Critter Lit

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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!


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.



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. 



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. ;)



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. 



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:

Twitter: @smagoon

Instagram: @skortch

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


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 Debut Author Jamie L. B. Deenihan

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut picture book author Jamie L. B. Deenihan! Her debut book, WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha, just released with Sterling Publishing earlier this month AND received a starred review from Kirkus!!! So exciting! I’m thrilled to have her visit us today and share her wonderful work with you all.

So without further ado…please welcome Jamie L. B. Deenihan!


Where do you live?

I live in Suffield, Connecticut very near the family farm I grew up on. I live with my husband, two children, and our dog, Max, in a house filled with books and a growing collection of lemon trees.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Although I’ve always loved to read and write stories, I don’t remember setting goals to become a published author when I was a kid. I do remember wanting to be a veterinarian, until the day I observed a cow’s stomach surgery and quickly decided teaching would be a better fit. I grew up and became a first-grade teacher and a mom who was immersed in picture books for most of the day and I absolutely loved it! It was in those years of teaching full-time and raising two young children that I decided I wanted to publish a book someday. In 2014, my husband and I went to a free library workshop where I received tips about how to become an author. That’s the day I officially set a goal of getting published and I’ve been working at it ever since!

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

Here’s the abbreviated version of my journey to my first picture book deal:

January 2014 – attended a free workshop at my town library and decided I wanted to publish a book someday

March 2015 – wrote the first draft of When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

*Between March 2015 and February 2016, I was submitting multiple manuscripts to agents and editors and received several rejections.

February 2016 – submitted the manuscript to Sterling Publishing through the slush pile.

Early March 2016 – Sterling Editor, Christina Pulles, asked for a R&R (revise and resubmit)

Late March 2016 – revised and resubmitted to Sterling and while waiting for their response, received more rejections from agents and editors

April 2016 – continued waiting and received more rejections from agents and editors

June 2016 – received an offer from Sterling and signed with my agent, Linda Camacho

March 5, 2019 – release date for my debut picture book, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

Can you share a bit about your process for your debut picture book?

In 2015, I started writing down some thoughts for this story in one of my journals. Then, I wrote a terrible first draft (yay!) and started the revision process with my amazing critique partners. Although this manuscript didn’t go through major revisions, it took about 30 drafts to play around with the POV and carefully choose each word. After I had a solid draft complete, I wrote the sentences on post-it notes and used them to create a book dummy to test the page turns. That’s pretty much the same process that I’ve gone through with each of the five manuscripts that I’ve sold so far.

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

I have two young children and I work part-time at a preschool, so I am constantly surrounded with inspiration and I love fleshing out new story ideas with my husband and children. My critique partners played a huge role in helping me polish my manuscripts. I am grateful to have critique partners who care about my stories as much as I do, and I look forward to celebrating their books when they hit the shelves.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Comfy clothes, a cozy chair, post it notes, mechanical pencils, dark chocolate, tea, and cheese popcorn are a few of the things that make me happy when writing. My favorite time to write is with my kids, but my most productive time to write is very late at night when everyone is asleep, and the house is quiet.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple are two of the most hard-working, kind, knowledgeable, and inspiring authors I know. In 2017, I had the privilege of attending their Picture Book Boot Camp at Jane Yolen’s home which has been one of the highlights of my writing career. 

Dream project to work on?

Working on my projects with Sterling, Penguin, and Avenue A Books have all been dreams come true. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the talented editors at each house as well as the illustrators who brought each manuscript to life. I don’t really have my sights set on a specific publishing house or editor because I believe, with the help of my agent, Linda Camacho, my manuscripts will end up with the right person, at the right place, at the right time.  

Tell us about your debut book.

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, was recently honored with a starred review from Kirkus. I think Kirkus did a wonderful job describing my debut picture book, so here it is:

“Gardening tips abound in this delightful guide to caring for a lemon tree. The unnamed protagonist has a carefully drawn-out list of acceptable electronics she wants for her birthday. But Grandma instead brings…gasp…a lemon tree. The second-person text covers appropriate and inappropriate reactions and then advises readers to accept the potted present politely and wait for Grandma to leave or take a nap. Then you definitely shouldn’t: drop it from a bridge, send it aloft with balloons, or ‘play ding dong ditch’ with it (all illustrated with wry understatement). Instead, the narrator offers some incredibly important do’s: put the fruit tree ‘in a sunny spot’ (the grassy verge between sidewalk and street), don’t overwater it, and ‘battle against intruders’ who seem to come from all directions. After nearly a year of caring for her reluctantly received sapling, the protagonist joyously picks her lush lemons, and Grandma even returns to help make some fresh lemonade, the sale of which leads to more plants for her burgeoning garden. Rocha’s colors and characters leap right off the page, encouraging readers to get out into the world and create life, beauty, and some great-tasting lemonade (recipe included). The community is diverse and urban, with no lack of personality and detail. The protagonist and Grandma are both black, she with black pigtail puffs and Grandma with a white poof of hair. Charms from cover to cover.” —Kirkus (Starred review)

What’s up next for you?

As of this June, I am resigning from my part-time preschool teaching position to pursue writing full-time. I would like to have several more manuscripts out on submission by the fall and I’m also looking forward to booking more author’s visits at schools, libraries, bookshops, and other venues. My upcoming picture books include:

The New Bird in Town, illustrated by Carrie Hartman (Avenue A Books June 2019)

The Tooth Fairy VS. Santa, illustrated by Erin Hunting (Penguin Workshop fall 2019) *available for preorder now!

The Tooth Fairy VS. The Easter Bunny, illustrated by Erin Hunting (Penguin Workshop spring 2020)

When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha (Sterling spring 2020)

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


Huge thanks to Jamie for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to check out all your wonderful books!

Jamie L. B. Deenihan is a teacher and picture book author who lives in Suffield, Connecticut with her husband and two children. Her debut picture book, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha, is now available for purchase everywhere.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jamie and her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter @jlbdeenihan or Instagram @jlbdeenihan.

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


Want a chance to win a copy of WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, March 21st! US addresses only please.