April 16 – Global Astronomy Month COVER REVEAL of The Universe and You

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The Universe and You

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

 

As the sun goes down and the stars come out, a little girl is tucked into bed in the midst of a beautiful celestial dance. Although Earth seems solid and still while she sleeps, it’s actually spinning on its axis and circling the sun. Joining Earth in this orbit around the sun are the other seven planets in our solar system, along with dozens of moons and millions of comets and asteroids. Containing our solar system is the wondrous Milky Way galaxy, with its billions of stars, just like our own sun, swirling and whirling around. And on from there are billions of galaxies with their own stars swirling, whirling into the ever-expanding space called our universe. When the sun rises, the little girl awakens on a brand-new day as the “moving, circling, and swirling” dance continues.

Through lyrical text, award-winning science writer Suzanne Slade takes young readers on an exploration of Earth, our solar system, the galaxies beyond, and finally the universe as a whole. Illustrated back matter includes scientific facts about our solar system.

Meet Suzanne Slade

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Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 books, including June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus. She lives in Libertyville, Illinois. Learn more about Suzanne at suzanneslade.com. You can connect with Suzanne on Twitter.

Welcome, Suzanne! I’m really excited to be talking with you about this inspirational book for little dreamers! What inspired you to write The Universe and You?

I’ve done a lot of research about space exploration in the last decade for various book projects, so space seems to be on my mind. (Plus, I’m a mechanical engineer who has worked on rockets.) In more recent years I’ve been working on a book about a woman astronomer, so was reading about stars/galaxies and visited an observatory. Then one morning I woke with the idea of a simple, lyrical bedtime book which starts with Earth, moves out to our solar system, our galaxy, and the universe.

The cover to The Universe and You is stunning! What was your first reaction when you saw it?

The illustrator, Stephanie Fizer Coleman, initially created 3 rough cover sketches to gather opinions. The sketch I liked best ended up as the cover design, so when I later saw it in full, glorious color I was blown away. Stephanie knocked this cover out of the park (and universe!).

In what ways did Stephanie Fizer Coleman’s illustrations surprise you or go beyond what you had imagined?

I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to what the child’s dreams might entail (though I knew they’d have to do with space). I love Stephanie’s creative and colorful depictions of the girl dreaming about soaring through space in a rocket and walking on the moon. I also adore the wonderful space items in the girl’s bedroom and the fantastic planets in the solar system! 

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

In college you studied engineering and actually worked on Delta and Titan Rockets. What is one of the coolest things you learned while working as an engineer on these rockets?

How a rocket works. It was fascinating to learn about the rocket “stages” needed to launch it from Earth, how a rocket soars through space, and much more.

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

You’ve written so many wonderful books about so many diverse people and subjects, including June Almeida, Virus Detective!, which was just released in March. What is your favorite part about writing STEAM books for kids?

My favorite part is introducing young readers to a fascinating STEM topic or person who has made a big impact in a STEM field. The challenging aspect of creating a picture book is to find an engaging way to present the story so it draws readers in and makes them want to find out more.

What would you like for kids to take away from this story?

I hope it inspires children to dream BIG dreams and boldly pursue those dreams!

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

Meet Stephanie Fizer Coleman

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Stephanie Fizer Coleman has illustrated numerous children’s books, including You Are Mine, Porcupine. She lives in Scott Depot, West Virginia. Learn more about Stephanie atstephfc.com. You can connect with Stephanie on Instagram.

Hi, Stephanie! I’m thrilled for readers to get their first look at the breathtaking cover you designed for The Universe and You! What inspired this image? Can you describe your process of designing and finalizing this cover illustration?

Well, I can’t take all the credit, because Felicia, the art director on this book, had a clear idea of what would go on the cover. I knew the cover would feature some beautiful universe bits and of course, our smart and sweet main character too.

I worked up three cover options to start with, including one with the rocket ship, which is my favorite bit from the book. In the end, the image of the girl sitting on the moon with the Milky Way swirling behind her was chosen. We did a few more versions of the sketch, changing some little things like having her sitting on the Earth instead of the moon, and then it was off to final cover art!

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Did you have a passion for outer space prior to reading this story?

You know, I’ve always been more of a history buff, but my husband is a space nerd, so over the years a fascination with space has grown in me as well.  I could look at Hubble photos for hours!

