Interview Alert: Robin Newman

Today, I’m excited to feature an interview with one of my long-time kid lit pals, author Robin Newman! As many of us do in the kid lit industry, I met Robin virtually, when she became one of Frog on a Blog’s very first followers, and she has remained one ever since. She’s watched this humble space change (through at least four WordPress themes) and grow over the years, and she’s been so kind to share my posts.

Robin’s fourth book NO PEACOCKS! was recently released. And it’s the perfect time to learn more about the book, about Robin, and about the beautiful peafowl who inspired her.

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Q. I know that you were once a practicing attorney. When did you decide that writing children’s picture books was what you really wanted to do? And what do you like best about writing children’s books?

R.N. I had gone from being a miserable Workers’ Compensation attorney to editing energy and environmental treatises and journals. Both jobs helped me realize that I enjoyed writing. Around the time when I was a legal editor, I started writing short stories. My twin sister worked at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and they sponsored one of the short story writing contests at Symphony Space. I entered and lost. Year after year. Rinse and repeat. But I was writing. After my son was born in 2006, my husband suggested I take a writing class—my first writing class. I signed up for a children’s fiction writing class and as soon as I walked in, I knew I had found my people.

I’ve always loved the creative aspects of writing. And a big part of that creativity, especially when you write for children, is trying to figure out how my writing will get young readers excited about reading and writing. (This includes my own son who is one tough customer to please.)

Q. You’ve based No Peacocks! on three real peacocks that live on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. How did these feathered celebrities inspire your story?

Peacock on truck

This is Harry or Jim or Jim or Harry. Harry is named for a former dean, The Very Reverend Harry H. Pritchett Jr. and Jim is named for the dean of The Cathedral, The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski.

R.N. From the moment I saw the peacocks, I knew I wanted to write about them. Every day at school drop off and pick up, I would watch them—as did my dogs, Madeleine and Cupcake, who were just as excited to see them as I was. (I wish I could say it was reciprocal for the peacocks, but they HATE dogs.)

Robins dogs

Peacocks are obviously beautiful, but they are also wonderfully quirky, stubborn, and mischievous. They are extremely protective of their food, not to mention, they’re omnivorous foodies.

White peacock

This is Phil. He’s named after Phillip Foote, the former head of The Cathedral School.

So, even though I knew I wanted to write about the peacocks, I still needed a story. One day while I was attending a meeting for the school’s book fair, one of the administrators interrupted the meeting to ask—“Did anyone leave a stroller on the porch with a sandwich? Because one of the peacocks just ate it.”—And at that glorious ah-ha moment, I knew I had my story.

Q. I’m really, really curious—are the real Phil, Jim, and Harry friendly, and can the kids who attend The Cathedral School interact with the birds?

R.N. The peacocks are extremely sociable. Either Jim or Harry loves to hang out on the school’s porch right in front of the door at pick up time making it impossible for the kids to get out unless he’s shooed away.

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The peacocks also enjoy hanging out with the kids in the schoolyard. I’ve seen them on top of the jungle gym. They also will investigate the piles of book bags in the hope of finding a snack or two. All that said, they do keep their distance from the kids. They’re definitely not pets.

Q. This is your second book illustrated by Chris Ewald, yet the books are by different publishers. How did this come about and were you able to collaborate with him on No Peacocks!?

R.N. Chris and I are both represented by the amazing Liza Fleissig at the Liza Royce Agency. When I was asked if I had any thoughts on an illustrator for No Peacocks!, I suggested Chris.

When Chris came up to New York for the Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep launch party, he met me one day at school pickup to see the birds and to get a feel for the grounds and the neighborhood. In terms of collaboration, I have made some suggestions to Chris but ultimately it’s up to Chris to decide whether he wants to use those suggestions or not.

Q. Tell us a bit about your writing life. Do you have a routine or a favorite place to write? Where do you usually find inspiration?

R.N. Everything revolves around my son’s schedule. As soon as he’s off to school, I head to my tiny office to write. Later in the day, when I hear the door open and slam shut, followed by the thud of a book bag hitting the floor, and my son’s version of “Hi Mom! I love you.” Translation: “Mom, I’m hungry. Where’s the ice cream?,” I know it’s time for me to put away my work.

Like most writers, I get inspired by books, newspaper articles, kids (especially my son!), teachers, librarians, school, cartoons, childhood memories, siblings, dogs, food, etc. In a nutshell, I get inspired by just about everything. Not until I sit down and write a draft and bring it to my critique groups, do I realize if those “ideas” are worth pursuing or not.

Q. What are your favorite childhood picture books?

R.N. Madeleine, Babar, and Pierre in The Nutshell library were some of my all-time favorite childhood books.

Q. Why do you believe picture books are important? 

R.N. Picture books (and in this category I also include board books) are a child’s entrée to reading. They help children learn about social relationships, develop language skills, understand their environment, and expose them to real and imaginary worlds that are far from their own reality. They help children better understand their feelings, conquer their fears, inspire creativity, encourage social responsibility, and hopefully help them on the path to becoming lifelong readers.

Q. Where can fans connect with you online?

R.N. Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com 
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share? What’s next for Robin Newman?

R.N. I am constantly writing and revising my journey as an author. I’ve been working on the third book in my Wilcox & Griswold mystery series, and on a number of picture books. Stay tuned.

Thank you, Robin! We will definitely be watching eagerly for your next book!


Robin Newman

About Robin Newman

Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs and peacocks. She is the author of the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery Series, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and The Case of the Poached Egg, as well the picture book, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled English Cocker Spaniels, who are extremely fond of Phil, Jim, and Harry.

Interview Alert: Henry Herz

34006335Did you know that September 19 was International Talk Like A Pirate Day? You didn’t? Well, I’ll bet today’s interviewee, multi-published author Henry Herz, knew. His latest picture book, Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew, published August 1, is overflowing with pirate pizzazz and dinosaur daring.

Let’s find out more about Henry Herz and Cap’n Rex, and a bit about his two sons, too, who’ve helped Henry create four indie-published children’s books!


 

 

We don’t often hear about authors working with their children. How did this collaboration begin?

Ten years ago, when my sons were five and seven years old, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with them. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would write a fantasy book for them.

What I did not anticipate was that my boys would give me feedback on the story. They devised some of the character (Nimpentoad) and creature (Neebel) names, and made plot line suggestions. And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids? We were sufficiently encouraged by feedback, that we decided to self-publish.

My sons also helped with the art direction. Our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette. My goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into encouraging them to participate in the creative process. In the end, it was a great experience for my sons, and I discovered that I loved to write children’s fiction.

Your latest picture book, Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew, is hot off the presses. Tell us a bit about the story.

The kernel of this story was the idea that if kids like pirates and they like dinosaurs, then kids would really like a story that combined both. Sort of a literary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. In fact, I was originally going to write about dinosaur SPACE pirates. However, my critique partners reeled me in, and said that was mashing up too many things. So, my big buccaneers set sail in a triceratops trireme, not a spaceship.

The original title was going to be DINOSAUR PIRATES. As the artwork was being finalized, I discovered that another book was coming out with that very title. So, at my suggestion, we changed the title to better reflect the story.

My favorite illustration shows the crew trudging across an island toward the buried treasure. The illustrator, Ben Schipper, did a great job conveying the personality of Cap’n Rex. He’s out in front, of course, as the leader. But he’s got this jaunty walk that just screams self-confidence or perhaps hubris. And we all know what happens to characters that get too full of themselves…

What do you like best about picture books?

From an author’s perspective, I love the challenge of telling a story, conveying a theme, and developing empathetic characters in 500 words. The whole “brevity is the soul of wit” thing. It really is a unique art form that is very little like writing a novel.

From a reader’s perspective, I love how the illustrations add depth and texture, taking the story to a higher level. What I find ironic, and most non-authors don’t realize, is that there is often very little collaboration between the author and illustrator of a picture book. You sell your manuscript to a publisher, and they take your baby and hand it over to a stranger. Authors must trust the illustrator and publisher to make the story even stronger.

What’s your favorite thing about writing and/or writing books for kids?

The fame and fortune! Seriously, I write fantasy and science fiction for kids because (a) it’s fun and challenging at the same time, and (b) I think those genres are particularly powerful ways to spark a child’s imagination and plant the seed for a lifelong love of reading. I still remember to this day escaping into the magical world of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in my elementary school library. And if I’m doing my job as a writer, the books will have a secondary appeal to the little kid inside all adult readers. I still love picture books, and so should you! Check out JOURNEY by Aaron Becker or THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen to see what I mean.

Any other books set to be published in the near future?

I have three picture books scheduled to be published next year:

HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS (Pelican Publishing) – Ever wonder why two of a squid’s ten arms are longer than the others? A selfish squid is cold, so he swipes other animals’ clothing. Will he learn it’s wrong to steal in the end? This modern fable demonstrates you reap what you sow.

GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE (Schiffer Publishing) – Not all the foods in the refrigerator get along like peas in a pod. Bad Apple and Second Banana are at the root of the problem. The vegetables are steamed. Good Egg suggests his friends try different responses to the bullies, but his tactics don’t bear fruit, at first. Only by using his noodle does Good Egg save their bacon.

ALICE’S MAGIC GARDEN (Familius) – Alice lives in the dreariest boarding school in England. She pours her love and attention into caring for her little garden and its denizens. Unknown to her, these include a large caterpillar, gryphon, and a talking white rabbit. When Alice is in trouble, the magical creatures come to her aid. Love, it turns out, is magical.

Where can fans connect with you online?

Fans can find me at any of the following. I especially recommend the website because it features interviews with successful authors and illustrators, as well as humorous and artistic posts.

Websitehttps://henryherz.wordpress.com/capn-rex-his-clever-crew/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/henry.herz/

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/HenryLHerz

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5329496.Henry_L_Herz

Thanks so much for stopping by, Henry! I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for your next books, especially GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE! It sounds perfectly peachy! 🙂


Henry HerzHenry Herz has an engineering Bachelors from Cornell, an engineering Masters from George Washington U., and a national security studies Masters from Georgetown, none of which helps him write fantasy and science fiction for children. He is represented by Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency. Henry is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). He participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon. Henry reviews children’s books for the San Francisco Book Review and the San Diego Book Review.

