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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Parents, have the past few weeks been hectic because your kids are going back to school? You may even be feeling emotional because your little one is starting preschool or kindergarten for the first time. Do they know their ABC’s? Is there a way you can help them learn? Of course! ABC picture books!
Author and mom Ilham Alam has stopped by today to share her favorite books for helping kids learn the alphabet. Read on for a great selection of ABC concept books!
By Ilham Alam
September is finally here, which brings with it cooler temperatures, apple cider and apple picking, harvest and pumpkin farms, and leaves of red and gold. It also brings the back-to-school season with kids back in their classrooms, many of them for the very first time.
As a parent/guardian, how can you best prepare and help your child succeed during Kindergarten? By ensuring that their learning in the classroom is reinforced at home, if your child is not already familiar with their basics like ABC’s by the time they reach JK.
Here are the Top 5 books for kids to learn their alphabets. I have read all of these books with my oldest son, who’s off to Kindergarten this year. We both enjoyed these books for various reasons and are recommending them to you:
This book has photo-realistic pictures of 26 of these prehistoric and majestic creatures, complete with short facts about each of the dinos written in the first-person and meant to make your child laugh along while they learn. I credit this book for teaching my son his alphabets, including the correct order of the letters. In addition, the book spells out the pronunciation of each of the long names phonetically, ensuring that your child begins to connect the letters with sounds. We have had this book for a year and my son still requests to read this a few times a week as it’s not only taught him fun dino facts thus encouraging his passion, but also, he has learned his alphabets and beginning reading skills using the now-familiar words. I cannot recommend this enough and this book is our favourite of the bunch.
Who doesn’t love the silly rhymes found in Dr. Seuss’s iconic books? This ABC book is no exception and has illustrations featuring many of Dr. Seuss’s familiar characters. The text goes full throttle right from the beginning in fast-moving, foot-tapping, finger-snapping rhymes. What I liked about this was that it also introduces big and little letters to your child, so that visually your child can see where and why big and little letters are used.
This ABC book features another iconic children’s character: Elmo from Sesame Street. The book cover is a bright blue making our fuzzy red monster stand out, thus attracting your child’s eye and inviting them to read it. Inside, we meet Elmo and his friends as he tries to figure out what his favourite letter of the alphabet is. Elmo is having a hard time deciding because there is something to love about each letter. For example, he loves the letter ‘B’ as Elmo loves cute babies. Keep reading to discover what Elmo’s favourite letter is. This book stood out for me because it helps to introduce kids to everyday words corresponding to each letter.
I am sure you have heard of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom? This is the alphabet version which begins,
A told B, B told C/
I will meet you on top of the coconut tree
This is another fantastic way for your kids to learn their alphabets as it turns it into a catchy song, which is a great way for your kids to remember and get comfortable with a new concept. And I found it unique that bright colours like orange and hot-pink are the dominant colours used here. You can also put on a YouTube video of the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Alphabet song and dance along to it as well, to further help with the memorization of the alphabets.
This is a different type of alphabet book as each of the alphabet pages have colorful, painting-like pictures of different foods corresponding to each letter. It is a good book for kids to learn of the many different types of food. This could even inspire your little one to try new foods, which is what my son and I like about it. However, this does not have fun rhymes like the other ones listed here.
Thank you, Ilham, for the terrific list of ABC books that are sure to help any child learn the alphabet and have fun at the same time!
Ilham is a Student Advisor by day and a writer and Children’s Book Author by night. She has her upcoming picture book, Wonder Walk, releasing later this year, to be published by Iguana Books. An avid children’s lit book reader and traveler, she has documented her adventures on her book review and family travel blog, Story Mummy: www.storymummy.com.
I adore picture books that highlight the themes of love and kindness. That’s why it’s my great pleasure to be a stop on Laura Sassi’s LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour. Readers, this book is incredibly sweet (and I don’t mean because it includes a little something about a box of chocolates), and the ending (which I won’t give away) is darling. Speaking of darling, check out the cover of LOVE IS KIND, featuring Little Owl, the star of the book.
And, guess what? You get to meet Little Owl, the brand new story time puppet, right here on Frog on a Blog! Hello Little Owl!
