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Interview with Author Natascha Biebow

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with Natascha Biebow, author of THE CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS, illustrated by Steven Salerno, which just released last month. How cool does this book sound?! I’m so excited about this biography and I can’t wait to share it and Natascha’s work with all of you!

So without further ado…please welcome Natascha Biebow!

Natascha Biebow author photo.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in London, England.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I published my first book in 1995, and have worked as a children’s book editor since 1993.

How did you first get published?

I wrote my first book, Eleonora, a true story about how elephants mourn each other, as part of a children’s literature course at Smith College. It was kicking about for a couple of years before I decided to show it to the publisher of a small children’s picture book imprint, ABC. I was surprised and delighted when she said she’d like to publish it. The publishing industry was very different then – no social media (!) or easy way to get the word out – so, though it sold reasonably well, it is sadly now out of print.

Do you write full-time?

I wish! But I’m lucky that I have a day job that I love – I edit children’s books freelance for big and small publishers, and coach and mentor authors and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission through my literacy consultancy Blue Elephant Storyshaping.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Picture books are my passion. I have an affinity with this young age group and love the synergy of words and pictures working together.

What surprised you the most working as an author?

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is my first non-fiction picture book, so I was surprised by the amount of research and fact-checking that was involved, even in late stages of book production, and how much time this took. But I enjoyed doing it!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I love that you get a printed book at the end of your creative journey that you can share with young readers so that you can enthuse them with the story too. I love connecting with young readers (and grown-ups’ inner child).

What do you find difficult working as an author?

Possibly the most challenging aspect is that picture books evolve in the course of their editorial journey and sometimes you have to reconcile aspects of your original vision with the final version. This is part of the creative, collaborative approach, though, and leads to a better book ultimately.

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

I look for ideas all around me – from people, pets, the news and experiences . . . I try to learn at least one new fact a day. A walk is often great for getting unstuck and figuring out stuff too. 

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I don’t keep extensive notes – most of my work is done in my head! I love stationery though – so doodling with colored crayons is a great way to brainstorm ideas and tap into my inner child.

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

I have volunteered for over 20 years as the Regional Advisor for the SCBWI British Isles region. It has led to so many great opportunities to help learn new skills and make connections with people in the industry. I learned how to make a book trailer from fellow volunteers. I met my agent at the SCBWI conference in LA. I took a non-fiction writing course recommended by another writer that got me connected to the non-fiction Kid Lit community. And so much more! People are really very giving and supportive.

Recommended reading?

Yes, read read read every new picture book you can get your hands on. In terms of craft-based reading, I love Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass– though it’s about novel-writing, all the elements and thinking logic are the same for picture books.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I love that you get a printed book at the end of your creative journey that you can share with young readers so that you can enthuse them with the story too. I love connecting with young readers (and grown-ups’ inner child).

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

I was awarded a SCBWI Marketing Grant to fund a mini-book tour this May, and so I’m excited to be able to connect with young readers in person!

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

That I’d have to teach myself all about marketing and then implement it!

Can you tell us about your newest book?

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is a non-fiction picture book biography: the true story of Edwin Binney, a man who had a knack for listening and making what people needed, whose love for color led to the invention of one of America’s most iconic toys – Crayola crayons. In a world where we take crayons for granted, what must it have been like to only have slate and chalk? It’s a fabulous journey of color and creativity, an inspiring story for the next generation of inventors who will be our future.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more non-fiction picture books. I am also writing a series of chapter books, which is a new venture for me.

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

I’ve realized that if you’re serious about writing for children and getting your work published, you need to make a real effort to carve out the focus and time and just do it. There is no greater writing tip than butt on seat.

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

E.T. heart-warming, flying bicycles, “E.T. phone home!” – all part of my childhood.


Huge thanks to Natascha for stopping by Critter Lit today! We love your new book and can’t wait to see all your upcoming projects!


NATASCHA BIEBOW’S favourite crayon color is periwinkle blue because it makes her heart sing. She loves to draw and make stuff, just like the inventor of the Crayola crayons. She lives in London, where she writes, edits, coaches and mentors children’s book authors and illustrators at Blue Elephant Storyshaping, and is the long-time Regional Advisor of SCBWI British Isles. In 2018, she was awarded an MBE for her services to children's writers and illustrators.

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

Facebook

LinkedIn

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THE CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS ?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, 25th! US addresses only please.

