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Interview with Author/Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward2 Comments

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

DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI!

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

So without further ado…please welcome Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

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Where do you live?

I live in Toronto, Canada.

How many years have you been in publishing?

It depends what you mean by publishing.

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

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

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

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yes! 

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

What inspires you to create picture books?

Interacting with young readers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two favorite things:

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

  2. Talking with young readers.

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

Trying not to compare myself to others.

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

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

Two things that help the most:

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

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

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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended reading?

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you tell us about your newest book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

Intelligent perseverance is as important as talent.

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

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


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


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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

Debut Interview with Jenn Harney

Authors + Illustrators, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

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

So without further ado…please welcome Jenn Harney!

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Where do you live?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jenn visit her online at jkharney.blogspot.com or follow her on social media:

Instagram + Twitter: @jennharknee

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Ishta Mercurio

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Ishta Mercurio. I’m thrilled to have her with us today and I can’t wait for you to hear about her wonderful debut picture book, SMALL WORLD, illustrated by Jen Corace, which will release with Abrams Books for Young Readers on July 2nd.

So without further ado…please welcome Ishta Mercurio!

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Where do you live?

I live in Brampton, Ontario! I haven't always lived here, though. I grew up in Cincinnati, OH. I come from a long line of people who moved around.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I've always loved storytelling, and I studied theater in college. There was something about using my whole self--my body, my gestures, my facial expressions, my voice--to tell a character's story that I really loved. But when I had kids, I realized that paying someone to look after them was going to cost more than I was earning! So I decided to stop working for a while and stay home with my littles. I read to them every night at bedtime, and I fell in love with the storytelling in picture books: the rhythm of the language captivated me, and the way the words and pictures came together to make something that is greater than the sum of their parts is an alchemy that I had to be a part of.

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

Reading! I didn't know the first thing about how to get published, so I googled it. This is what's so great about living in the 21st century--you can google how to do almost ANYTHING! So I googled it, and I read a whole bunch of blogs by agents (like Nathan Bransford and Rachelle Gardner) and writers (like Shannon Messenger and Casey McCormick and Shannon O'Donnell and Debbie Ohi), and I joined SCBWI and CANSCAIP (which is like SCBWI, but Canadian), and I invested a lot of time (years!) in learning how the industry works.

I also learned very quickly that my writing was not very good, but I knew that that was okay because you can improve as a writer, so I focused on doing that. I joined critique groups through SCBWI. I took a class in writing for children at the University of Toronto. I became part of the community of kidlit writers in the Toronto area. I went to conferences where I paid for my work to be critiqued, and I kept revising and writing new things until the rejections I got sounded less like one-line form rejections and more like "I loved these things about your story, but this part just isn't working." Meanwhile, a friend from my critique group was writing non-fiction in a series for a publisher, and she asked me if I wanted to write the next non-fiction book in the series with her, so I did, and that was great. It was my first experience working with a publisher, but I was doing it with someone who had worked with them before, and that was really valuable.

And then eventually, an agent pulled my query for a chapter book out of the slush and loved it and asked to see more and loved that, and we met and I knew that I wanted her on my team. She really got me, which is important. You want an agent who really gets you and who absolutely loves your work. And the thing is: that chapter book still hasn't sold, but the next thing she sent out did. And that book is SMALL WORLD. So even after all that, you have to know and accept that rejection is part of the process, throughout your career. And that's okay. Write the next thing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I usually get an idea that's just a seed, and I write that down--just a sentence or two--and let it marinate for a while. Then I jot down ideas and doodle until I think I have enough to make a story, and then I write out what I call a "bare bones" draft: it's mostly flat, language-wise, with maybe a couple phrases that touch on the lyricism or whatever tone I'm going for, but it has the basic plot. And then I doodle some more, and think about what layers I can build in, and at that point I write one sentence that encompasses the heart of the story, and I tape that to my desk where I can see it while I work through the multiple drafts it takes to get the story right. It's like my compass: it keeps me heading in the right direction.

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

I read a lot, and I watch movies. I take walks and garden and watch the bugs do their thing. I catch up on the news. Mostly, though, I go out in the world, to museums or to parks, and I just take it in. And I have conversations with people about things that have nothing to do with writing children's books. Ideas are everywhere; you just have to be open to them.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Coffee! But everyone probably says that. I also have a process book, and that's where I write early drafts and doodle and work out niggles in my manuscripts. Even when I reach the type-it-all-out stage, I like to have my process book close by.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Oh, gosh--so many! It would be easier to list the ones who don't, but that would be mean.

I love Marla Frazee's work; her illustrative style is just so gorgeous, and at the same time, so rooted in the messy reality of childhood. She's amazing. I am in awe of Angie Thomas and S. K. Ali, whose books feel so effortless (even though I know they take A LOT of work!). Ekua Holmes' experiments with different illustrative styles and art techniques is blowing me away. Linda Sue Park and Kate DiCamillo both wrote books that made me want to be a better writer. And John Green's books always feel like home.

Dream project to work on?

I have a HUGE bucket list, but one of the things on it is to write a wordless picture book. I know that sounds contradictory, and it's hard to pull it off, but there's no fun without a challenge, right?

Tell us about your debut book.

SMALL WORLD follows Nanda from the day she is born, wrapped in the circle of her mother's arms, right up until the day she goes to the Moon and looks back at the Earth from far away. It's about wonder, and the amazing places your explorations can take you. It's about dreaming big for your future, and finding your place in the vastness of the Universe. It's my love letter to this planet, which is our shared home and which contains innumerable wonders. And it's about joy. Jen Corace illustrated it, and it's a match made in heaven. My editor is a genius for pairing Jen's art with my words.

What’s up next for you?

I'm not allowed to say yet, but I sure hope everyone likes it!

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

The Princess Bride, of course!


Huge thank you to Ishta for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait for your debut to come out! Congrats!


ISHTA MERCURIO is an author and actor. Raised in Cincinnati by an Irish-German-Italian-American father and a Polish-American-Filipino mother, she has traveled to England, Scotland, Italy, France, and all over the United States. She now lives in Brampton, Ontario, where she films and photographs plants and wildlife, from the tall to the small, in her backyard. Small World is her debut picture book. Find her online at www.ishtamercurio.com, on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theoneandonlyishta/ , on twitter at @IshtaWrites and on instagram at @ishtamercurio.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

Interview with Author/Illustrator Scott Magoon

Authors + Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward5 Comments

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Scott Magoon!

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Where do you live?

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

How many years have you been in publishing?

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

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

How many books have you published?

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

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

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

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

What inspires you to create picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

Art from LINUS THE LITTLE YELLOW PENCIL

What is your favorite picture book?

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

Tell us about your newest book?

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

He lives with this family in Massachusetts.

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

Facebook.com/Scott-Magoon

Twitter: @smagoon

Instagram: @skortch

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Sheri Dillard

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Sheri Dillard! Her picture book, COWHIDE-AND-SEEK (how cute is that title??!), illustrated by Jess Pauwels, just came out this past Tuesday. (Congrats Sheri!) We are thrilled to have her with us on Critter Lit today!

So without further ado…please welcome Sheri Dillard!

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Where do you live?

Atlanta, GA

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

When my three sons were picture book age, we lived in Lewisburg, a small, central Pennsylvania town. Our friendly borough was surrounded by rolling hills of farmland, and it was almost like living in the pages of a picture book. 

