Celebrate the Lunar New Year and learn about all of its traditions with this Big Golden Book!
Every year, millions of Asian families come together to celebrate the first new moon in the sky. Now preschoolers can learn about the zodiac animals, the delicious food, the exciting parades, and all the fun traditions. Filled with colorful illustrations and simple, yet informative text, this Big Golden Book is perfect for reading again and again to the whole family. Happy Lunar New Year!
Growing up, I read many Golden Books, but never one about my own culture. When I first read this manuscript, I was so excited to see a story about a holiday that I grew up celebrating and with characters who reflected me and my family. I’m thrilled that this next generation of Asian children will get to grow up seeing themselves represented in ways that we didn’t have. It was also a treat to bring the words of Mary Man-Kong, the author, to life! She has written several other stories for Golden Books, Disney, and other licensed properties.
Q: What was your process for illustrating the cover?
The art director, Roberta Ludlow, provided very detailed guidelines for illustrating the cover and each spread–which I really appreciated. For the cover, she and the team at Golden Books wanted two children in traditional outfits running with a dragon. I started with three different rough sketches.
Once the team picked their favorite, I filled in base colors and finally rendered the details and lighting.
Q: What traditions are covered in this book?
Though this book mostly focuses on 春节 (The Spring Festival, aka the Chinese term for Lunar New Year), it also touches on other cultures and countries that celebrate Lunar New Year, including Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Q: What was your favorite part about illustrating this book?
I designed the family to look like mine! The parents and grandma are modeled after my own, and the designs for the little girl and boy are based on my brother and me as kids.
Q: What do you love most about how the book turned out?
I love how the festive scenes like the fireworks and dragon scenes remind me of my own childhood celebrating Lunar New Year with my family!
Q: Do you have other projects in the works?
Yes! I have three other picture books releasing in 2024 (MAMIE TAPE FIGHTS TO GO TO SCHOOL by Traci Huahn, Crown/Penguin Random House; STAY ANGRY, LITTLE GIRL inspired by the words of Madeleine L’Engle, FSG/Macmillan; GOODNIGHT SOUNDS by Debbie S. Miller, Bloomsbury). My author-illustrator debut picture book, CELEBRATING DONG ZHI: THE WINTER SOLSTICE is releasing in 2025 with Bloomsbury.
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Michelle Jing Chan is a queer Chinese American author-illustrator who works on picture books and comics for kids and teens. Ever since she could hold a pencil, Michelle has loved using art to bring the daydreams in her head to life. Her work has been featured in the Wing Luke Museum, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. When not drawing, Michelle is petting the neighborhood cats, obsessing over a book, or getting jump-scared by spooky TV shows. Visit Michelle at www.michellejingchan.com or on social media @michellieart.
Mary Man-Kong is a children’s book editor and author living in New York City. When she’s not editing or writing, she loves traveling with her amazing family on awesome adventures.
“Beginning with the planting of a single seed, the journey of bringing a pumpkin to harvest comes to life for young readers. Under Molly’s watchful eye and care, each stage of growth is showcased. And at the end, Molly’s lovely pumpkin is turned into a delicious pie for one and all to share in a celebration of gratitude. Back matter includes fun facts about pumpkins, the important pollinators who help them grow, as well as a pumpkin pie recipe.”
It’s amazing what comes from a single seed—a plant, a bountiful harvest, a delicious recipe—but on another level that seed also sprouts tradition and community. And that’s the story Sue Heavenrich and Chamisa Kelloggtell in their new book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW.
Following the cumulative structure and rhyme scheme of A House That Jack Built, Heavenrich follows a plant’s journey from seed to sprout … vine to flower … and fruit to table while touching on science concepts like photosynthesis and pollination. Illustrator, Chamisa Kellogg, adds to the book’s seasonal appeal with textural artwork in muted tones.
And while I’m not usually a fan of cumulative stories (or stories that riff on a familiar rhyme), this one is exceptionally well-written. Nothing comes across as forced or monotonous. It flows wonderfully. The phrases are varied each time they appear yet never deviate from the established rhyme pattern. I also love that each variation inspires a deeper understanding of the scientific processes involved in growing plants.
Accessible backmatter offers readers and/or teachers more information about pumpkins, pollinators, and a pie recipe. A delight to read! Click here to download a pdf of kids’ activities.
Who Ate What? A Historical Guessing Game for Food Lovers by Rachel Levinis such an engaging book kids may forget they’re learning! The book is organized chronologically from cavepeople through what food of the future may be. In each of the ten historical groups, there are 15 food objects that kids will have fun looking for, especially when they realize three of these items are “off the menu.” I couldn’t help but play along—and I missed at least one in each section! For example, I guessed that cavepeople drank milk but then, when I turned the page, found that early humans couldn’t digest animal milk. One of my favorite “on the menu” items was hedgehog. These prickly critters were eaten by ancient Egyptians, and baked in a manner (thankfully) that removed the spines.
Each section has interesting edge-to-edge illustrations showing life during that period masterfully rendered by Natalia Rojas Castro. I especially like how she handles silly items such as delivered pizza or “ew” things like human eyes.
This nonfiction picture book educates, entertains, and (best of all) is enjoyable. Kids will gravitate to the pages about Vikings, ninjas, and pirates, but if you want to know which group ate snakes and which one ate flamingos, you’ll have to read the book.
Reading Two New Yearswritten by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.
The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.
Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.
The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.
Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.
Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.
I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.
Written by mother-daughter duo Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar shares the loving bond between grandmother and granddaughter as they venture out to share a new experience together.
Getting ready to go to the bazaar with her grandmother for the very first time, Samira is afraid she’ll get lost in the crowd. Again and again, she tries to coax Mama Shams into letting her hide under the protection of her veil. “‘Let’s get in line, under your chador, you in front, me behind!’” But each time, Mama Shams responds with a resounding “Na, na, na” followed by an exaggerated explanation of how silly they might look to passersby. “‘I’d look like a fool with four legs below me just like a mule!”
