Cover Reveal: Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares

I’m thrilled that today, Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares, collaborators for Lighter Than Air, are here to chat with me about the book and reveal the cover. My questions are in bold, and their answers follow. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about Lighter than Air.

MT: Lighter Than Air is the story of Sophie Blanchard, the world’s first
woman pilot. She grew up in France in the early days of manned flight,
and she knew from the time she was very young that she was meant to fly-
even though all the famous aeronauts were men. Her story is fascinating,
and I really loved working on this book.

MCS: I’ll just add that the book also serves (I hope!) as a glimpse into
a really fascinating time — a time when the idea of human flight seemed
all but magical to most people, and the hot air balloon became this
mesmerizing symbol of the conquering of limits and borders through
imagination. For a few years the world went crazy with “balloonomania,”
and for a woman like SB to achieve what she did in that context really
got people’s attention and shook up a lot of crusty old notions.

What was it like to work with each other?

MT: It was great! Except that we never actually met, and still haven’t.
That’s how it usually goes when one person is the author and someone
else is the illustrator. All communication goes through the editor and
art director, and we usually never meet. So I didn’t work directly with
Matthew Clark Smith, but I did work with his words, and that was a
pleasure. Illustrating a story written by someone else is usually harder
for me than illustrating one of my own stories. It takes me a while to
get my head around how the illustrations should look, and I go through a
bunch of not-so-good sketches before I start making some good ones. But
I felt a connection to this story right from the start, and had a much
clearer vision for it than I normally do. I think that’s because the
story is so well-written, and has so much emotion packed into it. I
really cared about Sophie right from the beginning.

MCS: Sending your picture book text off to be illustrated is always a
leap of faith; when you’re a perfectionist and a very visual thinker
like me, it can be downright nerve-racking. So it’s a relief and a
pleasure to work with someone like Matt, who not only does his homework
in terms of historical accuracy, but also has a real gift for
intuitively grasping the tone of a piece and translating that into
image. I could tell the book was in good hands as soon as he passed on
his first sketches along with a few requests for detail and
clarification. When you know your illustrator is just as committed to
your story as you are, then you feel like you’re parenting a child
together instead of sending your kid off to be babysat. (Which may be a
slightly awkward metaphor given that Matt and I haven’t even met…)

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

MT: Yes. My parents say that even when I was two years old, I was
drawing all the time. It’s just something that’s always been a part of
me. I’ve always loved writing stories too. I wrote and illustrated my
first picture book as my senior project in college, and haven’t stopped
since then.

MCS: Absolutely. I’ve always been eager to absorb and imitate different
styles and genres, so from the time I learned to read (very early), I
was constantly regurgitating second-rate knockoffs of whatever books
were on my shelf. I didn’t think of it as practice at the time, but it
turned out to be just that. Luckily, my parents were avid readers who
made sure I had access to every kind of literature under the sun. Also
luckily, they were wise enough to know when to stay out of my way.

I drifted away from writing for a while and wore a few other hats, but
when a children’s story popped into my head again several years ago (not
coincidentally around the time I was starting to have kids of my own), I
knew almost instantly that that was where my imagination had been
longing to go.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

MT: There are so many… delivering the final art to the publisher is
always is exciting, seeing the finished book for the first time, meeting
some of my favorite authors and illustrators… but one exciting thing I
can think of that’s more specific to this book is the magic that happens
when an author and illustrator collaborate on a picture book. Of course,
I love illustrating my own stories. But when I collaborate with someone
else, I end up making a book I never would have thought to make on my
own. Before reading Matthew’s manuscript, I had never even heard of
Sophie Blanchard. But then I read this story, and loved it, and before
long I was spending the better part of a year learning everything I
could about her and working on these illustrations. That’s definitely an
exciting part of being an illustrator- you never know what story might
come along next.

