And the winner of LULA'S BREW is...

Nina Myers! Congratulations Nina for winning my giveaway for a free copy of LULA'S BREW!
     And thanks so much for all your entries (the most ever!) and overwhelming words of support for LULA'S BREW! I wish I could send a copy to you all! Just know - I so appreciate my followers—especially those who keep coming back (you know who you are and trust me, I do too!)
     If you didn't win a free copy of LULA'S BREW, you can still purchase the book in time for Halloween!

Option 1: Ask your local bookseller. If they don't have it, they should have time to order it if you ask soon!

Option 2: Don't know where your closest independent bookseller is? Go through Indiebound!

Shop Indie Bookstores
Option 3: Amazon. LULA'S BREW is available in hardcover and paperback.
Option 4: LULA'S BREW is also available digitally!
iPHone iPad Kindle
Go here to learn more about LULA'S BREW and download FREE activities just in time for Halloween!

Sketching at the Mandir Temple!

Saturday, Michael Allen Austin organized a truly special Sketch Book Event for our Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Southern Breeze Illustrators. We went to the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha - Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. This is a bona fide, carved in India, Hindu temple smack dab in the middle of Tucker, Georgia. Who knew?
     Not only was it breathtakingly gorgeous, inside it was a place for worship, but also a constant outreach program to non-Hindu visitors. Harry (?? - president) talks people through how the religion works, why there are so many statues, and how people worship (often prostrate on the ground) . . . which they were doing all around us as we drew.
     We tried to be respectful and stay out of the way, but apparently we were just as interesting to them as they were to us. Worshipers often stopped to watch over our shoulders as we drew. With that sort of pressure, I wanted to make sure I did a good job! So I slowed down and spent more time with my drawings . . .
     The beautiful statues. The amazing carvings which seemed to drip from the ceiling like frosting.

     The metal work in all the window panes - I never saw two alike.

     And who couldn't sit for hours at the elephant fountain?

     It was such a beautiful day, the entire experience was downright spiritual. I'll add more photos on our Illustrators' Corner as I get them ready. So CLICK HERE SOON for more!
(Photos by Michael A. Austin, used with permission.)

I'm interviewed at Little Pickle Press!!!

Read my interview at Little Pickle Press's blog - publisher of my forthcoming novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET!!! CLICK HERE!

Loaf of Bread, Container of Milk, and...

a stick of butter. Remember this from Sesame Street? I always loved it. (In my memory it was always much longer/bigger/jazzier - I guess to my young mind it was all of that!) It was so on my mind when I was working on my picture book Soap, soap, soap ~ Jabón, jabón, jabón! Can you see why?

Thanks to The Kid Should See This for the fond memory!

Lola Schaefer's LIFETIME - GIVEAWAY!

Lola Schaefer has published over 200 books for children, so you've probably read something she wrote already. Or maybe it will be her latest book: LIFETIME—a dazzling display of animal achievements over the course of a lifetime, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. I'm proud to call Lola a friend, and today I'm pleased to welcome her to my blog!

Q. Congratulations on yet another brilliant book, Lola! Once again you've managed to combine learning and entertainment into a lovely story about nature and its quirky numbers. For instance, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake will add 40 beads to its rattle in a lifetime. How did the idea for this book come to you?
A. Thank you for the kind words, E. I'm so glad that you are enjoying LIFETIME. I wish I could blush and say that this idea was all mine, but it wasn't. Actually, my editor at Chronicle Books came up with the initial concept. We emailed and spoke about the idea and what it might look like. Right from the beginning I was excited about the potential. But it's funny, even in my wildest dream I didn't imagine that the final book would be this layered and jam-packed with information.

