Nerdy Babies Book Birthdays Celebration: Interview with Emmy Kastner

Today I’m excited to welcome Emmy Kastner to the blog to talk about her new board book series, Nerdy Babies!

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Hi Emmy! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Tell us a little bit about your new book series!

Thanks for having me, and for all you do to advocate for young readers. Nerdy Babies is a series that celebrates curiosity at its core. Asking questions, exploring, and discovering the world around us is a fun, engaging experience which I think is reflected in these books. Each book explores a new topic, serving as a basic primer of understanding. They each include science facts and playful back and forth with the reader and our inquisitive nerdy babies. We’re starting the series exploring space and the ocean. I’m excited that they’re launching in two formats—traditional picture books and board books—meeting the needs of a range of young readers!

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Why did you think this was an appropriate series for babies and toddlers?

Babies are tiny scientists; experimenting, testing limits and asking questions. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we’ve all heard a baby ask “What’s that?” once they’ve got the words. They’re born ready to figure it all out. Science isn’t something to be saved until kids are older. This is a series that answers questions and leaves readers asking more. That’s what science is all about! As a parent myself, I appreciate any and all support. As I wrote these books, that was always in the back of my mind, so the series aims to support parents/caregivers/educators as they field questions from little ones about the world and beyond. And adults are learning something too!  I’ve shared these books with many adults who have exclaimed, “I didn’t know that!” So to share that with young readers, that notion that you’re learning alongside one another, that’s very exciting.

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Babies aren’t going to walk away ready to explain gravity, but simply making science accessible early in life is important. Science is for everyone. Nerdy Babies is a series that grows with readers. Their conceptual understanding of the science within the books is something that will continue to evolve with every reading—from babies to the hands of toddlers and preschoolers.

And, we all (should) know representation matters. It starts at birth. These books are a celebration and reflection of the diverse voices and identities of the scientific community all over the world.

What did you do to make sure your illustrations and text were understandable for our youngest readers?

As an artist, I generally lean toward the minimal— limited palettes, uncomplicated style. Though with this series, I embraced lots of bold colors that felt engaging and playful, fleshing out detail in a layered, slightly more complicated world. Though there is zero scientific evidence that planets have faces, I included those, because that’s cute. I am crossing my fingers I don’t devastate any children when they grow to learn that the big red spot on Jupiter is a storm and not Jupiter’s nose.

Tell us a little bit about your writing/ illustration process.

My mantra with this series is, You should probably simplify that. My manuscripts all start very long, and we widdle them away to digestible science explorations. With each concept, my first inclination was to explain why, but that’s not what this series is about. Overcomplicating things takes away from the pace of the story and the joyful simplicity of young readers sticking their toes in the water of these big concepts. Knowing that there’s no sound in space, or that planets spin, or an octopus has three hearts is fun information for little ones to know. As for process, I start with stuff like that, what I know, then research fun facts, and figure out essential concepts I want to include. All the while, I consider the journey I want to take readers on, always starting from where they are now. In Space, the story travels from Earth and outward through the solar system. In Ocean, we travel from the beach and head to the bottom of the ocean.

Building the world of these Nerdy Babies is so much fun. While the books can stand alone, they complement one another in fun ways. In the Ocean book, you’ll see the baby who walks on the moon in the Space book looking at the coral reef saying “You can see this from the moon!” It’s a subconscious nod to the intersections of the scientific world. The layers of nerdiness run deep!

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

Yes. I was asking people to write my stories down before I could do it myself. I was the classroom reporter for my kindergarten class, which meant I would “write” stories reporting on Ms. Carmen’s class with the help of 5th grade editors. I was probably supposed to fill them in on what songs we sang in music or what we were learning in math, but I would spin elaborate updates to entertain them, and they would have to go back to my teacher on fact-checking missions. Did your class really work at the zoo last week? If so, did Emmy really feed the snakes?

I’ve always loved to make art as well. As a high school English and science teacher I was always incorporating art and storytelling, bringing in picture books, comics, etc. to inspire my students. I’d give a test in comic book format, or ask my students to write a book for young readers about something like acids/bases to demonstrate understanding of the concept. Art and writing are always my foundation.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I love the act of making something—experimenting with a new medium or figuring out how to tell a story much like figuring out a puzzle. The most exciting part of my job would be when a story lives outside of myself. That excitement snowballs as the story gets farther and farther away from me, first with my agent and editor, then as I share drafts with family and friends, and then eventually sharing the books with booksellers, librarians, and young readers and families. What starts as a snowball in my hand has rolled far down the hill, and is then this giant snowball. Then I’m shouting down the hill in shock and joy, “Hey! I did that!”

