Three Questions For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate).

I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Three Questions with Heidi Stemple: Advice For Young Readers, Owls and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME

For Part 2 of the YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Jane Yolen.

Heidi Stemple didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

I had a chance to hang out with Heidi at the SCBWI Summer Conference last year. She's smart, she's funny and she's so supportive of others in the industry. Then partway through a group conversation, I also discovered that her mom is Jane Yolen (!!). 

Heidi and Jane run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in Jane's home:

Where to find out more about Heidi:

Heidi's website - Twitter - Heidi's Author Page on FacebookFacebook page about the yearly owl count

Synopsis of You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mill Press, 2015):

This rhyming bedtime book is part lullaby and part introductory field guide for the smallest ornithologists. But, at its heart, it reminds baby birds and children alike that home is wherever you are safely tucked in with your family. If you look in the back of You Nest Here With Me , you'll see that part of the dedication is to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you want to know more about birds--including listening to owl calls, visit them at:

Heidi's office. (The cat is named Romeo)

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

I love birds. All birds. But, especially owls.

"Think I'm kidding about the owls? I even have owl nesting dolls."

I have about a hundred owls in my house. Actually, I’ve never counted them, but there are a lot.

Heidi's living room. "See the owl in the rafters? His name is Wilbur and he watches out over the house." My mother, author Jane Yolen, wrote a book you might know called Owl Moon. It’s about a little girl who goes out owling with her dad. What you may not know is that the little girl is me and Pa is my father, David Stemple, who was a great owler. He was the one who taught me to call owls and now, once a year, I lead a team of owlers for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. On our best year (so far) we called down 67 owls from midnight to 7am.

These (pictured above) are probably my favorite owls—they make up a bookend that my dad had in his office. Now they sit on the bookshelf right next to my desk and remind me of him.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

When you live in a family of writers (my mother and both my brothers work in children’s books) you know that inspiration comes from everywhere. You never know when and from where an idea for a story will pop up. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open at all times for those ideas. And, write them down because ideas are slippery little buggers.

Prep for the Owl Count

 Every writer has all sorts of notes jotted all over the place with ideas for stories or poems or essays or speeches. I even have the beginning of a story on my iphone—you can’t really understand it because I dictated it with voice-to-text and it got most of the words wrong. But, it’s good enough for me to figure it out later when I am ready to write that story.

Q. What are you excited about right now?

I am always excited about my newest book and the book (or usually books) I am working on. So, besides the projects I am writing and researching right now (which involve pirates, the civil war, the Christmas Bird Count, cookies, the moon, monsters, and soup—yes soup) I am probably MOST excited about my brand new book You Nest Here With Me (co-authored by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melissa Sweet). This is a book that took 12 years to get published. We sold it twice—to the same editor at 2 different publishing companies—and then waited 3 years for the illustrations. I am glad we were patient because we are so happy with the way it turned out.

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Comic: Mystery Solved


It's easy to write a picture book. It's much harder to write a picture book that will sell.

So many people think that short = easy, especially when it comes to picture books.

And while yes, it's easy to crank out a picture book manuscript in terms of wordcount, writing a picture book story that a publisher will want to acquire is an entirely different animal.

At this point, I can imagine a number of you leaping up and saying, "You shouldn't worry about the market! Just write the story that you were meant to write!"  I partly agree.

However, if your goal is to be published, then I strongly advise you to go to local children's bookstore and  library; I guarantee you will save yourself much heartache and wasted effort. Familiarise yourself with what's being published. Let yourself fall in love with some of these picture books and then ask yourself why you enjoy them so much.

A few common mistakes that new picture book writers make:

- Talking down to kids, using a style and language that comes across as awkward and lecture-y.

- Writing what is basically a short story rather than a picture book text. If you don't know the difference, you need to read more picture books.

- Assuming that the illustrator's job is just to draw what is in the text, and therefore including lots of detailed art notes ("Sandy's hair is blonde and her eyes are green, and she is sitting half-crouched with her hand reaching out for the rabid squirrel" etc.).

- Assuming that a picture book story HAS to rhyme. Writing a good rhyming picture book is very difficult. Don't use rhyme as a crutch.