Textually, this lovely rhyming interchange between grandmother and granddaughter adds much humor and whimsy, while also providing a place for young readers of all backgrounds to stay grounded in the story as Mama Shamsi suggests the different types of animals she may be mistaken for if she acquiesces to Samira’s wish.
Visually, their conversation introduces readers to the bustling capital of Iran, Tehran. Fidawi’s expressive illustrations are wonderfully and thoughtfully detailed from home to city life during the 1960s/’70s, reflecting the time period author Hassani grew up there. My personal favorites include the seated vendor on the street, prayer beads in hand, and chai brewing on a portable burner next to him, a grandmother on the balcony of a nearby apartment hanging clothes to dry, and another vendor selling my favorite Iranian street food: steamed beets. When they finally arrive at the bazaar, Samira feels assured that with Mama Shamsi by her side, she is safe to enjoy and explore her new world.
For those seeking an intergenerational, diverse, sweet, and/or humorous story with a touch of social-emotional learning, this picture book ticks off all of the boxes. A recommended read for National Grandparents Day and year-round.
PUBLISHER SUMMARY: A lyrical introduction to the many wonders of the human heart, from award-winning author and practicing doctor, Dr. Rajani LaRocca
In this stunning non-fiction picture book, poetry and science come together with playful cut-paper illustrations to create a moving ode to the human heart and all that it does. Complete with illustrative diagrams and copious backmatter, this is a one-of-a-kind non-fiction picture book that gently guides readers through the various systems make up our most vital organ.
Darshana Khiani: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is amazing in how it takes a complex organ and breaks it down into chunks. What inspired you to write about the heart?
Rajani LaRocca: Ever since medical school, when I learned about the heart and how it works, I’ve been fascinated by this most vital organ. I wrote a first draft of this book way back in 2013 (!), and it was called “The Hardest Working Muscle.” It was written in prose and was over 800 words long. But it didn’t have a unifying theme or a hook.
I worked on this book on and off (mainly off) for years, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Then one day in 2018, I had a breakthrough: I discovered the theme I wanted to carry through the book. I realized I wanted to write about contrasting characteristics of the heart! Then I immediately decided to write about these characteristics in poetry—with several sets of paired poems. This made sense because to me, the beauty of poetry reflects the beauty of the human body.
DK: Well, you are one of the hardest-working writers I know. You do an amazing job at getting the main ideas across without getting bogged down in details. How did you master that balance? Also, the nerd in me wants to know why larger organisms have slower heart rates. I was surprised to learn that a mouse’s heart beats 310-840 beats/min while an elephant is only 30!
RL: I tried to focus on keeping the poetry simple enough for young kids to understand, yet interesting enough to capture their attention. There are plenty of facts that I reserved for the back matter so that the poetry could shine.
In terms of the answer to your question, are you ready to nerd out a bit? Smaller animals have higher surface area to volume ratio than larger ones. Because of this, smaller animals (especially warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds) lose heat much more quickly than their larger counterparts. So their hearts (which are smaller, too) need to beat faster to circulate more blood to offset the heat loss and maintain their body temperatures.
DK: Wow! Thank you for geeking out with me. Surface area … never would’ve guessed that. The book is divided into 15 poems, 7 pairs of antonym poems (yup, I made that up), and then a final stand-alone one. It is a unique structure, one I can’t say I’ve seen before. At what point in the writing process did you decide to organize the poems in this way?
RL: I designed those first 14 poems as “antonyms” or paired poems from the moment of that epiphany in 2018! When the book got acquired and my editor contacted illustrator Lauren Paige Conrad, Lauren came back with the incredible idea of using shades of different colors for each pair of poems. For example, “Singular” and “Cooperative” are in shades of red; “Simple” and “Complex” are in shades of orange; “Energetic” and “Relaxed” are in shades of yellow, and so on, resulting in a rainbow of colors! The back matter is also “color coded” to link back to the appropriate pages! Lauren works in cut paper collage, and it blows my mind how beautifully and precisely she depicted so many aspects of the heart with her art.
There are two poems at the end, and the very last poem brings everything together by restating the contrasting characteristics of the heart and noting that kids share the same characteristics themselves!
DK: I must admit the last poem took me by surprise since it is so matter-of-fact. I could almost hear the EKG flatline as I read the last words. Did you always know you wanted to end the story with this poem?
RL: Years ago, when I was at a writing retreat, I shared this manuscript with renowned nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge. She loved it and advised me that I absolutely needed to include what happens when the heart stops beating. She said that death is something that children are curious about, and that by including it in a nonfiction book about the heart, I could demystify it and put it in perspective for kids from a scientific point of view. It took me a while to figure out how to write that poem; Lauren Paige Conrad’s illustration on that spread is absolutely perfect.
DK: Smart suggestion, and you presented it in such a matter-of-fact way. You’ve authored two novels-in-verse, MIRROR-TO-MIRROR and RED, WHITE, and WHOLE, and a rhyming non-fiction picture book, The SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU. Do you have any tips for writers who want to write lyrically?
RL: My first tip would be to understand what you want to say—for novels in verse, that means knowing at the very least the broad outlines of the plot and emotional arcs. And for nonfiction, that means compiling all the information you want to convey.
Next, I recommend getting in a “poetic mindset” by going out into nature, reading poetry, and/or listening to music.
And then you should just try writing the poems! Don’t worry too much about whether they’re any good.
When it’s time to edit: avoid cliches, use powerful words, condense and eliminate as much as possible, and endeavor to convey your message in a fresh or different way. I always read my poetry aloud in revision, because sometimes our ears are better than our eyes at noting when something isn’t quite right.
DK: What’s up next for you?
RL: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is my fourth out of six books releasing this year!
Next up is THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS, an epistolary novel that I co-wrote with my friend Chris Baron. It’s about Tripti and Sam, two kids who meet at summer camp and find some unusual silvery rocks, which they each take home to California and Massachusetts. Then they start communicating via letter, email, texts, and video chats, because strange things keep happening, and they begin to wonder whether the rocks are more than just rocks. THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS releases on August 29!
