Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 30, 2020

How to Write Funny by Mira Reisberg

Are you already funny or have always wanted to write funny, over here at the Children’s Book Academy, we truly believe the expression that laughter is the best medicine and know from research that the #1 thing guaranteed to get and keep kids reading is humor!!! And that’s why we created our awesome Picture Book Palooza Panel: How to Write Funny for Kids is focused on being funny, using jokes or wordplay, and infusing humor Into serious plots. It’s jam-packed with tips and tricks for weaving in just the right amount of laughter into your children’s books.

Humor in picture books can run the gamut from over-the-top wackiness, wordplay, malapropisms, outrageousness, irony, misunderstandings, potty humor, and much more. Humor can be part of the characters, the setting, the plot, or anything else in your story. Sometimes, especially for younger readers, the illustrations convey much of the humor, but other times and in older readers the words need to be the funny bits.

Who doesn’t like to hear a kid laugh? A daily dose of laughter from reading funny books is good for the soul and we can use this interest in silly books to help kids fall in love with books and reading. Something like the potty humor in Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey or the snark of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney has the potential to hook kids into waiting to read the whole series. If kids are laughing, enjoying the book and all the silly happenings and characters, chances are they’re going to want to finish the book and read another in the series.

Humor can also help children deal with tough situations. It helps break the tension and creates dialogue to tackle the problem. Laughter is also a bonding activity and can emerge from funny books where characters grapple with the same tough topics the reader is facing. Those life events and curveballs might include divorce, death, or peer issues.

Shannon Stocker is an award-winning author and proud word nerd who loves all letters equally. She lives with her husband, Greg, and her children, Cassidy and Tye, in Louisville, KY, where she molds the alphabet into picture books and songs all day. Shannon currently serves as SCBWI social co-director for Louisville, a judge for Rate Your Story, and created the blog series, Pivotal Moments: inHERview, highlighting transitional life stories of female picture book authors. She can also be found tweeting positive quotes, mantras, and adorable animal pics @iwriteforkidz.

In Shannon’s punny book Can U Save the Day?, the letters of the alphabet are at odds with one another.  B and the rest of the consonants on this alphabet farm bully the vowels about their meager numbers, and soon the vowels leave the alphabet. As they do, the consonants begin to realize just how important vowels really are. How will the birds tweet without E? Or the cow moo without O? But when real disaster starts closing in and words of warning stall, can U save the day and set the warring alphabet right again? Shannon will be teaching attendees about: Words, Sounds, and Combinations That Make Kids Laugh

Jen Buchet spent 15 years in the advertising field but doesn’t really enjoy marketing herself. Here are 5 Fun Facts about her, in no particular order: ​1) she loves talking to people & connecting, just not over the phone; 2) Jigs, reels & hornpipes–all the way!; 3) An ancient castle was once her playground; 4) Painting is right up there with ironing for her, unless it’s painting with kiddos; 5) she loves trying out new flavors & cuisines, but she’s not a fan of jellyfish or bleu cheese. And of course, she LOVES writing!

In Jen’s new book, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-lemma, the main character comes from a long line of snake-loving, serpentine-wearing Gorgons. When she receives her very first snake, Little Medusa discovers that having a snake slither and slide through her hair isn’t so great after all. And to make matters more difficult, she begins questioning if she really wants to scare her friends into stone with her new forever friend. Using her imagination and heart, Little Medusa tries her best to please her family, her best-pet snake, and herself. Jen will be inspiring you with her talk on Mythology through humor

As soon as Maggie Lauren Brown could talk, she began telling stories. She “wrote” her first story at age 2, dictating it to her mom, complete with a (pretty exciting!) plot line. These days, she aims to spark little imaginations with a sense of wonder and delight through picture books and middle grade novels. After studying Creative Writing and Political Science at The University of Minnesota, she logically chose beluga whales as coworkers and became a professional synchronized swimmer. She performed for 10 years in cirque shows—Le Reve at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas and Azul at SeaWorld in San Antonio—and worked as a mermaid-for-hire. From there, she began teaching high school English and elementary Language Arts, and she credits her students for teaching her exactly what makes kids fall in love with books. Her current starring role of “Mama” is perhaps the most important of all. You can find her telling stories to her son, husband, and hairless cat in The Woodlands, Texas.

Maggie got the idea for Joy the Pandacorn after a stranger stopped her and her son in the street, saying, “Oh my goodness, he’s so cute! What is he?” She wishes this was a question he would never hear again, but because others view him as “racially ambiguous,” he likely will. So Maggie wanted to write a story to show kiddos that no matter how they look or act, they are perfect and can fit in just the way they are. To share this message in a fun and light-hearted way, she created the joyful characters of Joy the Pandacorn (panda-unicorn hybrid) and Urkel the Penguitten (penguin-kitten hybrid). Writing funny personal stories as metaphors

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten – illustrated by Anne Kennedy, Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey , The Star of the Christmas Play — illustrated by Lorna Hussey, Moldilocks and the 3 Scares — illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo  and her first non-fiction picture book, Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World — illustrated by Parwinder Singh and more forthcoming.

When she’s not cruising around the world, she lives on a lake in South Florida with her family, a Schipperke named Anakin and several resident water birds.


Forget Goldilocks and the three bears–Lynne’s Moldilocks and the Three Scares is a fun new version of the fairy tale we all know so well. Papa Scare (a monster), Mama Scare (a mummy), and Baby Scare (a vampire) live in a haunted house where they eat finger sandwiches and alpha-bat soup. One night, they go out to walk their dog (a bloodhound, of course) to let their soup cool down. While they’re away, in walks the zombie Moldilocks, looking for food, a chair, and a bed that’s just right. Kids will love this hauntingly funny story with its surprise ending. Lynne’s topic is: Be Funny No Matter What You Write

We also have an awesome Moderator Sue Ganz-Schmitt who will be speaking about Finding Humor in Everything!  Sue is a children’s book author, musical theater producer, SCBWI member, and a philanthropist. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in writing for children and young adults. Sue has performed in Rent on Broadway, run a marathon, and pursues other improbable and exciting challenges—as often as she can.

Her books include That Monster on the Block, and Planet Kindergarten among others. Sue has served as a NASA Social Media correspondent, as a volunteer for The Planetary Society, and as a space advocate representing the Space Exploration Alliance to Congress. She has also written and produced a STEAM video featured by The Planetary Society (The Galaxy Girls Save Pluto). You can often find Sue at her home in the Los Angeles mountains with her eyes to the stars.

And this panel also has a couple of Breakout Party Room Hosts, Jorge and Megan Lacera Artist Jorge Lacera was born in Colombia, and grew up in Miami, Florida drawing in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him. After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist for major gaming studios and entertainment companies. As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and zombie movies, Jorge rarely saw Latinx kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that, especially now that he has a son. Writer ​Megan Lacera grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands.

She became a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies like American Greetings, Hasbro, and Goldieblox and later formed her own creative company where she creates original content and consults on marketing, social media, and strategic direction for start-ups and large corporations. After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that very few books reflected a family like theirs–multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories. This is why they co-created the hilarious Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies to much critical acclaim. Together, with a guest appearance from their son Kai, they’ll be hosting the breakout Party room and presenting on Humor and Diversity in KidLit.           

All these funny creatives will be on hand to share their insights into humor at the 2020 Picture Book Palooza on December 5th & 6th. Come for the laughs and stay for our other incredible six panels.  The modest $20 cost of this kidlit educational extravaganza will go directly to CBA’s scholarship fund, aimed to increase access, equity, and diversity in the world of children’s books writers and illustrators.

All of these presenters are graduates of our Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books course, which is now open for registration with a $100 PBLove discount right here:

And if you’d like to apply for a scholarship for it, here’s the link:

Sending much creative love,


Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 29, 2020

Book Giveaway: H IS FOR HONEY BEE by Robbyn Smith

Robbyn Smith has written a new picture book, H IS FOR HONEY BEE, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen and publish by Sleeping Bear Press. They have agreed to send a copy to the one lucky winner.

