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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!

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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.

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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 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!

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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.

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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!


Interview with Debut Author Cathy Breisacher

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Cathy Breisacher, who will release TWO books this year! How awesome is that?! Her first, CAVEKID BIRTHDAY comes out next month with Charlesbridge, and her second CHIP AND CURLY: THE GREAT POTATO RACE, in May with Sleeping Bear Press. So exciting! I love the humor in Cathy’s books and I can’t wait to share her work and writing process with you all today.

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Breisacher!

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Where do you live?

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

I live in Pennsylvania in a town called Hollidaysburg, which is located in the South Central part of the state. It is a small town nestled among the beautiful mountains. From my office where I do my writing, I often sit and stare out the windows at the mountains and admire the beauty of it all. 

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I have always been fascinated with stories, but I was especially drawn to the magic of picture books when I was in graduate school studying to become an elementary school counselor. At the campus library, there was a room for Education majors filled with picture books. It was wonderful. I would get caught up in the stories (ones that I remembered from my childhood and new ones that I wanted to use in the classroom). I started thinking about how fun it would be to write my own books someday. But, I didn’t actually pursue this idea until several years later. One day, I received a brochure in the mail about a Children’s Book Writing Conference in Chautauqua, New York put on by the Highlights Foundation. I was so intrigued. I had not written any stories up to that point, but I signed up for the weeklong workshop anyway. As a result of being around so many amazing children’s authors, I caught the kidlit bug. While at the workshop, Jane Yolen recommended joining SCBWI. It was an excellent piece of advice, and it was the first thing I did upon returning home. After that, I started attending SCBWI events and trying to learn as much as I could about the craft of writing children’s picture books. 

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

After that event in Chautauqua, I knew I had so much to learn. I was a high school guidance counselor, and my job took up a lot of my time. I usually only wrote during the summer months. Eventually I realized that I wanted to devote more time to writing and trying to get published, so I decided to make a career change. I earned my Master of Library Science degree and switched from the high school guidance job in my district to the elementary librarian job. This move gave me more time to focus on books and, subsequently, my writing.  I also started attending the NJ SCBWI annual conference. It was after my first conference that I landed an agent. A year later, CAVEKID BIRTHDAY sold to Charlesbridge, and a year after that, CHIP AND CURLY sold.  Both books are coming out this spring. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I continue to learn. One of the most important things I have learned is the value of making connections. The kid lit community is filled with amazing people who are all willing to help one another. Sharing what we know and being open to learning from others is extremely beneficial and valuable. I also learned that things don’t happen overnight. We all need large amounts of patience and tenacity.  

Can you share a bit about your process?

In my life, I try to be organized. In fact, I spend a lot of time organizing my work duties and things I need to do at home. But interestingly, when it comes to writing, I feel like I am scattered all over the place. I don’t have a normal process that is consistent from one story to the next, or from one day to the next. At any point in time on any given day, I’m jotting down story ideas or adding to a work in progress, or two works in progress, or even three. I may add lines to a couple of different stories, bouncing back and forth between them as inspiration strikes. I often work like this until one of my stories starts to gel and take off. I do this until I can churn out a first draft.  It can take me months to get a first draft on paper. I spend a lot of time letting ideas marinate in my mind to see where they can go before I write things down. But, once I have a first complete draft written, then I focus on that story and revise and revise and revise. I love the revision stage, focusing on each line, each word, the overall story arc, and the page turn effects. The revision part of writing is my favorite part. I feel alive in writing when I have a complete draft that I can mold and shape into something fun to read. 

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

Fortunately, the easiest thing for me when it comes to writing is thinking of new ideas. I have notebooks filled with ideas. Now, if I can just find the time to try my hand at each of these ideas to see which ones will take off.  Some of my favorite story ideas sadly don’t come together. After working at them for a while I’ll just save what I’ve written knowing that I can always come back to it if inspiration hits again. There have been stories that I have worked on for too long, knowing that they weren’t working, but hoping to make some magic happen with them. Eventually I will come to that realization and move on to one of my other ideas. But, thankfully I always have more ideas swimming around my brain. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Oh, yes! Diet Pepsi and dark chocolate.  