- Not reading their story out loud to make sure it IS fun to read out loud.

- Obviously pushing a message or lesson they want young readers to learn.

- Automatically writing in the style of picture books that they remember reading as a child.


Do you disagree with any of the above? Do you have anything to add? Any other related topics you'd like me to write about? Feel free to share in the comments section.


Comic: Books Or Me

And once again, I am out of bookshelf shelf. AUGH. Gradually converting my favourite print books to ebooks (by giving away the print books, buying the digital versions) to make more room.

Except for picture books, which I still strongly prefer in print.



Inkygirl named one of WD's Top 101 Websites For Writers

Thanks to Writer's Digest for including my website in their list of 101 Best Websites For Writers! I haven't seen the full list yet but just got the congrats letter. List is in the most recent issue of the magazine. Congrats to all the others in the list!


Three Questions with Pat Zietlow Miller: Advice for young writers, English teachers and bookmarks, peanut butter cups and WHEREVER YOU GO

Pat Zietlow Miller wrote SOPHIE’S SQUASH, which won the Golden Kite Award, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. She has two books coming out this year: WHEREVER YOU GO (Little, Brown, April) and SHARING THE BREAD (Schwartz & Wade, August.) Pat also has six other books under contract.

For a synopsis of WHEREVER YOU GO plus more about the illustrator, Eliza Wheeler, see yesterday's Three Questions With Eliza Wheeler. Wherever You Go is a new picture book written by Pat, illustrated by Eliza, coming out from Little, Brown Books For Young Readers on April 21, 2015. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I absolutely ADORE this book and strongly recommend it.

Where you can find more info about Pat and her work: her website, (where she is a regular contributor), @PatZMiller on Twitter.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell me the story behind it?

This is a dictionary and a bookmark I received when I was a senior in high school from my English teacher Gladys Veidemanis. The class voted on several awards, and I won “most likely to be published.” It took about 25 years after high school, but it did happen!

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Read anything you can. Write anything you can.

When I was young I read anything and everything. Books. Newspapers, Magazines. Cereal boxes. The backs of shampoo bottles. I remember being very indignant once as a teen when the copy on the back of a soap container was missing a hyphen. “How could someone not have noticed that?” I asked my mom. She didn’t have a good answer.

I also tried to write like my favorite writers. I was a huge Erma Bombeck fan, and a huge Rick Reilly fan and I tried to write essays that sounded like them. It might seem counterintuitive, but recognizing other people’s writing styles and trying to replicate them ends up helping you figure out your own best writing voice.

But even if you read and write anything you can, you still may have a hard time getting your book published. I got 126 rejections before I sold my first book. This video tells how I persevered. (And now, I’ve sold nine books, so it was definitely worth the wait.)

Q. What are you excited about right now?

What a great question! Let me make you a list:

• Dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s.

• Finding out which colleges my daughter gets accepted into and helping her decide where she’ll go.

• An oh-my-goodness-you-must-read-this middle grade book by Kate Messner called ALL THE ANSWERS.

• The fact that illustrator extraordinaire Eliza Wheeler is coming to Wisconsin from California to launch our picture book WHEREVER YOU GO.

These shoes, which I cannot, unfortunately, afford.

I could keep going. There are lots of things to be excited about.


Also see Eliza Wheeler's Three Questions interview, posted yesterday!
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Three Questions With Eliza Wheeler: advice for young writers & illustrators, dolls and maple seeds, WHEREVER YOU GO 

Eliza Wheeler is an illustrator and author of children’s books, including MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS, which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list, and the Newbery Honor winning novel DOLL BONES (by Holly Black). Eliza is a northern Wisconsin native currently living with her husband in Los Angeles, California.

I met Eliza when we were both chosen for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program back in 2010, and we've become good friends since.  It's been exciting to watch her career take off! So looking forward to rooming with Eliza at the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles this year.

