Books.

I think that the first thing I ever had officially published was a series of comics I created when I was in high school which ended up appearing in a cross-Canada newspaper for schools. I ended up winning their overall writing contest - I won a typewriter!

But the very first thing I had unofficially published was a family magazine I created with the aid of my sister and brother called FAMILY WEEKLY. I was the editor, and we all contributed stories, comics, puzzles, contests, and jokes.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yes! 

My first full-time job, was a computer programmer/analyst.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Interacting with young readers. 

Michael Ian Black and Debbie talk to young readers at Savoy Bank Street in Westerly, RI

Michael Ian Black and Debbie talk to young readers at Savoy Bank Street in Westerly, RI

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

When I first started illustrating picture books, I was amazed at how much creative input I had. I came from a writer’s world, after all, and used to think that a picture book illustrator just illustrated the author’s text. What I found: there is soooooooo much more to being a children’s book illustrator!

If I could give my young self some advice about writing picture books, it would be this: Leave room for your illustrator. Their creative vision matters just as much as yours. I feel incredibly lucky to have been working with authors, art directors and editors who understand this.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Two favorite things:

  1. The part of the creative process when you fall so deeply into your work that everything else around you disappears.

  2. Talking with young readers.

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

Trying not to compare myself to others.

It’s hard not to do this, especially when I’m on social media so much!

The fact is that there are ALWAYS going to be people who seem to be in a better place than me, whether it’s book contracts or awards, bestseller lists, getting more attention and public praise, and so on.

Two things that help the most:

  • Trying to focus on enjoying my own journey at my own pace.

  • Talking with young readers and hearing about young readers who love my books. I know I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I do find this helps ground me, reminding me of what’s really important. Sure, I may not have made it onto such-and-such list or someone posted a bad review of my newest book BUT (!!!!) here’s this earnest 2nd-grader who tells me that reading my book inspired her to write a story or draw a picture or helped her in some way.

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What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Read books. Get out of my office and take a walk. Going to SCBWI and CANSCAIP events. Hanging out in person with Kidlit friends. Read more books.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

What I find helps me the most: focusing on the FUN, and not being afraid to make mistakes.

For me, this means using inexpensive art materials during creative play. I find it hard to immerse myself in fun creative experimentation if I’m using a piece of watercolor paper that costs $5 a sheet, for example. 

Another important factor for me: uninterrupted focus time. This can be as short as 15 minutes, but I need to know that during that 15 minutes, I’m not going to be interrupted. This means no Internet, no phone calls, etc.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

Omigosh - this is such a hard question because there have been so many!

Here’s just one: Lee Wardlaw was the first children’s book professional who ever encouraged me in my writing. She was also the one to first tell me about the SCBWI, introduced me to people at my very first conference. After working with me on my first middle grade mss, she introduced me to her agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown. Ginger is now my agent.

Recommended reading?

One of my favorite writing craft books right now is THE MAGIC WORDS: Writing Great Books For Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

So many highlights to choose from! I’m grateful for all of them.

But I would say one personal highlight was meeting Judy Blume in person after illustrating some of her revamped middle grade and chapter books with Atheneum / Simon & Schuster Children’s.

Photo by my Simon & Schuster editor Justin Chanda, moments after I burst into tears after Justin introduced me to Judy Blume.

Photo by my Simon & Schuster editor Justin Chanda, moments after I burst into tears after Justin introduced me to Judy Blume.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

Working on your craft is important, it’s true, but you also need to get out and start meeting people in the industry. Yes, you are an introvert who dreads the whole idea of “networking” - but you CAN learn how to do it, and will make good friends in the process.

Also, be prepared for rejections. Many, many rejections. Learning how to handle rejection is an essential skill before and after publication.

Can you tell us about your newest book?

I’M WORRIED is a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers), and is part of the I’M.... series of books about emotions. The first was I’M BORED and the second was I’M SAD.

This newest book in the series is about Potato, who is worried about everything. Because anything might happen. When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

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Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on illustrations for GURPLE & PREEN, a picture book story written by Linda Sue Park. I’m excited about this project because Linda Sue wrote it especially for me to illustrate with my broken crayon art! Our book is coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2020.

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Intelligent perseverance is as important as talent.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

So hard to choose! I’m torn between Back To The Future (1985) and E.T. (1982).


Huge thank you to Debbie for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited about all of your fabulous books! Congrats on all your success!


DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (2015) and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster, 2017). Her writing and/or illustrations have appeared in over 20 books for young people, including titles by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Rob Sanders, Aaron Reynolds, Lauren McLaughlin and Colby Sharp. Her newest book is I'm Worried, a sequel to NY Times Notable I'm Bored and I'm Sad, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie. Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.com. You can find out more about Debbie and her work at DebbieOhi.com as well as on Twitter at @inkyelbows and Instagram at @inkygirl.

TO ORDER Debbie’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of I’M WORRIED?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, July 25th! US addresses only please.

Debut Interview with Jenn Harney

Authors + Illustrators, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! It’s been a while— but it’s great to be back! I’ve had a crazy few weeks with ALA and deadlines— I’m trying to push through the rest of the summer until baby no. 3 arrives! BUT I’m so excited to be back to our interview schedule with fellow local author and illustrator Jenn Harney! I’m thrilled to be sharing Jenn’s work with you all today. Her debut, UNDERWEAR! just came out this past April with Disney/Hyperion and it is HILARIOUS— I just know you’re all going to love it!

So without further ado…please welcome Jenn Harney!

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Where do you live?

Twinsburg, Ohio. I usually say “Clevelandish” because people know where Cleveland is. Twinsburg, not so much.

