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26. Liniers on What There Is Before There Is Anything There

liniers what there is before there is anything there Liniers on What There Is Before There Is Anything ThereIn the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, editor Martha Parravano asked Argentinian cartoonist Liniers about the inspiration for his “deeply unsettling” but “bravely existential” new picture book, What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story. Read the full review here.

Martha V. Parravano: What made you decide to make such a realistic — and thus dark — picture book on this topic for children?

Liniers: I don’t like children’s books that treat them as tiny ignorant human beings. 
They are smart, and as Mr. Sendak used to say, you can “tell them anything you want.” 
I remember enjoying being scared by movies and books when I was a child. Witches and vampires! Also, the story I decided to tell actually used to happen to me. I must have been three or four because I have a very vague memory of this. When my parents would turn out the lights I thought the ceiling disappeared, and I recall imagining — almost seeing — a tiger coming down in a spiral downfall. A very weird kid I was. Or not.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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The post Liniers on What There Is Before There Is Anything There appeared first on The Horn Book.

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27. Review of What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story

liniers what there is before there is anything there Review of What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary StoryWhat There Is Before There Is Anything There:
A Scary Story

by Liniers; illus. by the author; trans. from the Spanish by Elisa Amado
Primary    Groundwood    24 pp.
9/14    978-1-55498-385-8    $18.95

Argentinian cartoonist Liniers’s (The Big Wet Balloon, rev. 9/13) bravely existential picture book eschews cute monsters in closets to capture the true reality of night terrors — the relentless, all-consuming, staring-into-the-void kind. “It’s the same every night”: a small boy’s parents tuck him into bed and turn off the light, and then “where there was a ceiling, now there is nothing…Now there’s only a black hole…black and infinite.” Down from that blackness floats a succession of bizarre creatures who perch at the bottom of the boy’s bed and stare at him. Finally — as happens every night the ceiling disappears — comes something dark and shapeless, “blacker than blackest darkness,” announcing, “I am what there is before there is anything there.” At this point the terrified boy hightails it to his parents’ room; they groan, “Not again,” but allow him to get into bed with them. A more conventional picture book would end here, but Liniers provides a more realistic if deeply unsettling conclusion: as the boy lies safely between his sleeping parents, another creature floats down from the ceiling. This is a scary story indeed — and the crosshatched ink and wash illustrations are as unflinching as the text, effectively interweaving the banal with the nightmarish — but for those kids who suffer through similar tortured bedtimes, it may provide validation. And though there is no happy ending, some young readers may find comfort in the mother’s reassurance — “It’s just your imagination…It’s good to be able to make things up” — suggesting they may grow up, like Liniers, to use their imaginative powers for good.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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The post Review of What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story appeared first on The Horn Book.

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28. PiBoIdMo 2014 Grand Prize Winners!

It’s the moment you’ve all been anticipating!


Monty, show ‘em what’s behind door number one!


Why, good golly, it’s a Broyhill bedroom set!

What better place to read a picture book, right?

OK, sorry, just kidding. That is not your grand prize.

You know what the grand prizes are all about—you win a review of your best five PiBoIdMo ideas by a picture book agent! So much better than a stained oak nightstand!

How were the PiBoIdMo 2014 GRAND PRIZE WINNERS selected?

Every participant who signed the PiBoIdMo Winner’s Pledge was assigned a number based upon the order in which they commented. I then used Random.org to generate 10 random numbers. The numbers were checked to their corresponding name, then I ensured that name was on the PiBoIdMo registration post. If the name had been registered, then I double checked to make sure they had not commented on the winner’s pledge multiple times (thus giving them extra chances to win). If all checked out, the winner was verified. (And they all checked out!)

Without further ado, here they are! Please congratulate them!











I will pair each of you with a PiBoIdMo agent and contact you via email.

If you are a grand prize winner, please read the following carefully:

You will have one week (from the date of my email) to contact your agent with your FIVE best ideas. I suggest you flesh them out into a paragraph each, like an elevator pitch. Something short and snappy. The agent will then provide feedback on which idea(s) may be the best to pursue as manuscripts. The agent may provide short and sweet feedback like a simple “Go for it!” or more lengthy feedback providing suggestions. I don’t know what’s in store for you–but there’s one thing for certain–their feedback will help you determine what to begin writing!

Thank you all for participating this year!

Remember there are PLENTY more prizes to come throughout this week—everything you saw during the event plus even a few more!

Maybe even a Broyhill living room!


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29. Rex Wrecks It! By Ben Clanton

Rex Wrecks It!If you have anyone in your life that enjoys knocking down towers or destroying things, Rex Wrecks It! is the story for you. Gizmo the robot, Sprinkles the bunny, and Wild the monster love to build things, but Rex always wrecks them. From block towers to rockets and magical hearts, Rex wrecks it all. After he wrecks their awesomerific block tower, they finally realize that the solution is to build something as a team and knock it down together. They discover that it really is more fun to work as a team. Kids will enjoy shouting the refrain and you can’t help but not like Rex. I love his apologetic “rawry” after knocking down the block tower. This is a story that will be read again and again. It’s also a great story to share with older siblings with a little one in the family that likes to destroy things. On a side note, depending on your kids, I’d recommend skipping the blockhead comment in the story. We didn’t when we read it, and now my kids have a new name to call each other.

Posted by: Liz

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30. Picture Book Monday with a review of The Sheep go on Strike

Many of us tend to think that sheep are not very bright animals. They are followers rather than thinkers. In today's picture book you will meet some sheep who are intelligent and opinionated. In fact, they take a stand on an issue that is dear to them.

