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It’s almost time to dress in costume and eat tons of candy! (No, not Tuesday!)


There are spooky stories about monsters, ghosts and goblins, even pale green pants with nobody inside them…but when have you ever seen a haunted Halloween tale about a HOUSE?

Sure, there’s plenty of movies and books that make you scream DON’T GO IN THERE! But there’s never been one where the house itself was the main character. This story by Marcus Ewert puts a unique twist on the haunting trope.

And the vibrant illustrations by Susie Ghahremani are like nothing you’ve ever seen. How did she make a mix of sweet and spooky work together? I asked her!

The main character Clarissa is an (unfortunately) cheerful pink house—and I wanted to be sure that her “world” felt colorful and friendly to contrast the muted, darker worlds of her scary parents, so there is some exaggerated color.

The color really pops! What’s your secret?

I painted the book on black boards so a little bit of black pokes through the paint, to hint at how inside she’s a little sinister—but it also allows the colors to really come forward and create contrast.

This book is *funny*, not scary, so I definitely wanted readers to be able to feel that from the moment they look at the images rather than to play up traditional Halloween motifs!

What other considerations did you have, besides color, in order to bring Clarissa to life?

Marcus (the author) gave me so many wonderful verbal details to work with, like her windows that “seemed to wink.”

I used to live in a pink house in New England that looked a lot like Clarissa, so I was able to draw from those memories— particularly the decorative trim and shingles!

I also use the tree on Clarissa’s side as an extension of her to assist her expressiveness.

I love that about the tree–it’s droopy and sad on one spread, all abloom on another.

Clarissa’s parents are a vampire’s castle and a witch’s hut–which is hilarious. Both are inherently creepy, but other creatures in the story, besides Clarissa, are adorable. How did you create such diverse characters but still keep the overall style of the book uniform?

There’s also a character that transitions for cute to truly monstrous!  I tried to create characters that can express emotional range in general—animals that frolic sweetly but then become worried or monstrous; a mother who is tough and fearsome but also can be tender. Using the same materials and process visually unified them, but so does giving them a little emotional range, too. No character in the book stays one fixed way throughout! Even the vampire has a campy moment in a family photo!

This story’s charm comes not only from the illustrations, but the playful rhyme and a surprise character at the end. 

When editors and agents say they want a story to truly stand out, SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED is what they mean.

Thanks, Susie, for introducing us to your new book.

Blog readers, we’re giving away a copy!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected on Halloween.

Good luck!

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator, an internationally exhibiting artist, a designer, and an educator. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design where she has also taught. She is the recipient of awards and honors from the SCBWI, American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators New York, and the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, and has been profiled in several publications, including The New York Times. She served on the board of ICON the Illustration Conference. Ghahremani lives and creates art in San Diego, CA. Follow her on Instagram @boygirlparty.


Dear fellow PiBoIdMoers: my brave and beautiful sisters & brothers!

I’m going to keep this short and—hopefully!—sweet.

Several years ago, I was sitting in the far-too-messy front room of my apartment, glaring down at the notebook on my lap, pages blank as Antarctica.

There was a very specific theme I was trying to write—NOT because it had been handed to me, gift-wrapped, by a Muse with ivory wings. No. This theme had arrived like a toddler with a pan and a wooden spoon: having plopped itself down on the kitchen floor, it was going to beat its makeshift drum—CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!—until it damn well felt like stopping.

Furthermore, the theme had told me—in no uncertain terms—that it was going to be a picture book… and not a shoddy one, either. There would be a proper story arc, with a beginning, middle, and end; there would be believable characters, and it would all take place in an interesting setting. And the finished product had to appeal to actual children, not some fusty adult idea of same.

Oh, and did I mention that the theme of the book was transgender identity? You know, something EASY. Total Berenstain Bears territory…

So: me, blank page, glares. A pitiless, pot-banging toddler. A zillion different ideas and approaches in mind, all of them lame, all of them contradictory.


Finally, using a tactic that I don’t recommend, I bullied myself into the job at hand: I took a stab at the first few paragraphs. What came out was the story of a girl coming to terms with the transition of her beloved uncle to a female identity. And it was TERRIBLE.

Even as I wrote, I could picture the heavy, plodding illustrations that would accompany this heavy, plodding tale: ‘Here are a bunch of clunky, poorly-drawn children arriving at school! Now they’re hanging their coats up! Now they’re putting their lunch-bags away! Now it’s recess time, and the blocky kids hang off monkey bars! Now it’s carpool time—what a long line of station wagons!’ …I was starting to nod off, literally.

But then—thank GOD—something else kicked in. It was like being shook by the shoulders. Some inner voice (a grown-up version of the toddler-with-the-pot?) had decided to be all frank and no-nonsense with me. And this is what it said:
“Oh, Marcus, COME ON! Get real here! You don’t give a DAMN about this boring girl, her dreary uncle, or any of her ‘After-School Special’ life. NO. What you want to write about—since you can write about ANYTHING IN THE WORLD—is dresses. Magical dresses: a dress made of real gold; a dress made of CHOCOLATE!”

At last, the real me was starting to participate. “What about a dress made of crystals?” I asked. “And whenever light hits it, it would flash rainbows, like a prism?”

“Now you’re talking!”

“Or a dress made out of FLOWERS?” I said. “Actual living flowers? The skirt would be roses, and, uh, lilies… and the sleeves could made out of honeysuckle vines! The little girl wearing the dress could pluck honeysuckles right off her sleeves, to taste the honey – just like I used to do, in Georgia!”

“See? Now you’re bringing your own life into the story. That’s so much better…”

“Or what about a dress made of windows?” I said, interrupting. “Magical windows that would show you things like the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids?”

And so on.

You see? Everything had changed. Now my story had a spine—a series of marvelous dresses—and at last I had a character I actually cared about: the little girl who could dream up such luminous creations.

And of course SHE would be the one—not some hazy uncle—with the soul-deep knowledge of her own true gender, the one that didn’t line up with others’ expectations.

And that’s how my book 10,000 Dresses came to be, and Bailey, its courageous heroine…

My dear fellow PiBoIdMoers, my brave and beautiful sisters & brothers!

Here are my two pieces of advice:

  1. Notice which ideas put you to sleep with boredom.
  2. And, when in doubt, SEIZE THE DRESSES!

Marcus Ewert wrote the children’s book 10,000 Dresses (Seven Stories Press, 2008; illustrations by Rex Ray). The first book of its kind, 10,000 Dresses has received wide critical acclaim, awards and honors from the American Library Association, and has become a staple of anti-bullying curricula throughout North America. It’s also been banned a few times!

Marcus is hard at work on several other picture books as well. Did you know that eclairs can come to life and fight crime?

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