MCS: That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child! (When you have
young kids, parenting starts to seem like a metaphor for everything.)
I’m a major geek when it comes to doing historical research, to the
point where it’s sometimes hard to cut myself off from it and start the
actual writing. But there’s a subtler, more hard-won excitement to be
had in just solving language-puzzles as a writer — in that moment where
the just-right word appears in your mind’s eye and that whole unruly
sentence crystallizes around it. Then in another sense, there’s nothing
like the excitement of seeing the final art for the first time, and
realizing that your words have morphed into a living, breathing,
beautiful thing.

What inspires your creativity?

MT: My mortgage.

But seriously… seeing great art always gives me a creative boost.
Sometimes that means a painting in a museum, or sometimes that means
browsing the picture book section at the bookstore, or even going to the
movies. I also take walks, and that helps my writing. Most of my best
ideas don’t come to me when I’m sitting at my desk. They come when I’m
outside walking, letting my mind wander. Lately I’ve been listening to
instrumental music from Pixar movies when I walk. It might sound silly,
but I feel like those songs lend themselves so perfectly to
storytelling, and they really seem to help me when I’m trying to figure
out a story.

MCS: Totally with Matt on this one. There’s nothing like seeing
(reading, watching, etc.) great art to inspire art of your own.
Devouring a really well-written book always leaves me feeling thrilled
and empowered by the new possibilities of words — along with a touch of
that competitive spirit that has me thinking “Why couldn’t I do that?”
And so much of creativity depends on just making the space for the ideas
to come to you. I can read all the books I want, but if I don’t set
aside quiet time for all those new words and concepts to shuffle and
recombine themselves in my brain, then I won’t be able to turn them into
something new. Ideas don’t come out of nowhere — you have to make sure
they have fertile ground — but you can’t force them to grow, either.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could 
tell us?

MT: I hold my pencil wrong, and always have. All four fingers on one
side, and my thumb on the other. Drove my third grade teacher crazy. She
kept giving me those little triangles you slide onto your pencil to help
position your fingers correctly. And I would try it that way, but it
always felt weird, so I’d always switch back to my way. Then she would
tell me that if I kept it up, before long I would have arthritis in my
thumb! So far so good, though. Take THAT, Mrs. Foley! (She was actually
a very good teacher.)

MCS: I do all kinds of things wrong. I forget, I procrastinate, I have
no kind of daily schedule, I stink at drafting and revising, and I
constantly start projects that will never be finished. I’m not proud of
any of that, and I’m getting better (maybe), but I’ve also made a
certain peace with my weaknesses as a writer. There’s no
one-size-fits-all formula for turning yourself into an artist, and one
of the most important things you can do is to get in touch with your own
natural creative process (messy as it may be) and figure out how to give
it what it needs. Before they revoke my MFA, I’ll just add that the
fundamentals are important, too: the more familiar you are with the
basic tools of your craft, the more confident you’ll be in marching to
your own beat.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

MT: I’ve always had this fantasy of being an animator at a big animation
studio, like Pixar. Writing and illustrating books is a very solitary
job much of the time. I’m intrigued by the idea of being part of a big
creative team, working together toward a common goal. That said, I
really do love making books and can’t imagine I’ll ever decide to do
anything else.

I also love teaching, so maybe I would be a teacher. Lucky for me, I
visit a lot of schools, so I do get to do a bit of teaching, even as an
author-illustrator.

MCS: Most of the time, I’m not actually writing books: I have a
full-time job making maps as a geographic information scientist, which
is pretty great in itself. But I’m always dreaming about doing other
things. I have a fantasy-life as a musician, another one as a teacher,
and another one as a field biologist, to name a few. And if Matt wants
to go to Pixar and drag me along as part of his team, I’d be all for it.

What can readers expect from you in the future? Any other pairings as an 
author/illustrator duo?

