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by Ross MacDonald

Over the years I’ve been approached by illustration and design students who share an internal struggle: that they have other interests—cosplay, metalwork, bookbinding, writing, prop replication, embroidery, cobbling shoes (I kid)—and they feel the need (often encouraged by their instructors) to set aside these other “hobbies” to focus on their illustration and design skills. As if these things that they love are somehow an impediment, that they need to kill them off or they’ll never get better at the “real” discipline.

I do believe that staying on task and zeroing in on the work at hand is an important skill—maybe the most important one. As an illustrator, I always say “Illustration is easy, you just need to stare at a blank sheet of paper till the blood runs out of your ears.” In other words, don’t get up from your drawing board until you’ve finished the job, even if every fiber of your being is imploring you to leap up and see what’s in the fridge.

But speaking as someone who has always done a jillion different things, I’m a firm believer in doing all the things you love. No matter how seemingly unrelated they are, these passions can cross-pollinate. I see it happen all the time! Working hard at one thing doesn’t take away from other things, it adds to them.

Whatever it is that I’m working on, I’m constantly drawing inspiration from other interests, and getting ideas that I can use in other projects. I have one of those multi-hyphenate careers: I’m a graphic designer/illustrator/author/movie prop designer and fabricator/letterpress printer. I might be researching for a period movie prop job, and get a great idea for an illustration. Or doing an illustration might inspire some poster project, or a written humor piece. I don’t know if I could do just one thing at this point—I worry that I’d run out of ideas.

7ate9coverA good example of this cross-pollination is 7 ATE 9—a picture book written by Tara Lazar that I was lucky enough to illustrate. It’s a hilarious story of a private ‘I’ who is baffled by the age-old mystery of why 6 is afraid of 7 (spoiler alert—it’s because 7 ate 9!!!). When I was reading Tara’s manuscript, a vision popped into my head of 19th century wood type letters and numbers coming alive and sprouting little arms and legs and fedoras and bow ties. Luckily I have a letterpress shop full of 19th century wood type, so I was able to play around with the idea. And whaddaya know—it was just crazy enough to work!




rossmacdonaldRoss MacDonald’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, and Atlantic Monthly, and he is a contributing artist for Vanity Fair. He has written and illustrated several children’s and adult humor books.

His work was the subject of a one man retrospective at the New York Times, and has been honored by American Illustration, 3×3, Print, Communication Arts, the Society of Publication Designers, the AIGA, and the Society of Illustrators, from which he received a gold medal for book illustration in 2011.

He has also worked on many movies and television shows as an illustrator, prop designer and consultant on period design, printing, paper and documents. His work can be seen on 5 seasons of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, on the Cinemax series The Knick, and in the Tarantino movie Hateful Eight.

Born and raised in Canada, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 5 cats and a large collection of 19th century type and printing equipment. View his portfolio online at


Ross and Tara are giving away a copy of 7 ATE 9 (upon publication in May).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


Excuse me while I go all fangirl for a moment…


I’ve admired Elisa Kleven’s work for years, beginning when I discovered the gorgeous delight THE PAPER PRINCESS…and then the sweet APPLE DOLL. My daughters and I had both books on our regular #bedtimereads rotation. In fact, for months the books never made it back to the bookshelf. They took up permanent nightstand residence.

So when Elisa contacted me about hosting her for THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY: A San Francisco Story, I babbled high-pitched incoherent excitement like a Minion. Let me see if I can pull my overalls together to conduct an enlightening interview…

Elisa, in your new book’s backmatter, you mention that THE GINGERBREAD MAN was one of your favorite tales as a child. What made you want to rewrite it with your city AND a different ending?

When I was a kid, it seemed to me that almost everything had a life of its own. As in a fairy tale world, or in the eyes of Native American peoples, everything from stones to trees… to paper dolls, piñatas and gingerbread people seemed to have feelings and a spirit. And while I wasn’t too sensitive to eat my share of gingerbread people, I always had some qualms when it came to nibbling their smiling heads (I’d start with the feet, which seemed less “alive” and work upwards.)

I remember being simultaneously fascinated and upset by the original tale of THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Of course it was exciting to see the cookie-boy come to life and race out into the world with pluck and glee, daring everyone to catch him. But when he finally did get caught, in the jaws of the fox who had promised to take him across the river to safety, I felt his tragic sense of betrayal.

In my version of the story, THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY, the cookie is just as energetic and confident as his forbear, but even more defiant: determined not to get eaten, but also to eat—everything in sight! He starts out with petty thefts: his makers’ school lunch (of which he was meant to be part), fruit and candy, noodles and milkshakes. But as he gets bigger, his fantasies grow more grandiose, and he threatens to chomp on the Golden Gate Bridge, gulp down San Francisco Bay, and even “swallow the sun, like a butterscotch drop.”

When the hungry gingerbread boy finally realizes that his creator, a little girl, would rather play with him than eat him, his anger disappears and he becomes both loved and lovable.

As for the story’s setting, San Francisco is such a beautiful city that on certain days and in certain lights it looks delicious. Of course there are many un-pretty aspects to it: homelessness and poverty, but there is also a wealth of exquisite details, including its famous “Gingerbread” architecture, the whimsically colored and decorated Victorian houses and buildings. And the city is also home to lots of amazing and diverse cuisine, So it was fun to let an imaginary cookie-child loose in the city and watch him eat his fill!

sanfranhousesSpeaking of the San Francisco architecture, when I was visiting the city years ago, I was fascinated to learn that there are “color consultants” who help people choose the hues for their Victorian houses—the shingles, the shutters, the trim—every little swirling detail. Likewise, your new book is a feast for the eyes—so colorful and detailed. How would you describe your unique style—and how did it evolve?

Wow, Tara, I didn’t know that there are color consultants for the Victorian houses! And yes, they are amazing in every confection-like detail.

