Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 4, 2020

Book Giveaway: CAN I GIVE YOU A SQUISH? by Emily Neilson

Emily Neilson debut author/illustrator picture book, CAN I GIVE YOU A SQUISH? and published by Dial Books comes out on June 9th. She has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know 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 Emily, especially at this stressful time when authors and illustrators need to promote their books completely online.

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!


Kai is a little mer-boy who loves giving hugs, or squishes, as he and his mermaid mama call them. But when Kai meets a shy little puffer fish, he quickly learns that not every fish wants to be squished. A book about friendship, consent, and how to give love in new ways—“Can I Give You a Squish?” a fun and useful conversation starter, especially now in the age of social distancing.


This book started in a fish tank. I was in my little studio apartment, making a strange tiny mermaid doll out of oven-bake clay, yarn and nail polish, when I decided that the best thing to do would be to suspend it in a tank full of water and take pictures to use as illustrations for a book.

The idea wasn’t as big a stretch as it sounds. I work as a stop motion fabricator. At the time, I was at Laika, making little taxidermy animals, umbrellas, and chairs for the film Missing Link. So, naturally, I got out all my plastic plants, rocks, and miniature mermaids, dunked them in the fish tank and splashed around with my camera for a weekend. Great, I thought, I have my ‘look.’ It’s unique, it’s interesting, maybe a bit creepy…but whatever! Onward.

But then I sat down and the story came out. It was right around the time that #metoo was trending, and while I tried again and again to write a story that matched my strange tank full of mermaids, what came out was a sweet lesson on consent and physical affection for young kids.

I love Kai’s character so much. He is like this little ball of boundless optimism, so exuberantly affectionate. Even when he makes a mistake and frightens his puffer fish friend, he does his best to work things out and strengthen his relationship with the fish that he frightened.

The overt lesson of the story is one of consent and bodily autonomy, but the thing I love about picture books is that you can build in other, equally hopeful messages just through all the things that are treated as non-issues—like having a racially ambiguous, sorta genderless, but mostly boy mer-person, who happens to love showing affection to his friends and his mom, and is innately connected to his emotions. Plus a mermaid mama whose body looks like it could have feasibly been through pregnancy.

After a month or so of working on the story, and falling in love with the characters, it soon became clear that my weird tank method wasn’t going to cut it. I was determined to put the story first, and that meant scrapping the tank and learning to draw.

I hadn’t drawn for ages. Not really. Not with a purpose, a story in mind. For years I’d used drawing as a tool for discovery, not as an end in itself. But by then I cared enough about Kai and his underwater friends that I really wanted to do justice to their characters. After several months of stalling and several more filled with some very ugly drawings, I had something good enough to show, and maybe, good enough to sell.

So I dove into the SCBWI handbook and started the truly terrible cold-querying process. With each rejection came another round of revisions and another hard look at my art. By the time I emailed Christy, an incredible agent at The Cat Agency, I had just about given up on the story and was ready to move on. So of course that’s when it happened.

Christy decided to rep the book. Within a month she had sold it to Lucia Monfried, a delightful, now recently retired editor at Dial. I couldn’t believe it. Then, of course, the real work began. Thanks to Lucia, Mina Chung and the whole Dial team, the book grew into something better than I ever thought it could be. Just a few months ago all I could think was, I can’t wait for summer 2020…

Well, summer 2020 is here and it isn’t the world any of us could’ve imagined. But still, I’m glad that ‘Can I Give You a Squish?’ is coming out now. Kids need new books. Now more than ever. And since this is a book about thinking up new ways to show affection, there’s a chance it’ll help ease some of the tough lessons we are all having to work through in the era of social distancing. It’s a hard time for all the kids (and adults) who, like Kai, just love to give squishes. But with some luck and some help from friends, we can all work through it together.

…And I will say this: there has never been a more perfect time to get out your oven bake clay, yarn, and nail polish, make yourself a mermaid and dunk it in a fish tank.


Emily is a children’s book author/illustrator and a stop motion fabricator based in Portland, OR.

As a kid she always wanted to write and illustrate books, and thinks if she had known that animated films were made by actual humans, she’d have wanted to work on those too! So when a variety of stars aligned, bringing her into the world of stop motion, she was ridiculously happy. She’d skip into work every day and chip away at a miniature mountain, or tree, or prop and then skip home and make things for herself.

It was in her free time that her book “Can I Give You a Squish?” started to take shape. Then she says, “by some miracle”, Christy Tugeau Ewers at the wonderful Cat Agency decided to represent her book, and Dial Books decided to publish it. And now it coming out on June 9th.

This past year, she’ve been working as a set dresser and model maker on a Netflix stop motion feature called Wendell and Wild, directed by Henry Selick.

Instagram: @emilyeneilso

Thank you Emily for sharing your debut book and its journey with us. It sounds like a fun heartwarming book. You did a great job with the illustrations. Good luck with the book. I look forward to showing you off on Illustrator Saturday later this month.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This looks like a perfect book for children with body space issues and lovers of mermaids.


  2. Congrats, Emily! This looks adorable.


  3. Oh I just want to squish this book -looks so cute! Congrats! 🙂


  4. Oh my goodness! I love this!!!!! And I loved reading your journey, too. So inspiring.


  5. Squelched, squashed, scrunched…I love the alliteration. I hope your book makes a splash! (Kathy, I subscribe to this blog.)


  6. What a clever way to educate kids about expressing love and the concept of consent. I’d love to have a copy.
    I’ve tweeted a link to this post:, and pinned an image with a link on Pinterest:
    I also follow your blog daily by email: crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com
    Thanks, have a safe and happy day everyone!


  7. Aww! I love this concept and it would be perfect for use in my classroom. This is a conversation I have to have almost every year with my kiddos. This is one of the many reasons I love following your blog Kathy. Thank you for introducing us to all the titles that you do!


  8. Aww. How cute. And a great topic that needs to be talked about with little ones. Thanks for the post.


  9. What an inspiring story! I love that Emily took up drawing after years off and hearing about the evolution of the book. I’m a subscriber and I’ve shared on Twitter 🙂


  10. This books sounds so good! I’m a subscriber.


  11. Looks like a book I’m going to love… and kids need. I just shared on fb with my critique group. I know they are all going to be interested. Loving the theme and characters.

    bonnie fireUrchin lambourn


  12. This sounds like a great book! Perfect timing, too! Congratulations!

    I will tweet this and I follow you by email, Kathy. Thanks for another intro to a new book. 🙂


  13. Aww, it looks lovely!


  14. How adorable. The illustration introduce little ones to an underwater world of life. Plus, i love the idea of loving and caring about all the different types of aquatic life. Love it. Will post on FB, too.


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