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

I love fun, funny, and silly picture books, so the authors I look up to include Mac Barnett, Aaron Reynolds, Jon Klassen, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Kelly DiPucchio, Ame Dyckman, Tammi Sauer, Jory John, and Ryan Higgins. 

Dream project to work on?

I have really enjoyed the process of working on CAVEKID BIRTHDAY with the fabulous team at Charlesbridge and CHIP AND CURLY, THE GREAT POTATO RACE with the talented folks at Sleeping Bear Press. These two projects have seemed like dream projects to me. Everyone at both houses, along with both illustrators – Roland Garrigue and Joshua Henisz – has been incredible. I would enjoy working on a book with either of them again. In the future, I would also look forward to having one of the following folks illustrate a book of mine since I am a huge fan of their art:  Dan Santat, Pierre Collet–Derby, Troy Cummings, Eric Rohmann, Jennifer Harney, etc. But, honestly, there are so many amazing illustrators and I am awe-struck at how art designers know how to choose the perfect illustrator for a story. 

Tell us about your debut book.

CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, illustrated by Roland Garrigue and published by Charlesbridge will come out on March 5, 2019.  In the story, Caveboy and Cavegirl are best friends and do all kinds of cavekid activities together. They also share the same birthday! So, with their birthday approaching, each one decides to get something special for the other. They both have something valuable that they can take to Caveman’s Collectibles to trade, but when it’s time to exchange gifts, they are in for a big surprise. However, these Cavekids are resourceful, so they use their imagination and creativity to come up with a way to have a satisfying and very happy birthday. 

I really hope readers will see how much fun it can be to use their imagination and creativity when they play.  The inspiration for this story came about during Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (now called STORYSTORM) in 2014 when I spotted a clipart image of a caveboy and a cavegirl. I was looking for a way to mash two ideas together in a picture book.  So, at one point I decided to mash the Cavekids with Christmas and I started writing. It didn’t take long before the idea of doing a twist on the Gift of the Magi popped into my head. I have always loved O. Henry’s story about the husband and wife who each take their most treasured possession and sell it to buy a perfect gift for the other one. So I decided to take that premise and have it take place during prehistoric time with Cavekids. After many rounds of revision, the Christmas theme got changed to a Birthday, and the rest of the story flowed from there. 

What’s up next for you?

I have many other stories written and a couple of them are out on submission right now. I’m currently working on two other stories that I’m really excited about. I plan to keep writing fun, silly picture books and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that each one finds a perfect home at a publishing house.

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

Oh my goodness…the 80s is my favorite decade for movies and music. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to choose just one.  So, I’ll pick four (and even narrowing the list to four is a challenge):  Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Dirty Dancing, E.T., and Top Gun. I don’t often watch movies more than once, but I’ve watched each of these movies several times. I enjoy many types of movies - funny, romantic, sweet, and dramatic. Just like books, my favorite movies have characters that are memorable, and a story line that stays with me long after I’ve watched it. 


Huge thank you to Cathy Breisacher for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your wonderful books out in the world this year! Congrats!


Cathy Breisacher is the author of the following spring releases: CAVEKID BIRTHDAY (Charlesbridge, - March 5, 2019) and CHIP AND CURLY - THE GREAT POTATO RACE (Sleeping Bear Press - May 15, 2019). She is also an elementary school librarian and former high school guidance counselor. Her passion is to write fun, silly, humorous picture books that will put a smile on kids’ faces. When she is not working or writing, she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family and friends. She loves all kinds of parks – national parks, theme parks, and Central Park – and is happy when she gets a chance to visit any of these. Cathy lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Cathy and her work visit her website: www.cathybreisacher.com or follow her on Twitter @CathyBreisacher.

