It’s my pleasure to share an interview today with Kitty O’Meara, author of the lovely picture book And The People Stayed Home.
Just published, the book And The People Stayed Home began as a heartfelt poem posted on social media, which was shared over one million times, and earned Kitty the title “poet laureate of the pandemic.” It’s a testament to the resilience of people during uncertain times, as it paints a picture of life in lockdown and hope for a brighter tomorrow. Let’s hear more from Kitty!
Congratulations on the recent release of your picture book And the People Stayed Home! Please tell us what inspired you to write this special book and about its journey to publication.
KO: Thank you; that’s very kind of you!
For most of my life, writing and other creative arts have been my way to explore and process the experiences and emotions of life, so I wrote these words at the beginning of our lockdown last March, and shared them with my Facebook friends. One friend asked to share the post, and it quite quickly went viral.
I re-posted the poem to my blog and, among the thousands of comments, calls, messages, and texts I received, was one from the Managing Editor of Tra Publishing, who asked, at the kind request of Tra’s founder, if I would be interested in developing a children’s picture book based on the poem. I was overjoyed, and we began the work of co-creating this amazing book in early April. It has been a complete blessing and joy to work with these talented artists, and I’m very proud of the finished creation.
In what ways do you hope your book will touch readers, especially those most affected by the pandemic?
KO: I hope it will offer comfort, peace, and delight as a work of art, and I hope it will inspire readers to discover ways their own artistic and emotional gifts can help them cope and heal through this time of sacrifice and hardship. We’re all in this together, everyone on the planet, and I think we need to encourage each other, express gratitude to our essential workers, keep ourselves and others safe, and look for ways this experience can help us listen more deeply to our hearts and to those we love, looking for ways we can make the world a better place for all of our gifts to unfold.
I imagine teachers and parents sharing And the People Stayed Home with children, exploring their feelings and their responses to this time, naming their gifts, making art…it’s a sensitive and touching book, but also one that encourages and evokes joy.
And the People Stayed Home is beautifully illustrated. How excited were you when you finally held the finished product in your hands?
KO: I cried! A lot! I agree; it’s beautiful. I kept holding it, setting it down, reading and rereading it, marveling at the artwork…And I have such lovely memories of our video meetings, notes, and calls, sharing ideas, changing our minds, adjusting, evolving and growing this book, and ourselves, together. I named myself as a writer when I was 6, and of course worked as one in advertising and all through my career, but to be holding this gorgeous book in my hands…well, it’s been a pure blessing.
Were you expecting the poem that is the essence of your book to become so popular?
KO: Well no, not at all. I don’t think I’ve ever posted on Facebook with expectations of any kind except to share with my close friends how I’m feeling. This was a complete mystery-fluke-surprise-blessing, that’s for sure.
You are also a chaplain and spiritual director. How do those vocations affect or inform your writing? And what writing projects are you working on now?
KO: Well, I started with Theater and English degrees, and I worked in advertising, then went back for a teaching degree and taught middle school literature and language arts for many years before leaving to write full time. That was quickly curtailed by the need to care for our parents, who seemed to all experience health failures and end-of-life crises at the same time.
And after those years of journeying with death, loss, and grief, I went back to school again and trained for chaplaincy and spiritual direction, so I’ve had many careers and experiences in offering my gifts to the world, and they’ve all been enlarging and rewarding. I’ve been writing since I was very young, and I guess, have always explored themes revealed by love and loss, nature, family, joy, memory, and, increasingly, the understanding that we’re all gifted differently, and need to honor and develop those gifts to serve one another and the Earth…traveling with my parents’ friends’ and in-laws’ end-of-life journeys led me to the deep exploration of healing…not just physical diseases, but the emotional and psychic wounds that hinder the development and sharing of gift. I worked with my patients and those who have come for spiritual direction to meet those wounds and heal them, and have seen how we can heal all the way through our last breath…Because of chaplaincy and spiritual direction, the mystery, and gift, and hard work of healing (always connected to our capacity to love ourselves and others) have all become integral to my writing and my understanding of our gifts.
I think these ideas will always influence my work, including the children’s stories I’m working on now. And I think that’s because picture books take us so beautifully to symbol, silence, and mystery: they touch us deeply and trigger responses that are both very simple and very profound. And, in my case, they require co-creation, because I do not have the gift of creating visual art through illustration, and I love that, since I think healing itself, like loving, is an ongoing co-creation. Life is all about relationship.
How do you feel about being called the “poet laureate of the pandemic”, and where did the name originate?
KO: I think it was a very kind compliment, but there are many poets gifting us, always, and certainly through this time, uniquely and profoundly and in a variety of voices and styles that are absolutely necessary. We need art more than laureates, and I’m not in need of being recognized beyond the fact that my voice matters, too, and this poem touched people deeply when it had to in ways far beyond imagining.
I’ve always taken my education seriously and worked diligently to use and deepen my gifts. Writing has been a constant practice, as I said, for integration and reflection, and as a creative outlet; so, the fact that something I wrote affected others is not at all a new experience; I’ve shared my writing and received positive feedback all my life. That it affected others in such numbers is both mystery, timing, and a function of social media, a good reminder of the internet’s power. Elena Nicolaou, a wonderful writer in her own right, used the term “poet laureate of the pandemic” in her article for the Oprah Magazine Online, as a reference to the poem’s having gone viral, more than as a recognition of my lifetime achievement. 🙂
Can you tell us about the upcoming animated film based on And the People Stayed Home?