Also excited about the launch of WHEREVER YOU GO, a new picture book written by Pat Zietlow Miller (find out more in Pat Zietlow Miller's Three Questions interview), illustrated by Eliza, coming out from Little, Brown Books For young Readers on April 21, 2015. I LOVE this book so much! Young readers will appreciate the fun journey and look-more-closely-what-do-you-see gorgeous artwork while grown-ups will also enjoy the underlying (and uplifting) life sentiment. You can read the (starred) review on Kirkus.

Synopsis of WHEREVER YOU GO:

Join an adventurous rabbit and his friends as they journey on winding roads to discover the magical worlds that await them. Pat Zietlow Miller's lilting rhyme and illustrator Eliza Wheeler's enchanting landscapes celebrate the possibilities that lie beyond the next bend in the road, which always leads you home again.

You can find out more about Eliza and her work at her website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

The favorite thing in my work-space is the doll that I made while I was creating my first book, MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS.

While I was working on the sketches for this book, I wasn't feeling confident in the consistency of the many angles of my one singular character (Miss Maple) in the story, and so I decided to build a doll of her. I'd never done this before, and it took me a long time.

I used a self-hardening clay called LaDoll for the head, arms and feet, and then made the body out of wire and stuffed and sewn fabric. It was worth the work because I was able to pose and photograph her with lighting in all the positions and angles I needed to draw. And now she sits on my shelf.

My husband, Adam, occasionally takes walks around the block, and will sometimes bring back the most interesting seeds or leaves. She hangs on to those for me.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers and/or illustrators?

Seek a balance in your creative work and daily life that's not only sustaining, but life-giving. Finding this balance has been and is still a constant process for me.

I often hear creative people talk about working hard, going all-or-nothing, taking leaps of faith, giving ultimatums and timelines about 'making it' into an industry, etc. Especially for those just starting out, the dilemma is often between time and money. Trying to do the creative work 100% right away brings a lot of pressure and tension into your life that can stifle creativity, which then becomes paralyzing.

On the other hand, feeling locked into a life that allows no time for creative work is also stifling. So the goal is to find the perfect situation that gives you just enough of both.

That often means working part time or full time at a day job for many years and finding a few regular hours on nights, mornings or weekends to turn off the world and focus (or just play!). The baby steps that you make during these hours will begin to add up, and form into tangible, inspired projects. That momentum will build, and then the scales gradually tip.

Making progress is about daily baby steps. It's not about achieving instant perfection in one fell swoop. It's a small seed that grows imperceptibly for a little while.

Q. What are you excited about right now?

I'm very excited to be traveling to Madison, Wisconsin in May to celebrate the release of my new illustrated picture-book, WHEREVER YOU GO, written by Wisconsin author Pat Zietlow-Miller. Pat's manuscript is rhythmic and beautiful, and was basically a blank canvas for me. The text was so open that I could create a narrative within the pictures. This book stretched my creative muscles in a lot of new and sometimes uncomfortable ways (the joke with my agent was that I was drawing my fingers down to bloody stumps) -- there's a scope and level of detail in this artwork that I'd never created before -- so I'm thrilled to finally be able to share it with everyone, and to be able to team up with Pat in that sharing process.


Also see Pat Zietlow Miller's Three Questions interview posted one day after Eliza's!
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Three Questions with Tricia Springstubb: Advice for young writers, office cats and CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS

A late bloomer, Tricia Springstubb didn’t discover the writing life till after she’d tried many other careers—all of which, not so surprisingly, centered on kids. Now she is lucky enough to be a full-time writer in Cleveland, where she lives with her teacher husband and, of course, Habibi. Her books include the novels What Happened on Fox Street, Mo Wren Lost and Found, and the picture book Phoebe and Digger.

You can find out more about Tricia and her work at her website, on Twitter and on Pinterest.


This is the very first book in a new series about Cody, her best friend Spencer, and their diverse families and neighbors. Cody is a girl who hates to give up, which makes for adventures big and small. My books are usually kind of broody, so writing one as sunny and happy as this was great fun. The next book publishes in spring 2016. (Publisher: Candlewick)

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

This is the aptly named Habibi. He’s beloved not just by me, but kids all over the world. For real! Whenever I do a Skype visit, the sound of young voices brings him running. As soon as I hold him up to the camera, it’s all over for me. He completely steals the show! When not being a rock star, he likes to hang around my desk, preferably sitting on top of my notes. Cody features a large, comic, infinitely lovable cat named MewMew. Maybe you can guess my inspiration.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Look again.