My picture book MASALA CHAI, FAST AND SLOW, beautifully illustrated by Neha Rawat, releases on September 5. This is a story about a boy who likes to go fast and his grandfather, who likes to take things slow. Every day, they make masala chai together. One day, the grandfather sprains his ankle and can’t make masala chai, and the grandson decides to make some to cheer up his beloved grandfather . . . and hilarity ensues. This story is about learning to slow down and enjoy moments with those we love.
And next year on March 12 comes the release of my first middle grade fantasy, SONA AND THE GOLDEN BEASTS! Set in an Indian-inspired fantasy world, this story involves music and magic, and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history. I can’t wait to share it with the world!
DK: Yay for more books! We’ll be keeping a look out for them.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.
Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.
Long before there was email, there was V-mail. Short for “Victory mail” it was a system used during World War II as a way to save space for delivering other items, such as military supplies and equipment. This is just one of the many fascinating bits of information presented inLinda Barrett Osborne’slatest offering,Who’s Got Mail?: The History of Mail in America.
Divided into ten chapters, the pages are cleverly designed to look like stamps themselves, with perforated borders. With photographs punctuating almost every page, it is very easy for middle-grade readers to remain interested in this nonfiction book and want to learn about the history of America and its postal service.
Although there is much to praise the USPS for throughout its long history, the author herself is to be praised for not shying away from addressing their treatment of African Americans and women, who each have a chapter dedicated just to them. Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans are grouped together in their own chapter as well, depicting clearly the discrimination that these minorities faced within the hierarchy of employment.
But it is not just the large issues that are written up so vividly. The small details are just as noteworthy. For example, this Canadian reviewer was truly surprised to learn that mail is delivered six times a week in America (as opposed to five times a week in Canada.)
Back matter includes a timeline beginning in 1753 with the British government appointing Benjamin Franklin as the deputy postmaster general of its colonies, to the present day, with the delivery of free in-home COVID-19 tests, and the signing of the Postal Service Reform Act into law by President Joe Biden thereby canceling USPS’s large debt.
In keeping with the subject matter of the book, both the jacket and the front and back covers are decorated with a variety of images of stamps courtesy of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution’s, 4000+ collection adding much information and interest. One celebrates abolitionist Harriet Tubman; another pays tribute to the Pony Express, which lasted for nineteen months beginning in 1860, using relays of riders on horses to deliver the mail.
A selected bibliography and index round out this must-read for both young (and old) history buffs who want to read about a unique and captivating subject.
Based on a story from the early 1900s by I. L. Peretz, this thought-provoking Jewish folktale presents the story of Tuvia, a poor hard-working man, living in a ramshackle hut with his children and wife Sorka
when a magical older man offers him a fortune for seven years. How can he pass that
This terrific retelling of Seven Good Years A Yiddish Folktale, written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa and seamlessly translated by Ilana Kurshan, asks the question – If you were offered a life of wealth for seven years, no less and no more, would you start those years now, wait, or do something unexpected? This is the dilemma our main character must decide.
Using mostly primary colors, Eloa’s loosely drawn images depict Tuvia dressed with a rope around his waist because he can’t afford a belt, carrying heavy loads in his job as a porter. He does what he can to put food on his family’s plates and educate his children. But when the marketplace empties out, and the merchants pack up their wares and close shop, Tuvia asks himself “What will I do now?” The simple yet expressive illustrations depict a small village in Poland with goats and horses where people live hand to mouth yet seem content with their lot in life.
When an unusual older man arrives dressed in bright green, Tuvia’s goat nibbles on the man’s blue feathered hat. Meanwhile, Tuvia appears startled and wonders if the man needs help with something. Instead, he has an offer for Tuvia. “Seven good years in which you won’t need to work carrying heavy loads on your back. Seven years in which you’ll be able to buy everything in this market!”
So how does Tuvia respond? (I’m glad you asked!). Tuvia is in shock, unsure how to respond. “What will happen at the end of the seven years?” Tuvia asks. “You’ll go back to being a porter!” he is told. Tuvia asks if he can go home and discuss it with his wife Sorka. “Go home and ask her. I’ll wait here.”
“So what do you say?” Tuvia asks Sorka. And what does Sorka reply? (I’m glad you asked!) Smith inserts the phrase ‘I’m glad you asked’ throughout adding fun repetition to this uplifting tale. Tuvia is concerned about what will happen when they get old and the seven years of gold runs out. Sorka is concerned about feeding the children and paying their teacher. “Go back to the man and tell him that your Sorka says—let the seven good years begin right now!”
The magical man is shown with a large smile on his face telling Tuvia to go home to his wife and fortune. Arriving at home, Tuvia finds his joyous children behind his ramshackle hut, along with his delighted wife, their skinny goat and … a pile of gold!
Seven years go by and the benevolent old man returns. Tuvia brings him to his home to tell Sorka that the seven good years are over only for the older man to discover the family still lives in the ramshackle hut and are dressed in the same tattered clothes! The mysterious man feels sorry for the family but the family says no need to feel sorry. It’s clear they are very happy.
It turns out the family only took the money they needed to educate their children and now
that the children are finished with school, Tuvia tells the older man to give the gold to a needy
family. And what happens after that? (I’m glad you asked!) The next morning Sorka and Tuvia
find a great big pile of gold in their yard! And so begins another seven years of good fortune.
The interesting back matter tells about Peretz, a prolific author of stories, folktales, plays, and essays in both
Yiddish and Hebrew. It also explains how Seven Good Years reflects Peretz’s appreciation for the simple piety of Eastern European Jews. The book’s message, influenced by what ancient Jewish rabbis teach, beautifully conveys what having riches actually is. “Who is wealthy? One who is content with what they have.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1) This hopeful folktale has been around for over a hundred years and still resonates today. What a meaningful read for Jewish Heritage Month and for parents to teach children that happiness is not dependent on fortune.
Follow the book’s link here to request an activity guide.
Wombats might be pretty weird, but they’re pretty awesome, too! Wombats Are Pretty Weird is funny, kid-friendly, and informative, and features sidebars, comic panels, extensive backmatter, and a map. Acclaimed author-illustrator Abi Cushman’s nonfiction debut contains everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about wombats!