MT: I’ve got two books coming out in 2017, both with Candlewick. Lighter
Than Air comes out in March, and Red and Lulu comes out in the fall.
It’s a story I wrote and illustrated about a pair of cardinals who
become separated when their favorite tree is chopped down (don’t worry,
it turns out okay). I’m really excited for both of these books.

MCS: I always have a few projects that I’m shopping around, and plenty
more in the back of the drawer. I’m very restless as a writer, so they
tend to be all over the map — more picture books, but also nonfiction
for older readers, along with scraps of a few novels that may or may not
ever see the light. But now I’ll be spending most of 2017 in anxious
suspense over the fate of Matt’s homeless cardinals.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

MT: Thanks, Dylan! And thanks, Dylan’s readers! It really was a pleasure
to help bring Sophie Blanchard’s story to life, and I hope you all enjoy
Lighter Than Air.

MCS: Likewise!

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What’s Up, Lori Richmond?

Hey Lori! Thanks for joining me here to talk about all you have in store! 
Thanks for having me, Dylan!
Tell us a little bit about A Hop Is Up!
A HOP IS UP is a picture book poem about all sorts of movements, written by the wonderful Kristy Dempsey. It’s perfect for wiggly, giggly pre-K or Kindergarten kids but can also function as an early reader for children learning to read on their own. Kristy’s text was a blank canvas for me as the illustrator—without any characters, setting, or traditional story arc mentioned in the words, I got to create the entire visual narrative from scratch!
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Tell us a little bit about your process.
Initially, I presented two concepts to Bloomsbury. The first one featured a kangaroo and a rabbit on an obstacle course! But I’m happy we opted for the boy taking his dog on a walk because it’s friendlier and more familiar to the youngest readers. Because Kristy’s text flows so beautifully from one line to the next when read aloud, I wanted the illustrations to do the same. If you look carefully, each spread hints at what is coming next to create a continuous visual story. The text starts and ends with “A hop is up,” so the art begins with the boy and dog leaving home, and ends with them arriving back home. There is also a gardener and her cat that we meet in the beginning, and they make a surprising return near the end. This took a lot of planning. How would I demonstrate each movement, and have the context make sense, and tease what’s coming next, butnot feel like I forced the whole thing? I went through many post-its, drawings of neighborhood maps, and many, many sketches. I loved tackling this challenge and it was a really exciting one for a first-time illustrator.
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2017 is a big year for you as you potentially have two new titles coming as author AND Illustrator. Tell us about those.
PAX AND BLUE (February 2017, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) is a gentle story about an unexpected friendship between a boy and a pigeon, inspired by a true story my son told me. BUNNY’S STAYCATION (2017, Scholastic) went to a five-house auction, which was nerve-wracking and craaaazy! This book has many autobiographical aspects to it — it is about Bunny, who attempts to foil his Mama’s business trip and creates his own adventure. A parent traveling for work is not easy on the child or the parent. is a stressful, common issue that so many families deal with every day.
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You share a studio space, correct? What’s that like?
I’m part of Friends Work Here in Brooklyn, a space created by my dear friend and design blog superstar Swissmiss, Tina Roth Eisenberg. We have an eclectic bunch of creatives in our studio: photographers, designers, videographers, illustrators, and writers. It’s great to see what everyone else is working on and learn and be inspired by people working in other disciplines. Friends is so much more than a shared studio. It’s a community.
 
Have you always been into writing and illustrating?
I’ve loved to draw since I was little, and my professional career was always in different types of design. I worked at several media companies and was a contributing editor to pregnancy and parenting brand, The Bump. So, I always had the drawing and a little bit of the writing, but not together and not in children’s books! Weirdly, my first design job out of college was doing promotional design for adult titles at Little Brown. Funny how things come full circle!
 
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I’m doing so many things for the first time, so it’s all really exciting! But having my two boys see me do work that is meaningful, and experience the ups and downs right along with me (I share the good stuff but also tell them about every rejection) is everything to me and I hope it inspires them in the future. And nothing beats seeing a book you made, as a real thing, for the very first time.  I never want that to get old.
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What inspires your creativity?
In writing, much of it comes from real life. In drawing, it comes from so many places. Living in a vibrant place like New York City serves as an endless source of inspiration.
 
