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Ryan_headshotby Ryan Sias

I met Tara a few years ago at an SCBWI event; her enthusiasm for books is infectious. What I love about picture books is how they spark children’s imaginations. In between working on books, I do these free weekly creative projects for kids under the name Sias Studios.

SiasStudio_logo_smallSias Studios‘ free weekly emails are designed to promote creative thinking and foster children’s imaginations. Our original art projects encourage kids to invent their own stories and make art without boundaries. We provide a springboard for you child to dive into artistic discovery!

Our silly and fun material engages children to create a positive art experience. Suggested for ages four to eleven—or anyone who is a kid at heart! Just print and color!




When you sign up to the mailing list at, we will email you our free weekly art projects. The emails will contain a downloadable PDF—just hit the button and print from your home computer. It’s easy, creative, and fun!

Click here to see our most recent project.

We suggest you do these activities along with your child. Show them how fun it is to brainstorm and create their own stories, and encourage them to keep asking questions.


Ryan, what gave you the idea to start this fun program?

The concept came from a combination of ideas. First, I love drawing with my nieces and nephews, it’s always silly and crazy. They live in other states so I don’t get to do it as often as I like. Next was the fact schools are always cutting art classes, and I worry that kids are not developing their creativity. I wanted to do something for every kid that was super-wacky fun, something that encourages art brainstorming.

Then while on a walk the idea hit me. I should combine these ideas into one project!

That afternoon I sent some art projects to my nieces and then thought why not open this up to everyone?!

What has been your favorite project thus far?

The newest project is always my favorite because its new. I love creating wacky characters, so the trill of that is exciting. My favorite one is Waffle Dude; the idea just tickles me.




Ryan Sias has been making kids laugh and helping them learn for over two decades. A twenty-year veteran of animation, film, and television, he has directed projects for Barney and Chuck E. Cheese, and created story art for Sesame Street, Pinky Dinky Doo for Nick Jr., and Maya & Miguel for PBS.

Ryan’s illustrated picture book “Are You Eating Something Red?” was selected by the Museum of Modern Art  to be included in the MOMA Store’s children’s catalogue. His latest book “Zoe & Robot: Let’s Pretend” is available on Amazon. Ryan’s comics have appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine and Mad Magazine.

Ryan also makes appearances at schools and libraries. His “Story Laboratory” workshop teaches drawing and storytelling in an entertaining and collaborative presentation. Contact Sias Studios for information on booking your own “Story Laboratory“!

You may have never heard of Ursula Oaks, but she’s a pioneer. She and her family are one of only a handful of East-Coast bibliophiles who have become stewards of a Little Free Library.

What’s a Little Free Library? Just as it sounds, it’s a small structure—a little bigger than a breadbox—that houses books which are free to borrow. Take a book, return a book, leave a book. Visit as often as you wish. And there’s never an overdue fine!

The brainchild of Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, the Little Free Library enterprise began in 2009 and flourished in the Wisconsin and Minnesota region. Intended to support literacy, social empowerment, youth and community development, the libraries sit on front lawns and places of business, encouraging neighbors and patrons to read…and share great literature.

A map on the website displays registered LFLs around the country. I was hoping to find one in New Jersey, but alas, none exist. (Don’t worry, my neighbor and I plan to change that soon.)

But I did find Ursula Oaks in Silver Spring, MD, living just three miles from my brother’s home. Originally I planned to visit her and the little library-on-stilts in her side yard, but since that didn’t work out, we chatted via email about her experience with being a Little Free Library “home librarian”.

TL: When and why did you decide to open a Little Free Library?

UO: I first heard about the LFL movement on an NPR program out of Wisconsin Public Radio called “Here On Earth: Radio Without Borders”, which is hosted by the amazing journalist Jean Feraca. She interviewed the founders, and the whole thing sounded so fun and meaningful that I went home that night and told my husband and son about it. They were both interested, too, so we started making plans. We thought the idea was a perfect melding of our shared love for building things, for libraries, and for books. Our son Liam loved the idea that we could select books from our own collection to share, and that we could host something in our yard that the whole community could take part in. My husband Craig was excited to have a new building project. And we all loved the creative aspect of designing and painting something totally unique. That was September of last year. It took us five months to actually get it completely finished, due to schedules, weather, travel, etc. The finished library finally went up in the yard on January 25 of this year.

