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Every year I’ve had the pleasure of asking the Carle Honor recipients a salient question about picture books, the medium in which they have made a profound impact.

That tradition continues, although the annual ceremony will be reimagined as a virtual benefit on Thursday, September 24, and this year’s Honorees will be commemorated at Carle’s 2021 in-person event.

For the Virtual Benefit, picture book art by some of publishing’s most esteemed artists will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting the museum. Bidding begins in mid-September and will culminate in a live two-piece auction during the virtual benefit.

Please support the museum and its mission here!

Sign up for the Virtual Event. It is absolutely free to attend, but you must register to get the link.

In 2020, given our extraordinary circumstances, I’ve asked this year’s distinguished honorees a question we all may need answering:

How do picture books provide a safe space for children and their families navigating through difficult times?

Every Child a Reader
Angel Honoree
Represented by Carl Lennertz, Executive Director

The biggest benefit of picture books comes if parent and child read together. During these times, being together versus alone in one’s room is a huge plus and discussing a book’s themes brings the additional benefit of conversation and soothing voices. And even if one reads quietly in one’s room, pictures and stories take us away to another time and place. Books are love.

Raúl Colón
Artist Honoree

Picture books take the readers to another world. Or at least through some sort of journey. Especially wordless picture books, which make the mind enjoy the trip a little more. Now the observers have to decipher what they see in front of them. Bring some sort of coherence to all the visuals that remain in a certain order in their eyes. Once they’re lost in that visual adventure, they leave the physical space they find themselves in, and fly away to another place—the difficult times left behind, if only for a moment. However, the lingering effects of a good story may last for hours—or even a lifetime.

Patricia Aldana
Mentor Honoree
Publisher, Aldana Libros

My father was born in Guatemala in 1907 into a professional, military family of some means. In 1910 they lost their mother. And in 1917 the year he turned ten Guatemala City was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake, leaving my father and his siblings with nowhere to live.  They were sent to stay with their grandmother, herself dependent on her son in law, in a small city in the east of Guatemala. Suddenly they had no money. My father, at twelve, had to go and work as a timekeeper on the railroad—a company then owned by the United Fruit Company which used the trains to bring their bananas to the port on the Gulf of Mexico. My father was very bright, but he had to leave school. By some miracle there was an outstanding library nearby. It had the great books of the Western Canon from Shakespeare, to Cervantes, to Racine, to Tolstoy to Dickens. By going and reading in this library every day after work my father succeeded in passing his bachillerato, his secondary degree. He then went to medical school, became a doctor, and a surgeon. He was one of the best-read people I have ever known. Eventually he became the Surgeon General of Guatemala and founder and first rector of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. I think it is correct to say that reading saved my father’s life.

Sad to say, there were no picture books in those days. Today’s children have a treasure trove of such books.

Around the world IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) has developed the practice of bringing wonderful books to children in crisis, reading aloud to them, and giving them books to read to themselves. Following earthquakes in Japan, Chile and Indonesia; with refugee children in countries ranging from Afghanistan to San Salvador to the US border, to Syrians in Lebanon, to refugee kids in Toronto, our experience has been that this practice of bibliotherapy has a hugely beneficial effect on children who may have faced death, displacement and loss. Many are able to talk for the first time about the trauma they have experienced. They sleep better. They play better. They can laugh again.

How could this not work with children stuck at home by Covid-19? After all this is a traumatic time, too. Setting aside a special reading time, separate from all other activities for an hour a day; reading aloud from really good picture books; talking about the books; drawing pictures, singing—letting the child lead the way. This should be time away from media, schoolwork, and should be completely free from any kind of didacticism.

There are several essential things to keep in mind. The first and most important: Let the child choose the books. Have a pile of great books, vary them, but let them choose. In our experience children in dire circumstances may want books that are funny, or about love, or that are sad. Let them talk, let them interrupt, but make it the most fun moment of the day. And even with older kids starting the special books time by reading aloud—as long as it’s a book the child has chosen, can help to engage them. And let them talk about the books. Reading saves lives.

Congratulations to the Honorees and thank you for sharing your wisdom!

The Carle Honors Honorees are selected each year by a committee chaired by children’s literature historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus, who was central to the founding of the Honors. The committee recognizes four distinct awards: Artist, for lifelong innovation in the field; Angel, whose generous resources are crucial to making illustrated children’s book art exhibitions, education programs, and related projects a reality; Mentor, editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form; and Bridge, individuals or organizations who have found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields. This year’s Bridge Honorees are Dennis M. V. David and Justin G. Schiller, founders of Battledore Ltd.