What inspires your creativity?

Reading books, meeting people, paying attention. I take a lot of joy in being an observer of the world. My daughter Mabel is in kindergarten now, but a couple years ago, she’s the one who inspired the series. As 3-year-olds do,  she was playing with stuffed animals reciting lines from a book we read all the time. Probably the Elephant & Piggie book about sharing ice cream. I just remember sitting there with a string of thoughts: That would be cute to hear her reciting science facts like that. That would be a great book. Someone should make that book. I should make that book.

So yes, my kids are often a complicated source of creativity for me. Complicated in the sense that they inspire creativity, and then I want to go do the solitary act of being creative, but that means being away from them. They do inspire me when we’re not physically around each other. My nearly 10-year-old keeps encouraging me to write books for him. It’ll happen.

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

I changed my major 7 times in college. (Though my college advisor could also tell you that.)

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

This happens often, as I do leave my studio on a regular basis. My husband and I own a coffee shop, which keeps us busy. Mostly him, but I do all the design stuff. Amplifying youth voices is something that has been a cornerstone of every professional career I’ve had. When I’m not working on books or with my family, I’m spreading the word about Read and Write Kalamazoo, a writing center I co-founded in 2011. I work with the International Congress of Youth Voices, too, which is a non-profit that convenes youth writers and activists from around the world at its annual conference, with the aim of enabling them to connect, learn and collaborate.

But you’re probably asking about a different job entirely? I think I’d be writing and directing movies, or would have a bakery. I love to bake.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

The next books in the Nerdy Babies series will hit shelves Spring 2020 (WEATHER and EARTH!) There are other stories and collaborations I’m working on as well. More books! I haven’t thought about my short-lived career as a kindergarten classroom reporter prone to exaggeration for a long time, but maybe I should write that book …

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

There is power/healing/beauty in carving creative space for yourself in your life, being intentional about being creative in whatever way works for you. I hope you make the time to be creative today.

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Titan and the Wild Boars: Interview with Susan Hood and Dow Phumiruk

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Susan Hood and Dow Phumiruk to my blog to discuss their new title releasing tomorrow (5/7/19), Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team. 

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First, let’s hear from Susan!

Hi, Dylan! Great to be here again! Co-author and Thai journalist Pathana Sornhiran sends her regards and wishes she could join us, but she’s traveling for work in Asia.

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Titan and the Wild Boars, from your perspective.

Titan and the Wild Boars is a nonfiction picture book about the true cave rescue of the Thai soccer team last summer. It focuses on the youngest team member, eleven-year-old Titan, the boy closest in age to our readers. I co-authored the book with Pathana, a talented Thai journalist who was reporting outside the cave last year. The book combines prose and poetry to reflect both the frantic efforts of the rescuers outside the cave and the surreal conditions for the boys trapped inside. Extensive back matter includes additional resources, maps, a timeline, fascinating facts, and an interview with Chris Jewell and Jason Mallinson, two of the best cave divers in the world, who personally swam the boys to safety.

Tell us about each of your processes writing this book.

Pathana and I wrote the book together based on Pathana’s on-site reporting, supplemented with research from other sources—a variety of online press reports and videos noted in the back of the book and online. It was tricky. We often found errors and inconsistencies in the press because of translation errors and because rescue plans were constantly evolving given the ever-changing conditions in the cave. For example, most illustrations in the press showed the boys swimming out of the cave or on a plastic stretcher (called a Sked) underwater. Neither was true. The passage was tricky enough for expert divers to navigate let alone inexperienced boys who might panic. The boys were sedated and carried on Skeds, but these stretchers were only used in the sections of the cave that were not underwater, according to diver Chris Jewell. Poor Dow was very patient with “late-breaking news” that required changing the art. (Thank you, Dow!) We all wanted to get it right! In the case of discrepancies, we relied on Pathana’s translations and reports as well as our consultation with the divers who actually rescued the boys on those final days.

What about this story drew you in?

This story grabbed me by the heart from the moment I saw a tiny paragraph about the missing boys in the back pages of The New York Times. What I LOVE about this story was that, despite these terrifyingly divisive times, these boys managed to bring the whole world together in kindness.