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

I met Tomie dePaola from a far at a Young Author’s Conference when I was, I think, in second grade. It was the first time it ever occurred to me that people could write and illustrate books as a job.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

I was VERY VERY lucky. When I signed with my agent, Rachel Orr, she asked if I wrote. So, I started writing. My first story went nowhere. My second story was UNDERWEAR! It was picked up by Stephanie Lurie at Disney Hyperion on its first round of submissions. Right time. Right place. Right Editor. I was very lucky.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My process always starts with drawings. I love character design and that’s where I start. Just doodling characters and seeing if any of them have any merit. Then, I play with the story. I write everything on legal envelopes. Easy to throw out. Usually I thumbnail a dummy as I write. Everything is always visual with me. The words come afterwards.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I’ve learned that if I’m having a bad drawing day to walk away from it. It’ll pass. If I force it, nothing looks good. I’ll get more done in a good drawing day than if I try to force it on a bad one. The Colour Collective weekly drawing challenge is a huge part of the rust shaking, too. Just a great group of illustrators. Just follow the #colour_collective tag on Fridays around 2:30 EST, and you’ll see what I mean.

Anything you can’t live without while you write/draw?

Something to listen to. Not music. Usually has to be an audiobook, or episodes of MST3K or RuPaul’s Drag Race. Have to have talking in the background.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

So many! Bill Watterson, Paul Coker Jr., Tomie DePaola, Tom Yohe, Steven Kellogg, P.D.Eastman, Richard Scarry, David McKee, Alan Tiegreen....I could keep going.

Dream project to work on?

Little Golden Books. I’ve always wanted to do a Little Golden Book.

Tell us about your debut book.

UNDERWEAR! Started with a Colour Collective piece I did. The story worked itself out on a walk with my ever stubborn corgi lodged under a bush and my ever loud self yelling “Get out from under there.” And he looked up at me like “Under where?” and it clicked. Steve went on an extra long walk that day as I looked like a crazy person tapping out syllables and talking out loud about underwear.

UNDERWEAR! Is pretty much autobiographical. I am the frazzled parent who just wants to get their kid out of the tub, into PJs and off to bed. My daughter is said kid who finds ENDLESS ways to keep herself out of bed. I think every parent has been on both sides of this story. And, stories about underwear are never not going to be funny. It’s just a fun word to say.

What’s up next for you?

My second book SWIM, SWIM, SINK is slated for launch in early 2020. Fingers crossed I can just keep working along.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Amadeus or Empire Strikes Back or Time Bandits. Don’t make me choose. (Oooo...Sophie’s Choice is good too!)


Huge thank you to Jenn for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for you and your fantastically funny debut! Congrats!


JENN HARNEY has illustrated several picture books, including Todd Tarpley’s HOW TO BECOME A KNIGHT (Sterling), NEVER CRUMPET WITH A TRUMPET (Boyd Mills Press), SMELLY KELLY (Boyd’s Mills Press). She has
also illustrated the covers and interiors for Jennifer Hamburg’s Hazy Bloom series (FSG), and Susan Lurie’s Wanda Seasongood series (Disney-Hyperion).

Jenn made her author-illustrator debut with UNDERWEAR (Disney-Hyperion) to be followed up by SWIM, SWIM, SINK in 2020 (Disney-Hyperion). She enjoys working at break-neck pace at her desk while binge watching old episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. Jenn lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband, her daughter, a dog named Steve and the ghost of the oldest living goldfish in North America.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jenn visit her online at jkharney.blogspot.com or follow her on social media:

Instagram + Twitter: @jennharknee

TO ORDER Jenn’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of UNDERWEAR?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, July 18th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

Interview with Debut Author Ishta Mercurio

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Ishta Mercurio. I’m thrilled to have her with us today and I can’t wait for you to hear about her wonderful debut picture book, SMALL WORLD, illustrated by Jen Corace, which will release with Abrams Books for Young Readers on July 2nd.

So without further ado…please welcome Ishta Mercurio!

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Where do you live?

I live in Brampton, Ontario! I haven't always lived here, though. I grew up in Cincinnati, OH. I come from a long line of people who moved around.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I've always loved storytelling, and I studied theater in college. There was something about using my whole self--my body, my gestures, my facial expressions, my voice--to tell a character's story that I really loved. But when I had kids, I realized that paying someone to look after them was going to cost more than I was earning! So I decided to stop working for a while and stay home with my littles. I read to them every night at bedtime, and I fell in love with the storytelling in picture books: the rhythm of the language captivated me, and the way the words and pictures came together to make something that is greater than the sum of their parts is an alchemy that I had to be a part of.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Reading! I didn't know the first thing about how to get published, so I googled it. This is what's so great about living in the 21st century--you can google how to do almost ANYTHING! So I googled it, and I read a whole bunch of blogs by agents (like Nathan Bransford and Rachelle Gardner) and writers (like Shannon Messenger and Casey McCormick and Shannon O'Donnell and Debbie Ohi), and I joined SCBWI and CANSCAIP (which is like SCBWI, but Canadian), and I invested a lot of time (years!) in learning how the industry works.

I also learned very quickly that my writing was not very good, but I knew that that was okay because you can improve as a writer, so I focused on doing that. I joined critique groups through SCBWI. I took a class in writing for children at the University of Toronto. I became part of the community of kidlit writers in the Toronto area. I went to conferences where I paid for my work to be critiqued, and I kept revising and writing new things until the rejections I got sounded less like one-line form rejections and more like "I loved these things about your story, but this part just isn't working." Meanwhile, a friend from my critique group was writing non-fiction in a series for a publisher, and she asked me if I wanted to write the next non-fiction book in the series with her, so I did, and that was great. It was my first experience working with a publisher, but I was doing it with someone who had worked with them before, and that was really valuable.

And then eventually, an agent pulled my query for a chapter book out of the slush and loved it and asked to see more and loved that, and we met and I knew that I wanted her on my team. She really got me, which is important. You want an agent who really gets you and who absolutely loves your work. And the thing is: that chapter book still hasn't sold, but the next thing she sent out did. And that book is SMALL WORLD. So even after all that, you have to know and accept that rejection is part of the process, throughout your career. And that's okay. Write the next thing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I usually get an idea that's just a seed, and I write that down--just a sentence or two--and let it marinate for a while. Then I jot down ideas and doodle until I think I have enough to make a story, and then I write out what I call a "bare bones" draft: it's mostly flat, language-wise, with maybe a couple phrases that touch on the lyricism or whatever tone I'm going for, but it has the basic plot. And then I doodle some more, and think about what layers I can build in, and at that point I write one sentence that encompasses the heart of the story, and I tape that to my desk where I can see it while I work through the multiple drafts it takes to get the story right. It's like my compass: it keeps me heading in the right direction.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I read a lot, and I watch movies. I take walks and garden and watch the bugs do their thing. I catch up on the news. Mostly, though, I go out in the world, to museums or to parks, and I just take it in. And I have conversations with people about things that have nothing to do with writing children's books. Ideas are everywhere; you just have to be open to them.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Coffee! But everyone probably says that. I also have a process book, and that's where I write early drafts and doodle and work out niggles in my manuscripts. Even when I reach the type-it-all-out stage, I like to have my process book close by.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Oh, gosh--so many! It would be easier to list the ones who don't, but that would be mean.