Laura’s stopped by today to talk about how she uses puppets to enhance the story time experience and engage her young audience, and how you can too. Little Owl will soon be joining her on her author visits.
I started using puppets with the release of my very first book. Since a pair of skunks play an important role in that book, and thinking that my very youngest readers might not be familiar with the species, I thought having a pair of skunk puppets would be an engaging way to introduce the story. The former teacher (and crowd control freak) in me, also thought skunk puppets might be a friendly way to help young audiences settle down before and during the reading since, as you know, skunks are notorious for making a big stink if they get startled.
Those skunks became such an integral part of author visits, that I decided to incorporate puppets into the author visits for every one of my books – skunks for GOODNIGHT ARK, a rooster for GOODNIGHT MANGER, a seal and mouse for DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, and now, for LOVE IS KIND, my newest release, a darling little owl.
Now, in celebration of sharing books with little ones, here are TEN tried-and-true tips for using puppets to enhance a story time experience.
1. Pick a puppet that fits the book. The puppet you choose can either be a protagonist, like my seal, mouse and owl, or minor characters such as my skunks and rooster. The most important thing is that you have a good reason for picking that puppet – a reason that enhances your story time. For example, the skunks are useful in introducing an important and fun subplot in GOODNIGHT, ARK. (They are hiding under the bed in every spread until – at last – they make a big stink that’s important to the resolution of the story.) And that rooster, while very minor to GOODNIGHT, MANGER, becomes a fun and engaging way to introduce the concept of loud vs. quiet voices when putting a baby to bed.
2. Play… and plan ahead of time! This is probably obvious, but it’s worth spending time in advance putting together a little stand-up routine for you and your puppet. This is your chance to tap into your inner comedian. The more you ham it up, the more the kids will love it!
3. Practice your ventriloquist skills. There are two ways to use your puppet. Either you can just talk with it and it can shyly nod, react etc., OR you can have that puppet actually converse with you, or “cock-a-doodle-doo” as my rooster does and SING as that darling Diva Delores loves to do! If you decide to have them speak, then I’d recommend practicing your ventriloquist skills in front of a mirror ahead of time.
4. Use your puppets to break the ice. If you are a little shy, like me, then you’ll probably agree that mingling is easier with a buddy. In that awkward “before the story time officially begins” period, I’ve discovered that EVERYBODY enjoys a little mingling with the author and her storytelling companion – especially when it’s a cute stuffed animal puppet.
5. Have your puppets help introduce the story. This takes a little planning ahead of time (see step 2), but a short puppet routine is a great way to introduce the themes of your story, any special concepts, or just to get the kids excited. For DIVA DELORES, for example, my seal puppet likes to sing for the audience so they can hear what opera sounds like. Then she invites them to join along in singing the refrain that appears on certain spreads in the book. I haven’t finalized exactly what Little Owl is going to do before I read LOVE IS KIND, but it will surely have something to do with kindness and love.
6. Have the children model for the puppets what “good listening” looks like before you read. It’s amazing how eager young readers are to engage with the puppets, and I’ve discovered over time that little ones especially like the opportunity to model for my puppets what good listeners look like. So, I have THEM show the puppets what it looks like to sit quietly with eyes on reader, ready to be read to. (I also use those skunks to my advantage (see intro)).
7. Use your puppets to engage young readers in some post-reading ponderings. After my readings, I like for the kids to reflect with me on what the characters in the story learned and I’ve found that involving the puppets in the process is effective and popular. For example, after reading GOODNIGHT, MANGER we ponder what made the difference in getting Baby Jesus to sleep. (The answer has to do with creating a quiet, peaceful atmosphere). Then, together, we see if we can teach our very NOISY rooster to do a quiet cock-a-doodle-doo. If he learns well, we invite him to join as we sing a final lullaby to Baby Jesus. For LOVE IS KIND, I think I will have Little Owl help me select volunteers to share their post-reading thoughts by looking with me for participants who are showing kindness by being good listeners with each other during our post book chat.
