There are many clever picture books being released, but I don’t want you to miss the cleverest:

This non-fiction story looks at a horse who made scientific history. It’s a fun ride for all ages (just look at the cute illustration of Hans by Mike Lowery)! 

Like OLD ROCK a few weeks ago, I learned about CLEVER HANS via SCBWI’s free webinars, and I felt compelled to reach out to author Kerri Kokias about this equine wunderkind.

Kerri, how did you first learn about Clever Hans?

I learned about Clever Hans in an Introduction to Psychology class I took in college.

Oh wow, back in college! So you held onto the idea for a long time before writing it. What was the spark that made you say—hmm, maybe this is a picture book?

When I began writing for children and brainstorming ideas for writing a narrative non-fiction picture book, Hans immediately came to mind. Since Hans had stayed on my mind for the twenty-some years since college, I knew there was a strong hook to his story. And the idea of a horse that could count, tell-time, solve math problems,  read, spell, and more has obvious kid appeal. I also knew how Hans’ story ended and that he had a lasting scientific impact. It felt almost like the story could write itself! Although, of course, it’s never that easy.

It never is!

Did the story go through several rewrites? Did you have to change tack (pun intended) anywhere in the process?

Ha! Good joke, Tara. No, it’s that the research proved to be more involved than I originally anticipated.

Before I spent a lot of time digging up sources, I did a quick survey of what was more widely known about Hans in popular culture. It didn’t take long for me to notice the discrepancies that I’d have to sort out. I ordered a copy of the original research report on Clever Hans, which was written in 1911 and translated from German. I spent a lot of time reading, rereading, and generally slogging through those 275 pages. The language used in that time period (and in research reports in general) can be long-winded and dry, and the fact that the text was translated, so I wasn’t even reading what was originally written, meant I needed to slow down to make sense of everything.

Luckily, my education and professional background in social science research had acclimated me to parsing through research reports, which helped. I also tracked down as many original newspaper reports as I could find, which was super fun—especially when they included old photographs!

Mike Lowery incorporated wonderful details of the time period including the style of dress and architecture.

Mike, can you tell us about your preparation for CLEVER HANS?

I was especially excited about this book because it takes a look at Germany in the early 1900s. My wife is from Germany so for the past decade, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to go and explore the country when we visit our family and friends there. I did a LOT of research into what Berlin looked like around that time and even worked in a few real hotels, cafes, restaurants, and even a newspaper stand. The drawings in the book are simple, but I wanted to also get the clothing just right. Luckily my wife was able to help by finding books about clothing from that period, too.

It looks very authentic, Mike!

Kerri, do you have any funny behind-the-scenes story about “the making of” this book?

It was always a happy surprise to see Mike’s illustrations through his process. When I was writing the book I kept wondering how an illustrator would handle the story since the setting doesn’t change much and the characters are more or less limited to Hans and a variety of old, white men. But oh my gosh, Mike added so much personality and humor in the illustrations!  I’ve laughed out loud at several discoveries and continue to notice new details with each reading.

OK, you have to give me an example of a LOL moment!

Of course! Several examples come to mind…

There’s a scene where Hans is tired of answering questions and he has the best grumpy expression I can possibly imagine on a horse.

There’s a scene where a confused chicken is watching Hans be questioned…

…and another where there is a bird on a scientist’s head and a snake peeking out of his pocket.

At one point scientists wondered if Hans could be psychic and Mike drew a hilarious spread of his interpretation of Hans as a psychic mind reader.

And I think my all-time-favorite is of when a scientist tried to imitate Hans answering a question by getting on his hands and knees and tapping out his answer like Hans did.

Those are all hilarious, especially grumpy Hans. I did feel his frustration with being constantly questioned and trotted out for entertainment. His contribution to science and scientific study proved to be crucial, though, and I’m glad kids today can learn about him through this fascinating and fun book!

Congratulations to you and Mike. I’m giving CLEVER HANS four hoofs up! 

CLEVER HANS is available now from Putnam/PRH!

Kerri is also giving away a copy, so just comment once below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Author Bridget Heos interviews illustrator Mike Ciccotello…

Here it is! The cover of our upcoming picture book, TREEMENDOUS: DIARY OF A NOT YET MIGHTY OAK. It’s due out March 9, 2021 from Crown.

Mike, I love the image of TREE (as acorn) falling and his hopeful expression! It made me think of a leap of faith that changes everything. How did you think of that cover image?

