You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2009.

jonwoodwardJonathan Woodward’s an artist, a nomad and a soon-to-be father. The man behind, a blog for aspiring children’s book illustrators, Jon shares his passion for creativity and his good business sense.

Woodward grew up in Nottingham, the home of Robin Hood. (Hmm, no wonder he was drawn to children’s literature.) He was known as the “arty one” in school, the kid who would always be asked to draw the posters for school plays.

After studying Graphic Design in college, Woodward worked as an in-house designer before going freelance in 2006.

To Woodward, freelance means freedom to explore. He and his wife rented out their UK home in 2007 and have been on the road since, living in Panama, Buenos Aires, Grenada, Toronto, South Africa, Thailand, Hong Kong and Dubai. The internet makes running their marketing and design business from anywhere possible.

Jon, how do your travels influence your illustration style?

I wouldn’t say that they have directly influenced it from color or style perspective based on the different cultures that we have seen (although that is an aspect I really love about the travel), but having seen so much beautiful wildlife and nature around the world, it has definitely influenced the subject matter that I illustrate.JWsorrow

Tell us about some of your most recent illustrations.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy is the piece that led to my current collage style of working. I’d been flicking through magazines and noticed how much the hair on a particular advert looked like tree bark–it was one of those light bulb moments!

The idea for the final illustration came from a song I was listening to at the time that coincidentally tied in with my idea for the tree (and my love of crows!).


The Phoenix is from a recent set of four illustrations based on mythical beasts. Here I was trying to pare down the collage to a bare minimum–to create a bolder, simpler illustration style that might be more suitable for a children’s book.

I enjoy finding textures of a particular surface that are perfect for conveying a totally different texture in the illustration. This happened with the feet of the Phoenix. I found a picture of a model wearing a sparkly bejeweled top and instantly knew that I had to use it for the feet.

This piece was done mostly in traditional collage, with just a bit of detailing, adding the white eye and pumping up the colours a little in Photoshop.

JWsheep  JWwolf

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing is where I first started using acrylic paint alongside the collage medium. It’s a technique born out of necessity, as I was struggling to find a magazine clipping to represent the wolf fur, so I started working into the collage with paint. I got a bit carried away in the end and ended up painting the sheep’s head and zipper on top of the collage, too.

This was an interesting piece personally, as I had previously been creating collages digitally using scanned magazine clippings, but I realized that my choice of texture ended up being a lot more interesting if I did the collage traditionally using whatever I could find within the magazines and materials I had. I don’t think I would have chosen the printed text to represent the sheep wool had I been doing the piece digitally.

Who are some of your favorite illustrators?

My illustration inspirations and interests are quite diverse, ranging from artists like Jon Foster, Dave McKean and James Jean all the way to Shaun Tan and J. Otto Seibold.

What is your ultimate goal as a children’s book illustrator?

I initially thought I wanted to go into comics or sci-fi and fantasy illustration for book covers, but the theme and content of my illustrations always seemed to gravitate back to one of my other passions: wildlife and nature. If I was only ever allowed to illustrate creatures great and small for the rest of my illustration career, I’d be a very happy man.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful artwork, Jon!

If you’re interested in learning more about the ilustration and design work of Jonathan Woodward, visit his blog and follow him on Twitter at @jonwoodward.


Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saves the life of a classmate, but is implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things they hated. The list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.



Before I picked up Hate List, Jennifer Brown’s stunning YA debut, I thought about the tough task Brown had—making Val likeable. A girl involved in a school shooting? I was convinced I would find Val despicable and weak at times, considering the role she played in such a horrifying event. I would probably pity Val and her plight, caught between her high school tormenters and the ultimate bully, her boyfriend Nick.

But I was surprised by Val’s strength. Pity Val? The idea seems completely laughable to me now. Ms. Brown immersed me so deep into Val’s head, she pulled me back to my own high school years when I was teased yet also befriended. Val is real, alive. I know her. Part of me was her. Val exhibits that contradictory mixture of confidence and insecurity inherent to the teen experience. She’s tough and vulnerable, but never a subject of pity.

