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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Picture Books, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 6,582
26. Review of Smick!

by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Juana Medina
Preschool, Primary   Viking   32 pp.
2/15   978-0-670-78578-0   $16.99   g

With minimal text, a clever use of sight words and word families, and a bounty of playfulness, Cronin introduces preschoolers (and early readers) to their new best friend: good-natured, tail-wagging, droopy-eared dog Smick. A game of fetch between dog and offstage narrator (“Stick?”) gives way to the discovery of a new friend when Smick is distracted by a “Cluck!” in the distance. Smick, stick, and the newly introduced chick, who is now comfortably situated on Smick’s head, attempt to resume the game, with mixed results (“Slow, Smick, slow!”). All ends in joyful doggy friendship: “Sidekick… / Sidechick. / Side lick! ick.” Digitally rendered art incorporates photo images of a flower petal (transformed into the chick by the addition of a few added black lines for wings, legs, eyes, and beak) and a wooden stick. However, it mostly consists of simple black lines, stark against the expansive white space, that communicate Smick’s constant motion and boundless energy with economy, verve, and apt detail (i.e., one ear lifted in the direction of a new sound). The handful of words per page play with meaning via order and context à la Gravett’s Apple Pear Orange Bear (rev. 7/07), allowing readers to flesh out the story themselves and encouraging independent reading. “Go, Smick, go!” cheers the narrator, in homage to the classic Eastman easy reader. Readers will cheer along.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of Smick! appeared first on The Horn Book.

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27. Picture Book Monday with a review of Jenny and Lorenzo

Most people are afraid of things that they are not familiar with, and they are willing to believe the frightening stories that they hear about those things. All too often the fears that we have can be confronted, if only we have the courage to do so. In today's picture book you will meet a little mouse girl who is afraid of a cat. but who still wants to see what it is like.

Jenny and Lorenzo
Jenny and LorenzoTony Steiner
Illustrated by Eve Tharlet
Translated by Kathryn Bishop
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Minedition, 2013, 978-988-8240-76-0
High up in the clouds, “close to nowhere in particular,” is the land of Howodo. In this land, behind a big duck pond and in a small house, lives a curious and very sweet little girl mouse called Jenny. Jenny constantly asks her parents’ questions, and she delights them with her funny ways.
   Jenny’s mother tells Jenny all about Lorenzo, the cat who likes to eat “mouse on toast.” Not surprisingly, Jenny decides that she simply must go and see this cat for herself. Jenny is scared, but “since she always faced her fears and followed her curiosity,” Jenny sets off to find Lorenzo.
   As she walks through the countryside Jenny encounters some ducks and three piglets. They all warn her about Lorenzo and tell her to go back home before it is too late, but Jenny will not give up and on she goes, until she comes face to face with Lorenzo himself.
   The author of this delightful book builds up the suspense in a masterful way, making us worry on Jenny’s behalf, and making us think that perhaps Jenny should follow the pigs’ advice and go home. It turns out that Jenny has a secret weapon that, in the end, brings her adventure to a surprising close.
   Throughout the book the text is written in both prose and in verse. It is accompanied by Eve Tharlet’s deliciously lovely illustrations, which capture the emotions of the characters perfectly and give the tale a whimsical feel.

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28. Last Stop on Market Street – Diversity Reading Challenge 2015

 Today’s Diversity Read/Review falls into categories #1 and #2. The author Matt de la Peña  is half Mexican/half white and the illustrator Christian Robinson is African-American. Title: Last Stop Market Street Written by: Matt de la Peña Illustrated by: Christian Robinson Published by: G. … Continue reading

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29. Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson (ages 4-8)

Spending time together. A grandmother and her grandson. That love and friendship is what life's all about.

I love how picture books can capture a small moment--and help us hold onto the small moments in our own lives. Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson's wonderful picture book Last Stop on Market Street makes me smile every single time I read it--it's so filled with love, friendship and an appreciation for life, in such a real way.
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña
illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P.Putnam's Sons / Penguin, 2015
Your local library
ages 4-8
*best new book*
When CJ and his grandmother finish church, they head to the bus stop together. CJ doesn't want to wait for the bus, stand in the rain, or go places after church. "Nana, how come we don't got a car?" Nana gently chides him, really just planting seeds for how she sees the world. "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
"Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."
You see, it's really how you look at the world, the magic you can see there, and the people you meet along the way. When CJ asks why a man on the bus can't see, Nana tells him, "Boy, what do you know about seeing? Some people watch the world with their ears."
"Some people watch the world with their ears."
CJ's grandmother helps him see beauty in his surroundings, whether it's the bus or the soup kitchen they head to every Sunday afternoon. As Nana said,
"Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, C.J., you're a better witness for what's beautiful."
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson celebrate the relationship between CJ and his grandmother, and they help all of us see beauty in the small moments, where we never even thought to look. This is a book I look forward to sharing with a wide range of children. Young ones will feel the love between grandmother and grandson; older ones will see the messages that the authors are sharing.

I know my students will especially love the illustrations, with such a wonderful range of people that look so much like the people we see every day walking in our city. The rich, full colors infuse the landscape and city scenes with warmth, community and happiness.

Want to learn more? Check out:
I'm so happy to hear that this special book is now on the New York Times Bestseller list. Hooray! I've already purchased five copies to share with friends. Illustrations from LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET written by Matt de la Peña. Illustrations © 2015 by Christian Robinson. Used with permission from G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin. The review copy was kindly sent by 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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30. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #420: Featuring Zachariah OHora

I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Ame Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny, illustrated by Zachariah OHora and released this month by Little, Brown. That review is here, and today—with thanks to OHora—I’ve got some dummy samples, alternate covers and endpages, character studies, and final art to share with you.

Let’s get right to it …


First Character Studies


Dummy samples
(click each one to enlarge)


Alternate Covers and Endpages

(Click to enlarge)

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Endpaper ideas


Some Final Spreads

(Click to enlarge)

“The Bunny family came home to find a bundle outside their door.”
(Click to enlarge)

“They peeked. They gasped. It was a baby wolf! …”
(Click to enlarge)

“Wolfie slept through the night. Dot did not.”
(Click to enlarge)

“Wolfie and Dot went to the Carrot Patch.”
(Click to enlarge)

“… ‘I’M A HUNGRY BUNNY,’ said Dot. …”
(Click to enlarge)



WOLFIE THE BUNNY. Text copyright © 2015 by Ame Dyckman. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Zachariah OHora. Published by Little, Brown and Company, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Zachariah OHora.

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) My girls had the entire week off because of ice, and so we got to read a lot more than normal.

2) I love this:

3) Ice quakes aren’t fun, but the kick is that at least I know what that sound is now. Oof.

4) When my friend sees my book on the new nonfiction shelf at her library and snaps a pic for me:

5) Bill Murray’s “Jaws” theme song on SNL 40 last week.

6) My daughters’ friends make me laugh.

7) Not long now till House of Cards, season three.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #420: Featuring Zachariah OHora, last added: 2/22/2015
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31. Seuss on Saturday #8

If I Ran the Zoo. Dr. Seuss. 1950. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
"It's a pretty good zoo,"
Said young Gerald McGrew,
"And the fellow who runs it
Seems proud of it, too."
"But if I ran the zoo,"
Said young Gerald McGrew,
"I'd make a few changes.
That's just what I'd do..."
Premise/Plot: Gerald dreams of all the changes he'd make if he ran the zoo. He wouldn't dream of having ordinary animals that you could see at any zoo. No, he wants fantastic animals that have never been seen or heard of. His animals have strange names and come from faraway places. His animals still need to be discovered, hunted, captured. The zoo he dreams up will be something.

My thoughts: This one is silly enough. It is ALL about the rhyme. Making up ridiculous-yet-fun sounding names for animals and countries. For better or worse, sometimes the text and/or the illustrations don't quite hold up so well.
I'll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant
With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,
And capture a fine fluffy bird called the Bustard
Who only eats custard with sauce made of mustard.
I'll go to the African island of Yerka
And bring back a tizzle-topped Tufted Mazurka,
A kind of canary with quite a tall throat.
His neck is so long, if he swallows an oat
For breakfast the first day of April, they say
It has to go down such a very long way
That it gets to his stomach the fifteenth of May. 
In the last example, it isn't so much what is said as to how it is illustrated. 

Have you read If I Ran the Zoo? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss' picture books (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is Scrambled Eggs Super!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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32. Such A Little Mouse (2015)

Such A Little Mouse. Alice Schertle. Illustrated by Stephanie Yue. 2015. [March 2015] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Way out in the wide world there is a meadow. In the middle of the meadow, under a clump of dandelions, there is a hole. And way down deep in the hole lives a mouse. Such a little mouse, with his smart gray coat with his ears pink as petals, with three twitchety whiskers on each side of his nose.

Such a Little Mouse is a concept book about seasons. It stars a little gray mouse. Readers learn what the little mouse does each day in spring, each day in summer, each day in autumn to prepare for each day in the winter. It is a simple nature-focused book. It is very descriptive, which is a good thing. I liked some of the details and descriptions. It provides a certain perspective of the world. The mouse is aware of his surroundings, and enjoys exploring and working.

I thought the illustrations were very well done. Especially of the mouse. I definitely enjoyed this one.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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33. I know a Bear – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: I Know a Bear Written and illustrated by: Mariana Ruiz Johnson Published by: Schwarz & Wade Books, 2014 (originally published in France as J’ai un Ours by Editions Gallimard Jeunesse, Paris, 2011) Themes/Topics: zoo animals, bears, listening Suitable for ages: 3-7 Opening: I know a bear … Continue reading

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34. The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let’s Visit Rome!

Bella and Harry, two friendly Chihuahuas, visit countries around the world with their family of people. In this edition, Bella and Harry visit Rome, Italy.

