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 and Illustrator Susan Reagan

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Vet Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today I’m very excited to be sharing the work of one of my dear friends and critique partners, Susan Reagan! Sue is an incredibly talented illustrator and writer and I’m thrilled to have her with us on Critter Lit. Her newest board book, SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK, written by Emilia Zebrowska, published with Creative Company this month. Her work is stunning and I can’t wait to share it with you all!

So without further ado, please welcome the fantastically talented Susan Reagan!


Where do you live?

I live in Tremont, a neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. Our neighborhood was once called the Southside. We sit directly between Cleveland’s Downtown and the Steelyards that once fueled the economy and life of the neighborhood. I love living in a city neighborhood!  It’s full of history and diversity and is my greatest inspiration as an artist. 

How many years have you been in publishing?

Quite a few. The first books I illustrated were for Christian publishers. But it wasn’t my primary source of work, I worked for American Greetings as an illustrator for the first half of my career. I still freelance for them; it’s my bread and butter work.

How did you first get published?

I had a brief stint with an agent back in the mid 90’s who got me my first book. It was MY LITTLE BOOK OF BIG BIBLE PROMISES. But it wasn’t a leap into publishing. I stayed with American Greetings for a while after that.

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

I have always illustrated full-time but for many markets. It’s only over the past five years that I have decided to dedicate myself mostly to publishing and picture books (I still have bills to pay so I do some other freelance too). I am working on my writing. I have a couple of manuscripts just about ready to share with my agent. They have been in the works for years. Writing is much more challenging for me than illustrating but I love to push myself. I have also started teaching illustration as adjunct faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I’m loving it! 

What inspires you to create picture books?

My own manuscripts are based on visual puns or a funny phrase. I like silliness but the books I love to illustrate are more serious or complex. My drawing style is more observational and less character design driven. I love the use of line and I love a subtle limited color palette.

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

I guess what surprised me most is just how involved the process is and how different it is from the other types of illustration I’ve done. It’s a slower paced business and it took some time for me to adjust it. I‘m accustomed  to a quick turn around on assignments. But I love how much time I get to spend with a book while illustrating it. I love having time to really think things over.

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

I draw, design, paint, concept, every day!

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

The toughest part is sending out finished work and waiting. Even when you know the work is good there is something about waiting to hear from a creative director or an editor that makes most artist anxious. Most of us are naturally tough on ourselves. We don’t do this work just for ourselves. We want to hear that it worked; that we created something acceptable, beautiful, funny, touching, informative, whatever the goal. Also, I feel the weight of illustrating someone else’s story. I want to do right by them. I know how hard they worked to create their beautiful writing.

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

I was feeling a bit rusty a few years back. I got so caught up in the business of illustrating and creativity that I got a little lost. I went back to my first love of drawing people. I participated in The 100 Day Project on Instagram and made a drawing a day of people I observed. It really energized me. I loosened up my line work and started trusting my instincts again. I made so many discoveries that are now a part of my illustration style.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Coffee is important. I think better when using my iPad and sitting in my living room than I do anywhere else. Also I like quiet when I am thinking so no music or background noise. If the windows are open and it’s a cool day— that’s the best!

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

My critique group without question! For over five years now I have benefited knowing these very talented women, one of which is the writer of this blog. Lindsay Ward, Betsy Snyder, Kellie DuBay Gillis, and Alissa McGough. Each one so smart, honest and talented! We give each other honest feedback and support each other’s successes and dreams. I have learned so much from this amazing group!

Recommended reading?

I’m reading THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colton Whitehead. I would highly recommend it!

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Last January I signed with Stephanie Fretwell-Hill at Red Fox Literary. I have already signed on to illustrate a book by Beth Anderson, who has visited this blog. She’s an amazing writer. I love AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET and I can’t wait to get my copy of LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT. The title I will be working on is PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN, about Prudence Cummings Wright and the ways that women used their skills and ingenuity to contribute to the American Revolution. I’m just getting started!

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

Take the work seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. Actually I have probably been told that a 100 times, I need to listen better.

Tell us about your newest book.

SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK, written by Emilia Zebrowska, from Creative Editions just released this month. It’s a sweet little bed time board book  in which one last game of Simon Says turns into a fantastical journey into the night and off to dreamland.

Another recent release is YOU AND ME, another board book from Creative Editions, written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. It made the American Library Association’s list of Notable Children’s Books for 2019. I was pretty happy about that.

What’s up next for you?

I just turned in LIGHTS OUT. I am very excited about this book! It’s a wonderful story written by Marsha Diane Arnold, published by Creative Editions, about the disruption that happens in nature and animal behaviors from too much light. It releases next fall. Here’s a sneak peek:

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

Sneak peek from LIGHTS OUT! written by Marsha Diane Arnold, Illustrated by Susan Reagan

I’ll have another board book Creative Editions titled READY OR NOT. And then as mentioned above, PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN IN 2022.

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

I would say to remember that sometimes it can take a while to have the breakthrough you are looking for. Work on what you love and seek good critiques and don’t be afraid of an honest opinion. 

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

I don’t necessarily have a favorite but I remember laughing so hard at A Fish Called Wanda and Raising Arizona that I thought my sides would split. Wonder what I would think now?

Huge thank you to Susan Reagan for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see all the fantastic books you have coming out!

SUSAN REAGAN’S picture books include YOU & ME by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (Creative Company, 2018), SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK by Emilia Zebrowska (Creative Company, 2019), and LIGHTS OUT! by Marsha Diane Arnold(Creative Company, 2020). She is currently illustrating PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN by Beth Anderson (Calkins Creek, 2022). Susan graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Columbus College of Art and Design. She teaches illustration techniques as adjunct faculty at The Cleveland Institute of Art. Susan lives with her husband and three “mangy mutts” in Tremont, a historical neighborhood of her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Susan Reagan visit her online or follow her on social media:


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


Want a chance to win a copy of SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 5th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Illustrator Christopher Denise

Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward10 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have the incredibly talented illustrator Christopher Denise stopping by to chat with us! I’m a huge fan of Chris’s books and I’m thrilled to share his work with all of you today! I was lucky enough to meet Chris and his lovely and talented wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise a few years ago at a writer’s retreat in Vermont. You can read Critter Lit’s interview with Anika here. Their newest book, BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE came out earlier this month with Henry Holt and has received wonderful reviews:

"This sweet picture book acknowledges the special place each sibling occupies in a family. . . Kids will savor adorable details, such as children's artwork on a bedroom wall and winsome animal students lined up for school in a tree. Charming and comforting."Kirkus Reviews

So without further ado, please welcome Christopher Denise!

