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Our vision for this blog is pretty simple: we're going to talk about the books we read. We read lots of different kinds of books: picture books for toddlers, memoirs, young adult fiction, graphic novels, Man Booker Prize-winning high-art metafiction, whatever.
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1. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Meilo So

“Blown by the wind, / water sails high. / Tumbling cloud plumes curl through the air. /
Soplada por el viento, / el agua se remonta. / Volutas nebulosas ruedan por el aire.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about some holiday picture books titles, what I think are some of the best of the season. It’s a Christmas miracle: LeUyen Pham has made me like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” again. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about Pat Mora’s Water Rolls, Water Rises (Lee & Low, October 2014), illustrated by Meilo So. Today, I share some spreads from it.


“Water rolls / onto the shore / under the sun, under the moon. /
El agua rueda / hacia la orilla / bajo el sol, bajo la luna.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“In the murmur of marsh wind, / water slumbers on moss, / whispers soft songs far under frog feet. / En el viento susurrante de los pantanos, / el agua duerme sobre el musgo, / murmura suaves canciones bajo patitas de ranas.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“Water burbles in springs, / gurgles and turns / down streams and rivers seeking the sea. / El agua burbujea en los manantiales, / borbotea y desciende /
por los arroyos y ríos buscando el mar.”

(Click to enlarge spread)



* * * * * * *

WATER ROLLS, WATER RISES. Copyright © 2014 by Pat Mora. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Meilo So. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, New York.

2 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Meilo So, last added: 12/19/2014
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2. The Many Sides of Santaand Some Art from Chuck Groenink


Last week at Kirkus, I chatted here with children’s book author and poet Bob Raczka, so today I’m following up with some of Chuck Groenink’s illustrations from Raczka’s Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole, released by Carolrhoda Books in September. Groenink, as I mentioned in the column last week, is from the Netherlands but now lives in New York. I highly recommend exploring the art at his site or even his tumblr. If you subscribe to the Horn Book, you’ll recognize him from the cover art of the current issue.

I’m tellin’ you what. We see lots of new holiday picture books every year, many easily forgettable, but I really like this one. I’d love to see a 2015 7-Imp interview with Groenink so that we can see way more art from him. Don’t you agree?

Enjoy the art.

“…Wishes blowing in / from my overfilled mailbox— / December’s first storm …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“…The north wind and I / whistling to ‘Let It Snow!’ / on the radio.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to see spread in its entirety)



* * * * * * *

SANTA CLAUSES: SHORT POEMS FROM THE NORTH POLE. Copyright © 2014 by Bob Raczka. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Chuck Groenink and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Carolrhoda Books.

1 Comments on The Many Sides of Santaand Some Art from Chuck Groenink, last added: 12/19/2014
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3. Traditional Tales with Bernadette Watts

I’ve got my work cut out for me this week and so my time today is limited, but here’s a quick post to share a few spreads from The Bernadette Watts Collections: Stories and Fairy Tales, coming to shelves in an English edition early next year (NorthSouth). If you’re up for some colorful, pastoral art—with some no-holds-barred drama to boot—you’re in the right place today.

Watts, whose fairy tale art is well-known in Europe, was born in England in 1942 and still lives in the UK (and is still creating new stories). This collection of nearly forty previously-published stories, released this year in Switzerland, includes tales from Aesop, Leo Tolstoy, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and more. The book includes an introduction from Eric Carle, where in part he writes:

Although we have never met, I have been an admirer of Bernadette Watts’s art for a long time. Dominant in her work are the settings. She is a very English illustrator/artist, and her pedigree is unmistakable. That said, in “Varenka” [a story based on a Russian legend] she boldly and with a modern brush employs the vernacular of Russian religious art. …

Her books generally display warm and pleasing colors that bathe each image in an almost theater-like setting: the lights have been dimmed, the curtain has been drawn, and the viewer has settled back, invited into the magic unfolding in Bernadette’s art and stories. …

Watts strikes just about every mood in this collection. She goes from eerie (“Little Red Riding Hood,” originally published in 2009) to sweet (“The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”) and hits just about every note in between.

Here’s a bit more art.

Until Thursday …


“‘Hmmmm,’ thought the wolf. ‘This little girl will make a tasty treat indeed, much more tender than the old woman. I will have the old woman for dinner and this little morsel for dessert.’ The wolf walked a little way with Red Riding Hood. Then he said, ‘Look at all the lovely flowers! I am sure your grandmother would love to have some.’
Red Riding Hood looked at all the bright flowers dancing in the woods. …”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Then a voice called from the window: ‘Nibble, nibble, mousekin, / Who’s nibbling at my housekin?’ The children answered: ‘The breeze, the breeze / That blows through the trees,’ and ate on without letting it worry them.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“She seized Hansel in her scrawny hands and put him in a little cage, and locked him in behind a wire door. He could scream as much as he liked and it would do him no good. Then she went to Gretel, shook her awake, and said, ‘Get up, lazybones, and cook your brother something nice to fatten him up. Then I can eat him.’”
(Click to enlarge spread)


* * * * * * *

THE BERNADETTE WATTS COLLECTION. Copyright © 2014 by NordSüd Verlag AG, CH-8005 Zürich, Switzerland. First published in the United States in 2015 by NorthSouth Books, Inc. Illustrations here reproduced by permission of the publisher.

6 Comments on Traditional Tales with Bernadette Watts, last added: 12/18/2014
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4. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #410: Featuring Chris Raschka

“And that is the very best sort of thing to be.”


I’ve got some illustrations today from Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka, and I think taking a look at his artwork is pretty much always a good way to start one’s day.

If You Were a Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 2014) was written by Jamie A. Swenson and is an engaging title for very young children. Swenson introduces a series of animals, using the conditional if-you-were question — from dogs to dinosaurs and lots of other animals in between (including a human at the book’s close). The text has an infectious energy, its fair share of entertaining onomatopoeia, and a very playful rhythm that begs to be shared in group story times. You can see some of that below in the spreads shared here today. It’s a book that invites young children to use their imagination and play along; I kinda wish I could snap my fingers right now and have a group of children to share it with.

Kirkus calls this one a “cheery picker-upper.” It’s true. See for yourself below. And please enjoy Raschka’s menagerie of swooping, swimming, stomping, swooshing, fluttering, buzzing creatures. His color palette here is spot-on, and I love the way he captures the movement and energy of all these creatures.


“Would you howl at the moon? …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


“If you were a dinosaur, would you be a stomping-roarer, earth-quaker, tree-shaker, sharp-pointed toothy-grinner, colossal-chomper, super-duper,
longest-neck-o-saur sort of dinosaur?”

(Click to enlarge)



P.S. Raschka has another 2014 title out, this one from Atheneum Books and released in August. But I haven’t seen this one yet. (Well, I’ve seen it on bookstore shelves, but I haven’t yet spent a lot of time with it.) Have any of you? Oh, and you all saw the Sun Ra biography from earlier this year, yes?



IF YOU WERE A DOG. Copyright © 2014 by Jamie A. Swenson. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Chris Raschka. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux, New York.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

Last week, I was super busy with a writing assignment (which I’m still working on), so I didn’t leave seven separate kicks. And this week I’m, once again, not leaving seven separate kicks, because I’m actually out of town for a very short trip. So, I apologize, but I’m SURE to have listy kicks next week.

I’ll be back today, and as always, I’m eager to hear that you all had a good week. At least I hope you did. So, please do kick here — if you’re so inclined.

(Also, Seven Separate Kicks. Band name. I call it!)

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #410: Featuring Chris Raschka, last added: 12/14/2014
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5. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Eva Eriksson

“Grump the tomte lived in the grounds of an empty cottage and every day, he slipped into the cottage through the cat flap. That’s how small he was. Real house tomtes are like that. They are small and quick and grumpy and they are always dressed in grey, apart from a pointy red hat. You hardly ever see them.”


This morning over at Kirkus, I spotlight Pat Mora’s Water Rolls, Water Rises, illustrated by Meilo So. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week I wrote here about Ulf Stark’s The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits (Floris Books), illustrated by Eva Eriksson and first published in Sweden in 2012. I’ve got some art from it today.