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

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Ballou Mealey

Authors, book release, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with author Cathy Ballou Mealey! Her debut picture book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska, just released this month with Sterling Children’s Books. I’m so excited to share this brand new book with you all today! Here’s a sneak peek:

When Moose sees the inviting tree where Squirrel has built his nest, he rubs his itchy antlers against the trunk—and sets in motion a chain of comic catastrophes. The tree falls and wakes Bear, who stumbles into Moose, who causes a truck driver to swerve off the road. But then Squirrel jumps onto that truck and ends up in the city, all alone. Who will help him get home? And how will Squirrel thank them? Kids will love this adorable picture book, with its irresistible animal characters and rhythmic text that’s made for reading out loud.

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Ballou Mealey!

Cathy Mealey headshot.jpg

Where do you live?

I have lived in Massachusetts all my life. I grew up just below the Vermont/New Hampshire border, and went to college in Metrowest. After a decade in Cambridge, I’m currently on the fabulous North Shore.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I wrote my first picture book in 2010 to enter the Cheerios “Spoonful of Stories” contest. Even though “Ozzie the Oyster” was definitely not ready for publication, my prize was discovering a passion for the craft of picture book writing. After attending conferences, classes and workshops, I joined SCBWI, the 2012 12X12 Challenge and two critique groups. I have been writing, revising and studying ever since.

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

Drafting TREE took roughly 6 weeks before I had a preliminary version to share with critique partners. I used multiple revision tactics to trim text and tighten the storyline. I plastered sticky notes on my door to rearrange the scene sequence. I pasted sentence strips into a book dummy loaded with stick-critter sketches. When friends urged me to send out the revised TREE, I started to query agents. In May 2015 I signed with Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency and by December TREE was putting down roots at Sterling Books for Children.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Scribble my idea into a notebook and mull it over. Develop a pitch. Research some related non-fiction titles from the library about moose, squirrels, bears, etc. Mull some more. Write a long, rambling draft. Chew on word choices. Revise, re-write. Plunk text into a word cloud generator like WordItOut or Wordle, draft a few rhyming lines, make a dummy with stick figures. Revise until it is ready for critique group. Mull over feedback. Revise, rinse, and repeat until ready!

WHEN A TREE GROWS WordCloud.png

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

Go for a long walk outdoors. Visit a museum. Browse the greeting card section of my favorite stationery store. Bring my son to a playground and eavesdrop on the kid chatter!

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A window. Natural light. Being able to gaze at the sky or trees. I watched a lot of squirrel activity while writing When A Tree Grows, and kept my camera close at hand.

AAA prize squirrel.JPG

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Every up-and-coming writer yet to be published inspires me. Making book dreams come true is tough, especially when balancing the demands of career, family life, and community responsibilities. Those who consistently carve out time to nurture that writing spark inspire me to work harder, write better, persevere.

I have so little drawing ability that I am floored by almost every illustrator’s work in one fashion or another. Particular favorites to pore over include Catherine Rayner, Hadley Hooper, and Melissa Sweet. I’m so grateful to Kasia Nowowiejska for her dedicated efforts to make WHEN A TREE GROWS the very best book it could be.

Dream project to work on?

This is such an interesting question! I can’t name a specific dream project. However, there are certainly manuscripts that I’ve pored blood, sweat and tears into that I would love to see become real, live books one day.

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Tell us about your debut book.

WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose. Kirkus gave it a lovely review, saying “Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride.”

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

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

An 80’s movie set in 1963 - Dirty Dancing.

RIP Patrick Swayze.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”


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


CATHY BALLOU MEALEY lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Her debut book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.

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

Twitter: @CatBallouMealey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.mealey

Instagram: @catballoumealey

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Natascha Biebow!

Interview with Debut Author Jonathan Stutzman

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with debut author Jonathan Stutzman. I’m so excited to share his work with you all— his debut picture book, TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG, illustrated by Jay Fleck, is already a favorite in our household and has become a regular request at bedtime.

So without further ado…please welcome Jonathan Stutzman!

Stutz headshot 3.jpg

Where do you live?

I live right outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania (the land of chocolate!).

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I love telling stories, I think I always have, and I’ve been tinkering with different ways of doing that since I was a child. I wrote my first comic book when I was 9 or 10 and my first picture book when I was 11. I tried making one with a friend again while I was in film school, but it wasn’t until I met my fiancée (illustrator Heather Fox) that I really dove into picture books. I worked on a school project with her (which we self-published) and it was SO MUCH FUN. I started spending a lot of time in the kids section at my local library and the bookstore, reading a bunch of the classics as well as popular current titles. I connected with them instantly. The mix of words and images, the page turns, it reminded me a lot of filmmaking, which I studied in college and grad school. The visual storytelling of picture books held a similar power and poetry for me.

