CHENGDU by Barney Saltzberg - GIVEAWAY!

You probably already know I’m a fan of Barney Saltzberg’s work. I interviewed him when ARLO NEEDS GLASSES came out. And I’m thrilled to have him back for yet another adorable creation: CHENGDU COULD NOT, WOULD NOT FALL ASLEEP (Disney-Hyperion). (As somebody with occasional insomnia, I can so relate!) Truly, this is a perfect night time read for a parent trying to put their little one to bed. Barney dropped by to tell us more about it…

Q. Barney, you’ve done it again! CHENGDU is adorable!!!

Q. How did the idea come to you? Are you also an insomniac?
The US State Department sent me to Russia and China to speak about my creative process. While in China, my wife took a 24 hour trip to Chengdu to see the pandas. After seeing her photos and hearing about one that couldn't sleep, I knew I had a book! As far as being an insomniac, I am far from it. I fall asleep very quickly and sleep through the night.

Q. This is a very different color palette for you. How did this book challenge you?
My editor and art director really pushed the look of this book. I had made the dummy in black and white. They had me draw (pencil sketches) half the size of the final art so that when the artwork was enlarged there is a toothy, grainy quality that I had never achieved before. I wanted some limited color with the bamboo so the green would pop against a completely black and white book.

Q. There are fold out (and down) pages in this book, and short, shorter pages - how was it to work with those?
I am a huge fan of Emily Gravett. She has opened my eyes to books that have the ability to surprise us. I find that having pages to unfold just adds to the rhythm of reading a book. I was thrilled Hyperion was open to these interactive flaps in a picture book.

Q. I adore the pages with the eyes - like great big Yin/Yang signs. Did that presentation idea come to you easily?
I honestly never thought of Yin/Yang signs until you asked that question. I think of my drawings from the perspective of how I would approach a scene with a camera. Zooming in and out, etc; We open with the long shot and see different pandas in the tree. When we hear that one panda couldn't sleep, it seemed like an obvious shot to zoom in tight.

Q. You are so prolific as a children’s book author/illustrator… This isn’t your only book coming out this year. The other is TEA WITH GRANDPA (Roaring Brook Press). I’m starting to believe you know the secret formula to creating great picture books (and selling them)! Can you share? :)
I'm lucky enough to have receptive publishers. I do seem to be exercising the creativity muscle more and more as the years pass. I'm delighted there is an audience for my work! Next year I have three books coming out!

Q. I’m positive you have more in the works… what’s next?
Speaking of three books. I have two board books coming out with Workman publishing. They approached me to create a series. In my book, Beautiful Oops, there are some red birds. My editor said she thought I could develop one into a character. REDbird was hatched! I also was concerned with contributing more 'concept' books to the world. There are so many. It took a really long time to find a different approach. I'm excited to have these books come out. I also used a different style of illustration for these books. Given the age of a board book reader, I knew I wanted bold lines and color. I painted pages of colors in acrylic paint, blending and mixing colors. I scanned the pages into the computer, drew the images on a Wacom Centiq monitor and dropped the color in. It was quick and I think a perfect medium for this series. The two books are, REDbird Colors, Colors Everywhere and REDbird Friends Come in Different Sizes. As a follow up to my Abram/Appleseed book, Andrew Drew and Drew, I have a new book called Inside This Book. It's loosely Russian Dolls in books. There's the book, and inside are three books, each about two inches smaller than the one before it. Three siblings are given blank books that their mother made them and we see how each child filled their book and what they ultimately do with them.
     Thanks so much for the visit.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Hyperion is kindly sending a free copy of CHENGDU by Barney to sign for one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US to win - enter below!

Walking at Hollins University

I LOVE this picture! This is me (in the back) with my walking buddies. Every morning at 6:30am, Candice Ransom, Claudia Mills, Ashley Wolff (taking the photo), Tula (doggie) and I walk the perimeter of the Hollins campus. Twice around is about 3.5 miles. Three times around is over five (we do that on the days we aren't teaching). We do it every day except Sunday, and sometimes even then. The light at this time of day is stunning, like liquid gold gilding the edges of trees and hills and slowly melting across the landscape as the morning rises. It's a magical way to begin each day. This is the part of Hollins I miss the most when I'm away.

