Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 8, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Yuko Jones

Yuko Jones was born and raised in Japan, and spent much of her childhood drawing and painting. After completing her degrees in English, Psychology, and Human Development, she embarked on her career in early childhood developmental research. While working with children, she realized how picture books can play a crucial role in their development, and she wanted to become part of the positive impact.

Yuko believes everyone has special abilities to make this world a better place, and she hopes her work will inspire children to embrace their unique gifts.

When she is not illustrating, you will find her testing (and tasting) new baking recipes, savoring short stories and coffee, and practicing yoga. Yuko lives in Western NY with her husband, two sons, a black cat, and two guinea pigs.

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites (FSG 2021) is her debut illustrated picture book.

Member of SCBWI and RACWI


I usually sketch either on translucent marker paper or printer paper (they both work great), and then transfer the image onto watercolor paper (I used Arches 140lb hot press paper for this one) using a light box. For this piece, I stained the paper with coffee prior to this step to create a vintage look. Then, I go over the pencil drawing with a ink pen.

Next, I applied several layers of watercolor to create rich, saturated color.

I also sprinkled some table salt while the paint was still wet to create the texture on the green garment. I used white acrylic paint for the clouds.

Then I added white and yellow soft pastels to add more color and texture, and it was complete!

Another example of sketch to final.

Start of adding color.

Final illustration.

Interview with Yuko Jones

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing and painting as long as I can remember, but I started building my professional illustration portfolio in 2015.

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

I sold some art prints and original artwork at my Etsy shop back in 2014, but I only did it for a couple of months.

When did you move from Japan to the US?

I moved to the U.S. in summer of 2001, shortly after I graduated from college in Japan.

Did you go to school in the United States?


What inspired you to get degrees in English, Psychology, and Human Development?

My love of reading lead me to study English, and my fascination to understanding human behavior lead me to learn Psychology and Human Development.

What school did you attend? Did you get all three at the same college?

I earned my B.A. in English at Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan), and B.A. in Psychology at SUNY Geneseo, then M.S. in Human Development at University of Rochester.

You say you noticed how important picture books were to child development while doing early childhood research with children. Was this when did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

Yes. I was fortunate that I worked on a research project, where many picture books were used as part of a science-based preschool curriculum. I saw how picture books help children connect the dots, helping them understand their own emotions and make sense of the world.

Are you still doing childhood development research?

No. I now consider myself a full time illustrator/stay-at-home mom.

Did you take any children’s illustration classes?

No, I’m 100% self taught artist. I did take a couple of watercolor classes, a figure drawing class, and oil painting class back in college.

What do you think helped you develop your style?

I’d say practicing a lot has helped me develop my style. Having other people critique my work, either by critique partners or art directors, also helped me see my work from different perspectives and realize what makes my work unique.

What type of things did you do to find illustration work?

I attended several SCBWI conferences since 2017. The SCBWI workshops are the best places to improve your craft, have your work critiqued (I always attended portfolio showcases or consultations) and network. After a while, I realized I kept receiving the same feedback from different art directors, and that helped me understand what was working and what wasn’t. I used to send postcards to editors and art directors a few times a year to share my updated portfolio, but now my amazing agent, Christy, takes care of that for me.

How did you connect with Chris and Christy Tugeau and how long have you been with their agency?

Christy and I followed each other on Instagram for a while, and then one day I asked her a question about a SCBWI webinar session she was hosting. I really liked how she responded to me (she is very thoughtful!), so I decided to send her a postcard to let her know I would be querying her. It’s important to find an agent you can personally connect with. Asking them questions or sending them a postcard could be a good way to start a conversation.

Do you want to write and illustrate picture books?

Yes!! That’s my next goal!

Are you working on developing a book dummy to show off your work?

I don’t have any book dummies yet, but one of my goals this year is to write a nonfiction biography picture book about a pianist who persevered despite her hearing loss at the height of her career. I’m looking forward to digging into the research process!

Do you try to spend a certain amount of time each day on illustrating?

Yes, I usually schedule the time to work on illustrations daily. Scheduling and blocking the time to work has become crucial since schools closed due to the pandemic in March, and I had to juggle homeschooling my kids and completing the final art for the picture book project.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes, I converted one of the bedrooms into my studio. It’s still a make-shift studio (I need a bigger desk etc.), but it’s a comfortable place to get some work done and stay up all night if I need to meet a deadline!

Do you ever used your art for gift cards, merchandise, or sell prints of your work?

Yes, as I mention in the question #2, I used to sell art prints and original artwork at my Etsy shop. I didn’t like the process involved (taking and posting photos, packaging etc.), so I closed the shop after a couple of months.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

Not yet, but that’s something I would love to try!


Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

No, I haven’t had an opportunity yet, but I’d be happy to try illustrating for children’s magazines.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Watercolor, ink pen, and Photoshop.

Has that changed over time?

I always used watercolor, ink pen, and Photoshop, and then there was a period I layered a lot of colored pencils, soft pastels, and acrylics to create texture. Now I’m going back to my original way – watercolor, ink pen, and Photoshop.


Would you consider working with a self-published author to illustrate their book?

No. I know there are some beautiful self-published books out there, but after going through the entire process of bookmaking with a traditional publisher, I understand how much is involved in creating a picture book. Illustrating a picture book is a big job and you put several months and many many hours to complete the work. I’m happy to delegate all the other tasks to the editor, art director, designers, and the marketing department and everyone else involved (they are all incredibly talented and know exactly what they are doing!), so I can focus on the fun and creative aspect of picture book making.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

Thank you so much for your encouragement! There are three things I do that might be helpful.

First, take actions! I like to think outside of the box and see how I can connect with others in ways that help meet my goals. I’ve contacted many illustrators and art directors over the years, sometimes just asking questions to improve my craft, other times simply to network. There are so many wonderful people in this industry, and they are usually kind enough to answer my questions. But it’s important to remember to be respectful when you contact them.

Second, share your goals with your friend. Sharing your goals with someone you trust makes you accountable, and increases the chance of achieving your goals. This needs to be someone who is encouraging and believe in your dreams.

Last one is start submitting your work even if it’s not 100 percent ready. I think a lot of people hesitate to send their work just because they feel it’s not quite perfect. Make your work the best you can right now, and starting submitting it. If you receive a rejection, improve your work, and resume submitting again. Also, a rejection can only bring you closer to your goals if you use it as fuel to improve your work.

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

No, but I’d love to try a Wacom Cintiq Pro! That would be my next investment!

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

I use various traditional medium to create my work – ink pen, watercolor (my favorites are Winsor and Newton and Daniel Smith watercolor paint), colored pencils, soft pastels, acrylics. I tried different watercolor papers over the years, but my favorite so far is Arches cold press 140 lb. Once I’m done with painting, I scan my artwork (I use Epson Expression 11000XL and love it!), and then digitally edit using Photoshop.

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

Yes, I research a lot before I start a sketching process so I can understand certain postures, expressions etc. I use images on Pinterest and Google image search for references.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely! I would’ve never met my agent, Christy, the way we did without Instagram. And thanks to the online portfolios and email, I can continue to promote my work even during the pandemic.

What career dreams would you like to fulfill?

I believe every child is wonderful just the way they are, and they are born with unique talents and gifts. I hope the books I create encourage children to embrace their own uniqueness as well as others around them.

What are you working on now?

I recently completed the final art for the nonfiction biography picture book, Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites (FSG 2021). It was a big job, but it was so creatively satisfying! I’m currently working on the cover, and I know it’s going to be super cute, thanks to the amazing Macmillan team for all of their guidance!!

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.

I answered most of that in the question #26. But if I could give tips to an illustrator who is just starting out, I’d say invest into a good quality scanner early on if you use traditional medium and scan your own artwork like I do. I used to go to FedEx Kinko’s to scan my artwork, but having my own scanner changed the quality of my work and how quickly I can produce. I got my scanner used at eBay for under $1,000 (a brand new model would be over $3K), and purchasing a gently used/refurbished scanner may be a good option. I also use Escoda Prado watercolor brushes, and I can’t live without them!

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

I think it’s important to think how you can differentiate yourself from others, meaning what’s unique about you and make your work stand out from others. Maybe it’s your culture, your beliefs, your childhood experiences, and the perspective and wisdom gained from those experiences. For me, it’s my culture, my faith, my background in child development, my love of cooking and music, the way I think and reflect. I think knowing yourself and expressing from that place is very important. Don’t worry about trends. Trends come and go.

