I know. You’re still stuck at home. I’m with you.

But also…NOT with you. I’m in my home, without you.

So I’m glad to be talking about A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE today. It’s all about the home!

Author Karen Rostoker-Gruber is here (again, not really here) to tell us why is this tale is so appealing for our difficult times.

In my book, Farmer Earl has had enough! His home is too crowded! So, he visits the wise woman in town for help. She tells him to bring all his ducks in the house. And then all his horses. And all his goats too! How will there be more room with all these animals?

Once Farmer Earl follows the wise woman’s advice, he comes to realize that his crowded house was really not as bad as he originally thought.

Eureka, Farmer Earl! That’s a very wise wise woman.

The timing of this tale couldn’t be more perfect as people are stuck inside during COVID. Living quarters are being shared with families—24/7—with no breaks. Parents are working from home, kids are remote-learning, and a lot of people are getting frustrated. Computers can’t even take it anymore as they’re crashing as well.

We need to appreciate our homes, now that we’re spending so much time inside them.

Plus, this book has a toilet paper scene—very COVID—which really quacks me up!  See the duck?

Kristina Swarner, the illustrator for this book, did a wonderful job adding humor to each spread.

I asked my editor if Kristina could make the duck on the front cover of the book take a bite out of the letter “A” in the word “FOLKTALE,” since the duck stood soooo close to the words anyway on the top of the roof.  That was my contribution to the art.

If you look closely at some of the illustrations, the cats in the book are NOT amused with all of the ducks, horses, and goats coming into the house and wreaking havoc—typical of cats. It’s those tiny things that Kristina did that elevated my writing and made me laugh-out-loud.

Because this book is basically about being thankful for what you do have, I had Dawn Kiron, a social worker, write a teacher’s guide, which focuses on gratitude: how to keep a gratitude journal and jar/box and how to be thankful for the things that you do have.

OK, so Karen, let’s practice what you preach. What are you grateful for?

Hah! I’m grateful that an editor liked another one of my manuscripts enough to offer me a contract. This will be my 16th traditionally-published book. I’m very grateful for that, too.

These days publishing is tough and extremely competitive. Literally everyone (grandmothers, celebrities, and apparently cats) are writing books for children.

If you thought the publishing process was S L O W  BC (before COVID) wait until you try and submit now. However, there’s a conference that is virtual this year, which was the best conference that I had ever been to—The RUCCL One-On-One Plus Conference. Two of my manuscripts were signed up as a result of the editors that I met there.

Up until this year, an applicant was accepted into the conference depending on their writing ability (by submitting a sample manuscript.) This year EVERYONE is invited to attend.

If you want to get published then. . .get out of bed, walk to your computer on October 24th, and log in!  No more excuses!

Thanks for the RUCCL plug, Karen! I’m actually co-chairing the event this year, which we’re calling the RUCCL “Home-to-Home” Conference because, well, we’re all stuck at home. However, gratefully so! (Info on this year’s event will be on the website in a day or two!)

A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE releases from Albert Whitman on October 1, so you can pre-order now.

Karen is also giving away a copy to a blog reader!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!


A new non-fiction picture book biography from Laurie Wallmark? YES, PLEASE!

But first, let me tell you a few facts about my friend Laurie.

  • We were in our first critique group together 13 years ago.
  • We’re in a critique group together again now.
  • She was the first person to tell me an agent wanted to talk to me. (Yes, this one’s about me.)
  • We chair the RUCCL 1-on-1 Conference together. This year it will be the RUCCL Home-to-Home Conference.
  • She loves writing about “dead women in STEM”.

When asked about why she likes writing about these women, Laurie says that she’s guaranteed they won’t make any major discoveries AFTER their biography is published.

Excellent point.

And now, let’s reveal the cover for CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER, illustrated by Brooke Smart!

CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER: HOW ELIZEBETH FRIEDMAN CHANGED THE COURSE OF TWO WORLD WARS tells the exciting story of how Elizebeth’s code-cracking skills helped capture rum runners and break up Nazi spy rings. But there’s more…

Take a look at the book cover. See how a ribbon of letters surrounds Elizebeth? It contains a coded message. Other hidden messages are scattered throughout the book’s illustrations. Can’t figure it what they say? When you read the book, the back matter will show you how to crack the code.


This book will be released by Abrams Books for Young Readers on March 2, 2021.

Let’s also take a sneak peek inside!

Looks like another winner by Laurie!

