ABC Pop-Up + An Interview with Courtney Watson McCarthy

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by Courtney Watson McCarthy (Candlewick, 2017)

Just when you think you’ve seen every ABC book, something fresh pops up. This one is clever and sophisticated, and I got to chat with Courtney Watson McCarthy about all things engineering and design and just plain happiness.

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When, how, or why did you get into making pop-up books?

I have always loved MAKING things. I enjoyed drawing as a child but I really loved constructing things, usually out of paper and tape. I learned early on how to use an x-acto knife with my dad, constructing movable paper objects from a kit called Spooner’s Moving Animals.

I stumbled into the world of pop-ups and paper engineering unintentionally, probably as most do. I started collecting pop-up books and mimicking what I was seeing, I made cards and gifts for people. But one day, I had an “aha!” moment when I realized that it was someone’s actual job to make these books and I set out to learn how. I was living in CA at the time and was fortunate enough to find a class on pop-ups offered at The Art Center of Pasadena. A short while later, I moved back to New York City and on a whim, emailed Robert Sabuda photos of the pop-ups I created in class. He and his business partner Matthew Reinhart invited me to his studio to talk about all things pop-ups. A short time later, they offered me a freelance job in the studio. However, on the very same day, I was offered a full time design position with Penguin Books. I was living in a new city, about to get married and terrified of the freelance life! So I thanked them for their offer and accepted the “safe” job. I have always wondered how it would have turned out if I had accepted Robert’s offer but working for Penguin was a great experience and helped me to learn a lot about the inner workings of publishing. I always knew I would find my way back into paper engineering and that it had to be on my own path.

Only a few years later, however, after the birth of my first daughter, I found myself ready for the flexibility and the creativity that freelancing can provide. I started out building little pop-ups, during nap times, of my some of my daughter’s favorite things. These would be the beginnings of ABC Pop-Up though it would take another ten years to come to fruition.

I am sure there’s got to be a link between your history in theater and set design and paper engineering. Can you talk to that a little?

I fell in love with theater in high school, primarily being onstage. But during my time majoring in theater at Hampshire College, I found that I was more interested in shaping what a production looks like, rather than be in it. My love of set design definitely had a huge influence on becoming a paper engineer. Creating a scenic design for theater requires you to step inside the play, truly visualize where these characters are and then create a physical representation of that vision. Creating a pop-up book is creating through that same process but in a smaller scale. I also found I enjoyed both model building and technical drafting, both skills necessary for scenic design. Creating pop-up books require the same skills, paper skills for creating the pops, and technical drawing to create the files necessary to recreate the books.

What are you most hopeful to see in this book’s readers?

Joy! It was designed loosely based around my daughters’ favorite things, an odd collection that would make one of them squeal in delight or coo contentedly. It’s a lovely small book meant to be shared on laps. I love seeing the delight on children’s faces when they open a pop-up book for the first time.

Publishing pop-up books is always a challenge. They are expensive and time consuming to produce, as every single one must be hand-assembled. In the digital world we are all occupying now, with everything so easily download-able, I believe it is more important than ever to keep producing actual books on paper. Pop-up books stimulate imagination and creativity and can also be a fabulous learning tool. Getting them into the hands of young readers helps keep the artform alive.

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Can you tell us about your process?

ABC Pop-Up came about very slowly, almost by accident. I began working on several unrelated small pop-ups over 10 years ago, mostly just to get the creative juices flowing. I then did a series of pop-up books, mostly collaborating with a packager based in the UK, using existing art and recreating them in three dimensions. Those books, on subjects such as MC Escher and Salvador Dali, followed similar processes. I do a lot of research on the artist and spend days and weeks simply studying the art. Slowly, I separate the artwork into layers, thinking about what pop-up mechanisms would work best. I then build very rough white dummies before laying the artwork on top. Typically, you can create pop-ups and then create the artwork to fit within it. But in these cases I am using existing art that can’t be altered and I have to find ways merely to enhance it.

With ABC Pop-Up I had significantly more creative freedom, as I was creating each piece from scratch and could essentially do whatever I wanted! Five or six years ago, an editor saw some of the first few spreads (apple, balloons, juice) and said “Hey there’s a little alphabet book here!”