TL: How did it get built and why did you choose the Madeline theme?

Craig is great with woodworking, so he built the structure, complete with copper run-off pipes, tin roof, and clear plexiglass front door. I sketched out the design based on the original Bemelmans drawings in one of our Madeline books, and everyone pitched in to paint, including 7-year-old Liam. Frankly we were surprised at how well it turned out, because none of us is particularly gifted with a paintbrush.

The story of how we ended up with the Madeline theme is a bit convoluted. We knew we wanted to do some kind of stylized approach to the house, so we thought about a barn or a farm house or bird house, and then at some point I suggested we try to come up with an idea that had some connection with a book we love—something that people would recognize and understand. Liam has always loved the Madeline stories, and we had recently returned from a visit to Paris for Thanksgiving, so the idea came to us pretty quickly once we went down that path, especially because while we were in Paris we passed an enormous house that looked incredibly similar to the Madeline house.

We decided to let Liam have free rein with the back of the house, but he needed help because he insisted on including an Eiffel Tower. He did the trees and the bird and the flag on the top of the tower.

TL: How does the Little Free Library work? Can people take any book they want? Do they have to return them? Can anyone add to the collection?

UO: The motto of the LFL movement is “take a book, leave a book”, but there’s no check-out/check-in system, and anyone is welcome to take a book. It’s been amazing to see how well this works, totally organically. Some people take and leave books, some just take, some just leave. I put a small notebook and pen inside inviting comments, and we have had many, all of them very positive. Many of them mention what a nice addition it is to the community, and many comment on the attractiveness of the structure itself. It seems to invite people to stop and linger. All of the books we originally stocked it with have been taken, replaced by an equal number of books from many other people.

TL: Can you share some of the comments you’ve received?

UO: “This is beautiful and a treasure! Can we donate books to the cause?”
“We love it! My daughter has exchanged books three times already! Thank you!”
“Add a toilet.” (from a child)
“Gorgeous! Where did you get the cabinet?”
“We love your library!”
“Such a nice little library! It makes us happy just seeing it!”
“Amazing. Makes the world a better place.”
“I love this library.”
“So fun to trade books.”
“What a very sweet and thoughtful addition to our neighborhood. I will have to leave you a treat in return for your great idea.”
“The idea is so amazing. I want to make one when I grow up!!!”
“Thank you so much. We love the house, especially the rain gutters.”

TL: Have any of your neighbors expressed interest in starting their own Little Free Library?

UO: Yes, one person expressed interest. I think people have discovered ours after reading the recent USA Today article about how others have gone about establishing theirs.

TL: What has been the best part of owning a Little Free Library?

UO: The best part of it is seeing it every day and feeling like it is adding a bit of community-building and joy to our neighborhood.

I am always amazed at how it continues to enrich our lives. Let me share with you an interesting anecdote. Craig was getting ready to go to work and walked out to find an enormous FedEx truck in the street. He figured someone had ordered some furniture or something, but then he saw the FedEx guy looking at our Little Free Library. He said “hi” to him and the guy said he had seen a story about LFL on TV and had looked on the web site to see where there might be one in his area (he lives in northern Maryland). He realized there is only one in the state (ours) and said he finally had a chance to come down and check it out!  I just thought that was pretty sweet.

Thank you, Ursula and the Oaks Family! I wish you many happy years of home librarianship! Who knows…maybe the FedEx guy will deliver an endless supply of books!

So blog readers, how about you? Are you eager to set up your own Little Free Library? Let us know in the comments. And visit to get started!

I was bullied as a teen. As an adult, I’ve come to realize almost everyone has been bullied as a child, so of course, now I feel more “normal”. But at the time, I was terrified. The girls who tormented me rode on my bus and would incessantly scream obscenities at me. When I walked off the bus, they would throw things out the window, spit at me, and call me horrible names (some of which I didn’t even know the meaning). I was pushed and shoved and made to feel worthless.

The movie “Bully” seeks to shed light on the behavior of mean boys and girls and start a meaningful dialogue between students, teachers and parents affected by bullying. However, the Motion Picture Association of America recently rated the movie “R” so it may not be screened in schools, the one place it could really make a difference.

Like Seth Myers and Amy Poehler, I want to ask, “Really?!?”


Please watch the trailer and then sign a petition by teenager Katy Butler asking the MPAA to give “Bully” a PG-13 rating. The rating was given for language—but this is the language of the bully, and to censor it would lessen the impact of the message.

As a footnote, I recently learned that the girl who led the bullying against me has been in jail for years. Karma? No. I think she needed more help than I did. Let’s remember that the bullies may be going through difficult times at home and their anger is an outlet and a call for help.

Thanks so much for reading.

While my daughters were home from school last week, we got inspired by illustrator Aaron Zenz and his creative children who blog at Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty. The Z-Family recently collected rocks and sticks, painted them, and planted them around their town to brighten the day of unsuspecting locals.

We decided to do the same—give rocks some smiles and let a neighbor stumble across a fine-lookin’ paper weight. Or new pet. Or objet d’art.

While the Z-Family collected beach pebbles, we live on a mountain (those from the Rockies would call this a hill), so we collected small boulders. My littlest child picked the largest rocks and had to drag her bag home.

Here’s the family of rocks we painted, each with its own unique personality. (Yes, we named them.) Later this week, we’ll stash them in nooks and crannies around town and see if any lucky folks decide to adopt them. Stay tuned!

Materials: rocks, acrylic paint, multi-purpose sealer, imagination!

I recently discovered a little gem of a book, a 1967 Reader’s Digest “New Family Quiz Book” with illustrations by Quentin Blake (mysteriously uncredited, but undoubtedly his).

The book is full of brain teasers and word puzzles, but there’s also a section that tests your creativity.

Jot down your answers to the following questions–your choice of responses shows your creativity. I’ll be back in a few days with the answers!

Object: Which responses do you feel apply to you?

1. Would you rather be considered:
a. practical ?
b. ingenious ?

2. Does following a schedule:
a. appeal to you ?
b. cramp you ?

3. Do you often get behind in your work?
a. Yes
b. No

4. Do hunches come to you just before you go to sleep?
a. Yes
b. No

5. Do you often fret about daily chores?
a. Yes
b. No

6. Do you like to introduce the speaker at a meeting?
a. Yes
b. No

7. Do you sometimes feel anxious about the success of your efforts?
a. Yes
b. No

8. Do you like work in which you must influence others?
a. Yes
b. No

9. Are you fundamentally contented?
a. Yes
b. No

10. Do you spend many evenings with friends?
a. Yes
b. No

11. Do you frequently day-dream?
a. Yes
b. No

12. Do you remember the names of people you meet?
a. Yes
b. No

I was sure there was a Poetry Friday blogging meme, and there is, but it’s for sharing published poems, not original work. But I wrote this little ditty and had no place for it, so here it is. As parents, we love our children desperately, but sometimes the routine of the day can be trying. I think this captures that feeling of happiness mixed with exasperation.


My children revolve
around me, tiny
planets desperate
for warmth.
My skin, hot
to the touch.
Bacon splatter,
Scalded milk,
I burned
the toast

Do you have a love/hate relationship with bedtime? It’s a cozy time to snuggle and read a book with the kids, but it’s also when they refuse to settle down to sleep. Mom, can I sleep in your bed? Dad, can I have a glass of water? Could you fluff my pillow? Can we read one more book? Please? Five more minutes? Pretty please with sugar on top?

Ey yi yi. It’s enough to drive any mama hen wild! And it does in Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s new picture book, Chicks Run Wild.

In her Coop Sweet Coop, Mama has five chicks to put to bed. She tucks them in, gives them each a peck goodnight, but when she closes the door, they leap out of bed and cause a riotous ruckus. Feathers fly and Mama’s patience wears thin.