It was during this time that I created COWHIDE-AND-SEEK. I wasn’t even writing yet, but I woke up one night around 2am with the idea of a cow character who accidentally leaves her farm and (unknowingly) creates chaos wherever she goes. I loved it so much that I jumped out of bed and quickly wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. I'm not sure why I wanted to remember it, exactly. Maybe I just wanted to share my dream with my husband and kids? But the next day, I started writing. 

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

Those kids of mine that I mention above? The picture book aged ones? They are now in college and beyond, so that gives you an idea of the length of my road!  But it all worked out pretty well, actually. Now in my first year as an empty-nester, I have my debut book to focus on. And its release date is just before my twin sons come home from their first year of college, so they can help me celebrate. Great timing!

A few months after I first started writing, I discovered SCBWI. It's such a helpful and supportive community, and I always mention it to anyone interested in writing for children. And it was through SCBWI that I connected with my two critique groups. (Hi Crumpled Paper and Critcasters!) Both the experiences of getting critiques and giving critiques helped me grow as a writer. (And still do!)

I spent years writing, revising, critiquing, and then repeating with more writing, revising, and critiquing. I went to conferences. Sent submissions to editors and agents. Eventually, my form letters improved to personal letters and finally to revision requests. And I came really close a couple times.

But my big break came during a Twitter pitch party. (Which is such a surprise because I am still learning how all this social-media stuff works! LOL) The event was called #PBPitch and it eventually led to me signing with my agent Liza Fleissig. We haven't sold the manuscript that she signed me for - (yet!) - but I love that COWHIDE-AND-SEEK will be my first book. And I love that this story found a home at Running Press Kids. Julie Matysik and her team at RPK are wonderful!    

Can you share a bit about your process?

I love to revise. It feels like working on a puzzle, and it is so satisfying when everything starts to fit together. And I love working on manuscripts that I haven't read in a while because I'm seeing them not only with "fresh eyes" but also with the eyes of a more experienced writer.

An important part of my revision process is to read the manuscript out loud. It really helps me see (and hear!) what needs adjusting. I'm a librarian at a preschool, and I have regular weekly storytimes in all the classes. (Love it!) Sometimes, when I'm at home working on a new story, I'll read it out loud and imagine that I'm reading it to one of the classes. It soon becomes clear where I might lose the kids' interest or where things might be confusing. And also where things might be funny or exciting. And that very last page, right before I say, "the end," needs to be satisfying, in some way. 

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

Ideas usually come to me when I'm not paying attention, LOL. I've gotten several ideas when I'm out for a run, and as I'm running, I'll record the ideas on my phone. The combination of my southern accent and the huffing and puffing (from my run) makes for interesting notes, and sometimes that will spark another idea! 

Captain

Captain

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Laptop. Coffee. And I love having my writing companion, Captain, nearby. (He's great at reminding me to take writing-breaks with a nice walk around the neighborhood.)

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Ooh, that will be hard to narrow down. I love fun and silly picture books, so I'll say Tammi Sauer, Doreen Cronin, Jan Thomas, and Chris Haughton. One of my all-time favorite picture books to give as a gift is BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer. 

Dream project to work on?

Actually, I like to think that my dream already came true. Literally! That story idea that woke me up at 2am is the idea that started my writing career and will be my very first picture book. Pretty dreamy, I'd say.

Tell us about your debut book.

COWHIDE-AND-SEEK is about a cow, Bessie, who hears her farmer counting and mistakenly thinks he's starting a game of hide-and-seek. She hurries off to hide and accidentally leaves the farm. Now, the farmer really IS looking for her, but it's not because he's playing the game-- it's because his cow is missing! 

And since Bessie has left the farm, her hiding spots are in places where you typically wouldn't see a cow. Poor thing, it's hard to stay hidden when people keep pointing at you and saying things like, "I see a cow!" Each time, Bessie patiently tries to explain how important it is to stay quiet while hiding, but no one understands "moo." So she has to mooove on...

I love Bessie's earnest efforts to find the perfect hiding spot and her joy in simply playing the game. (The illustration on the very last page is my favorite. :)

What’s up next for you?

As I write this, I'm preparing for my book launch party at my favorite children's bookstore, Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA. And on the book's release date, May 7th, I'll be celebrating with some of my favorite people (kids and adults!) at the preschool where I work. It will be a special storytime for me because I'll be sharing my very own book with everyone. (And rumor has it that my preschool director plans to dress up as a cow that day and "hide" around the school. So fun!)

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

Oh my goodness-- I just checked the release dates for my three favorite movies, and they were all made in the 80s! Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, and Raising Arizona.


Huge thank you to Sheri for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut! Congrats!


SHERI DILLARD is a children's author and preschool teacher/librarian. She lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband Mark, three sons, and a 100-pound puppy named Captain, who is not so good at hiding. Cowhide-and-Seek is her first book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sheri, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @sheridillard

Instagram: @sheridillard

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of COWHIDE-AND-SEEK?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 16th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Gail C. Krause!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Philip Stead and Illustrator Erin Stead

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

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so thrilled about today’s interview— it’s somewhat of a fangirl moment for me, as I love their books so much. Each time I read one, I discover a new detail to fall in love with. Their newest book, MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON is stunning. We’ve been reading it at bedtime almost every night over here. I don’t think there is an intro I could write that would do them justice…so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Please welcome Erin and Philip Stead!

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Philip+Stead.jpg

Where do you live? 

We live in an old farmhouse in Northern Michigan, not too far from the Lake Michigan beach.

How many years have you been in publishing? 

13 years.

How did you first get published?

PHIL: We moved to New York City when we were just out of college with the idea of getting into children's books. I worked briefly for the Brooklyn Children's Museum as a designer/illustrator and spent my free time hitting the pavement, talking my way into publishing offices. Meanwhile Erin worked in a children's bookstore, Books of Wonder, and then later took a job in design at HarperCollins. In the end it was a friend that helped us get a foot all the way in the door. Our friend, fellow bookmaker George O'Connor, passed some of my work along to Neal Porter, an editor at Roaring Brook Press. George had worked with Erin at Books of Wonder. Interestingly enough, Erin also worked with other future authors Nick Bruel, Jason Chin, and Julie Fogliano at the same store. All of those names ended up getting their break with Neal Porter as well. After George had linked me up with Neal he also suggested to Neal that Erin might be interested in illustration work. Up till then Erin had never done illustration work. In fact, she'd barely done any drawing at all in almost three years. In the few days between George's suggestion and Erin's first meeting with Neal I wrote a draft of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, then basically pitched it to both Erin and Neal at the same time over dinner. 

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yep, we've been doing this full-time since the beginning, even before it made any financial sense to do so. We're just not good at multi-tasking. But we are pretty good at being broke.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Dusty, old, forgotten books, mostly. And animals.

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

We would read books (i.e. Dear Genius, by Leonard Marcus) that made it seem like all the illustrators and authors that we grew up reading were all actually friends in real life. This seemed cool, but unlikely to us. But even just a few years in it became clear to us that we all really DO know each other. We love knowing so many other bookmakers. It's one of our favorite things about the job.

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

Literally everything. We're both really hard on ourselves and we both contemplate quitting on an almost daily basis. By now though (and we say this often to each other) we basically have no marketable skills for the real world. We could be professional dog walkers maybe. That's about it.

