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<<November 2014>>
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Results 26 - 50 of 6,289
26. 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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27. PiBoIdMo Day 15: Floyd Cooper Walks Outside at Midnight

Floyd-Cooper-headshotby Floyd Cooper

I find inspiration in the oddest of places, at the oddest of times. Looking back after having illustrated about 100 picture books, of which only five I have also written, I find that I have been most inspired by things visual. Early in my developing years my mom told me stories or read to me and I would visualize her words. Picturing the tales as she spoke was easy and second nature. It would not change for me, the visualizing, as I began to read myself. I would also digest and consume visual media such as magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Life, and Ebony. Comic books didn’t escape my attention, in particular Mad Magazine, DC Comics and Marvel.

Movies and television also provided visual stimuli to my budding imagination and I consumed everything within my orbit. There were periods in my youth when my household had no TV or the money for a movie or a new book. My imagination was forced to fly solo, on automatic pilot as it were. Seeking ways to keep the entertainment going, I would look at my surroundings in unusual ways like hanging my head over the edge of the sofa upside down and imagine walking through the house as if it were turned topsy- turvy.

I would zoom in real close to a clump of grass and dirt and visualize moving through this landscape as a tiny scout until a lazy beetle or hasty ant would come by and chase me from my daydream.

And I would draw and paint!


I would construct scenarios in my head about my siblings and gain revenge for perceived misdeeds and come out the hero in the end. My imagination didn’t skip a beat! These exercises helped develop the ability to easily and without much effort, create a narrative from nothing. To keep my imaginative acuity stretchy and fluid. But with all of this early cognitive stimulus, my career as an illustrator and the field in which I now work and make my life, making picture books, presents such pressure on the imagination, taxing the ability to produce day in, day out, book to book, original fresh ideas and visions on demand that eventually it became more and more difficult to stay inspired.

It began to take longer and longer for the muse to come.


Deadlines, editorial demands and even the trim size and gutters of the book became limits and hindrances to the creative process. The pressure of producing art in a stifling environment became the norm and began to take a toll. One day I sat down at my table and could not move forward. I had reached the point of burn-out! My instincts told me to get away. This is how I discovered the powers of walking outside at midnight. A midnight walk outside in any given season you’ll find the mind takes a rest from the pressures of production and allows the doors of the brain to fling wide open with the breezes of inspiration! It matters not whether country or town, noisy or quiet, as long as you can see the sky in it’s velvet caress. You may even catch a glimpse of the Muse’s own shadow, flitting about on the peripheral. Try it! Think hard about what you want to produce be it picture or prose. Then get up! Walk out into the night giving it not a single thought more. You will find upon your return, the sprouts of fresh ideas ready to grow and…

I can be inspired sometimes with a single image that will be so full of emotion as to lead to several more paintings and even the entire book.


I can be inspired by a visit to a museum or gallery with masterworks on display.

I can be inspired with rejection of my idea.



The image above was to be cut from the book when my sketch was unclear and the editors thought the ballet master’s hands belonged to the little girl. I poured a little more into the art after that!




The one thing that inspires me most, more than midnight walks, more than a museum, even more than rejection is……

A text that sings, that embraces my imagination and injects it with energy. Good story inspires great art!



Floyd Cooper has illustrated more than 100 children’s books and has been honored with the Coretta Scott King award for his work. He recently released MAX AND THE TAG-ALONG MOON, one of only five books he both wrote and illustrated.


On being a children’s author Floyd says, “Giving kids a positive alternative to counteract the negative impact of what is conveyed in today’s media is a huge opportunity.” Floyd lives in Pennsylvania with his wife (and agent) Velma and two sons.

You can view the full scope of his work at FloydCooper.com.

10 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 15: Floyd Cooper Walks Outside at Midnight, last added: 11/15/2014
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28. Illustrator Saturday – Maja Sereda

majaMaja Sereda has illustrated number of picture books published in English, Afrikaans and other African languages. She has received 3 ATKV awards for best illustration (category ages 3–6) in 2008, 2009, 2011. And her book A kite’s flight written by W. Gumede won the Crystal Kite member’s choice award for the Africa region, 2011. Her latest book La Grande Fleur, written by Yves Pinguilly, was published in France (2013).

Maja tackles each project with great passion and enthusiasm, which she best communicates through her fun and quirky illustrations. Maja works in soft pastels as well as digital media. She loves drawing all creatures great and small, including little children!

Here is Maja explaining her process:

maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 01

I create a sketch for my illustration using a colour pencil on 60gsm paper.
maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 02

The sketch is scanned and rough colour dropped in.

maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 03

I trace image onto final pastel paper and start pasteling.

maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 04

I always work from left to right or from the center outwards in order not to smudge the pastel. It is a very delicate medium.

maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 05

To create details I use pastel pencils, whereas for the fine outlines I once again bring in a colour pencil. Most often a brown.

maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 06

Background is drawn last.

maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 07

Final Illustration

maja sereda wild strawberry mouse step 08

Below: Snow Games written by Joanna Marple (www.utales.com) 2012



la grande fleur cover

La Grande Fleur was published in France by Oscar Editeur in 2013.


The book was part of the French/South African season.

maja sereda grande fleur 3 2013 590px

La Grande Fleur interior art.


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating books since 2007.


What made your family move from Poland to South Africa when you were young?

My dad received a work contract and decided to take it. It was supposed to be a temporary move, but I fell in love with South Africa and persuaded my family to stay.


Have you ever gone back to Poland?

I like to visit from time to time. I still have family and primary school friends living in Poland.


What University did you attend and what did you study?

I studied BA (Information Design) aka graphic design at University of Pretoria.


What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

I did a number of illustration jobs while working in the design/advertising industry, such as story boarding or product drawings. I believe the very first paid illustration job was my first book.


What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

I moved to Dublin, Ireland for a year where I worked for a marketing company as a junior art director.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

It was in my final year of studies. I realized that I’ve chosen the wrong field. Design was simply not for me. It took me a few years before I could start freelancing and working as a full time illustrator.


How many picture books have you illustrated?

Approximately 17 picture books, however I’m not counting illustration work done for educational books.


Were any of them published by a US Publisher?

Unfortunately not, however I’m hoping it will happen one day soon. I’m always dreaming and wishing.


What was the first picture book that you illustrated? And how did that contract come your way?

My sister put me in touch with a client who wanted to illustrate a story that her father wrote. It was small private project. Out of that book, an illustration of mine title ‘catching rabbits’ was born, which I sent to a local South African publisher. They replied immediately and asked me to pitch for a book. I had my first real book contract within in a week. I was over the moon.


How do you connect with art directors and editors and find illustration work?

So far I’ve been very lucky. Work finds me. Nevertheless, from time to time I do like to contact a publisher via email and send them my updated portfolio.


Are you represented by artist agency? If so, who? If not would you like to find one?

I’m not represented by anyone at the moment and I am currently looking for US representation. In South Africa, the market is very small and a freelance illustrator can easily approach publishers directly.


It looks like you have illustrated books in many different languages. How do publishers help you work with a book that is written in another language?

Even though my Afrikaans isn’t very good, I do understand it and therefore am able to read a manuscript without translation. Many of the other African languages are sent to me with the English translation. I’m currently studying French. One of my latest books LA GRANDE FLEUR written by Yves Pinguilly, was also translated for me into English.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

I do regular work for a local magazine Hoezit! It is also an Afrikaans publication.


Have you done any work for educational publishers?

I work for educational publishers on a regular basis. This work however doesn’t inspire me and therefore doesn’t feature in my portfolio. I prefer to work on picture books for young children.


