Two Debut Interview – Joy Keller and Alison Goldberg

In today’s Picture the Books Two Debut Interview, debut author Alison Goldberg interviews debut author Joy Keller about MONSTER TRUCKS illustrated by Misa Saburi (Godwin Books/Henry Holt, 2017).


Alison: Congratulations on your debut! Before we discuss MONSTER TRUCKS, I see in your bio that you have experience driving trucks on a blueberry farm. What was that like?


Joy: I drove a pickup truck that was converted into a surrey. I’d pick up customers and drop them off to pick blueberries. The farm was forty acres. Sometimes the surrey also doubled as a rescue truck, so I’d have to drive really fast over the bumps in the field. It was a fun job, and a chance to learn to drive a stick shift.

Alison: And great research for writing a truck book! If you could visit the world of any picture book, which would it be?

Joy: If I had to pick a character that I would want to hang out with, it would be Otter from the OTTER books by Sam Garton. Otter is so funny and gets into so much trouble. She reminds me of my own kids. If I was just looking at pictures, I would choose the very old-school fairy tale worlds created by Trina Schart Hyman. LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD and SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON books from when I was a kid have amazing illustrations. I’d like to walk through those worlds.

Alison: Where did the idea for MONSTER TRUCKS come from?

Joy: When my kids were little, my daughter only liked Halloween books and my son only liked truck books. We would check the same books out of the library all the time. I wondered why there wasn’t a book combining the two. It could be called MONSTER TRUCKS! Once I had the title, the story followed.

Alison: MONSTER TRUCKS is such a perfect blend of these two themes. Do you have a favorite Halloween costume from childhood?

Joy: My parents did a really good job making elaborate homemade costumes for me. One year, I was the Queen of Hearts. My mom copied every little detail of a playing card onto the front and back of my poster board costume. I didn’t want to take it off at school, but I couldn’t sit in it, so I stood for much of the day.

Alison: What’s your favorite truck?

Joy: When I was a kid I loved the street cleaner with a vacuum tube used to suck up debris. I called it the elephant truck.

Alison: That sounds like the start of another truck book. As a teacher, do you ever share your picture book manuscripts with your students?

Joy: I do. I also share my revisions. Kids often think that when you are a writer you only need to write something once, and I like to show them that even published writers need to rewrite stories many times. I share my rejection letters, too, so they can see that part of the process.

Alison: How will you celebrate the release of MONSTER TRUCKS?

Joy: My release party is taking place in an ice cream shop called Moonlight Creamery. They’re going to rename all of their ice cream flavors to match the book, including a flavor called “Tire Tracks.”


Alison: How fun! You have a few other picture books coming out after your debut. Can you tell me about them?


Joy: I’m so excited about MISS TURIE’S MAGIC CREATURES (Innovation Press, 2018), a book about a pet store that sells mythical beasts.

I also have a nonfiction book about fungus coming out in 2019 called THE FUNGUS AMONG US (Innovation Press, 2019). My son developed a fascination with mushrooms when he was little, so we go on hikes and get pictures of different varieties. They’re cool to look at and learn about, but I don’t especially like to eat mushrooms!

Alison: I look forward to reading these books. Thanks, Joy! Congratulations!


Joy Keller isn’t a monster, but she does have experience driving trucks on a blueberry farm. Her debut picture book, MONSTER TRUCKS (Henry Holt, 2017), is all about monsters and the vehicles that match their personalities, from the skeleton crew that fixes roads to the werewolf who digs, digs, digs. Joy currently teaches elementary students of all ages and lives in Fairport, NY with her husband, two children, and four cats. You can visit her at or find her on Twitter @jrkeller80.


Alison 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 or on Twitter @alisongoldberg.


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 and her blog for authors,, 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 or on twitter @ginamarieperry or instagram @ginapineapple.


Two Debut Interview – Alison Goldberg and Andrea Loney

In today’s Picture the Books Two Debut Interview, debut author Alison Goldberg interviews debut author Andrea J. Loney about her two new picture books, TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE! and BUNNYBEAR.

