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Anika Denise

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 or follow him on social media:





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


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.

Halloween Book Picks | October 2018

Recommended Reading, Holiday BooksLindsay WardComment

Happy Halloween Critters! I know it’s a little early, and we still have the rest of October to go, but Halloween is big in our house. It’s my husband’s favorite holiday (I’m more of a Thanksgiving kinda gal…) but I do love a good Halloween story. So, this month, instead of two new book reviews, I’m sharing a round-up of Critter Lit’s Favorite Halloween Books.

I’m a huge fan of holiday books and now that I have kids, it’s so much fun share them throughout the month with my kiddos. Some of these books are new, some are old, all are wonderful! I hope you take the time to check them out. Enjoy!

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author and illustrator Aidan Cassie!

Interview with Picture Book Author Anika Denise

Interviews, Vet Interviews, book releaseLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by the fabulously talented Anika Denise. I had the pleasure of meeting Anika and her husband, illustrator Christopher Denise, a little over three years ago at a writing workshop. It turned out we were represented by the same agent. Both are such lovely and talented people, and I’m thrilled to be sharing Anika’s books with you today.

I was first introduced to Anika’s work through her book MONSTER TRUCKS, illustrated by Nate Wragg, which is one of my oldest son’s absolute favorites. So much so that it was the theme of his 2nd birthday party. I mean you can’t beat monsters and trucks in the same book! Seriously—we are on our third hardcover copy. That’s how much we read this book. Thankfully, MONSTER TRUCKS is now available as a board book too, should we need a fourth copy….

Needless to say, we are big fans of Anika’s books in my household!


So, without further ado, please welcome Anika Denise!

Where do you live?

We live in Barrington, Rhode Island — a tiny town in the tiniest state.

How many years have you been in publishing?

Gosh *counts on fingers* nearly 12 years! 

How many books have you published?

I have six books out in the world right now, and four more coming soon.

Do you write full-time?

Up until recently, yes! For the next year, I’ll be working in-house as a copywriter for a toy company. It’s fast-paced, fun, and different. But I haven’t abandoned my personal writing projects. I do my best to schedule in writing time on my days off. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

My kids, for sure! Having children allows me to experience the world through their lens. It also makes me pause and really consider the world they’re inheriting. In the current climate of divisiveness and isolationism, I’m inspired to create (and support) diverse stories of hope, empathy, and inclusion — especially “own voices” books that invite readers to step outside themselves and see the world through the perspective of marginalized communities.  

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

I think at first I was surprised by how much the work of promoting a book and connecting with readers falls to the author. Now that I’ve been doing this awhile, I have a greater understanding of how many books are on a publisher’s list and the limited resources a single title might have. I’ve come to embrace and enjoy making my own connections.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

The fame and money. HAHAHA! (Just kidding.) What I love most is the feeling of creating something that didn’t exist until I put in on a page. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to having a super-power. There’s magic in it. And most magical of all is the fact that a kid somewhere is sitting and enjoying a story I conjured. It’s truly rewarding.

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

Well, I suppose (as evidenced in my recent acquisition of a day job) it is making a sustainable living with writing. I’m married to a children’s book illustrator, so supporting a family in a two-freelance income household can be challenging at times.

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

I love creativity journaling. I just received an early copy of a book written by my friend and mentor, Leigh Medeiros, called The 1-Minute Writer (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.) The book offers a series of unique 1,10, and 20-minute writing prompts. It’s amazing how the ritual of a daily writing practice, even at 1 minute a day, can clear the cobwebs and provide fertile ground for your next story idea. If you’re a doodler—check out Peter Reynolds’s Start With A Dot journal.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Before I write, I light a candle and get the essential oil diffuser in my studio going. I sit for a few quiet minutes and express gratitude. I ask my muses/ angels to show up to support me. It’s a little like prayer, a little like mediation, and a little like visualization. I’m always happier and more productive when I begin this way.

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

The kid lit community has been such a gift, it’s tough to pick just one — but last March, I traveled to the UK with a group of writers and illustrators. We visited famous children’s book sites in England the first week; then spent the next week writing in a castle in Scotland!

And oh! I flew an eagle owl on the castle’s falconry grounds.

What is your favorite picture book?

The Snowy Day is one of my favorite books from childhood. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been many highlights, but perhaps the most special was holding the first copy of my forthcoming book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Paola Escobar. My husband brought the envelope to me as a surprise at my book launch party for Lights, Camera, CARMEN!. For many reasons, but particularly as an author with Puerto Rican heritage, this book is dear to my heart. It took me several years to write. My only regret is my father didn’t live to see it published. He knew I was working on it, and he was very proud. 

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

Don’t ever compare your career to others. In the age of social media, it can be difficult not to. But comparison almost always leads to unnecessary suffering. You do you.

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is Lights, Camera, CARMEN! illustrated by the amazing Lorena Alvarez Gómez. It’s the follow-up to Starring Carmen! (Abrams 2017). In this installment, everyone’s favorite one-girl sensación is back, and has her sights on winning a contest to be in a commercial. She enlists the help of her adoring hermanito, Eduardo, but things don’t go exactly to plan.