What is your favorite medium to use to do your illustrations?

At the moment, it’s soft pastels. I simply love the medium – the intensity and variety of colour is incredible. Most of my recent work has been done in pastels. In the past, I’ve worked with gouache, acrylic, ink, oil and Photoshop.


Has that changed over time?

I have grown a lot as an illustrator, I don’t think one ever stops growing and learning. When I started illustrating my focus was simply on creating sweet, quirky illustrations, but now I’m leaning more and more towards fantasy and also more personal work.


What do you consider is your first big success?

My first book received an award for best illustration, it definitely inspired me to keep going.


Do you ever want to write and illustrate a picture book?

Yes, mostly definitely. I write and sketch ideas often – my big aim is to set aside some time and only focus on doing my own book. Perhaps this coming year! Recent trip to Reunion Island was very inspiring and I would like to use some of the incredible imagery in my book.


Would you be open to working with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?

Yes, and I have in the past although these projects are often tricky. There is the issue of budget, quality of the writing, etc.



Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

I take photographs, I search the web, look through books. Research is vital for any project.


Do you think your Polish roots or the South African culture is reflected in your art?

Little bit of both, however I do feel a stronger connection with my polish roots.




What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

I have so many things, it’s difficult to choose! Pastels of course, but also colouring pencils. I find them fantastic to sketch with, much better than the graphite pencil.


Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

As much as I can, but I don’t have a specific number of hours in mind. I also believe it’s good to take breaks from drawing and creating. I love spending time behind the camera lens as well, especially photographing birds and insects.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely. Hasn’t it for everyone? It is incredible how we are all connected, we share our work and meet fantastic people online.


Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop for my digital artwork. I also use to help me plan layouts.


Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

Yes, I use a Wacom tablet.


Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I have many dreams, it’s hard to summarize them all here. Ideally I want to have the freedom to write and illustrate my own books. Also create a product line using my art.


What are you working on now?

I have one or two potential books to create. I’m still deciding which one to take on.


Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I love using 60gsm layout paper for sketching because it’s slightly transparent. I can always overlay my sketches and work over them.


Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Work hard, believe in your dream, make sure that the work you produce is of high quality and then be brave. Not everyone is going to be a fan of your work, but sometimes you simply have to look for the right audience.


Thank you Maja for sharing your journey and process with us. Please let us know all your future successes. We’d love to hear about them and cheer you on. You can see more of Maja’s work on www.childrensillustrators.com/majasereda and see more of  her portfolio on:  http://www.facebook.com/MajaSeredaIllustration

If you have a moment I am sure Maja would like to read your comments. I enjoy reading them, too, even if I don’t always have time to reply. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, illustrating, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process Tagged: Illustrator Journey, Maja Sereda, University of Pretoria

6 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Maja Sereda, last added: 11/16/2014
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29. 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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30. Picture Book Month: Hooray for Hat by Brian Won

Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

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About the Book: Elephant wakes up feeling grumpy. Until a delivery arrives at his door and a new hat cheers him up. Elephant wants to share his hat and along the way cheers up his friends.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I'm a sucker for retro-style illustrations. There's just something about them that make me feel happy. Hooray for Hat! features what could be called some retro-style illustrations and it fits the book perfectly.

Elephant is grumpy but his hat cheers him up. He visits his friends throughout the day and cheering them up with a hat of their own. The text is simple and the illustrations are bright and simple and not distracting making this a great storytime book. There's also a nice repetitive refrain of "Hooray for Hat" that kids can cheer along as the animals become happy.

This is a great story of how a simple act of kindness can make someone's day. This would be a great book to talk to kids about being kind, helping others, and paying it forward.

I've used this one in storytime a few times this year and each time I've read it it's been a bit hit. The kids catch on quickly to saying "hooray for hat" excitedly with each animal. And the joy the animals experience in sharing their gifts expands to the kids. The illustrations catch the expressions of the animals perfectly and the kids can see that and they get just as happy as each animal gets a new hat.

A fun picture book debut that is a great storytime addition.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from final copy borrowed from library

0 Comments on Picture Book Month: Hooray for Hat by Brian Won as of 11/14/2014 9:13:00 AM
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31. Cats Are Cats – Perfect Picture book Friday

Title: Cats Are Cats Written and illustrated by: Valeri Gorbachev Published By: Holiday House, 2014. Themes/Topics: cats, pets, tigers, fish Suitable for ages: 3-5 Opening:                                     … Continue reading

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32. PiBoIdMo Day 14: Barbara Krasner Goes for Truth (plus a prize!)

barbarakrasnerby Barbara Krasner

In a million years I’d never have thought my first children’s book would be a picture book. While I was working mostly on YA historical novels during my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, a friend teased and said picture books would be my future.

I write picture book biographies. Well, no, that’s not quite right. I write picture book historical fiction, because I invent dialogue based on real-life stories. And I did the unthinkable in my picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade—I wrote it in first person. The version I submitted to publisher Kar-Ben, the Jewish imprint of Lerner Publishing, was 1400 words (don’t worry, it got slashed).

There was no other way to write about Golda than in first person, because her voice was so strong. I had many other picture book drafts, but I knew I had something special with Golda. It all began when I was attending two weeks of retreat at the Highlights Foundation. Between the two weeks I had to attend an event at the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. I perused the shelves at the Highlights farmhouse and saw Golda’s autobiography, My Life (which I learned recently she didn’t write). Over the weekend, I read it and found a snippet about how as a child, Golda staged a fundraising event in Milwaukee, where she and her family had settled as immigrants from Russia, to buy schoolbooks for classmates. She mentioned a newspaper article had appeared about the event. Back home, I contacted the Jewish Historical Society of Milwaukee and the archivist knew exactly which article I was talking about. He sent it to me.

I wrote the draft on a Saturday night. Initially, I wrote it in third person, but that didn’t seem quite right. When I changed to first, the voice and story fell into place. I interpreted a true event but had to fill in the gaps to present the problem Golda and her friends faced. I invented dialogue. But the event itself was true and documented.

Goldie Takes a Stand (2)

I drafted the story in October 2011. I took it to workshops. I submitted the manuscript to Kar-Ben the following April and received an offer in June 2012. The book was published in August 2014.

I had been researching the story of the MS St. Louis since 2010, when I interviewed eight survivors of the ill-fated voyage. In 1939, this ship of nearly 1,000 German-Jewish refugees left Germany for safe haven from Nazism in Cuba. But when it arrived there, the passengers weren’t allowed to disembark. Denied refuge, the ship roamed the Atlantic until a philanthropic organization negotiated landing in Antwerp and distribution of the passengers to England, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium.


One of the women I interviewed, Liesl Joseph Loeb, was the daughter of the head of the passenger committee. I wrote a middle-grade narrative, but the story was difficult to tell, because so much happened that children on board wouldn’t have known about. Then it dawned on me to focus on Liesl in a picture book. That became Liesl’s Ocean Rescue, coming out very soon from Gihon River Press, a specialized Holocaust publisher. Again, I took dramatic license with Liesl’s story, but it is based on her interview and true events.

 What I learned is absolutely true:

  1. Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel quite right, change it.
  2. Make a weakness a strength. Some publishers rejected my manuscript, because it was in first person. I decided to make that my story’s strength.
  3. Keep trying. I graduated from VCFA in 2006. Eight years later my first children’s book appeared. I still have those YA historical novels under the bed. Maybe they’ll make it out some day, but for right now, my focus is on picture book biographies.
  4. Get your manuscript vetted. Even though my picture books are fictionalized, they are based on true events. I needed to find subject matter experts who could vet the manuscripts.
  5. Write a biography only if the subject wrote an autobiography. Since these two picture books, I’ve drafted a few biographies, now with my agent. But these stories are true—and are in first person.