The world today is such a busy, buzzy place, with stimulation coming at us from every angle. It’s easy to find ourselves skimming along the surface of all there is to see, hear and read. Easy to forget how to listen instead of hear, how to look and really see.

Kids are born naturals at noticing and observing. As writers we need to nurture that skill, so we don’t just register A Tree but This Tree, in all its particular leafy (or barren) glory. Not just A Mean Girl, but This Mean Girl, with her chewed-down nails and too-loud voice. Our job is to go beneath the surface, beyond labels and first impressions, behind that front door. I may be biased, but I think it’s the world’s best, most rewarding job!

Q. What are you excited about right now?

I’m surfing the stratosphere because Eliza Wheeler is the illustrator for the Cody books. She found just the right combination of warm and witty to perfectly suit the books’ tone. Wait till you see her MewMew!

I’m also excited to have two new books in a single year, a first for me for sure. The other is Moonpenny Island, a middle grade novel for slightly older readers. A small island, Moonpenny harbors some big secrets. I think of the main character, Flor, as a sort of older sister to Cody. Both girls brim with questions and dreams, and though they grow and change, they also remain indelibly, uniquely themselves.

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Music video: It's All About The Books (parodies of Meghan Trainor's "All About The Bass")

Just came across these fun book-focused parodies of Meghan Trainor's "All About The Bass", like Mount Desert Island High School:

Also love this "All About That Book" video from Griffin Elementary's Literacy Night:

and "All About The Books" from Andover Elementary:

and from Calusa Elementary:

and from Christina Iadicicco on YouTube:

And they're all right, of course! It's ALL ABOUT THE BOOKS.


Three Questions With Christopher Cheng: Advice for young writers, office chops and PYTHON

Christopher Cheng is an award-winning Australian author of more than 40 children's books and is a co-chair of the International Advisory Board for the SCBWI. I met Chris through the SCBWI, and I love his enthusiasm and positive energy. Pictured above: Chris with a python (!) as well as his narrative non-fiction picture book, PYTHON. Python was written by Chris, illustrated by Mark Jackson, and was published by Candlewick; it was shortlisted in the 2013 Children's Book Council Of The Year awards.

You can find more info about Chris at his website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.

Synopsis of PYTHON:

Python stirs and slithers out from her shelter, smelling the air with her forked tongue. It’s time to molt her dull scales and reveal the glistening snake underneath. Gliding along a tree, she stops and watches very, very closely as a bird drops onto a branch — and escapes the razor-sharp teeth just in time. But Python is hungry, so she slides on to stalk new prey. Combining informative facts, expressive illustrations, and a lyrical, mesmerizing narrative, here is a book to captivate anyone fascinated by this iconic creature.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

A photo of SOMETHING in my office - was that SOMETHING or ONEthing or ANYthing? Well, because I am never good at following instructions (can you write the manuscript to 35000 words - sure … and then I submit a 55000 word manuscript that was published), I just have to send you two.

First, my CHOP!

This is me (as you can tell from the side … but there is also actually my Chinese name on the base that I use to ‘chop’ my books when I am signing them at home.

If I am travelling, I have a mini version of this - it's my travelling chop! and then here is the photo of the creatures bordering my desk … I lurve having these:


Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Five letters, sounds like LIGHT …. WRITE!

Do it every day.

Do it for fun -

WRITE anything that comes in to your head;
WRITE what you heard your big sister say on the telephone last night when she thought she was speaking in secret;
WRITE what you wish to do;
WRITE what you want to do;
WRITE what your IMAGINATION tells you to write.
just WRITE.

And when you write, edit what you write … don’t make it a ramble (unless it is supposed to be). Sometimes later (it might be after your initial thoughts, it might be after a day or so - on the day you set aside as the reviewing day) go back and rewrite your work. Write about what makes you happy. Write about what makes you sad. Write about … what you are too afraid to write about!