TO PRE-ORDER Cathy’s books, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of CAVEKID BIRTHDAY?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, February 21st! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Laura Roettiger

Authors, Debut Interviews, Interviews, publishingLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have a debut author interview with Laura Roettiger! Laura’s debut book, ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON, illustrated by Ariel Boroff, releases on February 19th with Eifrig Publishing. We are so thrilled to have her here today to talk about her new book.

So without further ado…

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Please welcome Laura Roettiger!

Where do you live?

I live in the Rocky Mountains at 8,200 ft just west of Boulder, Colorado. For perspective, Boulder is 5,340 ft but only 10 miles away so the road to where I live is quite steep. My backyard is National Forest so it’s beautiful but so different from Chicago and the suburbs where I lived my whole life before moving here in 2016.

 When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I was a reading specialist in Chicago and spent my days reading and writing with students. I often wrote stories for them when I couldn’t find books that I wanted to use. ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON was the first book I wrote with the intention of publishing. I know how rare that is; most people talk about the pile of unusable drafts they wrote before getting anything published.

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

In late 2016 and early 2017, I received some love in a few pitch parties that ultimately led to rejection. They liked the concept but not the actual story. This is because the manuscript WASN’T READY and it’s a very different book now than where it was at that time two years ago. I also submitted to a few publishing houses that accept un-agented work, including Eifrig Publishing. I am a writer, not an illustrator, and they only take on fully illustrated books. I had been approached by a local artist who wanted to collaborate and her sketches were the first ones submitted to Eifrig along with the original manuscript, a letter that explained who Aliana was, my plans for a series of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Music) books, and how the vision of Eifrig Publishing aligned with my values. She had editing and revision recommendations and I continued to work on the story. Fast forward to July 2017 at Southampton Writers Conference and my manuscript went through a revision that I have described as ‘performing surgery on a loved one.’ I know other people use the phrase, ‘kill your darlings’ but I didn’t want to kill my book, I wanted to make it better. The original manuscript was trying to do too many things at the same time. The final book kept many of the ideas and cut out others. When I shared it with Penny at Eifrig, she agreed it was 100% improved. In October 2017, the illustrator backed out of the project due to time constraints of her other jobs. Through a mutual friend, Ariel Boroff and I met and began collaborating. She has done an amazing job of bringing the book to life while working as a costumer on a TV show - “Station 19” which is a “Gray’s Anatomy” spinoff about a fire house. Aliana’s father is a fireman so we both felt like that was a nice overlap.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I have a vivid imagination and often come up with ideas for stories when I am out in nature. I also like to do research and write by hand before I begin drafting a story. Sometimes the research doesn’t even end up in the manuscript, but it gives me additional background knowledge to draw on.

ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON was originally written by hand. This year I participated in StoryStorm (31 ideas in January) which was fun. I have many ideas that I thought of when I wasn’t home. I text myself so that I can add them to the brainstorm document when I get home. It’s amusing to see the ideas and I wonder if anyone ever saw the texts if they would think I was crazy! 

My last two books, one which is ready to query and one which is still in revisions, came from different places. The first is inspired by my beloved Goldendoodle puppy, Charlie. I shared it on the 12x12Forum, with my two in person critique groups more than once, and I think it’s ready to send out into the world. I love thinking about that first day, the germ of the idea, and how it’s transformed now that it is ready to share and hopefully be loved. The other one, which is still a WIP was inspired by a 12x12 webinar about how illustrations and text work together in different ways. I’m trying to grow as a writer and try new things. This one is definitely a departure but so far the feedback from critique partners is good so I am going to keep polishing. 

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

I don’t usually have trouble coming up with ideas. In the beginning, I had ideas that I couldn’t figure out how to turn into stories. I’m past that now thanks to several classes, conferences, and studying picture books with a writer’s eye.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

I usually write in my dining room which has actually never been used for eating. It’s wide open with floor to ceiling windows, beautiful artwork, a desk and a large table for two different perspectives, furniture that belonged to my parents’ and grandparents, and interesting woodwork. I like to be comfortable so right now, since it’s winter I’m wearing a sweatshirt and soft flannel. Often I’m in my pajamas. I used to joke that if I was in my pajamas at noon that was the sign of a productive writing morning. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many and I hesitate to name names, but I will say I was fortunate to meet Amy Krouse Rosenthal, David Shannon, and Kevin Henkes while I was teaching and they were so generous with their young fans. That stays with me.