Interview Alert: Me

I have interviewed many authors and illustrators over the past eight years for my Interview Alert feature here on Frog on a Blog. Most recently, I posed questions to author and artist Abraham Schroeder, who didn’t disappoint with his candid and detailed responses.

Today, Abraham has turned the tables on me, becoming the interviewer, and I, the interviewee. But instead of appearing on his site, the interview is right here. I have to admit, I’m a bit more comfortable asking the questions than answering them, but I had fun. Have a look! Perhaps you’ll learn a little something new about me. Take it away, Abraham!

AS) You have interviewed almost 30 authors and illustrators for your blog over the years, and it is inspiring to read so much about their different backgrounds and journeys. You also recently interviewed me, thank you, and I thought it would be fun if you were interviewed for your blog too. Then I realized this is my first time interviewing anyone, so for ideas I did some careful combing through your interviews, ones you conducted, and other people interviewing you.

 

AS) What have you learned from interviewing so many people? Have you been surprised by anything in particular?

LF) I’ve learned that children’s book authors and illustrators, besides being incredibly talented, are also some of the nicest people you could meet, so generous with their time and always willing to share their knowledge with those aspiring to be where they are, that is, published. I’ve also learned that those who write or illustrate for children are, each one of us, on our own path. So we should do ourselves a favor and not compare our journeys to other’s.

AS) You have talked about how, as a librarian, you see a lot of new books. Do you have input on what kinds of books are acquired by your library?

LF) I should clarify that I am not a librarian, rather a library assistant. More specifically, I’m a processing assistant, which means I catalog all of the new materials my library acquires. So just about every new book, DVD, music CD, and etc. that the library receives, goes past me before going out to the public. The best part of my job is being one of the first people to read the brand-new picture books. I don’t have a lot of input on what books the library acquires, but I do make occasional requests. (The images below show part of my cataloging process at the library, including a cart of new books waiting to be cataloged, my computer screen, and my own book’s back cover and spine when I cataloged it in 2015.)

AS) Going to the library with small kids in tow, I often find myself with limited time to flip through the stacks, and sometimes I’m literally grabbing randomly. “Here’s a handful, let’s go!” Sometimes we find amazing books that way, some of our favorites, and sometimes we get a bag full of duds. How do you help people who visit the library find great books?

LF) I’m happy to recommend books I’ve read and enjoyed, but usually I refer patrons to the children’s librarian. Librarians really know their stuff and are more than willing to help.

AS) Do you see any trends in what kinds of books are popular these days? What are your thoughts about what you see being published, or at least what crosses your desk?

LF) In picture books, though I wouldn’t call it a trend exactly, based on my observations, the most popular amongst my library’s young patrons are the superhero, Star Wars, television series, and Disney tie-ins. It’s the sad truth, but at least they’re reading!

As far as trends in what’s being published, I’m pleased to report that picture books are all over the place in terms of word count, illustration style, and type of story (humorous, lyrical, thought-provoking, whimsical, concept, rhyme, prose, interactive, nonfiction, etc.). Any writers out there reading this, don’t write to perceived trends. Just write your best stories.

AS) Why do you think picture books are important? Why do you spend so much time working with, reading, writing, and sharing them?

LF) I love that picture books are both mirrors, for kids to see themselves in, and windows, for kids to learn about the world and to develop empathy for others. But even before I gave much thought to that spot-on analogy, I was a fan. Where else can you find a story and page after page of incredible art packaged up so perfectly and ready to transport readers or listeners of all ages to amazing places?

I also believe that literacy is an important milestone to success in life. If children are introduced to books and reading early on and throughout their growing-up years, they will become strong readers. The best way to start is by reading picture books. I encourage all of you to read picture books with the kids in your lives often.

AS) You’ve said in other interviews that you have dozens of stories written and many more ideas. What is your process for turning those ideas into finished stories?

LF) I wish I could say I had a process. Usually, my ideas sit for weeks before my mind generates enough substance to start formulating an actual story. The ideas that “speak” the loudest are the ones most likely to become finished stories. I have tons of ideas; many will never be stories because after that first spark, they never speak again. On the flipside, I sometimes get ideas that come to me as fully formed stories, ready to be written down. Sadly, that doesn’t happen too often.

AS) Do you work on one story at a time or several at once?

LF) I definitely work on several at once. If I’m stuck on one, I work on another. I have many in various stages of development.

AS) Do you think about vocabulary and age range when you write?

LF) I’ve read so many picture books that I think those things are ingrained in me at this point. I just concentrate on writing the best story I can.

AS) In one interview, kids asked if you were rich and famous now that you have a book out. I’m sure many adults also assume you’ve hit the big time now. When you’re not too busy counting your money and going on shopping sprees, how do you spread the word about your books? What sort of personal outreach and publicity do you do?

LF) I can’t answer this question right now because I’m off to do some shopping in Paris. Okay, I’m back. Seriously though, I don’t talk about this much, but I’m struggling with a chronic illness that makes it difficult for me to do as much promotion as I would like, outside of social media and local book signings. I experience severe fatigue on a daily basis and have trouble with walking and balance. With some possible new treatments coming up, I hope to feel better in the near future.

Some ways that I have promoted my book include, sending copies to reviewers, interviews, local book signings, donating copies to literacy organizations, features in local newspapers, blogging, tweeting, etc.

Java and MeAS) When you’re not living, breathing, and thinking picture books, what do you like to do?

LF) Spending time with my dog is at the top of the list. I like teaching him new tricks. Also, my husband and I watch a lot of movies together, all kinds. I enjoy Japanese anime too.

AS) Is there anything else you’d like to share?

LF) I just want to say thank you to fans of my picture book The Peddler’s Bed, followers of Frog on a Blog, and all of my supportive family and friends. I appreciate you all!

And thank you, Abraham, for the interview! You’re a pro at this now! (Those were some tough questions.) 😊

Kids Ask The Best Questions!

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I love answering questions asked by kids about my book! Recently, I was interviewed by several enthusiastic second graders from Redwood Elementary School in Fort Bragg, California. The interview has been posted to Jeanette Stickel’s blog SpeakWell, ReadWell. Jeanette is a licensed speech-language pathologist who works closely with these students. SpeakWell, ReadWell is a speech therapy and kid-lit blog that explores language, literacy, and literature, and I’m honored to be featured there. Thank you, Jeanette and kids! 🙂

To read the interview, click HERE.

If you are a teacher, librarian, or parent, and have kids who’d like to ask me questions about my book, The Peddler’s Bed, or about being an author, please contact me by clicking HERE. I’m more than happy to answer!

Interview Alert: MaryAnn Sundby

 

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Please help me welcome author MaryAnn Sundby to Frog on a Blog! She’s the newest member of the Ripple Grove Press family. Her debut picture book Monday Is Wash Day, which was illustrated by Tessa Blackham, is available now. Let’s get to know MaryAnn a little bit. Read on!

maryann-sundbyMaryAnn, what inspired you to write your debut picture book Monday Is Wash Day? Do you have a personal connection to the message of the story?

People often say “write about what you know”. Monday is Wash Day is based on my experience growing up on a farm where I helped do the wash. I wanted children of today to understand that in years gone by, children helped do family chores. It was a wonderful part of family life.

How did you hear about Ripple Grove Press and why did you decide to submit to them?

The 2013 summer bulletin of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (a writer’s group I have joined) mentioned that Ripple Grove Press was accepting submissions for children’s picture books. I immediately mailed in Monday Is Wash Day for consideration. I was excited, knowing my manuscript would be read, as publishers often don’t have open submissions.

What’s your favorite illustration in Monday is Wash Day?

Tessa Blackham’s illustrations are fun and detailed. I especially like the pages of the children carrying the buckets of water to the porch; the family dog is helping!

Have you always wanted to be an author?

During the last several years, I pursued writing as an alternative to watching TV, which is too passive for me. Writing has been a positive avenue to learn about people and our world and to share ideas and memories.

What do you believe makes picture books special?

Picture books are special when carefully chosen words are braided into a captivating story enhanced with illustrations. With the wonderful mix of good words, a good story and good illustrations, a child’s understanding of the world grows. Consider the stories of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan. Children are drawn to these classics, especially with compelling illustrations to highlight the drama.

Besides writing, what are some of your favorite things to do? Do you have favorite places you like to visit?

I enjoy being with family and friends. I enjoy traveling and learning about history all around me. I enjoy good food. I live near the mountains in Colorado where I see beautiful sunrises and sunsets nearly every day.

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Are you working on more books?

Yes! I am writing about Maria, who leaves the family’s failing homestead to work in a boarding house kitchen. She doesn’t know what the future holds but she is content knowing she’s helping those she loves.

Where can fans connect with you online?

I welcome email messages from readers. They can reach me at: msundby@q.com

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes. Reading good books is part of a good life!

So true, MaryAnn! Thank you so much for joining us on Frog on a Blog. May you experience much success with Monday Is Wash Day!

Splashing In The Reading Tub

reading-tubI’m extremely pleased to share that I’ve been interviewed by Terry Doherty at The Reading Tub. The Reading Tub is a volunteer-run, non-profit literacy organization. 

“The Reading Tub collects and distributes books to at-risk readers, whether it is a child with no books at home or a teacher building a classroom library for her struggling students.”

Please click HERE to read my Author Showcase interview. And to read a special bonus interview that’s been posted to The Reading Tub’s Family Bookshelf blog, click HERE. I had such fun doing both interviews! I hope you enjoy them! 🙂 

Interview Alert: Megan Maynor

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Megan Maynor

One of my favorite picture books of 2016 thus far is Ella and Penguin Stick Together by Megan Maynor and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet. The cover alone is striking. It made me excited about reading the book.

Have you ever been attracted to a cover, eager to discover what’s inside, only to be disappointed by a lackluster story and illustrations that don’t live up to the cover’s awesomeness? That’s not the case with Ella and Penguin Stick Together!

This book has endearing characters, an engaging story, beautiful illustrations, and tons of sweetness and fun. Well done Megan, Rosalinde, and Harper Publishing!