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
I rocked the 5th grade spelling bee. My moment of triumph was on the word “bivouac.”
 
If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?
I was a corporate Creative Director for 20+ years before starting to work on books, so, I’m sure I’d still be doing that. I still do design projects as part of my freelance work. My fantasy-but-likely-to-never-happen careers are forensic scientist and storm chaser. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?!)
 
What can readers expect from you in the future?
In addition to PAX AND BLUE and BUNNY’S STAYCATION, there will be a second BUNNY book with Scholastic, and I’m illustrating SKELLY’S HALLOWEEN written by David Martin and published by Macmillan/Henry Holt (August 2018.) I have something else in the pipeline that I can’t share quite yet, but hopefully soon!
 
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
If there’s something you dream of doing, just start. Today. Little steps, over time, get big results.

I Will Not Eat You: Interview with Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon PLUS Giveaway

i-will-not-eat-you-9781481429337_hrDylan: Hey Adam! Hey Scott! Thanks for joining me here to talk about your upcoming 2016 title, I Will Not Eat You!

Scott: Hi, Dylan. You’re quite welcome, good to be here; thanks for having us.

Adam: Hey Dylan! (Waves to Dylan.) Thank you so much for hosting us. Super excited to be here with you. Hi Scott. (Waves to Scott.)

Dylan: Tell us a little bit about I Will Not Eat You!

Adam: I Will Not Eat You! is a story about breaking through barriers. Self-imposed barriers, like those between Theodore, the main character, and the world outside his cave. And interpersonal barriers, like making new friends. Okay, that’s maybe a bit too much mumbo jumbo. You probably wanted some plot, right? Theodore spends all of his time hiding from the world in his cave. He sees everything as either a possible meal or not worth his time. That is, until something new comes up to his cave. A boy. And instead of leaving Theodore alone, the boy encourages Theodore to leave his cave. Well, encourages isn’t maybe the right word. But, in any case, Theodore leaves his cave. And he’s none too happy about it.

Scott: I WILL NOT EAT YOU is a suspenseful, funny tale of the woods—it reads like a little stage play in your hands. Its a little Three Billy Goats Gruff, a little Three Little Pigs, part Where the Wild Things Are and part Pete’s Dragon. It continuously pulls you along as the plot drives page turns—and beyond that, Theo’s voice and animal sound effects will be fun to create at story time. I’ve read it to kids on my school visits and they are enthralled by it. They want to find out what Theo is and how it all works out in the end. 

Dylan: What was it like to work with each other?

Scott: For me initially, Adam was a bit like the eyes in the cave on the cover of I WILL NOT EAT YOU. What was he all about, I wondered. I knew Adam only by way of his book WARNING: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK which was wonderfully mysterious, a little spooky—already the stuff of legend really—and so I wasn’t sure what to make of him. But after a few back-and-forths with him by way of Sylvie Frank (our editor at Paula Wiseman Books) I began to realize that he was much more like the inquisitive and mischievous boy character of I WILL NOT EAT YOU: poking around at the text to see how we could make the book even better. After that I was much more at ease and loved how he shaped the book well into the illustration phase. We’ve been in touch since and hope to meet up next month in person for the first time. Not in a cave though.

Adam: Oh, wow! It was SO AWESOME! Scott is such an amazing illustrator and I was a bit nervous at first. I’m a HUGE fan of his other books. The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot! Spoon! Mostly Monsterly! I LOVE his style. So, when Paula (Paula Wiseman at S&S) said Scott was going to illustrate this, I totally did a happy dance. Right there in the coffee shop. And it only got better from there. His sketches were brilliant. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how the book has turned out.