Vicky Fang: Abi, WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is such a funny and informative book! I love how you use humorous dialog and illustrations to introduce so much fascinating information about wombats! How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Abi Cushman:Thank you, Vicky! I’ve been obsessed with wombats ever since I studied abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2001. I learned on a guided hike that wombats are the only animals in the world that have cube-shaped poop. This very odd tidbit of information along with the fact that wombats are adorable quickly made them one of my favorite animals.
But it didn’t occur to me to write about them in a book until 2018 after I’d written several other fiction picture books. I was thinking about the cube poop fact, and I thought it would be funny to make a little comic where a wombat makes a tower out of its cubes of poop (similar to how a kid would make a tower out of blocks) and then is just really proud of how tall it was. I wasn’t sure at that point if there was enough there for a book, so I did more research, gathered more weird facts about wombats, and gained momentum.
VF:I love that scene in the book with the cube poop tower! Hilarious. Could you tell us about your process in writing this book?
AC:I started with a lot of research about wombats. I listened to podcasts, watched videos, and read everything I could about them. Then I compiled the weirdest, most interesting facts. The next step was to see if I could make a joke about each fact. I have pages and pages in my sketchbook of facts plus doodles. I tried to come up with as many jokes as possible, and then and then really hone in on the funniest dialogue, facial expressions, and scenes.
Once I was satisfied with the jokes, I worked on putting them together in a dummy (a rough mockup of the book) in a way that made sense and that would also build to a final scene with all the wombats together.
VF:I love the addition of the snake adding color and commentary throughout the book. What made you decide to include the snake in a book about wombats?
AC: Adding the snake was a way for me to put a stand-in for the audience in the book. He could react and make comments that the reader was thinking when learning about these very weird animals. And this animal character had to be something other than a wombat. After all, the wombats wouldn’t consider themselves weird at all. In their world, it’s strange when poop is round. I chose a snake specifically because I wanted an animal that could technically live in the same area as a wombat, but was vastly different from them.
VF:Your illustrations do such a wonderful job of balancing humor and information. You’ve written funny books before (SOAKED! and ANIMALS GO VROOM! are so good!), but what was it like writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time?
AC: Writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time was a wonderful challenge. For this book, which includes factual information but also talking animals and other silly stuff, it was very important to me that kids didn’t think the facts were made up. One of the things I was very careful about was to ensure the narration was factual and accurate, and then have the wombats and snake react to those facts in the illustrations and speech bubbles. That way there was a clear separation.
For research, I consulted science journals and talked to wombat experts to verify and ensure the way I phrased things was correct. It was pretty wild to me that my work entailed being knee-deep in these dense scientific papers, trying to distill the information and make sense of them, and then using that to make the best poop joke I could.
For the illustrations, I wanted them to be very accessible and fun, but I also wanted them to show a decent resemblance to actual wombats and to clearly convey scientific information where appropriate. So I used a lot of references. I looked at photos of wombats’ feet, watched videos of them moving, and really studied the differences between three species. Then I drew them using hair dryers and wearing party hats.
VF:Can you talk about how you approach humor? Do you have any tips for writers who want to write funny books?
AC:The books I find funniest always contain a bit of absurdity. So that’s something I like to play with a lot in my books. For this book with weird animal facts, it was a chance to push the absurdity in the actual facts to a higher level.
For example, one of the facts in the book is that there are three species of wombats: the southern hairy-nosed wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and the bare-nosed wombat. And I just thought the names were pretty silly. So I wanted to play with that idea of hairy (or unhairy) noses and push it further into absurdity by having two of them talk about nose hair styling to the annoyance of the bare-nosed wombat.
I think with humor, you have to let yourself be pretty vulnerable. I put everything I think is funny into a story and then show it to people with the full knowledge that a lot of the jokes will absolutely not land. But I have NO IDEA which ones those are. The trick is to put the weirdest, totally out-there jokes into your story and then see how many you can get away with.
VF: That’s such great advice, and it has clearly paid off for you. What do you hope young readers take away from this book?
AC: I hope this book will get kids excited about wombats and animals in general. There is so much in the natural world that is bizarre and captivating. Kids have a natural curiosity so I think it’s our job as authors to foster and encourage it. I also hope kids come away with the idea that being weird is a good thing. It’s what makes all of us special and unique. And finally, I just hope kids laugh and find this enjoyable to read.
VF:I love that. I feel like you’ve definitely accomplished those goals with this book and kids are going to love it. So what’s next for you?
AC: I am currently polishing up the next book in the “[Not So] Serious Guide” series. This follow-up to WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is all about the very strange, very tough FLAMINGO! And I’m happy to report that Joey the snake is back to experience it all with the reader. This book is scheduled to release in the summer of 2024.
I also recently finished illustrating a wonderfully clever book written by Charlotte Offsay called THE QUIET FOREST. This book will be released in March 2024 from Paula Wiseman Books. It’s about a very mischievous mouse who starts a chain of chaos in a formerly quiet forest, and it involves a lot of very disgruntled forest animals. It’s a ton of fun, and I’m really excited about it. This was the first time I illustrated a book I didn’t write, and it was fun to see how Charlotte’s words and my pictures came together.
VF:Those both sound fantastic! I look forward to seeing them next year. Thank you so much for sharing your journey for WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD with us. I’ve learned so much from chatting with you and from getting a peek at this hilarious book!
AC: Thanks so much for the interview, Vicky! This was fun. And I’m looking forward to chatting with you again later this summer about your upcoming book, THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU!
VF:Looking forward to it too! Thank you again for sharing your insights with us today, Abi!
Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of SOAKED! (Viking, 2020), ANIMALS GO VROOM! (Viking, 2021) and WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD (Greenwillow, 2023).
She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit, a pet rabbit care site, and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a “Great Website for Kids” by the American Library Association. Did you know that wombat poop is cube-shaped? You do now! (And no, you’ll never un-know that.)
Abi lives in a small Connecticut beach town with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.)