I’m pleased to welcome Megan Maynor today in the Interview Alert spotlight!


Interview Alert: Megan Maynor


1. I love, love, love your debut picture book Ella and Penguin Stick Together! When did you decide that writing children’s picture books was what you wanted to do?

Thank you! It’s funny, a friend of mine recently reminded me that I talked about writing a children’s book in high school, so I guess it’s been in the back of my mind for a long time. But I began writing picture books in earnest, with the aim of selling a book for publication, when my children were small and I was transitioning from full-time ad agency work to freelance copywriting and being at home with the kids.

Or, measured another way, I started writing about ten years before I sold my first book.

2. Both Ella and Penguin are sweet characters, but Penguin is also very silly. Is he modeled after anyone in particular?

The idea for Penguin came from goofing around with my kids when they were little. Like when I’d offer to help them put on their shoes, then put the shoe on my head. Or say, “We need some milk. Better go to the library!” Or, “Have fun in the pool. Don’t get wet!”

You know, real high brow stuff.

But those things are funny to kids. It’s funny to see an adult be wrong. And it’s fun for them to be the expert. I started thinking about how to employ that in a story—where someone is mixed-up and the child character, as well as the child reader, gets to be the expert. And that led me to Penguin who is kind, and a good friend, but also confused about some things. As we would say in our house, “He’s still learning.”

3. Glow-in-the-dark stickers are so fun! How did you come up with the idea to write a story that included stickers?

I got a handle on these characters pretty quickly, but it took me ages (read: MANY drafts) to figure out what they should be DOING in the story. What was the plot? I’m not sure what made stickers pop into my mind, though I did have a pretty serious sticker collection as a child and stuck glow-in-the-dark stickers on my bedroom ceiling—where they remain to this day. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.) But glow-in-the-dark stickers presented a great story problem for Ella and Penguin. They want to see the stickers glow—but they don’t want to go into the dark.

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4. The illustrations are a perfect complement to your story. The cover alone is striking! When you saw Rosalinde Bonnet’s interpretation of your words for the first time, what did you think?

Thank you! I also ADORE Rosalinde’s work. To be honest, the first time I saw her sketches, I was completely delighted. I love how Rosalinde captures the emotion and character of both Ella and Penguin so well. And she brought so many things to the page which I couldn’t have anticipated. In Ella’s bedroom, for instance, there are such wonderful details—including these fantastic toys and stuffed animals. I’ve told Rosalinde that she should start a business on the side so these toys can exist in the real world. (She’s kind of busy making more beautiful picture books, so I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath on that one.)

5. I’m excited to hear that there’s a sequel on the way! Can you tell us a bit about it?

Sure! In the next book, ELLA AND PENGUIN: A PERFECT MATCH, Ella and Penguin decide that they should match, because they are friends, and friends match! So they do everything the same—wear the same outfit, eat the same snack, and so on, but only one half of the pair is actually enjoying everything. Then Penguin starts to worry. If they don’t really match, can they still be friends?

Again, in this book, Rosalinde really brings out the emotions and captures the highs and lows of this friendship.

It comes out January 2017!

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6. Why do you feel picture books are important?

Gosh. We could talk about this for a couple hours, but here’s one answer: In a picture book, a child is learning about the world with an adult who matters to them—through a beautiful work of art created just for them.

Because picture books are read aloud, they’re a shared experience. So there is room to laugh together (some of my favorite books!), to anticipate and be surprised together, and room for the child to wonder aloud, and the adult to expand on what’s presented in the book.

And then read it again!

7. Do you have any favorite picture book authors or illustrators? Favorite picture books?

Another question that’s hard to answer, but I’ll give it a go. Here are some picture books I am always happy to pull from the shelf—I could never read these too many times:

Blueberries for Sal, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Extra Yarn, Rattletrap Car, Library Lion, Big Red Lollipop, Once Upon an Alphabet, George and Martha, The Best Pet of All, Moo!, Cowboy and Octopus, Punk Skunks, Big Momma Makes the World, I Want My Hat Back, Officer Buckle and Gloria, Owl Babies, Kitten’s First Full Moon, Wolfie the Bunny… I’ll stop there for today.

There are so many fabulous new books every season—it’s really another golden age for picture books. Here are a couple of places I go to keep up:

allthewonders.com
kidlit411.com
nerdybookclub.wordpress.com

8. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your books?

Website: meganmaynor.com
Twitter: @megan_maynor
Instagram: megan_maynor

Thank you, Megan! It was so great getting to know more about you! 🙂

 

 

 

My First Picture Book: A Q&A With Karlin Gray

ThePeddlersBed_cover

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of answering some questions about my debut book experience for Karlin Gray, author of Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, which was published June 7, 2016 by HMH. Karlin says, “Since I am new to the picture-book world, I wanted to learn from other writers. What inspired their stories? How did they go about crafting their first book? What did they do when they finally received that offer?” Those are just a few of the fun questions Karlin asks on her blog.

Click Here to read my responses to Karlin’s questions.

Look for my review of Karlin’s debut book, Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, this fall.

Interview Alert: Wendy BooydeGraaff

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I’m excited to welcome fellow Ripple Grove Press author Wendy BooydeGraaff to Frog on a Blog! Wendy’s debut picture book Salad Pie, which is illustrated by Bryan Langdo, officially releases March 1, but is available for pre-order now! I’ve ordered mine and cannot wait to read it! 

I have a special affinity for Ripple Grove Press authors and illustrators and plan to make interviews with these talented people a regular feature here on The Frog. Please enjoy learning more about Wendy BooydeGraaff!

Interview Alert: Wendy BooydeGraaff

 
1. What inspired you to write your debut picture book Salad Pie?
Salad Pie was inspired by my oldest daughter, playing at the park. That’s where she said those words, “salad” and “pie” together, and I thought they sounded so unique and creative that I repeated them over and over on our walk home so I wouldn’t forget. Then she went for a nap and I started scribbling out a story. She gave me the title and the setting (thank you M!); I supplied the storyline.

2. How did you hear about Ripple Grove Press and why did you decide to submit to them?
Way in the back of SCBWI’s The Bulletin, there was a note in the publisher’s corner about Ripple Grove Press. They were about to launch their first list, so there wasn’t a lot of information about them. I like to do a lot of research before I submit, but I took a deep breath and risked it. After all, they were SCBWI members. I liked their mission statement at the time, which was something about creating the new classic picture books. Now their statement is to create books that are “fun, imaginative, and timeless”—perfect.

 
3. How long had you been writing with the intent to get published before you received your first contract?
I’ve been writing since I finished college, always with the hope to be published someday.

Box of Salad Pie

Box of Salad Pie

4. What’s the first thing you did after you received your box of author copies?
When the box of Salad Pie copies arrived on my doorstep, I waited for about an hour until my kids got home from school and we opened it together. Then we sat on the floor and everyone read a copy. I might’ve had some champagne. I left the books in a high traffic area where I could give them a little pat every time I passed by, and finally, I stacked them on a bookshelf where I can see the pile shrink as I host giveaways and send out review copies.

stack o' Salad Pie

Stack o’ Salad Pie

5. What do you like best about the picture book genre?
Picture books are often read aloud, so there’s this wonderful interaction between reader and audience. The format itself is a sort of conversation: the words inform the illustrations and then the illustrations inform the words in this nice, complicated circle of meaning so that once it’s done, a picture book can’t be separated into words vs. pictures anymore. A picture book IS its words and pictures, together. I love that.

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Wendy’s signed Newbery

6. What’s your favorite picture book from childhood? What’s your favorite recent picture book?As a kid, I loved Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now by Dr. Seuss and The Nose Book by Al Perkins and illustrated by Roy McKie. I loved Marvin’s stubbornness, but I couldn’t understand why he chose to walk when all of those great modes of transportation were available. And I spent a long time supposing I had no nose, like The Nose Book suggests.

My favorite picture books now are The Dark by Lemony Snickett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, A Nation’s Hope by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and of course Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, which won the Newbery and a Caldecott Honor this year. Can I list more? Because I also love Pool by JiHyeon Lee, The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi, Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Matt Davies, and Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Ooh, I almost forgot Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt. All of them have stellar illustrations and the perfect words (except Pool, which is wordless, but it’s perfectly wordless).

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The Nose Book

7. Where can fans connect with you online?
Visit me at wendybooydegraaff.com where I have a contact form or you can ask a question that I’ll answer on the site. You can also find me on Pinterest and Goodreads (There’s a giveaway running until February 16).

Maggie and Herbert on Monroe Center (GR, Mich)

Maggie and Herbert on Monroe Center

8. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Frog on a Blog readers?
• There are lots of great new authors and illustrators debuting in 2016. Find out about all of us at On the Scene in 2016, a picture book debut blog.
• Ripple Grove Press makes beautiful books. Check out their catalog here.
Thank you, Lauri. You’re a great host!
~Wendy

Thank you, Wendy, for joining us on Frog on a Blog! It was so great getting to know you better! We wish you much success with Salad Pie! 🙂

Interview Alert: Deirdre Gill

Author/Illustrator Deirdre Gill

I am excited to welcome author/illustrator Deirdre Gill to Frog on a Blog. Her beautiful debut picture book Outside is one of those magical, wintertime books I adore so much. The story is about a small boy whose imagination soars when he goes to play outside in the snow. The text is sparse, but the pacing in perfect and the oil paint illustrations are stunning. After coming across Outside at my local library, I knew I would soon own my own copy. And I knew I wanted to learn more about its creator, Deirdre Gill. Please enjoy the interview!

Q. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in children’s books.

DG. I majored in illustration in college and knew that I wanted to illustrate books for children when I graduated. I started off doing illustrations for children’s magazines and textbooks. I also worked at Books of Wonder in New York City right out of college. Many of my co-workers were people who were very passionate about children’s books and also went on to be authors and illustrators, including my husband, Jason Chin.

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Q. I am so captivated by your picture book Outside. Please tell us a bit about your process, both writing and illustrating, when you created Outside.

