April 1 – Reading is Funny Day and Interview with Author Lori Degman

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About the Holiday

Nothing’s better than hearing the giggles of a child reading a funny book! And thanks to today’s holiday, that sound can echo through your home all day long. It’s easy to celebrate too. Just grab your favorite funny books or find read alouds by your favorite authors and illustrators and settle in for a day of laughs. Or do a bit of both! And if you’re looking for a new book to add to your shelf, check into ordering today’s book for a fun trip around the country!

Travel Guide for Monsters

Written by Lori Degman | Illustrated by Dave Szalay

 

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to travel with monsters from coast to coast across America, then pack your bags and let’s get started! First stop is San Fransisco, California, where we hop a trolley for sightseeing. But maybe before we go on you should know: “While riding on a cable car, / Your monster should be cautious. / The ups and downs of Frisco hills / can make a monster nauseuous!” After taking in all the grandeur of the Bay Area, head down to Hollywood, where you and your monster can do some stargazing.

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Image copyright Dave Szalay, 2020, text copyright Lori Degman, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Traveling east, you can visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona and  take a tour of Wyoming. While there… “You’re likely to get thirsty when you / hike up in the mountains. / Make sure to warn your monster / that those geysers are not fountains.” South Dakota and Mount Rushmore are next on the itinerary then it’s on to Chicago for some “face time” at the ballpark. In Nashville, Tennessee, your monster will love to kick up his (cowboy booted) heels to some down-home fiddle music.

A swing through the south just isn’t complete without enjoying Florida’s amusement parks or a wild adventure: “Down south among the everglades, / your monster should wear waders / when playing ‘Marco Polo’ / with the crocodiles and gators.” If your monster likes swimming, he’ll love the beaches in Massachusetts—just watch his choice of snacks!

While on the East Coast, don’t forget to visit our nation’s capital in Washington DC and New York State, where your monster can get a bird’s eye view from the crown of Lady Liberty and make a splash at Niagara Falls. And when you finally get back home, you may have just one lingering question about your trip: “How will you explain your monster’s crazy souvenirs?”

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Image copyright Dave Szalay, 2020, text copyright Lori Degman, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Clever and funny, Lori Degman’s rhymed verses follow a high-interest itinerary across the country and will delight kids, who will very much wish they could join in the ultra-fun, little-bit-risky, and larger-than-life activities in each of the landmarks visited. These snapshots of America take in transportation, celebrity, grandeur, sports, music, and history and will spark an interest in learning more about each city and attraction.

Accompanying Degman’s story are Dave Szalay’s vivid depictions of each landmark, where some of the cutest—I mean most fearsome—monsters sightsee their way to hilarious result. Each image is framed with site-appropriate wallpaper, sporting a shield with the state’s name, a compass showing the state’s direction, and a little mode of transportation—from retro cars to trains to buses to airplanes. Szalay’s realistic portraits of each landmark will entice kids to look up the actual destination, and they’ll love picking out their favorite from among their whimsical travel buddies.

A laugh-out-loud and captivating travelogue for monster fans and monster fans of travel alike, Travel Guide for Monsters would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110373

Discover more about Lori Degman on her website.

To learn more about Dave Szalay, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Lori Degman

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Today, I’m monstrously exited to be talking with Lori Degman about her book, traveling, and her special musical talent! My blog partner Jakki’s two sons also get in on the fun with a few questions of their own!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Kathy!

Jack would like to know: How did you get the idea for travel guide for monsters? 

Hi Jack! I actually got the original idea from another Jack – Colin Jack, the illustrator of my first book, 1 Zany Zoo. About eight years ago, Colin asked me if I could write a picture book about teaching monsters manners when traveling on public transportation. I tried, but I just couldn’t come up with anything I liked. About a year later I tried again and, instead of focusing on the type of transportation, I focused on location. I wrote the first stanza, “When traveling with monsters on a trip across the nation/this guide will give you tips to have a marvelous vacation”, then followed the same rhyme scheme and wrote couplets about different locations around the country.                                                 

Steve asks: Did you travel to places in your book? 

Hi Steve! I didn’t travel to any of the places to research them, but I’ve been to most of them on vacations in the past. I would love to go to each of them and talk to kids about the book at each place – maybe one of these days!                            

Steve and Jack were wondering: We really like the monsters. Do you know how Dave Szalay came up with them? Do you have a favorite monster?