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

PHIL: Erin is always cooking when she's stuck on a problem. Sometimes she avoids her desk for weeks and just cooks, cooks, cooks. It used to stress me out, the longer she'd go without setting pencil to paper. But now I know it's all just part of the process. Neither of us are prolific sketchers. We often go straight to final art from the idea in our head. So I guess cooking is akin to sketching for Erin. I find a lot of my inspiration outside of the children's book world. Aside from my love of used book stores I don't really stay too up to date on what's new, other than what my friends are making. I love movies, especially weird ones. And I love music. All music. I'm currently in love with an album by an Ethiopian jazz pianist named Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. It's unlike anything I've ever heard and I'm sure it's trying to tell me something if I just listen to it long enough.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Procrastination. And the making of coffee to do so.

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

We've done several school events through an organization called An Open Book in Washington DC. Their goal is to get books into the hands of kids who might not have access to book ownership otherwise. School events can be exhausting but we always leave our Open Book events feeling energized and in love with books again. When you see how much a book, just a single book, can mean to a kid it really puts a lot of the other troubles of bookmaking into perspective. It also helps you realize that your books don't really belong to you after they're finished. They go out and live their own interesting lives outside the studio.

Recommended reading?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Stamaty. A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer, and Bambert's Book of Missing Stories, by Reinhardt Jung. We recommend these books to pretty much anyone who will listen.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far? 

Making a book about our dog (Ideas Are All Around) and then getting her picture published in the New York Times thereafter. 

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

That there will be a lot of public speaking. Neither one of us really considered that getting up and talking to grown-ups would be a big part of being a children's book illustrator. For two bonafide introverts it's kind of a bummer sometimes.

Can you tell us about your newest book? 

We've been thinking a lot lately about what it would be like to grow up right now in a world that is all about over sharing and over stimulation. Quiet, alone time was essential to both of us as kids. It's still essential to us. I don't think kids are often allowed these days to do things alone—truly alone. Everything is always documented and shared. Music for Mister Moon is book about an introvert, made by two introverts. We hate to ever say what a books means, but at its core the book is meant to ask a question which is: can a thing have value if it isn't shared? 

What’s up next for you?

Our next book is actually the 10 year anniversary edition of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. It'll come in a nice, cloth slipcase and have some bonus content inside. After that I've (Phil) got a book called In My Garden. It's the first ever book that I've illustrated but not written. It was written by Charlotte Zolotow and originally published in the 1960s with illustrations by Roger Duvoisin. 

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

Always be curious.

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

PHIL: The Princess Bride

ERIN: Yes, definitely, The Princess Bride


Huge thank you to Phil and Erin for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited to see what you make next!


PHILIP AND ERIN STEAD are the author and illustrator of the 2011 Caldecott Medal Book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. They have collaborated on many books together including Bear Has a Story to Tell, Lenny & Lucy, and most recently The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a New York Times bestselling reimagining of an unfinished Mark Twain fairy tale. Philip and Erin live in northern Michigan. Someday Erin hopes to learn how to play the cello.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Erin and Philip, visit them online:

Erin Stead’s Website

Philip Stead’s Website

TO ORDER Philip and Erin’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 9th! US addresses only please.

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

Critter Lit is Growing!

AnnouncementsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited to announce that Critter Lit is growing! This little side-project that I started two years ago has taken off since February 2017, when I first launched the site. Huge thanks to all of you for your support and interest in Critter Lit!

I’m so proud of everyone who’s sent me their work. You’ve all committed the journey of being a creative and trying to break into the business of publishing. I know it’s not easy! I’ve been so impressed with what you’ve sent and your willingness to share your words with me. I’ve seen you get agented, published, and develop new voices. And I’m truly honored to be apart of your process.

When I started Critter Lit, I knew one day that I would need help— critiquing, editing, and handling the general maintenance of the site. But my goal was to always offer FREE ONE-TIME CRITIQUES, no matter what. Which at the time I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to handle in addition the very full plate I already had with my own work, family, and life. But this was and is my mission statement. You can read more about this here.

Here in the Tupta household, we’ve had a lot of changes in the last year. One of which is that my husband, Frank Tupta, will be publishing his first picture book, HOW TO BUILD A HAUNTED HOUSE, with Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing in July 2020! So exciting! I couldn’t be more proud of him! (Stay tuned for his debut author interview next year).

Frank has been writing for the last five years, working mostly on adult novels. Over the years, we’ve always edited each other’s work and bounced ideas off one-another. He has an incredible eye and has been a wonderful critique partner for my own work. So…I’m thrilled to announce that Frank will be joining Critter Lit to help me with handling all the critiques we receive.

So without further ado…please welcome Frank Tupta to the Critter Lit family!

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Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay

Interview with Author Julie Falatko

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so very excited about our guest today— the amazingly talented and oh so funny Julie Falatko! We are huge fans of Julie’s books in our house, Snappsy the Alligator…need I say more??? I’m thrilled to feature an interview with Julie today and share her latest book THE GREAT INDOORS, illustrated by Ruth Chan, which has already received a starred review and has been selected as a Junior Library Guild book!

So without further ado…please welcome Julie Falatko!

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Where do you live?

I live in Maine, outside of Portland. I don’t want to make anyone else jealous, but it’s the best place to live. In my opinion. For me. And maybe you? You probably love where you live. And – oh, wait. If I talk about how great Portland is, everyone will move here, and then it will be overcrowded and not so great anymore. So never mind. I live in Maine, outside of Portland, and it’s adequate.

How many years have you been in publishing?

My first book, Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in this Book) came out in 2016.

How did you first get published?

I got published in what I think is The Standard Way: I queried agents who seemed like a good fit, got an offer from the slush pile, and then that agent submitted my manuscript to an editor, who acquired it. People sometimes want to hear of some secret talisman (“oh, I see, so my mistake was that I wasn’t wearing red, got it”) but the truth is The Standard Way is the way it usually happens.

Do you write full-time?

I…do. I certainly spend a full-time number of hours working on writing and writing-related tasks, like publicity. But if I was not married to someone with a full-time job that pays decently and comes with health benefits, I would not be writing full time. I write full-time hours, but haven’t gotten to a point of full-time pay yet.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Picture books are my favorite literary medium. There are so many directions they can go, and, at their best, they are perfect nuggets of someone’s view of the world. It’s inspiring to try to rise to the challenge of fitting so much story and nuance and entertainment into such a small package. But honestly most of my ideas involve talking squirrels and birds and alligators and dogs, and those ideas are probably best suited for a picture book. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

How long it truly takes to make a picture book. I had known it wasn’t a quick process, but I hadn’t really absorbed that it was a two-and-a-half-year process at the very minimum, and often much longer. I’ve come to love the long lead time, both because it makes for a better book, but also because it allows me to have a lot of different projects going on at once. 

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I’m supposed to say my favorite thing is hearing from kids, but the truth is that’s my second favorite thing. The fact that I get to write such silly stories with jokes that first and foremost are in there just to crack myself up – that’s my first favorite thing. I am so lucky this is my job.

What do you find difficult working as an author?

The answer to this has probably changed a bit over the years, but right now the answer is that I’m having trouble focusing. 2017 was a very scattered year, focus-wise, and since then it has been a constant struggle to force my brain to remember what it’s here to do, and to rein my thoughts in from what they apparently want to do, which is tap dance in the many fields and meadows that have nothing to do with my writing work.