C_DENISE_HEADSHOT_2019 copy.jpg

Where do you live?

We live in Rhode Island in a little bayside community just outside of Providence. We love it here! We found an old beach house, fixed it up (most of it), and built a studio out back. The best part is that we can walk barefoot to the beach.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I started in publishing before my graduation from Rhode Island School of Design in 1990. So, about 29 years ago. My first book, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, was published in 1994.

How many books have you published?

Bunny in the Middle just published this July. It is my twenty-fifth book in trade publishing. When I first started out I published a number of books for the educational market.

Do you illustrate full-time?

I do! But it’s not necessarily like most full-time jobs. My wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise, is a kid lit author so in addition to our careers, we share responsibilities for taking care of all the house and family things. If I am on a deadline, she will step in and make sure all the home things happen. If she is in the thick of a project, I will take over. It’s not uncommon for either one of us to be back at work on a Sunday night.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I am inspired to create picture books that I like to read. Humor is big for me. I love to laugh and I love surprising and funny picture books! I also try to keep myself in a state of wonder. Children are fascinating and have such a truthful and amazing way of seeing the world. If you can tap into that, there is always inspiration.

What surprised you the most working as an illustrator?

The degree of tenacity that is required to stay in the field surprised me. While at RISD, I was fortunate enough to study with David Macaulay (Cathedral, The Way Things Work). Just before graduation, we had a long chat and he told me that it is not always the most brilliant or the most talented that make it in this business. You need the grit to stick with it, day after day, year after year.

What is your favorite thing about being an illustrator?

The ever-changing challenges of each book. Every author that I work with has a distinct voice and requires me to start over, to start fresh. I try to get myself into a beginner’s mind at the start of each project so I that I can respond to what is in front of me and what that particular book is asking for in terms of pacing, character development, and even the look of the book. It’s a wonderful way to be constantly in a state of growth and exploration.

What do you find difficult working as an illustrator?

The hours can be tough but I have gotten much better at managing production schedules. Even more difficult is managing the uncertainty of the market. You never really know how a book is going to land and if it will find its audience. That can make it difficult to plan and can be a challenge when raising a family.

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

Spending time with my family is hands-down the best thing I can do to generate new ideas or get a fresh perspective. It gets me out of my own headspace. The dinner table at our house is like a brain trust and the perfect place to beta test ideas.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

This sounds odd but I am habitual about routine. I need to show up in the studio and get in my hours. After so many years at this job, I know what works. I’m very good (an expert, actually) at breaking routine when I want to, but if I have too many days of distractions that take me out of the studio, I get very grumpy. Also exercise! It’s another way to get out of my own headspace and come back fresh.

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

A few years ago I was asked to speak at Kindling Words East as a guest illustrator. I really didn't know what to expect but it was such a good fit for me, I ended up joining the committee and being their Resident Illustrator — and in many ways, finding a family. It truly is a safe and trusting place where we can discuss kid lit and the real nuts and bolts of living a creative life.

What is your favorite picture book?

A very tough question. I am going to skip listing the classics. But I can’t choose just one! I have so many favorites in different sub-genres of picture books and they change all the time. I do love I am Small by Emma Dodd. Swan by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad, is a big favorite. Also Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli, and Days Like This by Simon James.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Hmm, another tough question. In a way, living as an artist and spending my days in the studio, I am living the highlight every day. I’m grateful for the good reviews, the stars, the acknowledgements, and certainly when something happens like your book lands on the NY times list! But looking back at highlights can be tricky because comparison is inevitable. Comparing what was then, to this day in the studio. It just doesn't not feel right to me. There are things I am proud of. Firefly Hollow was a journey that required me to grow and change in different ways. Recently, I completed and sold my first picture book manuscript and I feel great about it. But really today, with all the possibility it offers, is the highlight.

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

Don’t spend too much energy trying to prove yourself or working towards becoming something that you think that you should be. Allow the work to grow and to change. Just relax and have fun with it! Work hard at refining your tools but focus on allowing your individual, authentic voice to emerge.

Tell us about your newest book?

Bunny in the Middle written by Anika Aldamuy Denise!

We created Bunny in the Middle to celebrate the unique (sometimes challenging), but ultimately very special experience of being in the middle. Our middle is fearless but wise. She holds a unique place in the family. So we wrote a book to celebrate her — and all the middles out there.

What’s up next for you?

Oooo, I wish I could say more! Just last week we reached an agreement to publish my very first book that I have written and illustrated. Check the PW rights report-it may be in there this week!

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

Yes, the standard advice is true. Read tons of picture books. Your local librarian should be your best friend. If you can, volunteer to read at a story hour at your local independent bookstore. Reading aloud to an audience is one of the very best ways to really understand what makes picture books work. Once you get going, avoid the comparison game. I know that we all seek recognition for our efforts and award time can be tough for many. Don’t fall into that trap, it will not serve you. Celebrate great books and achievements by your fellow authors and illustrators — especially if they are underrepresented in the industry.

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

I guess Star Wars falls in the wrong decade so I would say Back to the Future with Raiders of the Lost Ark being a close second.

Huge thanks to Christopher Denise for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on all your success and your first author/illustrator project— we can’t wait to check it out!