All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know other things you do to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Robbyn and Eileen.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


Though small in size at approximately 5/8 of an inch (15 mm), Apis mellifera, otherwise known as the honey bee, is one of the most important insects on the planet. Due to their status as super pollinators, it is estimated that a third of the food we eat each day can be attributed to bee activity. And the delicious honey that our winged friends produce makes its way into numerous food, health, and beauty products. This is one busy bee! But the health and welfare of honey bees are in dire need of our attention and help. Habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change are threatening bee colonies around the world. Helping to better educate readers of all ages, beekeeper and wildlife rehabilitator Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen gives a “behind-the-hive” peek into the world of the honey bee in H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet.


I have been with the Sleeping Bear Press team since 2001. My illustrator husband, Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, has been illustrating children’s books for them from the very beginning of their “kid book journey”.  Their first children’s book, The Legend of Sleeping Bear published in 1998, is still their best seller.  After the success of the Legend series (Mackinac Island, Petoskey Stone, Loon etc), Gijsbert and I approached SBP about a book idea close to our heart; a special great horned owl that we rescued.  After caring for the young owl for 6 months, we released him back into the wild. Several days later he returned and lived with us for the rest of his life, taking up permanent residence around the farm. Adopted by an Owl is the story of that special bond. You can watch Jackson the owl around our farm on the youtube link.    We have since written and illustrated four more in the Hazel Ridge Farm series. They are true stories about wild animals we raised and released back into the wild.

I was one of those kids that was always rescuing and caring for injured creatures, wild or domestic. My parents supported my passion and even said I should make my hobby my career. I had my sights on veterinary medicine and began working for a local vet. I worked weekends during middle school and then nights and weekends during high school. Finally in 1973 I was off to college and the start of the pre-vet program. Long story short, the competition to get into vet school was daunting and my money was running out. I finished college and ended up working as an animal technician in a nearby city.

Looking back, I feel letting go of my dream of becoming a veterinarian was the right choice. Working at an animal hospital as a technician was a very satisfying career. It is where I would meet my husband…and the rest is history. Closing one door always opens up another.

Several years later, at the same animal hospital, a flyer came in the mail about a farm for sale. Gijsbert and I drove to the farm, loved it and eventually bought it. We were actually married on the farm October 1980.

Before we bought Hazel Ridge Farm it was a working farm. Corn, soy and hay fields. Pastures for large herds of sheep. As licensed wildlife rehabilitators we saw the potential for this land to be a safe haven for the animals we cared for and would later release. Over the years we have changed the makeup of the 40 acres. There are about 5 miles of trails weaving through wetlands, woodlands, natural prairies and 5 ponds. Hazel Ridge Farm is now protected by a conservation easement and will always stay in its natural state.

Our family rehabilitated wildlife for 25 years and although we do not do it anymore, we have over 30 journals of those years. It is those journals that have helped me write my Hazel Ridge Series. Our Hazel Ridge series comes from our experiences with these injured animals. However, the memory sometimes needs a little nudge and the journals were instrumental in the nudging.  Our most adamant suggestion for any who wants to be a writer is to keep a journal. It relies on an informal format, very forgiving of any mistakes and no clock to punch. Journal, journal , journal.

Beekeeping is my new passion. I absolutely LOVE it. Anyone who is not a beekeeper may not understand this but tending bees is so relaxing.  I can just zen out while I am working with them. I have been a beekeeper since the spring of 2012. My first year I made every mistake in the book but sometimes mistakes are the best way to learn.  The best thing about beekeeping is there is always something new to learn.

Each colony is different. There are very gentle bees, short tempered bees, unpredictable bees but always, always amazing bees. I work with a veil but no gloves. Like many beekeepers, working slowly, patiently and bare-handed creates a trust and ease with both bees and beekeeper. Clumsy gloves usually means pinched or squashed bees…and then they get angry and remind you to slow down.

I work with my bees and Gijsbert builds all my bee equipment. He is very content with his carpentry contribution to my passion.

When Sleeping Bear press asked that I write a bee alphabet book to add to their Alphabet series I was so excited. As I began writing, I was able to share my personal knowledge as well as a “buzz-zillion” new facts. The only problem I had with writing the book was limiting it to a certain amount of pages. H is for Honey Bee only scratches the surface of the world of the honey bee. During the editing process there was so much cutting to reduce the word count that I give credit to my editor for putting up with my declarations of “but this has to be in!” In the end, I was very happy with what we settled on.

There are so many aspects of beekeeping that I was not able to include so I put together a very informal web page of some other things of interest. Catching swarms, extracting honey, working the bees, teaching, family and bees… and much more.   Enjoy.

You can discover more about our farm, family and other books at

And remember: protect our pollinators by planting bee friendly flowers and trees


Robbyn has dedicated much of her life to caring for animals. As a youngster she brought orphan animals home to mend and, as an adult, folks delivered them to her doorstep. Growing up as the middle child in a household with six sisters, she became the “entertainer.” Her elaborate and theatrical storytelling was her way of standing out in a crowd and finding her own voice.

Painted by Robbyn’s illustrator husband Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Click picture for larger view.

Her parents encouraged her to make her hobby her career, so with that in mind she attended Michigan State University and became an animal technician where she continued to care for animals. She met her illustrator husband Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen at the clinic where she worked. Together they share a mutual love of nature.

Nature journaling is a part of their daily lives and an enjoyable way to document all the special animals that have been a part of their lives. The Hazel Ridge series introduces readers to their farm and their true animal tales.

Today, Robbyn visits schools, zoos and nature centers sharing with children and adults the value of journaling, the joy of storytelling and the importance of protecting our natural world.


Eileen is a freelance artist with a background in Fine Art and Creative Writing. While spending years painting portraits and other oil commissions, Eileen kept thinking about what made her fall in love with art and words in the first place–children’s books. After the birth of her youngest child, she decided to delve headfirst into the art of children’s books, and hasn’t looked back since.

Using traditional mediums such as watercolor, ink, and gouache, Eileen enjoys nothing more than the challenge of making characters and worlds come to life on paper. She has had the recent privilege to work on books that range from whimsical fiction, educational fiction, and historical non-fiction. And somewhere in between, she’s always working on the stories that are floating around in her own head. To date, Eileen has worked on multiple books for Sleeping Bear Press, as well as other commissioned work. Eileen lives and works in Cleveland Heights, OH, with her husband, four young children, and two very old cats.

Robbyn, thank you for sharing your book and journey with us. After reading this book, I realized I knew next to nothing about bees. The whole book is jammed pack with interesting and fun information. I am going to read this book many times, because I want to absorb every detail. I am glad you are out there helping our most important insect. After looking at your website and seeing the gorgeous photos of your farm, I have the feeling that Eileen captured its beauty with her illustrations. It so nice that your husband uses his woodworking skills to build you the boxes you need – so much talent in your family. Good luck with the book.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 28, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Jenin Mohammed

Jenin was born and raised in Miramar, Florida. She comes from African American and Caribbean ancestry. Thanks to her Christian/ Muslim upbringing, she is on a never-ending quest to find halal versions of her favorite southern dishes. Jenin’s interests include creating henna art, freestyle rapping (very badly), and pen-tapping offbeat.


For process-explaining purposes, I will be using the banner I created for the 2021 SCBWI Winter Conference.

When I start a new painting, the first step I take is to thumbnail the composition. This helps me get ideas out quickly. Once I have a composition I like, I’ll expand it to the size of the final painting and start adding details like the character design and background.

Next stage is what I call a color sketch. I take my drawing and make it small again. I decide whether I want the overall scene to be warm or cool, and start glazing in colors, much like how a watercolorist would paint. My brush is almost never at 100% opacity.
Once I’ve created a color sketch that I like, I’ll usually take a snapshot of it so I can use it as reference. With my reference open, and my black and white detailed sketch on at full size, I color in my “flats”, typically starting with the characters’ bodies.Most skin tones have a reddish hue, so most of my character flats will be red, magenta, or orange (basically my base color). However, most humans aren’t flat out red or orange. So, I create a clipping mask to start layering on color. To create a color closer to brown, I’ll glaze the base color’s complement on low opacity. I create an addition clipping mask for shadows and highlights

The process for coloring clothes and environment is basically the same. I’ll create flats for the clothes, then start layering on highlights and shadows.

