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 Russ Cox: Advice For Young Writers and Illustrators, Tigers and debut author/illustrator picture book FARAWAY FRIENDS


I first met Russ Cox through our mutual friend Hazel Mitchell, when we were both members of Pixel Shavings. I've been grateful to Russ for his encouragement and support, especially his tips re: Photoshop and Painter. He's one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. Plus check out the WONDERFUL and uncannily accurate drawing he sent me after I admired it online (and said it looked like me in younger days):

Russ lives in Maine with his wife and 4 furry art directors. When not creating children’s books, he enjoys playing the banjo, moose juggling, and debating Einstein’s theory that the speed of light is constant (only one of those is true). You can find Russ at his website, TwitterFacebook, Flickr, Google+ and Tumblr.


Faraway Friends is about Sheldon, a would be astronaut, and his sidekick Jet, who are looking for a lost friend through a space adventure only to find a weird alien creature and its furry friend.

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

I have lots of knicknacks in my studio that I like to look at but this little tiger might be the best thing I have in it. It was made for me by the super talented Jennifer Carson as a surprise gift. She made it from a doodle I posted:

I was stunned when she handed it to me at a NESCBWI conference a few years ago. I smile every time I see it. I think I will call him Otis.

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

Being an illustrator for a very long time, I am rather new to the writing end of the book world. The few things I have learned are:

Don’t be afraid to put words to paper. Okay, this is one that I am still working on but I’m getting more comfortable with each attempt I make. I come from an illustration background so writing is outside my comfort zone. It was you, Debbie, who started me on this path after telling me to write a story from a doodle I shared. That nudge and doodle turned into Faraway Friends.

Share your stories with a few people or join a critique group. The fresh eyes and ears can help you find problem areas in your writing, and act as a great support network when the self doubt and fear start creeping in.

Embrace rejection. It is okay to hear “no thank you”. It helps light that creative fire and you learn from it. Faraway Friends received a bunch of rejections before finding a home. Not everyone is going to love your story.

Turn off the modern world and go outside. There are stories outside your house and studio waiting to be heard and told.

3. What are you excited about right now?

I am really excited about doing some promotional events for Faraway Friends. I am in the midst of scheduling signings, festivals, and school visits for the summer and fall.

The projects on my drawing table at the moment are a book series for Penguin Random House called Puppy Pirates (written by Erin Soderbergh Downing) that I am illustrating . This has been a ton of fun to do. The first two books will be released this summer and the other two in the fall. I am also writing some new picture book stories and have begun putting together a graphic novel. That reminds me, time to turn off the computer and head outside.

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Productivity tip for writers: see how long you can stay offline

Know the difference between actually being productive and the illusion of productivity, especially when you're online.


#BookADay: SHADOW CHASERS by Elly McKay (Running Press)

‪#‎BookADay‬: SHADOW CHASERS by Elly McKay ( Theater Clouds on FB), published by Running Press. I love Elly's absolutely gorgeous paper-theater lightbox illustrations.

Synopsis: "Once evening paints the summer sky, shadows will come out to play. You must move fast, because as quickly as the wind blows, the shadows will be on their way. Chasing after our hopes and dreams may take many tries before we finally catch them. This magical nighttime story shows that the journey is just as remarkable as the destination."

Elly's new BUTTERFLY PARK just came out from Running Press!

You can find Elly on Etsy, on Twitter , on her website.

More about SHADOW CHASERS on the Running Press website.

More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts


#BookADay: WON TON AND CHOPSTICK by Lee Wardlaw and Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt).

Today's #BookADay: WON TON AND CHOPSTICK, written by Lee Wardlaw​, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin​ (Henry Holt).

Synopsis: "Won Ton cat's purrfect life with his boy is changed forever when the family adopts a (gasp!) puppy." More about the book, including a Teacher's Guide & Activity Kit. Lee was kind enough to answer Three Questions for me on Inkygirl.

More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts


WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? Book Tour recap

I had a FANTASTIC time during my WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? Book Tour earlier this month. Thanks to Simon & Schuster Children's for making the book tour possible for me, and to all the schools, libraries and bookstores who participated.

For those interested, I've posted links to my photos and recap at, including what I learned along the way.


#BookADay: FOX AND SQUIRREL MAKE A FRIEND by Ruth Ohi (my sister!!), published by Scholastic Canada

#BookADay: FOX AND SQUIRREL MAKE A FRIEND by my awesome sis, Ruth Ohi (published by Scholastic Canada). This was a "Best Books" selection by the The Canadian Children's Book Centre and a "First and Best" Toronto Public Library Selection!

"Is there room for someone else in Fox and Squirrel's friendship? Fox and Squirrel are the best of friends. But when Yellow Bird comes along, he and Squirrel frolic high up in the treetops where Fox can't reach. Fox feels like Squirrel doesn't need him anymore. Can Squirrel help Fox see that there's room in their friendship for another?

The simple text and joyful art together deliver a heartwarming tale with a subtle but profound message about the strengths of friendship, loyalty, and acceptance."