Thanks so much, Bridget. This idea felt good right from the start. It showed our main character taking that leap of faith you mentioned while the backdrop of her mother is hinting at what the acorn’s future could bring. We knew our acorn was going to be the focus. It was just a question of what point during her journey we were going to show. The combination of the vantage point and her falling made this such an exciting part to showcase.

Were there other covers that the Crown team was considering?

Yes, this was one of three designs. I tried a version with our acorn hanging from a branch, dreaming of all of life’s possibilities. Then I did a much different version that showed our acorn in front of a flat backdrop of her mother’s bark. Both of these options tell a story, just not as exciting as the more dynamic perspective that was selected.

You did such an amazing job bringing warmth and life to TREE. Any sketches that show the evolution of ACORN or TREE?

Of course!

Thank you, Bridget and Mike, for showing us a glimpse of your seedling!

TREEMENDOUS hits bookstore (and virtual) shelves on March 9, 2021!

 

Shannon Hitchcock has published four middle-grade novels, but today she’s celebrating her picture book debut with a cover reveal of SAVING GRANDDADDY’S STORIES. Actually, it’s a DOUBLE cover reveal because she’s sharing both the jacket cover and the inside cover…

You’re pretty lucky to have TWO covers, Shannon!

That’s my favorite thing about the illustrations! The more kid-friendly image of Ray as a little boy is on the jacket, but when you remove the jacket, there is an image of Ray with his wife, Rosa, on their front porch.

That makes sense since your story features Ray in both stages of life. Can you tell us a little about the book and why the subject is special to you?

SAVING GRANDDADDY’S STORIES is a picture book biography about oral storyteller Ray Hicks. It starts when he’s a little boy listening to his grandfather tell stories and follows his journey to becoming a champion storyteller who was known as the “Voice of Appalachia.”

I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near where Ray lived, and like Ray’s family, mine loved to tell stories, too.

How did you find your publisher?

I read a Publishers Weekly article about a new publisher called Reycraft, and since one of the editors quoted was from West Virginia, I thought my story set in Appalachia might appeal to him.

I love the 3D quality of the title lettering and the sculpture of young Ray. Who’s the illustrator?

Sophie Page is a mixed-media illustrator originally from Conway, Massachusetts, and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. She crafts images in two and three dimensions. Her illustrations for SAVING GRANDDADDY’S STORIES are made from clay, paper, fabric, wire…and a handful of Jack’s magic beans.

It looks like your book has a lot of STEM…haha! But seriously, what about this story makes it a good choice for school libraries and classrooms?

Teachers and librarians can use SAVING GRANDDADDY’S STORIES as a tool for teaching figurative language, for analyzing how Jack and the Beanstalk has been retold by different cultures, and for exploring the Appalachian Region and its traditions.

Shannon, congrats on your debut picture book. Do you have any advice for aspiring PB authors?

Write what you’re passionate about and never give up!


Shannon Hitchcock was born in North Carolina and grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is the author of four middle grade novels, Flying Over Water, One True Way, Ruby Lee & Me, and The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. Her books have been featured on many state award lists and have received acclaimed reviews. Saving Granddaddy’s Stories is Shannon’s debut picture book, releasing October 22, 2020. She recently moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where she can see the mountains every day. For more about Shannon and her books, visit her at shannonhitchcock.com.

by Hope Lim

I AM A BIRD came together as I reflected on how two interactions I had on the same day evoked opposite emotions.

I live in San Francisco and run most mornings in Golden Gate Park. I have passed the same woman a few times and noticed how she always looks straight ahead with a stone face and carries a big duffel bag. One morning, fear struck me as I saw her, but I was not certain why. I came home from running that day, thinking about how I would write about the stranger.

Later that morning, my husband told me about how my daughter and her bird songs made people smile and wave on their way to school. They rode a tandem bike and my daughter would sit in the back and pretend to be a bird, caw-cawing all the way. His description of my daughter soaring high like a bird brought an immediate contrast to the unfounded fear that I was trying to transfer to paper. At that moment, my daughter jumped into my story as the main character.

I have to thank my editor, Kate Fletcher, for her vision and guidance and to Hyewon Yum who brought the story to life with her rich illustrations and insightful interpretation of the story. I was especially moved by how Hyewon captured a child’s fear in such a creative and authentic way.

The book releases February 2, 2021 from Candlewick, but the cover is here today!

My hope is that I AM A BIRD encourages readers to soar above our differences and bias and celebrate what we have in common.


