Monthly Archives: December 2017

ROT! The Cutest in the World– Interview with Ben Clanton

I had the honor of hosting Ben Clanton on my blog two years ago- check out that interview here. He’s back today to talk about Rot, the Cutest in the World!


Hi Ben! Welcome back to my blog!

Thanks, Dylan! It’s a pretty great place to be!

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Rot, the Cutest in the World!

This book (the start of a series!) stars one of my very favorite things to draw: a mutant potato. His name is Rot and like most mutant potatoes, Rot loves mud, eating stuff, and all sorts of games and contests. So when Rot sees a sign for a “Cutest in the World Contest,” he can’t wait to enter. But he finds out he has some tough (and somewhat mean) competition: “an itty-bitty baby bunny, a little-wittle cuddly kitten, and an eenie-weenie jolly jellyfish. Yet, like most mutant potatoes, Rot doesn’t give up easily.”



Rot, the Cutest in the World! is first and foremost meant to be a fun book to read, but at the same time is very much about self-confidence (something I struggle with) and that most things are “in the eye(s) of the beholder.”


Tell us about where you got the idea for Rot.

Quite a few years ago I started drawing dirt clod creatures with flowers growing out of their heads. I’m not really sure why, but it made me happy. So I kept making them! And soon those dirt clods became potato monsters (again, not sure why!) and they would eat up all the cute/fluffy things in my sketchbooks. It was after a phone call with Christian Trimmer (children’s book author and editor) in 2015 that they became mutant potatoes instead and the idea for a story starring one of them struck me. Christian asked me during that call if I had any characters or ideas worthy of a picture book series. He talked about Ian Falconer’s Olivia and Mo Willems’s Pigeon. He essentially challenged me to do my best to create something worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those series.


At first, I was overwhelmed by the challenge, but then I remembered how I read about Mo Willems’s Pigeon taking over the margins of his sketchbooks and it reminded me of how my potatoes seemed to be demanding their own story with their antics. I also remembered an ugly and somewhat revolting little comic I had drawn once about a foul monster that much like my potato monsters had the bad habit of eating people up. The trouble was that the monster in that comic and my potato monsters were not very likable, and I didn’t care much for the idea of making a series about unlikeable characters. I like to have protagonists you want to root for! So I looked back at those early dirt clod people/creatures I had drawn. They were friendly looking and I decided to allow that friendliness to enter my potato monsters. Soon they were mutant potatoes instead. They were still weird looking and acting, but now in a good way. My first mock-up for Rot, the Cutest in the World! came together pretty quickly after making that change as too did a bunch of other stories starring Rot and my mutant potatoes.


 Can you share some of your process for illustrating Rot? Were real potatoes involved?

I had oodles of fun making the art for this book! Probably more so than any book I’ve worked on previously. And, yes, real potatoes were involved in the making of this book! I bought a couple huge bags of potatoes (russet and yukon gold) and gave myself about a week to play with them. I cut potato stamps to make textures and the speech bubbles for the book. I even ended up using a photo of a potato at one point in the book. The illustrations are mainly made using colored pencil and watercolors but I think the potato-made additions really added a lot. I rendered pretty much all the components separately and then assembled everything on the computer (Photoshop). In the illustrations, I strived to really distinguish Rot from the other creatures in the book. So I went with flat-ish pastel colors for the “cute” creatures while Rot is a blotchy and earthy brown/green. The line-work for him is also a little looser and I went with a messy-ish hand-lettered approach for Rot’s speech bubbles while the “cute” characters have flourish-y lettering.







What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m currently working on Narwhal and Jelly book #4! Peanut Butter and Jelly (the third book in that series) comes out in March and then Monster Boogie by Laurie Berkner and illustrated by me comes out Summer 2018. After finishing the next Narwhal and Jelly book I will be making a Rot sequel in which we meet Rot’s brother!


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

Sure! Rot’s name is a bit of a nod to a book I grew up with: Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel.


And I’ll share more about Rot soon over on my blogsite:

Thanks Dylan!


2017 Picture Book Recommendations

Several students in my university courses and colleagues and friends have asked which books published in 2017 I’d recommend. Whether you’re someone building a classroom wish list, a Christmas wish list, or any other kind of list, these are some books from 2017 that I want to highlight. Enjoy! (These books are in no particular order).


Fall is my favorite season. Every year, I attempt to go out to a secluded area filled with trees and capture some of the beauty. Every year I come up short. My pictures never do it justice. What April is able to do here is make you feel like you’re in the middle of fall, regardless of which season you’re in. Add the lyrical text to the photographs and you’ve got yourself a winner.