KO: I think you’re referring to the Vooks.com animation of the picture book? That has been produced and is available now on the Vooks.com site. They are a wonderful company! I love how they honor the original artwork, tweak and extend it with amazing animation, provide a narrated voiceover, and enhance everything about the original book in doing so. And the People Stayed Home was beautifully narrated for Vooks by Kate Winslet, and yikes, what an honor that is! I wish Vooks had been around when I was a child, and when I was a teacher; it’s a marvelous wonder for parents to investigate and consider joining, too. I love the creativity and myriad ways it invites children’s interaction with story; it really compliments books so magically.
Where can fans go to connect and learn more about you and your book?
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
KO: Thank you for your interest and wonderful questions! I hope that your readers will love this book as much as I do; it’s such a finely-crafted treasure, and one that I think could be a lifelong favorite, reminding children and their parents of a time that was both challenging and deeply precious.
And I hope you, and your readers, will be safe and well in the days to come. Keep reading; keep creating. 🙂 Gentle peace.
Kitty O’Meara lives near Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, Phillip Hagedorn, their five rescue dogs, three cats, gardens, and books. A former teacher of middle school writing and literature and a hospital and hospice chaplain and currently a spiritual director, O’Meara has been a lifelong writer and artist. And the People Stayed Home is her first print book.
Title: Randolph the Reindeer
Author: Sean Patrick O’Reilly
Illustrator: David Alvarez
There’s a lot going on right now. A lot. And your head is probably swirling. And maybe you haven’t been thinking about Christmas just yet.
But I think we could all use a little cheer, don’t you? With that in mind, I’m happy to share a new Christmas picture book that recently received the Mom’s Choice Award.
Combine one arrogant reindeer in training, one friendly Krampus, and one skeptical elf. Add a broken camera and a disappointed boy. Mix in a terrible blizzard on Christmas Eve and a sleighful of determination. And what do you get? A recipe for merriment, Randolph the Reindeer, a Christmas tale like no other.
Randolph dreams of pulling Santa’s sleigh. But when he fails miserably and is humiliated during tryouts, despite bragging that he’s the fastest reindeer and is sure to be chosen to pull Santa’s sleigh that very night, Christmas Eve, he decides to leave town.
In North Pole, Alaska, Randolph makes a new friend, a boy named Jamie. Jamie says Randolph can pull his sleigh. Randolph wants to show Jamie just how fast he can go, but Jamie just wants to take pictures. Randolph doesn’t listen, however, and crashes the sleigh, breaking Jamie’s special camera.
Jamie is heartbroken and Randolph feels terrible. He sets off through a blizzard to make things right. And with a little help from Nikita Von Krampus, Mrs. Clause, and Jeremy the elf, Randolph saves Christmas for Jamie just in the (Saint) nick of time. 😉
With a fun, engaging story by Arcana Studio founder Sean Patrick O’Reilly, and bright, cheerful illustrations by Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, and Nickelodeon artist David Alvarez, you and your children will delight in reading Randolph the Reindeer together this holiday season. And it may just take your mind off of other things for a bit. Happy Holidays!
Please welcome back picture book author Lisa Gammon Olson to Frog on a Blog! Lisa is the author of the American Herstory Series and a huge proponent of spreading kindness and preserving nature. Lisa last visited in April of 2019 to talk about her book And the Trees Began to Move. Today, on October 12th, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, an alternative to Columbus Day, Lisa’s stopped by to tell us about her latest book, Remembering Green: An Ojibwe Girl’s Tale. And Lisa has an important message for us all at the end.
Good morning! My American HerStory Series, with Eifrig Publishing, features a snapshot in American History as seen through the eyes of one young girl.
My newest picture book, Remembering Green, is the 4th book in this series and features an Ojibwe heroine named Wenonah and her struggles to keep her native identity during the forced attendance of Indigenous children at residential schools.
In the late 19th century, the United States Government began establishing Indian Residential Schools with the intent of forcibly assimilating Native American children into Euro-American culture. In order to “Christianize” and “civilize” them, Indigenous children were taken from their families and housed in boarding schools where they were to be “educated” and stripped of their culture.
Children arriving at the schools had their long hair cut and their native clothing exchanged for a regimented school uniform and were not even allowed to keep their native names. They were forbidden to speak their native languages and were often beaten and treated harshly when they were caught doing so. Overcrowding, disease and abusive discipline were present in these children’s daily lives changing the very core of who they were.
In Remembering Green, my Wenonah is one such girl from the Lac Du Flambeau Ojibwe tribe in northern Wisconsin. She runs away from the boarding school where she seeks out her great grandfather, Nimishoomis and his wisdom. Together, using their five senses, he will help Wenonah think of ways she can retain her culture and remember their customs to pass down to future generations. Even as she is learning chimookoman ways, Grandfather reminds her it is not the learning that will change her but the forgetting of her heritage that will change who she is.
I worked extensively with the Lac Du Flambeau tribal members on this book to be sure every detail was true to history even using Ojibwe words in the story to authenticate the setting.
My personal research discovered a beautiful culture with people who revere the earth and live in harmony with the changing seasons. Our Native Americans were brutalized, persecuted and killed in horrifyingly vast numbers for their differences and for their land. I often wonder how corporate America would look now had the roles been reversed and we had all learned to live in harmony with the natural world as our Native friends did. I know which world I personally would choose to live in.
Writing historical fiction has opened my eyes to the suffering and hardships our ancestors endured in our past and I am amazed at the tenacity of the human spirit and how people have coped during really tough times.
It’s important we bring to light the untold history of these strong, spiritual people and help them heal. A first good step has been the national movement to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 12th in lieu of Columbus Day.
I work in an elementary school as the secretary and I want our kids to know “there is always something positive you can do to impact others in every situation.” As a child, it’s easy to get sucked up into the enormity of life and not think you could ever possibly make a difference.