Thank you, Yuko for answering the interview questions and sharing your expertise with us. Please let me know your future successes so I can share it with everyone.

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






Christy T. Ewers
The CAT Agency, Inc.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 7, 2020

August Agent of the Month – Jennifer Mattson

I am happy to announce that Jennifer Mattson at Andrea Brown Literary is our Agent of the Month for August. Scroll to bottom to learn how to submit a first page for a chance to win a critique with Jennifer.

Some client books that best represent Jennifer’s tastes


I’ve been with Andrea Brown Literary Agency for more than a decade, and began working in children’s publishing immediately out of college—including five years as an editor at Dutton Children’s Books and five years as a Books for Youth reviewer with Booklist magazine. I rep all audiences and genres, from picture book through young adult, and I’m looking for authors or author-illustrators who bring a deep professionalism, an open mind, and a fresh point of view to their work.

My client list includes authors of YA and middle grade fiction (such as Katy Loutzenhiser and Kate Hannigan), authors of picture books (such as Kim Norman and Linda Ashman), illustrators (such as Katy Wu), and author-illustrators (such as J. R. Krause, Brandon Reese, and Liz Starin). I primarily gravitate to fiction, but occasionally can’t resist an impeccably researched nonfiction project. I’d currently like to add more novelists to my roster, especially those from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds; I also have soft spots for mindbending fantasy and gripping survival stories of all kinds. But I’ll always give more than a passing glance to a slam-dunk of a picture book!

In the picture book arena, Jennifer is interested in authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators who bring a distinctive, well-developed point of view to their work. In longer fiction, her interests are wide-ranging, but she always has a soft spot for middle grade about resilient kids sorting out the messiness of life. In middle grade and YA both, her heart beats faster for richly imagined, mind-bending fantasies that depart from typical quests (portals entered by protagonists who fulfill prophecies don’t tend to be for her). The most dogeared books in her childhood library tended to be fantasy adventures, survival stories, and sprawling, atmospheric tales with Dickensian twists and satisfying puzzles. She gravitates to all of the above, but contemporary realistic fiction can work for her too, especially if it’s voice-driven and carefully structured. In all categories, she is especially delighted to see queries in her inbox from kid-lit creators underrepresented in mainstream publishing.

Fiction that Jennifer represents includes Katy Loutzenhiser’s contemporary-realistic YA debut, IF YOU’RE OUT THERE (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins) and Kate Hannigan’s historical middle grade novel, THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT (Little, Brown/Hachette), which won the 2016 Golden Kite Award for Middle Grade Fiction, received two starred reviews, was a Booklist Editor’s Choice, and appeared on the 2016 Amelia Bloomer List. Picture books she represents include noted poet Linda Ashman’s lyrical ode to the rhythms of the natural world, ALL WE KNOW (HarperCollins), and her nearly wordless celebration of optimism, RAIN! (Houghton/HMH); and Kim Norman’s three Arctic Companion books that cleverly spin off favorite preschool songs, TEN ON THE SLED, IF IT’S SNOWY AND YOU KNOW IT, and SHE’LL BE COMIN’ UP THE MOUNTAIN (all Sterling). Artists she represents include Geisel Honor winning author-illustrator Paul Meisel, who has illustrated or written a total of more than 70 books for young readers; J.R. Krause, author-illustrator of DRAGON NIGHT (Putnam), an Indie Next selection; Rob Polivka, illustrator of GOD BLESS AMERICA (Hyperion) and co-author and illustrator of A DREAM OF FLIGHT: ALBERTO SANTOS-DUMONT’S RACE AROUND THE EIFFEL TOWER (FSG/Macmillan); and former Google doodler Katy Wu, illustrator of several picture book biographies, including Laurie Wallmark’s GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE and HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE (both Sterling).

Prior to joining ABLA, Jennifer spent time as an editor at Dutton Children’s Books and as a Books for Youth staff reviewer at Booklist magazine. Jennifer is based in Chicago and enjoys speaking at SCBWI and other writers’ conferences in Chicagoland and farther afield. She is also in the midst of a personal mission to read through the oeuvre of Anthony Trollope. Follow her on Twitter @jannmatt.

I’m based in Chicago, where I live with my husband and two daughters. I like to run at a decidedly non-marathon level and enjoy dance as both audience member and participant. I also spent two years a little bit obsessed with the works of Anthony Trollope.

You can occasionally find me at writers’ conferences in Chicagoland and farther afield.

Fun facts about me:

Not that this is pertinent to my query in-box, but I once coauthored The Official Easy-bake Oven cookbook, which was a personal highlight.

Submission Guidelines

Please query me via this QueryManager link exclusively:  http://QueryMe.Online/JenniferMattson.

Guidelines & Details

Vital Info




In the subject line, please write “AUGUST 2020 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).

PLEASE name the Word document file by putting 2020 August  – Your Name – Title of first page. Thank you.

REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED! Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page.

Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: August 21st. – noon EST

RESULTS: August 28th.

Talk tomorrow,


Authors Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion have co authored a new picture book titled,TIP AND TUCKER: PAW PAINTERS, illustrated by Andre Ceolin and published by Sleeping Bear Press and coming out on August 15th. Sleeping Bear Press has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to 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 the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Ann, Sue and Andre!


Say hello to Tip and Tucker! These hamsters are best friends and like to stick together. But while little Tip is sometimes nervous about new situations, Tucker likes to explore and see new things. Everything changes when Mr. Lopez purchases them from the pet store and takes them to his classroom. In the third of the series, Tip and Tucker Paw Painters, the students in Mr. Lopez’s class are doing art projects, and Tip and Tucker don’t want to be left out of the fun. But hamsters + paint = a big mess! In this new reader series written especially for the K‒1 audience, Tip and Tucker will help beginning readers explore new feelings and learn to navigate classroom dynamics and relationships.


This is Sue typing our book journey on behalf of my co-author, Ann Ingalls, who had hand surgery two weeks ago and is casted from fingers to elbow. Yes, it’s her right hand, and yes, she’s still writing and submitting!

The journey of the third book in a series is very different than the first book or a stand-alone title. We already know our main characters and their world, and it’s a delight to come up with new adventures for them. Our editor, Barb McNally of Sleeping Bear Press, asked us to brainstorm several options for a third book in summer 2019. We came up with four ideas and wrote one paragraph summaries for each of them. The three of us had a phone conversation to discuss Barb’s favorite option, and then off we went to our favorite bagel shop to get to work.

Our process as co-authors is to sit at our favorite table (right next to the electrical outlets) over skinny bagels and coffee, and dive in.  We read the earlier books aloud to get back into the voice. Then we start talking and typing at the same time. (People at adjacent tables do look at us strangely, and we’ve had some interesting conversations with other bagel aficionados!) After a few hours, one of us volunteers to take the draft home and revise. Over the next few days or weeks, we email new versions back and forth and brainstorm further by phone.

Once we’re happy with the story, we start fine-tuning to make it appropriate for the K-1 audience. That means getting rid of most compound words and contractions and tightening sentences. Sentence fragments sometimes work best to keep the reading level low enough. We work to balance the vocabulary between high interest words and sight words and pay attention to how illustrations can offer the readers additional clues to decipher the word. These books also include some Spanish vocabulary. Our goal is to provide an entertaining story with lots of opportunity for illustrations as well as a rewarding reading experience.


Fiction books also take research. In Ann’s years as a classroom teacher, she had hamsters as classroom pets as well as about any other creature you can imagine. But she never had hamsters escape into spilled paint! In our early brainstorming, we pictured the hamsters getting a bath in a bowl. Wouldn’t that have been a charming illustration? But when we researched further, that’s not safe for a hamster. We settled with a soft cloth to clean off their painted paws.

When we were happy with this draft, we sent it off to Barb McNally. Barb is a terrific editor. She has a big picture perspective of the series and has keen insights into the characters and consistency between the books. For example, our hamster characters have internal thoughts and dialogue with one another, but they behave like real hamsters. This series doesn’t need to be read consecutively, so each book must stand alone as well as make sense with the other books. At the same time, each book has to feel fresh. It’s been a treat to develop this series with Sleeping Bear and we both certainly have grown as authors through this process.