Barbara Krasner holds an M.B.A. in Marketing from Rutgers University and an M.F.A. in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). She is currently an adjunct professor in the English department at William Paterson University, teaching introductory and advanced creative writing, fiction writing, and children’s literature. GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: GOLDA MEIR’S FIRST CRUSADE, released in 2014 with Kar-Ben Publishers, is her debut picture book. LIESEL’S OCEAN RESCUE is due from Gihon River Press this December.

You can connect with her at BarbaraKrasner.com and follow her on Twitter @BarbaraKrasner.


Barbara is giving away a copy of GOLDIE TAKES A STAND!

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

10 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 14: Barbara Krasner Goes for Truth (plus a prize!), last added: 11/14/2014
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33. Illustration Inspiration: Hervé Tullet

Hervé Tullet is known for his prodigious versatility, from directing ad campaigns to designing fabric for Hermès. But his real love is working with children, for whom he has published dozens of books, including Press Here.

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34. 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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35. NaNoWriMo 2014, SCBWI Conference, and Me

Balancing Act, Pastel Pencil on Toned Paper;
Hello, Everyone! Happy NaNoWriMo! Hope those word counts are adding up and that you are finding plenty to write about. This year, thanks to a busy day-job and starting a new drawing class on Saturday mornings (sample above), I decided to go slow and steady, sticking to around 2000 words a day, with no weekend marathons. A more-sane approach is helping me to stay calm and positive about the process, and so far I haven't reached any dead-ends or resistance to my story (yet, LOL!). In other words, I'm hanging in there.

The other good thing I'm loving about this year's NaNoWriMo is that it's giving me a solid month of quiet focus to a) recover from finishing my WIP, The Abyssal Plain, and b) gather my strength to market the book, and c) contemplate everything I learned at the SCBWI Handsprings 2014 Conference here in Albuquerque at the end of October. 

I haven't written a book for young readers for several years, and it's a field I've been missing, especially as I've had an idea for a picture book rattling around in my head for the last eighteen months. So I could hardly pass up a conference so close to home I even went home for an hour to eat my lunch.

The Friday night and all-day Saturday event featured a fantastic line-up of guest speakers and workshop leaders: Julie Ham Bliven, editor from Charlesbridge; Liz Baker and Patti Ann Harris, editor and art director from Scholastic; and agent Sara Megibow. We also had the excellent input of our local members adding their experience and wisdom to the mix, and I came away with pages and pages of notes and good advice.

Some of my favorites:
  • Children's books are big again (yay!). As in REALLY big. If you've ever wanted to write a book for younger readers, this is the time to make that dream a reality.
  • When you go to write, however, don't just fall back on the books you enjoyed reading as a child. Take yourself to the library, the bookstore, and read online publishing lists and catalogs. In other words, research. Study what kinds of books are being published today. You might be surprised at how different they are . . .
  • . . . as well as being very close to what you loved, too. One of these similarities revolves around the idea of "perennial themes"; subjects that will always be popular, especially in picture books, e.g. bedtime, new sibling, holidays, counting and alphabet books. Study modern approaches to these themes and see how you can add your own personal twist.
  • Look for creative ways to layer those themes: e.g., can a bedtime book also be a counting book? (One little lamb put on his pajamas, two little lambs turned out the lights . . . )
  • Don't be afraid to explore the "dark side" of your theme/subject. Children need to express and explore negative feelings in a safe and open way.
  • Titles are super-important. In fact, they are so important they can determine where your book will be placed in the bookstore!
  • This is because many children's books buyers rarely remember the name of the writer or the illustrator (Sad, I know.) But book buyers do remember titles like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.
  • If you're writing a picture book, make a "dummy" to ensure that your words and line breaks flow from page to page. (Easy dummy method: take 8 pieces of paper; fold them in half for a standard 32-page book that includes title and copyright pages.)
  • Picture book writers: Always think of your illustrator, even when you have no idea who that will be. Make sure your words inspire LOTS of pictures. There's nothing worse than having an illustrator receive your manuscript and say, "I don't know what to draw."
  • Editors can be open to a "reasonable" amount of art notes included with your text, so don't be too inhibited with your suggestions for pictures or a particular style of art.
  • Nonfiction writers: editors are looking for NF that reads like fiction. This goes for all age groups; picture books, too.
  • Books DO come from the slush pile. Keep submitting, don't give up.
  • Editors and agents take your membership in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators very seriously--so if you haven't signed up, think about joining.
  • Read. Read. READ.
  • Books in verse for all age groups do well. Rhyming isn't as taboo as you might think. Just be sure to rhyme well.
Yes, I was inspired! The week before the conference I wrote a very rough draft of my picture book manuscript, and have since cut it up and laid it out line-by-line in dummy format. Currently it's "resting" in its own lovely folder, ready for rewriting as soon as NaNoWriMo is finished. And you know what? I'm actually looking forward to revisions--630 words is a whole lot better than 50K.

Tip of the Day: Joining a professional writer's organization, even if you have never been published, is one of the best ways I know to gain both confidence and inside information. If you're interested in writing for a younger audience, consider joining the SCBWI--the networking is excellent, and the constantly-updated marketing and publishing information they provide is invaluable.

    0 Comments on NaNoWriMo 2014, SCBWI Conference, and Me as of 11/13/2014 1:59:00 PM
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    36. Hook’s Revenge: A Q&A with Author Heidi Schulz

    Over at Kirkus this morning, I’ve got a Q&A with author Heidi Schulz, whose debut novel, Hook’s Revenge, arrived on shelves in September from Disney-Hyperion.

    The book includes cover art and interior illustrations from John Hendrix. Next week here at 7-Imp, I’ll have some art from the book.

    The Q&A is here.

    Until tomorrow …

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    37. It’s An Orange Aardvark by Michael Hall

    It’s An Orange Aardvark“Wrrr,” this picture book begins with a carpenter ant in a hard hat drilling a hole in the log he lives in. The ant explains to the other ants (all in hard hats, of course) that he is drilling a peephole. Three of the ants are thrilled with the prospect of looking outside to see the world. The fourth is firmly against the idea as there could be any number or horrific things lurking outside, the worst of which would be an aardvark. But the first ant persists, and soon cuts out a peephole and orange light shines through the log. The other ants quickly point out to the nervous ant that there is no way that whatever is outside could be an aardvark because aardvarks are grey. But, our poor worried ant cannot be dissuaded and announces “It’s an orange aardvark!”

    The story continues with the first ant drilling another hole that reveals the color blue and the terrified ant announcing “It’s an orange aardvark wearing blue pajamas.” Red causes him to exclaim “It’s an orange aardvark carrying a bottle of ketchup”; green is an orange aardvark wearing blue pajamas carrying a bottle of ketchup with gecko (geckos eat ants too, you know). The story continues this pattern of colors being revealed though tiny peepholes that leads the terrified ant into a ridiculously delightful conclusion and the other three to exclaim in a very repeatable chorus “goodness, gracious, yikes!”

    Eventually, it is revealed that the ants are not seeing a hungry aardvark at all, but a beautiful rainbow. Told with simple die cut illustrations and extremely rich colors, this story would work for very young readers as a way to learn colors and older preschoolers and even kindergartners because of the escalating action and suspense. This story would also serve as a solid introduction for learning more about carpenter ants, aardvarks and geckos.

    Posted by: Kelly

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    38. PiBoIdMo Day 13: Corey Rosen Schwartz Gets Cooking (plus a prize!)