“Grump picked up the bee and ran back to his own house to light the first candle in the Advent candlestick. Tomtes always light the first candle on the first of December, whatever day of the week it falls on.”

“He got out his best book. It was the only one he had. It was called
In Praise of Solitude. The he started to read:
‘What could be better than enjoying silence all alone…’”

“Quite some way away, under an enormous oak tree in a big forest,
was a rabbit burrow. The burrow was full of life.”

“‘What is winter?’ asked Binny. None of the rabbit children knew what winter was. They had never experienced a winter. ‘It’s when the cold gets so cold it pinches your nose and everything turns as white as a cauliflower,’ said Grandfather.
‘The white stuff is called snow.’”

“‘What’s this?’ Binny wondered. ‘Perhaps it’s winter?’ guessed Barty. ‘It is quite white.’ ‘Yes,’ said Binny, ‘but it is mostly grey. And it is not pinching our noses.’”

“After a lot of work, the Christmas tree was ready. … Oh, how beautiful it was! And what fun it would be to dance around it and sing songs. But they couldn’t do that until the Yule Tomte arrived. ‘He is in no particular hurry, that one,’ said Uncle Nubbin.”

“But it really was the Yule Tomte! With a sock on his head.
He had Binny and Barty with him too. And the bee in its little box.”



* * * * * * *

THE YULE TOMTE AND THE LITTLE RABBITS. First published in Sweden in 2012. First published in English in 2014 by Floris Books. Copyright © 2012 Rabén & Sjögren. English version © 2014 Floris Books. Illustrations here are reproduced by permission of the publisher.

1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Eva Eriksson, last added: 12/12/2014
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6. Some Haiku Before Breakfast …

I love the fact that a haiku is designed to capture a moment in time. It allows the reader, and the writer, to savor that moment.

These days, we are bombarded with so much information that sometimes we forget to stop and appreciate the little things.

I also love the challenge of presenting these small moments in just seventeen syllables, with a little twist to make them memorable.”

* * *

Today over at Kirkus, I chat with children’s book author and poet Bob Raczka, pictured above, about writing poetry for children; Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole, his beautiful new picture book, illustrated by Chuck Groenink; and what’s next on his plate.

That link will be here soon, and next week I’ll have some art from the book here at 7-Imp.

* * * * * * *

Photo of Bob Raczka used by his permission.

2 Comments on Some Haiku Before Breakfast …, last added: 12/11/2014
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7. One Impossibly Large Apple Before Breakfast

“It stuffed and stuffed and stuffed itself,
and had not even eaten half when it choked on it and fell down dead!”

(Click to enlarge spread)


It’s challenging to write about new picture books at this time of year, given that it’s the end of a calendar year and most Fall books are well past initial release. Instead of looking at newer titles, everyone’s talkin’ Caldecott. (This is something I enjoy reading about, to be sure. If you’re not already reading Calling Caldecott, I’d recommend it.)

Today I’m going to jump way back, though, to 1965; if we don’t have as many new books to explore, let’s look at this one, originally published in Switzerland and created by a German author-illustrator. Just One Apple comes from Horst Eckert, whose pen name is Janosch. NorthSouth re-released this here in the States in September of this year.

In this be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale, a poor man named Walter longs for an apple tree with a blossom. He makes a wish one night, and not only is it granted, but he eventually ends up with a monstrously large apple. He figures that everyone in the kingdom is now his friend, but then he becomes paranoid, believing thieves will take it. “He trusted no one — and even his friends deserted him.” He can’t even sell the fruit when he takes it to market. (And in my favorite line of the book, he has to admit he doesn’t even like apples.)

Turns out, though, that a giant green dragon descends upon the town and taunts the kingdom. In the end, the king’s “detectives” feed the apple to the dragon, who chokes and dies on it. (See above.) The kingdom is saved. Walter was happy again — and this time only wishes for two small, basket-sized apples.

Jonosch’s art is new to me. This is one thing I love about publishers like NorthSouth — that they give us a window into illustrators from overseas with much different sensibilities. I’m struck by how Janosch’s art reminds me of John Burningham’s art (British) in more than one way.

Here are a couple more illustrations. Enjoy.

“As autumn came, the apple grew and grew. But when it was fruit-picking time,
Walter decided to wait. With each passing day, the apple grew bigger and bigger. …”

(Click to enlarge spread and to see full text)


“But in the market everyone scoffed at him: ‘You’re a liar and a braggart!
No one has ever seen such a huge apple. It can’t possibly be real.’”

(Click to enlarge spread and to see full text)


* * * * * * *

JUST ONE APPLE. Copyright © 1965 by NordSüd Verlag AG, CH-8005 Zürich, Switzerland. English translation cpyright © 1989 by NorthSouth Books, Inc., New York. This edition published in September 2014. Illustrations here reproduced by permission of the publisher.

3 Comments on One Impossibly Large Apple Before Breakfast, last added: 12/10/2014
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8. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #409: Featuring Roger Duvoisin

“‘Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donder and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away, all!’”


I’m going vintage today, you all.

Want to know one of my favorite things about this holiday season? Back in September, Knopf re-released Caldecott Medalist Roger Duvoisin’s very tall The Night Before Christmas, which was originally published in 1954.

Duvoisin’s take on the classic Christmas poem includes his vivid colors, robust line, and elegant shapes. Know what I just read in the Publishers Weekly review, too? “The illustrator’s fans may notice that the stuffed yellow lion among Santa’s gifts bears a notable resemblance to Louise Fatio’s The Happy Lion, which Duvoisin illustrated the same year.” Well, huh. That hadn’t occurred to me.

That same review also notes the use of primary colors in Duvoisin’s illustrations here, which you can see for yourself in the images featured here today.

This is one of many Christmas stories Duvoisin illustrated. In the classic American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, Barbara Bader writes, “Nobody celebrates Christmas like Duvoisin — except children.”

Here’s some more art (without the text). Enjoy.

“The children were nestled all snugs in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.”


“As I drew in my head, and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.”


THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Originally published in 1954. Illustrations copyright © 1954 by Roger Duvoisin. New edition published September 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

I have a big ‘ol writing assignment I’m working on now, and I’m holed up today, working on that. Please do tell me your cheery kicks so that, during my breaks, I can come read them. You can even DOUBLE them, if you’re so inclined, to make up for my lack of them this week. (Not that I didn’t have any; I just gotta write write write!)

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #409: Featuring Roger Duvoisin, last added: 12/7/2014
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9. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Michael Emberley

This morning at Kirkus, I write about a Christmas story, straight from Sweden and originally published there in 2012 — Ulf Stark’s The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits, illustrated by Eva Eriksson. It’s available in the States now, thanks to Floris Books.

That link will be here soon.

* * *

Since I wrote here last week about the anniversary edition of two of Robie H. Harris’ excellent books for children about puberty and sexuality, I’m sharing some illustrations from them today. Michael Emberley, who will visit 7-Imp soon for a breakfast interview, illustrated them. You can click on each spread to see it in more detail.

Until Sunday …


Two spreads from the 15th anniversary edition of It’s So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (Candlewick, August 2014)
(Click each spread to enlarge)



Two spreads from the 20th anniversary edition of It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (Candlewick, August 2014)
(Click each spread to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL. Text Copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bee Productions, Inc. Illustrations copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bird Productions, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

IT’S SO AMAZING. Text Copyright © 1999, 2004 and 2014 by Bee Productions, Inc. Illustrations copyright © 1999, 2004 and 2014 by Bird Productions, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

0 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Michael Emberley as of 12/5/2014 1:09:00 PM
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10. A Boy Named Carl …

The book’s opening endpapers (without text): “‘Imagination will often carry us
to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.’ — Carl Sagan”

(Click to enlarge)


Last week, I chatted over at Kirkus with author-illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson about Star Stuff, her new picture book biography of Carl Sagan (which Horn Book just gave a starred review). That link is here, and I wanted to be sure to follow up this week with some art from the book. Stephanie also sent some early dummy images, sketches, etc. Several of the dummy images below were later changed, so if you’ve seen the book, it’s fascinating to see these earlier images.

I thank Stephanie for sharing. Enjoy!