DG. From initial idea to publication, Outside was five years in the making. I was actively working on the book for about 2.5 of those years. It started with first a written draft, that very sparse text. Then I created the images and put together the first dummy.  When I was offered a contract for the book, I set about revising the story and of course the pictures as well. The story evolved quite a bit, and went through some 30 or so drafts. (I stopped counting after 27.) I estimate that I drew well over 5,000 sketches while working out the story and pictures. Once my editor and I were settled on the story and sketches, I drew more detailed and full-size finished sketches. I then transferred these sketches to my painting paper. I then begin to paint and cross my fingers that it comes out okay! I work in water-mixable oils. 

Character Sketches from Outside

Character Sketches from Outside

Q. Your vivid imagination really shines through in your artwork. How would you describe your artistic style?

DG. I would say that I aim to create images that are representational, but I try to never be a slave to reference photos. I search for a ton of images to inspire me then I mostly draw from my own imagination. I love color and try to imbue my paintings with both vibrant colors as well as more subtle tones. I am heavily inspired by illustrators who achieve a sort of dreamy “sfumato” look in their art. Peter McCarty, Chris Sheban, Renata Liwska and Quint Buchholz are among a few of my favorites. Although I don’t come close to achieving that in my oil paintings, I always aim to create a similar mysterious and dreamy sort of feeling.

Q. I love picture books that are set in winter; there’s just something magical about them. How did you decide to set Outside in winter rather than another season?

DG. My initial idea for Outside was not exactly a story, but rather a vague series of images I had in my mind of a child going outside to play in the snow, and becoming totally engrossed in the magic of playing outside. This idea was inspired by my own love of being outdoors, especially on a perfect, snowy winter’s day, and how wonderful it is to sink deeper and deeper into one’s own imagination. There is a kind of magic that comes over us when we are outside in the snow. We become our best, happiest selves. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in a place where there is snow know what it feels like to wake up and look out the window to see a pristine blanket of freshly fallen snow covering the ground. And to feel that sense of anticipation that coaxes us from our warm cozy homes outside into the cold. We feel the deep, fluffy snow crunch under our boots and know that our adventure has begun. Our heads clear, our senses sharpen, we become more open to all the beauty and wonder that is around us. Being outside in the snow sparks our creativity; suddenly we have a million ideas of what to make, and our ideas multiply as we go, each new idea more awesome than the one before. Our resilience strengthened, we trudge on through the cold with frozen toes and wet mittens because we are aware of the temporary nature of that just right, snowball-making snow and we know this moment, right now, is our chance to create the perfect snowman or snow castle. We are cooperative with our fellow snow explorers because there is so much snow to move and sculpt and we must work together to make our visions come to life. And when our efforts fail, for we are building with the imperfect medium of snow, after all, we find another way or allow new ideas to spring to life. I think that this magic can happen in any season, but there is just something to special about how the world seems transformed when it snows.

Spread from Outside

Spread from Outside

Q. What projects are you currently working on?

DG. Currently I am illustrating a rhyming picture book about trains. It’s a lovely text, written by Andria Rosenbaum. I am very excited about it, as the mother to one four-year old train fanatic and another blossoming 1-year old train enthusiast.

Q. Why do you think picture books are important?

DG. Oh, let me count the ways! Picture books are so important because they are a child’s first introduction to stories. And stories are our greatest tool in processing the world around us. Not only do they teach children a healthy vocabulary, they also help them make important associations, give them words to go with their emotions, and introduce them to the world outside of their own home. Just as important as the words and pictures in a story, are all the words and pictures that are necessarily left out of a 32-page book. Unlike a movie that does all the work for you of showing every action scene by scene, the picture book makes the brain do a lot of the work in filling in the missing pieces. I also love that a book allows readers to go at their own pace, and will often reward readers who return over and over to their favorite books with little details that they might have missed during the first read. And, of course, there is nothing better than curling up on the couch with someone who loves you and sharing a book. 

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?

DG. They can go to my website: www.deirdregill.com, visit me on Facebook at Deirdre Gill Studio, or follow me on Twitter @deirdrekgill.

Q. Any closing thoughts?

DG. Thanks so much for allowing me to share Outside with you and your readers!

Suzanne Bloom Is A Foolish Optimist

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne's Newest Book

Suzanne’s Newest Book

Welcome author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom for the final post of our four-part series. If you are a new or aspiring children’s picture book author (or illustrator), I hope you have found some inspiration and encouragement in the last three posts, and I hope that continues today. This week I ask Suzanne about quiet stories, writer’s block, and how to keep from getting discouraged.

I discovered I have something in common with Suzanne, besides our love for picture books. We have both been told by editors that our work is quiet. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant the first time I heard it. Is that good? Bad? What? Since the editor who told me that my story was quiet didn’t seem interested in acquiring it, I surmised that quiet must be bad. And if that’s the case, then my story must be bad, and my writing style must be bad, and maybe I’m not cut out to be a picture book writer. See how easily that self-doubt creeps in?      

What I have learned since then is that quiet doesn’t equal bad. It is a certain style of writing, and a lot of my work is written in that style, but it’s not bad, it’s just harder to sell to today’s publishers, who seem to want quirky, funny, quick-paced, action-packed stories. That being said, quiet books are still being published, just not as much. And if you truly want to, you can rework your story into something a little less quiet.

Suzanne, what does an editor mean when he/she says a story is quiet? And how do you feel about quiet stories?

Is it quiet because nothing happens? Do your characters have a problem to solve? Is there a beginning, middle and ending? Have you left space for the reader to make discoveries? What distinguishes your story from the mile-high pile of other manuscripts?

A formidable editor said, in a tone I couldn’t pin down, “You write quiet stories.” Was she kindly dismissing me? Maybe. But, being the foolish optimist, I chose to interpret it as a definition. Yes, indeed! I write quiet stories. My stories are about the little bumps on the road of friendship. They are about friends working things out. They hold moments of emotional truth for the listener and the reader. Think about The Quiet Book (by Deborah Underwood). Deborah Underwood’s “list” text coupled with Renata Liwska’s illustrations is absolutely delicious. It’s sly and tender and true. As visual learners, children look at books more carefully than adults do. This is a boon for illustrators who can amp up the level of detail suggested by the text.

Thank goodness for editors. We need them as surely as they need us. A manuscript needs a champion to shepherd it though the gauntlet of financial decisions, list requirements and the multitude of other manuscripts.

Yay, there is a place for quiet picture books in the world! Now, for those of you who get writer’s block, you’re not alone. We will all be afflicted with it from time to time. And we all deal with it in our own ways. Personally, I tend to wait it out for a while. I will often read and reread everything I have written for that story up to that point over and over again until I get unstuck. If that doesn’t work, then I’m usually done for the day. Let’s see what Suzanne recommends.

Suzanne, how do you combat writer’s (or illustrator’s) block? 

Is it inertia or page fright? No matter. Cook something, clean something, completely reorganize your kitchen cupboards, wax the car, weed the garden, walk the dog, conduct a search for the best carrot cake in a four state area, read every writer’s blog you can find, think about starting a blog, open the fridge 8 or 9 times to see if anyone made you something yummy.
Fill your days with Productive Procrastination Projects until you can no longer stand the avoidance, and think maybe that little opus on your desk or PC looks like a better option. Write around the block – scribble, doodle, sketch until that shaky, snaky line looks like an idea.
Alas, that idea may have a mind of its own. More than once the story I started gets elbowed aside by one that’s more insistent or fully formed. In the schoolyard that is my brain, my stories do not stand in a straight line. Oh no, they jostle and shove and argue over who is the line leader, except for that pouty one in the back who refuses to say a word.

Great advice, Suzanne! Now, how do you keep from getting discouraged in the highly competitive world of children’s picture book publishing?

On this emotional and professional roller coaster, there’s a nasty twist called the Spiral of Second Guessing followed by the Plummet of Self Worth. It seems to last forever but is over pretty quickly. Ride it out.
At the beginning of every project and sometimes again in the middle it becomes clear that I’ve forgotten how to draw and write. This story stinks and why would anyone ever read it? And it doesn’t even matter because who cares, anyway!
We are so hard on ourselves.
When I get discouraged, I call someone who loves my work and is not a family member. I call a treasured writer friend. We commiserate and whinge a little but then as good friends do, we remind each other of our successes, dedication, and how we are so much more suited to this than being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or any other of many, many options.

If you are a writer, illustrator, or both, thank you for working to put something beautiful into the hands of children.

Thank you, Suzanne, that last line sums it up perfectly. That’s really what it all comes down to, if writing children’s picture books is in your blood, if it’s a part of you that you can’t imagine being without, and you long to put something beautiful into the hands of children (and there’s nothing more beautiful than a picture book), then don’t give up, don’t quit, don’t get discouraged, your dream can come true. You can be published. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep improving, and keep the faith. Believe me, I know! 

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com.

 

{Suzanne's First Drawing, Age 3} I confess.  It’s true.  Before I wrote, I drew! An artist at three, marking the page  – my dad and I were circles with little circle eyes. We looked like a jellyfish family.

{Suzanne’s First Drawing, Age 3} I confess. It’s true. Before I wrote, I drew!
An artist at three, marking the page –
my dad and I were circles with little circle eyes.
We looked like a jellyfish family.

We all are artists, first. Little by little other activities catch our interest and we move on. But not always. I found more success drawing and painting than adding and multiplying, or dancing or playing sports. According to report cards from elementary school, I was a pleasure to have in class, though not working up to potential. Indeed, who among us works up to potential? I remember learning to read. Sprawled out on the ugly rug in the living room, looking at the funny papers spread before me, I watched in amazement as the squiggly lines shaped up into a word. The word was “Scamp”, son of Lady and the Tramp. And with that, the funny papers became my magic carpet. My gateway books were Goldens. So Big!, Animal Babies, and Mr. Dog still sit and stay on my book shelf to remind me that my collection began even before I was reading on my own.

Interview Alert: Harriet Muncaster

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I recently interviewed author/illustrator Harriet Muncaster to learn more about her debut picture book I Am A Witch’s Cat, which was published this summer, but is perfect for Halloween. Her book contains fascinating scenes filled with incredibly detailed miniatures. I was an instant fan from page one. And the story is clever and sweet. It’s about a child who claims her mother is a witch (a good witch) and she is a witch’s cat, and she goes on to show the reader all the reasons why she knows her mother is a witch. But more than that, the story is about a special relationship between a child and a parent. Please read the interview and get to know rising star Harriet Muncaster.