Dream project to work on?

I know this may sound funny, but Aliana is a dream project. She is based on my daughters and a few special students from Carlos Fuentes Charter School in Chicago. I have two more books written about Aliana and Gustavo, both which need further revision, and I can’t wait to see if the world loves her as much as I do.

Tell us about your debut book.

ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON is about a curious and creative girl who observes the bright light of the full moon. She uses information from books about the moon and experiments with light and reflection to create a surprise for her brother Gustavo. The book celebrates curiosity and demonstrates her patience and her parents’ patience. The messages are layered and not heavy-handed which is something I’m very happy about.

What’s up next for you?

I have two launch parties and a few events here in Colorado and ten days of mostly school visits in Chicago. I am very excited to be going back to two of the schools where my children were students. I am also working on lining up events at one or both of the places that wrote endorsements for the book: Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and the Challenger Center which has 40 education centers.  https://www.challenger.org

I am also hoping to find an agent this year and am a Gold member of 12x12. 

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

Dirty Dancing. 


Huge thank you to Laura for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can wait to see your book in the world on February 19th! Congrats!


Laura Roettiger is the author of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON. She is a life-long Chicago resident who moved to the Rocky Mountains in 2016. Living adjacent to Roosevelt National Forest and just a few miles from the Continental Divide has provided her with inspiration for much of what she writes about. In Chicago, she worked as a reading specialist and elementary teacher and raised three children who are also the inspiration for her writing. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and letting them know she believes in them. Since moving to Colorado, she has worked in Environmental Education and is now a literacy mentor at a STEM school. In 2018, she adopted a Goldendoodle puppy, Charlie, who is the inspiration for her latest polished manuscript. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Laura and her work visit her website: www.lauraroettigerbooks.com.

TO PRE-ORDER Laura’s debut book, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, February 14th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Cathy Breisacher.

Interview with Debut Author Hannah Holt

Debut Interviews, Authors, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with debut author Hannah Holt! I’m so excited to be featuring a non-fiction picture book biography this week with Hannah’s debut book, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS & THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL, illustrated by Jay Fleck. This is such an inventive picture book, told in two narratives, about Hannah’s grandfather, H. Tracy Hall, and the fascinating process of how diamonds are created.

So without further ado, please welcome Hannah Holt!

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Where do you live?

I live in Oregon with my husband, four children, and a pet cat.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

One Christmas during graduate school, my husband and I didn't have money for presents, so I created handmade comic books. While I worked I wondered: what if I gave myself year to write a children's book?

After a year, I realized I would need more time and gave myself a decade to pursue publishing a children's bookSeven years into that decade, I sold my first picture book, The Diamond & The Boy, to Balzer+Bray.

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

I began writing ten years ago. During my first year, I received only form rejections and non-replies. By my second year, I had started receiving personal rejections and requests for more work. 

Then my twins were born. With four children ages five and under, I took a year break from writing, so I could attempt sleep every now and then.

After a year away, the writing itch returned stronger than ever, and I joined Julie Hedlund's 12x12 challenge. Two years after my writing reset, I signed with agent Danielle Smith. That didn't work out, so we parted ways.

After another year of querying, I signed with my second agent, Laura Biagi. Oh my heavens, it was such a difference working with a real advocate for my work! We sold two books together. Then she left agenting to pursue her own writing.

Publishing is full of twist and turns, but I try to focus on things I can control, like improving my craft.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I'm the type of writer that needs to revise many times before I have a submission ready piece. I wrote more than eighty drafts of The Diamond & the Boy before it sold. Similarly I wrote more than forty drafts of A Father's Love before it sold. Some authors might find perfection after five or so drafts. It just doesn't work that way for me.