Talk With Hollins Girls

Each summer a group of high school students come to Hollins to scout it out for their potential university. We call them the "Hollins Girls" and they stay for about a week and drop into some of our classes. Some of us give them talks. I had the pleasure of sharing A BIRD ON WATER STREET with the group, and I do mean pleasure. These are bright girls, the top of their classes. They are attentive, engaged, and ask great questions. I love speaking to this group and hope to every year!
Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Peace Between Beasts

     There are a few scenes that I love to draw again and again, like this one. I love the idea of peace between beasts. I think it embodies my hope for the future - not just peace between beasts, but peace between people and countries too.
     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! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**

A BIRD ON WATER STREET has won another award!

The e-version of ABOWS is the eLit 2014 Gold Medal Winner in the Environment/Ecology/Nature category!!! How awesome is THAT!? YAYYYY!

Highlights Foundation!

I'm thrilled to announce that I will be a guest speaker at Highlights Foundation's "From Prose to Picture to Published: Writing a Marketable Picture Book 2014" in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, on October 31st - November 2nd, with fellow picture book creators Candace Fleming, Eric Rohmann, and David Wiesner!!!! Wowsa - I can't wait!
     Highlights Foundation hosts workshops like this one throughout the year on what I'm told is a gorgeous campus with sweet cabins and fabulous food. The tag line is "Intimate & inspiring workshops for children's authors and illustrators," and the line-up of options is impressive. CLICK HERE to check them out!

Bob Staake for Intel!

Oh my! Children's book author/illustrator Bob Staake is the new spokesman for Intel computers!!! A children's book creator as star!

THE TIME FETCH by Amy Herrick - Guest Post and Giveaway!

Amy Herrick On writing THE TIME FETCH,
her first book for young readers

      I’ve always wanted to write about the end of December when the wheel comes around and the old year reaches its end. We modern guys, we tinsel up the streets and devote ourselves to jollification and fail to notice that the days are growing shorter and shorter and something dark is moving toward us. With the passing of the years we have allowed ourselves to be lulled into forgetfulness. But the ancients knew what was happening when they sat around their fires in caves, when they erected their great watching circles of stones. They felt the implacable turning of the earth and the cold wheeling of the stars, and they stood together and pushed valiantly back against the darkness. What came would be terrible. Or wonderful. For a long time I’d been searching for a way to tell a story about this, but I could but never find my handle. It wasn’t until right in the middle of one of our December holiday parties that an idea came to me. We’ve been throwing this party for years. It’s a tradition that has been passed down from my side of the line. My mother threw such a party and her mother before her. For our family, it has grown into a reckless mix of Christmas, Chanukah, and Saturnalia celebrations. Every year we sit down in November and make a reasonably sized guest list, and in the following weeks my husband and my sons, without consulting me, invite everybody else they run into. It’s true that lots of people will bring food, but each day in the weeks preceding the party, the guest list swells. I come right up to the brink of losing my mind. There will not be enough time to get it all done. Now I must add to the multitude of everyday chores and interruptions all the sugar plum fairy tasks of holiday schlepping and cleaning and baking. There will be reindeer cookies and six-pointed star cookies, latkes and a gingerbread house, spinach pies and lasagna, a turkey and a ham and smoked fish. I will decorate every doorway and window, inside and out, with lights and evergreens. The menorah’s candles will burn bravely against the ticking of the clock. Our tree will look out upon the street, hung to within an inch of its life with birds and bells and chocolate Santas and the little blown-glass carousels passed down to me from my mother.
      A few years ago, at the very topmost moment of the turning of the year, smack in the middle of one of these parties, I sat down for the first time in weeks. Slightly delirious, starving, and victorious. As always, I had no clear idea how I had gotten it all done in time. Outside, the cold and the dark pressed their faces to the window, but in here was light and warmth and everybody I loved. Over on the other side of the room, musical instruments were being toodled and tuned and tapped, an electric piano, a guitar, a violin, a set of bongo drums. Someone handed me a plate of food and a glass of wine, and my oldest friend, Kate, took a seat by my side. I’ve known her since we were six. Our moms were pals. “I swear,” she said, “it comes around faster and faster every year. I don’t know how you get this all done.” (Photo Credit: Breukellen Riesgo)
      I laughed. “I was just thinking the same exact thought.”
      “Doesn’t it seem to you our mothers had more time in their days?” she pondered. “More hours?” It was true. Our childhoods had felt so much roomier. It was then that the thought popped into my head and I said it out loud.
      “Wow. Wouldn’t it be weird if it turned out that something had gotten into our world and was stealing our time? I mean, what if all our minutes are just a little bit shorter than they used to be, and we just haven’t noticed it yet?”
      She looked at me nervously. She is easily spooked. “Who would do that? Who would steal time? What would they do with it?”
      Those questions, of course, I had no ready answers for, but I knew I had the beginning of my winter solstice story, the turning of the wheel, a time thief, and a gathering of friends to fight off the darkness and the cold.

Bio: Amy Herrick is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Every morning, she and her dog take a long walk in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, looking for adventure. They’ve seen and heard many wondrous things there, some of which have served as inspiration for this story.

Algonquin Press has kindly agreed to send a free copy of THE TIME FETCH to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.

Friday Linky List - July 25, 2014

At Wild Things! - "You're Dead Meat, Mr. Lewis" - authors talk about school visits gone awry

At BuzzFeed via Nathan Bransford - 21 '90s Book Titles That Should Actually Exist... like this one:

Also from Nathan at FastCoDesign: 4 Tips on Creativity from the Creator of Calvin & Hobbes

From Nathan Bransford: Advice for Young Writers - good!

Considering I'm teaching at Hollins University, home of Margaret Wise Brown, I'm interested in this article from Opinionator: "What Writers Can Learn From 'Goodnight Moon'."

From Flavorwire via PW: Should It Matter Whether 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Is Young Adult Fiction?

Oh gads! Did y'all see this!? HMH Strikes Deal with Cricket. Achievable only because they demanded owning their creators' copyrights? *blech*

At Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes: The Wildest Children's Books of 2014 - I want them all!

From Conde Nast Traveler via Shelf Awareness: 12 Beautiful Bookstores That Are Worth Traveling For

The 2nd Annual Chapaqua Children's Book Festival will take place September 27th with 80 children's book authors speaking - WOW!

CAT SAYS MEOW by Michael Arndt - Interview and Giveaway

I’m teaching Design in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia this summer. Since I began this venture, I’ve been paying more attention to really well-designed picture books, like CAT SAYS MEOW by award-winning graphic designer, Michael Arndt. He took a break from his busy schedule to answer some questions…

Q. Michael - Can you explain your love affair with design?
Hi Elizabeth, or should I say "Meow"? Thank you for having me here. How much time do you have?
      I have always liked to draw. I am the youngest of 5 children. My grandfather was a sign painter and would hand letter all his work with sable brushes and paint. My dad was a landscape architect and 4 out of we 5 kids studied design. Whether nature or nurture, we all liked to draw. I wanted to be an illustrator but through a series of circumstances ended up majoring in Graphic Design instead at the University of Cincinnati. Unfortunately they didn't have an illustration program so the first couple years there I spent trying to transfer to a school that did offer illustration. My design professors at UC campaigned for me to stay, saying that Graphic Design was a perfect foundation from which to go on to do several things in the visual arts field, even illustration. It turns out they were right! By the time I graduated I was hooked. Friends call me the consummate designer because I eat, drink and breathe it. It really is a love affair. Architecture, package design, interior design, furniture design, you name it. I love it; I surround myself with it; I search the world for it; and love to create it. I've been known to search for months for the perfect food and water bowls for my dog and cat (of course they ate and drank in the meantime!) I happen to be one of those people who believes that good design enhances our quality of life and our environment has a profound impact on our life experience. For a designer that is even more so. Beauty in, beauty out. And let's face it, who doesn't like to be surrounded by things that they find beautiful AND that function well?

