Hotel Bruce and a Giveaway


by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney, 2016)

I’m excited to bring you a fun giveaway from Disney Books to celebrate this week’s release of Hotel Bruce. Thanks to Disney for sending me the book, and for providing a prize pack to pass on to you.


Here’s what the publisher has to say about Hotel Bruce:

When Bruce gets home from a southern migration trip with his goslings, he is tired. He is grumpy. And he is definitely not in the mood to share his home with the trio of mice who have turned his den into a hotel.

There’s a possum pillow fight wreaking havoc in one room, a fox luring guests into a stew in the kitchen, and a snuggly crew of critters hogging the bed. Bruce growls and grumbles and tries to throw them all out, but the entrepreneurial mice just can’t take a hint. Bruce is in a little over his head, especially once the goslings join the staff. Will this grumpy bear ever get his quiet, peaceful den back to himself?

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What can you win? This:


That’s a copy of Hotel Bruce and an adorable mat to remind your welcome (and unwelcome!) guests to wipe their paws.

Just comment on this post by Friday, October 21st at noon PST to enter. Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Want to connect more?

Check in with Bruce at // Follow Disney Books on Twitter and Instagram. // Add DisneyBooks on Snapchat

Ryan T. Higgins ( is the author/illustrator of Mother Bruce. He does NOT live with four geese, but he and his family do live with a tortoise and a menagerie of other pets. At one time or another, Ryan has been friends with a porcupine, a raccoon, a beaver, dozens of mice, and a couple of squirrels, but he has never found a moose in his bed. He always peeks under the covers, though.

Good luck!


Lucy + An Interview with Randy Cecil


by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2016)

Oh, how I loved this book. It’s unusual: not quite a picture book, not quite a chapter book, innovative and entirely perfect for the story inside. This is the story of a dog named Lucy, a girl who loves her, and another someone this girl loves. This is a story of lost things and found things, routine, and stage fright. It’s a story about love.

I chatted with author/illustrator Randy Cecil about what he’s made here, and am so happy to bring this conversation to you.

I’m particularly interested in the three main characters, and how their intricacies overlapped. Did any of them come first? Can you talk about that a bit?

Years ago, I sketched out a rough draft of a wordless book about Lucy (the dog I had recently adopted). In that story, Lucy lived with a girl that looks very much like the character that would become Eleanor. In the wordless version, the unnamed girl that looks like Eleanor loses Lucy, who ends up boarding an ocean liner and never sees her again. But all works out okay in the end for Lucy, as another child on another continent finds her and takes her in.

Most who read this story, understandably, felt sad for the girl who lost her dog. This wasn’t at all what I was after, I put the manuscript aside for a while to think.

Then one day, a few years later, I had the idea of a juggler with stage fright, who lived in a sort of vaudeville world. And I could see how it might fit together with the Lucy story, especially if I switched Eleanor from being the one who loses Lucy to being the one who finds her and takes her in. And suddenly all the pieces fell into place.

9780763668082-int-1  Lucy is an unusual picture book in terms of its form, and benefits from feeling fresh and unique. Did it feel like you were breaking rules or was there some freedom from the usual structure?

Thanks! At the start I definitely felt like I was breaking the rules, and that was a lot of fun. But as I figured out what I was doing, I realized that this story and format came with its own set of rules that needed to be followed. So in a lot of ways, it wasn’t so different.

Can you tell us about your process?

I first wrote a sort of outline for the story, which was really more of a detailed summary of the plot, broken up into scenes.


Then I sketched out each scene to figure out the pacing.


Then I wrote the more finished text, which I assembled, along with the sketches, into a digital dummy, and sent it off to Candlewick Press. They reassembled the text and pictures into a much more polished dummy, with the proper design and font and trim size, and send it back to me (along with lots of editorial notes).


And after going back and forth in this way many times, I finally painted the finished illustrations.



Who are some of your story heroes?

My heroes are the authors and illustrators of my childhood—Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Edward Gorey, Uri Shulevitz, Gahan Wilson, Mercer Mayer and many, many more!

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

I have always been a fan of folk and outsider art. This beautiful thing was given to me by a friend.


What’s next for you?

I am currently trying to convince Candlewick to publish a companion book to Lucy (same universe, new characters)!


LUCY. Copyright © 2016 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for connecting me to Randy, and also for a preview copy of Lucy.

They All Saw a Cat


by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books, 2016)

You might have heard about this book.

You might have read the fascinating and buzz-inducing article on its acquisition.

You might have heard Matthew Winner and Brendan Wenzel in conversation here. (And do if you haven’t! It’s a treat.)