Hope Lim is a children’s book author from South Korea and currently lives in San Francisco. Her debut book, I AM A BIRD, is to be released by Candlewick on February 2, 2021. Her debut will be followed by MY TREEI, Neal Porter Books/Holiday House in Summer 2021 and MOMMY’S HOMETOWN, Candlewick, in Fall 2022. Find more about Hope and her books at hopelim.com.

 

It’s the age-old question: what’s for dinner? Pizza? Or Tacos?

Tough decision! Pizza could have anything ON it, but then a taco could have anything IN it. Limitless possibilities! So who’s the best?

Luckily, author-illustrator Stephen Shaskan has settled the debate with his newly released chapter book:

This is the first in a delicious new illustrated series!

I like to interview folks about their books, and luckily, both Pizza and Taco were available to take a seat, and they didn’t even leave melted cheese on my couch! Not a chunk of cheddar or a morsel of mozzarella! What polite guests.

What? Don’t you like tunafish sandwiches?

Guys, come back!!! I’ve got pickles, too!

OH WELL.

Maybe you want to figure out who’s best. (Do so quickly, because you don’t want to be late for their BEST PARTY EVER in the Spring!)

Stephen is giving away a signed copy of PIZZA AND TACO: WHO’S THE BEST? to a lucky winner.

Just leave one comment below to enter.

Winner will be randomly selected in July.

(Sorry, actual pizza and taco not included. They don’t travel well.)

 

I hope you’ve been taking advantage of all the free webinars available to kidlit writers and illustrators! One introduced me to OLD ROCK (is not boring) by Deb Pilutti—which I must share with you! Because…often I’ll hear that certain subjects aren’t kid-friendly enough for a picture book main character. I’ll even say this myself while teaching. Yep. Guilty as charged.

But Deb Piluitti knew that an OLD ROCK could be a delightful MC with tons to teach nay-sayers.

Deb, how did the idea for OLD ROCK roll into your head?

I have two different answers for that, and both are true.

My family has always liked to hike. In Michigan there are many wooded trails with pine trees, wildflowers, gently sloping hills and every so often you will see a large boulder, sitting on a hillside, without any other rocks or boulders around. And you wonder, How did THAT get here? (Spoiler: glaciers were involved.) I think this question created space for the idea to form.

One day I was doodling in a notebook and drew a rock with a face on it. I liked it and wondered if I could write a story about a rock character. Then I thought, rocks don’t DO anything. They just sit there. That would make for a boring book—which became the premise for the story. Old Rock’s friends think being a rock must be awfully boring. They can’t imagine sitting in the same spot, day after day.

And right now we’re all sitting in the same spot for a long time! What serendipitous timing! 

I love how OLD ROCK breaks a picture book rule, which is to NOT jump back and forth in time. But you do this so seamlessly in the story. How did you use the illustrations as a visual cue between the past and present? 

Oh, is that a rule? Haha, I guess it helped that I didn’t know.

But seriously, it was a challenge to differentiate past from present day. The main device I used was to change the color palette.

The past starts out in fiery unnatural colors, pinks and yellows and oranges, and gradually shifts as time progresses.

Present day is depicted in blues and greens.

Old Rock’s appearance changes as time passes and becomes smaller, worn down with rounded edges, cracks and grey eyebrows.

Haha, I didn’t even notice the change in eyebrows! Then again, your humor steals the scene often…

Also, the present is always shown from a static vantage point, the spot at the edge of a clearing in the middle of a pine forest. Scenes from the past occur over a large geographical area, with angles and motion to suggest forward movement and genuine tumult.

Inanimate objects as main characters—like Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Spoon,” Josh Funk’s “Lady Pancake” series and now your OLD ROCK—do you think that’s a trend or is it here to stay?

True, we are seeing more fun & silly anthropomorphic books for sure, including your own hilarious 7 ATE 9, illustrated by Ross MacDonald, but the concept has been around awhile.

One of my favorite books as a child was LITTLE BLUE AND LITTLE YELLOW, by Leo Lionni, a very dramatic picture book about two splotches of color.

I think it’s a childhood tendency to anthropomorphize an object. I remember my own children picking up a stick or a piece of food and giving voice to it. I talk to my Pez dispensers all the time or say “excuse me” when I bump in to a side table. And I have been talking to rocks and trees for as long as I can remember. I think of them as witnesses to life on this planet. Once they become a character, they can have feelings or empathy or misbehave and we can look at the world from their perspective. I think there are a lot more inanimate objects to explore. Any guesses on what the next big one might be?

Oh, you’ve put me between a rock and a hard place! I have no idea, but I welcome all the anthropomorphizing we can get!

You’re right, we make objects come alive as children, so why not do that in stories? I love it.

Do you have any secrets about the “making of” OLD ROCK?

I don’t know if I’d call them secrets, but a lot of research and background information went into the choices I made for the characters and illustrations. The book isn’t nonfiction, after all it does have a talking rock in it, but I think it would be categorized as informational fiction.

I did much more research for this book than any other. I talked with a geologist, an evolutionary biologist and a paleobotonist, plus read books and online resources about glaciers, volcanoes, and dinosaurs, and the research informed or changed the narrative.

In my first draft, Old Rock erupted out of the volcano as a blob of lava, but after researching rock types, I decided Old Rock should be a metamorphic rock which formed underground with heat and pressure and has course grains, like Gneiss. And though the location is never stated, I wanted Old Rock to end up in one of my favorite places: Along the western edge of the Michigan’s lower peninsula, overlooking Lake Michigan. That meant I needed to choose characters that were either native to Michigan, like Spotted Beetle (ladybug) and Tall Pine (white pine), or visitors, like Hummingbird. Ruby Throated hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America and then fly north in the spring. Old Rock is transported to the spot near Lake Michigan by the same glacier that formed it. None of this information is in the text, nor is it crucial that the reader know these facts, but they helped shape the story.

That is fascinating, Deb! Your research helped to make the story authentic with its cast of supporting characters.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat about OLD ROCK. It was a challenge and a joy to make the book.

And I know my blog readers will have a lot of joy reading your book. And winning it!

Leave one comment below to win a signed copy of OLD ROCK from Deb Pilutti.

A winner will be chosen randomly next month!

Good luck!

by Hallee Adelman

During quarantine, we’ve seen people connect and celebrate using song. Neighbors harmonize from their windows for front line workers. Friends croon from cars for drive-by birthdays. Families play “Name that Tune” via Zoom.

It’s no wonder; singing happens to release stress. As a former teacher, I often sang with students before tests or to reinforce tough topics. According to Julia Layton of How Stuff Works, singing lets out endorphins that help people feel good. When an individual sings in front of others, there is often an added benefit: improved confidence.

So what does all this singing have to do with books? More and more, picture book and other authors are writing Book Songs for students that accompany their printed work. Megan & Jorge Lacera worked with Annie Birdd Music for their super-fun Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies song, Dawn Prochovnic wrote lyrics for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, Kwame Alexander shared “Kwame & Randy’s” MixTape 52, and Josh Funk created catchy tunes for his Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast books. I’ve also written songs related to my picture book My Quiet Ship, and also my latest Albert Whitman book, Way Past Mad. I felt lucky to record these songs with Leo Gade and Elizabeth Christman, amazing student singers from the Philly Boys and Girls Choirs.

I began using the instrumentals of my Book Songs as intros for a “Stuck at Home” video series that I started during quarantine to inspire kids/classrooms to create and connect in simple ways. In Video #7, the 76ers Sixth Man, a Philadelphia super fan, shared his idea: write and sing a song for someone you love.

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In Video 7 of our #StuckAtHome Series, the infamous @76ersixthman shares his idea for how to show people you care about them during #QuarantineLife.⁣ ⁣ To watch the other 6 episodes in the #StuckATHome series, go to our IGTV page. For even more #WayPastFun visit WayPastBooks.com for printable activities and more! Link in bio. 📚⁣ ⁣ #GetWayPastHappy #WayPastBooks #WayPastMad #MadNotMean #SixersRock #SixthMan #KidsBooks #ChildrensBooks #KidsBookstagram #BooksForKids #PictureBooks #PictureBook #Reading #KidLit #ReadersOfInstagram #PictureBooksOfInstagram #AuthorsOfInstagram #TeachersOfInstagram #OnlineLearning #StayAtHome #Covid19 ⁣ @albertwhitman @inthesestones @sandradelaprada @halleeadelman⁣

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EUREKA! That video led to a fun collaboration: the 76ers Sixth Man and Way Past Books are now kicking off the first annual Book Song Challenge!

With the school year coming to an end, our students, teachers and librarians have not only read a lot of books, but have also been under a lot of stress (#understatement).

For the contest, students are challenged to create their own Book Song about their favorite book this year. Hopefully, kids can feel good and confident as we celebrate books AND the end of the year for our hard-working students, teachers, and librarians.

Three winners will receive a $76 book gift card for themselves and a $1000 book gift card that will be sent to their school or library. These gift cards will be fulfilled by awesome indie bookseller, Children’s Book World.

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🎶Sing your book song! 🎶⁣ ⁣ @WayPastBooks and @76erSixthMan are kicking off the First Annual Book Song Challenge! 📚⁣ ⁣ Pick your favorite book that you read this #school year. Then make up a book song to either summarize the book or share why you loved it. 🎤⁣ ⁣ Three #winners will receive:⁣ • A $76 book gift card for themselves⁣ • A $1000 book gift card for their school or library (book gift card to #indy #bookseller @childrensbookworld).⁣ ⁣ To enter the #BookSong20 Challenge:⁣ 1) Post your song to Instagram and tag @76erSixthMan and @WayPastBooks⁣ ⁣ 2) Use the hashtags #BookSong20 #SingABook #WayPastBooks⁣ ⁣ First winner announced 5/22! ⁣ ⁣ BONUS: the @76erSixthMan is doing a random drawing this Friday 5/15. Post your #BookSong20 by then and be automatically entered to win a free NBA jersey of your fave team. Be on #TeamBooks! 🏀⁣ ⁣ @albertwhitman @inthesestones @halleeadelman⁣

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As an author who writes small books about big feelings, it’s hard not to consider how kids and school professionals are feeling right now. I’m looking forward to piloting this challenge this year with the 76ers Sixth Man and growing it together as a community where we can share books, book songs, and celebrate the most important thing we have: our future.


Hallee Adelman is the author of My Quiet Ship (2018), Way Past Mad (2020), Way Past Worried (coming Fall 2020), and two additional Way Past titles (2021). With a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies, Adelman has taught university and elementary students, having been nominated for the Disney Teacher of the Year Award on multiple occasions. She loves sharing writing tips with educators, children, teens and writers. She is married with two children and two dogs. Random facts: Adelman also produces documentary films. She keeps sour gummies in her desk drawer. She is currently engineering a giant leprechaun trap thanks to Tara Lazar’s most recent book!

by Kirsti Call

All three of my upcoming books originated from Storystorm ideas. MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, releasing September 1, was the result of a 2018 Storystorm brainstorming session with fellow author Corey Rosen Schwartz. Here a few of our notes:

  • Mootilda: Overreacts to small disasters…refrain “what a cow-tastrophe”
  • cowmooflage, mootif
  • Moo la la
  • Udder disaster into happy ever after
  • Moognificent

Our first couple stanzas started out like this:

Mootilda woke up late one day.
“My nightmare’s over! Phew!
Coyote almost caught me and
I couldn’t even moo!”

She hugged her Meemaw cow who said,
“You’re in an awful state.
You’re drenched in sweat, your bed is wet.
It’s nearly hoof-past eight!”

Needless to say, none of these words made it to the final draft. But they all are part of the Mootilda’s evolution. I love how our illustrator made her come alive!

I wrote COW SAYS MEOW from my 2012 PiBoIdMo list. Back then my youngest was a toddler and still laughed at mixed up animal sounds jokes. COW SAYS MEOW is filled with onomatopoeia, wordplay, and mixed up animal sounds that made all five of my kids laugh out loud when they were little.

And COLD TURKEY is another collaborative effort with Corey Rosen Schwartz.  We both put that title on our Storystorm lists independently. It was definitely meant to be!

I’m grateful for writing challenges like Storystorm—how else would I be known as the lady who writes mooooovelous cow books?

Ha! But out of the 30+ ideas you jot down for Storystorm, how do you select which ideas you think are most worthwhile to pursue as manuscripts?

I love pursuing ideas that hare generated by a great title. I’m working on “Love Stinks!”—I like the title so much that’s I’ve tried several iterations of this story. Right now it’s the unlikely friendship of a garbage truck and skunk. But usually I pursue ideas that have several layers and hooks—like a great title, stinkiness, and trucks for example. In the end I write the ideas that speak to me, ideas that spark more ideas, ideas that I hope will resonate with children.

How do you navigate through a story with a writing partner? Do you go back and forth? Do you write together? How do you make it work?

Writing with Corey is super fun. We meet on Google Docs and message each other during set meeting times. We also text randomly throughout the day when we come up with ideas and write asynchronously when we’re feeling inspired.Since Corey is a night owl and I’m always up early there are times that she’s writing in our doc at 2am and then I pick it up at 5am. There are so many times when we are writing together that we come up with the same idea or wordplay which makes it easy to write together. We also usually agree on what makes the story good or bad. Sometimes we talk over the phone; we laugh all the time when we’re writing together.

Do you have any fun behind-the-cow tales to tell about co-writing MOOTILDA?

Yes! In fact Corey is often in a bad moooood and I’m often in a good moooood.  When we were writing the book we joked about it all the time. We even made mugs that both of us use daily.

Love those! But who gets what mug?

(Kidding!) Thanks, Kirsti, for your success story. I hope it brings encouragement to other picture book writers.

Kirsti is giving away a copy of MOOTILDA when it releases in September!

Enter one comment below to enter the giveaway.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


Kirsti Call is the author of several farm-related picture books. She lives in Andover, Massachusetts, where she makes moosic with her husband and five children.  Kirsti is often in a good mooood!

She is the co-coordinator of ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12×12 elf, a blogger for Writer’s Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti’s picture book, MOOTILITA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuts fall 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Visit her at kirsticall.com and follow her on Twitter @kirsticall.

Several months ago, during the STORYSTORM event, Annie Lynn was inspired to begin writing a song based on Megan and Jorge Lacera’s book, ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! Megan and Jorge loved this idea and knew that Annie was the perfect musician for this project. And so they began to collaborate….

Which brings us to TODAY.

The launch of the ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song!

Before you listen to the song, I asked Annie Lynn and the Laceras to give us the story behind the music. (Oh, I feel like VH-1!)

Annie: So let’s start with the book the song is based on. Why did you write ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES!? Is it based on anything or just a funny idea you had?

Megan: Our son is a huge inspiration…he loves “the scaries” and has always gravitated towards monsters, creatures, and spooky stories. He is also a very picky eater and simply wouldn’t touch vegetables for a long time. It wasn’t until we started to explore veggies in a more fun way…gardening, looking at seeds, talking about colors, types, smells and textures that he began to open up to giving veggies a go. We thought it would be fun to turn the whole thing on its head…what if the kid was begging the parent to try vegetables? What if he were a zombie, living in a zombie culture, who actually wasn’t allowed to eat carrots, turnips, and tomatoes? The idea grew from there.

Jorge: We also very much wanted to create a book that centered a multicultural family in a unique way. As someone who was born in Colombia, but grew a native Spanish speaker in Miami, I rarely saw picture books that appealed to me as a kid. There is more now, but we still had a hard time finding books for our son that featured families like ours.

Annie: What were your goals with this book?

Megan: Our goal was to create a book together that was “us.” A story that we loved, that tapped into our quirky, slightly dark sense of humor, that featured a family that loves each other wholeheartedly, even though each member is imperfect, sometimes stubborn, often making mistakes. Our hope was that by being true to ourselves, we could create a story that resonated with kids and families in a genuine way.

Jorge: And we wanted it to be published and be read all over the world!

Annie: I feel the same way about my songs!

Jorge: Yes! Hey Annie, it feels like you really love music and creating songs for kids. Can you share how/why it sets your heart on fire?

Annie:  I took every skill and schooling I had and used them 14 yrs. ago, to open AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, my music publishing company, and now full service recording studio. Since then, I’ve relied on all of my diverse experiences… as a B.S.Ed. and classroom teacher, a litigation paralegal, studio recording singer, Mom, and musician…to create meaningful musical experiences. I am betting most of us who ended up in kidlit, did so organically, using all our past jobs and experiences.

I started writing kids songs (leaving a country-bluegrass radio career) when my son Alex was about 10. At first they were silly radio songs. Then my school ran out of money to license more songs the rest of the year, so I wrote a bunch based on professional development workshops we were sent to.  Some were Social and Emotional Learning based, others Social and Environmental Justice, and we used them that year and they still do. 

That was also when I realized what a great tool music is for learning educational content—and soon found that my self-discovery was supported by research and data. I put my songs on Youtube, and teachers internationally began asking me to use them in their classrooms. I love knowing my songs are being used in other countries. It makes the world seem a little smaller. 

My heart is set on fire hearing kids singing my songs, in the studio and in schools, and I treasure the videos I’m sent of performances. That’s where I can see how they connect with our songs, and sometimes how they affect them. They get really mad and passionate singing STOP THAT!, our bullying-prevention song.

Megan: I love that. Connecting with kids is one of the most powerful things in the world. We treasure every message, photo, and video from kids.

Jorge: Annie, we love creating as a family…and we’re excited to learn that you also work with your family. How are your husband and son involved in your music creation? What is your process together like? How has is it gotten easier or harder?

Annie:  The three of us, my husband/writing partner, Walt, son Alex, and I each seem to have a skill the other two don’t, and we are learning to defer to each other’s opinions and areas of expertise. We went from a lifetime of people and businesses licensing what we wrote for ourselves (low pressure, usually no deadline) to working on a deadline and custom crafting songs for books and kidlit occasions. That took some getting used to. Now it is simply exciting & we KNOW we can connect and deliver.

It also helps that we have a neutral party in our sound engineer/musician/co-producer/co-writer Chris Arms. When we’re all trying to come to an agreement, he usually has the right answer.

Megan: Speaking of process…you told us that STORYSTORM played such a huge role in the birth of the ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song. How so?

Annie:  STORYSTORM allowed me to create…with no judgement, as all the illustrators and authors kept reassuring us on Tara’s blog. I liked that it was ok to “suck.” That freedom got me wading into the dozens of kidlit books I have on display in the recording studio. I used both Fiction and Non-Fiction picture books. Some were educational, historical or scientific, others were just plain fun, with a great message and magical illustrations.

I ended up taking two commissions based on approximately 20 ideas generated from picture books.  I chose to work for 30 days, but not sweat the 30 ideas part. STORYSTORM allowed me to create for free…kind of like a consultation. To be forthcoming though, I had spoken for many months with both you and Jorge, about a song for ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES!, as well as Author/Podcast Host/Publisher Michele McAvoy her book COOKIE AND MILK with illustrator Jessica Gibson. We all felt it would happen, just the timing had to be right.  These two books had a tractor beam pull on me.

Megan: It’s really cool how there are similarities between writing music and writing books…and how STORYSTORM inspires both. What was it about Zombies that “pulled” on you?

Annie: When you first messaged me the name of your book, your song’s chorus flew into my head. I probably wrote back right away saying something like “Woman…..that title screams to be a song.” It really does. And once I read the book, the song kept running through my head. Kidlit knows how I am by now! Everything’s a SONG!

Megan: The ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song doesn’t sound like any of your other songs. How do you push yourself artistically in new directions?

Annie: For kidlit, I instinctively recognize that every new song will have to fit the time period & location the book is set in, as well as the cultural style. During STORYSTORM, I learned about comps and back matter, and recognized excitedly that what I am doing musically, you guys are doing in kidlit. So much of the kidlit advice offered by the community also pertains to songwriting, and I’m grateful to be learning. Thank you everyone, seriously.

Because ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! is a mix of English and Spanish, I knew the song should reflect a Latin music feel. I knew Jorge was born in Colombia, and that you both wanted a song that matched the tone and feeling of the book so I spent time immersed in the music of the country. I found a style I liked, and Megan confirmed that the musical artist (Carlos Vives) I picked out as a “comp” was one of their favorites. From there, I studied what he did, what instruments were used and how and when. I sent Jorge a drum track after he requested to try rapping in Spanish, and he nailed it, upping the appeal of the song. 

I’m now working on a reggae tune, another stretch out of my comfort zone. I’m loving the education. The puppets are grooving to it too!

Megan and Jorge, I’m curious…from your point of view as book creators, how do you think a song might be useful? 

Megan: Having worked in entertainment for years, we know the power of a song to make a story, concept, or idea stick with you. Look at Disney…think about how many kids (and adults) can belt out LET IT GO! at the drop of hat and there you have it…songs stick.

Jorge: To get really specific, here are some ways we’ve all talked about how a ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song can be used:

  • In classrooms, with lesson plans to help reinforce learning and engage students in new ways.
  • For our author visits, at schools, conferences, festivals
  • During Library story times and events
  • To add movement, dance to activities with kids (so many kids learn/retain more when they’re able to move)
  • At home; families can read together then sing and dance together
  • Children’s radio and podcasts

Annie: Hey, did you think you’d be writing the lyrics? (I did🤣!)

Megan: Well, you are the musical maven, so we wanted to follow your lead. And we knew you had the chorus already! But when you suggested that I write the lyrics, I was excited. I’ve written lyrics for other projects—start-ups, brands, marketing videos—but it was a whole new level of fun (and pressure!) to work on a song for my own book.

Jorge: I love the lyrics and the way Annie sings them—everything feels so seamless. We can’t stop singing it at our house.

Annie: Thank you, that makes my heart full of joy. We set out to create an earworm…a song that runs through your mind repeatedly, and usually, enjoyably.

So without further ado, here is the world premiere of the ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song! It is definitely a fun earworm! Click the book cover and be transported to SoundCloud!

For blog readers, Megan and Jorge Lacera have a signed copy of the book, and Annie Lynn will give away the MP3 files of her album No Time for Hate…and Other Songs for Schools (for personal use only).

Leave one comment below to enter and two winners will be randomly selected, one for each prize!

Good luck!


Annie Lynn is President and Chief Composer at AnnieBirdd Music, LLC. Visit her at AnnieLynn.net and follow her on Twitter at @AnnieLynn215. Listen to more her toe-tappy, kidlit-happy music at SoundCloud/Annie-Lynn-6

The dynamic husband-wife creative team of Megan & Jorge Lacera are online at studiolacera.com and Twitter @MeganLacera & @StudioLacera. Seven-year old Kai Lacera serves as Studio Lacera’s Chief of Research and Story Development. 

Confession time: I’ve always thought of myself as a dog person. I wasn’t too keen on cats, probably because I had never spent a lot of time around them. Sure, when I was a kid, one of my besties owned a cat, but he was a finicky feline. I don’t think Mr. Bojangles ever let me pet him.

Then, a few years ago, I met Sasha. What a beauty! Emerald eyes and the fluffiest white coat. And when I arrive at my friend’s house, Sasha cuddles up to me, jumps on my lap, and lets me love on her. So I’ve given cats a second chance. Now I participate in #Caturday and share adorable cat GIFs on Twitter, as one does.

So when Susi Schaefer got in touch to show me her debut author-illustrator picture book, I took an immediate interest in the cute, quirky and colorful illustrations.

This is CAT LADIES!

There are four Cat Ladies to be exact—Molly, Millie, Maridl and Merthel—and they all share one lovely white Princess.

So Susi, this question BEGS to be asked: are YOU a Cat Lady?

I am a Cat Lady! I am not currently owned by a cat, but I serve many as a volunteer for a cat rescue.

Hmm, that first cat looks a lot like Princess! Did she serve as your model?

She most certainly was a significant influence. Her name is Marilyn, and she has a very glam and regal aura about her.

How did you decide that one cat should have so many ladies looking after her? Was it that regal aura?

Here is the story behind the story.

When my dad’s elderly cousin, Maridl, had to move into a care home, she couldn’t take her beloved cat, Poppele, with her.

I was trying to imaging what if…

What if… Poppele could have moved along with Maridl. 

What if…she would have been the center of all that attention.

What if…that attention was somehow diverted. 

Side-note: My parents have been accepted as the bringer of food by Poppele.

And, Marilyn’s regal aura is cattitude galore.

Oh, I love meeting the original Maridl! 

Do you think Princess is available now to answer some questions?

Princess, you’re a special cat to have four ladies to watch after you. Be honest, do you have a favorite Cat Lady?

Seriously, Princess? You can’t pick a favorite? (You can just whisper it to me…)

Oh Princess, I understand it’s tough to pick the one you love above all others.

But for cats who aren’t as lucky as you, what advice do you have for felines who want to be pampered? How can they attract more cat ladies?

Awww, well done, Princess!

Susi, let me circle back to you. What do you want readers to take away after reading Cat Ladies?

Cats rock!

Ladies rock!

Cat Ladies most certainly rock!

And sometimes, unexpected life changes bring lovely and unanticipated benefits.

Yes, I don’t want to give away what happens in the story, but, I do want to ask you—how did the clever resolution come about?

I had the first and the last line of the story written very early on. And my agent had a brilliant idea that added more heart to everything. Writing and publishing is a team sport!

It sure is!

And this team effort is available now from Abrams!

Or win a copy here!

Leave one comment below about your favorite cat or cat lady! A winner will be randomly selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


​Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg, Austria, before moving to Southern California to study graphic design. She’s the illustrator of Zoo Zen by Kristen Fischer. Cat Ladies is her author-illustrator debut. Susi volunteers for a cat rescue group and lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. One day she hopes to use the words “Newfangled”, “Gobbledygoogk” and “Rigmarole” in her work, but she hasn’t yet had the chance to do so. Visit her at SusiSchaefer.com.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
2021

BLOOP!
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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