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

 

March 25 – It’s National Reading Month and Interview with Illustrator Scott Brundage

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About the Holiday

No matter whether you live in a house or an apartment, in a city, in a small town, or on a farm, but you can travel anywhere through books. The magic of reading lies in its ability to transport readers through history, into emotional landscapes, and to far-away places – even into outer space as today’s book shows!

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of The First Men Who Went to the Moon to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The First Men Who Went to the Moon

Written by Rhonda Gowler Greene | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

As Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin enter the spacecraft, they wear excited smiles and wave. “These are the first men who went to the Moon.” Panning back to where the enthralled crowd watches from across the water, watch as a rocket roars skyward, trailing flames. “This is the spacecraft, Apollo 11, that lifted off and soared through the heavens / and carried the first men who went to the Moon.”

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The astronauts get a view of Earth as they reach for the blackness of space. The Lunar Module Eagle touches down on the surface of the Moon in “…the Sea of Tranquility / where the astronauts made history….” First Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin descended onto the Moon carrying an American flag. “This is their mark, a ‘leap for mankind.’ / And this is the flag they left behind / there in the Sea of Tranquility.”

In a spectacular show of human achievement, the Command Module Columbia returned in a “…splashdown that brought them home, / safe and sound from a vast unknown, / where they made their mark, a ‘leap for mankind.’” With ticker tape parades attended by thousands of people, the astronauts were celebrated in New York City and Chicago.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In addition to Rhonda Gowler Green’s poem, many of the double-spread illustration contain facts about the mission, features of the Moon, the astronauts’ work, and splashdown.

Back matter includes information on where the Eagle and Columbia are now; more facts about the mission, the astronauts, and the equipment; resources; and a list of other books for young readers.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mirroring the circular mission that took the astronauts to the Moon and back, Rhonda Gowler Greene’s lyrical verses build on each other, overlapping to create depth in her storytelling and awe in the scientific achievement of NASA in 1969. As the poem reverses, readers engage in the feeling of pride and relief that Americans and people all around the world experienced as they watched Columbia splash down safely into the Pacific Ocean. Greene peppers the story with beautiful images take readers from “swirls of clouds” to a  “desolate land” to “the dust of lunar ground” and helps them recapture the mystery and amazement of those days 50 years ago.

Scott Brundage’s illustrations are remarkable for their detail and ability to transport readers to the heart of the Apollo 11 mission. Today’s children, familiar with satellite images and feeds from space and who have grown up with the International Space Station, cannot fully appreciate with what wonder and trepidation the world watched the mission on television. Choosing a variety of perspectives, Brundage allows kids to watch the rocket launch from the pad in Florida, look out of the spacecraft’s window as the astronauts leave Earth behind, see the Eagle light up the Moon’s surface as it lands, and view Neil Armstrong take that first step onto the Moon. Space lovers will want to linger over every two-page spread to take in all of the minute details as well as the inspiration that space stirs in the dreams of many.

A lyrical and gorgeous tribute to the Apollo 11 mission for its 50th anniversary, The First Men Who Went to the Moon would make a lovely addition to home, classroom, and public library collections for science and space lovers, STEM lessons, and story time.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364121

Discover more about Rhonda Gowler Greene and her books on her website.

To learn more about Scott Brundage, his books, his art, and more, visit his website.

You can download and print a fun The First Men Who Went to the Moon Activity Sheet!

Meet Illustrator Scott Brundage

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Scott Brundage’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, the Washington Post, and many others. He is the illustrator of A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet. He lives in New York City.

Today I’m happy to be talking with Scott Brundage about capturing the beauty and mystery of space, his talent for humor, and the surprising start to his art career.

The First Men Who Went to the Moon, written by Rhonda Gowler Greene, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Your illustrations are astounding for their perspective and sense of action that captures the thrill and wonderment of the time. Can you talk about the research you did, how you approached creating these images, and your process?

