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!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


jenniej said...

This is such a fun book and Kristi is an amazing illustrator! Can't wait to read it to my 3-year old g'baby who loves to dance all the time!

Nath Jones said...

Great job, Kristi!

Jennifer R said...

Fun interview and thanks for the giveaway!

Geo Librarian said...

I would love to share this with my kindergartners and 1st graders, I think they would love the idea of dancing penguins.

Alyn said...

...Because it is Kristi Valiant! I would share it with Elsie, Lili, and Ezra...oh, and Otis, our dog!

LadyD Piano said...

Such a charming book with delightful illustrations. My pre-k and kindergarten grandkids are pumped up over dancing penguins! :=)

Tina Cho said...

Very cute book. My kids love the trailer and can't wait to read the book!