I love Marla Frazee's work; her illustrative style is just so gorgeous, and at the same time, so rooted in the messy reality of childhood. She's amazing. I am in awe of Angie Thomas and S. K. Ali, whose books feel so effortless (even though I know they take A LOT of work!). Ekua Holmes' experiments with different illustrative styles and art techniques is blowing me away. Linda Sue Park and Kate DiCamillo both wrote books that made me want to be a better writer. And John Green's books always feel like home.

Dream project to work on?

I have a HUGE bucket list, but one of the things on it is to write a wordless picture book. I know that sounds contradictory, and it's hard to pull it off, but there's no fun without a challenge, right?

Tell us about your debut book.

SMALL WORLD follows Nanda from the day she is born, wrapped in the circle of her mother's arms, right up until the day she goes to the Moon and looks back at the Earth from far away. It's about wonder, and the amazing places your explorations can take you. It's about dreaming big for your future, and finding your place in the vastness of the Universe. It's my love letter to this planet, which is our shared home and which contains innumerable wonders. And it's about joy. Jen Corace illustrated it, and it's a match made in heaven. My editor is a genius for pairing Jen's art with my words.

What’s up next for you?

I'm not allowed to say yet, but I sure hope everyone likes it!

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

The Princess Bride, of course!


Huge thank you to Ishta for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait for your debut to come out! Congrats!


ISHTA MERCURIO is an author and actor. Raised in Cincinnati by an Irish-German-Italian-American father and a Polish-American-Filipino mother, she has traveled to England, Scotland, Italy, France, and all over the United States. She now lives in Brampton, Ontario, where she films and photographs plants and wildlife, from the tall to the small, in her backyard. Small World is her debut picture book. Find her online at www.ishtamercurio.com, on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theoneandonlyishta/ , on twitter at @IshtaWrites and on instagram at @ishtamercurio.

TO ORDER Ishta’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of SMALL WORLD?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, June 20th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author and Illustrator Mikela Prevost

Authors + Illustrators, Interviews, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have a fabulous interview with debut author and illustrator Mikela Prevost whose book, LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY! came out in March. I adore this book so much! It’s cute, funny, and oh so charming with a lot of heart— my favorite combination. Here’s a sneak peek for those of you who haven’t read Mikela’s wonderful debut yet…

Kate and Frank are best friends. To celebrate Frank's birthday, Kate throws him a party with all her favorite things: lots of friends, dancing in circles, loud singing, and sparkly confetti everywhere. But best friends don't always have the same taste in parties. Frank prefers quiet, sun-drenched naps on his favorite rug. So he hides. Kate must find a way to bring Frank back to the party--on his own terms.

I’m thrilled to have Mikela with us today, so without further ado…please welcome Mikela Prevost!

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Where do you live?

In the Valley of the SUN! Phoenix, Arizona.

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

As a kid, I wasn't terribly good at reading but I always had the pictures in books to help guide me through the story in one way or the other. But by 2nd grade, I had started to grow in my reading abilities and at that point, the Harry Potter books of my day were Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic. I devoured these books, for the brevity of the poems and the child-like pen and ink illustrations. 

Silverstein's illustrations seemed so approachable, something that I could do. Drawing came much easier to me than reading, so seeing how a story could be encapsulated in such a brief poem along with an outlandish drawing was so attractive to me. The worlds he created through his poems always had me wondering what else happened beyond that last sentence. 

As a writer and illustrator now, I want to try and give young readers that sense of  "seen" as Shel Silverstein did for me.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Signing with a literary agent was the best way for my work to evolve. I attended SCBWI's Winter Conference in 2017 where Rebecca Sherman of Writer's House came across my work. She loved my illustration work and knew that my writing had potential. Over the course of several months, I was writing stories and sending sketches to Rebecca but she really wanted to start my career off on the right foot, so she pushed me to produce my best work. I'm so thankful she did, as I look back and see those earlier stories - I would not want them out in public! When the story idea for Let's Have a Dog Party! came, Rebecca made me feel like I had struck gold! We sent the text, dummy and two finished illustrations out, it went to auction and we found a great home for the story with Joanna Cardenas who (at the time) was the editor for Viking/Penguin.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Writing and illustrating is such a balancing act - having just enough of the best words while allowing the illustrations to do some heavy lifting. I  try to write more than I need then weed out what is superfluous to the story. 

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I "squeeze the sponge dry" on a topic until I've exhausted every possible story idea. I write out ideas until I reach the end of the page. 95% is garbage worthy, but I will stumble on a gem that makes me so excited, I won't sleep at night.

Anything you can’t live without while you write/draw?

While writing, I listen to a curated instrumental playlist that cues up my brain to stay focused on just that story. While illustrating I binge podcasts and watch/listen to old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. And I keep the coffee flowin'.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

My illustration friends Molly Idle, for her graceful, luscious line work and joyful colors and Juana Martinez-Neal, who captures the essence of children so innately. Also, her talent with patterns is second to none! An author I aspire to emulate is Jon Agee - his humor is so wry yet it translates to children in the perfect way. My Rhinoceros was my own personal masterclass in writing.    

Dream project to work on?

Anything that results in a kid loving a book so much, it falls apart. That, to me, is the true mark of a successful book.

Tell us about your debut book.