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

I get up. I move around. Mostly I go outside. I take my dogs for a walk every morning, and much of that walk is spent mulling over ideas and talking them out loud to see what sounds right.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I like to make a list every day of what I’m planning on getting done, and then I’m pretty good about forcing myself to sit down and do it. I do often light a candle. I do often meditate in the morning. I always exercise first thing, because I feel like it gets my blood moving and sends some blood to my brain which makes my ideas better (I have no idea if this is a scientific principle or just my general notion that exercise helps me think, and I’m afraid to find out, in case it’s not true). But the biggest thing is that I feel so grateful that right now this is my job, and so I’m very determined and motivated to work as hard as I can at it. The books don’t get made unless I write the words, so, no matter what, it’s up to me to sit down and write them.

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

The people of the children’s book world are just the nicest. The whole darn thing has been a positive experience. The entire community is all about boosting and supporting and shouting our celebrations, and it’s lovely. Whenever I do meet other children’s book makers or librarians or teachers in person, we all spend the entire time talking about how much we appreciate each other and each other’s work. In my experience, children’s book makers seem like incredibly nice people online, and then you meet them, and they’re even nicer than you thought they were.

Recommended reading?

I just read Damsel by Elana K. Arnold and it completely blew me away. I also just read When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, which is a few years old, and I can’t believe it took me so long, because I adored it. Recent picture books I loved are Another by Christian Robinson and Bikes for Sale by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. Also I just finished the graphic novel Sheets by Brenna Thummler and I love how it mixes genres, and the illustrations in it are incredible.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The book launch party for Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book), at Books of Wonder in New York City, was an incredible and overwhelming day. Snappsy illustrator Tim Miller and I signed books for hours. It was cool enough just to have a published book with my name printed on the cover, after so many years of homemade books where I wrote my own name in crayon. And then to pack the bookstore with friends and family to celebrate Tim and my debut together was unforgettable. I also had the richest hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life on that day. But that’s probably not relevant. 

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

Do the work. You can only get so far on industry connections or on wishing really hard. Yes, there is some luck involved. But none of the luck happens unless you do the work first. So always, always, prioritize the work.

Can you tell us about your newest book?

The Great Indoors is about a group of forest animals who go on vacation inside a human family’s house every year, during the same week that the human family goes camping. It is absolutely based on my own family’s yearly camping trips, and how the week starts off with us thrilling at the wonder of nature, and ends with us ready to trade large sums of money for a toilet that flushes.

What’s up next for you?

The third book in the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series is out in May. They go on a class trip to a museum in this one. It’s pretty silly.

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

There are no tricks to succeeding in this business. If you’re querying, follow the rules on an agency’s website. Be kind. People remember kindness, and they also remember jerkiness. Above all, put in your time, and don’t rush it. Publishing is a slow business, so there’s no reason for you to move quickly. Take your time to make sure your work is as good as you can make it. And keep working.

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

Well, this is impossible. I’m tempted to create a spreadsheet. I just. How? This is my favorite movie decade. Ok. Fine. It’s a tie between The Breakfast Club and Real Genius.


Huge thank you to Julie Falatko for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited about your upcoming books and can’t wait to see what you do next!


JULIE FALATKO writes about misunderstood characters trying to find their place in the world. She is the author of several picture books, including the Snappsy the Alligator  books, and of the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat chapter book series. Julie lives in Maine with her husband, four children, and two dogs, where she maintains a Little Free Library in front of her house.

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

Twitter

Instagram

 Facebook

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THE GREAT INDOORS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 2nd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Philip Stead and illustrator Erin Stead!

Interview with Author Natascha Biebow

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

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

So without further ado…please welcome Natascha Biebow!

Natascha Biebow author photo.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in London, England.

How many years have you been in publishing?

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

How did you first get published?

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

Do you write full-time?

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

What inspires you to create picture books?

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

What surprised you the most working as an author?

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

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

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

What do you find difficult working as an author?

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

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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

Recommended reading?

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

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

Can you tell us about your newest book?

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Facebook

LinkedIn

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. We really do love working together. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, Cuban crackers. Nom, nom.

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Adam Rex

Paulo Coelho

Yuyi Morales

Kate DiCamillo

Judy Blume

Peter Brown

Mac Barnett

William Joyce

Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi

Alice and Martin Provensen

Jon Klassen

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

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

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

 What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Twitter: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

Instagram: @Jlacera

Facebook: @MeganAndJorgeLacera

LinkedIn: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Jonathan Stutzman

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

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

So without further ado…please welcome Jonathan Stutzman!

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Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Critter Lit Call for Questions

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Craft, publishingLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today I’m reaching out to find out about YOUR questions. Questions about writing, illustrating, querying, submissions, publishing— and everything else in between. Critter Lit will begin featuring a Q & A post every month answering YOUR questions. So send them over to lindsay@critterlit.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

xo

Lindsay

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

Interview with Debut Author Jamie L. B. Deenihan

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut picture book author Jamie L. B. Deenihan! Her debut book, WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha, just released with Sterling Publishing earlier this month AND received a starred review from Kirkus!!! So exciting! I’m thrilled to have her visit us today and share her wonderful work with you all.

So without further ado…please welcome Jamie L. B. Deenihan!

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Where do you live?

I live in Suffield, Connecticut very near the family farm I grew up on. I live with my husband, two children, and our dog, Max, in a house filled with books and a growing collection of lemon trees.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Although I’ve always loved to read and write stories, I don’t remember setting goals to become a published author when I was a kid. I do remember wanting to be a veterinarian, until the day I observed a cow’s stomach surgery and quickly decided teaching would be a better fit. I grew up and became a first-grade teacher and a mom who was immersed in picture books for most of the day and I absolutely loved it! It was in those years of teaching full-time and raising two young children that I decided I wanted to publish a book someday. In 2014, my husband and I went to a free library workshop where I received tips about how to become an author. That’s the day I officially set a goal of getting published and I’ve been working at it ever since!

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

Here’s the abbreviated version of my journey to my first picture book deal:

January 2014 – attended a free workshop at my town library and decided I wanted to publish a book someday

March 2015 – wrote the first draft of When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

*Between March 2015 and February 2016, I was submitting multiple manuscripts to agents and editors and received several rejections.

February 2016 – submitted the manuscript to Sterling Publishing through the slush pile.

Early March 2016 – Sterling Editor, Christina Pulles, asked for a R&R (revise and resubmit)

Late March 2016 – revised and resubmitted to Sterling and while waiting for their response, received more rejections from agents and editors

April 2016 – continued waiting and received more rejections from agents and editors

June 2016 – received an offer from Sterling and signed with my agent, Linda Camacho

March 5, 2019 – release date for my debut picture book, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

Can you share a bit about your process for your debut picture book?

In 2015, I started writing down some thoughts for this story in one of my journals. Then, I wrote a terrible first draft (yay!) and started the revision process with my amazing critique partners. Although this manuscript didn’t go through major revisions, it took about 30 drafts to play around with the POV and carefully choose each word. After I had a solid draft complete, I wrote the sentences on post-it notes and used them to create a book dummy to test the page turns. That’s pretty much the same process that I’ve gone through with each of the five manuscripts that I’ve sold so far.

