How to Grow a Dinosaur – An Interview with Author Jill Esbaum

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Written by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Mike Boldt
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99; Ages 2-5)

Cover illustration from How to Grow a Dinosaur by Jill Esbaum


If you’re looking for a gift for a child who is about to become an older sibling, look no further than Jill Esbaum’s hilarious and practical guide to big siblinghood, HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR with artwork by Mike Boldt. Here’s a description from Penguin Random House:

Good news: Your mom’s hatching a baby! Bad news: Babies take their sweet time. And when the baby finally hatches? He’s too little to play! He mostly screeches, eats, burps, sleeps, and poops. He doesn’t even know he’s a dinosaur! That’s where you come in. You can teach the baby just about everything–from peek-a-boo to roaring to table manners to bedtime. Growing a dinosaur is a big job, but you’re perfect for it. Why? Because one thing your baby brother wants more than anything . . . is to be just like you.

INTERVIEW: I was lucky enough to sit down for a chat (via Facebook Messenger) with Jill to talk about the book, finding time to write, and the perks of being a kidlit author.

Colleen Paeff: I love the way HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR is playful and funny, but it’s also a legitimate how-to guide for older siblings. Did the manuscript start out that way or did it evolve over time?

Jill Esbaum: Thanks, Colleen! That evolved over time. I wrote it to be a simple, entertaining book, but it sort of took on a life of its own. My editor grabbed onto the possibilities right away.

CP: Did you send it to your agent first or did it go straight to your editor?

JE: I sent it to my agent, Tricia Lawrence. I had my Dial editor, Jessica Dandino Garrison, in mind, though, and asked Tricia to send it to her first. It seemed like the kind of goofy humor she might like.

CP: So, you had worked with this editor before?

JE: Yes. We had worked together on both I HATCHED and I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO!

CP: Is it easier to work on something with an editor you’ve worked with before?

JE: Definitely, because you (sorta) know what might work for her/him and what probably

interior artwork from How to Grow a Dinosaur

Interior spread by Mike Boldt from How to Grow a Dinosaur by Jill Esbaum, Dial BYR ©2018


CP: How long was the process from first draft to publication for HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR?

JE: I sent it to Tricia in May of 2015, and by October we had an offer. The process didn’t really start until March, when the contract was finally buttoned up. So March, 2016, to January, 2018. Not bad.

CP: Is that faster than usual? Or is that normal for you?

JE: That was about the same as my other recent books. I once waited nearly 5 years, though, so 2 years felt like lightning speed. My last 5 (or so) books have all been about 2 to 2 and a half years from sale to publication.

CP: Wow. That seems fast!

JE: Still seems fast to me, too. My earlier books were mostly 3-year books.

CP: I’m curious about the ratio of stories you write to stories you sell. Do you have many manuscripts in the proverbial “drawer” or do you sell most of what you write?

JE: That’s hard to say right now. My agent has 6-7 picture book manuscripts that started to make the rounds last year. Considering my entire career, though, I suppose I sell…50% of what I write? That’s probably just because I refuse to give up on some that deserve the drawer. I can’t help tinkering with rejected stories in hopes of making them irresistible the next time out. That persistence has often paid off for me. An offer came in last month for a picture book that had been rejected 7-8 times since I wrote it in 2014.

CP: Do you usually work on one project at a time or several?

JE: Several. Right now, I have a chapter book, 3 picture book manuscripts, and a nonfiction project all front and center on my computer desktop.

interior artwork from How to Grow a Dinosaur

Interior spread by Mike Boldt from How to Grow a Dinosaur by Jill Esbaum, Dial BYR ©2018


CP: Are you someone who writes every day or do you have a more flexible schedule? And how do you squeeze it in around farm work, grandchildren, school visits, and teaching a summer writing workshop?!

JE: I don’t feel like I’ve been doing a very good job of it lately, honestly. Working on that. But I can’t always make writing my priority. Family comes first, always. One thing that has also been squeezing out writing time lately is handling the business side of being published. I don’t love it, and it’s a huge time suck. Long, leisurely days of “Hmm, what should I work on first?” are VERY few and far between, these days.

CP: But it seems like you’re so prolific!

JE: I don’t feel that way. I always feel like I should be writing more. For instance, I wrote a quick draft of a new picture book and sent it to my online critique group about 10 days ago. They’ve all weighed in, and I’m chomping at the bit to start tweaking. But I haven’t yet been able to make the time. Part of that is because I have a new book out and am doing my best to promote it, including my first-ever launch party this next weekend. Partly it’s because the flu sidelined a grandson’s babysitter, so I stepped in there. Grammy duty is one of the best parts of my life!

CP: Is hanging out with your grandkids a big source of inspiration for you?

JE: It is! And I hadn’t really expected that. My fingers are tightly crossed for a project going to its final yes/no meeting next month that springs entirely from a moment I experienced while babysitting my granddaughter. Crazy.

CP: I know you write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a soft spot for one over the other?

JE: I suppose I have a soft spot for fiction, but only because that comes entirely from my own imagination, and it’s a blast to see that come to life. I love writing nonfiction, too, because all the information I need is easily available to me, and all I have to do is figure out a way to make it engaging for kiddos.

CP: Let’s get back to HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR. I love the parts in the story where the text is vague, but the illustrations show something alarming, or moving, or downright hilarious. Did your manuscript go to the illustrator with art notes or was that all him?

JE: I did include brief art notes here and there. But much of it was left for the illustrator’s imagination. I don’t think I had an art note for the page in which the baby dino is teething on the cat. And that turned out to be one of my favorite illustrations.

CP: Yes! I love that one. And I love the one where the big brother roars and scares the baby. They both look so sad.

JE: I feel very fortunate that both Jessica and the illustrator, Mike Boldt, understood what I was trying to do.


How to Grow a Dinosaur interior spread

Interior spread by Mike Boldt from How to Grow a Dinosaur by Jill Esbaum, Dial BYR ©2018


CP: Do you have a favorite unexpected detail?

JE: My favorited unexpected detail is that Mike inserted picture books here and there with titles that are plays on books of his or mine. There’s I Don’t Want To Be a Stegosaurus (from his book with Dev Petty, I Don’t Want To Be a Frog); I Hatched; and I Am T. Rex, Hear Me Roar! (from my I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!) Too funny. Illustrators are brilliant.

CP: Yes! I love those, too. And I love how all the illustrations in the books are dinosaurs. It’s so clever. Did you see any artwork while it was in process or did you have to wait until it was complete?

JE: I did get to see the black and white sketches. It was obvious even then that this one would be special.

CP: Do you sometimes feel a sense of trepidation when you give up your manuscript to an illustrator?

JE: No, I never feel that way. I’m always excited to see what they bring to the story. Seeing their sketches feels like unwrapping a gift.

CP: What’s next for you?

JE: I have a couple of nonfiction books coming out in March. Picture book-wise, two projects are in the pipeline that I can’t yet talk about. And my fingers are tightly crossed for a third. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing whenever I can squeeze it in. Enough of that, and projects eventually get finished.

CP: What do you wish you’d known when you first started writing for children?

JE: I don’t think there’s anything I can say I wish I’d known. Getting to this point in my career has been one long, slow learning process, of course. But I can’t wish I’d had shortcuts, because everything that’s happened has made me a stronger writer.

CP: That’s good to know!

JE: The BEST thing that’s happened in the past 20 years: If anybody had told me, early on, that in 20 years I’d have this many amazing and talented author/illustrator friends all over the globe I would have thought that person was nuts. I mean, I live in Iowa; how would I meet them? Ha. Enter the internet. And SCBWI conferences and literature festivals. Meeting so many terrific book people has been one of the highlights of my life.

CP: It’s definitely one of the perks of this business. Thanks so much for doing this, Jill!

JE: Thanks, Colleen! I enjoyed it.

  • Interview by Colleen Paeff









Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman

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Written by Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6 )


Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, SLJ, Horn Book & Booklist

I lovc a picture book that makes me laugh out loud which is exactly what happened when I read Wolfie The Bunny. Plus, this book has got it all: humor, suspense, endearing characters, and super artwork, so it’s easy to adore.

Little Dot, the bunny, is with her parents when they find an abandoned wolf baby left on their doorstep. Dot’s parents welcome this discovery, and proceed to fall head over rabbits’ feet for sweet Wolfie despite Dot’s frantic warning, “He’s going to eat us all up!” I cracked up at OHora’s illustration of Dot, wide awake with a head lamp shining on her sleeping new baby bro. In the end pages, OHora explains that his former neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn served as inspiration for the story’s setting. Those scenes really ground this tale. Kids (and adults) will get a kick out of all the different expressions on Dot’s and Wolfie’s faces depicted throughout the book. Wolfie’s drools added an extra element of tension and I’ll admit I enjoyed not knowing where Dyckman was going with the plot. In other words, I had no trouble continuing to turn the pages. That will definitely keep younger readers glued to ythe book, too. Was the wolf going to devour Dot and her folks or would his love for his adopted family outweigh his growing appetitie? At the same time, Wolfie’s actions indicated a doting sibling:

“Everywhere Dot went,
Wolfie went, too.”

Dyckman’s included just the right amount of repetition of the line, “He’s going to eat us all up,” to keep it fresh and fun. And Dot’s parents’ admiring comments of “He’s a good eater, “He’s a good sleeper,” and “He’s a good drooler!” clearly demonstrated their unconditional love. What worked best in this tale was how Dot’s initial fear of being gobbled down disappeared when Wolfie was threatened by a bear. Stepping up to the plate as big sister, Dot defended her little brother and found that fighting for her family member’s safety brought her closer to Wolfie and dashed any fear of being on the menu for dinner.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders

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Written and illustrated by Katie Saunders
(Little Bee Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)



Meet Archie, the main character of this adorable new picture book, Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders, inspired by her actual experience when she was expecting her second child.


Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.


Archie has noticed something different at home. His mom is looking BIGGER. She shows him the ultrasound image, something I haven’t seen in other books, but was happy Saunders thought to include it.

“This is your baby sister growing in Mommy’s tummy,” she says.

Archie is going to be a big brother. Unlike most older siblings usually concerned about a new child stealing the show, this little lad only briefly wonders if he wants a baby sister because what he really likes are “cars, trains, and playing ninjas.” The only objection he seems to have about the changes afoot is all the pinkness that’s filling the house.

He is ABSOLUTELY sure that he doesn’t like fluffy, frilly, very pink things.


Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

For a lot of parents, Archie may seem to be the ideal son, but that’s what’s so sweet about this simple picture book. Olive Marshmallow is actually a super story to share with kids about the imminent arrival of another family member because it’s completely positive, setting it apart from so many of the rivalry-themed books. While those books are very important, and do indeed serve a purpose for helping kids find the words for feelings they may not otherwise be able to articulate, it’s refreshing to read a more innocent approach. Plus the switched on mom in the story is a reassuring presence. While things may not remain the same once the baby comes along, there will be twice the number of toys, and someone to play with (eventually). So it’s no surprise that from the moment Archie meets his marshmallow of a baby sister, it’s love at first sight.

In addition to the upbeat text, this feel good book exudes such joy as a result of Saunder’s lovely palate of soft pinks and baby blues. Her illustration style is a delightful blend of Lauren Child meets Nick Sharratt that kids will love. And you’ll notice she’s included a pet kitty you can point out to your child for some good laughs. Hint: Look for the cat dressed up in a tutu and crown. Things may not be the same anymore for Archie, but they sure will be better!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Edgar’s Second Word by Audrey Vernick

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Edgar’s Second Word, a picture book written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey. obj488geo264pg21p25

Oh how sweet sister-to-be Hazel longs to welcome her baby brother! She’s drawn pictures and posters, chosen special bedtime stories, and practiced reading to her stuffed bunny, Rodrigo. But as Hazel finds in Audrey Vernick’s newest picture book, Edgar’s Second Word, babies don’t always want to go along with the plan.

Hazel and Edgar’s mother dutifully notes all of Edgar’s firsts in his baby book, while Hazel waits patiently for Edgar to do more than grunt and point. His first word, NO, is celebrated and then quickly deplored as it becomes Edgar’s go-to response to all opportunities for entertainment.

Burris’ artwork is spot-on cheerful and bright for her young audience. Warm yellow tones and lovely lilac hues are nicely accented with springtime greens. Nothing is too perfect or precise, and delightfully captures Hazel’s springy curls, bubbly bath, and cozy bed. The detail contrast with plaids, polka-dots and zig zags adds lovely textural interest to every spread.


Interior artwork from Edgar’s Second Word by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Priscilla Burris, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Readers will know from the title that Edgar does eek out a second word by the book’s end. But the surprise is that there is also a third word that wraps the story to a harmonious and clever close. Edgar’s Second Word is a fresh, appealing story accenting the positive aspects of sibling relationships while underscoring the virtues of patience and persistence.

–       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

–       Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from my library and received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble & Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney

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A Delightful Double Dose of Tatyana Feeney!
Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble & Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket,
both reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.


Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Tatyana Feeney wows us again with her simple brand of illustrating and storytelling in Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 1-3).

The universal tale of a new baby (or in this case, nine tadpoles) taking all of mommy and daddy’s attention from big brother (or in this instance, Little Frog) will delight older siblings, whether boys or girls.

We all know newborns don’t do much, but require oodles of attention from their parents. So it is when Little Frog suddenly finds himself the big brother to nine tadpoles. They can’t build towers, they can’t play the drums, and they can’t even jump! All they can do is take mommy and daddy’s time away from Little Frog, who is resentful of missing story time and goodnight kisses from his parents.

Then, one day the tadpoles grow into little frogs themselves becoming perfect playmates for their big brother. Little Frog decides having siblings isn’t so bad after all, and that it makes his family better than ever. Little Frog becomes the best big brother and one youngsters can relate to.

A companion book for Feeney’s other works: Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket (see below) and Little Owl’s Orange Scarf, Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble is the perfect book when a new baby is brought into the family.



Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Here’s a book for all of you parents out there with little ones who have an attachment to a blanket, stuffed animal, or other inanimate object. You are not alone! Who hasn’t tried to sneak a sour smelling “doggie” into the washer? How many times have you heard of the dad cajoling the night janitor to let him into the preschool to retrieve the “bunny” left in a cubby, just so his daughter could go to sleep, or seen the dirty, frayed, and much loved blanket dragging behind a toddler in the grocery store? Tatyana Feeney, author of Little Owl’s Orange Scarf and Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble, has enchanted us again with Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket and captured one of the cutest and at the same time most frustrating, loves of wee ones: the security blanket.

Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $6.99, ages 1-3 ) is released this time as a board book, just perfect for tiny hands to hold. With simple text and illustrations in watercolor and ink, it will be enjoyable for the youngest of “readers.”

Small Bunny and his blue blanket are inseparable. They swing together, play in the sand together, and even paint together. Just as bunnies get dirty and need a bath, so do blankets. At bath time, Small Bunny tries hiding from Mother, but she finds him and his blue blanket. After giving Small Bunny a bath, she insists on washing blue blanket too. Small Bunny counts the minutes until it is done washing and drying, which to him feels like an eternity. Mother is happy with the blanket and says it’s “just like new.” Small Bunny doesn’t like “new” and goes about swinging, painting, and playing with his blue blanket until it’s just the way it was before.