CHRISTOPHER DENISE is an award-winning illustrator of many critically-acclaimed books for young readers including Alison McGhee’s Firefly Hollow, Rosemary Wells’ Following Grandfather, Anne Marie Pace’s Groundhug Day, as well as several in Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. His books have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and have been recognized by Bank Street College of Education, Parents' Choice Foundation, and the Society of Illustrators. Christopher lives with his wife and collaborator, Anika Denise (Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bunny in the Middle). They live on the coast of Rhode Island with three exceptionally nice people who happen to be their daughters.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Christopher, visit him online at or follow him on social media:





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


Want a chance to win a copy of BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 1st! US addresses only please.

Debut Interview with Jenn Harney

Authors + Illustrators, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! It’s been a while— but it’s great to be back! I’ve had a crazy few weeks with ALA and deadlines— I’m trying to push through the rest of the summer until baby no. 3 arrives! BUT I’m so excited to be back to our interview schedule with fellow local author and illustrator Jenn Harney! I’m thrilled to be sharing Jenn’s work with you all today. Her debut, UNDERWEAR! just came out this past April with Disney/Hyperion and it is HILARIOUS— I just know you’re all going to love it!

So without further ado…please welcome Jenn Harney!


Where do you live?

Twinsburg, Ohio. I usually say “Clevelandish” because people know where Cleveland is. Twinsburg, not so much.

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

I met Tomie dePaola from a far at a Young Author’s Conference when I was, I think, in second grade. It was the first time it ever occurred to me that people could write and illustrate books as a job.

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

I was VERY VERY lucky. When I signed with my agent, Rachel Orr, she asked if I wrote. So, I started writing. My first story went nowhere. My second story was UNDERWEAR! It was picked up by Stephanie Lurie at Disney Hyperion on its first round of submissions. Right time. Right place. Right Editor. I was very lucky.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My process always starts with drawings. I love character design and that’s where I start. Just doodling characters and seeing if any of them have any merit. Then, I play with the story. I write everything on legal envelopes. Easy to throw out. Usually I thumbnail a dummy as I write. Everything is always visual with me. The words come afterwards.

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

I’ve learned that if I’m having a bad drawing day to walk away from it. It’ll pass. If I force it, nothing looks good. I’ll get more done in a good drawing day than if I try to force it on a bad one. The Colour Collective weekly drawing challenge is a huge part of the rust shaking, too. Just a great group of illustrators. Just follow the #colour_collective tag on Fridays around 2:30 EST, and you’ll see what I mean.

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

Something to listen to. Not music. Usually has to be an audiobook, or episodes of MST3K or RuPaul’s Drag Race. Have to have talking in the background.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

So many! Bill Watterson, Paul Coker Jr., Tomie DePaola, Tom Yohe, Steven Kellogg, P.D.Eastman, Richard Scarry, David McKee, Alan Tiegreen....I could keep going.

Dream project to work on?

Little Golden Books. I’ve always wanted to do a Little Golden Book.

Tell us about your debut book.

UNDERWEAR! Started with a Colour Collective piece I did. The story worked itself out on a walk with my ever stubborn corgi lodged under a bush and my ever loud self yelling “Get out from under there.” And he looked up at me like “Under where?” and it clicked. Steve went on an extra long walk that day as I looked like a crazy person tapping out syllables and talking out loud about underwear.

UNDERWEAR! Is pretty much autobiographical. I am the frazzled parent who just wants to get their kid out of the tub, into PJs and off to bed. My daughter is said kid who finds ENDLESS ways to keep herself out of bed. I think every parent has been on both sides of this story. And, stories about underwear are never not going to be funny. It’s just a fun word to say.

What’s up next for you?

My second book SWIM, SWIM, SINK is slated for launch in early 2020. Fingers crossed I can just keep working along.

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

Amadeus or Empire Strikes Back or Time Bandits. Don’t make me choose. (Oooo...Sophie’s Choice is good too!)

Huge thank you to Jenn for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for you and your fantastically funny debut! Congrats!

JENN HARNEY has illustrated several picture books, including Todd Tarpley’s HOW TO BECOME A KNIGHT (Sterling), NEVER CRUMPET WITH A TRUMPET (Boyd Mills Press), SMELLY KELLY (Boyd’s Mills Press). She has
also illustrated the covers and interiors for Jennifer Hamburg’s Hazy Bloom series (FSG), and Susan Lurie’s Wanda Seasongood series (Disney-Hyperion).

Jenn made her author-illustrator debut with UNDERWEAR (Disney-Hyperion) to be followed up by SWIM, SWIM, SINK in 2020 (Disney-Hyperion). She enjoys working at break-neck pace at her desk while binge watching old episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. Jenn lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband, her daughter, a dog named Steve and the ghost of the oldest living goldfish in North America.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jenn visit her online at or follow her on social media:

Instagram + Twitter: @jennharknee

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


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

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Scott Magoon

Authors + Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward5 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with the incredibly talented author and illustrator Scott Magoon! I’m so excited to share this interview with all of you as well as Scott’s newest book, LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL, which I think is his best work yet! I love the message in LINUS and the art is utterly spectacular.

Scott was one of the first people in the publishing industry who took the time to give me feedback on my illustration portfolio back when he was an art director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He offered his time and advice when I was just starting out, which I will always be grateful for. I was lucky enough to have a few people, including Scott, offer their insight at the beginning of my career. Which is exactly what Critter Lit is all about!

So without further ado, please welcome Scott Magoon!


Where do you live?

I live in Reading, Massachusetts. 13 miles north of Boston. Amy Krouse Rosenthal once pointed out to me that my town’s name looks like it could be pronounced as in ‘reading a book.” As an author I liked that of course. But our town is in fact pronounced as in “Otis Redding.” Whom I also like. 

How many years have you been in publishing?

Scads. I joined Candlewick Press as a book designer way back in 2003. So, what’s that, 100 years? From there I went on to HMH as an art director. I was working as a freelance illustrator and writing all through those years until finally going full-time with writing and drawing in 2015.



How many books have you published?

I’ve published 27 books. I don’t have a favorite but I tell students on my school visits when they ask that I love each book for a different reason. One I love for the characters, another for the setting, maybe another the experience I had drawing it. I try to LEARN SOMETHING from each book so that I’m always improving. 