Q. You must have done a ton of research to learn such things as the Swallowtail butterfly will visit 900 flowers, sipping nectar, in its lifetime. Tell us about your journey!
A. This kind of book reads easy and seamless. (At least, I hope it does!) The reader will never know all of the work that went into each sentence that appears on a spread, but I do! Like any book based on factual information, I needed to contact and speak with quite a few experts. However, LIFETIME was a most unusual journey, and at times resembled a giant puzzle. First, I needed agreement from my experts on the average lifespan of each of the animals in the wild (except for the alpaca). That alone proved to be difficult at times. Then came the job of locating animals with behaviors or features that could be drawn by the illustrator. Finally, I needed to find numbers that would range from 1-1,000 since that's the scope we hoped to show. Most numbers were either too low, or astronomically high. But perseverance won out - that and some fabulous experts who kept working with other professionals on their end to locate the needed facts.
      The Swallowtail information is new. My contact told me that just recently scientists were able to follow several Swallowtails during their 6-7 hours of feeding time each day and count the number of flowers visited. Amazing! I had hoped to learn that specific information, but thought it was a long shot. Again, so much depends on finding people in the various fields who gladly give their time to help create an interesting and accurate book for children.

Q. Some of the numbers were hard to believe. Who knew a female kangaroo will birth 50 joeys in her lifetime - that's a LOT! Did you believe it at first?
A. Oh, E, I always learn so much while writing nonfiction. I guess the number didn't amaze me as much as the fact that after reaching maturity and giving birth, it's fairly common for a female red kangaroo to have a joey in her pouch almost nonstop for many years. Typically, she has to push an older joey out when another baby is born. And quite often this kangaroo will have one baby in her pouch, but still be nursing an older joey. That's a lot of intense mothering. Nature provides an endless supply of surprising facts and patterns. I think that's why I enjoy writing nonfiction.

Q. I loved learning about the seahorse, especially. How wonderful that the male seahorse will carry and birth 1,000 babies in its lifetime! I'm surprised we don't see more of them when we visit the ocean. Have you ever seen a bunch of baby seahorses? (And do you wish humans were a bit more like seahorses?)
A. I haven't ever seen one seahorse, let alone a bunch, in the shallows. Believe me, I've looked. I know that they camouflage themselves really well, but as much time as my husband and I have spent snorkeling, I always thought I'd see a few. No such luck. As far as your second question . . . good parenting is always hard work. (And as far as numbers go . . . NO. I'm thrilled that humans are not anything like seahorses in that respect. Aren't you?)

Q. Teachers will love this book as they introduce calculating averages to their students. Do you have a teacher guide for them to accompany the book?
A. I haven't developed a teacher guide. I'd like to think that the book is self-explanatory. The backmatter does a bang-up job of extending the text by offering the reader more scientific information on each animal, providing a definition of the term "average", and posing a few math animal problems directly to the reader.
      However, you never know . . . a teacher guide might pop up on the scene at a later date.

Q. You are probably the most prolific writer I know. Do you have any advice on how to keep a (publishing) pace like yours going over a career?
A. Ha! I'm not sure it's very wise to offer other writers advice since we all have our own unique routines, schedules, and motivations. For me, it's all about discovery. I don't think I realized that when I first began this journey many years ago. I truly enjoy that stage of the process when I realize or "find" the true fictional story, or the core of what I want to say in a nonfiction piece. I typically work on 3-4 different writing projects at one time until one pushes forward and screams for attention. Then I hunker down with just that one script for a few months and become quite obsessive.
      However I do think that audience is a strong motivator to write more and write better. It's my great privilege to work with hundreds of children each year, sometimes in classrooms while visiting schools, other times during writing camps, and occasionally in private workshops. Speaking with kids and learning what they appreciate most about my work and the work of other children's authors, motivates me to keep busy on the next manuscripts.

Q. Any events you'd like my readers to know about?
A. This fall I'm working in a few Georgia schools, as well as out of state. I'm not scheduled for any major booksignings or conferences. I'm pretty excited to meet new audiences, talk writer to writer with students, and spend long days drafting and revising here at home.

Q. Congratulations again and thanks for visiting!
A. Thank you, E, for welcoming me and LIFETIME to your blog.
      How many readers will you reach in one lifetime. More than I can count!

Once again, Chronicle is offering a free copy of LIFETIME to one of my lucky commenters! (Must live in the continental US to win.) The drawing will be held next Thursday (and announced again in my "Coloring Page Tuesday" newsletter, so enter now!
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Banned Book Week!