And when you write, giggle and laugh and cry and moan and weep and slobber … get into the skin of your character. BE your character. Ask the questions what would (your character) do?

And ENJOY what you are doing.

Q What are you excited about right now?

Joining the throng of folk that Debbie is interviewing.
Life … I love hanging out with others of my kind - children’s book people.
Reading new books by my friends - like Samantha Berger, and Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and Isabel Roxas and … and SCBWI - we are a beautiful tribe.

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Can't wait to buy my copy of WHEREVER YOU GO by Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler!


I recently had a chance to read the f&gs (which stands for "folded and gathered", an unbound galley) for WHEREVER YOU GO, a new picture book coming out from Little, Brown in April, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler.

LOVE THIS. When I read picture books for the first time (and second and third...) I usually read them out loud, and this one was so fun to read aloud with its rhythmical prose.

Young readers will appreciate the fun journey and look-more-closely-what-do-you-see gorgeous artwork. Adults will also appreciate the multi-layered interpretation of the prose. The following (especially when combined with the beautiful artwork on that spread) is just an example:


Every life landmark, the big and the small.

The moments you tripped,

the times you stood tall."

*snif* (this wasn't the only page spread that made me teary-eyed)

You can read the STARRED review of Wherever You Go on Kirkus Reviews.


Comic: One of the dangers of apostrophe abuse


Three Questions For Lee Wardlaw: Advice For Young Writers and Illustrators, life reminders and WON TON AND CHOPSTICK 

I've known Lee Wardaw for many years: she was the first children's book professional to encourage me in my writing. Lee was kind enough to critique one of my first middle grade novel manuscripts and later introduced me to her agent, Ginger Knowlton. Ginger is now my agent! As I've ventured into the world of Skypevisits with schools, I've appreciated Lee's advice (see her Presentations page for some excellent tips).

Lee claims that her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!), and published 30 award-winning books for young readers, including WON TON - A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU and 101 WAYS TO BUG YOUR PARENTS.

WON TON AND CHOPSTICK - A CAT AND DOG TALE TOLD IN HAIKU is her newest book, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, for ages 5 and up. This WON TON sequel comes out from Henry Holt on March 17th (TODAY!!!).


Won Ton cat's purrfect life with his boy is changed forever when the family adopts a (gasp!) puppy.

Teachers: there's also a free Won Ton and Chopstick Teacher's Guide with connections to the Common Core created by Marcie Colleen and a Won Ton and Chopstick Activity Kit.


1. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

In July of '77, a wildfire in the parched Santa Barbara foothills destroyed my family’s home and the neighborhood where I grew up.

We lost everything: clothes, furniture, scrapbooks, heirlooms - - even my cat. Days later, while sifting through the wreckage, I found two recognizable items: my baby spoon and our front door knob:

In the aftermath of the disaster, I met and talked with dozens of children and young adults whose homes were also lost. I was impressed with their heroic attitude, the ‘fire’ they felt inside to rebuild their lives.

Five years later, I honored them and my family by writing my first novel for young readers: Corey's Fire, the story of a 14-year-old girl who discovers an unexpected inner strength after going through a firestorm. The novel was published by Avon Books in 1990; 25 years later, it's still in print via the Authors Guild program.

The doorknob and baby spoon remain a part of my office decor. They remind me, daily, that what rose from the ashes of a fiery and painful disaster was a career that has brought me So. Much. Joy.

2. What advice do you have for young writers and illustrators?

Write about or draw the things you feel most deeply about: people (or cats!), places, situations, beliefs.

Don't compare yourself to others. Simply focus on YOU: what you have to say and how you want to say it. Your unique, authentic voice and style will eventually develop from there.

(P.S. Don't forget to have fun!)

3. What are you excited about right now?

Lunch. Chocolate. My son coming home from college for summer vacation. Oh, and a website I created called I fell in love with the endearing pictures of children reading aloud to shelter cats at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, PA. 