Visit The Carle Museum online at


Yes, it’s time to GO!

Where, you ask?

To the Pen and Ink Brigade’s STAND UP Art Auction! Going on NOW!

But first, author-illustrator Carin Berger is here to tell us a little about it. Carin, what is the Pen and Ink Brigade and how did you get started?

The Pen and Ink Brigade is a group of women artists/activists who have joined forces to use our art to create progressive change. Many of us are well known picture book creators and illustrators.

The 2016 election really galvanized us. We gave ourselves the name, the Pen and Ink Brigade, and marched together in the women’s march. We began to realize that, collectively, we had a vast pool of talent and shared political beliefs. And, kind of on the fly, we organized a fundraiser, the BLUE WAVE project, which was an art show and an art sale that benefitted a get out the vote [GOTV] group, VoteRiders just in time for the 2018 midterm elections. Somehow, in a matter of weeks, we pulled the project together. Each artist created a blue wave, which, when they were put together, made a great blue tsunami.  We held the show at the Diana Kane Boutique in Brooklyn, and managed to sell all the art. It was empowering and exhilarating. And we haven’t stopped!

Wow! What project did you tackle next?

After the BLUE WAVE project the women of the Pen and Ink Brigade worked together on a number of projects. We created a mural proposal for AOC’s office in Jackson Heights, NYC. We made a backdrop for a fundraising event, Persisticon, and we put together a bi-coastal art show, PINK NYC + PINK SF, with 80 artists, all women, who created work that reclaimed and re-defined the color pink. We raised over $20,000 for Stacey Abrams’s voting rights initiative, FAIR FIGHT ACTION, to help ensure people’s right to vote in the upcoming 2020 election. It was super inspiring to see the art come in, and for the color PINK to be reclaimed as something fierce and provocative and powerful.

What is this week’s STAND UP! Auction all about?

And now, in time for November, we have yet another project. STAND UP! is a fundraising auction. 100% of the proceeds will go to EMILY’s List to help diverse, progressive women candidates get elected. We came to this theme after watching people bravely working together to confront the many difficult challenges that we are facing as a country right now. The pandemic, the importance of BLM, the economic hardship so many of us are experiencing, the inequities that affect schooling and health for people. Climate change. These are tough times. But it has been heartening to see our communities coming together and standing up for what is right. We structure the call for entries to be flexible and open ended, allowing each artist to create a piece that addresses a specific issue that the artist was standing up for.

Please tell us what your piece for the auction is about!

My piece is titled STAND UP for ALL OF US!

I was thinking about what our country and world needs to move forward, and on that list was diversity, inclusion, connection and community. That is my hope for this moment, that broadly, we will find a way to STAND UP and join forces and find the beauty in the wild diversity that we each offer, but also that deep need for connection that we all have.

These ideas also thread through many of my books like The Little Yellow Leaf and Forever Friends. And explicitly in All of Us, which I wrote in response to the 2016 election. I deeply believe in the power of love and community, and in these dark divisive times, I have been heartened by the way people have come together to STAND UP!

The STAND UP! Auction is going on today through August 28th! See all the artwork available at

Also, you can tune into an interview with author-illustrator LeUyen Pham tonight on Instagram Live:

OPENING THE ROAD is the true story behind the Green Book guide Black Americans used to travel safely during legal segregation…and the mail carrier who wrote it.

Today author Keila Dawson is here to talk about how the 2017 Storystorm challenge inspired this story. Congratulations and take it away, Keila!

After reading a 2017 Storystorm post by Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Social Media Inspires Social Awareness, I heard an interesting story about the Green Book travel guides on a different type of media—the radio. The broadcast was an interview with the creator of a BBC documentary on the Green Book. I learned it was written and published in the 1930s during a time when finding places to eat, sleep, or get gas on road trips wasn’t easy or safe for Black Americans. I had always wanted to write a narrative nonfiction story and thought there was an audience for this story about the man and the book that changed lives for so many people.

Keila, how did your initial idea grow and change?

I followed the links provided by the broadcast host to learn more about the guide and fell down a research rabbit hole!

From a quick search, I found one other title published about the topic, a fiction picture book, and gave myself permission to dedicate the time to dig deeper. Filling in the gaps of my own personal knowledge of the history during that period made me even more determined to write this story.