She is represented by BookStop Literary Agency and is a proud member of the Soaring 20s, a group of picture book authors and illustrators who debuted in 2020/21.
Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.
Kids will learn what an important role the AIPDA community has played in our country’s history and continues to play today in America after reading A is for Asian American written by Virginia Loh-Hagan and illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop. Also referred to as AAPI, APIDA Heritage Month was created to include Desi (South Asian) with both serving to honor and celebrate the contributions, culture, experiences, and traditions of the over “24 million people in the United States who fall under the umbrella of AAPI.”
This nonfiction picture book begins with a helpful time line of “Little-Known Milestones” and in 40 pages presents readers with an engaging format. It introduces a rhyme for each alphabet letter, appealing to the youngest of the target age range. “J is for Japanese Anime. There are all kinds of anime,/which started in Japan./All around the world,/you’ll find anime fans.” Alongside the expressive art and poem is an expository description of the topic, in this instance, anime. Since my whole family enjoys anime, I loved reading about its origins in the 1960s and how mainstream it’s become in America.
Some alphabet letters fill an entire spread (M is for Movements where social change is discussed; W is for Writers highlighting contributions made to all forms of literature and journalism), while others are divided (see art above for letters F and G). The S page focuses on Saturday schools where weekend classes offer “language classes and classes covering topics such as dance, music, art, crafts, and other cultural activities,” in order to connect children with the country of their heritage.
In addition to homing in on a variety of interesting subjects—Boba (Bubble) Tea and Korean Wave should resonate with a lot of young readers—A is for Asian American highlights accomplishments by APIDAs from the first Asian American woman to earn her pilot’s license in 1932 to the first Asian American to walk in space in 1985. The letter X details how Bruce Lee was a pioneer in promoting his mixed martial arts skills in films helping other martial arts grow in popularity. What a surprise to learn that President Theodore Roosevelt became America’s first brown belt taught by Japan’s judo master Yamashita Yoshitsugu!
And no book about Asian Americans would be complete without calling attention to the Chinese immigrants who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad under often harsh conditions yet ultimately refused citizenship; nor those of Japanese ancestry, about 120,000, who were unjustly sent to incarceration camps after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. Loh-Hagan’s writing is straightforward but topics are shared sensitively and are age appropriate.
At the start, an author’s note from Loh-Hagan states her goal of raising awareness of Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans. She also mentions the sad and alarming increase in anti-Asian hate since the pandemic and stresses the need to “learn more so we can do more.” Back matter features “definitions and words, and listing of important holidays with corresponding activities.” I hope this book helps children appreciate the myriad ways in which Asian Americans contribute to our country and make it a better place. Reading A is for Asian American provides kids with an important introduction to all aspects of Asian American life past and present and will no doubt prompt them to delve further into specific subjects. When teaching diversity-centered and cultural awareness curricula, teachers and librarians would benefit from all the information shared in this picture book as well.
This 18-page rhyming board book lovingly portrays moms as positive role models for little ones. Maass and Trukhan hooked me with an illustration that shows a mom typing on her laptop beside Baby accompanied by this text, “Some moms use their imaginations to become writers, …” Alongside that one, the sentence ends “while others use their courage to become firefighters,” depicting a mom extinguishing a building on fire. Kids will see moms as architects, pilots, athletes, actors, newscasters, and working behind the scenes (in this case behind a camera). The scenes with mom as a homemaker show how busy she is looking after her home and family. Moms also teach, build, nurse, and farm. In fact, children will see there’s actually nothing moms cannot do, which in turn applies to their children when they grow up. An inspiring message to share this Mother’s Day! There’s a place to write in a dedication in the front making this a sweet gift a child can offer to their mom or vice versa!
The colors Trukhan uses in Moms Can Do It All! are bold, bright, and energetic. Her characters, not outlined, are composed of simple shapes that will appeal to the young audience. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
I never tire of lift-the-flap books and I’m sure it’s the same for your kids. Are You My Mommy? is a sturdy 10-page board book that takes place on a farm. The bucolic setting is a perfect backdrop for Calf’s journey to find his mother.
A nice feature is that as Calf approaches each animal asking if they’re his mommy, the response includes the sound the animal makes. For example “Are you my mommy?” he asks Hen. Then, lift Hen’s flap to read “No my babies are chicks,” Hen clucks. “Ask Cat.” Here toddlers are also introduced to the various names of animal babies such as chicks, kittens, lambs, puppies, ducklings, foals, and piglets in the artwork under the flap. It ends with six flaps under which are the sounds made by that particular animal. Readers will also find vocabulary words to match the art in the final spread such as sun, house, tractor, bush, and sunflower. If you’re looking for an adorably illustrated interactive book for Mother’s Day that includes an educational element to it, check this one out. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
From the Publisher: “In comics-style panels full of facts and humor, this lively picture book investigates the amazing lengths animal mothers go to in caring for their young.”
Authors Heather Lang and Jamie Harper tap into kids’ fascination with superheroes to share fun (and funny) facts about animal mothers in this first installment of their new Animal Heroes series from Candlewick.
Whether Mom is building a home underground to keep her young safe from predators [groundhogs] or separating her young to keep them safe from each other [strawberry poison frog], kids will find plenty to giggle at in Supermoms!
The classic cartoon-style art in comic-book panels (complete with speech bubbles) pairs perfectly with expository nonfiction text to add humor and instant kid appeal. And maybe…just maybe…inspire young readers to think about all the amazing qualities and sacrifices their own caregivers provide to protect and provide for them as they grow.
Supermoms! would make a great pick for the budding (or reluctant) naturalist, and would be a fun read-aloud for Mother’s Day. I can see it being used in the classroom to discuss the differences between fiction and nonfiction text, and explore dialog and characterization. Its unique backmatter highlights all the “super” characteristics moms have [“super protective,” “super caring,” “super devoted”] and would be an excellent mentor for building students’ adjective vocabulary. • Reviewed and recommended by Roxanne Troup
This is an extra special Mother’s Day for debut author, and busy stay-at-home mom, Monique James-Duncan who has brought to life the love and caring involved in working from home in Mommy Time, an enduring and timeless picture book showing the love between a mom and her two young children.