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

I have two young children and I work part-time at a preschool, so I am constantly surrounded with inspiration and I love fleshing out new story ideas with my husband and children. My critique partners played a huge role in helping me polish my manuscripts. I am grateful to have critique partners who care about my stories as much as I do, and I look forward to celebrating their books when they hit the shelves.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Comfy clothes, a cozy chair, post it notes, mechanical pencils, dark chocolate, tea, and cheese popcorn are a few of the things that make me happy when writing. My favorite time to write is with my kids, but my most productive time to write is very late at night when everyone is asleep, and the house is quiet.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple are two of the most hard-working, kind, knowledgeable, and inspiring authors I know. In 2017, I had the privilege of attending their Picture Book Boot Camp at Jane Yolen’s home which has been one of the highlights of my writing career. 

Dream project to work on?

Working on my projects with Sterling, Penguin, and Avenue A Books have all been dreams come true. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the talented editors at each house as well as the illustrators who brought each manuscript to life. I don’t really have my sights set on a specific publishing house or editor because I believe, with the help of my agent, Linda Camacho, my manuscripts will end up with the right person, at the right place, at the right time.  

Tell us about your debut book.

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, was recently honored with a starred review from Kirkus. I think Kirkus did a wonderful job describing my debut picture book, so here it is:

“Gardening tips abound in this delightful guide to caring for a lemon tree. The unnamed protagonist has a carefully drawn-out list of acceptable electronics she wants for her birthday. But Grandma instead brings…gasp…a lemon tree. The second-person text covers appropriate and inappropriate reactions and then advises readers to accept the potted present politely and wait for Grandma to leave or take a nap. Then you definitely shouldn’t: drop it from a bridge, send it aloft with balloons, or ‘play ding dong ditch’ with it (all illustrated with wry understatement). Instead, the narrator offers some incredibly important do’s: put the fruit tree ‘in a sunny spot’ (the grassy verge between sidewalk and street), don’t overwater it, and ‘battle against intruders’ who seem to come from all directions. After nearly a year of caring for her reluctantly received sapling, the protagonist joyously picks her lush lemons, and Grandma even returns to help make some fresh lemonade, the sale of which leads to more plants for her burgeoning garden. Rocha’s colors and characters leap right off the page, encouraging readers to get out into the world and create life, beauty, and some great-tasting lemonade (recipe included). The community is diverse and urban, with no lack of personality and detail. The protagonist and Grandma are both black, she with black pigtail puffs and Grandma with a white poof of hair. Charms from cover to cover.” —Kirkus (Starred review)

What’s up next for you?

As of this June, I am resigning from my part-time preschool teaching position to pursue writing full-time. I would like to have several more manuscripts out on submission by the fall and I’m also looking forward to booking more author’s visits at schools, libraries, bookshops, and other venues. My upcoming picture books include:

The New Bird in Town, illustrated by Carrie Hartman (Avenue A Books June 2019)

The Tooth Fairy VS. Santa, illustrated by Erin Hunting (Penguin Workshop fall 2019) *available for preorder now!

The Tooth Fairy VS. The Easter Bunny, illustrated by Erin Hunting (Penguin Workshop spring 2020)

When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha (Sterling spring 2020)

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

Footloose!


Huge thanks to Jamie for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to check out all your wonderful books!


Jamie L. B. Deenihan is a teacher and picture book author who lives in Suffield, Connecticut with her husband and two children. Her debut picture book, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha, is now available for purchase everywhere.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jamie and her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter @jlbdeenihan or Instagram @jlbdeenihan.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, March 21st! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author B.J. Lee

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward12 Comments

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

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

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

BJ Lee Author headshot small.jpg

Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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Anything you can’t live without while you write? 

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you? 

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

Dream project to work on? 

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

Tell us about your debut book. 

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

What’s up next for you? 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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


Interview with Author Shawnie Clark

Authors, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with Shawnie Clark, who is both self-published and traditionally published, and provides books for children in a font specifically designed for Dyslexia. How cool is that??? I’m thrilled to have her on Critter Lit today.

So without further ado, please welcome Shawnie Clark!

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Where do you live?

I live in a small town called Manteca located in Northern California. It's approximately 45 miles south of the State Capitol, Sacramento. Many moons ago it was well know for it's famous water slides.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I've been writing for many years. I developed a love of reading and writing in middle grade school. It stuck with me. In my early thirties I decided to write a couple of articles for  the local newspaper, in turn that led to writing small articles for online magazines and blogs. I came across a small publishing press located in New York. The publisher was looking for short stories children stories. Turns out that I loved it! I didn't publish with her, but the inspiration for Crocky Dile came about during the same time frame I wrote the Saltwater Crocodile activity book. I've been publishing children's books for about 9 years.

How many books have you published? 

10. I self published 8 books, 2 traditionally.

Do you write full-time? 

I write part time, but when I start a project, I work on it full time until it’s finished. As I get ideas, I write them down, then at a later time I will brainstorm, this provides a story line. Once I have a story line it's full on writing time.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I absolutely love the process of taking an idea and turning it into a finished product. It's like bringing my thoughts to life. I enjoy being outdoors. I get ideas from watching the silly things that people and animals do. I also read A LOT! This gives me inspiration and tips for future writings. While I'm doing social media sometimes I'll see an illustration that catches my eye and the brainstorming begins. I have grandchildren who have inherited my vast imagination, so I get a lot of ideas from them, too. I turn them into stories that we can share together. They love it, just as much as I do.

What surprised you the most working as an author?

The Kidlit community is really a wonderful group of people. (Not that I thought any different!) Just how much joy I would get out of the whole process. I love to write, but being able to collaborate with others in the publishing process and seeing it come to life, then being able to share— priceless.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

All of it! Seeing the finished product and sharing it with children. It's wonderful to see something I wrote bring such big smiles to those little faces.

What do you find difficult working as an author?

Editing, editing, and more editing! Need I say more.

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

I read more and I really pay attention to what people around me have to say. I get suggestions for children's stories often. It's just a matter of which ones tickle my fancy so to speak. I will also pitch ideas I have to friends and collaborate with them.

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

It's hard to choose just one. The people in the Kidlit community are such a good group. Particularly in the SCBWI Northern California. Everyone is encouraging, helpful, supportive, and has a positive attitude. A wonderful group of people.

What is your favorite picture book? 

This is hard one. I love Dr. Seuss, but I think my very favorite is Good Night Moon by  Margaret Wise Brown. I pick this book because I've enjoyed sharing it with my grandchildren over and over again. It's our all-time favorite.

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

How addictive it is lol!

You are both self-published and traditionally published. Can you tell us about your experiences with both?

I first started self-publishing in 2010. During this time frame self-publishing was not looked on favorably by the publishing world. But I didn't care. My desire to meet my goals out weighed the opposition. I asked for a lot of help and advice for others. I did months of research. Trial and error became the theme. It was very hard work, but I'm extremely thankful for the knowledge I gained from that experience. 

Traditional publishing is much easier to say the least. An author friend of mine shared with me that her publisher was excepting manuscripts, so I submitted Wonder Wheels and that was the start of a wonderful relationship with MacLaren - Cochrane Publishing. Instead of doing everything myself, I now had to collaborate with the publisher, which was a good thing. It freed up my time more so that I could help promote the book.

Your books are available using a font specifically designed for Dyslexia. Can you tell us more about that?