I have two nieces on the way. They are getting a copy of this book. Nancy Inteli was so wise in picking Loren Long to illustrate this text. He does it so perfectly, and I found myself so longingly wishing I could visit that little Bunny land.


This book belongs on more “Best of the Year” book lists. It’s no secret I have a deep admiration for Judy Schachner and her books, but this one was the best yet. “She had daydreaming in her DNA.” I think the world needs more daydreamers, and more appreciation for daydreamers. Judy manages to paint so many daydreams across the pages here that call for a moment to pause and appreciate every finite detail.


I was pulled into this book by the title and cover, and Ben Clanton did not disappoint. (Not that I ever doubted he would). I was sure Rot was doomed, and a surprise twist makes this book a true winner.


Something about the dialogue in this book reminded me so much of what I used to hear among first graders. Very simple, but very well done. And Scott Magoon’s illustrations? Perfect match for this story. Excited there’s more to come.


How often do we overlook the opportunity to be grateful and appreciative of the origins of some of the most simple things we take for granted? Toni Yuly has written a thank you letter to some things in nature that provide us with blessings- going from small to big. And when I closed the book, I whispered, “And God gave us earth. Thank you, God.”


With so much violence and disagreement in the world today, the earlier we can plant seeds of empathy and encourage thoughtful ways to get over disagreement, the better. The book is wordless, and the pictures powerfully say it all.


Reading this book brought me back to the days of hearing Mr. Rogers say, “I like you just the way you are.” We all have our warts and flaws and scars, but aren’t they what come together to make us beautiful?


Unique illustrations that popped in contrast with the dark backgrounds- this book left me wanting more. Another wordless wonder.


This is the first time I encountered this kind of poetry, and what Nikki Grimes was able to accomplish with it is admirable. So well done. And let’s not forget Bryan Collier’s soft illustrations that make it a perfect package.


When I first read this book, I had no idea where it was going. It’s wordless. When it finally came to the “AHA” spread, I was laughing …. laughing…. laughing.


We can learn a lot from Lulu. She makes the best of a bad situation. There is something so perfect about this book. It became an instant favorite. Then again, you can’t really go wrong with anything by Liz Garton Scanlon, can you?


The fact that Jan Thomas is doing Easy Readers is a great thing. I’m excited for more books in this series to come- they will be an easy sell to beginning readers.


If you’re not familiar with Susie Jaramillo’s Canticos bilingual song board books, you should change that promptly. They’re fun to unfold and sing along with, and the music on the accompanying YouTube videos and soundtracks is so catchy.


A book of poems about reading- its different types and varieties? My favorite was the poem about reading Charlotte’s Web. Perfect.


I was in Matt’s studio when he was painting the final spreads for this book. Seeing it all come together in this majestic beauty was so fulfilling. There is so much to love about this story- and not just at Christmas time.


I got to the end of this book and let out a big “AWWW!” … Heartwarming and touching.


Pair this one with Melissa Stewart’s Feathers: Not Just For Flying. The illustrations and close ups of the bird feathers allow the reader to appreciate and wonder about why feathers are so different, and also so special.


Surprises. Twist ending. Fun. Don’t miss it.


Who knew toads lived hidden lives? Not me. Such spectacular photography accompanied by tidbits of intriguing information make this book one to note.


Fascinating facts, stunning illustrations, and an excellent pattern to the text make this book a winner. Melissa Stewart at her best!


This book has received much well-deserved praise and recognition. I think Corinna’s future as an author/illustrator is very promising- this is just the beginning!


What does water mean to different children around the world? This was easily an instant favorite that I have talked a lot about this year. Water does unite us all, and it’s taken for granted by some.


Rich with possibilities for making predictions; and yet a tale with many twists and turns. I won’t say more in fear of ruining a surprise or two.


Elisha Cooper so gently and delicately deals with a difficult topic. Another instant favorite book that is worth keeping close to your heart. Cat lover or not.


The concept… the illustrations… leave you wondering, just why are so many things in nature round?


Stephanie amazed me with the complexity of this wordless story. And it’s got an encouraging message as well. Another title that was not hard to book talk and push all year long.


Children will do anything to procrastinate going to bed. and Rachel Isadora captures it in such a sweet way. Global and multicultural, the book also opens many windows for readers here to glimpse into bedtime across the world.


Mind-blowing. That’s all I can say.


Life begins small….  Rylant at her best. Wenzel at his best. The best of the best.