Do you have a favorite spread in the book? If so, which one and why?

Both dream spreads, with the rocket ship, are my favorites! It was fun to think up what this girl would be dreaming about and to tie that in with the outer space theme.

One of my initial sketches for this was the girl as a little artist who loved painting planetary bodies and I was a little sad when it got cut, so instead I hinted at her creative energy by imagining the kind of rocket ships her dream self would create.

In the end, I’m so happy that both dream spreads involve the adorable rocket ship and our adventuring astronaut pair.

If you were going to visit outer space, where would you like to go?

This is tough because I’m obsessed with the Crab Nebula! How magical is the Crab Nebula? I mean, seriously. But also Jupiter is my favorite planet and I think I could orbit Jupiter for many years, totally engrossed in watching the rolling storms on its surface.

You have an affinity for flight of another kind too—birds! Several years ago you embarked on a project to paint a bird a day for one hundred days. Readers can see the original charming and beautiful 100 + 1 birds on your website as well as follow along with your current bird drawings on Instagram. What inspired you to do this project? Do you have a favorite bird?

I started the 100 Day project as a way to explore my style using a subject matter I already loved: birds! The simple shapes and vibrant colors lend themselves to creative exploration while feeling easy and approachable as a subject matter. My favorite bird is the chickadee and I try to sneak them into as many children’s books as I possibly can.

What do you like best about illustrating children’s books?

I love getting to illustrate the books that I would have loved as a child! There’s something special about making something that will show children how beautiful the world is and how magical nature is.

Thanks so much, Suzanne and Stephanie, for sharing the story behind The Universe and You! I’m sure readers can’t wait to see your book when it blasts into bookstores on August 15th!

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You can preorder The Universe and You from these booksellers

Anderson’s Bookshops | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, preorder from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 19 – National Popcorn Day Cover Reveal of Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

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Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

Written by Cynthia Schumerth | Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

 

Have you ever wondered what happens to your popcorn before it lands in the bowl? Kernel-by-kernel, step-by-step, this story takes readers through the process of growing, harvesting, and finally popping delicious popcorn! However you take it – salted, buttered, or caramelized, every variation of America’s favorite snack begins in the same place. 

Backmatter includes STEM-related discussions about corn kernels and why these kinds of kernels pop when heated, a science activity, and an art project.

With Cynthia Schumerth’s exuberant and educational rhymes that bounce like bursting popcorn and Mary Reaves Uhles’s vibrant, action-packed illustrations of a group of kids planting, harvesting, shucking, cooking (KABOOM!), and eating this favorite snack, Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! makes the perfect reading treat for any movie night or story time! 

I’m excited to be talking with Cynthia Schumerth and Mary Reaves Uhles to discover how they turned America’s favorite snack into a book so deliciously fun!

Meet Cynthia Schumerth

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Cindy grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where kids played outside from sun-up to sun-down. Much of her writing reflects her love of nature, animals, and family. Cindy believes the power of words is magical and if even one child can find something they can relate to in a story, then that story just might change their world. Cindy lives with her husband and their rescue dog Chance in the same small town she grew up in. Together they raised two amazing children. You can connect with Cynthia on Twitter.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about popcorn when your book’s released! What inspired you to write Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!?
 

My love of popcorn! Growing up, popcorn was a special treat. It was something that got our entire family sitting together, sharing stories, and having a lot of laughs. This is something I’ve shared with my own children as they grew up. The truth is that I’d been having a bit of writer’s block before I came up with the idea for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! I knew I needed something new, something fresh, but I was drawing a blank.

Then I got to thinking… at writing conferences and workshops there is one comment that you hear over and over—write what you love. Well, I love popcorn, so I thought why not write about that? Thoughts about popcorn floated around my head for a few days (maybe weeks).  I considered different ideas about how to use popcorn in a book before I came up with the idea of a farm-to-table story. I grew up in a gardening family and it seemed like a great idea to share the entire process—from seed to the end product of a fluffy, tasty treat—with young readers in a fun way.  

From planting to popping, so much goes into creating the popcorn we love to munch. Can you talk a little about how you decided on the structure of your book—which combines nonfiction with lyrical storytelling?