In my first book, Dust Flowers…set in the midst of the Dust Bowl…a little girl can do nothing about the weather but she CAN grow one tiny flower and bring a smile to her mother’s face. That’s what I like ALL my books to say. What you do, DOES make a difference! YOU ARE IMPORTANT!!!
Every human being on this planet has made an individual journey…has a rich past and story to tell. Listen to each other in a respectful, responsible & kind manner and together we will learn all the wondrous secrets this world has to tell…Cover your ears and we will be destined to repeat these shameful failings at humanity’s peril.
First and foremost, Lisa Gammon Olson is a mom of three amazing young men; Grant, Kyle & Jay. She lives with her husband Bruce in Coon Valley, WI, where she is the secretary at the Coon Valley Elementary School….a job she adores! She believes the most important skill we can ever teach our children is “How to be Kind.” Any kindness we do, no matter how small, has the power to change someone’s life. Growing up in northern Wisconsin has instilled in her the wonder of nature… sparkling lakes, endless forests and trails littered with pine needles and possibilities. Preserving our planet and populating it with human beings who are Respectful, Responsible and Kind seems like an awesome idea.
You can learn more about Lisa’s books and the history behind the story by clicking Here or on the images below:
Check out these fun and spooky tales, perfect for this time of year!
Please welcome Regan Macaulay! Regan is the author of several children’s picture books. Her latest Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana is officially out today! Isn’t that cover adorable?! Happy Book Birthday Regan and Libby!
“This childrenʼs picture book is about Libby, a lonely cactus plant who has trouble believing in herself. However, when lovely, confident Violet moves in next to her on the windowsill, Libby learns that the things that make her different also make her special.”
I really like how this book features a cactus and a violet plant. Growing up, we had tons of plants on our windowsills. My grandma had a cactus that lived for years and years, and my mom always had violet plants. It makes me smile to think the plants may have been friends like Libby and Violet. 🙂
But enough about me; I want to hear from Regan. She’s stopped by today to talk a little about the collaborative partnership she’s had with each of her illustrators. Take it away, Regan!
I love what I do, which is writing. In particular, writing for children as it brings with it specific rewards for which I am so grateful.
Working on picture storybooks over many years and now starting to see those works published in the last five, it got me thinking about what’s special about writing these short, most concise stories, where the text shares the storytelling effort with the images on each page.
What’s stimulating for me about working in the picture book category is that, since I do not have the patience to do the artwork myself, I always have a partner helping me tell the tale. So far, I’ve had the privilege of working with four gifted illustrators on five – soon to be six, then next year, seven – picture books.
Alex Zgud worked her magic through water colour on Beverlee Beaz the Brown Burmese, Sloth the Lazy Dragon, and Merry Myrrh, the Christmas Bat. We traded my storyboards for scanned sketches and paintings via email over many months on each work.
Wei Lu works digitally, but her styles for Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast (a sort of anime look) and upcoming picture book Dog Band (water colour, but via computer) are strikingly different, though always brilliantly colourful in the life she brings to my characters.
I’ve actually never met Javier Duarte, who works as a freelancer through Mirror Publishing. I merely sent my storyboard ideas for each page of Tamara Turtle’s Life So Far and he sent back the fully formed illustrations (black and white first, then colour once confirmed or tweaked if I had notes), ready for the next step in the publishing process!
Now, with Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana, released by Mirror World Publishing (note that this is a different publisher than Mirror Publishing), I have been blessed with a truly unique collaborative experience I will never forget. For many reasons – the search for the right publisher, then a change in publishers, as well as the technically involved artistic process of our new illustrator, Gordon Bagshaw – Libby has been years in the making. I worked with a co-writer, my husband, Kevin Risk. Our publisher, Justine Alley Dowsett, was even more closely involved than she usually is with the completion of the book over the last year or more. And Gord constructed a 360 degree digital “set” – the kitchen, in which most of the story takes place – in minute detail and with breathtaking art that straddles the line between photorealistic and fantastical illustration with digital painting.
Once Kevin and I had the manuscript vetted over several years by several different sources, including editors, publishers, educators, and parents and their children…after revisions galore…we were able to watch and participate in Gord’s step-by-step illustrating process, as if we were leaning over his shoulder. Yet Gord, though Canadian, lives in Sao Paolo and Kevin and I are both in Toronto, Ontario, and when Justine joined the process, she did so from Windsor, Ontario.
What a fabulous age to live in if you are creative, even in these uncertain and often scary times. We can reach across the miles and work with anyone anywhere in the world! And with this recent book project, Libby, it often felt a little bit like shooting a film (and filmmaking is a part of my background as well). Gord carefully chose angles for each “shot” or page from any vantage point in that kitchen set, and was able to place the characters in their performance space and let them catch their light. Then he was able to show us every stage – from rough and unrendered to the final version ready for printing.
It seems to me there are many ways to tackle putting together a picture storybook, but one constant for me is the need to work collaboratively, even more so than you would on a typical novel. This is something I recommend writers of children’s literature become accustomed to, but I also think most writers will find it a fun, supportive and inspiring process.
Regan W. H. Macaulay writes novels, short stories, children’s literature, and scripts. Writing is her passion, but she’s also a producer and director of theatre, film, and television. She is an animal-enthusiast as well, which led her to become a Certified Canine and Feline Massage Therapist. Other picture storybooks include Sloth the Lazy Dragon, Tamara Turtle’s Life So Far, Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast, Merry Myrrh the Christmas Bat, and Beverlee Beaz the Brown Burmese. She is also the author of The Trilogy of Horrifically Half-baked Ham, which includes Space Zombies! (based on her film, Space Zombies: 13 Months of Brain-Spinning Mayhem!—available on iTunes and on DVD), They Suck, and Horror at Terror Creek.