They have a program there called Book Buddies. Kids in grades 1st-8th are invited to read aloud to the kitties in the adoption room. It's a win-win situation: the children improve their reading skills and the cats are comforted by the social/human interaction. This kind of program, which typically uses trained therapy dogs, is gaining popularity around the world. My site has a growing list of read-aloud programs. It also features recommended children's books starring felines and canines. (Rumbly purrs of gratitude to Debbie Ridpath Ohi for creating the banner art for!)

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Three Questions For Jodi Moore: Advice for young writers and illustrators, soul-nourishing notes and WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAI

Jodi Moore is author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN (illustrator: Howard McWilliam, published by Flashlight Press), the upcoming sequel WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN (launching Sept/2015) and GOOD NEWS NELSON (illustrated by Brendan Flannelly-King, published by Story Pie Press). The proud mother of two grown sons, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and an ever-changing bunch of characters in her head. You can find out more about Jodi and her work at, her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

I love Jodi's cheer and enthusiasm in person as well as online, and she's always been so supportive of her fellow children's/YA book writers. Thanks to Jodi for answering my Three Questions today!



If you build a perfect castle, a dragon will move in, followed by... a baby?! Hilarity ensues as the trio bonds, until the baby charms the dragon away. Is there room in the castle for three? Decide for yourself WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN, sequel to the award-winning WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN.


1. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

Okay, truth? My office looks like something out of the Hoarders reality show. It’s piled high with books, papers, printed-out manuscripts, pictures of my kids, stuffed animals and other assorted knick-knacks, plaques with motivational quotes, a chocolate bar (or three)…and, oh, yeah – somewhere amidst all of my “inspiration”, there’s a desk with a computer on it.

Each thing inspires, grounds or nourishes me in some way. Picking one has proven to be an impossible task…so with your kind permission, may I offer a few?

You see, while it’s hard for me to choose that “something”, choosing the “someone”s is not. I would be nowhere without the support and encouragement of my family. And while I always broaden that to include my extended family, creative friends, crit partners, booksellers, teachers, librarians, readers and the entire kidlit community, I would never have had the courage or belief in myself to take that first step in pursuing my dream had it not been for my husband and two sons.

I thought about sharing their pictures – or gifts they’ve purchased to help motivate me – but I realized nothing touches my heart more than what comes from theirs:

These notes from my husband are the first things I read every morning. Knowing he believes in me helps me to believe in myself. Larry not only loves and supports me, he “gets” me. (Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out, Lady & the Tramp was the first movie he took me to. Thirty-five years later, we still refer to each other as such.) The witch? A little token from him as well. When I was a child, the Wicked Witch of the West scared the heck out of me. I was fortunate to play the role in community theatre years ago, allowing me to conquer those fears. Now the witch and I are buds.

The middle picture is a painting our son Steven created when he was about eight years old. I once read a book where the author alleged that if you ask a very young child to describe heaven and the “all-mighty” spirit (whichever religion or belief system you choose), they can and will. Their memories are still fresh, she proposed, although sadly fade with time. Even as a toddler, “Stevie” was always introspective and deep – seemingly an “old soul”. This picture has always given me chills, offering reassurance that we are never alone; that there is some superior being, holding our hands and guiding us as we face, and embark upon, our dreams.

Finally, how heart-squishy and soul-nourishing is a love note from your child? This message from our other son, Alex, sits on my bookshelf where I can look at it every day.

And this is only a small sample of the support they provide. Just take a look at my books, my trailer, my website, my school visit materials and you’ll see their names written all over them.

They will “all weese” have my love!

2. What advice do you have for young writers and illustrators?

Read everything you can. Go to museums. Concerts. Shows. Explore nature. Keep a journal. Then play. Dabble. Draw. Paint. Write.

While it’s imperative to learn and refine your craft, it’s just as important to find your own unique voice; to celebrate and share your own vision and heart.

Challenge yourself.

Celebrate and enjoy the process.

Create honestly and bravely.

Don’t listen to the “no”-it-alls. Only you can tell your own story. And the world needs to hear it.

3. What are you excited about right now?

At this moment? Why, being featured on Inkygirl’s blog, of course! Seriously, thank you so much for hosting me. I am honored and grateful to be here. *Tigger dances*

I’m also tremendously excited – and thankful! – to be a part of the kidlit community, to do what I love to do and to hopefully inspire and nourish young minds with my words.