Initially, I wrote it as a basic farm-to-table story. I wanted it to be fun while still having an interesting takeaway for kids. During a critique, it was suggested that I bring more of the specific popcorn terms into the story instead of having them only in the backmatter. I really liked that idea, but I had worked very hard to get the rhyme and rhythm just right. I had a tough decision to make—keep the story written in rhyme and somehow figure out how to incorporate words like: germ, endosperm, and pericarp into it, or rewrite the story an entirely different way.

I don’t usually write in rhyme. Rhyme is hard because it has to be perfect, but I decided to stick with it because I really liked the flow of the story. I knew I had to make sure the rhyme worked perfectly while still keeping the story factually accurate, and that was a bit of a hurdle. However, I think it’s true that if you write what you love, things work out. When the final manuscript was accepted, my editor surprised me by saying, “Don’t change a thing. I think it’s perfect just the way it is!  In the end, we did change three words, but having to change only three words in the entire manuscript is something I am very proud of!

Did you learn anything surprising about popcorn while writing this book?
 

I was surprised by how simple the process of going from popcorn seed to popped popcorn actually is. It’s both fascinating and something that kids (and adults) can easily understand. How cool is it that after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, the reader will be able to impress their friends with scientific knowledge about popcorn and how it pops?! It’s surprising how many people don’t know how the hard, little popcorn seeds turn into puffs of white yumminess.

Another thing that I found surprising is that some folks will pour milk over a bowl of popcorn with a little sugar and have popcorn as a breakfast cereal. I haven’t tried that myself, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will.

Mary’s cover is so enticing. What were your first thoughts when you saw the art for the cover and the interior illustrations.

When our editor told me Mary had been chosen as the illustrator, of course I searched out her work. I was so excited because I think she does great work and she was already an accomplished picture book illustrator! I had to wait over two years before I got to see the cover art, and then longer to see the inside pages, but it was well worth the wait. I think her drawings and her choice of color palette for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! are vibrant and inviting. And those kids in the story—I want to be friends with all of them!

I feel very lucky to share this book with Mary. I think this cover will stand out on the shelvesI know it would catch my own eye and I’d pick it up. I think kids will really like it, too.

Have you ever tried to grow popcorn?
 

Actually, one summer my kids and I did try growing popcorn!  Not all the plants made it and the ones that did, didn’t produce as much as we had hoped. After we harvested, dried, and shucked the ears, we were able to get enough kernels to make one pot of popcorn. You know what? It was the best popcorn we ever had! Growing something with your own hands is so satisfying. I hope after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, kids will want to give growing their own popcorn a try.

Of course, I can’t let you go without asking—what is your favorite type or flavor of popcorn?
 

I like caramel corn, kettle corn, and I’ve sprinkled parmesan cheese on my popcorn, but if I have to choose a favorite, I’m a salt-only popcorn girl. There are yellow and white types of popping corn, and I prefer white. I think it has more crunch to it. I like my popcorn cooked the good old-fashioned way, in a pot on top of the stove. I have my grandmothers popcorn pan from when I was growing up—it’s over 75 years old! That pan has probably popped thousands of bowls of popcorn. Recently, I’ve started using coconut oil when I pop my corn, and I really like the flavor you get. If you’re worried about the taste, don’t be! It doesn’t taste like coconut; it’s just healthier than using other oils.

Meet Mary Reaves Uhles

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Mary Reaves Uhles has illustrated several children’s books, including The Little Kids’ Table, by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle; The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee, by Alice Faye Duncan; and the poetry collection Kooky Crumbs, by Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. Before illustrating books for children, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. A graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Find her online at maryuhles.com.

What were your first thoughts when you received the manuscript for Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn!?

My first thoughts werewell this is great, I LOVE popcorn! I truly don’t think I could have done as good a job with the book if I didn’t love EATING popcorn and even tried growing it myself when I was about 9 or 10. I was excited about the concept of the cutaway pages where we see the seeds in the dirt, I always loved that kind of thing in illustrations when I was a kid.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And finally, I wanted to have a page or two to draw an environment that looked like where I grew uphuge fields dotted with trailers or houses. Kids and animals of all kinds would spill across the fields as if we owned them! While I didn’t have that many interiors to show in the book, the details of the inside of the blue trailer, such as the green fern curtains, are taken directly from memories of my friends’ houses.

Your cover illustration is so much fun! Did you go through many iterations and revisions before deciding on this final image? Could you take readers through the cover’s journey?

Thank you! I’m really happy with how it turned out. I knew I wanted the cover to have a lot of energy, with popcorn popping everywhere but how to get there? I went through several different thumbnails, some with characters on the cover, some with just popcorn.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

Finally I decided on having just one of the child characters. I picked the little girl with glasses because, well, I liked her glasses! Then it was a matter of getting her close to the pot but not so close it might feel a bit dangerous to have all that popcorn (and the lid) flying at her face.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

I did popcorn kernels on lots of different Photoshop layers so that, in the final design, the art director could move them to work around the final type. Since there was a lot of action with the popcorn I wanted the background behind the character to be a fairly flat color. I liked the idea of using the blue from the kitchen juxtaposed with the copper pot.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Now, I’m sure readers would love a little sneak peek into the interior. I’ve been lucky enough to see that they can certainly look forward to lots of action and different perspectives! Can you talk a little about how you translated Cynthia’s story into such dynamic illustrations?

Well I used to be an animator so when I begin laying out a book I do it like a film storyboard, with each page turn being a new camera angle. I really think so much of our emotional journey in a book (or movie or TV show) happens with how the camera makes us feel in proximity to the subject. As the plants start to grow I wanted to bring readers close to the tiny stalks and then move them farther and farther back as the plants get bigger and bigger.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

 I did the same thing with the kernels in the pot.. I wanted to actually bring the camera down inside the pot so the readers were right next to the POP when it happened.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In some of the illustrationslike the image of the kernels being pluckedI wanted the reader to feel like they were doing it… so the perspective is from over the bowl. Art director Felicia Macheske and I discussed having lots of different kids doing different tasks throughout the book but waiting until the very end to show all the kids together on a spread. I really liked that idea as it feels very celebratory but it was also a lot to keep track ofwhich kids were appearing on which pages so it stayed balanced. I actually had a visual spreadsheet at one point so I could keep track. I had to laugh that this is now my third book to have a big crowd at the end! In The Little Kids’ Table a huge family gathers around the table and in A Tuba Christmas we see the whole tuba orchestra.

Did you learn anything new about popcorn while working on this book?

Well I actually did not know there were only two kinds of popcorn! Also I looked at lots of different pictures of popcorn to get the details correct and I found it interesting how much smaller popcorn kernels are than ‘corn on the cob’ kernels. A friend of mine gave me a couple of popcorn cobs with the kernels still on when I started sketches and I kept them in my studio the whole time for reference.

In your dedication, I noticed that you give a shout out to Jackson (Team Popcorn) and Grace (Team Chex Mix). Is there a competition for favorite snack in your family?

Ha ha! I don’t know that there is a competition, but I knew from the beginning that this book’s dedication would have to say something about my son’s love of popcorn. Any time there’s family movie night he’s so excited because I’ll make popcorn. For the record I make it the stovetop way, just like in the book. But my daughter is not a fan of popcorn! So I always have to come up with alternate snacks. Her favorite is Chex Mix.

Now that we know Cynthia’s favorite popcorn, I know readers would love to hear what your type or flavor of popcorn is.

I do love just good, old-fashioned stovetop popcorn with a dash of butter and a few more dashes of salt. But I also love kettle corn! It’s my favorite ‘fair food’ as in, getting it at the state fair in giant greasy bags.

Thanks so much! You two have made me hungry! While readers check out where they can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, I’m going to go cook up some nice buttery, salty popcorn for myself! But first, I’d like to invite everyone to enter my giveaway of the book! You’ll find the details right here!

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You can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 3 – Cover Reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

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Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Although a disability stunted his growth and left him with a hunched back, William Henry “Chick” Webb didn’t let that get in the way of pursuing his dreams of being a musician. Even as a young child, Chick saw the world as one big drum. He pounded out rhythms on everything from stair railings to pots and pans with a wooden spoon until he earned enough money selling newspapers to buy himself a real set.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

He saved more money and was at last able to buy a drum set where he could “bang on the bass drum, crash the cymbals, and rattle the snare.” When he was still a teenager, he played drums in several bands. His talent and love for music eventually brought him to the big time as an influential big band leader. But Chick wanted to be at the top. Would he get his chance? This picture-book biography bops with the sounds and dance moves of the Swing era and one of the most famous clubs in America as it relates the life of Black American jazz drummer Chick Webb, who in the 1930s earned the nickname the “King of the Savoy.”

With Moira Rose Donohue’s scintillating storytelling about a time in musical history that still resonates today and Laura Freeman’s vibrant illustrations that ring with bright horns, soar on a sublime voice, and pulsate with the beat of a master drummer, Stompin’ at the Savoy – which Kirkus calls “an effervescent celebration”is a book that will inspire children.

I’m thrilled to be talking today with Moira Rose Donohue and Laura Freeman to learn more about how they brought the extraordinary story of Chick Webb to life for young readers. 

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

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Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are planning on setting up a virtual book release celebration with Tombolo Books. For more information and updates, please check my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

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Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations – especially this stunning cover.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

The cover is just a peek at what readers have to look forward to in the book. Can you give them a little taste of what’s in store inside?

I tried to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from December 3 through December 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 10. The prize book will be sent from Sleeping Bear Press in January.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

To learn more about Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums and other marvelous books from Sleeping Bear Press, visit their website.

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You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

April 9 – International Unicorn Day COVER REVEAL of Unicorn Yoga

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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!

Unicorn Yoga

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

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

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Photograph by Cari Ellen Hermann

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.

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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!

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Image copyright Jennifer Sattler, 2020, text copyright Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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!

You can connect with Gina and Bree on their Website | Facebook | Twitter

Meet Jennifer Sattler

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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?

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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.

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You can preorder Unicorn Yoga with these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 11 – COVER REVEAL!

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From a New York Times bestselling author with over fifteen million books in print, the hilarious story of an injury-prone reindeer who saves Christmas:

Comet, the Unstoppable Reindeer

By Jim Benton

 

It’s the night before Christmas, and Comet is ready…until he’s injured in an unexpected elf incident and replaced by a rookie named Freddy.

Comet can’t believe his bad luck. Then he realizes something even worse—in all the confusion, Santa has left the toys behind and isn’t answering his phone. Injury and all, Comet sets out to deliver the presents, crisscrossing the globe from Japan and Egypt to France and Cleveland. After a run-in with a goose, a near miss with a minivan, and too many chimney crash landings to count, can Comet hobble his way into pulling off a Christmas miracle?

Ages 3 – 7 

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542043472

Comet, the Unstoppable Reindeer will be released on September 15. The book is now available to preorder.

About the Author

Jim Benton Photo

Photo by Laurie Tennent

Jim Benton is the award-winning creator of the New York Times bestselling series Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein as well as the popular It’s Happy Bunny brand. His books have sold more than fifteen million copies in twenty-five countries and have garnered numerous honors. Like Comet, Jim knows what it’s like to hobble around in a cast; however, he is still learning to fly. Find out more about him at www.jimbenton.com.

You can connect with Jim Benton on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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You can preorder Comet, the Unstoppable Reindeer on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 22 – Celebration of Life Day COVER REVEAL of Finding Beauty and Interview with Talitha Shipman

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About the Holiday

I’m excited to be sharing the cover of Finding Beauty on Celebrate Life Day. The holiday is all about honoring what makes each of our children and grandchildren truly unique. It’s also a wonderful day to think about all the beautiful things in the world that make you celebrate life. Reading Finding Beauty, coming from Beaming Books in October 2020, with your children will inspire them to discover their own exceptional character. 

Finding Beauty

By Talitha Shipman

 

You are beautiful from the top of your head to the tip of your toes—but beauty is far more than something you can have. It’s also something you have to find. In other people. In nature. In acts of kindness. In math, and art, and music, and sports.

In this beautiful inspirational book for girls, author-illustrator Talitha Shipman turns the concept of beauty inside out, transforming girls into beauty-seeking adventurers charging out into the world with confidence and ambition to find beauty and make beauty wherever they go.

Ages 4 – 8 

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506463797

Finding Beauty releases on October 20, 2020. The book is now available for preorder.

When a book is this stirring, you just can’t wait to see it! But before I reveal the cover of Finding Beauty, I talk with author and illustrator Talitha Shipman.

A Talk with Talitha Shipman

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Talitha Shipman is a picture book author and illustrator born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her favorite subjects to paint are wild kids and wild animals. Nature inspires Talitha’s painting, and she hopes her work encourages curiosity and creativity in children of all ages.

Talitha has worked with publishers large and small. Her books include the Sidney Taylor Honor recipient Everybody Says Shalom by Leslie Kimmelman (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015); an American Farm Bureau Recommended Read, Applesauce Day by Lisa Amstutz (Albert Whitman, 2017); a 2019 IPPY Silver Medalist, First Snow by Nancy Viau (Albert Whitman, 2018); and On Your Way written by John Coy and published by Beaming Books. Finding Beauty is Talitha’s first author/illustrator adventure.

Talitha lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with her husband and their three-year-old wild child, Coral.

You can connect with Talitha Shipman on her website.

Welcome, Talitha! I’m so thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal of your latest book and to get this opportunity to chat with you about your inspiration and what what you hope children will take away from Finding Beauty.

The message in Finding Beauty is so important for children and, really, adults too. What inspired you to write this story?

My daughter is my greatest inspiration for Finding Beauty. I’ve been turning over the concept of how we perceive beauty for a long time, though. This book is me trying to express something that often feels overwhelming for me to put into words, but I’m trying my best! In the past few years, there has been an admirable effort to widen what we call beautiful among women. You see much more diversity in advertising and even clothing catalogs, but I wanted to go further, to shift my thinking outward instead of inward. As women, we still are bombarded by messages that you have to work towards this unattainable standard of beauty to be fulfilled. It can result in focusing on ourselves rather than the world around us, but what if we could train ourselves to see that outside beauty more often? Would we be less likely to fall into those traps that culture lays for us? Would we develop a notion of beauty that didn’t depend on our looks? I hope this book can ask some of those questions for my daughter and other young girls. 

As the author and the illustrator of the book, which came first, the story or the imagery?

For me, words usually come first. The central idea of this story hit me early in the morning. Most of my book ideas come to me right when I wake up! But some of the visual elements in the book—floating dandelion seeds and what I’m calling “beauty sparkles”, a visual representation of an abstract idea—came pretty soon after the initial concept landed in my mind. 

Could you talk about your illustration process in bringing the story to life? 

I tend to work in very rough sketches first to get ideas out of my head and onto the paper. They are not pretty, but they help me get started. I do many sketches to figure out a character’s design. I do a lot of research too. For this book, I observed friends’ kids and my own daughter to develop character designs. After I finish rough drawings, I refine my ideas into tighter sketches that I use as a base for my final illustrations.

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With this book, I’m doing something a little different and adding traditional watercolor to my illustrations. For years I’ve painted digitally, so this is a big step for me, going back to traditional techniques. I’m melding hand-painted elements with digital painting; it’s the best of both worlds because you get the spontaneous nature of watercolor, but you can always go back and fix things in photoshop. 

The cover for Finding Beauty is so expressive and full of joy. How was this particular image chosen? 

Early on, when I was first pitching the manuscript, I did an illustration of a girl painting a mural. The editor at Beaming loved it, so we knew we were going to use a modified version of that illustration. I did three sketches with the girl in various poses.

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She was painting in a couple of examples, but in one sketch, she was skipping along looking over her shoulder at the beauty sparkles and some floral elements. The editor loved the movement in this piece, so we went with that instead of the painting concept. There are still some subtle elements of the mural present, and the mural shows up in an interior spread as well. 

As an artist, I imagine you see beauty everywhere. What is something that you find beautiful that might surprise readers?

I must be part crow because I love anything sparkly! Sparkly concrete is fantastic. If you’ve never noticed it before, start paying attention to sidewalks. Some sidewalks have crunched up minerals mixed in, probably quartz, that makes them glitter in the sun. I tend to find most of my inspiration in nature. I love walking in the woods in winter. It can seem dreary, but if you start paying attention to details, you see that the forest isn’t dead. There are little plants huddled under the fallen leaves, and there are buds on branches just waiting for spring to come.

Thanks for sharing how Finding Beauty and especially the cover came to be! I’m sure that readers are looking forward to October when this book finds its way to bookstores. I know I am!

And now I’m thrilled to reveal…

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On Your Way Giveaway

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I’m excited to partner with Beaming Books in a Twitter giveaway of 

  • Five (5) copies of On Your Way, written by John Coy | illustrated by Talitha Shipman. This sweet book follows the milestones of a child and the endearing and enduring pride and love every parent feels as they watch their child grow up.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Follow Beaming Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with something you find beautiful for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 22 through January 28 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Winners will be chosen on January 29. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Beaming Books.