    Words Book Storeby Corey Rosen Schwartz

    Are you having trouble getting to 30 ideas? If you are, the reason is most likely because you are censoring yourself. DO NOT LISTEN to that internal voice saying “No, don’t put that one down. It’s too overdone. Or too bland. Or too half-baked!” (Okay, I did not mean for there to be any food analogies here, but now that there are, maybe I should run with it?)

    PiBoIdMo is the one time that I focus on quantity over quality. Your ideas do not have to be irresistible.   They can be too vague, too corny, too irreverent, or too __________ (substitute your own preferred flavor of criticism here).

    It doesn’t matter!

    WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING from soup to nuts!

    It does not need to be a hard-boiled synopsis. It can be just a title, a trait, a concept. Any tiny morsel is worth recording. If I waited for a full-blown plot to hit me, I’d never get to #2 on my list.


    Oh, did I say that already?   Well, I’m sure some of you are still going to hesitate. “I can’t just write down a character name, can I?” YES, YOU CAN. And you should.

    Think of it as collecting ingredients.  The more ingredients you have to choose from, the more concoctions you can whip up.

    Once you have a substantial list, then you can get cooking!

    Look at your list. Look at last year’s list. Which ingredients can be combined?

    In 2009, I was obsessed with Goldilocks. Here are two ideas from my list:

    • Fractured fairy tale with a surprise twin? Goldilocks has a twin sister, or Little Red? Little Pink? Tawnylocks? Brownilocks?
    • Using fairy tales to teach fractions. Goldilocks and the three and a half bears? How can you have half a bear? Bear in Mommy’s tummy? Could mama bear deliver right in the middle of the story?

    Neither idea went anywhere, but those two concepts nagged at me…twins, fraction, twins, fractions…both seemed like topics I wanted to pursue.

    And then during PiBoIdMo 2010, it hit me—the perfect way to combine the two!


    Cinderella and her twin sister share everything. They each do half the chores—the chopping, the mopping, the baking. They each take half the fairy godmothers goodies. But when they each spend half the night dancing with the prince, and they both fall in love, they have a problem. After all, you can’t split a prince in half. Or can you?

    pibo red

    PiBo Wolf

    So WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING. And let it all simmer.

    And soon you’ll be ready to get cooking!


    Corey Rosen Schwartz has cooked up a potpourri of fractured fairy tales and rhyming picture books. She lives with her husband and two children in Warren, NJ and as irony would have it, she is utterly useless in a kitchen!

    Twitter: @CoreyPBNinja

    Facebook: www.facebook.com/CoreyPBNinja

    Website: http://www.coreyrosenschwartz.com


    ninja red high res

    Corey is giving away a signed copy of her latest fractured fairy tale, NINJA RED RIDING HOOD.

    This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

    1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
    2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
    3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

    Good luck, everyone!


    18 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 13: Corey Rosen Schwartz Gets Cooking (plus a prize!), last added: 11/13/2014
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    39. 12 Kids’ Books on Showing Thankfulness & Being Grateful

    As we begin a season of reflection and celebration, we are pleased to share some of our favorite books on thankfulness and being grateful that will help young readers on their journey to understanding gratitude.

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    40. Picture Book Month: Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

    Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

    Add to Goodreads

    About the Book: Little Elliot is a little elephant who lives in a big city that is so much larger than he is. Elliot would love a cupcake but he's too small to reach. Will he get his treat?

    GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: Every year a book is released that is so adorable and sweet I just sigh with happiness each time I read it. Little Elliot, Big City is that book for me in 2014.

    Elliot is adorable-there's just no better way to describe him. I would love a little polka-dotted elephant friend and I would love to share a cupcake with Elliot.

    Not only is the story of Elliot finding a friend in the big city sweet, but the illustrations add to the tenderness. Mike Curato captures emotion on Elliot's face as he has to be careful in crowds or when Elliot is too small to reach what we wants. But Elliot doesn't let his size get him down and he takes notice of the small things. The two page spread of Elliot looking sad after he can't get his cupcake is heartbreaking. I also think it's appropriate that the only person that notices Elliot in a crowd is a small child. Of course a child would have the innocence and wonder to notice Elliot. It's a picture that is so simple and also speaks volumes. When Elliot meets mouse and learns he can help someone else, the spread of Elliot feeling big and proud captures Elliot's monumental achievement.

    Little Elliot, Big City is Mike Curato's debut picture book and I can't wait to see more from him. I think Elliot would make a nice storytime book and would pair wonderfully with A Sick Day for Amos McGee about a storytime on sweet and tender friendship.

    Full Disclosure: Reviewed from galley sent by publisher for review

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    41. Count my Cutest Children’s Books for Christmas

    What a wondrous time for the kidlets; so much sparkle, magic, excitement and curiosity in the air. Christmas time is about bringing families together, and what better way to get close to your ‘little’ loved ones than to snuggle up with some adorable books. Here we count through three delightful books that foster a love […]

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    42. PiBoIdMo Day 12: Josh Funk Wants to See [Funky] Stuff Illustrated (plus prizes!)

    jfunk_headshotby Josh Funk

    Someday someone will ask me why I write picture books. I won’t say “because I have stories that must be told” or “because my words are so important, all children simply must read them.” And I definitely won’t say “because I want to be rich and famous.”

    I write picture books because I have funny ideas in my head that I think would entertain children.

    But most importantly, I can’t draw. I mean, I’m allowed to draw, but I’m terrible at it. This was as good as I ever got as an artist…


    I drew this picture yesterday.

    So what’s the easiest way to get these ‘entertaining’ thoughts out of my head and allow them to be visualized by me (and others)?

    Write them down …

    and hope that many …

    many …

    years later …

    they’ll be published as picture books.

    And in general, PiBo-ers, that’s how I come up with my ideas. I think of something I’d like to see illustrated. Something new that I haven’t seen before. Something that will make me laugh (and hopefully make children laugh). Something that an illustrator will have fun with.

    Often this comes as interesting characters or their names. See: Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast.

    Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast Sketch

    It was harder to figure out what they should do. How do I fit these two into a plot with conflict and tension?

    *Ding* They’re fighting over syrup (obviously). What started out as a quasi-political debate about who deserved the syrup more (I wrote the first draft around the 2012 presidential elections) needed more action and a bigger setting.

    So I turned once again to my rationale for writing picture books: what would I find entertaining to see illustrated?

    They’ll race for the last drop of syrup throughout an entire refrigerator landscape! 27 drafts and 45 rejections later I had LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling, Oct 2015). [illustrations are by the fantastically talented Brendan Kearney]

    Sometimes the answer comes in the way of an interesting situation. A boy and a dragon become pen pals? Ooh, that would be fun! But again, there’s no plot (meh, who needs a plot when you have dragons and an interesting situation? See: DRAGONS LOVE TACOS). But it still needed more.

    What would be entertaining to see illustrated? Here I used the ‘what if’ technique. What if the boy thought he was writing to a boy … and the dragon thought he was writing to a dragon? That might make for some funny pictures due to misunderstandings?

    16 drafts and several title changes later I had DEAR DRAGON (Viking, Winter 2016).

    So if you want to see a Pancake run through Broccoli Forest and past Orange Juice Fountain …

    Lady Pancake in Broccoli Forest

    Or you want to see a piece of French Toast go skiing …

    Sir French Toast Skiing

    Then just make sure it has an interesting hook, compelling characters, a riveting plot, and is appropriate for ages 0-10.

    What do you want to see illustrated?