My first draft read like a Wikipedia page with lots of dates and facts. There was very little public information available on Victor Green, the mail carrier who published the guides, but they were in the public domain. I read the introductions he wrote and articles he published in every guide. I learned he got the idea from the Jewish press.

I connected with experts such as a Jewish historian and museum curator, a photojournalist searching for Green Book sites once listed in the guides, a former mail carrier who is now a college professor that studies the history of postal workers activism, and a story arc emerged. After the movie “Green Book” released, I already had the bones of the story, but it sparked a lot of discussion about the guide and I had access to even more information.

What did your illustrator bring to the project?

When the publisher started looking for an illustrator, my editor told me they reached out to Alleanna Harris but not to get my hopes up because she was in such high demand. It was clear from other nonfiction books Alleanna illustrated that she would do the research and add so much more to the story, so I crossed my fingers and toes. Knowing she signed on the project assured me it was in talented hands. Literally!

The cover…which I will reveal now…

…and interior spread show exactly what I wanted readers to take away from this book: yes, legal segregation made travel and life difficult for Black citizens. Yes, there was unfairness, and protests, but there was also room for joy. And Victor Green found a solution that worked at that time. It felt like he led and won a battle in the war against racism. And Black families, their communities and allies helped create the change they wanted, together.

Although the story and art in OPENING THE ROAD: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book take you back in time, kids will connect things that happened then to today’s events and see what has and hasn’t changed over the last 80 years.

Thank you, Keila, for introducing us to your book.

Keila will be giving away a copy of OPENING THE ROAD to one lucky blog reader.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 22, 2020), the author of The King Cake Baby, and  the forthcoming Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson is a New Orleans native and has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. Visit her at, on Twitter @keila_dawson, on Instagram @keilavdawson, and on Pinterest @keiladawson.

by Evelyn Bookless

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE TREE MACHINE!


Captain Green is back and this time he’s creating a gadget to help save the planet. As he fine-tunes his invention, disaster strikes. Hornbill’s tree has been chopped down and there’s tree trouble for Elephant and Orangutan, too. Captain Green scrambles to finish his invention—a TREE MACHINE—and speeds to the rescue! ZAP! ZOOP! ZINK! Trees pop up all around until…BANG! Oh no! How will Captain Green save the animals now?

This is the second story in a series, following on from Captain Green’s adventures in CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE PLASTIC SCENE. Both books are illustrated by the phenomenal Danny Deeptown and published by Marshall Cavendish.

CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE TREE MACHINE releases on Earth Day 2021 (April 22nd), but the cover is here today!

Evelyn and Danny asked one another tree—I mean three—questions about creating the book.

Evelyn: As you know Danny, I adore the cover for CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE TREE MACHINE. What were your main goals when creating it?

I wanted it to look fun and vibrant whilst revealing a side to the terrible truth about deforestation. Not easy combining the two, but I feel the uplifting expression of Captain Green is reassuring and will encourage children to look beyond the cover. It was also important to keep certain elements of the first cover as this book is the second in the series, e.g. with the title, background beams and a similar composition overall.

Danny: What surprised you with the end result?

I am always blown away by your work and am usually left in a bit of an emotional state upon seeing it for the first time, but once I mopped up my happy tears, I surprised at how well you told the essence of the story in only one image. We don’t see the tree machine on the cover, it’s left as a surprise for the reader because Captain Green still has to finish inventing it. We do see Captain Green working his little socks (and boots) off saving a desperate Orangutan, and the loggers leaving a path of destruction. I am delighted that the cover has tons of kid appeal, despite it portraying a very real scenario in our world today (sadly minus the superhero part!).

Evelyn: Did you sketch out different possibilities for the cover or had you a clear idea in your mind from the start?

I had the idea from the start, but it took a few sketches until I was happy. For me it was vital the Orangutan featured on the cover, as it’s sadly the one animal people most relate with deforestation.

Danny: What was your favorite part of the writing process for this story?

I enjoyed playing with superhero vocabulary and sounds to make Captain Green’s world come to life for readers and make the read-aloud experience as fun as possible. Even though this story is based on the real issue of deforestation, the story of Captain Green’s efforts to create a gadget to assist in his earth protecting endeavors, was where I had most fun as a writer.

Evelyn: How did the illustrations for the first story affect the design for this book?