Please welcome bilingual children’s book author Sonia Kermen to Frog on a Blog. Sonia recently published Enzo Le Petit Aventurier / Enzo The Little Adventurer, a book written in French and translated into English. It includes nine stories featuring different animals, and each story ends with a proverb.
As a mom of three children from different cultures, Sonia believes it’s important to communicate the importance of languages. She’s here today to talk a bit about how children’s books can help kids learn new languages.
Children’s Literature: A Natural Way to Learn New Languages
by Sonia Kermen
Children’s literature is a natural way to learn new languages. I have recently published a bilingual book for children entitled Enzo The Little Adventurer. These short stories are written to introduce children to new languages, educate them about the life of the nine zoo animals and instill in them the simple values of life. The ability to speak more than one language is a true richness in our society.
We live in a dynamic and globalized world in which our children must be understood and accepted in whatever country they find themselves.
They, therefore, must learn to understand the country’s language as well as its culture. As bilingual speakers, our children will discover a whole other world, a wealth of knowledge that will enable them to be at home on our planet. When I left France a few years ago and moved in 2008 to the United States with my children, my family and I had to face the joys and challenges of bilingual and bicultural living.
I found children’s storybooks to be a natural avenue for children to develop their bilingual skills. It is clear that the younger treasure learning other languages, the easier it is for them. Children become more open to the outside world, more expressive, and more adaptable in new contexts.
There are, of course, certain challenges in learning to speak more than one language: young children tend to start speaking a little later than average, because instead of learning one set of words, they are learning two or three. Their minds are assimilating information in several languages at a time. Nevertheless, bilingual living sets up children for success in the future, and the delayed speech is quickly overcome by an insatiable curiosity for the world.
Children’s books evoke a child’s imagination and creativity. The vocabulary is inherently repetitive, which facilitates the acquisition of new vocabulary words. Parents can naturally dialogue with their child about the stories in one language or in another. The readers can discover cultural differences in a safe context. Furthermore, children’s books are illustrated. Vivid color drawings help boys and girls follow the scenario and easily learn new vocabulary. Paragraphs are short to keep the child engaged.
It also must be noted that the simple values of life are best taught in a narrative context. Not only do bilingual books for children allow them to learn a new language smoothly, these books also can remind the readers about what is important in life. Narratives can teach simple values for living, such as patience, forgiveness, and that we are all born under a star. We remind the education and awakening on the animals of the zoo.
Children thus keep their innocence and naïveté. I find that these stories enable adults to rediscover their childhood and to pass on our wisdom to our children. Books enable children and parents to relearn proverbs that are less common in modern society. When children and adults read together, generations encounter each other and come to understand each other better. Through bilingual children’s books, adults and children learn to better love each other and to share their world.
After several years as blog coordinator, creating slogans, presentation videos, model of various marketing campaigns and teacher, the Breton Sonia Kermen, writer since the age of nine, now devotes herself to her passion with the writing of her bilingual children’s book with Enzo Le petit Aventurier / Enzo The Little Adventurer. She is also the author of the bilingual series Les Aventures d’Enzo / The Adventures of Enzo with the name of Sonia Colasse published in 2012.
Photo from Sonia Kermen’s website: authorandmodel.wixsite.com/soniakermen
For more information about Sonia and her books, please visit:
Thanks so much, Sonia, for sharing the importance of learning languages!
Readers, my public library has an entire section devoted to bilingual children’s books. Check your library to see what they have available.
It is a huge pleasure to welcome picture book author Danielle Dufayet to Frog on a Blog. Danielle is the author of three gorgeous picture books, two published last year and one officially out today via Albert Whitman & Company publishers! Happy Book Birthday to Waiting Together!
As Danielle’s books are some of my recent favorites, I jumped at the chance to learn more about her through an interview.
What inspired you to write your brand-new picture book Waiting Together?
Danielle: Deborah Underwood, The Quiet Book. It was so interesting and fun to read about all the different ways a kid experiences silence throughout the day. It made me ask: what else do kids (universally) experience throughout the day? The answer was “waiting”. For kids, being quiet is not always easy -neither is being patient.
Do you, as an English and a Public Speaking teacher, feel that teaching informs or affects your writing in any way?
Danielle: Actually, it’s the other way around. I found that I enjoy writing books that help kids feel self-empowered. From that, I designed my own public speaking course which focuses on leadership and self-empowerment. I like to emphasize self-love and positive self-talk. Those themes come out whenever I am teaching kids, if I have the opportunity.
You have two other gorgeous picture books already out in the world. For those who may not be familiar, please tell us a little about You Are Your Strong and Fantastic You.
Danielle: You Are Your Strong is about using our own resources for handling our difficult emotions (sadness, anger, worry and fear) with breath, positive thinking, self-distraction, etc. Fantastic You is all about self-love and self-compassion and forgiveness. In essence, it’s about how to treat ourselves as if we were our own best friend.
Just like your other books, Waiting Together has an eye-catching cover! How excited were you to see it for the first time?
Danielle: I was so excited! I loved that it was of a boy and his dog -which circles back to the end of the book. I love my illustrator’s work, especially her children -such sweet faces! I am very lucky to have Srimalie Bassani as my illustrator.
You’re also an artist, and I’ve seen some of your amazing art on your website. Do you hope to one day illustrate picture books, either your own or other’s?
Danielle: Thank you for your kind words! I love to paint big, colorful paintings that uplift the viewer. I enjoy expressing love and light and joy in my work and hopefully that’s what it brings to the walls. Illustrating books and painting large works are two very different types of art, but, yes, one day I may be inspired to illustrate my own book. After all, I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was young.
Your books are uplifting and encouraging, perfect to share with the children we love anytime, but maybe even more so during difficult times. Do you have any advice for kids or adults who may be struggling right now?
Danielle: My advice is to take one day at a time and to NOT be so hard on yourself. Do the best you can. Make time for self-care. Do things that bring you joy, always get a good dose of sunshine, fresh air and physical activity, watch your thoughts, for they become “things”. Practice being loving and gentle and kind to yourself and everyone.
Where can people go to learn more about you and your books, or to connect with you online?
Danielle Dufayet, born in Yonkers, New York, now lives in sunny San Jose, California, where she writes children’s books and paints. She also teaches English and Public Speaking (Self-Empowerment) to grades K-12.
Danielle read her first picture book (Little Raccoon and the Thing in the Pool) when she was 18 whereupon she was blown away by its simplicity, timelessness and transformative power. That’s when she knew it was her calling.
Thirty five years and a Master’s Degree later, she finally made her dream come true with TWO books out in 2019 – one about inner strength and the other about self-love/compassion, and a third book, Waiting Together, September 1, 2020.
Hooray for a GIVEAWAY!
To celebrate its Book Birthday, Danielle is giving away a copy of her brand new picture book Waiting Together to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment on this post by September 15 to be entered to win. The winner will be chosen at random and notified via email. Giveaway available to U.S. residents only.
I’m pleased to resume Picture Books At The Library with this 209th list featuring an eclectic mix of books that have been published during the first half of 2020. How many have you read?
I haven’t posted Picture Books At The Library since my library shut down due to the pandemic in mid-March. But now that I’m back to work in the library (I had been teleworking) and shipments have resumed from our vendors, I’ll finally be able to share new picture books again!
I may be back to work, but the library building is not yet open to the public. We’ve been offering curbside pickup for the past several weeks. And we’re still promoting digital services and resources, as well as online programs (the summer reading program is in full swing) and access to digital books, movies, music, and more. If you haven’t already, check your library’s website to see what kinds of offerings they have. Even during times like these, most libraries are working hard to serve their communities.
I hope that wherever you are in the world, that things are improving. And I hope you will soon be able to visit your library to check out a few glorious new picture books. There are many to choose from! My third hope is that if you cannot visit your library, that you can access many wonderful picture books digitally. It’s not quite the same as having that physical book in your hands, but it’s something, at least.
Stay well, everyone. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. And stay strong. We’re all in this together, and we’ll get out of it together, too! Until then, read some picture books to help you and your kids escape even for just a few moments. I can’t wait to share tons of fabulous new picture books with you. Even if you can’t get your hands on the books right away, keep a list, keep them in mind, and when your library reopens, they’ll be waiting there for you. See you soon At The Library!
I’m excited to feature multi-published children’s book author Sue Lowell Gallion on Frog on a Blog today! Sue is known for her Pug & Pig picture book series, as well as the Tip & Tucker early reader series. She has published in several children’s magazines, and she has multiple awards and honors for her work, as well.
(Cover of and interior image from Our World: A First Book of Geography by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Lisk Feng)
Sue’s newest book, Our World: A First Book of Geography, which was just released by Phaidon Press, is a must-see, beautifully unique, nonfiction board book! Sue is here to share five of her favorite original board books, plus more information about her own wonderful book.
Five Board Books to Expand Your World
by Sue Lowell Gallion
Board book sales have increased every year over the past six years. The variety of original board books is expanding every publishing season as well. I love studying and sharing these sturdy and chewable books with kids of all ages. Board books offer author-illustrators, illustrators, and authors unique creative opportunities.
Here are five of my favorite original board books published over the last year that show some of the options available in this format. An original board book is one that is first published as a board book, not a picture book reprinted in a board book format.
MERBABY’S LULLABY, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Elizabeth Dulemba, Little Simon, 2019
I’m a Jane Yolen groupie, but even if I wasn’t, I’d put this “hush-filled bedtime rhyme from the bottom of the sea” on the same shelf as my all-favorite TIME FOR BED by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer (disclaimer: TIME FOR BED was originally published as a picture book .) Yolen’s dreamy words and Dulemba’s soft illustrations will transport anyone into an enchanting underwater world. There is a story arc in this 51-word poem that looks back at the merbaby’s day and ends with the merbaby being tucked into a shell bed.
There are no novelty elements here and none needed. The size of the book, about 5 inches square, is grabbable for little hands yet large enough to show off the art. Board books aren’t constrained to many of the parameters of picture books. Their size, shape, and number of spreads aren’t bound by the 8-page signature, which offers loads of flexibility. A book can have an odd number of spreads, and the number of spreads may change during the design process.
GOODNIGHT, RAINBOW CATS by Barbara Castro Urio, Chronicle 2019, originally published by Zahori Book, Barcelona, Spain, 2018
Chronicle Books says, “It is time to say goodnight, which means that each colorful cat comes home to curl up in the big white house. The youngest of readers will delight as each cat enters the house with the turn of a page, and one by one, the die-cut windows are infused with color . . . with reassuring warmth, charm, and an early-concept “colors” hook.”
Little Light-Blue Cat, Little Lime-Green Cat and 10 more cats gradually appearing in the die-cut square windows will fascinate any young child. Like any brilliant board book, the format appears simple. But it’s surely an effective bedtime book as each cat comes home to the big white house with conversational, calming text. The novelty element enhances the book. That’s key.