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A final spread from the book (without text): “He read stories written by people who imagined what life might be like on other planets. His favorite character, John Carter, could stand with his arms outstretched and wish himself to Mars …”
(Click to enlarge)


An illustration not in the book …
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

STAR STUFF. Copyright © 2014 by Stephanie Roth Sisson. Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here are reproduced by permission of the author.

1 Comments on A Boy Named Carl …, last added: 12/4/2014
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11. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jen Corace


Illustrator Jen Corace is visiting 7-Imp this morning. Turns out that she takes breakfast pretty seriously, because when I asked about her breakfast-of-choice, she said: “Oh, man. I love breakfast so much. Pretty much all of it’s ‘of-choice.’ At home, what I like most is something called a taco sundae. It’s a crisped-up corn tortilla, refried beans, sautéed kale, and a split, soft-boiled egg on top with hot sauce. Not-at-home I like having someone to go split-sies with — half-savory, half-sweet. I never want a full stack of pancakes or a whole waffle. I want just a bit, and I want that just-a-bit to mix and match with some polenta or over-medium eggs or just-right home fries. So yeah. I love breakfast.”

I actually really love breakfast, too, so let’s do this.

Jen, as you’ll see below, has illustrated a handful of picture books since 2005. (It occurred to me while working on this interview that her children’s book illustration has been around about just as long as I’ve been blogging, yet I had thought her career had started sooner.) I always like to see what Jen will do next. She’s capable of over-the-top fun (see her illustrations for Mac Barnett’s Telephone, which came out this Fall) and dark (Cynthia Rylant’s Hansel and Gretel from 2008), and she has a style all her own. It has an inherent quirkiness I like, though “quirky” is so overused in children’s literature. I may be able to find a better word after we have our coffee.

Here is our taco sundae for breakfast:

Yum. I wish these interviews were real and in-person. Why can’t I do like Seinfeld and drive around and pick up picture-book creators for coffee?

Anyway. Enjoy the chat! Jen sent lots and lots of art.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Jen: I’m an Illustrator with Author aspirations. I still love working on manuscripts written by other people. I hope to keep doing that well into the future. But I have a few ideas of my own. They’ve been sitting patiently in the back of my brain, waiting for me to finish work on two solo shows. Once I’m past the solo show work, I can start figuring out how I write.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?


  • [Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s] Little Oink
  • [Randall de Sève’s] Mathilda and the Orange Balloon
  • [Deborah Hopkinson’s] The Humblebee Hunter
  • [Cynthia Rylant’s] Hansel and Gretel
  • [Dene Low’s] Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone
  • [Leslie Muir’s] Gibbus Moony Wants to Bite You
  • [Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s] This Plus That
  • [Rose A. Lewis'] Sweet Dreams
  • [Cynthia Rylant’s] The Steadfast Tin Soldier
  • [Jill Esbaum’s] I Hatched!
  • [Mac Barnett’s] Telephone
  • Jules: What is your usual medium?

    Jen: I use a mix of ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil, either on Saunders Waterford paper or Rives BFK.

    Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

    Jen: Providence, RI! I love it here. Love it. You can’t swing a dead quahog around these parts and not hit the ocean. It also has an amazing community. I’ve found my family here, and they’re the smartest, funniest, most caring bunch of sass mouths I’ve ever known. They’re my people. Also, Rhode Island does fall right. It’s my season.

    Pictured below: Early sketches and watercolors for Mac Barnett’s

    (Chronicle, September 2014):

    (Click to enlarge)

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    Final art (without text) from Telephone


    (Click to enlarge)

    “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.”
    (Click to enlarge)

    “Tell Peter: Something smells like fire!”
    (Click to enlarge)

    (Click to enlarge)

    Final endpapers
    (Click to enlarge)

    Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

    Jen: It wasn’t until I was 27 that I decided to become serious about illustration as a career. I had done work here and there for friends, band work, an odd magazine piece here and there, side jobs for Anthropologie, but it was landing the cover for The Portland Mercury that made it all click for me.

    I moved back to Providence. The cost of living is lower, my people were here, and Providence has an amazing artists’ community that I thought would be more supportive of my new-found focus. I did all the things — set up an online portfolio, regularly updated my online portflio with new work, sent out promotional postcards and packets, and waited. And waited. And waited. Annnnnnd waited — maybe two or three years.

    By the time I was contacted by Chronicle to work on [Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s] Little Pea, I had already established myself in the DIY/illustrator-as-gallery-artist world. [See some gallery work pictured below.] It was an interesting exercise pulling back from the more fine art style I had established to retool it a bit to make it more flexible for children’s work.

    And then the whole, organic snowball took off. I was offered Little Hoot [pictured below]; Steven Malk, who mostly knew my gallery work, stepped on board as my agent; and my whole world has opened up.

    Pictured above: Color test and illustration from Little Pea (Chronicle, 2005)
    (Click all but the cover to enlarge)


    Pictured above: Sketches and art from Little Hoot (Chronicle, 2007)
    (you can click on most to enlarge)


    Pictured above: Sketches and art from Little Oink (Chronicle, 2009)
    (Click all but the cover to enlarge)


    Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

    Jen: www.jencorace.com; thinkstare.tumblr.com/.

    Early sketches from Cynthia Rylant’s
    Hansel and Gretel

    (Hyperion, 2008)
    (Click each to enlarge)


    Final art from Hansel and Gretel

    (you can click most to enlarge; see more art here in this 2008 post)

    Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

    Jen: The school visits I do fall into two age groups — young, elementary school-type kids and art school, college-aged kids.

    Elementary school visits for me involve reading books and then a drawing activity related to the book I’ve read in class. I’m not very performative, so it’s a real casual affair. I like hanging and drawing with kids.

    For art school visits, it’s usually more career-oriented. I present my work and talk about my history, the hows and whys and what-fors. I try to have my lecture be more question/answer-based, because I want to know what they want to know, and I also want to provide an opportunity for the students to ask any questions they want. I let them know ahead of time that I’m an open book. Usually, these visits also involve me critiquing their class work at the end. I love critique sessions. It involves a specific language about how to talk about work being successful or not, according to specific parameters.

    Cover sketches and final cover art for Cynthia Rylant’s
    The Steadfast Tin Soldier

    (Abrams, 2013)
    (Click each to enlarge)


    Sketches and art from The Steadfast Tin Soldier

    (Click all but cover to enlarge)

    Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

    Jen: Currently, I don’t have any titles or manuscripts that I am working on now, but I’ve got projects-a-plenty right now.

    For the past year, I have been pulling together work for two solo shows that are running back to back. Without opened on September 11th at Land Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Within opened on October 11th at Art Star Gallery in Philadelphia. One month apart, very much back to back.

    Ultimately, the two shows work together as one large body of work. I wanted to explore the ideas of community and how one relates to nature as an indoor creature vs. an outdoor creature. There’s also good doses of girl gangs, occult activities, and lite witchery mixed in.

    Sketches and art from Deborah Hopkinson’s
    The Humblebee Hunter

    (Disney-Hyperion, 2010)
    (Click all but cover to enlarge)

    This past year I worked on a card game with my brother, Jason, called Lords & Ladies [pictured below]. The object is to create the greatest family legacy according to Edwardian society standards, while avoiding the backstabbing and gossip from other familes seeking the same status. Once both solo shows are put to bed, Jason and I will start working on a second game. I don’t want to talk too much about it at its infant planning state, but I will say that I am looking forward to all of the research and reference material-mining ahead of me.

    Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Jen again for visiting 7-Imp.

    1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


    : When I get a new manuscript. I print it out immediately. I tend to skim reading material on a computer screen and need a hard copy to stare at, bring around with me, make notes, make doodles, that sort of thing. I sometimes use a pagination grid to break up text and images in a way that fits in the book and makes for proper pacing. But mostly, I just make page notes on the printed-out manuscript and write little bits of notes about what I’m thinking about doing for each spread.

    Paginations from Cynthia Rylant’s
    Hansel and Gretel

    (Click each to enlarge)

    I’ll push those ideas around for awhile, and then it’s time for the most important phase in anything that I do — staring and thinking. Sometimes I stare and think while sitting. Most of the time I lie on the floor to do my staring and thinking. No music on, just the ambient sound of my house in this neighborhood. I hold the project loosely in my head and let my brain work around it. Nine times out of ten it gives me a good foothold of where to start and to see how the overall book is going to play out.

    A basic sketch
    (Click to enlarge)

    Color sketch
    (Click to enlarge)

    And then I just jump in. In about three rounds of sketches, involving back and forth with my art director and editor, I’m ready to start final art. Generally, I know everything that is supposed to happen—the color, the composition, the flow—which is great. It feels solid and makes for steadfast confidence in producing the final art. But there’s always a little wiggle room for invention or spontaneity, and those are the secret sweet spots of working on a book — or any piece of art for that matter.

    Examples of initial sketches
    (Click each to enlarge)

    2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.


    : My studio is a sunny, oddly-proportioned room on the second floor of my house. It has pine board floors, sadly inoffensive wallpaper, and when I look out the windows, I get to stare at a house that’s painted the best shade of pink. It looks great as the sun starts to go down.

    (Click to enlarge)

    I have a lot of surfaces in my studio. I love horizontal surfaces — for paper, for paint, for bottles of ink, for sketchbooks and reference books and scrap paper, pencils, lists, cutting mats, containers full of paintbrushes, random craft projects, cups of coffee, a late night Manhattan, and on and on an on. My desk is a split top. Two thirds of the work surface bevels, which is useful when I am working with watercolors. To the left is a taboret, where I keep on top reference books relevant to the project at hand. The drawers of the taboret are essentially art supply casseroles. Some might call them junk drawers. To the right of my desk is a large, vintage card table, where I try to keep an organized selection of inks and paint. My growing collection of ceramic mixing pallets lives there as well.

    On the wall directly in front of my desk and on the ceiling that juts out above, I keep a changing menagerie of reference and inspirational images that speak to the work at hand. It’s helpful for me to casually absorb these images as I work.

    (Click to enlarge)

    (Click to enlarge)

    Outside of the desk hub, there is a ’60s-ish-style bookshelf I found in the park one day. It houses reference books, old sketchbooks, and my copies of books that I work on. I have a double stacked flat file system. The top half, for the most part, houses blank paper and wood panels for woodprinting. The bottom half contains finished artwork. None of it is particularly well-organized.

    (Click to enlarge)

    3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


    : As my youngest reading self, I Know An Old Lady [pictured below], illustrated by Abner Graboff, ate up my brain. I loved it. All of it. The colors are amazing; the shapes are bonkers; and the “I guess she’ll die” spread was a wallpaper for my laptop for a long, long time.

    (Click each to enlarge)

    [Ed. Note: This cover of the book, you may have noticed, has Lane Smith’s name on it. That’s because I got the image from the wonderful blog about subversive books
    that he once ran with Bob Shea.]


    After that, I was obsessed with the Ramona Quimby series. Whatta scamp. As a pre-teen/teen reader, I loved the Hitchhiker series, anything Vonnegut, and I was definitely part of the dark circle circulating all of the V.C. Andrews novels.

    Sketches and art from Rose A. Lewis’ Sweet Dreams

    (Abrams, 2012)
    (Click all but cover to enlarge)

    4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

    Jen: Ohhh … let’s see. Maira Kalman, because … c’mon. How is that not going to rule?

    Hori Narumi. I know little to nothing about her, but she is capable of creating beautiful, minimal illustrations, as well as edge-to-edge-chock-full-of-girls-and-botanicals paintings.

    The third would be Tomi Ungerer, because he’d keep it dialed in with his insight and way of speaking about things. Also, we’d skip the coffee and the wine. I’d be making everyone a Manhattan.

    Sketches and art from Randall de Sève’s
    Mathilda and the Orange Balloon (Balzer + Bray, 2010)
    (Click all but the first two and the cover to enlarge)

    5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

    Jen: My media schedule while working is currently this:

    I listen to music when I am trying to figure something out, trying to find my path in a book. So, that includes pacing, character design, composition, and color palette — anything that requires quiet concentration. Music gets me into that space. I listen to Antony and the Johnsons, Angel Olsen, Sam Cooke, and Future Islands a lot right now.

    I listen to podcasts or audio books when I’m working on repeat patterns or any repetitive work. Because it’s more of an automatic movement for me, it frees up my brain to be able to listen to stories. Right now my favorite podcast is The Hearty White Miracle Nutrition. I don’t have an audio book that I am listening to right now, but the last one I listened to was Stealing God’s Thunder by Philip Dray. It’s about Benjamin Franklin, who is my favorite get-yer-freak-on smarty pants.

    And then when everything is sort of set—the major bones and structure of a piece is down, and the more nebulous aspects of the composition or color have been solved—I can go on autopilot, and I binge listen to bad TV. Right now I have five and a half seasons of Millionaire Matchmaker under my belt. I might be experiencing some Stockholm Syndrome with Millionaire Matchmaker at this point, because when it works out for the far-and-few-between sweet couples, I tear up a bit.

    Sketches and art from Jill Esbaum’s I Hatched!

    (Dial, January 2014)
    (Click all but cover to enlarge)

    6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

    Jen: I tried out to be a cheerleader in the first grade because I really, really, really wanted the skirt. But, as I was a real shy, introverted, self-conscious, four-eyes, that didn’t go so well.

    Sketch and art from Leslie Muir’s
    Gibbus Moony Wants to Bite You

    (Atheneum, 2011)



    Sketches and images from Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s
    This Plus That
    (HarperCollins, 2011)
    (you can click most to enlarge)

    7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

    Jen: What’s your favorite nickname?

    “Wildfire.” I gave it to myself, after the song “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphey. It was a song that I listened to a lot while falling asleep when I was a wee me. It gave me a dark anxiety that I loved.


    * * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

    Jules: What is your favorite word?

    Jen: “Shenanigans.”

    Jules: What is your least favorite word?

    Jen: “Moist.”

    Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

    Jen: Gardening, ocean-swimming, soaking in a bathtub, paying attention to atmospheric light.

    Jules: What turns you off?

    Jen: Adam Levine.

    Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

    Jen: Any variation of “fuck.” “Fucker,” “fuck face,” “fuckity fuck fuck,” pronouncing “fuck” like faaaaaahhhhhhck.

    Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

    Jen: The click/clack sound of rocks getting pulled back by the tide.

    Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

    Jen: Providence’s new, clanky garbage trucks.

    Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

    Jen: Something in marine biology. Years ago, I looked into going back to school for it. That or bartending. Something with liquids. I guess that’s what that all comes down to.

    Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

    Jen: Astronaut. Horizonless spaces make me nauseous.

    Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

    Jen: “High fives, Corace!”


    All images are used by permission of Jen Corace.

    The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

    8 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jen Corace, last added: 12/5/2014
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    12. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #408: Featuring Elizabeth Zunon


    Today I’m featuring the artwork of Elizabeth Zunon, pictured left, whose illustrations I’ve actually shared here previously (in this 2011 post). And I’m looking ahead a bit here; this isn’t a book out on shelves now. It will be out on shelves in February of 2015 (Millbrook Press). Written by Miranda Paul, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia tells the story of one woman who transformed her community.

    The book is set in Njau, Gambia. We meet a young girl, carrying fruit in her palm-leaf basket. When the girl’s basket breaks, she picks up a plastic bag that has flown by her, and she gathers her fruits in this bag. Eventually, she learns that it’s one of many plastic bags littering the landscape of the community where she lives.

    Years go by, and Isatou becomes a woman. “She barely notices the ugliness growing around her … until the ugliness finds it way to her,” the author writes. Her grandmother tells her that many goats are perishing after having eaten the plastic trash. Isatou and her friends decide to dry the bags and then cut the bags into strips. They then roll the strips into spools of plastic thread to use for the creation of purses. The women crochet with these plastic strips, and they do so away from the community — for fear they will be mocked. When they set out to sell the recycled purses (“fingers sore and blistered”), they discover that they sell well.

    A closing Author’s Note from Miranda explains how she once visited Gambia and actually visited with Isatou in her home in Njau. (They are pictured right.) The book’s back matter also includes a Wolof glossary and pronunciation guide, as well as a timeline and suggested further reading.

    Zunon herself grew up in the Ivory Coast in West Africa but now makes her home in Albany, New York. Her collaged, multi-media illustrations for this story are very textured and colorful, capturing well the transformation at the hands of Isatou.

    See for yourself. Here are some spreads from the book. Enjoy.


    (Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


    (Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


    “One woman lays dalasi coins on the table. She chooses a purse and shows it to one friend. Then two. Then ten. Soon everyone wants one!”
    (Click to enlarge)


    “…it was.”
    (Click to enlarge)


    ONE PLASTIC BAG: ISATOU CEESAY AND THE RECYCLING WOMEN OF THE GAMBIA. Copyright © 2014 by Miranda Paul. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Zunon. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Millbrook Press, Minneapolis.

    The photos of Elizabeth, Miranda, and Isatou are taken from Elizabeth’s website.

    Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

    * * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

    1) You know how at Thanksgiving people talk about gratitude? That is something we do here weekly. So, thanks to you all for meeting here to do that with me.

    2) It was really good yesterday to volunteer at Parnassus Books for Indies First Day. My friend and I, who did story time together, even hand-sold the book pictured here, Deirdre Gill’s Outside, after we read it to the children there that day. Their eyes got really big at the beautiful illustrations in this book, and there was one parent there who just had to have it.

    3) When the girls are off from school for the holidays, we have more time to read aloud together.

    4) This is a great conversation.

    5) The Star Wars teaser. I mean, RIGHT? You saw that, right?

    6) Invitations.

    7) Did you see this performance below on SNL last week? I see a CD purchase in my future.

    What are YOUR kicks this week?

    8 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #408: Featuring Elizabeth Zunon, last added: 12/1/2014
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    13. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Bárður Oskarsson

    “…’She is totally flat,’ said the rat.
    For a while they just stood there looking at her.”

    (Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


    This morning over at Kirkus, I write about the anniversary editions of Robie H. Harris’ It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health and It’s So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families. These informative and thorough books for children (must-haves for parents and children’s libraries) on sexual health and puberty have been updated for their birthdays this year. Both books are illustrated by Michael Emberley.

    That link will be here soon.

    * * *

    Last week, I wrote here about Bárður Oskarsson’s The Flat Rabbit, and I’m following up with some art today.


    “They went to the park to think. At least the dog was thinking –
    so hard that his brain was creaking. Where could they move her?
    And what if somebody found her and ate her? …”

    (Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


    “‘Watch the ears!’ said the dog, while carefully peeling her flat legs off the road.
    The rabbit was so thin, he was afraid she might tear. …”

    (Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


    “…The dog was quite proud of their excellent work,
    but the rat wasn’t convinced the tape would hold. …”

    (Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


    * * * * * * *

    THE FLAT RABBIT. Copyright © 2011 Bárður Oskarsson. Translation © 2014 Marita Thomsen. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher, Owlkids, Toronto.

    1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Bárður Oskarsson, last added: 11/29/2014
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    14. Star Stuff with Stephanie Roth Sisson

    Carl Sagan was prolific. He used to walk around with one of those tape recorders that had a strap and a microphone on a cord and record ideas when they came to him. Ideas just poured out of the guy. I love that image of him wandering around with this, recording his thoughts about this and that. I had many of [his] books to draw on, as well as television, radio, and print interviews. Mostly, I was looking for material that would capture the feeling that he left his audience with — that feeling of wonder and wanting to explore and find out more. ”

    * * *

    Today over at Kirkus, I chat with author-illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson, pictured above, about Star Stuff, her new picture book biography of Carl Sagan.

    That link will be here soon, and next week I’ll have some art from the book here at 7-Imp.

    * * * * * * *

    Photo of Stephanie Roth Sisson used by her permission.

    0 Comments on Star Stuff with Stephanie Roth Sisson as of 11/27/2014 11:48:00 AM
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    15. Happy Birthday to Let’s Get Busy!

    This morning at 7-Imp, I’m doing something a little bit different. Matthew Winner, who founded and runs the Let’s Get Busy podcast, is celebrating his 100th episode. He’s been visiting a few blogs to talk about his work, and today he has a cup of cyber-coffee with me to answer some questions about the wonderful resource that his podcast has become.

    Matthew is an elementary school librarian and also runs a blog called The Busy Librarian. Today we’re going to focus, though, on his informative podcast. (Lucky me, I even got to visit in August.) Those of you who read my May interview this year with author-illustrator Dan Santat may remember this moment:

    I’ve recently become addicted to Matthew Winner’s Let’s Get Busy podcast, where he interviews authors and illustrators in children’s publishing. Everyone should check that podcast out. … I think in about a year, when everyone catches on, it will be one of the most important media sites in the children’s publishing field.

    So, here’s Matthew. I thank him for visiting today and congratulate him on 100 episodes!

    Jules: What have been some of your LGB highlights and greatest joys this year?

    Matthew (pictured right): Seymour Simon told me he feels like a father figure to me and that he’s proud of me. Brian Won called me “The Ira Glass of Kidlit, only cooler.” A bunch of #KidLitArt pals invited me into their weekly Mario Kart 8 online tournaments. I’d say it’s been a pretty spectacular year for me.

    I feel like I could tell you something special about every single interview I’ve shared on the podcast thus far, but maybe the best way I can sum it up is to say that each interview brings with it something new. And there’s always at least one special moment in each of the conversations that makes a memory with me and that I end up sharing with others. I’ll give you an example: I recently interviewed Scott Campell (Episode 98) on his new picture book, Hug Machine. After a moment of gushing over his heartwarming story about a kid who is a champion for (and of) hugging, I told Scott that there was such a powerful sense of truth in his book’s text, and I asked if he himself was a hug machine. Shortly after I received my first and only virtual hug. It’s a moment that makes me smile so much and still it brings me back to his book. Near the end of the story there’s this great spread where the boy, in essence, gives the reader a hug. And on that page, in no uncertain way, Scott is hugging every single one of his readers. It’s awesome. And it’s a moment of the podcast that I know I’ll remember for a very long time.

    Jules: Did talking to any of the many illustrators and author-illustrators you interviewed this year change your view of picture books in any remarkable ways?

    Matthew: The work of authors and illustrators varies so much from person to person. We all know that. And yet I do find myself intrigued in hearing artists describe their process and how it’s changed over time. Lauren Castillo (Episode 100) published two books this year as an author-illustrator and both show such master of craft in the way she balances well-tempered words with these beautiful watercolors. I’m talking, of course, about The Troublemaker and Nana in the City. Her process includes writing a much more text-heavy manuscript, then editing it down as she creates dummies and considers her illustrations. It’s as if she’s split herself in two to work out the perfect balance of text and art. That just kind of blows my mind.

    I had a similar experience when I spoke with Nathan Hale (Episode 61), known most notably for his Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales graphic novel series. Nathan writes a full manuscript for every graphic novel before ever drawing a single sketch for the work. I mean, that’s amazing! He’s creating hundreds of drawings for his story with limited text, being that he tells much of his story through the art. And yet all of that is playing around up in his head and is captured, to oversimply his process, in what comes down to stage directions and art notes. Had you asked me prior to starting Let’s Get Busy about the way in which graphic novelists work, I never in a million years would have guessed that so many begin with a manuscript.

    Then there’s the way that Dan Santat (Episode 41) envisioned our imaginary friends as extensions of ourselves, taking various forms that mirror our own interests. I mean, REALLY! Would you have guessed that Beekle resembles a blank sheet of paper onto which brilliant ideas can be captured?

    Or that Bob Shea (Episode 23) designs each of his characters from a basic jellybean shape so that his readers can recreate his characters more easily?! My students and I spent an entire week drawing characters out of jellybean shapes when I learned that. First we started with Bob’s characters, and then we created ones of our own!

    Or that Raina Telgemeier (Episode 39) tries to build a hook into the last panel of each of her pages in order to get the reader to turn the page and stay engaged in the story? No wonder none of us can put her books down!

    Or that Chris Haughton has actually moved from creating his illustrations using a digital collage technique to working with cut and torn paper to create actual collage art for his newest picture book, Shh! We Have a Plan!

    If anything, I would say that hosting Let’s Get Busy has made me an even bigger fan of picture books. I marvel at the process and the technique that goes into creating these works of art, and I think about how very lucky I am to get to peek into these artists studios and learn more about the inspiration and journey that brought them to the finished product.

    Wait … did I answer your question? I hope I did.

    It’s all remarkable to me.

    Jules: If the sky were the limit, what’s one thing you wish you could do at your podcast, if anything?

    Matthew: I would love for a whole bunch of us kidlit fans and advocates and creators to build a network together of podcasts and YouTube channels and blogs and news outlets. I know that would be a huge undertaking, but I think having one large collective with a single entry site to access all of this truly awesome content would be incredible. I listen to this great podcast called The Nerdist (see my response to the next question for more back story). But The Nerdist has grown over the past several years into a network of podcasts, YouTube shows, articles and more really cool stuff, and the idea grew from connecting fans of the podcast with other content they might enjoy. That’s where I’d love to see Let’s Get Busy connect and grow. I’d love to find a more efficient way of connecting my listening audience with other podcasts and resources they might love and also to get Let’s Get Busy to the ears of people who might not know about it yet.

    I love being a part of Nerdy Book Club and all of the amazing connections I’ve made through that awesome collective, but it just wants me to help connect others in this kidlit community even more.

    Jules: Can you talk a bit about why you started the podcast?

    Matthew: I blame Travis Jonker, author of the 100 Scope Notes blog, for actually getting Let’s Get Busy started.

    One of my favorite things about attending library and reading conferences is getting to meet authors and illustrators and cartoonists. But something special happens when you get to hang out with those same people beyond the exhibition halls or artists alleys. Chances are that, if you sit down with anyone you find remotely interesting and have an earnest conversation with them for ten or more minutes, you’ve found yourself. And when you speak with authors and illustrators and cartoonists, the stories you start to hear often inform the stories these creative types create. It’s not always so direct, but it’s always something I find really fascinating.

    So when I was telling Travis Jonker this, as we were hanging out with other kidlit pals at a hotel bar in Chicago at a recent ALA conference, I related these conversations to one of my favorite podcasts, The Nerdist, in which the conversations with guests from all over the comedy, music, and movie scenes are informal and are given the time to breathe and get really interesting. Why not create something similar for the kidlit world where we’d get to hear these sincere interviews with authors and illustrators and then get to know and love their work even more so in the process?

    Travis said in so many words, “Sounds great! I would listen to that! When are you going to start?”

    Those words were the permission I needed to start Let’s Get Busy, a friend’s encouragement and validation of an idea. The rest is sort of history. I started interviewing my friends in the library and publishing worlds. After each interview I would ask my guest to make a recommendation of whom I should talk to next. From there, the connections have grown far and wide but have always maintained a sense of family and closeness. That’s a quality I hope the podcast never loses.

    Jules: What’s your favorite thing about podcasting? What drives you to keep doing it?

    Matthew: I learn something new with each person that I talk to. And I get to talk to people I never expected this small town school librarian to brush elbows with. And I get to be a fan of my guests’ works without having to filter or hide it. And it’s maybe the most fun thing I’ve ever been involved with. Okay… that’s an awful lot of sentences ending with articles, but it’s all to say that the thing that drives me to keep podcasting is that every conversation is like a gift that I’ve been given that I get to love and cherish and then share with someone new. Each guest, whether it’s someone whose work I know well or if it’s a person who just happens to be best mates with a recent guest, every single guest has been a pure joy to chat with. I’m glad I get to be the guy behind the mic on this one. And I’m grateful for the couple of people who are listening.

    Jules: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

    Matthew: I’m a super slow reader. That’s probably why I don’t have more middle grade or YA authors on the podcast. It’s so hard for me to read through their books in time for the interview and it makes me feel really, really bad. I’ll talk to anyone and I’m really, really good at starting books. Ha!

    Oh! And for a non-booky thing, I’m teaching myself to play banjo. I inherited a banjo from my wife’s grandfather, and I try to play a little bit every day. It’s been almost a year now, and I’m still struggling with my finger-picking, but I figure by the time I have a picture book contract of my own, I maybe—just maybe—will be able to write some sort of awesome song for the book trailer.

    * * * * * * *

    Photo of Matthew and images from the podcast are used by permission of Matthew Winner.

    2 Comments on Happy Birthday to Let’s Get Busy!, last added: 11/27/2014
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    16. A Moment with the Art of Lisbeth Zwerger


    I’ve got some art here at 7-Imp today from Austrian illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger.

    First up are Zwerger’s illustrations—originally created in 2009, I believe—from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, an edition of the story retold by Renate Raecke and translated by Anthea Bell. This was just released in September by Michael Neugebauer Publishing, a.k.a. Minedition. The Kirkus review writes: “This strange and unsettling tale is made all the stranger and more unsettling by Zwerger’s spare, isolated figures in their pale interiors and landscapes.” Today feels like a good day to share such a story, as it seems the entirety of the U.S. feels unsettled — given the news, that is, leaving us heavy-hearted.

    Also from Minedition is Zwerger’s vision of The Night Before Christmas. This was released last month, a book with a small, cozy trim size and Zwerger’s take on Clement Clark Moore’s famous poem, first published in the 1800s. Zwerger’s illustrations were originally created in 2005. Pictured above are Dasher, Dancer, and part of the rest of St. Nick’s crew. Pictured right is the man himself, trying to cheer us up.

    I’m glad, in both cases, that Minedition has released these new editions. I’m always pleased to see Zwerger’s artwork. She’s one of those illustrators who made me want to study children’s literature. In fact, if you’re a fan too, you may be happy to know this has been released. The copy I ordered finally arrived. In the Foreword, Peter Sís writes: “Her art flows and shines.” Yes, what he said.



    From The Pied Piper of Hamelin:


    “At first only a few rats came, enticed by all the delicious things to eat in the houses
    of Hamelin, but soon there were more and more of them.”

    “One day in the year 1284—so the old legend says—a strange man appeared in Hamelin. He was a striking figure, wearing a parti-colored or ‘pied’ robe
    such as the townspeople had never seen before.”

    “All over town he went, up streets and down alleys, and wherever his music was heard the rats came scurrying out of kitchen and cellars, storerooms and stables,
    to follow the Pied Piper.”

    “The sorrowful parents hurried out of town to search for their lost children.
    All the mothers and fathers were weeping and wailing. …”


    From The Night Before Christmas:


    “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow /
    Gave a luster of mid-day to objects below …”

    “He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot …”

    “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work …”



    * * * * * * *

    THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. North American edition published 2014 by Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd., Hong Kong. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

    THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN. North American edition published 2014 by Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd., Hong Kong. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

    8 Comments on A Moment with the Art of Lisbeth Zwerger, last added: 11/27/2014
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    17. Indies First Day

    See this?

    It’s IndieBound’s list, by state, of which authors and illustrators will appear at their local indies as volunteers on Saturday, November 29, for Indies First Day. Nashville folks, I’ll be volunteering at Parnassus Books from 10 to 11, and I’ll do story time during that hour with my friend, author Jessica Young. Bring your wee ones to us!

    Sherman Alexie started Indies First Day last year, encouraging authors to work a shift in their local independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday. This year, Indies First is being spearheaded by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.

    Hope to see you there!

    1 Comments on Indies First Day, last added: 11/24/2014
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    18. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #407: Featuring August Hall

    “Foxes, wolves, deer nest too. Forest knows waking, opening up.”
    (Click to enlarge spread)


    I always look forward to new picture book releases from Kentucky novelist and poet, George Ella Lyon. I reviewed her newest picture book, What Forest Knows (Atheneum, November 2014), illustrated by August Hall, for BookPage. That link is here, if you’d like to read more about it. And today I’m sharing some spreads from it.

    While we’re on the subject of Lyon, I’m also currently reading this wonderful book, which she wrote with J. Patrick Lewis and which was released by WordSong last month:

    There’s more about the book here, including several starred reviews, and here’s an interview with Lyon at Sylvia Vardell’s site.

    Here are two more spreads from What Forest Knows:


    “Then forest knows snow. While Earth travels round the sun
    Forest knows each season, each creature, needs the others.”

    (Click to enlarge spread)


    Sniff. Forest knows everything belongs.”
    (Click to enlarge spread)


    WHAT FOREST KNOWS. Copyright © 2014 by George Ella Lyon. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by August Hall. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York.

    Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

    * * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

    1) Naomi Shihab Nye. One of my favorite writers, and this interview from this week is wonderful. Also, I’m excited to start her new book, which I just got.

    2) While we’re discussing Naomi, she wrote my favorite poem.

    3) This made me laugh:

    4) Gantos has a Tumblr!

    5) I have ordered this book and am really eager to see it.

    6) Ditto for this one.

    7) My 9-year-old’s second-ever piano recital.

    BONUS: A friend told me to check out Gravity Falls. It’s a hoot and makes everyone in the family laugh. Also, I love Mabel.

    What are YOUR kicks this week?

    8 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #407: Featuring August Hall, last added: 11/23/2014
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    19. Cartoon-Me Interviews Red Panda and Hippo …

    As you can see, I’m doing something totally different today.

    That’s the cartoonized version of me up there, interviewing the two main characters of an upcoming graphic novel for children, called Hippopotamister. Springing from the mind of comics creator John Green (pictured right), who lives in Brooklyn and is best known for Teen Boat, his collaboration with Dave Roman, Hippopotamister is Green’s solo debut. It’s a comic geared at younger children and tells the story of Hippo and his friend, Red Panda (who are pictured above). They live in the city zoo but head out to get jobs in the bustling world of humans. (Hippo becomes the titular Hippopotamister — just to survive out in the big city.) Red Panda finds the occupational world challenging, and even though Hippo excels at each job he secures, Red Panda manages to get them fired. The book is scheduled for an early-2016 release from First Second.

    You can read a great process essay from John here at School Library Journal, as well as this interview at The Beat. (P.S. Mr. Schu got cartoonized, too.)

    I thank John for visiting. This makes the second time I’ve interviewed wise-talkin’ animals. (Punk Farm was my first.)

    * * * * * * *

    Art is copyright © 2014 by John Green and used by his permission.

    Photo of John Green taken by Ellen B. Wright.

    3 Comments on Cartoon-Me Interviews Red Panda and Hippo …, last added: 11/17/2014
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    20. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Floyd Cooper

    “… With every bend, I hope. / With every plié, / every turn, /
    every grand jeté, I hope. …”

    (Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)


    This morning over at Kirkus, I write about
    Russell Hoban’s Jim’s Lion. It’s been re-imagined as a graphic novel with the illustrations of Alexis Deacon. That link is here.

    * * *

    Last week, I wrote here about Kristy Dempsey’s A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Today, I’ve got some spreads from the book.


    “Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky, / with the factories spilling out / pillars of smoke / and streetlights spreading / bright halos round their pin-top faces. …”
    (Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)


    “Mama says wishing on stars is a waste anyhow, / says you don’t need
    stars in the sky / to make your dreams come true. / Hope can pick your dream up,
    she says, / off the floor of your heart, / when you think it can’t happen, / no how,
    no way, / though unlike wishing / Mama says / hoping / is hard work. …”

    (Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)


    “In my heart I’m the one leaping / across that stage, / raising myself high on those shoulders, / then falling / slowly / slowly / slowly / to the arms below. …”
    (Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)



    * * * * * * *

    A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT: ONE BALLERINA’S DREAM. Copyright © 2014 by Kristy Dempsey. Illustrations © 2014 by Floyd Cooper. Published by Philomel, New York. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

    1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Floyd Cooper, last added: 11/15/2014
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    21. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #406: Featuring Alex Barrow

    “This tale begins with Samuel Drew, wherever he goes, his dog goes too.
    The day is fine, the sky is bright, as Sam and dog stroll into sight.
    Look there he is, the little boy with dog-on-wheels, his favourite toy.
    Let’s watch and find out where they go … But hurry up — we can’t be slow!”

    (Click to enlarge)


    This week over at BookPage, I have a review of Gabby Dawnay’s A Possum’s Tail, illustrated by Alex Barrow. The two have worked together on stories and poems for the UK’s OKIDO magazine, and this is their first picture book together. It was published this month from Tate Publishing in London but is distributed by Abrams here in the States.

    The review is here, so you can head over there if you want more information. This morning, I share two spreads so that we can all get a sneak peek inside the book. One more is below.

    “…London Zoo! They pass the cheeky chimpanzees and noisy parrots in the trees.
    Past hippos snoozing in the sun and sliding penguins having fun.
    Past sleeping snakes and tigers snoring, tall giraffes and lions roaring …
    Sam looks around, he knows his mind, he knows exactly where to find …”

    (Click to enlarge)



    A POSSUM’S TAIL. Copyright © 2014 by Gabby Dawnay. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Alex Barrow. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Tate Publishing/Abrams.

    Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

    * * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

    1) I spoke in Knoxville this week about Wild Things—at a bookstore and at the University—and that went well.

    2) I got to see old friends, while there.

    3) I read B. J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures at story time at Parnassus Books just yesterday, and one little girl, a regular whom I always enjoy seeing, laughed so hard that her whole body shook.

    4) Since we got a galley of the fourth Penderwicks book, the girls and I are re-reading books 1 to 3 (mostly to refresh our memories). And they are having so. much. fun. Even more fun than the first time. I am enjoying the re-reads but am super eager to get to the new one.

    5) We are also reading the Joey Pigza books, which I may have already said recently, but it’s truly a kick to read Gantos’ writing outloud. Also, I’ve decided Grandma is one of children’s literature’s best characters ever. (Books 1 to 4 are re-reads for me, but they’re all new to the girls, who now love Joey. When we’re done with the fourth, the brand-new one awaits, the one I haven’t read yet. I’m eager to get to that, too.)

    6) The score in the TV show The Leftovers. I also really like the show itself thus far, though it’s often deeply sad and though the title makes me giggle every time. It makes me think of things like meatloaf. In fact, I’ve just been referring to it as Meatloaf, though really and truly, the episodes I’ve seen so far have been good.

    7) Nashville’s Kidlit Drink Night. So good to see folks there. AND to have the Local Latte, because honey, cinnamon, milk, coffee … YUM.

    What are YOUR kicks this week?

    10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #406: Featuring Alex Barrow, last added: 11/17/2014
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    22. My Chapter 16 chat with G. Neri …


    Over at Chapter 16 today, I talk with author G. Neri about his new picture book biography, Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, illustrated by A. G. Ford.

    That Q&A is here.

    0 Comments on My Chapter 16 chat with G. Neri … as of 11/17/2014 1:17:00 PM
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    23. Sci Fi Before Breakfast: A Visit with Tony DiTerlizziand Some Bonus Art from Ralph McQuarrie

    An early sketch of Otto from DiTerlizzi’s WondLa trilogy
    (Click to enlarge)


    Ralph McQuarrie’s art from
    Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight by Tony DiTerlizzi


    Caldecott Honor illustrator and author Tony DiTerlizzi is visiting 7-Imp this morning for an in-his-own-words type of piece, meaning I’m going to hand the site over to him to share some art and talk about his new books. I asked him about wrapping up his WondLa trilogy, which he just completed; Book III,

    The Battle for WondLa, was released in May. In this third and final installment of the illustrated science fiction fantasy trilogy, Eva Nine is on the run — yet is the only one capable of bringing peace to the humans and aliens of Orbona.

    I also asked Tony what it was like to be asked to adapt the original Star Wars trilogy into a picture book for children, which is precisely what Lucasfilm asked him to do. The book, Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, features the existing artwork of concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, who was the artist behind the original Star Wars trilogy, and was released by Disney Lucasfilm Press in October.

    Tony shares some process sketches and final art from WondLa, as well as some spreads from the Star Wars picture book adaptation. Here’s Tony in his own words, and I thank him for visiting.


    * * * On WondLa * * *


    The WondLa trilogy was a tale I’d had in my mind for over a decade. It came to me in the late 1990s as I was developing The Spiderwick Chronicles backstory. In Spiderwick, I was fascinated by the idea of a story from the past coming forward in time to the present. As I pondered this notion, I explored in the other direction and asked myself, “Could I also pull a story from the future back to the present?”


    Characters in development: Eva Nine, Rovender Kitt, Muthr, Besteel
    (Click each to enlarge)


    Over the years, as I mulled over the plot and characters, several momentous events happened in my life: I tasted success, turned 40, and my daughter was born. WondLa soon became more than just a futuristic fairy tale –- it became a window to my thoughts, joys, and concerns as a parent. Consequently, the story asks a lot of questions: Are we the best caretakers for the planet? Are we alone in the universe? What happens when we die? In the end, the story offers no answers. For me, those are the stories that stick with you long after you read the last page.


    “By dusk, a heavy fog had fallen upon the land, concealing it as far as Eva could see. From her vantage point atop Otto, she thought the mist below looked like a dark treacherous sea, and her mount was her faithful ship, The Mighty Otto.
    Even in the dense murk she could still see Muthr, for the pale light of the Omnipod illuminated the robot’s form as she rolled alongside them.”
    – From Book I,
    The Search for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    “With great force Rovender Kitt pushed the time-forgotten door open. A dank, musty smell greeted the explorers as they peered into the pitch-black room. Rovender nodded, then went in. Eva followed and found herself in an expansive round room.”
    – From Book I,
    The Search for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    I thought I knew what WondLa was going to be about when I set out to pen the first book, but throughout the six years it took me to write and illustrate the trilogy, experiences in my life shaped the story. I am thankful for that. It may be skinned in a slick science-fiction veneer, but underneath the theme of WondLa is very tangible: Where is home and what defines family?


    “…It was like looking into a warped mirror. Aside from the shorter hair, Eva Eight looked like an older version of Eva, complete with perfect porcelain features.”
    – Sketch from Book II,
    A Hero for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    “A gawky alien in a flight suit stood on four thin rubbery legs
    watching Eva’s every move.”
    – From Book II,
    A Hero for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    “The rider entered the campsite, a young Caerulean seated in the munt-runner’s saddle. His mount’s wild scarlet eyes dilated as they neared the firelight.”
    – Sketch from Book II,
    A Hero for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    “‘Before you go, I want to give you something.’ Rovender pulled off the frayed cord from around his waist. ‘Your cord from the council?’”
    – From Book II,
    A Hero for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    Classics such as Peter Pan & Wendy, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz inspired me. Like those fairy tales, WondLa centers on a female protagonist, Eva Nine, who leaves home and ventures into a wonderworld of strange characters. The story also draws inspiration from the fantastic science fiction genre seen in films, such as Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.


    Cover art from Book III, The Battle for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    “‘Will he be okay?’ Eva ran her hands over the scorched claws of the fallen guard.”
    – Sketch and final art from Book III,
    The Battle for WondLa
    (Click each to enlarge)



    “‘You are a mother with eggs, aren’t you?’”
    – Sketch from Book III,
    The Battle for WondLa
    (Click to enlarge)


    Because it is an imaginary setting, I relied heavily on my talents as an artist to illustrate Eva’s adventures. The intense world-building I had created in character and plot now continued on a visual level. From the design of the main characters and the places they visit to the artifacts they use, everything in Eva’s universe help convey the concepts and themes of the story. This is where my background in working on the Dungeons & Dragons game paid off. For D&D, I was required to do all sorts of world design, while I illustrated the various adventure modules and monster manuals. I had no idea then how invaluable that experience would be for me as an aspiring author and illustrator for children’s literature.

    [Tony talks in the above video about the WondLa books,
    if you'd like to see even more art from the trilogy]


    * * * On Star Wars * * *


    Last year, I was contacted by Lucasfilm to adapt the original Star Wars trilogy into a picture book format for young readers, using the existing artwork of concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity (after I picked myself up from the floor).

    As I mentioned, WondLa—as well as other stories I’ve created, including Spiderwick—were inspired by the films of George Lucas. To be asked to retell the tale of my childhood hero, Luke Skywalker, was an incredible honor for me. It validated me as an established storyteller for children.


    “The Imperial fighters blew apart as the Millennium Falcon
    fired on them from overhead. …”

    (Click to enlarge)


    I approached the project as a parent who grew up on these films and as a kid who may be enjoying them for the first time. Of the film’s many themes, I had to find one that would work best for a picture book. Like WondLa, I focused on the importance of family.

    As it is with many classic protagonists, Luke Skywalker starts out an orphan. Through his intergalactic journey, he transforms from farm boy to Jedi knight, but he also reunites with his sister and saves his father. That is powerful stuff when you stop and think about it. I believe Luke accomplishes this by remaining optimistic throughout his adventure. And not just in his own situation but also in how he views others: he’d rather try to turn his father, Darth Vader, to the good side of the Force than strike him down. That’s a story I want to share with young readers.


    “…Unclipping himself from the harpoon, Luke dropped down to the soft snow below. The walker continued on its mechanical march.”
    (Click to enlarge)


    I wrote the first draft of the book from memory, while looking at Ralph’s incredible images. I remembered that, as a kid of the 1970s, Star Wars didn’t establish its hold on me through repeated viewings of the film. In fact, it wasn’t released on VHS tape until the mid-1980s. Instead, it captured my imagination through play. Whether I was dressed up as Luke Skywalker or having an adventure with my Kenner action figures, the Star Wars universe was a place I frequented many times.


    “…The next morning, Luke arrived at the palace. With weapons drawn,
    Jabba’s gang surrounded him. …”

    (Click to enlarge)


    I tapped into that childhood memory while writing the text for this book. By highlighting favorite lines from the film and through the use of onomatopoeia, I tried to recapture the excitement felt when I first traveled to a galaxy far, far away. I hope readers, young and old, feel the same way.



    * * * * * * *

    All artwork above is reproduced by permission of Tony DiTerlizzi and Disney Lucasfilm Press.

    1 Comments on Sci Fi Before Breakfast: A Visit with Tony DiTerlizziand Some Bonus Art from Ralph McQuarrie, last added: 11/19/2014
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    24. Hook, Heidi, and Hendrix

    “Though she couldn’t tell for certain from her vantage point, Jocelyn did not expect to find a single corset on the entire island. She was utterly charmed. Even so, the girl knew that somewhere down there, amidst all the wonder, a terrible beast was waiting. Reminds me a bit of my first wedding day.”


    Just last week, dear Imps, I chatted over at Kirkus with author Heidi Schulz about her debut novel, Hook’s Revenge (Disney-Hyperion, September 2014), illustrated by John Hendrix. That link is here, but I wanted to follow up with some art from Hendrix today. Above and below are some of his interior illustrations from the book.



    “‘Don’t die,’ he said. ‘What fun would that be? For me, I mean?’
    She reached over and gave him a little shove. ‘This is serious.’
    ‘Oh yes. Serious. I can tell.’ He arranged his face into mock gravity.”


    “If you have ever felt a bit nervous about a task before you—such as walking past a snarling dog on your way to school, confessing to your mother that you broke her favorite Royal Family commemorative plate, or needing to dig up and rebury a body on a cold, dark night—you may have an idea of how Jocelyn felt
    as she seated herself in the little boat.”


    “The beast looked confused. It snapped its jaws in first one direction, then another.
    A third attack followed, then a fourth. Though no blood flowed, the archers finally succeeded in driving the monster away. It hissed at Jocelyn once more before lumbering off through the jungle.”


    “‘So you took up the challenge.’ His deep, rich voice held the edge of a sneer.
    ‘I didn’t expect you would.’ Jocelyn spoke past the lump forming in her throat.
    ‘You asked me to. Your letter said it was my inheritance.’”


    * * * * * * *

    HOOK’S REVENGE. Copyright © 2014 by Heidi Schulz. Illustrations © 2014 by John Hendrix. Published by Disney-Hyperion, New York. Illustrations used by permission of John Hendrix.

    1 Comments on Hook, Heidi, and Hendrix, last added: 11/20/2014
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    25. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Alexis Deacon

    (Click to enlarge)


    This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Bárður Oskarsson’s The Flat Rabbit, released by Owlkids Books in September. That link is here.

    Last week, I wrote about Russell Hoban’s Jim’s Lion, which has been re-imagined as a graphic novel (Candlewick, November 2014) with the illustrations of Alexis Deacon. That link is here, and above and below are some spreads from the book, as well as the cover of the 2001 picture book with art from Ian Andrew.


    (Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


    * * * * * * *

    JIM’S LION. Text copyright © 2014 by Russell Hoban. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Alexis Deacon. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books London.

    3 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Alexis Deacon, last added: 11/23/2014
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