I love the monsters too! I don’t know how Dave came up with them, so I went straight to the source and here is Dave’s answer: “I looked at the word history of monsters, mythology, legends, and folktales.  I read about the characteristics of monsters throughout history and then invented each monster based on what I learned.” 

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Dave Szalay chats about his monsters with Jack and Steve from his studio.

Me again – It’s really hard to pick a favorite monster because they’re all so great!  But, probably the monster in the Everglades is my favorite.  I especially love his waders. 

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Image copyright Dave Szalay, 2020, text copyright Lori Degman, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Hi Lori! Jack and Steve had some awesome questions, and I love your and Dave’s (thanks, Dave!) answers. I really enjoyed your clever rhymes and the monsters’ experiences. Could you take readers through a little bit of your process of writing this book?

Thanks so much, Kathy!  Once I established the rhyme scheme I was going to use and my plan to include different travel locations (as mentioned in question #1), I started listing places I’d been, like Mt. Rushmore, Statue of Liberty, Washington DC, and some places I’ve never been but want to visit in the future, like Niagara Falls and Cape Cod. Then I came up with ideas of some fun and silly things you’d tell your monster to do – or not to do – at these locations. Some of the locations went through several revisions with different tourist attractions. I think my hometown of Chicago had the most changes. First, I wrote about the elevated trains, then about the museums, and finally I wrote about Wrigley field – home of the Chicago Cubs. After writing the thirteen couplets, it was just a matter of getting the meter and rhyme just right.

You grew up and still live in Chicago. If you were going to take a trip, would you head north, south, east, or west? Why?

Within the United States, I’d like to take a road trip to all the states in the northeast. I’ve only spent time in New York City, Boston, and Washington DC, so I’d love to see all the other states up there. I’d probably go in the fall to see the changing leaves!

In your bio, you say that you love to write song parodies. How did you start doing them? Do you get to share these anywhere? Can you give readers a verse or two?

I wrote song parodies now and then, just for fun. But I started doing it a lot when I decided to write a musical for my long-time college friends and me. I wrote The Sound of MacMurray (our college) using the songs from The Sound of Music. Then I wrote a Christmas songbook for us, rewriting popular Christmas carols. When my friends and I turned 50, I wrote a song for each of them – and they wrote one for me. There are a lot of inside jokes in those songs, so I don’t think they’d be very funny to you. I did write a short song when my friend was diagnosed with Hashimoto Thyroiditis. It wasn’t serious or life threatening, otherwise I wouldn’t joke about it. But, when she told me the name of it, I knew I had to write a song about it! The song, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins fit perfectly. Here’s the song:                                                                                      “Hashimoto Thyroiditis, that’s her diagnosis / just a goiter on her neck so it’s a good prognosis / if she takes her medicine, that’s all the risk it poses / Hashimoto Thyroiditis, that’s her diagnosis.”

Just from reading your extensive 2020 event schedule, it looks like you love to meet with your readers. What do you like best about meeting with fans of your books?

As I’m writing this, I’m in my house for the 10th day in a row because of the Coronavirus! Because of that, my bookstore and school visits will most likely be canceled, which makes me really sad. I’m going to try to reschedule them for next school year. I was a teacher for 32 years and I’ve always loved children, so school visits are so much fun for me! I love motivating kids to read and write and use their imaginations.                                                                                               

Did your family take trips when you were a child? Do you remember one that made a special impression? Would you like to share a memory from a trip with your own kids?

Growing up, I had two sisters and one brother and my mom raised us by herself. She had to work a lot and we didn’t have much money, so we didn’t go on many trips. Sometimes we’d drive to our aunt and uncle’s cottage on a lake or to the Wisconsin Dells. The one big trip we took, when I was 9, was a driving trip to Washington DC and then down to Nashville to visit our cousins. That was before they had seat belts, so my three siblings and I squeezed into the back seat of our car the whole way. That was before cars had air-conditioning too, which made it a really long, hot drive.

The most exciting trip we took with my own kids was to London, England. Luckily for me, I won a trip for two there, including airfare and hotel, so we only had to buy the airplane tickets for our kids! Speaking of winning trips – I’ve also won trips to San Francisco and Hawaii! I’m pretty lucky I guess.

Traveling is always fun, but staycations are fun too. What’s one of your favorite tourist attractions in Chicago? What’s a favorite not-so-well-known spot?

I love the Art Institute of Chicago! It’s so huge, there’s always something new to see when you go there.  Plus, they have special exhibits all the time. All of the Chicago museums are really cool!

A fun not-so-well-known thing to do in Chicago is take an architectural boat tour. There are a couple of companies that will take you down the Chicago River and a guide will tell the history of the different buildings and their architects. It’s fun – but make sure to do it on a warm day!

What’s up next for you?

I don’t have any picture books under contract right now but I have several manuscripts out on submission, so hopefully that will change soon. In the meantime, I’m enjoying writing, doing school visits (once they’re open again) and spending time with family and friends!

Thanks, Lori! It’s been so fun chatting with you! Kids will have a blast traveling vicariously with your and Dave’s monsters!

You can connect with Lori on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Reading is Funny Day Activity

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Pack Your Bags for Fun! Board Game

 

If you love to travel, you know the first thing you have to do is pack your suitcase. With this printable game you can stuff your bag full of everything you’ll need for an awesome trip!

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print one game board and set of playing cards for each player
  2. Print one playing die
  3. Players can color their suitcase game board if they’d like
  4. Cut out individual game cards and give a set to each player
  5. Cut out and assemble playing die, taping edges together
  6. Choose a player to go first. Play continues to the right.
  7. Players roll the die to place items on their backpack
  8. The first player to get all six items is the winner

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You can find Travel Guide for Monsters at these booksellers

Anderson’s Bookshop | Barbara’s Bookstore | Between the Lynes | Booked | The Book Stall | Amazon | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

 

February 6 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week and Interview with Author Sally Nicholls

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About the Holiday

If you’re a fan of children’s authors and illustrators, then this week is one you’ll want to celebrate. All week long, authors and illustrators visit bookstores, schools, and other venues to share their love of children’s literature and get kids and adults excited about reading and writing. Some of these events include storytelling, writing workshops, readings, and presentations. To find out more about the Children’s Authors Network and discover classroom resources to use throughout the year, visit the Children’s Authors Network website.

The Button Book

Written by Sally Nicholls | Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

 

A squirrel comes across a red button on the forest floor. He nudges it with a stick and then gives it a good press just to see what will happen. Ha! The button’s lid opens and a little horn rises on a pole. “Beep!” it says. A dog and a bird appear from behind a tree and a bush to find out what the noise is all about. Now the three of them find an orange button. The squirrel gives it a push. “It’s a clapping button! Everybody clap!”

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

When the dog, the bird, and the squirrel find a blue button in the forest, they wonder how they’ll ever press it. This button is so big all three could stand on it and there would still be room. Luckily, an elephant is passing by. This blue button is “a singing button!” Two more animals wander by to listen to the trio sing. Down the road, the five friends find a green button that makes everyone giggle—well, almost everyone.

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But the yellow button is one everyone likes. “It’s a bouncing button!” Wow! Everyone’s bouncing and tumbling—right off the page. Time to settle down to some cuddles with the pink button. Ahhh. Maybe this would be a good time to stop pressing buttons. Well…there is a purple button right over there. Everyone’s a little unsure—should they press it or not?

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

No! Stop! “Ha ha! Hee hee! That tickles! “Please, press the pink button, quick!” Oh no! Not the green button again! “Have you learned any manners yet?” Oh, good. This is more like it––the blue button! Yay! Let’s sing and play some instruments. The red button wants a little attention again too! Hey, look! There’s a new white button on the wall. What does that one do? Wait! It’s dark now. What are we supposed to…. Oh! “Goodnight, everyone.”

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Sally Nicholls’ fresh take on interactive picture books will have kids in stitches as they beep and clap, sing and dance, jump and hug, and do all the moves while eagerly wanting to see which button they get to press next. Nicholls’ prompts are irresistibly enticing and become funnier and more personal with every page turn. Her cyclical storyline gives readers the chance to revisit their favorite buttons while leading to the surprising, but just-right ending (or is it really the end?). Along with all of this fun, kids are also introduced to various colors, shapes, sizes and spatial relationships. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to count and talk about different types of buttons as well.

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Young readers will be enchanted with Bethan Woollvin’s curious, bubbly, talented, fun-loving kids…I mean…characters as they discover button after button on pages that mirror each button’s color. As if by magic, the squirrel, dog, bird, and other friends also change color as they press and respond to every button, inviting readers to follow along. While kids will egg on the animals to press all the other buttons, when they come to the white switch on the wall, children may very well let out a plaintive Noooooo…! But Woollvin has them covered here too. A little exploration of the nighttime bedroom will reward readers with a “Wake Up!” button so they can start all over again.

If you’re looking for a lively read aloud to spark interactive story times that will be asked for again and again, you’ll want to add The Button Book to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735267152

Discover more about Sally Nicholls and her books on her website.

To learn more about Bethan Woollvin, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Sally Nicholls

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I’m thrilled to have this chance to talk to Sally Nicholls today about her adorable and fun picture book, its journey, and what she’s looking forward to in sharing it with readers.

You burst into the book world with your debut middle grade novel Ways to Live Forever, which won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and was made into a movie in 2010. Since then you’ve published many more novels, including your latest middle-grade, A Chase in Time. The Button Book is your first picture book. What inspired you to write this story?

Reading to my baby! He loved books, but until he was about eighteen months, he didn’t like any that were just story. He wanted books he could interact with. I used to go to the library and look for anything with a button or a flap or touchy-feely bits. We read a lot of picture books, and I was fascinated by which ones worked and which ones didn’t – why exactly were Fox’s Socks and Where’s Spot? so successful but other books weren’t?

I decided I’d like to have a go at writing one myself. I know paper engineering and fur and so forth is expensive for publishers, and realistically that wasn’t my area of expertise anyway. So I set myself the challenge to write a book a baby would enjoy in the same interactive way, but only using words.

I love how active and funny The Button Book is! Kids are definitely going to be giggling, up on their feet, and playing along. It also has a wonderful cyclical storyline. How did you choose what the buttons do and infuse your story with so much reader interaction?

The Button Book is basically all the things my baby loved the most. If I wanted to make him laugh, I would pretty much just blow raspberries at him or tickle him or get him to clap. So that part was very easy.

The cyclical storyline came from watching programmes like The Teletubbies which really play on repetition. And also having my own baby who liked to say “Again!” Of course, the joy of The Button Book, which I hadn’t really realised until I read it with my second child, is that the child can have as much ‘again’ as they want just by pressing the button.

Bethan Woollvin’s adorable illustrations really invite camaraderie and play. What was your reaction to seeing her illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread and if so, what do you love about it?

I love Bethan’s work. My British publisher asked if I’d like to work with her and it was an instant yes. I’m not a very visual thinker, so I didn’t really have any expectations for how the book would look when it was illustrated. It’s been so exciting to see it take shape.

I think my favourite spread is probably the cover. It looks so colourful and inviting and unusual.

How has the experience of publishing a picture book differed from publishing your novels? Was there any part of the process that surprised you?

How long it took! I was sent finished artwork about eighteen months before the book was published. Printing picture books is so expensive that publishers need to get as many co-editions as possible to reduce the cost. So there’s a very long lead time.

What’s the best part about being an author for children? What are you most looking forward to as you promote The Button Book and share it with readers?

Books matter so much to young children. I’ve seen how much they matter to my family, and one of the most joyful things about The Button Book is how much my second baby loves it. (My eldest likes it too, but he’s a bit old for it now. Also, my baby has no idea that his mum wrote the book, which makes his love even more special.) So that, and also hearing from readers who have been touched by my books in particular ways, perhaps if the storyline resonates with them, or helps them through a difficult time, or just helps them learn to read!

Do you have any anecdote from a book event that you’d like to share?

I took The Button Book in to share with my eldest son’s class, and I got the children to help me make up a story. It was Halloween, so the children said they wanted a story about a vampire who likes flowers. One little boy objected (I think because he wanted his own idea to be picked) which my son took as a misogynistic slight. “Boys can like flowers!” he told him. I felt very proud.

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently finishing off a YA novel about a teen mother whose baby is being raised as her youngest brother. It’s a romance and a family story, and it’s set in a Yorkshire village in Christmas 1919, so there’s a ball, and a young man in an army greatcoat, and lots of chilblains. I don’t know if that’s going to find an American publisher though.

My next picture book is called Who Makes a Forest? It’s an ecological story about the power of small things to come together to make great changes.

What is your favorite holiday? Why is it your favorite?

This sounds weird, but I love the dead days between Christmas and New Year. All the stress of Christmas is over, everyone is off work and school, families are together, and it’s understood that your job is just to snuggle up by the fire and eat leftover turkey and Christmas cake and mince pies.

Thanks, Sally! It’s been wonderful chatting with you! I wish you all the best with The Button Book and all of your books and am looking forward to seeing Who Makes a Forest? when it’s released.

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You can find The Button Book at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

February 3 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week

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About the Holiday

This week was established to raise awareness and promote literacy and the joys and benefits of reading. During the week, children’s authors and illustrators attend special events at schools, bookstores, libraries, and other community centers to share their books and get kids excited about reading. To learn more about how you can instill a lifelong love of learning in your children, visit ChildrensAuthorsNetwork!

I received a copy of What’s Up, Maloo? from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to partner with Tundra in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

What’s Up, Maloo?

By Geneviève Godbout

 

Maloo is a little kangaroo with an especially hoppy spring in his step. But one day he feels grounded. Instead of hop, hop, hopping to see his friend, he takes “One step. Two steps, Three steps.” Wombat immediately notices that something’s amiss and asks, “What’s up, Maloo?” She brings him inside her cozy den and gives him a slice of pie. While she slides another treat into the oven, Maloo sits forlornly at the table, not touching his pie.

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Copyright by Geneviève Godbout, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

They go down to the river—“Four steps. Five steps. Six steps”—where Crocodile sees it too and asks Maloo what’s wrong. Perhaps a swim will cheer Maloo up, but he sits dejectedly atop his ball and floats with the current. The three go to see Koala. They all want to help Maloo feel better. They try giving him a lift with an electric fan, but the wind just knocks Maloo head over heels.

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Copyright by Geneviève Godbout, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Maloo’s friends stay with him, though––“ten steps…one hundred steps…one thousand steps.” They stretch out a blanket and fling Maloo into the air, giving him encouragement. Can he hop? Maloo falls…but springs up again. “Hop!” He floats down, but this time instead of feeling dejected, he’s looking up. Back into the air he goes. He descends, but something is rising up in him. Maloo jumps with a gigantic “Hop!” He smiles. Koala climbs on Maloo’s back while Wombat and Crocodile balance on pogo sticks, and they all “hop like Maloo!’”

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Copyright by Geneviève Godbout, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

With her powerfully emotional images and spare text, Geneviève Godbout allows readers to identify with Maloo as he experiences a time of sadness and recovers happiness with the help of his friends. In her soft, earth-toned illustrations, Godbout provides many perspectives and good examples for children and adults to discuss. Having lost his hop, Maloo seeks out one friend, who engages another friend and yet another, showing children the reassurance and help available by reaching out and having a supportive network. Maloo’s friends are also sensitive to Maloo’s mood, encouraging readers to pay attention to and acknowledge changes they may see in their friends and family. As readers count Maloo’s steps, they’ll see that sometimes the road back to feeling happy can be long, but that good friends stick with you no matter what or how long it takes. They also learn that asking for help starts with one step.

A moving and accessible resource for parents and caregivers to talk with their children about the ups and downs of life and the emotions of sadness and depression, What’s Up, Maloo? is a valuable addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735266643

To learn more about Geneviève Godbout, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Geneviève Godbout

Born and raised in Quebec, Geneviève Godbout studied traditional animation in Montreal and at the prestigious Gobelins school in Paris. She is the illustrator of a number of books for children, including The Pink Umbrella, When Santa Was a Baby, Kindergarten Luck (Chronicle), and Joseph Fipps (Enchanted Lion). Some of her clients include The Walt Disney Company, Chronicle, HMH, Flammarion, Bayard, Les éditions Milan and La Pastèque. She also works for clothing designers like Nadinoo and Mrs. Pomeranz, creating illustrations and prints for their collections. Connect with Geneviève on her website.

Congratulations on What’s Up, Maloo, your debut picture book as both author and illustrator! Can you talk a little about the journey you’ve taken with this book?

Thank you! I never expected to be an author, but one day I woke up with the feeling I should write my own story about depression. I pictured this little kangaroo that lost his hop and told my French publisher (La Pastèque) about it. The whole creative process was natural, yet I felt incredibly insecure about my own capacities. But once published, we had such a fantastic response that I’m now working on a sequel with the little crocodile! 

What was your inspiration for this story and why this subject is important to you? What do you hope children will take away from your story?

I was inspired by my own experience of depression. I wanted to say that it’s ok to go through tough times and emphasize the importance of being surrounded without judgement. We should feel safe to confess our feelings to a friend. We don’t have to go through this alone. 

Your illustrations of Maloo feeling sad and losing the spring in his step are touching and instantly recognizable for children. How can adults use the book to talk with their children about the strong feelings of sadness and depression from multiple viewpoints, including the sufferer themselves and their friends?

I chose not to mention why Maloo lost his hop so that kids and adults can fill the gap in the text with their own experience. Maloo’s friends are sweet and full of empathy. I pictured this book as a comforter rather than a sad story. 

You’ve brought iconic characters Anne of Green Gables and Mary Poppins to books for the youngest readers. What are the challenges and joys of working with these beloved characters?
It was quite an intimidating challenge. These characters are so loved by readers (and myself!) that everyone has their own expectations of what they should look like. For instance, Mary Poppins is dramatically different in the original books by P.L. Travers from the Disney movie. But when we think about Mary Poppins, most people picture Julie Andrews, not a severe looking lady with very tall feet. With that in mind, I tried to find my own way of drawing both Mary Poppins and Anne Shirley. It was such an exciting opportunity, I reminded myself to have fun during the creative process without anticipating the public response too much. 

From characters’ round, expressive eyes, rosy cheeks, and sweet grins to animated action punctuated with humor to your gorgeous colors, your picture book illustrations are truly distinctive. How did you develop your signature style?

A style is the expression of one’s sensitivity and creativity. Mine evolved throughout the years as I gained experience and technique. And for some reason, I chose the most time-consuming medium: color pencils! I have always loved them. They’re delicate and precise. My background in traditional animation also has a huge part in the way I draw today. Everything is about movement and expressive posing. 

What do you love best about creating books for children?

I love the idea of touching people and offering them a safe bubble where they can smile and relax. There is nothing better than hearing a child or an adult say they love to curl up in bed with one of my books. 

You went to school in Paris, you’ve worked in London, and now you live in Montreal. Could you name one of your favorite places in each city and tell why you love it?

I was lucky to live in such fabulous and inspiring cities. I loved to get lost in Paris and walk by the Thames river near Hammersmith in London. Each time I go back, it feels a bit like home. As for Montreal, I think it’s the best place in terms of quality of life and I love the contrast between the seasons!

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on a couple of exciting projects including a sequel for What’s up, Maloo? and a third book in the Anne series. I’m kind of booked for the next year or so with Harper Collins, Random House, Comme des Géants, and perhaps Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, but I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say at this stage! 

Thanks, Geneviève! It was wonderful chatting with you. I’m really looking forward to seeing the sequel to What’s Up, Maloo? and all of your upcoming books!

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You can find What’s Up, Maloo? at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

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 21 – National Hugging Day and Interview with Vikki VanSickle

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About the Holiday

Hugs are good medicine! Giving and receiving hugs releases oxytocin, a hormone that provides a wide-range of health benefits. Getting a hug can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and lower one’s risk of heart disease. Established to encourage people to show more emotion in public, National Hugging Day gives people the opportunity to give—or ask for—a nice, big hug!

I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be partnering with Tundra Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.

The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.

But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.  

Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925

Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.

A Chat with Vikki VanSickle

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Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?

Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.

Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?

Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.

When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.

Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Vikki-VanSickle-and-Teddy-Bear-Gang

Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang

I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.

Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?

I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.

Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic.  What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.

The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.

I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?

Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.

From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?

Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know if you have any events coming up and what’s up next for you.

I am hosting a whole bunch of Teddy Bear’s Picnics, which you can see posted below. Attendees are invited to bring their own teddy and together we will read the story, have some snacks, and hold our own Teddy Bear Service Awards complete with diplomas for the teddies and stickers and colouring sheets for the kids. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone’s beloved toys! Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit on the Tundra website.

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Teddy Bear of the Year Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Tundra Books in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Teddy Bear of the Year, written by Vikki VanSickle| illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your or your child’s favorite teddy bear or toy for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 21 through January 27 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 28. 

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

National Hugging Day Activity

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Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

 

You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!

Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

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You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

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

 

September 6 – National Read a Book Day and Interview with Blake Liliane Hellman & Steven Henry

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day! Just as its name implies, National Read a Book Day celebrates one of the best ways to spend our spare time: reading! If there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, find some quiet time during lunch, after dinner, or before turning out the light to snuggle in with a cup of tea and that great book. Kids will enjoy some extra reading time as well. Make it a family event! Not only is reading together fun, it’s an important way to help children develop skills that will benefit them far into the future. 

Get to Know Blake Liliane Hellman and Steven Henry

Today, I’m celebrating National Read a Book Day by talking with Welcome to Morningtown author Blake Liliane Hellman and illustrator Steven Henry. This husband-and-wife team combine their talents for art and writing to create adorable picture books with characters and storylines kids love.  

First up, I’m chatting with Blake about how Welcome to Morningtown came to be and how her visual arts background influences her storytelling. 

Welcome to Morningtown is composed of only 119 words and yet readers get the feeling of a joyful day bursting with possibility and promise while the story also reflects the common routines of a morning for little ones. The story includes a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and inclusion, plus it ends on a humorous note. That’s a masterful use of words and rhythm! Can you describe how you approached the story, chose your words, and structured the cadence of the story? Did the story start out this short or was there a whittling process involved?

This book started out as a phrase Steve would use to wake up his little one in the morning. We knew we wanted to make it into a children’s book but we weren’t sure what it was going to be about. We had long discussions on the world of Morningtown—the setting, the season, the homes, and the creatures who lived there. We even designed maps for fun. There were many iterations. The text was much wordier at first, but I always knew it was going to be a prosaic style of book rather than a classical narrative. I’m a fan of Mary Lyn Ray (STARS, A LUCKY AUTHOR HAS A DOG) who uses words in a lyrical and economical way, without depending on rhyme. Similarly, I curated my word choices so Steve’s illustrations could shine.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Your background is in journalism, English, and filmmaking. You’re also an abstract painter. How did you become interested in writing picture books? How does your experience in all of these disciplines help you write your stories?

My background in filmmaking helped me learn how to tell stories visually. Years of crafting song lyrics taught me to express myself concisely and poetically. Journalism gave me a great foundation in writing, and painting abstractly taught me to get used to making mistakes—that mistakes are just the path to success. As a writer, you’re going to make a lot of bad stuff. If you accept that, you won’t give up. If you don’t give up, you get better.

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Diamond (acrylic on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

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Iris (acrylic and mixed media on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

As an artist, do you have a vision for your stories’ illustrations? In addition to working with Steven on Welcome to Morningtown  and the forthcoming GoodnightSleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020) and Something Smells! (Atheneum, 2018), you have a third picture book, Cuddle Monkey, coming out from Atheneum in 2020, illustrated by Chad Otis. Were you able to work closely with Chad on the adorable illustrations for this book?

As a filmmaker and visual designer, I absolutely have a vision for my stories when I’m writing them. It might be unusual for the writer to have a say in the illustrations, but I’ve been lucky in this. Both Steven Henry, my husband, and our good friend Chad Otis, (CUDDLE MONKEY, OLIVER THE CURIOUS OWL) have design agency backgrounds and are used to collaborating, so designing picture books with them is a no brainer—and a delight. I don’t think I would have been able to sell my earlier manuscripts without the artwork because to my mind, in a picture book manuscript, half of the story just isn’t there! But as I establish myself as a writer, I’m learning that a professional picture book manuscript should be precise and uncluttered. It should speak for itself without relying on illustration notes.

What do you find to be the best part of being a children’s author?

I get to create fantastical, funny, heartfelt worlds and share them with kids and parents. When you see someone enjoying your work, it validates your imagination.

Steven, you also bring a varied background in design and illustration to your picture book career. Early on you worked as a window display artist for Tower Records and Macy’s Department Store. What are the challenges of this kind of work? What elements are important for capturing the attention of passersby and enticing them into the store? Is there a correlation to creating a book’s cover?

In both retail display and illustration, I’ve always tried to set up a visual hierarchy that leads the eye and gives the viewer the most important information first. To do this, first I figure out my visual storytelling goal (or goals). Once I understand what I’m trying to “say”, then I’ll ask myself what the reader should see first. Are any other elements distracting from this? Whenever possible I try to keep things simple in an engaging way. 

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What drew you to focus on illustrating picture books?

I started drawing superheroes and dinosaurs in grade school. My first-grade teacher noticed my doodles in class and, rather than scolding me for not working on my lessons, asked me if I’d like to draw dinosaurs on the chalkboard for the class at the end of the day. I don’t remember how I got the nerve up to do it, but I got up in front of the room and drew a big Tyrannosaurus, explaining how tall he was and who he fought with. I became a minor classroom celebrity for a couple of days, but that, along with encouragement from my parents, was enough to keep me inspired to draw. 

My parents got rid of our TV in the 70’s, so we spent many hours at the library and brought stacks of books home. Seuss, Sendak, and Scarry were—and still are—big heroes. As a teenager I became more interested in drawing comic book art, but I eventually returned to my picture book roots in 2004 with Ella The Elegant Elephant.  

The characters in Welcome to Morningtown are cuter than cute, and the whole book is like a warm hug. How do you achieve this look and feeling? Why do you think such sweet illustrations are important for little readers? I’m also thinking in particular of the final spread of the busy town that glows with friendship and happiness. Can you talk a bit about some of the elements adults can point out as they share the book with their kids?

When I’m designing characters, I try to make combinations of pen marks on paper that remind me of the kinds of books I loved as a kid and continue to resonate with me emotionally. In order to get to a point where I can communicate certain feelings visually, the boring secret has been practice. I really do believe the adage that, if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you’ll become an expert. 

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Ladybug concept for Welcome to Morningtown by Steven Henry.

I still use a simple mechanical pencil to do most of my line work. I also try to stay well within my skill set when I’m working on a book. I try to save things like experimentation and pushing boundaries for the concept work that precedes actual book production. Usually, but I’m not always successful—haha.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As I mentioned earlier, I pay close attention to the visual hierarchy of an illustration to make sure the most important things stand out. But I also like to include little details that the reader may not catch the first time around, or I include a visual storyline that’s not necessarily a part of the text. In Welcome to Morningtown, there’s no mention of a bear family, for instance; but the illustrated exploits of the little bear and his family provide a gently funny counterpoint to the text. Whenever I can, I like to tell a parallel or separate story with the pictures, so parents and young readers should definitely keep their eyes open—and maybe even check the pictures more than once!

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Multiple readings of Welcome to Morningtown are definitely a must! As a husband and wife team collaborating on picture books, could you both tell readers about your process for completing a book that inspires such enthusiasm? Does the story come first and then the illustrations or do you work on the whole project together?

We’re always thinking of new ideas for books, usually they start with a title or concept, a funny thing we see while on a walk or overhear on the street. There’s a lot of silly wordplay at our house.

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Steve working on the picture book dummy for Welcome to Morningtown.

I throw a lot of ideas at Steve and not all of them stick. He’s particular. And for good reason. It takes a lot of work and commitment to illustrate a book. When we decide, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Part of our process is to make a ‘dummy,’ which is a roughly laid out version of the book that we create with a program called InDesign. It has the text laid out alongside rough sketches. This step helps clarify the pacing and can validate or invalidate the story structure. It provides opportunities for improvement. We do a lot of iterating before giving it to our agent.

Blake, you work as an interactive and user experience designer and, Steven, you used to work for Smashing Ideas, which also provides these kinds of serves to clients. Can you briefly describe this work for readers? Can you talk a bit about your work for kids in this area? How do these techniques influence your work with picture books?

I’m a UX Designer and Steve is a Design Manager and we use user experience design principles, including white boarding, prototyping, and wire framing to make picture books! It sounds funny, but it’s actually a great way to work. The only thing we don’t do is user testing because it’s hard to find people who are willing to be honest with you about your picture book. (Unless it’s my mom, she’s very honest.)

Conversely, we’ve found that the process of making picture books helps us in our office environments. Making a picture book forces one to be very organized. There’s a lot to cover in just thirty-two pages! If you can master this kind of efficiency, you can apply it most anywhere.

I’ve had several comments from adults wishing they could live in Morningtown. What can readers look forward to in your upcoming companion book Sleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, date)?

In the companion book to this one, Sleepyville is a cozy seaside village just a hop, skip and jump from Morningtown. It’s bustling with animals who are getting ready for bedtime. Keep your eye out for a library in a giant tree, a candy shop, and camping worms.

 What’s up next for both of you?

We have a few book ideas we’re developing—one of which Steve has written. I’m currently shopping a manuscript on my own about a rambunctious river.

Since my blog is holiday themed, can’t let you get away without asking what your favorite holiday is and why?

My favorite is the Fourth of July. There’s a current of excitement that runs through the air on the Fourth of July. All the explosions, smoke, and fire—the bursts of colors in the night sky—break the routine of other days. But I’d be happy with just black snakes and sparklers. I especially love the smell of fireworks, which conjures hot summer pavement, watermelon picnics, and swimming pools.

I love the sensory details in this last sentence, Blake! I can almost feel my bare feet sizzling and taste that cool watermelon!

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BLAKE LILIANE HELLMAN is a picture book author and senior UX designer. She and her husband Steven Henry live in Seattle and collaborate on books such as Welcome to Morningtown, Goodnight, Sleepyville, and Something Smells!, which was nominated for the Washington State Book Award. Take a peek into their world by viewing her Instagram page and Facebook page.

STEVEN HENRY (né D’Amico) is the illustrator of many picture books, including the award-winning Ella the Elegant Elephant Series, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, and Herbert’s First Halloween. He currently serves as an art director at Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization promoting social and emotional learning.

You can take a peek into Blake and Steven Henry’s world on

Instagram | Facebook

You can connect with Steve on

His Website | Twitter

National Read a Book Day Review

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Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review