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You can preorder Finding Beauty at these booksellers

AmazonBooks-a-Million | IndieBound

January 8 – COVER REVEAL! Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

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Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Yas Imamura

 

For hundreds of years as butterflies with orange-and-black wings as intricate as stained glass came and went in communities across North America, many people wondered “Where are they going?” In 1976, this question was finally answered—it was the Great Monarch Butterfly Migration! Each year, people discovered, millions of monarchs flew thousands of miles from Canada to a roosting place in the Sierra Madre mountains in central Mexico.

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery reveals the diverse community of people who worked together to track the butterflies and find their migration path. Through vibrant illustrations, readers are taken on a journey following the monarchs and meeting the people they encounter along the way.

Backmatter includes an Author’s Note explaining more about the Monarch Migration as well as information on ways that readers can help sustain the Monarch population, making Winged Wonders a stirring book to share with nature lovers, young conservationists, backyard gardeners, and students in STEM/STEAM-related lessons.

When a book is this intriguing, you just can’t wait to see it! But before I reveal the cover of this book, which KIRKUS—in their starred review—calls “riveting” and “a fascinating and inspiring STEAM-driven tale,” let’s chat with author Meeg Pincus and illustrator Yas Imamura who have brought this extraordinary story to kids.

Meet Meeg Pincus

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Meeg Pincus is a children’s author and speaker who loves telling stories about real people who have helped others, animals, and the planet. She lives in San Diego, California. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website.

 

 

 

 

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery presents such a fascinating way to look at monarch butterflies. Can you describe the story a little and talk about what inspired you to write it from this perspective?

Thank you, Kathy! Well, I got sucked into the history of the mysterious monarch migration several years ago when I took my kids to see a movie about it at our San Diego science museum’s amazing domed IMAX theatre. (I went back two more times!) I originally started researching a person on the 1970s tracking team for a picture book biography, but then a series of events led me to rethink that. I came to realize that an even more interesting approach was a collective one. It took many people to put the pieces together of this great “discovery”—from scientists to citizen scientists to everyday folks paying attention to nature—and that’s an important lesson for kids. So, using questions, my story takes kids on a journey to meet different people who each played a part, large or small, in solving the great monarch mystery. Then, it comes back around to asking kids what part they might be able to play in keeping the (now threatened) monarchs alive today.

How did you go about researching this story?

To get information on the people involved in tracking the migration, I collected every primary source I could, from articles they wrote to interviews they gave (so, words from their own mouths) and photos of them during that time. I also found secondary sources—articles about the monarchs’ roosting place “discovery” in the 1970s as well as a whole book about all the drama in the world of monarch science (who knew?!). By the way, I use the term “discovery” in quotes because it’s important to realize that there were people in Mexico who knew the whereabouts of the monarchs’ remote roosting place for generations. I also turned to the citizen science organization Monarch Watch, at the University of Kansas (descended from the original tracking team), for information as well; and we were fortunate that one of their experts agreed to serve as the book’s fact-checker.

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This is the 1976 National Geographic issue that broke the story of the Great Monarch Migration, with a story by the main scientist credited with the “discovery.”

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing Winged Wonders?

Honestly, it was that drama in the world of monarch research. There’s been competition over who gets credit for what, over the sharing (or not sharing) of information, etc. For me, this was actually all the more reason to focus my picture book not just on one person but on how it takes a lot of people working together to further scientific knowledge—and protect species.

This gorgeous cover is just a peek at Yas Imamura’s illustrations. Can you give readers a taste of what they have to look forward to? Do you have a favorite spread?

Oh, we could not have asked for more gorgeous and spot-on illustrations than what Yas created for this book! The whole team at Sleeping Bear Press has been thrilled with her vibrant images, which feel both 1970s and totally today, all at once. I like so many, it’s hard to pick just one—I love how she shows the monarchs flying through Dia de los Muertos celebrations, to them roosting in the trees of central Mexico, to the diversity of citizen scientists she created. I think readers are going to just eat up her illustrations!

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Image copyright Yas Imamura, 2020, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On your website, you talk about your work as a Humane Educator. Can you describe Humane Education and its goal? Does being a Humane Educator influence your writing? In what way?

Sure! Humane education teaches about making conscious choices that help people, animals, and the planet. It focuses on empathy and compassion as means to taking action for a more humane, healthy, and just world. I found humane education when my kids were very young and it just brought together all my values and studies. So, I trained with two nonprofit organizations (The Institute for Humane Education and HEART) and started going into local classrooms as a humane educator to do lessons with the kids. As part of my lessons, I decided to read the kids picture book biographies about real people who’ve made a difference for people, animals, and the planet. I fell in love with these books, and realized they also perfectly brought together my background of 20+ years writing/editing nonfiction and my work in humane education—so, I decided to dive into writing them myself as my next career step as nonfiction writer/humane educator!

You also talk about teaching children to be solutionaries. I love that term! Would you define what a solutionary is? You also say that you now write “solutionary stories.” How does Winged Wonders fit into that description and how do you hope the book will influence young readers?

I love the term, too! I got it from my training in humane education. The full definition of a solutionary is “a person who identifies inhumane and unsustainable systems, then develops healthy and just solutions for people, animals, and the environment.” I simplify it for younger kids (I like to use the idea of “solutionary super powers” that we all possess to help others!). Kids really embrace being problem-solvers for people, animals, and the planet. As in Winged Wonders, I focus my books on solutionary people, ideas, and issues—ways people are helping, or can help, create that healthy, kind, and just world for all. I hope my books help inspire kids to find whatever issue affecting people, animals, or the planet sparks their own inner fire and then use their own unique talents and ideas to make a positive impact on it.

One last thing: We’re doing a special Winged Wonders Pre-order Offer with San Diego indie bookstore, Run for Cover—a signed hardback copy with a solutionary sticker and monarch bookmark—which can be sent anywhere in the U.S.

You can connect with Meeg Pincus on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

Meet Yas Imamura

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Yas Imamura is an illustrator, graphic designer, and owner of the stationary company Quill & Fox. She grew up in Manila, Philippines, and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Discover more about her work on her website.

What about this story particularly resonated with you?

What I love most about the story is the community aspect to the monarch search—how every person from all walks of life came together in shared curiosity and helped get to the bottom of the monarch mystery.

Can you describe the process for creating and choosing this beautiful cover?

I started with a few sketches, focusing in different imagery. Some early concepts honed in on the monarch butterfly, some with playing on the mystery of their flight. But eventually I ended up emphasizing the people in the story as well, as they play such a huge part in tracking the monarch migration.

Many of your stationery products from your company Quill and Fox as well as your other illustration work incorporate nature themes. What is it about nature that inspires you?

What inspires me most about nature is how incredibly challenging it is for me to really capture. It can be simplistic and incredibly mercurial at the same time, which I think is the beauty of it. As an artist, I feel like I’m always trying to climb that hill.

What kind of research did you do to bring this story to life?

Researching this book was a lot of fun. I was fortunate enough to be given a lot of take-off point resources that I built from. I looked up Catalina’s story a lot to gain insight on her character, her clothes, the era. The movie Flight of the Butterflies also inspired me greatly in pushing the narrative visually. There was so much color to the whole story as we trace the journey of these butterflies, and I really wanted to incorporate all that.

What feelings from the story did you most want to express in your illustrations? What do you hope readers will take away from them?

I want to evoke a sense of fascination and curiosity for these butterflies. And that perhaps learning about the incredible journey and impact of the monarch butterflies could lay the groundwork for us, as caretakers of nature, to give respect and reverence for even the smallest members of our ecosystem.

What do you love about being a picture book illustrator?

Seeing readers, young and old, pour over the pages that I’ve illustrated, especially when they’re reading it to someone else, will never, never get old. It’s the ultimate payoff for me.

You can connect with Yas Imamura on

Her website | Instagram | Instagram: Quill and Fox | Twitter

Thanks so much Meeg and Yas! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Wings of Wonder: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery as I am! We might have to wait a little bit longer until the book releases in March to read it, but we don’t have to wait any longer to see the stunning cover! 

And now I’m thrilled to reveal…

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Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, written by Meeg Pincus| illustrated by Yas Imamura 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of butterfly for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).
  • This giveaway is open from January 8 through January 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 15. Prize book will be sent from Sleeping Bear Press in February.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

To learn more about Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery and other marvelous books from Sleeping Bear Press, visit their website.

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You can preorder Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery from these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound |Run for Cover

Picture Book Review