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

I've never had a problem with ideas (knock on wood!). Ideas always seem to come in spades. It's the execution of those ideas that plagues me. It's not unusual for me to try a story from several different points of view or to write drafts in both verse and prose. I keep trying until I find a direction that resonates.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Snacks! When I get stuck, I take a snack break. Snacks make everything better.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many legends I look up to, but here are two authors that might be new to your readers:

Jessie Oliveros has a beautiful picture book about sharing memories called The Remember Balloons. Dana Wulfekotte's limited palette illustrations are a perfect match for the text. I read a lot of picture books, and this one is something special.

Tina Cho recently released a picture book about a girl in South Korea trying to help her neighbors to the north called Rice From Heaven. The language is lyrical and moving.

Dream project to work on?

This isn't necessarily a dream project, but I hope to publish a middle grade novel one day. I've written two so far, but they were both so terrible I never sent them out. I would like to write a middle grade novel someday that doesn't stink.

Tell us about your debut book.

The Diamond & the Boy is a biography of my grandfather, inventor H. Tracy Hall. However, it's also the story of how graphite transforms into a diamond. This dual narrative story covers the two stories side-by-side. From the jacket flap:

"Before a diamond is a gem, it’s a common gray rock called graphite. Through an intense trial of heat and pressure, it changes into one of the most valuable stones in the world.

Before Tracy Hall was an inventor, he was a boy—born into poverty, bullied by peers, forced to work at an early age. However, through education and experimentation, he became one of the brightest innovators of the twentieth century, eventually building a revolutionary machine that makes diamonds.

From debut author Hannah Holt—the granddaughter of Tracy Hall—and illustrator Jay Fleck comes this fascinating in-depth portrait of both rock and man."

What’s up next for you?

My second book, A FATHER’S LOVE, comes out in 2019 just in time for Father’s Day. It’s a lyrical non-fiction picture book that celebrates different types of animal father’s from all around the world.

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

Better Off Dead


Huge thank you to Hannah Holt for stopping by Critter Lit to chat today! We can’t wait to see all of your upcoming books!


Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Hannah and her work visit her website: www.hannahholt.com or follow her on Twitter @HannahWHolt

TO ORDER a copy of Hannah’s wonderful books, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS & THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 13th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with author/illustrator Corinna Luyken!

Interview with Debut Author Aidan Cassie

Debut Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m very excited to share with you the work of debut picture book author and illustrator Aidan Cassie! I received an F&G of Aidan’s debut book, STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, this past summer and immediately fell in love with little Sterling.

Sterling the dog has always wanted a home. But no home has ever wanted him. So when Sterling sees a sign on the side of the Butlery Cutlery Company advertising free "shipping to homes around the world," he is determined to become the most terrific fork ever! For what home doesn't need flatware?

Sterling is delivered on time and undamaged to the Gilbert family's front door. He is not, however, what they ordered. . . . But he may be exactly what they need. A humorous, heart-tugging picture book about finding a family, who wants you just as you are.

Sterling is quite lovable. Just look at the adorable cover below. Our family dog, Sally, was a rescue, so I immediately connected with Sterling’s hope of finding the perfect family and home. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is charming. I hope you enjoy Aidan’s new book as much as I do.

So without further ado, please welcome Aidan Cassie!

ACassie_HighRes.jpeg

Where do you live?

I live on a west coast island, on the side of a small mountain, in Canada’s Salish Sea, just north of Seattle. It’s a quirky, rural pocket of co-op farmers, naturalists and artsy-folk, but most people here are urban-transplants, like myself. I love island life - our daughter takes a ferry to school while my husband and I work from our home studios (to the great delight of our big red dog, Sooka).

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

While I was working on my degree in animation I started telling stories visually and fell in love with the process. After creating my wordless animated film, I thought I’d naturally write wordless picture books. Instead I discovered my voice, and the wonderful space between the text and illustrations.  I’m fascinated by the way readers/listeners/viewers construct what is happening with what is on the page, as well by the unsaid words and implied images. 