At first Mama scolds her chicks, but when she realizes her little ones are not ready for dreamland, she does something unexpected. Chicks Run Wild lets both parents and kids know it’s okay to break the rules every once in a while.

With a bright and cheery color palate, Ward Jenkins creates an adorable brood of five chicks with distinct personalities. One chick always has one eye opened, awaiting Mama’s departure. And there’s other fun details, like a spoof of the Beatles’ album cover Abbey Road, and Mama’s favorite read, Gone with the Wing. Sudipta’s jaunty rhyme makes you want to get up and shake your tail feathers with the family.

Bedtime is going to be a lot more fun with Chicks Run Wild. When your kids ask to read one more book, you’ll happily pick this one.

Want it? Sure you do!

Chicks Run Wild
Story by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Illustrations by Ward Jenkins
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
January 2011

Kids says the darndest things. And who better to give picture book authors great ideas than their readers? I asked Mrs. Lombardo’s 2nd Grade and Mrs. Mozer’s 3rd Grade classes what kind of book they would like to write and why.

“If I could publish a children’s book, it would be about…”

“Dragons because a lot of little boys like dragons.” – Oscar

“Soccer because I could teach others how to play soccer.” – Victor

“Dinosaurs because children like the T. Rex, triceratops and others.” – Aidan M.

“Friendship because children should learn how to be nice to each other.” – Mark

“Presidents because they are important for our country.” – Marshal

“Turkeys because it’s November.” – Dylan

“A girl and a boy walking in the woods and a witch would take them and bring them home. I would write it so some people would get scared a little bit.” – Taylor

“Dragons because I like dragons.” – Chris

“A little funny eraser who has big adventures all around the world because kids always like adventures.” – Gabriela

“Animals because lots of people like animals.” – Eliana

“Vampires and aliens because that is what most kids like.” – Annika

“A kid getting a pet. I would do it because they might like the book.” – Angelina

“Two girls who buy cotton candy. One of the girls eats it and the other one doesn’t. So it makes fun of that cotton candy. I would write this story because it makes me laugh.” – Neda

“Dragons. My book will be about dragons because it’s easy to make the problem and solve the problem.” – Thomas

“Friends because at school we learn about being bullied and good friends have to be nice to each other.” – Kyle

“Snow because children like to play in snow.” – Payoon

“Valentine’s Day because a lot of people like Valentine’s Day.” – Rebecca

“A girl and a boy helping others because other people could help others, too.” – Sophia

“A long time ago so kids can learn about a long time ago.” – Aidan Z.

“Christmas because it’s my favorite holiday.” – Halle

“A scarecrow, pumpkin, witch, house, people, crayons, lunch, snack, class. You could write a school.” – Vikesh

“A boy that could fly because it would be cool to see the world.” – George

“A boy who’s stuck in a haunted house because I like to tell spooky stories and it would be a cool adventure.” – Melanie

“A boy who could create pictures in his mind and make things happen because I think that would be exciting.” – Nick

“A girl who plays soccer because I think it would be interesting to read about a girl like me.” – Leah

“A girl who was teased because she was so good at math because I’m so good at math.” – Sophie

“A girl that has powers because I think that would be interesting.” – Hanna

“Dinosaurs because kids really like dinosaurs.” – Pierson

“A girl in a wheelchair because it would be cool to see how she dealt with school and her differences.” – Alex

“A girl that could fly because I would love to fly.” – Ella

“A girl that could go anywhere because she’d be able to get anything.” – Meredith

“A girl that wanted a dog because I want a dog and can’t get one.” – Denise

“A bear that is lazy and never helps people because it would be funny.” – Christian

“A boy who could fly because it’s my dream to fly and it would be cool to read about.” – Matthew

“People with powers because that would be cool.” – Jenna

“A boy who could fly because I like fantasy.” – Jimmy

“An alien who is friends with a boy because it would be cool.” – Julia

“A boy that could do amazing things because that would be interesting to read.” – Alexander

“A boy with super powers because that would be awesome.” – Henry

“Football because I know a lot about it and I play football.” – Tucker

“A kid who stunk at soccer and then becomes the best player on his team because it would be a good book.” – Lucas

“A boy who could fly because a lot of children want to fly and would like to read a book about it.” – Ethan

“A girl that has a brother and sister that annoys her a lot because I have a brother and sister that annoy me.” – Abby

[UPDATE: The winner is Sheryl Tilley! Congratulations and enjoy!]