I was so discouraged that this book did not garner more publicity or praise when it was published. Candace Fleming so carefully weaves together an imaginative story with repetitive text that encourage us all to pause for a moment and enjoy the circus. I love all of Candy’s books, but this one may have ranked itself at the top of the list.


You can just hear Carmen’s voice in your head reading this book as you read it to yourself. A master storyteller doing her thing, and doing it well.


The see-saw text of questions and answers and back and forth invite us to pause and wonder about the beauty of a winter landscape before it quickly disappears and spring comes. And Seeger’s illustrations? Another perfect match.


Another book I fell in love with quickly after reading- I love birthdays and if you know me, you know that I celebrate mine all month. And why not? I’m as excited as this young child when my day is around the corner— and I think many children are, too.


Oh Daniel Miyares… when I think you can’t possibly outdo yourself… you do. This is a worthy investment. Inspiring and encouraging.


We need more books like this- books that pack a bit of a punch without hitting you over the head with a message. Kelly DiPucchio does it just right. A must have for every classroom.


There were a number of “toot” and “fart” books this year, but this one was the stand-out. Without being slapstick funny, this one gives kids just the right amount of giggles as they try to identify the tooter.


Cover Reveal: It’s Your First Day of School, Busy Bus!

Here today with an interview and a cover reveal of her Summer ’18 title is Jody Jensen Shaffer!

Hi Jody! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Thanks for having me, Dylan!

Tell us a little bit about your new book, It’s Your First Day of School, Busy Bus!

It’s Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! is about a school bus that is having first-day-of-school jitters. Will the children like him? Will they know they’re safe riding with him? What if he gets homesick? Fortunately, Ben the bus driver helps Busy Bus feel ready and loved so he can have a great schoolyear.

I’m excited to share this book with children (and parents) who might be having their own first-day-of-school jitters. The illustrations by Claire Messer are warm and tender and perfect, and Beach Lane is a dream publisher. I feel really lucky.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.  

I usually start by writing down my initial idea in a notebook. I draft it longhand until I know where I’m going. Then once I’ve got the story figured out, I transfer my notes to the computer. From there, I work and rework the story, printing it out several times, marking it up, reading it aloud, making changes, and printing it out again until I’m satisfied. Then I send it to critique partners for their input, make changes again, and send it to my agent.

Have you always been into writing?

Yes, I had an affinity for words, creativity, and for the physical act of writing with a sharp pencil on crisp, white paper from the time I was young. And from what I can tell from looking at some of my oldest work, I also had an affinity for exclamation points that hasn’t subsided!

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Getting a call from my agent saying my manuscript has sold! But in terms of the day-to-day work, I love molding an idea into a great story and then revising it until it’s as good as I can make it. I love the possibility of my ideas becoming books.

What inspires your creativity?

My children, the natural world, contests, my past, snippets of overheard conversations, sermons, others’ stories and poems, my dog, so many things!

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

I was in several musicals as a child and teen, and I loved every minute of them!

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

Probably teaching composition and other English classes in college. I was an adjunct instructor for both of my alma maters.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I have several new books in the pipeline, but I’m not allowed to talk about them yet. I feel very fortunate to be able to continue to write for kids.

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

I’m really grateful to be part of the kidlit community, which is so big-hearted and talented.

And now…. here’s the cover!

Busy Bus revised cover.png

Interview with the Fan Brothers: Terry Fan and Eric Fan

Hi Terry! Hi Eric! Thanks for stopping by my blog. It’s an honor!

Thank you, Dylan! It’s an honor for use to be here!


Tell us a little bit about your new book, The Antlered Ship.

The story was written by Dashka Slater, and it’s the tale of an inquisitive fox named Marco who sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons. They are in search of Sweet Tree Island, a place where Marco hopes to find all the answers to his questions. The crew finds adventure and intrigue along the way, and—at last—Marco finds the answer to his most important question of all: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?


Tell us a little bit about your illustration process—what’s it like to work together?

Usually we’ll each draw certain elements for a scene and then put them all together in

Photoshop. Then we’ll share files, and we’ll both go in and do tweaks and revisions. It’s great to have a fellow collaborator because you always have someone to bounce ideas off when you get stuck. Making a book can be a daunting project sometimes, so it’s nice to have someone to share the workload with. When one of us falls down or falters, hopefully the other one is there to save the day. That’s happened on numerous occasions.


Have you always been into writing and illustrating?

Terry: I would say to one degree or another we have. It has ebbed and flowed and taken on different forms over the years, but there has always been a creative impulse that seems to be a driving force in our lives.