One technique I use when painting in shadows is making shadow color the temperature complement of the base color. For example, the little boy in the center of the NYC SCBWI banner has a cool green coat. The color of the shadow his kindle light cast on his coat is Indian Red—a warm red (which looks like a rusty brown in the painting, but only because I painted on the red at a very low opacity). The same goes for the father reading to his child. The base color of his coat is a very cool blue (cobalt, as watercolorists would call it). I added shadows and definition to the father’s coat using a French Ultramarine Blue—a warm blue. Cobalt blue and French Ultramarine blue are not “complements” in terms of placements on the color wheel, but they are complements in terms of being cool or warm.

Sometimes, when I’m drawing cheeks, hair, or other appendages like leaves on a tree, I straight up just take my brush and glaze color in one spot. Then I make a mask and carve out the shape I want to make. I like the messy, tissue-paper-like look this creates. Sometimes, I’ll do the reverse: create the shape I want to make with the select tool, then glaze in my color.

If I want to make patterns with repeating shapes, I’ll make the pattern in illustrator. Then I’ll import the pattern into Procreate and paint on top of it, giving the patterns a textured look.

After all the shapes have been painted in, I start adding smaller details like eyes, finger lines, etc—basically anything that needs some definition. But I do this sparingly, as heavy lines would disrupt the visual style.

Interview Questions with Jenin Mohammed

How long have you been illustrating?

I started illustrating professionally this year. Though, I did work as a challenge coin designer for two years. Most of the time I was tracing reference photos with Illustrator’s pen tool using just a mouse. But the job did lead me to become much faster in using photoshop and illustrator.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

Haha, I’d say it was probably kindergarten or first grade when I actually received money for artwork. I entered a poster contest. I can’t remember which place I had won but I had gotten a gift card.

Did you go to college to study art? If so, where and what did you study?

Yes, I studied Computer Animation at UCF (University of Central Florida).

Have you taken any illustration classes?

No, I didn’t. I had to take the standard figure drawing and 3D design classes to fulfill my prerequisites. But amazingly, my track didn’t require anyone to take any illustration or character design classes.

What do you feel helped you develop your style?

A lot of things helped me develop my style. Once I realized I didn’t want to pursue storyboarding in animation and wanted to illustrate kid’s books, I felt less pressured to make my work look like something Disney would make a cartoon out of, and make art that was personal to me. In order to make art that was personal, I had to study the art of someone whose work touched me personally (and yet was far away from anything I’d find in animation art book.) One artist who I got back in touch with was Aaron Douglas, a Harlem Renaissance Artist. The concentric shapes and subtle color gradations look nothing like art I saw in animation school. I knew I wanted to recreate that vibrating shape look in my art.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

I had been waffling on being an illustrator for a while. I knew I had some drawing chops, but I didn’t think I had a “style.” I also didn’t know if it was a career that would pay the bills. Most of these fears were assuaged after I went to the SCBWI New York conference in 2020. The illustrators I met there helped demystify the publishing process of illustration (and assured me that they lived comfortably off of their salaries). I was still on the fence about truly committing a kidlit portfolio, until COVID-19 hit. I got furloughed from my challenge coin design job (which I was pretty miserable at, to be honest). After being furloughed indefinitely, I realized I had nothing to lose, and dove immediately in Procreate tutorials and read the painting and color theory books that had been collecting dust on my shelf.

Have you taken any online workshops or classes to help you navigate the children’s book industry?

Yes! I’ve looked at the monthly SCBWI digital workshops. The one where Laurent Linn and Cecilia Yung break down what art directors are looking for in kidlit artists actually helped me prep for the Summer Spectacular Showcase.

What type of things do you do to promote yourself and your art?

The most I can really do in these COVID times is post on my Facebook page (Knot Write Now) and IG knotwritenow. My agent, Christy, has also been great in getting my work in front of editors and art directors who have a project they think I’d be a good fit for.

How did Christy Ewers at The Cat Agency discover you?

Through Instagram! The Instagram art community started sharing art of black artists during the George Floyd protests, and it just so happened that a couple CAT Artists that I had met at the New York Conference shared my artwork on their IG stories. Christy messaged me shortly after seeing my work.

Have you worked on developing book dummy?

I am currently developing one now for HarperCollins. I haven’t made one previously, though..

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I am. And I’m part-time writer.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would still consider?

Yes. It’s hard to get through the manuscript slush pile. Once I get a bit of breather in my work, I’d love to help a black writer bring their work to children.

What do you think is your biggest success so far?

As much as I’d like to say that my biggest success is working on Song In the City with HarperCollins… I really have to say my biggest success is managing to become a professional artist without having to go to a super-expensive art school. I am student loan-free!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I paint digitally because I can’t stand the clutter of traditional mediums (plus, procreate has an undo button!). But I really only use one brush in procreate, which is a speckly sponge-looking brush.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes… But I also call whatever surface I place my Ipad Pro on studio. So yes, my dining room table is the perfect studio.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Yes! Ipad Pro. It’s better than my Cintiq (which is still pretty good). I love the Ipad Pro because 1) Procreate 2) It’s basically a mini-computer with amazing pressure sensitivity. 3) It’s extremely portable. If I have to drive somewhere or visit family, I can just pack my Ipad instead of uprooting a desktop and Cintiq.

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

My work is mainly digital. I use Procreate first and foremost. But if I need to design text or make a geometric pattern, I’ll open up illustrator. Photoshop is also great for making tweaks to artwork and creating trim marks for prints.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Every time I try and set a specific time to work on my craft, I end up going well over. I’ve come to terms that my particular style—which involves many layers of glazing and color mixing—is just time-consuming. But color layering adds a richness that keeps the viewer interested.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

A thousand times yes. Always draw from reference. I act out a lot of the poses I end up drawing. If I’m drawing a city, I will research what cities look like, and focus on a particular one. Details will make your work stand out. And being intentional with those details will make your work authentic.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Of course! Without the internet, I wouldn’t have won the Summer Spectacular grand prize. I wouldn’t have met Christy (who I still haven’t met in person, haha.) Instagram has connected me with a lot a wonderful artists and writers I would not have had the chance to meet in person.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Yes! While most of the attention I’ve been receiving has been on my illustrations, I’ve actually been working on becoming a writer for some time now. I’d love to write and illustrate an afro-futuristic middle grade book. Something like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, where the story is intertwined and dependent on the illustrations.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on Song In the City written by Daniel Bernstrom. The picture book is about a visually impaired girl named Emmalene who travels her city, describing the music she hears around her to her Grandma.

I am also in the middle of writing a Middle Grade Contemporary novel. It’s about an eldest child named Hakeem, who is tired of having to share everything with his three younger sisters. He schemes to by himself a bike, until one nosy sister learns about his secret. It’s a funny story that is about growing up with siblings.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Whether you’re sketching out an idea or trying to figure out how to color a scene, always thumbnail. Creating small illustrations allows you to work through ideas quickly. I do what I call a color sketch before attempting to color a big painting. It’s basically a small painting where I map out the colors and values of a painting. If I don’t like one color sketch, I can just duplicate my pencil thumbnail and paint over it again. I like color sketching because it takes away the anxiety of diving into a big painting. While color sketches serve as a good roadmap on how to approach a full-sized painting, color sketches are loose enough that I can make last minute color changes to my final painting if I choose to.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

While social media is great for sharing work, don’t get caught up in how many followers you have. I think I had only a hundred, maybe a little bit more, followers when my agent found me. Authentic work will always find a way to reach the right person, whether that person is an art director, editor, agent, or parent. All you really have to do is make great art and post it.

Jenin, thank you for sharing your time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. I really enjoyed viewing your illustrations. Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

To see more of Jenin’s work, you can visit her at:

The Cat Agency:

Talk tomorrow,


It is my pleasure to announce that Senior Agent Brent Taylor at Triada US is our Agent of the Month for November. Scroll to bottom to learn how to submit a first page for a chance to win a critique with Trent. 

Triada US was founded in 2004 by Dr. Uwe Stender. Since then, the agency has built a list of high quality fiction and non-fiction for readers of all ages. Brent is a senior literary agent and subsidiary rights manager at Triada US.

