HENRYHERZ.COM → KidLit, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

By Henry, Josh & Harrison Herz

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Interview with children’s book author Deborah Underwood

Deborah Underwood is the author of numerous children’s books, including INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA, HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT, and the New York Times bestsellers HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT, THE QUIET BOOK, and THE LOUD BOOK! She has written more than 25 nonfiction books on topics ranging from smallpox to ballroom dancing, and has written for National Geographic Kids, Highlights, Ladybug, and Spider magazines.


Tell us about your latest book.

My most recent books are INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA, illustrated by Meg Hunt (Chronicle) and the HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT, illustrated by Claudia Rueda (Dial).

INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA is a twist on the familiar story: Cinderella dreams of a career in rocket repair, so she desperately wants to attend the Royal Space Parade to see all the ships. Despite her stepmother’s sabotage attempt, she makes it to the parade (with the help of her fairy godrobot) and comes to the prince’s rescue when his ship breaks down.

HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT is the third book in the Cat series. Cat tries to trick the Tooth Fairy into paying a visit. But the Tooth Fairy turns out to be just as tricky as Cat!

Henry: I’ve read both those books. I loved how INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA reminded me of the Kaylee character from Firefly, and teaches that smart is the new pretty. I enjoy seeing innovative writing techniques, and loved how the cat wordlessly answers the Tooth Fairy narrator’s questions.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

One of the most challenging aspects of a writing career is juggling all the non-writing things: website updates, promotional work, speechwriting, responding to emails—all the things that pull time and energy away from writing.

But in terms of the actual writing, the first draft is usually the hardest part for me. Once something’s on paper, I feel like I have the tools to start fixing it, but writing that initial draft can be daunting.

Henry: And answering interview questions and caring for one’s cat! Bella is miffed you failed to mention her. I completely agree that the first draft is the most difficult.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

This is an ongoing experience: being part of the children’s writing and illustrating community has become an important part of my life. In general, people drawn to this work are not only funny, smart, authentic, and talented, but also tremendously supportive of each other. I feel lucky to be a member of the tribe.

Henry: The humorous Facebook exchanges alone are worth it.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read a lot of books in the genre that interests you. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org) and a critique group or two. Go to conferences and learn. It’s a tough field, so doing your homework—understanding the publication process and the market, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and continuing to hone your skills—is important.

Henry: I completely concur. Critique groups, I’ve found, are especially valuable to honing one’s writing.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Today’s favorite is from Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Henry: Nice. I also like:
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” ~John Locke

“Well done is better than well said.” ~Benjamin Franklin

“Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out.” ~Italian Proverb

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Hm…not rituals, really. But I usually write my drafts on a legal pad, and I’m quite fussy about having the right pen for each project. I once spent 45 minutes shopping for a pen before starting work on a story because I wanted a particular shade of blue!

And if you go to a cafe and see someone changing tables four times, it’s probably me. If I’m working, I’m ridiculously sensitive to noise, drafts, light, etc. so I tend to move around a lot.

Henry: You are the Sheldon Cooper of picture book writers! 

Sheldon Cooper: That is my spot, in an ever-changing world, it is a single point of consistency. If my life were expressed as a function on a four-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, that spot, at the moment I first sat on it, would be 0-0-0-0.
Penny: [blank stare] What?
Leonard Hofstadter: Don’t sit in his spot.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The ability to talk to animals. I have a few things I need to discuss with my cat, Bella.

Henry: And no doubt, the reverse is true. “I’ve been meaning to speak with you about the cat food, Deborah.”

Sheldon Cooper: “You don’t have to sell me on cats, Leonard. I’m already a fan. All right, fellas, who’s in the mood for Fancy Feast? *disgusting plop of cat food on a plate* Well, that’s not fancy at all.”

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I know I should say Shakespeare, Milton, and Jane Austen or something. But if I had to decide right this second, I would cheat and invite the other seven members of Erin Murphy’s Dog, the one-performance-a-year band I’m in: Ruth Barshaw, Mike Jung, Arthur Levine, Jeannie Mobley, Kristin Nitz, Carrie Watson, and Conrad Wesselhoeft. Partly because I love them, partly because we could play music after dinner, and partly because I think they’d forgive me for having papers strewn all over my apartment.

Henry: Tickets for Erin Murphy’s Dog are on sale now at Ticketmaster and Stub Hub…

Where can readers find your work?

They can find (or order) my books in their independent bookstores. And they are cordially invited to visit me online at DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com to see what I’m up to!