It’s not an easy job being a stay-at-home mom (trust me I was one) and they often go underappreciated. James-Duncan takes the reader through a typical day in a mother’s life from waking up her daughter, who is snuggled in bed with her sweet white cat, and getting her ready before sending her off to school time. But special Mommy time continues for her baby boy who she brings to a parent class with other devoted moms and dads.
Ebony Glenn’s endearing digital art depicts a diverse group of parents shown in soft greens, yellows, and blue tones. Her art of modern-day parents doing life, with smiles on their faces, reinforces that it’s not just the moms who stay home with their young kids. A dad with a dark beard is swinging his daughter at the playground, and another bald dad participates in the singing class.
The rhythmic prose adds a fun page-turning quality to this story as “She hurries with the cleanup time. Me? Help? It’s so exhausting time! Sweeping time, laundry time. It’s stinky diaper changing time.”
The busy day continues when sister is picked up from school and Mommy takes her for library time, playdate time, and on this particular day dentist time. I’m exhausted just reading about her day. Throughout the book, Glenn uses spot art to convey a variety of activities to move the story forward. Then she paints Mommy cuddling baby brother in her arms, while sister lays with mouth wide open in the dentist’s chair. When Daddy returns home it’s evening time and dinner time, and Mommy helps with homework time. But the kids’ favorite time is when sister tells Mommy about her day snuggled on her lap for story time. “Love in her eyes, care in her smiles. Tender, precious moments time.”
This book reminded me of all those meaningful moments spent with my kids when they were that age. This timeless story is a wonderful bedtime read for stay-at-home moms as well as for moms and dads who work outside the home. And a big shout-out to James-Duncan, who found time to write her first book when not cooking, cleaning, or grocery shopping for her children. Bravo to all the hardworking moms. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
I wanted to include a grandmother book on Mother’s Day to extol their importance since many are raising their grandchildren or acting as caregivers and making a huge difference in kids’ lives. What I love about Together With You is what a super job it does of getting into a little boy’s head as he describes the special time spent with his grandmother.
In this well-crafted rhyming picture book, Toht conveys the story via seasons spent together, making it feel like four lovely poems. It begins with spring as showers rain down while Grandma and Grandson “dash through the drops, side by side” as seen on the cover. Jarvis’s illustrations, though created digitally with hand lettering, have a watercolor-mixed-with-pastels look where colors blend into each other. They switch from the darker, more muted shades of spring to the golden yellows of summer. When the little boy says he’s drippy with sweat, I could feel the change in temperature. When autumn rolls in, the palette becomes more golden with burnt oranges and colors that blend beautifully on the page. The wind pushes again the grandmother and her grandchild as they fly a kite and try to keep their balance. The winter scenes of this adoring pair, whether cozy in jammies or watching snowflakes fall, will warm your heart. I recommend this touching story to share on Mother’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, or for that matter any day you want to celebrate the special bond between a grandparent and grandchild.
Binney’s appealing artwork transported me to a pecan orchard for the first time where the action unfolds as a little girl spends time with her grandfather and narrates, “My grandpa planted a tree for me on the day I was born.” She also tells us that, despite having an orchard full of pecan trees, Grandpa’s favorite tree is that particular one, thus establishing the strong bond these two characters share.
Through changing seasons starting in winter when it’s pruning time, and the annual growth cycle of the orchard, we learn how pecans mature and are harvested. At the same time, the special relationship between the child and her grandpa exudes from the warm, muted illustrations coupled with Trout’s lyrical prose. I especially felt that each time I read the lovely repeating phrase “But not my tree.” In spread after spread the young girl describes how the other pecan trees are treated en masse as part of the commercial harvesting process, while hers receives individualized care from her grandpa. Together the two tend to her tree with love and respect which also serves as a metaphor for their relationship.
At last, when the husks open, it’s harvest time. The joy is palpable on the page. Then “Grandpa attaches a padded arm to his tractor. It hugs the trees’ trunks and shakes until leaves and twigs and pecans rain down.” When it’s her turn and with Grandpa there to savor the experience, the girl uses a long pole to make the pecans drop. The orchard’s pecans will be collected by the harvester for sale but the girl’s pecans will be baked into a scrumptious pecan pie. And, not to spoil the beautiful ending, suffice it to say that Troup and Mother Nature’s miraculous cycle of growth delivers a delightful and very satisfying dénouement in this touching layered tale.
Troup, who is not a newcomer to writing, knows how to tell an engaging and tender story while infusing interesting information into it, clearly owing to her extensive nonfiction background. The pacing of My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me moves forward easily like the seasons in the orchard. There’s a soothing rhythm to the language that makes the book an ideal read any time of the day, including bedtime. Did you know that pecans are considered a native nut to North America? Find an All About Pecans note detailing the history of the commercial pecan industry along with a helpful glossary in the back matter.
There are so many terrific books out there and so little time to review them all that occasionally it’s “better late than never” when I share an older book that still merits my attention. Such is the case with What Do You See?: A Conversation in Pictures written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg with photographs by Jamie LeeCurtis. How late is this? Well, Saltzberg’s had another book released since I received this one, and Curtis has won her first Academy Award meaning I couldn’t let another week go by without sharing my thoughts on why this picture book appealed to me.
I love picture books that spark children’s creativity. Even my own. So when I first found out that real-life friends Barney Saltzberg and Jamie Lee Curtis had collaborated on a picture book, I knew I had to read it. What Do You See? has a simple concept which is explained on the first page. It’s also effectively told in the third person which has a tender quality about it, like watching a friendship grow.
“She took photographs of things she loved and sent them to him.”
“He drew pictures on her photographs of things he saw and sent them back.”
The rest is sheer enjoyment. From Jamie Lee’s photo of a friendly seagull, Barney saw a “friendly monster …”
Sometimes they imagined the same thing: a metal coil becoming a snail. Other times they saw things quite differently. That is what makes each page turn a treat. That is what makes friendship, and life so interesting.
Best of all, he loved what she saw and photographed and she loved what he drew. They respected their differences and cherished their similarities. “That’s part of what made them friends.” In addition to the delightful photos of fruit, flowers, vegetables, spaghetti, and a friendly seagull included throughout and at the end to prompt children’s imaginations, there’s also an activity guide that provides inspiring, creative crafts, and guides children on how to look at things in everyday life from an imaginative new angle, or via a new lens so to speak.
I got a kick out of the collaborators depicted as parking meter people on the paste-down page at the end. Find more activities on Barney’s YouTube channel. And Jamie Lee is generously donating all proceeds from the book to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles so I hope you’ll get your copy to enjoy and make a difference. If you need your spirits lifted, look no further than What Do You See?
I’m honored to have been invited to host this NorthSouth Books interview exclusively in the U.S. Elena Rittinghausen, Zurich-based editor of NordSüd Verlag/NorthSouth Books recently spoke with Ishita Jain, debut illustrator of The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh, (on sale April 18 and available for preorder now), and the timing couldn’t be better as we approach Earth Day 2023.
Elena Rittinghausen:What part does nature play in your life? How would you describe your relationship with nature? For you personally, what is the main lesson we can learn from this true story?
Ishita Jain: I consider myself a part of nature, all humans are, even though it’s easy to forget it in our fast-paced lives. I grew up in New Delhi and now live in New York, both of which are big, urban cities, yet I have been fortunate to spend a lot of my childhood and my present days in the midst of greenery.
When I moved to NY, I was often homesick, and trees and parks became a source of comfort to me. I love going on long walks and it is fascinating to watch the seasons turn in my neighborhood. The same tree that is lush green turns to a fiery red in the fall and is then almost unrecognizable in the winter. Watching all these visceral changes in natural things around me has made me far more open to change and evolution within myself.
I am often told that individual acts matter very little when it comes to changing the world- that it all comes down to corporations and government policies. I don’t entirely agree, and this story is a reminder that no matter how small you are, you matter and even if you can’t change the world, you can change your world around you.
ER:You’ve lived in the US for some years now. Did it feel special to go back to illustrating a story set in India?
IJ:It’s interesting, the longer I live in the U.S., my sense of identity of being Indian and thinking of India as my home only grows stronger. So, in some ways, it didn’t matter where I was when I illustrated this book. Though I did illustrate some of the trees for the endpapers while I was in India, and to be drawing a neem tree when there is one right outside your window makes the process so fun!
ER:What was your first thought when you received our e-mail asking if you wanted to illustrate for a Swiss publisher?
IJ:This is my first picture book and when I got the email from you, I thought it was wild that someone was asking me to do this because I have very few drawings of kids, or even people in my portfolio! I am so grateful that you took that chance because I enjoyed the process, and it was a huge learning curve for me.
Funnily, the first time when I traveled outside of India was to Switzerland. I was 10 or 11 and my grandparents took me with them to Lucerne and I have very vivid memories of that trip. I used to spend all the loose change from the day on ice creams and for years, if anyone I knew went to Switzerland, I would jokingly ask them to bring me an ice cream. I was very close to my grandfather and I think he would have been thrilled to know that I got to work with a Swiss publisher!
ER:How did you approach the illustrations? Which technique did you use? Did you look for specific references for your images?
IJ: I love working analog and all the pictures are done in ink and watercolor. For this book, I also did my thumbnails as loose little paintings. It was important for me to get a sense of the color, texture, and mood in the sketch phase to be able to proceed to finals. I also made a tiny dummy to flip through to get a sense of the page turns and the visual pacing of the story.
In some illustrations, all the elements are painted separately and then stitched together digitally. This gives me the flexibility to make changes without having to start from scratch. Other times I just go for it and love embracing the unpredictability that comes with watercolor.
India is huge and very diverse in terms of its people, its culture, and its geographies. I am from Delhi, which is quite far, and different, from Majuli. I did extensive research and referenced movies, news, documentaries, and the work of photographers from Assam and the northeast to make sure that I understood the flora and fauna, the physical features of the locals, their attire, and the visual geography of the region. I also looked for videos about the Brahmaputra floods, time lapses of bamboo growing, and travelers’ videos of Majuli to get a sense of the overall environment.
ER:Would you like to illustrate picture books in the future?
IJ:Without a doubt, yes!
Thank you Elena Rittinghausen and NorthSouth Books for this exciting opportunity to introduce Ishita Jain and her artwork to readers here in the U.S.
Click hereto order a copy ofThe Forest Keepertoday
Click hereto read an interview with The Forest Keeperauthor Rina Singh
Ishita Jain is an illustrator from Delhi, India, though she is now based in New York. She is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, and the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Ishita loves to draw on location and enjoys documenting the people, places, and stories that surround her. Her work is inspired by day-to-day moments and the wonder that comes from being around nature. The Forest Keeper is Ishita’s first picture book. Find her on social media here: @ishitajain24
Vicky Fang: Elisa, HIDDEN HOPE is such an inspiring book. I love that you’re able to share a story that is so historically rich in such a compelling way. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Elisa Boxer: Vicky, thank you so much. Great to be here with you. The idea for this book began when I first saw this photoon Yad Vashem’s website:
Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, and this hollowed-out wooden duck is part of the artifacts collection. When I learned that this duck was made with a secret compartment to hide documents from the Nazis during World War Two, and that the French Resistance worker who used it to smuggle those documents was a teenager, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell.
VF:It’s such a fascinating story! In addition to writing children’s books, you’re also a journalist. How does your background as a journalist affect your work as a children’s book author?
EB: I definitely combine the two on a daily basis. Whether it’s doing research, conducting interviews, writing a narrative, distilling complex issues down to manageable bits of information, or zeroing in on areas of emotional resonance with the audience, the processes with journalism and book writing are very similar. And the result, telling a (hopefully) compelling story with a strong emotional takeaway, is always my goal.
VF: I would say you’d definitely succeeded withHIDDEN HOPE. In the backmatter, you also talk about your personal connection to this topic … could you share a bit about that?