After years of interning in trade book publishing, Brent joined Triada US in 2014 to assist Uwe Stender while building his own list of fiction and non-fiction for readers aged 0-18. He was promoted to associate agent in November 2015, to agent in April 2017, and to senior agent in October 2020. In 2019, he was named a PW Star Watch Honoree. He is incredibly proud of his list—his clients’ books have won major awards, collected starred reviews, and hit the bestseller lists. In addition to his role as an agent, he manages the agency’s subsidiary rights, licensing audiobook and foreign rights to our titles around the world and attending international rights fairs.

Brent describes his reading tastes as upmarket: He’s passionate about books for young readers that are extremely well-written, robust with emotion, and appeal to a wide, commercial audience.

To see recent book deals he has brokered, visit his Publishers Marketplace page.

For more information about Brent and his list, visit his website or his Publishers Marketplace page. He focuses on books for kids and teens and describes his taste as upmarket: He falls in love with books that are extremely well-written, robust with emotion, and appeal to a wide, commercial audience.

Picture books: I am seeking picture book projects from authors and author-illustrators. My taste in this category covers a wide range: I love picture books that are fun and bonkers, as well as ones that are more literary. I’m open to fiction, non-fiction, and picture books in unusual formats or styles—verse, rhyme, comics, etc. Some of my favorite picture books are Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña, The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros and Julie Morstad, and The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo. Some of the picture books I’ve worked on include Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, Seven Bad Cats by Moe Bonneau, and The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil. Some forthcoming picture books on my list include Poultrygeist by Eric Geron, Big Wig by Jonathan Hillman, and I’ll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca. I’m looking for picture books with an energy that pops off the page, that kids have never seen before, and that will turn them into life-long readers.

Middle grade: My middle grade list covers first kisses, demon-slaying, water dragon races, magical baking competitions, and everything in between. I love a wide range of middle grade, and the best way to describe what I’m looking for is to tell you about my favorite middle grade novels: Keeper by Kathi Appelt, The Best Man by Richard Peck, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhà Lại, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. Some of the middle grade projects I’ve worked on include the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series by New York Times-bestselling author Sayantani DasGupta, YALSA-ALA Excellence in Non-Fiction Award-winner Free Lunch by Rex Ogle, and Smoke and Mirrors and the Silver Batal series from K. D. Halbrook. Being between the ages of 8 and 12 is so difficult. Kids are on the cusp of what feels like a vast, overwhelming, and unwelcoming world. I want to represent middle grade that enlightens kids to all the love and joy that the world has to offer.

Young adult: Though I lean more toward realistic/contemporary fiction, my interests encompass high fantasy and lightly speculative projects too. I love YA that captures the dichotomies of being young—how, as a teen, you yearn for freedom, but at the same time it’s incredibly scary for so many parts of your life to be changing. My favorite YA novels are bittersweet, authentic portrayals of what it’s like to be figuring out who you are, what this world is, and how those two things fit in with one another. Some of my favorite YA novels are The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Dig by A. S. King, Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh, and Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Neal Shusterman’s novels (particularly the Arc of a Scythe series) are a great example of the type of smart, commercial, and high-stakes YA that I love. Some YA novels I’m proud to have worked on include Whitney Gardner’s Schneider Family Book Award-winning You’re Welcome, Universe, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel by Moe Bonneau, and Perfect Ten by L. Philips. I’m passionate about young adult fiction that helps teen readers discover, love, and live as their most authentic selves.

Graphic novels (for kids or teens): I’m open to both text-only graphic novel scripts and author-illustrated projects. My favorite graphic novels include The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks, and Heartstopper by Alice Oseman. Some of my graphic novel clients include Whitney Gardner, Tori Sharp, Rex Ogle, Bre Indigo, and Eric Gapstur.

Non-fiction (for kids or teens): I’d love to see all sorts of non-fiction in the categories that I represent, including but not limited to biographies, memoir, narrative, history, science, and how-to.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be emailed to

Send your query letter and first ten pages pasted in the body of the message to brent [at] triadaus [dot] com. Put “Query” in the subject line

Vital Info

brent [at] triadaus [.] com


What happens if you don’t sell a book?

Would you drop the writer if he or she wanted to self-publish a book you could not place?

My client and I would have a thoughtful discussion about next steps—perhaps, instead of self-publishing, they might want to hang onto that manuscript when the market swings more in its favor. I have many titles that took years and years to sell.

How many editors would you go to before giving up on a manuscript?

It’s hard to make a generalization like this. I have titles that were submitted to 50+ editors before finally being sold, and some that we decided to take off the market after a dozen or so passes. It truly depends on a case-by-case basis.

Do you ever handoff a manuscript to another agent at Triada US, if something good, but your style? Absolutely. We all work closely together here at Triada US.

What do you think of digital and audio books? Are they part of every sale these days?

I am a huge audiobook fan, and I think e-book and and audiobook publishing is a great way to expand an author’s readership. Because these rights have so much value, this is definitely one of many parts of every negotiation we hold on our clients’ behalves.

Do you see any new trends building in the industry?

Graphic novels are booming and it makes me so happy, as a huge fan of the way that format has turned reluctant readers into passionate ones. But I’m loathe to call this a “trend”!

Any words of wisdom on how a writer can improve their writing, secure an agent, and get published?

Persevere, persist, and don’t give up.

Would you like to attend other conferences, workshops writer’s retreats?

Yes, I love attending these in person events, especially when they are on the water (special shout-out to Loon Song Writers Retreat and Whispering Pines Writers Retreat).


Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving

The fourth Thursday in November is celebrated across the US as Thanksgiving Day. Families across US celebrate the day with feast of Turkey, have fun, and make preparation for Christmas.


MELISSA SWEET: Don’t miss you chance to win a copy of Melissa’s book Balloons Over Broadways and a free download of her free Activity Kit. Here is the link to yesterdays post.

In 1924, 400 employees marched from Convent Ave to 145th street in New York City in what was to become the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There were no large balloons and the march featured only live animals from Central Park Zoo. 

In 1927, the gigantic balloons that are now the signature element of the parade made their first appearance with the help of helium. The balloons replaced the zoo animals that were frightening to some children, and the first balloons included cartoon characters like Felix the Cat.

The Macy’s Day Parade has been televised nationally on NBC since 1953.

In-person spectators will not be permitted this year, but there are multiple ways to watch the festivities from home. The parade takes place Thanksgiving morning from 9 a.m. to noon EST and is hosted by the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker.

STEPHAINE FIZER COLEMAN: Featured on Illustrator Saturday

The first Thanksgiving Day was held in 1621 and included 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians and it continued for three days.

It was eaten with spoons and cut with knives but there were no forks which were not even invented and came into use 10 years later.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday 200 years later. It was due to the efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” who in a long campaign stretching to 17 years convinced President Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.

MICHAEL ROBERTSON: Featured on Illustrator Saturday

The first pardon of Turkey happened in 1947 when the then US President Truman started this ritual. Every year since, the US President pardons a turkey and saves it from being eaten for thanksgiving dinner. This year President Trump Pardoned Corn and Cob.


MICHAEL ROBERTSON: Featured on Illustrator Saturday

In the beginning Thanksgiving was not celebrated as a feast. Instead, the settlers gave thanks and fasted to celebrate the bumper crop. The feast stated when the Wampanoag Indians joined them and turned the fast into a three day festival of dance and feast.


DEBORAH MELMON: Featured on Illlustrator Saturday

Turkeys can run at a speed of 20 miles per hour. However the domesticated turkeys are specially bred and fattened and can’t run fast.


Interestingly no turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving dinner and the menu was oysters, lobster, eel, Deer or venison, ducks, geese, and fish. There was pumpkin but no pumpkin pies.

A lot of cranberries are also consumed along with the turkeys. 350 million kilograms of cranberries was produced in the United States last year. Most of the supply came from two states- Wisconsin and Massachusetts



Benjamin Franklin wanted turkey too be designated as a national bird instead of the eagle.


The Americans are not the only ones to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Canada has been having the official Thanksgiving Day since 1879. The date was not fixed until 1957 when it was ruled that the second Monday of October will be celebrated as Thanksgiving Day.

KAYLA STARK: Featured on Illustrator Saturday

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving came together in 1888 and will happen again only after 70000 years.

LISA GOLDBERG: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

More than 46 million turkeys are consumed by Americans for Thanksgiving Day.

California tops among all states in consuming most turkeys in US Thanksgiving day.

PETRA BROWN: Featured on Illustrator Saturday

The record of the heaviest turkey is 86 pounds according to the Guinness Book of records.

The customary and all important football games started way back in 1934. It was the first NFL games which was broadcast nationally and was played between Detroit Lions & Chicago Bears.


According to the National Turkey Federation, 88% of Americans consume turkeys on thanksgiving which means 12% people do not eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

Rearing turkeys for Thanksgiving is big business and in 2016, 254 million turkeys were raised in the US. It was 2% more than the previous years.


Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

Talk tomorrow,



Melissa Sweet wrote and illustrated a picture book in 2011 titled, BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY and was published by HMH Children’Books. This will be the first year since the Macy’s Day Parade started in 1924 that won’t be open to the public. You will need to watch it in ABC. Melissa created a BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY Activity Book that you can download for FREE. (Scroll down for link.) I wanted to share it with you, since I figure it would be a good thing to do with the kids while watching the parade from home. Melissa has agreed to send a copy of the picture book to one lucky winner.

All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know other things you do to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Everyone will thank you for pointing them to this opportunity.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


2012 Flora Stieglitz Straus Award

2012 Robert F. Sibert Medal Winner

Winner of the 2012 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award

Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, the award-winning artist Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.



An early sketch in Tony Sarg’s studio where they puppeteers are figuring out how to make the inflatable animals.



How did you come up with the idea for this book?

I first learned about Tony Sarg through an art director I work with. She described him as a puppeteer, a brilliant illustrator and the inventor of the Macy’s Parade balloons. I was completely intrigued. Why had I never heard of him in art school, or anywhere else? After about 2 minutes of research I knew I had to do a book about him. He was not only a master puppeteer, engineer, and entrepreneur, but uncovering his process inspired me. I sensed a kindred spirit.

How did you connect with HMH Books for Young Readers to sell this book?

At that time I was working with an editor at Houghton Mifflin. I suggested the idea to her with only a slight proposal, but it was enough for them to offer me a contract. Beginning any project is equal parts dazzling and daunting as in, can I pull this off? Do I have what it takes? Where is the story here?

From there, the book took three years of research, writing, editing, making the art and playing with ideas along the way.

Was this the first book you wrote and illustrated?

This was the second book I wrote and illustrated, my first nonfiction project going solo.

The book garnered the Steiglitz award, Bank Street’s Cook Prize for a STEM picture book, as well as the Sibert Medal for nonfiction. I am still so honored by these acknowledgements.

Do you have one agent or do you have one for your writing and one for you illustrating?

At this time I don’t have an agent, but when I did it for both writing and illustration.

After that you won many other awards, including two Caldecott Honor awards for: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, and The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus, both by Jen Bryant. How did that feel to get such high recognition?

Jen Bryant and I had great fun creating the three books we did together. We became good friends in the process and her work continues to amaze me. (In fact, Jen just won this year’s Sibert Medal for her brilliant, ABOVE THE RIM!)  Both of the biographies that won Caldecott Honors were with Eerdmans Publishing. They are a dream to work with. For my part, they gave me complete freedom and lots of encouragement. When the books won the Caldecott Honors we were all over the moon. I felt grateful beyond words, and savored every minute of the festivities. But of course what there is to do next is go back to work. One of my editors always says that the most important thing to pay attention to is your next book. That’s sound advice.


Problem? Use:


Melissa Sweet has illustrated more than 100 children’s books, including the Caldecott Honor books The Right Word and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams both written by Jen Bryant. She also wrote and illustrated Tupelo Rides the RailsCarmine: A Little More Red, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book; and Balloons Over Broadway, a picture book biography that was named a 2011 Publishers Weekly Best Nonfiction Picture Book. When she is not in her studio, Melissa can be found taking an art class, hiking with her dogs, or riding her bicycle. She lives with her family in Rockport, Maine.

Melissa thank you for sharing you book and putting together your new free Activity Kit. It was fascinating what I learned about the history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and how Tony Sarg came to create the helium balloons we know and enjoy today. Young or old, everyone will be interested in reading this book. I am glad people can still order it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 24, 2020

My Favorite Books of 2020

I have shared My Favorite Books for the last two years. Last year I read over 240 novels and the year before 255 books. I expect to read as many this year. It seems like many of you enjoyed the posts and read some of the books I listed, so I will add any books that I read by the end of the year that make me say, “Wow” to this list. 

Not all books were published in 2020 but all are books that made me want to prop my eyelids open so I could keep reading. Most are books that made me sigh, made me laugh, and caused a few tears. I did not include any picture books – that would be a real struggle. Look for me on Goodreads if you want to view all the 4 and 5 star books. 

BIG SUMMER by Jennifer Weiner: Big Summer is a witty, moving story about family, friendship, and figuring out what matters most. “Big fun, and then some. It’s empowering and surprising—a reminder to put down the phone and enjoy each moment for what it is.” —The Washington Post (I definitely agree, especially with surprising. I never knew that the book would end up being a murder mystery.)

A deliciously funny, remarkably poignant, and simply unputdownable novel about the power of friendship, the lure of frenemies, and the importance of making peace with yourself through all life’s ups and down. From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Good in Bed and Best Friends ForeverBig Summer is the perfect escape with one of the most lovable heroines to come to the page in years.

(My Goodreads vote for Best Fiction)

WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine Center: “The story’s message, that people should choose joy even (and especially) in difficult and painful times, seems tailor-made for this moment. A timely, uplifting read about finding joy in the midst of tragedy, filled with quirky characters and comforting warmth.”—Kirkus (starred review)

From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel full of heart and hope.


(My Goodreads vote for Best Historical Fiction)

TIME AFTER TIME by Lisa Grunwald: A magical love story, inspired by the legend of a woman who vanished from Grand Central Terminal, sweeps readers from the 1920s to World War II and beyond.

MAJESTY: Is America ready for its first queen? If you can’t get enough of Harry and Meghan and Will and Kate, you’ll love this sequel to the New York Times bestseller that imagines America’s own royal family–and all the drama and heartbreak that entails. “Inventive, fresh, and deliciously romantic–American Royals is an absolute delight!” –Sarah J. Maas

(My Goodreads vote for Best Young Adult Fiction)

OONA OUT OF ORDER: A remarkably inventive novel that explores what it means to live a life fully in the moment, even if those moments are out of order.

National Bestseller – A Good Morning America Book Club Pick – Amazon Editors’ 20 Best Books of the Year Pick –“With its countless epiphanies and surprises, Oona proves difficult to put down.” —USA Today – “By turns tragic and triumphant, heartbreakingly poignant and joyful, this is ultimately an uplifting and redemptive read.” —The Guardian

MUSIC SHOP: “An unforgettable story of music, loss and hope. Fans of High Fidelity, meet your next quirky love story.”—People


HONEY DON’T LIST by Christina Lauren: From the “hilariously zany and heartfelt” (Booklist) Christina Lauren comes a romantic comedy that proves if it’s broke, you might as well fix it.

IN FIVE YEARS by Rebecca Serle: Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day—a striking, powerful, and moving love story following an ambitious lawyer who experiences an astonishing vision that could change her life forever.

QUEEN OF NOTHING by Holly Black: A powerful curse forces the exiled Queen of Faerie to choose between ambition and humanity in this highly anticipated and jaw-dropping finale to The Folk of the Air trilogy from a #1 New York Times bestselling author. (“Read the first two before reading.”)

(My Goodreads vote for Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction)

THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER PLAYLIST by Abby Jimenez: One trouble-making dog brings together two perfect strangers in this USA Today bestselling romantic comedy full of “fierce humor and fiercer heart.” Casey McQuiston

(My Goodreads vote for Best Romance)

NO OFFENSE by Meg Cabot: New York Times-bestselling author Meg Cabot returns with a charming romance between a children’s librarian and the town sheriff in the second book in the Little Bridge Island series. (You don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this book, but you will want to read both)

WINTER IN PARADISE by Elin Hilderbrand: A husband’s secret life, a wife’s new beginning: escape to the Caribbean with #1 New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand. (This is the first book in a 3 book series. You will want to read all)

NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA by Chanel Cleeton: “A beautiful novel full of passion, secrets, courage and sacrifice.” (Reese Witherspoon)

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity – and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution (I was taken by the Cuban culture and discovered things I did not know.)

REGRETTING YOU by Colleen Hoover: The #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller that People Magazine calls “a poignant, addictive read.”

From #1 New York Times bestselling author of It Ends with Us comes a novel about family, first love, grief, and betrayal that will touch the hearts of both mothers and daughters. (Read and Listen for free on Kindle Unlimited)

ONLY WHEN ITS US by Chloe Liese: Prepare for an emotional rollercoaster brimming with laughter, tears, and slow-burn sexiness in this new adult romance that tackles the vulnerability of love with humor and heart. (Read Free on Kindle Unlimited)

MORE THAN MAYBE by Erin Hahn: “Like your favorite song, More Than Maybe burrows inside your heart and stays there. Vada and Luke’s story of music, family, and first love will shoot to the top of your book playlist. A rich, sweet, rock and roll ride.” – Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces and How to Make Friends With the Dark

AWK-WEIRD by Avery Flynn: “Hilariously adorable and full of heart Awk-Weird had me giggling and melting equally from practically the first page.” – Red Hatter Book Blog (Agree)

UNFORGETTABLE by Melanie Harlow: “Melanie Harlow always delivers unputdownable romances, and Unforgettable is no different. Holy SWOON! This is sexy, small-town romance at its finest.”– Claire Kingsley, Amazon Top 10 Bestselling Author

“If you love a romance novel that has humor, sex, banter and two characters that are just meant for each other, then you want to read this book!!! Melanie has a brilliant way of writing her stories that you can’t help but root for the couple to get their HEA. Even if it isn’t smooth sailing all along the way.” – Book Bitches Blog (Agree) (Read for Free on Kindle Unlimited)

HAPPILY LETTER AFTER by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward: From New York Times bestselling authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward comes a love story about taking chances and the surprises that come with them. 

“Hilarious mishaps, unexpected twists, and a large dollop of sweetness combine into an irresistible romance. This one is sure to tug at readers’ heartstrings.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) (Read for free on Kindle Unlimited)

FIX HER UP by Tessa Bailey: Fix Her Up ticks all my romance boxes. Not only is it hilarious, it’s sweet, endearing, heartwarming and downright sexy. It’s a recipe for the perfect love story.” – Helena Hunting, New York Times bestselling author of Meet Cute

A steamy, hilarious new romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Tessa Bailey, perfect for fans of Christina Lauren and Sally Thorne!


One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.

PARTY of TWO by Jasmine Guillory: A chance meeting with a handsome stranger turns into a whirlwind affair that gets everyone talking in this New York Times bestseller. 

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 23, 2020

Writing for Social Justice

Hi kidlit reader, Mira Reisberg here from the Children’s Book Academy and Picture Book Palooza/Extravaganza organizer. With all the craziness that’s been going on, I want to speak about one of the exciting panels and breakout rooms – Writing for Social Justice (AKA infusing your stories with underlying social justice themes).

We live in a time of profound societal change and unprecedented danger, while social media highlights the immense economic and political inequalities around the world, which have helped lead to this moment in history. Now, more than ever, we want to foster kindness, empathy, and justice. Huge and far-reaching movements have formed to promote social change, covering everything from removing Confederate monuments from federal property, to reallocating police budgets, to neighborhood pandemic groups that fill in the huge gaps the federal government ignores.

Most editors and agents have Liberal Arts backgrounds in which they have learned about the importance of environmental and social justice, including:

  • poverty
  • Disability and neurodiversity
  • small acts of kindness/inclusion
  • immigrants/refugees
  • civil rights
  • differences and superiority
  • gender stereotypes
  • gender transitions
  • peaceful protest/political activism
  • Climate change
  • Anti-racism
  • LGBTQ rights
  • Disabilities

Books about, or infused with, social justice allow kids insight into what it feels like to be a refugee, to encounter racism, to be seen as different or less than, or to have to fight against great odds for rights and freedoms which others take for granted.  Books are often windows into worlds children cannot imagine or haven’t experienced but must learn about if they are to develop into empathetic citizens. Explaining the basics of human rights in age appropriate ways with stories and examples can set the foundation for a lifelong commitment to social responsibility and global citizenship.

Young people have an innate sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, so children’s books centering on social justice themes don’t need to be heavy-handed or preachy.  Some books offer an overview of rights; the majority show individuals and organizations past and present who have struggled to overcome injustices. Including characters of different races, religions, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, and other backgrounds at an early age will hopefully lay the foundation for kids deeper engagement with these issues later on. There are many ways of doing this as you’ll learn from these awesome authors.

Tina Shepardson was that child who loved to write stories on paper (yes, on paper), draw pictures, hole punch them, tie them with string and yarn, and read them to the younger kids in her neighborhood. The crinkling sound of the pages was Tina’s favorite sound in the world! She even made paper doll characters to act out the scenes. This was a huge door opener for her into babysitting and eventually teaching. As an author, Tina is thrilled to share her stories! Tina’s mission is to inspire children to be the best person they can be and to nurture their love of reading.

Inspired by a true story, Walkout is about democracy in action as the main character Maddie organizes a safe school’s anti-violence walkout. Other kids throughout the States are walking out, but Maddie’s principal has announced that only older grades can participate.  At the same time, Maddie’s best friend Stella is too scared to help. Can Stella find her courage and join Maddie in walking out?

Tina will be giving a presentation about Teaching Democracy through Kid Lit.

Jolene Gutiérrez grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She holds a Master’s degree in Library Science and is an award-winning teacher-librarian who has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy for the past 25 years. She is a wife of 21 years and mama to two teenage humans and three preteen dogs. An active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, Jolene is a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist, a Writing with the Stars 2018 mentee (with picture book author Stacy McAnulty), a Highlights Foundation scholarship winner (twice), a Children’s Book Academy scholarship winner and graduate, and the winner of the Cynthia Levinson nonfiction picture book biography scholarship to the Writing Barn. She’s an active member of debut author support groups Picture Book Buzz and Perfect2020PBs.

In Jolene’s delightful book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, Mac and Cheese are the class guinea pigs, and Oliver is their biggest fan. So he watches them to learn how he can be a good friend. But while snuggling might be fine for guinea pigs, Oliver’s classmates don’t like him getting into their personal space bubbles. With the help of his teacher and classmates, Oliver learns that being a friend means respecting personal space.

In Bionic Beasts: Saving Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks, Jolene asks what happens when a young elephant steps on a buried landmine? What happens when a sea turtle’s flipper is injured by a predator? Thanks to recent advances in technology, we have new ways to design and build prosthetic body parts that can help these animals thrive. Jolene will be sharing tips and techniques for Writing about Neurodiversity and Disability

 Vincent X. Kirsch – is an author, illustrator, playwright and screenwriter living in Asheville, North Carolina. In the past, he has lived in Florence (Italy), New York City, Boston and Los Angeles. Vincent’s most recent illustrations are two-dimensional adaptations of the “Paper Box Playhouse” toy theaters that he has been fiddling around with for most of his life. His distinctive work is very influenced by theater, puppetry, poster art, classical painting techniques and Hollywood films. And his whimsical character designs and storylines range from the fantastically out-of-this-world to inspiringly down-to-earth.

Archie and Zack love each other. But Archie hasn’t told Zack yet. And Zack hasn’t told Archie. They spend just about every minute together: walking to and from school, doing science and art projects, practicing for marching band, learning to ride bikes, and so much more. Archie tries to write a letter to Zack to tell him how he feels: “From A to Z.” None of his drafts sound quite right, so he hides them all away. This new picture book from Vincent X. Kirsch celebrates young, queer love in a whimsical, kid-friendly way. Vince will be presenting on Great Things About Being Gay

M.O. Yuksel is a multi-cultural children’s book author with a passion for research and writing stories about diverse historical figures, whimsical characters, and fascinating cultures. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Fordham University, and an M.A. in Central Asian History and International Affairs from Columbia University. When not writing, M.O. Yuksel is usually on the soccer field cheering for her kids or traveling to exotic places, immersing herself in the local culture. She loves nature, bike riding, and eating shameless amounts of chocolate. She teaches yoga and meditation when she’s not bouncing off the walls from indulging in shameless amounts of chocolate. Once in a while, she’ll venture to teach her friends how to pronounce her real name – Munevver (Mar-vel-ous). But her friends never make it past the Mar and prefer to use her nickname – Mindy. She lives in New Jersey with her three sons, one husband, and a flying carpet.

In My Mosque is Mindy’s lyrical picture book celebrating the traditions and joys found in mosques around the world, and will be available early Spring of 2021. Coming in late 2022, Mindy’s One Wish is a gorgeously illustrated picture book biography about Fatima al-Fihri, a 9th-century woman who pioneered the oldest university in the world in Fez, Morocco. Mindy will be speaking about Fighting Racism with Muslim KidLit

In addition, the Palooza has some super smart moderators and hosts. Debut author Doris Imahiyerobo will discuss writing about family stories that also cover social justice issues, introduce panelists, and keep the program on track. Author Shirin Shamsi will talk about why writing as an #ownvoices author matters and host the breakout party room where she will give feedback to guest responses to our writing about social justice ideas worksheet (coming soon).

These wonderful authors will be sharing their insights and experiences around social justice themes, topics, and characters. If you want to hear them and others live and in their element, join us for the 2020 Picture Book Palooza coming to a computer or device near you on December 5th & 6th.  You won’t want to miss it.

All of these presenters are graduates of our Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books course, which is now open for registration with a $100 PBLove discount right here:

And if you’d like to apply for a scholarship for it, here’s the link:

Sending much creative love,


Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 22, 2020

Book Giveaway: BILLY AND THE BALLOONS by Elizabeth Dale

Elizabeth Dale has written a new picture book, BILLY AND THE BALLOONS, illustrated by Patrick Corrigan and published by Sterling Press. They have agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner.

All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know other things you do to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Elizabeth and Patrick.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


Fly up, up, and away with Billy! When the wind takes Billy and his colorful balloons on a ride in the sky, he ends up having the most magical Christmas ever.

A small boy + a big bunch of balloons = magic! Billy’s dad has a special touch with balloons, turning them into every imaginable shape and creature. But one Christmas Eve, the wind whips up and tiny Billy finds himself and his father’s balloons floating away through the clouds. Lots of friends, both human and animal, scurry to the rescue—but instead of bringing Billy down to earth, one by one they end up coming along for the ride. Will Billy succeed in landing safely . . . and help Santa and his tired reindeer deliver their presents too?


I became a children’s writer not just because I love writing, but when I became a mother and started reading to my young children, I was reminded just how much fun children’s books can be. But there were two more important reasons – firstly, I wanted to help children learn to love books so much that reading would become a hobby that would enrich their whole lives, and secondly I hoped that some of my books could help to reassure children about problems that might be bothering them.  If all that sounds a bit worthy, I must stress that above all, I became a children’s writer because I just love it so much – it’s the most fun job in the world! Whilst I have been unable yet to achieve representation by an agent, I have had over eighty books, including Billy and the Balloons, accepted for publication  following submission to publishers myself, so I would highly recommend to other authors and illustrators hoping for an agent to continue submitting their material themselves in the meantime.

One of the themes I love to cover in my books is the need to be kind to each other – something I feel we need more than ever these days. So when I sat down to write a story to reassure children about a possible common problem  – that being small was very limiting – I thought ,  ‘wouldn’t it be great if a child who was fed up of being too small to help, actually ended up being very helpful indeed because he was small?’. And so the idea for Billy and the Balloons popped into my head.  I decided to set the story at Christmas because it is such a magical time of year – and the scope for beautiful illustrations as Billy floats up above the snowy landscape would be wonderful, and if Billy on his journey wants to help someone, then who better in the whole wide world for him to help… than Santa Claus?! Especially if, by helping to save Santa and his reindeer, Billy can save Christmas?!

And so the story took flight, Billy was whisked up on a magical balloon flight because he was so tiny, but it was because he was so small that he was able to save the day for Santa!  Who else was light enough to ride on the sleigh with Santa when his reindeer were tired, and tiny enough to squeeze down the chimneys when Santa had eaten too many pies?

I was delighted when my story was accepted and as soon as my publishers asked me to recommend an illustrator, I didn’t hesitate to suggest Patrick Corrigan, whose illustrations for my previous picture book, Save The Day for Ada May, had captured the humour of that story so well. I knew he would convey the fun of Billy’s adventure, and I had hoped for some pretty snowy scenes, but his stunningly beautiful illustrations, including the fold-out page, far exceeded what I had imagined – they quite took my breath away.  I also have to thank all the animals who tried to help Billy and somehow  wrote themselves into the story and added to  the ‘kindness’ theme!

The journey from the acceptance of the script to the final publishing of Billy and the Balloons has been a very happy experience. It was written long before the pandemic began, but in this year when life has been so difficult for everyone, especially children, I hope this magical-looking book will bring fun, sparkle and joy, as well as reassurance  that, just like Santa’s deliveries, everything will soon be as it should.


Once upon a time Elizabeth Dale dreamed of being a writer, but maybe because the wicked fairy wasn’t invited to her christening, she was led astray into the strange, confusing world of studying for a physics degree and managing the health service. Finally she came to her senses and began her writing career  labouring on a portable typewriter with keys that jammed, battling with re-writes, tippex and carbon paper to produce her big novel  that no-one wanted to publish. Vowing never again to spend so much effort writing something nobody wanted to publish, she bought a computer and quickly progressed to writing teenage and adult magazine fiction, which both shared the same major attractions – they were much shorter and far more fun.  After her three daughters were born, she was re-introduced to the amazing world of children’s books which, as well as being short and even more fun to write, came with the wonderful bonus of allowing her to stop pretending to be grown up and stay a child at heart.

Her picture book Save The Day for Ada May! has just won its third Award. She has recently ventured into writing non-fiction picture books, with her latest, Trailblazer, telling the inspiring true story of the battle for women to play football 100 years ago.

Elizabeth lives in rural West Sussex, where she sits with her laptop keeping her knees warm and looks out at the garden, letting her imagination run riot, exploring the child within and trying never to grow old.

Her three daughters have now grown up and all three, Katie Dale, Jenny Jinks and Caroline Walker, are children’s authors, too.

She has had over 2000 stories (teenage and adult) published all over the world, and has had  over 80 children’s books published/commissioned.

Please find out more about Elizabeth at: 

Website -www 

Twitter –
Facebook –


Patrick Corrigan was born on a crisp, cold December day in a small, cloudy town in Cheshire, England. With a passion for precision as a child, he grew up patiently drawing and designing arts and crafts.

This took him to study ceramics at University, train as an art teacher and eventually become an Art Director at a busy design studio where he worked for nearly 10 years. Whilst there he honed his skills working on well over 500 educational and picture books for children as well as animations and branding.

Patrick lives and works in the UK using Photoshop, Illustrator and sometimes even real art equipment to create his work. He specialises in illustrating picture books for younger readers and draws best when listening to podcasts or dusty old records and drinking gallons of green tea.

He is represented by Astound US Inc, prints of his work are available here. Please drop him an email with any illustration, design, art direction or animation enquiries.

Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your book and journey with us. I love that we have a new Christmas story and book. It looks like so much fun. I am sure kids and their parents will love the story and the illustration that Patrick created really make this a stand-out book. I would be the perfect gift for a young child. Good luck with the book.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 21, 2020

Illustrator Saturday: Dawn M. Cardona

Dawn Cardona is a self-taught illustrator working mainly in Children’s publishing. Ever since she was a little girl, it has been her dream to illustrate Children’s books and no matter how hard she tried to convince herself to do something more “practical” with her life, that dream never faded. In 2017, at the age of 35, she decided to finally listen to her heart and take the leap!

She says, “I am thrilled to share that dreams really DO come true. My first picture book was published last year in 2019. My next two picture books are due out in the Fall of 2020 and the Spring of 2021!”

Other bits: Dawn currently lives and work out of her home in Kailua, Hawaii. She loves to garden and adores bird watching. She is obsessed with vintage ephemera.

A few of her wonderful clients include: Simon and Schuster, Augusta Convention & Vistors Bureau, Busy Hands Books, Redemption Church, Wolf and Finch and Alicyn Packard.

Here is Dawn sharing her process:


Scalpels or Scissors? I use my scissors about 98% of the time and will pick up a knife only if I have to, but not because I don’t like it. I am just not very good with a knife and I find them uncomfortable to use for long periods of time. When I am working on personal projects or flexible commissions all of my work is freehand. When I am working on Children’s books, I have had to adjust mmethods in order to work efficiently and make sure that the work meets the spacing requirements of a printed book. I have around 15 or more scissors and every single pair cuts a little differently and gives me a different outcome. I have yet to find a pair that will replace the scissors that I have been using since I first started cutting nearly 16 years ago. My favorite pair has a dull edge and a slow, controlled cut that is unmatched by any other pair, especially around curves. I often joke that if I ever lose these scissors, I am finished as an artist!

Interview with Dawn Cardona

How did you realize that you were good in art?

To be honest, it took years to admit to myself that I am an artist.  I still struggle with the idea that I am any good at illustrating, but I had a moment when my daughter was six where I realized that I was giving advice that I wasn’t even taking myself.  So I set out to find my own courage and pursue the one thing I had always wanted to do since childhood, which was to illustrate Children’s books.

You say you are a self-taught illustrator. Did you ever take any art classes to help you with technique?

No, I have always taken the initiative to teach myself all the things that I love to do.  I was always too afraid to take an art class when I got to college. Instead, I got a degree in Environmental Science and art continued to be a hobby for me until just a few years ago.  I still take time to learn, everyday.

It looks like you started out with painting. I like the picture of you standing outside a building in front of a painting of two girl with one rolling over the back of the other. How long ago did you do this?

I actually started out drawing with inks in the early 2000s, but drawing never felt right for me.  It was in 2004 when I learned about the art of Paper cutting and developed a passion for all things paper made.  The artwork that you came across was actually a blown up image of a tiny 5 inch paper cut that I created in 2010. I submitted the artwork for a window display with a local art gallery in downtown Augusta, Georgia in 2018.

Do you still do paintings?

I have tried painting, but I keep it to a minimum. I do use paint in my paperwork to add in texture.  I have been experimenting with gouache and Posca paint pens for about a year and a half now.

Do you sell the small crafts you show on your website?

I do sell my work from time to time via Instagram stories, which I have found to be more successful than selling from my Etsy shop. Mostly, I do custom pieces for folks who reach out to me privately.

Have you ever made greeting cards?

No, not officially. I used to create little gift cards that I called “art cards,” where I would attach tiny originals to a card that can later be removed for framing purposes. I always loved the idea of giving something sentimental to a loved one that didn’t necessarily have to end up in a box.

How did you start getting jobs to do bookstore displays?

I was given my one and only chance to create a window display in 2018. I did have plans to do many more, but life threw us a curve ball and sent us on a two year journey that included three majors moves to three separate states. For the bookshop display at The Book Tavern in Augusta, I simply approached the owners about the idea and they were happy to lend me their window. It was a one-time thing, but I would definitely be more than happy to do it again and again!

What did you do to create the 3-d flowers and the leaves for the display window that says Greetings from Augusta Georgia?

The original artwork was created with a bit of gouache paint and hand-cut paper using scissors and glue on a 12 inch x 12 inch piece of cardstock.

Was this for a restaurant? Or maybe it is a window on the outside of the airport?

The artwork was created for the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau. They commissioned me to create a version of an old postcard  for display at their shop Augusta & Co. and to be turned into small magnets, postcards and a giant wall mural for the baggage claim area of the Augusta Regional Airport.

You have a fabulous display inside the airport. It is amazing. You must be so proud that everyone getting off a plane in Augusta gets to see your work. Have you gotten other work from the exposure?

I was surprised to be asked to create a piece with so many wonderful local artists still living in Augusta. I had been away for nearly two years, living in Hawaii when they contacted me. It was a thrill to come back to see the display for the first time when we arrived back in Augusta this past August.  My daughter and I got a photo together in front of it, which made it all the more special. I am not sure if some of the recent work that has come my way has been a result of the Airport mural, but I am sure it has helped.

How did that job with the airport come your way?

In 2018, I was asked by Redemption Church to create six mini installations around downtown Augusta.  You can read more about that project here: (

One of the pieces that I created for that project was my take on an old postcard, which caught the eye of the Community Engagement Manager at the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau. She wanted to take that idea and blow it up into a mural for the airport and I was more than happy to take on the challenge!

What made you decide to start doing children’s books? 

Illustrating Children’s books has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I didn’t know how to read very well (English was my second language), but the pictures in books always made my heart smile. I knew from a young age that I wanted to spark joy in others the way that all the books from my childhood did for me. Pictures in books meant a lot of me, as we moved a lot when I was young.  I could always find comfort in books

All the Little Snowflakes just came with Little Simon. How did you get that contract? 

I worked on another book with the same designer and author at Little Simon. (See next question)

It also looks like you’ve Five Little Thank-Yous was also with Little Simon. Do you expect to do other board books with them? 

Five Little Thank-yous by Cindy Jin was my very first book offer.  I still can’t believe that I have had the opportunity to illustrate two published books with Little Simon and a third that is to be published next Spring.

Was Five Little Thank-Yous your first illustrated book? 


Have you illustrated any other books?

I have also illustrated a book with Busy Hands Books called Always Be You by Ioana Stoian.

How many picture books have you illustrated?

A total of four books since 2018!  It has been a wild two years!

How did you connect with Christy Ewers at The Cat Agency?

I have been a fan of Christy Ewers and her agency since I joined Instagram! She seemed to really care about the artists she represents and I quickly fell in love with how she shared her artist’s work via her feed.  I knew that one day I would write to her about representing me, but it took a little push from the pandemic to get up the courage to write to her.  She replied within hours and the rest is history!

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate a picture book?

I am not sure if I will ever write a book, but I have added it to my bucket list. It may be the last thing I do before I die, who knows.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I currently work part-time as an illustrator, but it is my goal to work full-time.

I noticed that you have a number of illustrations that you created in Procreate. Is this something you plan to keep using for your illustrations?

I use Procreate to sketch my illustrations for the books I work on and if paper cutting takes a bit too much time for a particular project.  I don’t use it that often, but it has helped me to develop my paper cutting techniques and visualize my artwork before cutting.  I typically do not draw or sketch a project beforehand, unless I am working on a book.

Do you have a studio in your house?

I do! I have a whole room dedicated to my craft.  I wish it were a little bigger, but the space is big enough to house a giant table, flat files and other pieces to store all of my papers.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

I am happy to work on projects that I find a connection with or feel excited about. I hope there will be many more projects in the future!

What do you think is your biggest success?

My biggest success has been overcoming my fears. I held back for 35 years before I decided that it was time to believe in myself for a change. I spent an entire year working on my confidence and another year pushing myself to make everyday count.  I have learned since to keep taking chances and to say, “YES!” more often.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

I do not own a lot of techy gadgets. In fact, I got my first smart phone in 2016 and my first ipad in 2018. So far, I have only managed to learn how to use Procreate, but I hope to keep growing and learning how to work digitally.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I usually work everyday, mostly on tiny paper doodles that I hashtag #paperplay.  I take 10 to 30 minutes trying something new or bringing to life something that I drew up in my sketchbook.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

I do! I leave plenty of wall space to create a collage of pictures and words up on the wall before I begin a project.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I have been a part of the creative world via the internet since the early 2000s. It has connected me with friends from all over the world! Although it took me years, I watched so many artists go from their little blog to being giants in the art and publishing worlds. If anything, the internet remained a constant inspiration and reminder to keep dreaming! I have been able to share my work online all of these years and I believe I got my first book deal from sharing my work on Instagram.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I would love to work with the USPS on a stamp set and possibly see my artwork in the toy market.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I am working on Christmas card design for local organizations and fundraising events.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

For the longest time, I didn’t buy paper. I only used what I could find or collect from others via trades.  If you have the opportunity to trade papers via pen pals, do it!  There are so many different pieces of ephemera that you can use in paper artwork.  There may be pieces you’ll never want to use and others that will spark ideas you never dreamed of before!

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Be kind and patient with yourself.  No matter what, keep at it. Dreams really do come true.

Dawn, thank you for sharing your time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. I really enjoyed viewing your illustrations. Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

To see more of Dawn’s work, you can visit her at:



The Cat Agency:


Talk tomorrow,


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