I’m ecstatic to be welcoming my newest baby WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN (the sequel to WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN) to the world and am intensely grateful to my fantastic editor at Flashlight Press, Shari Dash Greenspan, and my brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam, for once again breathing life into my dragon and my dream. *pinches self*

Finally, I could not be more excited to be moving forward, and growing, as an author and an artist…walking toward that sun, with so much love and support but a fingertip’s touch away, as I continue on this amazing journey.

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


A Fine Line


Keiko: Wild Rumpus

For more Keiko, see my Keiko comic archives.


Three Questions with Kate Parkinson: advice for young illustrators, 1950's kitsch and debut picture book GRACE


Today, I'm delighted to fire Three Questions at my friend Kate Parkinson. Kate's an illustrator, designer and author and a member of SCBWI and Canscaip. She is a graduate of OCAD University, the University of Guelph and is currently working towards an MFA in Illustration from the University of Hartford.

Kate's first children’s book, GRACE, was published by Holiday House Books For Young People in January 2015 (it was originally developed for her grad school thesis!) and she is currently hard at work on new book ideas. You can find Kate at, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Synopsis of GRACE:

Grace's name may be a bit of a misnomer, for graceful she is not. She wants to be a ballerina, but dancing is not her forte. "Give it up, Grace," the other girls tell her. Saddened, Grace turns to drawing—and when she does, she starts to feel better. Grace is good at drawing and the other girls love her artwork. Grace finds a way to be part of the ballet using her true talent—she paints the sets! But the indefatigable Grace also keeps dancing in this easy reader that encourages youngsters to celebrate their own special gifts.

1. Pick a random object in your studio and tell me about it.

Over the years I have collected 1950’s kitsch (my place has a retro décor) and some cookie jars have migrated into my studio and are filled with brushes and pens.

Most of my 50’s stuff has faces, whether ceramic anthropomorphic vegetables or the seriously tacky chalk art hanging on my wall. I like to surround myself with whimsical things that make me smile.

2. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book illustrators?

Draw, draw, draw! Carry a sketchbook with you wherever you go. Learn from other artists, connect with them and support them, they are your tribe, and the friendships you develop with others in the field are very special. Explore various media and pursue your own unique voice and path. Get your work out there, don’t worry about rejection, just keep working and moving forward.

And when you finally get that first children’s book to illustrate, remember to have fun!

3. What are you excited about these days?

Grace came out just last month and since then I had my first book signing (OLA conference) and I just attended my first SCBWI conference in New York City.

I want to read all the fabulous kid’s books I heard about at the SCBWI conference (there are many including Kwame Alexander’s “The Crossover”). I came back very inspired to get working on my next two book ideas and starting on some character studies (I have lots of ideas so now I need to get them into paper!).

I also work fulltime and I am in grad school (MFA, University of Hartford) and I graduate in July. I’m busy putting together a body of work for my thesis show that includes “Grace,” (the book was originally developed to be part of my thesis) and the other book ideas that I am currently developing. I'm excited about bringing the ideas I have to life.

Life is hectic but wonderful also!!!


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


KEIKO: The First Time

Anyone else purposely slow down near the end of a really, really good book?

Also see my previous Keiko comics.


Advice For Young Writers/Illustrators, WISH and SPECIAL DELIVERY: Three Questions With Matthew Cordell

Matthew Cordell is the illustrator of over 25 books for children including picture books, novels, and works of poetry. Several of which he has also written, including New York Times Notable picture book, HELLO! HELLO!. Matthew lives in a suburb of Chicago with his wife, author Julie Halpern, and their two children. Visit him online at You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Matthew's two newest books are SPECIAL DELIVERY, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Matthew (Roaring Brook Press), and WISH, written and illustrated by Matthew (Disney-Hyperion).

SPECIAL DELIVERY synopsis: Sadie is determined to deliver an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine, who lives completely alone and can really use the company. With the help of some interesting characters, she tries mailing the elephant, flying it over, hopping a train, and even an alligator boat ride. This eccentric and hilarious story will surprise and entertain from beginning to end.

