All posts by Dylan

COVER REVEAL and Interview: Fox & Rabbit by Beth Ferry

Today, Beth Ferry is here to share the cover of the first book of her new graphic novel series, Fox & Rabbit, illustrated by Gergely Dudas.

Hi Beth! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Thanks for having me, Dylan!

Tell us a little bit about Fox & Rabbit, your new graphic novel series!

The story of Fox & Rabbit was inspired by the fun and happy art of Gergely Dudas who is a young, talented artist from Budapest.  Fox and Rabbit are two friends who embark on a series of simple, but funny adventures, inspired by the childhood experiences of my children. They go to the fair, to the beach, to the farm, etc. and learn a lot about themselves and each other during their adventures. We hope young readers will relate to Fox and Rabbit and will be able to see themselves and their hopes and fears in either or both of the characters. The first book releases in April 2020 and is published by Abrams.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

I write every day, usually in the morning in my pajamas with a lovely cup of coffee. I often go to bed thinking about a particular idea I have for a new story or a problem I’m having with a current story, so when I wake up, I’m excited to tackle it.

Have you always been into writing?

Yes! It’s always been a creative outlet for me. I often wonder about how and why different people express their creativity. I have to come to the realization that it’s not always a choice – certain things just speak to us differently than other things.  I have always just marveled at the power of words. I am enchanted by words and by sentences and by stories. It seemed only natural for me to try to write.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

It is impossible not be excited upon seeing the art! I love the first sketches, the first hints of color and the glorious final art. Seeing a story brought to life by the artist is an indescribable joy to me and definitely the most exciting part of the job.

What inspires your creativity?

Words! I am a big wordie (which I believe I have mentioned  🙂 ) and my biggest inspiration usually comes from them. I love all the aspects of words – how they taste, how they sound, what they look like, what they mean, where they come from. I love word play and the power that resides in words. It’s funny but when I read a really great sentence, I first want to read it aloud to someone and then I immediately want to stop reading and start writing, in the vain hope that some of that eloquence will rub off on me!

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

We own over 100 beach towels and have long ago given up using regular bath towels. When we have guests, I have to scramble to find a towel that is not a beach towel for them to use.

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

Great question. In my ideal world, I would be planning elaborate, insane, intricate birthday parties for kids. Or raising tortoises. Or training bulldogs – just kidding – they’re pretty hard to train! Being an author has been a dream of mine for almost my whole life, so I am grateful that I don’t have to be doing anything else.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

There are currently three books in the Fox & Rabbit series and hopefully more. Early graphic novels are new to me and I love how fast and fun they are, so I’m hoping to write more. I also have a number of picture books coming out including The Scarecrow, Caveboy Crush, and Swashby and the Sea which has been five years in the making. It is always so gratifying to see your book out in the world, especially if you’ve waited a long time for it to publish.

Anything else you’d like to share with me?

Your Picture Book Preview posts are such much fun . . . and I assume, so much work! But it’s such a pleasure to scroll through colorful and lovely picture book covers.  It’s also awesome and inspiring to see how many picture books are being published each year. Thank you for putting those together and sharing the joy that is picture books.

And thank you for having me on your blog and for sharing the cover of Fox & Rabbit!

Now, here it is, with some interior images, too!

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UNSTOPPABLE ME Release Day! Interview with Author Susan Verde

Happy Book Birthday to UNSTOPPABLE ME! Here joining me today is author Susan Verde!

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Hi Susan! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Hi Dylan! Thank you so much for having me here!

Tell us a little bit about Unstoppable Me!

Unstoppable Me is really about perspective. As a mom and former teacher I have had my own children and students who had lots of energy. People often call these kids “spirited” and can view their inability to be still as challenging and often it’s seen as negative. This story is meant to express the positive things about the need to move and express and expel seemingly boundless energy. It’s the “can” versus “can’t.” I know for myself I am way more productive when I am able to move my body as opposed to being still. I wanted to share the beauty of this way of being in the world. 

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Tell us a little bit about your writing process. 