What’s up next for you?

2019 will be a busy year for book releases. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré will be on-shelves January 15. Bunny in the Middle, a new picture book collaboration with Chris, releases July 2. And in December, The Love Letter, illustrated by the incomparable Lucy Ruth Cummins, will be out in the world. I’m also revising a new picture book biography on Rita Moreno!

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

Keep going, you’re almost there!

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

The Goonies

Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit to chat with us today, Anika! We can’t wait to check-out all of your upcoming books!

Anika Denise is the celebrated author of many picture books, including Lights, Camera Carmen!Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. In 2019, to coincide with Women’s History Month, HarperCollins will publish her forthcoming book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré illustrated by Paola Escobar. Other new titles coming in 2019 include Bunny in the Middle illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Anika lives in Rhode Island with her family.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Anika and her books, visit her website at

TO ORDER a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN! ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


Want a chance to win a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN!?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit’s Must Reads for October!

Raising My Market

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

These days, I'm surrounded by trucks. Literally. If it's not the toy trucks I'm constantly picking up around my house, it's the real ones driving up and down my street. We live in a national park, so there are always front loaders, dump trucks, and skid steers readily on display, working on the trails, dealing with fallen trees, or some other park-related need. And this week, my neighbor is having his driveway paved, so bonus, we have a cement mixer on full display. My two-year-old is in heaven. He could sit and watch these trucks all day long. Seriously. Needless to say, he loves trucks. Here's a sampling of our current bedtime rotation:

Notice a pattern? All trucks, all the time in this house! I had always heard that kids go through phases. The truck phase. The dinosaur phase. The princess phase. And so forth and so forth. But it's not until you're in the midst of it that you realize how all-consuming it is. Obviously, my household is currently living through the truck phase.

This is the first time I've experienced being a parent of the same age group I'm writing books for. It's a rather strange thing. Every night we read three books, and my son always requests at least one book he specifically wants to read. The rest are up to me, which allows for some variation. Thankfully, most of the books he loves, I love too. But then again, I do this for a living so I'm picky about what I add to our home library.

Over time I started to notice a pattern amongst all the books he loves. And no, it's not trucks. We do actually read books without trucks in it...sometimes. Trucks or not, all the books we end up reading together over and over again offer additional details in the pictures for my son to spot. He pours over each page, trying to find Goldbug (Cars and Trucks and Things That Go) or Zombie Truck (Monster Trucks) or identifying all the different types of trucks (Truck Truck Goose). More importantly, though, he can connect to the characters. He's at an age where he understands wanting to help (Little Blue Truck), being sad or protective (The Digger and the Flower), getting confused (The Mixed-up Truck), or being impatient (Sheep in a Jeep). All of these books have total kid appeal. Does it get cuter than Betsy Snyder's elephant driving the fire truck on the cover of Tons of Trucks? No, it doesn't. Could you get a better hook than Anika Denise's Monster Trucks? Nope. Because kids LOVE monsters and trucks! It's brilliant. We literally read that book on repeat.

The 2-3 age is amazing. Kids are sponges, soaking up everything you give them. His memory astounds me and he is learning words at such a rapid rate. One night we were reading Truck Truck Goose, which if you haven't read it, only contains a few words. My son didn't know the word "piano" before reading that book. But he kept seeing Goose pulling around a big, red piano on each spread. Which is a hilarious thing to drag to a picnic in the first place. But that's what makes this book so great. Because kids drag around ridiculous things all the time. Like when my son goes to the potty and has to bring his monster truck with him. He's not going to play with it in there. He just wants to know it's close by. Like Goose and his piano. My son kept asking me what the piano was until he'd committed it to memory. Now we read that book and he points out the piano every time. The word piano isn't even in the book. But the story and illustrations provided him with a new vocabulary word and an interactive way to learn it. Now that's pretty cool.

So what does this all mean? It means don't underestimate kids. Ever. THEY ARE REALLY SMART. Seriously, they pick up on everything. Recently, I had a conversation about using the word "digger" vs. "excavator" in one of my books. The concern was that kids might not know the word "excavator," which is a fair point, some may not. But in all the time I've heard my son talk about trucks, he's never once said "digger," unless he's referring to a name like Digger in The Digger in the Flower. Because he knows it's an "excavator." It's like those kids who can't spell their own name, but they can rattle off the most ridiculously long dinosaur names, unpronounceable to most adults. Unless of course, your household is going through the dinosaur which case, kudos to you!

So if you don't have a kid on hand to watch like a science experiment for your next book idea like I do, then you need to do your research. Read everything you can get your hands on in the age group you are writing for. Which books are doing really well in that group? Which books aren't? Find the pattern, then find the hole and figure out how you can fill it. I don't think I would be creating a wheel-based board book series with HarperCollins next summer if it weren't for my two-year-old and his obsession with wheels and all things trucks. It's a strange thing to be raising my market, but I'm having a blast.

Until next time, happy writing!


(Want more info on the books I mentioned? Click on the cover images above.)

What's up on deck? Check back next Thursday for an interview and giveaway with GO FISH and KNOCK KNOCK author Tammi Sauer!