Can you share a bit about your process?

Assuming I’ve settled on a promising story idea nugget, I start by sketching characters to help me visualize the story. Then there’s the “walking and talking in the woods phase” as I envision it playing out like a little movie that I tell myself aloud… rewind, revise, and tell again. Sooka just chases sticks and is very non-judgmental. 

At the point my tale feels relatively solid I often enjoy a burst of drawing and writing. I pare things down to the important visual “shots” and make a series of thumbnail drawings, the same way I’d storyboard for animation. Later I might redraw with a bit more detail onto recipe cards, so I can reorder, add to, and edit the elements. I constantly flip between modifying drawings and editing words. Often the words are last to come.

 When I’m happy with the final flow I scan my sketches and create a digital dummy that has all the text in place for my crit group to read and edit. Later, many revisions later, if my agent likes it, I’ll make some final art samples for prospective publishers. I go back to the tiny 1’ drawings again, this time digitally. I experiment with the color narrative, palette and tonal balance for the whole book laid out on one page. I do each tiny spread’s colour very roughly so as to have a guide when doing final art. I use a Cintiq to create final art, usually with digital water color layers and textures that sit beneath my drawings. 

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

Of course ideas must be caught and gathered as they show up. Sometimes they come from mining strong childhood feelings of my own, but most often they come from the outside; like overheard conversations, observing something strange, a great line in a song, bizarre news stories or by mashing together unlikely things, like dachshunds and forks. And sometimes I just need to put myself somewhere new; we just came back from taking a year to live in Provence; every day in France was brimming with “new”!

Art supplies you can't live without?

It’s a short list; my 2B pencils, and a good eraser.

Maybe some run-of-the-mill photocopy paper too.  All my creations are born of a pencil line on cheap photocopy paper. It allows me feel free to let loose and make oodles of useless doodles. And useless is important. For me, being too precious or careful cramps my creativity and exploration. I like the erasable nature of pencils, so when it comes to watercolor painting (not a forgiving medium), I find I take more risks when I work digitally, because I know there is an “undo”.

Favorite illustrators?

Oh, yes, I love sharing my art crushes!! Birgitta Sif, Isabelle Arsenault, Emily Gravett, Kady MacDonald Denton and, and, and… Chris Riddell, Carter Goodrich, Pierre Pratt and Shaun Tan!

Dream project or book to work on?

I’m feeling pretty lucky that I’m working on a bunch of my own books right now, so things are pretty dreamy as it is. One day I’d love to work collaboratively with a funny author (like Emily Jenkins or Aaron Reynolds), preferably on a ridiculous story jam-cram-packed with dogs - you know, if we’re talking DREAM project.

Tell us about your debut book.

My debut book was inspired by a childhood dog I had, an odd little dachshund. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is about a dog who’s had a hard time finding a home, so he lives in a damp box. When he discovers a fork factory that ships to good homes he thinks he’s found his ticket to happiness. When it occurs to him that the new family, surprised by the little stow-away, may not need a fork, Sterling decides he could be anything if they would just keep him. He’s an expert at adapting, but it takes him a while to understand what this loving family really wants.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve just finished up the final cover art for my second book, Little Juniper Makes It Big, about a wee raccoon who feels too small for everything, and that will come out in 2019. While waiting for edits and feedback on that book I’ve been working on my third book (still at the untitled dummy-book stage) that will come out the following year, both with FSG Macmillan.

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

Wow, “80s movie” feels like a genre in itself – like I need an answer that features the Neutron Dance. But I have to go with animation! As a 9 year old I was completely spell bound by the The Secret of Nimh in 1982. 


Aidan Cassie studied animation and earned a media arts degree at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design as well as Edinburgh College of Art. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is her first picture book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Aidan and her book, visit her website at www.aidancassie.com.