The time schedule for an early reader can be a lot faster than a picture book. In just over two months, the revised manuscript was on its way to Andre Ceolin, the wonderful Brazilian illustrator. A few months later, Barb shared a sketch dummy with us. In spring 2020 we saw the color pdfs. Didn’t Andre make the most of the spilled paint and hamster tracks? We love the color palette he used in this book.

In this period of COVID uncertainty, virtual resources for teachers and parents are especially important. The plot of Paw Painters lent itself perfectly to a marble painting activity sheet, which Ann wrote and Sleeping Bear produced. Don’t miss Ann’s tip to put a few drops of Dawn detergent into each container of paint. It makes cleanup a whole lot easier!


In whatever form school takes this fall, we hope young readers enjoy this new addition to the Tip and Tucker series. Stay safe, everybody.


Ann Ingalls passes the day exaggerating (writing fiction) or telling the truth (writing nonfiction). She has written nearly fifty books for young readers. Her books have won several awards: The 2015 Annual American Graphic Design Award and the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation’s “A Book Just for Me!” When given the choice between educating children or entertaining them with her writing, Ann chooses to do both! Before she was a children’s writer, Ann taught elementary and special education classes and worked as a parent educator. Ann’s students enjoyed rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, canaries, salamanders, fire belly toads, and what seemed like millions of fish.

Ann Ingalls, represented by Liza Voges, has written more than four dozen books for young readers. Titles include PENCIL: A STORY WITH A POINT!, J IS FOR JAZZ, WHY SHOULD I WALK? I CAN FLY!, and the Tip and Tucker easy reader series with Sue Lowell Gallion. Ann had more than 850 early childhood and special education students during her teaching career. She has three adorable granddaughters: Sadie, Stella, and Evie.

Ann has three new titles are forthcoming in 2020, 2021, and 2022. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, Winston. Please visit her at


Sue Lowell Gallion has three books releasing in 2020: OUR WORLD, A FIRST BOOK OF GEOGRAPHY, a nonfiction board book from Phaidon Press, ALL EXCEPT AXLE, a picture book from Aladdin, and TIP AND TUCKER PAW PAINTERS, the third book in the Tip and Tucker series co-authored with Ann Ingalls. Previously Sue worked in nonprofit and corporate public relations. Sue is represented by Liza Voges of Eden Street Literary.

Today, Gallion is the author of eight children’s books including two series: the Pig & Pug picture books and the Tucker and Tip early readers. Gallion’s work has also appeared in various children’s magazines such as Highlights and High Five.

Sue is the author of the award-winning PUG MEETS PIG series.  Sue has two other books releasing in 2020 in addition to OUR WORLD. Her latest picture book is ALL EXCEPT AXLE, illustrated by Lisa Manuzak Wiley, the story of a new car anxious about leaving the auto assembly plant. Aladdin/S&S releases ALL EXCEPT AXLE on Sept. 22. TIP AND TUCKER PAW PAINTERS is the third in the early reader series written with Ann Ingalls and illustrated by Andre Ceolin, published by Sleeping Bear Press and releasing Aug. 15. Missouri Library Association Building Block award winner for 2019, PUG MEETS PIG, illustrated by Joyce Wan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) released in 2016. PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT released the following year. PUG & PIG AND FRIENDS will release spring 2021.

In 2013, Sue received the Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript award from SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Passionate about books and the importance of reading, Gallion’s also a frequent presenter speaking to librarians, parents and early childhood educators about literacy. She also shares her love of books with children at libraries and elementary schools — in person or via Skype. And once a week, Gallion volunteers as a reading mentor for children with low literacy skills as part of Lead to Read Kansas City.

Gallion takes her craft seriously. She’s an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and was the former regional advisor for the Kansas/Missouri region.

She has two preschool grandsons who live nearby. You can visit her at:


André Ceolin is a self-taught illustrator based in Brazil. He first worked as a professional illustrator in advertising agencies. However, being afraid of such labor market in Brazil, he elected to attend pharmacy school at college. Nevertheless, his passion for illustration spoke louder and he decided to devote 100% pf his time to what really fascinates him: illustrating. He was featured on Illustrator Saturday. Here’s the link.

Ann wishing you a quick escape from that cast covering you from hand to elbow. Sue, thank you for sharing the book and writing up Ann’s and your journey with the book. I just received a copy. It is perfect for kids from Kindergarten to 1st grade. I love how it introduces them to a few simple Spanish words so easily. Andre Ceolin illustrations make it a very cute visual book. Good luck with the book.

Talk tomorrow,


FREE Expert Advice on Writing, Illustrating, and Selling your Kidlit Creativity 

The Children’s Book Academy ( is once again bringing some luscious free content your way! Join us on August 15th for a FREE Workinar (an interactive cross between a Workshop and a Webinar brought to you by the co-teachers of the upcoming and game-changing interactiveCraft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books (

We are incredibly excited to share this FREE Workinar with our kidlit community.  Whether you’re a complete newbie or a long-time creative, sign up now to join us live (and recorded) as three experts show you how to Write, Illustrate, and Sell your Kidlit Creativity including:

  • How to Write a Marketable Picture Book

We’ll look at examples and suggestions for creating majorly marketable kidlit, including researching what else is out there, being original (ways to have a fresh concept, approach, or perspective), and finding fascinating nonfiction topics.  Some other topics we’ll be covering include how to create and develop memorable characters, invent great plots with high stakes for the protagonist, and come up with satisfying endings. Universal underlying themes always have appeal, so we’ll talk about that a bit as well as how to make sure your writing is  relevant for today’s kids.  

  • Learn Easy Peasy Fun No-Fail Drawing Techniques

Multi-published illustrator and animator, Larissa Marantz, is a master drawer, so she’ll be leading you through some easy-peasy no-fail drawing techniques as well as showing you how to draw with shapes, light & dark shading, and using angles versus organic shapes – all of which can help or hinder your drawing skills.

  • How to Develop a Marketable Illustration Style

So who among us has not taken this time to try their hands at a new skill or project? To those of you who manage to redo their backyards or learn Sanskrit, kudos! For the rest of us mere mortals, we’ve started the creative wheels turning about what makes a great kids picture book, and style is the concept that keeps coming up. Illustration style is the illustrating counterpoint to writer’s voice: it is what makes the work distinctive and marketable. The Houghton Mifflin Art Director and Graphic Novel designer, Andrea Miller, will be showing you all sorts of tips and tricks.

How to Sell Your Kidlit Writing & Art

Finally, Mira will give a whole bunch of tips for selling your kidlit writing and art including pointers for thinking long term about a career rather than just selling a project, how to craft great cover letters and bios, markets beyond just books, and how to use websites and social media effectively as potentially explosive marketing opportunities.

Here’s the lowdown on the amazing, experienced, and talented presenters:

Andrea Miller has designed and/or art-directed many successful children’s books and graphic novels for both Sterling Publishing and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt including, “Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast” by Josh Funk, “Mira Forecasts the Future” by Kell Andrews, “Accident!” by Andrea Tsurumi and “Winter Dance” by Marion Diane Baur.

More recently, she co-art directed and designed the #1 national best-selling children’s book, John Oliver’s “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo”. Andrea is also a published illustrator, and is co-creating a series of comics with her wife. She is excited and honored to jump in with the Children’s Book Academy for a rewarding experience as part of their esteemed faculty while looking for fresh talent in this course.

Illustrator Larissa Marantz  ( began working as a Character Designer for Nickelodeon’s Rocket Power and Rugrats TV shows. Her picture book illustration career started when she left the animation studio to stay at home with her young children. In between numerous play dates, and hundreds of diaper changes, she illustrated almost a dozen books for Nickelodeon’s licensed properties.

For 15 years she’s taught art classes to thousands of children through her after-school enrichment program, OC Art Studios. After taking the Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books her career took off with the Clyde Lied series that she co-created with her husband Keith. 

And last but not least, Dr. Mira Reisberg ( is a multi-published award-winning children’s book illustrator and author whose books have sold over 600,000 copies.

Besides running the Children’s Book Academy, she is also an acquiring Editor and Art Director at Clear Fork Publishing’s children’s book imprint Spork. Mira is also a former children’s literary agent, and a university professor who taught kid lit writing and illustrating courses as well as teacher ed. She has a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on children’s literature and has helped MANY writers and illustrators get published. Her job at Spork allows her to help even more people.