With Let's Have a Dog Party! I was sitting in my office, wracking my brain for a good story idea, while my kids and a few neighbor kids were running back and forth by my door chasing our little dog Pepper. She's a good-natured dog that will tolerate anything, but I knew eventually the chaos would reach a crescendo and she would take off running. If I wasn't there to stop this fiasco, I imagined a party breaking out. That's where the idea came from - I liked the idea of the kid characters just deciding out of the blue that "today" was Frank's birthday and using whatever they had on hand to celebrate. Like my kids, I knew a point would come that the characters would realize the poor dog had hit his limit and need to de-escalate the situation.

What’s up next for you?

I can't say just yet - but I can say I'm excited!

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Ghostbusters! And it still is my favorite movie! I saw it in the theater with my Dad, so I'll always have the good memories to associate with the movie.


Huge thank you to Mikela for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your debut book and all that you do!


MIKELA PREVOST is an author and illustrator currently residing in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their three kids. Born and raised in Southern California, she received her BFA from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Illustration from California State University of Fullerton. Writing and illustrating for children has been her life-long pursuit and passion. Her work is driven by the desire to capture the whimsical innocence and unique perspective from which a child sees the world. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Mikela visit her website or follow her on social media:

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

TO ORDER Mikela’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, June 6th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Author/Illustrator Scott Magoon

Authors + Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward5 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with the incredibly talented author and illustrator Scott Magoon! I’m so excited to share this interview with all of you as well as Scott’s newest book, LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL, which I think is his best work yet! I love the message in LINUS and the art is utterly spectacular.

Scott was one of the first people in the publishing industry who took the time to give me feedback on my illustration portfolio back when he was an art director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He offered his time and advice when I was just starting out, which I will always be grateful for. I was lucky enough to have a few people, including Scott, offer their insight at the beginning of my career. Which is exactly what Critter Lit is all about!

So without further ado, please welcome Scott Magoon!

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Where do you live?

I live in Reading, Massachusetts. 13 miles north of Boston. Amy Krouse Rosenthal once pointed out to me that my town’s name looks like it could be pronounced as in ‘reading a book.” As an author I liked that of course. But our town is in fact pronounced as in “Otis Redding.” Whom I also like. 

How many years have you been in publishing?

Scads. I joined Candlewick Press as a book designer way back in 2003. So, what’s that, 100 years? From there I went on to HMH as an art director. I was working as a freelance illustrator and writing all through those years until finally going full-time with writing and drawing in 2015.

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

How many books have you published?

I’ve published 27 books. I don’t have a favorite but I tell students on my school visits when they ask that I love each book for a different reason. One I love for the characters, another for the setting, maybe another the experience I had drawing it. I try to LEARN SOMETHING from each book so that I’m always improving. 

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yes. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Terrifying because my family’s relying on my creativity. What if it gives out? On the other hand, it’s exhilarating for all the reasons you’d think. Opening those doors of imagination and seeing what’s inside. More often than not they open to brick walls. Finding the doors that go somewhere takes time and that’s what going full-time has afforded me. That, and a very short commute. 

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

What inspires you to create picture books?

Primarily, I love solving the puzzle. The discovering, developing of an idea. Then crafting the story alongside the the visual style of a book. 

Beyond that, I love putting story and art together for young readers because I remember how powerful reading was for me as a student. Being a part of someone’s reading adventure is a privilege and I find that keeps me going as well. 

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

The endless promotion of one’s own work. You’re always sort of on. Also that people have actually heard of and read my books. And in far-flung places like Taiwan or Australia. It’s nuts. I didn’t expect that kind of exposure.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Visiting with students for my school visits. I get to talk about reading, drawing and writing and answering their questions. I draw digitally for them. I can only hope they learn and are inspired. I get a little nervous every time before I go onstage but once I’m on, its all good. Bottom line, it’s fun to do it.

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

Managing social media. Like so many of us, I like to genuinely engage with people. While I do my best with it, social media is designed for snippets of interaction I’ve yet to master. It all just leaves me feeling...cold. Surely I’m not alone in this! Sigh. If only there was some kind of online forum where I could reach out to people and discuss it. ;)

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Change perspective. This usually involves travel near or far—or a trip to a museum. Take in as much new stuff/points of view as possible: books, movies, music, food, people, culture. A good night’s sleep helps too. 

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I stay organized. It allows me to have as much time as possible to be creative and not waste time looking for stuff. Also: I answer emails in the morning after I drop my boys off at school. I do this so that my correspondence has a first-thing verve—and so it’s out of the way and the rest of my day is for my creative stuff!

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community? 

Our industry’s so supportive and positive. I’ll never forget how established authors and illustrators reached out to me when my first books were published with words of encouragement. I felt welcome. Also, I enjoy attending conferences and meeting my fellow authors and illustrators—of all experience levels. They are, more or less, my co-workers. As a digital illustrator, I find its pretty cool to dive deep and talk about our drawing tools with someone who knows them as well I do; someone who speaks your language. 

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

What is your favorite picture book?

THE DOT by Peter Reynolds. It speaks to me every single day as a creative person. His philosophy in that book—make a mark and work it. See where it goes. That’s it. It’s a powerful notion. LINUS owes a debt to THE DOT. I think also it has something to do with how Peter’s been a force in my creative life; he and I have been friends for 15+ years.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The journey I’ve been on—and continue on— with RESCUE & JESSICA has been a particular highlight. There’s been an overwhelming outpouring of love and good things from that book. But none of that would have come to pass if I hadn’t made the leap to full-time. I would not have had the time, its production timetable was too demanding. So to answer your question I’d say being able to write and illustrate full-time.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

Feed your imagination more. Write more. Sketch more. Worry less. Don’t let the bastards get you down. 

Tell us about your newest book?

Linus the Little Yellow Pencil is about being creative and being kinder to our creative sides. The story is about a pencil who loves drawing. So when the art supply family art contest opens, he wants to win the Pencil Cup. He starts drawing his favorite things but no sooner does he finish his work than Ernie his eraser erases all of Linus’ drawings. “They’re not good enough,” Ernie says. Frustrated by this literal back and forth, Linus loses his faith in his abilities and it’s only after he meets the wise Smudge (a pencil shaving mystic who lives inside a cave [pencil sharpener]) does LInus realize how he and Ernie can work together. The story is literally drawn from my own feelings of frustration with drawing over the years. I hope it connects with artists young and old. 

What’s up next for you?