Now if I could only break the code of writing a picture book biography…


“I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear; my courage is reborn.”

~ Anne Frank

Much has been written about Anne Frank, the courageous girl who revealed her life in hiding from the Nazis via her beloved diary, Kitty. Anne’s ability to relate to young people has taught generations about the Holocaust, but more importantly, it has demonstrated the power of empathy and kindness, especially through the actions of Miep Gies.

Miep Gies was on Otto Frank’s staff. She agreed to help hide the Frank family and friends in a small space attached to Frank’s office. Barbara Lowell’s new book, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE, tells Anne’s tale for the young from Miep’s unique perspective.

Why did Miep agree to do such a dangerous thing? Well, this book taught me that Miep had escaped World War I as a young child. Her parents sent her away from Austria, were there was little food or resources, and she was adopted by a loving Dutch family. This life-saving experience serves as the foundation for BEHIND THE BOOKCASE.

Barbara, how did you discover this unique angle?

As I looked at photographs of Miep Gies in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I felt a connection to her. I wanted to know more about her and why she risked her life in an attempt to save the lives of Anne Frank, her family and friends. After I read Miep’s autobiography, Remembering Anne Frank: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family, I knew I wanted to tell her story for children. I thought that the horror of the Holocaust and Anne’s death could be shared in a more accessible way for young children if it was told through Miep’s point of view.

What do you want children to take away from this retelling?

I want kids to know that good people tried to save the lives of many Jewish people during the Holocaust. Just as Anne Frank is the face of victims of the Holocaust for many children, Miep Gies can be the face of those who tried to help them. My hope is that what happened in the Holocaust will never be forgotten and writing the book is my contribution.

BEHIND THE BOOKCASE is an introduction to the Holocaust for elementary age children. As an introduction, I hope it spurs their interest as they grow to read more complex books on Anne Frank, the Holocaust and World War II. I hope too that they will read Anne’s diary and remember Miep Gies, the woman who saved the diary first for Anne…and then for the world.

Barbara, thank you for writing this book. I think the lessons of empathy and kindness are especially salient for today.

Blog readers, would you like a copy of BEHIND THE BOOKCASE? It’s available now from Kar-Ben Publishing, but I am also giving away a copy.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be chosen at the end of the month.

Good luck!


Barbara Lowell is the author of the picture books: BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place; MY MASTODON; SPARKY & SPIKE: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever; and more books for children. She is an active member of SCBWI and SCBWI Oklahoma and loves to travel. She lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma with her husband and two terrific cats. You can visit her at barbaralowell.com.


Today I’m welcoming author-illustrator Leah Hong to reveal the cover for her debut picture book, HAPPY DREAMS, LITTLE BUNNY from Little, Brown! (Are you ready to go “awww”? Because here it is…)

Leah, I’m struck by the light, airy softness of your illustrations. It looks like I could cuddle with this pillow of a cover! Can you tell me a bit about how you developed your unique style?

Lots and lots of experimenting! For this book I knew I wanted the artwork to have a classical feel and color palette, a kind of a throwback to the Little Golden Books I had as a child. The first test pieces I did were in gouache and although I was happy with them, I wasn’t achieving the depth of detail that I wanted and was feeling frustrated. Then I remembered one of the best pieces of picture book illustration advice I’ve ever been given; it was from an instructor who said, “You’ll be spending many hours, even months, on the final artwork so you have to choose a style that you enjoy working in”. She had also recommended that I try colored pencils and although I was initially resistant, I found that I really enjoyed the careful layering I needed to do in order to mix my colors. But I quickly realized that it would take forever to complete the artwork and decided I could still achieve the look I wanted by laying down a quick background in soft pastel and working overtop with colored pencils. As soon as I gave myself permission to go in a different direction, my style seemed to develop on it’s own. In the end my instructor was right, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of making the art for this book.

Besides the softness of the art, your characters are floating (and boating) among the clouds. What secrets about the story inside does this scene reveal? (P.S. But don’t give it all away!)

The story is about a little bunny who can’t fall asleep because he has too much on his mind. But with a little help from his mother, he finds he’s able to channel his whirling thoughts into plans for that night’s dreams. The book explores the fantastical space between storytelling and dreaming and many of the images in the book are quite surreal. The scene on the cover hints at the soothing dream-like quality of the imagery in the book, and the special relationship between Little Bunny and his stuffed elephant, without (I hope!) giving away any of the adventures that await these two friends.

I’d love to see more of your work. Can we get some sneak peeks of the book?