This amazing and completely FREE international workinar is happening live on August 15th at 4PM Pacific/7PM Eastern. Don’t worry, we’ll record it in case you can’t make it, but live is so much more fun! Bring paper, pencil, and pen, and a prepared 70-word pitch for some interactive fun. Sign up now with this easy peasy form to join us.

Talk tomorrow,



Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 4, 2020

Book Giveaway: THE NINJA CLUB SLEEPOVER by Laura Gehl

Author Laura Gehl has a new picture book titled,THE NINJA CLUB SLEEPOVER, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley and published by Page Street Kids and coming out on August 4th. PSK has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to 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 the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Laura and MacKenzie !


We are ninjas and ninjas are brave!

Willa and her best friends love ninjas. They have matching ninja backpacks and ninja t-shirts, and at school they even form a ninja club. But Willa has a secret: she’s a werewolf! Worried that no one will understand, she hides the truth from her friends. Until Val has a sleepover for her birthday…and it’s on the night of the full moon.

Willa is overcome with nerves. When an accident reveals that her friends were hiding secrets too, she realizes maybe it’s not so important to be a normal ninja. After all, a paranormal ninja can do so many cool things!

Join three remarkable friends as they discover that ALL of us are weird in our own special ways. Lovable and lively illustrations accompany this charming story that explores facing your fears and fitting in, encouraging readers to celebrate their true selves.



When I started writing The Ninja Club Sleepover (it was called Willa’s Sleepover at the time), my goal was to craft a story about friendship and acceptance. Even though this is my 16th picture book, it is the first one that really focuses on friendship. As my daughter has progressed through preschool to elementary school, I’ve been acutely aware of how much girls worry about acceptance, and about how their friends will perceive them. So in some ways, my own little girl inspired this story.

In my first draft, I wrote the story of Willa, whose best friends and fellow ninja-club members have no idea that she is actually a werewolf.  Willa is sure that if her friends find out her secret they won’t like her anymore. After all, who wants to be friends with a werewolf? Like any story, this one went through many iterations, but one piece of feedback from a critique partner still stands out vividly in my mind. He suggested that perhaps Willa’s friends should also have secrets. I took that great idea and ran with it. I won’t give away the secrets of Willa’s friends, but I will tell you that the cover of the book gives hints about what Val and Fiona are hiding!

As this manuscript evolved, it continued to be a story about friendship and acceptance, but it also developed another strong theme: the idea that ALL of us are weird in our own ways. An additional theme, bravery, began to emerge as well, especially as I added in the ninja club’s chant, which pops up repeatedly in the book: “We are ninjas, and ninjas are brave!”

Once I sold the story to Page Street Kids, my editor, Courtney Burke, asked me to draw out Willa’s emotions more with my words. As a picture book author, I’m always trying to use words as sparingly as possible, in order to let the illustrations tell a lot of the story. But in this case, Courtney was absolutely right. The additional words help the reader empathize with Willa’s worries and better understand her internal conflict as she tries to decide whether or not to reveal her secret.

I love the way this story turned out, and I know you will love MacKenzie Haley’s adorable illustrations. I hope that parents, caregivers, and teachers will use The Ninja Club Sleepover to start conversations with kids (there is a free teacher’s guide available on my website, or on the Page Street Kids site). I hope that kids will love seeing how Willa decides to share her own secret, and that they will be shocked when the friends’ secrets are revealed. Most of all, I hope the messages of the book will resonate with readers of all ages.


Laura Gehl is the author of more than twenty picture books, board books, and early readers, including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, My Pillow Keeps Moving, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, and the Baby Scientist series. The Ninja Club Sleepover shares a book birthday with Laura’s early reader Cat Has a Plan, about a cat and a dog with rival plans to snag a coveted toy. Her other 2020 releases include May Saves The Day, Judge Juliette, and Happy Lllamakkah. Visit Laura online at, or connect with her on Twitter or Instagram @AuthorLauraGehl.


MacKenzie Haley is an illustrator, runner, and cat whisperer who currently resides in Louisville, KY. She has her BFA in illustration from the University of Dayton, and is represented by Advocate Art. Her clients include Harper Collins, Cottage Door Press, Page Street Publishing, Albert Whitman & Co, Highlights Magazine, Magination Press, Oxford University Press, Apples & Honey Press, The National Center for Youth Issues, Worthy Publishing, and Storytime Magazine. She’s completed three full marathons (slowly), fostered about twelve cats (not at the same time), and has two codependent cats named Booger and Abby. She has drawn her whole life, and flunked a math test in the third grade because she turned the test over and used the entire time to draw characters and faces out of numbers.  She loves including small, interesting details in her work, and uses bold colors, patterns, and textures.

MacKenzie Haley is an illustrator, runner, and cat whisperer who currently resides in Louisville, KY. She has her BFA in illustration from the University of Dayton, and is represented by Advocate Art. Her clients include Harper Collins, Cottage Door Press, Page Street Publishing, Albert Whitman & Co, Highlights Magazine, Magination Press, Oxford University Press, Apples & Honey Press, The National Center for Youth Issues, Worthy Publishing, and Storytime Magazine. She’s completed three full marathons (slowly), fostered about twelve cats (not at the same time), and has two codependent cats named Booger and Abby. She has drawn her whole life, and flunked a math test in the third grade because she turned the test over and used the entire time to draw characters and faces out of numbers.  She loves including small, interesting details in her work, and uses bold colors, patterns, and textures. You can contact MacKenzie directly at, or Advocate Art ( for all inquiries about illustration work, or if you know any good jokes. She has currently reached the maximum amount of cat shirts a grown woman is allowed to have, and is banned from buying any more (but can accept them as gifts).

Thank you Laura for sharing your book and journey with us. I love MacKenzie’s illustrations and the three little girls who all have secrets and by the end find out they are a werewolf, vampire, and fairy. I have the book and it is so much fun. I know children wil love it as much as I do. God luck with the book!

Talk tomorow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 3, 2020

Book Winners – Cover Reveal – Kudos – Update


Nancy JR Young won WILL YOU BE FRIENDS WITH ME? by Kathleen Long Bostrom

Laurie Walchol won DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS by Carrie Finison

Please send me your name and address. Put Book Winner in the Subject Area.

David L Harrison and Jane Yolen teamed up for this book coming out in September. Check back end of August for Book Giveaway.




Amalia Hoffman HANUKKAH NIGHTS, a counting board book that explores each wondrous night of the holiday sold to Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben. Publication is slanted for Fall, 2022.


CONGRATULATIONS!  The Children’s Book Academy is thrilled to announce that a recent spreadsheet tally has yielded an impressive result. The number of children’s books contracted or published by former CBA students has just reached 500 books!

Here is a web page dedicated to them.

Congratulations Everyone!

Talk tomorrow,


Author Leah Henderson has a new middle grade book titled,THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS, published by Sterling Children’s Books and coming out on August 4th. Sterling has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to 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 the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Leah!


Can you change your fate—and the fate of those you love—if you return to the past? Journey to 1939 Harlem in this time-travel adventure with an inspiring message about believing in yourself.

Eleven-year-old Ailey Benjamin Lane can dance—so he’s certain that he’ll land the role of the Scarecrow in his school’s production of The Wiz. Unfortunately, a talented classmate and a serious attack of nerves derail his audition: he just stands there, frozen. Deflated and defeated, Ailey confides in his Grampa that he’s ready to quit. But Grampa believes in Ailey, and, to encourage him, shares a childhood story. As a boy, Grampa dreamed of becoming a tap dancer; he was so good that the Hollywood star and unofficial Mayor of Harlem, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, even gave him a special pair of tap shoes. Curious, Ailey finds the shoes, tries them on, taps his toes, and makes a wish. In the blink of an eye, he finds himself somewhere that if most definitely no place like home! Featuring an all-African-American cast of characters, and infused with references to black culture and history, this work of magical realism is sure to captivate and inspire readers.

“A fast-paced story about family, bravery, and the arts, this story will have readers wanting to visit Harlem and tap alongside Ailey, Grampa, and Bojangles himself.”–School Library Journal (Starred review)

Leah’s Little dog that lead her to this story


Back in 2014, my dog, Boston, led me to this story. On one of our walks, he brought me to the foot of a very special statue to do his business. When looking up, I saw the feet of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the famous tap dancer and movie star hovering over us. While staring at his shoes, I instantly thought to myself, they have something to say. I studied them and the statue for a while as Boston kept sniffing around like he had something to find as well. Then I thought about Bojangles’ direction in his pose and remembered the story about the space he was stepping towards.