8. Include your puppets in the story time farewell. This can be very motivational if your audience is getting antsy because you can promise your young participants that if they hold on just a little longer, then they can pet and hug the visiting puppet! They love this! And I am just charmed by how many “I love yous” each puppet has so gently received over the last four years since I first started using puppets.
9. Have a puppet de-briefing session with yourself. After each story time, I find it helpful to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do next time to make that puppet even more integral to my story time. For example, it wasn’t until I had done a few story times in that I decided to have my GOODNIGHT, ARK skunk puppets engage my audience in a little quiet “thumbs up” challenge. But it worked so well, that now, at every GOODNIGHT, ARK story time, my skunk puppets challenge the audience to quietly put “thumbs up” as soon as they spot the skunks on each spread – which makes for a nice set up to the stinky climax!
10. Most important: HAVE FUN! Yes, let’s not forget this last important tip. If you are having fun, it will be contagious!
Thank you for having me, Lauri, and I hope my love for puppets inspires others to experiment with incorporating something new into their story times as well.
Hurrah for puppets! And what a fun post! I wonder if that monkey puppet is still around that I had when I was a kid. Hmm…
Folks, don’t forget to check out the other stops on the LOVE IS KIND tour.
ZonderKidz, the publisher of LOVE IS KIND, has generously agreed to give away a copy of the book to one U.S. blog reader. Just leave a comment here to be entered to win. A winner will be chosen at random on September 30. Be sure to follow Frog on a Blog so that I can contact you if you win.
Thank you Laura and ZonderKidz!
Title: Hedge Hog! (or Hedgehog!)
Author/Illustrator: Ashlyn Anstee
Publisher/Year: Tundra Books/2018
Back Cover Blurb: It’s Hedgehog’s hedge and he isn’t sharing.
*Review copy provided by Penguin Random House Canada
All of the animals in the garden are preparing for winter. Finding a cozy place to call home for the season, like a burrow, hive, or nest, is at the top of everyone’s list. The animals need shelter in order to survive the coming cold.
The bees, foxes, birds, and groundhogs happily share their homes with the other animals. Grasshopper, who dwells under the hedge, does too, especially after Hedgehog–who lives in the hedge, all by himself, and likes it that way–turns the other animals away.
As more and more animals show up on his doorstep looking for a place to stay, Hedgehog becomes increasingly agitated and he puts up signs and builds a fence to keep them out. But when Grasshopper accuses him of being a hedge hog, he goes inside and slams the door, with disastrous results. How will the others react now that Hedgehog is the one in need?
Though overflowing with cute, expressive characters, and featuring an unusual setting and fun text, the book offers readers something more–a message about helping others, sharing what we have, and being gracious.
Taken literally, opening our doors and allowing strangers to move into our homes is unrealistic and potentially dangerous. But opening our hearts to help those in need is something each one of us can do in our own way. Whether you donate to a worthy cause, volunteer your time, assist a neighbor, or simply show thoughtfulness by holding a door for someone, you can make the world a better place. We all can. Let’s start today. 🙂
This group is overflowing with gorgeous art!
Do you like to write children’s books? Do you know why? There’s no right or wrong answer. We each have our own reasons. We probably have more than one reason, and our reasons can change depending on what we’re writing.
I like to write picture books for lots of reasons. I love how picture books can represent so many things for kids (and adults): They can be windows to the world, mirrors in which to see oneself, gateways to literacy, tools for together time, mini-museums of art, and generators of joy. (Stay tuned for blog posts featuring examples of these.)
Author/Illustrator Damian Synadinos has his reasons, too, for creating his picture book HANK AND STELLA IN SOMETHING FROM NOTHING, a unique story that features improvisation. Today, he’s stopped by to share the inspiration behind the book and to encourage all writers to Start With Why.
by Damian Synadinos
I think that understanding Why we do things is important. By “Start with the Whys”, I mean “first try to identify and understand the reasons you want to do something, and then use those reasons to help guide What you do and How you do it.”
When I first considered writing a children’s book, I “started with the Whys”. I asked myself “Why do I want to write a children’s book?”