This is a spread in process…

And this is a peek at the final art proofs.

Oh, and I can’t forget the back cover…

Awww! What a sweet cuddle bunny!

I’m going to tiptoe quietly out (shhh!), but not before telling my blog readers that they can win an F&G of HAPPY DREAMS, LITTLE BUNNY before Little, Brown releases it in February 2021.

Leave one [quiet] comment below to enter.

A winner will be chosen in a few weeks.

Good luck! And HAPPY DREAMS!

Photo credit: Makito Inomata

Leah Hong spent many of her childhood hours drawing stories, but it wasn’t until she had children of her own that she became re-immersed in the world of picture books, and fell in love with them all over again. A graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design with a visual arts degree in painting and drawing, she has worked both as an illustrator and graphic designer. Her lifelong love of drawing and storytelling led her to create her picture book debut, HAPPY DREAMS, LITTLE BUNNY (Little, Brown Young Readers, February 2021). She lives with her family in Vancouver, British Columbia. Visit her online at leahhong.com.

Today we have a gorgeous cover reveal from Rajani LaRocca and Chaaya Prabhat. (Yes, all cover reveals are beautiful, but this one struck me!)

Wow, the cover is so bright and colorful! It reminds me of Indian holidays and celebrations I’ve attended. Can you explain why color is so important in Indian culture?

In India, colors have spiritual and political significance. For example, the color saffron—the bright orange found on the Indian flag, the color that comes from the most expensive spice in the world—stands for fire and purity. Speaking as someone who has grown up in the U.S. but who has visited India every few years since I was a kid, I can say that the exuberance of colors in India, especially in clothing, is just incredible. Clothes tend to feature vibrant combinations that aren’t common here in the U.S., and as a kid and now, I’ve always felt very special wearing bright, celebratory colors. Chaaya captured this energy in her illustrations for BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS: every single page is filled with glorious colors that combine to make the characters and home in the story feel exciting and cozy, all at the same time.

There’s more Indian culture in the book, like the holiday for which Bina is making bracelets. What is Raksha Bandhan?

Raksha Bhandhan, also known as Rakhi, is a South Asian holiday that celebrates the love between sisters and brothers. Sisters tie bracelets or amulets on their brothers’ wrists as a symbol of protection, and brothers give their sisters small gifts in return. I love this holiday, as it commemorates sibling bonds that last through time and distance. I don’t have any brothers, but I was inspired by the wonderful relationship between my daughter and son, and between other sisters and brothers in my family. In BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS, the first lines sum up the relationship: “Bina had three big brothers: Vijay, Siddharth, and Arjun. They sometimes annoyed her, but she loved them anyway.”

That’s exactly how I felt about my brother when we were kids.

I love that there’s a holiday for siblings! 

Indian children will enjoy seeing themselves and their family traditions in this book. What do you want children from other races and cultures to take away?

I hope they enjoy learning about a different tradition and holiday! I also hope they see themselves in Bina and her brothers, who sometimes bother each other, but whose love shines through, especially when they spend time together and make gifts for each other.

I think it’s a beautiful holiday and one that we all should celebrate. (Maybe I would have appreciated my brother more instead of sitting on him.)

I noticed “storytelling math” on the cover. How did you incorporate math concepts into this picture book?

I’ve always loved math—I love its logic and precision, and I love the satisfaction of getting a “right” answer. When I attended a workshop on early childhood math hosted by Charlesbridge and TERC, the STEM education nonprofit, I’d never thought about pattern making as a math concept. But that experience opened my eyes to the ways that even very little kids learn and use math, and I’m grateful to be able to write a story that reflects my culture and family and explores an early mathematical concept for children.

Last but not least, I want to thank you for putting me in the book. I am honored.

Umm, “Tara” is the family DOG in the story. In Sanskrit the beginning is pronounced like the word “tar” so it’s TAR-a and it means “star.”

Yes, I am a star, thanks. And so is this book! 

Thank you for sharing it with us!

BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS will release from Charlesbridge on April 20, 2021!


by Jaime Zollars

I am thrilled to share my Storystorm success story here!

For those who don’t know me, my name is Jaime Zollars. I’m an illustrator who has been drawing pictures for young readers since 2003. I have illustrated many books for other authors, most notably, Kate Milford’s wonderful GREENGLASS HOUSE series and Claire Legrand’s enchanting FOXHEART.