The story goes that the statue was placed at that exact intersection in Jackson Ward (Richmond, Virginia) after Bojangles witnessed a group of Black children trying to cross a busy four-way intersection. He immediately went to the city demanding a traffic light and when the funds weren’t available to add one, Bojangles paid for it himself. And in the statue, he points towards that light. Every time I go by that corner, or think of Bojangles, I think of that act and so many others. He was a generous and proud man, and those shoes of his definitely had something to say.

The view that started it all.

And as if my dog knew that the seed had finally been planted, he looked back at me one more time, snorting, like his work had been done and then carried us on our way. I wish I could say the story you can now read, The Magic of Changing Yours Stars, came to me rather quickly, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was one of those ideas that really needed time to percolate! At first, I played around with it as a picture book solely focused on Bojangles, but that idea always felt like something was missing. So, I put it away for a while and then returned to it, ready to explore the idea of it maybe being a chapter book of some kind with a young boy finding old tap shoes up in an attic. But I quickly discarded that one too. And when I say “quickly” I actually mean about a year or two later, after many failed attempts to find that story.

Then a couple years ago, I found myself back in Richmond, walking around that very same corner with my dog, and I began to think about community and family and Black life. Jackson Ward is a historic and culturally rich neighborhood, and I suddenly wanted to write something that was steeped in Black history, culture, family, and stars!

In everything I write, and all that I do, I am a firm believer of people seeing and experiencing their possibilities and stars and felt what better way to express that than through a book all about just that. Actual stars in the sky, Black people who were stars in their own right, a family bursting with love, grit, promise and possibilities, all told within communities and spaces where Black Excellence abounds!

Bojangles Statue in the Jackson Ward section of Richmond, Virginia

And what came out is a feel-good story about overcoming stumbles and falls, in order to change one’s stars.


Leah Henderson is the author of the middle grade novels One Shadow on the Wall, a Children’s Africana Book Award notable and a Bank Street Best Book, starred for outstanding merit and the forthcoming The Magic in Changing Your Stars. Her short story “Warning: Color May Fade” is part of the YA anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America and her forthcoming picture books include Mamie on the Mound, Day For Rememberin’, and Together We March. Leah mentors at-risk teens in self-empowerment, business, and writing and her volunteer work has roots in Mali, West Africa. An avid traveler, she has explored over 50 countries.  She attended Callaloo Writing Workshop at Oxford University, is on Highlights Foundation faculty, helps with conference planning for Kweli Journal’s The Color of Children Literature and is on a committee for We Need Diverse Books. Leah graduated from Phillips Andover Academy and Tufts University and has an MFA in Writing. She is on faculty in the MFA program at Spalding University and she currently calls Washington, D.C. home.

You can find her on Twitter @LeahsMark or at her website:

Thank you Leah, for sharing your book and journey with us. I love that your dog helped you find Mr. Bogjangle’s statue and spur a book about him. He is beloved by many and deserves to be discovered by the new generations. Good luck with the book!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 1, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Saki Tanaka

Saki Tanaka is a Mexican-Japanese author-illustrator who grew up in D.C., Tokyo, and Paris. Because of her transient and multi-cultural upbringing, she is fascinated by gray areas where polarities meet: between the real and otherworldly, individuality, belonging and being an outsider, between East and West.

Japanese author-illustrator who grew up in D.C., Tokyo, and Paris. Because of her transient and multi-cultural upbringing, she is fascinated by gray areas where polarities meet: between the real and otherworldly, belonging and being an outsider, between East and West. She is illustrating her first picture book, If Sun Could Speak, due to be published by Clear Fork in 2019. When not writing or drawing, Saki puts on her design director hat on to create logos for brands like Disney and Petco. She’s found a home (for now) in Brooklyn, NY.

 Saki discussing her Process:

When Mira Reisberg (art director and editor at Clearfork) shared Kourtney LaFavre’s manuscript for If Sun Could Speak with me, I was immediately enchanted by Sun as a character (confident and a bit of a ham in an endearing way). I’m fascinated by space and astrophysics so taking this on was a no brainer. I started by immersing myself in research and inspiration.

I read the manuscript a few times to get a sense of Sun’s personality and sketched initial impressions of the character using a Col-erase indigo pencil, which I like because it’s erasable and smudges less than graphite. I kept going back to reference images of the sun and was inspired by how solar flares look a bit like hair! I made that part of the character’s design. Then I drew out a few tighter sketches. I revised and whittled these down with Mira (she was very particular about the nose, and it was amazing to see how one little element could make such a difference!), then did a few more poses and color studies.

Then I started doodling ideas for each spread on the margins of the manuscrpit, and sketched each spread as tiny thumbnails, trying various compositions and considering how each one flowed from one to the next. Finally I shared tighter sketches with text.

I then developed a palette inspired by vintage science books and posters, adjusted it with feedback from Mira to balance contrast and warmth, and applied it to the spreads digitally.

Then I created final art by printing the cleaned up sketch onto Arches hotpress paper, then painted the watercolor washes (left), and layered in details using color pencils (right).

Finally, I scanned it in for a final digital clean up, then shared it with the team after layering the text in.

It was a wonderfully collaborative process. I was able to suggest ideas and workshop them with Mira! These ranged from pagination shifts, to layering in a secondary character that doesn’t appear in the text, to adding blurbs about scientists that advanced our understanding of the universe. Mira shared these with Kourtney and amazingly, she was open to try them out (huge thankyous to both)!

For the secondary narrative, I added this “girl” as a way for me to visit space vicariously! During my research, I found out that Hispanic women are one of the most underrepresented groups at NASA, so it was important for me to portray this character as a Hispanic girl. Mira gave me great direction on adjusting her age and making sure she appeared consistent.

How long have you been illustrating?:

I got my first illustration assignment (If Sun Could Speak) with Clearfork in 2018. It came out in the spring of this year!

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

At the elementary school I attended in France, I sold my drawings to kids in class for 5 Francs a piece. As a grown-up, my first sell was a pastel painting I prepared for a show at the Mehu Gallery in New York City, of a pony falling for a wooden carousel horse. I was so excited when it sold, I hugged the buyer! Years later, I recreated it as an illustration when a writer friend noted that there might be a story in there.

Did you study art in college?

I started as a hybrid Fine Art/Humanities major at Carnegie Mellon University, but eventually transferred into their School of Design. Back then, I was more drawn to the problem solving bent in the Design practice, and not as confident about the self-expression focus that defined the Art curriculum.

What did you study?

Communication Design (graphic design)

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

Not during college, though professors and mentors often noted that my design work felt “illustrative.”

Do you feel school helped you develop your style?

Design school taught me visual and conceptual problem solving, as well as the value of invisible tools that do a lot of heavy lifting like composition and typography. Having to design on a computer all the time made me miss using my hands to create, which indirectly shaped my current illustration style and mark making process (which is mostly traditional).

Did the school help you find work when you graduated?

A lot of my graphic design internships and jobs came from contacts I made at school and my professor’s recommendations. I have been fortunate and am very grateful for their support.

What type of work did you do when you started your career?

I did (and still do) design work. I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects at various firms, including print, web, environmental, and identity design. I’m currently a design director at a creative consultancy called Lippincott, a practice that spans brand strategy, experience innovation and design expression.

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

In 2011, I took a continuing ed illustration class at the School of Visual Arts. The instructor noted that my experiments with watercolor and gouache felt conducive to children’s book illustration, which sparked something that had been dormant for ages. I’d always loved picture books and the magical worlds they let me escape into as a kid, but it wasn’t till then that I seriously considered making one myself. My desire and intent was still nebulous then, and slowly, slowly morphed into what it is now (and continues to grow). Once my focus had narrowed in on children’s book illustration, I took picture book making classes with Monica Wellington at SVA. That deepened my understanding of the artform, and connected me to my awesome critique group friends (hi, Seedlings!). It’s fun to look through old work and retrace my meanderings.

When did you move to the US?

The first time was when I was three months old, till my father’s work moved us back to Japan four years later. The second time was right before my senior year of high school. I was sad that I couldn’t graduate with my friends in Japan, but the move helped me decide to go to college in the States. I grew up feeling like a foreigner wherever I went, and it wasn’t until I discovered Brooklyn, NY that I felt like I found a place I wanted to grow roots in. And, I’m still here!

