A Two-Debut Interview: Joy Keller Interviews Alison Goldberg About I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES

LoveYouForMiles_biblio.jpgJK: Congratulations on your debut picture book, Alison! It’s exciting to see I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES out in the world. How did you come up with the idea for this adorable book?

AG: Thank you, Joy! As preschoolers, my children loved vehicles. We played with toy excavators, set up many windy train tracks, and admired every construction site we passed. I remember my kids staring wide-eyed when they saw planes out of the big glass windows at the airport for the first time. I started to understand what vehicles meant to my kids: powerful, large, and mysterious characters full of metaphor.

At night, the “How much do you love me?” game turned into a comparison of our love to the size and strength of all things that go. After coming up with many of these examples for my own kids, I thought it could be a fun take on a love book.

Check out the book trailer here.

That trailer is so much fun! I notice it features all different types of things-that-go. Do you have a favorite?

bird nest on craneI’d have to go with cranes. They seem impossibly tall for transporting to construction sites. While writing I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES I observed a crane in my city and noticed that a bird had built a nest at the top! It reminded me of the sweet truck book, ARE YOU MY MOTHER? By P.D. Eastman.

My kids have always loved that book and its pictures of the “Snort.” Speaking of pictures, what was it like to see Mike Yamada’s illustrations for the first time?

I was thrilled! I love the movement in his images. Mike creates such unique perspectives. And the bears are adorable! I’m also really grateful that the child bear’s gender is not defined but left open to the reader’s imagination. Many vehicle books are created with boys in mind. I hope I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES can be a book for any child who loves vehicles, bears, or being told just how much they are loved.

As a female author who’s also written a book featuring trucks, I think it’s wonderful that your story can be for any child! Now let’s talk about your process for a minute. What is the biggest challenge you face as a writer?

Competing projects. I have a long list of stories I’d like to work on (thank you to Tara Lazar’s Storystorm for getting me into the habit of compiling them!). Sometimes I find it hard to decide which one to tackle next.

One of the things that I admire about you (other than your writing talent!) is your dedication to giving and activism. Can you tell us a little about what you’re doing to celebrate your book launch?

One of my very first jobs was as an organizer for the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger at the Food Research and Action Center. At the time, our campaign materials included a unique image of children reading while surrounded by food. This art helped raise support for our work to strengthen nutrition programs serving kids and was donated by Tomie dePaola!

So when I found out that my first picture book would be published—a love book for children–I knew I had to find a way to contribute to this campaign. To celebrate my book launch I’m donating a portion of proceeds to the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, and I’m planning some special book events in 2018 to raise support for this work. I’d welcome other children’s book creators to get in touch if they’re interested in getting involved.

big rig page_Miles and Miles.jpg

We’ll have to talk more about that later! It sounds like a great opportunity.You’re also part of a new blog called M is for Movement. Can you tell us about that, as well?

M is for Movement is a new group blog focused on activism and social justice in children’s literature. My collaborators include Janine Macbeth, Innosanto Nagara, and Robert Liu-Trujillo, and together we aim to build a collection of articles, interviews, and reviews about children’s books that put social justice values into practice.

We launched in October, and already we’ve connected with a number of children’s book creators and librarians who are interested in writing for the site. I’m excited to help build this community, draw attention to powerful books, and learn from many voices!

Thanks, Alison! It’s been wonderful learning more about I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES and all your social justice work.

goldbergalisonframeAlison Goldberg is a writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES, illustrated by Mike Yamada (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, December 2017) is her debut picture book. Before becoming a children’s book author, Alison worked for economic justice organizations and wrote a resource guide about social change philanthropy. These days, she blogs about activism in children’s literature and loves researching everything from marine life to contemporary art for her books. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Learn more at www.alisongoldberg.com or on Twitter @alisongoldberg.
kellerjoyframeJoy Keller is the author of MONSTER TRUCKS (Henry Holt) and the upcoming MISS TURIE’S MAGIC CREATURES (The Innovation Press, 2018). When she’s not writing, she can be found teaching elementary students how to write. She lives in Fairport, NY with her husband, two children, and several cats. You can visit her at www.joykellerauthor.com or find her on Twitter @jrkeller80.