Congratulations on both of these wonderful books, Andrea! Before we discuss them, your bio says that you once ran away to live with the circus… What was that like?

Yes, after I got my MFA, I ran away with Big Apple Circus in New York so I would have something to write about besides being a student. I met amazing people (and animals) from all over the world, learned the secret to making magic every day (hard work and dedication), and started my entertainment career with an intriguing resume (“you worked at a WHAT?!). It was one of the greatest adventures of my life and I suggest that everyone run away with a circus someday.

That sounds like a very inspiring setting! If you could visit the world of any picture book, what would it be?

Ooh, good question! Right now it’s a tie between dancing and partying with the dinosaurs in Kelly Starling Lyons ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, or knitting and singing sea chanteys with the mateys in Diana Murray’s NED THE KNITTING PIRATE. Tough decision.


TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE! is the story of a real photographer. How did you find your subject?

Ever since I was a kid, I loved looking through vintage Victorian-style African American photographs. Years later I read a biography of James VanDerZee and discovered that even though he’d been taking pictures since he was a child, he didn’t get “discovered” as an artist until he was in his 80s! That’s when I realized that I just had to find a way to share his amazing comeback story with children.

The depth of research shines through on every page. What was your process like? Did you uncover particular details that surprised you?

Thank you! The book covers about 85 years of his life, so there was a lot of material to wrangle. I read everything I could find on him, I looked at hundreds of his photographs, I spoke to people who’d met him — including his widow, and I even ended up searching through public records online to fill in some of his family details. The most surprising things that I found in the research is that James VanDerZee was raised in a fairly integrated town where black and white people attended school and church together and that he became the unofficial town photographer at age 15.


His story is so compelling. What are some of your favorite picture book biographies?

Oh, there are so many that I adore! I love FRIDA by Jonah Winter, ME, JANE by Patrick McDonnell, JIMI SOUNDS LIKE A RAINBOW by Gary Golio, THE COSMOBIOGRAPHY OF SUN RA by Chris Rachka, MANFISH: A STORY OF JACQUES COUSTEAU by Jennifer Berne, NEO LEO: THE AGELESS IDEAS OF LEONARDO DA VINCI by Gene Barretta. SOME WRITER! THE STORY OF E. B. WHITE is not exactly a picture book but it is one of the most delightful biographies I’ve read. I really enjoy picture book biographies that are designed to help the reader experience the world of the story through the subject’s unique point of view.


TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE! won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Award.  This writing competition is an important part of efforts to increase diversity in children’s publishing. What has this award meant for your book?

At first, the award meant that I received nicer and personalized rejection letters! But the Lee & Low New Voices Award has definitely brought more attention to my writing. It got the attention of my agent, Jill Corcoran, and after she saw my other work she decided to sign me. The award has definitely put this book on the radar for many teachers, librarians, booksellers and more.

Earlier this year you released another terrific picture book, BUNNYBEAR. How did you get the idea for the story?

I was just brainstorming silly ideas with a friend and I blurted out, “A bear who feels like he’s really a bunny.” But then I thought about all of the times in my life and my friends’ lives when we didn’t feel like we would ever fit in, and how we struggled to just be ourselves.

I love when Bunnybear says, “You just look one way on the outside and feel another way on the inside. That’s okay.” This is such an important statement for children to hear and read, again and again.

The poet E. E. Cummings once said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” I think it’s important for children to know that even if they don’t always fit into the neat little boxes that society has already laid out for them, they’re still okay. Maybe they’re made to stand out instead. I also remind them that if they just keep being themselves, they’ll eventually find someone who likes them just the way they are.

What’s next for you?

My next book, Double Bass Blues, comes out in 2019 with Random House Knopf. It follows the adventures of an imaginative young black boy as he carries his double bass home through various neighborhoods, surrounded by the music of the city.

And I am always, always, always working on more picture books.

I look forward to reading them. Thank you, Andrea! Congratulations!