More than twenty countries put aside their differences and joined forces to tackle what many called “Mission Impossible.” The rescue effort was a stunning example of the miracles that can occur with international cooperation.

Why is this a “must have” title for classrooms and libraries?

If there was ever a true story about teamwork, this is it! The boys stayed together in the cave and looked out for each other, taking turns sleeping in the tight space on the rocky ledge and digging for an escape route. Imagine if they had split up and were not found together! Outside the cave, thousands of people from all over the world came together to lend their help, money and expertise; to donate supplies; to cook for the rescuers; to do their laundry; to search for other escape routes atop the mountain; to pray for the boys; to report the news to the waiting world.

The book is also a tribute to courage. What these cave divers faced was unprecedented: monsoon rains, powerful currents, the deafening roar of the water, sharp rocks, mudslides, whirlpools, impossibly tight passages, zero visibility. In the beginning, the divers doubted they could bring the boys out alive, but they dove in and gave it their all anyway, with tremendous results.

Finally, the book is about acceptance and forgiveness. Everyone recognized that mistakes happen. No one blamed the boys or their young coach for their misadventures.

For classrooms and libraries that want to learn more, numerous articles and videos in the back of the book and online provide a great jumping-off point for discussions with kids.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I have a new book coming out from Candlewick Press. It’s with the illustrator right now, but I can’t talk about it yet. And I’m in the research stage for three new ideas in three different genres.

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

Many thanks to you, Dylan, for helping us celebrate the launch of our book and for all you do to connect kids and books!

And now, here are Dow’s answers!

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Titan and the Wild Boars, from your perspective.

It’s an incredible story of people coming together from all over the world to help save these boys, a feat of impressive teamwork by necessity for this common goal.

Tell us about your process for illustrating this book.

I will agree that we were all committed to accuracy, and I think our book-making team’s dedication to this project makes it very special. I had no problems with revising as needed (happy to do so, Susan!). One example on my end is that close to deadline, I recalled an interview with the team where they mentioned that one of the boys was wearing a watch. I went back and put a watch on that boy and ended up resubmitting several spreads! Probably my biggest hurdle was in getting to know these boys enough to capture their likenesses. I have never drawn such a large group of recurring characters for a book. It probably goes without saying that the illustrations for this project were the most challenging in my career to date.

 What about this story drew you in?

Like Susan, I love how this is a story that highlights the kindness in efforts of so many people, so many of whom were strangers to one another. In addition, as an immigrant from Thailand, I knew I could not say no to being a part of this project! My parents would’ve been so proud to know that their American-raised daughter could illustrate this adventure set in Thailand to share with kids all over the world.

Why is this a “must have” title for classrooms and libraries?

I’ll add the obvious diversity aspect: that this inspirational story with its universal themes will bring kids an awareness of children who are much like themselves, despite being on the other side of the world. Titan and his friends love soccer, adventure, and their families. When given the opportunity to write letters home while still trapped, they wrote, “I love you all. I miss you.” They joked about what they wanted to eat after they were home. I can imagine they are just like kids I know and love. I also think a story of heartening global effort should be shared again and again. It is a reminder of our shared humanity.

What can readers expect from you in the future?
I have a few projects in the works. For two I am the illustrator, and for another two I am both author and illustrator (for the first time!).

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

I hope you will check out our book. Thank you so much again for having us here, Dylan!

We Are (Not) Friends: Guest Post by Anna Kang

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Anna Kang to my blog, celebrating the release of her latest collaboration with Christopher Weyant through Two Lions publishing.

Here’s Anna!:

We Are (Not) Friends is our newest picture book and we are so delighted to share it with you. Chris and I never dreamed we’d have the privilege of creating a fourth book in the You Are (Not) Small series. 

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Since I’m often asked where I find ideas for books, I thought I’d share the inspiration for We Are (Not) Friends. To be honest, I didn’t even realize where the idea had come from until this morning, while I was out walking our dog.

When I was about five years old, my friend, Somi, and I were playing outside one afternoon. Cathy, a neighbor, skipped up to us and asked, “Can I play with you?” I remember she was smiling and wearing a big floppy sunhat. I looked to Somi for an answer, probably because she was a year older and Cathy’s classmate. Somi replied, “No, you can’t. You probably want to play ‘House’ and be the Mom just because you’re wearing that hat, don’t you?” Cathy’s face fell.