This interview is also on the San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.

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Masterpiece Paintings with Pop Culture Elements

From David Barton and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

“I’m David Barton, UK based web developer, tech tinkerer and frustrated wannabe artist. I rework old masters with a pop culture twist.

I create these fine art parodies in my spare time. I enjoy studying the original art and trying, best I can, to recreate the artist’s style. Saying that I don’t take it too seriously its a bit of fun that hopefully will put a smile on your face.”

Van Gogh’s Groundskeeper Willie

Monet’s Vader With A Parasol

Vermeer’s Marge With A Pearl Necklace

Georges Seurat Vs Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The Batman

Rembrandt’s Homer

Apu Dali

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Animal Balaclavas

From Teya Salat and those mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

“With the winter months fast approaching, the balaclava is a key piece of kit to keep your face warm, or to rob a bank. 22-year-old Russian tattoo model Teya Salat may not be a thief, but her stylish, animal-themed balaclavas have stolen our hearts and opened our wallets!

The balaclava takes its name from the 1854 Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. British troops, lacking warm clothing, were issued these hand-knit face-masks to protect them from the bitter cold. Previously, this type of headgear was known an an Uhlan cap or a Templar cap.”


Interview with Picture Book Author Lori Alexander

Lori Alexander writes for young children and their exhausted parents. Her debut picture book, BACKHOE JOE, rolled out in 2014 from Harper Children’s, with a sequel to follow. Lori resides in Tucson, Arizona, with her scientist husband and two book-loving kids. She runs when it’s cool (rarely) and swims when it’s hot (often). She grew up in San Diego, where she earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in psychology from UCSD and SDSU, respectively.

For what age audience do you write?

I write fiction picture books for readers 4-8 years old.

Tell us about your latest book.

BACKHOE JOE is about a boy named Nolan who is out collecting rocks when he happens upon a “stray” backhoe. When the backhoe follows Nolan home, he wants to keep it. But Backhoe Joe isn’t trained. He revs at the mailman. He digs in the garbage. Just when Nolan thinks he has his new pet under control, he sees a “Lost Backhoe” flyer. Joe belongs to someone else! Luckily, Nolan earns a generous reward, and maybe, a new pet of his very own.

Henry: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was, and always will be yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with.”

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I wrote it to feed the imaginations of young truck lovers. In my mind, it’s a friendship story. But when I share it at school visits, we talk a bit about responsibility and what to do when you find something that doesn’t belong to you.

Henry: Sell it on eBay?

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Coming up with a unique, marketable concept that will hook the reader. And then developing a story around that wacky idea that doesn’t feel too contrived. It’s tricky business! Word count can be a challenge, also. I’m finally feeling comfortable with the 500-word target (although I keep hearing 400 words is the new goal). Many recently published PBs are far shorter.

Henry: It’s a common misconception (at least among people who’ve never written a picture book), that writing a 500-word story is easy because of the length. Quite the opposite, since we still have to jam in a plot and character development (aided, of course, by the illustrations).

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

In general, school visits and book signings have been a blast. I love chatting with young readers about books, sharing my inspiration behind BAKCHOE JOE, and doing all kinds of construction-themed games and crafts with the kids.

More specifically, picture book author Corey Rosen Schwartz sent me a short video of a family member reading BACKHOE JOE with their young boy. He’s in that early, “pre-reading” stage where he can finish the last word of each sentence from memory. Watching the exchange between the boy and his proud mom, hearing him say the words I wrote, was priceless.

Henry: TV commercial?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Don’t give up! It’s such a long process of learning the craft, understanding the market, finding trusted critique partners, and of course, writing, revising, and repeating. And there’s so much rejection along the way. But if you really love writing for kids, stick with it. BACKHOE JOE was rejected in its first round of submissions. In the second round, it went on to sell in auction! You never know which editor will click with your story.

Henry: Yup. KidLit authors must be thick-skinned and indefatigable.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I like this one from John Updike: “Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.”

Henry: C.S. Lewis poetically expounds on that theme. “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country.”

Or, the more mundane, “Bro’s before hoes.”

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

How about the power to control time? That way, I could speed up the sluggish parts of the publishing process, and then slow down and bask in all the fun stuff, like cover reveals and launch parties.