I eventually identified many reasons, but the main reason was, “to help my kids laugh while they learn”. Like many kids, mine love to do both. However, some children’s books are very entertaining, but not very educational, while other children’s books are very educational, but not very entertaining. And while there is nothing wrong with that, in order to satisfy my reasons, I wanted to write a book that was both entertaining and educational. And, by identifying and understanding my reasons for writing a children’s book, it helped guide me as I determined What to write about (improv – to be educational) and How to write it (as a picture book – to be entertaining).
“Improv” is short for “Improvisational theater”, which is, essentially, creating something from nothing. Players create and perform shows simultaneously and in the moment, without any script, props, or costumes.
My own improv training “Started with the Whys”. On day one, the teacher asked the class, “Why do you want to learn improv?” Over 50 nervous and excited teenagers, young adults, and seniors gave vastly different answers and reasons, such as “to think more creatively and quickly”, “to improve my interactions and relationships with others”, “to boost my self-confidence”, and of course, “to entertain and perform on stage”.
Over the next year, we learned the fundamental principles and skills of improv. Things like “focusing on the present”, “ways to get and explore ideas”, “how to react to accidents and mistakes”, “the importance of practice”, and “the benefits of diversity”. These principles and skills helped each student satisfy their reasons for learning improv. And, improv can help children with the same! The fundamental principles and skills of improv are as useful on stage as they are at play and in life. Improv is a great way to help children develop their imaginations, learn to play cooperatively, increase their confidence, and much, much more.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve performed hundreds of improv shows and even use improv to teach adults various life skills in a variety of contexts. And, I wrote “Hank and Stella in Something from Nothing” to be an entertaining and educational way to introduce my kids (and more!) to improv so they can laugh while they learn.
And so, I encourage new authors to “Start with the Whys” to help guide What and How to write your book!
For more information about “Hank and Stella in Something from Nothing”, visit https://www.hankandstellabooks.com/.
Hello! My name is Damian Synadinos. I’m born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, the father of 2 wonderful kids, an improviser with 10+ years of experience, and the author and illustrator of “Hank & Stella in Something from Nothing”.
Photo from Amazon.
Bio from Damian Synadinos’ site: https://www.hankandstellabooks.com/.
Hey, everyone, it’s almost time for the kids to go back to school! If you’re a parent or a teacher, you already know that, huh? And you probably already know that there are lots of picture books that feature schools. But do you know how to choose the best ones to share?
Multi-published author and educator Alexandria LaFaye stopped by to offer her thoughts on finding the perfect picture books that will help your child navigate a new school year. Be sure to read to the end for a very special giveaway!
Many kids are itching to get back to school to see their friends, get to know their new teachers, head out to recess, and use those new school supplies—oh and there’s the school work too. Books are a big part of making the beginning of school a great success. The books teachers read help ease kids back into the routine of things or introduce new students to the way things work. For some kids, these books are an essential part of helping them get through their first day jitters.
My favorite book in this genre is I Love You All Day Long, written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris, because it reassures preschoolers and kindergarteners that starting school will be a wonderful adventure and that their parent’s love will sustain them all day long.
This year, Priscilla offers a wonderful solo addition to the genre with Hello School, which shows kids how to face their first day jitters while bringing them into a wonderfully diverse and kid-centric classroom.
Ryan T. Higgins takes a hilarious turn at the first day of school scenario with the wonderful We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. Who wouldn’t love a book with a description that starts, ‘It’s the first day of school for Penelope Rex, and she can’t wait to meet her classmates. But it’s hard to make human friends when they’re so darn delicious!’
When creating or selecting school-centered books, it’s essential that they realistically represent the diversity of a classroom, address a child’s emotions in a way that is embedded in the story, and remain true to how a child sees the world, and offer a curriculum-rich environment. It’s also wonderful if the book includes a unique and stereotype-free view of teachers, librarians, and school staff. Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series lampoons the dangers of staff stereotyping to hilarious effect.
This fall, I’m throwing my own backpack into the classroom (aka hat into the ring) with No Frogs in School. The story centers around Bartholomew Botts’ love for pets, hoppy pets, hairy pets, and scaly pets too. He loves them so much that he has to bring one to school each day. His classroom guests create havoc, making things tough for Bartholomew’s exasperated teacher, Mr. Patanoose.