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

So my first published writing was actually some “Tiny stories” I wrote for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tiny Book of Tiny Stories Vol 1-3. I submitted to his collaborative online company Hitrecord, they liked them, and a handful ended up in all three volumes of the series. It was such a fun experience collaborating with people I never met. And then finding those books at bookstores, seeing my words on the page, it lit a fire in me. It’s mind blowing and humbling to know that strangers all around the world are reading something you wrote. There is magic to it, a reminder that we are all connected, and it only deepened my love of storytelling.

A year or two later I met Heather. As I mentioned before we self-published a book together on a whim, and we had such a blast doing it we thought, why don’t we try to find an agent and do this full time? So we spent many many hours researching, both the nuances of picture book storytelling as well as the publishing industry. I will always repeat this to anyone who dreams of being published: we had no idea what we were doing. We just made it up as we went. It’s ok if you are as lost and naive as we were. 

I’m very passionate about things I like. So when I fell for picture books I fell hard. I wanted to know everything. I read STACKS of books. I bought too many. I acquired library fines. I began writing a bunch of stories from the ideas building up. Of course, I thought the ones I wrote were absolutely terrible, but thankfully Heather was there to encourage me and push me to just maybe… take a chance and submit queries. We worked together to tighten up our WIP (Butts Are Everywhere), Heather made adorable illustrations to go with it, and I compiled a list of the top agents to query (which I found just looking online). I kept tinkering away at the story and would probably still be doing that to this day if not for Heather, who with a swift and firm “Send it NOW, Jonathan”, pushed me to hit send.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Well I think being inspired is always first, and there are many ways to be inspired. For me they often come when I’m reading or watching a movie or listening to music. Something will trigger a new idea or a character or a title. I’m weird, I often think of titles first and then dive into characters. Do other people do that? Once I have the idea I write out the story. Spend time reworking it, reading it out loud over and over, trying to feel out the page turns and momentum of the story. Often I’m writing multiple at one time. I jump from idea to idea. Whatever is feeling exciting at the moment. For me I have to feel something about the story in order to put my time and energy in it.

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

This again goes back to being inspired. I rarely “take a break” because I find writing and storytelling to be incredibly fun and so woven into the fabric of who I am. Sure I go hang out with my friends, watch movies, have adventures, and enjoy the world, but the entire time I’m also thinking about stories. Reworking them in my head, piecing things together. I think most writers or creative people work that way. If you are finding joy and life in the people and the world around you, creative inspiration will be hitting you from all sides. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Coffee. Also, I love being surrounded by books while I work.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many. I’m constantly amazed at the writers and illustrators working today and all the amazing books being made. Not to mention all the brilliance of the past. Neil Gaiman is my favorite author, and Jacqueline Woodson is magic at everything she does. I love comic strips, so Schultz’ Peanuts, Larson’s The Far Side, Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes really inspire me. For kid lit, there are too many to name them all, but here are a few creators working today that inspire me: Isabelle Arsenault, Dan Santat, The Fan Brothers, Corinna Luyken, Kazu Kibuishi, Ame Dyckman, Christian Robinson, Carson Ellis. And Heather! She’s my creative partner in crime and she inspires me daily. I feel so lucky to make such silly and fun books with her!

Dream project to work on?

Every project feels like a dream project. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I can’t believe I get to write stories that get made into books, let alone having a chance to work with incredible illustrators that create beautiful, adorable art for my words. I work with Heather every day on so many fun books. I have a series with Jay Fleck. A book coming out with Joseph Kuefler. And one with Dan Santat. Like I said, every one is a dream project. It still doesn’t seem real to be able to be making books with such talented creators.

Tell us about your debut book.

TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG is the first book in a picture book series with Chronicle Books. It follows the diminutive, but plucky Tiny T. Rex who is determined to find a way to cheer up his best friend, Pointy. Tiny decides hugging is the way to go, even though his tiny arms (as is the t-rex way) make hugging very difficult. Tiny asks his family for advice and overcomes many obstacles to show that the biggest hugs come from the biggest hearts. I wanted a character that kids could cheer for, but also encouraged them to remember their own agency. That they too can make a difference in the world, and in someone’s life, no matter the odds stacked against them.

What’s up next for you?

I have so many exciting projects coming up, a few I mentioned before. The next twp picture books are with Heather, Llama Destroys the World (May 7th, Macmillan), and Don’t Feed the Coos (January 2020). Book 2 of the Tiny T. Rex series comes out next spring, as does another silly picture book with Heather, Butts Are Everywhere (Putnam/Penguin).

