About the Holiday
If you ask a child—maybe even an adult—to name a magical creature, chances are they’ll say, “a unicorn!” Unicorns have been part of legend since ancient times, undergoing changes from an image of fierceness and power to a representation of strength and true love to today’s more glittery superstar. To celebrate today, I’m thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal for a book about a very special—and nimble!—trio of unicorns that kids will fall in love with!
Written by Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard | Illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
The healing, restorative power of yoga has been known for centuries, and more people than ever are active practitioners. Now even the youngest of readers can learn this mind and body exercise, helping them set up a lifetime of healthy habits. Through clear, easy-to-follow instructions, a unicorn yogi, along with two energetic students, leads children through a ten-pose class. Kid-friendly back matter provides additional information on yoga, as well as tips on mindfulness, encouraging readers to develop their own daily practice.
Children reap tremendous benefits from learning the mindfulness that yoga has to offer—from stress reduction to better concentration in school. The adorable unicorns in Unicorn Yoga make giggly and supportive companions for kids learning this health-boosting exercise.
Ages 5 – 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534111066
Unicorn Yoga will be released on July 15. The book is available for preorder with these booksellers
I was delighted to talk with authors Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard and illustrator Jennifer Sattler about Unicorn Yoga, their inspirations, the best part of writing for children, and so much more!
Meet Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard
Gina Cascone is the author of 30 books in several different genres, and has written for screen and television. Around the World Right Now is her first picture book, a joyful collaboration with her daughter inspired by her granddaughter’s unrelenting curiosity. She lives with her husband in central New Jersey. They have two grown children, two grandchildren, and three cats.
Bryony Williams Sheppard holds a degree in Theater Education from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and a master’s degree in educational psychology. She has been teaching since the age of 17 and loves bringing different stories to life with her students. She is also a teacher near Princeton, New Jersey, where her favorite part of lesson planning is choosing the best book for each class. When not working, Bryony enjoys spending time in her noisy house with her husband, two children, two cats, and a dog.
Welcome, Gina and Bryony! I’m really happy to be talking with you about your book! Before we jump into questions about Unicorn Yoga, let’s let readers get to know you both a little better.
Gina, When did you become interested in being a children’s writer?
My first published book was actually a memoir, Pagan Babies and Other Catholic Memories, a humorous, child’s eye view of parochial education. Then I wrote fiction for adults, until an editor asked if I could write thrillers for teens. So, I did that for a while and enjoyed it very much. Until yet another editor asked for scary chiller stories for middle-grade readers. That was great fun and a great fit for me since Bree insists that I have the soul of an eight-year-old boy – which is probably why I am so happy and comfortable in the company of children.
You’re known for your middle-grade Deadtime Stories series and young adult thrillers. What have you found to be the challenges and rewards of writing picture books?
For me, the greatest challenge of writing picture books is the economy of the medium. To convey an idea that could fill many pages in just a few, well-chosen words to teach, entertain, and inspire is hard work. The reward is the great joy of being able to read an entire book in one sitting to the best audience in the world – children.
Bree, You have a degree in theater education as well as a Master’s degree in educational psychology and work as an elementary school teacher. How does your theater background influence your teaching style? Does it have an impact on your writing?
I often say that teaching preschool is a lot like being in theater. You always have to be on and ready to entertain your crowd because the moment you lose them, they turn on you! Many of the skills that you gain from being involved in theater can develop academic abilities and are general skills. Reading comprehension, public speaking, confidence, team building, creativity, and so much more, are developed through theater. I often use lessons and games I’ve learned in theater over the years in my class to help challenge my students both socially and academically.
Since your mom is a writer, have you also always been interested in writing?
Honestly, no. It never really crossed my mind until she asked me – well, told me actually – to write Around the World Right Now with her. It was such a wonderful experience!
Thanks so much! It’s wonderful to see how in sync you two are and what fun you have together. Now I just have to ask: unicorns and yoga make an intriguing pair! What was the spark for this adorable concept?
Because yoga provides so many benefits, it seems only logical to introduce the practice to children as early as possible. So, we approached our editor with a picture book to do just that. She shared it with the wonderfully creative team at Sleeping Bear Press and came back to us with the idea that unicorns might encourage children to become engaged.
The concept was not as far-fetched as our editor feared we might find it. After all, both yogis and unicorns are joyful, playful, and magical. There is an even more concrete correlation. In the Indus River Valley, in India, five-thousand-year-old bronze seals have been found; some depicting yogis and some depicting unicorns.
Unicorn Yoga is the second picture book, after Around the World Right Now (Sleeping Bear Press) that you’ve collaborated on. What inspired you to begin writing picture books?
When I first started writing children’s books, Bree was a child herself. She was my perfect little creative consultant. When she’d come home from school, after we’d chatted about her day, I’d ask her to read what I’d written and tell me what she thought. Her feedback always pointed me in the right direction.
When Bree became a teacher, she was sometimes frustrated that she couldn’t find just the right book for her lessons. So, she decided that we should write picture books.
But it was Bree’s daughter, my Sydney Rose, who brought the idea to fruition. When Syd was about six years old, she became obsessed with time zones. “What time is it in China?” “What time is it in Italy?” “What time is it … What time is it?” Her questions were driving Bree crazy. She told me that she was going to put up a big map covered with clocks set to the correct times so she wouldn’t have to keep doing the math to figure it out. Around the World Right Now is the result of three generations of girl brain power.