We're in the thick of Banned Book Week, September 22—28th. Do you stand for intellectual freedom? I do! And y'know, if parents and librarians and teachers are involved with your child's reading, there is no reason any book should ever be banned!
Read more at PW: Twitter, YouTube, Will Promote Banned Books Week.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Reading Monster!

     My favorite holiday is on its way (Halloween) and I want to make sure you have time to get ready! This is my little monster from my Halloween picture book, LULA'S BREW! (Check out my GIVEAWAY below!)
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages including more Halloween images! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (They don't have to be just cards - share your kids' art too!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

     Click the cover to learn about my Halloween picture book - Lula's Brew. She's a witch who would rather be a famous chef!


The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators ( is the largest writing organization in the world (seriously) and many successes can be attributed to being a member/participant. As Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern Breeze region (Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida panhandle) I can confirm the SCBWI has opened many doors for me. And many writers and illustrators say they never would have made it in the kidlit biz without it. Read about many success stories at Ink and Angst: Gate Crashers Ask Why SCBWI.
     And if you live in our region, it's not too late to sign up for our Fall Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference in Birmingham, Alabama on October 11-12, 2013. Go to

William Shatner - I Can't Get Behind That!

How did this not hit my radar until now? Apparently Mr. Shatner recorded "I Can't Get Behind That" in 2004. Considering we used to love listening to his dramatized version of Rocket Man and such (gads, it used to crack us UP!) when I worked at Stone Mountain Lasers (doing the laser show animation), I just adore this!

There's a bonus track in this recording too.

The National Book Festival!

The National Book Festival is this weekend, September 21-22 in Washington, D.C. Wish I could go - the lineup looks great! And this year's lovely poster is by Suzy Lee. Read more about her creation at In National Book Festival poster, Suzy Lee shows 'everything that you can do with books.'


Just in time for Halloween, I'm giving away a free hard cover copy of LULA'S BREW, signed and dedicated to your favorite witchie!!!
Lula's Aunties want her to be a witch like them. But Lula would rather study cookbooks than spell books (and hates to fly on a broom). Lula wants to be a famous chef. In desperation, the Aunties insist she try to make one last potion. Lula secretly adds her cooking flair and creates a brew that bewitches the entire town, including her Aunties!
     This fun rhyming tale transcends the typical Halloween story to appeal to cooks and "foodies" throughout the year.
     I usually host other people's books with interviews and giveaways on Thursdays. Well, this Thursday the giveaway is mine. And I'll share some tidbits about LULA'S BREW...

     Did you know that artwork from my original LULA'S BREW dummy won me a Grand Prize in the competition? I got a trophy and everything!

     Did you know that LULA'S BREW was an APP before it was a book? Yup, one of the very first children's picture book apps for the iPhone and later for the iPad. I even did the voice for the apps! (And learned that it's a bad idea to eat salty food before doing a voice recording.)
     I wrote an article about my experiences with Lula for the SCBWI Bulletin (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators): "My 1st iPhone/iPad Picture Book App." I gave talks at conferences and even did some very high-tech school visits. LULA'S BREW was cutting edge back then.

     Did you know that as an app, LULA'S BREW was downloaded over 10,000 times? Not too shabby, eh? I'm proud - yes indeedy.

     Did you know that LULA'S BREW is available not only in hard cover and paperback, but also for the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Kindle Fire, Nook, and as a pdf? CLICK HERE for links to them all.

     Did you know that LULA'S BREW is still breaking new ground with Xist Publishing's publishing model? All of Xist's printed books are are produced using print-on-demand resources. (They aren't actually produced until orders are placed.) It cuts down on waste, warehousing, and may be the wave of the future for publishing. This is definitely something to keep an eye on!

     Did you know that one of my best fan emails ever was from a mom whose little girl dressed up as Lula for Halloween? BREAK my heart to little pieces!!! OMG!

     Did you know I have LULA'S BREW coloring pages, a word-find puzzle, computer wallpaper, and the actual recipe for Lula's Brew? Yup - CLICK HERE!

     I am giving away a FREE signed and dedicated copy of LULA'S BREW along with a bookmark and coloring pages to one of my commenters! (Must live in the continental US to win.) Sign up below...
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Blair Somerville - Organic Mechanic

Self-confessed tinkerer Blair Somerville has been creating his Lost Gypsy Gallery in New Zealand for ten years now. He reminds me a bit of Howard Finster and his Paradise Garden, with his inspired creations and transformation of his personal environment. His is a wonderful mind - a gift to us all:
Blair's creations are called "Fine Acts of Junk." I love the way his whales move - so fluid. And why not?

A film experiment by Joey Bania, made with funding from the BBC Worldwide Young Producers' grant.
Music provided by The Books -
Thanks to This is Colossal for the heads up!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Pirate Parrot!

     Arrrr, ye matees! Thursday is Talk Like a Pirate Day and you know how I love it so!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages including more Pirate images for TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (They don't have to be just cards - share your kids' art too!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

     Click the cover to learn about my Halloween picture book - Lula's Brew. She's a witch who would rather be a famous chef!

On Writing...

I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to writing - tools that I lean on a good bit. I thought I'd share them with you today...

Rhymezone - It's an online dictionary, spell-checker, thesaurus, etc. Need to find that perfect word that's kind of like this, but slightly more like that? The synonyms tool is what I use the most.

Google Translate - Not only does it translate, you can look at words in many different languages and hear how they're pronounced! Need something unusual for a term or phrase, start here!

Facebook - Believe it or not! When I'm stumped for a factoid or I'm wondering if a certain word was used at a certain time in recent history, I ask my friends on facebook (most are also writers). My most recent inquiries were for 'bass-ackwards' and 'cheesy.' That thread got funny!

Scrivner - Have you discovered this writing program yet? You can pool all your research, images, links, etc. into ONE document. It makes life SO much easier!!!

Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? Share them in the comments below!

Hispanic Heritage Month 2013

It's time again to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15th through October 15th. Per the official website:
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.
     Considering this is the first year that caucasian babies were in the minority of babies born, I'm betting you have some Hispanic people in your life. (Maybe its you!) Want to help celebrate? Learn or teach some Spanish using my bilingual picture books:

     Soap, soap, soap ~ Jabón, jabón, jabón and Paco and the Giant Chile Plant ~ Paco y la planta de chile gigante.

Bubble Soccer!

In Italy! Just a funny for a Sunday. Looks like fun, eh?

Thanks to SwissMiss for the heads up.

Moonbot and Chipotle

If you read my blog, you probably already know that I'm a fan of Moonbot Studios - creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Well, I'm also a fan of Chipotle. A friend of mine is their restaurant promoter here in Atlanta, so I've been turned onto their yumminess since day 1. Whenever I have to run an errand that direction in town, I try to plan it around lunch at Chipotle.
     So, I was inclined to love a collaboration between Moonbot and Chipotle anyhow. But who could have guessed something as powerful and beautiful as this!?

(There's also a game you can download at the Chipotle website.)
     Yes, it's heavy handed on the message, but y'know what? After two years of taking personal responsibility to change my diet to fix the things that were wrong with me that the doctors couldn't figure out (turned out I was gluten intolerant), I'm all for some heavy messages about nutrition and how we feed ourselves and our loved ones.
     Back that up with all the research I've been doing about poor environmental practices as I get ready for my novel, A Bird on Water Street, to come out, and we could all use more education on the background behind the things we depend on - the basics like food and water.
     All said, GOOD FOR YOU Moonbot and Chipotle! Keep it coming!
     Read more about the journey for this ad at There's No Getting Around It: The New Chipotle Ad Is Amazing at Gawker.


THE FRAZZLE FAMILY FINDS A WAY is a new picture book written by Ann Bonwill and illustrated by Caldecott-winning Stephen Gammell. (Whose work I adore.) This book is a perfect example of what can happen when strong words and pictures come together to create an even stronger whole.
     The Frazzle family has a problem - they can't remember anything. So their Aunt Rosemary comes to help with her lists and string. Still, nothing works until Annie comes up with a musical solution.
     I asked Ann and Stephen about their new book...

Q. Ann, your mother was a children's book librarian, so I imagine you've read a few. How did The Frazzle Family come to you?
A. Yes, I have read a few! I was very lucky to grow up around books, and reading so many has definitely shaped who I am as a writer. As a child I loved the characters of Frances and Little Bear. In those stories the parents were always so comfortingly perfect, but I thought it might be fun to explore a family where the parents could use a little help! Goodness knows that as a parent I don't have all the answers, so it was nice to have the parents learning from the children for a change. And fun to depict the love and warmth that can exist even amid chaos.
      Another of my favorite books from childhood is THE RELATIVES CAME, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. You can imagine my excitement when I heard that Stephen would be illustrating my book, too!

Q. Ann, I love how forgetful they are - children and adults will relate! Are you forgetful?
A. No, I'm really not forgetful. I'm more like Aunt Rosemary - the type A neurotic - for better or for worse!

Q. Stephen, I adore the frenetic energy in your work. Not just in THE FRAZZLE FAMILY but also in MUDKIN, and your Caldecott-winning SONG AND DANCE MAN. How do you bring such energy to your work?
A. Thank you, Elizabeth, for mentioning of my better efforts, I daresay...Energy, energy, what is that? Trying to do the right thing for the text, and hoping it looks like it just appeared before you turned the page. Picture books should have a magical and unique quality that is removed from the world we toil around in, and I suppose that's what I'm after in my books. Or, one might say, this probably couldn't happen in your day, but in the Frazzle's day, it's completely normal...and so hopefully, the reader/looker will say "I want to be there!"

Q. Stephen, Can you share your method?
A. No, it's a secret...I don't even know what a method is. A voice, or a point of view, or something you take at the first sign of a cold.

Q. Stephen, you've been in the children's book business a long time, but can you share how you first got into it?
A. Back in the early 70's, I went to New York, and visited a few houses, inquiring about work, and rather straight away, Barbara Lucas (then at Putnam) gave me my first book. I was delighted in being able to do this, and so just kept on, and other houses and editors began giving me work, and time went on until at some moment, I began to realize I was illustrating books. What a surprise! Still at it, thankful to say.

Q. Ann, I'd love to hear your path to publication as well.
A. I published my first book while living in the UK. I met my editor during a critique session at an SCBWI conference there. She did not decide to acquire the manuscript she critiqued, but she liked it well enough to consider my other stories, including the text that ultimately became my first picture book, POCKET'S CHRISTMAS WISH. After publishing four books in England, I found an agent in the US and have now sold several stories here, as well as some co-editions of my UK books. It's been an adventure and a dream come true, and a real learning experience every step of the way.

Q. Are there any special events coming up to help celebrate THE FRAZZLE FAMILY? Please share!
Ann: I've had some lovely school events to celebrate the Frazzles, and I hope to plan more for the fall. I really enjoy sharing my books with children of all ages, and it's been especially gratifying to hear the laughter that the Frazzle family's antics inspire.
Stephen: None that I know of. You know of any? If so, let me (or HH) know.

Holiday House is very kindly giving away a free copy of THE FRAZZLE FAMILY to one of my lucky commenters. (Must live in the US/Canada to win.) Enter below!
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Collaborating with a 4-year-old

I just adore this. An artist mother is working with her daughter to come up with unique, whimsical, wonderful illustrations like this:

Artist Mica Angela Hendricks draws the face, then lets her daughter take over for a while, before she comes back and 'finishes' the piece. The result is mature, finished art with a childish influence which breaks all bounds. Rather brilliant and completely inspiring I say! Go to her blog, Busy Mockingbird, to see the process and examples of other pieces.
Thanks to Colossal for the heads up!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Tribute Bear

     Time to remember... Tomorrow we remember 9/11. (Click here to learn about the memorial.) It's also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I didn't want to give you a simple ribbon - you can get those anywhere. But a bear with a ribbon! Now that's something I can give you to help you honor those we have lost.
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages. And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (They don't have to be just cards - share your kids' art too!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

Learn about proper parenting language and the power of choice in, Ready for Bed! , Ready for the Day!, and Ready to Play! - click the covers!