As for my art style, it grows right out of my childhood—or, more accurately—I never outgrew my childlike love for bright colors, tiny details, and enchantment. I used to spend hours making miniature dollhouse worlds, gingerbread houses and people, toy merry-go-rounds, and detailed paper characters and settings. When I grew up, this urge did not go away, but evolved into a passion for the magical worlds inside of picture books.

Well, I’m staring at your illustrations in wonder because there are so many teeny-tiny details. How do you plan your illustrations out? What is your medium and method? How long does it take to complete an illustration?

I make a book dummy, with pencil sketches of the illustrations and type pasted in. I often use photo references at this stage, especially if I’m depicting real locations (as opposed to fantasy or dream landscapes, which I pull out of my imagination). Once the publisher approves the sketches, I go on to the finished art. I combine watercolor, ink, collage, pastels and whatever else works to create the finished picture. I create everything in my pictures by hand, gluing, snipping, painting. And while I admire a lot of digital illustration and the technical wonders it can accomplish, I’m pretty tech-averse when it comes to creating my own images. I love the feel and textures of materials in my hands.

It takes me an average of two or three weeks to complete an illustration. Creating the rough sketch is actually the most difficult part, because I’m using a pencil and blank piece of paper to create a new little scene. Once the sketch is finished, it takes a week or two to create the finish.






The Gingerbread Boy in progress:




Thinking about your other books, I think I see a theme in your work. In THE PAPER PRINCESS, a handmade gift blows away but returns to the person it was intended for. In THE APPLE DOLL, a girl makes a friend she cherishes. In SUN BREAD, a warm sun is baked on a cold winter’s day. The Gingerbread Boy comes home to the girl who created him. You write about creative pursuits mixed with thoughts of love at home—and speaking of home, this book is not your only one that features San Francisco. Do you think there is a common thread woven through your books?

thepaperprincess theappledoll sunbread

What a thoughtful and interesting question, Tara. The theme of creativity is definitely woven through all of my stories (as is the theme of flying). As a child I spent many happy hours creating all sorts of things, from paper dolls to decorative breads and bread sculptures, to apple dolls, and yes, gingerbread people and houses. (My mother and grandmother were both accomplished artists, but neither of them made particularly cheerful or colorful art). I suppose I created the art I wanted to see as a child, and the worlds that I wanted to live [and fly around!] in.

As for the theme of homecoming, who doesn’t want to return to a home, experienced or imagined, full of love, warmth and reassurance? Through my characters and stories I’m able to go to places I long for, and that I think many children long for, too. My favorite childhood memories are of playing in a dollhouse I made myself, while my mother worked on her own art in her studio in our backyard. I’m able to access that feeling of creativity and security when I write my stories and create my illustrations.

The beautiful San Francisco Bay Area has been my home since I started college at U.C. Berkeley (with the exception of a year spent in Boston). I never stop being moved by its beauty, both geographical and architectural. Its hills and waters, bridges and buildings, cultural diversity and creative food culture inspire me, and I enjoy sharing that inspiration with others, especially children, through my books.

Thank you, Elisa, for your gorgeous books and for stopping by on THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY blog tour.

horriblyhungrygingerbreadboyElisa’s publisher is giving away a copy of the book—just leave a comment to enter. One comment per person, US addresses only please. You have until December 13 to enter so the winner can get their book in time for the holidays. GOOD LUCK!



Tonight the Eric Carle Museum will present four winners of its prestigious Carle Honors. I will be there to capture it all and report back to you, picture book devotees. In the meantime, I asked the honorees to answer one important question about the state of our craft and business:

Six years ago, The New York Times published an article about the demise of the picture book. Fast forward to this past January, and a picture book won the Newbery Medal. Plus, the current market has been heralded as “the golden age of picture books.”

Why have picture books defied the Times’ portent of doom–and why do they continue to remain a strong and important art form? Why are picture books more loved now than ever?

stevenheller“Is there any better medium for bringing together such varied artists and writers and stories and styles? The book has not died after 500 years and the picture book continues to be the most accessible of media. It’s not a fad. It’s not obsolete technology. It is an intimate tactile entity for making ideas come alive. As long as there is paper, what better way to use it?”
~Steven Heller, Bridge Honoree

allensay“A lot of American mothers today have become what the Japanese call “Education Mamas.” They want their offspring to start college at 12 and retire at 30, and book merchants are hell-bent on accommodating them. They have forgotten the Alice who asked for all children: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” Thanks to the conversation of Lewis Carroll and pictures by Sir John Tenniel, Alice is very much alive today. Would anybody remember Alice without Sir John?”
~Allen Say, Artist Honoree

jasonlow“The demise of picture books is connected to other mistaken predictions like the death of the print book when e-books came on the scene years ago. There is a general backlash against electronic books because of the amount of time people are spending on their phones, online, and binge-watching TV. People need a break from screen time. Also, the e-book experience, when compared to the tactile experience of a print picture book is not significantly better. The time spent reading an actual book is still a great past time that relies on the power of imagination, and the close relationship of words and pictures.”
~Jason Low, Angel Honoree

reginahayes“I never believed in the demise of the picture book! Picture books will always remain a vibrant art form. They are constantly evolving, constantly being reinvented as new authors and illustrator enter the field. Styles change; a new style surprises and delights, then there are imitators, and eventually something different will turn it all around again. I’ve seen a style dismissed as outdated, then a few years go by and it is fashionable again, maybe even considered classic.

“The rise of e-books have, ironically, made publishers and the public more aware of the importance of the book as a physical object, an object that should be beautiful. I notice more and more care being lavished on paper and binding and innovative jacket treatments.

“I don’t think children should ever be urged to give up picture books when they are ready for chapter books. In my experience, children constantly go back and forth. They return to old favorite picture books even when they reach double digits, perhaps because the books provide a feeling of security, of coming home, perhaps recapturing the warmth and closeness of being read to by a beloved adult. And for that, a real book is essential!”
~Regina Hayes, Mentor Honoree



Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Honorees, and congratulations on being recognized.