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yes. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Terrifying because my family’s relying on my creativity. What if it gives out? On the other hand, it’s exhilarating for all the reasons you’d think. Opening those doors of imagination and seeing what’s inside. More often than not they open to brick walls. Finding the doors that go somewhere takes time and that’s what going full-time has afforded me. That, and a very short commute. 



What inspires you to create picture books?

Primarily, I love solving the puzzle. The discovering, developing of an idea. Then crafting the story alongside the the visual style of a book. 

Beyond that, I love putting story and art together for young readers because I remember how powerful reading was for me as a student. Being a part of someone’s reading adventure is a privilege and I find that keeps me going as well. 

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

The endless promotion of one’s own work. You’re always sort of on. Also that people have actually heard of and read my books. And in far-flung places like Taiwan or Australia. It’s nuts. I didn’t expect that kind of exposure.

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

Visiting with students for my school visits. I get to talk about reading, drawing and writing and answering their questions. I draw digitally for them. I can only hope they learn and are inspired. I get a little nervous every time before I go onstage but once I’m on, its all good. Bottom line, it’s fun to do it.

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

Managing social media. Like so many of us, I like to genuinely engage with people. While I do my best with it, social media is designed for snippets of interaction I’ve yet to master. It all just leaves me feeling...cold. Surely I’m not alone in this! Sigh. If only there was some kind of online forum where I could reach out to people and discuss it. ;)



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

Change perspective. This usually involves travel near or far—or a trip to a museum. Take in as much new stuff/points of view as possible: books, movies, music, food, people, culture. A good night’s sleep helps too. 

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I stay organized. It allows me to have as much time as possible to be creative and not waste time looking for stuff. Also: I answer emails in the morning after I drop my boys off at school. I do this so that my correspondence has a first-thing verve—and so it’s out of the way and the rest of my day is for my creative stuff!

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

Our industry’s so supportive and positive. I’ll never forget how established authors and illustrators reached out to me when my first books were published with words of encouragement. I felt welcome. Also, I enjoy attending conferences and meeting my fellow authors and illustrators—of all experience levels. They are, more or less, my co-workers. As a digital illustrator, I find its pretty cool to dive deep and talk about our drawing tools with someone who knows them as well I do; someone who speaks your language. 



What is your favorite picture book?

THE DOT by Peter Reynolds. It speaks to me every single day as a creative person. His philosophy in that book—make a mark and work it. See where it goes. That’s it. It’s a powerful notion. LINUS owes a debt to THE DOT. I think also it has something to do with how Peter’s been a force in my creative life; he and I have been friends for 15+ years.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The journey I’ve been on—and continue on— with RESCUE & JESSICA has been a particular highlight. There’s been an overwhelming outpouring of love and good things from that book. But none of that would have come to pass if I hadn’t made the leap to full-time. I would not have had the time, its production timetable was too demanding. So to answer your question I’d say being able to write and illustrate full-time.

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

Feed your imagination more. Write more. Sketch more. Worry less. Don’t let the bastards get you down. 

Tell us about your newest book?

Linus the Little Yellow Pencil is about being creative and being kinder to our creative sides. The story is about a pencil who loves drawing. So when the art supply family art contest opens, he wants to win the Pencil Cup. He starts drawing his favorite things but no sooner does he finish his work than Ernie his eraser erases all of Linus’ drawings. “They’re not good enough,” Ernie says. Frustrated by this literal back and forth, Linus loses his faith in his abilities and it’s only after he meets the wise Smudge (a pencil shaving mystic who lives inside a cave [pencil sharpener]) does LInus realize how he and Ernie can work together. The story is literally drawn from my own feelings of frustration with drawing over the years. I hope it connects with artists young and old. 

What’s up next for you?

 I’d like to branch out to other shelves. Middle grade, chapter books—I’d like to work on a graphic novel. I’ve got the beginnings of one now. 

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

As a marathoner I’ve learned to 1. pace myself and 2. run the mile I’m in. I’ve tried to apply those lessons to my professional life. I’ve learned that being in business for the long run is not a sprint. That to succeed we must persist, fail, sacrifice, be disappointed over and over (and over) again. We must be dedicated to hard work and good habits. Be enthusiastic and good to work with. It turns out all of these things require lots of energy and focus. So—I’ve found the trick is to find a sustainable pace and reasonable level of expectation for my books. Find that pace for yourself over time and you’ll reach that finish line, whatever it may be.

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

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Favorite lines: “Never had one lesson!” “Ninnne Times.” “You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.”

Huge thank you to Scott Magoon for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for LINUS! Congrats!

SCOTT MAGOON is a former art director turned full-time author/illustrator of several acclaimed picture books including the New York Times best-selling Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. It recently won ALA’s Schneider Family Book Award that honors books the expresses the disability experience for young readers. He also illustrated the Misunderstood Shark books by Ame Dyckman, the Nuts series with author Eric Litwin, Spoon and Chopsticks, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I Have a Balloon By Ariel Bernstein. He's also the author and illustrator of Breathe, The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot and the forthcoming Linus The Little Yellow Pencil.

He lives with this family in Massachusetts.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Scott, visit his website or follow him on social media:

Twitter: @smagoon

Instagram: @skortch

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


Want a chance to win a copy of LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 30th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Mikela Provost!

Interview with Debut Author and Illustrator and Husband and Wife Team Megan and Jorge Lacera

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Debut Interviews, Illustrators, InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, we have an interview with debut author and illustrator Megan and Jorge Lacera! A husband and wife team, their debut picture book, ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES!, released this week in both English and Spanish! I’m thrilled to share their work with you today!

So without further ado…please welcome Megan and Jorge Lacera!

Where do you live?

Our home is Cypress, Texas, y’all—a suburb of Houston. 

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

Collaborating has always been our jam. We met while we were both working in the kids’ entertainment studio at American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we both love everything about stories—reading them, watching them, critiquing them, arguing over them! Creating stories together is magical.

Once we got married, we started thinking more about picture books. We loved that we could create something from beginning to end and execute the full vision that we collectively dreamed up. Super appealing.