The Sheep Go on StrikeJean-Francois Dumont
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2014, 978-0-8028-5470-4
Every year the sheep are sheared and every fall they feel pretty chilly without their woolly fleeces. Some of them even get colds, and then they have to be seen by the vet, and we all know what happens when the vet comes; the sheep have to “swallow disgusting medicine and get shots.” After years of putting up with this state of affairs, the sheep have decided that they have had enough. None of the other farm animals get sheared for their fur, so why should the sheep put up with this treatment? There is only one thing to do: the sheep go on strike. 
   The sheepdog, Ralph, tries to round up the sheep and ends up having to run for it. The sheep are in no mood to be pushed around. On the farm some of the animals sympathize with the sheep, while others think that the sheep should stick to “tradition” because “that was how it was supposed to be.”
   The next day the sheep get ready to march on the road that runs from the end of the meadow to the goose pond. The farm animals watch as the sheepdogs from the neighboring farms gather for a meeting at Ralph’s doghouse. Afraid that they will lose their jobs, the dogs are determined to do what they can to stop the strike. No one imagines that the march and the kerfuffle that follows will cause a terrible schism to develop between the farm animals.
   We live in a world where people are often all too willing to resort to violence when things are not going their way. In this picture book we see how animals on a farm find themselves following this all too familiar human pattern until good sense prevails and they discover that there is always another way to solve a problem. A compromise offers them a solution that is clever, and for us readers, deliciously funny.

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31. Post-PiBoIdMo Day 8: Laura Zarrin Begins (plus a prize!)

LauraZarrin-in-pinkby Laura Zarrin

Picture Book Idea Month is over. You have ideas waiting to be developed. Now what?

As a kid and all the way through college, writing came easily. Essays or essay questions? No problem. I loved to really pad those answers. Fast forward to now and that ease is completely gone. Sometimes I have no words, not even a decent name for the file I’m writing in. What happened to the free flow of words? Maybe they shriveled up and died from lack of use. Maybe I spend so much time drawing that the words have gone to sleep? I’m sure it’s a lot of things, but one thing that’s different is that while the more words the better method worked in school, it’s the wrong approach to writing picture books where brevity rules. As a mom and an illustrator, I appreciate brevity. Short books were my favorite since I’d have to read the same book over and over and over again.

As an illustrator, I approach my stories through pictures first. I ‘see’ them before I write them. I’ll sketch out the character or a scene and see where it leads. Sometimes I’ll be so inspired that I’ll write a quick first draft. It’ll be horrible, but that’s ok. The point is to get something written out. To begin. I can always go back and edit it or completely rewrite it. Mostly, I have to let the ideas marinate in my head for awhile, sometimes years, to figure out what the real story is. I turn it around, hold it up to the light, add and subtract characters, try various what ifs, and grill it with questions until it feels solid. I really wish I could just snap my fingers to create the book dummies, but it just doesn’t work that way. Even though picture books are ‘simple’, they’re anything but easy. It’s like saying it’s so easy to draw in a simple and childlike way when it’s anything but. It takes a ton of work to get to the point where one can pull off ‘childlike’ effectively. One has to have a solid grasp of anatomy, technique and design to make it work. The same can be said of writing. It takes some serious chops to write a story in it’s simplest form.





I wish I could give you a formula. Heck, I wish I could give me a formula, but as it stands, my formula is to scribble, sketch, make lists, make notes, outline, research, work on character design, write then delete, draw, and draw, and draw, cry, give up, try again, and eventually there’s this thing that actually becomes a story.

My suggestion to you is to just begin. That’s often the hardest part of any project. Draw your character or a scene that’s calling out to you. Write the character’s bio, outline your plot or write a synopsis. Whatever feels like the easiest entry point to begin. Good luck!


Illustrator of four­teen children’s books, Laura Zarrin, is branch­ing out into writing them too. Laura’s warm and whim­si­cal col­lage paint­ings have graced many prod­ucts from stick­ers to bul­letin boards to books. Her paint­ings are cre­ated in lay­ers tra­di­tion­ally, then scanned, assem­bled, and enhanced in Photoshop and Manga Studio, so that the art can be refor­mat­ted for a vari­ety of prod­ucts and apps.

Laura’s Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and Illustration paired with her years of expe­ri­ence work­ing as a designer and art direc­tor have given her many great oppor­tu­ni­ties to work with other design­ers, edi­tors, sales peo­ple, and mar­ket­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion on many projects, from incep­tion to com­ple­tion. Fluent in the Adobe Creative Suite.

She lives and works in San Jose, Ca with her hus­band and two end­lessly cre­ative sons.

Visit her at LauraZarrin.com and follow her on Twitter @LauraZarrin. She blogs at Creative Whimsies and Simply Messing About.


Laura is giving away an 8×10 print of “Winter Dancing”.


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.

Good luck, everyone!


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32. Post-PiBoIdMo Day 7: Elizabeth O. Dulemba Lets it Simmer

Elizabeth_Dulemba-den-250by Elizabeth O. Dulemba

Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a picture book that I know is a winner! I scramble to write the key lines, the story’s premise, its arc…and then, something goes wrong. There’s a piece that’s missing, or elements that aren’t quite gelling. Maybe the ending isn’t satisfying enough. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. So I save it.

I have a “Pre-pubbed Books” file in which I keep folders brimming with ideas. In these folders I’ll put sketches, various story versions, images of books I think might be similar, or reference photos that fit the story. You name it.

Of course, not all ideas come in whole. Some arrive as only a title or simple phrase. For those I have an “Other ideas” file. Inside are the years: 2004—2014. In those folders, I just save Word documents. Sometimes it can be one phrase or a character idea, but it was something that made my brain light up, so I keep it too.

And then there’s my dummies wall. Sometimes a story is so strong, I’m dying to illustrate it. Maybe I just do character sketches, or a few spreads. Sometimes I sketch out the entire dummy and even take a few pieces to final. This can lead to a lot of paperwork with no place to put it. This is when bulldog clips become my friends. I collect everything together, clip it, and hang it on the wall on a pushpin.


I’ll often sit back to look at these works-in-progress hanging on my wall and wonder if I have a new seed or tweak that might help them along.

Some of these folders, documents and dummies have been around for a while, but that doesn’t mean they’re dead. Sometimes it takes combining ideas, or swiping a phrase from one story to make another story stronger. So, I keep them organized so that I can mine them whenever I want to.


I also firmly believe some of them are ready to be published, but for whatever reason, the publishing world isn’t ready for them yet. Because of trends, word counts, a hit book that is too similar… whatever the reason, I’ll let them wait until trends circle back around and they become relevant again.

