Critter Lit

Write. Draw. Read. Repeat.


Interview with Cassandra Federman

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome…Cassandra Federman!


Where do you live?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter/Instagram: @CassFederman

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


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

Interview with Author/Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

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

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


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

So without further ado…please welcome Debbie Ridpath Ohi!


Where do you live?

I live in Toronto, Canada.

How many years have you been in publishing?

It depends what you mean by publishing.

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

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

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

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Do you write/illustrate full-time?


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

What inspires you to create picture books?

Interacting with young readers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two favorite things:

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

  2. Talking with young readers.

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

Trying not to compare myself to others.

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

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

Two things that help the most:

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

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


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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended reading?

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you tell us about your newest book?

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

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

Im Worried JKT-1500.jpg
Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

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

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

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

Intelligent perseverance is as important as talent.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Q+A: A Quick Note on Art Notes

Illustrators, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Recently, I was asked a question about the placement and use of art notes in a picture book manuscript. I get this question a lot. Especially from picture book authors-only. Most illustrators understand when they do and don't need to art note, especially since they have the advantage of knowing what will or will not be illustrated along with the text. So if you're an author only, you have to get creative, and consider the illustrations as you write your text.

So, when should you art note your manuscript? Here is my simplest explanation:


Here's an example: say your story is about a monster that only exists in the art. You never mention the monster in the text. The story isn't about the monster. It's about the boy the monster follows around. But in order to know that the monster exists when reading the manuscript, you need to include an art note. Make sense?


Let's say your story has an action sequence, with a lot of sounds and fun read-aloud bits. But it's not necessarily clear what is actually happening in the action. Art note it. This means the illustrator will understand your intention, but be able to amplify the sounds you've provided to marry the art and text together fluidly.

Now that you know when to art note, what should an art note look like?

I prefer to italicize and change the text color of my art notes. So if the manuscript text is in black (which all of yours should be, this isn't fourth grade, and pink isn't an acceptable font color for submission!), then I like to pick a light to medium gray for my art notes. And yes, even as an illustrator I use art notes. I probably use more art notes that an author-only does. I know what I want spreads to look like, so sometimes I will be very specific in my art notes, especially during the submission process. Editors are not always visual people, and the art director won't be reading your manuscript first, an editor most likely will. So make it easy for them to understand. Don't give them a reason, like lack of clarity, for them to pass on your manuscript.

This is what an art note in one of my manuscripts typically looks like:

[Art Note: ... ]

For me, using italics and changing the text color to gray, helps the art notes stand out from the body text. Not only do I think this helps anyone who is reading my manuscript for the first time, but it also helps me during the revision process.

Where should you place an art note within the manuscript? Before or after the scene to which you are referring?

Usually, I place my art notes after the scene I'm referring to in the art note. But you can also list them first. It just depends on what the scene requires and why you are using the art note in the first place. For example, if you need the art note to set a scene, that either has no text or very minimal text, I would suggest listing it before. I've done this from time to time when I'm planning to use an art note as a way to clarify what I will be showing in the art, that won't be explicitly said in the text.

So what should you keep in mind when including art notes? Here is a few tips that can go a long way:


- Always read your manuscript aloud. To yourself and to others. You should be doing this regardless, but it will definitely help you understand if you need an art note or not.

- If you are an author-only, consider how your text will allow an illustrator to add their mark to the story. Have you left enough room for them? A truly successful picture book is one that effortlessly marries the art and text together, even if it's done by two different people.

- Don't be descriptive. Again, only art note if it's imperative to understanding the text. Don't add in art notes with descriptions of the characters, what they are wearing, the setting, etc. If the reader will need any of these things to understand your story, then you need to art note it. But otherwise, you are trying to micromanage the illustrations and you need to stop. As an illustrator, I can tell you, it's very annoying.

So go out there and art note correctly, or not. Either way, now you know, and hopefully this post will help you when deciding whether or not to include an art note in your manuscript.

If you have a question you'd like to see answered here on Critter Lit, please email me at

Until next time, happy writing!