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

OH That is difficult. There are so many great ones. I guess I’d have to Empire Strikes Back or E.T. Extra Terrestrial, which are two of my favorite movies ever.


Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Jonathan! We can’t wait to see all your amazing books. Huge congrats on all your success!


Jonathan Stutzman is an award-winning filmmaker and writer. His short films have screened at film festivals all over the world and on television. He lives outside Hershey, Pennsylvania.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jonathan and his work visit him online here or follow him on Twitter @dustdancestoo or Instagram @thedustdancestoo.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author and illustrator and husband and wife team Megan + Jorge Lacera!

Interview with Debut Author B.J. Lee

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward12 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m thrilled to be interviewing debut author B.J. Lee today! Her debut picture book THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH, illustrated by David Opie, was just released on February first of this year!

Gators and panthers and crabs, oh my! The classic cumulative tale There Was an Old Lady gets a Floridian flourish in this charming adaptation. Down in the southern swamps a hungry gator accidentally swallows a moth. Of course, he swallows a crab to get the moth! What will he swallow next? The gator predictably continues swallowing bigger and bigger creatures until the unexpected happens―all over the page! Along the way to its hilarious ending, the story―strengthened by the delightful illustrations―introduces readers of all ages to the many critters, both big and small, of the Florida swamp. With a familiar use of repetition and an abundance of rhythm, this silly story is perfect for read-aloud experiences.

So without further ado, please welcome B.J. Lee!

BJ Lee Author headshot small.jpg

Where do you live?

I currently live in Florida, though I’m originally from the Northeast.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Writing picture books and poetry for children happened purely by accident. I had been an aspiring novelist when I had an accident and had to have shoulder surgery. After the surgery I had severe bicep tendinitis for two years. I couldn’t even hold a pencil. I realized I would have to write something shorter if I was to write it all. I started studying children’s picture books and poetry and discovered I could write the stuff. That’s how it all began.

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

My road to publication started with a poem published in the SCBWI Bulletin in 2010. Three years later I had my first poem published in a children’s poetry anthology, and three years after that I had my first picture book acceptance. I have had poetry published in 25 poetry anthologies to date. This is my first picture book.

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

Can you share a bit about your process?

I live and breathe writing, I work at my office computer and also have an area set up in the living room with a comfy chair, bookshelves on either side, and a reading stand so I can have materials at eye level. I generally start in a journal and then transfer to a word doc on my computer.

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

I don’t have any trouble generating ideas. If anything, I have too many ideas and tend to overwork. To recharge, I do chores, enjoy nature or play in my swim spa.

BJ and Bijoux.jpg

Anything you can’t live without while you write? 

I love my Peter Pauper Press journals and my Kimberly 2B graphite drawing pencil. I also can’t live without my pooch, Bijoux, who is always happy to help.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you? 

Both poets and lyrical picture book writers (fiction and nonfiction) inspire me. Joyce Sidman was an early influence. Both Lee Bennett Hopkins and J. Patrick Lewis have been mentors. My favorite illustrator is Pamela Zagarinsky who is simply wondrous! I also think Calef Brown is quite magical.

Dream project to work on? 

I’d love for Joan Rankin to illustrate one of my dryly humorous poetry collections for McElderry Books, my dream poetry publisher.

Tell us about your debut book. 

THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH is based on the popular cumulative rhyme, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Gator lives in a Florida lagoon, where he encounters many Florida animals and can’t help but…well…swallow them! Gator is a larger-than-life character with universal appeal. Radio personality, PatZi Gil, called this book “evergreen” on her program Joy on Paper.

What’s up next for you? 

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

I’m working on fiction and nonfiction picture books and poetry collections as well as a verse novel.

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

High Fidelity – wait, that’s 90’s – I guess I’d have to say Out of Africa.


B.J. Lee is a former college music librarian turned full-time author and poet. Her debut picture book, There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, released on February 1, 2019 from Pelican Publishing. Additionally, she is an award-winning children’s poet with over 100 poems and stories published/forthcoming in major anthologies by such publishers as Little, Brown, National Geographic, Bloomsbury and Wordsong. Magazine credits include Spider, Highlights, and The School Magazine. She lives in Florida with her husband, poet Malcolm Deeley, and toy poodle Bijoux. 

B.J. Lee is available for school visits including assemblies and writing and poetry workshops with a musical component. She can be reached at bjlee@childrensauthorbjlee.com

FOR MORE INFORMATION about B.J. and her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter @bjlee_writer and Instagram @b.j.lee

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

FOR COLORING PAGES from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, March 14th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Jamie L.B. Deenihan!