I set aside time everyday (even on weekends) for writing. That is how I hold myself accountable and how I stay connected to the work. Even if I am not ultimately thrilled with what I have written on a given day I know I sat down and did my best in that moment. When I have an idea I try to let it all pour out on the page without getting stuck on structure or spelling or word count. It is when I feel I have gotten it all down on paper that I then go back and edit and shape my story. I typically use my laptop as opposed to a notebook although I do have a small journal I carry with me in case an idea strikes when I am without my computer. Sometimes I share my early writing with my kids, writer friends or my agent to flesh out ideas.

Have you always been into writing?

I have always written but not with the idea of publishing just as a way to work through things or capture something that moved me. I started realizing when I was very young, maybe 3rd grade that writing made me feel good or better if I was feeling low. I used to write a lot of poetry and in high school I wrote A LOT of angsty teen poems but again it helped me feel centered. 

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I think it is most exciting when I know I have written something good. That doesn’t mean it will get published necessarily although that is a HUGE thrill but there’s a kind of buzzy excitement when I feel I have written something meaningful. The other most exciting part is when I hear from a teacher or a reader who has been moved somehow by a story. And when I get to visit kids and educators and interact and share messages of empathy and peace and the power of books! Oh so many exciting things…hard to pick one! 

What inspires your creativity?

I think the moments when I am present and observant and paying attention to the world around me, the kids around me and also staying in touch with my own inner child that I am the most inspired. It can be a conversation had or overheard or a piece of art or an act of courage or even something challenging that can spark an idea. 

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

Hmmm… well I love music, in particular hip hop. I often dance in my kitchen (much to my children’s dismay). I used to work for a music magazine and my mother had a record company so it’s always been a part of my life. I also lived in France for a bit when I was younger. 

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

I think I would be an elementary school teacher because I have done that and it was an incredibly fulfilling experience. Or I might be working in the field of mental health focusing on children and teenagers. I have a child with ocd and I am always studying things about the brain and learning how to help and support kids with these kinds of challenges and anxiety. 

What can readers expect from you in the future? 

I have more books coming in my I Am series with Peter Reynolds as well as some beautiful “helpful” fractured fairytales and a few more exciting things in the pipeline. 

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

Just that I am so grateful to connect with people interested in the power of picture books and love to help support educators and others doing great work in the world with kids. And a big THANK YOU to you, Dylan for all you are doing!

Cover Reveal: Three Little Kittens by Barbara McClintock

Here today joining me for a cover reveal of her Spring 2020 title is Barbara McClintock!

Here are a few questions Barbara answered about the book….
-You broke away from your traditional illustration style for this book. Tell us about that.
Recently, I’ve been going back through old childhood drawings of mine that my mom saved. I love the sense of spontaneity and immediacy in those early drawings.  A big inspiration in much of that early artwork were HannaBarbera cartoons, specifically the 1960’s character Top Cat.
When I was little, I sat in front of the tv on Saturday mornings with a big stack of paper and crayons, drawing characters from cartoons as I watched.
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I began to write and draw my own comics, many about Top Cat, In fact, I became so infatuated with Top Cat that I insisted everyone call me Top Cat for a brief period of time!
I thought it would be fun going back to my earliest interests and way of drawing, and that inspired the early Barbara drawings/cartoon style I used.
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The nursery rhyme ‘The Three Little Kittens’ has been illustrated many times, including a recent version by Jerry Pinkney. The energy and underlying message of the story has been covered over by the antique language of the text, which has also driven the approach illustrators have taken to portraying the kittens and their mother. The kittens are invariably wearing frilly victorian clothing, and the design approach of the page layouts is very classical.  The Three Little Kittens is actually a deliciously antic story about typical toddler behavior, getting in and out of trouble, and forgiveness. Once I broke away from rigidly adhering to the early to mid-1800s version of the text, and the conventional tropes that others have taken to visually narrate the story, everything suddenly came alive and got very, very exciting.  Originally, I was going to retain the original text and have it appear in a very overwrought Victorian type font, and have the kitten’s dialogue become the contemporary beat of the text. Dianne encouraged me to tweak the original text so that the text and the kitten’s comments – appearing in word balloons – flowed together. There’s still the older flavor to the language of the text, but it’s in sync with a more current sensibility.
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The illustrations are quite simple, but a lot of behind-the-scenes work went into developing the visual and textual narrative. I pretended to interview each character to get their point of view of what happens in the story, and wrote out their rather long-winded responses to the questions I put to them. I really had fun getting to the heart of their personalities, motivations, excuses for lame behaviors, and ultimately, their acts of generosity. ( Spoiler alert – there’s a  powerful ‘love the stranger’ message at the end )
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-Where did you get the idea for this book? 
My editor at Scholastic Press, Dianne Hess, has talked about my doing an illustrated version of THE THREE LITTLE KITTENS for a long time. I hesitated because I had in my mind the same old approach which would have been just a repeat of what many other illustrators have done before. Once I realized I could break out of that box and take the text and images to a new level, I really engaged with the project.
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-What else would you like to tell readers? 
Have fun finding new narrative approaches to each text you encounter as an illustrator and author. And as a reader, look beyond the obvious and find new meaning and playfulness in stories you may have read a bajillion times.
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And now…. here it is!!!
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Interview with Sarah Jacoby: Celebrating the Release of The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