 I’d like to branch out to other shelves. Middle grade, chapter books—I’d like to work on a graphic novel. I’ve got the beginnings of one now. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

As a marathoner I’ve learned to 1. pace myself and 2. run the mile I’m in. I’ve tried to apply those lessons to my professional life. I’ve learned that being in business for the long run is not a sprint. That to succeed we must persist, fail, sacrifice, be disappointed over and over (and over) again. We must be dedicated to hard work and good habits. Be enthusiastic and good to work with. It turns out all of these things require lots of energy and focus. So—I’ve found the trick is to find a sustainable pace and reasonable level of expectation for my books. Find that pace for yourself over time and you’ll reach that finish line, whatever it may be.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Favorite lines: “Never had one lesson!” “Ninnne Times.” “You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.”


Huge thank you to Scott Magoon for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for LINUS! Congrats!


SCOTT MAGOON is a former art director turned full-time author/illustrator of several acclaimed picture books including the New York Times best-selling Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. It recently won ALA’s Schneider Family Book Award that honors books the expresses the disability experience for young readers. He also illustrated the Misunderstood Shark books by Ame Dyckman, the Nuts series with author Eric Litwin, Spoon and Chopsticks, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I Have a Balloon By Ariel Bernstein. He's also the author and illustrator of Breathe, The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot and the forthcoming Linus The Little Yellow Pencil.

He lives with this family in Massachusetts.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Scott, visit his website or follow him on social media:

Facebook.com/Scott-Magoon

Twitter: @smagoon

Instagram: @skortch

TO ORDER Scott’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 30th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Mikela Provost!

Interview with Author Gayle C. Krause

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with Gayle C. Krause, whose newest book, DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON?, illustrated by Carlos de la Garza, focuses on the relationship between a boy and his father, who is deployed overseas. I was so touched by the story and message in this book, as I know all of you will be too! I’m thrilled to have Gayle with us today, sharing her work.

So without further ado, please welcome Gayle C. Krause!

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Where do you live? 

I live in a country cliffside house in Northeastern PA overlooking PA, NY, and NJ.  The Delaware River, which divides PA from NY, is two blocks from my house.

 When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I always made up stories to entertain my sisters and the neighborhood kids when I was a child, but I didn’t start thinking about writing them down until I was the Director of a Laboratory PRE-K in a teacher education program, which was my first career.

 Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

My first picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA (2008), was an original Scholastic Book Club acquisition, which is rare these days. I met my editor at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. It was my first foray into writing for children and I’ve been writing ever since. 

My second book was a YA urban fantasy titled RATGIRL: Song of the Viper, which is a retelling of The Pied Pier set in a dystopian future with global warming. It’s one of my favorite things that I have written.

DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? is my second picture book, eleven years after my first. You see, the key is to never give up your dream.

 Can you share a bit about your process?

I write in the morning as soon as I get up. My house is quiet because my husband is still sleeping and I’m free to let my mind wander in and out of scenes with my characters. If I can’t write for a solid time period, then I jot down ideas as they come to me. I’ve been known to write a whole chapter from a sentence or two quickly written on a scrap piece of paper or a napkin.

 What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I am NOT a believer of the Butt-In-Chair writing philosophy. I would only waste my time. If the kernel of an idea has not already sprouted in my mind, I can’t force it to come by staring at a blank computer screen. 

So I do something else in the creative realm like quilting or doll-making until one of my characters speaks to me, or shouts at a villain, or gives a cheeky answer to another character…and then I’m off and writing.

 Anything you can’t live without while you write?

The Internet. Whether I’m writing a silly picture book, a serious YA, or a whimsical MG (I never write nonfiction) it requires research. Did you know that baby T-Rex’s looked like fuzzy baby chicks? Or That you could make a bonfire on ice without it melting? 

 Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Authors – Juliet Marillier for fantasy 

Illustrator – Kinuko Y. Craft also for fantasy

 Dream project to work on?

It’s funny you should say a dream project. All of my stories start as dreams. Even as I am writing one, I’m dreaming of another, something that’s saying… “hurry up and finish what you’re writing. You need to write my story.”

 Tell us about your new book.

Written in rhyme, Daddy, Can You See the Moon? is about the special moments a young boy and his deployed dad share by looking at the moon, until the father comes home a wounded warrior and the boy realizes that love was what kept them connected all along. Carlos de la Garza’s illustrations are vibrant and beautiful and realistically portray the poignant story my words tell.

 What’s up next for you?

Once Upon a Twisted Tale is a ‘Fractured Fairytale’ poetry collection I’ve worked on for several years. And it will be released on June 18, 2019, also from SPORK. As you can tell from the answers to my other questions, I love fantasy and fairytales. This collection combines unlikely characters in the same story. Here is a quote from the introductory poem – 

“These characters, right or wrong—

in stories where they don’t belong.”

The illustrations were done by Caroline O’Neal and have a beautiful, ethereal touch of “fairy” in each one.

 And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

 It would have to be Princess Bride.


Huge thank you to Gayle C. Krause for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see what you do next!


As a Master Educationalist, GAYLE C. KRAUSE has taught Children’s Literature, creative writing, and storytelling techniques at the secondary and post-secondary levels. She’s a member of SCBWI, the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, and a past member of The Poets’ Garage. Gayle is the author of six children’s books. Her work has been nominated for the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the International Reading Award. She currently serves on Angie Karcher’s National Rhyme Revolution Committee, choosing the best rhyming picture book from 2015-2018 and presents writing seminars to children’s authors. Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary represents her.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Gayle, visit her online at http://www.gayleckrause.com or follow her on social media:

Twitter @GeeCeeK

Instagram

Facebook

TO ORDER Gayle’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 23rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Scott Magoon!

Interview with Debut Author Sheri Dillard

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Sheri Dillard! Her picture book, COWHIDE-AND-SEEK (how cute is that title??!), illustrated by Jess Pauwels, just came out this past Tuesday. (Congrats Sheri!) We are thrilled to have her with us on Critter Lit today!

So without further ado…please welcome Sheri Dillard!

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Where do you live?

Atlanta, GA

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

When my three sons were picture book age, we lived in Lewisburg, a small, central Pennsylvania town. Our friendly borough was surrounded by rolling hills of farmland, and it was almost like living in the pages of a picture book. 