Blog Tag Tour...

Ever heard of a Blog Tag Tour? I get tagged to answer four questions then tag three other authors to do the same. Vicky Alvear Shecter tagged me to answer some questions today... I will tag Janice Hardy, Alison Ashley Formento, and Michelle Knudsen. Read on...

1. What are you working on right now?
     I just finished the copy edits for A BIRD ON WATER STREET so now I talk to my publicist a good bit as we try to line up getting blurbs and putting some marketing in place. SO BIZARRE! It's getting close! The soft e-release will be this October with the actual print date in May of 2014.
     I'm also finishing up a set of four picture books for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. These is a feel-good project of books for new mothers, which doctors will hand out for free. The talk about proper nutrition, screen time, activity, and hydration to help mothers fight potential obesity and raise healthy children. I'll share more soon.

2. How does it differ from other works in the genre?
     A BIRD ON WATER STREET is mid-grade historical fiction about a boy growing up around the closing of the copper mine in his southern Appalachian home. It's extremely environmental and, I hope, inspiring. The educational value of the book will be quite strong and fit in well with common core. And I can't wait to do school visits and show the complicated background and history of the mining industry.
     The picture books are something completely new. English on one side and Spanish on the other, they are a proactive way to fight obesity, encourage literacy, give books, and help new mothers. I mean, truly, there is NO downside to this project!!

3. Why do you write what you do?
     With A BIRD ON WATER STREET I never felt I chose to write it at all. I've always felt like I was chosen. It's been a huge responsibility and I look forward to sharing it with the dozens of people I interviewed and the Copperhill, Tennessee community itself. This book belongs to them.
     Truly, most of my stories just come to me. Although that doesn't make them easy to create - far from it. It's my job to do the work to make them just right. And it is WORK!

4. What is the hardest part about writing?
     Giving yourself over to a novel is tough. Sometimes it will take me days to circle into my writing. Because I'm most effective when I enter 'the zone.' The problem is, the zone is not a very comfortable place to be. It's almost like going into a trance - that can last for months. You live and breathe your story and characters, often at the neglect of the very real events and people around you. Even so, once in the zone, I don't want to leave it!

Sandra Boynton's FROG TROUBLE

Surely you've heard by now, because the press is EVERYWHERE—Sandra Boynton has a new songbook and CD out called FROG TROUBLE. And what's making the news is the incredible line-up of talented musicians who have come together to make this music. Everybody from Dwight Yoakam to Viktor Krauss to Alison Krauss, Bed Folds, Fountains of Wayne - you name it. I can't wait to hear it all!
Here's a little tease:

Newbery Winner's Publication Months

Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes (syndicated by School Library Journal) has gathered the most interesting graph I've seen in some time... It shows the publication month of Newberry winners form 1983—2013.

The data is pretty clear and somewhat surprising. CLICK HERE to read Travis' post on why...


There are a few authors and illustrators whose careers I've followed since day one. So its a real treat to be able to help them celebrate their successes. Kristi Valiant is one such creator and I'm thrilled to have her visit today...

Q. Kristi - Congratulations on your first picture book as both author and illustrator! PENGUIN CHA-CHA is adorable!!
A. Thank you, e! What an honor to be on your blog. Let's cha-cha!

Q. It seems I've seen your penguins dancing around for some time. How long has this story been simmering in your creative brain?
A. The penguins have been marathon dancers indeed! The first appearance of dancing penguins in my portfolio happened in 2007. They even made their way onto licensed wrapping paper before I wrote this book.