I didn't know of dyslexic font until I formed a relationship with MacLaren - Cochrane Publishing. It is basically a type set font that enables people with dyslexia to be able to identify the letters easier, which allows them to read better. Here is the link for more information pertaining to this subject. https://www.maclaren-cochranepublishing.com/dyslexic-font-books-info

How did you come to create books designed for readers with Dyslexia?

The Publisher MacLaren - Cochrane publish all of their children's books with the option to purchase in this font. I believe this sets them apart from all other publishers because at this time they are the only publishing company to make this available to the public.

You've also written stories for the Bedtime Stories App. Can you share a bit about that?

That was such a wonderful experience. I love the Bed Time Stories crew.

I was contacted via twitter back in April 2017 by Michael Sokolar, The Founder and CEO of Get Bedtime Stories. He said they had this idea for a new children's AP and wanted to know my opinion. As soon as I read about their vision I was on board. The AP is designed to help parents tell stories to their children, to make the experience more enjoyable and interactive between parent and child. The AP gives age appropriate story worlds to choose from or you can choose to get idea's to make your own story. They now have a story telling course in the AP.  It's FANTASTIC! See for yourself at Getbedtimestories.com or the AP GetBedtimestories in iTunes.

This project proved to be a real challenge.  Each story world has five stories, all of which are connected. My time frame was six weeks. So I had to come up with five connecting stories, and shall I say there were strict word limits due to the AP structure. It's hard enough to come up with one story, much less five, in that amount of time, but I did it. The Secret Treasure Chest Story world came to be. That was my small contribution. I'm so very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this project. I could go on more but I think this is a good stopping point.

What is your newest book? 

A children's picture book titled BUG OFF. 

Peter is full of anticipation for the first day of school. As he looks for the yellow blip of a school bus coming down the street he contemplates how his day will turn out. “What will the other students be like?”  “What will they think of me?”

Overcome by a whirlwind of mixed emotions his legs begin to tremble. A fear of the unknown has set in. Peter whispers, “Will the other students like me?” Peter finds the answers to these questions and discovers that school can be a heavy weight especially when the school bully comes calling. Life would never be the same due to one of the ugliest bugs inching onto the scene and one genuine act of kindness.

What’s up next for you?

I started a middle grade chapter book.

Here is a sneak peek...

Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump…

Heart pounding, feeling like it wants to escape the confinement of her chest. The cold from the ground crept through her skin causing goose bumps to rise. A strange smell lingered in the air tickling her nose. It was a familiar smell but she couldn’t quite figure it out. She fluttered her eyes but they wouldn’t open. A breeze rustled some leaves nearby crunch, crunch, as they scattered across the ground. It was a warm breeze that brought comfort. Thoughts of her soft cuddly bed in her room lingered in her mind, “in my room, in my room,” panic set in, realizing that she wasn’t in her room.  She fought with all of her might to open her eyes. The warm breeze was growing ever hotter. She could feel sweat forming on her brow. Finally a glimpse of light filtered through the tiny cracks. Things were all a blur. Gently rubbing her eyes she regained focus. She looked on in amazement, pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, as she whispered the words, “What are you?”

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

Don't give up! Meet a challenge head on! Stay positive!

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

Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark


Huge thank you to Shawnie Clark for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on all of your books!


Shawnie Clark, has been writing children's stories since 2010. She's a self-published and traditionally published author, with 10 children's book to date. The most current, BUG OFF, a children's picture book was released in July 2018. She is currently working with MacLaren – Cochrane Publishing. The topics of her books help children to be more aware of issues such as bullying, self esteem, friendships, youth issues, and compassion to name a few. As an energetic storyteller, Shawnie is a local favorite attending many events such as school visits, book fairs, and book stores. She is proficient in writing children's fiction, knowing what it takes to do school visits, along with self-publishing and marketing. Shawnie also had the privilege of writing a series of children’s stories for a new children’s AP called “GetBedtimestories” available to download for free on the Apple AP Store. She is also an active member of SCBWI, a Purple Dragonfly Awards Honoree, and Story Monsters Approved. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Shawnie and her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter @Shawnie_Clark.

TO ORDER Shawnie’s books, click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Meera Sriram

Authors, book release, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, we have a fabulous interview with author Meera Sriram, whose debut book, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, illustrated by Meera Sethi, will be released with Penny Candy Books on March 12th! Filled with brilliant patterns and colors, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, explores the complexities of living in a new country and dealing with loss. Both poignant and extremely relevant, this is a picture book everyone should read.

I’m honored to share this beautiful book with you today.

So without further ado, please welcome Meera Sriram!

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Where do you live?

I live in Berkeley, California. I was born and raised in India, and moved to the U.S about two decades ago.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

When I had my first child, my daughter and I read tons of picture books together. We went to the library several times a week, carried books everywhere, and enjoyed story-times. This was all fascinating to me as I grew up without access to picture books. Eventually, I started reviewing and recommending diverse books. When I went back to work in the corporate world (as an electrical engineer), I realized I had left my heart behind in picture books.

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

I started out with no relevant academic or industry background in publishing. At first, I wanted to write for children in India, to sort of give back what I had missed as a child. I went on to co-author four books that were published in India. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to work towards addressing the void here, in the U.S – kids that looked and lived like my own were missing in stories. I was obsessed with learning the craft, knowing the process and resources, attending workshops and conferences, and of course writing and reading. But the most important contribution came from my critique groups, my diligent and talented writer friends! I’ve learned from them and leaned on them, and they’ve guided and encouraged me at every stage. I’m thankful for being part of a supportive cohort on this journey because the road to publication is far from easy, particularly when you think about revisions, harsh rejections, and long waits. Many submissions later, someone liked my work – believed in its importance and liked it enough to put it out in the world. And I’m very grateful for that.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Sure, I usually pick an idea and mull over it for a few weeks. When I sit to write, I make a mental checklist of story elements for my specific work – characters, conflict, plot, resolution, takeaway – to ensure that the story I want to tell allows for a structure with these elements. Then, I write in burst mode and revise until I lose count. In fact, I don’t really shelve it until it’s reasonably polished (my CPs must hate me for this :)

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

Honestly, I don’t struggle with ‘seed’ ideas. However, I’m often challenged to come up with a good plot. Then, I go back and read my favorite authors, to consciously study plots and story arcs. I also brainstorm with friends (and my own kids) to get my juices flowing. Sometimes, I distance myself for a few days before returning to tackle it.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Chai, and it’s no secret. Also, a dictionary, and windows that look out into the sky or patches of green.

Any authors who inspire you?

Oh, so many! If I were to name a few picture book writers, then I’d say Jacqueline Woodson, Allen Say, and Patricia Polacco.

Dream project to work on?

Maybe a middle-grade on social justice set in India.

Tell us about your debut book.

THE YELLOW SUITCASE is a story about a little girl who returns to India to attend her dear grandmother’s funeral. She is devastated and confused, until she finds comfort in a special gift. The narrative fleshes out the universal emotion of grief while telling the experience from an immigrant perspective. The inspiration for this story came from my own family’s experience when my children lost their first grandparent in India. I hope THE YELLOW SUITCASE helps open up conversations around death in classrooms and families. The book is illustrated by Meera Sethi who has brought in many wonderful colors and cultural details to the spreads.

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited about a couple of projects that are out (or about to go out) on submission. Currently, I’m trying to promote my debut alongside revisions of work-in-progress. In the long run, I aspire to write stories on experiences, themes, and people less visible in picture books.