It was during this time that I created COWHIDE-AND-SEEK. I wasn’t even writing yet, but I woke up one night around 2am with the idea of a cow character who accidentally leaves her farm and (unknowingly) creates chaos wherever she goes. I loved it so much that I jumped out of bed and quickly wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. I'm not sure why I wanted to remember it, exactly. Maybe I just wanted to share my dream with my husband and kids? But the next day, I started writing. 

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Those kids of mine that I mention above? The picture book aged ones? They are now in college and beyond, so that gives you an idea of the length of my road!  But it all worked out pretty well, actually. Now in my first year as an empty-nester, I have my debut book to focus on. And its release date is just before my twin sons come home from their first year of college, so they can help me celebrate. Great timing!

A few months after I first started writing, I discovered SCBWI. It's such a helpful and supportive community, and I always mention it to anyone interested in writing for children. And it was through SCBWI that I connected with my two critique groups. (Hi Crumpled Paper and Critcasters!) Both the experiences of getting critiques and giving critiques helped me grow as a writer. (And still do!)

I spent years writing, revising, critiquing, and then repeating with more writing, revising, and critiquing. I went to conferences. Sent submissions to editors and agents. Eventually, my form letters improved to personal letters and finally to revision requests. And I came really close a couple times.

But my big break came during a Twitter pitch party. (Which is such a surprise because I am still learning how all this social-media stuff works! LOL) The event was called #PBPitch and it eventually led to me signing with my agent Liza Fleissig. We haven't sold the manuscript that she signed me for - (yet!) - but I love that COWHIDE-AND-SEEK will be my first book. And I love that this story found a home at Running Press Kids. Julie Matysik and her team at RPK are wonderful!    

Can you share a bit about your process?

I love to revise. It feels like working on a puzzle, and it is so satisfying when everything starts to fit together. And I love working on manuscripts that I haven't read in a while because I'm seeing them not only with "fresh eyes" but also with the eyes of a more experienced writer.

An important part of my revision process is to read the manuscript out loud. It really helps me see (and hear!) what needs adjusting. I'm a librarian at a preschool, and I have regular weekly storytimes in all the classes. (Love it!) Sometimes, when I'm at home working on a new story, I'll read it out loud and imagine that I'm reading it to one of the classes. It soon becomes clear where I might lose the kids' interest or where things might be confusing. And also where things might be funny or exciting. And that very last page, right before I say, "the end," needs to be satisfying, in some way. 

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Ideas usually come to me when I'm not paying attention, LOL. I've gotten several ideas when I'm out for a run, and as I'm running, I'll record the ideas on my phone. The combination of my southern accent and the huffing and puffing (from my run) makes for interesting notes, and sometimes that will spark another idea! 

Captain

Captain

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Laptop. Coffee. And I love having my writing companion, Captain, nearby. (He's great at reminding me to take writing-breaks with a nice walk around the neighborhood.)

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Ooh, that will be hard to narrow down. I love fun and silly picture books, so I'll say Tammi Sauer, Doreen Cronin, Jan Thomas, and Chris Haughton. One of my all-time favorite picture books to give as a gift is BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer. 

Dream project to work on?

Actually, I like to think that my dream already came true. Literally! That story idea that woke me up at 2am is the idea that started my writing career and will be my very first picture book. Pretty dreamy, I'd say.

Tell us about your debut book.

COWHIDE-AND-SEEK is about a cow, Bessie, who hears her farmer counting and mistakenly thinks he's starting a game of hide-and-seek. She hurries off to hide and accidentally leaves the farm. Now, the farmer really IS looking for her, but it's not because he's playing the game-- it's because his cow is missing! 

And since Bessie has left the farm, her hiding spots are in places where you typically wouldn't see a cow. Poor thing, it's hard to stay hidden when people keep pointing at you and saying things like, "I see a cow!" Each time, Bessie patiently tries to explain how important it is to stay quiet while hiding, but no one understands "moo." So she has to mooove on...

I love Bessie's earnest efforts to find the perfect hiding spot and her joy in simply playing the game. (The illustration on the very last page is my favorite. :)

What’s up next for you?

As I write this, I'm preparing for my book launch party at my favorite children's bookstore, Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA. And on the book's release date, May 7th, I'll be celebrating with some of my favorite people (kids and adults!) at the preschool where I work. It will be a special storytime for me because I'll be sharing my very own book with everyone. (And rumor has it that my preschool director plans to dress up as a cow that day and "hide" around the school. So fun!)

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Oh my goodness-- I just checked the release dates for my three favorite movies, and they were all made in the 80s! Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, and Raising Arizona.


Huge thank you to Sheri for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut! Congrats!


SHERI DILLARD is a children's author and preschool teacher/librarian. She lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband Mark, three sons, and a 100-pound puppy named Captain, who is not so good at hiding. Cowhide-and-Seek is her first book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sheri, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @sheridillard

Instagram: @sheridillard

TO ORDER Sheri’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of COWHIDE-AND-SEEK?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 16th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Gail C. Krause!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Philip Stead and Illustrator Erin Stead

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Interviews, Illustrators, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so thrilled about today’s interview— it’s somewhat of a fangirl moment for me, as I love their books so much. Each time I read one, I discover a new detail to fall in love with. Their newest book, MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON is stunning. We’ve been reading it at bedtime almost every night over here. I don’t think there is an intro I could write that would do them justice…so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Please welcome Erin and Philip Stead!

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Where do you live? 

We live in an old farmhouse in Northern Michigan, not too far from the Lake Michigan beach.

How many years have you been in publishing? 

13 years.

How did you first get published?