Well thank you for those generous words about my work. I’m happy people have responded to the illustrations so positively. 

When researching this book, I was lucky enough to have A is for Astronaut fresh in my mind. The Apollo 11 mission is a bit more specific than A is for Astronaut, being a specific time and year, but I’d already learned a lot about how to find good NASA references. 

I faced the same challenge as last time: since NASA’s photography is public domain and already gorgeous, what could I bring to this book that hasn’t been seen already? I couldn’t riff as much as last time, but I could at least try to capture what it might have been like to be in the Apollo 11 crew’s shoes (space boots?). Some illustrations  also were simply trying to capture the emotion that Rhonda Gowler Greene was expressing with her words. The moon is beautiful, but distant, cold and still. I wanted to show all of that if I could.

Which illustration in the book is your favorite and why?

I think the spread on pages 22-23 is my favorite, the one depicting all the footprints in the shadow of the planted flag. I like when I can get away with not quite showing the subject of a painting, but the audience knows what they’re seeing. And without getting too

artsy, I thought it was a good metaphor for the book itself. We went to the moon, left our mark, and came back. The footprints are still there on the cold surface in the shadow of our flag.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gower Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What were your favorite books as a child and whose art or illustration work did you admire growing up?

I had to ask my mom for this answer. I don’t remember having a favorite, all I could think of are cool picture books I appreciate now as an adult. Turns out, according to my mom, I much preferred to just look through our encyclopedia and then report dinosaur facts to whoever would listen. 

How did you get into illustrating children’s books and what do you enjoy most about the work?

I got into picture books relatively organically, having touched on almost every other type of illustration market first. I started out doing small illustrations for magazines and newspapers. That slowly led me to book covers and middle grade chapter books that had a lot of interior black and white illustration. Along the way, I would help a couple independent authors with their self-published picture books. After a while, I just had a stack of children’s picture book illustrations in my portfolio. So when my agent asked if I was interested in doing a picture book with a real publisher, I was more than ready to jump in. 

Picture books are great because you can really chew on a subject or set of characters way longer than you can for a book cover or spot illustration. I know way more about how space suits work, I’m familiar with a weird number of features on the International Space Station, and know exactly what color suits the Apollo 11 crew were wearing in their ticker tape parade. It’s really fun to get that deep for a book. 

Is it true you got your start professionally by designing a bicycle helmet? How did that come about? What was your design?

This is true. My first paying gig was a Bell Helmet’s kid’s helmet design. My art school instructor, the great children’s book illustrator Brian Biggs, had a contact with the designer at Bell Helmets and set up a contest among his students to submit designs for a possible helmet. They’d pick the winner and see if it could get produced. I send in two designs, one of happy robots on an alien landscape, another of cute little lizards attacking a city. Somehow both designs won the contest  The timing, however, was a little unfortunate for the lizards attacking the city since it was just after 9/11, but the robots ended up adorning the heads of dozens of kids nationwide.

I was fortunate enough to review A is for Astronaut: Blasting through the Alphabet—your picture book with author and former astronaut Clayton Anderson. I was blown away by the stunning details—including spacecraft, the NASA control room, and space itself—on every page. What kinds of choices did you make in creating the illustrations to make the information come alive for kids? 

A is for Astronaut was a blast to work on. I had a bit of freedom in interpreting each chapter, so a lot of it was figuring out I could make an image portray the idea of each letter clearly. For the more straightforward words like galaxy or blastoff, showing how it is to be a kid experiencing those awe-inspiring event/sights for the first time. And, when possible, if I could find a way to blend two words/ideas into a single spread, that was even more fun. 

Your editorial illustrations have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and other publications, and you’re now working as an animator for the Showtime series Our Cartoon President. Do you have a natural knack for humor and infusing it into your art or how did that develop? 