To learn more about the Carle Honors and this year’s Honorees, please visit The Carle Honors website where you can also bid on the charity art auction.

Follow me on Twitter @taralazar, as I will try to live tweet from the event. A recap of the evening will be published here later this week.


Sylvia Liusylvialiu is co-founder of the comprehensive children’s literature resource Kidlit411 and a picture book author whose debut A MORNING WITH GRANDPA (illustrated by Christina Forshay) won Lee & Low’s prestigious New Voices Award. 

One of the most important and inspiring movements in kidlit today is diversity, so I’ve asked Sylvia to talk to us today about creating authentic stories with relatable, diverse characters. Get those pencils ready because you will want to write after you read this interview!


Sylvia, what does the movement “We Need Diverse Books” mean to you?

For me, We Need Diverse Books means that every child can easily find stories and books that are mirrors and windows. Mirrors that reflect their own stories and circumstances and windows that show other people’s stories. This means that previously underrepresented groups need to be better represented at every level of children’s books. On the supply side, we need more diverse creators and more diverse gatekeepers (agents, editors, booksellers, librarians, reviewers). On the demand side, we need a reading public that buys and demands more diverse books. To achieve these isn’t a matter of wishful thinking or good intentions, because the societal inequalities that created the lack of supply and demand ultimately need to be addressed. For example, publishing and the creative arts are professions that are still very much based in apprenticeships—i.e., you need to have enough money to take unpaid internships when you’re starting out, or to take creative risks.

What led to you entering Lee & Low’s “New Voices” contest?

I have known about the New Voices Award ever since it began in 2000 because I have been following Lee & Low for over twenty years (my college and law school friend is related to the company’s founder). Over the last five or six years that I’ve been writing picture books seriously, I have always had the award in the back of my mind. Most of my stories are not specifically geared towards multicultural or diverse topics, so I didn’t submit any until 2013, when I wrote A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. After I wrote it, I thought it would be a good fit because it told a universal story about a grandparent and grandchild’s fun and funny relationship but with specific cultural references.


“When writing a diverse story, you should not just insert a character of a certain ethnicity or race. It is about so much more.” Can you expand upon this concept?

You’re right. It’s about telling a story from deep within a point of view or culture that requires intimate knowledge or experience to that culture. It’s more than changing a name to Maria or Mei Mei. It’s inhabiting that character’s world and showing and sharing the details of that world that make it specific to the culture, ethnicity, or world view. I do believe authors are capable of writing from different perspectives and cultures other than their own, but if they do, they need to approach the story with respect and research.


Going forward, what are your hopes for diversity in children’s publishing?

In the ideal world, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We would have all different kinds of stories written by all different kinds of people, reflecting the multiplicity of experiences–social, cultural, racial, ethnic, economic, gender, ability, and more. But in the short term, as I mentioned before, I hope that gatekeepers (editors, agents, reviewers, book sellers, librarians, parents) take seriously the emerging commitment to diversity–promoting and giving voice to people of color, LGBTQ people, and other underrepresented people in the industry through hiring, contracts, reviews, and book sales.


Sylvia, any final thoughts?

Remember that only you–a specific person on this planet with a particular worldview, background, culture, family, sense of humor, and self–can tell your stories. Don’t be afraid to share your stories with your truths and perspectives, and don’t deprive the world of them.

What an inspiring statement, Sylvia! I hope this sparks new ideas for our blog readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your “new voice” with us…and for having Lee & Low share your “New Voices” picture book!

One copy will be given away within the next two weeks. Just leave one comment below to enter. (US addresses only, please.)

Good luck!

Say hello to Maria Gianferrari & Becca! (And their bookshelves! Impressive!)

I have known Maria for years now–first as a reader of this blog, then as a jewelry customer (I make earrings and necklaces in my spare time) and now as a fellow author and agent-sister! Maria has one of these rip-roaring breakout careers where she has sold umpteen books in no time and has even landed her first picture book series, PENNY & JELLY! Wow!

To celebrate the release of Maria’s second book in the PENNY & JELLY series, SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS, I asked editor Cynthia Platt and Maria a few questions—and they gave me three books to give away!


Cynthia, many writers dream of landing a picture book series. As an editor, what do you look for in a story that gives it series potential?

I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily on the lookout for picture book series as a general rule, but I am always pleased when something calls out for more than a single book. For me, the strength of the picture book character is everything in terms of determining whether there might be series potential. It has to be someone I want to spend a lot of time with—and about whom I think kids will feel similarly. Humor also plays a huge role. No one wants a dreary picture book series (at least I don’t). With Penny & Jelly, I was immediately drawn to Penny’s personality and also to the very warm, very loving relationship between girl and dog. I also loved—from the moment I read the first draft of the first book—the creativity Penny possesses. She’s got such a can-do attitude, and she makes things happen for herself (even if she has to work through a few lists and a lot of craft supplies to do it). So, the story hit a lot of sweet spots for me as an editor.


Was PENNY & JELLY originally pitched as a series, or was it something you decided would be made into a series?

It wasn’t pitched as a series. After reading Penny & Jelly: The School Show, we approached Maria and her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, about doing more than one book. Then Maria came up with the brilliant idea of a Slumber Under the Stars theme for the second book.

Maria, did you envision Penny & Jelly as a series when you first wrote it? 

I didn’t initially envision it as a series, but I was thrilled that Cynthia and HMH presented me with a two-book deal because they felt that Penny & Jelly were lovable characters with a special bond that they could envision as a series.

Did you imagine what Penny & Jelly looked like? Did you have a role in helping to pick Thyra Heder as the illustrator?

I had a very vague sense of what Penny & Jelly might look like. Since Penny & Jelly were characters inspired by my daughter, Anya, and her canine BFF, Becca, it was hard to picture them any other way than this, my favorite photo of the two besties.

