Grandmother Thorn + an interview with illustrator Rebecca Hahn

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by Katey Howes and Rebecca Hahn (Ripple Grove Press, 2017)

One of the best parts of the book world is its people, and the joy of celebrating their books’ entrance to the world. The author of this book, Katey Howes, has been a friend for a long while, and we’ve both been fans of Rebecca’s work. I had some questions for them both.

Meet Rebecca!

When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

As an artist, I have always had a few lofty goals – as most artists do. The ultimate achievements so to say. One of those has been to illustrate a children’s book, I just didn’t know when or how this would ever happen.

A few years after working as a Character Artist with Disney, I got the opportunity to freelance with Random House Publishing illustrating a few of the Pooh Adorable’s board books. It wasn’t using my own style but I still jumped at the chance. I had to match the Pooh Adorable’s books already published and of course be on model with the Pooh Characters, but it was still a really fun experience. It was nice to work on a job that didn’t have a super quick turn around and longer lasting power than magazine illustrations. The Pooh Adorable’s books ran through their ideas after 5 books with me and the project was completed.

After working on the Pooh books, I continued to freelance, dipped my toe into making merchandise and moved on to showing my personal artwork in galleries. (Another of my lofty goals.) It wasn’t until a few years after my son was born that I was introduced to Ripple Grove Press and given the chance to illustrate a book with my own imagery and style.

How did Grandmother Thorn come to you as a manuscript, and what were your first thoughts about the text?

My husband works for Laika and had heard that RPG was looking for an illustrator through the grapevine and the rest is history. Lucky for me, It was the right time and the right fit.

I thought Grandmother Thorn was a mature story, but that younger kids could still connect to the struggles of perfectionism and control. These issue seem to be important lessons through all of life’s phases! I could also relate to those struggles personally and I felt a deep connection to Grandmother Thorn in this way.

Can you tell us about your process?

People tend to think that my illustrations are done on a computer. They are actually all done by hand. Hand sewn, painted, and pieced together.

First, I do a lot of research. I can not really draw something repeatedly and from different angles until I really know it. So I make a Pinterest board and do lots of sketching to just get a feel for the subject.

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Next, I get to know my characters. This was a collaboration between the publisher, Rob Broder and myself. We went back and forth several times to get Grandmother Thorn and Ojiisan just right.

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After finishing the page thumbnails, I work with layers and layers of tracing paper over my rough drawings to clean up the final drawings.

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After the final drawings, I transfer the characters onto paper to paint and then cut out.

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Then I pick out papers, colors, and textures that might go well with each page and start the process of piecing together.

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The parts for each layout are sometimes cut out like pattern pieces for a quilt.

I plan out the stitches and pre-poke the holes for any sewing that will need to be done. The paper would tear and I would never be able to get a needle through the layers if I didn’t.

From here, it’s all just a trial and error process of creating my “puzzle pieces” as I go. I mostly use Yes Paste to combine the parts of my illustrations. It works the best with all of the different materials and thicknesses of papers.

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For this final spread when we see Grandmother Thorn enjoying the beauty of her “imperfect” garden, I ended up having to color code the leaves so that I could keep track of all of the pieces when they were cut out! I thought that I might be truly crazy as I cut out each berry for that layout.

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Sometimes all of this detailed work and late nights will make me a little crazy, but luckily I have a little studio buddy (and very vocal art director) to keep me connected to the here and now. :)

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Johnny Boo books by James Kochalka, Hug Machine, XO, Ox, East Dragon West Dragon illustrated by Scott Cambell, The Sea Serpent and Me illustrator Catia Chien, comic book artist Chris Ware, Mouk, the Mr. Bud series by Carter Goodrich, and artist Souther Salazar.

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

I have an unframed print of James Jean’s called Chang’e. The arrows make me think about how changes can be painful but the figure looks so strong, that she can handle them. I also love the little gallery that has formed under my desk. My son and husband are the artists.

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What’s next for you?

My next project is still top secret. I can tell you that I’m working with the wonderful writer Kelly Thompson to create a picture book series. We have known each other for a long time and are very excited to get a chance to work on a project together.

I hope to find time to continue making my personal artwork and I plan on embellishing prints of my personal work with embroidery and other fun additions to make them unique and more accessible to a larger audience. I can never just work on one thing.

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Isn’t that incredible?

Grandmother Thorn is such a lovely book, and seeing how the art was made is so fascinating. I asked the author, a debut, what it was like to see text she’d written illustrated in this way, and what it felt like to see for the first time. Here’s what Katey had to say:

Making picture books is such a collaborative journey, and it takes a lot of trust. Once your words are acquired by a publishing house, you have to have faith that your editor and publishing team have a vision that brings out the best in your story. I was blessed and lucky that Rob and Amanda Broder, at Ripple Grove Press, not only had a vision for Grandmother Thorn, but also that their vision was open enough to allow Rebecca’s talent and creativity to really flow. Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 1.17.36 PM

I had been inspired to write Grandmother Thornby the nature in my own backyard, and by the woodblock art (or ukiyo-e) of the Japanese artist Hiroshige. Looking back, I think I hoped that the illustrations would somehow do justice to those influences. And I hoped for an illustrator who could make the garden appear as if it, too, was a character in the story. From the moment my editor sent me the first glimpses of Rebecca’s work on the book, I knew she was capable of doing all these things and more. I was a little surprised by the style. But it was such a good surprise! If I had thought at all about the actual medium in which the book would be illustrated, I suppose I imagined watercolors. (I’m not sure why.) What Rebecca created with multimedia was so much better than the vague images in my mind – so layered, and detailed, and original. Her art elevated my words to a new level. I continue to be awed by how meticulous and beautiful her work is.

Picture books, you guys. They are something special.

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2017 Picture Book Summit

Print It’s back! The third annual Picture Book Summit is gearing up with another stellar lineup. And the best part is that you can attend this conference from your home and in your pajamas. Is there a better perk for a writer?

People ask me all the time how to start writing picture books, and I always answer in some combination of read read read and work work work. This is a great opportunity for studying the form and learning from some spectacular creative talent.

Check it out!

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The lineup for the 3rd annual Picture Book Summit online writing conference, set to take place Saturday, October 7, has been announced. Early Bird registration is now open. (Until August 25th!)

Headlining the event is Tomie dePaola, author of Strega Nona and more than 200 additional children’s books. The 2011 recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime contribution to American children’s literature will appear live to provide the opening keynote address.

The live online writing conference, reaching working and aspiring picture book writers across the globe, will feature a full day of keynotes, workshops and panels featuring top authors, editors and agents.

Also providing keynote addresses will be superstar picture book authors Carole Boston Weatherford (multiple Caldecott honoree, author of Freedom in Congo Square, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom and more than 50 additional books for children) and Adam Rex (New York Times bestsellers Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and School’s First Day of School).

Attendees will also enjoy workshops from author Steve Swinburne (Sea Turtle Scientist and Safe in a Storm), Julie Hedlund (My Love for You is the Sun), Greenburger Associates Literary Agent Brenda Bowen, and Laura Backes, publisher and founder of Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly.

Panel discussions will include a selection of children’s publishing’s top editors and agents. There will also be networking and submission opportunities for attendees.

The full day’s lineup, along with registration information, can be found here.

Also! There’s a free Mini Summit on August 22nd, perfect to dip your toes into online learning. Sign up here

Email me if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to help.

 

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Picture Book Summit was founded in 2015 as a collaborative project by the founders of Just Write Children’s Books, 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, Institute of Children’s Literature and Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly.

A portion of the proceeds from this year’s event will help restock the library shelves of two disadvantaged schools in Oregon and Connecticut.

A Different Pond

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by Bao Phi and Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers)

Here’s an intimate look at a family’s traditions in a new place. It’s familiar, but not. Home, but not.

A young boy and his father head out on an early morning adventure full of streetlights and stories and minnows.

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They park by a pond. Under the stars. In the dark.

For fish.

For food.

For America is expensive.

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Around a fire, the boy eats bologna. The dad remembers Vietnam. The pair. The pond.

The book is full of cool, dark blues. Warm, bright light. Calm and comfort. Home and home.

Both Phi and Bui came to America as small children, escaping Vietnam and heading toward hopeful futures. Their experience reflected here is a reminder for all of us—one of our ability to welcome and to love. A reminder of our humanity.

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Thanks to Capstone Young Readers for the images in this post. 

Colette’s Lost Pet

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by Isabelle Arsenault (Tundra Books, 2017)

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A new kid. A mission. A teensy, tiny fib.

This story could have ended so much differently–preachy or didactic or womp womp. And yet here, it’s a seed that sprouts a shared experience. That grows friends and imaginations and oh yes I have seen that bird.

But here, the neighborhood swells with maybes and hope and what’s your name? And this maybe-bird builds a community.

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Plus this thing is just so gorgeous.

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And I wish my handwriting looked like that.

It’s a perfect slice of life, when life is a new house and no friends and in one short afternoon you’ve got a squad. Kids do this so well, so seamlessly, so much better than grownups.

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If you can’t get enough of this sweet, dreamy art, take a look at this post where Isabelle talks with the folks at Picturebook Makers about Jane, the Fox, and Me.

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PS: Much more to come, but did you know you can preorder both This Is Not a Valentine and Everything You Need for a Treehouse now?! Here and here. I can’t wait for you to see these books!

And for fun, there’s one more #emojibooktalks over on Instagram! Do you know this middle grade novel?

Nerdcamp + #emojibooktalks

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my first book / my next book / All the Wonders buttons

The past week has been one big book-y blur. And every bit of it was so wonderful.

I went to Nerdcamp in Michigan, which was a pinch me kind of week. The internet literally came to life right before my eyes, and tiny square avatars became dear, dear friends. It took an astounding crew of volunteers to plan something this magical for teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators, and just plain wow.

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Do you know Emily Arrow? We led a session on oomph-ing up your storytime, and it was so much fun. We made it into Travis’s recap post here if you want to see us in quasi-action. What you can’t see or hear is the banana shaker! Or how I said if you’re not sweating during storytime, you’re doing it wrong. (Which I mean in the least judge-y way, promise!) I’m working on a post of insta-storytime hits, so keep an eye out for that.

I also led a session on creating story arcs with these incredible talents: Melanie Conklin, Laura Shovan, and Stacey Riedmiller. I even got the scribbles in the middle of our session for a story I’m working on now. It was so energizing and very, very special.

And then this amazing thing happens after the grownups leave Nerdcamp–the kids come storming in. Hundreds and hundreds of them. It’s this incredible night that feels like a big book party sleepover thing. It’s Nerdcamp Junior, and it was spectacular. Kids shuffle from author to illustrator to pizza to Draw-Off, and leave with books and a notebook and ideas and new friends.

I got to work with fourth graders, and we rolled emoji dice to make stories and poems and here’s my favorite. Sam and I wrote this together:

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Amazing, right?

I’m a huge emoji fan for booktalks. They are these perfect little visual representations of big themes, perfect for summarizing the best parts of the best books. This is how I’d book talk A Rambler Steals Home, and I love love love walking kids through the story this way.

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I love to challenge kids (and grownups!) to guess a book based on a string of emoji, and after a little more plotting and brainstorming with Emily, #emojibooktalks was born. So! What does that mean? Keep an eye on my Instagram feed, swipe left, and guess the book! I kicked things off today with an easy one. Do you know it? Stay tuned for more!

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The rest are here! But I’d bet you already know it . . .

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Life on Mars

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by Jon Agee (Dial Books, 2017)

The trickiest thing to get right in a picture book is its drama between the words and the pictures. Its theatrics. Its page-turning-suspense.

Jon Agee is so very good at this. Always, and Life on Mars is not an exception.

This brave little astronaut heads to Mars. With a neatly wrapped up gift. That’s what you do when you barge in on someone else’s life.

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Except, nobody seems to be there after all.

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Except . . .

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Luckily, this brave little astronaut forges on, and he does find life. A flower, a yellow one, nestled into some steep rocks.

And he is thrilled.

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There’s something so delightful in this gigantic martian just going along with it. Maybe he’s scared the little astronaut will get spooked. Maybe he’s spooked himself. But to lay down and lift this small invader up to see his rocket ship? The sweetest.

Strangers, but friends.

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PS: Here’s a fun interview my pal Travis did with Jon. And where we all first got a peek of the trailer!

Heart and Home: A Middle Grade Panel

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Mark your calendars, southern California! I’m so excited to talk all things middle grade with these three fellow debuts–Sally, Jennifer, and Danielle. Won’t you join us?

More info here.

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PS: If you have read A Rambler Steals Home, would you mind a quick review and/or starring it at Amazon? When a book hits fifty reviews (good or bad!) it’s more visible to other buyers. Thank you! In other news, I updated my books page here. Scroll down for preorder links for This is Not a Valentine!

This House, Once + An Interview With Deborah Freedman

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by Deborah Freedman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017)

When friends come visit my blog, I always ask them who their story heroes are. Deborah Freedman is one of mine. Here’s why.

Your picture books are all lovely meditations on deeply important things: creativity, friendship, books, home. How do you turn a big idea into a small story?

Well thank you for this extremely flattering description of my books, Carter, although I’m not sure that it’s earned! It’s an interesting question.

I’ve never really thought of the themes in my books as “big ideas,” because they have all come straight from my small life, and often feel, to be honest, more self-indulgent than important. For instance, BLUE CHICKEN was inspired in part by my own messy and often fraught process of creating; BY FROG & MOUSE is about the challenges of collaboration, like on a book with my editor, or on a life with my husband; with SHY, I was thinking about how scary it is to put a piece of myself — each book — out into the world. And so on. Sometimes I have a specific theme in mind when I begin; other times, themes emerge while I’m writing.

So, turning the “big” idea into a story? See above re BLUE CHICKEN! Imagine drawing a huge scribble and then trying to find the beginning and end of the line— you know they are there somewhere, but all those squiggles, all those knots, and which end came first? I really don’t know how to explain how I get from big or small idea to story and which comes first. Because although I do begin with some sort of idea or concept, it’s often visual (like, hey, wouldn’t a book full of water be cool), and the storytelling part does not come naturally to me at all (uh, ok, but what is it ABOUT?). I’m pitifully plot-challenged.

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Used with permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

What’s the background of This House, Once?

The background to the background is that my agent, Stephen Barr, understands this anxiety of mine about crafting plots, and so we had been chatting for a while about the possibility of my trying non-fiction — not that non-fiction is easier, and not that non-fiction doesn’t require some sort of narrative arc, but perhaps it could give me a break from the character development/plotty part of writing. So I was thinking about that when, one day, a few lines of a non-fiction-ish idea called “This House, Once” came to me. I nervously sent them off: “This door was once a colossal oak tree, about four hugs around and as high as the blue…

Stephen immediately prodded me to continue. It took me a couple of months to wrap my arms around the bazillion different directions this vague idea about a house could go in, but compared to my other books, it poured out. Maybe it had been incubating for years in my former-architect self without my being fully conscious of it? I don’t know. In any case, Stephen and I were both passionate about the little dummy I’d made, but he had just sold SHY to Viking, so we agreed to put THIS HOUSE, ONCE on the back burner for a while. Then my daughter, who is an (amazing, talented, etc. ) editor at Atheneum, just happened to come home, and just happened to casually ask what I was working on…

Well, Emma fell in love with it immediately. And the rest… well, working on a book about home with my daughter — I can’t begin to express how special that’s been.

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Used with permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Can you tell us about your process?

Emma was moved by the text from her first read, and really didn’t ask for significant changes there. We did, however, revise the pacing of it; with Ann Bobco, Atheneum’s brilliant art director, we carefully adjusted the placement of the words to maximize the impact of each page turn, and we added a couple of spreads to the book. This involved going back and forth with thumbnails and sketches for a while, until everyone was happy. Then they both gave me a lot of input as I worked on the final art — really pushing me, which I truly appreciated.

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Who are some of your story heroes? (Fictional or creators!)

A few Fictional favorites (among many) are Russell Hoban’s Frances, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, Ezra Jack Keats’s Peter — imperfect, conflicted, funny, endearing. Their creators, of course, are my heroes. Also, William Steig, Ruth Krauss, Maira Kalman… I could go on all day.

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from Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life, by Maurice Sendak, 1967

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

Yikes, choosing favorites — not my favorite thing to do! Ben and I have a lot of art and art books (including picturebooks) in our house, and objects from all over the world. And our house is full of children’s art, made by our kids when they were little, and now our small grandchildren, and I have a wonderful collection of art from my readers… Inspiring, all of it.

What’s next for you?

The next official thing, assuming I make sense of the mess eventually, will be another picture book for Viking. And I always have a few things simmering, so we shall see…

df-studio Lovely, right? Thank you, Deborah!

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© Deborah Freedman 2017

 

Pax and Blue and an Interview with Lori Richmond

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by Lori Richmond (Simon and Schuster, 2017)

I’ve been so fortunate to get to know this fabulous author, illustrator, and human this year, and I’m so pleased to introduce you to her today. Unless you also know her, and aren’t we lucky?*

Meet Lori!

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When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

I came to love picture books through art. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to draw. My professional career has always been related to art or design — for 20+ years I was Creative Director at various corporate media companies. But the nature of my industry shifted, and design, especially digital product design, became very data-driven and technical. While there were some things I liked about it, I found that my daily tasks at work were no longer aligning with my personal goals. This was a tough thing to go through, because so many of us conflate our own identity with what we do for work.

Out of frustration and fatigue, I went shopping for art supplies. Oh man, is there nothing better than the smell of new art supplies?! I began drawing and painting again late at night after my kids went to bed, and I felt so refreshed and joyful. I took some continuing education classes at School of Visual Arts (SVA), where my husband teaches as an adjunct professor, and one of those was a picture book class. Thinking about making a picture book was so magical to me. To have something you made, and can hold in your hand and share with children — it was the piece I was missing in my professional work. I fell in love with the process and knew I had to pursue it.

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How did PAX AND BLUE originate?