When I was in school, I was really into dark scary artwork and literature. Loved creepy drawings and painting, reading horror stories, listening to dark music. I tried my hand at doing some moody paintings in oil about serious subjects. But, my personality is that of a very silly man. And if you looked at my sketchbooks at the same time, it was all goofy drawings to make myself and others laugh. Eventually I realized I should just lean into what came naturally, and that was the funnier whimsical stuff. I’m definitely much more suited to making a weird face, taking a photo of myself, then applying that face to a character than I am at trying to scare someone.

What’s up next for you?

I’m just starting up a new picture book about a guy and his dog. No astronauts this time around.  

And I’m also working on the second season of Our Cartoon President. 

Thanks, Scott! It’s been so great chatting with you! I wish you all the best with The First Men Who Went to the Moon and all of your work!

You can connect with Scott Brundage on

His website | Twitter | Instagram

The First Men Who Went to the Moon Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The First Men Who Went to the Moon written by Rhonda Gower Greene | illustrated by Scott Brundage

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from March 25 through March 31 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts. 

National Reading Month Activity

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Rocket to the Moon! Maze

 

Help the rocket find its way through space and land on the moon in this printable puzzle!

Rocket to the Moon! Puzzle | Rocket to the Moon! Solution

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You can find The First Men Who Went to the Moon at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 12 – National Day of Encouragement and Q&A with Author Kate Louise & Illustrator Grace Sandford

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2007 by the Encouragement Foundation at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, today’s holiday entreats us to cheer on our friends, coworkers, and even those we don’t know as they attempt to reach goals or start new endeavors. A pat on the back, a simple “you can do it!,” or a reassuring “great job!” boosts people’s self-confidence and makes the world a happier place.

Tough Cookie

Written by Kate Louise | Illustrated by Grace Sandford

 

Although one gingerbread man in the bakery looks like all the others, there is one important difference. Yes, the batter had “eggs and cinnamon and flour and butter and sugar—but wait! The baker forgot to add the ginger!” Without this signature ingredient the gingerbread man just doesn’t feel like a gingerbread man at all. In fact his whole life has been turned upside down. He’s different from his friends, and what’s worse, he can’t be sold. Instead, he lives in the back of the bakery  and in his sadness makes all kinds of mischief.

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Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

The gingerbread man chases the cat, splatters icing on other cookies, and squirts icing on the walls. “‘I need that for my cupcakes!’” the baker yells, but the gingerbread man just laughs. He moves on to the decorative candies, stuffing them in his mouth as fast as he can even though the baker needs them for his other treats and stands by tapping his foot. Next the gingerbread man scatters sprinkles all over the counter and slips and slides along on his belly—“‘woohoo!’” But the baker is not amused. “‘I need those for the donuts!’” he shouts.

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Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

Finally, the baker has had enough. Not only is the gingerbread man upsetting the other gingerbread men and women, he is ruining the business. The baker orders the gingerbread man to leave the store. But this is one gingerbread man that does not want to run away. “‘I don’t want to leave!’” he cries. The baker relents. He takes the little cookie in hand and teaches him that even though he is missing an ingredient he can still be kind. The baker shows him by being nice he can become one of the group. 

Now, the little gingerbread man is happy. Instead of gobbling up all the candy, he helps create the other cookies. He no longer shoots icing on the walls or flings sprinkles around the kitchen. Rather, he helps the baker decorate the cupcakes and the donuts. He’s even learned how to sift flour and roll out dough, and he uses the cookie cutter to make new friends. And he never forgets to add the ginger!

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Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

In her sweet story, Kate Louise reminds readers that true happiness comes from within and that each person can decide for themselves how to perceive the world around them. While each of us is human, we all have different ingredients that make us unique. We can use those qualities to be kind and make positive changes in the world. Kids will recognize and giggle at the mischief the little gingerbread man makes with icing and sprinkles, but will also realize that friendships are built by using that same energy to help others. Sometimes tough cookies are actually softies at heart.