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Instead of speaking up and allowing Cathy to play with us, I supported Somi and chimed in, “Yeah!” Hurt, Cathy said, “No, I don’t. I just wanted to play with you guys.” Then Somi said with finality, “Well, you can’t.” And we watched Cathy walk away.

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I felt badly about that incident for years afterwards. And I often thought about the many better choices I could’ve made at that moment.

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So for the fourth installment in our series with our fuzzy creatures, I wanted to write a story about their friendship being tested by a third creature and to explore the choices they could make. As parents are well aware, a playdate of three can be very tricky to navigate—for both kids and grownups alike. And I think Chris’ wonderfully expressive illustrations really drive home the painful emotions we experience when feeling excluded, and conversely, the joy we feel when we are included.

Our main hope is that kids (and adults) will read We Are (Not) Friends and make kind, thoughtful, and inclusive choices. We live and we learn, if we’re lucky.

Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small as well as series titles That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared, and We Are (Not) Friends. They also wrote and illustrated Eraser, which was recently honored with The Christopher Award, Can I Tell You a Secret?, and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can also be seen in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog. Visit them at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.

Twitter: @annakang27 @christophweyant

Instagram: annakangbooks; christopherweyant

Facebook: Anna Kang – Author; Christopher Weyant

Giveaway!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of We Are (Not) Friends, courtesy of Two Lions (U.S. addresses). Simply retweet this blog post with the hashtag #WeAreNotFriends. One winner will be chosen at midnight on 5/9/19.

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2019 Picture Book Previews Part Eighteen

Here we are. this is the last in the series of 2019 Picture Book Previews. The next list you’ll see here will feature 2020. 2019 has impressed me so far, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the books in store! I know there are a few titles coming that still don’t have covers made public- I’ll try to Tweet those as I see them. But for now, enjoy the last list of 2019….Until next time…..

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YOGI Blog Tour: Interview with Barb Rosenstock

Hi Barb! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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Tell us a little bit about your new book, Yogi.

Originally, I only knew Yogi Berra through his Yogi-isms, like “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I thought he was a funny guy. I didn’t realize that even into adulthood he was bullied for his looks; picked on for his playing style. This is a book about a poor kid from an immigrant family who loved baseball, and who was so relentlessly himself, that baseball had no choice but to eventually love him back. It’s a story about resilience.

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Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

Ha! I wish there was one. I do not keep a list of “famous” people I want to write about. Instead, I run across something, in this case it was a memorial article about Yogi which included the taunts he had endured. Whenever I think, “I didn’t know that,” it might become my next book.

Have you always been into writing?

I was a big reader, but writing? Not at all. I mean I could construct a sentence, but never thought I was creative enough to write. My grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, and most of the stories he told were about people he had met. He had rhythms and page turns in his voice.  I’m just try to tell historical stories about people in that same way. Family stories about real people. I tell kids all the time that if they think writing is hard, they’re probably doing it right! It’s hard. It requires consistent practice. Like sports, dance, music, art, school or family life… anything worthwhile

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Exciting? Day to day it seems quiet, but there’s two different days that are the most exciting. The day when a story that I created comes back to me in sketches, and I can tell one of these great illustrators I get to partner with “gets it.” That they love the story as much as I do, that we are now a TEAM. The second is talking to students in schools. I love taking groups of kids, most of whom don’t think they “like history” and many of whom don’t “like” writing, on a journey about the story behind a book. And it’s exciting to wind up with a long line of kids sharing ideas and asking questions about both history and writing after my presentations.

What inspires your creativity?

Since off and on I don’t think I’m particularly creative, I’m not sure how to answer. I read a lot. I daydream a lot. I go to new places when I can. I garden and walk the dog and talk to the neighbors and students and teachers and people who are smarter than me. More and more I try not to judge too early. And also, I work at it. Sometimes I think people think it’s not work…but being “creative” is work, it’s fun work, but still. In fact I would say it’s less than 5% inspiration, maybe less than 1%. We like to talk about inspiration with creative work; we don’t like to talk about the mistakes and the frustration and the dead ends. Kids need to know that ALL of that is part of a creative life. When they’re frustrated it’s not in error, it’s because they’re really TRYING!

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

I am so motion sick that I have to watch movies from the back row, take Dramamine to ride in a car even short distances and can’t watch a train when stopped at train tracks. Kids ask me if I could have explored the way many of my characters have and the answer is, “No! I would be puking!”