PLAY WITH YOUR PLATE, A Mix-and-Match Play Book by Judith Rossell, Abrams Appleseed, 2020
Here’s how Abrams introduces this intriguing book: “comprised of four mini board books, each making up a quarter of the plate. Mix and match the four sets of pages to make healthy food choices and create more than 4,000 mealtime combinations! By playing the various games suggested in the book, readers will also be able to hone their concepts of colors and shapes by creating plates with, for example, only red foods or triangles.”
This book combines different concepts in a format that is fun to fiddle with. The food choices range from sushi to mac and cheese in vivid colors and patterns and sturdy flaps. Here’s a great example to see some of the possibilities in paper engineering — and dream of novelty elements that just might work with one of your ideas.
BILL AIME LES VOYAGES/I LOVE TO TRAVEL by Alexx Sanders and Pierrick Bisinski, Gallimard Jeunesse, France, 2019
My daughter lives in France, so when I was visiting her last fall I also I went to every bookstore I could find to look at the children’s books. Publishers around the world are doing wonderful things with board books. Also, novelty board books can easily transcend language differences or also can be a wonderful tool to introduce another language.
This series has multiple flaps with graduated levels. It tells a story in French and English of Bill the rabbit, who travels throughout the world via different modes of transportation, from bike and bus to hot air balloon. Again, the novelty design fits the topic perfectly. It may be hard to get your hands on a copy, but I hope this gives you an idea of its appeal.
DREAM BIG by Joyce Wan, Cartwheel Books/Scholastic 2019
Scholastic’s summary: “In this dreamy oversized board book, little ones will find the courage and strength to achieve anything they want — all by dreaming big! With inspiring illustrations of female trailblazers and icons of history and simple, hopeful text, Joyce Wan creates a moving send-off for graduates of all ages. Included in the back is a simple guide to some of the bold dreamers who came before us who followed their dreams . . . and changed the world.”
Joyce Wan’s board books are some of my favorite baby gifts. This large-format board book with metallic cover embossing doesn’t have any novelty elements such as the lift-the-flaps in some of her other titles. But the size of this chunky book combined with Wan’s vibrant, rounded illustrations will appeal to the youngest on up. The last spread introduces 15 women spotlighted in the book and ends with “you!”
There are amazing choices in board book nonfiction now. I’m a huge fan of the board book series introducing STEM concepts and careers for all kids, such as Ruth Bernstein Spiro and Irene Chan’s BABY LOVES series with Charlesbridge and Laura Gehl and Daniel Wiseman’s BABY SCIENTIST series from HarperFestival.
OUR WORLD, A First Book of Geography, by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Lisk Feng, Phaidon Press 2020
From Phaidon: “A read-aloud introduction to geography for young children that, when opened and folded back, creates a freestanding globe. Children are invited to identify and experience the Earth’s amazing geography through rhyming verse and lush illustrations: from rivers, lakes, and oceans deep, to valleys, hills, and mountains steep. Secondary text offers more detailed, curriculum-focused facts and encourages readers to consider their own living environments, making the reading experience personal yet set within a global backdrop.”
(Interior images from Our World: A First Book of Geography by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Lisk Feng)
I’m thrilled to share my first board book here as well, which released July 22. My concept was to make a board book shaped like a globe, with a stand that would be easy for a young child to grasp. I came up with the concept during a workshop on novelty board books at our annual Kansas/Missouri SCBWI conference.
(Interior image from Our World: A First Book of Geography by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Lisk Feng)
The actual submission was a 56-word poem and a small dummy showing the die-cut half-globe shape, which evolved into this wonderful collaboration with illustrator Lisk Feng and the team at Phaidon. The book has evolved a great deal during the team’s work over the past year and a half, including the addition of secondary non-fiction text to broaden its audience, and the magnetic closure so the book can stand up alone.
Thank you so much, Lauri, for this opportunity!
Sue Lowell Gallion is the author of four picture books: Pug Meets Pig, Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat, and Pug & Pig and Friends (spring 2021) — all from Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster — as well as All About Axle (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster). Gallion is also the author of three early readers (the Tip and Tucker series) with Sleeping Bear Press and is a frequent speaker at elementary schools and libraries.
Gallion was destined to write books. As the daughter of a third generation printer, she grew up immersed in the smells of paper and ink and the sound of printing presses.
When she’s not writing, Gallion likes to spend time with her grandsons and share books with children as a reading mentor with Lead to Read Kansas City. Gallion lives in the Kansas City area with her black lab mix, Tucker, who likes to hold hands.
Gallion’s represented by Liza Voges of Eden Street Literary. For more information, please go to www.suegallion.com.
I’m thrilled to feature multi-published children’s book author Kathleen Long Bostrom today on Frog on a Blog. I’m sure you’re familiar with many of Kathleen’s books. She’s the author of the award-winning Little Blessings series and several VeggieTales books, as well as lots of other books and magazine stories for children and adults. She and her books have received multiple awards and honors. Kathleen’s newest children’s book, Will You Be Friends with Me?, published just this month by WorthyKids, is a timely board book that celebrates friendship, differences, and diversity.
Kathleen’s here to talk a little about the connection between writer and illustrator, letting go and trusting the publisher and illustrator to help bring your story to life. Let’s hear from Kathleen!
Trusting the Process
by Kathleen Long Bostrom
My children were three, five, and seven when I began writing picture books in 1992. They’re all in their thirties now and two are about to be married. In other words, it’s been a long time!
Much has changed but one thing hasn’t: the questions I get asked. First and foremost is, “Do you illustrate your own books?”
The answer is an unequivocal, “No!” I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. Illustration is not my gift, although I’d love if it were.
I knew nothing about publishing picture books when I first began writing them, but I learned quickly. I discovered that it’s up to the publisher to choose the illustrator. People startle when I say that. “What? You mean you get no say in choosing? That doesn’t seem fair!” I felt like that myself at first, but I’ve learned to trust the process.