In regards to drawing Captain Green, it was easier as I had drawn him a thousand times before, therefore I didn’t have to worry about character design for this book. However, I wanted to improve him and the illustrations overall. There are a few illustrations that are purposely similar in layout to some in the first book. However, with a lot of spreads I had to be braver in terms of setting a scene of deforestation. To achieve this, I had to pan out so I could show as much deserted landscape as possible to get the message across. These are some of my favorite illustrations in the book.

Danny: What made you decide on deforestation as the theme for Captain Green’s second adventure?

In in my travels throughout South East Asia (where the story is set), I saw huge areas of land that had been stripped of ancient rainforest for timber and to make way for agriculture and expanding populations. We know that a loss of trees leads to a rise carbon dioxide levels, soil erosion as well as the destruction of forest habitat and the loss of biological diversity of both plants and animals. As with CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE PLASTIC SCENE, I wanted to shine a light on an important issue in a way that is fun and engaging for children. I added some back matter that includes ways for young superhumans to help.

Set EARTH DAY off with a bang by pre-ordering a copy of CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE TREE MACHINE online today or through your local independent book store.

Evelyn and Danny will give away one copy of CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE TREE MACHINE to a lucky commenter (to be sent your way when it releases in April 2021)!

Leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

Evelyn Bookless grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland where she loved to make forts and play in the trees with her siblings. She is a nature lover, mum, teacher and writer. Evelyn spent ten wonderful years living in Asia but was saddened to see beautiful rainforests cut down during her travels around the region. She recently moved to the Netherlands, where she enjoys cycling her blue bike, Betty. Evelyn and Danny’s debut picture book, CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE PLASTIC SCENE, won a Northern Lights Book Award for Children’s Environmental Fiction. Visit her online at, on Instagram @evelynbookless and on Twitter @evelynbookless.

Being obsessed with wildlife from a young age, Danny Deeptown found his love of drawing through hours of copying scientific illustrations from books of animals and dinosaurs. His artistic talent later led him to study Illustration in South Wales, UK. It was here he found a love for classic book illustration and the use of pen and ink. Today, Danny creates art for children and adults alike. He has illustrated numerous books that mostly involve characterised animals. When not in his studio, Danny likes to spend his time adventuring and seeking out new places in nature that are relatively remote. He is happiest in a secret place surrounded by trees with passing water. Visit Danny online at, on Instagram @dannydeeptown and on Twitter @dannydeeptown.


“The way I see it…Charlie would answer and Jack would  listen.”

~ THIS WAY, CHARLIE by Caron Levis, with art by Charles Santoso

Guest post by Caron Levis

I have always been an eavesdropper and collector of things kids say and do. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to gather kid language through both my personal and professional life. I fill notebooks and index cards with verbatim quotes and observations; I re-tell my favorite anecdotes and kid moments over and over to adults or other kids; I’ve kept every anthology of student writing I’ve worked on. In the apartment I lived in during one of my first education jobs, I had the hallway plastered with quotes and writing from the students I was working with. I literally surrounded myself with their words and now, their words help me write books!

Notebook of kids’ words

I have always loved listening to kids and also the challenge of talking with them about their Big Questions and Big Feelings, so this—plus ye ole reading of plenty of wonderful kid’s books—has been where I’ve developed my writing ear and voice.

  • LISTENING to kids has given me an internal sense of rhythm, vocabulary, phrase structures of many different children. As I draft, I’m reading aloud constantly to mostly imaginary (sometimes real-life) kids in order to feel how the words land.
  • TALKING with real kids has given me practice in finding words that will meet their curiosity honestly while also being mindful of their feelings. These experiences help me imagine potential reader questions and reactions so I can try (it is so hard!) to be accountable to them.
  • RECORDING things kids say and do has helped me remember ways kids have answered their own questions or made meaning out of challenging times. Most of my books have specific moments or quotes from children that guided the story in some way. Inspiration for STUCK THE BLOOZ came directly from a conversation with a kindergartener about being sad; IDA, ALWAYS got emotional direction from watching kids enact a funeral for a bug and a quote from a six year old who was grieving a close relative. THIS WAY, CHARLIE has many moments of kid inspiration that guided my writing choices.

THIS WAY, CHARLIE is about a horse named Charlie who is adjusting to going blind and a wary distrustful goat named Jack who meet at an animal sanctuary. After getting off to a bumpy start, the two navigate their own and each other’s challenges to become the best of buddies.