More about my sister and her school visits:

More about the book:…/v…/fox-and-squirrel-make-a-friend

More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts


Comic: Plot For Sale


#BookADay | YOU NEST HERE WITH ME by Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple and Melissa Sweet (Boyds Mill)

Heidi and Jane were kind enough to answer Three Questions for me earlier this year:

Three Questions With Jane Yolen: Advice For Young Writers, Books, Tea and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME

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


More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts



#BookADay | THE YETI FILES: MEET THE BIGFEET by Kevin Sherry (Scholastic)


Aspiring writers: Before worrying too much about networking/promo, FINISH WRITING YOUR BOOK. 


#BookADay: NOW THAT YOU'RE HERE (Duplexity, part 1) by Amy K. Nichols

Donalyn Miller has announced her 7th Annual #BookADay Challenge! See this great post about Summer Reading as well more details about the challenge.

I just finished reading Amy Nichols's NOW THAT YOU'RE HERE (Knopf Books For Young Readers) and loved it. Amy and I met back in 2010 (I think it was 2010?) when we were both taking Krista Marino's YA writing workshop at the SCBWI Summer Conference, and I was excited when Amy announced that her debut YA was coming out from Knopf last December.

You can find out more about Amy and her work at You can read more about NOW THAT YOU'RE HERE on the Penguin Random House website.

The book trailer:


More info: Donalyn Miller's Summer Book-A-Day Challenge | Archives of my #BookADay posts


Stop comparing yourself to others and find your own journey

Constantly comparing yourself to others can suck joy out of creating. Find your own pace and savor the journey.


Comic: The Book Sniffer


Comic: The Paperless Office


I recently received an Apple Watch for my birthday, which I am loving. Not because it keeps me in touch with the digital world -- in fact, I've turned off notifications for most social media and have decided NOT to check Twitter or FB via my Watch. I mainly plan to use it for fitness tracking as well as tactile reminders (it taps me on the wrist if I sit in my office chair too long) to get up and move around every once in a while.

As I hunted around for a place to put the charger, I couldn't help but think how ironic it is that the so-called paperless office often turns into a wire-laden office instead. In my case, I have lots of paper AND wires!


Advice For Young Writers, Tea, Books and Office Owls: Three Questions With Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple


Today, I'm delighted to have Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple visiting Inkygirl. Jane and Heidi are co-authors of YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, a new picture book that recently came out from Boyds Mill Press, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I've also been a longtime fan of Jane's work, especially her fairy tale retellings.

I asked both Jane and Heidi to answer Three Questions for me, and here are their answers:

Three Questions With Jane Yolen

Three Questions With Heidi Stemple



Three Questions With Jane Yolen: Advice For Young Writers, Books, Tea and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME

For Part 1 of my YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Heidi Stemple.

Photo: Jason Stemple.

I was thrilled to meet Jane Yolen at a recent SCBWI conference, and even more excited when Jane read my f&g of Where Are My Books? and liked it (see photo at the very end of this interview). Jane Yolen is the renowned author of many children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil's Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Her books, poems and stories have won many awards, including the Caldecott Medal.

You can find Jane at her website,, on Facebook and on Twitter. She and her daughter Heidi Stemple run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in her home:

Her newest book is YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, a picture book co-written with Heidi Stemple (see Heidi's Three Questions interview in earlier today) and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, published by Boyds Mill Press in March 2015.


This lyrical bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and to sleepy children, home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes how different species of birds nest, secure and cozy with their mama birds, she tucks her own child into bed with the soothing refrain, “you nest here with me”—easing her little one and readers alike to slumber. Perfect for a young audience, this poetic text begs to be read aloud, and is accompanied by Melissa Sweet’s incredibly warm and original art.

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

Photo: Heidi Stemple.

Like most writers, I have an enormous research library in my home and when I am working on a particular project, those books get scattered around my writing room.

As I am currently working on two very different manuscripts--one set in the Holocaust (the first section in the Lodz Ghetto) and the other a graphic novel trilogy set in 1930s Edinburgh, I chose to pick out a book from each of those piles to feature in the photograph. At the top is a day-by-day catalog of what happened during the ghetto years in Lodz, and in the second materials about Scotland through the ages. Fiction has to take the real and massage it into a story that nay (or may not) have actually happened. We recreate (hi)story and bring our readers along.

Photo: Heidi Stemple.

From Jane, about the photo above: "I can't seem to write without a cup of tea (British decaf with demarara sugar and a splash of Lactaid milk.) I keep making cuppas coming all day long."

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Read, read, read.

Write something every day.

Never take no for an answer.

Don't believe your reviews--either good or bad.

Heart on the page.

Know that books are not just written, but rewritten.

(Above: Listen as Jane reads and critiques her very first poem)


Q. What are you excited about right now?

Two of my old books recently splashed out big: HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON (Scholastic) won the Colorado One Book Award, and BAD GIRLS (Charlesbridge)--written with daughter Heidi Stemple--won the Magnolia Award, Mississippi's Children's Book Award for the middle grades. Plus the latest book Heidi and I just published--YOU NEST HERE WITH ME (Boyds Mills) with amazing illustrations by Melissa Sweet--has recently had a tremendous start and after only a month is getting a second printing.

But honestly, I am always most excited about the manuscript I am working on now. That's where my heart is, where my soul is. That is where my tomorrow is.


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


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.


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