The irony is, with all these attempts at creating stories I’ve trained my storytelling muscles. I tell kids that writing is like lifting weights. The more bicep curls you do, the stronger you get. The more you write, the more those writerly muscles seem to know what to do. I’ve written so many picture book manuscripts that now, when I write, it seems stories come out of me in just the right word count and just the right number of page breaks. I’ve trained my brain to the structure of picture books.

But that still doesn’t mean they all work, hence, my folders and files and dummy wall. Sometimes a story will sit for a day, sometimes for years before I figure out the key that unlocks whatever was wrong and makes the story work. But I’ve learned to be patient with myself. Some stories, even the simplest (seeming) ones, need more time.

So, if you know deep down inside that your story isn’t there yet (don’t ignore that little voice), put the manuscript aside. Put it somewhere where you won’t forget about it, and let your brain work on it—while you sleep, or garden, or take a shower, or just get on with life. It doesn’t have to be perfect straight out of the box, few stories are.


I call it putting the clay on the wheel. You’ve got the idea down, you know its missing or lacking something. So knead it in the back of your mind, for however long it takes, until you get your story just right. You’ll know when.

And then, then you send it off to a publisher or to your agent. And maybe that manuscript that you struggled over, that you let simmer, will finally be so perfect, so right, they will buy it and publish it and you will get to share it with the world!


Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children’s book author/illustrator with two-dozen titles to her credit. She is a Board Member for the Georgia Center for the Book, and Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program. Her latest picture books are a series of books for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and LULA’S BREW. Elizabeth gives away free coloring pages and hosts interviews, guest posts, and giveaways on her website each week. Sign up for her weekly newsletter and learn more at Dulemba.com.






10 Comments on Post-PiBoIdMo Day 7: Elizabeth O. Dulemba Lets it Simmer, last added: 12/7/2014
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33. Ten Christmas Picture Books

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Robert Lewis May. Illustrated by Denver Gillen. 1939/1990. Applewood Books. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. This is the original story by Robert L. May with the original illustrations by Denver Gillen. It is so different from the song and the stop-motion animated special. And I think it was the fact that it was different that made me appreciate it more.

The story is told in rhyme. It's essentially one long (perhaps poorly punctuated) poem. Here's how it begins:
Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the hills
The reindeer were playing…enjoying the spills
Of skating and coasting, and climbing the willows…
And hop-scotch and leap-frog (protected by pillows!)
While every so often they'd stop to call names
At one little deer not allowed in their games:--
"Ha ha! Look at Rudolph! His nose is a sight!"
"It's red as a beet!" "Twice as big!" "Twice as bright!"
While Rudolph just wept.
What else could he do?
He knew that the things
they were saying were true!
Readers first meet Rudolph, a young deer who is teased by his peers. He does NOT live at the North Pole. And he's not one of Santa's own reindeer.
What we do learn is that he's a very good, very obedient deer who is expecting Santa to leave him some lovely presents because he's been so very, very good.

Readers then meet Santa and learn of the horrible weather conditions that prove most challenging. Santa starts out on his trip, it isn't until he's delivering presents to Rudolph's house that he notices the brilliant light of his nose.

Santa then decides to wake him up and ask for his help. The rest of the journey goes much easier for Santa!

The book concludes with Santa returning Rudolph to his family, to his hometown. He is now a hero, of course.

I liked this one. I liked some of the rhymes more than others. There are definitely some quirky lines!
Come Dasher! Come Dancer! Come Prancer and Vixen!
Come Comet! Come Cupid! Come Donner and Blitzen!
Be quick with your suppers! Get hitched in a hurry!
You, too, will find fog a delay and a worry!"
And Santa was right. (As he usually is!)
The fog was as thick as a soda's white fizz.
The book is definitely text-heavy. So a longer attention span would be needed for little ones to enjoy this one.

The copy I read was a facsimile edition. A 75th Anniversary edition with new illustrations was released in September 2014.

On Christmas Eve. Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder. 1938/1961/1996. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

It was the middle of the night. And night of all  nights it was Christmas.

I enjoyed Margaret Wise Brown's On Christmas Eve. It is a descriptive look at what Christmas--at what Christmas Eve--is like for children. It focuses on simple things: what your eyes see, what your ears hear, what your nose smells, what your hands and feet touch. It seeks to capture the emotion of the holiday: the excitement, the waiting, the longing.

Lots of details, lots of adjectives. It's rich in imagery and description. There is also a bit of repetition. The text is lyrical in places.

I can't say that I loved it. But it was very enjoyable. I was also glad to see that one of the presents under the tree was a train. The children are just in awe of the magic of Christmas, of the stockings and packages, of the snow falling outside, of the carolers outside.

It was a sweet story about three siblings.

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story. Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. 1987. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Silver Packages is a picture book for older readers most likely. I wouldn't say it is for an exclusively adult audience. But I think readers need some perspective in order to appreciate the book fully. I think it can resonate with readers, it has the potential. But I don't think the emotional reaction would be--or even should be--automatic. One can't assume that every reader will respond with tears and "this is the best book I've ever read!!!"

Silver Packages is about giving back to the community. In this instance, one very specific community--Appalachia. The book is about the Christmas Train. It starts with one man who wants to show his appreciation for the community that helped him when he needed it. He was injured in an accident, the community took in this stranger and nursed him back to health without asking for anything in return. He decides that he will come every year--by train--and hand out packages to the children who meet the train. These packages are wrapped in silver paper. Every story needs a protagonist. Silver Packages introduces us to Frankie. Readers first meet Frankie as a boy. He's a boy with a dream. He wants to be a doctor. And he really, really, really wants a doctor kit for Christmas. But each year, he's slightly disappointed. He receives a handful of silver packages through the years. Every gift seems to have a toy--something a boy or girl might want--and something a boy or girl might need. The practical gifts include: socks, mittens, hats, scarves, etc. Readers later see Frankie all grown up. He is a doctor. He reflects on his life, on his past Christmases, he has a light-bulb moment. He decides it is his turn to give back to the community in his own special way. It's a book about kindness and gratefulness and community awareness.

The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll. Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 2007. Schwartz & Wade. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only once in a while.

I haven't read The All-I'll-Ever Want-Christmas Doll in years. It was just as good as I remembered. The book is set during the Depression. A little girl, Nella, knows that her family is poor, that Santy may not come this year at all. Yet, she can't resist writing to him all the same begging for a Baby Betty doll. Her two sisters perhaps think a little less of Nella for her dreaming so big. She shouldn't expect so much from Christmas. But on Christmas morning, there are a few surprises. Each girl gets a Christmas sack filled with walnuts, peppermint candy, an orange, and a box of raisins. But there is one present, one special present remaining: a doll. Nella thinks the doll should be HERS and hers alone. After all, her sisters haven't gone around talking about the doll nonstop, her sisters didn't write Santa a letter begging for the doll. Why should she have to share the doll with them? But does the doll make her happy? Is the doll truly all she'll ever want? She has a few lessons to learn for sure!

I really enjoyed the story and the message.

The Bells of Christmas. Virginia Hamilton. Illustrated by Lambert Davis. 1989/1997. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

I didn't dislike Virginia Hamilton's The Bells of Christmas. But I didn't love, love, love it either. I think it depends on what exactly you're expecting from a Christmas book. The Bells of Christmas is very much a celebration of a Christmas long ago. Christmas 1890. Readers meet a young boy, Jason Bell, and experience the holiday through his perspective. We learn about his mom and dad, his brothers and sisters, his cousins, his aunt and uncle, his friend, Matthew. The book is set over a period of several days. Among the things readers learn that Jason's dad is a carpenter, that he wants his sons to join him in his business one day, his dad has only one leg, that his dad wears a peg leg part of the time and is in his wheel chair the rest of the time. Readers also learn that Jason is just a wee bit obsessed with wheels--mainly trains, but, also wagons, etc. The book has plenty of detail and characterization which is a good thing. Jason is waiting for quite a few things: 1) he can't wait for Christmas morning and presents! 2) he can't wait for the Bells to arrive--his uncle and aunt and cousins, 3) he is excited about church, most everyone is performing and participating in some way. (Jason is singing a solo.) The book perhaps seeks to capture one Christmas for one extended family. It is a pleasant, enjoyable book. It isn't quite a chapter book or novel. It isn't quite a picture book.
The Gift of the Magi. O. Henry. Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. 1905/2006. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I've seen adaptations of The Gift of the Magi--who hasn't? (My favorite is Bert and Ernie and Mr. Hooper.) But this is the first time I've read the actual short story. I haven't decided how I feel about it. Is this couple wise or foolish? Or are they at times foolish and at times wise?

The wife, Della, takes extraordinary pride in her long hair. She doesn't seem the vain sort except for when it comes to her hair. And even if she is vain about it, there's no indication it's anything besides a private vanity. The wife apparently has been coveting expensive hair combs as well. The husband, Jim, takes extraordinary pride in the family watch. The narrator uses exaggeration when discussing the woman's long hair and the man's gold watch. I didn't love the narrator. In fact, I think the narrator is a distraction. He won't let the reader forget for a moment that this is a precious story.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
The wife can't afford a gift for her husband. The husband can't afford a gift the wife. The wife knows this--or should know this. The husband knows this--or should know this. The wife has saved $1.87. The husband might have saved a small sum as well. Readers don't know one way or the other. Both husband and wife will have something to offer the other, however. Something more than love. For both have decided--quite independently--to give sacrificially. To give up what they supposedly value most: her hair, his watch. And this giving up wasn't to support the family, but, to support the other's vanity.

I think actions can speak more than words. I think the narration took away some of my enjoyment of this one. It felt odd at times. There were sentences that were eloquent and refined and then it would slip into something else.
"It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
I think I like the adaptations better.

The Tailor of Gloucester. Beatrix Potter. 1903. 58 pages. [Source: Library] 
In the time of swords and periwigs and full-skirted coats with flowered lappets—when gentlemen wore ruffles, and gold-laced waistcoats of paduasoy and taffeta—there lived a tailor in Gloucester.
He sat in the window of a little shop in Westgate Street, cross-legged on a table, from morning till dark.
All day long while the light lasted he sewed and snippeted, piecing out his satin and pompadour, and lutestring; stuffs had strange names, and were very expensive in the days of the Tailor of Gloucester.
I enjoyed rereading Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Glouchester. In this delightful Christmas tale, readers meet a tailor, a cat named Simpkin, and some lovely mice. It is several days before Christmas. He's working hard to finish a coat and waistcoat for the Mayor of Glouchester. The Mayor is getting married on Christmas day. The tailor has just enough money to finish the coat. Not a penny to spare. He sends his cat, Simpkin, with his money to buy what he needs: a little for himself (food: bread, sausage, milk) a little for his work (one twist of cherry-coloured silk). It is only after the fact that he questions whether he should have sent the cat or gone himself. The cat returns, but, in a mood. The cat is upset for he's discovered that the tailor freed the mice he had captured and hid under the teacups. The cat hides the twist. The man is upset, of course, and sick. He takes to his bed unable to work. The oh-so-thankful mice go to his shop and finish his work for him. But since they are one twist short, they are unable to finish completely. Still, they do what they can, and they do a wonderful job. The cat who spies them at work, I believe, has a change of heart and gives the twist to the old man on Christmas morning. He has just enough time to finish. The Mayor is very, very pleased. And the tailor's luck changes for the better, and his business is much improved. This one is a lovely, delightful read from start to finish.

Lucy's Christmas. Donald Hall. Illustrated by Michael McCurdy. 1998. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Lucy's Christmas by Donald Hall. Lucy's Christmas is a picture book set in 1909 in New Hampshire. In the fall of 1909, Lucy and her family start preparing for Christmas. For Lucy, this means starting to make her own gifts for her family and friends. It pays to plan ahead since so many gifts take time, and thought must be placed into each gift. She's not the only one thinking ahead. This year the family is ordering a new stove for the kitchen. The family has spent a lot of time browsing in the Sears catalog. Lucy's choice is the one the family decides upon: the Glenwood Kitchen Range. The focus is not just on gifts: planning, making, giving, receiving. The focus is also on family life and community life. Readers get glimpses of the school and church. Both places are very busy! I enjoyed this glimpse into the past! It was interesting to see the family prepare for the new year--1910. The enthusiasm in the story is sweet. The author's note reveals that this picture book is based on family history.

I really liked this one very much. I liked Lucy and her family. I liked the fact that the church plays such a HUGE role in the Christmas celebrations. There are gifts, it's true. But it's not commercialized and selfish.

Baboushka and the Three Kings. Ruth Robbins. Illustrated by Nicholas Sidjakov. 1960/1986. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Long ago and far away, on a winter's evening, the wind blew hard and cold around a small hut.

Baboushka and the Three Kings won the Caldecott Medal in 1961. It is Russian folktale with a Christmas setting. The three kings--wise men--come to Baboushka's hut. They only stay a few minutes. Long enough to extend an invitation to the old woman. Will she join them in their procession, in their quest, to find the Babe, the Child? She'd love to join them, she'd love to bring gifts to the Child. But she is not ready to go just yet. Couldn't they all wait until morning? Couldn't they wait for her to finish up a few small, tiny chores first? Couldn't they wait for the storm to clear? Their answer was firm. Their journey to the Child was too important to postpone. They couldn't linger longer. She watched them depart. But they were not easy men to forget. The next morning, she begins a journey of her own. A journey that will take her far. But will her journey lead her to where she wants to go?

It's a simple story, nicely written. "It is no ordinary Babe they seek. Yes! I must go and follow them! To find the new Babe, to offer Him her gift, was now her one yearning. This thought burned in her mind like a candle in the dark." It is also nicely illustrated. The illustrations complement the text well. Both illustrations and text have a different flavor, an authentic flavor, but not exactly American. After several readings, I came to appreciate both a bit more.

In case you're unfamiliar with the story, the book is bittersweet at best. While it is true that Russian children everywhere look forward to Baboushka's gifts each year as her journey continues, it is also true that Baboushka's journey has no happy ending. She never finds the Child. She is never able to give Him her gifts.

Polar Express. Chris Van Allsburg. 1985/2009. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

The Polar Express is one of my favorite Christmas books. It is. The book is a thousand times better than the movie. (Though the soundtrack of the movie isn't bad.) So if you've only seen the movie, you might want to give the book a try to. You might have a different response to it.

The Polar Express is about belief and doubt--in Santa. It's told in the first person, so we never learn the protagonist's name, but it is a little boy with a younger sister named Sarah. One Christmas Eve, the little boy is awakened by The Polar Express. He goes to the North Pole on the Polar Express train, there are other passengers too. All presumably boys and girls on the verge of not-believing. At the North Pole, he sees Santa, reindeer, and elves. He happens to be chosen to receive the first gift of Christmas. He asks for a bell from Santa's reindeer. This gift is not in his possession for long, however, because he has a hole in his pocket. On Christmas day, he receives a special gift under the tree: the bell he had lost. He can hear it. His sister can hear it. But his parents do not. The book ends wonderfully with a message for "all those who truly believe."

I loved this one cover to cover, though I love the ending most of all.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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34. Becoming an Author Means Embracing a Life of Crime

Before I became a writer, I had no idea being one also meant embracing a life of crime. I don’t know why. All the signs were there – the saying “every great lie has an element of truth”, T.S. Eliot’s immortal “Good authors borrow, great authors steal”, and the infamous Faulkner adage, “Kill your darlings” (Faulkner actually stole that saying from Arthur Quiller-Couch).

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35. 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!)

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36. Post-PiBoIdMo Day 6: Carol Gordon Ekster Goes for PiBoIdMoS (plus a prize!)

Carol's professional photo for booksby Carol Gordon Ekster

Whew! You finished your 30 PiBoIdMo ideas.

Now what?

Stare at them. Admire them! Write them all at once?

Good luck with that! One of the great things about being a writer is that you are your own boss and you can do as you like!

Don’t tell anyone…I cheat a bit with this PiBoIdMo concept. For me it’s morePiBoIdMoS. The minute I hear the first whisper that PiBoIdMo is coming, whether through Tara’s tweets, Facebook page, or her blog, I start a document on my desk: “PIBOIDMO 2014.”

Yes, technically I start before November 1st, and I keep going! It gets me on a roll…deeper listening, inspiration from all the posts, and a mind more opened to all those picture book possibilities. Every new idea that follows will get listed on that sheet, maybe through February, maybe until I open the “PIBOIDMO 2015” document. Then when I’m finished working on a manuscript, revision, or submission and I’m ready to start a new story, I’ll glance through those ideas. (I have a document for ’12 and ’13 that I still revisit.)

I’ve never deleted any of the less than fabulous story concepts, but I have highlighted a few that I thought had potential. Sometimes, right under a numbered idea, I start the story’s beginning. It just flows from my finger tips. I don’t have an organized plan. I go with my gut.

When I start a separate document for a numbered idea, I know I’m serious about it. I never forced the beginning of one of those ideas. I waited until the idea grabbed me and said, “It’s time. Start the draft!” I have to feel it. I’ve developed quite a few of those ideas from the past years into manuscripts. I drafted, rewrote, revised and brought them to critique groups. None of those stories have yet to be acquired. But I have faith that some will…when the time is right. Though I have gotten “the call” on one…but no contract in hand as yet.

This year there was mention of PiBoIdMo kick-off parties. A fabulous gathering spot for writers, The Writer’s Loft, had one. And though I couldn’t make it, I was there in spirit. But I think we also need AFTER-PARTIES, as a way to celebrate all that thinking, all those brilliant ideas. Perhaps gather other PiBoIdMo’ers and plan a few peer critique sit-ins—where large groups gather and break into smaller groups to share their manuscripts. (Of course, bring snacks and allow time for socializing, too!)

If you can’t do that, find another way to get other writers’ eyes on your story. This step is imperative. Once those critiques are in, it is time to polish and revise and incorporate all that you have learned about craft and about picture books. This is where it counts. This is where we water and love those seeds of ideas until they sprout into the best possible work we can create. For every story idea you develop into a manuscript, make a “sentence” document for that title. This way you can brainstorm many different ways to word each thought until you get the perfect line up of words, until each sentence sings. Don’t be lazy. Get it right. Someday, you’ll be touching a life with that story. Don’t settle for less than the best you are capable of.

Before you know it, we’ll be preparing for “PIBOIDMO 2015”. Don’t let all this creativity be forgotten. Continue to glance back at your ideas. You never know when that gem of a manuscript is ready to emerge and start its route to publication.


Carol Gordon Ekster was a passionate elementary school teacher for 35 years. Her first book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? — A Story of Divorce, Boulden Publishing, 2008, was an About.com Readers’ Choice 2012 finalist for Best Children’s Book for Single Parents. “The Library Is The Perfect Place”, was in Library Sparks magazine, 2010. A picture book, Ruth The Sleuth and The Messy Room, on Character Publishing’s debut list, 2011, was awarded the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval. Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You, comes out January 1, 2015 with Pauline Books & Media. Her first e-book, Hip Hopping Books, will be out with Schoolwide Inc.’s digital library, winter 2015. Retired from teaching, Carol now spends time in critique groups, doing exercise and yoga, and working on her books. She’s grateful that her writing allows her to continue communicating with children. Find out more at CarolGordonEkster.com and follow her on Twitter @cekster.


Carol is giving away a signed copy of BEFORE I SLEEP!

Front Cover - Before I Sleep  copy

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.

Good luck, everyone!

10 Comments on Post-PiBoIdMo Day 6: Carol Gordon Ekster Goes for PiBoIdMoS (plus a prize!), last added: 12/6/2014
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37. Ape – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Ape Written by: Martin Jenkins Illustrated by: Vicky White Published by: Candlewick, 2007 Themes/Topics: five categories of great apes, humans Suitable for ages: 4-8 Non Fiction, 32 pages Opening: There are five kinds of great apes in the world. Each of them is different … Continue reading

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38. Post-PiBoIdMo Day 5: Laura Gehl Draws a Diagram

by Laura Gehl

In November, there are no bad ideas. You write down every single thought that comes into your brain. And that’s good. But then…December comes. And now there are bad ideas. Bad ideas that you need to separate out from your other ideas. So you can focus on pursuing your promising ideas without all the clutter holding you back.

To help categorize your PiBoIdMo ideas, I’ve created this handy diagram, adapted from What If? by Randall Monroe.



Start by putting all your ideas quickly into the “Possibly Good” or “Possibly Bad” boxes. Don’t think too hard. Most of your ideas will go into Possibly Good. But some will go into Possibly Bad.



Now it’s time to start moving things around.

  1. Type your title ideas into Amazon. Does one of your brilliant, witty titles already exist, or something too similar? If so, boot that idea out of the “Possibly Good” box. No reason to start with strikes against you. This happened to me recently with my “Possibly Good” idea of Jellyfish Loves Peanut Butter. Turned out there are several Peanut Butter and Jellyfish books out there already.



  1. Take a look at your “Possibly Bad” ideas. Some of them will go straight into “Probably Bad.”


Other “Possibly Bad” ideas might go into “Probably Bad” and then get resuscitated later, with a little twist.


  1. When you read through your “Possibly Good” ideas, there will probably be a few ideas that make you smile just to think about. Make your brain buzz like you drank a cup of coffee. Make you itch to go start writing right this second. Those ideas are the ones you want to move on over to the “Probably Good” box right away.



Once you identify some “Probably Good” ideas to start working on, keep your PostPiBo diagram handy. When you get stuck, pick out a “Probably Bad” idea and…just for fun…write a few lines of that story. Afterward, your brain may be a little bit more ready to focus. Or maybe you’ll discover a way to twist the bunny-stabbing unicorn into a “Possibly Good” idea….after all, it’s never been done.


Laura Gehl is the author of One Big Pair of Underwear, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, which released in September. She is also the author of four upcoming picture books: And Then Another Sheep Turned Up; Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel; Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching; and Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick or Treating. Laura is also the author of 57,982 Possibly Good Ideas, and 26, 444 Probably Bad Ideas. She lives with her husband and four children in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Visit Laura online at www.lauragehl.com and http://www.facebook.com/AuthorLauraGehl.


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39. The Great Big DInosaur Treasury: Tales of Adventure and Discovery

Storybook collections were a memorable part of my childhood, but they seemed to be few and far between for my own children. However, over the last couple of years Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been putting out these fantastic treasuries that are an incredible value. The Family Story Book: Tales of Laughter, Curiosity and Fun and The Family Bedtime Treasury: Tales of Sleepy Times and

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40. Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric Kimmel (ages 5-9) -- a wonderful new holiday story

My students and I love sharing our favorite holiday stories, and this week we read a new Hanukkah story that's sure to become a favorite. I especially enjoyed our discussion afterward -- this story is rich with feeling and meaning, perfect for reading together.
Simon and the Bear
A Hanukkah Tale
by Eric Kimmel
illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Disney-Hyperion, 2014
Your local library
ages 5-9
Young Simon is bound for America, with just his rucksack, a bit of food his mother packed, and a lot of determination--like many who have left their homes in search of work and opportunity. He's lucky, getting the last ticket on a ship leaving for America.
Simon "managed to get the very last ticket for a ship bound for America."
But Simon's luck ends quickly when his ship strikes an iceberg--ooh, just like the Titanic, many of my students said. After generously giving up his place in a lifeboat, Simon leaps onto the iceberg. When a giant polar bear approaches, Simon shares his food and makes a new friend. Is it a Hanukkah miracle that brings a friendly polar bear to Simon, or is it his caring, generous nature?
"He crept over to the bear and snuggled against her fur."
My students loved the way Eric Kimmel crafts this story. They shared many ideas about how Simon found the strength to endure this hardship. All of them noticed his courage, but they also noticed Simon's empathy, thinking about the man to whom he gave his place on the lifeboat. We talked about how Simon thought about what the polar bear might want, sharing his food with the bear--at school, we talk about this as listening with our ears, eyes and heart.

Eric Kimmel is one of my favorite authors--it would be fascinating to compare Simon to Hershel from Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, a classic holiday story I love to read with students. Is Hershel brave and compassionate in the same way as Simon? If you like peering into how authors come up with their stories, check out Eric Kimmel's blog post he wrote just as he submitted Simon and the Bear to his editor.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Disney-Hyperion. All illustrations are copyright ©Matthew Trueman, 2014, and shared with permission of the publisher. 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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41. 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.

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42. YA Books for Adults and Adult Books for YA Lovers

As writers and illustrators the holiday season provides an opportunity to support the publishing industry by buying a few books as gifts for friends and family.

Goodreads announced their 2014 Readers Choice Awards. Click the picture below to review the nominees and the winners in all categories.


Here are 25 YA books that Epic Reads suggests for Adults. How many have you read?


Out of the books pictured above I have read 7 and have 4 bought and ready to be read.

Out of the 25 Adult Books for Fans of YA I have read 4 and 3 are waiting to be read.

From the books pictured above, I have read 23 and 12 are bought and waiting.

There are so many more wonderful books I have read this year. How many of these books did you read? Did you have a book that was your favorite? It doesn’t have to be pictured. I’d love you to share.

Oh, don’t forget the picture books: Each time you buy a picture book you support an illustrator and a writer with your purchase and the book you buy might be the book that puts a child on the path to enjoying books for the rest of their life.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, Book, inspiration, list, Middle Grade Novels, picture books, Young Adult Novel Tagged: 2014 Goodreads Best Books, Adult Book for YA Lovers, Goodreads, YA Books for Adults

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43. Books by Nicholas Rumble

Kaki: A living Treasure by Nicholas Rumble

Kaki and his friend are minding their own business when Poaka comes along and threatens them with 'nasty words'.  Tara Piroe sticks up for Kaki and gets his revenge on Poaka. Will Poaka learn his lesson?

Sam's First Swim: A photographic adventure by Nicholas Rumble

Sam's hungry but his mum just wants to sleep. He dives off the rocks but he can't swim in the rough waters. Will he drown or will a friend come to his rescue?

Kim the Greedy Kingfisher: A photographic adventure by Nicholas Rumble

Emma the egret flies to New Zealand and is happily fishing in a swamp when along comes Kim the kingfisher, who snatches Emma's fish out of her mouth. Penny the pukeko is not impressed and has words with Kim. Will Kim learn to share?

Published by Nicholas Rumble under the imprint Beautifully Brilliant Books (I might add you've got to have a lot of confidence to call your company that name). The stand-out feature of the books is the photography; the images are close-ups of rare birds in nature. Nicholas crawls through streams and waits long hours - often under camouflage netting - to capture the right pictures. They are stunning photographs.

Nicholas combines his love of photography with a desire to teach children the skills of: perseverance, sharing, compassion, anti-bullying, and following your dreams. The stories are fictional with a moral lesson. Other books in the series include: Sheer luck: the Junior Detective; Mr Penguin and the rainbow stone; A beautiful song; Finding Dottie the Dotterel.  Could be read to, with or by 5-7 year old children.

ISBN: 978-0-473-21830-0
RRP $14.99 or buy the set for $79.99 with free shipping
Buy direct from his website: www.beautifullybrilliantbooks.com

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44. Review of Flora and the Penguin

idle flora and the penguin Review of Flora and the PenguinFlora and the Penguin
by Molly Idle; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Chronicle    48 pp.
9/14    978-1-4521-2891-7    $16.99

Having mastered the art of the dahhnce in Flora and the Flamingo (rev. 7/13), the same little-girl protagonist takes up figure skating. While lacing up her skates, she spies an orange beak peeking out of a hole in the ice. It’s a penguin, and Flora reaches out her hand in friendship. At first there’s no friction; the two glide across the ice, Torvill and Dean–style, skating backwards and on one foot and performing synchronized leaps. When her partner plunges back down under the ice, though, Flora is disappointed and a little put out. The penguin produces a fish for her, but Flora, still feeling miffed, throws the fish back…then thinks of a creative way to make amends. Just as in the previous wordless book, dynamic flaps (this time they’re horizontal and two-sided) help set a graceful, rhythmic pace. The limited color palette, too, recalls Flamingo, though here — befitting the wintry scene — the pictures are all in pale blues, with yellow pops of color (Flora’s hat looks like her Flamingo bathing cap but with a puffball tassel on top), some pink (her peaches-and-cream complexion), and the white of the page. The main action is on land, but underwater there’s another playful story starring those sleek little fish. A gatefold near the end provides the tale’s acrobatic climax before the warm-hearted pair skates off the copyright page.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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45. Best Selling Picture Books | December 2014

We think it's so fun that one of our all-time favorite Christmas books is our best selling picture book from our affiliate store this month—we just love Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's Stick Man. As per usual, we've shared our hand selected titles of the most popular picture books from the nationwide best selling picture books, as listed by The New York Times.

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46. A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier

I have been deeply negligent in never reviewing a book by illustrator and author Sergio Ruzzier before now, although I have long loved his work, especially Love You When You Whine by the wonderful Emily Jenkins. And, while I am remiss, I am also thrilled that Ruzzier's new book, the thoughtful, charming A Letter for Leo, is the first of his books I am reviewing here. Leo is a

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47. Post-PiBoIdMo Day 2: Cece Bell Hires Herself

ceceafterby Cece Bell

Several years ago I was at a really low point in my career as a children’s book author and illustrator. None of my published books seemed to be doing all that well, and every new book I submitted seemed to get rejected. I was stuck. My writing came to a standstill. I didn’t even want to draw anymore! Good grief!

Eventually, I got off my pity pot by realizing that I didn’t have to get a publisher interested in my stories and drawings in order to work. I just needed to start working again—for FUN, not profit. So I decided to hire myself. Here was the assignment: Ask friends and family for adjectives and names of animals. Write adjectives on separate slips of paper. Fold them up and put them in a cup. Write names of animals on other separate slips of paper. Fold them up and put them in a different cup.

Now for the good part: Each day, for over one hundred days (and I didn’t skip any days, not even weekends), I selected a slip of paper from the adjective cup, and I selected a slip of paper from the animal cup. What I selected was what I had to draw—in no more than two hours. I couldn’t put anything back and hope to get a “better” combination—all combinations were good. The more challenging, the better!

I ended up with pairings like “victorious chinchilla” and “lost ocelot.” “Glittery manatee” and “theiving sloth.” “Bashful anteater” and “uncomfortable ostrich.” “Maniacal anemone!” It was great fun to illustrate all these animals I didn’t normally draw; it was especially fun to come up with stories (not written, but implied in the illustration) for why the chinchilla was victorious, for why the ostrich was uncomfortable. And what would the sloth steal?








I was a cheap boss. I didn’t pay myself a cent. But the rewards of my little project were copious. My brain loosened up. I learned some new illustration techniques. I began to love being an illustrator again. I GOT OUT OF THAT FUNK. And guess what? When I decided to submit “mustachioed fly” to my agent to turn into postcards, I got hired to illustrate Diane Mortensen’s picture book Bug Patrol for Clarion. This job led to a relationship with Clarion that made my picture book with Tom Angleberger (Crankee Doodle) possible, and then that helped me loosen up to do El Deafo. Now I’ve got more work than I can shake a stick at!

My little project was focused on illustration—but it could work for writing, too. TOTALLY!

So, my humble two cents (I happen to have those cents because I didn’t pay myself earlier, remember?) is that if you pursue this line of work—or any line of work—do so because you love it. Try not to lose sight of that love. And hopefully, that love, plus a lot of hard work and little bit of luck, will get you where you want to be.


eldeafoCece Bell lives in an old church with her husband, author Tom Angleberger, and she works right next door in a new-ish barn. El Deafo, her first graphic novel, is a slightly fictionalized memoir about her childhood, her hearing loss, her first crush, and her quest for a true friend. She has written and illustrated other books for children, including the Geisel Honor book Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover; Itty Bitty; Bee-Wigged; and the Sock Monkey series. You can read more about her at www.cecebell.com. Follow along on Twitter @cecebellbooks.


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48. 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):

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    Final art (without text) from Telephone


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    “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.”
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    “Tell Peter: Something smells like fire!”
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    Final endpapers
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    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
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    Color sketch
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    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)

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    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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    49. Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen

    Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen | Storytime Standouts

    Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen is the first in our series of posts looking at the 2013 Caldecott Medal and Honor Books

    Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon KlassenExtra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen
    2013 Caldecott Honor Book published by Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

    When young Annabelle finds a box of yarn and knitting needles, she begins by knitting herself a colorful sweater. Once the sweater is finished, she looks for friends and neighbors to outfit in warm wool creations. It is not long before she transforms her dreary, wintry grey town into a cheery, cozy world using the apparently endless supply of yarn. When an archduke arrives and offers to buy the magical box and its contents, Annabelle refuses him. He decides that he must have it and sends robbers to get the box from her. Extra Yarn spread

    A fascinating fairy tale that explores generosity and community, Extra Yarn is best suited to children aged four years and up. Fans of Jon Klassen will enjoy spotting some of his trademark characters wearing Annabelle’s cozy gifts.

    2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award

    Extra Yarn at Amazon.com

    Extra Yarn at Amazon.ca

    Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read

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    50. Post-PiBoIdMo Day 3: Timothy Young Hates Not Having Time (plus prizes!)

    timothyyoungby Timothy Young

    First, congratulations on completing PiBoIdMo, getting all 30 of your great ideas down on paper. Or, congratulations on attempting PiBoIdMo, but only finding the time to get about 20 picture book ideas down on paper. Or, good try, you only found the time to get 5 or so picture book ideas down on paper because you’re really busy this time of year (heck, don’t kid yourself, you’re busy all year-round) but you feel like you’ve got 2 or 3 really good ideas you want to pursue. I, as usual, fall into the last group. It’s not that I lack good ideas, I just can’t get organized to write them all down on a schedule. Plus I have the added excuse of spending this November finishing my next book.

    So now it’s December 3rd, now it’s time to take those 2 or 3 good ideas and start turning them into books. So let’s sit down and start writing, as soon as you go pick out a tree and decorate the house for the holidays. OK, that’s out of the way, let’s start writing, as soon a you finish that job you started in mid-November and the deadline is fast approaching. OK, that’s done, now it’s getting close to Christmas and you’ve got so many functions and last minute shopping and then it’s New Year’s Eve and I promise I’ll get around to writing as soon as the new year starts. Well, right after I do my taxes, that is. What do you mean Happy Valentines Day?! Where is the time going!


    So here’s the issue, I don’t know about you, but I’m really busy. I work for myself as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator. I have a number of clients who are very demanding (especially that one who always calls at 4:30 with some emergency that requires another 4 hours of work). Add to that family stuff and general household needs, who has time to write?


    So here are some secrets to finding all the time you need to write:

    • Inherit loads of money so you don’t have to have a job. This also works if you win the lottery.
    • Marry someone who is really wealthy so that you can have servants to take care of all the small stuff like raising the kids. This frees up a lot time.
    • Become really famous for something else, like acting in movies or singing great songs, then publishers will pay you lots of money to write a book. Even becoming infamous can get you a book deal.


    Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound hopeless, it’s not. We write because we have to, because we are passionate about it. Don’t ask me how I found the time to get 5 picture books out in 6 years, 4 of which are with a publisher so small they don’t pay an advance*, and I’m the illustrator as well, so I really have to work some late nights. Basically I’ve found that you just have to make the time. Find an hour here and an hour there. Get up a few hours early on the weekends and leave the dishes in the sink until later. If you are sitting in the car on a long trip, write in your head or speak it into your iPhone.

    You found the time to do PiBoIdMo, you’ll find the time to write your books. You will, because you want to, you need to…because you have to do it, for you.

    *Don’t get me wrong, I love Schiffer Publishing, they’re an independent, family-run publisher that has been around since the early seventies, they pay good royalties and they do an excellent job producing my books and distributing them.


    Timothy Young has had a lot of fun jobs; he’s been an animator, puppet maker, toy designer, sculptor, art director, illustrator and graphic designer. Tim has designed for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the Muppets, Disney, the Simpsons and Universal Studios. Now he is the author/illustrator of 5 published picture books including I Hate Picture Books! and his latest, The Angry Little Puffin. He lives with his family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.


    Visit Tim’s website at creaturesandcharacters.comFriend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @TimSYoung.


    Tim is giving away two books–a signed copy of THE ANGRY LITTLE PUFFIN and a signed copy of I HATE PICTURE BOOKS!

    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!



    10 Comments on Post-PiBoIdMo Day 3: Timothy Young Hates Not Having Time (plus prizes!), last added: 12/3/2014
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