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35. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Intelaq Mohammed Ali,Emma Chichester Clark, Omer Hoffmann,Briony Stewart, and Duncan Tonatiuh

“‘That’s that,’ said Mama. ‘We’ll just have to cure Sadie ourselves. But how?'”
– From Orna Landau’s
illustrated by Omer Hoffmann

(Click to enlarge spread)


“I was a very studious person who accepted challenges and explored subjects deeply. … In Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, I met a friend
who opened a school where I taught logic and astronomy. …”
– From Fatima Sharafeddine’s
The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina,
illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali
(Click to enlarge spread and see full text)


“I go outside and find you …”
– From Briony Stewart’s
Here in the Garden

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Ahí los esperan las cebollas / y los ajos. / The onion / and garlic are waiting …”
– From Jorge Argueta’s
Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

(Click to enlarge spread and read poem)


From Emma Chichester Clark’s Bears Don’t Read!


That’s a very long post title, but I have a lot of art today.

Last week, I wrote here at Kirkus about some new picture book imports, so I’m following up today here at 7-Imp with some art from each book (some art above and some more below).

* * *

Today over at Kirkus, I have three new picture books that are oh-so lovely, and that link will be here soon.

Enjoy the rest of the art below.


Art from Emma Chichester Clark’s
Bears Don’t Read! (Kane Miller, March 2015)


(Click to see spread in its entirety)


“But when he arrived everyone was running! Some were even screaming!
‘WAIT!’ cried George. …”
(Click to enlarge and read full text)


“George moved into the summerhouse at the end of Clementine’s garden and each day, after school, Clementine showed him everything she’d learned. It wasn’t long before George knew all the letters of the alphabet.”
(Click to enlarge)



Art from Orna Landau’s Leopardpox!,
illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
(Clarion, February 2015)


“‘A LEOPARD!’ cried Mama. Sadie had LEOPARDPOX! The little leopard cub jumped off the bed and scampered around the room.”
(Click to enlarge)


“… The other parents complained.
‘Who brings a leopard to a pediatrician?’ they shouted.
Mama was insulted. ‘This isn’t a leopard! It’s my girl.’ …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)



Art from Fatima Sharafeddine’s
The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina,
illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali
(Groundwood, March 2015)


“They call be Ibn Sina, or sometimes Avicenna, but my full name is Abou Ali al-Hussein ibn Abdullah ibn al-Hassan ibn Ali ibn Sina.
I was born in 980, over a thousand years ago …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)


“Today they say that I was one of the most brilliant thinkers and eloquent writers of my time. … In the science of nature, for instance, I discovered that
light travels faster than sound. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)



Art from Briony Stewart’s Here in the Garden
(Kane Miller, March 2015)


“We’d slip under the shade of a tree with cold drinks and popsicles
as the sky burned every shade of blue. “
(Click to enlarge)



Art from Jorge Argueta’s Salsa:
Un Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem
illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
(Groundwood, March 2015)


“Me dice mi mamá / que el molcajete / era como la licuadora / para nuestros antepasados. / My mother tells me / molcajetes were / our ancestors’ / blenders. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)


“Ya tengo listos cuatro tomatoes.
I am ready with four tomatoes. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)


“Mi mamá viene a calentar las tortillas, / y viene bailando salsa.
My mother warms up tortillas, / and she’s dancing salsa. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)



* * * * * * *

THE AMAZING DISCOVERIES OF IBN SINA. Text copyright © 2013 by Fatima Sharafeddine. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Intelaq Mohammed Ali. First published in English in Canada and the USA in 2015 by Groundwood Books. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

BEARS DON’T READ! Text and illustrations copyright © Emma Chichester Clark 2014. First American Edition 2015 Kane Miller. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

HERE IN THE GARDEN. Copyright © 2014 Briony Stewart. First American Edition 2015 Kane Miller. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

LEOPARDPOX! Text copyright © 2012 by Orna Landau. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Omer Hoffmann. Translated from the Hebrew by Annette Appel. Published in English in the United States by Clarion Books, 2014. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

SALSA: UN POEMA PARA COCINAR / A COOKING POEM. Text copyright © 2015 by Jorge Argueta. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Duncan Tonatiuh. English translation copyright © 2015 by Elisa Amado. Published in the Canada and the USA in 2015 by Groundwood Books. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Intelaq Mohammed Ali,Emma Chichester Clark, Omer Hoffmann,Briony Stewart, and Duncan Tonatiuh, last added: 2/21/2015
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36. Review – The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac, by Dawn Case and Anne Wilson

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac - written by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson (Barefoot Books, 2006)

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac
written by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson
(Barefoot Books, … Continue reading ...

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37. Using wordless books in the classroom

It is easy to underestimate wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books. At first glance, they can seem simplistic and their educational value can seem limited since so much focus is placed on reading in the classroom, but if used in the right way they can contribute to a number of learning objectives across a wide range of grade levels. The books below illustrate some of the types of wordless books that are available and offer some suggestions for how to make them part of your lesson plans.

arrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
This book tells a universal tale of immigration through pictures of a man travelling to an alien world in search of work and a better life. The retro-futuristic setting, sepia-toned images, and alien language will make this book relatable to any reader. Geared towards middle school or older readers, this book could be used in a social studies or history class while reading about the immigrant experience in the U.S. and could just as easily be used in a literature class to teach students how to “read” images.

Robot DreamsRobot Dreams by Sara Varon
It might seem surprising to say that a wordless book about a robot and a dog who are friends packs an emotional punch, but that is certainly the case here. Varon successfully uses images to pull readers into the story and vividly convey emotions without the need for dialogue. The bright colors of the drawings will make this book appealing and accessible to readers in third and fourth grade, where it can be used to prompt discussions around friendship and how art can prompt an emotional reaction.

harris burdickThe Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
Though not completely wordless, this book from famed writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg is definitely not a typical picture book. It consists of a series of drawings, each of which has a title and a caption and no further words associated with it. While the drawings all share an odd, off-kilter quality that makes them mysterious and not quite of our world, they are not explicitly connected to one another. As such, they make ideal short story prompts for virtually any age. This book could be used as inspiration for creative writings projects from grade school through high school. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than the new version of the book published in 2011 under the name The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, which included a story written by a best-selling author to accompany each of the pictures.

mirrorMirror by Jeannie Baker
Here the wordless format is combined with a unique physical format that has readers unfolding each side of the book to reveal side-by-side images of two families, one living in Sydney, Australia and the other living in a small town in Morocco. This layout juxtaposes life in these two locations, showing readers the differences but also the important similarities between the two families. This is an ideal book for younger readers from preschool through early grade school, who will delight in pointing out the similarities and differences between the images. It would work well for teaching vocabulary related to the images as well as for larger discussions about cultural differences around the world.

I hope these ideas will encourage some readers to reconsider the place of wordless books in their classes, but beyond this, I would also love to hear how readers have already been using them. I hope you’ll consider sharing your favorite wordless books and how you use them in your curriculum in the comments!



The post Using wordless books in the classroom appeared first on The Horn Book.

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38. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko & Sean Qualls (ages 4-9)

There are so many different ways into sharing The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. The story centers around Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple who challenged Virginia's laws forbidding interracial marriages and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

You might approach it as a story of two people who stand up and fight for what they think is right--a book about courage, civil rights and fighting for change. Or you might see it as a way to start talking about race with young children, and the struggles one family went through not so long ago. Whichever you choose, this picture book makes a wonderful jumping off point for talking with kids about things that really matter.
The Case for Loving:
The Fight for Interracial Marriage
by Selina Alko
illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
ages 4-9
*best new book*
Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter fell in love in 1958, but it was against the law for them to get married in the state of Virginia--simply because they were different races. Although they were married legally in Washington, D.C., the local police arrested and jailed them when they returned to Virginia, charged with "unlawful cohabitation". In order to live together legally and safely, they had to leave their families and move to Washington, D.C.

By 1966, the Lovings decided that "the times were a-changing" and they wanted to return home to Virginia. They hired lawyers to fight for them, taking their case all of the way to the Supreme Court.
The lawyers read a message from Richard: "Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia,"
The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that it was unconstitutional to make marriage a crime because of race, and the Lovings moved back to Virginia to live "happily (and legally!) ever after."

Selina Alko tells this story in a calm, straightforward way, helping children understand how different and difficult things were for interracial couples just 60 years ago. The illustrations show Richard and Mildred's love and strength, but the gentle tones and collaged hearts keep the spirit warm and positive. Alko and Qualls explain the special importance of this story: their journey as an interracial couple echoes the Lovings'. Their endnote adds weight and perspective.

I especially appreciate how this picture book lends a way into opening up an important topic with young children. It helps talk about something that has now changed--but we still wrestle and notice so  many of these issues around us. Here's an excerpt about the importance of opening up dialog about race with children aged 5-8 from The Leadership Council, a civil and human rights coalition:
Five-to eight-year-olds begin to place value judgements on similarities and differences. They often rank the things in their world from "best" to "worst." They like to win and hate to lose. They choose best friends. They get left out of games and clubs, and they exclude others-sometimes because of race, ethnicity, and religion.

When children begin school, their horizons expand and their understanding of the world deepens. We can no longer shelter them quite as effectively. Even for graduates of preschool or day care, attending elementary school means more independence in a less controlled environment. Children are exposed to a wider range of people and ideas. They also experience more bigotry!

Between five and eight, children are old enough to begin to think about social issues and young enough to remain flexible in their beliefs. By the fourth grade, children's racial attitudes start to grow more rigid. Our guidance is especially crucial during this impressionable, turbulent time.
Interesting food for thought, hmmm? To me, this underscores the importance of entering into these discussions with kids, asking what they notice, what they think -- prompting them to think about why and how they can keep their minds open.

For more excellent nonfiction picture books, check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge over at Kid Lit Frenzy. Today, Aly has a great selection of mini-reviews and links to other terrific blogs.

Illustrations from THE CASE FOR LOVING Written by Selina Alko. Illustrations © 2015 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Scholastic. 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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39. New Dr. Seuss Picture Book Manuscript Found

Random House Dr SeussA long-lost Dr. Seuss book has been discovered. Random House Children’s Books will release What Pet Should I Get? on July 28th.

According to USA Today, the story stars a brother and sister who are looking to bring in a new addition to their family. The same sibling duo appears in the Seuss classic, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, which came out in 1960. For that reason, the editorial executives estimate that the soon-to-be published picture book was written sometime between 1958 to 1962.

The New York Times reports that “the manuscript had been in a box that was discovered in the home of Dr. Seuss (otherwise known as Theodore Geisel) in the La Jolla section of San Diego, shortly after his death in 1991, and set aside. In 2013, Mr. Geisel’s widow, Audrey, and longtime secretary and friend, Claudia Prescott, went through the box and found the nearly complete manuscript, along with other unpublished work.” The same team plans to use other uncovered documents and materials for two more picture book projects.

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40. KidLit Author Events Feb. 18-23


Sorry I forgot to post this yesterday! It was a busy critique day :)

Here’s what’s going on this week for readers and writers:

February 21, Saturday, 10:00 AM THE EIGHTH DAY by Dianne Salerni
Writers’ Workshop, Diane Salerni
Cost: FREE

Houston YA/MG Writers presents a free workshop with YA Author Dianne Salerni: Crafting A Series for Teens And Tweens

February 21, Saturday, 1:00-4:00 PM
Writers’ Workshop with Cassandra Rose Clarke
Cost: $30.00 – $45.00

Writespace presents Crafting Effective Prose. All stories require fascinating characters and a compelling plot to be successful. But how do we reveal those characters and stories? Movies get images, music, and sound. Comic books get art and writing. Prose fiction, though, just gets words.

In this workshop, we’ll examine these powerful building blocks of fiction by focusing on the importance of effective prose. How can the prose of a story highlight and enhance classic story elements like character, structure, and plot arcs? How many metaphors are too many?  Should we all just be trying to write like Hemingway? Through a combination of writing exercises and discussion of classic examples of effective prose, we’ll answer these questions and more.

February 21, Saturday, 9:00 AM.-4:00 PM Rhyme Schemer by K.A. HoltTHE XYZsOF BEING WICKED by Lara Chapman
Lone Star College – Montgomery, Conroe, TX
Montgomery County Book Festival

The Montgomery County Book Festival is an annual free event for all ages. YA author Ellen Hopkins will give the keynote address. There will be three author discussion panels featuring Texas children’s/YA Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, by Varsha BajajBALANCE KEPERS: Lindsey Cummingsauthors Dianna H. Aston, Kari Anne Holt, Lara Chapman, Lindsay Cummings, Emily McKay, Michelle Madow, Meg Gardiner, Kim O’Brien, Joy Preble, A.G. Howard, Victoria Scott, Beth Fehlbaum, Jennifer Mathieu, Julie Murphy, Varsha Bajaj, Lindsey Lane, C.C. Hunter, Kristin Rae, Rachel Harris and Mari Mancusi. For a full list of participating authors, please see the festival’s website. Topics being discussed include romance,UNHINGED: A.G.HowardBIG FAT DISASTER: Beth Fehlbaum mysteries, writing children’s literature, graphic novels and censorship. There will also be two workshops for writers/illustrators: Creating Comics: Words Pictures Comics! and How to Engage Readers with the Teams Writing Strategy. Murder By the Book will be on hand to sell the authors’ books.


February 21, Saturday, 10:00 AMThe Neptune Project: Polly Holyoke
Blue Willow Bookshop
Polly Holyoke , MG Author

Polly Holyoke will discuss and sign her novel THE NEPTUNE PROJECT. Nere has never understood why she feels so much more comfortable and confident in water than on land, but everything falls into place when Nere learns that she is one of a group of kids who, unbeknownst to themselves, have been genetically altered to survive in the ocean. These products of “The Neptune Project” will be able to build a better future under the sea, safe from the barren country’s famine, wars, and harsh laws.

But there are some very big problems: no one asked Nere if she wanted to be a science experiment, the other Neptune kids aren’t exactly the friendliest bunch, and in order to reach the safe haven of the Neptune colony, Nere and her fellow mutates must swim through hundreds of miles of dangerous waters, relying only on their wits, dolphins, and each other to evade terrifying undersea creatures and a government that will stop at nothing to capture the Neptune kids…dead or alive.

Fierce battles and daring escapes abound as Nere and her friends race to safety in this action-packed aquatic adventure.

February 22, Sunday, 1:00 PM The Orphan Sky, by Ella Leya
Barnes & Noble, River Oaks Shopping Center
Ella Leya, YA Author

Join us young adult author Ella Leya for a reading and signing of her new novel. Set at the crossroads of Turkish, Persian and Russian cultures under the red flag of Communism in the late 1970s,  THE ORPHAN SKY reveals one young woman’s struggle to reconcile her ideals with the corrupt world around her, and to decide whether to betray her country or her heart.

Leila is a young classical pianist who dreams of winning international competitions and bringing awards to her beloved country Azerbaijan. She is also a proud daughter of the Communist Party. When she receives an assignment from her communist mentor to spy on a music shop suspected of traitorous Western influences, she does it eagerly, determined to prove her worth to the Party.

But Leila didn’t anticipate the complications of meeting Tahir, the rebellious painter who owns the music shop. His jazz recordings, abstract art, and subversive political opinions crack open the veneer of the world she’s been living in. Just when she begins to fall in love with both the West and Tahir, her comrades force her to make an impossible choice.


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41. Illustrator Interview – Valeri Gorbachev

If you don’t know that I am a huge feline fanatic, you haven’t been following me for long. I fell in love with Valeri’s art when I read and reviewed CATS ARE CATS last November. And I am seeking to … Continue reading

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42. When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

When Otis Courted Mama, written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Jill McElmurry, is a new book about blended families, something that is rare the world of picture books, and even more rarely done well. That said, When Otis Courted Mama is done really well, so well that I almost hate to mention that it even is a story about blended families, preferring to refer to it solely as the great

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43. Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (ages 4-8)

I'm so happy to share Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas this week -- our kindergartners and 1st graders are excited about Chinese New Years (which begins on Feb. 19th this year), and they'll also love the way Natasha Yim spins the Goldilocks story.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Grace Zong
Charlesbridge, 2014
Your local library
ages 4-8
One Chinese New Years, Goldy's mother asks her to visit their neighbors, the Chan family, to wish them "Kung Hei Fat Choi" and share special turnip cakes with Little Chan. "He never shares with me,' Goldy muttered," but mother reminds her that it is the right time to wash away old arguments or she'll have bad luck.

Goldy knocks on the Chan's door, but no one is home. She pushes open the door just to peek and tumbles in, spilling the cakes and making a mess. From there, students will have fun recognizing all of the Goldilocks elements: Goldy finds three bowls of congee (finishing the last), three chairs (breaking the third), and then three beds (falling asleep in Little Chan's futon that's "just right").
“Then she slurped some congee from the plastic bowl. ‘Mmm … just right!’
Before she knew it, she had eaten it all up.”
I especially love the way Natasha Yim and Grace Zong incorporate elements of both Chinese New Years and the Goldilocks tale. Kids will love spotting all the different references. But even more, I love the way Yim changes up the ending.

Goldy runs away embarrassed, but then she thinks about what she's done and goes back to help the Chan's put things back together. It's a moment that I appreciate -- we all make mistakes, but it's what we do afterward that really matters.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Charlesbridge 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.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

0 Comments on Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (ages 4-8) as of 2/17/2015 3:03:00 AM
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44. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: FeaturingMiriam Busch and Larry Day

Good morning, all.

My Valentine to you today is going to be this post, because I’ve got two visitors this morning, and I not only like the book they made together, but I also really enjoyed their conversation and art today.

I’m (partly) looking back a bit — at 2014, that is. Author Miriam Busch and illustrator Larry Day, who has been illustrating picture books since 2001, are here to talk about Lion, Lion, a picture book that was released last September from Balzer + Bray.

Better late than never. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m pleased they stopped by to visit today.

The book tells the story of a conversation between a young boy and a lion, and Kirkus called it “sly, dark humor for little ones—at its best.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books called out its “Sendakian flair” and described it as an “excellent way to introduce younger listeners to the deliberate subversion of expectations.”

But we’re also looking ahead today in that, at the end of this post, we’ll look at what is on Miriam’s and Larry’s plates now — what projects are currently taking up their time.

I thank them for visiting.

Let’s get right to it …

Miriam: Hi, Jules! Miriam here. I’m going to talk a little, and then Larry will chime in. Larry and I created Lion, Lion together.

Here’s a short history.

In 2008, Larry asked me to write a story about Rusty:

Honestly, I was a little lost. I asked Larry who he thought he was (Rusty, not Larry — I didn’t say, “just who do you think you are?”), and Larry gave some vague answers about how Rusty was a king and how there should be lions. This did not help.

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Here’s how some of our notes went. Often, we met for breakfast in a diner and then talked out our story ideas. Larry wrote this out (after pots of coffee, no doubt):


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Eventually, we came up with this convoluted story about this bratty kid, who thinks he should be hunting lions, because that’s what kings do (don’t ask me — I’m even embarrassed to be telling you this) and then eventually uses a slingshot to save his new lion friends from a real hunter.

Right. No idea why there weren’t fistfights among editors over who got to publish that one.

After several rejections, we shelved Rusty.

(Don’t tell Larry, but I never liked this kid. Self-important with a slingshot? BUT: I loved Larry’s lions. I loved all of his animals, but I kept coming back to the lions in my head.)

So, several months after we shelved Rusty, we met for breakfast at a diner. The conversation turned to those lions, especially the one Larry had named Philbert. I had spent time in Africa and wondered about setting a story there — maybe with a different kid (one who was clever-but-matter-of-fact instead of self-important)?

We borrowed the first three lines from Rusty, and by the end of breakfast, we had hammered out script ideas on a napkin. Larry sketched, I sketched, we talked it through, and I wrote it down.