Grace Sandford’s bakery gleams with the golden hues of fresh-baked bread, the festive colors of sprinkles and icing, and the sparkle of sugar. Kids will love the vibrant pictures of cupcakes; lollypops; stacks of cakes, donuts, and candy; and decorated gingerbread houses surrounded by cookie forests. Her expressive gingerbread men and women register dismay at the wayward gingerbread man’s shenanigans and joy at his kindness. And the hero of the story? When he leaves behind his impish pranks he becomes a charming baker’s companion, sifting clouds of flour, running on the rolling pin to flatten dough, and passing out sugar-shiny gumdrop buttons to his new friends.

Young children will ask for this fun and funny read over and over. Tough Cookie makes an especially delicious accompaniment to an afternoon of baking or decorating gingerbread houses!

Ages 3 – 6

Sky Pony Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1634501972

Discover more of Kate Louise’s books for kids and young adults as well as Tough Cookie Coloring Pages on her website!

View the colorful world and signature style of Grace Sandford’s artwork on her website!

Gobble up this Tough Cookie book Trailer!

National Day of Encouragement Activity

CPB - Random Acts of Kindness cards

Kindness Cards

Encourage your friends – and even strangers with these printable Kindness Cards! You can hand them to people and tell them how much they mean to you or slip them into a lunch bag, locker, shelf, backpack or other place and let the person discover a secret day brightener!

Q&A with Author Kate Louise & Illustrator Grace Sandford

Today I am happy to include a double Q & A with both author Kate Louise and illustrator Grace Sandford in which they share their inspirations, their other work, and the joys of creating picture books as well as reveal a favorite place for tea and cake and a ghostly pastime!

Meet Kate Louise

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What were some of the books you most enjoyed as a child?

I loved Funny Bones and Winnie the Witch! And I was a big fan of Roald Dahl (especially Matlida) – I still am! 

What influenced you to write Tough Cookie?

I had the idea at Christmastime. I was measuring ingredients for a batch of gingerbread cookies and wondered what a cookie character without sugar would do because they’d be unable to fulfill their cookie purpose without an important ingredient! I later changed the missing sugar to missing ginger, which is the most important ingredient of all for a gingerbread man.

You write picture books as well as young adult novels. Which came first? What is the biggest challenge in writing each? What is the biggest joy?

When I started writing, I knew I wanted to write young-adult fiction. So that came first. Writing picture books kind of felt like starting over again. It was scary, but exciting, too. And I could learn a lot from both and apply new skills to different projects.

Both have their charms and their tough moments. Writing novels can be really hard going at times when I get the feeling that I’m never going to make it to the end, or if I get myself tangled up somewhere along the way. I don’t get that feeling quite as much with picture books, though I would say they’re harder to write! To tell a story with a much, much smaller word count and to get used to letting the illustrations tell it too.

The biggest joy for me is always seeing the finished work. After putting so much into each project, getting it back as something I can hold in my hands and feel proud of is a great feeling.

Can you describe your writing space a little?

I can answer with a photo! Though, it depends when you catch me and how busy I am. Sometimes it can be piled up with books or notepads or pieces of paper and mugs of tea! My screen desktop (as you can see) can get pretty hectic sometimes too.

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Since Tough Cookie is set in a bakery, I’m wondering if you have a favorite bakery and if so what is special about it?

Oh, nice question! My fave place to visit for tea and cake is a little farm shop tea room, where the cake is made by my friend Bethany at Picture Frame Puds and is seriously delicious! It has a lovely vibe and I can take my dog!

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What are you working on next?

I’m working on The Pack, which is the sequel to my YA shape-shifter circus novel The Wanderers that came out last year.

Since this is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you a few holiday-related questions, so…

What is your favorite holiday?

It would have to be Christmas. But Halloween is a very close second.

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Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?

I like to make a big deal about Halloween with movies, decorating, pumpkin carving, and themed baking. We’ve just started going to a pumpkin farm to pick the pumpkins ourselves too. There’s a corn maze and little wheelbarrows and the field stretches on forever. It’s a new tradition and a fun extra activity for us at Halloween.

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Meet Grace Sandford

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What inspired you to become an illustrator and a picture book illustrator specifically?

Growing up, I loved drawing and creating characters from my imagination. I believe a lot of that stemmed from picture books and animated film and television. I love Disney and Pixar and as a teenager I was fascinated with the concept art from Pixar films. I always knew that I wanted a career in art of some form but it’s hard discovering what jobs are out there when you’re at school! I did some studying in Graphic Design and eventually went to university to study Illustration, which is where I got truly passionate about picture books. I always admired the art of picture books and they have been a huge part of my life but having a reason to dissect them and create your own really made me want to be a children’s illustrator.

What were some of the books and/or artists you liked most as a child?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, I am a Bunny illustrated by Richard Scarry and when I was 16 I stumbled across Catherine Rayner’s debut Augustus and his Smile. I think that book was a huge influence in wanting to be a children’s book illustrator, both the writing and illustrations are perfect! 

Can you describe your process when illustrating a picture book?

It usually begins with the editor sending you the story/text. Then I start to do lots of sketches of the main character, the secondary characters and the environment around them. Pinterest is a godsend during this bit as you can flick through and look at photos of certain animals or buildings for reference to make sure you’re creating characters that will look believable (even if it is a walking, talking gingerbread man!) 

Then I create roughs for each spread showing how the pages will look and which parts I have chosen to illustrate. This gives the editor a rough idea of how the final artwork is going to look and this is where most of the edits happen until it’s approved. Once all edits are approved I can create the final artwork which is my favourite part seeing all the hard work come together! 

Can you describe your work space a little?

I now have a studio where I live, but when I worked on Tough Cookie I lived in a one bed apartment with my boyfriend straight after university and I had to work on the kitchen table! I’m so glad I have my own room to work in now (and I’m sure my boyfriend is too!)

My work space now involves a desk, my iMac, an A3 scanner, a windowsill with lots of pens and paints (and most importantly plants!) and I have a space that alternates between a lightbox and a graphics tablet. I also have a bad habit of putting all projects I’m working on into separate piles around the room until they are done! 

You say in your bio that you like ghost hunting. How did you get involved in that? What is your favorite place to hunt ghosts?

Haha, this is the best question! I love Ghost Hunting although it’s been a while since I’ve been on a walk. It started off when I was a teenager living in a small village in England, being bored with friends and wandering around abandoned churches at night, hunting for things that go bump in the night, and it grew over time into a huge interest. When I went to University in Lincoln, a historical city, I got very interested in the social history of the place. Ghost stories are ultimately another fantastic way of storytelling. There are some very scary but interesting stories about Lincolnshire if you’re ever interested! Fun fact, Tom Hank’s bodyguard tripped over a phantom ghost head rolling down Steep Hill in Lincoln during a Professional Ghost Tour!

What are you working on next?

This year I’ve been working on a four book series based on Minecraft which has been a complete joy to be a part of! It’s been hard work as I knew very little about the franchise before this and knowing how loyal the fans are, I’ve wanted to draw everything right whilst staying faithful to my style! I just finished some more colouring books for a Spanish publisher and I have also been writing a picture book that I have a good feeling about (fingers crossed!)

What is your favorite holiday?

I personally love Christmas just because I get to spend time with my family and chill out but I love Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday too. It is such a vibrant and beautiful celebration of something that we all sadly experience in life. 

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?

Every Christmas it’s become a tradition to be at home with my family playing Jigsaws, watching films and eating a little bit too much! 

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Thanks, Kate and Grace, for sharing about your work and your favorite places and pursuits! I wish you all the best with Tough Cookie and your other projects!

Tough Cookie can be found at:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sky Pony Press