As a mother/daughter team, Gina, what’s the best part of working with Bree?
The laughter. We always find ourselves giggling about something. And learning and creating together gives a wonderful sense of continuity to my life. Seeing my daughter as my equal and even my better is an incredibly rewarding experience.
Bree, what do you love best about working with your mom?
I have spent my life watching her write and create. Being a part of the process with her has been so much fun because I get to see her excitement over an idea take shape and grow.
Can you each talk a little about your process in writing Unicorn Yoga together? Gina, would you like to take the lead?
I have been practicing yoga for ten years, taking classes at least five times a week with truly amazing teachers who are very generous with their knowledge. So, we had a wealth of resources. Bree’s teaching experience tailored my practices to a kid-and-unicorn-friendly experience. I do think, however, that her constant demands for demonstrations of poses, requiring me to get on the floor, were more for her amusements than edification.
What was your first impression when you saw Jennifer Sattler’s amazing cover?
We were absolutely charmed. And we are so excited to be working with such a celebrated and talented artist.
What’s your favorite part about the cover and Jennifer’s illustrations of your story?
The softness and playfulness of Jennifer’s illustrations set exactly the right tone for a children’s practice. And we love that while the unicorn students provide comic relief, the teacher’s poses are spot-on. Namaste to Jennifer!
You also team up to give presentations at schools. What do your visits entail?
We usually visit a school for a full day, spending about forty-five minutes with each grade, level K-5. We discuss developing an idea, doing research, writing and rewriting. We like to spend most of our time answering students’ questions, to relate to their experiences and encourage their interests and creativity. The goal is always to engage and inspire children.
Do you have an anecdote from a school presentation or other event you could share?
One of the most touching things about school visits is that students treat us like rock stars. The little ones all want hugs. And the older students bombard us with questions.
When I was writing Deadtime Stories, the schedule was challenging – a book a month and there were seventeen in all. It was hard to keep track of every plot line. At a school visit, one very careful reader asked a specific question about one of the earlier books – his favorite. I couldn’t remember the character. I couldn’t remember the plot. I could barely remember the title. I took a deep breath and asked him what he thought about it and if he would have done anything differently. The conversation changed immediately to the process of storytelling and how writers make creative choices.
I learned then what Bree knows all too well, in the classroom you’ve always got to be fast on your feet.
It’s National Unicorn Day. How do you think your Unicorn would spend the holiday?
Enjoying all the magic this world has to offer in deepest gratitude. And eating ice cream.
What a sweet way to end our chat! Thanks, Gina and Bryony! I can’t wait until Unicorn Yoga hits bookstores on July 15!
Meet Jennifer Sattler
Jennifer Sattler is the award-winning author and illustrator of numerous children’s books, including the new board books Dirty Birdies and Jungle Gym, the picture book Sylvie, and the Pig Kahuna and the Chick ’n’ Pug series. She lives in upstate New York, where she delights in embarrassing her children and having meaningful conversations with her dog, Henry.
Hi Jennifer! I’m excited to be talking with you today about this special book. When I first saw the cover, I was immediately drawn to the unicorn’s eyes. I love how they promise lots of fun while also inviting kids to join in practicing yoga.
Thanks! I’m glad you see that in her eyes. Because this is the teacher, she had to be doing a pose “correctly,” but I also wanted to hint at the fun and silly ways that the other unicorns do these poses. It’s not all serious business.
Did you need to do any special research for drawing yoga poses or did you rely on your own knowledge?
I’ve done yoga for years. But, having a UNICORN do yoga is a whole different thing! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but their bodies are slightly different than ours…plus there’s the issue of the horn. It tends to get in the way in certain poses. I had a lot of different solutions to that, but we settled on the horn being “bendy.” The younger ones have shorter horns, so they don’t get in the way as much.
You’re also the author/illustrator of many books that are sweet and funny and make kids laugh—which you say is your passion. Has humor always been a big part of your life?
I have always loved the earnest try that ends up in laughs. It cracks me up every time, whether it’s a “grown up” or a kid…or a unicorn. Laughter is the most important part of my life, it makes me happy when nothing else can. I hope I can share some of it.
On your website, you mention that part of your school presentations includes talking to kids about the mistakes and changes that are made along the way to finishing a book and how fun—and funny—those can be. Were there any mistakes or surprising changes that occurred while you created the illustrations for Unicorn Yoga? Can you share a bit about it?
As I always do when starting a new book, I went through tons of sketches to try to get the look of my characters. I assumed I knew what a unicorn looked like, but it took a LOT of drawings to realize, “wait a minute, they just look like horses with party hats on. That’s not right!” I look back at those early drawings and they crack me up. It’s best for me not to take myself too seriously!
What’s the best part of being a children’s author and illustrator for you?
Kids,kids,kids! I was a painter for years, making big oil paintings to hang on the wall, teaching college students. I was trying to be taken very seriously! But it wasn’t much fun. As soon as I started doing children’s books I thought, “YES! This is what I should’ve been doing the whole time!”
Thanks for talking with me, Jennifer! I’m sure readers—both young and young at heart—are looking forward to doing yoga with your charming unicorns. I know I am!
You can learn more about Jennifer Sattler, her books, and her art on her website.
You can preorder Unicorn Yoga with these booksellers
Picture Book Review