Dylan: Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

Adam: I’ve been writing stories since I was in the second grade. My first was called The Little Red Plane. It wasn’t a very good story. I really wanted it to be The Little Blue Plane, but Mike had the blue crayon. He wouldn’t give it to me. So red it was. I’ve continued writing over the years, and now I have the great pleasure of calling it my job. I love it.

Scott: Right after college I was burned out on writing and drawing and sort of withdrew into my own creative cave for awhile. I had been earning my degree in English (constantly writing, reading), working on drawing and writing my weekly comic strip (called Duct Tape Man) and needed a short break. Short break turned into something like 3 years. Other than that though, absolutely yes.

Dylan: What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Adam: Can I pick two? I’m going pick two. Is that alright? I hope so. I’m picking two. Does anyone else hear Anthrax singing “Breaking the Law”? Okay, I digress. So, first is seeing the initial sketches from the illustrator. It’s unbelievable to see your characters come to life. But I also really love seeing the faces of listeners as they hear my stories. I do a lot of Skype visits with classrooms, and watching the students as I read is a wonderfully gratifying experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Scott: As I’m drawing my characters I see them come to life—and seeing them before anyone else does is pretty cool. Drawing Theo from I WILL NOT EAT YOU is a great example because he took on a couple of different appearances as I was designing him and I wasn’t sure what he’d wind up looking like until very late in the process. Another exciting part is building in some storytelling structures that help tell the story. For I WILL NOT EAT YOU it was the slow but deliberate zoom in on the cave from far away and each spread gets progressively closer. The reason for this is twofold: it slowly builds tension and brings the reader right up into the scene. Its fairly subtle—but maybe because of that it was exciting to be able to include that device.

Dylan: What inspires your creativity?

Adam: I get inspiration from all kinds of places. I read a LOT. Not just picture books and kid lit. I read all kinds of stuff. There are some really wonderful books out there, with great characters. Another thing I love is the way writers are developing their plots in movies and TV shows. There’s a lot to be learned there. I also get inspired by personal experiences. For instance, the first draft of I Will Not Eat You was written on a 6 hour car ride with my kids. I think you can see a bit of this in the interplay between Theodore and the other animals that approach his cave. Maybe even here the faint echoes of tiny voices asking, “Are we there yet?”

Scott: A little of everything—that’s my goal, anyway towards being in a state of constant inspireativity. From an artistic standpoint, I try to constantly “input stuff” in the hopes it’ll inspire me. For instance, I’ll read, visit museums, walk in the woods, cook—I even explored a couple of caves recently. Something that’s a little out of the ordinary or different. Wander. I work in new things of course but old and familiar things can also inspire me at the right time—movies I’ve seen before but that take on new meaning now that time has gone by. I also have a bunch of neat stuff in my studio that inspires me: toys, antiques, some of my childhood artifacts and so on. From a practical standpoint, paying my mortgage every month greatly inspires me. Last minute panic also inspires me.

Dylan: What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Adam: I like to read urban fiction—vampires, Weres, Witches, Wizards. There’s usually at least two or three examples sitting on my desk. Yeah, guilty pleasure.

Scott: I’m not a fan of tuna salad. 

Dylan: If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Adam: I’d still be doing something creative. I was an Art Director before pursuing this career, so I’d probably be doing that. Or a movie star. I think I’d make a great henchman. Like Oddjob from Goldfinger. I just need one of those cool hats. If anyone out there has one, let me know.

Scott: I’d be telling stories somehow—maybe singing American songbook standards. Have you ever heard a singer sing you a truly compelling and believable story in song? If done right, its remarkable; really powerful. That skill interests me. Tony Bennett can do it. Hardly anyone does it anymore—its almost a lost art. 

Dylan: What can readers expect from you in the future? Any other pairings as an author/illustrator duo?