You might have seen Emily Arrow’s super sweet song and video. (Kid-tested and approved in my library!)

You might have seen many, many bloggers invite the Caldecott (and Geisel!) committee to the party on this one. (See here, here, here, and here.)

All of those people saw a cat. And I did too!

But somehow, Brendan Wenzel actually wrote a cat.

Let’s break it down.

The opening spread is an introduction to the character, his journey, and his senses. The art asks us to follow, but so do the words.

Read this out loud.

The cat walked through the world,

with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .

You can hear the hiss of a cat in the final sound of the words in that second line. Its, whiskers, ears, and paws. The words are the cat. The cat is in the words.

Even better, look at those three words that begin with w. Walked, world, with, and whiskers. Not only is that a lovely example of alliteration, it’s also paced in such a way that each W sound becomes the quiet pitter-patter of our cat’s paws. Read it out loud again. Do you hear how with drops out a bit, but each of the other Ws are stressed beats?

And we know cats are observers and quiet hunters, so it’s a perfect starting sound that’s both nonchalant and predatory.

Once the reader has followed that cat into the book, we are treated to a true visual feast. It’s a remarkable look at perspective and interacting with the world. Our cat shifts from fearful to fierce over the pages. Isn’t that how we all see the world?

But let’s take a look at the creatures who see the cat. The book is paced in threes, a tried-and-true structure in many forms of storytelling.

Up first, the child, the dog, and the fox.


Look at how those connect:


And then Wenzel revisits the opening, reminding us of the cat’s mission, giving us a brief respite from the adventure and another opportunity to experience that rich language.

And then:

fish mouse Listen to those sounds: short i, the ow of mouse (a dipthong, /au/!), and a long e.


It’s almost a meow. Can you hear it?

And then we’ve got a real romp.


This time, a bird, a flea, a snake, a skunk, a worm, and a bat.

Bird follows bee.

Flea reminds of that bee too.

A snake, a skunk.




A worm from down low, a bat from up high.

And a bat, our (almost) final watcher, perfectly rhymes with cat.

You’re going to hear a lot about the visual acuity of this book, and that is wholly deserved. But take note of the text. It’s also seeing things differently. And saying them, and hearing them, and experiencing them. This is the beauty of the picture book, and this is a spectacular one.


Thank you to Chronicle Books for the interior images in this post.

Bad Guy: A Cover Reveal


(Simon Kids, 2017)

Bad guys are smart. Bad guys are crafty. But being a bad guy can have consequences…

Inspired by a rule at her kids’ preschool (“no bad guys on the playground”), Hannah Barnaby’s story explores the highs and lows of life as a villain.

I am so excited to bring you this first look at a bad guy. And that cat! Bad Guy will be available for everyone on the playground in 2017.

Hannah Barnaby is the author of two young adult novels, WONDER SHOW and SOME OF THE PARTS, and makes her picture book debut with BAD GUY. Hannah is a former children’s book editor, indie bookseller, and baby wrangler. She is extremely well-behaved (most of the time) and she teaches creative writing in Charlottesville, VA where she lives with her family. Her favorite bad guy is Maleficent.

Hannah’s website // Twitter

Mike Yamada is a concept designer, illustrator, and design consultant based in Pasadena, California. Mike has contributed to the development of many feature animations, including Puss in BootsKung Fu Panda 2,How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. He is the author-illustrator of Cool Cat Versus Top Dog, as well as the illustrator of Bedtime Blastoff and Kai to the Rescue. Learn more at

Do you have a favorite bad guy? Mine is Miss Trunchbull.


Chirri & Chirra

IMG_3695 by Kaya Doi (translated by Yuki Kaneko, published by Enchanted Lion, 2016)

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You might have seen this one pop up a bunch online in the last couple weeks. That’s because it is exquisite. So special, so surprising, and so spectacular that it even exists.

Chirri & Chirra come to us from Japan, where Kaya Doi is a beloved creator of children’s books. Thanks to a serendipitous bookstore visit in New York, Enchanted Lion has brought these two girls to us. Here, Chirri and Chirra are the names of the girls, and yet they also represent the sounds of bike riding in Japanese onomatopoeia. Dring-dring!

What’s even better? Two more adventures will follow in 2017.

Prepare to be just that: enchanted.

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It’s this tiny little trim size that makes it just right for so many reasons.

Teeny, for small hands.

Long and wide when it opens, to hold the length of the journey.

Small, but big enough for both dreams and dreamy details.

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Rosy cheeks.

A forest cafe.

Acorn coffee.

A delightful adventure.


A keeper. Tuck it close.