I was thinking a lot about double meanings and characters who speak at cross-purposes — and inlaid the script with this double-meaning. Within a week, Larry had a dummy ready to go.

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We submitted it. Alessandra Balzer (Balzer + Bray) asked if we were willing to make the setting urban. (WHAT?? This entire new story came about because of the foundation of the setting!) But we agreed to try it, and I think the difference is both subtle and profound.

One of Larry’s initial urban drawings:



The final art:


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In our first Lion Lion, there is no delineation between the boy’s reality and his fantasy (if that’s how you want to look at it). What happens now is that the boy steps from his stoop into his imagination (or does he?) and at the end, he returns to his stoop with his friends.

Because the setting changed, the animals changed too.


(Click to enlarge)


In the initial manuscript, the boy is tongue-in-cheek offering his friends to the hungry lion. The animals are all in on the gag, but Alessandra thought to make the story a bit less sinister by having the boy offer actual foods. Still, the speaking-at-cross-purposes remains: the lion reacts to the animals eating the foods.


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Final art:


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I can’t count how many different types of birds we went through!

Throughout this entire process of setting changes and character changes and simplifying the story, Larry drew and re-drew, and I wrote and re-wrote. Larry listened to every text revision, and I participated in the page-turn and image decisions.

As we go along, we write down what we think needs a spread, what needs single-page illustrations, and what might need vignettes (like the lion sneezing). Once we figure out rough visuals, we read through again and again for redundancies or holes. In most cases, Larry sketches to nail down character, and we talk back and forth about it — I might think a character’s head is too big, her hair needs more messing up, etc. Larry then sketches sequential thumbnails (or, as in the case with our current project, he sketches a rough dummy).

Here’s a progression from a thumbnail with notes to final art.


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Lion, Lion was our PhD program for learning how to work together. We have collaborated on several more projects, and whether we’ve begun with an image or with a full manuscript, the process now goes something like this: I read the story to Larry. Together, we work through page turns/possible breaks on the manuscript. It’s not until we have a dummy that we can really read for pacing and pauses and more text changes.

Larry’s always so willing to re-sketch from another viewpoint, to try and try and try to get the emotion just right, and he doesn’t take any comment personally. I’m sure some of this ease in willingness to re-work art comes from his long-time work as a storyboard artist.


Other artists and writers ask how we can work together. We breathe story. The work is always about the story. Our collaboration leads us together to stories we wouldn’t know how to create separately.



* * *


Larry: Larry here! Hi, Jules. Here are a few other picture books I’ve illustrated:

From Voices from The Oregon Trail, written by Kay Winters (Dial, 2014):


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From Nanook & Pryce: Gone Fishing, written by Ned Crowley (Harper Collins, 2009):


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From Civil War Drummer Boy, written by Verla Kay (Putnam, 2012):


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The book’s trailer:



[Ed. Note: I don’t normally get super excited about book trailers, but dang, that’s a great one.]

From Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words, written by Dennis Fradin (Walker Books, 2008):


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From Pearl Harbor, written by Steven Krensky (Simon and Schuster, 2001):


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I studied painting with Gerald Merfeld, who lives near Westcliffe, Colorado. Gerald was an apprentice with Dean Cornwell. I not only learned how to paint from Gerald but gained a wealth of knowledge and appreciation of illustration. He introduced me to the art of Ernest Shepard, Harvey Dunn, Charles Dana Gibson, John Singer Sargent, Morton Roberts, Frank Brangwyn, and many others.



This is a sketch in a silver ore mill in Westcliffe, Colorado:



Here are a few other random drawings:



[Right now] I am finishing the final art for a third book with Suzy (Suzanne Tripp Jurmain). This is the title page for Nice Work, Franklin! (Dial, 2016):


(Click to enlarge)


* * *

Thanks again to Miriam and Larry for visiting today. Miriam, it turns out, is currently at work on several picture books, a middle grade novel, and a graphic novel. In addition to collaborating with Miriam on several more projects and Nice Work, Franklin!, Larry is also illustrating Voices From the Underground Railroad by Kay Winters (coming from Dial soon).


LION, LION. Text copyright © 2014 by Miriam Busch. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Larry Day. Published by Balzer + Bray, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Larry Day.

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’ve already said this, but I really enjoyed talking to Miriam and Larry.

2) The name “Miriam.” My oldest is a Miriam, but she goes by her middle name. Sniff.

3) This CD has arrived, and it’s really good:

Oops. Guess you can’t tell from the cover what it is. It’s Horse Comanche from Chadwick Stokes.

4) Sharing music with friends.

5) Story times.

6) Good grub with good friends.

7) It’s a good time right about now to be a long-time Saturday Night Live geek.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: FeaturingMiriam Busch and Larry Day, last added: 2/15/2015
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45. Special Delivery: A Visit with Matthew Cordell &Philip Stead and Even a Moment with Neal Porter

There is an abundance of adventure and humor and energy and style seepin’ right out of Philip C. Stead’s Special Delivery, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, which is coming to shelves in early March from Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press. It’s the story of a girl named Sadie, who really wants to mail an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine. It turns out that entirely too many stamps are required, so inventive Sadie brainstorms other ways to surprise her Great-Aunt. These involve a harrowing plane ride, an alligator and a trip down the river, bandits, lots of beans, and much more.

It’s such an entertaining book on many levels, and it’s clear that both Phil and Matt—as if there were ever any doubt—know child audiences well.

Phil and Matt visit today—and their editor, Neal Porter, even briefly pops in—for an informal chat about the book. As in, it’s one long email conversation that I am posting here for fellow picture book fans. I ask about the book; we talk about our love for John Burningham’s artwork and books (not to mention Sebastian Meschenmoser); Phil looks at another instance of an attempt at elephant-mailing; Matt shows us some stamps and talks pigeons; Phil and Matt look ahead at what’s next for them this year; and much more.

Scattered throughout this post are five new drawings of stamps from Matt. These are homages to some of Phil’s favorite animal stamps, and each has a Special Delivery spin. These original drawings will be raffled off, and all proceeds will go to charity. (The charity is yet-to-be-decided, but it will be related to literacy.) Information on this raffle will go out via Phil around publication date, but you can see the drawings in today’s post. Right after each drawing is the image of the actual stamp it honors.

Let’s get right to it, and I thank them for visiting.

* * *

Jules: I do story times at the wonderful Parnassus Books in Nashville whenever I can. The thing I miss the most about school librarianship is reading picture books to big groups of children — and, especially, to see how they respond to books. This is probably breaking all kinds of rules—and might even make authors and especially illustrators twitchy—but I sometimes bring F&Gs.

I brought the F&G of Special Delivery to this morning’s story time (since the hardback is not out yet). Now, I had a bigger group than normal — a good number of children of all ages really ready to hear stories, as well as really responsive parents. (I’m always grateful for those adults who respond to picture books, too.)

“‘Hey, Sadie.’ ‘Hey, Jim. I’d like to mail this elephant, please, to my Great-Aunt Josephine—who lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.”
(Click to enlarge spread)

And I mean to tell yoooouuuuu: They loved this book. There were so many laughs that I found myself wishing it was being recorded so I could play it back for you. There were even laughs where I didn’t expect there would be laughs. And everyone especially loved, not surprisingly, the “chugga chugga chugga BEANS BEANS BEANS” moment. [For readers: This is a phrase repeated in the book during a particularly festive spread, mid-way in the story.] I even had all the children sort of chant it with me.

Know the “Hey, Sadie!” that appears before even the title page spread? That got a huge, happy laugh. I mean, right off the bat they loved it.

This was so lovely for me to see. It validated my own experience first reading the book. I think this story is a breath of fresh air in many ways.

I guess my first question is: Have you all shared it with a bunch of children yet, by chance? Whoever wants to answer first … go for it.

(Click to enlarge spread)

Phil: Hey, Gang. I’ll go first. No, I have not yet shared Special Delivery with a group of kids. But I’m excited to do so eventually. I’ve discovered that I learn a lot about my books through the experience of reading to a group. I never test my stories on kids prior to publication, so it’s always a bit of a mystery as to how they’ll go over. Inevitably, there are moments that seemed minor or insignificant during the making of the book that end up being big at reading time. The first time I read Amos McGee to a group of kids, I was floored by how many moments were getting big laughs. The page turn that reveals Amos playing chess with the elephant is, apparently, hilarious in ways I never intended. It’s sounds cloying to say that a book is not complete until it finds an audience. But, well, it’s true.

Hey, not to steer this thing off topic right from the get-go, but have you guys seen this book yet?

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Sebastian Meschenmoser’s last book published in the States, Waiting for Winter, is on my 10 Best-of-All-Time list, so I was really excited to see that this one was coming out. It got some negative reviews pre-publication, but they were the kind of negative reviews that only made me want to buy the book more, i.e. don’t let your kids read this book or they will have bad dreams and generally view the world as a scary, unpredictable place. Given my belief that children’s books ought to acknowledge (at least in some small way) that the world is a scary, unpredictable place, I had high hopes for this particular book. And, boy, does it deliver. Sidenote: This book is one of only three books that I can remember in recent memory that made me laugh out loud in the middle of a book store.

Jules: Well, since you mentioned this, I quickly snagged a review copy, and you’re right: It’s great. I always like to see Sebastian’s books. I identify all too closely with Squirrel. The book, especially the prison spreads, had me and my girls laughing so hard when we first read it. I requested some art from the publisher:

“They had to get rid of the moon!”
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“They had to get rid of the moon!
The best thing would be to send it back to the sky where it belonged.”

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“Now that the moon was back in the sky,
Mr. Squirrel thought it would soon be its old self again.”

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Also, yes, that’s what I meant about story time — that I knew I loved your book and it made me laugh outloud, but I was surprised by laughs in places I didn’t even expect. It’s like the group of parents and children there just hugged it with their active responses. That’s always a good kind of story time to have.