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

I had a long career as a creative director for a bunch of graphic design firms and corporations, so I might still be doing that. I always wanted to be Secretary of State, but I’m not that diplomatic. I’d be a talkative librarian, or an inconsistent teacher…it’s a good thing I tried writing for kids, it fits perfectly.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

Christopher Silas Neal and I have a book coming out this fall called PRAIRIE BOY, about the early life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Calkins Creek.) Then, in 2020 I have two books about strong women: FIGHT OF THE CENTURY, with illustrator Sarah Green, about Alice Paul’s fight to win the vote (Calkins Creek) and LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL about the astonishing life of Abigail Adams (Little Brown) which is being illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley.

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

We now have so many terrific children’s writers sharing their talents in the picture book biography format. I’m so passionate about expanding the genre and exploring the role that biographies could play in the classroom beyond “biography month” or a biography project. They can be great intros to complex topics, help bring diverse points of view into classrooms, as well as perfectly scaled models for student writing. If any teachers want to reach out, I’d love to know the creative ways they use picture book biography in their classrooms. They can reach me at www.barbrosenstock.com or on Twitter @barbrosenstock

Thanks Dylan, nice to talk with you!

The book trailer for Yogi can be found here! 

In the Middle of the Night Blog Tour Kickoff: Interview with Laura Purdie Salas and GIVEAWAY!

It’s time to celebrate IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT with a blog tour. Kicking things off here is an interview with Laura Purdie Salas.

Hi Laura Thanks for stopping by my blog!

I’m so happy to be here! Your picture book previews are responsible for my enormous TBR shelf, and your support of children’s authors and kidlit is amazing.

Tell us a little bit about your new book, In the Middle of the Night.

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These poems show the mischief your house gets up to while you’re sound asleep–from pencils hopping down the steps to a toilet feeling lonely to your stuffed animals having a talent show.

I feel a little bad revealing to kids that they are indeed missing out on a big party when they fall asleep! But I also found it comforting to write these poems. I grew up in a two-story house with a big, dark, noisy basement (unusual in Florida!). My house at night always felt menacing.

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Figure 1: It was scarier when I was a kid!

Even today, it feels a little odd to think of everything at home just…freezing, totally still, all night long while I sleep. Imagining all these lovely little dramas playing out at night makes me happy. I’m glad my dental floss doesn’t spend ALL its time just waiting for me to use it, you know?

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

On my blog (www.laurasalas.com/blog) on Thursdays, I post a photo and anyone who wants writes a very short poem first draft and puts it in the comments. In 2012, someone posted a poem about chalk coming to life at night (I think). I connected that in my mind to a poem from my book BookSpeak! Poems About Books. In “Lights Out at the Bookstore,” the books are just waiting:

During the day,

we wait in straight rows.

We’re frozen, we’re still until night…

until closing.

But after closing time, look out! All the books in various sections of the bookstores are ready for fun!

So, I wrote down the idea in my Picture Book Ideas document and called it Nobody’s Looking.

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I brainstormed a list of 117 household things that might have poems. I wrote dozens of poems, got wonderful feedback from my then agent, Jenn Starkman, and my critique group, the Wordsmiths.

In 2013, Rebecca Davis at Wordsong acquired the manuscript! That was such a thrill, as many of my very favorite poets have published with Wordsong. In 2016, I did a major revision with much thoughtful input from Rebecca. It’s a stronger, more cohesive collection now, though I still miss a few poems I needed to cut, like the “Dirty Laundry Do-Si-Do!” And Angela Matteson agreed to illustrate the collection. From there, it’s just been a matter of ooh-ing and aah-ing over the charming art and working out copyediting issues and such.

Have you always been into writing?

Nope! In school, I always enjoyed writing assignments and got good grades on them, but it never occurred to me to write outside of school. I read voraciously, though. I was never without a book, even if I was climbing a tree or canoeing or playing midnight ghost. But I never made that connection between reading and writing somehow.

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Figure 2: Me in a tree–with a book, of course.

It wasn’t until a took a Creative Writing course in college that I realized, “Hey! I love this!” (I fell in love with both writing and my now-husband in that one course. Best college course ever.) I wrote for grown-ups for a number of years and taught 8th-grade English for two years before moving to Minnesota, having two daughters, and falling in love with children’s books.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Oooh, that’s tough. I think it’s the sizzle in my brain when I’m playing with an idea and working on the first draft, and the words are just flowing, and there’s still that possibility that it will come out perfectly—exactly the way I envision it. It never ever does, of course. But it still feels possible every time!