I didn’t have a direct role in selecting Thyra, but Cynthia presented her work to me and asked for my input. Of course, I loved it. I could tell right away she was a dog lover like me when I saw these early Jellys, and I knew she was just a perfect fit to illustrate the Penny & Jelly books!


How adorable! I love her doggy design sense! (Is the middle pup available for adoption?)

Cynthia & Maria, thank you for stopping by on the PENNY & JELLY SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS blog tour. And thank you for the three-book giveaway!

Leave a comment below to enter, US residents only, please. Winners will be chosen by the end of the month.


by author Catherine Bailey & illustrator Sarita Rich


Thank you for hosting us today, Miss Tara. We are excited to be here, and we are excited to celebrate the release of HYPNOSIS HARRY, and we are excited to talk about each other and, well, we are just really excited. So without further ado, here is us interviewing us.

1. Okay, Sarita, Harry’s expressions are some of my favorite moments in the book. Was he, or any of the characters or images, based on your family or home life?

As much fun as Harry was to draw, I really liked having a sister. In an earlier draft, she was older, but I decided maybe a baby/toddler would be funnier, especially on the last page. And I had a (sometimes) cooperative model at home, so that was helpful. I also liked having a cat in the story. I’ve had my share of overweight cats that could squish themselves into tiny cardboard boxes and fall asleep.

HH character sketches

2. I love that background info – especially the bits about the sister and the cat. (I have both.) So what was the most challenging aspect of illustrating Harry, and how did you overcome it?

Timing. I received the manuscript late September 2014 and had to submit a sample spread before October 10. I was pregnant with an October 23 due date and thought I had plenty of time to finish the spread. At my 38-week appointment, my doctor said I could go into labor any day, possibly that very night. “But I can’t! I haven’t finished the spread!” I thought. I sent the file on October 9, and Stella was born October 12. Sky Pony offered the contract shortly afterward, and I had to figure out how to be a mom and an illustrator at the same time. I was a little sleep deprived until June, but when an opportunity to work with editors from like Sky Pony, and an author like Catherine comes along, you say YES and sleep later.

HH sample spread

3. I had NO CLUE you were birthing babies during all this. You win the amazing illustrator ward of the year for sure! And you have been equally amazing with the promotional / post-publication support. What unique skills/opportunities do you think an illustrator can provide to/for the marketing of a picture book?

Illustrators have a chance to bring a book to life in many different ways. When you invited me to collaborate on launch party ideas, I learned an illustrator can extend the life of the book way beyond the reading. For HYPNOSIS HARRY, I helped create fun extras like coloring pages, drawing activities, and a craft demonstration. Since we both love giveaways, I suggested that since we couldn’t attend the other’s launch party, that we each donate an item to give away at our respective parties. And one thing I love most about illustrators is seeing a preview of process—a drawing demo, for example–because usually all we get to see is the finished product. When I find a book I admire, one of the first things I wonder is, “How did the illustrator do this?!” Seeing what goes into the creation of a book makes you appreciate the work so much more.

4. I do love giveaways. And your genius craft ideas. And Nutella. But I digress. What part of marketing HYPNOSIS HARRY are you most looking forward to doing?

I have some school visits lined up on April 8th, which happens to be during reading week at this particular school. I’m looking forward to reading to kids and drawing with them and giving them free stuff (bookmarks!).

5. Okay one last deep and insightful question. What was one NO from your parents that you wish had been a YES?

I’m from a treeless part of northern Alaska, and therefore my sister and I could never have a tree house. We had to settle for a ground level clubhouse. One summer we devised the perfect set up of old pallets and scrap plywood, complete with a clandestine hole in the ground in which I deposited empty candy wrappers. At one point, I tried to build a fire inside the clubhouse to destroy evidence of said candy consumption. I made sure to put the fire out completely, etc. but Dad found out and said NO to unsupervised backyard fires. He was especially furious because I had overlooked the fact that our clubhouse was built right next to the 50-gallon oil tank that contained our winter fuel…

That’s hilarious. And also dangerous. I am very glad you did not blow yourself up Sarita. And I am very, VERY glad you are my illustrator. Thank you! Okay, my turn in the hot seat.

1. In hindsight, I’m also grateful for parents who tempered the pyromaniac within so that I could live to meet Harry. What made you want to tell his story?

I read some little online blurb somewhere about a hypnosis demonstration gone wrong – the performer couldn’t snap his audience out of their trance. So I added hypnosis to my list of picture book ideas and forgot about it. A few weeks later I was trying to explain to my three-year-old why she couldn’t wear my wedding dress to school and it hit me – what if she were in charge? What if she hypnotized me and her dad? What would she do?! It would be terrifying, but also funny. Also, when I was a kid, I had a book called something like How To Get Your Parents To Give You Everything You Ever Wanted. That book was definitely a big inspiration too.

2. I love this insight into the inspiration behind the book. Speaking of others being in charge, how do you strike the balance between including too many illo notes and trusting the illustrator?

How do I strike the balance? Um, I don’t. I’m awful. LOL! My early drafts include dozens of art notes. I guess it is just part of my writing process to visualize every image and page turn. Fortunately I have great critique partners, and a wonderagent, who save me from myself. They help me to cut most of the art notes, which is a good thing. It is critical to trust the illustrator, art director, and publisher. They know so much more and do a much better job at that side of things. Let’s just say that if you and I both drew a stick figure, your stick figure would be way prettier.

HH sketch 1

3. I can see my stick figure getting carried away with clothes and eyelashes but the important point is that YOU are a marketing genius whose marketing plans should be SCBWI conference presentations. So what are the 3 most important things you keep in mind when developing a marketing plan for your picture books?

Audience, Budget, and Feasibility.

Defining your Audience makes you focus your efforts, which makes everything you do – calls, emails, school visits, signings, tweets, etc. – more effective. For example, I know my audience likes books, so bookmarks are a good giveaway (thank you Sarita for those!). Hairy poisonous spiders on the other hand, are not.

I hate to say Budget – but books are a business, like it or not, and I can’t spend a lot of money on items that don’t have a healthy return (even if I really, really want to!).

Feasibility means “Will Catherine actually do this thing or will she wimp out because she’s tired / doesn’t understand it / ran out of time?” For example, I would love to drive to every library within 200 miles and show them HYPNOSIS HARRY and convince them to add it to their collection. But unless I win some sort of babysitting and gas lottery, I can’t. So I’ll tone it down and just drive to every one within 30 miles 🙂 And I will do a lot of outreach online.

4. Those tips are sure to help us maintain sanity. Moving on: what major differences do you see in your marketing strategies for this book vs. MIND YOUR MONSTERS?

The biggest difference is that I can market HYPNOSIS HARRY towards schools because it came out during the school year. Also I now have dozens of school visits under my belt from my first book, MIND YOUR MONSTERS, so I can go back to those contacts. Overall marketing the second book is easier because I have at least some clue as to what I’m doing. But there’s always more to learn!

5. And finally, because I have to know, what was one NO from your parents that you wish had been a YES?

My grandparents had a farm, and on that farm was Molly. Molly was a horse and she belonged to my older sister Sarah Helen. Eventually I wanted a horse too (they really should have seen that coming), but my parents responded with a firm No. Instead my sister was instructed to share Molly with me. You can just imagine how that went. I spent a lot of time trying to ride the barn cats.

HH sketch 2

Thank you for reading. And there’s more! A giveaway (wheee)! Just leave a note in the comments below and you will be entered to win a Skype consult with author Catherine Bailey and illustrator Sarita Rich. Consider it a tag team critique where we will take a look at your picture book manuscript, and then chat about it with you in person. Well, in “digital-person.” You know what we mean.


The creators of PEEP & EGG, author Laura Gehl and illustrator Joyce Wan, are letting us hear a peep from their recent conversation about making this seriously cute new book…which is just in time for Easter! It’s all it’s cracked up to be! (Man, I’m really pushing the puns lately.)

LauraGehlBooks joycewan

Joyce Asks Laura….

Joyce: How did you first come up with the idea for this book?
Laura: With four kids of my own, I spent many years hearing I’M NOT every day. And by every day, I really mean every minute. But on the rare occasion that I got a full night’s sleep, or a full bar of chocolate, I could recognize that my kids and their peers weren’t actually trying to drive adults crazy (most of the time). A lot of the hesitation and I’M NOT came from nervousness, rather than stubbornness. I hope Peep and Egg will help parents start conversations with their kids about fears—however ridiculous those fears may seem. And I hope Peep and Egg will remind toddlers and preschoolers that they can overcome their fears.

Joyce: You left a lot of room in the text for illustrations, which was great for me! Is that a challenging thing to do as a writer?
Laura: YES!!!!!!!!! It is extremely hard to do! As an author, you have to resist the temptation to write a zillion detailed illustration notes and instead trust the illustrator to make magic happen. I always need to remind myself that if I am doing my job correctly, then my words—without the pictures—should only tell part of the story. If a child could hear only the words and get the full experience of my story, then I’ve totally failed.

Joyce: When you were writing this book, how did you imagine the illustrations?
Laura: I imagined the illustrations like Richard Scarry’s illustrations in I Am A Bunny. Just as you can see every hair on his bunny, I imagined seeing every feather on Peep. It’s hilarious to think about that now, since your style is totally different and yet I LOVE LOVE LOVE your interpretation of my words, and the magic we made together. That’s what I mean about trusting the illustrator—and also trusting the editor to make the perfect partnership between words and pictures. I know Janine, our wonderful editor, had you in mind from the beginning. It was her wisdom that made Peep and Egg the adorable book it is today!

Joyce: Peep and Egg is also written entirely in dialogue. Was that something that evolved as you were writing the story or was that something you decided from the start?
Laura: Over the various versions of Peep and Egg, certain aspects of the story changed—the ending most of all. But the story started in dialogue and stayed that way through every revision.

Joyce: Would you say you are more like Peep or more like Egg? (I’m more like Peep and tend to jump head first into everything!)
Laura: Now I know why we make a great team. I am definitely an Egg. I worry about everything and most days would love to stay inside my safe, cozy shell (as long as I could have chocolate inside, and a good book to read!).

P&E-Crack1(1) P&E-Crack3 P&E-Crack4(2)

Laura Asks Joyce…

Laura: When you began developing the characters, who was more difficult to draw–Peep or Egg? (In this case, I mean Egg as an egg. I still can’t believe how much personality you bring out for Egg without the benefit of facial expressions!)
Joyce: The voice in the manuscript was so strong I could see the characters in my head right away. They were a joy to draw because they are such opposites personality-wise, and so expressive in their dialogue. Yes, Egg as an egg was hardest as I was unable to show facial expressions or body movements, but it was a fun challenge.

Laura: How did you decide on the color palate that you used? Did you experiment with other colors before narrowing in?
Joyce: I tend to gravitate to a particular color palette in a lot of my work and they’re usually colors that are a little off from the traditional rainbow colors. So instead of straight red, green and blue, I love colors like blush pink, olive, teal, lime, and aqua, which you will see a lot of in Peep and Egg.

Laura: Can you tell us a little about the process of designing the ridiculously adorable cover?
Joyce: What initially started as a two-book project became a four-book project over the course of working on the first two books [side note from Laura: WOO-HOO!] so I felt like this first book cover needed to be branded in a way so that recognizable design elements could be carried over a few books. I even sought feedback from my design-savvy agent on a number of design ideas, which helped me tremendously throughout the cover design process. That is one of the nice things about having an agent who worked on the design side of publishing before becoming an agent. It took a few rounds of different ideas before I reached a final design that the editor loved.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 11.16.05 AM

Laura: Which illustration from the book is your favorite? Mine is Egg wearing the football helmet.
Joyce: I like the front endpaper, as I hid a little surprise for readers to discover.


I suppose you’ll have to pick up PEEP AND EGG to find out!

Thanks, ladies. I can see this adorable series easily growing into a dozen books! A DOZEN! GET IT? (Groan, Tara.)

Macmillan is giving away a copy of PEEP & EGG: I’M NOT HATCHING to one lucky blog commenter. U.S. addresses only, please. Just leave a comment below to enter. Giveaway closes March 14th!


Laura Gehl is the author of ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, a Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title, International Literacy Association Honor Book, and Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice for 2014; HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL and AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP (both PJ library selections for 2015 and 2016); and the PEEP AND EGG series. A former science and reading teacher, she also writes about science for children and adults. Laura lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband and four children. Visit her online at

Joyce Wan is an award-winning author and illustrator of many best-selling books for children, including YOU ARE MY CUPCAKE, WE BELONG TOGETHER, and THE WHALE IN MY SWIMMING POOL, which was a Junior Library Guild Spring 2015 selection. When she’s not working on books, she teaches courses at The School of Visual Arts in New York City. Joyce is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and currently lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Through all her work, she hopes to inspire people to embrace the spirit of childhood and follow their dreams. Visit Joyce online at

Pat Booksby Pat Zietlow Miller

I have a confession to make.

But you can’t tell anyone, OK?

I’m not fond of historical fiction.

I’m a huge reader with wide-ranging interests, so it pains me to say there’s a genre I don’t particularly like—especially when I know many writers who are working hard to create very valuable books in it. It also pains me because I’m smart enough to know that there’s probably historical fiction out there I would like if I got past my prejudice that historical fiction is all 800-page tomes full of hoop skirts, archaic language and obscure references.

So knowing that about me, what genre would you guess my latest picture book belongs to?

Yup. Historical fiction.


What can I say? Life is funny sometimes.

Interestingly enough, it’s not like I set out to write historical fiction. I kind of stumbled into it. I was initially writing a book called THE FASTEST FEET ON FLEET STREET, set in current times, about two girls competing to see who was the better runner, jumper and double-dutch rope skipper.

But the story needed something more. I wasn’t sure what.

The answer came from a discussion with an editor at a writing conference. She suggested anchoring it in a specific time. That one suggestion set off the proverbial light bulb. I immediately thought of Wilma Rudolph.

I knew the outline of Wilma’s story—overcoming polio and other illnesses as a child to become a three-time Olympic gold medalist and the fastest woman in the world—but not exactly when it had taken place. Research was obviously required.

I used to work as a newspaper reporter, so I know how to conduct research and interview and generally find things out. That part felt familiar as I read books, searched online and emailed experts.

And, as happens anytime I conduct research, l learned things. Things that fit right in with the story I was writing. My research filled in the gaps in my story, strengthened the weak parts and gave it the needed oomph, for want of a more technical term. Soon, the story’s title was THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, a nod to Wilma’s hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee.

I was able to weave in facts about the poverty Wilma grew up in and how her hometown was segregated during her youth. I also learned that Wilma paved the way for the town’s eventual integration by insisting that her victory parade in 1960 be open to everyone.

I wrote an author’s note. Got the rights to use a photo of the real-life Wilma riding in her parade.

Before I knew it, I had a historical fiction picture book. That I liked. Maybe it was time to rethink my priorities.

So, when my middle-school daughter came home and grumpily said she had to read a historical fiction book and she didn’t want to because all historical fiction was “boring,” I did not agree with her.

Instead, I put out a call to my online friends and soon had a list of more than 50 historical fiction middle-grade titles they recommended. My daughter and I spent an evening at the library looking some up. She left with THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS and TWERP, while I left with TURTLE IN PARADISE and AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS.

While I still wouldn’t say historical fiction is my favorite genre, I now know that I like it more than I used to.

And I’d certainly be open to writing some again.

As I researched, I found great quotes by Wilma that apply to any era. Here are a few:



Thank you, Pat! Sometimes agents and editors advise writers, “This story needs another layer.” You found yours in historical fiction! 

I’m giving away a copy of this spunky book! Just leave a comment to enter and a winner will be randomly selected in early March!

I find it fascinating when kidlit authors can hop into other genres. My mind is perpetually caught in 2nd grade so I could never envision writing young adult novels. But as my agent reminds me, never say never. Clever, Joan, ever clever.

vbartlesVeronica Bartles is one of those age-group-jumping frogs. Err, I mean authors. Sorry, I’ve got froggies on the brain because today she’s revealing the cover of her upcoming picture book THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (Balzer + Bray), illustrated by Sara Palacios. And GET THIS–the idea for the book came from her participation in PiBoIdMo. It’s another success story!

Veronica, you write YA novels! And now, a picture book! How difficult was it for you to write for a much younger age group?

Well, I’ve been accused of being very young at heart, so luckily it’s not too difficult for me to slip into a younger voice. But there’s definitely a shift between writing YA novels and picture books. I wouldn’t say one is harder to write than the other, but writing a picture book is definitely not easier than writing a full-length novel, just because it’s shorter. You’d think (at least, I used to think) that it would be a lot harder to write a 50,000-word novel than a 500-word picture book, because the novel has 100 times more words. But with a picture book, every single word counts. When you have only 500-700 words (or less!) to tell a story, with fully-developed characters, plenty of conflict, and a plot that keeps an audience’s attention through multiple re-readings, even the smallest word choice questions make a difference.

Although I can usually jot down a picture book first draft in a few days, while it takes a month or more to finish a YA novel’s first draft, I discovered that the revision process is so much more intense for my picture books. When all is said and done, writing and revising a picture book takes as long as it takes to write and revise a full YA novel. (Maybe even longer.) That was definitely something that took some getting used to.