After Jorge attended a week-long illustration seminar with faculty that included amazing creators like Adam Rex, James Gurney, and Rebecca Leveille Guay, we were both inspired and excited so we started to really go for it. Our first attempts didn’t exactly come together (re: they were a mess), but we kept evolving. When a little zombie kid character named Mo shambled his way into Megan’s brain, we knew we were onto something that we couldn’t let go.   

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

We put a ton of time and energy into learning and sharpening our craft. Years. We attended local and national SCBWI conferences. Read countless books, studied their structures and forms. Founded a critique group that was very focused on achieving publication-level work. Completed a seminar with Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy. Made dummies, critiqued the heck out of them, threw them out, started over.

After all that we felt confident in querying agents. We’re now represented by John Cusick at Folio Jr. (he’s awesome!). ZOMBIES wasn’t on submission all that long before the offer from Lee and Low came in. We absolutely love Lee and Low and have so much respect for their integrity and dedication to multicultural stories and creators. Editor Jessica Echeverria’s offer letter was unbelievable….she got EVERYTHING we were going for with ZOMBIES and more. Perhaps cliché, but collaborating with Jessica and Lee and Low feels meant to be.

From signing the deal to the book’s release, two years have passed. Much of that time has been on revising, revising, revising. Some days were challenging, but holding the final book in our hands is totally worth it!

Can you tell us about how you work together as a husband and wife team? 

Usually when we tell people that we work together they look totally mystified. “On purpose?!?” they ask.

Yep. We really do love working together. 

We work at home. After we get our son off to school, we talk over coffee and breakfast. Usually that includes some debate over the latest news stories or a movie we watched the night before. But there’s also a review of our goals for the day, ways to divide up the work, reminders of our big vision and where we’re headed. In addition to our books, we also consult and freelance for companies together—so there are those projects that require collaboration and sometimes quite a bit of negotiation on how it will all get done on time.

The day from there depends on where we are in the process. At the concept stage of a book, we’re together a lot….sketching out ideas, outlining a plot, building art reference, watching movie clips. Once we’re on the same page, we both go off separately; Megan to write the manuscript, Jorge to draw. Then we come back together to review and critique everything we’ve both done. 

People often want to know if we argue. Of course we do! Part of we’ve learned while collaborating at companies is how important healthy disagreement and creative conflict are to the process. Ideas and stories get better when you can push each other to go even further. Respectfully, while keeping your focus on the work. We welcome the “conflict” now because we know it means there’s room to grow…our standards are pretty high and holding each other accountable to those standards is key to our process.

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

Consistent exercise is really important to both of us. Jorge does Cross-fit and Megan does hot yoga. Sweat seems to clear space for creative work. We take walks most days and talk about where we’re at with a project or hammer out details of what’s working and what isn’t. 

It isn’t always easy to remember (okay, you might have to drag us kicking and screaming) but taking days off from working to go see a movie, eat Torchy’s Chips and Queso (it’s amazing and totally dangerous), or just do a whole lot of nothing can open up room for ideas and fresh energy. 

Getting new ideas isn’t really an issue; it’s zeroing in on the ones that speak to us most urgently, knocking them around enough to slough off the dust and craggly parts, and then carefully cultivating them into the special somethings that they become.

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

Jorge: I work digitally primarily. I recently made the switch to a Dell Canvas and I’m not sure how I survived before. It’s upped my game and I love it. 

Also, Cuban crackers. Nom, nom.

Megan: My Macbook Air. So not unique, but I love me some coffee while clicking and clacking away. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Gosh, there are tons. To name just a few…

Adam Rex

Paulo Coelho

Yuyi Morales

Kate DiCamillo

Judy Blume

Peter Brown

Mac Barnett

William Joyce

Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi

Alice and Martin Provensen

Jon Klassen

Dream project to work on?

This is our dream. We loved creating ZOMBIES, we love our current projects, and we really can’t wait to get started on all the stories we have popcorning around in our heads. We’ve been planning for this time in our lives, working day and night to make it happen. So eternally grateful!

Tell us about your debut book.

Mo Romero is a zombie who loves nothing more than growing, cooking, and eating vegetables. Tomatoes? Tantalizing. Peppers? Pure perfection! The problem? Mo's parents insist that their niño eat only zombie cuisine, like arm-panadas and finger foods. They tell Mo over and over that zombies don't eat veggies. But Mo can't imagine a lifetime of just eating zombie food and giving up his veggies. As he questions his own zombie identity, Mo tries his best to convince his parents to give peas a chance.

The Spanish edition ¡Los Zombis No Comen Verduras! is also available and features details exclusive to that edition. Our story has a lot of puns and zombie jokes that wouldn’t work with a straight translation. Yanitzia Canetti adapted ZOMBIES and did a wonderful job!

We hope you’ll love our quirky story about family, self-discovery, and the power of acceptance!

 What’s up next for you?

We signed a two-book deal with Lee and Low Books (their first for picture books!) so we are already working on book #2 (monsters may or may not be involved). We also have several other projects in the works, including more picture books and illustrated middle grade series.

We’ve also created several animated series for kids. One is currently in development…stay tuned for more news on this in the coming months!

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

Megan: A hard choice of epic proportions, but I have to go with The Neverending Story. What I wouldn’t do for a luck dragon like Falcor!

Jorge: Impossible to pick just one. Okay, fine! Monster Squad.

Huge thank you to Megan and Jorge for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your wonderful new book, we can’t wait to see all your upcoming projects!

JORGE LACERA was born in Colombia, and grew up in Miami, Florida, drawing in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him. After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist for companies like American Greetings and Irrational Games. As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and zombie movies, Jorge rarely saw Latino kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that, especially now that he has a son. 

MEGAN LACERA grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands. She became a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies like American Greetings, GoldieBlox, and Hasbro, and later formed her own creative company (Studio Lacera) with husband Jorge Lacera. After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that very few books reflected a family like theirs--multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Megan and Jorge and their work, visit them online here or follow them on social media:

Twitter: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

Instagram: @Jlacera

Facebook: @MeganAndJorgeLacera

LinkedIn: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

TO ORDER Megan and Jorge’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.