Meeting readers who love my books is the other most exciting part. Books were really my best friends as a kid, and they saved me, in many ways. So meeting actual flesh-and-blood readers who have escaped into books that I helped create—that’s an astonishing feeling.

What inspires your creativity?

My curiosity. I want to know how and why things work, and the answers are often amazing. Our world is miraculous! Many of my ideas come from some nifty fact I learn.

Also, I think we find what we look for, what we’re open to. If there’s an ugli fruit on the table, here’s how I imagine a group of different people responding.

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Me: I’d like to write a picture book about a kid who has the worst name in the universe.

Artist: Look at the way the light hits that! Where are my paints?

Chef: I wonder what an ugli fruit granita would taste like.

Knitter: I’d like to knit a scarf that color.

Scientist: Genetically, how similar is an ugli fruit to a tangerine?

Educator: What’s the life cycle of an ugli fruit, and what kind of writing project might it inspire?

Entrepreneur: Could ugli fruit be the next big diet trend?

Well, you get the idea. Whatever matters to you, everything you see somehow relates to it. Books matter to me intensely, and I see most things through the lens of, “How might this work into a book?”

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

I have no sense of direction and can get thoroughly lost in my own neighborhood, in a school doing an author visit, or even going to my critique group meeting (we’ve met in the same place for years).

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Figure 3: This is how I usually look. Add tears and steam coming out of my ears to see how I look when I’m lost.

Everybody’s good at things and bad at things. My bad things are directions and keeping plants alive!

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Figure 4: There are still flowers, so it can’t be a total failure.

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

Field biologist (studying wildlife) or psychologist. I considered loads of possible careers, but that’s one of my very favorite things about writing. I get to explore all sorts of cool topics, and it’s all part of my job! (Except I don’t have to take the really hard chemistry classes.)

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m so excited to have two other poetry picture books out this spring—it’s Poetry-Palooza! Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations (Charlesbridge)

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and Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons (Millbrook).

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It’s been 8 years since my last poetry collection, so I am thrilled! I also have a rhyming nonfiction picture book this fall called Snack, Snooze, Skedaddle: How Animals Get Ready for Winter (Millbrook).

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I have several other picture books coming out in the next few years, both fiction and nonfiction, and I’m especially thankful that Angela Matteson is illustrating IF YOU WANT TO KNIT SOME MITTENS, which is due out in fall 2021 from Boyds Mills Press. Her art just charmed the pants off me!

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

There’s a book trailer and a boatload of awesome downloadable activity sheets for IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT at my website: https://laurasalas.com/middle/

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And I offer a free monthly e-letter for educators at https://tinyurl.com/zlxc3c9

Thanks, Dylan, for letting me share a bit more about my poetry collection. Sweet dreams, everyone!

TO WIN A COPY OF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, comment on this post with the strangest dream you’ve ever had; or TWEET a link to THIS blog post with the hashtag #WideAwakePoems. A winner will be chosen on Sunday, 3/17 at midnight. (U.S. only).

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3/11               Mile High Reading

3/12               Reflections on the Teche

3/13               A Year of Reading

3/14               Check It Out

3/15               Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

3/17               Great Kid Books

3/18               Simply 7 Interview

3/19               My Juicy Little Universe

3/20               Live Your Poem

3/21               Reading to the Core

3/22               KidLit Frenzy

Beyond LiteracyLink

ANOTHER Book Release Celebration- Interview with Christian Robinson

It’s what we’ve all been waiting for! Christian Robinson’s debut as author/illustrator with ANOTHER!

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Tell us a little bit about your new book, Another. 

This wordless picture book asks the question, what if you could travel or go to another world where you met another you? What might you do?

Tell us a little bit about the process of writing/illustrating Another, your first author/illustrator debut!

Typically, I’m given a manuscript and I begin to visualize and imagine what someone else’s words could look like in pictures. When creating ANOTHER, it began as pictures in my brain. Since this is my first solo book, I had to find my own voice as a storyteller. I created a little mockup book that I filmed myself flipping through, so that I could show publishers how I hoped a reader might engage with this book. This was important, since ANOTHER encourages the viewer to play around with the orientation of the book itself.

What made you decide to make the book wordless? 

As a visual storyteller, the book came to me in pictures. As I began to sketch things out, I found myself trying to find the right words to describe what was already being suggested in the pictures. As I struggled with this task and kept hitting roadblocks, I began to ask myself if words added anything to this particular story. The answer was no.