Adam: I have a busy schedule next year with four books coming out. The first, I Don’t Draw, I Color (illustrated by Felicita Sala) comes out March 21st. It’s about being creative in your own way, not worrying about what other people do. That will be followed by my second chicken book, Chicken in School (iIllustrated by Shahar Kober) in May, Wordplay (illustrated by Jared Chapman) a playground battle between Noun and Verb in July, and Idea Jar (illustrated by Deb Pilutti) next Fall.

While I’m not currently paired with Scott for another book, I would love to work with him again. (Heads to the desk to start writing.)

Scott: They can expect me to continue to do books that offer something unique to my readers. Maybe its offbeat, maybe its funny, maybe upsetting but ultimately all of them will offer some hope as a core message. That things will be ok. Just like I WILL NOT EAT YOU does. Would love another Adam pairing! 

Dylan: Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Adam: If someone dressed as a knight happens to come into your cave, maybe try not to eat them. You just might find something better.

Scott: I’d like to say thanks for reading and to keep reading this blog!

Would you like to bid on an original print from I WILL NOT EAT YOU? Visit the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival auction at http://www.32auctions.com/plumcreek2016.

Would you like to WIN A COPY OF I WILL NOT EAT YOU?
To be entered to win, either comment on this blog, or retweet the interview on Twitter and tag @dylanteut!

Unexpected Happy Endings

Candlewick sent me a copy of A Bike Like Sergio’s a few weeks back. I read it almost immediately, but it has taken me some time to pull my thoughts together about such an important book.

I predicted that in this story, the boy wanted a bike like his friend Sergio’s, and he would find a way to make the money.

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Spoiler Alert: The boy does not get a bike at the end of the story. But it is still a happy ending! And that’s what I love about it.

Ruben probably lives in poverty. We can infer that by the story. It seems like all of his friends have bikes, and he would like nothing more than one just like theirs. Unfortunately, his family cannot afford it.

When Ruben is at the store one day, a woman drops a bill. Before Ruben can get to her, he realizes it’s a $100 bill- and he hangs on to it and ponders about what the right thing to do is. He could use it to buy a bike… but of course, he’d have to cough up a story about where he got the money.

And so Ruben faces a tough situation. He sees the woman again in the store and gives her back the $100. It was probably very difficult. The woman tells Ruben that she was so thankful, and she really needed that money herself to buy groceries.

I predicted that Ruben would go home, tell his parents about the money, and they’d surprise him with the bike. But that doesn’t happen!

In reality, we like books to end nice and neat and with a happy ending. But that’s not what life is like for children learning right and wrong, and needs and wants. Children have to face the fact that even though they did something good and kind, there probably won’t be a big reward for it.

And that’s okay.

Because in the end Ruben is happy. He’s happy he did the right thing. He didn’t get exactly what he wanted- but he still found a way to be happy. And that’s an important lesson for children- you don’t have to get exactly what you want to find happiness.

This book releases this fall from Candlewick and I highly recommend it.

BE QUIET! An Exclusive Look at Ryan Higgins’ Spring 2017 Book

All Rupert the mouse wants is to star in a beautiful, wordless picturebook. One that’s visually stimulating! With scenic pictures! And style! He has plenty of ideas about what makes a great book, but his friends just WON’T. STOP. TALKING.
 
Children and adults alike will chuckle at this comedic take on bookmaking from acclaimed author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins.
Ryan stopped by to answer a few questions about his Spring 2017 book, which is set to release April 4, 2017 from Disney-Hyperion.

Haven’t I seen these mice somewhere before?

Yes. They take over Bruce’s house in the next Bruce book, Hotel Bruce. Also, Dylan, you’re one of the few people to see my older work (from before I was published). I’ve been working with these mice, in some form or other, since I was a kid.

Where did you get the idea for this book?

I sketched up the first draft of this four years ago. I sat down to make a picture book without words and the characters had other ideas.

What makes this book unique?