Everyone + an interview with Christopher Silas Neal


by Christopher Silas Neal (Candlewick, 2016)

I’m happy to introduce you today to Christopher Silas Neal, a picture book creator I am a big fan of. He’s got quite the illustration portfolio, but this spring’s Everyone was his debut as both picture book author and illustrator. Here’s hoping he makes many more. Enjoy!

How did you get into picture books?

Over and Under the Snow was my first experience making a picture book. I had been an illustrator for about seven years, making art for magazines, posters, and book covers before Chronicle Books called with Kate Messner’s manuscript. Kate’s approach to writing about nature was more lyrical and unexpected than a typical science based picture book and Chronicle was looking for a non-traditional artist. Even though many of my biggest influences were classic picture book makers, I hadn’t thought I would be one myself.

Narrative illustration felt overwhelming and daunting—character building wasn’t something I had ever tried and building scenes was certainly not my strong suit. I had previously worked as a graphic designer and my approach to image making is more flat and simple than what I thought readers expected from picture book art. The industry wasn’t as visually diverse as it is now and at the time, most books about nature would have featured fairly detailed and rendered paintings. I just didn’t see me having a place in that world. But, I loved Kate’s writing and the folks at Chronicle Books are so nice and very design oriented, so I thought if there was ever a chance, this is it.


My pictures are often quiet and still with a lot of space—the fact that this book was set in wintery woods was reassuring.  A big challenge was figuring out how to add depth without using the things that traditional painters rely on like lighting and perspective—visual tools I typically don’t use. I like to think the personality in the art comes from me trying to fit a painterly peg into a graphically flat and naively drawn hole.

Where did the beginnings of Everyone originate?

When I first met my agent Stephen Barr at Writer’s House I had a few book ideas floating around, but Stephen was more interested in an animated gif I had made. It was based off a drawing I did for the New York Times about a boy whose parents were deported to Mexico. It’s a simple image of a boy crying and his tears turning into two birds. Stephen thought the idea had promise as a book and I spent the next year turning it into a manuscript and book dummy. In the end I think I had made fifty versions before sending it to publishers. Eventually, we sold the idea to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick.



Can you tell us about your process?

The writing process happened organically. I started with that original New York Times image and tried to think of other visual metaphors that involved nature bending and morphing to reflect our emotions. After a bit of sketching, writing and playing with ideas, a theme developed—when we feel something, the world feels it too and reflects those feelings back at us—and I illustrated three emotional expressions: crying, laughter, singing.


It took a lot of patience for the words to develop. I had one version where I spelled everything out in the text i.e.”…the boy’s tear turned into a bird and flew into the sky. The bird whispered to the clouds and soon the clouds were crying, too,” but my editor, my agent, and I all agreed that the story was better left simple and open ended. After many, many revisions I pared it down to the few words that appear in the book.


I was listening to a lot of John Lennon—he uses these wonderfully simple, repetitive phrases—and I tried to put some of that influence to the words of this book. I can almost hear a John Lennon melody when I read from Everyone, “When you cry you are not alone. When you laugh happiness grows. When you sing everyone listens.” I wanted the art to match the simplicity of the text so the illustrations are made using just three colors. My process starts with pencil sketches and then digital mockups where I think about color and composition. The final art is created in layers or separations very similar to print making. Each color is drawn and/or painted separately and then scanned as a black and white image. Then I add color to each separation—one is colored black, one blue, one tan—and they are layered on top of each other to make a complete image.

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What does a picture book text need in order for you to feel excited about illustrating it?

The words should be poetic or simple or surprising and there needs to be room for me to add to the narrative. If the text is too descriptive, there isn’t really much for me to add.

Who are some of your story heroes?

One of my favorite books is Frederick by Leo Lionni. It’s a simple, emotional book about four field mice storing food for winter. Except one mouse who gathers sun rays, colors, and words. I love how you can see the process within the final images. The reader can mentally pick apart the textures and scraps of paper like a puzzle.


What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

Leanne Shapton paints wooden blocks to look like re-imagined book covers. The art is all typography and shapes. I have one of her blocks painted as Jaws by Peter Benchley.

What’s next for you?

I have a third book with Kate Messner coming out in Spring 2017 called Over and Under the Pond. In Fall 2017 I have another book with Candlewick about a hungry cat. In Spring 2018 I have a series of board books about shapes and colors and animals. Beyond that are books with authors Jennifer Adams and Barb Rosenstock.


Thank you, Christopher! Your readers have lots to look forward to, and I am so very glad you are a part of the world of picture books.


EVERYONE. Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Silas Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Ada’s Ideas + an interview with Fiona Robinson


by Fiona Robinson (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Here is a look at a stunning new book about Ada Lovelace, from a stunning illustrator whose work I have completely fallen for. I got to talk to Fiona about her new book, and I’m excited to introduce you to both of these leading ladies! And so:

How did you come to know and love Ada Lovelace’s story?