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I then slowly developed each spread up through the letter O. I made up several samples, as well as a short video of the project so far and sent it out to about ten different publishers. I had the highest hopes to work with Candlewick as they have an excellent reputation with paper engineers and make beautiful pop-up books. I received polite rejections from every single publisher EXCEPT Candlewick! They said they loved it but I had to finish it before they could commit. So back to the drawing board to complete the book. I think I revised the R/S/T spread (roots, swing, tree) more times than the entire book put together.

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Every time you adjust one small angle you have to adjust everything else, especially with such a small book, to make sure nothing is sticking out of the sides.

My very messy desk and some of my tools:

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Once all of the dummies are finalized, I lay out all of the components of the book onto one large document in the computer. This is called a nesting sheet.

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This provides the printer with all the information they need to recreate the book. From there, multiple dummies are made, checked, adjusted and remade.

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Until the final arrives!

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Who are some of your story heroes?

I read aloud to my daughters every single night, particularly stories with strong female protagonists lately. I love being able to share favorite characters from my own childhood memories as well as discover new ones. Claudia Kincaid of From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a fascinating portrayal of a 12 year old, strong, defiant, complex. My youngest daughter and I recently tore through the entire Clementine series, laughing out loud the whole time.

I tend to gravitate toward misfit characters, the ones who feel they don’t fit in or don’t care about fitting in. Ramona Quimby, of course, Anne Shirley, Lyra of His Dark Materials, Violet Baudelaire, Peter Sis’ Madlenka. Not surprisingly I find I’m drawn to books that incorporate paper somehow into the storyline. Years ago, I fell in love with Clare the paper artist from Audrey Niffennegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. And I have revisited Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus multiple times, losing myself in her magical otherworldly descriptions.

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

I’m sure it’s common to answer with your children’s art but seriously, what they produce in a month is more creativity that I can imagine in a year. My eldest is an amazing writer and my youngest creates amazing paper sculptures.

A table set for tea made out of construction paper and tape by my daughter at age 7.

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What I love most about the art in our house is that each piece has some kind of a story or memory attached to it. A small piece purchased while traveling, artwork given to us by friends. Currently we have a print of Faith Ringgold’s Freedom of Speech hanging in our dining room that has prompted a lot of interesting meaningful dinnertime conversations.

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What’s next for you?

I have been working on several private commissions this past year. But I’m eager to get back some new book ideas of my own!

And guess what? I have an extra copy of this delightful book for one of you! Just comment here by Friday, February 2nd at noon PST for a chance to win. US only please.

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An Anniversary, A Newsletter, and a Giveaway!

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A Rambler Steals Home / This Is Not a Valentine / Everything You Need for a Treehouse

I started this blog six years ago. What was my first post?

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This one. (FPH forever.)

It was a Sunday. It was the tenth anniversary of that day. I wanted to do something comforting and hopeful. I’ve always found that in books.

Six years later, this online notebook with bad photographs and only my mom reading has become a career in writing them. And librarian-ing again. And meeting the best book people along the way. This blog isn’t going anywhere, but I do want a place to share even more. And so!

A newsletter! I won’t spam you or share your email address. But I will give away books. It’s a thing.

Up for grabs first: three copies of my first picture book! Subscribe by the end of September to enter. Easy!

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(I really think you’ll like this thing. We do!)

Click here to subscribe.

From the bottom of my picture-book-filled soul, thank you.

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PS: I also wrote about Princess Hyacinth for Design Mom two years later! That post is here

Vampirina At the Beach and a Giveaway!

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by Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)

One of the best parts of making books is meeting other book makers. And since I’m lucky to know these two, I was extra excited when the folks at Disney reached out about celebrating this book. It’s brand-new-just-released one week ago on April 4th, 2017. Happy Birthday to you, Vampirina!

The books in this series are fun and funny and sweet and empowering. Because of that, they are never on my library’s shelves. They are total hits.

Here’s your chance to win this super prize pack so you can meet Vampiric Ballerina for yourself! That’s all three books starring this dancer plus some gear for a day at the beach. Storytime on a beach blanket? Perfect.

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To win, comment on this post by Thursday, April 13th, at 11:59 pm PST.

You can also follow Disney-Hyperion for all the fun on Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #VampirinaBallerina.

Good luck!

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Open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Hotel Bruce and a Giveaway

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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.

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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:

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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 books.disney.com. // Follow Disney Books on Twitter and Instagram. // Add DisneyBooks on Snapchat

Ryan T. Higgins (ryanthiggins.com) 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!

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Ballet Cat + a giveaway!

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by Bob Shea (Disney-Hyperion, 2016)

This post is brought to you in partnership with Disney-Hyperion.

Can you look at these covers and not smile? Impossible. They w a m – p o w you with sparkles and awesome and confidence and an difficult-to-beat title like Dance! Dance! Underpants!

But beyond the glitter and brilliant character design, these are stories with a lot of heart. These are friendship stories that get right at the gut of telling the truth and not disappointing the people you love and the silly disaster of wearing goofy-looking underpants.

They are fun, they are fresh, and they are for young readers who deserve great books.

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I can’t read these without hearing Bob Shea’s voice, and you can too if you check this fun thing out:

And you’re in luck! The fine folks at Disney-Hyperion would like to give these two gems to you along with a plush Ballet Cat (who is so cute!) from MerryMakers, Inc.

All you have to do is comment here by midnight PST on Friday, February 12th.

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File Feb 08, 6 00 57 PM BobShea Happy ballet-ing!

Bob Shea is the author of the first book about Ballet Cat: THE TOTALLY SECRET SECRET, the Dinosaur vs. series, and several other picture books, including DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD and UNICORN THINKS HE’S PRETTY GREAT. He and his wife have their own design studio in Madison, Connecticut.

The Totally Secret Secret

Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests–making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade–goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. When Sparkles’s leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what’s wrong. Sparkles doesn’t want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won’t want to hear. What Sparkles doesn’t know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?

Dance! Dance! Underpants!

Ballet Cat is getting her friend Butter Bear ready for her big ballet debut. “Leap, Butter Bear, leap!” Ballet Cat prompts. But Butter Bear would prefer to just point her toe. When Ballet Cat keeps pushing, Butter Bear gets hungry, then thirsty, then sleepy . . . The bottom line is that Butter Bear would rather do almost anything to avoid making a big leap. Why? Because her bottom is covered in silly underpants! This second entry in the Ballet Cat series will have beginning readers rolling on the floor with laughter.

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Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

12 Days of Picture Books with Penguin Young Readers

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Well, don’t ask me twice!

I’m excited to join forces with Penguin Young Readers to celebrate one of my favorite parts of the season: more time to read. Check out what they’ve come up with here, a site where you can create custom lists of favorites for all ages of readers. I’m a huge fan of this one, this one, and this one. And whoa, check the cover on this one!

And the good news for you is that Penguin is running a pretty spectacular series of giveaways over on Facebook. Go see!

Today’s feature (and Facebook giveaway!) is the wham-bam-what-just-happened Robo-Sauce, by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri.

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Now, I’ve seen lots of books. And lots of design elements in those lots of books. And I have never ever ever seen something like this.

Here’s a thing that’s true: robots are awesome. Kids love robots. Now, if only there was something that would allow said kid to turn anything they see or touch or smell or feel into a robot. Good thing there is that something, and it’s called Robo-Sauce. (Recipe included.)

B A N G !

F L A S H !

B O O M !

It works.

It works so well that everything our hero touches turns into a robot. Everything, including the very book that he’s a part of. Really.

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Crazy, chaotic, and the most wacky and original thing I’ve ever seen inside (and outside) a picture book.

Don’t miss it! (Or the 12 Days of Picture Books with Penguin Young Readers!)

And for more behind the scenes of Robo-Sauce, check out Matthew Winner’s interview with Adam Rubin on the Let’s Get Busy podcast.

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How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don’t Have a Clue + an interview with Jess Keating

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by Jess Keating (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2015)

Heads up, email subscribers: my blog took a bit of a tumble so I’m reposting what was lost in the shuffle. Apologies, and thank you for reading!

Sometimes you meet people on the internet who are instantly your kind of people. And all of a sudden they aren’t a tiny square avatar, but a real friend who sends you ketchup chips from Canada and the best gifs to your email. They support you on this whirling road of publishing, and they make you laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and you wish that Canada and California weren’t so far away.

Let me introduce you to my friend Jess Keating. She’s got great books and she’s a better friend, and I’m so happy to have her here today to celebrate her newest story in the My Life is a Zooseries, How to O

And also, it’s not just me. These guys liked her too . . .

“With her trademark kid-oriented wit and lighthearted touch, Keating leads readers through the daily emotional ups and downs of the typical just-turned-teenager who is trying to juggle hormones, parents, schoolwork, and, most importantly, her friends…A sweet reminder that being middle school girl is about far more than boys and makeup.” –Kirkus, starred review

So: here she is!

Hi Jess!

Hello, my dear Carter! Thank you for having me!

Can you give us some backstory on Ana? Is there any young-Jess-Keating wrapped up in her?

There is definitely a lot of young-me in Ana. I’ve always been an animal nut, and I was raised on Kratt’s Creatures, Crocodile Hunter, and Jane Goodall. Savvy readers might notice that Ana’s middle name is Jane—both she and her mother share this name to honor Dr. Goodall!

As a kid, it was my dream to live in a zoo, surrounded by strange animals. Obviously, my parents thought this would be rather hazardous, so instead they let me decorate my room to look like the rainforest. I even stuck plastic lizards and poison arrow frogs to my walls. Sometimes I even pretended I was David Attenborough, narrating my way through the day with a bad British accent.

Ana is also a giant nerd, who struggles with feeling like an outsider a lot. I think that’s something a lot of us share (particularly as teens and tweens), and I was no exception. It takes guts to share your passions, you know? I think Ana is also a very lucky kid, in that she’s surrounded by intelligent people who challenge her to pursue her dreams. We have that in common too.

Which do you most identify with: having untied shoelaces, missing a snorkel, or not having a clue?

Untied shoelaces!

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What’s your ideal writing scenario? Snacks? Tunes?

Yes to snacks! I’m a big fan of popcorn and chocolate chips. Together or separately, really. My awesome agent Kathleen Rushall introduced me to Songza, which I’ve found to be perfect for playing background music while I write. I listen to mainly movie scores and video game soundtracks.

I like to move around a lot as I work, so I have a standing desk that’s really just a wooden crate that props up my laptop. That’s about it! Oh, and Post-It notes. Millions and millions of Post-It notes.

Which came first, these characters or their scenarios?

The characters came first, for sure. I think once you’ve got characters you know well, especially their flaws, it’s really a matter of plunking them down with some challenges and letting them find their way. I’ve always had such a clear picture of Ana, Daz, and Shep, so they seem to run the show. With each book, I have a general idea of a setting I’d like to explore, but I like to give them some freedom in getting there.

But sometimes writing can surprise you! Characters like Sugar and Bella were much quieter in my mind, and getting to know them better as the series continues has been extra fun.

What has been your most favorite scene to write and edit? Just don’t spoil us too much!

I love writing funny scenes, embarrassing scenes, and downright awful ‘fight’ scenes between friends. There’s just so much juicy emotion in these!

My favorite scene to write in OUTFOX revolves around Ana doing a Superman impression. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a scene I’ve wanted to write since the beginning of the series!

Describe Canada in one word.

Home!

What gif best describes your feelings for this book’s birthday week?

Ahh, you know how much I love gifs! I have so many feelings, I have to give you two! Publishing a book is a funny thing—it never stops being exciting. With every new book, I feel like Bilbo going on an adventure:

And this week especially, I’m so thankful and humbled that we get to continue Ana’s story in a third book. It takes so many people to get the story in your head on a shelf, and the readers who pick it up are really the reason we do this. So, I have a lot of love for everyone who works so hard to make these books, and those who have been with Ana from the start. Hence, hobbit hugs:

What’s coming next for you?

I like working on several projects at once, so I’ve got lots to keep me busy! My first nonfiction picture book is coming out in February, called PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH. It’s all about challenging the notion that “pink is for girls”, showcasing bizarre, dangerous, and unique pink animals. I’m tickled pink for this one! (Sorry.) This book is part of a new series called “The World of Weird Creatures”, so I’m also working on the next one! I can’t share the title yet, but I’ve definitely never seen anything like it before. Hee!

I’m also deliriously happy to report that we’ve just sold my first picture book biography!SHARK LADY is all about the life of Eugenie Clark, an incredible female scientist who studied—you guessed it—sharks. She is one of the coolest ladies I’ve ever come across, and I’m so excited to share her story!

Thanks again for having me!

And!

The wonderful folks at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky are going to give away a complete set of Jess’s My Life is a Zoo series to a lucky reader! Head here to enter! (https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/54ca7af7194/)

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Good luck!

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About the Author:

Jess Keating is a zoologist and the author of the critically acclaimed How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied. Jess is also the author of the playful nonfiction picture book Pink is for Blobfish (Knopf Children’s, 2016). She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she loves writing books for adventurous and funny kids. Visit Jess at jesskeating.com.

You can also find her at these places:

Website

Twitter

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Instagram

(And you’ll be so glad you did.)

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The Story of Diva and Flea + a giveaway

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by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi (Disney Publishing, 2015)

These duos, both Diva and Flea and Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi: true friends.

I love a good young chapter book, and this one is a real treat. Friends in Paris, small animals that shouldn’t be so sweet to one another, ribbons and shaggy hair and flâneur-ing.

From the publisher:

Diva, a small yet brave dog, and Flea, a curious streetwise cat, develop an unexpected friendship in this unforgettable tale of discovery.

For as long as she could remember, Diva lived at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. For as long as he could remember, Flea also lived in Paris, France–but at no fixed address. When Flea flâneurs past Diva’s courtyard one day, their lives are forever changed. Together, Diva and Flea explore and share their very different worlds, as only true friends can do.

I’m so excited to bring you an opportunity to win both a copy of this book and a friendship bracelet kit, because all great pairs need to wrap their love on their wrists. This prize pack is courtesy of Disney Publishing.

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Comment below by midnight PST on October 13th, which is The Story of Diva and Flea‘s book birthday, and you’ll be all set to celebrate your very best friend.

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Mo Willems, a number one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, has been awarded a Caldecott Honor on three occasions (for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity).Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! was also an inaugural inductee into the Indies Choice Picture Book Hall of Fame. The celebrated Elephant & Piggie early-reader series has been awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal on two occasions (for There Is a Bird on Your Head! and Are You Ready to Play Outside?) as well as garnering four Honors (for We Are in a Book!, I Broke My Trunk!, Let’s Go for a Drive! and A Big Guy Took My Ball!).

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Tony DiTerlizzi, a number-one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, created the middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles with Holly Black, which has sold millions of copies, been translated into more than 30 languages and made into a feature film. He won a Caldecott Honor for illustrating The Spider & The Fly, and in 2014 he teamed up with Lucasfilm to retell the original Star Wars trilogy in a picture book featuring artwork by Academy award-winning concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife, daughter and dog, Mimi.

Bonne chance!

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Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney Publishing.

Everything You Need for a Celebration

Mimi

It’s been a busy few weeks around here. I’m still trying to figure out where the summer part of summer is!

But.

It’s all been fantastic things.

CLICK TO READ MORE

The Baby Tree

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackallby Sophie Blackall

published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books, at Penguin KidsThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallAbout a year ago, I heard Sophie Blackall give a keynote at SCBWI Western Washington. She wears great tights and shoes and is a total riot. She had this effervescent spirit that had the whole room in stitches. It felt like watching one of her illustrations bounce right off the page and into the room.

See, I’m a big fan. Ivy and Bean are soul sisters. I gushed about The Crows of Pearblossom and The Mighty Lalouche over at Design Mom, and still stand by this tweet from the end of 2013.

Her work has sprinkles of fairy dust or something in it – something enchanting and mysterious and compelling and darn beautiful.

And this, her latest offering, is both calming and humorous, sweet and sassy. It’s a bound and beautiful answer to the dreaded where do babies come from?

breaker She’s so in tune with the vast (and sometimes creepy!) imagination of a youngster, and look at how that plays out in this art. Real life is a spot illustration, surrounded by white space and unknowns. But the what if bleeds to the edge of the page, filling every millimeter with color and wonder and possibility. Not only is it stunning to see, it’s intentional storytelling. The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall The Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallHat tip, always, to Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for the interview that revealed that delicious tidbit. Check out her interview (and more art!) with Sophie here.

Sophie works in Brooklyn with other illustrators Brian Floca, Ed Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Sergio Ruzzier. Can you even imagine spending an hour in that studio, soaking it all up and trying not to faint and fall in it? Dream field trip, for sure. Their kinship and support of one another has always been so apparent. Look here, and here, and here to see what I mean.

But also, look inside The Baby Tree for a glimpse at their love and support of one another. What’s our pajama-clad wonderer reading with Mom and Dad, all cozied up in bed? I won’t spoil it for you, cause it was a gasp-moment for me. If you’ll bust without knowing, check out Danielle’s post over at This Picture Book Life about allusions in picture books. (And stay there a while even once you see what I’m talking about, cause how brilliant is that?!)

You’d like a copy, right? Penguin has two to give away to you! (And you!) Just leave a comment on this post by Monday at noon PST, June 2nd. I’ll pick two, and have the stork deliver The Baby Tree right to your doorstep. Good luck!

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Review copy provided by the publisher, all thoughts and love my own.