I’m terrible at talking up my books… I suppose this book is different than most in that the characters take over. Approaching the 4th wall is not a new concept, but I don’t think anyone has done it before with a mouse wearing glasses and a mustache. I could be wrong, though. I’ll Google it later.

What are you working on now (besides your cool writing shed?) ?

Right. I’m personally building a studio in my backyard. I hope to be making books in it by this winter, but building buildings takes a long time. I still can’t think of the perfect name for the place…

Besides the carpentry work, I’m working on Bruce’s next adventure, but it’s top secret. I can’t talk about it — except to say it has a scene with a motorbike!

Anything else you’d like to share?
Nah. I’m pretty boring.
And now, here’s the cover…..!

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#pb10for10 Books I Need to Share

Honestly, this time of year is difficult for me. As I see other teachers setting up their classrooms and picking out which books to share with their class during the first few days and weeks, I long for a classroom to read these books to! (I do share them with my Reading Methods and Children’s Lit classes, though!)

So… if I still had a first grade classroom, I’d be sure to squeeze these books into my schedule within the first few weeks, because once I read them, I knew I needed to share them.

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Kelly DiPucchio Interview

Hey Kelly! Thanks for joining me here to talk about your upcoming 2016 titles!

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Photo credit by Tayer Marie

Tell us a little bit about One Little, Two Little, Three Little Children.

Thanks for inviting me, Dylan! One Little, Two Little, Three Little Children came to me out of the blue one day when I heard the opening lines of the book as a song in my head. I jotted down the lines and it didn’t take long before the whole song had pretty much sung itself. As sometimes happens, I got sidetracked with other projects and the manuscript remained tucked away in my computer files for nearly six years. One day I was scrolling through my saved documents and I came across the file. When I read it, I was touched by its simplicity and sweetness and I felt like it had a message the world needed to hear. I think it was only a few weeks later my agent, Steven Malk, sold it to Balzer + Bray. Mary Lindquist did a beautiful job illustrating the book and I’m very proud of the way it turned out. I hope it conveys the idea that families, no matter how they look or how they’re structured, are more alike than they are different.

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Tell us a little bit more about Dragon Was Terrible!

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Oh, Dragon. Where do I begin? He’s terrible. He scribbles in books. He plays tricks on the guards. And he even takes candy from baby unicorns. I had a great time writing this story. Some stories, like babies, come into the world with big voices and this was one of those stories. I don’t ever plan on using author intrusion in any given piece so it’s often a surprise to me when the narrator in my head ends up in the text. Greg Pizzoli illustrated the book and his art is hilarious. I think my favorite part is Dragon’s graffiti on the castle. I’m looking forward to sharing this book with kids this fall because it’s terribly fun.

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Tell us a little bit more about Everyone Loves Cupcake!

Everyone Loves Cupcake is the follow up to Everyone Loves Bacon published by FSG. While there are some similarities between the two stories there are a few big differences. The illustrator, Eric Wight, and I both agree that we think Cupcake might even be funnier than Bacon but I guess that’s up to readers to decide.

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And, there’s quite a buzz over your first 2017 release, Antoinette.

What can you share with us about that book?  Well, as you can tell from the title and the cover this companion book to Gaston features one of the poodle puppies. But Gaston fans needn’t worry because our favorite Frenchie makes several appearances in the new story. I felt a great deal of pressure writing this follow up book because I knew expectations would be high. I didn’t want to just retell Gaston’s story from a different point of view. I felt like the plot in the second book had to be unique and stand on its own four paws. Christian Robinson’s illustrations, once again, are exquisitely charming and elevate Antoinette’s adventure to a whole new level. I can’t wait to share the story with readers on February 14th, 2017.

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Have you always been into writing?

Hmm….not really. I have always been into reading. My interest in writing didn’t develop until I was in college, although I was always a fairly competent writer. I think most voracious readers naturally become decent writers because we’re subconsciously absorbing good storytelling skills with every great book we read.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Of course there are a lot of things I love about my job but most exciting for me would have to be seeing the art for a book for the first time. I’m always fascinated to see how an illustrator takes the words I write and then builds an entire world out of them.