    Josh Funk lives in New England with his wife and many many children. He is the author of the forthcoming picture books (all written in rhyme) LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling, 2015), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin, 2016), and PIRASAURS! (Scholastic, 2016). Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________. Find out more information at www.papajfunk.com, on Twitter @papajfunk, on Facebook at Josh Funk Books, at Victimless Rhyme, on goodreads, or the end of the ‘F’ section at a library in the future (time machine required).


    As Josh does not (yet) have any books published, he is giving away FIVE signed books from his critique family: THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL by Kirsti Call, REX WRECKS IT! by Ben Clanton, MONSTER NEEDS A CHRISTMAS TREE by Paul Czajak, RUTH THE SLEUTH AND THE MESSY ROOM by Carol Gordon Ekster, and ESTHER’S HANUKKAH DISASTER by Jane Sutton.


    These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

    1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
    2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
    3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

    Good luck, everyone!

    18 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 12: Josh Funk Wants to See [Funky] Stuff Illustrated (plus prizes!), last added: 11/12/2014
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    43. The Magic of Wordless Picture Books

    We adults need to create space for readers and a defined comfort zone for them to enjoy wordless experiences. We must bite our tongues and allow experiences to unfold right in front of our eyes.

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    44. Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

    Planet KindergartenWhen children are about to embark on their first big mission – KINDERGARTEN – they must be prepared for their new experiences, and this book is up to the task! This imaginative story helps kids to think of Kindergarten from the countdown (the days leading up to school) to the splashdown (the bath at the end of the first day) in a way that is full of humor but also full of strength.

    The book is written as if the boy is accepting a mission to travel into outer space all the way to PLANET KINDERGARTEN! His first day on Planet Kindergarten includes aliens from many galaxies, and crewmates that sometimes disagree over the equipment (recess). They run some experiments, and write in their logs, and capture images for their families (draw pictures). And even though he gets a little sad during his rest time and wants to abort his mission, he remembers what they say at NASA: FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION. He gets back to work, and before you know it, his mission is accomplished, and it is time to go home. Hooray!

    This book is just plain clever, and I think kids and parents will enjoy reading it very much.

    Posted by: Mary

    0 Comments on Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt as of 11/10/2014 2:35:00 PM
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    45. PiBoIdMo Day 11: Tammi Sauer’s How To “How To” (plus prizes!)

    tammiforsiteby Tammi Sauer                                                             

    For PiBoIdMo 2012, my blog post focused on a variety of ways a writer can structure a picture book.

    This time around, I wanted to share a different approach to framing a story.

    *drum roll, please*


    The How-To…Structure offers readers information on, you guessed it, how to do something.

    Keep in mind, however, this structure isn’t just a list of bland, disjointed steps for accomplishing a task. Nope. Nope. Nope. These steps (along with the art) need to tell a real deal story. There should be a beginning, middle, and end. There should be characters, conflict, plot, setting…. There should be opportunities for your readers to feel something.

    Some good examples of books that use the How-To… Structure are as follows:

    Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham


    So You Want to Be a Rock Star by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds


    How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan , illustrated by Lee Wildish


    How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth by Michelle Robinison, illustrated by Kate Hindley


    Your Challenge: Jot down a few possibilities for some How-To… books of your own. It might help to think in terms of a title. Even easier, just fill in the blanks to the prompts below and see where they take you.

    How to__________

    Guide to Being a ________

    The __________ Handbook

    This is what happened when I just filled in those blanks:

    How to Catch a Dragon

    Guide to Being a Big Brother

    The Pirate’s Handbook

    Extra Credit: Analyze the picture books I mentioned earlier in this post. How did those authors incorporate the How-To…Structure? Do you see some sort of story arc in these books? Did you notice any special word play? The rule of threes? What did you find particularly satisfying in those books?

    Happy brainstorming, everybody!


    Tammi Sauer is the author of Nugget & Fang, Princess in Training, and many other picture books. She has another eleven under contract. Her latest manuscript sold at auction. It followed the How to…Structure. Ooh.

    You can visit Tammi at tammisauer.com and at picturebookbuilders.com.



    Tammi is giving away a signed copy of Nugget & Fang which won the 2014 Oklahoma Book Award, made the 2014 Texas 2X2 Reading List, and will be one of the featured books at the 2015 Scholastic Book Fair. Nugget & Fang was a PiBoIdMo 2009 Success Story.

    Tammi will also give a picture book critique to another lucky duck winner.

    These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

    1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
    2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
    3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

    Good luck, everyone!


    18 Comments on PiBoIdMo Day 11: Tammi Sauer’s How To “How To” (plus prizes!), last added: 11/11/2014
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    46. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rick Allen

    It’s such a pleasure to have printmaker and illustrator Rick Allen visit 7-Imp this morning, especially to read his thoughtful responses to my questions below — and, of course, to see his compelling prints as well.

    Rick is up in cold, windy Minnesota in a city on Lake Superior’s north shore, and as you’ll read below, it’s just the right place for him to be. His first book was self-published via Kenspeckle Letterpress, which he describes as “original letterpress artwork, giclees, notecards, prints and posters…[with] his creative muse: Marian Lansky.” His other two books were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and written by award-winning children’s book author and poet Joyce Sidman. The first, Dark Emperor & Other Poems of The Night, received a 2011 Newbery Honor. And I wrote here at Kirkus about their latest collaboration, Winter Bees & Other Poems of The Cold, released just last week. Allen’s illustrations for each are exquisite.

    For our fake cyber-breakfast, which I very much wish were real and in-person, Rick’s going to be brave and go for coffee. “Breakfast,” he told me, “is multiple cups of tea, usually black tea of varying strength, depending upon how long I forget it’s been steeping. In the last few years, I’ve been experimenting with drinking coffee in the morning; to make it palatable I generally lash in great quantities of half-and-half, so perhaps it’s coffee-tinted cream that I’m drinking. We had a Swedish great-grandmother, who used to slurp coffee from a saucer into my siblings and me when we were just months old, and it may have taken a half-century to overcome that early cultural conditioning to try coffee, or near-coffee, again.”

    I can always help people find their way to coffee!

    I thank him for visiting.

    * * * * * * *

    Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

    Rick: Illustrator — and definitely not author slash illustrator. I tend to be wordy but haven’t ever tried to push those words around into anything like a narrative, beyond the title for a print. And since book illustration itself hasn’t been a primary focus for me, I should probably say I’m a printmaker/illustrator, just for accuracy’s sake.

    Rick working on a block

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






    Jules: What is your usual medium?

    Rick: I most often work in wood engraving and linoleum block prints, both traditional relief print media, with some drawing and painting (usually in gouache) wrapped up into that process. Relief printing involves cutting away material from the block until only the image remains to take ink and print the image, and it’s cut in reverse to make the image print right. The farther you get into the cutting and the more time you’ve got invested into the block, the less room you have to make a mistake and the more probable it is you’re going to make that mistake. It’s like playing a game of graphic Jenga: How much can you remove before you cause the whole thing to collapse? And until you pull a proof of the image, you can’t be entirely sure you haven’t made a slip of the hand that is either a fatal mistake or an inspired accident that makes the picture. I’ve frequently had to start the whole thing over and begin a new block because of a cut too far. It’s exciting, in the way watching two snails race can be exciting — you’ve got to have a long attention span and an appreciation for the small detail.

    Rick: “Our oldest platen press, an 8×12 (the size of the printing chase in inches) Chandler & Price, built in 1897. Still works beautifully.”


    Rick: “Our trusty 1897 C&P with a load of ink cans stacked on it,
    as we print blocks.”


    Lino and engraving tools on Rick’s desk

    Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

    Rick: Duluth, Minnesota. Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline.