Q. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in children’s books.

HM. Hi Lauri, I am so glad you like my book and thank you for having me on your blog! I have always loved making, drawing, reading and writing so I always knew I wanted to do something visually creative. However it wasn’t until we went on a school trip to an exhibition of James Mayhew’s work that I realized I could channel my creativity into children’s books. The thought had never actually occurred to me before and I had never been told that it was possible to do an illustration course at university as opposed to just a general art course. I think I was about 16 or 17 at the time. I absolutely loved James Mayhew’s work at the exhibition and it opened my eyes to the possibility of becoming a children’s book illustrator myself. I did a foundation course in art and design after school and that made me more certain that illustration was the right path for me to take. After that I did a degree in illustration and then an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge. We were given some good exposure on my MA course – our work got taken out to Bologna Book Fair and that is where my Witch’s Cat book was spotted! In fact, it was a project I did on that course.

Q. You have a unique artistic style, which is evident in your picture book I Am A Witch’s Cat (which is gorgeous, by the way). How would you describe your style?

HM. Thank you! I am not really sure how I would describe my style to be honest. I kind of feel like I fell into it without meaning to. I was on my MA course and thought I would try out a book by making work in 3D out of paper and photographing it. I had done something similar before on my degree course where I made a paper model of a Snow Queen’s room. It was just the room though, I hadn’t taken it as far as putting characters in at that point. I guess that was my first ever foray into 3D illustration! So I thought I would try a similar technique to illustrate a book on my MA course. It went down quite well, I actually got highly commended for it in the Macmillan prize so my tutor suggested I do my next project in the same way. That project turned out to be Witch’s Cat, and it went from there. I enjoyed doing it because I absolutely LOVE making tiny things and I enjoy playing with lighting to get different atmospheres. (I actually think I prefer making physical things to drawing, it feels more natural to me.) I wanted it to be a warm book with an autumnal feel but also a bit magical. I watched a lot of the old Bewitched episodes while I was creating it.
So overall, to answer the question, if I were to describe my style in Witch’s Cat it would be: paper and fabric room sets with cut out characters, photographed with (hopefully!) warm lighting to give an autumnal feel. 

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your process from beginning to end when you created I Am A Witch’s Cat?

HM. Well, I think I went about it in a pretty ordered fashion. Even though I am a messy person in real life, when it comes to work I find I have to be very ordered and focused. Firstly I thought of the story. Then I thumbnailed the whole book, did a dummy book and then started making the final art! To make the final art I made miniature scenes- about dollhouse sort of size, out of paper and card and bits of fabric and then photographed them.

 

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These are some of the very first sketches of Witch’s Cat from my sketchbook.


These are all the food boxes and tins for the supermarket scene.

The first finished version of Witch’s Cat (the one I created on my MA course) had more of a scrapbook feel to it but that got changed for publication.

Q. Photography plays a large part in your artwork. Would you consider yourself a photographer too?

HM. I’m not sure actually… I suppose I am in a way! I don’t feel as though I am worthy of the title ‘professional photographer’ though as I don’t feel I know enough of the technical stuff. Also I don’t own all the equipment!

Q. Do you personally create all of the miniatures you use in your artwork? (I especially love the tiny books I saw on your website!)

HM. I try to make as many of the miniatures as I can out of card, but I think sometimes it adds interest to put an actual miniature in there like a real dollhouse lamp or something. Sometimes, if I want to make something look properly 3D I will make it out of Fimo. Or sew it! Like these little soft toy cats in Witch’s Cat.

Q. I Am A Witch’s Cat is a perfect pick for Halloween. Was that your intention when you created it? 

HM. No, I didn’t specifically think of Halloween funnily enough! But I was intending it to have an autumnal feel. I can see now though that it works well as a Halloween book!

Q. And how popular is Halloween in your part of the world?

HM. Halloween was never a big thing at all for me growing up. We weren’t even allowed to go trick or treating in my family! Halloween was a bit of a non-event in my house. It wasn’t until I went to university that I discovered that some people do like to celebrate Halloween. I’ve been to a few Halloween parties since. It’s definitely not as big a deal in the UK as it is in America though – Nowhere near!

Q. What projects are you working on right now?

HM. I have been working on a range of books about a princess called ‘Glitterbelle’ with Parragon publishing. I think they are coming out in January – or sometime round then anyway! I have just illustrated them, not written them and some of them are activity books. They are all done in my 3D style. I have also been working on a second Witch’s Cat book called Happy Halloween Witch’s Cat which will come out next July. And then there are some other picture books I have been working on too but I can’t say much about those yet!

Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?

HM. I cannot imagine a world without picture books! Well, I can, but it would be a very boring world. I absolutely adore them because they are like little worlds you can just escape into. My absolutely favourite picture books are the Dorrie books by Patricia Coombs. I love the atmospheres they evoke. Of course there are other reasons why picture books are so important – like the use of them for teaching to read, introducing children to ideas, addressing important issues in a way children can relate to, provoking exploration and questions, bonding over bedtime reading etc… but that is my reason for loving them, the escapism and inspiration they provide. Also, writing and illustrating picture books is like being the director of a mini play/film. You have complete control to create a whole new world.

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work or to simply connect with you?

HM. I have a blog: www.victoriastitch.blogspot.com

Q. Any closing thoughts or words of wisdom?

HM. I don’t think I actually have any words of wisdom! I have just always done what I love and luckily it has led me to being able to do it as my full-time job. Maybe I would say: listen to criticism, use it to help you become a better illustrator/writer/artist/(insert word here) but ultimately do what inspires you and what you believe in. Don’t let anyone change that. 

Oh my goodness, I love the tiny orange and yellow quilt on the bed, and the tiny food boxes, and the tiny plush kitties! Thanks for sharing, Harriet, and much success with all of your books!

Suzanne Bloom Loves Fab Goo Taffy

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne's Newest Book

Suzanne’s Newest Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please welcome back author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom for week three of what will be a four-part series designed to encourage new and aspiring picture book authors as they navigate the perilous path to publication. 

Today’s topic is Rejection, with a capital “R”. If you’ve already been sending out submissions and have received rejection letters (or e-mails) back, it’s a major letdown. I’ve been there. I’m still there. But as cold as the rejection feels, you must try try try not to take it personally. I know you poured your heart and soul into your story. But always keep in mind that publishing is a business and publishers are companies. And just like any company, publishers must make money in order to stay in business. Since publishing companies receive hundreds of submissions each month and thousands per year, and they cannot publish them all, they are very selective and choose what they believe has the potential to make money. That doesn’t mean your story wasn’t good. It just means that it wasn’t right for that publisher. Even veteran authors still get rejections.

Several years ago, when I was feeling particularly bummed over yet another rejection, I asked an anonymous editor if editors realized they hold authors’ dreams in their hands. I don’t remember what the response was, but I have since come to realize that it is not the responsibility of editors or agents to make my dreams come true. So don’t get mad, get motivated. And above all, don’t give up. If you’ve made your story the absolute best it can be, send it out again. I wonder what Suzanne does when she receives a rejection letter? Let’s ask. 

Suzanne, how do you handle a rejection letter? How about 5, 15, or 25?

It’s really hard to believe that 15 someones don’t love your story as much as you do, isn’t it? Is it time to put that story away for a while or forever? Let it rest and get to work on something else. After a month or so look at it again with fresh eyes. This also applies to harsh critiques. Several of my stories (which are brilliant, according to me) shall never see the light of day. I came across a mock “rejection” letter which said, “We’re sorry to say that due to the number of similar rejection letters we have received, we cannot accept your rejection letter at this time. Good luck placing your rejection letter elsewhere.” Alas, I have paraphrased and I don’t know the source.

Love the mock rejection letter and the advice! Listen to Suzanne, picture book writers, she knows what she’s talking about. 

Of course, sometimes the feeling of rejection comes in the form of a harsh critique from an agent, editor, or even a critique group member. Again, it’s hard not to take the criticism personally, especially when we’re proud of the work we’ve done. I can tell you that I am always surprised when I get a harsh critique. How could they possibly find fault in my story? But now I understand that there’s always room for improvement. Remember too, that you don’t have to make changes to your story based on critiques. You don’t have to agree with every thing that’s said. But keep in mind that agents and editors are professionals and usually know their stuff, and if you should happen to get a critique from one, I recommend you at least consider their suggestions to improve your work. 

And let me add, that I would be lost without the help of my critique group, Picture Me Published (PMP). It is invaluable. My stories have improved astronomically thanks to the thoughtful suggestions of my three groupmates, Sarah, Jess, and Brooks. I highly recommend joining a group. Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel right, you can always politely drop out and search for another. My first group didn’t work out (not for lack of trying), but it’s okay because PMP is a perfect fit for me. 

Suzanne, how should we handle a harsh critique?

In the privacy of your own space, dance like Rumpelstiltskin: stomp, gnash, holler and fume. Whew, take a breath and revisit the story and the critique…not necessarily at that moment – when you’re ready to hear and evaluate the suggestions. What rings true? What holds back the story? I thought “Fab Goo Taffy” was the best name ever for the candy that was traded for a time machine. My wise editor said it wasn’t insect-centric enough for my ant eating characters (A Mighty Fine Time Machine). Certain that there was no substitute, I stewed and fumed, until I came up with Buggy Bon-Bons. It’s so hard to defend an idea without sounding defensive. And even when we’re certain each of our words is precious and perfect, there is always room for rumination and possibly improvement. But here’s the biggest question: Are you willing to make changes for the good of the story?

Please come back next week for the fourth and final installment of my “Suzanne Bloom” series, in which I ask Suzanne how to combat writer’s block, what an editor means when he/she tells you your story is too quiet, and how to keep from getting discouraged. I can’t wait!

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com

Suzanne Bloom Has A Lot Of Towels

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne’s Newest Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello future (traditionally) published picture book authors. As promised, I have author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom back this week to help me help you along your path to publication. If you are an aspiring picture book author, you may feel as if you will never be published. I know, I’ve felt the same way. And as a new picture book author (yes, I still consider myself new because even though I have been writing for nine years, I just signed my first contract last year and my book is not yet out), I wonder if I will ever publish another. So I understand your frustration. You may be wondering if there’s something you could be doing to move you further along. I wonder what Suzanne thinks? Let’s find out.

Suzanne, what could an aspiring picture book author (or illustrator) do to help them break in?

Are you attending conferences or workshops? This is a good way to meet authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, and agents. There may be an opportunity to have a manuscript or portfolio reviewed. Do you have a critique group? Have you thought about trying a different genre, or submitting to children’s magazines? Have you visited the book store and studied the current crop of picture books, chapter books or novels to see what is being published now?  

Great advice! And I would add that there are a lot of fairly recent books on writing, illustrating, and publishing children’s books that offer tons of useful information. Check your local library. Also, I recommend joining professional organizations such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the CBI Clubhouse. And don’t forget the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market book. It contains helpful articles, as well as listings of publishers, agents, contests, conferences, and more.    

Suzanne, how long should an aspiring picture book author (or illustrator) keep trying before they throw in the towel?

How many towels do you have? It was 10 years between my second and third book. I would drive by a fast food restaurant with a NOW HIRING sign out front and wonder if that was meant for me. A sensible person would have sought gainful employment; with benefits and a retirement plan. I opted to become a visiting author instead. I found a balance between the solitude of the studio and the lively exchange of ideas with young students. Many suggestions from grade-schoolers have shown up in my illustrations, like the volcano and the snake in My Special Day at Third Street School by Eve Bunting. I decided that if I couldn’t make a living writing, I could make a living talking about writing.  

And in between talking about writing, Suzanne kept on writing and submitting and writing some more. And I’m so glad she never “came to her senses” because now there are nearly twenty fabulous picture books with her name on them, and I’m positive she hasn’t thrown in her last towel yet. So don’t give up, aspiring authors. You can be published too! It just takes time, patience, and following good advice from those who have been in your shoes.

Come back next week when I ask Suzanne how she handles rejection letters and harsh critiques.

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

{Suzanne Bloom At Work In Her Studio}

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com

Suzanne Bloom Is “Dancing With A Phantom In The Dark”

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne’s Newest Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I really love to do here at Frog on a Blog is help other picture book writers, especially those who are new or aspiring authors. That’s why I’ve enlisted one of my favorite authors and illustrators (and friend), Suzanne Bloom, to help me offer words of encouragement and wisdom to all of you who may be feeling discouraged. We’ll hear from Suzanne in a moment. First, allow me to tell you a bit of my own publishing story. 

After eight years of trying, I was finally offered a contract last year for one of my picture book stories, and I have a second story soon to be published in digital format. Depending upon how you look at it, you are either thinking Wow, that was a really long time or Hey, that’s great. Both thoughts are technically right. But believe me when I tell you that those eight years of waiting and hoping, and collecting rejection letters, were also discouraging. I considered giving up many times. I questioned my writing ability and even my worthiness to be published. But I didn’t quit because I love writing picture book stories and my dream was to be published. And now, I am so glad I didn’t give up.

And I don’t want you to give up either. That’s why, once a week for the next several weeks, I will pose a question to Suzanne about how to handle rejection, how to combat writer’s block, how to keep from getting discouraged, and more. My hope is that you will find encouragement to continue on your own personal path to picture book publication. 

I will post the first question next week. Now, let’s hear from Suzanne:

139 words, 300 words.  So few words.  How do you make them count?  How do you make us care about a character?  It may be that all the ideas have been used, but not all the stories have been told.  Borne of your observation and experience, what will you bring to the page? 

Whether we are wordless or wordy, scribbling or sketching, we face similar challenges and frustrations.  My own creative process feels like dancing with a phantom, in the dark.  I’m not sure where it will lead but I’ve decided to trust and follow.  My stories are small, but their emotional truth is big.

Thank you, Suzanne! I can’t wait to hear more from you!

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com

Interview Alert: Lori Nichols

I am incredibly pleased to present this awesome interview with the author and illustrator of Maple, Lori Nichols. After I requested the interview, and she accepted, I was super eager to read her responses to my questions. She did not disappoint! Lori’s answers are detailed, personal, and interesting, with a sprinkling of humor mixed in. You are going to love this interview!

Q. Can you tell us a little about your process from start to finish when you created Maple?

L.N. The process of creating Maple was organic. To start, I’d have to go back about 45 years. I have always loved trees. We had a beautiful Maple tree in our yard growing up, and I played under it all the time. This is one of my favorite, and earliest, memories from my childhood. I remember the moss on the trunk, digging for worms, big black ants that I’d let crawl on my arms and legs, the knobby feel of the bark. Most importantly though, I remember the canopy of the tree. It truly was magic for me to sit under my tree and look up at the sky between the leaves.

When I had my own daughters, my husband and I planted a tree for each one. They were actually oak tree saplings (my husband’s favorite tree) from the yard where he grew up in West Virginia. We watched our children and their trees grow together. So began the story for what is now Maple. But in a strange way I didn’t set out to write this story. It came organically from a sketch here, a drawing there, and from watching my children play outside.

One day in 2010 my daughter Zoe was eating grapes. She came into my studio and held up the bare grape stem and said “Look Mom, a tree.” The grape stem did look like a tree, so Zoe and I scanned the grape stem into the computer and scanned some Japanese Maple leaves from the tree in our yard and began doing fun things in Photoshop. I then plopped a small pencil drawing of a little girl in with our tree creations and wrote “Maple loved her name.” This was another “growth ring” in Maple’s story.Grapes2

I showed the drawing to my agent and she encouraged me to work it into a story. This process started in July and took a few months. Then in November we were ready to pitch it, and Nancy Paulsen Books picked it up. Nancy Paulsen, Cecilia Yung and Marikka Tamura directed me over the next year on changes that would help the story. It then took another year for the book to be printed and  marketed. The rest is history!

 

 

 

 

 

Q. What are the pros and cons when it comes to illustrating your own book?

L.N. Pros: It’s completely driven by my imagination.
Cons: It’s completely driven by my imagination.

Q. What was your experience like working with the editors at Nancy Paulsen Books?

L.N. Nancy Paulsen is lovely and incredibly gentle in her approach with me. She understands and respects the creative process and seems to know just the right amount of direction to give. Not giving me too much or too little direction allows me to still take ownership of the book. I feel incredibly lucky that this was my debut picture book and that I had such a wonderful mentor. I also have a sticky note on my computer that says “Listen to your voice, I trust it.” Cecilia Yung, one of my art directors on Maple, said this to me and I try to take this advice when I start doubting myself.

Q. Can you tell aspiring children’s book authors and illustrators what it’s like to work with a literary agent?

L.N. My literary agent rocks! I think she’s an alien from another planet though, because I have no idea when (if ever) she sleeps. Her name is Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary, and we started working together about four years ago when she saw my portfolio at a NY SCBWI conference. She contacted me after the conference asking if I needed representation. Joanna has reminded me of my own voice and vision, and has encouraged me in so many ways. She gives me great feedback on my manuscripts and always provides me with the direction I need to elevate my work to the next level. I came to the picture book business by way of illustration and page design so I felt vulnerable when it came to telling my stories with words. She believed in me. Plus, there’s no question that’s too mundane or insignificant for her. She approaches all my questions with respect and even though she’s extremely busy she’ll get back with me at the drop of a hat. Yep, she’s an alien from another planet.

Q. What authors or illustrators have been inspirations to you?

L.N. OK, this is a question that might take a lot of time to answer. I’ll try to narrow it down. Here is the short list: Tomie dePaola, Roger Duvoisin, Mary Blair, Kevin Henkes, Olof and Lena Landstrom (my all-time favorite illustrator/writer team EVER!), William Steig, Barbara Cooney (love!), Maurice Sendak, Sandra Boynton, David Ezra Stein, and my three girls.

Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?

L.N. I love this question because it’s something I feel very passionate about. As a new mother, I began reading to my daughter when she was very, very young. Days home from the hospital we would snuggle up to one another and I would read to her for as long as she’d let me. She seemed to crave my voice and even though she was too little to focus on the pages, she loved this time (and so did I). It became a long love of reading for her, and then for my other two daughters. But first, it was a safe, warm, soft, happy place to hear their mother’s (or father’s voice). For me it was a beautiful bonding experience. I also think picture books are journeys for children, journeys where a child can explore a world in a safe environment…on the lap of a caregiver.

Q. What exciting projects are you working on right now?

L.N. I’m currently working on some companion books to Maple that I’m really excited about (see next question). Also, I’ve just finished illustrating the wonderfully hilarious book This Orq. (He Cave Boy.) by the talented author David Elliott (Boyds Mills Press, September 2014).

Q. What does the future hold for Maple and her little sister Willow?

L.N. I have a companion book to Maple titled Maple and Willow Together coming out November 2014. I am also working on a third companion book with a tentative publish date of September 2015.

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?

L.N. http://www.lorinichols.com, Lori Nichols on Facebook, Maple on Facebook, lorinicholsbook on Instagram, @lorinicholsbook on Twitter

Q. Any closing thoughts for fans?

L.N. Thanks for taking the time to read this and for loving Maple (and Willow) as much as I do.

Interview Alert: Jonas Sickler

My sixth and final interview of the year is with someone very special, illustrator Jonas Sickler. Jonas is the artist who created the awesome blog logo that wonderfully represents the purpose of Frog on a Blog, which is to provide a fun, colorful forum for picture book fans to discuss all things related to children’s picture books.

Jonas is also the illustrator of six Indestructibles baby books that are specially designed to withstand the destructive behavior of the youngest picture book fans. They are tear resistant and waterproof! They are also absolutely gorgeous and they make great gifts!

Enjoy the interview!

Q. How long have your been creating art and when did you first realize that you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

JS. I have been making art since I was about 2 years old.  Somehow I always knew that I would be an artist.  Although there was a brief time around 4 years old when I thought I might be a fireman or a chef instead.  I had always planned to work for Disney.  It wasn’t until college that I began thinking of other options.  That’s when I discovered Lane Smith through “The Stinky Cheese Man” and instantly knew I wanted to illustrate children’s books.  During a trip to the Society of Illustrators, while my classmates were pouring over the exhibit, I took a field trip on my own to see Lane’s private studio.  There, I met his wife Molly, and saw some works in progress.  That day was unforgettable. 

Q. How would you describe your style?

JS. My style is a bit difficult to categorize, though, I’m sure most artists say that to make themselves sound more unique and marketable.  I certainly have a quirky, gritty style.  There is never a shortage of textures and patterns in my art.  Sometimes I work a bit darker- more Tim Burton/ Lane Smith.  And sometimes I lean to a brighter Mary Blaire/ Karen Katz style.  It depends on the subject of the book.  

Q. Do you have a favorite medium you like to work with when creating your illustrations?

JS. My medium of choice is painted cut paper, even though most of my cutting is done in Photoshop these days.  I still insist on using actual paint, rather than computer generated colors.  I like seeing my hand in the finished art.  Using the computer to collage my painted scraps into finished art has great advantages over scissors and glue.  Such as instant color editing, and quick changes requested by art directors at the last minute. 

Q. What picture book artists do you most admire and how have they influenced your work?

JS. As I mentioned already, I’m a huge Lane Smith fan.  As well as Mary Blaire, Oliver Jeffers, Ezra Jack Keats.  I keep all of these illustrators on my studio bookshelf for inspiration.  Lane influenced me by showing me that children’s book illustrations can be dark, and still sell very well.  Oliver Jeffers extraordinarily simple art and endearing stories captivate and inspire me to never over-think a book.  Mary Blaire has incredible texture and color combinations, and Keats works wonders with simple shapes and patterns.

Q. What projects are you working on right now?

JS. I have about 10 books written, and awaiting illustrations on my drawing table.  I tend to go through creative phases.  I write my brains out until I have purged all of my ideas.  Then I choose the best manuscript, and begin the illustration process.  When everything is ready, I start shopping the project to publishers.  I’m in the art phase right now on a few projects.  But they are all top secret! 😀 

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?

JS. My website has a selection of my work, and my blog has great tips for beginning illustrators, as well as a more in-depth look at my Lane Smith obsession.  You can find me at http://www.jonasillustration.com

Q. Any closing thoughts for fans?

 JS. Creating children’s books is not an easy career.  It requires endless patience and persistence.  It is more of a lifelong process riddled with defeats than a career.  But occasionally luck swings your way, and dreams come true.  It is for this reason we all continue to pursue the buried treasure of a children’s book contract.  All the rejection letters and dashed hopes will vanish in an instant with that one simple “yes”.

 

Interview Alert: Jessica Young

I am extremely pleased to present this interview with children’s book author Jessica Young, whose debut picture book My Blue is Happy is literally teeming with color. As all of my blog fans know, I love color, so to have a chance to interview an author who shares my passion for our wonderful, colorful world is just so satisfying. In My Blue is Happy, Jessica is able to express her unique feelings for each color as the story moves along. Illustrator Catia Chien’s brilliant artwork enhances the text, and together, the words and pictures immerse the reader into that wonderful, colorful world I mentioned. I have to say, since blue is my favorite color, and has been since forever, I absolutely love how Jessica conveys blue as happy and not sad, the emotion that is usually associated with the color. Think about how many shades of blue there are, from the darkest navy to the lightest baby blue and every shade in between. My favorites are periwinkle, teal, turquoise, and sky blue. So I have to agree with Jessica when she says, “My Blue is Happy”! (P.S. Check out the gorgeous cover image below!) 

Enjoy the interview!

 

Q. What do you enjoy most about writing for children?

JY. Kids are naturally creative, curious, and silly – and they tend to be open to new ideas and experiences. It’s exciting to think that my story might spark a change in perception, understanding, or emotion. Also, I love accessing the parts of me that are five or nine or seventeen. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “I am still every age that I have been.” And I like spending time at those younger ages within myself.

Q. How do you motivate yourself to sit down and write?

JY. I spend so much time wanting to write and thinking about story ideas as I’m doing other things that most often when I do sit down to write it feels relieving. I sometimes leave a difficult piece for a while and entertain a shiny, new idea, or toggle back and forth between two or more works-in-progress, but when necessary, I just try to plow through. Being accountable to my critique partners also helps. And fun snacks and drinks!

Q. What inspired you to write your beautiful picture book My Blue Is Happy?

JY. I can’t remember the exact moment the title and idea came to me. But I’ve always been interested in individual differences and perspective. Blue is one of my happy colors, and I wondered if having a sad association like “the blues” colors people’s perceptions of it. I’ve also observed adults telling kids that colors mean specific things, and that grass is green and sky is blue, and I’ve wondered how kids reconcile that with their own experiences. There are universal/collective ideas about color, but also variations across cultures and individuals. I wanted to explore the concept of subjectivity through the lens of color.

Q. What was it like to work with illustrator Catia Chien? Were you able to collaborate on what the illustrations would look like?

JY. I’ve actually never met Catia, and we didn’t correspond at all while making the book (as is often the case), although I’d seen her art and loved it. I discussed my vision for the story with my wonderful editor at Candlewick and worked with her to develop the text, and Catia did the same with the art director. It was amazing seeing it come together. The illustrations are so imaginative and ethereal – they really take the text to another level.

Q. What’s the first thing you did when you held the completed hard copy of your picture book in your hands for the first time?

JY. I showed it to my kids. It was really amazing for me to have them read it and see their names in the dedication. A good friend and her kids were over at the time, and we all looked at it and took pictures.

Q. Can you tell us what projects you are working on right now?

JY. Several picture books, a chapter book series, and a young adult novel – but that one may take me a while.

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?

JY. www.jessicayoungbooks.com

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Frog On A Blog readers?

JY. I wouldn’t have gotten this book published without joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and finding the support of my writing friends and crit partners. They push me, humor me, cheer for me, and teach me. If you’re writing and thinking about joining a critique group and/or SCBWI, I highly recommend it!

        

Interview Alert: Courtney Pippin-Mathur

Welcome author and illustrator Courtney Pippin-Mathur! Courtney’s first picture book Maya Was Grumpy has been available for several weeks now and it’s just gorgeous! I love her wonderful color palette and lively, playful style. I think all people can relate to Maya, the adorable star of the story, who was feeling grumpy for no apparent reason. My favorite part has to be her wild hair and especially how it gets less and less wild as she becomes less and less grumpy. Maya Was Grumpy is a delightful picture book that you and your kids will absolutely love. And I know you will enjoy Courtney’s delightful interview as well. Read on for more information about Courtney Pippin-Mathur and Maya.

Q. How did you get your start as a children’s picture book author and illustrator?

CPM. I majored in Studio Art in college but I knew the fine art path wasn’t right for me. When a teacher brought in Stephen Gammell’s “Monster Mama” a giant gong went off in my head. I have always loved books and the art of picture books so it made perfect sense.

Q. What’s your favorite part of creating picture books for children?

CPM. Two parts- the spark of the original idea or sketch and the joy of the finished, bound book in your hands.

Q. What authors and illustrators have been inspirations to you?

CPM. Roald Dahl, Polly Dunbar, Lauren Child, Stephen Gammell, Shel Silverstein to name a few

Q. Please tell us about your book Maya Was Grumpy. How did you come up with your idea and what was your creative process like from idea to finished book?

CPM. I was sitting on the couch with my laptop and sketchbook in front of me when my 3-year-old stomped into the room, stomped her foot, and declared “I’m Grumpy!” I wrote down the first line and sketched a grumpy little girl with crazy hair.

Q. What materials do you like to work with when creating your illustrations?

CPM. Mechanical pencil, paper, pen , watercolor paint & paper and Photoshop

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?

CPM. http://www.pippinmathur.com

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Frog on a Blog fans?

CPM. I’m a long time fan of frogs. I created a frog character in high school that I used as my signature. His name was Moran and I drew him constantly. And for my daughter’s baby shower, I drew a flying frog for the shower announcements. 

Interview Alert: Emily Kate Moon

I’d like to extend a big Frog on a Blog welcome to up-and-coming picture book author and illustrator Emily Kate Moon. Her first picture book (and certainly not her last) Joone was published this year. Joone stars a precocious and sweet little girl and features bright colors and a whole lot of fun. I think fun may be the perfect word to describe Emily Kate who, as you can tell by her wonderfully detailed interview responses, has a lot of fun doing what she does. You will no doubt enjoy this interview as much as I did.

Q. You are both an author and an illustrator; which do you prefer and how did you get your start in the children’s picture book arena?

EKM. Oooh… I don’t know if I could say that I prefer one over the other.  I really love them both.  And they are so interconnected, I find it that one gets the other going!  When I sit down to start a new idea, I do it with a pad and pencil.  If the words don’t come, the drawings do.  And with each pencil stroke, the story comes to life, whether my pencil is making a picture or a word.  It’s a really fun process.  And when I’m really in the flow, it feels like I am channeling from some other place.  That’s the most glorious moment of all: when I have no struggle to create what comes out — I’m just the one holding the pencil!

I got started in the children’s picture book arena when I was 17.  I illustrated someone else’s book, but it didn’t go anywhere.  It was an important step, though.  It definitely started my career.  (It’s a long story, actually.  If people want to know more, send them to my website blog!)

studio shotQ. What is your workspace like and do you have a favorite medium you like to work with when creating your illustrations?

EKM. My workspace consists of two desks: a drafting table that tilts, and a flat desk on which rests my computer and art supplies.  I also have lots of cubbies and drawers and a big bookshelf full of children’s books!  Looking around right now, my studio is kind of a mess.  I guess I like it that way.  It feels like something is always in progress!

My default medium is pencil on paper.  It’s the easiest for me.  I also love fat felt tip markers.  But I really enjoyed learning how to use gouache when making the illustrations for Joone.  Gouache is a magical medium!  It’s somewhere between watercolor and acrylic.  And I also love doing large paintings: abstracts of acrylic on canvas.  I’ve just moved to Florida and right now I’m inspired by the ocean so I’m working on a series of wave paintings.  I love standing outside at an easel, with the music on, lots of colors to choose from, a cup of brushes and a bucket of water — just going with the flow to see what happens!