TO ORDER a copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 18th! US and Canadian addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Beth Anderson

Interviews, Authors, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward10 Comments
Photo Credit: Tina Wood

Photo Credit: Tina Wood

Happy Thursday Critters! I'm so excited for today's interview with debut author Beth Anderson, whose debut book AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION (illustrated by incredibly talented Elizabeth Baddeley) is a non-fiction picture book about how two patriots teamed up to create a uniquely American spelling system. I'm a huge fan of non-fiction picture books, they are a wonderful resource for kids and a great way to expose them to interesting and important topics in an approachable way.

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution  written by Beth Anderson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

So what's AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN & NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION all about?

Once upon a revolutionary time, two great American patriots tried to make life easier. They knew how hard it was to spell words in English. They knew that sounds didn’t match letters. They knew that the problem was an inconvenient English alphabet.

In 1786, Ben Franklin, at age eighty, and Noah Webster, twenty-eight, teamed up. Their goal? Make English easier to read and write. But even for great thinkers, what seems easy can turn out to be hard.

Children today will be delighted to learn that when they “sound out” words, they are doing eg-zakt-leewhat Ben and Noah wanted.

How cool does this book sound?! I can't wait for you all to check it out September 25th when it hits bookstores near you!

So without further ado...please welcome Beth Anderson!

Where do you live?

First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog!

I live in Loveland, Colorado, but have been fortunate to experience life in various parts of the country. I grew up in Grayslake, Illinois, then moved to Wisconsin, Ohio, Connecticut, Georgia and Texas. Now, I’m a flatlander who wakes up every morning and marvels at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I was a kid who always enjoyed writing and received a lot of encouragement from teachers. I took a few feeble cracks at writing for children during my adult life, but (pre-internet) never learned about the industry, studied specifics of the craft, or found my path. 

Then for years, as an ESL teacher, I used literature as a medium for language learning as well as teaching curriculum objectives. I experienced picture books on many levels and witnessed the magic they offered in the classroom and connections they built for learners from every corner of the world. When I retired from teaching, my students asked me what I was going to do. That old “someday” idea bubbled to the surface, and I came clean and admitted I’d always wanted to write for children. Their excitement at the prospect stuck with me. How could I tell them to chase their “someday” if I wasn’t willing to do it?

Can you share a bit about your process?

Once I discovered the joys of narrative nonfiction and historical fiction, I dove in. To start with, I look at various news feeds and other sources for interesting bits of history and current events. If an idea intrigues me, I read everything I can find online first to get an overview, then dig into other sources once I have a bit more direction. Often, what first interested me is the tip of the iceberg, and I discover that there is a more important story behind it. So I gather and organize information (a post on my method HERE), then brainstorm on vital ideas, kid hooks, and structure possibilities.

After all that, I start drafting and revising, getting the story down. Then I examine it, share with critique partners, and start asking the hard questions. How can I frame it to create a marketable hook? How can I enhance the story and emotional arcs? How can I make it matter? (the list goes on…)  Then I dive back into the research for specifics. I read other random articles about the topic or theme or a concept within the story – looking for something that will spark new thoughts. I search out more quotes from the main characters to understand them better. And the revisions continue.

An example of a second dive into research - After revising AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET per an editor critique, I felt like I had lost some of the emotion. So, I reread and looked at additional sources for evidence of just how strong Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s friendship really was.

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

As I mentioned above, newsfeeds from various sources can spark ideas. Also, I often stumble upon interesting tidbits for more stories while researching a manuscript. New ideas can spring from something I randomly read or saw or heard. 

When I’m stuck, really stuck, in the midst of a manuscript, it helps to widen my understanding – reading related articles, checking for You Tube videos on setting or another aspect of the story. And recently I’ve realized (I don’t know why it took this long) that when consulting sources, I need to go beyond the chapters related to the topic and read the introduction and concluding chapter. As writers we know this is where the essence, interconnections, and implications are discussed.  

