Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to appear on day three (see schedule below) of the Perdu Blog Tour! I hope you’ll take the time to not only read the book review, but to also watch all the fantastic videos that Peachtree Publishing has shared with us.
Richard Jones makes his welcome debut as both author and illustrator with this tale of a lost (perdu in French) dog seeking a forever family. And may I just add here that Perduis precious! Both the main character and the story itself. With his sweet face gracing the book’s cover, it’s easy to be captivated by his faraway, lonely look.
While we never learn where Perdu has come from because he certainly didn’t tie the neck scarf himself, it’s easy to let that mystery go in favor of the bigger mystery at the heart of this moving story—will he ever find a loving home?
Readers first glimpse Perdu on the title page, head down, red scarf around his neck, and walking through a field. As he carries on his journey, he notes that, unlike a nearby fallen leaf, he has no place to be. Poor Perdu!
He wanders over a bridge on the outskirts of town where he’s noticed by a little girl sporting a distinct red knit pom-pomed hat. Determined to find his “somewhere,” like everyone else, the sweet lost little dog continues his search and wanders into the big, anonymous city.
At the same time as Perdu, intimidated by the city size and its throngs of people, the little girl continues her day out with her mother. I love how, at this point in the book, Jones has zoomed in on the girl whose path keeps crossing that of Perdu’s. She is perhaps outside a library or other notable building with a massive lion statue (a nod to The Snow Lion) while Perdu stands at the top of the statue. I wonder if parents or kids will spy him first.
My favorite illustration is the one when the child spots Perdu sitting outside an expansive cafe window where she and her mom are dining. He’s hungry now and tired and cannot resist the temptation of an open door. Inside he wreaks havoc and is reprimanded by patrons. It’s a demoralizing experience for Perdu yet at the same time things probably cannot get much worse.
In a lovely park scene, where both the girl and Perdu have ended up following the restaurant ruckus, the child approaches the dog. She’s holding Perdu’s signature red neck scarf which he lost when he dashed away during the cafe commotion.
Not a lot of words are needed when the simple act of giving back the scarf to the lost dog speaks volumes about the girl’s empathy and Perdu’s trust. It’s a gentle, loving moment that bonds the pair and fills readers’ hearts with hope.
Jones has given young readers a feel-good story about friendship, trust, kindness, and belonging highlighted by the beautiful, inviting art that solidifies the tale. Jones achieves this warm look with paintings he then edits in Adobe Photoshop. I came away from the story feeling happy for both Perdu and the red-hatted girl knowing that they had both truly found each other for all the right reasons.
Yo’ mama so sweet, she could be a bakery. She dresses so fine, she could have a clothing line. And, even when you mess up, she’s so forgiving, she lets you keep on living. Heartwarming and richly imagined, Your Mama, written by NoNieqa Ramosand illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, twists an old joke into a point of pride that honors the love, hard work, and dedication of mamas everywhere.
INTERVIEW WITH NONIEQA RAMOS:
Colleen Paeff:Congratulations on the release of Your Mama (illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara)! This is your first picture book and it received two starred reviews––one from School Library Journal, which called it “an essential purchase” and one from Kirkus, which labeled the book “Perfectly dazzling.” That must have felt good! Or do you try not to pay attention to reviews?
NR: If I said I didn’t pay attention to reviews, my friends would laugh so hard they’d fall off their chairs. Tail bones would crack. My writing is generally considered “experimental” or “unique” and reviews can vary wildly. So it is affirming and medicinal to get critical acclaim for a concept as “unique” as a Your Mama picture book, albeit one flipped into an ode of loving affirmation, for sure.
The reviews that light me up the most are from readers who find me on Instagram to tell me my writing has made them feel seen or from fellow writers I admire who show me book love. Their esteem is salve for my heart, food for my writer’s soul.
CP: Kwame Alexander’s imprint Versify published your book and Kwame himself book-talked Your Mama on YouTube. (!!!!) Was it extra special to have your book published by this particular publisher?
I remember when I saw the Tweet that Kwame Alexander was starting a new imprint and that it was open for submissions. I thought– this is Your Mama’s home. Talk about shooting your shot. I emailed my agent in milliseconds. Two weeks after the submission, I got the call.
Every book journey is unique, and the field of publishing is like riding a bronco, no joke. I savor every second of success, but I measure my success differently with each new project. I’m feeling pretty hyped about this one.
NR: Picture book writing is my first love. When I was in elementary school, I started “N&N Company” with my cousin Nikki and attempted to sell picture books (paperdolls, bookmarks, and cards) to my classmates until a dispute over payment drew the nuns’ attention and had me shut down!
I started off my teaching career working with preschoolers. Picture books are portable theaters, concerts, and museums. There’s nothing I loved more than seeing an emerging reader take a picture walk and narrate the story to their friends.
I write in rhythmic verse, a type of free verse, the jazz of poetry. What I adore about picture books is the spoken and unspoken collaboration between author and illustrator. I marvel at the music Jackie and I made with keyboard and pen.
CP:What’s something you enjoyed about the experience of writing a picture book that wasn’t a part of writing for the YA audience?
NR: All my works are a platform to fight for social justice. Picture books are a unique way to rise up against inequity and systemic oppression of the marginalized with the power of pure joy. Picture books are unbridled hope. With these magical tools, we raise not just the individual reader, but the human family. When I gift a child a picture book byKirsten Larson(A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything), I am giving the gift of ingenuity and persistence. When I gift a child a picture book byYamile Saied Méndez (De Donde Eres), I gift a child cultural and family pride.
My YA The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is partially about burning the system down. The Truth Is is partially about dismantling the internalized racism and homophobia embedded in us from our inherently racist and homophobic society. In some ways, these protagonists inherited a world in ashes. My picture book protagonists inherit seeds.
With my debut Your Mama, I resisted the monolithic representation of Latinx women with nuanced exultation. I hope with Your Mama, all my readers celebrate how much they are loved by their caregivers, and all caregivers feel seen and revered.
CP:You’ve said you write to “amplify marginalized voices and to reclaim the lost history, mythology, and poetry of the Latinx community.” Did you grow up hearing those stories or did you discover them later in life?
NR:I discovered my first Latinx novel in graduate school, and I was transformed. Reading Gabriel García Márquez’sOne Hundred Years Of Solitudespoke to me as a writer in a way absolutely no book ever had. He helped me find my voice.
CP:You’ve described yourself as a literary activist. What is that and how can I become one?
NR:I love your questions, Colleen! A literary activist creates works to disrupt texts, dismantle systems of oppression, and rebuild an equitable society. Every book gives you an opportunity to amplify your work’s message through article writing, conferences, and school visits. The Truth Is and The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary gives me a platform to talk about the lack of historical representation of BIPOC persons in school curriculums, the dire need for mental health services for the marginalized, and the still pervasive LGBTQIA+ homeless population.
Whenever I am in despair about the condition of the world, I turn to story to rewrite the narrative and I amplify the work of fellow authors who are changing the world with their work. Readers, check outLas Musasto learn about the works of my fellow Latinx writers whose work children’s literature “celebrates the diversity of voice, experience, and power” in Latinx communities. Check outhttps://www.soaring20spb.com/for a beautiful diverse community of writers in children’s lit, where I met Colleen Paeff!
CP:I’m so glad it brought us together! I feel lucky to be a part of such an inspiring group of creators. What’s next for you, NoNieqa?
NR: I am working on a genderqueer picture book fairy tale retelling and my first dystopian novel. We’ll see where they land!
CP:Is there anything else you’d like to share?
NR: Thank you for this lovely chat, Colleen. Readers, don’t forget to add my future picture booksHair Story (September 7th, 2021) andBeauty Woke(February 15, 2022) on Goodreads. Thank you so much for your support! Hope you love Your Mama as much as I do.
NoNieqa Ramos wrote The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, which received stars from Booklist, Voya, and Foreword. It was a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2019 In the Margins Top Ten pick.
Versify will publish her debut picture book Your Mama, which received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus, on April 6th, 2021. Her second picture book, Hair Story, releases from Lerner September 6th, 2022. NoNieqa is a proud member of Las Musas, The Soaring 20s, and PB Debut Troupe 21 collectives.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Sometimes I just want to read something different. I was in that kind of mood when coming acrossNina LaCour’s YA, Watch Over Me. The striking cover caught my attention: a photo of a girl with downcast eyes and floating hair. When I opened the book, the image had altered slightly, showing her eyes and evoking an unsettling feeling. I couldn’t wait to get reading!
The story begins with Mila leaving her kind (but, having-their-own-baby-now) foster home. She’s found a job on an unconventional farm in Northern California. The couple running it has, over the years, adopted dozens of kids and taken in teens, like Mila, who aged-out of the system, assigning them as teachers for the little ones. Mila’s first student, Lee, is also a troubled outcast. Mila wants to reach him, but struggles to understand her new environment which is both welcoming and excluding.
Along with this self-chosen family comes a land filled with ghosts who dance and play in the distance when Mila returns to her cabin at night. The foggy, rocky coast’s strong atmospheric presence wraps around Mila’s pain. Flashback chapters give glimpses of her life before foster care as the loneliness, trauma, and guilt of Mila’s past escalate into inevitable confrontation.
LaCour’s spare, beautifully written, first-person chapters infuse flashbacks, allowing the reader’s immersion to slowly build in this moving, cerebral story. The dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, revealed in fragments, is emotionally jarring. Yet, Mila’s resilience provides promise for redemption. Conventional lines of reality bend, perfectly suiting the blurred mindset of the plot.
I love wordplay, puns, and books about the English language in general. If you do too, did you know that means you’re a linguaphile, a word nerd so to speak? I just learned that. This roundup of five kids books reviewed by Ronda Einbinder has something for everyone, word nerd or not.
Raj Haldar, aka American rapper Lushlife and co-author Chris Carpenter (creators of the #1 New York Times bestseller P Is For Pterodactyl) have teamed up for another LOL look at the English language in No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read-Aloud Book Ever with hilarious illustrations by Bryce Gladfelter.
When I first read the title, I was surprised and interested to read The Worst Read-Aloud in the sub-title. However, I immediately understood the meaning when I opened the first page and read “The hair came forth,” with a drawing of a fancy waiter picking a hair out of a girl’s spaghetti and meatballs. The hilarity hit me again when the next page presented “The hare came fourth,” with a drawing of a hare finishing number four in a race with other animals. The imaginative use of homophones, homonyms, and tricky punctuation is a great way to bring parent and child together in learning and loving the meaning of various English words.
“An ABC of things unseen: from Air to Zero, and Nothing in between” is how this book is described by the publisher. The Invisible Alphabet is a cleverly illustrated picture book by Ron Barrett of the classic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It teaches the alphabet with an invisible message using illustrative clues to find what is missing on the page. Written by Joshua David Stein, host of The Fatherly Podcast, the book goes beyond the words allowing readers the opportunity to explore the meaning themselves.
Barrett repeats a bus stop scene with the letters D, J, T, and Z using different word choices, but a similar scene. D is for Delayed shows people waiting on a corner next to a sign that reads bus stop. Hmm, but what are they waiting for you may ask? T is for Too late illustrates rain and two people standing under an umbrella with that same Bus Stop sign on the corner. And the last page in the book reads Z is for Zero again with a Bus Stop sign alone covered in snow. The pen and ink style Barrett uses to illustrate this book is a beautifully crafted take on teaching the alphabet.
The Mighty Silent e! is a delightfully clever way to teach words that end in a letter that is actually silent, but without it, there would be no word! Writer Kimberlee Gard brings humor and poise in her words, while Sandie Sonke’s humorous illustrations of bright reds, yellows, and greens open up a whole new possibility of teaching sounds to young readers.
Gard’s learning disorder was a great inspiration in the telling of this story. This book put a smile on my face as brave Little e, who goes unnoticed at school, realizes he actually is a much-wanted friend. The importance of Little e is in more than just him knowing that he came from a long line of E’s, with upper case E’s framed in his family home, but in the lower case classmates Little c, Little a, and Little k unable to make a word for a type of dessert. Besides being a great tool to teach silent vowels, this book also provides an added layer of deeper meaning for kids to understand the importance of noticing and respecting quiet children at school.
“Some are born great” wrote William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, and his legacy and body of work continue to broaden the minds of young readers to this day. The beauty of the written word is poetically and engagingly captured in Flibbertigibbety Words by by Donna Guthrie, with colorful detailed illustrations by Åsa Gilland.
After chasing words that flew out of his bedroom, and into the streets, young Shakespeare learns that writing words down with paper and pen is the best way to get them to stay with him. Guthrie repeats the wild goose chase in this irresistible repetitive read-aloud. “They vaulted over a wall, took a turn on the old king’s carriage, floated through the sailor’s net, scrambled up a greenwood tree …”
And Gilland’s art tells a charming story all on its own. This picture book was not only a fun read but educational to me as well. I learned that the word flibbertigibbety, not one of his most commonly used words, was created by Shakespeare. So were bedroom, embrace, eventful and lonely. This is an especially terrific picture book for teachers to share with students and a wonderful first look into the language of Shakespeare. Click here for an activity guide. e
This unique and hard-to-put-down book will not only be a mainstay on writers’ shelves but a book that will be frequently revisited by parents and teachers. Sounds All Around: A Guide to Onomatopoeias Around the World written and illustrated in graphic novel format by Dr. James Chapman, is an entertaining nonfiction book listing a plethora of words used for various sounds we know in English. But do you know their equivalents in Korean or Hebrew? Well, they’re here too!
Thump Thump is a well-known word sound to describe a beating heart in English. In Hindi, it’s Dhak Dhak; in Japanese, it’s Doki Doki, and in Chinese Peng Peng. Chapman draws dancing red hearts that look the same, but sound differently around the world. He explains that big noises need big sounds and asks the reader to think how they would draw it in a comic book. My teacher’s mind went all over the place with the fun projects that could be created in a classroom with this book. Onomatopoeia is such a wonderful way to add excitement to a story. Now knowing how to create it in a variety of languages makes me want to keep this book on my desk to read over and over again.
Julius and Macy like to play heroes. Julius pretends he’s the defender of the forest, while Macy has a quieter strength. When their snack disappears one night, they decide to track down the only one who could have taken it―the Night Goblin. They both have to be brave in their own ways, and they ultimately discover that the real thief isn’t anything like they imagined.
With its endearing characters, this gently told tale reminds us that we each have courage within us and that kindness can make all the difference.
INTERVIEW WITH ANNELOUISE MAHONEY
GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut, Annelouise! Does it feel surreal right now after all your hard work to hold Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night in your hands? How long has it been since you first began this creative journey in general and specifically for this picture book?
Annelouise Mahoney:Hi Ronna. Thank you so much for having me over today. Yes! Surreal is the perfect word for how it feels. Surreal and grateful! It’s been a long journey into picture books. It took about 10 years of serious focus to break into children’s books and of those 10 years, it took 5 years for the making of Julius and Macy.
GRWR: I adore bravery stories since I was not the bravest of kids, nor were my children. Tell us how you decided on this topic for your picture book.
AM: I adore bravery stories too! I didn’t set out with a definite topic for this book at the beginning. It was more finding the characters that resonated with me and asking questions as I drew them over and over again. So the characters came first. The more I drew Julius and Macy the clearer their story became.
GRWR: Burning question. Are you more Julius or more Macy?
AM: That’s a fun question! Honestly, I think I’m a little bit of both. I love to go after something I’m passionate about but feel bravest with someone by my side. I feel the younger me is more adventurous like Julius, but the older me is more cautious like Macy.
GRWR: Please walk us through your approach to writing and illustrating. Did you conceive the text first and then illustrate it, vice versa, or did everything happen simultaneously?
AM: I’ve learned to stick to the illustrations first. Not full illustrations, but loose sketches of ideas, and build from there. I gather all the loose sketches into a folder and begin placing them into a small thumbnail template. The template is an 8×11 piece of paper where I can see the story in one place. When I can see the story, and feel the visual narrative is working, then it’s time to add the words. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s a lot of experimenting to get the words right. If I start with the text too soon, I usually end up straying from my story.
GRWR:Can we talk about your gorgeous artwork and how you create it?
AM: In the beginning when I’m moving away from the very loose thumbnail sketch and planning out the compositions for each spread, I use Post-it notes to redraw certain elements, or add to what I already have. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s figuring out compositions and looking for how to express a feeling. I’m also looking for areas that may be repetitive and looking for the most interesting way to show the story. There is a lot of experimenting happening at this stage. The Post-it notes help me to not get attached to any single idea as I can just take it off or move it around without having to redraw the whole spread.
When I think what’s happening on the page is working, I scan the sketches into the computer and make the images bigger in photoshop. I’m looking for more specific information I can give to each spread, making sure the compositions work within the trim size and add the text to make sure everything reads well in the space.
This dummy stage will then repeat as I go through revisions with my agent and then my editor until the story is fleshed out and polished.
Once the story is polished, I begin all over again with small thumbnails but this time I’m focusing only on color. For Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, I made a color guide to help me navigate the color choice for each spread before going into final art. I found this part extremely helpful because I was painting in watercolor and I had to know how I was going to approach each painting.
I then repeated the process of scanning in the tiny thumbnails in Photoshop and making them much bigger to fit into the book template. I was interested to see where I need to focus on adding details and how the images read in the true size of the book. It’s checking and double-checking that the text will fit and I’m getting the color transitions right. Once the loose wash looks right and I can see where I’m going, I took large sheets of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper and cut them down a little larger than print size.
I painted each page in watercolor, with lots and lots of wash layers. I would work on a few spreads at a time so there was time for the paint to dry, and time to look away from a work in progress. There is an uncomfortable moment in each illustration where it looks ugly and messy and doesn’t feel like it will work before it does. When the painting was dry and complete, I scanned each painting into the computer and used photoshop and my Wacom tablet to set each painting into the picture book template provided by my publisher, Two Lions.
GRWR: Now that you have one book under your belt, are you busy with promoting it, or are you also making time for more artistic pursuits?
AM: Promotion does take a lot of time, and I’m enjoying this moment very much. But yes, I’m working on two other book dummies at the moment and I’m hoping to get them submission-ready soon.
GRWR: Do you have a routine you like to stick to when working on a project?
AM: I really need to be flexible as a working mom and often bring my book dummies, Post-it notes and pencils with me wherever I go. As far as a routine, I definitely wake up early each day before the demands of my family take over, and I work at night when there is another wave of calm. Those precious hours are protected for when I really need to concentrate.
GRWR: Is there a spread in Julius and Macy that really resonates with the child in you and the mother in you?
AM:Oh wow, what a beautiful question. The spread of the book with panels of Julius and Macy walking into and through the dark cave resonates with me as a mother. When my daughters were very young they would slip into pretend play very easily. They craved adventure and enjoyed little scary moments where they were challenged to be brave. The Los Angeles zoo has a man-made cave meant for little ones to explore. We’d visit it often and my girls would become more and more brave to venture through it, their imaginations on fire as they explored every corner.
As an author, I find writing a children’s book a bit like walking in the dark. There are times when I don’t know where I’m going, I can’t see the story, I can easily spook myself, but there is the need to keep going even if the unknown feels scary. As a child, I craved adventure stories and had a very active imagination. I think I’d be excited to walk into a cave, as long as I had a friend beside me and it wasn’t completely dark.
GRWR: What would you love for children to take away from reading your book?
AM: I would love children to explore what bravery means to them and see the many ways they’ve been brave in their own life. I’d like children to know that there is a unique form of bravery to reach out to someone, especially when you notice someone struggling to belong, as well as the bravery and trust to reach back.
GRWR: Has anyone in particular been influential in your kidlit career?
AM:I had a brave moment myself, and enrolled in a class taught by Marla Frazee at Art Center College of Design. She lit the way for me when I was really struggling to understand the craft of writing for children. She taught in a way I could understand by breaking things down to get to the heart of the story, finding the emotion in the art, trusting what your sketches are trying to tell you. Most importantly, when writing as an illustrator, stick to the sketching first. I’m still learning and growing, but those lessons influence how I write and how I create a book.
GRWR: What important lesson or invaluable piece of advice have you learned along the way in your children’s publishing experience that you’d like to share today?
AM: I believe that if you want to write for children, be passionate about it. Really put in the time and love to learn the craft. Be passionate about what you are working on. Publishing takes time and you want the love for your story to carry you through the rejections, revisions, and care that will ultimately polish your book better than you could ever do alone.
GRWR: What can we expect next?
AM: I hope to make many more books! That’s really all I want to do. Whether I have the honor of working with another author to create a book together or have the opportunity to publish more of my own stories. It’s the greatest privilege to make books for kids.
GRWR: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to mention?
AM: I’d like to mention to your readers that I have activity pages that correspond to my book available for download on my website. www.WoodlandAbbey.com
Also, I’m a member of a wonderful group of children’s book authors, The Picture Book Scribblers. We are all available for school visits paired by theme or individually. You can find us here https://picturebookscribbl.wixsite.com/home
Thank you so much, Ronna. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today!
GRWR: What a wonderfully frank and informative interview. Thank you, Annelouise, and best of luck with Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night. e e
Annelouise Mahoney has worked in animation for DreamWorks, DIC Animation, Sony, and Saban Entertainment. She has also worked as a coloristfor Marvel and Image Comics on such series as Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, and others. This is her first picture book, and it was inspired by the depths of her daughters’ friendships and the many ways they are brave, especially with someone on their side. She loves to explore the forest, can’t resist a cave, and has a lot of love for all those named Julius in her life. Annelouise lives in Southern California with her family. Learn more about her atwww.woodlandabbey.com. e Order your copy ofJulius and Macy: A Very Brave Night: Mahoney today.
1. Enter our Twitter giveaway @goodreadsronna for a chance to win a signed copy of Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night together with aspecial Giveaway Prize Package from Annelouise that includes an 8×11 print of cover, a sticker sheet, and a round sticker. Eligible for U.S. only. One winner will be selected at random and announced at 6 pm PDT on Friday, April 9.
WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN!
2. Additionally, five lucky winners will each receive three fabulous books celebrating the art of making and keeping friends, including Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, courtesy of Two Lions. Details and entry form can be found here (US addresses).
Click here to read another recent author-illustrator interview.
For those not familiar with the series, the book begins with a one-page introduction to eight-year-old Azaleah and the people in her world: her parents, Mama and Daddy, who own a restaurant, her two sisters, older sister Nia and four-year-old Tiana, and her Auntie Sam, who often looks after the girls.
Divided into ten fast-paced chapters, the book begins with Azaleah and her sisters going to their Auntie Sam’s for the weekend while their parents are away. Azaleah has the thoughtful idea to bake chocolate chip cookies as a surprise for her parents’ return. But when they turn out less than scrumptious, horrible even, Azaleah has a mystery on her hands, trying to figure out what went wrong since she had followed the recipe perfectly.
She soon thinks she’s figured out the problem, but after baking a second batch that also doesn’t taste just right, she’s left wondering what went wrong. At this point, Azaleah is determined to solve the mystery, and still bake a perfect third batch before her parents’ arrival.
Azaleah’s first guess at solving the mystery is something that young readers might guess at also (I did!) but the real answer to the mystery might be harder for them to figure out (I didn’t!) despite a planted clue which will encourage them to keep reading until the very satisfying end.
Full-color and bright illustrations are depicted in every chapter, adding to the readability for those children who are reading on their own at this stage but still look forward to seeing illustrations along the way.
Extensive educational backmatter rounds out the book which includes a glossary of nineteen of the more difficult words that appear in the story; Let’s Talk!, which presents different ideas to discuss from the story; Let’s Write!, which gives budding young writers some ideas to write about based on the book’s plot, and a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Yum!
I love a children’s book that treats its audience as intelligent readers and The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane does just that by creating a mystery whose solution will introduce children to a topic they may not be aware of while, at the same time, entertain them with a likable and realistically portrayed cast of characters.
Bella’s beret blows away on a windy day, taking a ride through the seasons and landing in many places along the way. When the beret lands in a chef’s pan – hip, hip, soufflé! When it lands on the head of a dancer – hip, hip, ballet! As Bella searches for her missing beret, young readers can enjoy their own search for a few touchable felt berets inside the book.
Clarinet and Trumpet have a pitch-perfect friendship. But when Oboe convinces Clarinet that woodwinds should stick together, Clarinet and Trumpet’s harmonious relationship falls flat. Woodwinds and Brass face off – until music brings them back together. With pun-filled text and emotive illustrations, CLARINET & TRUMPET honors the important role music plays in creating community.
INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MELANIE ELLSWORTH:
Colleen Paeff:Congratulations on the release of your second picture book, Clarinet & Trumpet (illustrated by John Herzog). I love all the wordplay in both this book and in your debut, Hip, Hip … Beret! (illustrated by Morena Forza). How did you get so punny?
Melanie Ellsworth: Thanks, Colleen! It’s so nice to chat with you on Good Reads With Ronna. I think punny might be in my DNA. I grew up with a father who slips puns into conversations whenever possible. He also composes limericks for any and every occasion. So I can’t help myself. Wordplay makes the creative process more joyful!
CP:The cover of Clarinet & Trumpet says “Shake this Book.” What happens when you shake the book and how did that idea come about?
ME:When I submitted the manuscript, I offered to include back matter on musical instruments. But my editor had a more innovative idea; she wanted a tactile element, so she suggested embedding a shaker/rattle so readers can join in the musical fun. When I received my author copies, I discovered that the sound-maker is cleverly embedded in the book’s spine. When you tip the book, it sounds (and works) a lot like a rainstick. It’s quite soothing!
Another neat musical feature about the book is that the “and” in the title is a G clef! I had never really noticed how similar the ampersand and the G clef were until I saw that switch. The art department was very clever!
CP:Do you play any instruments yourself or did writing a book about musical instruments require research? Or both?!
ME: Both! I did some googling of instrument terminology, sound words, and musical puns. But mostly, this book came from my own experience playing in bands, orchestras, district bands, and pit bands. I started piano lessons around age 7 and clarinet lessons around age 10. In high school, I took a few saxophone lessons just because saxophones are cool. Clarinet was always my favorite, though. I was hooked from the first time I heard its sound in an elementary school instrument “petting zoo.” I love the versatility of the clarinet – for classical, jazz, klezmer, big band, new age, you name it! I played clarinet through college and a bit afterward. Someday, I will whip my embouchure back into shape and join a local community band.
CP:You said in a previous interview that you’ve always loved picture books. Why do you think they’ve had such a long-standing appeal for you?
ME: The quality cuddling time with my mom as we read picture books together started my love for the genre. My local library also fueled that love. The combination of lyrical text and gorgeous pictures is pretty magical at any age. Now that I write picture books as well as reading them, I still appreciate many of the same things I always have: the quiet cuddle time they inspire, the rich vocabulary and themes, the introduction for our youngest readers to other types of families and communities, the way picture books kindle empathy, the stunning art, and the way the art often tells another story – like getting a two-for-one deal! And I love a good challenge – trying to write a humorous, heartfelt story with themes relatable to both children and adults, with an arc and interesting characters, with text that sings, leaving plenty of room for the illustrator, and in less than 500 words.
CP:You spent time backpacking around Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. What’s one of your favorite memories from that time?
ME:Hmmm, so many! One is staying with a family in Bomet, Kenya and helping with a community water-tank build. Now you’ve got me thinking about the delicious ground nut sauce I ate there. Another favorite memory is making it up to Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas and eating the Snickers I had saved for that moment. Best Snickers ever. (Seems like I may have to write a travel/food-themed picture book!)
CP:Did you learn any lessons as a world traveler that you apply to your writing life?
ME: I’ve actually been thinking about this question for years, looking for the intersections between my travels and the life I live now. I’m hoping to find a way to write about it. Travel presents an opportunity to see other people more deeply and to think about the way my choices, and all of our choices, ripple out to affect a global community. I think you have to travel with a sense of humor, keep an eye out for the funny, absurd, and unusual, recognize that what strikes you as absurd may not be universal, and be open to many ways of seeing. These are all things that apply to writing as well.
CP: If I asked you to curate a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, what would it look like?
ME: It sounds a bit dull, but starting the day with coffee at my desk up in my barn office works best for me. A perfect day might start with me writing a haiku to warm up my creative senses. Ideally, I’d start every day with writing or revising, but I almost always start by checking email. Usually, I set a timer so I don’t get completely off track with that. A perfect day would definitely involve a walk down to the river with my dog. I get to do that most days, and sometimes I pay close attention to nature – like crocuses unfurling or a pair of hooded mergansers on the river. Other days, I look inwards on walks and end up with new story ideas that I text to myself so I won’t forget them.
CP:Is there anything else I should have asked?
ME: Thanks for your super interesting questions! If I asked myself questions like these every day, my creative juices would always be flowing. Here’s another question that might be useful for readers: What are some tips to stay focused on writing when so much else is going on?
A friend once told me to do a “brain dump” each day. It involves setting a timer for 5 minutes and writing down everything on your mind (grocery lists, errands, worries, etc.) so you can free yourself from those distractions before starting creative work. Something similar that helps me is to make a list of all writing and non-writing tasks I hope to do that day in my bullet journal. (I also have a weekly goals list.) And if you’re having one of those days or weeks when you’re feeling frustrated because you are not crossing much off your to-do list, try this tip from one of my critique partners, Anna Crowley Redding. As you work, keep a separate list of everything you actually do that day. There’s always so much that crops up that you weren’t expecting, so this is a good reminder that you actually WERE productive, even when you’re not feeling it. Try it when you need a little boost.
CP: What’s next for you?
ME:Several of my picture books are on submission through my agent, and I’m always writing/revising a few new ones. I hope to try some other genres this year, including an early reader graphic novel and a middle-grade novel (which would involve finishing a book I started writing years ago).
Melanie Ellsworth is the author of HIP, HIP… BERET! and CLARINET & TRUMPET. Over the years, Melanie has played a variety of instruments, including the piano, the saxophone, and the clarinet. She has yet to try out the trumpet! Melanie has worked as an ESOL teacher and a literacy specialist and now writes in an old house in Maine where she lives with her family.
A 2020 National Book Awards Longlist Selection A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020 A Reading Group Choices Best Book of 2020 A Mighty Girl Best Book of 2020 ★Starred Review – Kirkus
Marcella Pixley’s middle-grade book, Trowbridge Road, opens with Jenny Karlo’s loud, beat-up car disturbing a sleepy Boston suburb. Jenny’s music and personality add to the unrest as she deposits her son, Ziggy, at Nana’s for an indeterminate stay. June Bug Jordan, the unofficial neighborhood watcher, takes this in from a safe distance. It’s 1983 and June Bug’s world has recently been shattered by AIDS.
Outcasts of sorts, June Bug and Ziggy (and Matthew, the ferret, who’s often perched atop Ziggy’s unruly red hair) meld into a comfortable friendship where their imaginations transport them from everyday troubles. Matthew’s antics add levity as the truths for both kids begin to unfold. While Ziggy’s grandmother and June Bug’s uncle are steady and trustworthy, other adults struggle with mental illness and domestic violence making them incompetent caregivers who provide love alongside complicated pain.
Pixley does an amazing job bringing such difficult topics to a middle-grade audience. Problems are laid out from a child’s viewpoint and not explained away—simple answers don’t exist. Filled with complex characters, Trowbridge Road delivers an emotional journey, proving hope exists even on the darkest days. My favorite scenes include ones where the kids lose themselves in larger-than-life, fantastic journeys. The escapism offers them moments of freedom to work through personal traumas.
This beautifully written book is one I recommend to friends. There’s so much here, you’ll want to read it again. I congratulate Pixley on her craft which brings to life endearingly flawed characters during an important historical time.
★Starred Reviews – Book Page, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, are “summer people” at Belle Beach, Long Island, taking a break from the city with their writer dad. The book opens with the girls finding a baby left on the steps of the library and the story spins backward from there. Told from three viewpoints (the sisters’, plus that of their neighbor, twelve-year-old, Bruno Ben-Ali), the reader pieces together what happened to cause a myriad of events, including the breakup of Julie and Bruno’s friendship. World War II concerns are deftly incorporated, such as Bruno’s brother being drafted and the increasing number of funeral services for overseas casualties; a nearby army hospital also factors in.
In The Summer We Found the Baby, Amy Hest, weaves together a fast-paced plot with levity, where stories at times overlap as we discover what each character discloses or conceals. Historical details take a backseat to friendship concerns, sibling squabbling, and familial issues. Seeing the happenings from three perspectives works well to uncover the kids’ fears and losses. This likable tale captures a few scenes in a summer where lives come together and move apart, and how, sometimes, specific moments bring about change. And, yes, we eventually unwind the mystery behind the abandoned baby.
In the nineteenth century, grave robbers supplied medical schools with corpses. While this does happen in Magic Dark and Strange, Catherine Daly leaves home to take a respectable job at the city’s newspaper, knowing her family needs the income. Though at night, she earns a bit more digging up graves to briefly enliven the dead so they can spend a while longer with their loved ones. In exchange, for each hour granted, she loses an hour of her life. On a special expedition to collect a unique timepiece, she somehow brings a teen boy fully to life. Since he has no memory, they question who he is, why he died, and what resurrected him. Somewhat reluctantly Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, houses the boy he names Owen and sets about seeking answers with Catherine. While a budding attraction develops between Catherine and Guy, their encounters focus more on mystery-solving than romantic interludes.
I knew I’d like this book from its first line: “Waking the dead wasn’t nearly so unpleasant as having to dig them up in the first place.” This sums up Catherine well: that she perform small magic is a given, but it’s hard work and she must avoid being caught by a watchman. The story’s turns will keep you guessing at Owen’s true identity, especially once the murders begin. Readers who appreciate historical details blended with fantasy will find this a fascinating read. I was unsure until the end whether Owen was innocent or hiding his dark past. See if your sleuthing can figure it out before it’s revealed.
★Starred Reviews –Kirkus, School Library Connection
The Titanic sinks; I’ve heard many of the stories, but Stacey Lee’s YA novel, Luck of the Titanic, illuminates the unjust treatment of the few Chinese aboard that dreaded voyage. In reality, six of the eight Chinese passengers survived (whereas only 25% of the other passengers survived), yet, rare mentions “vilified them as cowards who took seats from women and children or dressed as women in order to sneak aboard lifeboats, all of which were unfounded rumors.” The US’s Chinese Exclusion Act in place in 1912 ensured that all of these men—who likely did not speak English—were shipped off within twenty-four hours of arrival, their stories lost.
From these facts, Lee weaves a tale about brother and sister acrobats, the Luck twins. Val makes an action-packed, stowaway entrance to join her brother, Jamie. Her haphazard plan involves finding and impressing the influential circus owner, thus gaining access to America. Yet, Jamie has given up such sensational aspirations. Strong-willed Val tries to right him to her course but, along the convoluted, shenanigan-filled way, discovers much about herself, family, and the meaning of true love.
This seven-day voyage sails by quickly. Val is an interesting character who quickly won me over with her endearingly persistent flaws. Knowing about the fateful iceberg didn’t make the plot any less suspenseful. Instead, the concluding chapters are nail-biters, through the unpredictable ending.
Lee’s book begins a much-needed conversation that will, hopefully, result in finding information about the actual Chinese survivors so their stories can be added to the history books. I appreciate the care with which she writes historical fiction and, previously, enjoyed her 2019 YA, The Downstairs Girl, set in 1890 Atlanta, which also tackles issues of inequality shown from a strong, female lead character’s perspective.
[ATTENTION WRITERS: Catch her Sat. April 10, in “Hitch Up Your Petticoats: Stacey Lee Reveals How to Write Historical Fiction.” Registration link here. Non-SCBWI members, email Natasha Yim at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
DIJ – Do It Jewish, written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by Daria Grinevich, makes a unique gift to give tweens who are eager to flex their creativity muscles. It even had me thinking about looking for my Nana’s rugelach recipe to play around with and update.
From filmmaking, songwriting, art, cooking, graphic novels to cartooning, midrash, and Judaica, there’s something here to suit everyone’s creative tastes. This clever nonfiction book jumps right into the first of its seven chapters. While the cooking chapter spoke to me the most, the songwriting chapter might resonate with your child or perhaps the one on painting and art.
Bietz approaches each chapter by first presenting motivational insights from an expert in the respective topic whether filmmaking, catering and cookbook writing, cartooning, or creating Judaica. These pros tell readers how they became involved in their area of expertise which is always interesting. Then they offer suggestions on how to get started, what tools/equipment tweens will need, and what to do next. I can picture kids taking the book along with them as a reference guide when first getting their feet wet in a particular area covered in the book. e
Bietz then goes on to share the individual experiences of someone pursuing a creative field that resonates with them, as a hobby or career. Everything is broken down into manageable steps as seen in the text and illustrations above and below.
I especially liked how certain words are presented in a different font and color so readers can refer to these words in the glossary provided at the end of each chapter.
Every chapter is neatly tied into Judaism so just before Passover is a great time for kids to read this book. I remember recording my family at one seder for a Jewish holidays project I had in my university media class. My professor taught me how to edit the recording so I could add layers of my dialogue on top of my family reading from the Haggadah, sharing jokes, and commenting on the food served. My whole family was on board which added to the festive atmosphere that evening. This book reminds me of that course in that it’s like having a teacher, professor, or mentor at your child’s side as they dive into an area of the arts that they feel passionate about.
Bietz and the professionals she’s interviewed all explain how easy it is to gain experience by seeking help from those closest to us—family and friends fieldwork so to speak. Grinevich’s spot art, as well as occasional photos, nicely break up the text and add colorful appeal. I hope your kids will take advantage of the upcoming holiday to explore some of the topics in DIJ-Do it Jewish by joining you in the kitchen, the synagogue, or out in your community as they gain a better understanding of what Jewish creativity is all about.
In The Elephant in the Room, when middle-schooler, Sila Tekin’s mother is stuck in Turkey trying to get her immigration paperwork in order, the loneliness is almost unbearable for her and her father, Alp. Sila’s newly withdrawn demeanor prompts her school to pair her with autistic classmate Mateo Lopez in a special program that has the kids spending time together at the end of each school day. The point is to help both kids socialize more and, after a slow, silent start, they eventually begin getting to know each other.
Life changes dramatically for Sila and Mateo when Alp is hired to fix an old truck owned by widower, Gio, who lives on a non-working farm on the outskirts of town. Sila and Gio seem to form an immediate bond, even before they discover that Gio’s late wife was Sila’s beloved second-grade teacher. When an odd string of coincidences leads to Gio rescuing a young elephant named Veda from a failing circus, Sila and Mateo wind up with the most awesome summer job ever—caring for Veda. Sila connects to the young pachyderm on a deep level, realizing that, like her, Veda must really miss her mother. A reunion of either mother-daughter pair feels out of reach, but with a team of caring friends—maybe it’s not.
Author Holly Goldberg Sloan has another deeply heartfelt hit on her hands. Again employing the multi-POV device she uses so brilliantly, she lets readers see and feel the unfolding of these extraordinary events through various characters’ eyes. Veda’s POV is used sparingly but impactfully, and even the supporting animal characters—a flock of undisciplined flamingos, a ravenous bear, and a loyal dog—whose POVs we’re not privy to, are well-drawn, quirky, and fun.
Both kids are battling quiet storms within, which makes them interesting and empathetic. Gio is wonderfully complex. His desire to rediscover meaning in life, coupled with voluminous lottery winnings, propel him to take on caring for Veda, somehow feeling it’s something he has to do. His connection with Sila seems similarly fated, and their special bond serves as the glue for all of the characters. A story of hope, longing, love, and action, The Elephant in the Room will show middle-grade readers that things—people, animals, situations—are not always what they seem and that they’re not always as powerless over circumstances as they sometimes feel.
What I love about Passover is the tradition, the same old same old I know and love. It’s comforting as well as delicious. And, since Seder, the meal we enjoy, means “order” in Hebrew, we repeat the same rituals Jewish people have done for centuries to feel a connection to the past. Here are a few new Passover picture books plus a link to a fourth (an interview) to share with your children this year and for years to come.
Fans of Meet the Latkes, get ready for a wild and whimsical ride! This follow-up picture book promises to bring smiles to young readers with its tale of Alfie Koman, a piece of matzah known to hide, who needs to unmuddle the sourdough bully Loaf’s version of the Passover Story. Who enslaved the Hebrews according to Loaf? Pha-roach! With the help of his braided bff, Challa Looyah, Alfie must emerge from undercover to set the record straight. The hilarious artwork is what I’d call the butter on the matzah. It just doesn’t get funnier than this! Don’t miss the adorable book trailer here.
Matzah Craze is a great introduction to matzah and its history for anyone who is unfamiliar with it and the tradition of not eating bread during Passover.
This fast-paced rhyming read opens at lunchtime when everyone in the school cafeteria swaps food except for Noa. You’ll want to slow down to enjoy the Gallegos’s lively art and diverse student body. On this day Noa’s got food in her lunch bag no one recognizes and she doesn’t have enough to share. “All week long, I don’t eat bread. Matzah’s what I eat instead,” she tells her friends.
She then explains how the Jews fled Pharaoh’s oppression with no time in the rush to escape for bread to rise. As her friends walk away, Noa wonders. “Is there more that she could do? Let them taste Passover too?” When she brings in enough matzah to share with her friends the following day, with an assortment of toppings, its popularity causes a matzah craze.
Eating matzah is always a fun part of the holiday. I’m a big fan of chocolate-covered matzah as well as matzah spread with haroset. This food made with fruit and nuts symbolizes the mortar used by slaves in Egypt. I hope anyone reading Matzah Craze will experiment with all the delicious ways to enjoy matzah just like Noa’s friends. There’s also a note in the back matter explaining a bit more about the Passover holiday. Families and teachers will find this picture book helpful to discuss sharing, introducing a new food and its cultural and religious importance to those unfamiliar with it, as well as an enjoyable holiday read-aloud.
Whenever my husband and I went on vacation we always took the kids to a zoo so I was happy to be introduced to the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, aka the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo where this story unfolds.
Ellie the beautiful purple elephant would like to find a family to celebrate the first night of Passover with and she can count on her friend, Kang, the Kangaroo, to join her. Chimp, on the other hand, is not keen on this risky adventure and would prefer to sleep.
Every time Ellie or Kang discuss the seder they’d like to attend, they get all the words wrong and Chimp is quick to correct them which is something children will enjoy. Ellie calls the Haggadah a coloring book. Kang calls it a notebook until Chimp sets them straight. The eager pair plan their escape for the following evening. It seems Zookeeper Shmulik, who cleans Ellie’s habitat, has told her all about Passover and one part especially appeals to her, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”
Naturally to escape the pals will need the help and agility of Chimp who is pretty easy to convince. Once out of the confines of the zoo, Ellie, Kang, and Chimp stroll through the neighborhood in search of a seder. When eventually the animals peek in a well-lit window, they see a beautifully set table and are surprised to discover who the welcoming host is.
I admire Weiser’s atmospheric artwork with people in shadow at nighttime, as well as her lovely color palette perfect for Israel’s warm climate. There’s a fun, retro look to the illustrations that add to the playfulness of Moritz’s story.
I had a smile on my face while reading this entertaining book because it was not only such a sweet animal tale, but it was gently educational without hitting readers over the head. While it does help to have some understanding of the Jewish holiday Passover, readers will still learn about certain Passover words like seder, the traditional meal, some of the foods on the seder plate such as haroset and maror, and what they symbolize as well as the story of how Passover came to be. Back matter goes into more detail about the Passover holiday and also includes photos of the real Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.
Don’t miss Ronna’s interview below with debut picture book author Susan Kusel about her soon-to-be classic,The Passover Guest.
AuthorTracy C. Goldcalls her debut a non-fiction book since this story was based on her life as a sleep-deprived mom, and I’m sure this is a true story for many other parents.
Even being sleep-deprived, Tracy found time to write this gem. With the help of her editors Laurie Duersch and Brooke Jorden at Familius, she was able to make this book even more lyrical and musical.
And the final product – a sweet and funny lullaby. The rhythm and the repetition of the words make this book fun to read aloud. And I can imagine little children giggling while trying to repeat some words.
AndAdèle Dafflon’s illustrations? Wow, perfect! They are soothing and relaxing while funny. My favorite spread is the one where the animals sleep in a tree while the baby, still awake, looks through the window, and it says, “Everyone’s sleepy, but the baby, why, why, why?” So many parents all around the world ask this question every night.
This charming board book conveys a message of love and peace, and I can imagine parents reading this to their babies to get them ready for bed, but … There is a problem! … The babies will say, “Again, again and again.” And then everybody will be sleepy, but the baby. Hopefully, after a few more times, this lullaby-story will put your baby to sleep too.
Sweet Interesting Fact related by Tracy – “As I was working on revisions, my dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I mentioned it to Laurie, and she and Brooke at Familius sent pictures of my dog to the illustrator. So, now the dog in the book looks like my late dog, Ollie. This is incredibly meaningful for me, and I’m so thrilled he will live on in the pages of this book.”
Guest Review by Ana Siqueira e Clickhere to order Tracy’s book.
It’s a cover reveal for picture book Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! and it definitely invites intrigue!
A chicken steps into the imprint of a gigantic claw. The white bird takes center stage with a body resembling a halved teardrop composed against a green, feathered-grass background. Tying in the white of the chicken, the quirky, bold lettering in the title, shouts, read me! The cover clearly portrays a bird with an investigative mind on a mission. Illustrator Jojo Ensslin’s simple shapes, contrasting colors, and gentle shading offer young readers the perfect engagement.
“I fell in love with the cover as soon as I saw it! I think it captures Chicken Frank’s perception of his connection to a T. rex perfectly, as well as his interest in exploring and accepting the belief that he IS a modern dinosaur! Jojo Ensslin did a fantastic job of bringing Chicken Frank and his friends to life.”
One of Shaunda’s first jobs out of college involved capturing, banding, and tracking wild birds for a research study. At the time, she didn’t realize that all the different birds were actually modern dinosaurs!
Fast forward to a change in career, and an idea was born!
“Inspiration for Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! came from a fun class discussion after watching Jack Horner’s Ted Talk video about dinosaurs and birds. My students were enthralled and amused by the idea that dinosaurs still walk among us … in the form of a chicken! Some students bought into it. Others didn’t. A lively debate followed, and the sparks for Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! began to stir.”
A PEEK INTO THE WRITING PROCESS:
“After being inspired to write Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!, it took me about a year to get the story into shape and submission-ready, another 6 months or so of R&R with the publishing editors, 1 day to get that R&R rejected, 1 hour at 3 am to completely rewrite the story in a different structure, and another 3 months to find the courage to resubmit the manuscript, which was ultimately accepted for publication. Thank goodness for strong beliefs and second chances!”
ABOUT THE STORY:
Cluck-a-doodle-ROAR! Chicken Frank is on a mission to prove to his fellow farm animals that he’s related to a T. rex because of evolution! But no one believes him—until DNA test results show Alligator Ike on Frank’s family tree. What will happen when he shows up at Frank’s family reunion? Complete with chicken and dinosaur tidbits, this 32-page picture book blends information with a fictional, humorous, comic style. The creators made sure to add just what young readers crave, chuckles and heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I have the pleasure of being in a debut picture book group with Shaunda, and here’s what I know about this fascinating author. Not just a writer, she also holds a degree in a self-designed major in environmental and social sciences from the University of Vermont. As a high school teacher, Shaunda has been honored with educational awards. While Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! is her first picture book, kids may have seen some of her writings about science published in the educational market. A nature lover at heart, she is an avid hiker, swimmer, and plant lover. Visit her website for more fun facts and to find out more about her debut in October 2021.
When a chipmunk mistakes Hare for a rabbit, Hare puts him in his place. But actually, the chipmunk is a SQUIRREL. Or so he says.
INTERVIEW WITH JULIE ROWAN-ZOCH:
Colleen Paeff:Hi Julie! Congratulations on the release of your author/illustrator debut, I’m a Hare, So There! The rabbit—I mean, hare—in this story has such a strong voice. (I love it!) Was that voice there from the get-go or did it develop over time?
Julie Rowan Zoch: From the beginning, there was never any question about Jack’s personality, but recently I realized he has the same confidence as a close friend of mine. Must be why it felt so easy to write.
CP: I love the search-and-find element at the back of the book. Was that always part of the plan, or did that idea come later?
JRZ: No, it was my editor, Kate O’Sullivan who suggested I added backmatter even before the contract was final. I wanted to keep it simple and we agreed visual elements with a few facts would be a good fit. The search-and-find was an extension of that idea.
CP: Can you talk a little about the process of writing and illustrating this book? Were there any big changes?
JRZ: A big change in the ending happened before we submitted it as I had the plan to have the main character “carried off”! Luckily I was able to keep it kid-friendly AND still funny! Once it was with the editor she suggested some minor changes to the text and to add more similar-not-same elements, which I’m really grateful for – makes for a much better book. The art director, Celeste Knudsen also suggested a more colorful palette than I had originally intended, and I am grateful for that guidance too!
CP: Your debut picture book, Louis, was written by best-selling author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. How did you feel about creating illustrations for such a well-known illustrator? Did he have any say in what the illustrations looked like?
JRZ: I was intimidated by the thought that the illustrations would be compared to his own, and luckily I quickly got over that! Just had to remind myself, anyone’s illustration style will always be compared to others! He did have a say, but that went through the editor, and she never gave me the feeling I had to adjust my own vision if I felt strongly about something. The HMH team was truly a joy to work with!
CP: What relationships (with individuals or groups) have been most helpful to you as you’ve made your way in children’s publishing?
JRZ: Being a part of my regional SCBWI chapter and our local Connect group, (which I now facilitate) have helped me tremendously, especially with encouragement. I am also a 12×12 Picture Book Challenge member from the beginning, and some of the community I have met are very close friends now. Through both of these organizations, I have also found all of my critique partners, past and present, as well as the promotional groups I now enjoy being a part of – all of which have helped me through both book debuts happening during the pandemic! I do not want to imagine what it would have been like without them! I am also lucky to be able to trust my agent, Marcia Wernick, implicitly. She knows when to push and when to listen, shares a love of period drama, and has a great laugh!
CP: Has failure played any part in your success? How?
JRZ: Of course! No one learns without friction! I’ve racked up plenty of embarrassing moments in sharing awful manuscripts, first with my poor friends then with critique partners! And my agent can be very frank with me – thank goodness! I’ve had some tough art school teachers whose constructive criticism knocked the wind out of me as well as helped me get back up! Even the old neighborhood kids kept everyone’s ego in check – once they even left me hanging on a fence by my overalls! I suppose it’s all helped me grow a thick skin!
CP: You’re a bookseller! How does that inform your work as an author and illustrator?
JRZ: I applied for the job thinking it would be interesting, and I was right! I see many books before they are released, so I am very aware of market trends; I hear what customers of different ages are asking for in children’s literature, and know that half of what sells are classics, and I learn that even books I like can be quite boring to a group of toddlers!
CP: If I asked you to curate a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, what would it look like?
JRZ: My gut reaction is to say I wouldn’t want to! I don’t know how it all works when it works, and randomness may be the key! BUT when all else fails … read poetry and read it out loud!
CP: What’s your advice to people (of all ages) who like drawing, but get discouraged by their lack of natural drawing ability?
JRZ: If you love it, draw. I really don’t know if anyone has natural drawing ability. But I do know one gains the ability by drawing.
CP:Is there anything else I should have asked?
JRZ: Have beliefs about how I wanted to make picture books changed since I started out (later in life to boot!)?
JRZ: Yes. I was quite certain I would not want to illustrate for someone else’s text, and now I know it’s just as exciting and in some ways even more so!
CP: What’s next for you?
JRZ:Fingers crossed that a current offer to illustrate moves to contract, and that a dummy I’ve been revisiting on and off for years is finally ready to go walkabout!
Author, illustrator, bookseller, and activist: Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in NY, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden!
For signed books, please leave a personalization request in the online order/comment section with my local indie bookstore (and place of employment!) here.
If I enjoy saying this book’s title, kids will definitely delight in repeating Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! They’ll be eager to read the entire book because, sticks and stones aside, what child hasn’t had a run-in with name-calling? And when you’ve got the talented team of Robin Newman and Susan Batori taking on the topic, it promises to be entertaining while making an important point.
Neither Bear nor Woodpecker means to hurl names at one another or hurt each other’s feelings, but sometimes it happens from pent-up frustration. This time it happens when Bear is settling down to hibernate for winter. Because he’s a very light sleeper, Bear makes preparations to assure he is not disturbed. Unfortunately, the tree he has cut down to make a solid door for his den was the location of Woodpecker’s homes.
Woodpecker asks Rabbit, Mouse, and Squirrel if they’ve witnessed the chopping incident. No luck. Fortunately, his own detective skills lead him to discover that Bear is the culprit so he begins to peck, peck away at Bear’s door. Angered by the commotion, Bear asks the three other animals “Who’s the pesky FEATHERBUTT making that noise?” When Woodpecker gets wind of the name-calling, he confronts Bear. While he doesn’t deny it, Bear is more concerned about getting his shut-eye and leaves for his den, further exacerbating the situation.
Soon after, Woodpecker wakes up Bear to tell him how upset he feels at being called a name in front of everyone. Tension builds beautifully both in Newman’s prose and Batori’s art. Bear is annoyed at having his sleep interrupted and Woodpecker is mad at his houses being destroyed. Now it’s Bear’s turn to get called a name and you can just guess what that is, right? FUZZYBUTT! Once again the meddlesome forest friends have inserted themselves into the drama by blabbing about the big scene they witnessed. Bear, bothered big time, stomps off to bed seething before tears start falling.
Now it’s Woodpecker’s turn to make amends and he does so by apologizing to Bear. With newfound respect for one another, the pair concoct a housing plan that is sure to make them both happy, but from a distance! Plus Bear can hibernate knowing that in 243 1/2 days he’ll have a new friend to hang out with.
Batori’s digital artwork, mimicking “colored pencils and watercolor,” makes an already appealing story irresistible. Her characters are charming, her color palette is rich and woodsy and her composition pulls us in immediately. The art, together with Newman’s humorous and skilled writing, offers a totally relatable read-aloud for parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians that will spark meaningful conversation about conflict resolution, gossip, and the hurt caused by name-calling. I’m happy Bear and Woodpecker worked things out and kids will be, too! Just be prepared to hear FUZZYBUTT a lot more frequently in your home after reading this fabulously funny picture book.