Matt: Great. Right off the bat I’m showing my ignorance. Haven’t heard of the book or the artist. But I’m loving the anti-reviews, so now I’ve gotta hunt this down pronto. It’s almost hard to believe that this book could ruffle such feathers, based on its cover design. Intrigued.

Jules, thanks much for sharing Special Delivery pre-pub with what sounds like a crowd with impeccable taste! It sends a little tingle down my spine to hear it was getting such a raucous response, because it is a very raucous ride of a read. I’ve only shared it thus far with my daughter, who really enjoys it, but the glass-half-empty in me always thinks my girl’s just being nice because it’s her old man’s book. But we have done our daughter-daddy chants of “chugga chugga chugga! beans beans beans!” around the house. I’m looking forward to riling up shouting chants of that at my school visits this spring.

Also, I love that the opening page did what it was supposed to do. At first glance, the design of it—with that big, loud lettering—might make it appear to function as a title page. But the point of it’s actually more like that loud snare drum crack that kicks off “Like A Rolling Stone.” (Title page actually comes two page turns in.)

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Jules: I love that you just compared part of your book to a song. When I wrote last year about Brian Floca’s Locomotive, I wrote that legend has it that Tom Jones passed out in the studio when hitting the final, dramatic note of “Thunderball” for the 1965 James Bond film of the same name. And I wrote that I sort of imagine Floca similarly falling to the ground after having finished the artwork for that book (because he worked on it so long and hard). Point being, I think I should make it a 7-Imp tradition to work song references into every post. Thoughts?

No, seriously. Can you all talk a bit about whose idea this was? Phil, had you written a story for which you were searching for an illustrator? Or did you write it with Matt in mind?

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Phil: I tend to get mixed up when trying to recall the details of my own past, but the basic facts are these: Matt and I decided we’d like to do a book together. We seem to have a lot in common—for example, a mutual love and respect for the work of artists like William Steig, John Burningham, and Quentin Blake—and a mutual woe-is-me-I-think-I’ll-just-quit-life-and-live-on-an-island mentality that exists in close partnership with an otherwise boundless enthusiasm for life and art and bookmaking. So we knew we were simpatico, but we didn’t yet have a project we could work on together. Several months passed, and then one morning I had an old friend over for coffee. She began telling me about a dream she’d had the night before. In the dream she’d brought an elephant to the post office. Once she got there she realized she’d never be able to afford the postage. Within the next few hours, my friend’s dream had become the first draft to Special Delivery. Some stories take months, even years to figure out (I’m looking at you, A Home for Bird), but others change very little from the first moment of inspiration on. Special Delivery was in the latter category. Almost nothing changed from day one till now. Once I had a finished manuscript, I could’ve just emailed the story over to Matt, but that hardly would’ve been keeping with the spirit of the book. So instead I packaged it up and walked it right over to the post office. And that’s that. Care to add anything, Matt?

Oh, wait, before Matt edits my history, I should mention one last thing. My favorite Maurice Sendak illustration actually comes from one of his lesser known books, Lullabies and Night Songs. On page 60, there is a single image of an elephant covered in postage stamps. The image tugs at two of my heart strings at the same time — my love for elephants and my love for stamps. I’d had that image in the back of my mind for years and years prior to the making of Special Delivery. My friend’s dream just sort of jostled something loose, creatively.

(Click each to enlarge)

Matt: I love your description of our commonalities. Very true. Such a fine combination of horribly bleak and triumphantly upbeat, don’t you think?

Yep, your hazy memory of it all matches my own hazy memory of it all. I loved the idea of working with you and with Neal too, and then out of the blue I got a manilla envelope in the mail with the Special Delivery manuscript. I remember reading over it and not expecting at all the thing I was reading over. An elephant delivery, a plane crash, train robbers, and ice cream. This was like my picture book dream come true. You presented it like, “if you don’t like it, we’ll find something else to do together.” But there was no way in hell I was gonna let this go. Thankfully, Neal saw the same beautiful madness the two of us saw and signed, sealed, delivered.

When I first read the Special Delivery manuscript, I remember feeling it was kind of unusual for a Phil Stead. Like a little more off-the-rails or something. I think your collaborations with Erin and also, like, A Home for Bird and Ruby naturally came to mind. More earnest stuff. Although, maybe it was your art and Erin’s art that brought the earnest and sincere vibe to those projects.

But then later I thought, maybe because I was reading this story (the first I’d read of yours without illustrations) and immediately infusing my own mental imagery (which, let’s face it, is often loose, often nutty) into your words, that’s what was making it more off-the-rails. Weeeiird. Was I right then or am I wrong now?

Phil: I think you’re a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Knowing I was writing for you and not for Erin or myself definitely informed my thinking. When I write for Erin, a natural gentleness comes forward. When I write for myself, the manuscripts tend to be more moody and unsettled. I don’t know, something about your line quality was asking for a much quicker pace and a lot more imagery than I’d normally be comfortable with. Still, I think a close read shows that Special Delivery is still a Phil Stead book (apologies for speaking in the third-person; I know that’s gross). The sentence structures are still quite formal, and the character are always, ALWAYS polite. Sadie may be crashing an airplane or hijacking a train, but she always says please and thank you.

“Goodbye, Alligator, and thank you. Someday I’ll mail you a real letter
and inside will be a giant stick of bubble gum.”

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I remember there was one page, in particular, that I had to fight to keep in this book. This was one of the few disagreements that arose during the copyediting stage of the book. The page I’m thinking of comes near the end. It’s the scene where Sadie finally arrives at Aunt Josephine’s. I really wanted to keep that page wordless and just let your art silently show the tender moment of happiness shared between those two characters. Maybe because the book was so raucous up till that point, I was getting some pushback about that decision. It was suggested that that page be much more exclamatory. But to me that’s the page that shows the sincerity of Sadie’s whole adventure. And like you said, sincerity has become a bit of a hallmark of my other books.

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By the way, it’s interesting that you used the word “earnest” as well. I just used that word to describe why I can’t stand Fleetwood Mac. So now, of course, I’m questioning my entire raison d’être. Maybe I’ll just quit life and go live on an island.

Matt: Fleetwood Mac? But I always thought you an Eagles man!

Now I’m remembering some of these discussions. Man, talk about a hazy memory. I love that subtlety of consistent politeness in your books. And I do remember that crossroads of the wordless page vs. the exclamation. It’s all coming back to me now (to the tune of Celine Dion).

Jules: I think there’s good-earnest and then earnest that is like someone is trying to shove sugar down your throat. Neither one of you would ever go for the latter. If so, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

One quick question before we see if editor Neal Porter wants to join the conversation. (Because why not?) Several things about this book made me think of John Burningham Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present, which I love so fiercely – any time of year.


And I am especially fond of his work in general. I know Matt owns this, but Phil, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, because it is ALL ABOUT his long and wonderful career and heaven bless Candlewick for publishing it:

For someone who does a lot of interviews, I think I’m horrible at asking questions sometimes. I don’t really have a question here, except I guess I wonder if you know that book, Phil (Harvey Slumfenburger). I already know Matt knows and loves it. There are elements of the text of Special Delivery that remind me of it – but in a fresh and wonderful way, not a way that makes me think you were trying to mimic. In fact, I think of Special Delivery as a worthy successor to Harvey. That’s saying a lot, only because I’m a huge fan of Burningham’s work and don’t think many people can touch it.

Phil: Nope, I’ve never seen Harvey before. But I’ll go ahead and take it as a big compliment that you found any similarities at all between it and Special Delivery. Every now and then I discover an unintentional similarity between one of my books and a book from someone I really admire. Take Mr. Squirrel and the Moon, for example (the book I mentioned earlier). When I picked it up I was shocked to see that it had an almost identical beginning to A Home for Bird. For a few minutes, I was really patting myself on the back about that. But then I saw that Meschenmoser’s book was first published in Europe in 2006, four years before A Home for Bird. So, once again, I am the copycat. At least I copy the best!

A few weeks ago I was working on some early ideas for a potential third book featuring Sadie from Special Delivery (there will be a second book featuring Sadie, called The Only Fish In The Sea, out in 2017). I realized midway through the second draft that the running gag in the story is very similar to the running gag in Quentin Blake’s Mrs. Armitage, Queen of the Road. I suppose these things happen.

As long as we’re talking Burningham, I’d like to add his new book, The Way To the Zoo, to the discussion. That book is truly beautiful and deeply strange. I love it.

Jules: Ooh, ooh. I posted about that book here last summer. I like it too. There’s art from the book at that link.

And a second Sadie book? Most excellent news.

Matt, did you think of Harvey Slumfenburger as you worked on this?

Matt: I am very excited about that second Sadie book! I’m sort of equal parts excited and terrified. I want to be able to bring back just what we did for Special Delivery and have it live up to Sadie #1 and, furthermore, kick it up some notches. And right now, it’s just a gigantic piece of white paper locking eyes with me. If white paper had eyes.

In regards to Harvey Slumfenburger, that is one of my all-time favorite Burninghams. I don’t always gravitate to extremely seasonal/holiday picture books, but occasionally one does strike a chord and this one does just that. It’s interesting, I love JB for both his text and his art, but I’m mostly thinking about his art. But now that you mention it, Slumfenburger and Special Delivery do have a bit of that constant-motion spirit and hijinks in common! I love the comparison. One thing I thought I’d point out, since we’re on the topic, is how this one spread in Slumfenburger has been quite influential to me on a few books in recent past, Special Delivery included.

(Click to enlarge)

When I first saw this spread, I was blown away by several things. The amount of stuff going on, the wordlessness of it, the whole show-time-through-sequential-image comic strip-esque-ness of it. It’s kind of like a comic strip, but leave it to Burningham to totally jack up the traditional grid. It’s more like the suck-it-grid grid.

I was not not familiar with this device, but when I saw it here—in a picture book—I was sort of like… “YES. THIS.” One such instance I found a place for it was in Another Brother. I love looking at this spread during school visits and pointing out all the weird stuff.

(Click to enlarge)

Then, as we were working on Special Delivery, there’s this insane moment in the manuscript where Sadie and the elephant board a cargo train, and they are promptly hijacked by a band of monkey train robbers. This sounds insane and it’s because it is and … good grief, I love this book. Initially, I took a single page and did sort of a mini-Slumfenburger approach with it in the first sketch dummy. Somebody (Phil or Neal or both) suggested to let this mad moment breathe. Breathe heavily. So we turned the volume up on it, full-spread.

(Click each to enlarge)

So I guess what I’m saying here is that Burningham is never too far from my thoughts. … I think that sounds way creepier than I meant it to sound.

Jules: Ooh, this is interesting. Yes, I love that spread in Harvey. And Another Brother (which I still think was one of 2012’s best picture books).

The primary thing that made me think of Harvey was the repetition of:

I’m delivering this elephant to my Great-Aunt Josephine—who lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.

In Harvey, Santa says each time he meets someone (as if they’re actually going to wonder who he is):

Excuse me. My name is Santa Claus. I still have one present left in my sack, which is for Harvey Slumfenburger, the little boy who lives in a hut at the top of the Roly Poly Mountain, which is far far away. And it will soon be Christmas Day.

I love how he says those exact words with each new encounter (and I think children find comfort in that repetition), and Sadie does the same.

And, I should add, what gets me every time about Harvey is that Santa is wrecked on Christmas Eve after he gives all those toys out, yet he still starts to walk in the cold to Roly Poly Mountain. He doesn’t break his promises, especially not for Harvey Slumfenburger, whose parents can’t afford to buy him presents.

He’s just … well, this will sound hokey, but he’s just extremely thoughtful, which comes back to what Phil was saying earlier about sincerity. I love that Sadie is thinking of her grandmother. And she’s super dedicated to getting that gift there already.

(I also love the ending of Harvey — that deliciously mysterious “I wonder what it was.” AFTER ALL THAT EFFORT. Oh, the lovely wonder of it all, Burningham letting the child reader imagine the possibilities.)

Matt: Yes! All those things! I forgot. I forgot how JB repeats that crazy long phrasing OVER and over and over. Now I see what you mean with the repeat phrasing in Special Delivery. And the extreme dedication, no matter what obstacle literally slams itself into the hero of both stories. A fine comparison.

Lastly, the Slumfenburger text is pretty long, if memory serves, and I’m usually reading it as a bedtime reader when all parental parties are brutally tired, so I feel ol’ Santa’s pain from page one. I love the ending too. So perfect.

Jules: Let’s pull editor Neal Porter into this discussion.

Hi, Neal. So, I’m wondering: The first time you read this story, did it include Matt’s illustrations already?

(Click to enlarge)

Neal: Hi, Jules. Embarrassing to admit, but my memories of the genesis of the project are a little hazy. As Phil has reminded me, I first saw his text for Special Delivery in the summer of 2012 when I was visiting him and Erin in Ann Arbor. He broached the possibility of having Matt Cordell, whose work he very much admired and with whom he had struck up a friendship, illustrate it. I knew Matt’s work from a couple of books our sister imprint, Feiwel and Friends, had published, and was all in. The text, all dialogue, had no “stage directions” but it just seemed like a lot of loopy fun, and I knew we could make it work. There were no illustrations. I asked Matt to do a couple of samples and a character sketch of Sadie, and we were off to the races, once we juggled Matt’s schedule a bit to come up with a delivery date that made sense.

The most memorable part of our collaboration occurred on an extremely hot piece of concrete in the vast expanse surrounding McCormick Place in Chicago during ALA. Phil had scouted the location the day before and said there were nice wrought iron chairs and a view of the lake. When we arrived, the chairs had disappeared but there was an awful lot of bird poop. We had our meeting there anyway, perched on a retaining wall, sweating profusely. Astonishingly enough, we had a very productive session, and from then on it was mostly a question of watching Phil and Matt go to town.

Guys, tell me if I’ve gotten this all wrong.

Matt: I can indeed confirm all of this to be true! Our pigeon poop stoop will forever go down in picture book dummy discussion history. At least in my mind. Actually, I ultimately included pigeons in the book because of that day. Plus, pigeons are kind of like the gross, punk rock, urban warriors of the bird world. Seemed like the right choice here. Take a peek at the title page spread and one or two other places in the book to find our poop-happy friends. (However, all pigeon occurrences in Special Delivery are poop-free, if you don’t mind.)

(Click to enlarge)

Here are the original character studies, plus one piece in color that sealed the deal and got us up and running:

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Thanks, Neal. It hadn’t even occurred to me til now that, indeed, the entire book is in dialogue.

And, Matt: It’s really neat to see these original character studies.

Neal, now that I have your attention (and even one though one day we should just do a long 7-Imp interview), I want to ask: What’s your super secret Neal Porter trick for getting what you want out of your authors and illustrators? I guess if it’s a secret, you won’t tell. But I really look forward to books from your imprint—as in, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook picture books are usually some of my favorites, and it’s not often I feel let down—and so I’m wondering what you look for and how you get it.

Or is that waaaaay too complicated to even answer? Are you shooting daggers in my general direction now?

Neal: Well, that is a very difficult question, Jules, and at the moment I’m shooting a few butter knives, if not daggers, in your direction.

If there is a “trick,” it’s to try to be sensitive to the needs of authors and artists I work with. Phil designs the books he writes and/or illustrates, so I get very tight layouts very early in the process. Usually, it’s a question of fine-tuning. We did have a mild dust up over one sentence—four words—that came towards the end of the original draft of Special Delivery. He didn’t think they were necessary, as he thought the picture told the story. I thought we needed them to make the action clear. He won, and he was right.

Working with Laura Seeger is very different — it’s more like playing, or improvisational theater. The words “what if?”—also the title of one of her books—are invoked constantly. Another phrase that comes up is “it needs something.” Sometimes I have no idea what, and sometimes I have an inkling. But it’s more fun to let her work out the solution, which is often not what I had in mind at all. In all cases, I’d like to think that my edits are unobtrusive — I’m a firm believer in the Hippocratic oath, “do no harm.”

Jules: This is sort of what I expected you to say. I got the sense—probably from various interviews with illustrators I’ve done over the years—that you accomplish a lot with few words. Rather, that you have a way of getting illustrators to see what you want them to see without explicitly pointing it out to them, by letting them come to the realizations on their own.

I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s still early. Still on my first cup of coffee.

Thanks for answering my question. One day, let’s do a long 7-Imp interview.

Neal: Make sense to me, but I’m on my first cup of coffee, too. Happy to do a long interview. Just say the word.

Phil: And if I may chine in, please: I will confirm that Neal, on his better days, has a Yoda-like quality to his craft. I will also confirm what Neal only hinted at. That is, that I am difficult to work with, stubborn, and ill-tempered.

Neal: True, but only in the nicest possible way.

Matt: Neal, I know we’ve only done two books together, but what extremely positive slot do you categorize me in?

Neal: Extremely talented sweetheart.

Matt: Aw, man! See, this is why we all love Neal Porter!

Jules: Matt and Phil, I have only an F&G of Special Delivery, but tell me about the dustjacket and the cover, which I hear are speshul. Also, isn’t there fun with the bar code on the back cover? I also can’t see this on my F&G, but I think Matt told me about it.

Matt: Speaking for myself, this book was a little like weird magic happening from start to finish. Everything came out so organically and free. It sort of felt like we grabbed a puzzle off the shelf, shook up the box, dumped it out, and it assembled itself by the time it hit the floor. And … wow, look at that crazy picture we just made! I mean. Maybe I’m reaching with the metaphor. But the making of this book traveled along–chugga chugga chugga’d along–with so much free-form fun.

The jacket and case cover are two good examples of this. The case cover idea was the first to materialize. I had this thought to design illustrated endsheets, and in my first dummy I quickly roughed out one page of what would be a massive two-page spread of postage stamps.

(Click to enlarge)

Because I was exceeding a budget-conscious page count by doing this, someone at the table (Neal or Phil) suggested we go with traditional endsheets (not illustrated/4-color) and use this stamps-abound design for some hidden-under-the-dustjacket fun. And much, much later … viola!

(Click to enlarge)

The next thing to come—uncharacteristically, very early on in the sketches—was the cover solution. Phil and Neal and I had just been on the phone, discussing the first-round sketch dummy for a couple of hours. It was a tremendously energetic brainstorm session. When I hung up the phone, for whatever reason, that super-famous, famously misprinted U.S. postage stamp—the “Inverted Jenny”—immediately came to mind.

In Special Delivery, we have stamps and we have bi-plane flight, which is—shall we say—less than ideal. What a perfect homage! I quickly roughed up this cover sketch, emailed it out to the guys, and just like that, our cover was solved.

(First cover sketch)

And last—but not least—came the jacket back. I was closing in on the finishing the art for the book, and we still did not have an image for the back of the jacket. Neal was asking. I’d been putting it off, I guess, trying to finish the book. When I sat with it seriously, minutes later I had an idea. Every book sold in stores has that pesky eyesore of a bar code on the back. You do the best you can with it. Sometimes the bar code eats you and, well … sometimes you eat the bar code. This image is a throwback to a happening within the book. And just like that … jacket back solved.

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Thanks, Matt. The “free-form fun” fully comes across in the final product.

One more question about the book: Who came up with the “chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans”? Did you add that when illustrating that spread, Matt? Or was it part of the text?

Phil: The inclusion of the “chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans” refrain is maybe the greatest example of this puzzle seemingly coming together all on its own. That line did not appear in the manuscript. All that existed was the implication of some manic bean-eating. Matt added that text all on his own (without even asking, mind you). But I love him for that, because all along I was telling him: Do whatever you need to do to make this work. Even change the text if you have to.

The only other artist I’ve worked with is my wife, Erin. When we’re working on a book, both the text and the art are in constant flux. Each informs the other as the work progresses. I wanted to keep that back-and-forth alive for this, my first book made outside of our home studio. “Chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans” has become the unintentional slogan that’s followed this book around. Several months ago I was in Cincinnati and a total stranger came up to me, threw his arms in the air and hollered “Chugga, chugga, chugga, beans, beans, beans!” That was when I first realized we may have stumbled into some weird magic.

And as for the cover art, I have nothing to add other than that I love it, and that once again it was all Matt’s genius, not my own. Sometimes I think the job of a picture book writer is similar to the job of the guy who throws the pitches at a home run derby. Just lob ‘em in and watch ‘em leave the park.

Jules: Okay, last question: I’m curious to know what is on your plates for this year. Matt, I’d love to hear about Wish. Anything else you’re doing?

Phil, you and Erin have Lenny & Lucy, releasing in the Fall, yes? I haven’t seen it. I just had to go look that up. (There’s evidently a song with the same name.) Can you talk about that a bit? Anything else you’re working on now?

Matt: Before we move on, let me just get the last word in. And I’m about to get ooey gooey weird here, but so be it. Getting Phil’s okay on the art was a big deal for me, still is. This was the first time I had ever illustrated a book for another illustrator (not to mention one whose work and decisions I highly respect), and I must admit I was pretty worried about it, going in. After that first dummy went in and all signs pointed to “yes,” and I was real glad about that. It was ripping and roaring and BEANS-BEANS-BEANS from there on out.

Okay, let’s move on.

Phil: As for other 2015 projects, I feel like I have a dozen things all happening at once. The book I’m actively working on is a story called Samson in the Snow. It’s about a woolly mammoth who goes looking for a friend in a snow storm. The art for this one is done in oil pastel — a new medium for me.

(Click to enlarge)

In addition to Samson, Matt and I are working on another book featuring Sadie from Special Delivery. Book two is called The Only Fish in the Sea. In this one, Sadie and her friend, Sherman, must rescue a discarded goldfish. (Sherman is the unnamed character that yells “Hey Sadie!” at the beginning of Special Delivery.)

I’m also working on a super-top-secret writing project that I would love to tell you all about, but, well … it’s super-top-secret. At least for now. I will say this: It involves a collaboration with a long dead American literary icon. And it keeps me up at night.

Hmmm, what else? I have a finished novel sitting on my shelf that no one’s read. Not even Erin. Maybe I should dust that off?

Later this year, Erin and I have Lenny & Lucy coming out. This is Erin’s first book in a couple years, so I’m pretty excited about it. The book is a bit darker than her other books, both literally (it’s mostly black and white) and emotionally. I’m not aware of any song called “Lenny & Lucy.” Hopefully, there are no lawsuits coming our way.

(Click each to enlarge)

Finally, I’m looking at proofs right now for a book that will be out next year, called Ideas Are All Around. It’s a difficult book to describe. It’s part personal essay, part fiction. It’s an odd little book. It’s long (56 pages), and it’s illustrated using a variety of techniques from monotype printing to collage to Polaroid photography. Ideas will be out next spring. I’m equal parts excited and nervous for it’s arrival.

(Click each to enlarge)

How about you, Matt? What’s piling up on your desk?

Matt: Look at all this great, new Steadstuff! Looking forward to seeing these materialize into books soon. I may have to hound you later to find out about this dead American literary icon secrecy.

So, on the VERY SAME DAY Special Delivery is released, I have my next author-illustrator picture book, Wish, being released too. Ask me about it some time, but long story short, it was kind of an avoidable, then unavoidable, pub-day collision.

Wish is my answer to a “New Baby!” book. The inspiration here is a long story, but I’ll try to keep it not so long. When Julie (my lovely wife, who is also named Julie) and I finally took the plunge and said “we’re ready to try for a baby,” we had no idea there’d be such a tumultuous road ahead of us. There was waiting (LOTS of waiting … years), heartbreak, and too much loss on that road. So by the time our firstborn was actually born, it was a drop-to-your-knees, life-changing, heart-swelling moment of moments. I think all parents must have that moment when a child is born that they’ve just brought into the world. And for us, we felt that — and we reflected, too, on the many broken battles that laid in our past. And in the midst of all that time, we also met so many couples that went through similar hardships. We didn’t know it at first, but now Julie and I know how common it all is. So I wanted to tell our story—a book about what it sometimes takes to wish a child into this world—and let it be a story that other parents could share and read to their children that they fought so hard to will into existence. I’m really excited about this book, and I really, really hope that it finds its audience.

“At first, there is us. There is only us.
But even then, even before we can know to know it …”

“Ready for you. We wish you were here.”
(Click to enlarge)

“… but you never come. And everything stops.”

“You are here. You are …”
(Click to enlarge)

The case for Wish
(Click to enlarge)

In July, I have another picture book coming out with the most excellent Audrey Vernick, via Clarion. The book is called First Grade Dropout. I probably shouldn’t say too much since it’s, like, five months away, but it was so fun to illustrate, because it’s about a kid who, of course, is already ready to drop out of school in the first grade.

And in the Fall, I’ve got my next book out that I did with Neal. A super clever picture book by Marsha Diane Arnold, called Lost. Found. There’s only two words in the whole book, and you can guess what those two words are, I think.

I’m currently, just now, starting final art for The Knowing Book, a beautiful picture book with Boyds Mill Press by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. I’m also working on my next author/illustrator picture book, called Little Jupiter, with Feiwel and Friends. I’ll soon be starting sketches for a picture book called Bob Not Bob by dynamic duo authors Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon. And, of course, I’m thrilled about our Special Delivery sequel, which is next in line. There’s some other great stuff that carries me all the way on through 2018, but I’ll shut up and cap it off with that. I’m lucky to be so busy with such good stuff!

Jules: I think I have a very early copy of First Grade Dropout in my stack of F&Gs.

I also have a copy of Wish, and I love the moment when the baby elephant arrives, à la Moses parting the Red Sea. It made me laugh outloud, and it is so joyful.

“… becomes a roar.
(Click to enlarge)

It’s wonderful to see sneak-peeks of your future titles. Thank you both for sharing and for talking to me about Special Delivery, which is—in the words of StingRay—specialness forever.

Thank you both for your time!

Chugga chugga.

* * * * * * *

SPECIAL DELIVERY. Text copyright © 2015 by Philip C. Stead. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Matthew Cordell. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Matthew Cordell and Philip C. Stead.

10 Comments on Special Delivery: A Visit with Matthew Cordell &Philip Stead and Even a Moment with Neal Porter, last added: 2/17/2015
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46. Let’s Honor Mr. Washington!

Dear Mr. Washington

By Lynn Cullen; pictures by Nancy Carpenter


Are you ready for a funny and partly historical, yet hysterically chuckle-filled read? Then “Dear Mr. Washington” is the picture book to honor “The Father of Our Country”, George Washington.

Most picture books on the first President and Commander-in-Chief are adequately fact-filled and very accurate. But where is the humanity and humor?

Well it’s all found here in Ms. Cullen’s use of a bit of historical license in her take on a true event in the life of George.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the famous Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. It hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Gilbert Stuart also painted the very serious George of perfect deportment and manners, whose image appears on the dollar bill.

Let me set the scene. It’s April of 1796 and Washington arrives at the home of this master portrait artist to capture this iconic president for all time. And Stuart, unlike the solemn Washington is a bit of a prankster.

Try imagining the scene with Gilbert trying to loosen up George to get a relaxed feel for the painting – or even a smile. Add to the mix, the artist’s children that are about the house, and Ms. Cullen’s picture book takes off! Don’t kids always want to help?

It’s very cleverly done. The picture book intersperses a series of supposed admonitions on behavior, taken from a book that is a supposed gift to the Stuart trio of children from Washington. The book is called “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”. Washington apparently copied these rules laboriously, I believe, probably for both practicing penmanship and deportment. Double benefit was enjoyed by George!

Enter three of Gilbert’s children that are witness to the attempted portraiture. Chaos is afoot and Washington runs afoul of the the children’s well intentioned attempts to “follow the rules.”

Disaster is the only thing that ensues as the children are bent on helping their father to get George to smile.

But even the First President cannot resist forever the “scallywags” of the Stuart family – and neither will you. They are impish in the extreme as only children can be that are really trying hard to be good – for dad and country.

Nancy Carpenter completes the picture of a portrait gone awry in her perfect renderings that capture chaos unfolding at the Stuart household.

Please allow your child a very imaginative trip to the Stuart household for “what would have happened if,” preceding the painting of this most famous of presidential portraits.

Mrs. Stuart must have been a very brave woman with twelve children in tow and a president in the parlor!

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47. Picture Book Monday with a review of Slugs in Love

Though Valentine's Day is passed, I could not resist reviewing this book and sharing it with you. I think what endears this book to me is the way in which the main characters use poems to communicate. Slugs that are wordsmiths! How perfectly perfect.

Slugs in Love
Slugs in LoveSusan Pearson
Illustrator:  Kevin O'Malley
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 8
Marshall Cavendish, 2012, 978-0761453116
Marylou is a very shy slug who loves one thing more than anything else. Maylou loves Herbie, a slug whom she thinks is incredibly handsome and charming. Unfortunately Marylou cannot bring herself to tell Herbie how she feels. Instead she writes a poem describing her feelings on the side of a watering can. Herbie sees the poem and writes one back asking Marylou to come forward but Marylou does not see his message and poor Herbie is still in the dark as to who she is.
   Back and forth the messages go between the lovelorn Marylou and the mystified Herbie. Maylou writes her loving verses and Herbie sees them. Herbie writes back but by sheer bad luck Marylou never sees his words. Is this a love that is doomed to die before it has had a chance to begin?
   Children and their grownups will laugh out loud at this funny, often sweet, and very unlikely love story. There can be no doubt that Herbie and his Marylou deserve each other, and their wistful little poems say it all. Who says romance is dead?

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48. Free Video Series Answering Your Picture Book Submission Questions

Group of Diverse People's Hands Holding Answers ConceptFor those of you who write picture books, here’s some great news!

My friend and colleague Julie Hedlund and I recently ran a survey asking for questions about picture book submissions. We received SO MANY great questions – literally, hundreds – and we were amazed by how many people asked the same questions.

Julie and I are both dedicated to supporting fellow children’s book authors – in our view, the children’s book writing community is perhaps the most mutually supportive of any professional community out there, because, hey, we’re all writing for kids!  So we decided to create a FREE video training series answering your most commonly recurring questions as follows:

1. How to write a GREAT HOOK sentence in your query letters

2. The Top 5 MISTAKES TO AVOID, and 5 lesser known (but frequently made) mistakes – so you don’t sink your submission before it starts.

3. Our ANSWERS to the most commonly asked QUESTIONS that came up over and over again in the survey.

Click here to sign up for the free training…. but do it quickly! These videos will expire in 10 days!

P.S. Please share this post on social media or with your picture book writing friends… there’s great information in these videos for everyone who writes picture books. And check out some of the fabulous comments we’ve already received on the first video, below!


Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 3.35.39 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 3.36.43 PM

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49. A Visit with Illustrator Ana Juan

I’m happy to have here at 7-Imp this morning some new artwork from Spanish illustrator Ana Juan, one of my favorites. Ana is the illustrator of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, as well as picture books and, here in the States, many New Yorker covers. The fourth book in the Fairyland series, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, will be on shelves in early March. Pictured here today are the illustrations from the book. (Under each illustration is the name of the chapter from which it comes.) Just above is the illustration from one of the book’s final chapters, “The Spinster and the King of Fairyland.”

I also asked Ana about these books and her work, including her January New Yorker cover in response to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Here she is below, in her own words.

I thank her for visiting.

[There’s more Fairyland art in this 2011 7-Imp post, as well as a Q&A with Valente.]


On Illustrating the Fairyland Books …

First of all, I am one of the luckiest readers who gets to read and enjoy the manuscripts long before publication. The unlimited richness of the language of Cat Valente makes reading this fantasy series mysterious and very personal. I love the sane and politically incorrect touch in her stories.

Sometimes, it is not easy to build the characters in my mind, because I have no reference. But this is a challenge that makes working on this series different than other fantasy books. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is the fourth book, so I have worked with some of the characters’ faces, but there are continuously characters coming into the pages of the story. Every chapter is a surprise.


“Entrance, on a Panther”


“How to Send a Troll by Post”


“Troll to Boy, Boy to Troll”


On Knowing Which Moments to Illustrate …

I have no method. Simply, at the same time than I am reading the text, images come to my mind. I can choose images that will give a global idea of the story.


“The Wombat Prince of Chicago”


“The Adventures of Inspector Balloon”




On her Favorite Medium …

My favorite medium is one of the oldest in the world: coal pencil on paper. Nothing can be more sublime than to tell a lot with just one line.

I don’t like too much to work in color — I can express better in black and white. Drawing and sculpting are my fields, the places where I feel safe and well.


“The Monster on Top of the Bed”


“Please Be Wild and Wonderful”


“The Emerald Thermodynamical Hyper-Jungle Law”


On her January 19, 2015, New Yorker Cover, “Solidarité” …



In a really short time and inside a brainstorm, I thought of Paris and its icons — and about the basic drawing tool: a pencil. The pencil became the symbol of press freedom. Not as easy as adding a pencil to the Eiffel Tower …

The cover idea of “Solidarité” is fairly simple, and I’m pretty sure that another artist had the same idea. How does one image differ from the others? The voice and the language the author uses to convey his emotions.

This is not a conventional war, and every creator has a commitment to himself and to society. We have to work against intolerance with the weapons we have.


“The Painted Forest”


“An Audience with the King”


“The Crunching of the Crab”


On Picture Books in Spain …

Spain is a small market. On one hand, our lists are smaller and on the other hand, the illustrator is freer, having the chance to take risks and experiment with new things.


“Unhappy Feet”


“The Changeling Room”


“The Laundry Moose”


On What She’s Doing Now …

Since I wrote and illustrated my latest book for children, The Pet Shop Revolution, I haven’t worked on any children’s books.



Nowadays, I am only illustrating books for an older audience. In fact, the Fairyland series is my youngest audience and work.


“The Cranberry Bog”


“Jumping Bean Life by Wombat and Matchstick”


“Someone Comes to Town”


“The Boy Who Was Lost, The Girl Who Was Found”



* * * * * * *

THE BOY WHO LOST FAIRYLAND. Text copyright © 2015 by Catherynne M. Valente. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Ana Juan. Published by Feiwel and Friends, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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50. The Best Place to Hide: Some Favourite Children's Books about Dens and Hiding Out - Emma Barnes

Last week I wrote about how camping out - in both reality and fiction - inspired my new book Wild Thing Goes Camping. Equally important, I realised, was the idea of dens and secret hiding places.

There’s something really powerful for a child about a den or a secret place. There’s all the fun of finding or building one. There’s also the thrill of having a place that nobody know about: a place totally under your control, where nobody messes with your stuff, which is totally private from the grown-ups.

I’d already used the idea once before in Sam and the Griswalds – where a tree-house in Sam’s garden provides an important refuge and meeting-place.

In Wild Thing Goes Camping, five-year-old Wild Thing disappears into the back garden with some of the clean laundry.  When big sister Kate, Gran and Dad go looking for her, they are rather taken aback when a head pops out of the ground at their feet.

"No need to shout," she said. 
It was a bit of a shock seeing my sister come out of nowhere like that.  "What are you doing down there?" I demanded.  "And... where is the rest of you?"
"In my new den, of course," said Wild Thing.  And she disappeared again, under the sheet.
Dad gave a roar of annoyance.  Then he knelt down and grabbed a corner of the sheet - and pulled.
Wild Thing gave a howl.  "Stop!" she bellowed. "That's my roof!"

It turns out Wild Thing has made a potato trench in the back garden into a den for herself and her worms. She makes a sheet into the roof and purloins Gran’s new handbag as a “worm house”.

Of course, Dad forbids her from building more den.  But like children before and since, Wild Thing is not about to give up her pursuit of a place of her own!

Here are some of my own favourite books with secret dens. They cover the entire age range: a secret space, after all, may be just as important to a teenager as it is to a small child making a den behind the sofa.

I’ve had to search hard, though, to think of recent examples. Is this because there are fewer forgotten and hidden places in today's intensely developed world?  Or because modern children have less freedom to explore outdoors?  Or perhaps because today’s children take refuge online – not in dens?

1) Sally’s Secret- by Shirley Hughes Classic picture book writer-illustator Shirley Hughes produced this wonderful story about a small girl making herself a house at the bottom of the garden. The joy is in the details – the doll’s tea set, the leaf plates, the tiny cakes. At the end she decides to share it, and invites the next door child to tea.

2) Tilly’s Houseby Faith Jacques  A servant doll that runs away from a dolls’ house and creates her own home in a wooden crate in an abandoned green-house. Although about a doll, it taps into a child’s own desire to make a little place of their very own. The special pleasure of this story, again, lies in the very detailed illustrations, and in seeing how discarded and unwanted every day human objects (sponges, bottle tops, wrapping paper, an old glasses case) can be transformed into the furnishings for a doll. 

3) The Hollow Tree Houseby Enid Blyton Enid Blyton may not have been a great stylist. But her enormous popularity was not for nothing, and one of her strengths was her ability to hook-in to a child’s fantasies. It’s not surprising, then, that many of her books feature secret hide-outs. The Hollow Tree House is about two children who, with the help of a friend, run away from their abusive relatives and make their home in a huge, hollow tree in the woods.

4) The Magician’s Nephew - by C.S.Lewis  Sometimes a secret place may be the way into another world.  Polly has made a "smuggler's cave" in the attic of her terraced house. It is, of course, when she shows the attic to her friend Diggory that they travel too far along the rafters, stumble into Uncle Andrew’s study, and end up as part of an experiment which sends them out of this world, and eventually into Narnia…

5)  The Dare Game - by Jacqueline Wilson Jacqueline Wilson is a contemporary author who seems to have a direct line to a child's fantasies.  In this book, her most famous character, Tracy Beaker, bunks off from school and discovers an empty house.  It becomes a place where she can escape from her troubles, but also form new friendships.

6) The Secret Hen House Theatre - by Helen Peters  This is a recent book, whose old-fashioned setting on a Sussex farm has not stopped it making a big splash.  Helen lives with her three siblings and widowed dad, whose long working day leaves little time for his children.  Then one day she stumbles upon a dillapidated old hen house.  For Helen, it represents not just the chance of creating her own space, but a way of fulfilling her dreams of being an actress...

7) Jenning’s Little Hut- by Anthony Buckeridge  Jennings and his boarding-school friends build their own shelters down by the pond.  These vary from Bromwich Major’s subterranean “elephant trap” with resident goldfish to Jennings and Darbishire’s own Ye Old Worlde Hutte with its periscope, duckboards, and front door mat made of bottle tops!

8) Peter’s Room- by Antonia Forest  In this neglected classic, Peter Marlow turns the loft above the coal shed into a hide-out, complete with stuffed hawk and antique pistols. This adult-free space then becomes the venue for a teenage fantasy game that gets dangerously out-of-hand.

9) The Hunger Games - by Suzanne Collins   Katniss and Gale have a secret shelter where they meet while poaching in the woods. Later, during the Games themselves, Katniss and Peetah take refuge in a cave by the river. For victims of an oppressive, authoritarian regime, the possibility of a space of their own is every bit as important as it is to younger children trying to dodge their parents.

Any suggestions for number 10? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Emma's series for 8+ Wild Thing about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways) is published by Scholastic. 
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

 Wolfie is published by Strident.  It is a story of wolves, magic and snowy woods...
"A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
"Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps

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