In creating this story, I worked to embed the curriculum into the story in a kid-centric way by doing things like having the frog-toting Bartholomew contemplate the complexities of color combining. As he learns that mixing green and yellow makes blue, he wonders how frogs get to be different colors.
Eglantine Ceulemans’ illustrations are fantastic because the class she’s drawn reflects the diversity of the characters I created and the room she’s rendered is so full of wonderful enrichment elements. Not to mention, the quirky kid antics she’s included. It’s because of her amazing artwork that Kirkus said that “each page lends itself to an energetic seek-and-find storytime that promises new discoveries upon multiple reads.”
In the story, I also tried to defy teaching stereotypes by featuring a talented male teacher in an early elementary classroom. The final feature of my book that reflects my vision of a great book for school-aged children is that Bartholomew is from a multi-ethnic family, like so many kids today who don’t often see their families reflected in the books they read.
To celebrate students, teachers, and the need for inclusive classroom libraries, I’m offering a giveaway of 31 books for a K-2 classroom, including a signed copy of NO FROGS IN SCHOOL.
If you’d like to enter to win, you can visit my Facebook community Sylvanocity and check out the pinned post. I’ll be reviewing books from the giveaway each day in August, so that interested teachers can see the books they might win. The contest runs Aug 1-30th. This collection would be a nice expansion or foundation for an inclusive classroom, which would be a great welcome back to school present for any K-2 teacher.
Speaking of schools, I LOVE to visit schools and inspire kids to be life-long readers, to follow their talents, to learn to love writing and revision, and to value every member of their school community. Here’s a sneak peek at A School Visit with A. LaFaye.
I hope you’ll share your favorite school-centered books in the comments below. Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!
For more information about Alexandria LaFaye and her books, please visit her website:
Author/Illustrator: Sophie Shortland
Publisher/Year: ThunderStone Books/2018
Back Cover Blurb: A boy with autism makes a friend who helps him come to terms with the world around him.
A young boy feels isolated and alone. He doesn’t fit in with the kids at school and even has trouble relating to his own family. Everyone seems strange, noisy, and different from him. But one day, he meets a girl who’s very much like him. The two form a special friendship in which there’s no need to talk or even do the same activities. They are happy just to have the company of the other. Being with the girl makes the boy feel less alienated.
In this colorful book, populated with “alien” people, author/illustrator Sophie Shortland has given readers a glimpse of life through the eyes of a child with autism. Interestingly, she chose to depict the boy as human, but everyone else as aliens. It’s important for readers to see the boy this way because it reinforces the message that kids with autism are human beings, deserving of kindness and respect, just like all people.
Though autism is the focus, I believe any child who feels lonely or different, or is shy and has trouble making friends, will connect with this book. Once upon a time, I was such a child. Perhaps a book like this could have helped me to feel a little less like an oddball and a little more like I belonged.
Multi-published author/illustrator Airlie Anderson’s latest picture book NEITHER is filled with sweet, adorable characters and lots of glorious color. Is the book super cute? Absolutely! But the story is so much more than that.
Diversity. Acceptance. Belonging. These are the messages, both timeless and timely, shared with readers in this fabulous new book. I love it! And since I’m a fan of Airlie’s other books as well (I especially like CAT’S COLORS), I thought it was the perfect time to feature her here on the Frog. I’m so glad she agreed to an interview! Enjoy!
Q. How did you get your start as a picture book author and illustrator?
A.A. As a child, my favorite activity was drawing. I thought of myself as an artist and was encouraged to keep making art. I had lots of picture books to read, and we thought of them as an important and very special art form. I never stopped reading and collecting picture books. I always knew I wanted to be an author-illustrator, among other things — my middle school yearbook says that I wanted to be a “cartoonist and animal trainer.” I’m not sure what kind of animals I had in mind!
Once I got to art school, I knew right away that the illustration department was my home. I loved the work coming out of there, and the fact that the program included traditional art training. I focused in on children’s books and learned about the publishing business.