I first came across Ada Lovelace in a slightly circuitous manner. I had seen the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and was enthralled by a lead character, Thomasina. Thomasina is a Regency era child genius – a girl brilliant at maths, physics and engineering. Though she seemed an impossible character, I fell in love with her and the idea of a girl like her existing in that era.

Later I read that Stoppard may have based his character on one Ada Lovelace, little known in the mainstream world, but deeply respected in the world of computer science as the world’s first computer programmer. Thomasina existed!

The more I read about Ada the more I fell for her…

I’m so happy that Ada’s Ideas is in our gallery of Undies. Is there a story behind how the case cover evolved for your book?

I’m so excited that the case cover for Ada’s Ideas is in The Undies Gallery! Initially we were thinking of stretching the horse image around the book, but the proportions didn’t fit the format. I’d already made the endpapers, based on Jacquard loom hole-punched cards, which were what Ada’s program was based on. The endpapers seem to me very abstract and elegant. I first saw such cards when visiting the Silk Museums in Macclesfield, UK, and adored them then.

Abrams designer Alyssa Nassner suggested we take the endpapers to wrap around the entire case cover, and I loved it! The contrast between the cover and case cover really encompasses the spirit of the book to me – imaginative young Ada on her flying horse, then the cool but beautiful math of the hole punched cards.

Can you tell us about your process?

With the art for Ada’s Ideas I wanted to try something new – 3 dimensional images, which I hoped would capture a little of the Victorian era, and the drama and theatricality of Ada’s life.

This involved drawing out the images, then painting them with my favorite Japanese watercolors.


I then cut out the images very carefully with an X-Acto blade. I used over 500 blades to produce all the cut images for the book!


Once cut, I layered all the images for each spread to different heights using my son’s Lego bricks and glued them in place.


Then each spread was photographed.


Who are some of your story heroes?

Hmmmm, story heroes…

My all time favorite children’s book has to be Humbert by John Burningham. It’s about a carthorse who dreams of pulling the Lord Mayor’s golden coach in a parade. It’s truly wonderful.


One of my favorite pages has Humbert’s owner, Mr Firkin, drinking a pint in the pub (that’s not a scene we’d see nowadays in kid’s books!). But I loved the book as a child because Humbert is a working class hero. And John Burningham’s illustrations are still captivating to me.


I’m also a huge fan of Edward Lear, especially his Nonsense Botany!


What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

I have a few pieces of art at home I treasure, but at the moment my favorite is this cyanotype (or sun print). I created it with my boyfriend Jay. We coated paper with two mixed chemicals, then placed the paper out on a fiercely sunny day with some anemones I’d just bought from Chelsea Flower Market laid on top. We left them in the sun for 4 minutes, then washed the paper in cold water. And we got this. It was quick, simple and I love the end result!


What’s next for you?

My next book concerns cyanotypes too!

Again I’m researching a Victorian woman for a non-fiction picture book… and I’m really excited about it!
This time the story is that of Anna Atkins, who created the world’s first photographic book. In 1843 she put together a book of cyanotypes of British seaweed. It is stunning. There’s only about 13 left in the world, but I got to hold and look through one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this year.

Here is an image from my research (note my gloved hands!):


I’m still in the early stages of doodling and sketching for the art. Here’s a few samples.

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I may even do the illustrations as cyanotypes, hand tinting them, as below.


Thank you, Fiona! Such an honor to have your work here today.



Thanks to Fiona Robinson and Abrams Books for Young Readers for the images used in this post.


House Held Up By Trees


by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klaassen (Candlewick, 2012)


Above, the endpapers. A subtle hint at the both the hope and the loss inside: the green, the growth, the time.

House Held Up By Trees is one of my most treasured books. It was published around the time that Jon Klassen was racking up accolades (well-deserved!) for I Want My Hat Back and Extra Yarn, and it was written by a Ted Kooser, a Poet Laureate from about a decade ago.

That is a powerful team. And they captured a quietly powerful story.

There’s a house. It doesn’t look like much. But a dad lives there. Two kids. The dad is particular about his lawn and the kids run off to play in the trees and scraggly underbrush on either side of the house. Their yard, after all, has no secret spots or shade.

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These opening spreads are beautifully cinematic. Sweeping and grand. We are spinning around this house, this focal point, seeing it from the perspective of a homecoming, a hiding spot, and a thing with fur.