A HALLOWEEN TWO-DEBUT INTERVIEW: Annie Silvestro Talks with Anna Forrester About Her Debut, BAT COUNT


AS: Anna, congrats on your debut picture book, BAT COUNT! It’s a beautifully told story, jam-packed with interesting facts as well as the fantastic concept of “Citizen Science.” It’s also a big hit in my household! Thank you for answering some of my two-debut interview questions.

AF: My pleasure, Annie!

BAT COUNT seems especially appropriate for this time of year. Even though the actual bat counting takes place in August, Halloween is the time people most associate with bats (and vampires!)

I know, from a marketing perspective, the story’s timing is wonky — October has a complete monopoly on bats!!

Where did you get the idea for BAT COUNT?

My family has an old farm in central Pennsylvania, and a colony of bats lives in its barn. When we heard about white nose syndrome — and that scientists were asking people to track bat colonies – we decided to start a count. Jojo, the narrator, definitely has bits of me and my two daughters in her!

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Tell us a little about what has drawn you to bats and what compelled you to tell this story?

Writing Bat Count and doing events with scientists who work with bats has taught me a ton about them; they are really cool creatures! But the citizen science aspect of the story always felt just as important. I’m a nature-geek, and have this hyper-awareness of the negative impacts that humans are having on the planet. Though any real fixes are going to have to happen at systemic levels, getting involved in citizen science makes me feel a little less helpless. Hopefully Jojo and her story can give kids a sense of hope and agency too.

BeyondThePondIf you could choose to live in the world of any picture book, which world would it be? Why?

The pond-portal in Joseph Kuefler’s Beyond The Pond leaps to mind. I love what that book captures about how imagination and new experiences can change the way we see the world. Plus: who wouldn’t want to have a day like Ernest D.’s?

ThisIsNotMyHatIf you could take credit for ANY other published PB out there, which one would you choose?

Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat. That particular unreliable narrator, the perfect page turns, the eyes, the ambiguous ending… I find myself going back to that book over and over again.

Tell me about the pet/s you had growing up.

Our first pet was this snarky black and white cat named Rimsky.  when he was a few years old his tail started drooping, and we discovered he had a degenerative neurological disease that was moving up his spinal cord and would, eventually, paralyze him. To save him, the vet removed half of his tail, and Rimsky ended up with a perky little stump that didn’t match his personality and — it seemed to me — embarrassed him. He was totally long-suffering.

Are you a fan of Halloween? Will you dress up this year? If so, what will your costume be?

I’m not a big dresser-upper, but my family does have a Halloween tradition that gets me to put on a pointy hat and robe: we live in a row house in downtown Philadelphia, on a corner, and we open the gates of our postage-stamp-sized back yard, push the furniture aside, and set up a table full of candles and jars of all sorts of gross things (mostly made of food): cat brains, dog eyeballs, baby fingers… We put a candy basket in the middle of it all and dare trick-or-treaters to stick their hands in one of the jars before they take any candy. The kids totally love it.

And I can’t resist – what is your absolute favorite Halloween candy? (and least favorite?)

SMARTIES. Hands down. Though I wouldn’t turn down a box of MILK DUDS either. And, despite loving coconut, I will never understand the appeal of MOUNDS.

Thank you for sharing your answers with us!

Thanks Annie! It has been great getting to know you and the other debuts at Picture The Books this year!

For Halloween enthusiasts in the NYC area, Anna will be reading and talking about bats at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Ghost and Ghouls festival on Saturday, October 28. It’s a huge event, with great music and activities, and a fantastic line-up of children’s authors!


silvestroannieAnnie Silvestro is a lover of books who reads and writes as much as possible and can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup. She is the author of Bunny’s Book Club, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday), and Mice Skating, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling). Forthcoming books include The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (HarperCollins Fall 2018) and Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday, Summer 2019). Annie lives with her family by the beach in New Jersey. Visit Annie online at www.anniesilvestro.com or on Twitter and Instagram @anniesilvestro.


Anna Forrester’s picture book, Bat Count (Arbordale), was released in February 2017 . Anna loves nothing better than to stumble onto a funny idea or a great question, and hold on tight as it leads her through books, her imagination, and unexpected nooks and crannies of the real world. She also loves words and stories, and many of her adventures find their way into the stories she writes. In her other life, she makes landscapes for play. Anna is a Missouri native, and now lives in Philadelphia with her husband, dog, and two daughters.  Visit Anna on line at www.annaforrester.com, or on Twitter @annaforr.

Gina Perry Interviews Debut Author Chana Stiefel about DADDY DEPOT + A DOUBLE-DAD GIVEAWAY!

daddy depot

Hi, Chana! Congrats on your funny and sweet debut, DADDY DEPOT. We both had Dad themed books debuting this year so it’s a treat to interview you! What were your favorite books as a kid?

I remember loving BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL by Robert McCloskey and ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by P.D. Eastman. Interestingly, these books are about characters who get separated from their parents (and have happy reunions). My debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT, is a little more cynical: it’s about a girl named Lizzie who returns her father to the daddy store. Just for the record, I would never swap my pop!

While this is your first picture book, you are a prolific nonfiction writer. How different was the writing process for DADDY DEPOT from your other books?

Before DADDY DEPOT, I wrote 20+ nonfiction books for the educational market about natural disasters, stinky castles, farm animals, and other kid-friendly topics. Many were work-for- hire projects, with either a flat fee or an advance with royalties. The publishers contacted me as a freelance writer to research and write the books. They had a pretty quick turnaround time of five to eight weeks and they were published within a year. Word counts ranged from 500-5,000. Those books sell mainly to schools and libraries.

DADDY DEPOT is more of a journey—and fulfillment of a dream. It’s my debut picture book and my first published work of fiction. The idea popped into my head as a bedtime story about eight years ago (!). My daughter was upset with her dad and we conjured a story about a girl who returns her father to the daddy store. We laughed a lot about a shopping spree in a store filled with dads. Afterward, I went downstairs and started writing. That began a multi-year process of learning the ropes of picture-book writing. At the time, I knew next-to- NOTHING about the craft, format, and style of PBs even though I loved them and read them to my kids every night. Once I learned the craft and went through dozens of drafts, the journey continued with finding an agent, selling the manuscript to Feiwel & Friends (an imprint of Macmillan), and seeing it through to publication.

I still write both fiction and nonfiction—depending on where my heart and brain take me. (I very rarely take on work-for- hire projects. My new nonfiction books are my own ideas that I pitch.) Writing fiction and nonfiction are very different skills. For example, the research process for nonfiction involves reading lots of books, researching newspaper clips, interviewing people, doing online research, and digging for facts. The research for DADDY DEPOT involved walking up and down the aisles of Home Depot and Costco for inspiration. I love nonfiction because it can illuminate the world in new ways for kids. With fiction, I can have more fun and be free to be goofy and let my imagination run wild.

I think you’ve not only made a funny book, but one that touches on the highs and
lows of the father-daughter relationships. What inspired this story?

Thanks Gina! The story started with the bedtime story mentioned above. But the heart of the book is modeled on my husband—not my dad. My husband Larry is an awesome dad to our four kids. But I wanted to focus on imperfect parenting. As parents, none of us are perfect (well, I know I’m not.). The dad in the book is distracted by football, tells corny jokes, and snores during snuggle time. That’s Larry, Larry, and Larry. He also makes amazing pancakes and does a wicked funky-chicken touchdown dance, also featured in the book. My kids all adore their dad and would probably never return him. (Me, on the other hand…?) Bottom line: “Write what you know.” Base your characters on real-life people in real-life situations but stretch them to the max. (Funny anecdote: When I told my dad that I was writing a book about a girl who returns her father to the daddy store, he said, “What?! My hearing aid isn’t working!” BTW, his hearing is fine.)


SPOILER ALERT! The Dad party is my favorite spread. Did you request any specific
type of Dad or did you let the illustrator have full reign over the crowd? Also, do you have a favorite?

That’s one of my favorite spreads too. I had written a list of dads from A-Z as an illustrator’s note. I think Andy Snair used that list and more. I don’t have a favorite but I always ask kids which one they would choose. They have a lot of fun pointing out the different dads. By the way, for readers who love GO DOG, GO, the Dad Party is a wink to the Dog Party!


Working toward a book debut can be a hectic time. Now that you’ve had a chance to share DADDY DEPOT with children, what is one of your favorite moments from a reading?

I loved it when one kid asked, “Did you write THE CAT IN THE HAT?” LOL! At readings, I’ve been having kids dress up as various dads in the book and we act out the story. There’s Rocker Dad, Astro Dad, and Chef Dad. The kids get really into it. I love when kids are uninhibited and let loose. (Well, I’m not their teacher or mom.)


Chana and Gina are giving away a signed copies of DADDY DEPOT and IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD. Enter for a chance to win both HERE!

stiefelchanaframeChana Stiefel is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for kids about stinky castles, exploding volcanoes, and other wild stuff. Her first picture book, DADDY DEPOT (illustrated by Andy Snair, Feiwel & Friends), debuted in May 2017. ANIMAL ZOMBIES & OTHER MONSTERS IN NATURE will be coming out from National Geographic Kids in 2018. WAKAWAKALOCH, Chana’s semi-autobiographical picture book about a cave girl who wants to change her unpronounceable name, will be coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is repped by agent John Cusick at Folio Literary. Visit her at www.chanastiefel.com and her blog for authors, www.kidlittakeaways.com, which she writes with her critique partner, Donna Cangelosi. Follow Chana Stiefel on Facebook and Twitter @chanastiefel.

perryginaframeGina Perry is an author and illustrator working under the tall pines in New Hampshire. Her debut picture book, IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD (Tundra, April 4, 2017), written by Dan Bar-el, is a hilarious story about imagination, play, and the best parts about being a dad. Her picture book debut as author/illustrator, SMALL (little bee books, August 29, 2017), is an empowering story about a small girl in the city, who shows us what happens if you take one big and brave step. Visit her at ginaperry.com or on twitter @ginamarieperry or instagram @ginapineapple.


Chana Stiefel interviews Gina Perry and introduces SMALL: A Two Debut Interview


Congrats on your debut as an author/illustrator, Gina! How was this process different from your first illustrated book, IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD, written by Dan Bar-el?

Thank you, Chana. The books are completely different stories and settings. While DAD allowed me to use my imagination, SMALL forced me to work within a somewhat realistic framework. SMALL also focused on one main character’s journey compared to the adventure of DAD’s multi-character cast. SMALL is also a very personal story and while I’ve worked on it for a long time, creating the final art felt new and exciting. I illustrated both books digitally on a Wacom Cintiq with a layer of gouache for added texture.

What were your favorite picture books growing up?

I know this sounds a bit strange but I truly don’t remember reading many picture books as a kid. I was an early reader so I moved on to chapter books very quickly. I cherish my copy of Gyo Fujikawa’s picture book JENNY AND JUPIE. For illustrated books I loved Anne Rockwell’s THE GIRL WITH A DONKEY TAIL, Patricia Coombs’ DORRIE THE WITCH series, and everything AMELIA BEDELIA.

How did you come up with the story for SMALL?

I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room and just started writing what made me as an adult feel small and big. It was very simple, but I felt the spark of a good idea and reworked it from a child’s perspective. I have only recently pinpointed exactly what SMALL is to me. It is my love letter to all the small kids and to finding what our big is in this world.

Do you have formal art training? How about writing?

I have a BFA from Syracuse University. I studied computer graphics and initially worked in the animation field. While a lot of my peers focused on new media electives, I always chose drawing, painting, or printmaking. A few years after graduation I took a children’s book illustration class and knew I had found my direction (and a fine group of friends and critique partners!) I took a wonderful writing class from children’s book author Mark Karlins several years ago. Participating in 12×12 and Storystorm were also immensely helpful.

In SMALL, I especially love the hot dog scenes and the little girl singing at the fountain. What’s your favorite spread?

Oh, those are two of my favorites as well. The singing spread might be my favorite. I love all her big scenes but it warms my heart that she is spreading her joy, through music, to the city. I am also really happy with the spread where she crosses the street and is framed by the window of the waiting car.


Are you agented? If so, how did you find your agent?

My agent is Teresa Kietlinski, founder of Bookmark Literary. I feel incredibly blessed to have Teresa as a partner, advocate, and friend. Four years ago I was floundering a bit trying to find the right literary agent. I may have vented publicly about it (in a humorous way!) and a friend and fellow client mentioned me to Teresa. She remembered me from many years ago when she was an art director and received my postcards. She has an amazing memory. Teresa reached out and the rest is history.


What’s your best advice for budding author/illustrators?

If I’m forced to say just one thing, it would be to keep pushing your work. When you get criticism or revisions, take some time to process your emotional response and really think “Will this make my story better?” It may take longer and far more iterations than you anticipated but it is worth it when you finally hold your book baby! I think the hallmark of a professional is whether or not they can put the project ahead of their ego.


stiefelchanaframeChana Stiefel is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for kids about stinky castles, exploding volcanoes, and other wild stuff. Her first picture book, DADDY DEPOT (illustrated by Andy Snair, Feiwel & Friends), debuted in May 2017. ANIMAL ZOMBIES & OTHER MONSTERS IN NATURE will be coming out from National Geographic Kids in 2018. WAKAWAKALOCH, Chana’s semi-autobiographical picture book about a cave girl who wants to change her unpronounceable name, will be coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is repped by agent John Cusick at Folio Literary. Visit her at www.chanastiefel.com and her blog for authors, www.kidlittakeaways.com, which she writes with her critique partner, Donna Cangelosi. Follow Chana Stiefel on Facebook and Twitter @chanastiefel.

perryginaframeGina Perry is an author and illustrator working under the tall pines in New Hampshire. She grew up in Massachusetts, drawing, playing with yarn, and burning through all the books in the library. Gina went to Syracuse University and worked in animation and as an art director before realizing that children’s books were her true calling. Her debut picture book, IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD (Tundra), written by Dan Bar-el, is a hilarious story about imagination, play, and the best parts about being a dad. Her picture book debut as author/illustrator, SMALL (little bee books), is an empowering story about a small girl in the city, who shows us what happens if you take one big and brave step. Future books include TOO MUCH NOT ENOUGH (Tundra, Summer 2018) and a yet untitled picture book (Tundra, Summer 2019). Visit her at ginaperry.com or on twitter @ginamarieperry or instagram @ginapineapple










Baking with Mike Malbrough and MARIGOLD: A Two Debut Interview

Lori Richmond and Mike Malbrough skype and bake together in our latest Two Debut Interview featuring Malbrough’s MARIGOLD BAKES A CAKE, just out July 18 with Philomel!


Mike Marlbrough was a freelance graphic designer, comic book artist, performer and teacher with a career spanning two decades before beginning his career as a picture book author-illustrator. He is an active advocate for the education of young artists, and has received several awards and honors for his work in the community with children and teens. Mike lives in Orange, New Jersey, with his wife, two adventurous kids, and a cat named Agnes who hates him. Follow Mike on Twitter @studiomalbrough.


Now Available:


Lori Richmond is a corporate creative director turned picture book maker. She is the author-illustrator of Pax and Blue, which The New York Times called a “sprightly debut,” and Bunny’s Staycation, coming in 2018. Lori is also the illustrator of A Hop Is Up and several other picture books.

Before her career as an author-illustrator, Lori was a sought-after expert on all things baby and parenting as a contributing editor to leading pregnancy and parenting brand, The Bump. She has appeared on Today, Good Morning America, CNN, and more.

Lori lives and creates in Brooklyn, NY with her design-y husband and two sons, both of whom are named after typefaces.


Now Available:
A School Library Journal Popular Pick
Now Available:
written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Lori












Two Debut Interview – Jessica Petersen

In today’s Picture the Books Two Debut Interview, Debut author Ariel Bernstein interviews debut author Jessica Petersen about her debut picture book, OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS, which released in March.

OTNT_Final Cover_DustJacket_01

Ariel: Jessica, congratulations on your picture book debut, OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS! Did you think of the title right away, or did you come up with it sometime after you wrote the story?

Jessica: Thank you so much, Ariel! I’m thrilled that it’s finally out in the world.

OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS is somewhat unusual for a debut picture book in that it was written under contract. I was offered the opportunity to write and photo-illustrate it based on an idea I’d shared with my editor (a STEM-focused picture book about wooden train tracks), and the phrase that became the title was something I mentioned as a possible tagline in our first conversation about what that book would actually look like. Then after about a week of working on the story, I suggested it as the title along with a more developed story idea, and it stuck.

This pattern is repeating itself with the book I’m working on now, and I remember a similar thing happening with my YA work-in-progress. It seems that if I can strike on a good title early on, it helps me define the core and the scope of the story, and from then on I can use it as a touchstone to determine if I’m staying true to what I intend to write.

Ariel: If you could choose to live in the world of any picture book, which world would it be? Why?

QuestJessica: The world in Quest by Aaron Becker. (Journey, of course, is the first book in the series, and Return comes at the end, but we read Quest first and it’s still our favorite.) The idea of being able to change the world with art — in this case, the bright rainbow chalk sticks — has always really appealed to me. It’s been a theme in my own writing and artwork for a long time.

Ariel: You get to pick a pen name – what is it?

Jessica: For this book, I think Clickety McClack might have been fun. It has kind of a “Boaty McBoatface” vibe. That would crack my son up. I may have to use it for a character someday, in a bedtime story for him if nothing else.

Ariel: If you could take credit for ANY other published PB out there, which one would you choose?

0Jessica: That’s a tough one! Off the top of my head, I’ll pick ROBO-SAUCE by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri. We’re big fans of all of their books, but the moment my son and I got to the point in ROBO-SAUCE where the entire book transforms was truly epic, especially because it was built up to and then built upon so skillfully with both the words and illustrations. I would love to be able to create that kind of moment of amazement and laughter for readers with one of my own books.

Ariel: How many siblings do you have and where do you fall in the birth order? Did it matter?

Jessica: I have two much-older half brothers, and both of them went to live with their father as teenagers, so I seem to have gotten a strange grab bag of traits out of the bargain: baby of the family, first born, and only child. That feeling of separation from my siblings likely contributed to my tendency to get engrossed in my own imaginary worlds.

Ariel: Favorite first line of any book, any genre?

ChimeJessica: I’m terrible at choosing a favorite of anything, but the first line of CHIME by Franny Billingsley is wonderfully effective: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.” You have the mystery of wondering why she wants to be hanged — immediately! — plus you get the voice of the protagonist in full force from the beginning.

Ariel: Tell me about the pet/s you had growing up.

Jessica: When I was young, my family had a wild range of animals: cats, dogs, a guinea pig, a goat herd, a pony (briefly), chickens, parakeets, and even a pig at one point, but I’ve always mainly been a cat person, even when some of those other animals were supposed to be my pets. Cats are pretty much the perfect companions for bookworms, and I almost always named mine after characters in whatever book I had read most recently. My favorite cat (my companion from when I was a teenager until he passed away a few years ago) was an orange tabby who loved to sit in the middle of my son’s wooden train layouts in his golden years. It’s no coincidence that CAT Track in my book was drawn with an orange crayon.

Ariel: Most fun or funniest job you’ve had, besides author/illustrator?

Jessica: One of my first jobs was working with Japanese exchange students during the summer. As far as high school/college jobs go, you really can’t beat getting paid to hang out with new friends and show them around town! We also got to play a lot of preschool games and activities with them (they were education majors), which was fun to have an excuse to do as a teenager without looking uncool.

Ariel: The artwork in your book is pretty unique as they’re not the usual picture book illustrations. Can you tell us about it?
Jessica: In addition to some practical reasons for it, we felt it was important to illustrate OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS with photos of real toys so that kids could readily connect the tracks in the book to the ones in their homes and classrooms. But in order to write the book as a story, I needed characters!

Odd One Out squareDuring that first conversation I had with my editor, as I was searching around for characters and a plot to go with my train track concept, I remembered a pattern I’d drawn for a fabric design challenge a few months before. It showed a circle of eight smiling train tracks and a ninth track off to the side, crying because it had been left out of the closed circle. I hurriedly took a photo of a track with my iPad, drew a face on it, and showed it to my editor, along with my initial idea of how we could weave the activities into a story.

Now it’s hard to imagine having done the illustrations any other way — the decision to digitally add faces to the tracks influenced pretty much every aspect of both the pictures and the text. Just the act of putting a face on a train track gets kids thinking about them in a new way, mirroring the way the trains in the book learn that tracks are more than just a railroad for their wheels to roll along.

Old Tracks New Tricks by Jessica Petersen spread 1

I loved working in this style. It made the writing so much easier because I had the physical objects to both inspire and limit me. I love having limitations put on a creative project, because it gets the overly critical, self-editing part of my brain tied up with solving problems, and I’m free to create. Each step in the illustration process — from turning a new tracks and unpainted trains into a old, well-loved train set to setting up/lighting/taking/editing the photos to adding the digital elements — brought new problems to solve and new opportunities for storytelling and character development.

And the best part is that I can now take that process and collaborate on it with my readers. Kids have been sending in photos of their own “track tricks” through the book’s website, and I add faces to the trains and tracks in their photos. It is so fun, and the kids seem as thrilled about the results as I always am!

Ariel: All of the text in your book is dialogue, which I love! What do you enjoy about writing in dialogue?

Jessica: When I was young, the weakest point of my writing was dialogue, so much so that I think it discouraged me from thinking about writing books when I was in high school and college, although I had wanted to be an author in elementary school. I loved writing description, but dialogue? It always sounded flat and fake, and I had no idea how to get better at it, or that I even could get better at it.

After college, I played a collaborative writing game with friends. We each claimed one or more characters in a story world and wrote their parts, often talking back and forth through an online journal format without any dialogue tags or description. As my familiarity with my characters grew, I heard what they would say directly in my head, and I’d have to type quickly to keep up.

When I started writing seriously, I was amazed to find that dialogue seemed to now be the easiest part of writing for me. When I’m working on novel-length manuscripts, I often write a whole scene as dialogue first, and then go back and fill in the rest. It takes some work upfront — I have to know the characters and their inherent and situational points of conflict first — but it’s a real joy to have the words pour out so easily, especially when they’re pouring out in rhyme!

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Ariel: Do you have any advice for writers about preparing for a debut publication?

Jessica: If you sit down to write your second book and it seems impossible, remember that you’re now comparing your rough drafts not just to your own level of pre-submission polish, but to a published work that several professionals helped you make as good as possible. If, like me, you also illustrated your book, you may have even more distance from the act of putting those first words down on paper. Especially if — again, like me — you didn’t or couldn’t make time to write during the illustration process.

The best cure I know of is to go back and read the earliest draft of your debut you can find. My editor recently sent me a very early draft of OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS she’d stumbled upon to show me how far it came over the course of writing and rewriting it, and that really helped me put things in perspective and start getting words down on the page again. Even if you think you know what the rough draft was like, you’re quite possibly remembering the second or third draft, not the very early writing you did on the project.

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Ariel: What’s next for you? Are you currently working on a new project?

Jessica: I’m working on another book illustrated in the same style as OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS, but about something other than wooden trains this time. I’m in the exciting part where the title and the overall story are in place. The rhymes and rhythms are flowing and the visuals are popping into my imagination. With the previous book as a roadmap, it’s fun and reassuring to have the same landmarks in the development process repeating themselves. I know that isn’t likely to happen with every book, but for now it’s nice to have a sense that things are on course.


Jessica Petersen started inventing new tricks for old tracks when her son was a train-obsessed toddler. Their adventures inspire her blog, Play Trains!petersenjessicaframewhere she writes about playing, learning, and reading with kids who love trains. She wrote, photographed, and illustrated OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS in her home in Seattle, Washington, where she lives with her husband, her son, and lots of happy wooden train tracks. You can visit Jessica online, on Twitter at @j_e_petersen, and on Instagram at @playtrains. And you can meet the little train tracks at oldtracksnewtricks.com, or on Instagram at @oldtracksnewtricks.



bernstienarielframeAriel Bernstein is the author of I HAVE A BALLOON, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster, Sept. 26, 2017) and the chapter book series WARREN & DRAGON, illustrated by Mike Malbrough (Viking Children’s, Summer 2018). You can find Ariel online at http://www.arielbernsteinbooks.com, and on Twitter @ArielBBooks.