Q. What inspired you to create your picture book Joone

EKM. Joone wandered into my head one day, fully formed, and bugged me until I knew I had to write about her.  I had always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books, so it didn’t really surprise me that this little girl popped in one day and wouldn’t go away!  She came with all the details: orange dress, purple hat, brown shoes and turtle atop her head!  She even came with a grandfather.  (The yurt came soon thereafter.)  I grew up in California, so the setting is inspired by the country hills and vineyards that surrounded me there.

Q. Who are your favorite authors and illustrators? Any favorite picture books?

EKM. I have all sorts of favorites!  And I love so many of the new authors these days that my list just keeps growing!  I think storytelling, in general, is getting better.  Which makes sense, I guess, as we learn from each other and expand on our collective work.  But some of my classic favorites are Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight, Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne and Ernest Shepard, and the many tales by Beatrix Potter.  As a little kid, I memorized Eloise from beginning to end (which is quite a feat, considering the length of that story!) and I later filled drawing pads with watercolor reproductions of Ernest Shepard’s and Beatrix Potter’s beautiful illustrations.  I also love Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, and Joone’s proportions were greatly influenced by Calvin!  And, of course, who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss… I’m pretty sure he has influenced us all!  But my all-time favorite children’s book is Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann.  That one just really hits me!  It makes me emotional all the way through because it is so well done.  By page 4, my children are like, “Mom why are you crying?” and I say, “Oh! Because it’s just so good!”

Q. Can you tell us about any picture book projects you are working on right now?

EKM. Joone 2!  Joone’s sequel is in the works!  And then I have several other characters, one in particular, Benny the Singing Dog, who definitely needs a book of his own.  Maybe that’ll be next.

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?

EKM. My website: www.emilykatemoon.com or Joone’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/joonebook.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with picture book fans?

EKM. When I tell people what I do, they often say, “I’ve got an idea for a children’s book!” or “My cousin wants to do that!”  It seems everyone has an unmade picture book in their lives somewhere.  But it’s something that remains faraway… mostly because they don’t know how to move it forward.  My answer to them is, “Just start it.”  (Or tell your cousin to start!)  Start by writing it down.  Make it as good as you can.  Read it to people, including children, and see what responses you get.  Be willing to change it.  If it’s great, submit it to an agent!  (Agents are everywhere, but it will require some work to find the right one.) And some of the best advice I ever got is this: do not team up with an illustrator.  It reduces your chances of being published.  Either do it all yourself or submit the manuscript alone.  These agents and editors who will read your manuscript are pros; they can envision illustrations and will match your story with the right illustrator.  Most of the people who say they have a children’s book idea but haven’t moved forward with it is because, as they put it, they can’t draw.  Don’t let that stop you!  There is a whole world of illustrators out there who can draw and would love to illustrate your book!  And the world might just love your story….

Interview Alert: Carin Bramsen

I am super excited to share my newest interview with Frog on a Blog readers. Say “hello” to awesome author/illustrator Carin Bramsen. The first time I saw her  beautiful picture book Hey, Duck!, I became an instant fan. Her style is playful, colorful, and so detailed, three qualities I love in a picture book. Just look at this gorgeous cover. Of course, to really get what I’m talking about, you have to check out the book in person. I immediately noticed the amazing realistic detail of the little duck’s feathers and the cat’s fur. And of course, the story is wonderful too. Enjoy the interview!

I have fallen madly in love with your soft, little duckling and his gorgeous feline friend from your book Hey, Duck! I’m excited to have this chance to get to know more about you and your work through this interview, and to share your answers with my blog fans.

1. How did you get your start in children’s books? And which do you prefer, writing or illustrating?

CB. Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m honored and delighted to appear on this wonderful blog devoted to picture books.

My path to children’s books was roundabout. I’ve always loved both drawing and writing, and some of my best childhood memories are of illustrating my own stories. But as a misguided young adult, I thought I had to choose between writing and the visual arts. I made many false starts in either direction. At some point, my sister, Kirsten, and I spoke casually of collaborating on a book about one of her childhood experiences. We eventually revisited the idea, she wrote a terrific story called THE YELLOW TUTU, and I set about trying to illustrate it. I had much to learn, so I started poring over heaps of picture books to see what worked. I read Martin Salisbury’s Illustrating Children’s Books, which taught me how to put together a picture book dummy. The more I worked at it, the more I fell in love with the challenge of telling a story through pictures as well as words. We published THE YELLOW TUTU with Random House in 2009. By then, I was hooked on the picture book genre, and my own stories flowed naturally from learning about narrative art. One of the many things I love about this field: it turns out I don’t have to choose between writing and illustrating!

2. Your characters are so full of life. I feel as if they could jump right off the page. What medium did you use to create your illustrations for Hey, Duck?

CB. Thank you! I’m so happy to hear you find my characters full of life. I drew the illustrations for HEY, DUCK on my computer, with a digital tablet. The tablet comes with a mouse shaped like a pen, which I use to draw (paint) colors, shapes, textures and tones as I would with a traditional brush or pen. But Photoshop allows me more flexibility than paint and paper would for moving parts around, layering and reworking if need be.

3. What is your workspace like?

CB. My workspace is an unprepossessing corner of my living/dining room. (And by “corner” I mean a third of the space; this is a Brooklyn apartment, after all!) I have my computer desk next to a folding table with a drawing board on top, and lots of jars filled with brushes and pencils. Lately, I’ve dragged my old easel into the living room, where I’ve been playing around with bigger drawings. I still love all kinds of traditional media, and the visceral feel of working big.

4. What picture book authors and illustrators do you most admire? Do you have any favorite picture books?

CB. Oh, dear. I have so many favorite authors, illustrators and picture books, I can’t keep track. A few of the books that make me sit back and say, “perfect”: THE SNOWY DAY, by Ezra Jack Keats; SNOW, by Uri Shulevitz; TEN LITTLE FINGERS AND TEN LITTLE TOES, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. I adore the Mole Sisters books by Roslyn Schwartz. I often find a special beauty in books that skew very young, and I love anything that makes me laugh. But my tastes range anywhere from James Marshall to Dr. Seuss to Kadir Nelson to Gennady Spirin. There’s an endless variety of riches in picture books, all indispensable.

5. What other books have you written or illustrated, and are you working on any new projects?

CB. I’m pleased to say there are new books with Duck and Cat on the horizon.

6. Where can people go to learn more about you and your books?

CB. I have a website: http://carinbramsen.com/home.html

I also have a blog: http://carindraw.blogspot.com/

And I’m on Twitter: @carinbramsen

7. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Frog on a Blog fans?

CB. Often, a good picture book experience owes much to a talented art director. I’m indebted to Tracy Tyler, the Random House art director who has brought so much knowledge, dedication and inspired insight to both of my book projects to date. Picture books are always a team effort.

     

Interview Alert: Melissa Guion

BabyPenguinsCoverFor my first interview of 2013, I am extremely pleased to showcase super-talented author and illustrator Melissa Guion. Baby Penguins Everywhere may be her first picture book, but it certainly won’t be her last. It is interesting to note that I can interview several people and get responses as diverse as the picture books they’ve written. In other words, I could interview ten authors or ten illustrators and ask them the same or similar questions and each would have totally unique answers. But all of them are fascinating. I know you will find Melissa Guion’s interview fascinating as well. Enjoy!

First of all, congratulations on the publication of your first picture book Baby Penguins Everywhere! It’s a wonderful book and I hope we see more from you in the near future. 

1. Have you always enjoyed writing and drawing? And when did you decide that you’d like to be published?

MG. Yes, making books is probably my oldest dream. I wanted to be a gymnast for a while, after watching Nadia Comaneci at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. One out of two isn’t bad.

Melissa-Guion-juvenalia

2. What’s the first thing you did when you got the news that your manuscript was accepted for publication? How did you get the news?

MG. I was actually hired without a manuscript! My future editor saw my artwork and emailed (via my agent) to say he wanted to give me a multi-book deal. I went into our first meeting fairly dubious, but it turned out he meant it. When I got home, there was an email in my inbox from the editor about how we might go about developing a story, and we were off.

When I got that email, I think I did all the obvious things like jumping around. I called my mom. I had champagne with friends that night to celebrate. The next day I told different friends and we also had champagne. I dragged it out.

3. How long did it take from acceptance to finished, shelf-ready book?

MG. People keep asking this and I keep guessing. I’m going to actually look it up right now… Start to finish, it took 2 1/2 years. That’s slightly misleading because, again, there was no manuscript. We made a handshake deal to do a penguin book in late 2009. I had a contract by the summer of 2010, and that’s about when I had my first dummy done. I turned in the final art in January 2012 and saw a finished copy in August 2012.

That’s a really long time. My second and third books will get done much faster, at least according to my contract.

4. How excited were you when you saw your finished book for the first time?

MG. I’m excited every single time I see it. I don’t know if that ever wears off.

5. How did you come up with the idea for Baby Penguins Everywhere?

MG. When I met my editor, I was a new mom and a first-time illustrator. My life was full of chaos. My editor suggested the premise of the lone penguin who finds a magic hat overflowing with babies. It felt applicable to every area of my life.

balancing

6. You also illustrated your book. What materials did you use to create the illustrations? Are they your favorite media to work with when creating art?

MG. I used pencil and watercolor. I thought about doing something experimental, but I already had plenty of challenges to deal with. Anyway, I really like watercolor. I love that it has a mind of its own.

7. Where can your fans go to learn more about you?

MG. I have a website, www.melissaguion.com. Readers can subscribe to my blog there. I try to update it a few times a month. I’m also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BabyPenguinsEverywhere) and Twitter (@MelissaGuion).

8. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Frog on a Blog readers?

MG. If they’re ever in NYC, they need to go to Russ and Daughter, on Houston Street, for smoked salmon and horseradish cream cheese on a bagel. It’s the best! Penguins like it, too.