After graduating, I worked for a little children’s book packaging company in San Francisco and got some illustration work through them somehow. Looking back on this, I don’t know how that was possible! Two clients seemed to just “discover” me. I realize now how lucky this was. Some years later, after a dry spell, I moved to New York City in search of an agent. I got a job at HarperCollins as a freelance designer and assistant, and saw a little desktop calendar produced by an agency that I just loved. I took note of their contact info and cold emailed them. They signed me on, and I eventually got some sweet book deals that way. There was a lot of zig-zagging (and soul searching) in my progress as an author-illustrator, but my agents and editors along the way have been hugely helpful and inspiring.
Q. NEITHER is about diversity, fitting in, and accepting—even celebrating—each other’s differences. Why was it important to you to write this story?
A.A. The idea for NEITHER started with the desire to draw a combo-creature. I was teaching middle school art at the time, and we had been working on a combo-animal lesson, which was super fun. I had a dream about a creature like Neither, and the process went from there. One of my students from that middle school class is transgender, and his journey had a lot to do with the tone and meaning of this story. His classmates and everyone at school were open-minded and supportive, and the whole experience affected me more deeply than I realized at the time. After the book came out, I reflected on all this and understood where the idea really came from. If someone had tasked me with making a picture book about diversity and acceptance, I would have been overwhelmed! But NEITHER happened in an organic way, starting with that little character (and lots of coffee).
Q. Your use of color is fabulous in all of your books, but I especially love the colors in NEITHER. How did you choose the color palette?
A.A. Oh, thank you! I’m very happy with the way it turned out, too. I usually choose the colors of the main characters first, and then figure out how to make them stand out from the background. I’m very fond of saturated colors (obviously!) and my first tries at these illustrations just looked so busy and…BRIGHT. It was too much. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, until the designer I was working with, Jen Keenan, said “maybe the backgrounds don’t have to be so saturated.” She also suggested that I use a more lemony yellow for the ground, while the birds are a golden hue. Brilliant! It was a real a-ha moment for me. I could keep my candy-colored palette without sacrificing clarity. Thank you, Jen!
Q. Can you tell us a little about some of the other adorable creatures that appear in the book, such as the Whatnot, the Sort of, and the Either?
A.A. Yes! Whatnot and Sort Of came seemingly out of nowhere, like stream of consciousness beasts. Whatnot is a hippo-corn, I think? And Sort Of is a catbird-o-saur. For some reason, I think of Sort Of as myself. If you look on the page where it says “And all were welcome!” you can see Sort Of with a paintbrush, palette, and pencil behind her ear. I thought about making Neither, the main character, into a catterfly. But Neither just worked better as a bunny-bird, so the catterfly became Either. I love Either and so does my editor Deirdre, who has claimed her as her favorite character in the book!
Q. What do you like best about creating picture books?
A.A. My favorite part of the process is painting. That’s when I feel that all the tough work is done and I have a solid stack of sketches to work from. I just let myself enjoy choosing all the colors and feeling the paintbrush move across the paper. Overall though, I love the idea of creating a whole world inside a picture book. As a child I loved just living inside those pages, and drawing from the characters. I hope I can do the same for other children (and adults!).
Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?
A.A. Please visit my website: www.airlieanderson.com. You can find links to my instagram, facebook, and twitter accounts there. I’m proud to say that I’m represented by Kathleen Rushall at Andrea Brown Literary Agency — you can find me there, too.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A.A. I am probably preaching to the picture book choir here, but I’m a firm believer that picture books are for every age. It makes me sad to think that kids are not allowed to keep their picture books around because they are “for younger kids.” Of course, as we get older we hope to add big old tomes to our library. (I love big old tomes.) But can’t we keep the picture books, too? I think so. Thank you so much for featuring NEITHER on Frog on a Blog, it’s been fun answering questions!
Thank you, Airlie! It was so great getting to know you!
Hi, Airlie here! I’m the author and illustrator of Neither, Cat’s Colors, Momo and Snap Are Not Friends, and many other children’s books. Feathers in my cap: the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Independent Publisher Book Award, and the Practical Pre-School Award. I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and now live in New Jersey.