Thank you for stopping by Critter Lit today Meera! We are so excited to see THE YELLOW SUITCASE on bookshelves! Congrats!


Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S at the turn of the millennium. An electrical engineer in her past life, she now enjoys writing for children and advocating early and multicultural literacy. Meera has co-authored several books published in India. She believes in the transformative power of stories and writes on cross-cultural experiences that often take her back to her roots. Meera loves yoga and chai, and lives with her husband and two children in Berkeley, California, where she fantasizes about a world with no borders.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Meera and her work visit her website: www.meerasriram.com or follow her on Twitter @Meeratsriram and Facebook.

TO PRE-ORDER Meera’s debut book, ring up your local bookstore, or visit IndiBound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THE YELLOW SUITCASE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, January 31st! US addresses only please.

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

Interview with Debut Author Lindsay Leslie

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Welcome back! It’s 2019 and I am so excited about all the interviews we have lined up on Critter Lit this year. We are kicking off the year with a debut author whose book, which comes out next month, has the best title of the year…I’m callin’ it! I can’t wait for you all to check out THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS (great title right? Told ya!)

So without further ado…please welcome Lindsay Leslie!

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Where do you live?

I live in the great city of Austin, Texas! Trying to keep it weird over here. (The city’s motto is Keep Austin Weird, in case you all don’t know.)

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Not too long ago. I can be a bit slow about understanding what should be my path, and what works for my personality and my talents, but I get there in a very roundabout way. It was toward the end of 2014 when I connected the dots between my ability and love of writing, my love for being creative in some form or fashion, and my adoration of children and how they see the world. The idea smacked me in the face one evening when I was riffing a.k.a. making up a story on the fly to my son. After I said “the end,” I picked up a picture book off his floor and that’s when the smack happened. Helllooooo, Lindsay! You should write for children!!!

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

It involved study of the form and finding out where I needed to be in terms of children’s literature. I started out writing chapter books. I have a series I created based on the stories I made up and told my kids at their nightly bedtime tuck-ins. I have since put those in my electronic drawer to simmer. I moved on to picture books and felt that I connected with the challenge and the focus of creating a story that packs a punch but in very few words. I became obsessed with finding the right words and playing with rhythm and pacing. I also tried out a middle grade novel and became a bit exhausted. It was a lot. I haven’t given up, but for now, it’s in my electronic drawer of goodies.

So, I kept my mind focused on picture books. I wrote and created as much as I could and I learned from those before me. The amount of fantastic knowledge and how it’s given so willingly has always been overwhelming to me. I often think about how I can pay that forward. Anyway, I soaked in all I could and read so many picture books. I also joined supportive children’s literature groups with vaults of knowledge, including SCBWI Austin and 12x12. Also, I found a bunch of wonderful writers who wanted to form a writing group. We lean on each other for everything.

When I was ready to find an agent, I turned to querying traditionally and was a BIG FAN of all the various contests and pitch events on Twitter that seek to connect writers and illustrators with agents and editors. It’s a great way to get immediate feedback on queries and concepts. Back in March 2017, I decided to participate in #pitmad on Twitter, which is a huge pitch event covering all genres--everything and anything. I’ve participated in #pitmad a couple of times, and I’ve always wondered whether picture books get lost in the scrolling madness of YA and adult novels. I’m glad I didn’t give up. I pitched four of my picture book manuscripts, and I only got one “favorite” that day. But, it was the only one I needed. That favorite came from Kristen Nobles, children’s publisher with Page Street Kids. A month and a half later, I received an email from Associate Editor Charlotte Wenger at Page Street requesting an R&R (revise and resubmit). I worked with Charlotte back and forth for the next month and a half to see if I could shape THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS into a picture book Page Street Kids would want to publish. And it worked! I received an offer directly from Page Street.

With an offer in hand, I was referred to Red Fox Literary via a literary connection and connected to Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, who offered representation. 

Can you share a bit about your process?

Oh, it’s a silly process without much science behind it, but it works for me! And, isn’t that what it comes down to? What works for you. So, I wait for my muse. I wait for an idea to pole vault into my noggin’ and if I’m paying attention, I’ll stop in my tracks and have to write down the idea. I’ve got a long running list of those ideas in my phone. Then I pay attention (there’s a lot of that) to the idea that keeps marching in a very belligerent manner through my mind. The idea that just won’t give up. If an idea is doing that, I know I have to explore it on the page. 

Next, I write the horrible first draft, or at least I try to allow myself to do that. Sometimes I can be such an over-editor at the beginning. I let that horrible first draft, or how ever many words I’m able to get down, sit. And, I let it sit for as long as it needs … until it calls me back. Then I go back to it and rewrite or complete the draft. I’d say I do this over and over again until I feel it’s ready for extra eyeballs, and those would be the eyeballs of my trusted critique partners. I make sure to run my work by quite a few people and see what the common pain points are—what’s working, what’s not. I edit and edit and edit, and then I pass it on to my agent. Then I edit and edit and edit. This line of business and creative works takes a lot of patience. By that, I mean patience for yourself.

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

I don’t have one prescribed thing I do besides give myself time. I don’t berate myself for not being at the keyboard knocking out new stories all the time or editing, editing, editing every day. I do cheer myself on when I am able to do the work, when I am inspired by an idea, and when I make any forward progress. I acknowledged and keep chugging forward. It takes a lot of listening to yourself and a lot of patience. 

But when I really throw a brain cell at what I’m doing during those idea-creating moments, I can nail down two ways I come up with ideas: creating associations and active sensing.

  1. Creating associations: I let my mind wander and investigate topics I love and that intrigue me. I love asking what-if questions and I make sure I don’t edit my mind and direct its creative investigation. I just keep letting it think and go, even if it goes in a weird direction. And it almost always does. THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS was definitely born from one of those associative moments—an idea that came forward from stepping on my son’s picture book and the ideas that sprang forward from my childhood experiences with anxiety.

  2. Active sensing: I say active sensing, but it’s a living-in-the-moment-and-being-present thing. I actively observe with all of my senses. The two senses I lean on most: listening and looking. Yes, really listen to your kids when they talk about Pokemon, because it may give you an idea that ends up in a book deal (a.k.a. my next picture book NOVA THE STAR EATER). Yes, do some people watching. I get so much quality material watching people go about their daily lives. One of the best places for material, the school cafeteria. Watching how the children interact with each other and hearing some of their conversations. It’s a creative gold mine!

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Not really, no. OK, I’m kind of lying. I do love to break for a snack or lunch. It’s kind of something I look forward to. I love food. Oh, I do. But while I’m writing? Hmmm...I need my desktop computer or laptop. But I can be anywhere. I don’t have to be at a certain place or have a certain desk or chair. When I’m focused, I’m way focused. Maybe too much. I can have background noise, music, or not. Kids screaming around me or not. I’m very laid back and flexible that way. What I can’t be without is a great idea that takes me to that story in my mind where I can’t be distracted and I want to stay and play.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

How long is this blog? I could go for days on this. I’ve been inspired by so many. I’ll stick with the authors who shaped me as a kiddo … Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary. The trifecta. These authors were my childhood. Hands down. I feel they are a combo of relatable and quirky. That’s where I like to be with my writing. 

Dream project to work on?

