Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 26, 2017


Author/Illustrator Barbara DiLorenzo has agreed to give away a copy of her first picture book that she wrote and illustrated, RENATO AND THE LION. If you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment, reblog, tweet, or talk about RENATO AND THE LION on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner.


The touching, magical story of a boy in a war-torn country and the stone lion that rescues him.

Renato loves his home in Florence, Italy. He loves playing with his friends in the Piazza della Signoria. He loves walking home by the beautiful buildings and fountains with his father in the evenings. And he especially loves the stone lion who seems to smile at him from a pedestal in the piazza. The lion makes him feel safe.

But one day his father tells him that their family must leave. Their country is at war, and they will be safer in America. Renato can only think of his lion. Who will keep him safe?

With luminous watercolor paintings, Barbara DiLorenzo captures the beauty of Florence in this heartwarming and ultimately magical picture book.


The idea for my debut book, RENATO AND THE LION (Viking, 2017) began over a decade ago, on a family trip in 2006. We were visiting Italian family in Treviso, and decided to take a detour to Florence. Our 3-year old son was not amused by my constant push to visit the Florentine museums. However, when we visited the Bargello, a museum containing mostly sculptures, something magical happened. Near the courtyard where two white lions stand guard by a doorway, my little son wholeheartedly believed that one of them was alive. I watched through the lens of my camera as he reacted to the statue. He was scared, but his father encouraged him to approach the lion. His face showed concern as he stepped closer to the lion. After a few minutes, he bravely walked all the way up to the lion, and gave it a hug. (I know touching the sculptures is not a good practice, but in this case, a brief hug seemed magical). This interaction haunted me for some time, and I began to draw a boy character with a stone lion, come to life.

However, try as I might, I could not force a plot on these two. The characters were sweet, but I sensed a darkness to the story that would have to bring the lion to life to give hope to the boy. But I couldn’t quite get the story to work. I even tried to write a novel, but after 80,000 words, I decided the plot had gotten way out of hand. I needed to return to the essence of a boy and his lion. Around this time, I came across a documentary, called THE RAPE OF EUROPA, about the protection of artworks in World War II Europe. Normally when I work, I listen to documentaries more than watch them. But thankfully at just the right moment, I looked up to see the photo of Michelangelo’s DAVID encased in bricks–and the image haunted me. I wondered how despite the fear of being bombed, Italian citizens worked together to thoroughly protect their artistic treasures. And suddenly I had my plot!

Though I suddenly knew the story for Renato and his lion, I now had to grapple with the World War II aspect. How could I make this a picture book for young readers? I thought maybe it would be a better graphic novel, and attempted that angle. None of my ideas were committed to paper until I decided to enter the 2014 Bologna Book Fair Silent Book Contest. The parameters allowed for any age audience, and up to 50 pages. Without constrictions of 32-pages or a young audience, I drew my book. It took a solid month, but I was so proud of the results. The funny thing is that the first version was written without much research at all–and is not that different from the final version which benefitted from a year of additional research (including another trip to Florence–paid for from my book advance).

While in the creative throes of making the book for Bologna, I had an email exchange with Denise Cronin, an art director at Viking. We had met at a NJ SCBWI event at Princeton in the fall, and I thought she would be a great speaker for the Children’s Book Illustrators Group. She declined, but remembered meeting me, and offered that I could email her a sample of what I was working on. I took a photo of my wall, with 50 pages of my book in development. I’m not sure she could see much detail, but she could tell something was happening. I was excited when she asked me to send the pdf to her when it was done. So I sent one to Bologna, and one to Denise. While it didn’t win anything in the Bologna contest, it did strike a chord with Denise. She responded saying she liked it, and wanted to show it to the editor, Tracy Gates. I celebrated this moment, certain it was a small win before a fall. But the next email was positive. She said that the editor enjoyed the dummy, but had just left for vacation. I again celebrated this win before what I was certain would be a fall. After this point, there was a lot of back and forth, a meeting with the Viking team, a few other publishers in the mix after my agent submitted it, and my hopes started to soar. However, it was another 5 months before RENATO AND THE LION was acquired by Viking. I was sure that it would be passed over, until I got the call in August of 2014 from my agent. I couldn’t believe that I had sold my first book! I was ready to start work immediately.

But one thing that may or may not be normal for big publishers, we ended up delaying everything by a year. I kept offering to send sketches to meet my March 2015 deadline, but everyone told me to hold off. By August, when the final art should have been due, I lost heart when I felt we had made no progress at all. I thought they had second thoughts on the book, and would let me go. In reality, I’m sure that there is so much I don’t know about their timetable and book lists, and the delay probably had nothing at all to do with me. I decided to regroup, and travel to Florence for research purposes, using the first part of my book advance. I stayed in Florence for ten days, and learned more about the history than in all of my research stateside. I had been frequenting the Princeton University libraries, and was proud of what I had uncovered. But there is no substitute for walking down a street and meeting a bookseller that was the same age in 1944 as the protagonist. I hired a translator to help me interview him, and it was phenomenal. I sketched the statues, and walked through the center of the city until I knew it cold. That amount of research helped me feel confident about where my characters were placed in the illustrations. For example, when the lion steps off his pedestal, I wanted him to circle around the Palazzo Vecchio before jumping up to the roof of the Vasari corridor. The reason? I just kind of wanted him to walk down the Via dei Leoni, where the lions used to walk in the 13th century in Florence. Those details were fun for me to add.