I create my illustrations using gouache (opaque watercolor) on hot press watercolor paper (the smooth kind). I also doodle aimlessly in my sketchbook whenever I can.
Photo from Amazon. Bio from Airlie Anderson’s website: https://www.airlieanderson.com/
I fell in love with this book as soon as I saw the cover. I mean, just look at that llama perched precariously, yet comfortably, on the arm of that sofa. Love!!!
I flipped through the pages and was treated to more gorgeous illustrations featuring that lovable llama. After I read the text, I knew I wanted to learn more about Leah Gilbert the author/illustrator of A COUCH FOR LLAMA, a wonderfully sweet and majorly funny picture book about a caring family, a curious llama, and a brand new couch.
I’m excited to share Leah Gilbert’s interview with you today!
Q. What inspired you to create your hilarious debut picture book A COUCH FOR LLAMA?
L.G. I got the idea for A COUCH FOR LLAMA driving to work one day! I would sometimes see a few llamas grazing in a field that I used to drive by on my way to work. I thought they were fun (and I really like cute, fluffy animals) so I usually looked to see if I could see them out there, and was always excited when I did. One day, the llamas weren’t out, but there was a couch sitting on the side of the road near where I would see the llamas, and the story idea was born!
Q. What came first, the words or the pictures?
L.G. Both! I almost always think of words and images together. The first thumbnail sketches I did for this book have the words written on the pages in my sketchbook.
Q. Llama is so full of personality! As a dog lover, I can’t help but notice a few canine traits in him. Am I right?
L.G. Ha, yes! Good eye! I did take some inspiration for Llama’s silly poses from the silly ways my Cavapoo, Camden, sits around the house sometimes… mostly in the illustrations on the endpapers. Inspiration can come from many places, including pups!
Q. Have you always been an artistic person? Besides writing and illustrating children’s books, in what ways have you used your creative skills?
L.G. It has always been my dream since I was a kid to write and especially illustrate children’s books. I have always LOVED drawing, and was always doodling and creating things throughout my entire childhood. In high school, I spent as much time as I could in the art room and taking art classes, and majored in Illustration and Graphic Design in college. For the past 10 years, I have worked at a greeting card company as an artist and designer illustrating and designing cards, calendars, bookmarks, and other gift products.
Q. Who are your favorite picture book authors or illustrators?
L.G. Wow, so many… it’s hard to choose favorites! I have too many current favorites to list, but some lifelong favorites of mine are Peter Spier, Jack Kent, Frank Muir, David Wiesner, and Beatrix Potter. I think these have probably had the most influence on me and my style as an author and illustrator, especially Peter Spier—I have always just loved his illustrations and the way he told so much of the story through the art—and Beatrix Potter’s personal story of being a female author and illustrator has always been an inspiration to me.
Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?
L.G. Lots of reasons! Reading to kids at an early age is so important, and picture books are some of the first exposure kids have to books—either being read to by an adult or paging through by themselves, “reading” the story through pictures before they can read words. I also think picture books can be so important for kids even after they’re reading chapter books. You don’t need to outgrow picture books at a certain age just because your reading level goes up—they are a powerful storytelling medium for all ages! The combination of the words and illustrations in picture books is such a unique and great way to bring joy as well as communicate things that words alone can’t do as well, and picture books do that in a way that no other medium does quite the same.
Q. Where can fans go to connect with you?
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
L.G. My husband and I recently replaced our well-loved couch with a new one, and writing this book made me look at that experience in a whole new way! I felt like I should go find a llama who would like our old one 😉
Thank you so much, Leah, it was a pleasure getting to know you! I’ll be keeping an eye out for more books from you in the near future.
Leah grew up just blocks from Lake Michigan in a small Wisconsin town, with a deep love of art, books, and The Lake. After earning her bachelor’s degree in illustration and graphic design, she moved to Colorado where she has worked as an illustrator and designer at a greeting card company for the past nine years. She currently lives in the Denver area with her husband and a fluffy puppy, and still has a deep love of art, books, and The Lake… and the mountains, too.