OK, now I’m really going to test your YA loyalty! How is writing a PB “better” than writing a novel?

Tough question!

I think the best part about writing a picture book is that I can be surprised by the final story too. Writing YA is really fun, and I absolutely make friends with my characters by the time we reach the end of the story together. But since I write all the words, there isn’t anything in the final novel to surprise me. With THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, my words only tell half of the story. The rest is the work of my fabulous illustrator, Sara Palacios. I love the way her pictures and my words fit together to tell a story better than either of us could do on our own.

What was it like when you first saw Sara’s illustrations?

Way back before Sara was officially signed on as my illustrator, my editor sent me some sample artwork with the most adorable frogs you’ve ever seen, and I was immediately smitten. When I got the word that Sara had agreed to illustrate THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, I saved those frog pictures as the background wallpaper on my phone, so I could look at them several times a day. Of course, this made waiting for the official illustrations just a teensy bit harder, because I knew something absolutely fabulous was coming.

So I started following Sara’s Facebook page, watching for any hints of frogs and princesses in her artwork.

One day, she posted a picture of her desk with several sketches for the book she was currently working on, and up in the corner of the picture, there was a pencil sketch of the most adorable little girl I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking, “I want Princess Cassandra to look just like that.” And I’ll admit, I was kind of sad to see this perfect princess in a pile of sketches for someone else’s book. But a couple of days later, my editor, Kristin Rens, emailed me some rough, preliminary sketches of Sara’s concept art for Princess Cassandra … and it was the sketch I had fallen in love with from her Facebook post!!! I sent my daughter outside to do lots of cartwheels for me in celebration. (I’ve never had good enough balance to pull off a proper cartwheel, so I always have to designate a proxy cartwheel performer when celebrations call for one.)

What suggestions do you have for MG or YA authors who want to take on a PB?

Read lots and lots of different kinds of picture books to familiarize yourself with the PB voice. Read them aloud, so you can hear the rhythm of the narrative, even in the books that don’t rhyme. Read them to small children (if you don’t have small children of your own, you can always volunteer to read for story time at your local library), and pay attention to the way they interact with the books. And don’t be afraid to use big words. Kids love creative vocabulary choices!

Also, if possible, make friends with some illustrators. Their critique is invaluable when you’re trying to write a book that’s both fun to read and still leaves enough room for the illustrator to tell her part of the story.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS sounds like an adorable fractured fairy tale, where a princess loves frogs so much, she can’t help kissing them. What was your inspiration for this one?

Well, in November of 2010, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’d written my first YA manuscript during NaNoWriMo in 2008, and I’d attempted to write another one (but failed miserably) in 2009, so I felt like I had to “win” again in 2010 to redeem myself. But I was querying that first YA manuscript, knee-deep in revisions on other YA manuscripts, and I didn’t have any great ideas for the next big thing. The thought of subjecting myself to NaNoWriMo made me want to curl up under my desk and sob. So when one of my friends posted a link to something called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book IDEA Month!), I decided I would do that instead. Come up with 30 ideas in 30 days? How hard could it be?

I didn’t actually intend to write picture books, but I wanted an easy way to give myself a writing win, and I told myself that coming up with thirty PB ideas was sure to spark my brain and give me plenty of ideas for YA manuscripts as well. But ideas don’t always come just because you want them to!

Suddenly, it was almost the end of the month, and I still had a nearly-empty PiBoIdMo idea notebook. But I had started collecting query rejections on my YA manuscript, KISSING FROGS, and I desperately needed some kind of validation. I was NOT going to let this challenge beat me, so I started looking everywhere for the slightest glimmer of an idea. And as I thought about my “failed” novel (I had almost TEN whole rejections!!) I started to wonder, “Well, what if the princess didn’t WANT that clichéd Happily Ever After? What if she wasn’t looking for a prince? What if she really just wanted a frog? But what if she loved frogs so much she couldn’t help kissing them goodnight? What if the poor princess had a castle full of princes, all proposing marriage, but really just wanted a pet to love? By the end of the week, my PiBoIdMo idea book was brimming with ideas for fractured fairy tales, including two or three ideas for YA novels.

And I fell in love with a spunky Princess Cassandra, who wanted a frog, not a prince.

So let’s meet Princess Cassandra and her beloved froggies!

PrincessAndFrogs c

You know I’ll be first on line to buy this one. I’m a frog fanatic. (Which I tend not to reveal because everyone starts buying me frog-themed gifts. I’ve got a big box of ugly porcelain frogs, hidden away. Maybe I’ll try smooching them into royalty!)

Thanks, Veronica, for revealing your cover here today. Congratulations!

Princess Cassandra and frogs are coming via Balzer + Bray on November 15, right smack dab in the middle of PiBoIdMo 2016. Be sure to hop back here then to win a copy!

For the past couple years I’ve picked out a plethora of fun holiday gift ideas for your favorite writer and bibliophile (in other words, for YOU). This year I’ve asked some kidlit elves to assist with the merry-making. Let the wish list commence! (Thanks to author-cartoonist Steve Barr for the graphic!)



THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL by Jonathan Gottschall
picked by Mark Ury, CEO and Cofounder of Storybird


Mark: “Why do we feel the need to create stories? Possibly because we—and everything around us—are made of stories, something Gottschall points out in this slim but evocative book. Storytelling is the fabric of the mind and, as writers, it’s refreshing to remember that telling tales keeps us whole—and stops us from unraveling.”

Purchase Link via Indiebound


BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert
picked by author-illustrator Arree Chung


Arree: “If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with your creativity. You love words, art, stories and design. You are curious and have creative ideas that you want to bring to life. It’s exciting. But you also hate your creativity at times. You feel stuck, dread having to start over or may not be happy with your level of success. At these times, your curiosity can feel more like a curse than a blessing.

“Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” is a refreshing perspective on how to think about and cultivate creativity. She discusses the idea that ideas are entities—needing a partner to work with to be borne. Elizabeth addresses the challenges of living a creative life and offers insightful approaches to get the most of your creativity.”