Did you take any online workshop or classes to help you navigate the children’s book industry?

I’m a workshop addict! With every class I take and perspective I come across, I learn something new about image making and storytelling. I’ve explored a lot; writing, painting, drawing, poetry, book making, dream analyzing, acting, song writing, all the things! I’m in awe of teachers. It’s one of the most important jobs in the world.

How did Clearfork find you to illustrate If Sun Could Speak by Kourtney LaFavre?

Speaking of great workshops… I took the Children’s Book Academy’s Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books course a few years ago. I signed up to get a portfolio review with the lovely editor and Art Director, Mira Reisberg. She liked this drawing of a little cloud character I had developed and thought I could find fun ways to visualize Kourtney’s beautiful words.

How much time did they give you to do the illustrations?

About seven months. It flew by!

How did you connect with your agent Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt?

When first researching agents, I gathered my favorite picture books and looked up who had represented them. One that really stood out for me was Journey by Aaron Becker. I noticed that Aaron had thanked Linda in his acknowledgement blurb in the front matter of the book. I looked up interviews Linda had done and felt a kinship in the types of stories we liked so she’d been on top of my “dream agents” list for a while. A few years later, we connected thanks to the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature mentorship program and she very kindly mentioned how looking at my work made her happy, and offered to represent me!

Have you done any illustrations for other books?

I’ve done illustrations for several pre-published picture book dummies that are at various stages of completion and submission. This makes me feel like a bad book mom, but I’m learning to focus on just a few of them at a time.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

I’ve illustrated poems for Cricket Media’s Babybug and Ladybug magazines. These publications are perfect resources for remembering what kids wonder and think about. They make me nostalgic for my childhood!

Do you have a studio in your house?

Space is a precious commodity in NYC… but I’ve managed to carve out a small workstation in my living room filled with trinkets, sketchbooks, stacks of paper, and all sorts of mark making tools. It’s next to a window that gives me natural light and faces a wall covered in layers and layers of doodles, inspiration, color swatches and stickie note musings.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

I have! It’s napping in my ever growing “work in progress” drawer, waiting for me to wake it up once I finish my current projects. I do check in on it once in a while to make sure it’s still with me.

I see you do commission work. How did this start and how do you find that type of work?

Friends, family and colleagues hear about my illustration work through the grapevine and are nice enough to inquire. My first “commission” (which I still do every year) was a family “nengajo” (Japanese new year’s greetings card) that my dad sends out every January. They often incorporate the Chinese zodiac animal of the year that Japan imported as a custom.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I currently split my time between design duties during the week, and illustration fun times (nights, weekends and any other pockets I can find).

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

Yes! If I think the story is something my particular point of view and experience could add value to, and if my bandwidth allows. One thing to note is that they would need to reach out to Linda (my agent) as she manages all inquiries related to children’s books.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

Finding and getting to know so many kindred spirits (kids, librarians, authors, illustrators, teachers, agents, editors) who believe in the power of images/stories and are just as obsessed as I am with picture books and other forms of kidlit. A few of my favorite encounters include:

  • When a 6-year-old girl who watched me draw a page full of her favorite things gasped “wow, that’s magical!” I still well up thinking about that moment.
  • The first time an editor said the name of my picture book protagonist out loud, and he became real.
  • Getting to meet and share my work with Mike Curato at the Highlights Foundation. What a star.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Lately, it has been watercolor. Its unpredictability used to intimidate me, but this control-freak is learning to let go and let it do its thing. For part of the 100 Day Project this year, I experimented with making random paint blots, then carving out whatever image I saw in the shapes with an indigo colored pencil. It was a bit like a Rorschach test! I found the process exhilarating and have continued to play with the balance of spontaneity and control.

Has that changed over time?

I’ve gone through a graphite phase, pastels phase, oils, acrylic, vector graphics, you name it! Ultimately, I’ve found that what I want to do with my art visually (blurring lines between the real and surreal) dictates what I use to achieve it (watercolor and color pencils, for now).

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

I use a Wacom tablet for final edits after I scan hand-drawn or painted work. This is mostly for cleanup, color correction and scaling if anything is off. I find it more precise than a mouse.

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

I start drawing with Col-erase pencils on sketchbook paper, which I scan, adjust, and then print onto watercolor paper. I color plan digitally, then use watercolor paints followed by color pencils to complete the final illustration.

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

I try to paint every day, however short or long the session. I’ve found it’s like physical exercise—I get rusty if I don’t keep practicing and playing on a regular basis.

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

Always! As shown in the process for illustrating If Sun Could Speak, I gather pictures, buy and borrow subject-matter reference books, watch documentaries, surround myself with props, try to recreate relevant experiences (within reason), make playlists, and of course, get lost in internet wormholes.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

There are three big things I’ve gained thanks to the internet. One is limitless access to creative expertise, through online courses and workshops. The second is a (shamefully latent) sense of civic responsibility and a need to stay informed so I can find ways to use my privilege for better. The third is being able to share and get feedback on personal projects from peers through social media. That accountability and prompts like Inktober and The 100 Day Project was a great motivator.

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

Too many. It’s overwhelming. The biggest one by far is reaching readers who might need my book, for whatever reason. I want to connect with fellow dreamers, “outsiders” and “uncool” kids (who are actually the coolest) everywhere. I hope in some small way, I can shed light on those who feel unseen and give a voice to those who can’t always speak for themselves. That and teaching!

What are you working on now?

Some commissioned work and my first author/illustrator book which is too soon to say anything about formally. It’s tentatively set to come out in 2022!

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.

I love Arches watercolor paper. For paint, I use everything from Schmincke to Crayola to Daniel Smith. A recent discovery is that mixing Dr. Ph Martin concentrated inks with watercolor paint really punches up the vibrancy of the colors (but still lets you lift)! I also like turning everything into art supplies; jar lids, seashells and MUJI dishware make great palettes, lego blocks are handy brush holders, and desk lamps can double as tape dispensers.

 Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

I’m still pretty new too… and feel like I’ve benefited from always being a work in progress. I’m constantly learning, questioning why I like the things I like, and why I create the work I create. It helps me be more intentional when turning my curiosities and experiences into artwork. This process is also constantly changing! But If I had to list a few things I wish I knew sooner, they would be:

  1. Embrace mistakes: For a while (and I still have moments) I was terrified of making “mistakes” but eventually came to appreciate them. That fear goes away whenever I remember why I loved drawing as a kid: it’s FUN. Being able to take a vision in your head and make it appear on paper is magic, and it’s often better when it takes more than one try.
  2. Seek out the good eggs, treasure them, and let go of the “bad” ones: Actually it’s less about “good” or “bad” and more about chemistry. You (and your work) aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s a great thing. It means it’s specific. It took me forever to figure this out as an awkward introvert who struggled with, but wanted to fit in.
  3. Pay attention to coincidences (or what I call “universe nudges”), no joke.

Thank you, Saki for yout interview and sharing your expertise with us. Please let me know your future successes so I can share it with everyone.

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



Talk tomorrow,



Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 31, 2020

Agent of the Month – Alyssa Reuben – First Page Results

Alyssa Reuben at Paradigm Talent Agency is our Agent of the Month for July. This week you will find the four first page critique results from with Alyssa. They up now. Thank you for your patience!

Alyssa Reuben has been a passionate representative and advocate of authors for well over a decade. Her list reflects her multifaceted passions and includes adult, young adult, and the occasional middle grade fiction as well as smart, platform driven, nonfiction ranging from pop-culture, lifestyle, cookbooks, and narrative to memoir.

She gravitates toward voice-driven non-fiction presenting a fresh point of view and particularly loves novels with an edge or a great romance arc. Her favorite kind of project is one that allows her to roll up her sleeves to develop and edit material alongside a collaborative and engaged author and prides herself on discovering new voices and launching successful careers. She runs the book publishing department at Paradigm Literary and Talent Agency, which has been her home since graduating Cornell University.

Alyssa represents a range of both adult and children’s genres. For children’s, she gravitates toward contemporary Middle Grade and YA with a strong voice. But a high concept, or an interesting paranormal twist has been known to catch her eye. For nonfiction, her categories include pop-culture, lifestyle, quirky histories, food, narrative and memoir. On the fiction side, her tastes are extremely wide ranging between literary and commercial. She’s a sucker for a coming-of-age story or a good romance arc.

