Tag Archives: picture books

Welcome to the Spotlight Maria Gianferrari and HELLO GOODBYE DOG!


I’m thrilled to welcome back author Maria Gianferrari to DEBtastic Reads! Her nonfiction book Coyote Moon was featured here last year. Today we’re celebrating the release of her newest picture book, Hello Goodbye Dog! Stay tuned below for a giveaway of this wonderful book!

Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Patrice Barton

(Roaring Brook Press, July 2017)

Moose hates goodbyes, so when Zara leaves for school, he finds a way to be with her. Zara insists he’ll behave when she reads to him. Each time he’s dragged back home, he finds a way back. Zara comes up with the solution of training him to be a therapy dog, and so Moose is able to spend reading time with Zara and her classmates.

Spotlight on Maria Gianferrari:

What was the inspiration behind the story of HELLO GOODBYE DOG? And can you share what the journey to publication was like?

Like many of my books, the initial inspiration was my daughter Anya’s relationship with our dog, Becca. Anya’s an only child, and we got six-month old Becca when Anya was only four years old, so they’ve grown up together. Anya’s now 15, and Becca’s 11! Becca’s like Anya’s dog sister. Here’s my favorite photo of these best friends, taking when Anya was six and Becca was one.

As a rescue, Becca had separation anxiety when we first got her, and used to howl when we’d leave her alone. An undertone of that still remains in the story: Moose only wants to say “hello,” to Zara, not goodbye. Some of the details changed through many revisions over the years, but in its heart, it is a story about a girl and dog who love each other, and who are best friends.

I so appreciate the diversity in this book. Can you tell me more about how you developed Zara as a character?

What makes America great is that we are a melting pot. But many books, especially picture books, need to reflect the experience of a wider variety of people, rather than just focusing on white main characters. My editor, Emily Feinberg and I, wanted to portray as broad a representation of people as possible. We wanted this book to be a mirror, so that kids of color and kids who use wheelchairs can see their faces reflected too, and to build empathy, which we need more than ever these days!

Dogs! I love dogs! I assume you do, too. Do you have a dog? If so, what is his/her name and is he/she anything like Moose?

Me too! Dogs, dogs, and more dogs! As I mentioned above, we have a rescue mutt named Becca who has separation anxiety issues, like Moose. Becca’s a Dixie chick originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sadly, someone abandoned her in a common dumping area for unwanted dogs near a highway. Luckily for us, a couple named Ross and Rebecca (Becca’s namesake) were able to lure her into their car with some leftover Olive Garden chicken. Since they already had several pets, they brought her to a nearby rescue organization, For the Love of Dogs, that works to bring dogs from crowded southern shelters, to homes or shelters in the northeast. I spotted her on Petfinder, and it was love at first sight. This is the photo that made me fall in love with her—isn’t she sweet?

As you can tell from the illustrations in the book, illustrator Patrice Barton is a dog lover too. Moose resembles Becca physically, especially with the constant wagging tail. Becca’s is like a whip—watch out! Moose and Becca both have sweet and loving temperaments. And here’s a photo of Patrice’s dog, Archer.

Thanks for featuring Hello Goodbye Dog on your blog, Debbi

Maria Gianferrari is the author of the Penny & Jelly books, Officer Katz and Houdini as well as Coyote Moon, also published by Roaring Brook Press. For Maria, hello is sunshine after a snowstorm, the scent of cinnamon, and happy greetings from her beloved mutt, Becca. Maria lives in northern Virginia with her dog, Becca, her scientist husband and her artist daughter.

For more about Maria and her books, check out her web site, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Instagram. You can also check out her web site on Penny & Jelly.

Roaring Brook has generously offered to send a copy to a lucky winner. To win a copy of Hello Goodbye Dog for yourself, a child, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Sunday, August 6, by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, August 8 (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

Check out Maria’s Blog Tour:


*Monday, July 24th:                           Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!

*Two for Tuesday, July 25th:          Librarian’s Quest

Reading for Research


*Wednesday, July 26th:                   Homemade City

*Thursday, July 27th:                        Kid Lit Frenzy

*Friday, July 28th:                              Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook

*Monday, July 31st:                           Picture Books Help Kids Soar

*Tuesday, August 1st:                        Bildebok

*Wednesday, August 2nd:                 The Loud Library Lady

*Thursday, August 3rd:                     DEBtastic Reads!

*Friday, August 4th:                           Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

*Monday, August 7th:                         Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)


EXTRA: August 25th:                         Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton


First Quarter Reading List 2017


I thought I’d keep a running list of the books I read quarterly, as well as posting a full list at the end of the year. Here are the books I’ve read and loved so far this first quarter of 2017. While I’ve read 30 books so far, I’m way behind on my reading. More great books keep popping up. If only I could read and do nothing else! 🙂 Would love to hear what books you’re reading and loving!

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All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective by Jason Gallaher (illus by Jess Pauwels) ARC

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Mama Loves You So by Terry Pierce (illus by Simone Shin) ARC

In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (adult fic)

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins ARC

Egg by Kevin Henkes

The Takedown by Corrie Wang ARC

My Busy Green Garden by Terry Pierce (illus by Carol Schwartz) ARC

Flying Lessons and Other Short Stories edited by Ellen Oh

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

March Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Hug It Out by Louise Thomas

Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Silvensky ARC

Are You an Echo? translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, Michiko Tsubori (illus by Toshikado Hajiri)

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LeReau (illus by Matt Myers)

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howard (illus by Rafael López)

The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina by Kara LaReau (illus by Jen Hill)

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham (adult humor)

Dark Horses by Cecily Von Ziegesar

A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

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2016 Reading List


Another year of reading fabulous books! I’m happy to share the list of books I read and enjoyed, but because I’m pressed for time this year, I won’t be providing my two-sentence summaries this year. I’ll provide links so you can see what each book is about and make purchases, though! And as always, I’m happy to hear your favorites from the past year.

By the Numbers:

77: total books

27: YA

21: chapter books/MG

12: picture books

17: adult

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HOUSE ARREST by K.A. Holt MG fiction

SEE HOW THEY RUN by Ally Carter YA fiction

WEBSTER: TALE OF AN OUTLAW by Ellen Emerson White MG fiction

RHYME SCHEMER by K.A. Holt MG fiction

HOW TO PUT YOUR PARENTS TO BED by Mylisa Larsen (illust. by Babette Cole) picture book fiction

ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan MG fiction

KEEP ME POSTED by Liza Beazley adult fiction

THICKER THAN WATER by Kelly Fiore YA fiction

A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU (Firebird Book 1) by Claudia Gray YA fantasy/sci-fi



THE MYSTERIOUS MOONSTONE (The Key Hunters Book 1) by Eric Luper chapter book fiction

TEN THOUSAND SKIES ABOVE YOU (Firebird Book 2) by Claudia Gray YA fantasy/sci-fi

THE SPY’S SECRET (The Key Hunters Book 2) by Eric Luper chapter book fiction

THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE by Pat Zietlow Miller (illus by Frank Morrison) picture book

23 MINUTES by Vivian Vande Velde YA fiction

THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE by Joshilyn Jackson adult fiction

SURF’S UP by Kwame Alexander (illus by Daniel Miyares) picture book

THE MEMORY OF LIGHT by Francisco X. Stork YA fiction

FOREST OF WONDERS (Wing & Claw Book 1) by Linda Sue Park MG fantasy

CALVIN by Martine Leavitt YA fiction

THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE by Christina Baker Kline adult fiction

WHY NOT ME? by Mindy Kaling adult autobiography/humor

THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT by Luke Reynolds MG fiction

THE SUMMERTIME GIRLS by Laura Hankin adult fiction

NOBODY’S SECRET by Michaela MacColl YA fiction

COYOTE MOON by Maria Gianferrari (illus by Bagram Ibatoulline) picture book nonfiction

THE WINNER’S KISS (The Winner’s Trilogy Book 3) by Marie Rutkoski YA fantasy

ELIGIBLE by Curtis Sittenfeld adult fiction

FINDING PERFECT by Elly Swartz MG fiction

AMERICAN WIFE by Curtis Sittenfeld adult fiction

THE LAST BOY AND GIRL IN THE WORLD by Siobhan Vivian YA fiction

RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo MG fiction

SWING SIDEWAYS by Nanci Turner Steveson MG fiction

OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee YA fiction

EVERY EXQUISITE THING by Matthew Quick YA fiction

SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinette Kowal adult fantasy

FLAMECASTER (Shattered Realms Book 1) by Cinda Williams Chima YA fantasy

TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman YA fiction

THE STORY I’LL TELL by Nancy Tupper Ling, illust by Jessica Lanan picture book

LOVE AND GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch YA fiction

THE BOOK THAT MATTERS MOST by Ann Hood adult fiction

THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner MG fiction

BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina YA fiction

TRULY MADLY GUILTY by Lianne Moriarty adult fiction

THE BEAUTY OF DARKNESS (The Remnant Chronicles Book 3) by Mary E. Pearson YA fantasy

TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaiportra and Dhonielle Clayton YA fiction

FALLING by Jane Green adult fiction

FLYING by Carrie Jones YA fantasy

A CRACK IN THE SEA by H.M. Bouwman (ARC – due out Jan 2017) MG fantasy

WISH by Barbara O’Connor MG fiction

MOO by Sharon Creech MG fiction

INK AND ASHES by Valynne E. Maetani YA fiction

LEAVE ME by Gayle Foreman adult fiction

BELGRAVIA by Julian Fellowes adult historical fiction

THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB by Alexander McCall Smith adult mystery

CRAZY RICH ASIANS by Kevin Kwan adult fiction

CLOUD AND WALLFISH by Anne Nesbett MG fiction

GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS by Kate Beasley MG fiction

SOME WRITER!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet nonfiction autobiography

MONSTER TRUCKS by Anika Denise (illus by Nate Wragg) picture book fiction

LUCY’S LOVEY by Betsy Devany (illus by Christopher Denise) picture book fiction

COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett adult fiction

THE NIAN MONSTER by Andrea Wang (illus by Alina Chau) picture book fiction

PARIS FOR ONE AND OTHER STORIES by Jojo Moyes adult fiction

LIKE MAGIC by Elaine Vickers MG fiction

SHADOW AND BONE (Grisha Trilogy Book 1) by Leigh Bardugo YA fantasy

SIEGE AND STORM (Grisha Trilogy Book 2) by Leigh Bardugo YA fantasy

RUIN AND RISING (Grisha Trilogy Book 3) by Leigh Bardugo YA fantasy

SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo YA fantasy

CROOKED KINGDOM (Six of Crows sequel) by Leigh Bardugo YA fantasy

BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S by Anika Denise (illus by Christopher Denise)  picture book

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING by Arthur Levine (illus by Katie Kath) picture book

THE YOUNGEST MARCHER by Cynthia Levinson (illus by Vanessa Brantley Newton) (ARC due out January 2017 picture book


THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon YA fiction

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I’d also like to thank each and every one of you for faithfully reading this blog. I know your time is valuable and I appreciate your time. I promise more give-aways in 2017! Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Betsy Devany and Lucy’s Lovey!


I am beyond thrilled to celebrate the book birthday of this awesome debut picture book, not only because the author is a dear friend, but also because this is a fantastic book with absolutely amazing illustrations. Stay tuned below to enter a drawing for a signed copy of this picture book!


Lucy’s Lovey by Betsy Devany, illust. by Christopher Denise (Christy Ottaviano Books/2016)

Lucy has seventeen dolls, but Smelly Baby is her favorite. Lucy takes her everywhere and Smelly Baby is well-loved; a little raggedy and a little smelly. Lucy’s older sister Ivy complains, but when Smelly Baby is lost, Ivy and the family come together to try to first find Smelly Baby, and then to comfort Lucy. Will Lucy get her favorite lovey back? Sweet story with sweet illustrations!

Spotlight on Betsy Devany:

What was the spark behind the idea for Lucy’s Lovey and how did it grow into a story?

The spark that most likely launched me into first drafting Lucy’s Lovey was a charming, dolly-obsessed girl who visits the Toy Soldier fairly frequently, and with whom I’ve had many dolly conversations. One particular Sunday, her description of a recent dolly party ignited my imagination and led me to writing Lucy’s Lovey.

Beyond working at the toy store, which offers endless inspiration, once I’d completed a few revisions, I realized two life experiences had unknowingly found their way into Lucy’s story: 1) My niece, Sofi, used to line up all of her large collection of stuffies and dollies, calling out each of their personalized names. 2) When I was four, my beloved Little Bear got lost. Like a dog, Little Bear loved to feel the breeze when he’d hang out of the window of a vehicle, and in this case it was a taxicab. The dialogue exchange between my mother and I at the time is mirrored in Lucy’s Lovey. “Be careful with Little Bear,” my mother had warned. “I am,” said my four-year-old self seconds before Little Bear sailed away on the breeze.

Lucy is independent and loving, even when it comes to dealing with her grandma’s doll-snatching dog and an older sister who doesn’t quite love Smelly Baby. I adore Lucy! Is she based on anyone you know?

I see a lot of myself in Lucy, and though I didn’t meet her until after the ms was sold, Christopher’s youngest daughter Esme reminds me of Lucy. She, too, has a rich imagination, a positive sense of self, and a delightfully spunky personality. My two daughters also had special loveys, and they are still as independent and loving today as they were as kids. One carried a sea otter around, the other was obsessed with Figment.

Lucy has many dolls, but one true favorite. Do or did you have a favorite lovey? What was it?

My childhood lovey was Little Bear. After Little Bear left on a long trip, from which he has yet to return, I transitioned to a tinier mohair bear by Steiff, who I also named Little Bear. 12 cm tall and five-way jointed, Little Bear played with other Steiff bears, Cousin Bear and Grandpa Bear. I remember making tiny felt vests and teeny tiny newspaper hats for them to wear. I also loved dolls, mostly baby dolls. I spent hours playing house with them. My brother and I especially enjoyed winter, when we would bundle up our make-believe families and pretend we lived under our front yard pine tree.


Thank you so much for featuring me and Lucy’s Lovey on DEBtastic Reads!

Thank YOU, Betsy!

Betsy Devany has been writing for all ages of kids for over twenty years. Aside from being a first-time author, she loves reading, photography, birding, acting silly with her grandkids, and working at an old-fashioned toy store in Mystic, where she delights in meeting rag-tag (sometimes smelly) loveys.

For more about Betsy and her books, check out her web site, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.


To win a signed copy of Lucy’s Lovey for yourself, a child, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Sunday, Oct. 2nd, by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, Oct. 4th (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!

EDITED TO ADD: Congratulations to Valarie Giogas who won the signed copy of LUCY’S LOVEY! Thank you to everyone for stopping by! Stayed tuned for more interviews and give-aways!

Welcome To The Spotlight: Dianne Ochiltree and Molly, By Golly!


Hooray! Today I’m putting the spotlight on Dianne Ochiltree and her newest picture book, Molly, By Golly (illustrated by Kathleen Kemly)! Stayed tuned (below) to find out how you can win a signed copy of this informative and fun picture book!

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, MOLLY, BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter (Calkins Creek), fabulously illustrated by Kathleen Kemly.  You first became interested in Molly when you came across her legend while researching another book.  What inspired you to turn this into a picture book?

First, it was the great spirit of volunteerism that is at the heart of Molly’s legendary tale.  What Molly lacked in experience she more than compensated for with her courage and strength.  It was a great opportunity to inspire future firefighters and other community helpers.  Second, it was a chance to show kids how fires were actually fought in early American times.  I was meticulous in my research of these details, and so was illustrator Kathleen Kemly—the firefighting history experts who double-checked our efforts were equally meticulous—because we all wanted to present as accurate a picture as possible.  Kids will certainly get an appreciation for the modern equipment we have today. Third, Molly’s legend was filled with the type of action and emotion sure to inspire fabulous illustrations…which is just what happened!

I was fascinated to learn how intensive and exhausting firefighting was in the 1800s! What part of your research for this book surprised you the most?

The biggest surprise was learning that the earliest pumper engines were not transported to the scene of a fire by a team of horses as I’d always assumed—PEOPLE did.  The cobblestone streets were very narrow and bumpy, and it was often easier and safer for humans to maneuver the heavy pumper in tight spots. Also, since there were no paid fire companies at the time, there were no funds for buying, feeding and housing horses to help fight fires.  There were no firehouses as we know them today, either.  The volunteer companies only had equipment sheds for their very basic tools. No “sliding-down-a-fire-pole” fun for these early firefighters!

Molly was a cook for firefighters.  You share some delicious-sounding dishes in the book!  What are some of your favorite comfort foods?

My favorite comfort foods:  Pad Thai Noodles, Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Carolina Pulled Pork—but not all in the same meal!  I had a wonderful time researching early American cookery, and just loved the quaint-and-quirky names of dishes that Molly might have fixed for her ‘fire laddies’.  Recipes for all the dishes in the book are posted on my author website, collected in “Molly’s Cookbook.”

Dianne Ochiltree is the author of several acclaimed picture books for the very young, including CATS ADD UP!, TEN MONKEY JAMBOREE, SIXTEEN RUNAWAY PUMPKINS, AND LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, an ‘Imagination Library’ selection for the Dollywood Foundation’s national childhood literacy program.  She is a freelance editor and writing coach; a book reviewer for childrenslit.com; and frequent workshop presenter at writers conferences.  She tweets publishing industry information from her twitter address, @Writer Di.  She lives in Sarasota, Florida, in a bungalow by the bay with her husband, Jim; a chocolate Labrador retriever named Sally and Simon, the family’s Maine Coon cat. For more information about Dianne and her books, go to www.ochiltreebooks.com.

Win a signed copy of Molly, By Golly!

Dianne has generously offered to send a signed copy of her fabulous picture book to one lucky winner! Please follow the directions below (most of you know the drill)!

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, tell me what your favorite comfort food is. Mine is roast chicken and gravy. Oh, and potato salad. And ochazuke and umeboshi (Japanese rice and tea with pickled plum).

2. Leave your comment by midnight EST Sunday, September 16th. The lucky winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, September 18th. Late entries will not be included in the drawing (sorry).

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

Welcome to the Spotlight: Anne Marie Pace and Vampirina Ballerina!


I am so very thrilled to welcome Anne Marie Pace and her brand new picture book Vampirina Ballerina to the spotlight! Stayed tuned (below) to see how you can win a copy of this fabulous picture book!

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illus. by LeUyen Pham (Disney Hyperion Books/2012)

Vampirina wants to be a dancer, but vampires must take certain precautions before enrolling in a class. Night class, for one. Vampirina is different from the other girls in her class – and not quite as skilled as they are. She tries hard to do the dance moves, but when flustered she turns into a bat. When the big night of the performance arrives, Vampirina finally becomes part of the group. Hooray! The illustrations lend a touch of humor to the sweet story of a girl chasing her dream. I especially love the end papers – the front cover shows Vampirina trying to dance (and turning into a bat)  while the back cover shows Vampirina with her classsmates, dancing, and everyone has a cape like Vampirina’s!

Spotlight on Anne Marie Pace:

What was the initial spark for your picture book, Vampirina Ballerina?

I was listing opposites and contrasts, and when I wrote down “vampire ballerina,” I started brainstorming things ballet dancers have to do that vampires might find difficult.  When I shared the idea with my agent, Linda Pratt, she chuckled politely, but not enthusiastically, and I forgot about it for a while.  Then five or six months later, I came back to it, wrote the first draft, and shared it with her.  This time, she saw what I wanted to do and was on board from that point on.

What was the journey to publication like?

I think my journey has been fairly typical, with all the ups and downs, the acceptances and rejections, that most writers experience.  I have always loved to write, but didn’t know much about writing for publication.  Once I decided that publication was a path I wanted to venture down, I started hanging out at the online children’s writer waterholes (starting with GEnie, then on to the Yellow Board, and finally Verla Kay’s Blueboards and Live Journal).  I joined SCBWI and attended conferences.  At one of these conferences, I met my agent, and we’ve been working together for about five and a half years now.   As far as Vampirina’s journey to publication goes, it was rather quick.  Linda sent the manuscript to Hyperion in late summer 2010, and Hyperion acquired it that fall.

I love the sweet story of a vampire girl wanting to become a ballerina. Vampirina is so different from the other girls in her dance class and yet she perseveres and sticks to it, because she loves it. How did Vampirina evolve as a character as your wrote the story?

My original manuscript was a how-to, instructing vampires in the steps they need to learn to dance.  I imagined it as a parody of those mass-market 8x8s you can buy at Wal-Mart, and in fact, the working title was simply, “How To Be a Ballerina.”  When we started working on revision, my editor Kevin Lewis and I had a long conversation about what is important to six-year-olds, and Vampirina herself emerged from that conversation.  It is still instructional, but it’s in Vampirina’s voice.  She is trying to teach others, in her slightly imperious vampire way, what they need to know in order to achieve success in the ballet studio and on the stage.

The illustrations partner perfectly with the words. Did you and the illustrator, LeUyen Pham, work together at all? What was your initial reaction to the illustrations? Did it mesh with you had in mind?

Kevin coordinated a terrific collaboration among the three of us.  Uyen saw the manuscript in early stages, so she was able to offer ideas that we incorporated into the text throughout revision.  It’s not the typical way a picture book is created, but I think we are all quite pleased with the result.  As for meshing with what I had in mind, I have been observing the world of picture books for a long time, seeing other writers’ experiences, and I know at some point you have to let your text go and let the illustrator do her thing, so I wanted to stay open-minded about whatever might happen in the art.  Of course, Uyen is an incredibly gifted illustrator and I never worried that I wouldn’t love what she did, even before I knew exactly what that was.  If anything, I love her work more than I possibly imagined I could.  The amount of telling detail in the art makes it worth going through again and again.  The Margot Fonteyn thread is probably my favorite, but I also love Vampirina as a bat.  I wrote only, “resist the temptation to turn into a bat,” and Uyen used that as a recurring event that both develops Vampirina’s character and encapsulates her journey.

When you were Vampirina’s age, what was your passion, if not dance?

Well, at age six, it definitely wasn’t dance.  My experience with ballet was similar to Vampirina’s first class (lots of stumbles and missteps), but she persevered and I didn’t.  Mostly, I loved books.  Trips to the school or public library were the highlight of the week, and I always checked out the maximum number allowed.

Despite the oft-quoted adage to write what you know, Anne Marie Pace has never been a bear, a vampire, or a ballerina.  She is the author of Vampirina Ballerina, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and published by Disney-Hyperion, as well as two original paperbacks for Scholastic Book Clubs, Never Ever Talk to Strangers and A Teacher for Bear, both about bears.  With other children’s writers, she publishes The 4:00 Book Hook, a free email newsletter for adults who share books with kids. She lives with her husband, four teenagers, and two poorly-trained dogs in Charlottesville.

For more about Anne Marie, check out her website and Vampirina’s website.  For an interview with illustrator LeUyan Pham, click here.

Win a copy of Vampirina Ballerina!

Just follow the rules!

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, tell me what your passion is! Mine is writing and reading, but that’s probably obvious, so I’ll add collecting elephant figurines!

2. Leave your comment by midnight EST Friday, September 7th. Winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, September 11th. Late entries will not be included in the drawing (sorry).

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

Welcome To The Spotlight – Jim Averbeck and Little Dragon!


As promised, I’m spending time in good company by putting the spotlight on some great picture books and picture book authors/illustrators! I’m thrilled to start this week off by interviewing Jim Averbeck. Today is the release day of his newest picture book OH NO, Little Dragon!  (Atheneum Books) Stayed tuned for a chance to win a signed copy of this book (see below)!

Little Dragon loves Phooshing fire while playing at home, until during dreaded bath time he swallows water and Poof, his flame goes out! What will he do? And what if Mama won’t love him anymore? Adorable story! I absolutely love the artwork with bright blue (and oh so cute) dragon playing among a gray-tone background of his castle snorting a realistic flame from his snout. Brilliant and fun!

Spotlight on Jim Averbeck:

What was the initial spark (ha ha) behind OH NO Little Dragon?

I went to China to see a total eclipse of the sun whose path would pass close to Shanghai.  Naturally I planned a lot more travel there to see more of the country at the same time.  We had a guide in Beijing who told us his name was Frank. It’s common practice for the guides to take on a “nom de tour” from the country of the people they are guiding. I asked him what his real name was and he told me Xiao Long, which he translated as “Little Dragon.”  It sounded like the name of a picture book character to me and so I started thinking about what the story for “Little Dragon” might be.  I bought a notebook made from brown paper and started scribbling ideas and sketches.  While taking a shower in a slow draining bathtub there, I realized that bath time would be even more disliked by a dragon child, who, after all, would be most proud of his fiery super-power.  That was the origin of the story.  After I got back from China, I realized that Chinese dragons aren’t fire breathers, so I revised with Little Dragon now being of a more Nordic ancestry.

Little Dragon is playful and imaginative. Is he based on anyone you know?

I think writers base most characters on some aspect of themselves. Little Dragon is no exception. When I was a kid, I was a full tilt boy, tearing through the house and yard. In fact, one year I broke my arm three times.  The police investigated my mom to make sure she wasn’t abusing me!  When I was in fifth grade… Well… I shouldn’t really tell the story because it sets a bad example, but let’s just say a hook and ladder truck was involved and I spent an uncomfortable afternoon in the hands of the local authorities.  My parents are unquestionably saints and would no doubt recognize Little Dragon’s more impulsive tendencies.  On the milder side, I also loved to draw like Little Dragon does.

I love the artwork! How did you make decisions for the illustrations for this book, like the gray tone background, the colors for dragon and his mother, and particularly, his flame. How did you create Little Dragon’s flame?

Since it is a story about a dragon, it all started with the fire.  I knew I wanted the fire to pop off the page. In early sketches, the fire was more cartoonish.  It didn’t look like real fire and I felt that it made the whole book kind of flat and un-special.  So I decided to try a more realistic look for the fire, and to juxtapose it against the flatter, stylized images of Mama and Little Dragon.  Since I wanted a high contrast between the hot fire and everything else in the book, I decided pretty much only the fire would be portrayed with warm colors (red, orange,yellow.) That left blues, greens and purples for the characters of Mama, Papa (who appears in LD’s drawings) and Little Dragon himself.  The Dragons were made using Chinese mulberry paper to give them a slight texture. I just went through dozens of shades until I found the papers I liked.

The backgrounds were originally a mix of deep purple and grey. I wanted to portray a dark castle, where the Dragons live.  The dark background also helped the flame pop.  But my editor and art director, in a carefully worded, diplomatic letter said, essentially, “Yuck!”  This was after I had turned in final art.  So it was back to the drawing board.  I was in a panic trying to figure out what to do. I had another project due and no buffer time.  I was showing my critique group various possibilities for background colors on my TV (I had hooked up my computer to do so.)  None of them seemed right.  As I flipped through the art, I came to a spread that was unfinished.  There was no background color (thus it was white) and the line work for the stones was grey, as it had always been. My friend Maria van Lieshout, who is an excellent designer, pointed out how cool that looked and how it brought the focus onto Little Dragon and his antics. The flame still didn’t “pop” against the white. After a while I realized where there is fire, there is smoke, and I added the sooty black smoke behind the flame to emphasize its brightness.  It also made more sense to have a smoky flame, since it is the soot that requires Little Dragon to bathe in the first place.

The flame and smoke were made in Photoshop. I created several brushes that were puffy for the smoke and flame-y for the fire. Then I built the smoky fire layer by layer, using different settings for transparency and different blending options for each layer.  One weird thing about the process is that one of the fire layers is green.  But when it sits on top of the layer below it, with the selected layer blending options, it appears bright orange.  Then I added all these sparks and embers and used special layer options to make them glow. Each bit of flame is probably a minimum of fifty layers in Photoshop.

WOW! That’s amazing!

Little Dragon doesn’t like bath time. What is your least favorite time/thing to do?

Paperwork.  I wish I could breathe fire and make it all go away.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my first middle grade novel, tentatively titled A HITCH AT THE FAIRMONT.  My agent will be looking for an editor for it soon.
I also just finished a sequel to OH NO , LITTLE DRAGON!
I am starting a YA novel.
Can you tell I really like writing?

Jim Averbeck is the author of the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, In a Blue Room (Harcourt, 2008), the illustrator of Newbery-winner Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water (Breakfast Serials, 2010), and the author and illustrator of except if (Atheneum, 2011),  Oh No, Little Dragon (Atheneum, 2012) and The Market Bowl (Charlesbridge, 2013.)  He studied writing and illustrating for children at UC Berkeley. He was the Regional Advisor for the San Francisco chapter of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a member of the Revisionaries, a dynamic group of San Francisco children’s book creators.

You can win a signed copy!!!

Jim has generously donated a signed copy of Oh No, Little Dragon to one lucky and randomly chosen winner from this blog! Just follow the rules and you could have Little Dragon Phooshing in your house!

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, let me know what chore or task you would like to eliminate by breathing fire on it. My answer is: Filing!

2. Leave your comment by midnight EST Friday, August 17th. Winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, August 21st. Late entries will not be included in the drawing (sorry).

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

Seeking Your Input – Picture Books


Recently, I spent a week hanging out with my sister and her family. My adorable, energetic 4 year old niece loves books. YAY! I am enjoying sending her books, and then getting to read them to her when I visit. While there. she brought me other books for me to read. Books I haven’t heard of by authors I’ve never heard of. That wasn’t too surprising because I don’t really keep up with picture books. But, I have to admit, I was a little appalled by what I ended up reading to her. One book used the word “stupid” in a name-calling way. I’m no prude, and I have no issues with 4-letter words in YA novels, but when reading to a very young child, I don’t want to introduce name-calling, mean words. (She already knew the word, as most 4yos do, but still!) Another book talked about robbers. My niece looked up at me and asked, “What’s a robber?” She already has issues with being scared of things so I didn’t know how to answer. She basically answered it herself and said, “Probably like a monster.” I didn’t say anything else except to tell her that she didn’t have to worry about them. Ugh. And then there were a couple more books that were just so poorly written that I wanted to fling them across the room.

In the next couple of months, I’ll be featuring some great picture books. Ones I love and wouldn’t hesitate to share with my niece. I’d love to hear your recommendations for pictures books, outside of the classics we all know and love. If you would be so kind, please tell me one or two pictures books you love and buy/recommend for youngsters and why. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems – Okay, I realize that most everyone knows about this book, but I do love it. I love the artistry and I love the sweet story of a child losing beloved stuffed animal, and then being reunited. A happy ending!

2. Except If by Jim Averbeck – I’m a sucker for cute and the dino in this story is more than cute! The story is clever and simple, following an egg that could hatch into a baby bird, except if it becomes a baby snake….and so on! Kids will have fun guessing the “except if” part and being surprised.

3. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – I love this book about a bear searching for his hat and the animals who respond. I love the fun ending. I think for picture books, I love simple and humorous with great illustrations.

4. Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout – I featured this book and author here. I’ll bet this book would keep a child entertained on long drives! 😉

Other types of picture books I love are “story” picture books – the kind I don’t see a lot of these days. Multicultural books like those by Allen Say and Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi.

And I love food-related pictures books, like Dumping Soup by Jama Rattigan

and Bee-Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park!

So, you see, there are so many wonderful pictures books out there to enjoy, to share, to buy! This is not my complete list of picture books I love/buy.  I suspect that many adults buy books by celebrity name or maybe it sounds like a good book, or maybe the story seems fine. I’d love to compile a big list of picture books that are worth the read, worth the time, worth the money – and I’d love your help! Thanks!

Come back soon for interviews with picture book authors!

Look For A Sign! Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout


Today, I’d like to shine the spotlight on author/illustrator Maria van Lieshout‘s new release Backseat A-B-See!

Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout (Chronicle Books/2012)

This visually bold picture book full of street signs will appeal to young children and will make time on the road more fun as they recognize signs from the book. Arranged in A-B-C order, this book will entertain and educate. I was already a fan of van Lieshout – love her Bloom “series” (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan) – hey, I have a thing for cute piggies. With this new book, I’m ever more solidly a fan!

What was the initial spark for Backseat A-B-See?

My son! My little guy Max was less than a year old when he started pointing to traffic signs. I realized he responded to the bold shapes, bright colors and high contrast graphics, which is what babies are attracted to. I have always loved traffic signs for their beautiful design. Signage surrounds us, so we don’t give it much thought, but those simple, bold icons tell us where to go, help us arrive on time, keep us safe and mostly out of trouble, looking fabulous all the while.

Many signs were designed by a team of AIGA graphic designers headed up by the famous Seymour Chwast and received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in the 1980’s.

When I realized Max was as smitten with signage as I was, I set out to make this book.

This book looks different from your previous books (a couple of my favorites are Bloom and Hopper and Wilson). Were there any special challenges to doing this book compared to your previous? Were there particular challenges to coming up with signs to match the alphabet?

The book looks indeed different, since I wanted to convey why signage is so effective: it is bold, bright, simple and clear. My conventional watercolor style wouldn’t have done the signs justice, so I used Adobe Illustrator instead to achieve the bold contrasts, bright colors and simple shapes.

Using a different medium took getting used to, but I studied graphic design in college and have worked as an Art Director for The Coca-Cola Company, so this was somewhat familiar territory for me.

Coming up with one sign for each letter was fun; like a puzzle. Some letters were easy (Yield for Y), some letters proved me with a tough choice: for S, did I want to showcase the iconic STOP sign, or opt for the sign for SCHOOL instead? Some letters were tough (Q and Z), but in the end, I found a sign for each letter.

I am not a artist, although I certainly appreciate art – can you give me a description of how you as an artist and writer create a book?

I am a visual person, so I usually start from a visual place-I imagine what the book will look like. What will the art look like? The design? What will the overall feeling of the book be? Will it include characters? What will they look like? Only after all that is fairly apparent, do I start to think about the words.

I have writer friends who also illustrate, but they start from a different place. They work on the story first, and when they are completely happy with the words, they start thinking about the art. So everyone has a different process, which is why every book has such a distinct look and feel. I love that everyone approaches book making differently.

I love the signs! My favorite is L for Library! Do you have a a favorite?

Thanks! 🙂

Library is a popular sign, especially with librarians, which is why I wish I could’ve included the sign for School, to honor the teachers. But I felt that a book that celebrates road signs needed to include the STOP sign, which may be the most iconic sign out there.

It is not my favorite one, though I love it.

My favorite is the US Route sign. Not only is it beautiful in its simplicity, but it conveys Americana to me-like a road trip along Route 66. It symbolizes freedom. It captures what I love about America-the high skies, the long roads and the endless land where anything is possible.

Check out Maria van Lieshout’s web site for more about her and her books! I think you’ll love her books and her style as much as I do!