Eric: When I was younger I worked on a picture book with our other brother Devin (he was sixteen at the time). We sent the manuscript unsolicited to a bunch of publishers. Needless to say, most of our packages were returned unopened, but we did get two very nice rejection letters with some positive notes and encouragement. One of the editors even invited us to call her, and Devin spoke to her on the phone. She reiterated some of the positive things about the manuscript and told him we should be very encouraged. In retrospect, we should have been over the moon, but we were gutted that our “masterpiece” didn’t receive the response we had hoped for. I still have those letters, and looking back on them now it’s amazing to me how receptive and helpful people in the industry can be.


What’s the most exciting part of your job?

It’s always exciting to receive first copies of a book; to finally see it in its complete form.

However there are so many other exciting aspects as well, from getting the opportunity to meet other artists and creative people in the industry to hearing from readers and fans that our books have impacted or inspired in some way.


What inspires your creativity?

Terry: I’m inspired by many artists, both past and present. Really, there are too many to name. I also draw inspiration from past experiences, nature, and random things that interest. To be honest it could literally be anything. This seems to be a question that comes up a lot, and I wish I had a more eloquent answer, but inspiration is a mysterious thing,and it’s difficult to pin down.

Eric: I think inspiration is something that resides in the subconscious; perhaps an accumulation of all the experiences and memories you’ve had that have become remixed over time. When you’re asleep you can wander at will through those hidden rooms, but when you’re awake they’re more difficult to access. If you’re lucky, one of those doors opens briefly to the daylight, and you get to peek inside and snatch a few ideas or images.

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

Eric: The first piece of artwork I did that I was ever paid for I drew with my hand in a full cast, after breaking it at work. It was simultaneously the moment I decided I was in the wrong line of work and also that it was possible I could be successful as a freelance artist.

Terry: That I’m almost completely deaf in my left ear, which is normal-looking. However my good right ear looks kind of pointy, and I call it my “Mr. Spock” ear. Anyway, I think my partial deafness has probably contributed to me being an artist. It encouraged me to look more inward and seek out solitary pursuits from an early age.

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

Terry: I’d probably be a musician of some sort. We come from a musical family—our mom was a professional harpist and our older brother, Paul, is a very talented musician and producer. I played the drums and keyboard a bit when I was younger and have always loved music. It has a transporting power to it like nothing else.

Eric: Up until fairly recently I was driving a delivery truck for a construction rental company, so I don’t have to stretch my imagination too far. In all likelihood I’d still be doing that,although I’d probably be working toward doing something else, hopefully in a creative field.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

In the Spring of 2018 our next picture book, Ocean Meets Sky, will be released. We both wrote and illustrated it. Next, we’re illustrating a picture book called The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry. We’re also working on a project with Dave Eggers entitled The Lifters. And after that we’re going to start work on The Barnabus Project. Our brother, Devin, will be collaborating with us on that book.


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

Thank you for interviewing us, Dylan. And thank you to everyone who has supported our


Little Iffy Learns To Fly Blog Tour: Aaron Zenz Interview

I’m pleased to be kicking off the Little Iffy Learns to Fly blog tour with an interview with the author/illustrator of Little Iffy, Aaron Zenz himself! Enjoy!

Hi Aaron! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Thanks for having me over!  I appreciate all you do for the Kid Lit world, Dylan.


Tell us a little bit about your new book, Little Iffy Learns to Fly.

Little Iffy is a bitty griffin.  Griffins are half lion and half eagle, and most of them are big and strong, tough and brave.  But Iffy Griffin is a bit more scaredy cat than lion.  And he’s a bit more chicken than eagle.  In Little Iffy Learns to Fly, Iffy’s friends want to see him use those spiffy wings he’s got.  But flying means “up,” and “up” is a little scary.  Iffy much prefers “down.”


Tell us a little bit about your writing and illustrating process.  

I keep stories in my head for a very, very long time before I write them down.  Sometimes for years.  Kept in my brain, story ideas change and grow, evolve and flourish.  Once I commit something to paper though, I have a very hard time ever thinking of it any other way.  For me, that thing has then become cemented.  So I live with ideas in my head for as long as I can.  This happened with Little Iffy.  I can remember honing in on his personality during long walks.  Landing the perfect name while in the shower.  Developing gags on the way back from the beach.

Once I do decide to get things down on paper, it’s fast and furious.  All in one big brain dump.  Everything comes out in chicken scratch, a mishmash of words and doodles that I’m sure makes sense only to me.


Then I play with character design, work up model sheets, and plug the story into an actual dummy.  Everything is still in loose sketches at this stage.