The story opens in the fall, as Val awakens for her first day back at school, her mother frantically calling Val’s name, hand grasping the telephone, ready to dial 9-1-1 if Val doesn’t answer. The reader immediately understands Val’s fragile state and the strained relationship between mother and daughter.

Brown weaves back and forth in time, between Val’s first day at school and the morning of the shooting on May 2. Newspaper snippets give a subjective and somewhat sanitized view of the violence and victims, juxtaposed with Val’s real-time perspective. There’s what everyone thinks and what actually occurred. Val believes her boyfriend Nick has very different intentions on May 2—standing up for his girlfriend, not bringing the school down—and the reader feels as helpless and shocked as she does when the violence begins.

Brown paints a vivid, complex portrait of Nick that never succumbs to stereotypes. We see Nick through Val’s eyes—the Nick who understood how Val suffered through her parents’ troubled marriage, the Nick who made her feel safe and beautiful, the Nick who could recite Shakespeare. We also realize how Val missed the warning signs of Nick’s tragic actions. The hate list they created united them; hating people who hated them deepened their bond. It was a joke to Val, but a manifesto to Nick.

Val’s innocence is so well documented that when she is questioned by detectives, presented with incriminating evidence—the hate list, the surveillance video, the emails—you want to shout, “Leave Val alone! That’s not how it happened! Tell them, Val!”

Rich with layers, Hate List explores Val’s deep emotions as she moves through her grief, loses friends and gains unlikely ones. Her family unravels and she learns dark secrets about how her parents feel about her and each other. At its core, Hate List examines the complexity of relationships. How we can misinterpret those we love the most. How we often see only what we want to see, not what’s really there.

What’s really there in Hate List is an expertly crafted tale, an ordinary girl coming to terms with an extraordinary event—and becoming an extraordinary young woman.


Coming September 2009 from Little, Brown BFYR

Contest announcement!

I’m giving away an ARC of Jennifer Brown’s Hate List.

Just leave a comment below to be entered. Blog or Tweet about the giveaway and you’ll receive an additional two entries.

Contest ends May 31 at midnight EST. Winner will be drawn on June 1. Good luck!

Did you know that words on a page make a sound in your head? Reading expository stretches is like someone whispering in your ear. Too much and it makes you doze off. Page upon page of dialogue can be tiring as well, like listening to a loud, non-stop talker. Blah blah blah. And awkward arrangements will make a reader dizzy and confused. The ears hear what the eyes see.

Words on the page should have a pleasing rhythm or euphony. Words should mix and mingle in our minds to elicit rich imagery. Sure, you might want some words to clash for effect, but overall, clunky language is junky language.   

I enjoy writing in first person because I can become my character. I sometimes speak a scene aloud before committing to paper, to test the sound of the words. (And I’ve even been known to speak with an accent, since my current manuscript is set in the south.)

Reading your manuscript aloud differs from scanning it on the page. Your ears will immediately find awkward passages and stilted dialogue. While reading aloud, you’ll be able to examine:

  • Repetitive phrases. Many writers have crutch words or phrases that they use repeatedly without noticing. Reading aloud can make those redundancies obvious. Even a word used twice on the same page can sound faulty to the ear, especially if it’s an uncommon word.
  • Authenticity of dialogue. While reading, ask yourself, do people talk like this? You might find yourself adding words or skipping some to fit a more natural speech pattern.
  • Wordy descriptions and run-on sentences. Too many adjectives can bog a sentence down. And don’t even get me started on adverbs. That requires a separate post!
  • Pacing. Do you have long passages of description or introspection? Too much dialogue? Is the piece too slow or too fast?

Your body will also give you cues. Do you need to catch your breath? Are you thirsty? That may sound funny, but it was true with one of my early stories. I stuffed my sentences so full of curlicue words that I needed a big glass of water afterwards.

But be forewarned, like any technique, reading aloud does have its cons. A writer may inject a tone or inflection while reading their own work that doesn’t come across on the page. I learned this recently at a first page session when someone else read my story. The humor and liveliness that I intended fell flat.  Was the reader’s performance or my words at fault?

So you might want to consider having a critique partner read your manuscript aloud instead. Even if it’s read in monotone, the meaning should shine through. Are the words doing what you want them to do?

Have a listen; make a revision.

Thank you to everyone who celebrated the release of Carin Berger’s newest picture book OK Go! by participating in her green-themed collage contest.

Carin thought the entries were so fabulous, she has posted all of them on her website!

We selected three winners at random.


 Verity, age 7, wins the signed copy of OK, Go!








 Ellie, age 4, wins a signed bookplate and an All Mixed Up mini-book. 








 Isaac, age 10, wins a signed bookplate and an All Mixed Up mini-book.







The rest of our artists receive an All Mixed Up mini-book. Everyone wins!

Visit Carin Berger’s website to see all the terrific collages and read the children’s inspiration for their art!

Thank you, green parents and kids! OKGO

<– And don’t forget to pick up a copy of OK, GO!



Three things happened to young adult writer and teen librarian Bridget Zinn in February:

  1. She got an agent for her novel.
  2. She got married.
  3. She found out she had Stage Four colon cancer.

It’s unbelievable that a young, vibrant woman with absolutely ZERO of the risk factors has been struck with this form of cancer. But it is pretty incredible that the kidlit community has come to her aid with The Bridget Zinn Auction.

Authors have donated signed copies of their books, editors have offered critiques. All to benefit Bridget’s treatment and recovery. 

There’s lots of fabulous goodies to be had. Just take a look:

There’s lots more marvelousness to be had. Jewelry, crafts, books, journals and custom items. (I’ve got my eye on that custom cookbook.)

So what are you waiting for? Start bidding! The auctions will close on May 30 at 11pm EST.

It’s Children’s Book Week! So what does that mean? It’s time to celebrate children’s books across all genres.

Read to children. Inspire their creativity. Write a story together. Draw pictures. Enter Carin Berger’s Contest. Do whatever you want to make reading a priority in your family’s life! (Although I’m sure it’s already a priority.)

To help you along on this salute to Silverstein, this festival of Fox, this jubilee of Jeffers, here are some links:

And here are some marvelous picture books being released this week! Enjoy!

bearocks becausedaddy bigcatpepper dontlooknow enchantedlionsgreenwilmaspaceharriethadenoughletsdonothinglookstarsmewithyou moonman uncleemily   ohnotimetogopoloandlilysongofmiddlec sugartendaysninenightsyoko

twitterFirst there was Mitali Perkins’ list of young adult authors on Twitter. Then came the picture book author and illustrator list.

And now–finally–middle grade authors have a list to call their own.

Below you’ll find authors of published books (or soon-to-be-released titles) for middle grade readers. Chapter book and tween authors have been included as well.

If you know of others who should be on this list, please leave a comment and I’ll update the list periodically.

Enjoy! Discover talented writers; make new connections.

  1. R.J. Anderson @RJ_Anderson
  2. Elizabeth Atkinson @tWeenBooks
  3. Susan Taylor Brown @SusanWrites
  4. Meg Cabot @MegCabot
  5. RJ Clarken @LightVerse
  6. Bonnie Doerr @BonnieDoerr
  7. Michelle Knudsen @MichelleKnudsen
  8. Adrienne Kress @AdrienneKress
  9. Cynthea Liu @Cynthea
  10. Lauren Baratz Logsted @LaurenBaratzL
  11. Anne Mazer @AnneMazer
  12. Kate Messner @KateMessner
  13. Lauren Myracle @LaurenMyracle
  14. Nicole O’Dell @Nicole_Odell
  15. Ellen Potter @EllenPotter
  16. Sarah Prineas @SPrineas
  17. Karen Rivers @KarenRivers
  18. Christine Rose @ChristineRose
  19. Laurel Snyder @LaurelSnyder
  20. Cynthia Chapman Willis @CynthiaCWillis

clickclackmooWhat a lucky duck–I got to meet the moovelous Betsy Lewin this week. The whimsical illustrator of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type and countless other barnyard books visited our local elementary school and entertained the kids with a mix of slide show, drawing lesson and Q&A.

Two Kindergarten classes filed into the library with clipboards and crayons, eager to learn from a master cartooner.

But first, Mrs. Lewin showed photos of her 120 year-old Brooklyn brownstone. Her living room is filled with souvenirs from her world travels–Africa, Australia, the Galapagos–places where she has observed animals and gained inspiration. When she showed her husband’s studio on the fourth floor, she pointed out that it was far bigger than hers, not because he was more important, but because it also housed a photography studio. Ted Lewin paints his realistic watercolors by studying photographs. He pays neighborhood kids to model for him. “Anybody want to move to Brooklyn?” she asked. (My hand went up!)

Mrs. Lewin brought along her cartoon friend, Weirdly, to show the children how to draw expressions: mad, sad, excited, laid back and cool, mischievious, shy. “Weirdly helps me draw ‘sound’ words like BOOM and CRASH because sometimes I can’t imagine what they look like,” she explained.

She also showed her first draft cover for Doreen Cronin’s Duck for President. The original cover depicted a national political convention. The point of view is Duck’s, looking out over the crowd (we see his back and tail, wings outstretched). In the front row there’s Farmer Brown, some cows and chickens, Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. Red, white and blue balloons are falling from the ceiling as the crowd holds signs with slogan spoofs like “The Duck Stops Here,” “I like Duck,” and “A Veggie in Every Pot.”

Then her publisher decided they didn’t want political sayings on the cover, so they asked her to write signs with all 50 states. She soon realized that wouldn’t work. “Which states should go on the front cover? Which states should go on the back? It wouldn’t be fair. What about M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I? That’s too long!”

duckforprezUltimately they decided to put Duck on the podium with just three signs: DUCK, Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. PERFECT!

The hilarious moment came when Mrs. Lewis showed a photo of someone in a cow costume, typing away. She said the photo was sent to her in an unmarked package. Then she asked, “Does anyone know what Doreen Cronin was before she became a children’s author?” One kid had an answer. “A cow?”

Much to his disappointment, no. Ms. Cronin was a lawyer, just like Mrs. Lewin’s brother, a judge, who had sent the funny cow costume photo. (Yep, lawyers are some of the funniest people I know. My own father included.)

Next, Mrs. Lewin showed the children how to draw a lion with a few easy steps. She broke it down into wiggly lines, circles and half circles and then had the kids decide how they wanted to draw the eyes–happy, sad or angry–with just a slant of the eybrows. She had the first row stand up to show the rest of the audience how different each lion was, as different as they were. “And that’s what makes you so special,” she said. “You’re the only you in the whole world.”

After some questions and answers–her favorite books as a child were Winnie the Pooh and Call of the Wild–she asked the children for suggestions of what to draw. An animal lover and observer all her life, Mrs. Lewin grew up in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by farms. She would watch the animals intently so she could remember how to draw them. She doesn’t need to look at an example as she creates. She can draw anything!

Mrs. Lewin draws with quick strokes, and it’s amazing to watch how these simple lines and squiggles magically come together  to form monkeys, elephants, rocket ships and knights in shining armor. Two lucky ducks, I mean kids, even got their portraits drawn.

The most interesting part of the presentation was when Mrs. Lewin showed the difference between her original black and white drawings for her debut 1979 book, Cat Count, and the new full-color edition. In the new release, she gave two dancing felines a blue room lit with the shimmering, sparkling light of a disco ball. The way the dots played on the page gave the scene a magical feel, as if it could lift right out of the book and tango around the room.

I’ll use the saying “lucky duck” one last time: how fortunate children are to have such marvelous books illustrated by a true genius. Thank you, Betsy Lewin!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive kidlit news, writing tips, book reviews & giveaways via email. Wow, such incredible technology! Next up: delivery via drone.

Join 9,725 other followers

My Picture Books


illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

Blog Topics


Twitter Updates