PHIL: We moved to New York City when we were just out of college with the idea of getting into children's books. I worked briefly for the Brooklyn Children's Museum as a designer/illustrator and spent my free time hitting the pavement, talking my way into publishing offices. Meanwhile Erin worked in a children's bookstore, Books of Wonder, and then later took a job in design at HarperCollins. In the end it was a friend that helped us get a foot all the way in the door. Our friend, fellow bookmaker George O'Connor, passed some of my work along to Neal Porter, an editor at Roaring Brook Press. George had worked with Erin at Books of Wonder. Interestingly enough, Erin also worked with other future authors Nick Bruel, Jason Chin, and Julie Fogliano at the same store. All of those names ended up getting their break with Neal Porter as well. After George had linked me up with Neal he also suggested to Neal that Erin might be interested in illustration work. Up till then Erin had never done illustration work. In fact, she'd barely done any drawing at all in almost three years. In the few days between George's suggestion and Erin's first meeting with Neal I wrote a draft of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, then basically pitched it to both Erin and Neal at the same time over dinner. 

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yep, we've been doing this full-time since the beginning, even before it made any financial sense to do so. We're just not good at multi-tasking. But we are pretty good at being broke.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Dusty, old, forgotten books, mostly. And animals.

What surprised you the most working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

We would read books (i.e. Dear Genius, by Leonard Marcus) that made it seem like all the illustrators and authors that we grew up reading were all actually friends in real life. This seemed cool, but unlikely to us. But even just a few years in it became clear to us that we all really DO know each other. We love knowing so many other bookmakers. It's one of our favorite things about the job.

What do you find difficult working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

Literally everything. We're both really hard on ourselves and we both contemplate quitting on an almost daily basis. By now though (and we say this often to each other) we basically have no marketable skills for the real world. We could be professional dog walkers maybe. That's about it.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

PHIL: Erin is always cooking when she's stuck on a problem. Sometimes she avoids her desk for weeks and just cooks, cooks, cooks. It used to stress me out, the longer she'd go without setting pencil to paper. But now I know it's all just part of the process. Neither of us are prolific sketchers. We often go straight to final art from the idea in our head. So I guess cooking is akin to sketching for Erin. I find a lot of my inspiration outside of the children's book world. Aside from my love of used book stores I don't really stay too up to date on what's new, other than what my friends are making. I love movies, especially weird ones. And I love music. All music. I'm currently in love with an album by an Ethiopian jazz pianist named Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. It's unlike anything I've ever heard and I'm sure it's trying to tell me something if I just listen to it long enough.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Procrastination. And the making of coffee to do so.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

We've done several school events through an organization called An Open Book in Washington DC. Their goal is to get books into the hands of kids who might not have access to book ownership otherwise. School events can be exhausting but we always leave our Open Book events feeling energized and in love with books again. When you see how much a book, just a single book, can mean to a kid it really puts a lot of the other troubles of bookmaking into perspective. It also helps you realize that your books don't really belong to you after they're finished. They go out and live their own interesting lives outside the studio.

Recommended reading?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Stamaty. A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer, and Bambert's Book of Missing Stories, by Reinhardt Jung. We recommend these books to pretty much anyone who will listen.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far? 

Making a book about our dog (Ideas Are All Around) and then getting her picture published in the New York Times thereafter. 

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

That there will be a lot of public speaking. Neither one of us really considered that getting up and talking to grown-ups would be a big part of being a children's book illustrator. For two bonafide introverts it's kind of a bummer sometimes.

Can you tell us about your newest book? 

We've been thinking a lot lately about what it would be like to grow up right now in a world that is all about over sharing and over stimulation. Quiet, alone time was essential to both of us as kids. It's still essential to us. I don't think kids are often allowed these days to do things alone—truly alone. Everything is always documented and shared. Music for Mister Moon is book about an introvert, made by two introverts. We hate to ever say what a books means, but at its core the book is meant to ask a question which is: can a thing have value if it isn't shared? 

What’s up next for you?

Our next book is actually the 10 year anniversary edition of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. It'll come in a nice, cloth slipcase and have some bonus content inside. After that I've (Phil) got a book called In My Garden. It's the first ever book that I've illustrated but not written. It was written by Charlotte Zolotow and originally published in the 1960s with illustrations by Roger Duvoisin. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators? 

Always be curious.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

PHIL: The Princess Bride

ERIN: Yes, definitely, The Princess Bride


Huge thank you to Phil and Erin for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited to see what you make next!


PHILIP AND ERIN STEAD are the author and illustrator of the 2011 Caldecott Medal Book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. They have collaborated on many books together including Bear Has a Story to Tell, Lenny & Lucy, and most recently The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a New York Times bestselling reimagining of an unfinished Mark Twain fairy tale. Philip and Erin live in northern Michigan. Someday Erin hopes to learn how to play the cello.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Erin and Philip, visit them online:

Erin Stead’s Website

Philip Stead’s Website

TO ORDER Philip and Erin’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 9th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Sheri Dillard!

Critter Lit is Growing!

AnnouncementsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited to announce that Critter Lit is growing! This little side-project that I started two years ago has taken off since February 2017, when I first launched the site. Huge thanks to all of you for your support and interest in Critter Lit!

I’m so proud of everyone who’s sent me their work. You’ve all committed the journey of being a creative and trying to break into the business of publishing. I know it’s not easy! I’ve been so impressed with what you’ve sent and your willingness to share your words with me. I’ve seen you get agented, published, and develop new voices. And I’m truly honored to be apart of your process.

When I started Critter Lit, I knew one day that I would need help— critiquing, editing, and handling the general maintenance of the site. But my goal was to always offer FREE ONE-TIME CRITIQUES, no matter what. Which at the time I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to handle in addition the very full plate I already had with my own work, family, and life. But this was and is my mission statement. You can read more about this here.

Here in the Tupta household, we’ve had a lot of changes in the last year. One of which is that my husband, Frank Tupta, will be publishing his first picture book, HOW TO BUILD A HAUNTED HOUSE, with Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing in July 2020! So exciting! I couldn’t be more proud of him! (Stay tuned for his debut author interview next year).

Frank has been writing for the last five years, working mostly on adult novels. Over the years, we’ve always edited each other’s work and bounced ideas off one-another. He has an incredible eye and has been a wonderful critique partner for my own work. So…I’m thrilled to announce that Frank will be joining Critter Lit to help me with handling all the critiques we receive.

So without further ado…please welcome Frank Tupta to the Critter Lit family!