After four years and 250 rejections, my first book, What is God Like? (Tyndale House, 1998) was accepted for publication. I imagined a beautiful, jacketed hardcover book with colorful, double-page layouts. The design crew decided otherwise. The trim size ending up being 9” x 6” x 6”, which fit just right in little hands. The illustrations were not gorgeous; they were simple, childlike. And absolutely perfect! The illustrator, Elena Kucharik, was known for designing the popular Care Bears. For her books with Tyndale House, she created four charming children of different ethnicities. It was brilliant. This was back in the 1990’s when diversity in children’s books was not a priority (should have been). Over the years, many children told me, “I’m in the book!” A bi-racial boy. A girl adopted from China. My blonde-haired youngest son. I couldn’t have asked for more.
That book led to a series called Little Blessings, which ended up in 20 languages around the world, selling several million copies. This did not translate into millions of dollars for me! But I had the joy of knowing that my work was in the hands of children all around the world. From the start, I learned to trust the process.
My newest board book, Will You Be Friends with Me? (WorthyKids, July 2020) is another example. I sought to show how friends can be different in many ways. That’s what makes life great! I imagined one child speaking to another, trying to convince that child that their differences shouldn’t be a problem. But when the art team got to work, they decided on a device called “daisy chain.” One child in each spread moves to the next spread with a new child, and so on. At the end, all the children stand together, showing diversity and friendship and joy. Again, perfect! And timely, too.
With 50+ books published, most of those picture books, I can honestly say that only once have I not been thrilled with the illustrations and how the book turned out.
It’s a fabulous collaboration, author and illustrator. And children! I love it all.
And yes, I’m still learning. I hope that’s always true.
Kathleen Long Bostrom is a Presbyterian minister who has written more than 50 books, including the award-winning Little Blessings series, multiple VeggieTales books, and the upcoming board book version of This Little Light of Mine.
Her books, both for children and adults, have sold close to three million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages including Chinese, Russian and Indonesian. In fact, Italian versions of her books may be found at the Vatican bookstore in Rome.
Kathleen and her husband Greg, and Ellie — her little empty-nest dog — live in Carlsbad, California. Kathleen is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Agency. For more information please go to www.kathleenlongbostrom.com.
I’m excited to feature children’s picture book author Yuno Imai on Frog on a Blog today. Yuno has recently published two very timely books. In an email correspondence, Yuno said, “I specialize in writing heartwarming stories that help children and adults cope with death. I know many people have lost their loved ones and are hurting right now due to COVID-19… I hope my stories will inspire or heal readers.”
Let’s learn more about Yuno and her two beautifully illustrated books.
Why do you like to write stories for children?
I believe children have limitless potential. They’re curious and open to learn. Through my stories, I hope to inspire my readers to exercise creativity and imagination.
I’m a fan of children’s books and what they represent – family time, creativity and imagination, opportunity to get a peek into a new world. Many stories are timeless and can be passed down to next generations.
I think of children’s books as art. As an author, it’s exciting to see how my ideas take shape as books and could potentially live over a century!
What inspired you to write your two beautiful picture books The Last Meal and Trevor and Me? And can you tell us a bit about each book?
Trevor and Me is about reincarnation and friendship that transcends age, nationality and gender. It’s based on my real life friendship with my elderly friend, Trevor.
The Last Meal is about last meal requests of death row inmates. Compassion plays a big role in this story.
They’re both heartwarming stories that help readers cope with death or develop a healthy understanding of difficult subjects. I got inspiration to write about death, because 1) I’m interested in the topic, and 2) growing up, my mom was very uncomfortable discussing it.
I realized that many parents struggle to find ways to explain death to their children, so I decided to write stories around difficult subjects.
“Food” is also a common theme in my stories as I’m a food writer and always intrigued by memories and feelings associated with people’s favorite food.
On your website, you describe yourself as a go-getter. How did this quality help you pursue publication? And what route did you take to publish your books?
Being a go-getter helps tremendously when it comes to pursuing your goals. Believe it or not, I’ve never had a regular 9-5 job. Being your own boss and managing your time requires discipline. I’m naturally driven and motivated, and over the years, I cultivated my professionalism and driven attitude.
Becoming an author is like a marathon. It’s an endless journey and there are always things you could do more. Being a go-getter helps you keep the fire going. 🙂
I chose to self-publish my children’s books, with plans to get picked up by publishers in the future. I initially looked for agents in the U.S. and UK, and reached out to publishers in Japan, but couldn’t seem to make it happen.
I believe in making your own dreams come true, so I decided to just go for it anyway.
It’s obviously a lot more work, but nice to take control of your own destiny in a way. Having physical copies has been helping spread the word — I’m currently in talks with Chinese publishers.
You have two different illustrators for your books, and both did a fantastic job! How did you find your illustrators?
I found both of my illustrators online.
It took me a good 2-3 years finding the right person — I asked my friends and colleagues for referrals, attended book fairs and Creator’s Expo in Tokyo, all while searching online.
After talking with countless illustrators, I had about 10 of them draw samples for me. Finally in 2019, I found two illustrators that could truly understand what was inside of my head, and put them onto paper.
Illustrations are a very important part of children’s books. I could not have done it without my illustrators and I’m so grateful for their talent and professionalism!
You are also a food & travel writer. How different is that from writing for children? Are there any similarities?
In my opinion, the whole message and purpose of writing changes, depending on who you write for. When I write my food and travel articles, my goal is to provide readers with useful information. I make sure to include the basic information, like any journalistic articles would. For children’s books, I focus on showing and telling a story, instead of just providing information.