    Rick: “What my desk looks like while working on a multiple-block printing project …”

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

    Rick: We self-published The First Chinook, a Robert W. Service-like epic poem featuring a true-life sled dog story from the 1920s. (We’re still astonished that Disney hasn’t ever found and wagged this amazing tale.) It was written by a friend whose journalistic day job was writing and editing for climbing and mountaineering magazines. I did almost forty wood engravings in six months and developed a nearly permanent squint. My wife, Marian, digitally colored the engravings and designed the book. In this adventure, we learned that book publishing is a noble undertaking and that we didn’t want to do it again.

    Image from Joyce Sidman’s Dark Emperor,
    printed from three blocks and hand-colored


    Rick: “Working on Dark Emperor, owls and raccoons became sort of a leitmotif
    in our shop. This is a sheet of random pen and ink doodles,
    exploring the possibilities of owl personalities.”


    For Dark Emperor, I was contacted by Ann Rider, Joyce Sidman’s incredible editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who lives just a little bit farther up Lake Superior’s north shore and had become aware of my work through a local gallery.

    With Winter Bees, both Ann and Joyce were willing to take me along on the ride again.

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

    Rick: www.kenspeckleletterpress.com/ and


    “Dream of the Tundra Swan” spread
    (Click to enlarge)

    “Winter Bees” spread
    (Click to enlarge)

    “Vole in Winter” spread
    (Click to enlarge)

    Pictured above: Spreads from Joyce Sidman’s Winter Bees
    (Houghton Mifflin, November 2014)

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

    Rick: No new titles in hand for the now, so I’m working on drawings, paintings, and prints for the annual gallery show we do in April. Which in Duluth truly can be the cruelest month, with measurable snowfall still being more likely than green grass and with lilacs that won’t bloom in the dooryard for another two months.

    Rick: “A random pen and ink sketch of two girls, actually. The soccer player might could be my wife as a soccer player in an earlier alternate life.”

    Rick: “Another doodle of favorite shop animal, possibly from an unwritten story.
    We might have a name for the raccoon, but no story.”


    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 Rick 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?


    : Definitely that thing with the muse and seeing where we all end up. But I’ve only worked on three books (and, oddly enough, they’ve all been poetry) and each book has been done differently, so it’s hard to say that I’ve got a process in place.

    The first book was done in wood engravings, the second (Dark Emperoror) consisted of 12 multiple-block linoleum prints finished with hand coloring, and the last (Winter Bees) was made from nearly 200 individual blocks that were printed, hand-colored, and then scanned and digitally composed for the final spread. Most of my time early on is spent reading and re-reading the poems and trying to track the visuals which occur to me as I go, like walking through the woods and noticing the small half-heard or almost-glimpsed animals as you pass through.


    Rick: “A progression of sketches from the first scrawl with pen and watercolor, to a photocopy of the next-stage chalk and pencil sketch, to the cut-and-pasted working comp [for the 'Under Ice' spread in Winter Bees]“


    I recall poetry being defined as something that explains nothing but makes everything understandable, and I think of images accompanying the poetry as being similar: There has to be enough room left in an image for the viewer to bring their own imagination to it — and take away their own meaning from it. I’ll do some very rough sketches, rough enough so that they’re entirely cryptic to anyone else without a paragraph of explanation accompanying them. Those rough sketches leave me ample sea room to continue changing and refining the image as I get the drawing onto the block and then begin cutting the block for printing.


    Rick: “Progressive proofs of the beaver lodge from ‘Under Ice’ –
    from sketch to initial color separation trials of two registered blocks.”


    Rick: “The sketch, cut block, and first proof from the bullet-like swimming beaver
    in ‘Under Ice’ [in
    Winter Bees]” …


    As I mentioned earlier, printmaking by its nature can be an extremely controlled and controlling medium, but since I’m largely self-taught as a printmaker, I’ve contrived my own left-handed ways of going about it that encourage a degree of improvisation throughout. For example, if the drawing on the block is too tightly finished, you’re apt to just reproduce its lines in the cutting, which may take a little life out of the final print. So I keep the drawing on the block loose enough to serve only as a suggested starting place and to cut the image as freely as I can, departing from the drawing as seems advisable or necessary as it goes along. This process also requires an extremely patient and tolerant editor, who can accommodate a deal of uncertainty, which I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have in Ann Rider at Houghton.

    Rick: “Our assistant and colleague, Janelle Miller (a.k.a. the Warrior Printress, or Jenspeckle), working on pulling the print for Dark Emperor
    on our little Vandercook proof press #1 …”

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


    : I currently work with my wife and creative partner, Marian, in a warren of three randomly connected offices in an old factory building in Duluth, about a block from Lake Superior; in one form or another we’ve been in the building since 1989. The largest room houses our four presses (the oldest dating back to 1897 and the youngest to the mid-1950s) and cabinets of wood and metal type, flat files of paper, paper cutter, ink, and all the outdated odds and ends that we use in the lino blocks, wood engravings, and typeset projects we produce.


    Rick’s desk


    Marian has her own office where she spends time in the 21st-century work (she was an early adopter of Mac computers in her graphic design business back in ‘89) with an array of computers and their attendant scanners and giclee printers. I’m located in still another studio/gallery space with an old drafting desk, bookshelves, and an easel; we open the gallery space in a random sort of way to show and sell our work when we can. All the rooms have huge north-facing windows that make for a fantastic working light. We couldn’t be more fortunate in our workplace; this building is its own village, with shops and offices and people we’ve come to know over more than 25 years of residence, right on the shore of the greatest of the Great Lakes.


    Rick, working on a project and using a variety of tools on a lino block

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


    : How early is early? I think reading became important to me first in high school under the influence of several memorable English and history teachers, who got the canon of classic Western lit drilled into our bones. Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, and Twain. Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, and Dylan Thomas. Frost and Lincoln.

    And illustrators? There are far too many: Winslow Homer, Arthur Rackham, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Beatrix Potter, Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Lynd Ward, Robert Lawson, Wanda Gág (there’s an accent in there I can’t manufacture), the d’Aulaires, Gorey, Sendak. …


    Rick: “A detail from our shop, featuring the 16th president, wearing a pressman’s paper hat (just like the carpenter in Alice), and an ad from the 1920s offering big bucks for a career in art; we still make those very same big bucks now,
    not adjusted for inflation.”


    We had a Carnegie Library here in Duluth as I grew up, with a large, comprehensive children’s room that I escaped as soon as I was old enough to head up the stairs to the large copper-domed adult reference room and the thick translucent glass floors in the stacks that allowed spectrally-diffused feet to appear above you and shadows that passed quietly beneath your own feet as you browsed through books that had been on the shelves since Moses, or at least since Andrew Carnegie put them there. It was a place that gave books a living presence for me — and where I first had the sense that you could use books to help create your own interior life.


    Rick: “Another unwritten story of ours featuring our very own The Trapper’s Daughter, which has gone through 12 or so prints over as many or more years. We do a new one every Spring, making hers a story without words, or a story looking for words.”


    Rick: “An early Trapper’s Daughter print: tone block and lots of hand-coloring …”


    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.)

    Rick: While I’d really like to see (and talk to) dead people, at least some of those listed above, among the living I wouldn’t mind having a pint with Christopher Wormell, Michael Sowa, or Tomi Ungerer.


    Rick: “The print of The Trapper’s Daughter and The Long View, midway through the printing process on our #14 Vandy press, with about 12 of the 26 blocks printed.
    A work literally in progress….”


    Rick: “The final drawing for The Long View,
    taped together in preparation for transfer to the first block …”



    Rick: “Our inking table with brayers and inks laid out for The Trapper’s Daughter
    The Long View. Some of the inks….”


    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?

    Rick: For most of my life, I listened constantly to the radio while I worked: pop, classical, or talk. (Once, pulling an all-nighter on a project, I listened to the BBC World Service interview a farmer in the English Midlands, who collected potatoes that resembled famous people, which has left me with an almost hallucinogenic-seeming memory.) The last few years I’ve gone through a period of not listening to anything while working, and I’m just now starting to have an iPod, shuffling music at my desk. The shuffle function may be the most wonderful technological advance in my cast-iron shop: the resulting playlists are often startling and, occasionally, gobstopperingly magical. Today’s shuffle started with bagpipes and then moved on to Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi; June Tabor, singing “Body And Soul”; a local blues guitarist, named Charlie Parr; Mary Gauthier from New Orleans; and a Swedish fiddle trio called Väsen. This was followed by Handel, Ella Fitzgerald, Hot Tuna, Bach, The Pogues, Keith Jarrett, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits, The Roches, Leonard Cohen, Jim Hall, and Tom Waits. And, always, there’s the uneasy memory of a British tuber that may have resembled Margaret (or was it Dennis?) Thatcher lingering in the background of my ear’s mind.

    A 5×7 wood engraving Rick did for their friend in Ireland, who does their website development and who is an ardent Tom Waits fan …

    Rick: “The sketch transferred onto the block with the engraving in process.
    Very squinty work.”

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

    Rick: I didn’t learn to tie my shoes until first grade. But I did learn it well enough then to retain the skill up to now.

    Rick: “The final print of The Trapper’s Daughter and The Long View.
    Twenty-six blocks, no hand-coloring. It almost beat us.”

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

    Rick: I haven’t been interviewed enough to know. I’m still surprised by the questions that are asked.

    Rick: “The most recent Trapper’s Daughter
    – from 12 blocks with some hand-coloring.”


    * * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

    Jules: What is your favorite word?

    Rick: That’s like being asked to choose a favorite child. I love ‘em all, each in their own way. Although “hystricine” is very nice. And “phillumeny.” Or “flosculation.” …

    Jules: What is your least favorite word?

    Rick: “Should,” as in what you should do, or should be, or should have done. …

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

    Rick: Damp, drizzly November-in-your-soul weather, like a nor’easter with great waves and horizontal rain/sleet/snow driving in off the lake. Wonderful, as long as you’re on shore. And words. Music. Printing shops. Surprising and random idle associations of unconnected ideas. My wife, always.

    Jules: What turns you off?

    Rick: Emotional conflict of nearly any kind. Hot humid weather; I’m primarily a psychrophilic animal, which made Winter Bees a good fit for me. Nothing like spending a couple of years in winter on a book.

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

    Rick: Entirely situational.

    Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

    Rick: Any kind of boat moving through water. A brayer rolling up ink — and a platen letterpress in operation.

    Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

    Rick: A boat’s keel hitting ledge rock, or a case of six-point metal type falling to the floor — the unpleasant knell of an incipient disaster in either instance.

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

    Rick: I’ve taken a long and indirect path to reach a point where I’m doing pretty much just what I want to do and can make a living by doing just that; it’s so rare a condition for someone working at their art that I don’t for a moment wish there were anything else I could be doing. Before getting here, I had years and years of varied and odd jobs: I was a canoe guide in the very-nearly-far north and a partner in an ice-climbing school in the even-slightly-further north. I worked retail in an outdoor gear store and in a tiny neighborhood bookstore, specializing in children’s books (back when neighborhood bookstores weren’t all that rare), which was conveniently located next to a bakery that made chocolate croissants fresh every morning. While living in Germany I had a part-time job as a kindermaedchen—a nanny—for three kids aged two, three, and five. And like many failed humanists with a degree in History (in my case, in the relationship between art and science during the Italian Renaissance, which predictably proved to have little traction in the real world of gainful employment), I worked as a paralegal for a large law firm, as I pondered a possible future as an attorney. And I delivered a large wooden sloop from the far western end of Lake Superior to New York City via the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal without once sinking it in 1,500 miles. Now I stay in the print shop to pet the presses and to be mindful of my immense good luck in being able to do what I most want to do, for as long as I can do it.

    Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

    Rick: Anything, absolutely anything, requiring numeracy.

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

    Rick: “You certainly took your time getting here.”


    All photos are used with permission of Rick Allen.

    WINTER BEES & OTHER POEMS OF THE COLD. Text copyright © 2014 by Joyce Sidman. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Rick Allen. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.

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

    10 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rick Allen, last added: 11/12/2014
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    47. Picture Book Month: Cheers for a Dozen Ears by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan

    Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan

    Add to Goodreads

    About the Book: A family visits the local farmer's market to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

    GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I always think it's fun to read books that introduce fruits and veggies to kids. It's a nice way to read about food and help them understand that fruits and vegetables are good to eat. (I don't know that reading about them makes them eat them at home, but I can try and help the parents out at least!)

    Cheers for a Dozen Ears is the perfect book to add to my food themed storytime. It pairs wonderfully with Rah, Rah, Radishes. You can even add in the board book We're Going to Farmers Market for a full storytime about fresh foods.

    With rhythmic, rhyming text, the kids make sure to get all the items on their list. From eggplant to squash, peaches and green beans, the family counts as they add items to their cart. The bright colored illustrations capture the feel of a hot summer day.

    A fun book that incorporates counting and food that makes a nice addition to storytime.

    Full Disclosure: Reviewed from finished copy sent by publisher for review

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    48. KidLit Author/Illustrator Events Nov.11-17


    It’s another full weekend, and what better way to spend a chilly Saturday than hanging out with authors and their books? Perhaps all the bookstore-hopping will inspire you to join the NaNoWriMo write-in on Sunday!

    November 15, Saturday, 9:00 AMKREMLIN KERFUFFLE by George Arnold
    Barnes & Noble, Westheimer
    George Arnold, MG Author

    Author George Arnold signs his new book for young readers, KREMLIN KERFUFFLE: KOSHKI OF THE CIA , the seventh book in his ‘Cats of the CIA‘ series.In this seventh story in the Cats of the CIA set, Buzzer Louis, Cincinnati the dancing pig, Dusty Louise, and the kitten twins—Luigi and Luisa—are dispatched secretly to Moscow to help the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) track down the opium smuggling panda from China, Ar-Chee. In Moscow, our secret agents confront a spy-turned-traitor, turned-patriot named Natasha, who presents an ongoing puzzle for them. With the help of Boris Alexandrovich, head of the FSB, and Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, our heroes set a trap for the panda. A trap designed by Luigi and Luisa that’s sure to snare Ar-Chee.

    In the process of tracking down Ar-Chee, the heroes learn to speak considerable Russian. You will, too, with a 750-word and–phrase vocabulary and pronunciation guide in Russian, built right into the story.

    November 15, Saturday, 9:00AM– 6:00 PM RETURN TO SLEEPY HOLLOW by Dax Varley
    Houston Book Rave

    Houston Book Rave is a unique experience where readers  can meet with their favorite authors in person. YA authors Rose Garcia, Dax VarleyRachel Harris, Cheyanne YoungBrooklyn SkyeJordan DeenJulie CrossLara Chapman, Ted GoegleinVenessa Kimball, Joy Preble and Colleen Houck will be in attendance. There will also be a Special Discussion Panel with Jennifer L. Armentrout and cover model Pepe Toth between 4:00-5:00PM. There will also be entertainment, exclusive giveaways, exclusive early book releases and delicious food.

    November 15, Saturday, 10:00 AM
    Houston YA/MG Writers Workshop
    Cost: FREE

    Getting to the Heart of Your Story: Strategies for Pitching and Summarizing
    What is the heart of your story? One skill all writers need is the ability to distill stories into the basic elements, whether it’s to submit to an agent or editor, or to re-focus before starting a revision. In this meeting, the Houston YA/MG Writers will be looking at three examples of this: the short pitch or logline, the query description, and the one-page synopsis. We’ll study examples (both what to do and not to do) and learn some tips and tricks for working with our own manuscripts.

    November 15, Saturday, 2:00-4:00 PM    THE DRY by Rebecca NolenCream Cape and the Case of the Missing Hamster by Mandy Broughton, Dee Densmore-D'Amico (Illustrator)
    Barnes & Noble River Oaks
    Three Children’s Authors

    Dee Leone (BIZZ AND BUZZ MAKE HONEY BUNS), Mandy Broughton (THE ALPHABET GIRLS Series), and Rebecca Nolen (THE DRY) will be signing their books as part of a book fair to benefit River Oaks Elementary School. The school getsBIZZ AND BUZZ MAKE HONEY BUNS by Dee Leone credit for any books bought all that day that are turned in with a slip designating it is part of the book fair.

    November 15, Saturday

    For illustrators who would like to participate in a SketchCrawl, this month’s location is Trader’s Village: 25th Annual Native American Championship Pow Wow. For information, contact the SCBWI Houston Illustrator Coordinator, Diandra Mae at: scbwi (dot) hic (at) gmail (dot) com.

    November 16, Sunday, 2:00-5:00 PM
    Town & Country La Madeleine, 770 W Sam Houston Pkwy N
    NaNoWriMo Write-Ins

    Join the Houston YA/MG Writers for a NaNoWriMo write-in (even if you don’t write YA or MG)! Bring your muse, writing materials, and enough money for a cup of coffee. We’ll have 50 minute silent writing sessions with 10 minute chat breaks. No commitment required; come when you can, leave when you must. Words written and sessions attended will be counted. At the end of NaNo, the highest word counts and attendance will be rewarded! Look for the group sitting near the back staring at their laptops!


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    49. Book Island publishes two new gorgeous picture books

    The Big Question by Leen Van Den Berg and Kaatje Vermeire (Book Island)

    Elephant has a difficult question - he needs help to answer it. The animals gather at the annual meeting to find an answer for: "How do you know when you love someone?" Ant has the very important job of presiding over the meeting - first time ever, and believes it is up to him to keep the meeting moving along and write down all the suggestions. A wide collection of beings, for example: mouse, Snow White, tramp, explorer, Polar Bear, Grandma, a little girl and non-beings such as: Stone, Sea, Stars etc, say what love means to them. Mouse says it is as big and strong as an elephant. Snow White says it helps you forget about all your troubles. Cloud says you know when you're always floating in the same direction. Lovely poignant comments are said by all those gathered. When the meeting ends, everyone goes home feeling better than when they came; except for Ant who knows he is missing something. 

    This book and its predecessor: 'Maia and what matters' by Tine Mortier but the same illustrator Kaatje Vermeire - would have to be the two most beautiful books you'll ever come across.  They are visually stunning and their stories can be read on two levels: for the young it is about what is happening; for older kids or kids with enquiring minds it'll keep them thinking and asking questions for hours, perhaps even days, later.

    I'd use this book in the classroom and home to start children talking about relationships and the different forms of love: love of a parent, love you have for an animal, love for a friend etc. Children will surprise you (and make you laugh) with their comments. Also encourage children to think about why the author included some of the characters such as Snow White, the inanimate objects and also the girl and Grandma from 'Maia and what matters'.

    A sophisticated picture book that ponders a big question. A must-buy for every school and home library. Also would make a great present at end-of-year prize-giving events.

    Leen van den Berg is the daughter of a Belgian publisher. She writes mainly for children, while teaching creative writing in Flanders and the Netherlands.

    Flemish illustrator Kaatje Vermeire uses an experimental approach to printmaking. She combines etching techniques with found materials such as lace, string and wire. With each new work she finds subtle and delicate ways to portray difficult subject matter.

    Published in New Zealand by Book Island, translated by David Colmer, edited by Frith Williams, and typeset by Jo Houvenaghel (the Europeans are very creative with their type-set). The Flemish Literature Fund helped make publication of this book possible.

    ISBN: 978 0 994 1098 42
    RRP $29.99 hardback

    You can buy at all good bookshops (especially Children's Bookshops) but if they don't have it buy direct at www.bookisland.co.nz

    For something completely different but by the same publisher:

    Follow the Firefly by Bernardo Carvalho (Book Island)

    There have been picture books with no words before but I haven't come across one that has two stories - one that you read from the front, the other you read starting from the back. It is cleverly done; I had to look twice before I realised what was happening in the back-story.  If you start at the front you'll read (view) a story about a firefly flying through a forest to a city to help solve a problem. Animals point the way along the journey. When you've finished that story go the back and read 'Run, Rabbit, Run'. A white rabbit escapes from a cage during an accident. A dog chases it through the forest ... Read it to find out what happens when it catches up with the rabbit.

    A picture book that children will pick up and flick pages back and forth to read/view the story many times. Every time you look at it you'll discover something in the pictures you hadn't noticed before. Bernardo has used water colour paints in a child-like style.

    Bernardo Carvalho is one of the founding illustrators of Portuguese publishing house Planeta Tangerina which was the recipient of the Best European Children’s Publisher Award at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2012.

    ISBN: 978 0 9941098 2 8
    RRP $19.99 paperback

    You can buy at all good bookshops (especially Children's Bookshops) but if they don't have it buy direct at www.bookisland.co.nz

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    50. Honoring Our Veterans: Tuesday Tucks Me In, by Luis Carlos Montalván (ages 5-10)

    As students and families celebrate Veterans Day, I always think about how to honor our veterans in a way that young students today can understand. My older students love reading historical fiction, but what about younger students? This week I am sharing a new book that introduces young students to the difficulties soldiers can face returning from war, and the loving help that service dogs can provide.
    Tuesday Tucks Me In
    The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and his Service Dog

    by Luis Carlos Montalván
    Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan, 2014
    Your local library
    ages 5-10
    Former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalván was wounded during his two tours in Iraq. Montalván suffered from a traumatic brain injury and also post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recovery was difficult when he returned home, and he ended up withdrawing from friends and family.

    In this picture book, golden retriever service dog Tuesday shows readers what his life is like helping Montalván through daily life. He provides companionship and encouragement. Tuesday can even sense when Montalván is about to have a panic attack and can help him get through it. "Every morning my friend Louis wakes up to this... "
    "Rise and shine," I tell him with a lick. "The sun is up."
    Children will really like the full color photographs that help them get a sense of Tuesday's life as he navigates the subway, sidewalks and life in the city. The narrative helps readers understand the support Tuesday provides and, even more importantly, helps them empathize with Luis.
    "Luis has trouble with balance, and he used to struggle on the stairs. But now he grabs my handle and knows that I am there."
    I especially liked the author's note at the end, where Montalván explains service dogs to young readers. "Tuesday is a service dog. Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities live more independent and happy lives."

    I absolutely agree with the Horn Book's assessment:
    "Children, even if initially just drawn in by the adorable dog pictures, will come away with a much greater understanding of the lives of both a returning vet and a service dog.”
    If students found this interesting and wanted to learn more, I would direct them to these books:
    Helping Dogs
    by Mary Ann Hoffman

    Dogs On Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond

    by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

    Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle
    by Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, Mary Nethery
    The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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