What inspires your creativity? The magic beans in my coffee! Also meditation, other books, and nature. Even as a child I required a lot of alone time. When my appearance schedule is packed it definitely hinders my creativity. I’ve learned over the years that I absolutely need to create quiet space for my writing. I’ve never been the kind of person who could write in coffee shops or with music playing in the background. Ironically, even going to a writer’s retreat would be a creative road block for me. Only my dogs are allowed in my office when I’m writing!

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us? With the exception of picture books, I pretty much only read sacred texts and books about spirituality and the paranormal now.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing? I’d probably be selling incense and essential oils in some bohemian crystal shop.

What can readers expect from you in the future, after Antoinette? I have a picture book about a brave raccoon coming out with S&S/Atheneum called Super Manny. It’s adorably and wonderfully illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. I’m also super excited about a new book I’m doing with Zachoriah OHora and Disney-Hyperion called Poe Won’t Go. It’s about a stubborn elephant who blocks the main road in town, causing an uproar from its citizens.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog? I’d like to leave your readers with this important advice from Cookie. It comes from my forthcoming title, Everyone Loves Cupcake.

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Jarrett Krosoczka Drops By

Hello, Mr. Krosoczka, thanks for joining me here to talk about what’s new with you!

Thanks for having me, Dylan!

Tell us a little bit about book number four of the Platypus Police Squad book that came out earlier this spring. Is this the end of the series?

Never Say Narwhal is the final book in the Platypus Police Squad series. I always envisioned these books as having a finite end to them, with the characters growing over the course of the series in a significant way. This is the book with the highest stakes for our monotreme heroes. All of the secrets that I’ve been building up over the series get spilled—some you’ve seen coming, some will be very unexpected. I turned up the volume on the action in this one, too. Plus…there is a narwhal!

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And, you just celebrated a book birthday with a new Jedi Academy book. Tell us about that.

Scholastic has signed me on the create new volumes in their Jedi Academy series. I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey Brown’s, so I’m entering into this with a reverence for what he started. There are elements from those first three books (journal and comics pages), but I also am adding my own elements. I can’t wait for you to meet my cast of Padawans. I created the final art for this book while listening to John Williams’s score of the movies.

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Are you surprised with all of the different ways people are celebrating School Lunch Hero  Day?

It is incredibly gratifying to see how widely School Lunch Hero Day is celebrated. It has far exceeded my hopes and dreams for the initiative. This was only our fourth year, and I saw things that blew my mind! My favorite things to see will always be the art projects that young artists make. This day is about gratitude and literacy, but it’s also about fostering creativity. That being said, this year I saw that one school brought in masseuses for the lunch staff! Another brought in an ice-cream truck for them! They work so hard with so little recognition, they so deserve this day.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

If I drink too much coffee, my hand gets shaky and it ruins my ability to draw a clean line. However, sometimes I accidentally make some beautiful, messy lines when I’m over-caffeinated.

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If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

That’s an easy question. I’d be teaching. I taught at art centers and an art college for several years as I was getting my literary career going. I also worked at a camp for a decade’s worth of summers.

How did your career as an author/illustrator start?

I began submitting work to publishers in my junior year of college. I was eager. I was rejected around every corner, and that was a great education in the world of publishing. Two years later, I had my first contract for a picture book that I wrote and illustrated. That came six months after graduating Rhode Island School of Design. When the book was eventually published, I was twenty-three years old. Good Night, Monkey Boy will celebrate fifteen years in print on June 15, 2016!

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What can readers expect from you in the future?

A lot of stories told in words and pictures.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Dylan Teut is an outstanding person, and you are very wise to be reading his blog.

Thank you, Jarrett , for joining me here!