EB: My personal connection is two-fold: Both sides of my family are of Eastern European descent, and relatives on each side were killed during the Holocaust. As both a journalist and an author, I definitely feel compelled to help shine a light on these atrocities. But also, growing up, I often felt like I had to hide my Jewish voice because my childhood was filled with so many personal and hurtful incidents of Antisemitism. I wasn’t strong enough back then to stand up to hate; to expose injustice. So in a way, I suppose I’m making up for lost time. When I first saw that picture of the duck, it struck me that here is this artifact, in an international museum, on display for all to see. And yet it was never supposed to be there, according to Hitler’s plan. If anything, it was supposed to be in his intended “museum of an extinct race.” As were all Jewish artifacts and all Jewish signs of life. So on a personal level, as I mention in my Author’s Note, I want to help bring more and more stories like this out of the darkness and into the light.
VF:Could you talk about your experience in writing this book? Was it hard to spend so much time on such a difficult topic?
EB:It’s so interesting, this question has come up quite a bit. People ask whether it’s been hard to write about such a dark topic. And while there’s no question that this was an unimaginably devastating time in history, the whole point of the Holocaust was to create a master race and erase the Jewish people from the face of the earth. And yet so many of us are here writing about it. We’re bringing these stories to light. We’re the descendants that were never supposed to be here. And not only are we here, we’re raising our voices to tell the stories that the Nazis never wanted told. There is something incredibly uplifting and empowering about that. I never want to stop doing it.
VF:What a wonderful message, thank you. Amy June Bates’ illustrations also do such a good job of highlighting the mood and the action of HIDDEN HOPE and I love that there’s an Artist’s Note in the end from her. What did you think when you first saw her illustrations?
EB:Oh I love Amy’s Artist’s Note too! And exactly about highlighting the mood and the action. I have been researching the French Resistance for years, and have so many images in my mind. But Amy has an incredibly unique gift for creating old-world style art that takes you back and makes you feel like you’re right there, in the middle of it all, riding along with Judith and the duck on the streets of Paris. I was in awe of her work from the time I first saw her preliminary sketches. Her art is so authentic that it makes the whole book feel like an artifact in itself. One of the most powerful details to me is the contrast of vibrant, saturated color from Judith’s beret with the more muted, cloudy, shadowy watercolor illustrations that so perfectly capture the somber feel of what was happening. A recent Booklist review highlighted one of my favorite spreads: “One particularly haunting spread casts the reader’s gaze through a jagged, broken windowpane to bear witness to soldiers’ cruelties.” I mean, the art on every page is extraordinary, but that scene really stands out.
VF:What do you hope young readers take away from this story?
EB: Initially, I wanted to tell this story because it’s so full of hope and intrigue and I wanted young readers to find inspiration in this little-known hero who was filled with determination in such a dark time. And I wanted this book to take its place alongside others that are opening up wider conversations about Antisemitism. But as I began really feeling into the deeper layers, which for me comes during the writing process, I began to realize that this is, ultimately, a story about the importance of never having to hide the truth of who you are. Although certainly nothing can be directly compared to the horrors of the Holocaust, I do think many of us have aspects of ourselves that maybe we feel unsafe showing to the world. I actually found myself asking some uncomfortable questions, like: “Where and with whom do I feel like I have to hide the full truth of who I am?” These aren’t always conscious questions. But I do hope one of the takeaways for young readers (and older ones too) is deciding to show up in any given situation as the most authentic version of who they are. Not hiding. Bringing their fullest selves into the world.
EB: With nonfiction picture books, I’m looking for that “YES!” in my gut that keeps drawing me back to the topic. I’m initially looking for inspirational people, places, or events that I find intriguing enough to spark my curiosity and make me want to dig deeper. And then there has to be something more. For example, with SPLASH! Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change, it was impressive that Ethelda was the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. But when I learned that she used swimming to help heal from polio, and that she got arrested for standing up to sexist laws that said all women had to swim with socks, I knew this story had the potential to inspire young readers to break barriers in their own lives.
With COVERED IN COLOR: Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s Fabrics of Freedom, I knew that Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a dynamic duo who created massive displays of public art like wrapped buildings and islands. But when I researched more about Christo’s background, I learned he grew up under Nazi rule and then under Communism. This fascinated me, how someone whose childhood was filled with so much suppression could dream up and generate these wild, large-scale, outside-the-box creations. And so this became a story about courage, and pushing the limits of what appears to be possible, and creativity that refuses to be contained. So with each topic, in order to pursue it as a book, there has to be the potential for a strong inspirational theme and emotional takeaway.
VF:So what’s next for you?
EB:Right now I’m looking forward to this book launching into the world on March 14th! I’m so happy to have heard from teachers around the country who will be incorporating it into their Holocaust education curriculum, and am looking forward to virtual author visits to support that.
Next year, I have four more books on the way: DEAR YOUNGER ME: What 35 Trailblazing Women Wish They’d Known as Girls (Rowman & Littlefield), THE TREE OF LIFE: How a Holocaust Sapling Inspired the World (illustrated by Alianna Rozentsveig, published by Penguin/Rocky Pond Books), BEAM OF LIGHT: The Story of the First White House Menorah (illustrated by Sophia Moore, published by Penguin/Rocky Pond Books) and one that hasn’t been announced yet. 2024 is going to be a busy year! Meanwhile, I’m working on more picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel and a middle-grade collective biography that I’m really excited about.
EB: Thank you so much for this interview, Vicky. And to Ronna, for hosting us. And to everyone who supports our books!
VF:Thank you, Elisa, for sharing your personal story behind this beautiful book, HIDDEN HOPE: HOW A TOY AND A HERO SAVED LIVES DURING THE HOLOCAUST. It’s been an inspiring conversation!
Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including TheNew York Times and Fast Company. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books including The Voice That Won the Vote, A Seat at the Table, One Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), Covered in Color (called “compelling from cover to cover” in a Kirkus starred review) and Hidden Hope (called “an important true account to add to all collections” in a School Library Journal starred review). Elisa lives in Maine, and has more children’s books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com/
Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You! You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.