Henry: Right, because editors aren’t working hard enough! :)

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I adore funny, contemporary picture books, so if I had any authors over for dinner, they would be folks like Mo Willems, Bob Shea, Mac Barnett, Adam Rubin, Amy Krause Rosenthal…oh man, it’s difficult to stop. This dinner would be catered.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The jackalope! What’s not to love about a jackrabbit with antelope horns? Not sure how many of these creatures have made their way into literature. There should definitely be more picture books staring the jackalope. But mostly, I love the solid advice given by the Great American Jackalope in the Pixar short Boundin’

Now sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down,
When you find that you’re down well just look around:
You still got a body, good legs and fine feet,
Get your head in the right place and hey, you’re complete!

Preach it, jackalope.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

My kids are getting older (3rd & 4th grades), but they still want me to volunteer in their classrooms and their school library. It’s a kick to be included in a small slice of their day. And as a children’s book author, it’s helpful to hang out with kids. What’s funny to a Kindergartner? How is that different for a 2nd grader? Academically, it gives me a good feel for what each grade level is tackling, reading and writing-wise, which is helpful when I’m developing my presentations for school visits. Teachers and librarians are thankful for the assistance, and the staff at my kids’ school has been so supportive with the release of BACKHOE JOE, spreading the word about launch events, putting me in contact with other schools, etc.

If we’re taking about those few minutes spare minutes not tied-up with kid stuff like soccer or swimming or art lessons or homework, I enjoy exercising and trying all kinds of new vegetarian recipes. Still looking for the one that tastes like eating meat.

Henry: “If the Lord wanted us to be vegetarians, He wouldn’t have made animals out of MEAT!”

Where can readers find your work?

Your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble, as well as online at IndieBound, Amazon, and BN.com

Lori is a member of SCBWI and can be found at http://www.lorialexanderbooks.com or on Twitter @LoriJAlexander

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Fairy-Tale Scenes With Live Animals

From photographer Darya Kondratyeva and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda. Where can I get my own bear?

“When Moscow-based photographer Darya Kondratyeva isn’t snapping family, maternity or baby photos, she creates enchanting photos that seem like re-interpretations of old fairytales or legends. The models in her photos seem like they could be witches, princesses or forest spirits.

Aside from her models, trained animals feature heavily in Kondratyeva’s fantasy photography as well. Each one seems like it might open its mouth and whisper a wise secret into the model’s ear.”


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KidLit Creature Week 2016 now open for submissions

KIDLIT CREATURE WEEK is an annual collaboration of children’s book artists. Illustrators may now submit an illustration to our online gallery of monsters, creatures & other imaginary beasts suitable for children’s literature. We’ll be posting the submissions starting in mid-January. It’s fun and it’s free. Be inspired by others’ art. Promote your work by sharing it.

Submit before 1/1/16 an image of any creature you’ve illustrated. It need not have been traditionally published. “Creature” is defined in this context as any sentient being not found in nature, e.g. dragon, ninja rabbit, muppet, talking crayon, elf, and so on. Full details are on the KCW website.

Here is artwork from some of this year’s Guests of Honor:

bowers2 Krispin Blaze by Tim Bowers

florianMostly Monstrous Monsters by Douglas Florian

kirschDragonfleez by Vincent X. Kirsch

klassenTattletale Crab by Jon Klassen
ladenCroctopus by Nina Laden
rexGiant Spider by Adam Rex
reynoldspEr-ick by Peter H. Reynolds

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Cute Halloween Costumes for Little Kids

From the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

“It’s never too early to start celebrating Halloween, as these Halloween-ready babies will prove. Adorable tots are the perfect models for creative parents and their baby costume ideas.”

 #1 Cruella And Dalmatian

Cruella And Dalmatian

#2 Baby Rapunzel In Her Tower

Baby Rapunzel In Her Tower

#3 Little Old Lady

Little Old Lady

#4 Baby Octopus

Baby Octopus

#5 Power Loader from Aliens

My Friend And His Daughter In Costume

#6 Oscar Baby Costume

Oscar Baby Costume

 #7 Cutest Ewok Ever

Cutest Ewok Ever

#8 Mom & Baby Spiderweb Costume

Mom & Baby Spiderweb Costume

#9 Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

#10 Baby Groot

My Wife Made My Son A Baby Groot Costume For Halloween

#11 Baby Duck

Baby Duck

#12 Harry Potter Mandrake Costume

Harry Potter Mandrake Costume

#13 Eaten By A Shark

Eaten By A Shark

#14 Stormtrooper and Ewok

My Son And I On His First Halloween

#15 Baby Yoda

Baby Yoda

#16 Baby Einstein

Baby Einstein

#17 Totoro Costume

Totoro Costume


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