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Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay

Interview with Author Julie Falatko

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so very excited about our guest today— the amazingly talented and oh so funny Julie Falatko! We are huge fans of Julie’s books in our house, Snappsy the Alligator…need I say more??? I’m thrilled to feature an interview with Julie today and share her latest book THE GREAT INDOORS, illustrated by Ruth Chan, which has already received a starred review and has been selected as a Junior Library Guild book!

So without further ado…please welcome Julie Falatko!

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Where do you live?

I live in Maine, outside of Portland. I don’t want to make anyone else jealous, but it’s the best place to live. In my opinion. For me. And maybe you? You probably love where you live. And – oh, wait. If I talk about how great Portland is, everyone will move here, and then it will be overcrowded and not so great anymore. So never mind. I live in Maine, outside of Portland, and it’s adequate.

How many years have you been in publishing?

My first book, Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in this Book) came out in 2016.

How did you first get published?

I got published in what I think is The Standard Way: I queried agents who seemed like a good fit, got an offer from the slush pile, and then that agent submitted my manuscript to an editor, who acquired it. People sometimes want to hear of some secret talisman (“oh, I see, so my mistake was that I wasn’t wearing red, got it”) but the truth is The Standard Way is the way it usually happens.

Do you write full-time?

I…do. I certainly spend a full-time number of hours working on writing and writing-related tasks, like publicity. But if I was not married to someone with a full-time job that pays decently and comes with health benefits, I would not be writing full time. I write full-time hours, but haven’t gotten to a point of full-time pay yet.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Picture books are my favorite literary medium. There are so many directions they can go, and, at their best, they are perfect nuggets of someone’s view of the world. It’s inspiring to try to rise to the challenge of fitting so much story and nuance and entertainment into such a small package. But honestly most of my ideas involve talking squirrels and birds and alligators and dogs, and those ideas are probably best suited for a picture book. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

How long it truly takes to make a picture book. I had known it wasn’t a quick process, but I hadn’t really absorbed that it was a two-and-a-half-year process at the very minimum, and often much longer. I’ve come to love the long lead time, both because it makes for a better book, but also because it allows me to have a lot of different projects going on at once. 

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I’m supposed to say my favorite thing is hearing from kids, but the truth is that’s my second favorite thing. The fact that I get to write such silly stories with jokes that first and foremost are in there just to crack myself up – that’s my first favorite thing. I am so lucky this is my job.

What do you find difficult working as an author?

The answer to this has probably changed a bit over the years, but right now the answer is that I’m having trouble focusing. 2017 was a very scattered year, focus-wise, and since then it has been a constant struggle to force my brain to remember what it’s here to do, and to rein my thoughts in from what they apparently want to do, which is tap dance in the many fields and meadows that have nothing to do with my writing work.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I get up. I move around. Mostly I go outside. I take my dogs for a walk every morning, and much of that walk is spent mulling over ideas and talking them out loud to see what sounds right.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I like to make a list every day of what I’m planning on getting done, and then I’m pretty good about forcing myself to sit down and do it. I do often light a candle. I do often meditate in the morning. I always exercise first thing, because I feel like it gets my blood moving and sends some blood to my brain which makes my ideas better (I have no idea if this is a scientific principle or just my general notion that exercise helps me think, and I’m afraid to find out, in case it’s not true). But the biggest thing is that I feel so grateful that right now this is my job, and so I’m very determined and motivated to work as hard as I can at it. The books don’t get made unless I write the words, so, no matter what, it’s up to me to sit down and write them.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

The people of the children’s book world are just the nicest. The whole darn thing has been a positive experience. The entire community is all about boosting and supporting and shouting our celebrations, and it’s lovely. Whenever I do meet other children’s book makers or librarians or teachers in person, we all spend the entire time talking about how much we appreciate each other and each other’s work. In my experience, children’s book makers seem like incredibly nice people online, and then you meet them, and they’re even nicer than you thought they were.

Recommended reading?

I just read Damsel by Elana K. Arnold and it completely blew me away. I also just read When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, which is a few years old, and I can’t believe it took me so long, because I adored it. Recent picture books I loved are Another by Christian Robinson and Bikes for Sale by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. Also I just finished the graphic novel Sheets by Brenna Thummler and I love how it mixes genres, and the illustrations in it are incredible.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The book launch party for Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book), at Books of Wonder in New York City, was an incredible and overwhelming day. Snappsy illustrator Tim Miller and I signed books for hours. It was cool enough just to have a published book with my name printed on the cover, after so many years of homemade books where I wrote my own name in crayon. And then to pack the bookstore with friends and family to celebrate Tim and my debut together was unforgettable. I also had the richest hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life on that day. But that’s probably not relevant. 

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

Do the work. You can only get so far on industry connections or on wishing really hard. Yes, there is some luck involved. But none of the luck happens unless you do the work first. So always, always, prioritize the work.

Can you tell us about your newest book?

The Great Indoors is about a group of forest animals who go on vacation inside a human family’s house every year, during the same week that the human family goes camping. It is absolutely based on my own family’s yearly camping trips, and how the week starts off with us thrilling at the wonder of nature, and ends with us ready to trade large sums of money for a toilet that flushes.

What’s up next for you?

The third book in the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series is out in May. They go on a class trip to a museum in this one. It’s pretty silly.

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

There are no tricks to succeeding in this business. If you’re querying, follow the rules on an agency’s website. Be kind. People remember kindness, and they also remember jerkiness. Above all, put in your time, and don’t rush it. Publishing is a slow business, so there’s no reason for you to move quickly. Take your time to make sure your work is as good as you can make it. And keep working.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Well, this is impossible. I’m tempted to create a spreadsheet. I just. How? This is my favorite movie decade. Ok. Fine. It’s a tie between The Breakfast Club and Real Genius.


Huge thank you to Julie Falatko for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited about your upcoming books and can’t wait to see what you do next!


JULIE FALATKO writes about misunderstood characters trying to find their place in the world. She is the author of several picture books, including the Snappsy the Alligator  books, and of the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat chapter book series. Julie lives in Maine with her husband, four children, and two dogs, where she maintains a Little Free Library in front of her house.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Julie and her work, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Twitter

Instagram

 Facebook

TO ORDER Julie’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THE GREAT INDOORS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 2nd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Philip Stead and illustrator Erin Stead!