Q. How did the idea for this story come to you?
A. I used to be in a swing and Latin dance group called the Fourth Street Alley Cats. I wanted to bring some jazzy jitterbugging into my portfolio, so I combined my favorite animal with dancing… and the dancing penguins were born. When I showed my portfolio to children's book editors and art directors, I kept getting asked, "Did you write a story that goes with this illustration?" I kept answering, "Yes!" and I wrote story after story. Some were pretty funny, but none were absolutely, exceptionally marketable. I even sketched out the whole story of one earlier version about a brother and sister buying the penguins from a crazy animal store, but an editor who requested to the see the dummy kindly pointed out that selling exotic animals in this way might be frowned upon. As for the final story idea with Julia discovering the penguins dancing at the zoo, that morphed from earlier versions over the years.

Q. What was your path to publication?
A. I'm an art school grad (Columbus College of Art & Design) and published in the educational market, but to figure out how to illustrate for the trade picture book market (hard cover picture books) in particular, I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators ( The portfolio critiques from children's book art directors that I received at regional conferences especially helped move me in the right direction. I illustrated some picture books, including CORA COOKS PANCIT [[Note from e: that title was with Shen's Books, who also published my first book, THE PRINCE'S DIARY.]] and THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN, but I also wanted to write my own stories. A wonderful exercise to see how my manuscripts stacked up was to read dozens of picture books selling in bookstores right now that were published recently and make a stack of my favorites. After reading so many, I reread my own manuscripts and suddenly my stories didn't seem so entertaining anymore. I worked more on PENGUIN CHA-CHA. When I finally got my PENGUIN CHA-CHA writing up to par, I met my dream agent at an SCBWI conference in 2011. I submitted to her. At the same time, an editor from Random House emailed that he loved the illustration of my dancing penguins on my website, and would I please submit the dummy to him that goes along with the illustration? I said, "Yes!" Usually editors don't come knocking for manuscripts! He loved it and asked to acquire it just as Linda Pratt became my agent. That part came together so beautifully, that I'm sure I had some help from above.

Q. I love how you caught Julia's motions mid-step. Truly, she looks to be dancing right out of the book. How do you maintain that energy when you illustrate?
A. I illustrate digitally, including my pencil sketches. It's taken me awhile to come up with a pencil tool in Photoshop that truly feels and looks like a pencil, but now that I have it, I love sketching right on my monitor! I keep my pencil sketches as the top layer in my final illustration so that I keep the looseness of the sketches.

Q. The penguins stay frozen like "penguin popsicles" whenever anybody is looking at them, but finally they can't help themselves and dance with Julia. As a kid who stared at her toys for hours willing/wishing them to talk or move or...something (I knew they could!), I could so relate to Julia! Did you do that as a kid too?
A. Oh yes. My childhood fantasies involved me being a famous singer or actress and performing for all my adoring fans, so I always was watching for my toys to burst into applause.

Q. How are you celebrating the release of PENGUIN CHA-CHA?
A. I'll have a book launch party Sept 14 at Barnes & Noble in Evansville, IN. We'll have cake with the cover of my book on it, penguin crackers, a cha-cha lesson and dance party, a penguin craft, coloring sheets, and of course, I'll sign books. I'm also working on creating a stand-up cut-out of my dancing penguins that kids can poke their own head through to be a dancing penguin!
      I'm doing some other regional events as well as some more blog interviews, guest posts, and giveaways.
      And, well, I may have to go out dancing to celebrate! (And eat chocolate. Definitely eat chocolate.)

Q. Tell us about your other works or whatever you have in the pipeline now!
A. I'm illustrating a picture book that Danielle Steel wrote for Random House! It's called Pretty Minnie in Paris and combines Paris, a fashion runway show, a long-haired teacup Chihuahua, and a stylish little girl. So sweet and fun to illustrate! And I just HAD to go to Paris to research. After all, I don't think I could draw Paris without having tasted so many pastries… I mean seeing the city firsthand. Watch for Pretty Minnie fall of 2014.

Q. Thanks so much for dropping by!
A. My pleasure!

Kristi put together a fun storytime kit for PENGUIN CHA-CHA with coloring pages and activities for anybody to use. CLICK HERE to check that out!

This one is a biggie! Kristi is generously giving away a signed/dedicated copy of PENGUIN CHA-CHA along with a bookmark, sticker, and magnet!!! (Must live in the US or Canada to win.) Leave a comment to sign up below!
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