After I did my research, and returned home, life got in the way for a few months. My personal life was in upheaval, and I felt a bit untethered to everything familiar. At the moment when I had the hardest time finding my bearings, my editor, Tracy, popped up on my radar ready to begin work on our book. Suddenly, RENATO AND THE LION was in full swing, which kept me focused on art and less overwhelmed by the changes in my life. The deadline was tough for the final art, but in retrospect, if I was given a year to make final art, the illustrations would have been so overworked and stiff. I know not every angle is perfect in the book, but to me, there is a freshness to the way I was working that makes the story feel like it’s in motion. Still, I could keep working on this book forever. I’m certain there is still more research out there to be uncovered, or illustrations to refine. I wonder if other authors and illustrators ever feel like they are truly finished with their work.

Now that the book is out there in the wider world, I hope readers can enjoy the story first and foremost–and if hungry for more information, visit for additional commentary on the history and Easter Eggs that I placed throughout the pages.


Barbara DiLorenzo is the author and illustrator of RENATO AND THE LION (Viking, 6/20/17) and QUINCY (Little Bee Books, 2/8/18). She earned her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, and spent a year painting with Mary Beth McKenzie at the Art Students League of New York. In 2014 she received the Dorothy Markinko Scholarship Award from the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. She is a signature member in the New England Watercolor Society as well as the Society of Illustrators. Currently she teaches at the Arts Council of Princeton, and is co-president of the Children’s Book Illustrators Group of New York. Barbara lives in Hopewell, New Jersey with her wonderful family–who constantly inspire new stories.

Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency. Visit her portfolio at

Thank you Barbara for sharing your book and journey with us. It is a beautiful book.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I am a Children’s Author, and I love the whole concept of your book! The illustrations are lovely. I am a big fan of Italy, too! I’d LOVE to read and review your book. Fingers crossed! Best Wishes, Suzy Davies, Children’s Author, “Snugs The Snow Bear”


  2. Wow, what a journey to story! I love how this happens when I work sometimes, a character or situation shows up but hasn’t come all the way in and needs time for you to connect dots, find the path through the maze, thank you for sharing the back story to this book. Sounds amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this story behind the story. Gonna LOVE this book. Shared post on Children’s Author Lynne Marie on FB and Twitter (@Literally_Lynne)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for all your support over the years Kathy! You gave me confidence when you gave me a spot on Illustrator Saturday some years ago. Thank you for continuing to support the writing and illustrating community!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Brava-what a marvelous back story for a beautiful book!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations Barbara! So happy for you! It’s a lovely book and I’m sure many readers will love your story!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Also shared on Twitter:

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful and inspiring story of how this book came to be!! Congrats, Barbara!! Looks lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Having just visited Florence, I appreciate this story so much more. Barbara, thank you for sharing your publishing journey with a prepublished author. Patience is required. I am number one on my library request. Can’t wait to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, Barbara, what a story! I know when I read your blog post on “Drawn to Picture Books” I knew this book was wonderful. Now, in hearing even more, I”m SO compelled to want this book!

    A BIG Congratulations on this! Your patience and the road you’ve taken, not just with your career, but with this book, is SO inspirational. Thank you! 😀

    (P.S. I went to the Art Students League out of high school for literally one session, and at that time it wasn’t for me, but I’m SURE it would’ve been at some point!)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Got my copy yesterday! 🙂 Loved seeing Barbara talk about her work at Books of Wonder. Amazing to see the original artwork in person too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow, this story looks stunning and sounds touching. I, as well, was completely and thoroughly blown away on my own trip to Italy. It’s no surprise that it came as such a huge source of inspiration to Barbara for this lovely book.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What a beautiful journey in what looks like a beautiful picture book!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I LOVE your story Barbara and have been waiting a LONG time for this book! I am tweeting, posting on FB and reblogging this gem! Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on Darlene Beck-Jacobson.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What gorgeous illustrations & I love learning the journey to publication. Happy Book Birthday, Barbara & Renato! I also tweeted this out from @ptntweets.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Charming looking book! I would love to visit Rome!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Can’t wait to see this book! Thanks for sharing your process with us! I tweeted this to share further.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Can’t wait to read this beautiful book!! I’ve loved following your process on it! Sharing this on Facebook and Twitter as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Amazing illustrations 🙂 Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for sharing your story to publication. This looks like a great book and I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations on your book-birthday!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. This book looks lovely!! Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Lovely story — yours and the book’s. Thanks so much for sharing your long journey! Your illustrations are gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. That is indeed a wonderful looking book, and such a great story about how it came to be. I’d be honored to own a copy, thanks for the chance to win.
    I pinned: and tweeted: links to this post for extra entries. Thanks again!!


  25. Beautiful…


  26. Congratulations Barbara! What a wonderful story!
    I missed your book signing event but I got your book waiting for your sign:-)
    Your feeling of unfinished artwork gave good looseness that let readers stay longer in Reanato’s world. Stunning artwork!!


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