Andrea J Loney’s picture book BUNNYBEAR, (Albert Whitman & Company, January 2017) is about a bear who believes in his heart that he’s really a bunny. Her upcoming debut picture book, TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE! (Lee & Low Books, Spring 2017), is the 2014 New Voices Award-winning picture book biography of the legendary black photographer of the Harlem Renaissance, and her third picture book DOUBLE BASS BLUES shares the adventures of a young black boy carrying his double bass home from school (Random House Knopf, 2019). A community college instructor with an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, Andrea is also a proud volunteer for Reading to Kids and the We Need Diverse Books campaign. She lives in sunny Los Angeles, California with her devoted family, embarrassingly spoiled pets, and towering stacks of picture books. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.


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 or on Twitter.


Thanks for supporting and celebrating 2017 picture book debuts with us! You can learn about more great debut authors, illustrators and books in our Creator and Book galleries. Keep in the loop on all the excitement by following @picturethebooks on Twitter and Instagram, too!

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 and her blog for authors,, 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 or on twitter @ginamarieperry or instagram @ginapineapple










Two Debut Interview: Hannah Rodgers Barnaby and Michelle Schaub

In today’s Picture the Books Two Debut Interview, debut author Michelle Schaub discusses Garcia & Colette Go Exploring with debut author Hannah Barnaby.

garcia and colletteIt’s summertime!  What better way to capture the anticipation and excitement of summer break than with Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, released at the beginning of June.  Hannah’s book traces the exploits of two energetic and adventurous friends, Garcia and Colette.  Unfortunately, the pair can’t agree on whether space or sea would make a better destination, so they go their separate ways to explore. But they quickly discover that they each left the most important thing behind…and that their two favorite places have more in common than they thought.

MS: Hello Hannah! Let’s launch this interview adventure with a few warm up questions.  Garcia and Colette both have very definite opinions on their favorite place to explore. If YOU could choose to explore the world of any picture book, which world would it be? Why?

curious gardenIt almost depends on the season, doesn’t it? Now that we’re deep in the throes of summer, I think the lush landscape of Peter Brown’s THE CURIOUS GARDEN would be the perfect place to escape and wander. I don’t have a trace of gardening ability, myself, but my husband and my mother-in-law are wonderful at it and I get to reap the benefits!


MS: Garcia and Colette each set off on their own, but they both grow lonely for company.  Growing up, did you have siblings?  Did you ever wish for time alone or did you crave company?

I was the oldest of three, and the only girl, so I definitely valued my time alone! It wasn’t unusual for me to spend an entire weekend hiding out in my room and reading a stack of books. But some of my fondest memories are of romping around outside with my brothers, learning to use a pogo stick and climbing the rope ladder to our treehouse. That balance of together and alone is still what works best for me. And now I have three kids of my own!

MS: I love the idea of finding a balance between together and alone time.  I’ve found that pets can help you feel “together” even when you are alone. Tell me about the pet/s you had growing up.

A parade of cats, starting with Merlin and Gandalf (who were named by and inherited from family friends), and we always had them in pairs, for maximum entertainment. My first solo pet was a turtle named Harry, who didn’t last long. I might very well have loved him to death. My brother Jesse had a little gray dove gerbil named Sheila (he named everything very seriously—his teddy bear was called Michael). I always wanted something more exciting, but then I babysat for a family that had a pet monkey and I quickly realized that there’s a lot to be said for pets who are quiet…and don’t require diapers.

MS: I can imagine that taking care of a monkey would be quite a job.  Speaking of jobs…Garcia blasts into space like an astronaut. Colette dives into the deep blue like an oceanographer. Besides the adventurous job of being an author, what other interesting jobs have you had?

Almost all of my jobs have had something to do with books and reading: library assistant, preschool teacher, indie bookseller. But even the exceptions were good for gathering stories. All through college, I worked at a drugstore and it was fascinating to see what combinations of items people bought. After college, I worked in a law office as a foreclosure paralegal—I sort of accidentally took the advice of a wise college professor and started right away with a job that showed me what I didn’t want to do. That spurred me on to move to Boston and get a degree in children’s literature, which led to an internship at Houghton Mifflin where I worked for six years as an editor.

MS:  With all of your book-related jobs, I imagine you’ve done A LOT of reading.  Can you share your favorite first line of any book, any genre?