Each project I’ve done has been a dream, so don’t wake me up. And, it’s been dreamy to work hand-in-hand with my editor, Charlotte Wenger at Page Street Kids. I trust her feedback implicitly. We seem to really get each other and have a fantastic creative/working relationship. 

Someday, I would like to finish that middle grade novel. That’s my carrot I’m chasing. It’s an odd, quirky thing, and a hard one to write. I was told it would be really difficult to do, but to me that sounds like a challenge, and I love a challenge. One way to get me to accomplish a goal is to tell me I can’t do it. 

Tell us about your debut book.

Oh, THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS …  and wary … and absolutely unadventurous, and is freaking out about what story might be on its pages. The book takes the reader on a journey of its fears, navigating the book’s possible contents together. With each page turn, the book becomes a bit braver. The book is multi-layered and incorporates the five senses, multiple literary genres, and various book parts. Ultimately, the relationship between book and reader brings everything together.

I’m so glad it’s my debut picture book. I’ve battled with anxiety for the majority of my life, so I’m well-versed in what anxiety feels like and how these emotions can get the best of us. This sweet, anxious book mimics what we all feel when anxiety comes rushing in. That heightened state and then the slow realization that we aren’t in immediate danger and we aren’t alone, so the calming begins. 

What’s up next for you?

Lots! THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS hits the shelves on Feb. 19, and I’m looking forward to the book launch at BookPeople in Austin on Feb. 23 (at 2 p.m.!) and celebrating with everyone. On May 21, I will usher in my next book, NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids), illustrated by John Taesoo Kim. Then, in summer 2020, WANTED: DUSK RAIDERS (Page Street Kids) will release. In the meantime, I keep creating and having a blast connecting with the wonderful folks of the kidlit world! Also, keep an eye out for the debut picture book authors and author/illustrators of New In Nineteen. There’s so much unbelievable talent in that group. Check out the website at www.newin19.weebly.com

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

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! 


Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Lindsay! We can’t wait to see your fantastic books out in the world!


A diary keeper, a journalism major, a public relations executive, a children’s author—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. Her debut picture book, THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS (Page Street Kids/illustrated by Alice Brereton), releases on Feb. 19, 2019. Her blog A Book and a Pie reviews picture books and pairs them with fitting pie recipes. Lindsay lives with her husband, two young boys, and two fur-beasts in Austin.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Lindsay and her work visit her website: lindsayleslie.com or follow her on Twitter @lleslie | Instagram @lindsaylesliewrites

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, January 24th! US addresses only please.

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

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!

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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 Author/Illustrator Corinna Luyken

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Corinna Luyken!

Author photo_Corinna Luyken.jpg

Where do you live?

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

How many years have you been in publishing?

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

How many books have you published?

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

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

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

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

What inspires you to create picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

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

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

What is your favorite picture book?

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

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

Tell us about your newest book?

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

Labyrinth!


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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


Interview with Author Tricia Springstubb

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited for today’s interview because it’s with none other than the fabulously talented Tricia Springstubb, who also happens to be a friend of mine and fellow local author here in the Cleveland area. Tricia writes early chapter books, middle grade, and picture books—she’s a triple threat! Many of you may know her from her latest series, the CODY books, which are wonderful! Here at my house, we are big fans of PHOEBE AND THE DIGGER. Her writing is lovely, insightful, and powerful. I’m honored to share her work with you today and give you all a sneak peek at her process.

So without further ado, please welcome Tricia Springstubb!

kentucky.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in Cleveland Heights with my husband, my garden and Billy the cat. We have three grown daughters and here’s how lucky we are--our two grandbabies live a bicycle ride away. 

How many years have you been in publishing?

I’ve been publishing since prehistoric times.  

Do you write full-time?

Yes--I told you I’m lucky! 

What inspires you to create books for children?

Children are the world’s most passionate readers—no one believes in and cares about story more deeply than they do. The world is still so new for them, and their hearts are wide open. I feel privileged to write for them. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

That children treat you like a rock star!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I still get the craziest thrill when I find one of my books on a library or bookstore shelf. 

Also, I love working with illustrators. I’ve been so lucky (lucky!) to have many talented, visionary artists do the covers and spot art for my novels. The illustrators for my picture books and chapter books make the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. I’m always so excited getting those first sketches. You feel you know your story inside out, and then you see it through the artist’s eyes and it takes on a whole new, rich dimension.  

What do you find difficult working as an author?

When I’ve lost my way and know that I need to go back in for a major revision or possibly even start over from scratch. There’s a certain relief in scrapping something you know isn’t working, but it’s also hard to let go of all those weeks and months of writing.  

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I always write in the morning, when I’m closest to my dreams and before the world has a chance to make me cranky. After I finish, I go for a long walk or, in summer, a swim. Almost always I get another idea or two, or untangle some knot in the plot-- I make sure to carry pen and notebook in my pocket or swim bag! 

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

Kid lit has always been a warm and generous community, and it’s getting even better. Social media has allowed us to come together over so many wonderful causes. Just in the last few months, I’ve been part of #kidsneedbooks, where we donate books to teachers who need them for classroom libraries, and #kidsneedmentors, where we’re partnering with teachers and students to encourage writing and creativity of all kinds.  

What is your favorite picture book?

Yesterday I’d have said Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Today I’ll say Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Tomorrow I might say Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. Can you tell I’m re-visiting the classics with my grandbabies? I couldn’t even begin to choose among contemporary picture books—one after another, they are breaking new ground in text and art. Breath-taking!  

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

What a slow, slow writer I am, and how there seems to be no help for it. I try to tell myself that I’m creating something that never existed before, something I hope will last for a long time—but I still wish I didn’t have to go through a zillion drafts every time!!! (Maybe it’s better that I didn’t know all this when I first started.) 

Tell us about your most recent book?

This past spring, the fourth and last book in my Cody series published. Cody and the Heart of a Champion rounds out a year in the life of Cody, her family, her neighbors and friends. The books are inspired by my own diverse, lively, Cleveland neighborhood. They’re about the things that loom big in kids’ lives: whether the teacher likes you; how to do the right thing even when it’s really hard; not being good at soccer. Every few pages there’s an illustration by the genius Eliza Wheeler, who gives the characters and settings the perfect comic and sweet (but never too sweet) touch. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m revising a new middle grade novel of which I must not yet speak, and looking forward to my new picture book, Khalil and Mr. Hagerty. Candlewick will publish it in 2020. It’s inspired both by my late grandfather and by an Iraqi refugee family with whom my family has become close friends. The illustrator is Elaheh Taherian and you really, really want to look up her work right now at elahehtaherian.com

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

In the 80s we were raising our three kids and I swear we didn’t go to the movies more than twice the whole decade. I remember loving Tootsie but I’m not sure if that’s because it was good or I was so happy to get out of the house. I pretend to have seen The Goonies even though (ssh) I really haven’t.


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


Tricia has been publishing picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels for over thirty years. Her work has received many starred reviews and appeared on numerous Best of the Year lists. Her books have won the Parents Choice Silver Award and the Ohioana Award for Children’s Literature, been nominated for state reading awards, and been chosen by the Junior Library Guild. She is a frequent speaker at schools, libraries and conferences.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Tricia and her work visit her website: triciaspringstubb.com or follow her on Twitter @springstubb.

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


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 6th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with debut author Hannah Holt!