In one spread, Charlie urges Jack to hang out with some of the other animals but Jack is not ready. Overwhelmed by fear and frustration, Jack snaps something very mean to his beloved best friend.

This moment with Jack was guided by many moments I’ve seen with kids (and adults!). I wanted to reflect, validate, and honor that these moments happen and that kids have the ability to unpack them. I found a quote in my notebook from a kindergartener who had had a fight with his best buddy. Like Jack, the goat, this child didn’t usually verbalize his thoughts and feelings, but rather communicated primarily through behaviors. So, when we sat down to unpack the fight with him, I admit I fully expected to have to give him language for his behavior—but instead, he explained it clearly to us. I have already heard young readers explaining Jack’s behavior in a similar way.

“I think part of it was a misunderstanding…then I said things, just because I was so mad, that were mean. But, like, I didn’t really want to say them.”

~ a kindergartener, after a fight with a good frien (2004)

The animals in THIS WAY, CHARLIE come to depend on one another: Charlie depends on Jack for physical guidance to the field, and Jack relies on Charlie for emotional guidance as he begins to take chances on socializing. How do kids (or any of us) decide what makes someone dependable? Honestly, if you asked me in an interview to explain what being dependable means—I’d likely have some long garbled answer with a lot of ums in it. Luckily, my notebook has this gem in it from another kindergarten student who once told her class,

“Depending on someone means you really think they’ll help you.”

~ a kindergarten student

Now did I read these quotes in my book before I wrote THIS WAY, CHARLIE and consciously use them? Nope! But I had read through my blue-notebook a bazillion times and when I found these quotes after the book had gone to print, I recognized the influence. HOW I choose my words doesn’t come from my conscious Thinking brain so much as it comes from all I’ve absorbed from children over many years—and soooooo much nit-picking revision work.

Whenever I am stuck, or in need of inspiration, I turn to my collection of quotes for help—because I’ve learned I can always depend on the kids.

How have kids have inspired you?

Many thanks to Caron for guest blogging today…and for offering a copy of this lovely book.

Leave one comment below to enter the giveaway.

A THIS WAY, CHARLIE winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

Caron Levis (MFA; LMSW) is the author of the award winning children’s picture book, IDA, ALWAYS (Atheneum) illustrated by Charles Santosos, which the New York Times Book Review calls, “an example of children’s books at their best.” Caron’s other picture book titles include: THIS WAY, CHARLIE (Abrams 2020, STOP THAT YAWN! (Atheneum); MAY I HAVE A WORD? (FSG), and MAMA’S WORK SHOES (Abrams.) Her stories for teens and adults have been published in magazines and anthologies; plays have been selected for the Estrogenius Festival and the Samuel French OOB Festival’s Final Forty; the film adaptation of Attendant won Best Short in Sunscreen Film Festival West (2018) and selected for the Garden State Film Festival. Caron is a professor at NYU and The New School’s Creative Writing MFA program where she is the advisor for the Children/YA concentration. Visit her at

It’s exciting to see new picture book covers since I can’t view them in the bookstore or library. (I know we all miss that!)

So today it’s time for Milly to make her entrance. She’s a donkey with dreams of attending the prestigious unicorn school. But when she’s accepted, she must make it through without anyone realizing what she really is: a donkey in a party hat. (Ha!!!)

Jess, how did you get the idea for FIRST DAY OF UNICORN SCHOOL?

On one level, the idea for this book came from watching my kids fight over a cardboard tube. Each of them wanted to use it as a unicorn horn. My daughter grabbed the tube and told my son, “You’re not a unicorn! You’re just a horse!” Boom. Instant story.

On another level, this book came from conversations I’ve had with other grown-ups. It seems like no matter where we are in our lives or careers, most of us feel like we’re totally faking it and live in fear of the day someone notices we aren’t special, we aren’t unicorns—we’re just donkeys in party hats. It made me realize that everyone feels like that sometimes. Normalizing imposter syndrome makes it feel less scary when it happens, and I think that’s a message both kids and adults could benefit from.

Absolutely! Every writer has suffered from feeling like a poser. 

What hurdles, besides your own imposter syndrome, did you have to leap over while making this book?

This book almost didn’t happen! By December of 2018, I’d been working toward publication for six very long years and had racked up HUNDREDS of rejections from agents, writing contests, editors, mentoring contests, etc. If they were in publishing and could tell me no, they probably had. (In fact, my agent Rena Rossner rejected me twice on different projects before offering on UNICORN SCHOOL.) The night before a big Twitter pitch event, #PitMad, I decided enough was enough. It wasn’t going to happen for me. I scheduled some pitch tweets and if nobody liked them, I was done.

The next day, my pitch for UNICORN SCHOOL got over a dozen agent likes, more than 300 retweets, and a ton of comments offering encouragement. I didn’t get an agent from the experience, but it made me see that what I was doing had market appeal and was worth pursuing. The dream wasn’t dead yet!

It took another six months and joining an awesome critique group to get my “yes” from Rena, but even then, it was still touch and go with UNICORN SCHOOL. In the 18 months I spent querying the book, the market was flooded with unicorn stories. Every rejection we got from editors was some version of “nice, but we’ve already got one.” I was content to shelve it until unicorns stopped being the picture book version of YA vampire novels, but Rena was convinced it was different enough to sell. And thank heavens, she was right.

And here’s the cover! The book releases January 1, 2021 from Capstone:

The cover is total happy-making, with eager Milly and a bright palette. Can you tell us about the illustrations?

When I was a kid, I read a lot of the classic picture books—Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, H. A. Rey—and while they were great, the artwork didn’t really blow me away.

Then, as a teenager, I came across RED RANGER CAME CALLING by Berkeley Breathed. And I fell in love. The art was dynamic, hilarious, and felt almost three dimensional. So when my editor at Capstone asked me if I had any kind of vision for the illustrations, I knew exactly what style I wanted. And wow, did Mariano Epelbaum deliver. His work is fresh, fun, and full of life. I can’t wait for you all to see the interior, too!

Ooh, can we get a sneak peek?

So cute! Love the family portraits.

Now let’s hear from Illustrator Mariano Epelbaum..,.

The cover is a bright and colorful invitation to a cute magical world where anything can happen.

Milly—the new student—wishes to be part of this ideal place, to be someone else.

Jess Hernandez invented a funny story full of messages about beauty, appearance, prejudice, and diversity—all human concepts but with imaginative wildlife characters where I feel so comfortable to show children that a better world is possible.

Thanks for stopping by, Jess and Mariano!

The creative duo behind Milly are giving away an ARC (F&G) of the book before it’s released! 

Just leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in a couple weeks!

Good luck!

Mariano Epelbaum is an illustrator and character designer from Buenos Aires. He enjoys trying different styles of illustration, as he is inspired by each project he works on. Mariano worked as art director and character designer on the animated movie Underdogs. He has published books in the US, UK, Spain, Argentina, and Puerto Rico. When he´s not working, he likes playing with his two daughters, watching movies, and going for outdoor walks. Visit him online at, and follow him on Instagram @mariano.epelbaum!

Jess Hernandez has spent her grown-up life working with kids and books—as a teacher, a children’s librarian, a mother, and a picture book author. Her debut book, FIRST DAY OF UNICORN SCHOOL, illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum, comes out January 1, 2021 from Capstone. Jess lives in a very small, very LOUD house in Washington with her husband, their three children, a blind Labrador, and seven chickens. Find her on Twitter at @FinkHernandez, on Instagram @JessHernandezWrites, or at her website


Author Chana Stiefel is here today to release the cover of her upcoming nonfiction book, illustrated by Chuck Groenink: LET LIBERTY RISE! HOW AMERICA’S SCHOOLCHILDREN HELPED SAVE THE STATUE OF LIBERTY. This book will be released on March 2, 2021 with Scholastic…

But first, Chana shares a few things she’s learned in the process of creating this nonfiction book:

1. Listen to your friends for book ideas!
A few years ago, when humans still ate meals together, I invited my author friends Sue Macy and Jackie Glasthal over to my house for Friday night dinner. Jackie mentioned that she had published a middle grade novel based on the true story of the building of the Statue of Liberty.* Many of us know that the French sent the statue to America as a symbol of friendship. But did you know that America didn’t want it? And New York’s richest millionaires refused to contribute $100,000 to build the pedestal! Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the World newspaper, was outraged. He insisted that the statue stand in New York harbor, the gateway to America. Pulitzer said he would print the name of every person who donated to the pedestal fund—no matter how small the sum or how small the person. Guess who donated their pennies to America’s first crowd-sourcing campaign? KIDS, of course! Right then and there, I knew this story had to become a picture book! Jackie gave me her blessing and offered to help.

2. Do the research!
Researching this book took years. Back when humans could take ferries and visit libraries, Jackie and I met at the Bob Hope Memorial Library on Ellis Island. We pored over archives and took pictures. I also time traveled in the map room of the New York Public Library, scrolling through microfilm of the World newspaper from the 1870s. I read through stacks of books and shared every exciting fact with my family. (You’re welcome, kids!)

3. Practice patience!
Even after you’ve received multiple critiques and edited your manuscript a bazillion times, publishing takes time—enough time to turn copper green. But waiting for a great book deal and the perfect illustrator is worth it! Illustrator Chuck Groenink captured 1870s America oh-so-beautifully, down to the adorable knickers on the newspaper boy. My editor at Scholastic Dianne Hess and I fact checked every single word. (Fab facts: How many stars were on the U.S. flag in 1876? In how many pieces was Liberty shipped to America? Answers below**!)

4. Take nothing for granted.
Publishing a book is an incredible gift and for that I will always be grateful. I hold my torch high for Dianne, Chuck, my family, my critique partners, the kidlit community (thank you Tara!), and my former agent John Cusick. Most of all, I am grateful to Jackie for giving me the gift of this story. Sadly, Jackie passed away three years ago. She stood for liberty, freedom, and friendship and this book is dedicated to her memory. On that bittersweet note, presenting the cover of LET LIBERTY RISE!

*Liberty on 23rd Street by Jacqueline Glasthal, illus. by Alan Reingold, Silver Moon Press, 2006.
**Answers: 38 stars; 350 pieces

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids. In addition to LET LIBERTY RISE! (Scholastic, 3-2-21), Chana’s books include MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH, illustrated by Mary Sullivan (HMH), ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER REAL-LIFE MONSTERS (NatGeoKids), and DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends). She is represented by Miranda Paul at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Learn more at Follow @ChanaStiefel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Let’s face it, we’re all cranky right now. We’ve been sequestered at home for months without any clear end. Plus my regular bookstore “date with myself” to browse and discover new books has taken a serious hiatus.

I know we’re all in the same boat, so my pledge to you, dear blog reader, is to help kidlit writers feel less alone at sea by introducing you to fun new books.

Cristina Ergunay just released this adorable bedtime read…

Cristina, any author releasing a book in 2020 has every right to be cranky—it’s difficult to get the word out when everyone is hunkered down at home. But Cranky Crab, living under the shimmering sea, what’s his excuse? 

Like any small, strong-willed child, Cranky Crab has no interest in settling down for the night—and is testing the boundaries of bedtime. There are too many other things to do! But Crab needs a good night’s sleep and grows crankier with every page turn, almost to the brink of an underwater meltdown. Thankfully, Mama Crab knows just how to change the dynamic and calm her little crustacean.

Did you think about character before you wrote the story….like, why a crab?

Actually, I didn’t think about character in the original version, and that story didn’t sell.  Lovely turns of phrase, dreamy creatures, and sweet rhyming with well-metered stanzas are all part of the recipe, but without a strong character, creating tension by swimming against the proverbial tide, the rest of the bedtime story fell flat.

So revisions later, I picked one of my sea creatures to be that character, and crab felt like a very natural choice because kids can easily relate to feeling grumpy when you don’t want to do something—and yet, I wanted crab to find reassurance in the end, that no matter how cranky you feel, you’re still loved.

Ah, character is so important to the success of a picture book! Your crabby guy is just ducky! And I love the other cute creatures who make cameos.

If you hadn’t picked a crab, what other kind of animal would make a good bedtime grump?

I think maybe a Black Rain Frog would make a great bedtime grump!  I don’t know much about them, but the mug on this frog is outstanding!  Maybe there’s a story in there?


Cristina, what other creative ways have you tried to promote your new book?

It’s been challenging to get creative in the time of COVID, and maintaining some kind of an online presence—social media, connecting with local libraries for virtual storytimes—has been essential. I made a fun promotional door hanger for kids to use at bedtime—I love Heather Gross’s illustrations, her crab makes me laugh! I hope it helps other families to take the tension away from cranky bedtimes!

Do you have any special before-bed rituals that help you settle in for a good night’s sleep?

I like to turn on my strings of twinkle lights, get into my pajamas, and read Treasure Island or Paddington to my daughter until she falls asleep. Or until I fall asleep. Whichever comes first.

Reading before bed is also my favorite way to wind down. But sometimes I’m cranky and refuse to put the book down. That’s why picture books at night are a smart idea—they’re short and yours is definitely sweet!

Cristina is giving away a copy of BEDTIME FOR CRANKY CRAB plus a door hanger so your bedtimes will be sweet, too.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!


Three attempts to solve a problem—you’ve been told thirty trillion times this is the way to build a picture book plot. I even covered it in an earlier post.

It’s a tried-and-true method for telling a story. But does an editor reviewing all these similarly-structured submissions feel like she’s been there and read that? Well…….maybe.

There are other ways to frame picture books by using different story structures, as Tammi Sauer once pointed out during Storystorm.

But if those formats aren’t right for your story and you choose a more traditional arc, when is it OK to abandon the “three attempts”? When is it reasonable to break free from this rule?

First, we have to look at the why.

Why do we employ the “three attempts” structure? TO BUILD TENSION.

The main character tries to solve their problem and fails, repeatedly. This tension invests the reader in the protagonist’s struggle. It compels you to turn the page.

However, I wrote a manuscript recently where the protagonist doesn’t even realize she has a problem. The reader sees the problem, but the character is oblivious. It doesn’t make sense for her to attempt multiple solutions because she doesn’t see anything wrong in the first place!

Remember, three attempts builds tension. But that’s not the only way to achieve “what happens next?” excitement and anticipation.

In my manuscript, the humor comes from the reader knowing more than the main character (that’s a kind of “superiority humor”). The humor builds because the protagonist keeps mistaking her surroundings for something else, something that’s familiar to her. That escalating humor adds to the tension—OH NO! DOESN’T SHE GET IT YET?!

There’s also a deadline, an end goal that the reader and the main character both know. But can she get there if she’s so confused? You don’t know. More tension.

Bottom line—if you’ve built tension into your story via another means, you don’t need the three attempts. It certainly didn’t make sense for my story. Who tries to get out of a jam they don’t know they’re in?

Let’s look at picture books that build tension in different ways.

[Meta Device]
THE PANDA PROBLEM by Deborah Underwood & Hannah Marks

In this meta tale, the narrator and Panda argue about who’s the main character. The narrator wants Panda to be the protagonist with a problem to solve. But Panda thinks the narrator is the main character because uncooperative Panda is the narrator’s problem. This story mocks our “problematic” picture book rule. It keeps the tension high as both characters wrestle to control the story.

[Versus Device]
FIRE TRUCK VS. DRAGON by Chris Barton & Shanda McCloskey

A follow-up to Barton’s popular SHARK vs. TRAIN of 10 years ago (wow, time flies!), this new “battle” features a stand off between the reader and the characters. The reader understands what the two friends excel at, but the fire-starter and fire-squelcher don’t ever mention THOSE skills. That’s “superiority humor” again, with the reader knowing more than the characters. The tension arises from wondering if fire truck and dragon will ever get to what’s downright obvious to everyone else.

[Chronology Device]
THE END by David LaRochelle & Richard Egielski

This story is a fairytale told backwards. There’s a surprise each page turn as you discover what happened immediately prior to the current sticky situation. Does that create tension? You bet, as each spread also displays a new predicament.

[Parallel Structure]
OPERATION RESCUE DOG by Maria Gianferrari & Luisa Uribe

The parallel picture book tells two tales which eventually converge. The tension is kept high by a back-and-forth narrative between the two main characters. In this book, Alma misses her military mama. She and Abuela decide to adopt a rescue dog as a surprise for mama’s return. The rescue dog, Lulu, is lonely and afraid, without a family. Both characters face delays in their journey to the dog rescue rendezvous. But at the end, Alma and Lulu finally meet and it’s destiny!

Some of these stories also employ the classic “ticking clock” or deadline to achieve tension. THE END ends at the beginning. OPERATION RESCUE DOG has two ticking clocks—Alma wants to adopt a dog in time for her mother’s return…plus, the Dog Rescue Truck is only open for a limited window. Will they make it there on time?

For the “ticking clock” device, think of Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin at midnight!

So while you’re reading new picture books, pay attention to the building of tension. Did the author use three attempts to solve the problem, or a different device? Were you still riveted? Compelled to turn the page? Invested in the main character’s plight? Then take note and try to break free in your own writing!


Guess what? I’m giving away an hour-long kidlit career consultation via video chat.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

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!

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July 2021

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