We live in Brooklyn, so my kids are used to taking the subway everywhere. My then 3-year-old told me a story about when he was out with our babysitter, and that there was a pigeon stuck in the station. My son was so worried about the bird and talking about how frightened it must have been. Pigeons are certainly not the most revered urban animal, so it struck me how the child’s perspective was so sweet and innocent. My son was little, just like the bird, and could empathize with it. I knew it was a good seedling for a story, so I went from there and started on it while I was at SVA, and also workshopped it at Pat Cummings’ Bootcamp at Highlights. Originally, the title of the book was PAX AND THE PIGEON. In my mind, it kind of still is!

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What was it like to be both the author and illustrator for the first time?

I had no idea what I was doing, and still feel like I don’t. But I LOVE being the author and the illustrator, because you have the power to have the art do so much of the talking. I find that as I draw, more and more words go away. My editor, Paula Wiseman, and I edited a lot of text out of the book. The drawings were doing all the talking and left more room for the reader to discover the story and emotion on their own.

Can you tell us about your process? (And if you have any pictures of your studio or PAX-in- progress, that would be excellent!)

I usually begin with the words first. I may not have the entire narrative or all the character nuances laid out, but I need to have some kind of foundation for the story before I start thumbnailing. I admire artists who draw characters for years and get to know them, and their story comes out. That has never happened to me. (Maybe one day!!)  I do love the thumbnailing part of the process — the loose scribbles and the thinking part. Everything feels so malleable at that stage, and it is very free flowing. I like to challenge myself to come up with multiple solutions to the same problem. Sometimes I think of something way better, and other times it helps me validate my first thought as the strongest.

PAX AND BLUE looked really different in the initial submission to Simon & Schuster. It always had a limited color palette, but it wasn’t until about a year after the submission and we began to work on it, that I revisited the art. I created new character studies for Pax and expanded the palette while still staying true to the original feel. I wanted to be like a modern version of LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE (by Bernard Waber) where the backgrounds and environments recede and the characters really stand out on the page. I love books of that era! This also led to me asking (ahem, begging?) my editor for a 3-piece binding. That was a really special touch that helped give the book a vintage feel.

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What’s your studio like?

I am part of a co-working studio in Brooklyn called Friends Work Here. We are an eclectic mix of all types of creatives, including writers, photographers, designers, and video artists. And we even have an indoor swing, people!! I like having a separate workspace and the community that comes along with it. The studio is very conveniently located to my home, too, which is helpful when I have to be home for my boys.

Who are some of your story heroes?

I absolutely love THE CARROT SEED by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson, and SNOW by Uri Shulevitz. Both are such simple stories about a child’s belief in themselves, and persistence in those thoughts no matter what everyone else says. I love these kind of universal messages that stand the test of time.  As for modern books, my current favorite is LIFE ON MARS by Jon Agee. It’s one of those books I wish I had thought of! So well done, and the pictures say so much. And it’s so funny!

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

This is a classic case of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes. I make books, and my husband is a photographer, and we have no art on our walls. We also don’t have too many walls, because we live in a city apartment! I do always let my children hang up their work, though. I never get angry about tape or adhesives on the walls. It’s really fun to see them feel pride in their creations. My younger son has completely covered the wall surrounding my bed with love notes. So, those are definitely my favorite right now.

What’s next for you?

2018 is going to be a crazy year. In March 2018, my next author-illustrated title, BUNNY’S STAYCATION (Scholastic), will hop into the world. This is an incredibly special book about a parent who travels for work. I can’t wait to share! Then in Spring 2018 comes a super-cute book I illustrated called OOPSIE-DO (HarperCollins), written by Tim Kubart. And, finally, in Summer 2018 comes SKELLY’S HALLOWEEN (Henry Holt), written by David Martin. Whew!

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*This is a recurring line in my novel, A Rambler Steals Home, and it pops into my head so many times I just use it as much as I can. Cool, right?

Thanks to Lori for the fantastic pictures in this post!

Happy Dreamer + A giveaway

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by Peter H. Reynolds (Scholastic, 2017)

Hi, all! I’m popping in this week with a quick bookdrop thanks to Scholastic, who is giving away a copy of Peter H. Reynold’s latest. This book is a hefty dash of hope for children living with ADHD. Children with minds that are different and delightful and a gift.

Check it out:

You can learn more about Peter’s book here, and listen to him speak about it here.

Comment on this post by Friday, April 28th at 11:59 PM PST for a chance to win. US addresses only.

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PS: WINNERS!

Congratulations to Annette Bay Pimentel for winning the Vampirina prize pack, and Manju Howard for winning The Book of Mistakes. Please email me your addresses. Everyone else: keep an eye on my other social media channels this week. I have some more copies of The Book of Mistakes that need homes!