Want a chance to win a copy of ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 11th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Cathy Ballou Mealey!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Corinna Luyken

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

Happy Thursday Critters! Today CORINNA LUYKEN is here! I’m such a huge fan of Corinna’s work, as I know all of you will be too. Her first book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, was my favorite book of 2017. Corinna’s books are incredibly beautiful and insightful, and I can’t wait for all of you to see MY HEART, her newest picture book that will be released on January 8th. It is simply exquisite.

So without further ado, please welcome Corinna Luyken!

Author photo_Corinna Luyken.jpg

Where do you live?

In Olympia, WA, at the base of the Puget Sound.

How many years have you been in publishing?

My first book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, came out in 2017.

How many books have you published?

MY HEART is my third book as illustrator, second as author/illustrator.

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

I do!  It’s been an eighteen year dream of making picture books, and I feel incredibly grateful to be doing this full time.

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

What inspires you to create picture books?

I’m in love with the form of the picture book, the way that words and images can work together to make something bigger than either one alone. Although I love to draw, and I love to write, it’s the magic that happens when they come together that thrills me.

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

After having a debut book that was well received, it really surprised me (in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised) how difficult the second book became. Because suddenly I started to worry about what other people would think, and if the second book would measure up to the first one. I stressed myself out about all of this a lot more than I thought I would. Doubt and self judgement can be useful tools as an illustrator, but they can also paralyze you if you don’t keep them in perspective. I re-started a morning meditation practice in the midst of my second book, which helped a lot. Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are tiny specks on a spinning planet in a vast universe. Which helps me to create from a place of love, instead of fear.

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

Finding out that a book I’ve made has touched someone else’s heart.

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

Balancing my devotion to my work and the amount of time it takes to make beautiful books with being a mom can be very difficult. But being a mom has also opened up my heart in a very big way. It’s a balancing act, but worth it.

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

Going for walks is great. Being near the ocean or any water also helps me to quiet my mind, which makes me more receptive to new ideas. Slowing down, in general, is a good thing. When I’m rushing around too much, it’s hard for me to make room for anything new. 

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I try to start every day with quiet meditation time. Whether things are going really well, or I’m struggling with something… either way it helps to keep it all in perspective. A hot cup of tea or coffee is also necessary!

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

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

I’ve found this community to be full of many kind, generous people. Some of the most meaningful experiences have been small kindnesses early on in my career from people who were further along in the journey. Marla Frazee showed some interest in a dummy that I brought along to my first national SCBWI conference, and even went on to share it with an editor. The editor didn’t end up acquiring the story, but the fact that both of them saw potential in the project meant so much at the time. And then, a few years later (after many revisions) that dummy went on to win the SCBWI Don Freeman Work In Progress grant. And now, almost five years (and many more revisions) later, it is going to be my next book, MY HEART.

What is your favorite picture book?

I have SO many favorites!  I can’t choose just one…  but THE VERY PERSISTENT GAPPERS OF FRIP by Lane Smith and George Saunders is the book that made me want to make books.  

I also adore WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad, EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, EMILY’S BALLOON by Komako Sakai, WAVE by Suzy Lee, MIGRANT by Isabelle Arsenault and Maxine Trottier, SCHOOL’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, DU IZ TAK by Carson Ellis, ALL THE WORLD by Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon, NOTHING by Jon Agee, THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS by Hadley Hooper and Patricia MacLachlan …. and many many more.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been so many highlights! Watching my daughter hug our first copy of THE BOOK OF MISTAKES tightly to her chest (the book was inspired by and is dedicated to her), getting my first packet of thank you art from a classroom full of kids in the mail, receiving a note that I had won the Leo Award for my first book (Leo is a young boy who has created his own award for his favorite book of the year!), and also hearing from Lane Smith, who illustrated the book that made me want to make books (see above) that he loved THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.

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

Persistence is more important than talent. Persistence, and truly loving the work.

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

Tell us about your newest book?

MY HEART is coming out January 8th. It's a celebration of the heart (in all its varied emotions), as well as an ode to love, and to keeping your heart open. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m just finishing up illustrations for WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS, which is a middle grade written by Carolyn Crimi and coming out from Candlewick in fall 2019.  

I’ve got a few other exciting things lined up, but I can’t talk about most of them yet! But I will be making another book as author/illustrator with Dial that has a lot of arguing in it. And the next picture book I’m working on is called NOTHING IN COMMON by Kate Hoefler. It is about an old man, a hot-air-balloon-flying dog, and two kids who appear to have nothing in common, but perhaps do where it counts most.  

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

I think it’s really important to read as widely as possible. To fall in love with an enormous variety of work. Not just the work that is similar to what you want to make. The more books you love, the wider the pool of words and images that will filter through you and into your work. If you only love a few artists or writers, often, without even meaning to, the work you make will end up being overly influenced by them. And the world doesn’t need another Carson Ellis or Isabelle Arsenault or Jon Klassen. The world needs YOU and your voice. For me, the best way to create a unique style is to open your heart very wide and study the vast web of work that came before you. The more that you can find to love, the more varied your influences will be and the more you will, without even trying, develop a unique voice and style.

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


Huge thank you to Corinna Luyken for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited to see all of your upcoming books!

Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast, and after studying at Middlebury College, she settled in Washington State, where she draws inspiration from nature, her family, and the human form.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Corinna and her work visit her website: or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @CorinnaLuyken.

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


Want a chance to win a copy of MY HEART?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 20th! US addresses only please.

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

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!


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

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


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 Picture Book Author + Illustrator Betsy Snyder

Interviews, Vet Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward2 Comments
Photo Credit: Donna Von Bruening

Photo Credit: Donna Von Bruening

I'm very excited for today's interview because it's with the lovely and incredibly talented Betsy Snyder, who also happens to be one of my critique partners and a very good friend. I actually knew Betsy's books before I knew her. As a bookseller, I fell in love with HAIKU BABY, Betsy's debut book, the first time I saw it. The art is charming, bright, and fresh. Anyone who walked in to the bookstore looking for a baby gift walked out with a copy of HAIKU BABY. 