One example of how exploring related articles can help a story – While revising what will be my second picture book, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS, an article on how we tell our hero stories caught my attention. I was already seeing Lizzie’s story as a centerpiece in the context of “standing on the shoulders of those who came before us,” but this article had something more. We tend to portray heroes as super capable people who bring about change on their own. But in reality, no one does it alone. Kids need to know that. The idea that these super people take care of things leads kids to think they don’t have a role. Each of us may not be a leader, but we all can participate.

Anything you can't live without while you write?

A computer with an internet connection, of course! Coffee and snacks also help. 

And taking “while you write” in a larger sense, I can’t live without my critique partners!

Favorite authors?

As I seek out mentor texts and learn from other picture book writers, I’ve definitely found some favorites who help me along this narrative nonfiction path: Barb Rosenstock, Mara Rockliff, Suzanne Slade, Deborah Hopkinson, Jen Bryant, Andrea Pinkney, Michelle Markel, Candace Fleming, and Lesa Cline-Ransome come to mind immediately.

Dream project or book to work on?

I can’t think of any specific project. Just any idea that grabs my heart, knocks my socks off with an urgency to be written, and has a hook that no editor can resist. (And no one has already written it!) 

Tell us about your debut book?

AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET hit me in the heart from the very beginning. Franklin’s quote, “Those people spell best who do not know how to spell,” brought to mind the endearing spelling of young children learning to write using “invented spelling.” I connected as a teacher, as a parent, as a linguistics major, as a history lover. I thought, wow, kids are writing just as Ben Franklin had hoped! 

In many ways, Ben and Noah are opposites, drawn together by their love of language and education and their determination to make reading and writing English easier. When their revolutionary attempts are rejected by the public, Noah keeps trying, and in the process learns that neither fame nor force can sell an idea that people see as just too inconvenient. Though the two great patriots don’t achieve their initial goal, Noah does end up with his great success, the first real American dictionary.

Children deal with our inconvenient alphabet every day as they learn to read and write. This book is my answer to all those students who asked why English spelling is so crazy. Another layer that drew me was “sounds easy, does hard.” I think it’s a great example for kids of how one seemingly simple, sensible idea may have so many consequences. The historical layer not only gives a hint of what life was like in the 18th century, but also introduces the idea that revolutions are not only military, but seep into daily life in varied forms. Elizabeth Baddeley’s creative illustrations enhance every layer of the story and bring a spirit of spunk and joy. 

The manuscript seemed to have special messages for me as a writer about the need to be flexible, patient, and persevere. But what I really internalized was the need to let our ideas “take a chance in the world,” and that often, no matter how hard we push, others will decide the success of our endeavors. So I offer up the book in hopes kids will laugh and learn, connect and question, and be inspired to share their ideas and let them morph and grow into something they didn’t imagine. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m looking forward to sharing AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET with children and experiencing a few more picture books come to life with illustrations and an editor’s magic…

A civil rights story from 1854, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS with Calkins Creek is scheduled for spring 2020. I’m currently in suspense waiting to see E.B. Lewis’ sure-to-be fabulous illustrations! 

Then comes “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES: THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF AN ORDINARY MAN AND HIS EXTRAORDINARY NOSE, also with Calkins Creek, illustrated by Jenn Harney, scheduled for fall 2020.  Set in the labyrinth of the 1930s New York City subway, a humble immigrant learns to use his natural talents for the benefit of all—and also finds out what it takes to be a true hero.

And there’s one more under contract that hasn’t been announced…

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

Definitely, The Princess Bride! A classic! Masterful storytelling, unforgettable characters, for young and old, the joy of story, grandfather and grandson, twoooo love, lines that live forever.

AND there just happens to be one line in AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET that was inspired by a line in the movie…can you find it?

Thank you for chatting with us today Beth! We can't wait to see your upcoming titles!


Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same.

For more information about Beth Anderson and her books, visit her online at www.bethandersonwriter.com or you can follow her on Twitter @BAndersonWriter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

TO PRE-ORDER AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 13th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit's interview with debut author/illustrator Jen Betton!