My story “The Juggler Triplets” will appear in the November issue of Abe’s Peanut, a micro-magazine for kids ages 6-10. Delivered in four postcard installments, the story appears on one side with full-color illustration by Lichen Frank on the other.

Independently published by editors Anna and Tess Knoebel, Abe’s Peanut launched this year after the success of Abe’s Penny, a micro-magazine for adults: “Off-set printed on double thick matte card stock, each issue dispenses art and literature while becoming a collectible, temporal object.” (In kidspeak: “They look cool tacked to your bedroom door.”)

Recent Abe’s Peanut contributors include Audrey Vernick, author of Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, and Lisa Tharpe, author of P is for Please: A Bestiary of Manners.

Kids love receiving their own mail, so here’s a chance to receive four postcards with your child’s name on the label.

Leave a comment naming your child’s favorite picture book for one contest entry. Mention the giveaway elsewhere for two additional entries. A winner will be chosen on Friday, October 22nd.

And stay-tuned for PiBoIdMo in November, when there will be several itty-bitty (plus some hugantic) giveaways!

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Authors always say that we write what we know, and it is completely true—you cannot tell an authentic story if it doesn’t come from a place of truth. The trouble, though, is when you write picture books for kids, how do you define what it is that you know?

I write books about talking pigs and lonely ducks, and I can assure you I am neither a pig (verbose or otherwise) nor a duck nor any other kind of animal featured in any of my books. And yet I feel very strongly that I only write about the things that I know and that almost every one of my picture books draws heavily from my own life.

Take QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY, for example, my newest book published by Abrams. In this story, poor, lonely Quackenstein looks on in envy as all the other animals in the zoo settle in with their families. So he hatches a plan to solve his problem—upon spying a sign for “orphaned eggs,” Quackenstein decides to adopt an egg to start a family of his own.

The previously cantankerous duck becomes a devoted father-to-be, even cooing to his “ducky-poo” that he will never be neglected. But when the egg finally does hatch, it is more than the eggshell that cracks—Quackenstein takes one look at his hatchling and runs off in terror.

Without giving away the whole book, suffice it to say that the hatchling eventually catches up to his father and a few choice words serve to melt Quackenstein’s heart and open his eyes to the fact that families can be different or strange but always find a way to work. Despite his fears, Quackenstein learns to be the father he wanted to be—and that his son deserves.

I wrote this story when I was pregnant with my son, Sawyer, who is my third child. I’d already had two girls, Isabella and Brooklyn, and I was convinced that baby number three was going to be daughter number three. So when the doctor told me that I was having a boy, my first response was, “No, I’m not, and you can’t make me.”

Turns out, I really was going to have a boy and nothing was going to change that.

I will freely admit being terrified at the prospect of having a son. After all, I knew lots and lots about how to be a good mother to girls, but knew absolutely nothing about mothering a boy. (Since then, I’ve learned that boys and girls truly are as similar as, well, ducks and platypi—they might as well be two different species.)

I honestly didn’t sit down to write a book about a parent who was both excited and terrified about having a baby. But looking back, I realize I did exactly that.

Had I written QUACKENSTEIN five years earlier, I am convinced it would have been a different story, because there were different things important in my life then. If I’d never written the book and started fresh on it now, it would definitely be a different story (and probably far scarier!).

As much as authors write what they know, the real test of a good story is whether the author has not only found his or her own truth, but also illuminated some truth for the readers. So I’ll leave you with this hope: that you can find a little Quackenstein in your own heart.

Thanks for giving us a warm-up for PiBoIdMo, Sudipta!

Want a sneak peek of QUACKENSTEIN? Look no further–the trailer is here! With every view, a donation will be made to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums!

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