Even though I’m writing picture books now, novels were my first love, as a reader and an editor and a writer, and I’ve always been partial to the first line of Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” The entire book is a sustained journey through another world, just as the best novels always are, and that line immediately sets the tone.

MS: Thanks for answering those warm-ups with an explorer’s spirit.  Now I’d like to ask you some questions about your book. Garcia and Colette go on quite a voyage, literally and emotionally, in this book.  Can you describe your own voyage in creating Garcia and Colette Go Exploring?

I first had the idea for Garcia and Colette about five years ago—I attended a dinner for prospective graduate students at the University of Virginia, where my husband works, and I sat between an astronomer and a marine biologist. As I listened to them speak about why they chose those fields of study, I started to hear parallels in their language and their characterization of outer space and the deep ocean. By the end of the dinner, I had tuned out everything else and was thinking my way through a rough draft.

At that point, though, I wasn’t an experienced picture book writer and I was still learning how to write concisely—I think the first draft of Garcia & Colette was about twice as long as the finished book (which is around 620 words). It took a few more drafts to tap into the simplicity of the story so the parallel structure could shine through. My agent, Linda Pratt, patiently waited for me to figure it out and I finally did, on a writing retreat in the summer of 2014. I sent her the new version by email and she called me about an hour later and said, “You did it.” (And then I did a little dance in the airport.)

MS: Both of your characters pack specific items, including peanut butter sandwiches, to prepare for their journeys. What tools would you suggest prospective writers pack for their own writing exploits?

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever gotten was from Tim Wynne-Jones, who told me not to fetishize anything about the writing process. Very few of us have lives that allow us to write at the exact same time every day, or only use one kind of pen, or a certain scented candle. It’s important to know what works for you but also to be flexible about how you work—I’ve drafted picture books and novel scenes by talking into my phone while driving, or writing in a notebook during my daughter’s soccer practice.

MS: Great advice!  (I’ve definitely taken advantage of waiting for soccer practice as writing time myself.) For our last question, will you share what you hope kids experience, feel, or learn from reading your book?

My favorite part of reading Garcia & Colette to kids is the moment when they recognize the pattern in what Garcia and Colette are writing. There’s always one little boy or girl who can’t help but call out, “They’re saying the same things!” Those moments of decoding and discovery are absolutely what make books so totally magical . . . and why I feel so lucky to be writing them.

Well, Garcia & Colette is definitely a magical book and readers who discover it are lucky indeed. Thanks for sharing your writing adventure with us, Hannah!

barnabyhannahframeHannah Rogers Barnaby is a former children’s book editor and indie bookseller, and was the first-ever Children’s Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library. Her debut young adult novel, Wonder Show, was a William C. Morris Award finalist, and her second novel, Some of the Parts, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was named a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year for 2016. Hannah makes her double picture book debut in 2017 with Bad Guy, illustrated by Mike Yamada, and Garcia and Colette Go Exploring, illustrated by Andrew Joyner. Hannah writes and teaches creative writing in Charlottesville.

schaubmichelleframeMichelle Schaub is a children’s author, poet, and teacher. Her work appears in the anthologies And The Crowd Grows Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poetry and The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations. She is also the author of the Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market (Charlesbridge, 2017.) Michelle Schaub teaches middle school language arts at The Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, Illinois, where she shares her love of poetry with her students. When she’s not teaching and writing, Michelle loves hiking, biking, and exploring farmers’ markets. You can see more of her work at

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
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written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Lori












Two Debut Interview – Heather Preusser

It’s time for another Picture the Books Two Debut Interview!

Today, Julie Segal Walters interviews Heather Preusser about her debut picture book, A SYMPHONY OF COWBELLS.

In this book, Petra and her family lead their prize dairy cows into the pastures to graze, and each cow wears her own jingling, jangling, clanging bell. What a symphony! But when Petra’s favorite cow, Elfi, loses her bell the whole herd is out of harmony and refuses to move. Will Petra be able to find Elfi’s bell before it’s too late? With charming illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen, this whimsical story is sure to delight children and adults alike.


JSW: Welcome, Heather! Let’s start our interview with some warm-up questions. First, if you could live in the world of any picture book, which world would it be and why?

HP: I would love to live in A CHILD OF BOOKS by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. I’ve always been a Jeffers fan and I have a soft spot for postmodern meta-fiction (like your upcoming book!), but, as both an English teacher and a writer, this book melted my heart. Here’s the summary from the dust jacket: “A little girl, a child of books, sails her raft across a sea of words and arrives at the house of a young boy. She invites him to go away with her on an adventure into the world of stories…where, with only a little imagination, anything at all can happen.” Winston shapes his topographical landscapes using the text from forty children’s classics, which are listed in the end papers. As I child, I too got lost in “forests of fairy tales.” Because of my mother’s mental illness, I escaped into books, seeking solace and solutions within the prose. The younger version of me would have loved to “travel over mountains of make-believe.” The older version of me is still traveling.

JSW: The poetry of your language of seeking solace and solutions speaks so beautifully to the power of books to transport readers, which is why so many of us write for children. Is there a published picture book that you wish you could have written?

HP: I love everything by Julie Fogliano, but I especially love IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE (illustrated by Erin E. Stead). Fogliano’s stories are poems; they’re spectacularly spare, and every image, every phrase, every word is perfect: “if you want to see a whale / be careful not to notice / something inching, small and green / across the leaf, just nibble scoot / because things that are smaller than most small things / can’t be as giant as a whale.” “Nibble scoot”? Holy, I-just-saw-a-whale! How picture-perfect is that? As a former Maine-iac, I fell in love with this story even more when I read that Fogliano wrote it while vacationing in Maine one summer. After rereading it for this blog post, it was also a timely reminder that, as a writer, I need to be persistent but patient, very patient (and I should ignore pelicans).

JSW: “Persistent but patient” may be my new favorite line that summarizes children’s publishing. Speaking of favorite lines, what’s your favorite first line of a book?

HP: I’m going to have to go with HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE by J.K. Rowling on this one (and that’s not because I’m a Potterhead who’s been sorted into Hufflepuff and has an eagle for a patronus, I promise). The first line introduces us to Harry’s extremely unmagical aunt and uncle as well as the setting, incorporates clever word play that Rowling weaves throughout the series, piques our interest, and establishes narrative voice – that’s a tall order for one line: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” I also adore this series because it made reading cool again. When the last book in the series was released in 2007, I was attending a creative writing program at the Scottish Universities’ International Summer School in Edinburgh, Scotland. Everywhere I went, on every plane, train, and bus, people – both kids and adults – had their head buried in the book, yet paradoxically no one was allowed to talk about it for fear of ruining the ending.

JSW: Speaking of books, let’s talk about yours! What inspired you to write A SYMPHONY OF COWBELLS?

HP: I was inspired when my sister-in-law told me a story about an ornery, old cow she encountered while working on a Swiss dairy farm. Every spring these cows are paraded to the high meadows where their milk is turned into scrumptious cheese. Worried this old cow wouldn’t make the trek with such a heavy bell, the farmer traded her big booming bell for a tiny tinkling one. The cow refused to move. Ultimately, the farmer realized the error of his ways, reunited bell and bovine, and all was well. Thanks to my PiBoIdMo training, I knew this could make a good picture book manuscript, but I needed to increase the tension and create a satisfying ending. Twenty drafts later, and after recruiting two large Alpine crows, I felt ready to submit the manuscript.

JSW: Did it require much research? I bet you spent some time listening to the sounds of bells to get your onomatopoeia just right!

HP: My husband and I have done a lot of hiking in the Swiss Alps; however, most of that hiking and cheese tasting happened before I even had the story idea (does that count as “research”?). I did watch a lot of Rick Steves’ travel videos and have posted two short clips, one about Gimmelwald and one about the cheese making process, on my website. As you mentioned, getting the bell sounds just right was also tricky. In earlier drafts, one of my insightful critique partners (shout out to Carmela LaVigna Coyle) pointed out that a few bells sounded more like drums.

JSW: Will you also talk about your characters’ names. They’re so unique! Is there a story behind them?