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Have you always been into illustrating?

Yes. Always! Like most kids, I loved drawing and making up stories. I was raised my grandmother, and lived in a small one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles with my brother, aunt, and two cousins. Drawing and making pictures was a way for me to create a space for myself, a world where I could make anything happen on the page.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

There’s a moment where creativity seems to be flowing and I’m not worried about what people might think, or self-doubt, but am focused on enjoying the process of making stuff. That’s the most exciting part for me.

What inspires your creativity?

What doesn’t inspire my creativity? Seriously, everything from a song to a breeze, from hearing a phrase walking by a group of people, to a trip to the museum can spark an idea. I think what drives me to create is the desire to share, or communicate, to express something in me that needs to get out.

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

I can recite the entire script of the Disney animated film The Lion King. I wore our VHS copy out as a child watching it repeatedly.

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

I would collect and sell antiques. I love beautiful objects, especially ones with history.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

After ANOTHER, I have two books that I worked on coming out in Fall 2019. The first is JUST IN CASE YOU WANT TO FLY, written by Julie Fogliano.

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I also was able to contribute (along with many other illustrators) to SUNNY DAY: A CELEBRATION OF SESAME STREET, a picture book based on the Sesame Street theme song written by Joe Raposo.

Celebrate You! Release Day Interview with Sherri Duskey Rinker and A.N. Kang!

Today is a book birthday for Celebrate You!, a collaboration between Sherri Duskey Rinker and A.N. Kang. Sherri and A.N. have joined me here to answer a few questions about the book, as well as their careers as author/illustrator.

Sherri’s answers are in BLUE. A.N.’s answers are in RED. 

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Celebrate You!  

Celebrate You! is meant to be a momento to honor an accomplishment — whether that accomplishment is monumental, like a graduation, or, perhaps, less noteworthy (but no less important), like, perhaps, passing a test, scoring a point or getting through a first recital.

But, it was important to me to not just honor the accomplishment itself. I also wanted to honor the SPIRIT of the child/recipient. One of my favorite lines in the book is, “Best of all, you’ve kept your heart in the right place!” I want to remind kids that, while everyone is celebrating them for this moment, the achievement itself is far less important than who they ARE (“You’re caring, you’re kind. You have wit. You have grace.”), how much they mean to those around them, and the potential they have in the world (“This is just the beginning, now go make your way. Go shine in the world. Make the most of each day.”).

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Why is Celebrate You! A timely title for 2019?

We live in an insanely busy and often distracted world. My hope is that Celebrate YOU! might provide someone with the idea or opportunity to take the time to HONOR a child in a special way. I think it’s a lovely way to say, “You’re a good person. You’re loved. You’re special. You will go on to do good things. And, you’re not alone; we’re behind you.” I can’t imagine more important messages for a child — or anyone — in today’s world.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

I’m obsessive — and then I’m not. I don’t force myself to stick to a rigid writing schedule; as a mom (i.e. housework, laundry, chauffeuring, meal prep, appointments, illnesses) who travels a TON, I think that I would be constantly disappointed in myself if I tried that. I’m more of a free spirit, anyway. For me, I think that time away is a positive thing: if I’m super-tangled, coming back fresh after a week or two tends to help me see things more clearly and find solutions (or make me more objective to know if I should just trash whole idea!).

But, when I’m IN, I’m all in. I just finished my first MG novel; I wrote every single day for weeks. When I would try to take a break, I could barely shut it off — my mind was always finding ideas or trying to troubleshoot or problem-solve or create connections.

Have you always been into writing?

When I was in third grade, I wanted to be a poet. I LOVED poetry, and I’m incredibly blessed that I had teachers that nurtured that — because, quite honestly, my home life was not great. So, school, books: those were my refuge.

I started college as a journalism major — I thought I’d like to fight injustice and right (write?!) wrongs.

I’d always been in love with art as well, though, and I finished college with a degree in graphic design/visual communications. I put words and pictures together for a living, interestingly. And, of course, now I work in an industry that does that better than any other.

Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.

I read the story many times before I did any illustrations. Sherri’s words were so warm and inspiring, creating illustrations that could match was challenging. I had to create my own visual interpretation. First thing I thought of was party, of course, the story was about celebration! Then, a penguin! He was already dressed up in tuxedo ready for a party anyway. I love drawing animals, so it was a lot of fun. All my drawings were done in charcoal and color pencils, then I scanned in a computer to add colors.