Skip ahead a few years later. I had just moved from Boston to Cleveland with my future husband and started making connections with other writers and illustrators in the area. And who did I meet? Betsy Snyder. Sometimes it's really amazing how small the world can be. We had lunch and I clicked with her instantly. Eventually Betsy and I, along with three other lovely and talented women, created a critique group together, which we've been doing for almost seven years now.

Spread from HAIKU BABY by Betsy Snyder

Spread from HAIKU BABY by Betsy Snyder

I have learned so much from Betsy, watching her come up with creative new ways for kids to interact with books, and I'm thrilled to share her work with you today!

So without further ado, please welcome Betsy Snyder! 

Where do you live?

Independence, OH

How many years have you been in publishing?

12 (What? Twelve?!)

How many books have you published?


Do you write and illustrate full-time?

Yes (mostly). My life is a mix of mothering my books and my small children and that balance changes as it needs to. But I write/illustrate as full-time as I can.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I love the way kids learn and explore the world and I seek to make books that support that process and inspire a similar sense of wonder. I was lucky to have a childhood filled with good books and I can remember poring over the pages, studying the details of the pictures and getting lost in the magical worlds books create.

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

I didn’t anticipate that along with becoming published would come requests for author programs and needing to get comfortable with public speaking. Being in the spotlight can feel intimidating for somewhat introverted creative-types like me that are most cozy in their quiet studios—YIKES! But now, I can genuinely say I LOVE getting out and sharing what I do with schools, libraries, museums and the author/illustrator community. More experience, consulting with educators to hone my programs, and seeing those eager little (and big) faces in the audience have really helped grow my confidence and minimize the jitters.

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

Every project is a new adventure! I like the feeling of immersing myself in whatever I’m working on—I learn a little (or a lot) more with each new book I make. It’s so rewarding to be able to help a vision evolve from start to finish and then to finally see a book in print and be able to share it with others.

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

Starting a new book is exciting, but with that, there is also a murky place where I have way TOO many ideas and no direction or anchor. That’s when I feel lost and stuck and unsure—and sometimes it’s hard to see a way out of that. Each book is a new challenge, so I don’t think this process gets easier—but I am getting better at trusting that my good ideas will eventually take shape and get there with practice and persistence. As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming!”

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

I find inspiration in my kids, browsing at the library or a bookstore, creative chats (like with my critique group), nature walks, and travel.

I especially look at what’s out there and what’s not—my best ideas are often born around opportunities.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Making lists (and losing them—ha!). But seriously, I love making lists and when I broke the index finger of my writing hand earlier this year, I almost went crazy. I have actually found that for me, this brainstorm process is less about holding on to the ideas, and ironically, more about letting them go to clear up more creative space in my head. 

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

Having work from Tons of Trucks (written by Sue Fliess) accepted into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show and attending the opening in NYC was definitely a kid lit highlight for me. Mingling with that much talent and passion in one space was pretty dreamy.

What is your favorite picture book?

Do you really think I can pick just one? 

As a kid: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and The Funny Thing by Wanda Gag

Now: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee, and When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad


What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

It’s still hard to beat my first-ever submission becoming a 3-book (and later 5-book) contract with Random House. I’ll never forget my agent’s email with the subject line “Get out the champagne!!!” I’m so grateful my editor Heidi Kilgras saw something in me and helped me get my start with writing my own books.

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

It’s supposed to feel hard—but that struggle doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. 

Tell us about your newest book?

I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018) are the two newest books in the interactive series published by Chronicle Books. In terms of a theme, I Can Dream is centered around aspirational occupations, like a firefighter, astronaut, marine biologist, artist and more. I Can Explore is about being on-the-go—traveling by land, water, air and even snow.

The entire series shares the same format solution, text direction, and empowering message celebrating both independence and teamwork. Touch-and-feel covers and interactive holes on every page invite the reader to animate the characters by wiggling their fingers. Every book ends with a surprise gatefold finish, bringing all the characters together for an inclusive grand finale. 

I had so much fun developing this format and rolling it out over four books (and I still have more ideas!). Working with my Chronicle team was a dream (special shout-out to Ariel Richardson, Tara Creehan and Amelia Mack)—our visions were on the same page from the beginning, so our partnership felt easy and effortless.

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on a picture book with Susanna Leonard Hill. And thinking up new book ideas!

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

There is no one secret path (and certainly no shortcut) to getting published. It’s a journey and experience unique to each person, because we each come from different places and bring along our own influences and talents.

Networking with other authors and illustrators (via SCBWI, critique groups, workshops, etc.) is a great way to learn from the paths of others—and begin to forge your own. Plus, it can be a long road, so wouldn’t you rather have some travel buddies on your journey?

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

The Princess Bride and Dirty Dancing

Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Betsy!

Author and illustrator Betsy Snyder has twenty years of experience creating for the children's market. Her smile-inspiring art can be found on everything from social expressions products, board games, plush, decor, fabric, wallpaper, and of course—children’s books! Since making her publishing debut in 2007, Betsy has teamed with a diverse mix of publishers, earning recognition from groups including the Society of Illustrators, The New York Times, Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine, Indie Next List, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and Please Touch Museum. Her newest titles, I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018), join the earlier I Can Dance and I Can Play in an innovative board book series with Chronicle Books.

Betsy lives in Independence, Ohio, where she enjoys cozying up to doodle with her art-loving family of four and venturing out to schools and libraries to encourage kids (and even grown-ups) to share their stories and chase their dreams.

For more information about Betsy and her books, visit her online at Follow her on Twitter @betsysnyderart or on Facebook:

TO PURCHASE A COPY of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE visit your local bookstore, or click here.


Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE by Betsy Snyder?! Comment on this post below or share it on Twitter. Two lucky winners will be announced Thursday, August 30th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next Thursday for an interview with picture book author Josh Funk!

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!

Create What You Love. And Do It Everyday.

publishing, Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment

Create what you love. And do it every day.