Q. I like to think I’m a type geek, but I have a feeling your passion is above and beyond. What are your thoughts on type?
Graphic designers are communicators. I am fascinated by all things visual and all things relating to communication and so type falls perfectly in the overlapping middle area of this Venn diagram. I also love and respect words and language (my own native English and foreign languages). Type, in our culture at least, represents individual letters and sounds (the components of both written and spoken language) and therefore a method of writing and reading. Type makes thoughts and speech visual and tangible. It is also an entity unto itself with its own history. For example, it reflects the medium which created it (serifs come from the process of chiseling stone as well as painting with brushes). The form type assumes I believe can even reflect the sound that it makes. The sinewy curves of the letter "S" somehow mimic the "S" sound itself. The rounded curves of a lower case "m" almost seem to be an illustration of the two lips that in fact create the "M" sound when they force air out of the mouth. Type also has it own visual character derived from size, proportion, weight, color, texture, and shape. There is an inherent beauty in all its varied permutations. Type even reflects trends and time periods. Most interesting and fun to me is the fact that each letter, and in turn each typeface, has personality! I don't think it is a coincidence that the individual letters are called 'characters' as I see the characters in the Roman alphabet as being almost anthropomorphic. Their proportions approximate human ones and therefore there is a pleasing familiarity to them. Not only does type represent the denotative meaning of a word, i.e.: the letters C-A-T arranged in that order represent a feline animal in English, but the typefaces are definitely connotative as well; that is, their visual form suggests different attributes and personalities. The possibilities to then use this to communicate a message are endless. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Type to me is really just shapes or pictures and therefore the visual iteration of them tells its own story. I always like to say, the style of a typographic message should by itself communicate its content, even if you cannot the read the language in which it is written.

Q. You combine the sounds each animal makes to come up with the shape of the animal. You’re dealing with design and human senses on so many levels in this book. How challenging a project was this?
The designs weren't as challenging as you might think as that is what I do on a daily basis: use type and image and juxtapose them or even combine them conceptually and physically to create a synthesis of image and meaning. What WAS and continues to be challenging is coming up with which animals to feature and deciding what their sounds are! Not every animal makes a sound and if it does, it is not necessarily easy to transliterate that sound into human speech and then into letters that can be readily agreed upon. In fact, some of the animals in the book "go" instead of "say," meaning their sounds comes from their body like the rabbit thumping (its foot) or the squirrel chomping (on an acorn) whereas the others "say" things with their voices. Interesting anecdote, some animals had to be changed in the editing review process to conform the spelling of their sounds to traditionally agreed-upon spellings in English of what their sounds are. For example, I originally had the horse NAAYing phonetically. I then agreed to change it to say NEIGH based on historical precedents in children's literature. In the case of animalopoeia, this meant not just changing the copy but redrawing the corresponding animal itself from scratch. Luckily my editor, the designers at Chronicle, and I all were happier with the new horse. The "I" supplied a nice white blaze and the "H" became a tasty piece of hay. We also modified the hummingbird and rabbit due to changes in spelling. This resulted in the hummingbird gaining a flower and the rabbit losing a set of whiskers!

Q. Did some of the animals come more easily than others?
Definitely. The dog was the very first animal I came up with as anybody who knows me personally knows how much I love (read: am obsessed) with dogs, especially my own dog Clooney, who for the record—since this is an interview—is the cutest and best dog in the world. The cat was next and he/she (I haven't assigned it a gender) was very easy, perhaps the easiest. Cats say meow and "M" is a perfect set of ears, "E" and "O" are nice, round, eye-like characters, and what better letter for feline jowls than a "W"? The cow was likewise fairly easy and quick to come to life. The most challenging from a design standpoint were probably the chick, the rabbit, and the turkey. And in case anyone was wondering, the frog is my personal favorite illustration, just because I like the range of fonts used.

Q. This isn’t your typical picture book - what was your journey to publication with CAT SAYS MEOW?
Thank you, Elizabeth. A lot of reviewers have in fact called it unique-and I think they mean it as a compliment! I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I am neither a writer nor a traditional illustrator. As a Graphic Designer I naturally come to this with a different perspective and approach I suppose. animalopoeia (lower case intentional) started as just a cat and dog from which I had planned to create a small line of letterpress cards that I had planned to market by myself. After drawing the cat, the cow came to me fairly quickly and once I had expanded beyond pets to then farm animals, it was fun to see how many I could do. I quickly had 6, then 12, after a while 18, and by the end of about three months, a nice round number of 24. At that point I realized that both the number of animals and the format (Cat says meow, Dog says woof...) easily lent themselves to a familiar children's book format. I figured I had nothing to lose by putting together a prototype using an online book printing and binding service, and mailing it off to Chronicle Books along with a brand presentation, something I also do routinely in my 'day job.' I only sent it to one publisher, Chronicle Books (and told them such in my cover letter), as not only have they been my favorite publisher for years but I thought they would be the right ones to publish it if anybody were to. Luckily they agreed! I fully realize how truly lucky and unusual my story is (first book idea, first proposal sent, only one publisher submission) and live every day in gratitude and a bit of residual disbelief!

Q. Graphic design covers so much in our world - why did you concentrate on a picture book?
Yes! Graphic Design is EVERYWHERE in our world and the kids of today are more visually savvy than ever due to exposure to well-designed, smart visual interfaces from companies such as Apple Computers, apps, websites, etc. Why did I concentrate on a picture book? In a way it naturally evolved from the greeting card idea, but truth be told, deep down inside I suppose I always wanted to be an illustrator and in the end do a children's book as it is such an ideal project! The soul's desires have a way of rising to the surface! With picture books I get to be (actually am probably required to be!) fun, imaginative, simple, creative, different. Best of all children's book creators get to create a piece of someone's childhood and even learning experience. Librarians and teachers (our unsung heroes in my opinion) have been without doubt the biggest supporters of "Cat Says Meow and other animalopoeia" for its educational aspects. At first that surprised me (after all, I have no formal experience in childhood education) but on further thought, I realized that educators and designers have actually the same mission at the end of the day. To communicate information in a way that is simple, clear, interesting, and ultimately... memorable. When viewed that way, it starts to make sense that a graphic designer could, would and maybe even should do a children's book. Actually, there is long tradition of graphic designers who have done children's books from Saul Bass to Paul Rand to Bruno Mari so I am in illustrious company and honored and humbled to be so.

Q. Have you caught the bug? Will we see more fun works like this from you?
The bug has caught me and swallowed me whole! It is a dream from which I hope to never awake! Yes, with any luck you will see more. I already have more in the animalopoeia series in various stages of design and proposal and several more books, most of them—but not all—for children. Ideally any book I might do would be enjoyed by people of all ages as many reviewers are saying "Cat Says Meow" is. The common threads I aim to incorporate in future books are my love of design, animals, language, philosophy and desire to create something different, meaningful, and educational. The work that excites me most and that I admire from others is potent in concept and content but clean, clear, and minimal in its execution.
      Thanks for the interview, Elizabeth. This was fun! That's all for meow...

CLICK HERE to follow Michael on Facebook.

Chronicle (with Michael) has kindly agreed to give away one free, signed copy of CAT SAYS MEOW to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below.

Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic - GREAT!

It's about time somebody did a spoof slamming texting word usage! Because, y'know, it's a CRIME!

Thanks to my friend Glenda Rogers for the heads up!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Gone Fishin!

     It's starting to get to the dog days of summer. Have you grabbed some check out time? Maybe bring your copy of Huckleberry Finn along.
     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! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**

Judy Schachner at Hollins University!

I love Judy! You probably know her as the creator of Skippyjon Jones. She visited Hollins this weekend to give the most hilarious author talk I've ever heard and do a workshop with our students. But before the hubbub, a gang of us went to dinner at Wildflour Cafe. We are Ashley Wolff and Ruth Sanderson in front and Rhonda Walter-Frojen, Me, Lauren Mills, Judy Schachner, and Michelle Meade in the back:

This Makes Me Happy! At the Mansfield/Richland Library

Children's Assistant Abby Lowe recently asked to use my Science Bear for their summer reading program. "Of course!" I said and asked her to send me a photo of their creation. Well, this is it... Every single one of those beakers has a child's name on it signed up for the summer reading program. How awesome is that!? Happy reading guys!

The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

The Remarkable best-selling book THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate has been adapted into a picture book illustrated by G. Brian Karas and it looks just as amazing. I dare you not to get chill bumps:

Click here (or the static image below) to see the video on YouTube if the embedded version doesn't come through for you.

Read a great article about the book at The Nerdy Book Club.

ZERO TOLERANCE by Claudia Mills - Guest Post and Giveaway!

I am thrilled to introduce my new friend and fellow Hollins Professor, Claudia Mills. We walk every morning here, so I can attest to what a big heart and inspiring spirit she has. Claudia stopped by to tell us about her novel, Zero Tolerance. Take it away Claudia!...

      I don’t usually draw my books from events that happen out in the world. They are typically sparked from things that happened in my own life as a child, or experiences of my two sons as they were growing up. But Zero Tolerance did begin with an actual news story.
      Several years ago a middle school near my home in Boulder, Colorado, expelled a student for bringing a knife to school by mistake in her mother’s lunch. I don’t remember any particular details, although the incident triggered a media frenzy. I do remember thinking at the time: what would it be like to be that girl? It wasn’t the unfairness of zero tolerance policies that struck me so much as the human dimension of the story, how an honor student might find her identity unsettled and her world view undermined in the aftermath.
      So Zero Tolerance opens when “good girl” Sierra Shepard, honor roll student and member of her middle school’s Leadership Club, dismissive of the “bad kids” who are always doing time in the principal’s office, realizes that she has brought her mother’s lunch to school by mistake: a lunch that has a knife in it for cutting her mother’s apple. Rule follower that she is, Sierra turns in the knife instantly to the lunch lady. But her world turns upside down as she is now facing mandatory expulsion under her school’s zero tolerance policies for drugs and weapons.
      Sierra’s principal deeply regrets what’s happening, but is trapped by his own rhetoric: “zero tolerance” means no excuses, no exceptions, ever for anyone. Her attorney father is furious, bent on defending his daughter at any cost, even – or especially – if it means destroying the principal in the process. Her free-spirit mother wants to enroll Sierra in an alternative school for the arts, occasioning marital discord with her husband, who insists that such schools are “strictly for fruits and nuts.” Sierra’s crush, Colin, organizes a petition drive on her behalf: but is he doing it because he likes her or just because he believes it’s the right thing to do? And, of course, I had to create the character of “bad boy” Luke, who shares in-school suspension with Sierra as the date for her fateful hearing draws near.
      Writing Zero Tolerance was one of my greatest challenges as an author. Generally when I write a book, I know what has to happen to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion, and readers are going to know that, too, and read on with that expectation. So, if I’m writing Annika Riz, Math Whiz, I know that the story has to end with Annika finding some way to show her math-disdaining friends that math is worth caring about. If I’m writing Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, I know that the story has to end with Kelsey learning how to balance her competitive drive to win a school-wide reading contest with her reasons for loving reading in the first place.
      With Zero Tolerance, I truly didn’t know what was going to happen as I wrote. Would Sierra really be expelled? If she was allowed to stay at Longwood Middle School, would she even want to stay? I could hardly wait to sit down with my pen and pad of paper every day to find out what was going to happen next.
      I also struggled to find the philosophical core of Sierra’s story. I spent over twenty years as a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, teaching courses on ethical theory and applied ethics. I’ve always been drawn to ethically rich subject matter in my books. But I don’t want to write about an ethical issue where it’s too easy to tell right from wrong. I like to write about hard ethical questions that lack any simplistic resolution.
      In Zero Tolerance, it would have been easy to mount an attack on the mindlessly rigid, needlessly harsh zero tolerance policies that have become all too common in schools today. When I give talks about the book to teachers and librarians, many of them share stories of children suspended for having allergy medication in a backpack after a weekend sleepover or for displaying a toy cannon in a Civil War diorama. But I was more interested in the harder ethical questions. Given that such policies are misguided and unfair, how do we respond? How do we fight morally problematic policies without developing an equally problematic crusading zeal that ignores real human costs and consequences? Caught between two titans, her father and her principal, each bent on advancing his own moral agenda, in the end Sierra has to redefine her own identity and decide what kind of person she wants to be.