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

Yes, I had never imagined doing anything else. I started my career doing giftware design, which was not technical but just pure illustrations. I really enjoyed doing it and I still do very much, besides illustrating children’s books.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I really love school visits. I mean, it’s one of those things that, no matter how many times you’ve done it, it’s a great mystery as to how it will go. The energy is amazing. The questions ALWAYS keep me on my toes. I always laugh. Almost always, something makes me want to cry. I learn something every time. I’m a better person and a better writer when I leave.

On another front, I’ll admit that I get very starstruck by some people in our business. I’m a total fangirl! Meeting Lois Ehlert and Katherine Applegate and Kate DiCamillo — ohmigosh!!! I was a nut. I’m pretty sure that the restraining orders are still in effect. If I ever met Beverly Cleary or JK Rowling: I’d DIE, I tell you! It would just be the total, complete END!

I love doing concept sketches, I mean, the beginning of a project, when I have to brainstorm. I print out the manuscript on biggest papers I have available. I fill these pages with small sketches and ideas around the story, literally. That’s the most fun, exciting part.

What inspires your creativity?

For the most part, kids: I love thinking about what THEY think is cool, what THEY find interesting. I want to present their passions to them in a fun way, honoring what makes those things — trucks, trains, dinosaurs, Chistmastime, whatever — important and fascinating TO KIDS.

Of course, sometimes my own interests spark ideas — my love of Virginia Lee Burton, for instance. Or, my own shockingly-wild-but-wonderful experiences as a mom.

It can be anything. Nature, animals, movies, images I found on Pinterest, commercials I saw on TV.

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

I used to tell everyone that I don’t really watch television — and that was true. But, for whatever reason, around this past holiday season, I started binge-watching The Incredible Dr. Pol on Nat Geo. And now, I’m completely addicted to and totally obsessed with this show about a veterinarian who treats everything from horses to hedgehogs. I can’t stop! There are 14 seasons; I need to catch up! My family thinks I’ve lost my mind. My boys will walk past and be majorly grossed out by some procedure Dr. Pol is doing and say, “Mom, why do you WATCH this stuff?” And, honestly: I. DON’T. KNOW!!!

But, if I do say so myself, I’ve gotten to be a pretty good arm-chair vet: I can diagnose a simple abscess in a dog or choke in a horse or bloat in a cow better than any suburban mom I know.

I collect antique children’s books. When I travel anywhere, I always make sure to stop by used book stores.

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

Do I have money in this scenario? If so, I want to travel around Europe — mostly to see gardens; I love gardens and gardening. (Oh! This creation! It’s so beautiful!) And, I’d read a lot more. Oh — and study French.

I would be working with animals, either rescuing or training them.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I want to keep writing what I do well and what kids seem to want — I love my truck family in the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site series, and I’ll be creating stories and adventures for them as long as I’m blessed to be allowed to do that.

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But, I also want to try new things and explore as a writer. I have a young middle grade novel under contract, with a sequel. I’m REALLY excited to explore longer stories with lots of action, adventure and humor. It’s also been fun to delve deeply into characters — to think about what motivates them, etc.

I also have a book coming out with Candlewick called Joy Ride (just announced) that is more lyrical — a softer, deeper and more emotional story. I’m nervous because it’s such a different thing for me to put out into the world, but I’m also very excited to have the opportunity.

I have a new book coming out this summer titled My Big Bad Monster. It’s very personal book because I wrote the story as well. People talk about bullies in schools all the time but never about bullies in our own head. We can be very mean to ourselves. I know this very well because I live with one!  This book talks about how we are feeding our own monsters by listening, and how to deal with it or maybe NOT deal with it.

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I’m also working on new book series called Starla Jean and Opal Egg by Elana K. Arnold. It’s such a fun story, I am having a great time illustrating it. I don’t want to stick with same ‘”look,” so I try something different for every book I work on. You will see different characters and color pallets. I hope readers out there will enjoy it.

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY!!! 

HarperCollins is giving away THREE hardcover copies of CELEBRATE YOU! to celebrate the release of the book. (U.S. only). Want to be entered to win?

Either…

  1. COMMENT on this blog post with what YOU are celebrating today!
  2. TWEET the link to this blog post with the hashtag #CELEBRATE YOU

Three winners will be randomly chosen at 5:00 PM on Sunday, March 10th.