If you are a picture book author of text only, you’ve probably heard the advice to make sure you have x number of illustratable settings. Well. This book has a house. And a lawn. And characters that come and go. It breaks some of the ‘rules,’ but to heck with those things. Write something beautiful. 

Something important. Something that has to be told and illustrated or else it will be scattered away with those twirly-whirly seeds.

The words are not spare in this text. In fact, there are many. But because of Kooser’s text, lyrically floating around a solid foundation, Klassen gets to explore all angles of this environment.

Page after page after page. It’s a case study in composition. And it is beautiful and important and elusive.

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The children leave. The father leaves. The house stays.

It is bittersweet. Time goes on, but trees do too.

What once was vast and open and contained is now crowded by branches and forceful new life. And again, Klassen’s compositions tell the story of an unbridled wildness.

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First there was a crack of light beneath it, and then . . . 


PS: Do you know this blog, 32 Pages? Here’s a look at House Held Up By Trees that is beyond beautiful, and in a funny twist of small-world-ness, I worked on the television show she mentions in her post. 

Over the Ocean


by Taro Gomi (Chronicle Books, 2016)

There’s no better time to stand face to face with the ocean than summer, and I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that.

It asks you to feel small.

It asks you to watch with wide eyes.

It asks you to hope.


And that’s what Taro Gomi does in this book. The original text is from Japan, from 1979, and yet it is timeless. Wishful. Dreamy.

Of course it is. Isn’t that what oceans are all about? And isn’t that what big questions are about too?

What is over the ocean?

She wonders. That small she. I imagine she’s watching with wide eyes. And we hope with her, right here at the edge of the sea.

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The passage of time over these pages is marked by the big ship, making its way from right to left on the horizon. It’s always in sight, bridging the physical and metaphysical worlds of this story. Interesting that it moves opposite the page turn, right? As a reader, this slowed me down. Swayed and bobbled my eye from left to right, balancing somewhere between the question and the answer.

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And visually, the lower third of each spread is anchored by that ship and the wide blue ocean, leaving more room for hope above. I like that.

A lot.


And let’s talk about the trim size of this book–how it opens to a rectangle to represent the seas, but closes small enough to feel like something you can grasp and tuck tightly into your pocket. A perfect visual representation of the concept of the book itself. Perfect for the picture book’s form.


I love how this book ends without an answer. Our heroine doesn’t move from her spot by the shore. Her heart, though? Her imagination? Her questions? Big and beautiful and open.

Let’s all be like this girl. Windswept, but not weary.


PS: The team at All The Wonders is proud to spearhead the #BooksForBetter initiative, whose goal is to give families and teachers a resource to find great read aloud books that celebrate diversity, compassion and inclusiveness. We envision a movement that will grow well beyond our efforts, but we’re getting it started with a monthly Twitter chat and Instagram campaign. 

Join us the first Monday of each month (beginning August 1, 2016) at 8pm EST for an #ATWchat about children’s books that showcase the human potential for goodness. Then post your favorite books on this topic on social media under the hashtag #booksforbetter. We’ll be compiling and sharing your ideas, making it simple for every family to find #booksforbetter.

More here.

I love Over the Ocean as a #booksforbetter selection. Let’s take a long look at what might be on the other side of the ocean. Or our neighborhood. Let’s wish them closer. Let’s hope for our world together. 


The Bear and the Piano


by David Litchfield (Clarion Books, 2016)


I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but make sure you check the bottom of this post for the closing endpapers. A beautiful before and after of a beautiful story. And while we’re talking endpapers, check out this delightful new Instagram feed featuring notable endpapers.

Endies, right?


So let me back up a bit. I suppose since it’s the middle-ish of July I can start boldly proclaiming what my favorites of 2016 are, right?

Well. This bear. This piano. His first fans. Paws down.

It’s a book that made me sigh and cry and open it again immediately after closing. It’s a book I photographed so I can swipe through it on my phone when I’m away from my bookshelf.

I’ve never done that before.

But I’ve never read a book like this before.


There they are: bear and piano. A curious cub and a mysterious machine. Four seasons of growth, both in the bear’s size and his musical talent.

It’s pacing that is subtle and epic at once. One page turn and a lifetime of ambition.

And talent. And happiness.

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The piano made space for bigger dreams. The people made space in their boat. His bear friends in the forest watched him go. And the bear headed for the city, for fame and fortune, to applause and ovations.




Bears belong together. And friendship is more valuable than fame. It’s a homecoming with a jaw-dropper of a page turn. You’ll see.

And hear.


This trailer features its UK cover at the end, and what a sweet look at the bear and his piano.

And for more on this stunning story, art from the book, and its inspiration from a song by The White Stripes, check out this post from Jules at Seven Impossible Things.