HP: My husband is German, so I asked him for suggestions regarding Swiss-sounding cow names. At first we came up with Elfriede but predicted pronunciation would be problematic. It also sounded old-lady-ish, so he nicknamed her Elfi. Petra is named after one of my former roommates, who is not only one of the most determined and compassionate woman I know, but was also instrumental in setting me up with my husband. The real-life Petra now lives in Switzerland with her husband, so I made sure to send her a copy of the book.

JSW: How sweet! Okay, last question. What’s next for you and your writing?

HP: I have a handful of picture books on submission right now. This summer I’m also hoping to pin down a few new picture book ideas that have been bouncing around my head as well as finish the draft of a middle grade novel I began last summer. As a full-time high school English teacher, I find it hard to take advantage of the “crevices of life” that Amy Krouse Rosenthal talks about in one of her Ted talks; I’ll definitely be capitalizing on my summer break and my (almost) two months of uninterrupted writing time!

Thanks so much, Heather, and congratulations on your lovely debut picture book!

Heather Preusser graduated from Williams College and earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. In her debut picture book, A Symphony of Cowbells (Sleeping Bear Press, March 2017), a Swiss dairy cow loses her bell and disrupts the harmony of the herd. When not writing, Heather teaches high school English, bikes the European countryside, and attempts to learn ridiculously long German words. She and her husband reside in Colorado. She can also be found online at and on Twitter @HeatherPreusser.

You can buy Heather’s book here!

Julie Segal-Walters is a children’s book author who lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, son, and pesky cat. Before writing for children, Julie was a lawyer and advocate for civil rights and civil liberties, and an international democracy and civil society development specialist. In those days, she was a frequent writer, public speaker, and commentator on NPR, Court TV, and C-Span on civic engagement and religious liberty. These days, Julie can be found advocating for her many favorite children’s books to anyone who will listen. Julie is fluent in Spanish, and loves to cook, but not bake. She thinks baking has too many rules. This Is Not A Normal Animal Book is her first picture book (illustrated by Brian Biggs) (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fall 2017). Visit Julie online at or on Facebook, Twitter @j_s_dub, or Instagram @juliesegalwalters.

You can buy Julie’s book here!

Stay up-to-date with all the Picture the Books debuts, news, and interviews on Twitter @picturethebooks, on Instagram @picturethebooks and by becoming a follower of our website/blog using the Follow button on this page!

Dedicated to Dedications II

by Peter McCleery for Picture the Books

Have you ever wondered about the stories behind the dedications in your favorite books?

In this post, we continue our blog series to hear the stories behind a few more Picture the Books authors’ dedications. In this rare glimpse behind the scenes, the authors share their personal stories about who they honored and why.

RenatoBarbara DiLorenzo’s debut book, RENATO AND THE LION, will be released on June 20, 2017 by Viking Children’s Books.

Barbara dedicated her book to two important people who made the book possible.

“For my son, Rennie B., who showed me that with a little bit of magic, stone lions come alive. And for Tracy Gates, who brought the words of this story to life. Without you both, this story would remain a collection of notes and sketches.”


My son inspired the book when he was only 3 years old–and believed a statue of a lion was actually alive. He is 14 today, but that moment stayed with me long enough to become this book. When I sold the book to Viking, it was wordless. Therefore, my editor Tracy Gates deserves credit in helping the words to emerge. 

whobert WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is Jason Gallaher’s debut picture book. It releases on July 18, 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster.

Jason’s dedication is a touching story about his grandmother who believed in him perhaps more than anyone else. Get the tissues ready because it’s a very touching story.

whobert dedication

I wanted to dedicate this to my Grandma Joan because she was convinced I would become a writer, even when I wasn’t. Whenever I came over to her house, she had a typewriter set up for me with a stack of blank pages. Literally every single phone call we had, she’d ask, “So what are you working on, John Grisham?” She had such a zest for life and she passed that on to me by always reaffirming I could follow my dreams. She got to hear the news that I was getting published, and she was ecstatic. She passed away in December 2015, and I wanted this book to be a tribute to her and her constant support.

old tracksJessica Peterson’s debut, OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS, was published on March 14th by The Innovation Press.

Jessica didn’t have to look far for her inspiration. It was right there in her own family.

My book was inspired by many, many hours of playing trains with my now seven-year-old son, who I call “the Little Engineer” when I blog about our adventures. He was very involved in the process of making the book, and he even makes a cameo appearance near the beginning. I tucked the tracks into the pocket of his well-loved engineer overalls to make the illustration for the dedication page. I especially love the way the three tracks from the book seem to represent my son, my husband, and myself in that image — a happy accident of the creative process!

Old Tracks New Tricks Dedication Photo


daddy depotChana Stiefel’s first picture book, DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair is available now from Feiwel & Friends.

Her dedication story is both hilarious and heartfelt!

DADDY DEPOT is dedicated to my Pop and to my husband Larry, with an Unlimited Lifetime Guarantee. When I told my Pop that I was writing a book about a girl who returns her father to the Daddy store, he said, “What? I can’t hear you. My hearing aid’s not working!” (His hearing is fine, BTW!) But the dad in my book has very little resemblance to my own dad and everything in common with my husband. Larry loves football, tells silly jokes all day (as a pediatrician), and snores in our kids’ beds. He also does the best funky chicken touchdown dance ever. In the perfect dad department, I am extremely blessed.

daddy depot dedication

Hannah Barnaby has two picture books coming this spring. BAD GUY, illustrated by Mike Yamada was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and is available now. GARCIA AND COLETTE GO EXPLORING, illustrated by Andrew Joyner, will be published by Putnam on June 6.

Hannah dedicates both books to those closest to her: her family.

When my husband was a little boy, on the rare occasion he was misbehaving, his mother would say he had changed from Eddie Barnaby to his naughty alter-ego, FBad Guy dedication croppedreddie Hernaby. I’ve always loved this story, because it’s so true that even though kids (all kids!) work hard to behave and follow the rules, there are always times when that naughty side just has to come out. And it’s also true that without my husband’s support, I wouldn’t be able to do this work that I love so much.

G&C dedication croppedIt’s not very original, but this one is dedicated to my son and daughter. I have wanted to write picture books since I was a children’s book editor, but it wasn’t until I became a mom that I really immersed myself in the form. Reading dozens of books with my kids, and seeing which stories drew them in again and again, taught me so much about how picture books work and helped me finally solve the mystery of how to write them.

jabariGaia Cornwall’s first picture book, JABARI JUMPS, was published on May 9th by Candlewick.

In Gaia’s dedication story, below, we learn all about her family and how they inspired her.

Larkin and Rowan are my daughter and son. Lark was a month old when I came up with the dedication and already it fit perfectly. When I was pregnant, after having to come back for a second ultrasound because she wouldn’t stop moving, the tech advised us to “get that girl in gymnastics as soon as possible!” And Ro is my sweet, sensitive, then two year old, who helped our family come up with the phrase “Use your bravery!” –Which we now say to each other all the time.

jabari dedication

dadGina Perry’s first book, IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD, written by Dan Bar-el, is available now from Tundra Books.

Her dedication made for a nice surprise!

“To my loves: Piper the Unicorn, Miles the Robot and Kristian the Dad”


My children and husband are my anchors. I would not be making picture books without their love and support, so of course I wanted to dedicate the first picture book I illustrated to them. It was especially fun to keep it a secret until my advance copies arrived! Also, I loved that Dan Bar-el’s story included characters that fit each of them. 


londonPatricia Toht’s debut picture book, ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS, illustrated by Sam Usher, was released on May 4th by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

If you are a fan of the Chuggington TV show, you’ll love her dedication story.

Don is my husband. He and a friend co-created the TV show Chuggington, which was produced in the UK. Lucky for us, that job brought our family to London, where we lived for four years. It was a magical time for us, and the poems in the book reflect places we went and things we did.

london dedication

You might be wondering why the initials “D.H.” in the dedication don’t match Patricia Toht’s initials. That’s another funny story. Turns out, Patricia forgot to proof read the dedication page! Oops!