Picture and bio from Leah Gilbert’s website: http://www.leah-gilbert.com/
Two of the busiest staff members at the Community Library of DeWitt & Jamesville are the children’s librarians, Jenny Burke and Emily Wormuth. They’re gearing up for the craziest time of the year, summer, when the Library draws in hundreds of kids for the Summer Reading Program. Right now, Jenny and Emily are in the midst of visiting local schools, telling the kids all about the myriad of events and activities the Library has lined up–all summer long–from the end of June until the end of August. School visits are also a great time to introduce the kids to some of the cool things the Library has to offer everyday.
Of course, Jenny and Emily are busy the rest of the year too, presenting daily story times, special themed events, and lots of opportunities for kids to engage in reading, learning, crafting, dancing, and having fun. They also help patrons find just the right books.
Aside from all of that, they make purchasing decisions, choosing books and media that they believe will be good additions to the Library’s children’s collection. Picture books make up a large portion of the items that they order. Lucky for us, Jenny and Emily found some time to answer a few questions about picture books!
Q. How do you decide whether or not to purchase a particular picture book for the library’s collection? What criteria do you use?
Jenny: I follow my library’s collection development policy in choosing books to purchase for the Children’s Collection. I want to ensure our collection meets the needs of our community, is well rounded, and appeals to a variety of people. I focus on books I know will be popular with kids, whether it’s because of a subject area, popular author or series.
Q. How important are reviews, such as those found in Kirkus Reviews or School Library Journal, in making a purchasing decision?
Jenny: Pretty important. I’d say the majority of my book selections come from reviews in Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. Like most public libraries, I have a set budget for the year that I need to adhere to, so I want to focus monies on books that are well-reviewed or that I know our patrons will want. But, the review journals are just a guiding point. I will purchase books that kids ask for, or I know are popular series.
Q. How do you use picture books in story-time settings? And for different age groups?
Jenny: No matter how old they are, kids love being read aloud to! At the library, I do story time for ages 0-5 and one for preschoolers ages 3-5. For these ages, I choose picture books with a rhyming quality, or sing-along books – they love those! Basically, you want less text and engaging illustrations, so you can talk about what is going on in the story. For older age groups, I still use that model, but will pick picture books that may be longer. You can’t lose with a funny story, I’ve found!
Emily: The best picture books for story time are the ones with big, beautiful pictures and an easy-to-follow story. Our story times are organized by age, so we choose books that are appropriate for that particular age. I present the Babies and Books story time, so I’m looking for books with fewer words, bolder pictures and repetitive language. I love it when the kids can read the book along with me.
Q. How do you choose your story-time themes? Do you always have a theme?
Jenny: Themes are a guiding point for me. I pick them based upon the season, what I’ve done in the past that’s successful, or sometimes I’ll find books and base a theme upon the book. I don’t always have a theme, but when I do, it helps me plan my songs, rhymes, and crafts. That being said, I don’t let the theme dictate what I’m doing in story time. Sometimes I find books that I just want to read aloud and I go with it!
Emily: I find it easier to put a story time together if I’m working with a theme. I can then choose books, music and activities that follow that theme. I think it’s easier for the children to actively participate if there’s a theme. “What animal are we going to sing about today?” “Elephants!” shout the toddlers. After doing this for a few years, Jenny and I both have a pretty good idea of what books and materials we have to support a theme, so that helps when we’re choosing themes. It’s best not to get too complicated; animal, trucks and seasonal themes all work well. For example, we always do an Apple Picking story time in the fall because that’s an activity many kids are doing.
Q. Is there anything you’d like to see more of in picture books published today-either fiction or nonfiction (e.g. subject matter, characters, settings, themes, concepts, etc.)?
Jenny: With the We Need Diverse Books campaign, I’ve seen some great books – both fiction and nonfiction – that have been published in the past couple of years. Keep ‘em coming! We need their stories, now more than ever.
Emily: I love books about girls doing things we (traditionally, unfairly) associate with boys. Bring on the books about women truck drivers and construction workers. And kids love books about misbehaving children, but they’re often too often boys.
Thank you, Jenny and Emily, for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk picture books! Hooray for children’s librarians and all that they do for kids in our communities!