Once editors and art directors got on board, then we began nailing down the actual style of art.  For this book, that took quite a while – first being pushed one direction, then an about face and pulled in a completely different direction.  People were even weighing in on the shape of the blades of grass!  It was kinda nutty 🙂  Eventually we found the look, and final art could be produced fairly quickly from there.



Have you always been into writing and illustrating?

I came into the world, colored pencils in hand!

As soon as I was able, I was drawing and making stories.  My parents have lots of little books I made from as far back as 3 years old.  We’d come home from a walk and I’d start drawing pictures, dictating to my mom what to write: “We saw a stick. We saw a feather. The puppy followed us.”

My elementary school had an annual “Fine Arts Festival.”  I would enter stories every year and was encouraged by ribbons I won.  It’s funny looking back at the titles of my stories: “The Great Crayon Escape” or “Pencil Pete and the Penawatomis” – I was using art supplies to tell stories about art supplies!  No way I wasn’t growing up to be an artist.



What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Crafting stories and creating art is very fulfilling.  But “exciting” is not a word you would apply to very much of that process.  School Visits on the other hand – those are a blast!  Full of energy and enthusiasm — speaker and students volleying inspiration back and forth at each other.  I LOVE visiting schools.  I love sharing that what I do is an actual job – that a life of creativity is within their reach as well.  I love getting kids pumped up about reading and writing and creating.  Just this past Thursday, I visited K-3rd graders – and I was mindful of how blessed I am, listening to a gymnasium full of kids, howling in laughter.  The day before, I visited a college class – I was only supposed to share for about an hour – but the Q & A time took off and before we knew it, almost 3 hours had passed, romping around the wondrous world of kid lit.

What inspires your creativity?

I love collaborating.  I’m inspired by connecting with people.  Some examples:

My oldest son is 19 years old now – but from the time he was 3, we’ve snuggled down together reading through classics like Treasure Island or the Chronicles of Narnia.  The number of kids has grown to six, and we continue to read through chapter books at bedtime to this day.  For seven years my kids and I collaborated on a book review blog called Bookie Woogie (, diving deep into our favorite books, studying the craft of our favorite creators and making art together.

In 2011 our family began painting and hiding rocks together in our hometown.  The activity connected with people around the world – a German children’s magazine wrote about us, Ripley’s Believe it or Not featured us in one of their books…  You can trace the steps directly from that first activity as our project snowballed into the current “City Name + Rocks” global Facebook Group rock-painting-craze currently in full swing, boasting over 1,200,000 members.



This summer I collaborated with kids all over Michigan, making monster artwork together.  I invited kids to send me monster designs, and 3,000 drawings showed up to my house.  I picked out my favorites and made around 100 full-blown professional-style illustrations based on their designs.  Then for 18 days, I camped out at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids and invited kids in attendance to submit their own monster designs as well.  Another 7,000 designs came in, and I illustrated 50 more monsters while sitting right there on the sidewalk as I chatted with kids and families about monsters, art, and creativity.






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

One of my childhood heroes is Winsor McCay.  When I was young, I wanted to become an animator, and Winsor McCay was all over animation history.  Then in college, I wanted to become an illustrator, and Winsor McCay is all over illustration history.  19 years ago I moved to Spring Lake, Michigan for a job.  After living here for about 5 years, I randomly found out this is Winsor McCay’s hometown!  He seems to be following me wherever I go.  His childhood home was across the street from the very library where I’ve illustrated entire books on my laptop.  I helped found “McCay Day” here in town, and now I share the story of his life and art with kids every year in a special presentation at that library.


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

I don’t know… but I’m sure whatever it is, Winsor McCay would have done it first.


What can readers expect from you in the future?

If Little Iffy Learns to Fly does well, hopefully many more Iffy Griffin books!  I’ve got the next two stories already written, and there’s a whole mythical world to explore.


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

If people would like to keep following along, today is the first blog stop on the Little Iffy Tour!  You can read more about Iffy, his friends, and what readers think in the coming days here:

Mon Dec 4  :  Mile High Reading  :

Tue Dec 5  :  Seven Impossible Things  :

Wed Dec 6  :  100 Scope Notes  :

Thu Dec 7  :  Everead  :

Fri Dec 8  :  Librarian’s Quest  :

Sat Dec 9  :  Amanda’s Pile of Books  :

Sun Dec 10 :  Kids Talk Kid Lit  :

Tue Dec 19  :  Nerdy Book Club  :

Mon Jan 1  :  Picturebooking Podcast  :

Thanks so much Dylan!