WISH synopsis: As an elephant couple embark on a life together, thoughts of children are far away-at first. But as the desire for a child grows, so do unexpected challenges. And it's only after thwarted plans and bitter disappointment that their deepest wish miraculously comes true.

Q: Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell me the story behind it?

This is a corkboard that hangs in an awkward spot on the wall--kind of hard to reach--between my computer desk and my drawing table. At one point or another over the years, I've tacked up bits of stuff I was working on at the time, images by favorite artists to inspire, and personal photos. Most of the things on the board are ridiculously out of date (I should really put up some photos of my two beautiful children!), but I am rather proud of myself for having the motivation to hang the thing on the wall in the first place.

Q: What advice do you have for young writers and/or illustrators?

I'm not sure how original this is, but I think it's good advice and I wish I had followed it much earlier in my career. Which is this: figure out what makes you unique, interesting, weird, and you. Think about the things that sculpted you in your life, past and present that made you the individual that you are today--your interests, passions, personality quirks, etc. And use this as much as you can in your writing, art, etc. Do not be afraid to let this stuff come out. It's what makes you you and not look like and read like other books that are already in print. It's incredibly hard not to be overly influenced by authors and illustrators from all times (and you will be influenced, and you should embrace that) but you can use that and manipulate it to your advantage too.

Q: What are you excited about right now?

My wife (YA author, Julie Halpern) loves to plan family vacations. I love taking her planned family vacations because she does exhaustive research, plans things out full tilt, and does such an incredible job to insure we get the most of out these trips. We are taking our kids (our daughter's 6 and the boy's 20 months) to Disneyworld this coming fall. Julie updates us everyday on all the stuff we can do together there, how we'll make things work with a toddler, scoring the best deals on stuff, etc. Really looking forward to it. I love books and I love art intensely. But time away with the family is what I really enjoy the most in life.


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Three Questions with Henry Herz: Office Sushi, Advice For Aspiring Writers/Illustrators, and Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes

Henry Herz writes fantasy and science fiction for children with his two sons, and his first traditionally published picture book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, launched from Pelican Publishing earlier this year. He is a SCBWI member and hosts a kidlit blog. You can find out more about Henry and his books: - Blog - Kidlit Creature Week -Facebook - Twitter

Synopsis of Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes: Enter an enchanted land of mythical creatures where manticores reign and ogres roar. With a unique twist on traditional rhymes, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes presents a darker approach to these childhood classics, and yet the sing-song nature of the poems renders them playful and jovial at the same time.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell me about it?

I have a shelf in my office on which I display an assortment of toys and other creatively inspiring objects. In this picture, we see some two sets of O-no-sushi - darkly hilarious vinyl toys. Behind them are two empty soda cans: Stewie's Domination Serum and Whoop Ass energy drink (who doesn't occasionally need a can of whoop-ass?). Lastly, the small pebble is from the Waldon Pond made famous by Henry David Thoreau.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring young authors and illustrators?

The following advice applies equally to authors and illustrators, young and old (I started my writing career after age 50).

Be tenacious!

1. Never stop honing your craft. Read lots of books. Just as a lion is the product of all the zebras it eats, an author or illustrator is the product of all the books he or she has read.

2. Never stop querying. Now, by that, I don't mean query continuously. What I mean is that even the best authors and illustrators get rejected. So don't let rejection demoralize you. Keep in mind that the publishing world is, in one sense, like dating. What appeals to one person doesn't work for another. Just as you don't stop dating because someone says "no", you don't stop querying because an editor or agent says "no". Remember, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter was repeatedly rejected. That's like someone turning down a date from George Clooney or Angelina Jolie! The only way you can be stopped is if you give up. Keep on writing/illustrating and keep on querying!

Q. What are you excited about right now?

That's easy! My picture book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, came out in February from Pelican. It's exactly what it sounds like - fractured nursery rhymes with human characters replaced by monsters. The artwork by Abigail Larson is stunning. And the book has garnered some lovely praise from kidlit luminaries like Drew Daywalt, Molly Idle, and Dan Yaccarino.


For more tips and interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives.