by Hope Lim

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

This is the first in a delicious new illustrated series!

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

What? Don’t you like tunafish sandwiches?

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

OH WELL.

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

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

Just leave one comment below to enter.

Winner will be randomly selected in July.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present day is depicted in blues and greens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A winner will be chosen randomly next month!

Good luck!

by Hallee Adelman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Kirsti Call

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

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

Our first couple stanzas started out like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love those! But who gets what mug?

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

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

Enter one comment below to enter the giveaway.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


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

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

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

Which brings us to TODAY.

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

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

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

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

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

Annie: What were your goals with this book?

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

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

Annie: I feel the same way about my songs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!


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

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

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

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

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

This is CAT LADIES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the story behind the story.

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

I was trying to imaging what if…

What if… Poppele could have moved along with Maridl. 

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

What if…that attention was somehow diverted. 

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

And, Marilyn’s regal aura is cattitude galore.

Oh, I love meeting the original Maridl! 

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

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

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

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

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

Awww, well done, Princess!

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

Cats rock!

Ladies rock!

Cat Ladies most certainly rock!

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

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

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

It sure is!

And this team effort is available now from Abrams!

Or win a copy here!

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

Good luck!


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

by Maria Gianferrari

Do you make time to play every day? I won’t lie and say that I do—sometimes life gets in the way, but I’m trying (and mostly failing) at making play a priority. PLAY LIKE AN ANIMAL was born from the realization and the frustration that play is disappearing from kids’ too busy and over-scheduled lives. Young kids have “play dates” and scores of enrichment activities instead of time for free play. Schools are cutting, or even eliminating recess and increasing testing. And it’s not just young kids, it seems that teenagers practically have to be Olympic athletes to participate in sports—what happened to the importance of camaraderie, being a good sport and learning teamwork? And that sports/exercise are beneficial for combatting stress and anxiety too. Is it a wonder our kids are anxious?

Rather than ranting, I chose to write a “playful” book to celebrate play, and to inspire kids, parents and educators to dive right in because play is life—play is important, and not trivial. Play teaches compassion, empathy, cooperation and how to be fair; play helps us express creativity and explore our imaginations; and play helps us problem solve. But above all, play is fun!!

Mia Powell’s vibrant and whimsical art is the perfect match for the active text which encourages kids to get moving and to play like animals do:

Do you plonk like a peccary?
Surf like a dolphin?
Sled like a raven (or crowboard like a crow?)

Lerner Publishing has generously offered to donate a copy of PLAY LIKE AN ANIMAL. Just leave a comment telling us your favorite family game or your favorite way to play to be entered for a chance to win (sorry—US residents only).

Thanks for having me here, Tara, who’s always punny and playful in all of her books!


You. can visit Maria and all her books online at MariaGianferrari.com.

Twice a year I visit a juried art show with artisans of every type, from photography to pottery, woodworking to knitwear. Wandering the aisles of talented artisans and their wares boosts my own creativity. I always linger in one particular booth, that of a cut paper artist. She works with black silhouette paper and Exacto knives, creating intricate designs of lush gardens and playful children. I sort through the amazing remnants, which she leaves in a pile on her table. They feel alive with energy.

So when Brooke Hartman contacted me about her new book, LOTTE’S MAGICAL PAPER PUPPETS, I gasped with excitement. This is a book about a cut paper artist!

Brooke, tell us more…

LOTTE’S MAGICAL PAPER PUPPETS: the Woman Behind the First Animated Feature Film is a narrative nonfiction picture book about Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger, the German paper cut silhouette artist who predated Walt Disney in the creation of a full-length animated feature film by almost a decade. She also invented one of the first multi-plane cameras, which uses panes of glass, lighting, and stop-motion camera techniques to create animation. Even more amazing, all of her films were made with articulated shadow puppets that she drew, cut, and pieced together by hand. Top this off with her whimsical fairytale style and the fact that almost all of her films were classic tales such as Cinderella, 1001 Arabian Nights, and Thumbelina, and the results were gorgeous animated films that take your breath away.

What inspired you to write this story?

Facebook. Duh, where do you get your ideas? Seriously though, I was surfing Facebook one day and came across a YouTube clip someone posted on the life of Lotte Reiniger. The moment I glimpsed her beautiful animations, I was hooked. I’ve always loved fairytales, whimsical art, and artists (some of my favorites are Michael Hague, Terri Windling, and Brian Froud) and couldn’t believe I’d never heard of Lotte Reiniger before.

I’d been writing picture book texts for a few years by then, and my first book, DREAM FLIGHTS ON ARTIC NIGHTS (2019), would be published later that year. I also love playing with rhyme, and after I’d watched YouTube video after YouTube video of Lotte’s animations, the first stanza of her story started wheeling through my head:

Long before a cartoon mouse,
Or Snow White found a little house,
There was a girl named Charlotte.
Everyone called her Lotte.

That was it. I had to write about Lotte!

But I didn’t know if it had ever been done before. After poking around on the Internet, the only texts about her I unearthed were a couple nonfiction novels, some websites, and your standard Wikipedia entry.

The next thing I did was contact the Stadt Museum in Tubingen, Germany, which has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Lotte Reiniger, to see if they knew of any picture books about her. This proved a fun experiment as their contact form was all in German (thank you, Google Translate!). A week later, they replied that, to their knowledge, there were no picture books about Lotte Reiniger, but would love for someone to write one, and please, if I did, could someone translate it into German? (We’re still working on that part.)

This email fueled my already raging fire, and the rest of Lotte’s story flooded into my head. I wanted to write it in a way that captured her whimsical fairytale films, but still left room for her life’s more difficult moments; Lotte wasn’t just an artist, she was an artist in Germany during WWII, and spent over a decade fleeing from country to country in an attempt to avoid being sucked into the confines of the Third Reich. When her mother became ill, Lotte was forced to return home, where the Third Reich quickly tried to force her into creating propaganda films for their regime. But—and here’s the part that cinched for me that Lotte’s story needed to be told—she refused to bend to their wishes and instead created one of her most classic films, The Golden Goose. My editor and I worked on this part of the text for a loooong time. We wanted to get it absolutely perfect, and I think we nailed it.

How did you and your publisher find each other?

I was agentless at the time after spending two years under representation by someone who earned themselves a very bad name in the publishing industry…but that’s a whole other blog post. Anyhow, I’d recently rejoined the world of Twitter and thought I’d give the #PitMad and #PBPitch Twitter pitch fests a try. I entered the 4-line stanza above, plus a brief statement about Lotte Reiniger’s life. Courtney Burke, then an assistant editor with Page Street Kids, liked my tweet. She’d been a film major in college and, like me, was also shocked that she’d never heard about this incredible female artist and animator.

Then enter the illustrator…

From the get go, the Page Street team had a vision for this book that perfectly mirrored mine. This showed more than ever when they sent me links to three potential illustrators—all of who used the same paper cut silhouette style as Lotte Reiniger. I was blown away by the talent. It was a tough choice, all of the illustrators were amazing, but the Page Street team and I gravitated to Kathryn Carr; not only is she brilliantly talented, but her style matched the whimsical fairytale themes that Lotte used in her own work. (Check out Kathryn’s beautiful artwork here at gocarrgo.com.)

Kathryn brought the book blazing into existence. The vivid, rich pages feel like you’re viewing one of Lotte’s films while living the life of a remarkable artist and animator, one who survived a war and refused to let fear rule her.

I encourage anyone who isn’t familiar with Lotte Reiniger to check out her films, many of which can be viewed on YouTube.

Before we talk more with Kathryn, let’s take the first look at the cover!

It’s gorgeous!

Now, more about the illustrations, a discussion with Kathryn Carr:

Imagine a girl about 12 years old with thick braids in her hair sitting at the dining room table. Her eyes are keenly focused on her hands that are cutting shapes from black paper. Tiny scissors snip, snip, snip.  At first the pieces are unrecognizable but then they are arranged and constructed to reveal amazing and magical silhouette puppets. Scenes of fantasy and fairytales begin to appear all around her.  The girl’s name is Lotte and this is where the story begins and this is the book cover of Lotte’s Magical Paper Puppets.

I feel I have a kindred spirit with Lotte in that we both have surrounded our lives with making art and the love of sharing it with others. Like Lotte, my art has been inspired by fairytales from my childhood. Some of my favorite stories were written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

The illustrations started with research about Lotte’s life.  I gained a great understanding about her through books, movies, the internet, and discussions with others that knew a lot about her.  I learned as much as I could about the city where she grew up, her travels, the time period in which she lived and her artistic process.  Then I did lots of sketches and planned out my art to accompany the story.    Once I had a plan I started to cut out the puppets and the backgrounds and assemble the scenes like a miniature stage.  I took a ton of photos with the art in different arrangements and with various lighting angles to achieve the best composition.

How long did it take to illustrate the book? What was your process?

All in all I worked on this project on and off for about 10 months. I made well over 200 paper cut elements, some were used in the book while others didn’t make the cut…pun intended…

It was an honor to illustrate this story about such a wonderfully creative, brave, and daring artist. A warm thank you to the Page Street Kids publishing team for asking me to work on this project and all your feedback and thoughts though out the process. Many thanks to Brooke Hartman for passionately crafting the story so that others may come to know more about Lotte and her magical paper puppets.

Print by Kathryn Carr

I’ve been a full time paper cut artist since 2010. Over those years my art has been in galleries and homes around the world. I have a line of greeting cards and I teach paper cutting workshops and give lectures. I have illustrated one other book in this paper cutting style and I hope that there will be more illustrating opportunities in my future.

I hope so, too, Kathryn! I adore your sweet and delicate style.

Brooke and Kathryn, thank you for sharing your cover reveal with us and some secrets behind the book’s creation!

LOTTE’S MAGICAL PAPER PUPPETS: the Woman Behind the First Animated Feature Film will be released on October 20, 2020. You can pre-order a copy now (and if you do, get it from your local independent bookseller…they need our support right now).


You can follow Brooke Hartman on Twitter @BrookeHartman79 and Kathryn Carr on Instagram @gocarrgo.

If you’ve been in children’s publishing for any length of time, then you know Margery Cuyler. Margery served as an executive editor for decades, at Holiday House, Marshall Cavendish and finally Two Lions before recently retiring. But she’s also a very accomplished author in her own right. Margery has published over 50 books for children, including the popular THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! series and one of my favorites, THE BIGGEST, BEST SNOWMAN, with frequent collaborator, illustrator Will Hillenbrand.

She also seems to be quite fond of skeletons. Perhaps you’ve heard of this Halloween classic?

A couple of years ago, Margery came on the blog with her newest skeleton character, Bonaparte, illustrated by Will Terry.

Bonaparte is a skeleton whose loose bones occasionally fly off. In the first book, BONAPARTE FALLS APART, Bonaparte is reluctant to start school because he worries that the other “kids” (different monsters) will make fun of him. His friends try to help ease Bonaparte’s worries, but none of their suggestions work. Bonaparte finally adopts a dog named Mandible who retrieves his bones and accompanies him to school. They both turn out to be popular!

And now…Bonaparte is back in a second spine-tingling adventure.

Margery, why did you decide the follow-up Bonaparte book should be about baseball?

Before writing  the second book, I thought of different situations that would be challenging for Bonaparte, even with Mandible’s help. At the same time, I was hearing from bookstores that there weren’t enough sports stories for the picture-book set. Bingo! Why not put Bonaparte in the middle of a baseball story? Surely he’d be stressed if he had to bat and run.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing a baseball story?

Learning about baseball! There are a lot of rules that I had to bone up on. Also, baseball has its own language. For example, “moon shot,” “bouncer,” “slider,” “shutout,” “pop-up,” “dinger,” and “swing for the fences.” I worked them into the text whenever possible. In addition, I tried to include puns if they made sense. For example, the Mighty Aliens “orbit” the bases. All in all, it was quite a challenge to hold it all together, but my editor, Emily Easton at Crown/Random House, was very helpful.

What do you think makes Bonaparte a better baseball player than soccer star or basketball champ?

Well, truthfully, Bonaparte would have been anxious playing any sport. I picked baseball because I thought it would be cool to have a game in the World Series which became the Weird Series in my new book.

The Weird Series! My kind of championship! Which teams are playing?

The Little Monsters (Bonaparte’s team) vs. The Mighty Aliens.

OK, I’m rooting for The Little Monsters!

Is Bonaparte nervous for the big game? What does he do to calm his bones? 

You bet Bonaparte is nervous! He’s a “jittery jumble of bones.” And so he practices the drills assigned by the coach to get prepared, but that isn’t enough to calm his nerves. Maybe if I were to rewrite the book, I’d have him do some mindfulness exercises! Or yoga. Or drink some herb tea (which would go right through him). In any case, most of the book is about what happens during the game.

As you know, a lot of kids can’t play baseball with their teammates right now. What words of wisdom do you have for them?

There’s no substitute for being outdoors and playing baseball! My heart goes out to all baseball players, no matter what age, who have to self-isolate and/or postpone games till the virus calms down. My advice would be to continue with drills, just like the ones Bonaparte does, to stay fit. There are also plenty of videos on game strategy that would be helpful to watch. Or, players can have vicarious pleasure reading BONAPARTE PLAYS BALL!

What else will Bonaparte be doing to keep busy?

Bonaparte is considering starring in a third book in which he discovers that his house is haunted. Is it being haunted by a ghost who wants to be accepted into his group of friends? Or does the spirit have something else in mind? Whatever the case, the ghost’s presence makes Bonaparte rattle and shake, losing bones along the way until he discovers that his bones can be useful.

OK, finally I have to ask about your interest in skeletons!

When I was five years old, I had several ribs removed during an operation. I remember becoming fascinated by the fact there was this invisible, bony frame under my skin and I started drawing skeletons. It’s actually quite amazing I didn’t grow up to be an orthopedic surgeon! Then as an adult, I wrote a children’s book called SKELETON HICCUPS which generated and continues to generate mail from children. Often I received requests to write another skeleton book and that led to SKELETON FOR DINNER. (The paperback edition will be released in August 2020). The BONAPARTE books came about because I made a life-sized skeleton as a Halloween decoration and it fell apart. Rattle-clatter! (I’m really not very good at crafts!) That’s when the name “Bonaparte” popped into my head, a character begging for a story.

Margery, that’s an awesome story-behind-the-story! I love that your five-year-old self is still fascinated and I’m thankful that curiosity brought us such a winning character.

Blog readers, you can win a copy of BONAPARTE PLAYS BALL!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Let’s play ball!


Margery Cuyler’s career has been devoted to children’s books. She has written more than 50 books, served at the executive level in the children’s divisions of several publishers, and continues to enjoy interacting with children, teachers, and librarians on school visits. She and her husband, the parents of two grown sons, live in Lawrenceville, NJ. Visit her at margerycuyler.com and on Twitter @cuylermargery.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
2021

BLOOP!
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
2021

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

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