At 31 this is what I would have told my 24-year-old self when I started in publishing.

It sounds relatively simple right? Wrong. Or at least, that’s how it was for me. Specifically the do it everyday part. I didn’t keep a sketch book. I didn’t write everyday. I didn’t think about new ideas all the time. I’d come up with a book idea. Write it. Make a dummy. And pitch it. If it sold, I’d make said book. Exert a serious amount of energy and then feel like I needed a three month vacation. And then repeat the whole thing all over again for the next book. Which isn’t exactly wrong. The problem was that I was treating my book career like a hobby. A career is not something you do occasionally. It’s something you invest your time in everyday. And I love my job. So why wasn’t I investing my time?

For me it was easy to step back and say I deserved a break after completing a book. It takes a lot of work! But I found when I looked at it like this, it started to feel like a burden. And writing and illustrating is not a burden, it’s a privilege. Truly. So I realized it was time for a radical change. Which is funny because 2016 was insanely full of them for me and my family, so why not add one more?

This past August we sold our house, bought a new one (but not without being transient for three months at my parents and in-laws with a baby and dog in tow). Renovated the new house because it was a total disaster. Moved in two days before Christmas and basically reinvented our whole work schedule. It was a massive overhaul. And it changed everything in the most difficult and best way possible.


It’s 6:19am right now and I’ve already been up for an hour and half. 

This is what I do everyday now. Including Saturdays and Sundays. Which today is Saturday. I wake up at 5am and work for a solid four hours before most people start their work day. And I do it seven days a week. I know what you’re thinking…I can’t do that. I can’t wake up that early. I’m too busy. (I know this because those are all the things I said when my brilliant husband suggested this to me.) He told me that in an average work day, people are only truly productive for four hours, which is crazy considering most people work a job from 9-5 everyday. So why couldn’t that work for me? It would certainly allow me to be a mom and take care of my home and family in a much more efficient way than I was already, let’s be honest, struggling to do.

It’s all about commitment to craft. Do you love to create? Great. Do you love creating so much that you would get up and do it at 5am? Because that’s what it takes. Everyday. Even if you have another job. I’m not saying you have wake up at 5am like I do, but you do have to be committed to making time for your craft each and everyday. I picked 5am because I like feeling like I’ve already worked a solid block of time before the day has really started, that and I have a 18-month-old son. This is the schedule that works for me and my family. You have to find what works for you.

Because here’s the thing - if you keep waiting for extra time to come along for you to create your next idea, it won’t. Time doesn’t give a crap about you or the millions of things you have to get done everyday. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of mornings I get up and everything I write is terrible and my drawings are awful. But I still keep going. I push to get through those four hours even if it’s killing me.

Here’s what a typical morning looks like:

5am: Roll out of bed, which is difficult every morning. I don’t think that will ever change. Especially when my dog (a mid-sized portable heater) snuggles next to me. She is not supportive of my early morning drive.

5:05am: COFFEE.

5:10am: Some sort of stretch or repetition of ten to get blood flowing. My hands are stiff in the morning. And my brain is fuzzy. This helps. Seriously. I know it sounds silly, but it works.

5:10-6am: Draw. Anything. As much as I can. Whatever pops into my head. I use Japanese PiGMA pens and whiteout for corrections. I started using this method for a few reasons. I generally stay away from black ink in my work, it always feels too harsh or heavy. I tend to prefer grey or navy ink or a simple pencil line. But my goal is to make intentional lines, no second-guessing myself, and pencil encourages hesitation. The more I used the black ink, the more confident I became in the lines I was making. Going directly to ink, rather than creating a pencil sketch first, pushes me to be decisive with my line. Now, of course, I still make plenty of bad lines and change my mind about the drawing as it comes together - thus the whiteout. But I find that my morning sketches have a way of maintaining the integrity of the line I intended because I haven’t sketched, used a light table to transfer, and then created the finish. The first drawing is the finished drawing.

6am: Then I post one of my morning sketches. This is a relatively new thing. I’m horrible at social media. But I found that posting a drawing everyday makes me feel accountable to something. Like if I miss a day, everyone will know. Which isn’t really the point, the drawing is for me, but thinking this way is encouraging. Keep drawing. Keep creating.

6am-7am: Write. I allocate a solid hour to NEW creative writing every morning. Not editing. Not a book I’m currently under contract for. But new ideas. This part is really difficult for me. I tend to self edit a lot as I write. I work on just getting words on the page in this hour. The computer I write with doesn’t have access to internet intentionally. The internet is a time succubus that doesn’t care about the creative work you need to do, so ignore it.

7am-9am: This is when I do the work I’m contractually accountable for, like new books or illustration jobs. Currently, I’m working on finishes for my new book, DON'T FORGET DEXTER.

9am: I walk out of my bat cave and see my little man. This is my favorite part. Because this is the part where I actually feel like I’m devoting time to my craft and my family. I don’t feel torn between carving out time during the day to work or play with my son. This schedule allows me to do both and feel good about my use of time.

The rest of the day is spent working during the time my son is napping. Before I did the 5am wake-up, I’d get really stressed out because I could only work during his naps. Sometimes he would wake up early, sometimes he wouldn’t sleep at all. I couldn’t focus. And it felt like I wasn’t able to get anything done because of constant interruptions. But now, by the time he’s up, I’ve already worked four hours, so anything else I’m able to accomplish is a bonus.

Then at some point, I take a walk with my family, to reboot and think about new ideas.

Now obviously, everyone’s schedule is different. People have day jobs, kids, and a million other responsibilities. And I’m not suggesting to all of you that this is what you have to do to be successful with your craft. All I can tell you is that this is how I feel successful on my own terms, without external pressures telling me otherwise.

*Also, in case you’re wondering, my husband is self-employed and works from home too. Which means I have to make those four hours count. I have to hustle. We both do. There is no day job income to fall back on for us. This is the price we pay for the freedom to create and spend time with our son everyday.

If you get anything at all out of this post, I hope it’s this: don’t waste time waiting around for the perfect moment to create because it will never come.

You have to make time for what you love.

Happy writing!