She’s Looking For:


Fiction: Literary Fiction, Chick Lit, Commercial Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor/Satire, Romance, Family Saga, Historical Fiction, Thrillers, Young Adult, Multi-Cultural, LGBTQ, Adventure, Offbeat/Quirky, Middle Grade.

Non-Fiction: History, Celebrity, Biography, Religion, Food & Lifestyle, Drama/Music, Multi-Cultural, Cookbooks, illustrated, LGBTQ, True Crime, Memoirs, Travel, Adventure/True Story, Dating/Relationships, Current Affairs, Women’s Issues, Pop Culture, Film & Entertainment, Cultural/Social Issues, Humor, Journalism, Narrative, Memoir.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be emailed to AREUBEN@PARADIGMAGENCY.COM

Please e-mail your query letter along with the first 10 pages of your work in the body of an email to



Paradigm Agency website.


The Joker’s Revenge – Nancy Beaule – Young Adult

Darci bolted upright, her lungs expanding and contracting like an accordion on steroids. A trail of perspiration saturated her faded pillowcase, streaking like endless trails across an open meadow. That dream again. No, not a dream, a bone-chilling, bona fide nightmare! And it was always the same¾a trail meandering through prickly blackberry bushes, across a babbling brook and past a huge maple tree. Footsteps snapping dead branches until the young girl, who bears a striking resemblance to her late mother, trips over a root and finds herself lying on the ground. A sinister figure with dark steely eyes glares down at her, his pasty white face resembling a depraved clown. He’s dressed in bright colors of purple and green, but that part’s a bit hazy. His lopsided grin bursts into malevolent laughter.

Darci pulled a tissue from the box and dragged it across her clammy forehead, glancing at the alarm clock perched upon her aging dresser. 5:00 a.m. A puppy graced the front, and two keys in the back set the time and wound it up. It was a birthday gift from her parents on her tenth birthday, one of the last she would have with her mother. She stared at the framed picture of her mother kneeling in front of her prized lilac bushes, the sweet fragrance of the blooms still fresh in her memory. Now it was just Darci and her dad, doing their best to make ends meet and keep the meager farm going.

“Darci! Time to get up. Breakfast doesn’t make itself, you know. I did you a favor and collected the eggs this morning, but don’t get too spoiled ’cause I’m not gonna do that every day.”

She wrapped her flannel bathrobe over her pajamas, staring at her feet as she pounded down the stairs. “I’ll start the coffee.”

“Get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, did ya? If you don’t stop shakin’ you’ll dump more water on the floor than in the pot. What’s the matter?”


We get a lot of heady information in the bottom half of this, which is fantastic! But I do wonder if this should open where it does. Opening with a dream is disorienting for a lot of readers, and I think there are other bits on this first page that could open things up. (If the dream itself is essential the big picture, it can be folded in a few pages deep once the reader is oriented!) I highlighted a sentence above in red that could be a first sentence, I think. It’s kind of non-traditional! But it would be surprising and it indicates that we’re coming into a story that’s been in motion, and that we’re going to get filled in on it. I think the lilac bushes might also be a jumping off point because it pulls us right into the information about the mom, the dad, and the farm. Is her morning routine very different from that of someone else her age? (I’m guessing it is.) So it might also work well to jump right into the nitty gritty of her morning routine—show us what’s unusual about her, why it’s this character and this story. Once we have that, we’ll be much more invested in her nightmares.


NEEDLESS TO SAY by Lou Ann Gurney – Middle Grade Fiction

The black cat wiggled free of Skeeter’s grip and clawed its way up her arm. It balanced on her head for a split second, then sprang to the ground and bolted across the sand.

Skeeter chased it up a short lava mound and into a beach park pavilion where a bunch of kids sat around a cement picnic table. The terrified cat leaped up on the table and skittered across, scattering brightly colored squares of paper. The kids jumped to their feet, hollering and waving their arms as if they’d been struck by a new dance craze.

If only Skeeter had captured the cat-dash on video, she could have sent it to America’s Funniest Moments and won $100,000. Then her problem would be solved.

Instead, she crashed into an older girl dressed in cutoffs and a polo shirt decorated with a volcano logo and the words County of Hawaii, Department of Parks and Recreation.

“Whoa,” the girl said. “That cat’s feral—wild. It’ll scratch you to bits if you catch it.”

Skeeter already knew about cat scratches. She swiped at a trickle of watery blood oozing from a pinprick claw puncture on her arm. Black cat. Definitely bad luck.

“I’m Pua,” the girl said. “We’re folding origami today for our crafts project. You like origami?”

“Why you wanna chase that old cat, anyway?” a boy asked Skeeter as he picked up stray origami papers.

She glanced at his flowered surf shorts, tanned brown face, dark eyes, and dark shaggy hair. He smiled at her, revealing straight white teeth.

“Because it might be worth a thousand dollars and I need a thousand dollars bad,” Skeeter said.


You’ve got a great hook at the end here—I think you could make it even more definitive and dramatic by saying “it’s worth a thousand dollars.” You also do a great job of rooting us into the action right from the get-go. I would suggest just adding a sentence or two at the beginning, and a few details throughout, to preface that action and give us a touch more context. We don’t know Skeeter, and we don’t know the cat, and it’s not clear (until the last sentence) why we’re opening with Skeeter and the cat. A hook-y first sentence to get us onto the ramp of this opening scene would be tremendously helpful. It can be something that sets up stakes or sets up intent without revealing the surprise at the end of the page. Think about the first sentence of Mrs. Dalloway: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” It’s very mundane, but still manages to give us some context while also setting up the mystery. We’re thinking, who is Mrs. Dalloway? What are the flowers for? Why would she not buy the flowers herself? I think you could do something similar here to get us on that ramp! …And presumably, soon after this, we’d find out the full context.



10/27/1908. Dearest Diary, Aunt Ava will dump us at noon today. No matter what. It’s not that she doesn’t love us. Or something. But she hates Papa. Happy Birthday to me!?

“Your father is not here to receive you.” Aunt Ava stomps past us as we sweat – side by side – on a slowly unspooling wicker settee. It’s sweltering, but a gulf breeze ruffles our black taffeta mourning dresses. “Salome, your father…” She turns away, so I can’t read her lips, then storms back. “So typical. No… Classic Dr. Earnest Oldham, MD.” Aunt Ava rolls Papa’s name around like it’s a sourball. “Too busy maiming the locals, I’m sure, and making the blind lame.” She tugs on her monogrammed driving gloves, embroidered in gold. The double A’s wink in the sunshine. Unlike Mama, Ava Althrop, my mother’s older sister, was never beautiful. But even so, the last six months have taken a toll. On her. On all of us. And she blames Papa. For every bit. Me? It hurts not to hear the birthday singing so well this year, but I’ll blow out my 12 candles, forgive Papa like I promised Mama – or try, anyway – and return to Aunt Ava’s pronto!

The Ferry horn blasts the five-minute warning and we all flinch. Even I hear it. In my right ear. Sorta. Aunt Ava sucks on her teeth, scowling. I can tell she’s not happy to leave us – her only nieces. Unaccompanied on the sagging porch of a strange hotel. In an abandoned fishing village. On a weird island. Off the Southwest coast of Florida. And a black snake slithering toward our two pairs of mucked, brown boots. I let out a shriek – hopefully, not too loud, since I don’t know what loud is anymore and whip my knees up to my chin so fast, I bite my tongue. Chubby little Rosalie shoots me a condescending smirk. Nothing like having a kid sister for your eternal arch-enemy. Except when she acts nice. Which is not now. “Hotel de Milagros!” Aunt Ava straightens the inn’s moldy sign and deftly pushes the two-foot snake away with the toe of her thick leather, driving galoshes. “Hotel of Miracles, girls! It’s the ideal location for your father’s new medical clinic. He’ll need all the miracles he can get. And so, will you.”


There’s so much detail and muscularity in here, which is hard to do! My suggestion would be to dial that muscularity down a touch. It’s paced quickly—a lot of info comes fast, including characters, character dynamics, setting, and dialogue. Readers will be patient at the beginning, so don’t be afraid to take your time! Give them time to absorb all the great complexity set up in here. This is a journal entry, so I’d think about what’s the one that urgently needs to be expressed by this character? And that’s the thing that can be emphasized/established first. Is it the fact that the aunt hates dad? Is it the idea of miracles? The unique setting? Figure out what that one first thing is and lean in—the rest will follow.


PIA by Lindsay Jane Sedgwick; target audience 6-9 year-olds

Grabbing her coat in a fist, Pia rushed out of the school looking for her sister. Her blue balaclava wriggled higher with every step, until it was like a woolly pillar balanced on top of her head. It was this that Neeta spotted, weaving in and out of the hordes. She sauntered over and grabbed it off Pia’s head.

“Hey!” Pia grabbed it back but she wasn’t cross. She was tiny and radiant.

“What’s with you?” said Neeta.

“This.” Pia waved her essay in Neeta’s face, just close enough and fast enough to give her sister’s nose the tiniest of paper cuts.


“I got four gold stars!” said Pia. Neeta grunted – she was eleven and very good at meaningful grunts – and led the way across the yard, with Pia tagging on. But Pia was faster and stopped in front of Neeta, raising her essay up in the air so the stars were as close to her sister’s eyes as could be. “Teacher put it on the noticeboard and everyone saw it.”

“I didn’t.”

“Everyone else,” said Pia.

Pia looked so little and hurt that Neeta grabbed the essay, which was what Pia wanted all along. “Four gold stars,” she said, in a monotone. “That’s really cool Mouse. Now can we go home?” Pia nodded, her balaclava riding up again. “You look like a smurf.”

“Oi, wierdo! Neeta Berry!”

Neeta turned and stopped. Bonzo was big and blond, with a nose like a Doberman and his voice snaked across the yard, pushing everything out of its way. “Heard you’re like a kiss,” he said, making slurpy kissing sounds and heading their way.

Here’S Alyssa:

This grounds us in the scene and action right away, which is great, and establishes the dynamic between Pia and Neeta immediately without explaining it. You’ve got visceral descriptors in here too, like “a nose like a Doberman” and “slurpy kissing sounds.” The bottom half is a little confusing in terms of Pia’s essay and Bozo’s taunting. Are the two connected (is his comment something he pulled from her essay)? Can we get a hint about what the essay is? If it’s important to the big picture, you might hint at something that explains why we open with the essay, like: “The essay that would change Pia’s life forever,” except your thing will be much more brilliant! What did she write about? Why is Bonzo taunting her? I believe this is setting up Pia’s position in this world, and we’re almost there. A few more details/hints about the essay and Bonzo’s response can solidify that. What are these two things (the essay and the taunting) meant to indicate about Pia? That she’s a weirdo? Give us just a touch more!


Alyssa, thank you for sharing your time and expertise with all of us. We always learn a lot and it is really appreciated.

Talk tomorrow,


Lindsey McDevitt has a new picture book, TRUTH AND HONOR: THE PRESIDENT FORD STORY, Illustrated by Matt Faulkner and published by Sleeping Bear Press. Sleeping Bear Press has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to 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 the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Lindsey and Matt!

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!


When Gerald Ford became president after the turmoil of the early 70s, Americans were ready for an honest, hardworking politician. And that is just what they got with President Ford. He was a man of integrity and honesty, who cared deeply about all Americans. His life, tougher than some and filled with character-building lessons, had prepared him for the job–from his childhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan to his days on the University of Michigan football team and in the Navy to his many years representing the Great Lakes State in congress. In Truth and Honor learn what made Gerald Ford the right man for the job. Backmatter includes a letter from the Ford family and a timeline.


My journey writing Truth and Honor: The President Ford Story was quite different for me in a number of ways. For one, Sleeping Bear Press asked if I was interested in researching and writing this picture book biography. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum staff wanted one on the former president—their staff had seen my book Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story also published by Sleeping Bear Press. Naturally, I was interested, despite knowing only a little about my subject. I’d be working with my terrific editor Sarah Rockett again—from the very beginning.

When Gerald Ford became president in the tumultuous time after Watergate I was in high school in the 1970’s. Like many, my impression of him was of a good honest man. Perhaps a bit clumsy? I recalled Ford’s Presidency as a relief after the lies, scandal and endless anxiety around Richard Nixon’s. But digging into my research I quickly discovered several surprises. For one, Ford’s impressive integrity perhaps triggered the accusations of clumsiness for our most athletic president? A single fall down the wet steps of Air Force One seemed to finally give the press a humorous angle on the former college football player.

Another surprise—Gerald Ford was born Leslie King Junior. His birth father abused his mother, who fled when young Jerry was just sixteen days old. A rough beginning back in 1913 to have no dad and a divorced mother. Jerry’s life overall turned out to be tougher than I’d imagined and it definitely prepared him for his challenges as president.

But Jerry’s step-father Gerald Ford Senior, was “an honorable man, as dependable as the lighthouse shining at Grand Haven Beach.” (I had loads of fun adding similes and metaphors to this book about Michigan’s only president.) Along with his brave mother, Ford’s step-dad instilled important values in Ford Junior, and I included quotes like this, “You are a person of your word…the integrity of your word…is a tremendous possession of great value. Keep it never lose it.”

Ford was 61 when he became President with the very first use of the 25th amendment. The same age I was when writing the book—I’m a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to writing. I also have a particular interest in what people do in later life and how we as writers for kids portray older adults. All stereotypes matter. (Race and age stereotypes actually affect our health and wellbeing.) Here was an adult protagonist, Gerald Ford, who could only accomplish what he did with all that lovely life experience behind him.

It made sense to me to begin by first figuring out just what kind of president Ford had been. I learned that Republican Congressman and President Gerald Ford had genuinely cared about citizens of all colors, voting consistently for civil rights and voting rights legislation, often in opposition to his party. He cared for immigrants too, and refugees from Saigon, as the Vietnam War was ending.

Apparently Gerald Ford was not good at making speeches, but he could laugh at his own poor skills in that regard. However, he provided me with some terrific quotes to highlight his sterling character.

“I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself.”

Here was a president I could write about with enthusiasm! And a president to perhaps inspire adults to discuss America’s true values with kids in an election year. It felt fortuitous to me.

Like many writers, my process included many terrible early drafts. Only this time my editor read quite a few. Embarrassing. But helpful. Especially as there was a deadline. I quickly determined this book would begin with Ford as President, and end with him tackling all the problems piled on that same desk. In between we’d show just how young Jerry’s life prepared him for the challenges of that time.

When researching and writing picture book bios I’m always searching for the things kids can identify with. I’m so glad I included his youthful stuttering as I’ve already learned that meant a lot to one child reader. And of course I had to include the dramatic WW II scene where Jerry almost slide into the sea, and the Ford family dog named “Liberty.” All key elements for beautiful illustrations by Matt Faulkner. (I’d been secretly hoping for Michigan’s award winning illustrator.)

On a more serious note, I think Truth and Honor: The President Ford Story offers an opportunity to talk with young people trying to make sense of American politics now. President Ford took over the presidency at a time our nation needed to heal and regain trust in government.  Writing this book gave me much to think about in this age of turmoil. I’m hoping it may do the same for others.

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

President Gerald R. Ford, August 9, 1974.


Lindsey McDivitt writes fiction and non-fiction for children. Her picture books Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story (2018) and Truth and Honor: The President Ford Story (July 2020) were published by Sleeping Bear Press. A third picture book biography comes out in 2021. Lindsey is passionate about tackling ageism in books for children. She began writing children’s books after many years in health education when she co-edited a book of true stories of hope and healing by stroke survivors. Find Lindsey at where she reviews picture books with accurate and diverse images of aging and older adults on her blog “A is for Aging.”


Matt Faulkner’s first work of art was “Portrait of a Dog,” etched into the oak kitchen table when he was five. Fortunately his parents were the forgiving types, and Matt’s art career blossomed.

Matt graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and has done work for The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and Forbes Magazine. Matt is also an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator. He has illustrated twenty-nine books and written and illustrated seven more since he began his career back in 1985, including Thank You, Sarah (Simon & Schuster), Gaijin: An American Prisoner of War (Disney-Hyperion), and Because I Could Not Stop My Bike. Matt is married to author and librarian Kristen Remenar.

Visit Matt online.

Lindsey, thank you for sharing your book and journey with us. I discovered a lot of interesting things about President Ford. Matt’s illustrations are beautiful and together with your writing and research they make this book a “must have”. Adults and children to love this book as much as I do.

Talk tomorrow,


Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: