Critter Lit

Write. Draw. Read. Repeat.

picture book

Interview with Debut Author Özgen Halil

Authors, debut interview, publishingLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have debut author Özgen Halil, who recently self-published her first book, HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN. I’m thrilled to have Özgen with us today to offer some insight into the self-publish side of publishing and what that process looks like. So without further ado…please welcome Özgen Halil!

Ozgen Website Photo.jpg

Where do you live?

I now live in a village called Weavering in Maidstone which is in Kent (The Garden Of England) in the UK. We moved here just over a year ago but mostly I have lived in South East London/UK and spent a couple of years in Sydney Australia when I was a child.

Özgen with her brother— circa 1970s

Özgen with her brother— circa 1970s

When did you know you wanted to write picture books? 

I always loved writing a story, whether it was at school or just at home - I love being creative. My first memory of that was when I around 6 years old and I remember writing a really funny story about my brother with illustrations just to make him laugh. As children, we were really close and still are as adults. It’s always been on my mind to do this but it wasn’t until last year that I had the opportunity to finally put things into action and I wrote Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again.  

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Can you tell us more about your decision to self-publish and what that process has looked like for you?

Honestly, I don’t think that I actually sat down and thought about which route I should go in. It just felt natural for me to do it myself. As a person, I have always been very independent from a young age and my attitude in life has always been “If you want something - YOU have to go out there and get it!” I am a real grafter and always work hard and do my best. Besides, I don’t think I would know where to start to get a publisher.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My instinct was to go on a self-publishing course to see what the process would be. Apart from writing the story, I had to find the right illustrator for the book (my own illustration abilities are work-in-progress) so that took a little bit of time searching and speaking to various illustrators. Once I instructed my illustrator (Sarah-Leigh Wills - who did such an amazing job with the illustrations), I then searched and found printers and got together a launch team in readiness of the release and in between, I got my website together and social media accounts set up. Each step of the way has been very important and at times quite hard and now that the book is ready, I have my marketing hat on, to the next level of promoting the book, getting the story out there and scheduling school and library visits. It's full on.

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

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

If I have an “off-day” I just leave it alone and come back to it later. I get away from my desk and do something different or I just go out for a walk. If it’s not happening that day, I won’t force it. As for new ideas, I don’t have any special strategies in place - I guess it also depends on what sort of mood I am in - some days I am more productive than others. I can say that the story comes first, that’s my starting point, and then I map out the characters. Usually I have an idea of how I want the characters to look like. For example, I wanted Dotty Donkey to have goofy teeth and Henrietta Hen to have a handbag and a necklace. I think of ideas all the time.

Anything you can't live without while you write?

My desktop computer. I spent years typing documents in my previous jobs and at speeds of at least 80 words per minute so it’s just easier and quicker for me to type. I prefer a desktop computer to a laptop or anything else. 

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Illustration from HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN written by Özgen Halil, Illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Awww there’s lots, but one that really stood out for me is Oliver Jeffers. I used to read his books to my younger son and I loved them just as much as he did. His style is simple but really effective and the stories are so cute. I really admire him -  he’s very talented.

Dream project to work on?

I’m a newbie so my first children’s picture book - Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again, has been a dream project to work on. However, it would also be a dream to work on projects that enables me to give to the community, especially vulnerable children and to make their lives better in any way - I would love that.

 Tell us about your debut book.

Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again is about a Hen and her best friend Dotty Donkey, together they go berry picking in the woods only to find themselves in some danger. There is a happy ending - because we just love happy endings. The book promotes friendships, kindness and sharing and is suitable for the ages between 4-8 years old. I have based Henrietta Hen’s character on my mother’s personality. She is my mother all over!

What's up next for you?

I have already written Chi Chi And The Birthday Surprise and hope to write further children’s picture books in the coming year. I will release information about that book in early 2020. Also in the pipeline is The Evil Eye Quartet starting off with “White Wings” and these books will be suitable for young adults.

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

Hmmm.…it’s between E.T. and Top Gun (only because I used to fancy Tom Cruise)…ok its E.T.— I loved that film so much and I had the lunchbox, keyring and the toy - what an amazing film!


Huge thank you to Özgen for stopping by Critter Lit today! Thank you for sharing your work with us and best of luck on all your future projects!


ÖZGEN HALIL’S love for children’s picture books started from as young as 4 years old. Her mother read stories to her and her brother and she would tell them funny stories about where she came from (which was a small village in Cyprus) to keep them entertained. Later on at primary school, Özgen often visited the local library to borrow books such as The Cat In The Hat by Dr Suess, The Adventures Of Tin Tin by Hergé and the Asterix series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo which she loved reading. As an adult, she spent over 25 years in the corporate world as a Legal PA/EA, and finally plucked up the courage to publish her first children’s picture book called Henrietta Hen In Trouble Again as a self-publishing author. She loves animals but hates spiders (after one crawled up her leg when she was 3 years old). Her goal as an author is to be able to bring happiness into children's lives and contribute in making their lives better.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Özgen Halil visit her online or follow her on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ozgenhalilbooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ozgenbhalil/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dearozgen

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/ozgen5382/

TO DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY of Özgen’s book, click here. To purchase a paperback copy of Özgen’s book, click here. A portion of each sale goes to the children's charity Demelza.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a paperback copy of HENRIETTA HEN IN TROUBLE AGAIN?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 10th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Ashley Franklin

Authors, book release, debut interview, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to feature debut author Ashley Franklin! Her new picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, illustrated by Ebony Glenn, released this past July with HarperCollins. I love the story, message, and charming illustrations in this book, which I think Kirkus Reviews sums up perfectly:

A feel-good picture book and a great reminder that classic princess roles can be reimagined to embrace inclusion, diversity, and body positivity.”

So without further ado…please welcome Ashley Franklin!

IMG_5065.jpg

Where do you live?

I currently live in northwest Arkansas. 

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

I didn’t know I wanted to seriously write children’s books until I had kids of my own. I wanted to write books that had characters that looked like them and their family members. I also wanted to write books that I felt I needed as a kid.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I’m a work from home mom, so my process is probably a bit unorthodox for most. For example, I don’t write every day. I spend a lot of time thinking things over in my head and taking notes on my phone.

I’m still trying to get the hang of waking up early to write, but I do find that I am most productive once the kids are in bed and I’ve chugged some coffee.

I’m a quick writer and a slow reviser when it comes to picture books because those early drafts are really me compiling those mental and phone notes and seeing what comes of them.

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

Honestly, I do two things: watch cartoons and consult with my kids. I watch cartoons to check out popular themes and see how they’re tackled and why they worked. My kids are in elementary school, so their perception of things is still pretty spectacular.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A good pen! I prefer to draft using pen and paper, but I cannot stand a pen that doesn’t write smoothly!

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Tara Lazar—I admire people who can be funny on purpose. That’s not my gift at all!

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow—I love her way with imagery. She’s very detail oriented and can really paint a picture. Reading her work challenges me to slow down and really be more deliberate with imagery in my own work.

Vashti Harrison—Everything she does is ridiculously gorgeous. She’s just amazing. That’s not much more you can say.

Dream project to work on?

That’s a tough call. I don’t really have an answer for that because right now I feel like any project I’m working on passionately is a dream project.

Tell us about your debut book.

NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE features a talented young girl named Tameika who is great at singing, dancing, and acting. Tameika auditions for the lead role of Princess Snow White in her school’s musical because it’s one of the few roles she hasn’t played and Snow White is her favorite princess. Unfortunately, Tameika’s confidence is shaken when her peers question if she is right for the part because of her appearance. Tameika has to decide if she will let what others say keep her from pursuing her dream role.

What’s up next for you?

I’m continuing to write picture books, but I’m expanding into middle grade. The middle grade bug bit me thanks to a middle grade short story I wrote as a contributor to an upcoming middle grade anthology. It’s called Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices and is scheduled to be released May 5, 2020.

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

Umm...I was born in the 80s, so I’d have to go with a movie I remember most vividly, and that’s Oliver & Company.


Huge thank you to Ashley for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut book— we can’t wait to see what comes next for you!


ASHLEY FRANKLIN is a writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. Ashley received her M.A. from the University of Delaware in English Literature, where she reaffirmed her love of writing but realized she had NO IDEA what she wanted to do about it. Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family. Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, was released July 9, 2019 by Harper Collins.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Ashley visit her online: www.ashleyfranklinwrites.com or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @differentashley

Instagram: @ashleyfranklinwrites

Facebook: Ashley Franklin

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 29th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Illustrator Noël Ill

debut interview, Holiday Books, Illustrators, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by Noël ILL, an incredibly talented illustrator, whose new board book by Carole Gerber comes out this month with Familius. I love the art in this book— it’s charming, fun, and the perfect new book to share with your little ones this Halloween!

So without further ado…please welcome Noël ILL!

Artist_Portrait_Noel ILL.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in the Inland Empire. It’s in Southern, California, Southwest of San Bernardino County. There are beautiful mountains and sweet smelling orange trees everywhere.

Noël Ill dressed up as a kitten for Halloween when she was little.

Noël Ill dressed up as a kitten for Halloween when she was little.

When did you know you wanted to illustrate picture books?

As a kid, I was always drawing and my favorite assignments in elementary school were when the teacher would ask the class to write a short story and draw a picture to go with it. I knew then that I enjoyed illustrating stories. It wasn’t until I was in community college, before I went to art college, that I took a children’s literature class and realized I would love to illustrate children’s books. It was my main goal when I headed into ArtCenter.

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

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

It involved a lot of daydreaming and a little bit of confidence. After I graduated from ArtCenter, I was hoping to somehow get into illustrating children’s books, but I had no idea how. So, that’s where the daydreaming part came in. I was just dreaming of doing it with no actual tangible plan. Then I came across a job posting from ArtCenter’s job board where a local educational publishing company was looking for an illustrator to illustrate bilingual English and Spanish books with Hispanic themes. I immediately applied. I’m half Mexican and I felt very confident that with my illustration skills and my Hispanic cultural background combined, I would be a great fit for the job. I got the job and I still work with them today. The company is called Lectura Books and I’ve illustrated 11 books for them. I also post a lot of my original artwork online. That’s how the art director for If You’re Scary And You Know It! came across my work and got in contact with me. I’ve been illustrating professionally for over 10 years and even though I have illustrated many books for the educational market, this book is actually my first book in trade publishing.

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Can you share a bit about your process?

First I start with looking up reference. I look up online the subject matter I will be working with. Or, if I have the time and the assignment has to do with something like for example, a horse, I will actually go to a place where I can see a real horse and take pictures of it and just observe the horse’s personality. Then I start sketching ideas in my sketchbook with pencil. I sketch out character ideas and layout composition ideas. After that, I move over to the computer where I began creating the illustration digitally.

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

I do anything but art! I will even start to organize the clothes in my closet or organize boxes in my garage and then I start finding old stickers and trinkets I forgot I had which then starts my imagination going. It goes from, “Oh, I didn’t know I still had my sticker collection from the 1990s.” to “ I need to start drawing my own line of stickers!” It’s not too hard for me to get new ideas. So many things inspire me every day.

Anything you can’t live without while you draw?

Not really. The only thing I tend to always have or at least remember to have with me is a bottle of water to drink.

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Interior art from IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT! written by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Noël Ill

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Yes, all of the illustrators that worked with Hallmark in the 1980s. I loved their greeting cards, the paper goods, the sticker sheets, plush toys, everything. I also love a series of books about holiday traditions by Edna Barth and illustrated by Ursula Arndt. I re-read the books almost every year. Probably the most popular book of that series would be the Halloween one, Witches Pumpkin’s and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols. I love learning about the history of holidays and the line-art illustrations in them are great. I’m also hugely inspired by mid century illustrators. I’m drawn to the shapes and colors and creative use of space.

Dream project to work on?

I have so many! Besides wanting to team up with a manufacturer and become the next Lisa Frank, I would like to team up with one of the “big five” publishers and illustrate a book that helps children with dyslexia. I have dyslexia and I went through almost my whole academic life without knowing. I didn’t get diagnosed until I got to college. I always wished I could have started learning about it sooner. I think I would have been more confident in reading and writing back then had I known. It would be great to contribute to a project that helps kids with that.

Tell us about your debut book.

It’s called If You’re Scary And You Know It! written by the amazing, Carole Gerber. The book is Halloween themed with 10 full color spreads illustrating follow along movements and actions set to the tune of If You’re Happy And You Know It! Each page introduces the reader to a different child character in their Halloween costume, performing an action, whether it’s howling at the moon like a werewolf, shaking a limb like a scarecrow or bending your knee like a boney skeleton. It’s a great audience participation book and I know kids will have lots of fun following along.

What’s up next for you?

Currently, I am excited to get sketching more original ideas for the greeting cards and products I sell through my website.

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

I love this question! There were so many good movies in the 80s it’s hard to choose, but I am going to say The Chipmunk Adventure. You can’t go wrong traveling the world in a hot air balloon singing rockin’ songs.


Huge thank you to for Noël Ill for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your adorable board book out in the wild this month!


Noël ILL earned her BFA with honors in illustration from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Throughout her design and illustration career, she has had the opportunity to apply her artwork and tasteful design sense to the publishing and entertainment media fields. Her more notable commercial work includes production art for the quirky HBO animated series, The Life and Times of Tim, the “Be Mine” sticker pack for Facebook stickers, and “The Sweetest Little Ghost” her licensed illustration for Papyrus greeting cards.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Noël ILL visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @noelillart

Instagram: @noelill

Facebook

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 22nd! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author June Smalls

Authors, debut interviewLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s interview is with June Smalls, whose debut picture book ODD ANIMAL ABC’S, illustrated by Claire Sedovic, released in May. We are so thrilled to have her with us today!

So without further ado…please welcome June Smalls!

June+Smalls.jpg

Where do you live?

I live just outside of DC in the Shenandoah Valley.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

It’s funny, but when I first started thinking of writing for traditional publication, I thought of romance. But just because I liked to read it didn’t mean I was any good at writing it.

 When my child was little she loved books. I caught myself reading her picture books even after she’d fallen asleep. I loved the full and beautiful stories with short and pithy lines. I remembered the joy of discovering library books as a kid. Then I had one idea…it led to another… and then I couldn’t shake it. I had to write kid lit.

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

I’m an overnight success. It only took about 5 or 6 years to get there.

Like many writers, I had a lot to learn. My first picture books were way too long, I wasn’t leaving room for the illustrator, and I sent things out before they were ready (*The Horror!*)

Luckily, I love learning. I joined SCBWI. I joined critique groups. I attended conferences and classes. Bit by bit I improved and learned patience.

I’d gone from getting form rejections to personal rejections and finally I had two offers of rep from agents.

I signed with Rebecca Angus at Golden Wheat in 2018, sold two picture books with her and I did my first two work for hire books as well in the same year. I went from nothing for a few years to GOOD GRAVY! Four books with my name on them.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I’m weird and don’t have a single process. Some books come to me like a lightening bolt and I jot down a rough draft quickly. Some ideas need to marinate for a while. I toyed with one idea for months without writing more than the title idea.

When I write, I prefer to get comfy on my couch, noise canceling headphones go on (this also lets my family know it is writing time and not to bug me needlessly), and work on whichever project is speaking to me at the time.

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

I tend to have a number of projects going at once unless I’m on a deadline. For me this keeps things fresh and interesting. Sometimes I just take a few days off writing and daydream instead. I do not live by the ‘write everyday’ rule. But I tend to write or research most days.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Not really. I love my headphones since they get me in the zone. But I’ll write anywhere and everywhere by any means necessary. On receipts in a restaurant, on my phone in a waiting room, or at my computer with a soda and dogs at my feet. I just have to write!

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

All of them! Inspiration can be found in everything. I love the humor of Ame Dykman’s Wolfie the Bunny illustrated by Zachariah OHora.

I love the read-aloud-ability of The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley.

I love the heart and art of Swan by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad.

I LOVE The Dot by by Peter H. Reynolds.

Just try to read these without feeling inspired. There are many more, but this could be a blog series by itself.

Dream project to work on?

Well, I’m a huge Scooby Doo fan…

Seriously though, my personal dream projects are the ones that make kids want to pick up another book. Whether to continue laughing or to learn something new because I’ve sparked their curiosity. There is no one book that is my dream. This may sound corny, but it’s all I’ve got.

Tell us about your debut book.

Odd Animal ABC’s is illustrated by Claire Sedovic and her amazing watercolors.

Those classic animals have been overworked so the odd animals who have been overlooked take over the alphabet and send the classics packing.

It's time for Aye-Aye, Fossa, Numbat, Xenops and more curious, yet real animals to shine.

Some letters even get more than one odd new animal. (This was not because I liked both animals so much that I couldn't choose just one... really…)

What’s up next for you?

I have a lyrical non-fiction called She Leads: They Elephant Matriarch coming out in spring of 2020 with Familius. I also have several picture books, a chapter book, and novelty books out on submission.

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

Only one!? The Princess Bride. The cast, the sword fights, the rodents of unusual size! Just a great all-around movie… oh yeah, and the love story too.


Huge thank you to June for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut and all your upcoming projects!


JUNE SMALLS lives in Northern Virginia with her hubby, the kid, and her own odd assortment of animals. She writes children’s literature for the trade and educational markets.

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

Twitter: @June_Smalls

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ODD ANIMAL ABC’S?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 15th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Hannah Stark

Authors, Interviews, debut interviewLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut picture book author Hannah Stark. Her first book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, illustrated by Bob Kolar, comes out on August 6th with Clarion Books and has received fabulous reviews. Vehicle books are big in our household so I can’t wait for this one to come out! We are so excited to have her with us today to share about her debut book and her road to publication.

So without further ado…please welcome Hannah Stark!

Hannah Stark Author Photo.JPG

Where do you live?

I live in Brooklyn, NY.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed writing but never thought I’d share it with others, namely keeping travel journals and pocket notebooks. In 2004 I started teaching third grade in the New York City Public Schools.  We did a project with the book Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier. I was inspired by how this picture book grew awareness for the organization Heifer International and was positively impacting so many people.  

My boyfriend at the time ran a non-profit in Senegal and we spent a summer living in Dakar. While he worked I did a ton of reading, writing, and exploring. I started writing down stories I heard the kids tell and making up stories of my own. By the end of the summer I had a notebook of stories drafted. I never did anything with those stories but for the first time my writing had arc. For the first time, I wondered if I could someday write my own picture book. 

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

In 2013 I decided to apply to author/illustrator Pat Cummings Picture Book Boot Camp in Brooklyn with half a draft of TRUCKER AND TRAIN.  Pat saw potential in the story from the beginning. She really challenged me to walk out of Boot Camp with a polished project and somehow I did. Afterwards, she encouraged me to start submitting the manuscript. Five editors passed on the project before Lynne Polvino at Clarion Books/HMH Kids believed in it and helped me bring my story into the world.

Can you share a bit about your process?

As a third grade teacher and single mom I write in spurts when my schedule (and energy level) allow. The first drafts of TRUCKER AND TRAIN were actually pecked into my phone while riding the subway to work. There are post-its of first lines hanging on my kitchen wall. I add to them when I cook or clean. Sometimes my boys help me with them over dinner.

I like writing by hand and draft in pencil in an oversized artist’s book. When I feel ready to move forward with a page or draft I type it up, print it, and then revise on that page in pencil. When I’m happy with my revisions I edit them on the computer, print it, and repeat the process over and over.  

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

For me, there are many ideas but not enough time. When I don’t get to look at a project for a few weeks because things are busy I usually start by just sitting and reading beautiful writing. These days that tends to be something by Jacqueline Woodson or Mary Oliver.  

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

There’s nothing concrete. I think the only thing I really need is a reminder to be patient with myself.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

I’m really inspired by Sophie Blackall and how she persisted with her career as a single mom. The Horn Book just printed her Caldecott Medal acceptance speech and she describes working on books at the kitchen table while her kids did their homework. That sounds a lot like my home.  

I’m also inspired by Rob Sanders who I was in a course at the Highlights Foundation with in 2018. He’s also an elementary school teacher and has been creating books in the hours when school is not in session. I’m so inspired by his career that started as a teacher with a writing passion side hustle. I’m so happy to see his career really take off with the releases of PRIDE and STONEWALL. He’s also a super sweet person.  

Dream project to work on? 

I’d love to write humor. We laugh a lot in my classroom and I think I get kid humor but I’ve never tried anything like it before.  

Tell us about your debut book.

My book TRUCKER AND TRAIN is about a big rig named Trucker who loves to rule the road with his size, strength, and mighty horn. One day he meets the larger, stronger, and louder Train. Trucker quickly realizes that Train is bigger, stronger, and louder but isn’t using his might for power. Instead, Train is well-adored by the other vehicles. TRUCKER AND TRAIN is a story about using our strengths for good. 

I was inspired to write the story when my son was three. I saw how some kids in his class relied on their size and strength during play since their verbal expression was just starting to develop. I hope the book is seen as more than a book about trucks and trains for vehicle loving toddlers. I hope young readers and their adults will use it to open up conversations about kindness, compassion, and the idea that with great power comes great opportunity.  

What’s up next for you?

I’ve been working on three non-fiction and historical fiction manuscripts. I love history and untold stories that kids can connect to today. The projects are geared towards an older reader than TRUCKER AND TRAIN but they are true passion projects and I love developing them. My goal is to get two of them submitted this summer. Fingers crossed!

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

Without a doubt it has to be Sixteen Candles.


Huge thank you to Hannah Stark for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut picture book, we are so excited for you and can’t wait to see it on shelves!


HANNAH STARK grew up watching her mom, Marisabina Russo, create picture books in her studio. She remembers a house filled with children's books as well as bags of teaching materials because her father was a teacher. Today Hannah's home is filled with picture books and teaching materials, too. Hannah has been teaching elementary school in the New York City Public Schools for fifteen years. She loves making and sharing resources for other educators and teaching kids to write. She was inspired to write her debut book, TRUCKER AND TRAIN, while playing with her sons, Jackson and Travis. When not writing or teaching, Hannah can be found taking road trips and train rides to unfamiliar places.

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

Twitter

Instagram

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of TRUCKER AND TRAIN?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 8th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author and Illustrator Mikela Prevost

Authors + Illustrators, Interviews, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have a fabulous interview with debut author and illustrator Mikela Prevost whose book, LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY! came out in March. I adore this book so much! It’s cute, funny, and oh so charming with a lot of heart— my favorite combination. Here’s a sneak peek for those of you who haven’t read Mikela’s wonderful debut yet…

Kate and Frank are best friends. To celebrate Frank's birthday, Kate throws him a party with all her favorite things: lots of friends, dancing in circles, loud singing, and sparkly confetti everywhere. But best friends don't always have the same taste in parties. Frank prefers quiet, sun-drenched naps on his favorite rug. So he hides. Kate must find a way to bring Frank back to the party--on his own terms.

I’m thrilled to have Mikela with us today, so without further ado…please welcome Mikela Prevost!

MPrevost_headshot3.jpg

Where do you live?

In the Valley of the SUN! Phoenix, Arizona.

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

As a kid, I wasn't terribly good at reading but I always had the pictures in books to help guide me through the story in one way or the other. But by 2nd grade, I had started to grow in my reading abilities and at that point, the Harry Potter books of my day were Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic. I devoured these books, for the brevity of the poems and the child-like pen and ink illustrations. 

Silverstein's illustrations seemed so approachable, something that I could do. Drawing came much easier to me than reading, so seeing how a story could be encapsulated in such a brief poem along with an outlandish drawing was so attractive to me. The worlds he created through his poems always had me wondering what else happened beyond that last sentence. 

As a writer and illustrator now, I want to try and give young readers that sense of  "seen" as Shel Silverstein did for me.

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

Signing with a literary agent was the best way for my work to evolve. I attended SCBWI's Winter Conference in 2017 where Rebecca Sherman of Writer's House came across my work. She loved my illustration work and knew that my writing had potential. Over the course of several months, I was writing stories and sending sketches to Rebecca but she really wanted to start my career off on the right foot, so she pushed me to produce my best work. I'm so thankful she did, as I look back and see those earlier stories - I would not want them out in public! When the story idea for Let's Have a Dog Party! came, Rebecca made me feel like I had struck gold! We sent the text, dummy and two finished illustrations out, it went to auction and we found a great home for the story with Joanna Cardenas who (at the time) was the editor for Viking/Penguin.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Writing and illustrating is such a balancing act - having just enough of the best words while allowing the illustrations to do some heavy lifting. I  try to write more than I need then weed out what is superfluous to the story. 

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

I "squeeze the sponge dry" on a topic until I've exhausted every possible story idea. I write out ideas until I reach the end of the page. 95% is garbage worthy, but I will stumble on a gem that makes me so excited, I won't sleep at night.

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

While writing, I listen to a curated instrumental playlist that cues up my brain to stay focused on just that story. While illustrating I binge podcasts and watch/listen to old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. And I keep the coffee flowin'.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

My illustration friends Molly Idle, for her graceful, luscious line work and joyful colors and Juana Martinez-Neal, who captures the essence of children so innately. Also, her talent with patterns is second to none! An author I aspire to emulate is Jon Agee - his humor is so wry yet it translates to children in the perfect way. My Rhinoceros was my own personal masterclass in writing.    

Dream project to work on?

Anything that results in a kid loving a book so much, it falls apart. That, to me, is the true mark of a successful book.

Tell us about your debut book.

With Let's Have a Dog Party! I was sitting in my office, wracking my brain for a good story idea, while my kids and a few neighbor kids were running back and forth by my door chasing our little dog Pepper. She's a good-natured dog that will tolerate anything, but I knew eventually the chaos would reach a crescendo and she would take off running. If I wasn't there to stop this fiasco, I imagined a party breaking out. That's where the idea came from - I liked the idea of the kid characters just deciding out of the blue that "today" was Frank's birthday and using whatever they had on hand to celebrate. Like my kids, I knew a point would come that the characters would realize the poor dog had hit his limit and need to de-escalate the situation.

What’s up next for you?

I can't say just yet - but I can say I'm excited!

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

Ghostbusters! And it still is my favorite movie! I saw it in the theater with my Dad, so I'll always have the good memories to associate with the movie.


Huge thank you to Mikela for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your debut book and all that you do!


MIKELA PREVOST is an author and illustrator currently residing in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their three kids. Born and raised in Southern California, she received her BFA from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Illustration from California State University of Fullerton. Writing and illustrating for children has been her life-long pursuit and passion. Her work is driven by the desire to capture the whimsical innocence and unique perspective from which a child sees the world. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Mikela visit her website or follow her on social media:

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, June 6th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Author Gayle C. Krause

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with Gayle C. Krause, whose newest book, DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON?, illustrated by Carlos de la Garza, focuses on the relationship between a boy and his father, who is deployed overseas. I was so touched by the story and message in this book, as I know all of you will be too! I’m thrilled to have Gayle with us today, sharing her work.

So without further ado, please welcome Gayle C. Krause!

376727.jpg

Where do you live? 

I live in a country cliffside house in Northeastern PA overlooking PA, NY, and NJ.  The Delaware River, which divides PA from NY, is two blocks from my house.

 When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I always made up stories to entertain my sisters and the neighborhood kids when I was a child, but I didn’t start thinking about writing them down until I was the Director of a Laboratory PRE-K in a teacher education program, which was my first career.

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

My first picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA (2008), was an original Scholastic Book Club acquisition, which is rare these days. I met my editor at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. It was my first foray into writing for children and I’ve been writing ever since. 

My second book was a YA urban fantasy titled RATGIRL: Song of the Viper, which is a retelling of The Pied Pier set in a dystopian future with global warming. It’s one of my favorite things that I have written.

DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? is my second picture book, eleven years after my first. You see, the key is to never give up your dream.

 Can you share a bit about your process?

I write in the morning as soon as I get up. My house is quiet because my husband is still sleeping and I’m free to let my mind wander in and out of scenes with my characters. If I can’t write for a solid time period, then I jot down ideas as they come to me. I’ve been known to write a whole chapter from a sentence or two quickly written on a scrap piece of paper or a napkin.

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

I am NOT a believer of the Butt-In-Chair writing philosophy. I would only waste my time. If the kernel of an idea has not already sprouted in my mind, I can’t force it to come by staring at a blank computer screen. 

So I do something else in the creative realm like quilting or doll-making until one of my characters speaks to me, or shouts at a villain, or gives a cheeky answer to another character…and then I’m off and writing.

 Anything you can’t live without while you write?

The Internet. Whether I’m writing a silly picture book, a serious YA, or a whimsical MG (I never write nonfiction) it requires research. Did you know that baby T-Rex’s looked like fuzzy baby chicks? Or That you could make a bonfire on ice without it melting? 

 Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Authors – Juliet Marillier for fantasy 

Illustrator – Kinuko Y. Craft also for fantasy

 Dream project to work on?

It’s funny you should say a dream project. All of my stories start as dreams. Even as I am writing one, I’m dreaming of another, something that’s saying… “hurry up and finish what you’re writing. You need to write my story.”

 Tell us about your new book.

Written in rhyme, Daddy, Can You See the Moon? is about the special moments a young boy and his deployed dad share by looking at the moon, until the father comes home a wounded warrior and the boy realizes that love was what kept them connected all along. Carlos de la Garza’s illustrations are vibrant and beautiful and realistically portray the poignant story my words tell.

 What’s up next for you?

Once Upon a Twisted Tale is a ‘Fractured Fairytale’ poetry collection I’ve worked on for several years. And it will be released on June 18, 2019, also from SPORK. As you can tell from the answers to my other questions, I love fantasy and fairytales. This collection combines unlikely characters in the same story. Here is a quote from the introductory poem – 

“These characters, right or wrong—

in stories where they don’t belong.”

The illustrations were done by Caroline O’Neal and have a beautiful, ethereal touch of “fairy” in each one.

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

 It would have to be Princess Bride.


Huge thank you to Gayle C. Krause for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see what you do next!


As a Master Educationalist, GAYLE C. KRAUSE has taught Children’s Literature, creative writing, and storytelling techniques at the secondary and post-secondary levels. She’s a member of SCBWI, the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, and a past member of The Poets’ Garage. Gayle is the author of six children’s books. Her work has been nominated for the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the International Reading Award. She currently serves on Angie Karcher’s National Rhyme Revolution Committee, choosing the best rhyming picture book from 2015-2018 and presents writing seminars to children’s authors. Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary represents her.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Gayle, visit her online at http://www.gayleckrause.com or follow her on social media:

Twitter @GeeCeeK

Instagram

Facebook

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 23rd! US addresses only please.

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

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Ballou Mealey

Authors, book release, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

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

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

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Ballou Mealey!

Cathy Mealey headshot.jpg

Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

WHEN A TREE GROWS WordCloud.png

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

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

AAA prize squirrel.JPG

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

RIP Patrick Swayze.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”


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


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

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

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

Twitter: @CatBallouMealey

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

Instagram: @catballoumealey

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Breisacher

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

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

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Breisacher!

006CB.jpg

Where do you live?

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Oh, yes! Diet Pepsi and dark chocolate.  

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

Interview with Author Sue Fliess

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! It’s been a big week! Huge congrats to all the winners and honors from the ALA Youth Media Awards this past Monday. So many beautiful books to celebrate. If you haven’t had a chance to check out all the books honored this year, click here.

Also this week (today actually!) the Writing With the Stars mentorship program will announce the mentees chosen for this year’s contest. If you haven’t heard of this program and are an aspiring picture book author, illustrator, or author/illustrator, make sure to check it out and apply next year. This is an awesome contest run by picture book authors and sisters, Becky Cattie and Tara Leubbe, who both volunteer their time to give back to the Kidlit community. This is the second year I will be participating as a mentor and I’m so thrilled to be apart of this wonderful opportunity for new writers and illustrators.

Okay, now let’s get to our interview today!

YOU GUYS! TODAY WE HAVE SUE FLIESS! I’m so excited! We are big fans of Sue’s work here in our house. My three-year-old LOVES Tons of Trucks and The Bug Book. I was lucky enough to meet Sue last summer at ALA. She is incredibly funny and talented and I adore the playfulness in her picture books.

So without further ado, please welcome SUE FLIESS!

fullsizeoutput_f49.jpg

Where do you live?

Ashburn, in Northern Virginia 

How many years have you been in publishing?

I started my journey in children’s publishing in 2005. 

How did you first get published?

I attribute nearly all my success to the connections and industry knowledge I gained from being an active member of SCBWI (for those who don’t know, that’s the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators). 

How many books have you published?

I have 27 books out in the world, and 6 currently under contract, coming out between now and sometime in 2020. 

Do you write full-time?

Yes. Hooray for that! But let’s use ‘write’ loosely, as so many other book-related tasks must share that writing time. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

They’re just more fun to write than any other kind of story! So, I guess the pure joy of letting my brain enter that wacky realm, keeps me coming back for more. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

How motivated I would be to continue to sell more manuscripts. I thought once I sold one, the fire in my belly would dim a bit, but it had the opposite effect. The sale of my first book lit an inferno and I’ve been on a writing tear ever since.   

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

Having my own schedule (barring any publisher deadlines), being my own boss as far as writing what I want to write/feel passionate about, and visiting schools and meeting the readers/teachers/librarians. 

What do you find difficult working as an author?

Prioritizing the ‘tougher’ writing. I tend to procrastinate on the writing that I’m struggling with. I have been “writing” a middle grade novel for going on 7 years now. Ha! But I keep getting ideas or publisher asks for new picture books, and they get moved to the top of my writing list, naturally. 

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

Lots of things. 

I go to the library and read books or if the timing is right, I’ll attend a writing conference, which always inspires. Sometimes I’ll meet other writers for lunch, or go on a weekend writing retreat. And my remote critique group meets once a month via Google Hangout, and often that is the kick in the pants I need to get back on track.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

COFFEE. I’m joking, sort of, but I just need to be awake and alert to be creative. Coffee helps. 

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

There are so many! I would say any time another author/illustrator takes the time to boost my book(s), attend a book signing, or refer me to a school for a school visit. Also, when I was starting out, a few authors took the time to meet with me for coffee – the dreaded ‘pick your brain’ conversation! I accept these invites now too when I can, to pay it forward, because I know there is nothing like talking with someone actually doing what you aspire to do. 

Recommended reading?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and any books that are in the genre/style you wish to write in. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Again, this is too difficult! Any time I sign a new contract for a book is a highlight – a complete joy and reward. I would say that the real highlights though, come in the form of the children I meet at school visits, who think I’m the greatest thing since…video games. I get big hugs and hear things like, “Can you adopt me?” or “This has been the best day of my life!” You cannot beat that. 

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

It doesn’t matter how many books you have out, how many awards/honors you received, you will still have book events that are poorly-attended. Unpredictability is just part of the gig. Also, sometimes the book that was the ‘best thing you ever wrote’ and took you forever to get right, does not sell, but the one that just poured out in no time, gets scooped up right away. 

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is called NINJA CAMP, and it just released on January 8! It follows the story of a group of campers who attend a summer ninja camp in the hopes of receiving the training they need to become the Ninjas of the Night. But they must be brave and guard the Shadow Blade…and when the rival camp invades and steals the relic, they must use their new skills to get it back. It’s in rhyme, and has a fast pace, and is fun to read aloud. 

What’s up next for you?

I have a BIG year of books ahead, for which I’m so grateful! But I do dread the fact that I’ll be talking about myself all year on social media. So do a girl a favor and retweet me, yeah? Hehe. 

On February 5, HOW TO TRACK AN EASTER BUNNY, illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, releases with Sky Pony Press.

On March 1, THE EARTH GIVES MORE, illustrated by Christiane Engel, releases with Albert Whitman & Co. 

This fall, HOW TO TRICK A CHRISTMAS ELF, also illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, comes out. 

Finally, LITTLE RED RHYMING HOOD publishes October 1 with Albert Whitman, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis. 

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

Don’t give up. It sounds so cliché, but there is a lot of rejection in this business, and it’s important to remember that it is such a subjective industry. Keep working on your craft and your story will find a home. 

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

Pretty in Pink. Story arc, soundtrack, actors—all of it! 


Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Sue! We can’t wait to check out all the wonderful books you have coming out this year! So exciting!


Sue Fliess ("fleece") is the bestselling author of Robots, Robots Everywhere!, How to Trap a Leprechaun, and 25 other children's books, including Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, Mary Had a Little Lab, Ninja Camp, Tons of Trucks, and many Little Golden Books. Her books have sold over 850k copies worldwide. Her background is in copywriting and PR/marketing, and her essays have been in O Magazine, HuffPo, Writer's Digest, & more. Fliess has also written for Walt Disney. Her books have received honors from SCBWI, have been used in school curricula, museum educational programs, been named to A Mighty Girl's Best Books lists, and have even been translated into French and Chinese. The Bug Book was chosen for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Mary Had a Little Lab was named to Oklahoma's Redbud Read-Aloud Award master list and made the top 10 for Rhyme Revolution's Best in Rhyme award. She's a member of SCBWI & Children's Book Guild of DC. She does school visits and speaking engagements and lives with her family in No. Virginia. Visit her at www.suefliess.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sue and her work visit her website: www.suefliess.com or follow her on Twitter @SueFliess

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of NINJA CAMP?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, February 7th! US addresses only please.

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

Interview with Debut Author Monique Fields

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season with family and friends. I’m very excited to share today’s interview with debut author Monique Fields!

In addition to writing picture books, Monique is an incredibly accomplished journalist, with essays appearing in Ebony magazine, NPR’s All Things Considered, and TheRoot.com. Her debut picture book, HONEYSMOKE: A STORY OF FINDING YOUR COLOR, illustrated by Yesenia Moises, will release on January 8, 2019. Monique’s debut is a wonderful book that encourages children to find and create their own identity in the world.

So without further ado, please welcome Monique Fields!

unnamed-1.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the University of Alabama. 

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I was a journalist for about 20 years, and I always have enjoyed writing. After I had my girls and read a trillion picture books over and over again at bedtime, I started to think I could write one, too.

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

Oh, I don’t know if this blog post is long enough. It’s been a long, winding road. I wrote a manuscript, but I didn’t really know how to write a children’s book. There was a learning curve as I figured out page turns and the other mechanics of writing for children. As a journalist, I didn’t know much about critique groups. I had to find one. When I couldn’t find one in my hometown, I started a digital group. After I polished off a few manuscripts with the help critiques from writers, agents, and editors at SCBWI events, I still had to find an agent. Thank goodness Kevin O’Connor took a chance on me. That’s the short version. Whew!

Can you share a bit about your process?

I mine my life and the lives of others for ideas. I can see a potential picture book in almost anything I witness during the course of the day. When something strikes me as interesting, I write it down in my electronic notebook. 

When it comes to writing, I get the beginning and the ending on the page first. That’s a throwback to my journalism days. The hardest part is in the middle.

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

Read. When I read, I am inspired. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Chocolate and Twizzlers.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are two author/illustrators whose work I truly adore: Yuyi Morales and Vashti Harrison. Both bring such dreamy intricacies to their work. Oh, how I wish I could draw and tell a beautiful story. 

Dream project to work on?

I’d love to work with Tracee Ellis Ross and Serena Williams on pretty much anything. 

Tell us about your debut book.

HONEYSMOKE is about a little girl who discovers her very own color. Simone, the main character, looks around her world to find her place in it. Her skin color is not like any of her friends at school or her parents. So, what is her color? She chooses one of her own, and creates a new word: Honeysmoke. It wrote the book so that all children can create their own identity. 

What inspired you to write your debut book?

The manuscript that became HONEYSMOKE started as a question from my three-year-old daughter: Who am I? She didn’t ask her question in such succinct terms, but that’s exactly what she wanted to know. I was surprised and a little disappointed when I couldn’t provide a satisfying answer. 

What is Honeysmoke?

Honeysmoke is my childhood nickname, and it is the color of my skin. When I was growing up, I decided that my mother, a light-skinned black woman, was the honey and that my father, a dark-skinned black man, was the smoke. I was the same as my parents but also different. 

How did your nickname become a children’s picture book?

As I considered how I could help my biracial daughter understand the complexities of race, I turned to my childhood nickname. She was the same as her father and me but also different. She had inherited qualities from us, and she would soon discover that she had some of her very own, that she was more than what she looked like on the outside. The little girl who inspired HONEYSMOKE is now a teenager, and she continues to discover her world and her place in it.

What’s up next for you?

Well, I hope to be a nonfiction picture book author soon. That’s all I can say about it for now. 

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

The answer to this question is going to date me. Purple Rain is my favorite 80s movie.


Huge thank you to Monique for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see HONEYSMOKE out in the world!


Monique Fields is an award-winning journalist. Her essays about race and identity have appeared on air, in print, and online, including NPR’s All Things Considered, Ebony magazine, and TheRoot.com. She is the founder and editor of Honeysmoke.com, a site for parents raising multiracial children. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Monique and her work visit her website: www.MoniqueFields.com or follow her on Twitter @honeysmokeblog

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of HONESMOKE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, January 3rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post to kick off the new year!

Interview with Debut Author Hannah Holt

Debut Interviews, Authors, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

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

So without further ado, please welcome Hannah Holt!

HannahHolt_small.jpg

Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

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

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

Better Off Dead


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Aidan Cassie

Debut Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward4 Comments

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

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

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Aidan Cassie!

ACassie_HighRes.jpeg

Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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

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

Art supplies you can't live without?

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

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

Favorite illustrators?

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

Dream project or book to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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

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

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


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Picture Book Author Anika Denise

Interviews, Vet Interviews, book releaseLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by the fabulously talented Anika Denise. I had the pleasure of meeting Anika and her husband, illustrator Christopher Denise, a little over three years ago at a writing workshop. It turned out we were represented by the same agent. Both are such lovely and talented people, and I’m thrilled to be sharing Anika’s books with you today.

I was first introduced to Anika’s work through her book MONSTER TRUCKS, illustrated by Nate Wragg, which is one of my oldest son’s absolute favorites. So much so that it was the theme of his 2nd birthday party. I mean you can’t beat monsters and trucks in the same book! Seriously—we are on our third hardcover copy. That’s how much we read this book. Thankfully, MONSTER TRUCKS is now available as a board book too, should we need a fourth copy….

Needless to say, we are big fans of Anika’s books in my household!

Anika_photo.jpeg

So, without further ado, please welcome Anika Denise!

Where do you live?

We live in Barrington, Rhode Island — a tiny town in the tiniest state.

How many years have you been in publishing?

Gosh *counts on fingers* nearly 12 years! 

How many books have you published?

I have six books out in the world right now, and four more coming soon.

Do you write full-time?

Up until recently, yes! For the next year, I’ll be working in-house as a copywriter for a toy company. It’s fast-paced, fun, and different. But I haven’t abandoned my personal writing projects. I do my best to schedule in writing time on my days off. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

My kids, for sure! Having children allows me to experience the world through their lens. It also makes me pause and really consider the world they’re inheriting. In the current climate of divisiveness and isolationism, I’m inspired to create (and support) diverse stories of hope, empathy, and inclusion — especially “own voices” books that invite readers to step outside themselves and see the world through the perspective of marginalized communities.  

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

I think at first I was surprised by how much the work of promoting a book and connecting with readers falls to the author. Now that I’ve been doing this awhile, I have a greater understanding of how many books are on a publisher’s list and the limited resources a single title might have. I’ve come to embrace and enjoy making my own connections.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

The fame and money. HAHAHA! (Just kidding.) What I love most is the feeling of creating something that didn’t exist until I put in on a page. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to having a super-power. There’s magic in it. And most magical of all is the fact that a kid somewhere is sitting and enjoying a story I conjured. It’s truly rewarding.

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

Well, I suppose (as evidenced in my recent acquisition of a day job) it is making a sustainable living with writing. I’m married to a children’s book illustrator, so supporting a family in a two-freelance income household can be challenging at times.

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

I love creativity journaling. I just received an early copy of a book written by my friend and mentor, Leigh Medeiros, called The 1-Minute Writer (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.) The book offers a series of unique 1,10, and 20-minute writing prompts. It’s amazing how the ritual of a daily writing practice, even at 1 minute a day, can clear the cobwebs and provide fertile ground for your next story idea. If you’re a doodler—check out Peter Reynolds’s Start With A Dot journal.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Before I write, I light a candle and get the essential oil diffuser in my studio going. I sit for a few quiet minutes and express gratitude. I ask my muses/ angels to show up to support me. It’s a little like prayer, a little like mediation, and a little like visualization. I’m always happier and more productive when I begin this way.

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

The kid lit community has been such a gift, it’s tough to pick just one — but last March, I traveled to the UK with a group of writers and illustrators. We visited famous children’s book sites in England the first week; then spent the next week writing in a castle in Scotland!

And oh! I flew an eagle owl on the castle’s falconry grounds.

What is your favorite picture book?

The Snowy Day is one of my favorite books from childhood. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been many highlights, but perhaps the most special was holding the first copy of my forthcoming book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Paola Escobar. My husband brought the envelope to me as a surprise at my book launch party for Lights, Camera, CARMEN!. For many reasons, but particularly as an author with Puerto Rican heritage, this book is dear to my heart. It took me several years to write. My only regret is my father didn’t live to see it published. He knew I was working on it, and he was very proud. 

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

Don’t ever compare your career to others. In the age of social media, it can be difficult not to. But comparison almost always leads to unnecessary suffering. You do you.

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is Lights, Camera, CARMEN! illustrated by the amazing Lorena Alvarez Gómez. It’s the follow-up to Starring Carmen! (Abrams 2017). In this installment, everyone’s favorite one-girl sensación is back, and has her sights on winning a contest to be in a commercial. She enlists the help of her adoring hermanito, Eduardo, but things don’t go exactly to plan.

What’s up next for you?

2019 will be a busy year for book releases. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré will be on-shelves January 15. Bunny in the Middle, a new picture book collaboration with Chris, releases July 2. And in December, The Love Letter, illustrated by the incomparable Lucy Ruth Cummins, will be out in the world. I’m also revising a new picture book biography on Rita Moreno!

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

Keep going, you’re almost there!

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

The Goonies

Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit to chat with us today, Anika! We can’t wait to check-out all of your upcoming books!


Anika Denise is the celebrated author of many picture books, including Lights, Camera Carmen!Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. In 2019, to coincide with Women’s History Month, HarperCollins will publish her forthcoming book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré illustrated by Paola Escobar. Other new titles coming in 2019 include Bunny in the Middle illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Anika lives in Rhode Island with her family.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Anika and her books, visit her website at www.anikadenise.com.

TO ORDER a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN! ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN!?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit’s Must Reads for October!


Interview with Debut Picture Book Author/Illustrator Jen Betton

publishing, Illustrators, Book Reviews, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward5 Comments
Jen-photo.jpg

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Jen Betton, the debut author and illustrator of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG. I met Jen while we were both in school at Syracuse. I was working towards my BFA in Illustration when I took an intro class on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, taught by Jen, who was an MFA Illustration student at the time. Adobe Illustrator is actually the only program that I use when I work digitally…which I have Jen to thank for. I’m not sure I would have learned it otherwise. Thanks Jen!

I'm so excited to share Jen’s work with you all today, and I’m sure you’ll see why. Her watercolors are GORGEOUS! And she has this tremendous ability capturing light….I’m a huge fan of her work and I hope you will all go out and read HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG!

So without further ado…please welcome Jen Betton!

Where do you live?

I recently moved to the Dallas area, so I’m still getting connected with the Kid Lit community here.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I always loved picture books; I never really grew out of them. It just took a while to give myself permission to pursue it because I thought I needed to do something more practical! I loved painting and I loved stories, so creating picture books was a natural combination of those loves.

Tell us about your debut book as an author and illustrator?

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG is the first book I’ve written as well as illustrated! It is about a Hedgehog who feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles and so goes looking for a hug, but other creatures don’t want to get close to his spines! Fortunately, he finds someone else who is feeling the same way. 

 I came up with this story while I was brainstorming story ideas that involved animals who have a physical characteristic that is at odds with what they want. I love stories where the character has a goal that inherently creates conflict!

betton-hedgehog-raccoon.png

One thing that helped me figure out my story structure was understanding the heart of the story. This is the essential, core theme of the story, beneath the surface-level action. I was brainstorming the ending and I had to decide how Hedgehog would finally get his hug. Hedgehog could have hugged another hedgehog (someone just like him) or a turtle (someone who would not be hurt) but I had an “aha” moment where I understood that empathy was important to the story, and I quickly realized that Hedgehog needed to give Skunk a hug.

Can you share a bit about your process?

If I’m writing the story, then I start with an outline. I really have to get the structure of the story right, and the first draft is almost in bullet points. After that I might start weaving small thumbnail sketches into a storyboard while concurrently revising my manuscript. After I have the basic story arc hammered out, I keep writing, tweaking, polishing. At the same time I’m working on the storyboard with rough sketches, trying to get the composition, the page turns, the expressions right. I try to not to get too far into the drawings until the manuscript is fairly firm, because it’s like working a Rubik’s Cube – every change affects every other part of the puzzle. 

Betton-hedgehog-storyboards-2.png

Next, I start working on finished drawings. For this stage I usually gather a lot of reference materials, sometimes getting friends to pose for photos or taking a trip to the zoo. Then I’ll do some color studies. After all those steps are approved by the art director, I’ll start on the finished paintings. I transfer the drawings to my illustration board, and then I jump in with watercolor. After I’ve taken the painting as far as I can, I’ll often add a bit of colored pencil or pastel for details. Once it is scanned, I’ll touch it up a little bit in Photoshop. 

betton-hedgehog-colorstudy.png
 
betton-fox-painting.png

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

Inspiration, community, and perspiration! I get inspired by both books and people. Reading the beautiful books that others have created and seeing how they solved problems teaches me a lot. I find conferences to be energizing - rubbing shoulders with creative pals. My imagination also responds well to discipline, so participating in Storystorm or checking in with critique buddies for some accountability really helps me. And sometimes it’s really helpful to just do something for fun without expectations of how it will turn out. 

Any art supplies you can't live without?

Strathmore 500 Illustration board. Totally different way to watercolor, and I love it! 

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 6.28.50 PM (1).png

Favorite authors/illustrators?

Soooo many!! John Singer Sargent’s watercolors are stunning. I love Trina Schart Hyman, Min Ji Kim, Lizbeth Zwerger, Christian Birmingham, Scott Gustafson, Greg Manchess. A couple newer illustrators I love are Jessica Lanan and Corinna Luyken. 

Dream project or book to work on?

Something with a sense of wonder or otherworldliness, like Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers or The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe.

What's up next for you?

I’ve been working on a new story, called ANITA’S FLOWERS, which is about perseverance, failure, friendship, and finding your gift. Hopefully it will be ready to submit soon!

I’ve also been working on some goodies for HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG: coloring pages, an activity kit, bookplates, etc. There is also a teacher’s guide by Marcie Colleen. You can download them here. 

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

Princess Bride and Adventures in Babysitting


Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion.

She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children.

For more information about Jen Betton and her books, visit her online at www.jenbetton.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenBetton.

TO ORDER a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Book Reviews | August 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released, outstanding picture books.

So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for August 2018:

Drum roll please....

Alma by Juana Martinez-Neal

Published by Candlewick, April 2018

I love everything about this book. The words. The story. The art. Everything. This book just makes you feel good when you read it. It's one of the few books that I've actually hugged after reading.

Meet Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. Alma thinks her name is too long. "My name is so long, Daddy. It never fits."

Alma's father grabs a family photo album and sits down with Alma to explain the origins behind her beautifully long name. Alma meets Sofia, Esperanza, Jose, Pura, and Candela, learning that she shares something with all of them. But Alma-- that's a name all her own.

This book beautifully celebrates what it means to be proud of who you are and where you come from. I can't think of a more important book to share with our kids right now.

ALMA is Juana Martinez-Neal's debut picture book as an author and illustrator. And what a stunning book it is. Definitely a favorite this year.

For more information on Alma click here. Or to learn more about Juana's work, visit her online at www.juanamartinezneal.com or follow her on Twitter @juanamartinez.

Look by Fiona Woodcock

Published by Greenwillow Books, July 2018

LOOK literally asks you to look at it, how clever is that?! And it makes me happy every time I do. The colors, style, and creative approach are composed together in such a charming, accessible way, that this book is fun for any reader.

LOOK begins with two siblings waking up for the day before heading to the zoo with their mom. Each word used in the text is a double-letter word. The sibling's day is filled with animals, encounters, and objects that all contain a double "o": zoom, zoo, kangaroo, scoop, shampoo, book, moon, beginning and ending with "look."

I was so impressed by the creativity and cleverness of this book. Initially, I thought this book would be a concept book only, simply listing double-letter words. But Fiona Woodcock weaves a story into the concept seamlessly. Each page felt like a wonderful surprise. My favorite page includes panda bears that "boogie." Bonus...Fiona's last name has a double "o" too. 

Oh and did I mention the art was created using BLO pens?! Growing up in the 90s, this warmed my heart. In case you aren't familiar with BLO pens, click here. You're welcome.

For more information on Look, click hereOr to learn more about Fiona's work, visit her online at www.fionawoodcock.com or follow her on Twitter @FionaWoodcock.

Book Reviews | July 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released picture books, representing two categories: WORDS and PICTURES, that are especially worth while and must reads. So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for July 2018:

Drum roll please....

W O R D S

61GWVQyKbbL._SY376_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Published by Disney-Hyperion, June 2018

So I'm already pretty partial to orange dinosaurs, but I knew this book would be a keeper even before I had the chance to read it, simply because the title is so great. WE DON'T EAT OUR CLASSMATES is the newest book from author/illustrator extraordinaire, Ryan T. Higgins. We are big fans of the MOTHER BRUCE books in this house, so I had pre-ordered this book ages ago. But it wasn't until it arrived in the mail recently, that I finally got the chance to take a peek....

Meet Penelope Rex. A small(ish), orange, adorable T. Rex who is about to start school. And like most kids, she's pretty nervous about it.

"Penelope's mom bought her a new backpack with ponies on it. Ponies were Penelope's favorite. Because ponies are delicious."

"Penelope's dad packed her a lunch of three hundred tuna sandwiches and one apple juice."

The big day arrives, and it turns out Penelope's class is filled with...CHILDREN! And Penelope loves children. Because children are delicious. But we don't eat our classmates, right? Well, Penelope does, which makes it that much harder to make friends. Soon, all of Penelope's classmates are afraid of her. So she decides to befriend the class pet, who just might give her a dose of her own medicine. Hilariously written, with spot on pacing, this book is a must have for any library or picture book collection. Not to mention the art is great, as always, with any Higgins book. A perfect back to school read aloud.

Click here for more information on We Don't Eat Our Classmates

P I C T U R E S

51AQ-QLNsUL._SX299_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, April 2018

This is quite possibly the most beautiful book that Sophie Blackall has done. Which I realize is saying a lot because she's already won the Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie, but this is hands down my favorite.

I've been a huge fan of Blackall's illustrations since being introduced to them as a bookseller with the Ivy & Bean series. She has created such an amazing body of work as an illustrator, but HELLO LIGHTHOUSE is simply stunning. Blackall has taken everything into account when creating this gorgeous book, from the art itself to the trim size, which reflects the height of a lighthouse. The entire book is masterfully crafted together. I especially loved her use of patterns to emote the feeling of the ocean as the story progressed and the circular spot illustrations to recreate the intimate setting of a lighthouse.

But the page where she shows the lighthouse in the fog is on a whole other level. The delicacy of the line work and feeling that she creates is so incredibly lovely. This book made me feel nostalgic, lonely, happy, and sad all at once. HELLO LIGHTHOUSE is a wonderful look at a job and the life of a lighthouse keeper that has been lost to technology. A must own for any picture book collection. If you haven't done so make sure you spend some time with this beautiful book.

Click here for more information on Hello Lighthouse

Book Reviews | June 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released picture books, representing two categories: WORDS and PICTURES, that are especially worth while and must reads. So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for June 2018:

Drum roll please....

W O R D S (or I suppose in this case, word)

51Y6XYtMomL._SX371_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Dude! by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press, April 2018

Dude, this book is awesome! Seriously. The entire story is told using just one word. Which is kinda crazy when you think about it, but totally works. For those of you obsessing over your picture book word count, pay attention! AARON REYNOLDS DID IT WITH ONE WORD!

Dude! is a wonderful read aloud because it relies on the inflection of the reader's voice and delivery. I found myself laughing out loud at each page turn, while reading with my two-year-old, curious as to where the story was headed. Oh, and did I mention it's illustrated by Dan Santat? No biggie. I've always loved Santat's animals, in this case a platypus, a beaver, and a shark. He does such a wonderful job bringing their personalities to life. The added element of surprise with the shark is also well done.

There have been a batch of new shark books that have recently come out, but this may be my favorite. Highly original and funny!

Click here for more information on Dude!

P I C T U R E S

61EQMtFTpvL._SX476_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

Published by Balzer + Bray, January 2018

I absolutely LOVE the art in this book. It's stunning. I poured over each page, soaking up every detail Joseph Kuefler had to offer in his illustrations. The story is simple and lovely, with a touch of Ferdinand. Kuefler juxtaposes hard, cold, modern machinery with nature, specifically a delicate flower, all the while creating a character as warm and friendly as the digger in his story. Although the art is graphic in nature, Kuefler provides rich textures, shapes, and a sound palette, adding tremendous depth to the art. Bonus: it has a digger in it, so it will go over well with the kiddos.

Click here for more information on The Digger and the Flower