Here's Claudia in her favorite writing spot at Hollins University...

Claudia has generously agreed to send a free, signed and dedicated copy of ZERO TOLERANCE to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.

TWO PARROTS by Rashin - Interview and Giveaway!

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in children’s books. Perhaps that’s why TWO PARROTS by Rashin has garnered so much attention. Or perhaps it’s simply because it’s wonderful! I’m happy to have Rashin here to today to talk about her debut US title…

Q. Rashin - You’re in Washington, DC now, but you come via a circuitous route - can you share your background?
I have been working as an illustrator and animator for 14 years now. I studied art at Azadegan Art School when I was in Iran and then I graduated with a masters degree in graphic design from Alzahra Art University of Tehran, Iran in 2009. I started my career as an illustrator with childrens magazines in Iran and then gradually I got involved more in book publishing for children in Iran and abroad. I love my job and I enjoy working for kids.

Q. TWO PARROTS is inspired by a Tale from Rumi, which I’m not familiar with. Can you tell us more?
Rumi was a famous persian poet who lived in 13th century. Ha wrote a lot of great stories for kids, which I grew up with. I wrote TWO PARROTS based on one of his poems. I wanted to write something that showed how freedom and friendship are essential to live happily for every single creature. I hope kids can get my message after reading the book.

Q. I love the big round shape of your main character and the rich colors. What is your method?
I used oil color to paint the images of the book, I also used handmade textured paper, which I got from my last trip in India. When you draw for a fiction story you can always do whatever comes to your mind, in my imagination the main character was a very big guy with a long, funny mustache, who is so kind at the same time and really loves his bird. Exaggerating some part of the body always makes it funnier.

Q. You have over 80 titles internationally. How did you come to do children’s books?
Well, I was very active in the art world, especially in the children's book and animation field both in Iran and Europe. I attended different international festivals, book fairs, exhibitions and conferences about book designing around the world. I won many awards, and that helped introduce my artwork to the foreign publishers.

Q. It seems like here in the US, we should have discovered you a long time ago. I’m just glad we finally have. How has your American debut been?
I have had a great experience working with NorthSouth Books. They believed in me and gave me the opportunity to start my career in the United States. I attended Book Expo America 2014 in New York to sign my books for the audience, which was so much fun. I had the chance to meet people and get their feedback about my book in person. I am also visiting different bookstores and libaries in the Washington, DC area and I will be signing at ALA at the end of June.

Q. Your next book, THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY comes out in September. It sounds like you’re on a roll! Can we expect more in the future?
Yes, I am going to work on three famous stories from "1001 Nights" next. These books will be full of adventures and it is very interesting to read. I can't wait to start this book project and I hope children enjoy it.

Q. You have a unique perspective. Do you have any last thoughts you’d like to share with us on diversity in children’s books?
Picture books are the first art gallery show for young readers, we should try to create books that help to improve their imagination and show diversity all around the world, whether that is through the style or the story.

Thanks so much for dropping by and I wish you much continued success!!!

NorthSouth and Rashin have arranged to get a signed copy of TWO PARROTS to two of my lucky followers - woosie!!! Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below.

And here is our Hollins Faculty...

Where I teach Design in the first and only MFA in Writing AND Illustrating Children's Books in the country, in conjunction with the already established MFA in Children's Literature and Certificate in Children's Book Illustration programs. We are, from the left: Ruth Sanderson, Yours Trulyla, Lauren Mills, Candice Ransom, Dennis Nolan (visiting workshop leader sometimes, when we're lucky), Ashley Wolff, and Eric Rohmann.

Not shown are Hillary Homzie and Claudia Mills.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Reading Fairy #4!

     You know I love my reading fairies - I hope you do too!! Here's another one for you...
     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! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**