You can learn about these wonderful authors and illustrators – and many more – in our Creator and Book galleries. Thanks for supporting and celebrating 2017 picture book debuts with us! Keep in the loop on all the excitement by following @picturethebooks on Twitter and Instagram, too!

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!

Old Tracks New Tricks by Jessica Petersen spread 2

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.

Old Tracks New Tricks by Jessica Petersen spread 3

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, 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, and on Twitter @ArielBBooks.

Two Debut Interview: Annie Silvestro

In today’s Picture the Books Two Debut Interview, debut author Kerri Kokias discusses BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB with debut author Annie Silvestro.



BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, written by Annie Silvestro and illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, (Doubleday) tells the story of a book-loving bunny who sneaks books from the library and shares them with his forest friends. It’s a true celebration of the power of books and the one-of-a-kind magic of reading.



KK: One of my favorite lines in BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is when Bunny misses story time so much, “He had to do something. So, with a flashlight in his paws and hope in his heart, Bunny jumped out of bed and tiptoed through the dark.” Do you have a favorite line of any book, any genre?

AS:  One of my all-time favorite lines comes from one of James Marshall’s GEORGE AND MARTHA stories. “But George never said ‘I told you so.’ Because that’s not what friends are for.” Perfect. (Martha also calls George a “fuss-budget” in this story, which I love.)

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

AS: SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE by William Steig is such a classic. I’d love to write something that stands the test of time like so many of my favorites do.

KK: I love that you bring up how much you admire books that stand the test of time. I feel like BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is a classic, timeless story. Can you tell me a little about how you got the idea for this story?

AS: That is so kind of you to say! The idea started percolating when I was dressed in a bunny costume I wore for a parent show at my children’s school. Sometimes being silly gives you interesting ideas!

KK: Tell me about the pet/s you had growing up. Any bunnies?

AS: No, no bunnies unfortunately! I grew up with a cat named Muffin. She had sharp claws and wasn’t afraid to use them. I have always had a cat – right now, Blinky likes to sit with my son and me whenever we read the WARRIORS books (about cat clans).

KK: Tatjana Mai-Wyss’ illustrations pair so well with this story. What were your thoughts when you first saw her illustrations for BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB?

AS: I was crazy about them immediately! They have a charming, old-fashioned appeal to them and I love each and every character and detail. It’s amazing to me how Tatjana differentiated each animal’s personality. The final spread and the endpapers just knocked me out.

KK: I could live in the world Tatjana created for Bunny. There are so many great details. If you could choose to live in the world of any other picture book, which world would it be? Why?

AS: My first thought was Strega Nona because I am a lover of pasta and having a pot that made it on command would be pretty much the best thing ever. But thinking more, I’d have to say Busytown! I love Richard Scarry and how fun would it be to drive a pickle car or to hang out with Huckle, Hilda, Lowly, Mr. Frumble, Bananas Gorilla, Sergeant Murphy…

KK: BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is a favorite among teachers and librarians in part because of how highly it values a love of books, have you been doing any school or library visits?

AS: Yes! This has been one of the best parts of the whole experience. Sharing my story with kids and seeing their first-hand reactions has been inspiring and eye-opening.

KK: I hope you’re setting aside time for writing. What new projects have you been working on?

I’m trying, thanks! I’m working on some new picture books and trying my hand at an early chapter book as well.

Thank you, Annie. Congratulations on your debut book. I’m very much looking forward to your future publications.

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. Bunny’s Book Club will be followed by Mice Skating, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling, Fall 2017) and The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (HarperCollins Fall 2018). Annie lives by the beach in New Jersey with her husband and two sons who also love to read. Visit Annie online at or on Twitter and Instagram @anniesilvestro.

BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is available now. Order online , or purchase it at your favorite bookstore.

kokiaskerriframeKerri Kokias credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. Her debut picture book, Snow Sisters (Knopf, November 2017) is about two sisters who enjoy a snow day in their own unique ways. Kerri lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two children, and three dogs. Learn more about Kerri and her writing on her website, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @kerrikokias.


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