After years of illustrating the writings of others, my first solo picture book, THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS, will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 15, 2020! This is very exciting to me because I told myself way back in 2003 that I was going to make my own book, and it took (WAY) longer than expected to make that happen.

WHY did it take so long to happen? Well, I keep an optimistic list of tasks for myself daily and only a fraction of them get done. Those remaining list items are carried over to the next day, and this series of events repeats daily. For 15 years. Turns out that nothing that isn’t at the very pressing top of my list will ever get done, unless: it is suddenly on fire, is very enjoyable, only takes a few minutes, or is decidedly easy. Writing a picture book (for me, at least) is not particularly enjoyable, takes more than a few minutes, and is not easy. Writing is an unpredictable creative process that takes energy and time and focus. Writing a picture book is simply a list item doesn’t get neatly checked off.

Enter the challenge to come up with one idea for a picture book a day. This is a task that is decidedly checkmark-able.

I resolved to give PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month, now Storystorm) a whirl back in 2014 with a friend and fellow-illustrator, Wilson Swain. (He is talented and you should check out his work at wilsonswain.com.) We kept each other accountable by checking in weekly and sharing our ideas. NOW, some of these ideas were not good. Truly, 90 percent of these ideas were terrible. BUT occasionally, something would trigger more thought. One of my ideas in particular, was just a title. “The Truth About Dragons” sat on my list for some time. It was all I could come up with on that particular day when I had to come up with something. But this title intrigued me enough to consider it well after the month was through.

About a year later, I was driving alone in my car and thinking about this title again. I asked myself pointedly: “What IS the truth about dragons?” (I often talk to myself when my kids are not in the car.) My brain struggled as usual with this query, but then surprised me by proclaiming that dragons LOVE mint chocolate chip ice cream, they are actually very afraid of kittens, AND they love their little sisters even if they pretend that they don’t. None of these examples actually made it into the book, but the concept stuck. Dragons are just like us! Over the next few days, this idea grew into the concept that sometimes things look different when we’re afraid, and if we can see past our fears, perhaps we’ll uncover the truth. I thought about how the illustrations could take the lead in this title and invite readers to figure out the visual puzzle for themselves (the dragons turn to kids one-by-one as the protagonist learns more about them). And THAT was when the task of making my own book went from just another checklist item that would be indefinitely carried over, to a checklist item on fire.

The rest of my PiBoIdMo ideas also helped me to feel confident soliciting an agent. I had several kernels of ideas ready to share as soon as I had agent interest, and I signed with the infectiously enthusiastic Stephen Barr at Writer’s House in 2015. He looked over my book ideas and The Truth About Dragons was his pick as well. He was invaluable as we started working with this story in the background of my other deadlines and sold the book at auction to the amazing Deirdre Jones at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2017!

I’m honestly not sure I would have ever found the idea for this first solo book if it were not for Storystorm. I think we are mistaken if we assume (as I once did) that good ideas will come to us without some forced consideration. Waiting for inspiration to visit is a nice thought, but now I’m pretty sure that we can (and should) actively cultivate it. Storystorm, for me, was a low-pressure invitation to see things a little bit differently—if just for a month. Having to write something down, anything down, was a gift that trained my mind to actively pursue story alongside going about my days.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS will be published on September 15, 2020. Kirkus even gave it a star (!) and calls it “A beautifully rendered, comforting, gentle lesson in overcoming fears.” I hope that it finds its way to the right parents, teachers, librarians, and readers as we all face a little bit of the unknown this fall.

Blog readers, Little Brown is giving away a copy of THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS!

Leave one comment to enter.

A random winner will be chosen in a few weeks.

Good luck!


You can see more of Jaime’s art at jaimezollars.com, learn more about her art and writing process by following her on Instagram @jaimezollarsart, and preorder the Truth About Dragons here: https://bookshop.org/books/the-truth-about-dragons/9780316481489. Because there is just no way to do traditional book events at this time, send me a copy of a pre-order receipt from anywhere books are sold, along with your address, and I’ll even send you a signed mini-print to celebrate!

*Extra note for those interested: I also have a curriculum guide for this book for those who can use it—including parents who are doing some of the teaching in these strange times. I’m happy to send that out to anyone who e-mails me at jaime @ jaimezollars.com.

by Alexandra Alessandri

I’ve always loved the brainstorming part of the writing process. Endless possibilities! Bright, shiny story ideas! Hearts, unicorns, and rainbows! Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, later re-envisioned into Storystorm. A whole month devoted to brainstorming? Yes, please!

Storystorm has become such an important part of my journey as a writer. Many of the posts shared by fellow kidlit authors have served as inspiration diving boards for my stories. I’ve filled notebooks with countless ideas. Some are only a few words or a title. Some have more fleshed-out plots. Others, though, explode into fully developed stories.

In fact, both of my upcoming picture books, FELIZ NEW YEAR, AVA GABRIELA! (Albert Whitman) and ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL (Sleeping Bear Press) were conceived during Storystorm.

In Storystorm 2018, Debbi Michiko Florence (Day 4) explored Culture and Family Tradition, and boy did her post resonate with me! I discovered that my Colombian heritage and memories provided a fountain of ideas. All of the foods, traditions, and family sayings came pouring out, and a few kept poking me to write them: the Colombian Andes and farms of my youth, the Año Viejo and our New Year’s Eve traditions, the energy of holiday get-togethers with my large extended family. But while I knew I wanted to include these elements in a story, I had no idea who or what the story was about, nor did I have a vision yet for its “about about.”

Then, on New Year’s Eve 2018, a week before Storystorm 2019 started, I watched as a friend’s young daughter shifted from hiding-behind-Mom-shy (just like I was at her age) to bouncing and squealing with excitement as the fireworks swished above us. I remember telling her, “Ava, you found your voice!” And thus my debut FELIZ NEW YEAR, AVA GABRIELA! (illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda), which releases this October 2020, was born. It was the perfect mashup of memory, culture, and observation, and many of the details that came from Debbi’s post made it into the final draft.

That wasn’t my first experience with Storystorm, though. My very first was in 2015, back when it was PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). That year, Jessixa Bagley (Day 7) activated her muse and urged us to search [our] memories. Carter Higgins (Day 15) rewound things and guided us through finding a story’s “about about.” Both of these posts helped me develop a budding tale about a little girl who didn’t speak English and who was scared to make friends because of the language barrier—a story that blossomed from my memories of being a kindergartener in New York, coming from a Spanish-only home. I wrote and revised and revised some more (rinse and repeat) until it was ready. ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL releases Fall 2021.

I swear magic really exists. All you have to do is read through the posts of Storystorm and PiBoIdMo past to see it. Of course, you need more than a great idea to publish a book. You need perseverance, hard work, and heaps of patience. You need willingness to revise your words over and over (and over) again.

But it all starts with a seedling of possibility that Tara Lazar makes possible through Storystorm. I will always be grateful to her for creating magic. Thank you, Tara!

You’re welcome, Alexandra! And thank you for sharing your successes. I hope everyone will join us for Storystorm 2021 in January!

Alexandra Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, Atlanta Review, and YARN. Her debut Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! releases October 1, 2020 from Albert Whitman & Company, followed by Isabel and Her Colores Go to School in fall 2021 from Sleeping Bear Press. Alexandra lives in Florida with her husband and son. Visit her at alexandraalessandri.com.

Tara: Well, howdy, Mr. Funk!

Josh: Hiya, Tara! Thanks for having me back to talk about SHORT & SWEET, the fourth book in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series.

Tara: Actually, you’re here to discuss tips for writing about anthropomorphic characters. And, you’re not actually HERE. We’re still social distancing.

Josh: Oh.

Tara: So what’s the trick? How do you do it?

Josh: I don’t really think there is a trick.

Tara: Wow, this is gonna be a stellar post. [eyeroll] 

Josh: Okay, okay. I think that maybe the trick is that there is no trick.

Tara: You already said that. You gotta do better.

Josh: I mean that there’s really nothing special about making a character who’s not a human have humanlike qualities. You just treat them as you would any human.

Tara: Aha. Like the Human League? You know I dig 80’s music.

Josh: Well, think about any book featuring animals. Take one of my all-time favorites, BOATS FOR PAPA by Jessixa Bagley. The book is about a boy and his mother. It doesn’t matter that they’re beavers. They have the same connection a human child and parent would have. The emotions are all there. We, the readers, can immediately associate with Buckley, a boy who misses his father, and his Mama.

Tara: Okay, but animals are already pretty close to humans–they have eyes, nose, mouth, can move around… What about something that isn’t actually alive in the real world?

Josh: Like Patience and Fortitude in my book LOST IN THE LIBRARY illustrated by Stevie Lews about the lion statues that guard the steps of the New York Public Library?

Tara: Hmmm, I don’t know. They’re statues, but they’re statues of lions. And lions are animals. I don’t think that counts. BTW, great job sneaking in the title of another one of your books. [second eyeroll]

Josh: Thanks. The sequel, WHERE IS OUR LIBRARY? comes out on October 27th.

Tara: Geesh, I thought you were here to talk about SHORT & SWEET.

Josh: Right, sorry.

Tara: So let’s cut to the chase—how do you write anthropomorphic food characters? They’re not humanlike. They don’t have parents or built-in emotions. How does that work? What’s the trick?

Josh: It’s really the same answer. There is no trick. I just treat them as if they’re people in their specific setting. It’s really not all that different from Private I in another one of my favorite picture books, 7 ATE 9 written by Tara Lazar and illustrated by Ross MacDonald.

Tara: Good save, Papa J. Funk!

Josh: Or do I like the sequel, THE UPPER CASE: TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY better? It’s so hard to decide.

Tara: Aww, thanks.

Josh: Who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy book #3 the most when it comes out next—

Tara: Okay, you’re pouring it on a little thick now, pal. 

Josh: Got it. But think of Private I. Private I is a detective in a well-defined world where all of the inhabitants are letters or numbers or punctuation and so forth. Do we know much about Private I other than the fact that he’s a private eye and he’s got a thing for B (and hard-boiled puns)? Not really. We know he loves to solve mysteries. He loves  to discover the truth and save the day. But those are qualities common to most detective main characters. And that’s about all we know.

The charm of those books isn’t the fully fleshed out characters. It’s the world. It’s the mystery. It’s the cleverness, humor, quirkiness, and puns that we love.

Tara: I guess that makes some sense. That Tara lady is a pretty good writer.

Josh: Exactly. And, I treat Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast as I’d treat any other creature thrown into the world that they’re in: a fridge. They have wants and needs, emotions and feelings and on the first spread, I throw in the conflict.

There are only a limited number of things that can happen to characters in a fridge. They could be nearly out of syrup, resulting in an argument and race between two friends (see book #1:  Lady Pancake &  Sir French Toast).

There could be a terrible smell threatening to destroy the fridge, causing them to solve the mystery behind the stinky stench (see book #2: The Case of the Stinky Stench).

The fridge could start to freeze over, forcing them to team up with their nemesis, Baron von Waffle, to save the world from the next ice age (see book #3: Mission Defrostable).

But really, the two main characters are just generic hosts who experience these bad things happening. There’s not too much to them.

I think the charm is the setting and the adventure. The rhyme and the silliness. The hilarious illustrations from Brendan Kearney. But the truth is, after four books, we don’t really know all that much about the characters of Lady Pancake or Sir French Toast.

Tara: So to sum it up, the trick is there’s no trick. You treat the anthropomorphic characters as if they’re just like you and me, experiencing things in their own world, their own special setting.

Josh: I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s almost like I’m writing your half of the blog post dialogue in addition to mine.* **

Tara: So tell me about this new, fourth book in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series.

Josh: I try to change up the genre in each of the books. Book #1 was a race. Book #2 was a mystery. Book #3 was an action/adventure (inspired by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and James Bond, despite the title being a riff off Mission Impossible).

For Short & Sweet, I originally intended it to be a sci-fi/comedy (like The Absent-Minded Professor or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), but it might be more like a magical-body-swap story (like Freaky Friday or Big).

After 3 literary adventures and over 5 years in the fridge, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are, regrettably, beginning to go stale. But have no fear! Professor Biscotti has a DE-spoiling ray that can help. Unfortunately it malfunctions and turns our titular characters back into tiny (adorable) toddlers who run amuck in the fridge causing culinary chaos once again. With a little STEM expertise and some maple syrup, it all works out in the end (spoiler alert – should I have said that before I told you it worked out? Probably. Oops).

Tara: Sounds delicious. And that’s the real problem with food books. I get so hungry reading them that I put the book down and get something to eat.

Josh: On that note, why don’t we end this interview and go grab some brunch.

Tara: Remember social distancing? We’d better dine over Zoom.

Josh: Sounds good. But how will we pass the salt?

Blog Readers, Josh is giving away ONE critique of a picture book manuscript. Just comment below…blah blah blah

* Josh actually did.
** But Tara changed some stuff. Except for the “blah blah blah” part. I kept that.

Photo credit: Carter Hasegawa

Josh Funk is a software engineer and the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the ​It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more. For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.

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 carlemuseum.org.


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 penandinkbrigade.com/standup.

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

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My Picture Books


illus by Mike Boldt
July 2021

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown

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