How I approach writing, though are the same whether I’m writing an article for adult readers or children’s stories for younger readers. I love puzzles, so I write in sections and pieces and move them around like I’m playing puzzles.
Where can people go to find more information about you and your books?
You can learn more about my books and order them on my website and Amazon worldwide!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with everyone?
I really hope my stories will inspire, entertain or help you heal. I love getting comments and feedback about my books – please feel free to email or DM me on social media!
Yuno Imai is a Los Angeles based children’s book author and food & travel writer.
She specializes in writing heartwarming stories that help readers cope with death or develop a healthy understanding of difficult subjects. She is originally from Hamamatsu, Japan and came to the United States alone at 17, speaking very little English, and spent a year as a high school foreign exchange student in a small town in Kansas.
Yuno is passionate about inspiring people through her stories and also bridging Japan and other countries, especially America, where she calls her second home.
Please welcome picture book author Brigitte Brulz and illustrator Alyssa Brulz to Frog on a Blog. This talanted mother-daughter duo’s new picture book Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure was published last month. I really like the bold, colorful art of this concept book, which works well to tell the tale of a little bird that crashes on a deserted island. Each page or spread highlights one letter of the alphabet and continues in order as the story progresses.
Brigitte contacted me about sharing a post in which she interviews her daughter with the hopes of inspiring other kids who may be interested in writing or illustrating and publishing their own books. And I thought it was a fabulous idea! Let’s hear from Brigitte and Alyssa!
Interview with 12-Year-Old Published Illustrator, Alyssa Brulz
Conducted by Brigitte Brulz
Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure is a comical story told in alphabetical order with only one to three words per page about a bird who is blown away and crashes on a deserted island. Will he figure out how to get off the island? And who – or what – is following him?
Since there are less than 40 words in the entire book, the illustrations are crucial to telling the story of Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure.
I am excited to share an interview with 12-year-old Alyssa Brulz, illustrator of this newly released picture book, which received a Readers’ Favorite Five Stars review.
Q: How did Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure start?
A.B.: Aah! Blown Away, Crash! was started when my mom went to one of her monthly writer group meetings in 2017. Someone mentioned a challenge of creating a book similar to Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!, with the words in alphabetical order. In response, my mom came up with a draft of Aah! Blown Away, Crash! She, my sister, and I created a “dummy” with paper stapled together. Since then, the book has changed quite a bit – both the text and the illustrations. Mom brought the dummy to her writer group. They suggested a few tweaks and some of them thought my mom should pursue getting the book published. By that point, she had published two picture books, Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles and Jobs of a Preschooler, so she was familiar with the publishing process. She didn’t want to do the illustrations, so she hired me.
Q: What was the illustration process like for Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure?
A.B.: It took a lot of research – shadows, birds, islands, palm trees – to make objects look realistic while still being cartoonish. I used Affinity Designer for the illustrations, and if you have a careful eye, you might be able to see that most of the objects were actually made with simple shapes. My sister also helped by making the bird out of clay and pipe cleaners, so I could see how it would look from different angles.
Q: What did you enjoy most about illustrating it?
A.B.: My favorite part was working on the expressions. The only character in Aah! Blown Away, Crash! is a bird, whom we affectionately named Finch (even though he really isn’t a finch). Some of the expressions he made were absolutely hilarious to me. In real life, I love to watch the expressions on people’s faces when they’re excited, angry, sad, surprised, etc., so working with the body language Finch needed to have was super fun.
Q: What was the hardest part?
A.B.: I think the hardest part was that both my mom and I had our own opinions about how the illustrations should look, so it was a little challenging to create pictures that we were both satisfied with. We obviously figured it out and tried to go with the best option.
Q: What was something you learned?
A.B.: Just one thing? I learned A LOT, from how to use Affinity Designer more effectively to how to work with what you have to make something great. I watched some videos and did quite a bit of research while doing the illustrations to help me learn more.
Q: What other projects have you been working on?
A.B.: My 13-year-old sister and I recently published an activity journal titled Write, Draw, Believe: 75+ Faith-Building Activities for Christian Kids, which I had a ton of fun making. My sister was the ideas person, and I created most of the graphics for it. We hope other kids will really enjoy it. We plan on reaching out to various people, bookstores, and churches to sell our journals. Also, I have been writing a middle grade novel for a couple years now and am on the third draft. That project has been one of my favorite writing projects, and I hope it will eventually be published.
Q: What advice would you give to other kids who want to be published?
A.B.: I have realized that you really shouldn’t doubt yourself. Many people don’t think they can actually be published, but that is a myth. Try to use whatever talents you have and do your best, no matter what. Learn a lot. If you are writing, read and write. If you are illustrating, examine other illustrations and draw. For whatever you want to do, learn and take action.
Q: Where can people go to learn more about Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure and your journal?
A.B.: Since I am not technically allowed to have my own website until I am thirteen, the best place to contact me or learn more about Aah! Blown Away, Crash! and the journal my sister and I created is my mom’s website. You can visit www.brigittebrulz.com under the Books and Journals tabs for more information. I also helped my mom create a teacher’s guide and other fun extras to go along with Aah! Blown Away, Crash!, which are available on her website under the Fun Extras tab.
Thank you, Alyssa, for showing others it is possible to be published even at such a young age!
Alyssa Brulz is a 12-year-old homeschooled student who knows the alphabet in English and in French. She used a computer program to create all of the illustrations for Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure, which is her first published picture book.
Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom, author, journal creator, and freelance writer. She offers free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more information on her website at www.brigittebrulz.com.
Thank you so much Alyssa and Brigitte! Your interview is sure to be an inspiration to kids everywhere who like to write and make art and who’d love to share their stories with the world.