Purchase Link via Indiebound


picked by Tara


Tara: “Doodling is the perfect exercise for getting the creative mojo flowing, even if you can’t draw well. There’s something about the freedom of the doodle—the “no rules here” attitude—that lets your mind explore absurd and absorbing possibilities.”

Purchase link via The Literary Gift Company


picked by author-illustrator Elizabeth Rose Stanton



Elizabeth: “I was first introduced to The Dodo Case by my talented author/illustrator pal and critique group (The Whatsits) buddy, Ben Clanton. I thought Ben had a little book in his hand, but it was his iPhone! Up until I saw these, I never bothered with a case. I fell in love with them. They turn your iPhone into a little book! What could be better? Now when we have our crit group meetings, Ben and I have to be careful not to mix up our phones! The cases are handmade in San Francisco.”

Purchase link via


picked by author-illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton


Vanessa: “Hello PiBo Peeps, it’s holiday time again and you’re running around like the holiday turkey with it’s head cut off trying to find the perfect gift for the illustrator/artist person in your life! Well with all the wonderful things out to get them like super-duper expensive watercolor paper, or the awesome Cintque that will set you back about 2k or more, why not get them something that they will love and use and that will keep you out of the poor house. Like this awesome TruGlide Microfiber Tip 2-in-1 combo for the new iPad, iPad Mini and iPhone. This thing is awesome!!! I love it. Has really nice control and precision. Easy to carry and at a smart price too. Under $35! How about that? They will love you for it! Available at Amazon! Run don’t walk—go now!! Oh Merry Christmas everyone!”

Purchase Link via Amazon.


picked by author Elizabeth Bluemle, co-owner of The Flying Pig Bookstore

Elizabeth: “Handmade wooden words (double sided) in a bamboo box. The best procrastination tool around, because it’s creative and the little wooden words are so satisfying to play with.”

Purchase link via Magnetic Poetry

picked by Tara
Tara: “Writing is an art…and this gorgeous set of writing tools reminds us that every word should be beautifully crafted.”

Purchase link via Brass Binnacle

picked by author Josh Funk
Josh: “I’m gonna go with the library card T-shirt, ’cause when you walk into the library wearing it, no librarian will be able to resist you! (Or they might assess you a late fee.)”

Purchase link via Etsy seller Shop Just Wish


picked by author & poet Kelly Fineman
Kelly: “I chose this nifty kit because, like most writers I know, I always dreamed of running my own library when I was a kid. I see this as the perfect gift for anyone with a home library, and for a lot of kids I know who wish they could be a librarian as well.”

Purchase link via The Library Store


picked by agent Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency
Marietta: “I am a big fan of embossers (and funny enough, one my clients (Dana Alison Levy) sent me one for the holidays this year!!). For the many of us who are constantly lending out books, it’s good to have a stamp that reminds friends and family members where the book need be returned once it’s been read! Besides, it’s so much fun to emboss a page in the book—classy, reliable, and effective! Perfect for every writer (who, inevitably, is also a reader!!!).”

Purchase link via Etsy seller CustomDesignsbyJill


picked by author Shutta Crum

Shutta: “Time is a tricky little devil. Just when you think you’ve got a leisurely afternoon to get some writing done, it snickers at you and runs off. And then you wonder where the heck did time go? The next day is the same, and the one after that. And everything you planned to do ‘some day’ never seems to get done. I like this clock because it’s a constant reminder of how time keeps spiraling away, down some universal drain at the center of one’s life . . . and there will be no future good time to finally write that book you’ve always wanted to write. It has to be NOW. Now is the only time to put one’s butt in the chair and write. Each day, we writers need to wrestle old Devil Time down and make it do our bidding. And it’s not a battle you win once. It’s a battle with that trickster every day, and simply part of the job of being a writer. Looking at this clock is a reminder that writers are also time warriors.”

Purchase link via Cafe Press


picked by Tara

Tara: “This Etsy artist turns books into light you can read by. I love the variety of shapes and would like to have one in my office. But first, I need an actual office.”

Purchase link via Etsy seller BomDesignNL


picked by Tara
Tara: “The black smudges concealing titles of banned books disappear once you fill this mug with the hot cuppa of your choice. An ingenious way to remind you that it’s time to refill!”

Purchase link via Uncommon Goods


picked by Tara
Tara: “Two words every writer is striving toward. Plus, we also like warm feet.”

Purchase link via Stubbs & Wootton


picked by Tara 


Tara: “Speaking of warm feet and not having an office, I often write in my kitchen at the bay window. With the ceramic tile floor and three windows, my feet get really chilled in the winter. I therefore covet this foot covering. Freezing tootsies make for terrible stories.”

Purchase link via Amazon.


picked by Tara

Tara: “Homina, homina, homina.”

Purchase link via Not on the High Street


picked by Tara
Tara: “Now you can write anywhere with any Bluetooth-enabled device. Better than a hoverboard!”

Purchase link via Uncommon Goods


picked by Tara

Tara: “Like mind-mapping software, but not as complicated, Scapple allows writers to make free-form connections between ideas. It’s like scribbling on a piece of paper with arrows darting here and there…except now you won’t run out of room…or lose that haphazard-brilliant outline.”

Purchase link via Literature and Latte


picked by Tara

Tara: “Keep your PiBoIdMo fire aflame all year long!”

Purchase link via Barnes & Noble


picked by Tara


Tara: “Remember, as a writer you’re also an artist. The creative process is never a straight line. This original artwork by Carolyn Fisher reminds us of this…plus it’s just cool to stare at.”

Purchase Link via Society6


There are plenty more gift ideas on my Pinterest board THINGS WRITERS LIKE. So go take a peek!

Thanks to all the gift contributors!

I hope you get just what you wish for this holiday season!

A very happy and merry to you all!

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.

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