Hi Sarah! Thanks for stopping by my blog!
Hi Dylan! Thank you very much for having me.

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Tell us a little bit about your new book, The Important Thing About
Margaret Wise Brown.
What would you like to know? It is a book about the life of Margaret Wise
Brown, a lady that wrote over a hundred children’s books among them
Goodnight Moon . The words of this book were written by Mac Barnett. He
tells the story of Margaret, but he also wonders aloud about the nature of
books and storytelling. I think that it’s told wonderfully with lots of questions
and thoughts about what makes a life important. Is that helpful?

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Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.
I’m a painterly illustrator. That means I am best at making shapes and
creating atmosphere rather than drawing lines and making things look
super realistic. I often start with a dab of watercolor or gouache on hot
press paper and go from there. My favorite kind of process just jumps right
in and paints allowing my images to grow organically. My less favorite but
necessary process starts with pencil sketches, then watercolor work, then
slight touch ups and color tweeks with Photoshop. I’m working hard to do
less heavy lifting with the computer because I love original work so much.
Still in process!
Have you always been into writing/illustrating?
Yes and no. Now that I do this for a living it can be simple to look back and
pick moments of past that would have led me here (I spent a lot of time in
my local library, I loved making little books in elementary school). But I’ve
always been interested in many things. Here are some things I thought I
might want to be: a marine biologist, a paleontologist, a professor, a
filmmaker, an archivist, a librarian, a musician. Here are some things I
actually did for a living: a teacher, a film editor, a production artist/designer,
a marketing assistant, a coffee shop manager, a lifeguard, a movie theater
usher.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
It can be thrilling to create something from nothing. I can’t tell you how
wonderful it is to look at a finished book and to then go back and look at its
very beginnings-little chicken scratch notes. It never ceases to amaze me. I
like proving to myself that it can be done over and over it again.
What inspires your creativity?
I love other creators across all genres. Today I was inspired by an Agnes
Varfa film (her colors! the flowers!). Tomorrow I might hear an interesting
new piece of music or fall back in love with an old song and its
accompanying memories. I even get inspired by a really good play in
basketball. I like watching humans excel at things. I especially like seeing
people do things that I can’t do. It helps me get a sense of perspective.
I often walk around the city and check out human activity. I’m a minutia
person so I am usually taking note of a mannerism or detail here or there. I
like it when little things point to a larger story.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you
could tell us?
I’m quite good at parallel parking .
If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be
doing?
I might try my hand at running a little urban flower farm. I don’t know that
much about farming other than how hard it can be. Still, a flower farm! It
would smell so nice in my delivery van while I parallel parked.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I’m very stoked to have a book coming out this Fall with Chronicle books.
It’s written by the fabulous Kate Hoefler and it is called Rabbit and
Motorbike . It’s a tale about a rabbit who embraces her fear of the unknown
via bike. Vroom!

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I am also working on writing a bunch more stories. I have a lot of ideas
different style that I’m excited about. Keep your eyes peeled.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
Thank you so much for these thoughtful questions Dylan!

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.

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!