Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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Interview with author/illustrator Lisa Desimini

Lisa Desimini grew up reading and drawing every chance she got. Her friends and fellow students told her that she should be an artist when she grew up, and Lisa agreed. She graduated from The School of Visual Arts in NYC. Now, she has written and/or illustrated over 35 books for children. She has also illustrated many book jackets for YA and adults novels.

For what age audience do you write​/illustrate​, and in what genre(s)?

My children’s books are for children ages 3-7. Some of my books are for all ages. My favorite genre is fantasy, but I’ve published non-fiction, too. I adore illustrating poetry collections.

Henry: I met Lisa at a book event at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, where she was signing her new picture book. I was especially surprised and pleased to learn she also illustrated the covers for the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) paranormal fantasy novels!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is THE FLEATASTICS. It’s about an acrobatic troupe of fleas that travel from sleeping dog to sleeping dog to put on a show. Sarafleana’s family wants her to be part of their parasite pyramid, but she dreams of having her own act. When someone in the audience says the forbidden “T” word…Sarafleana gets a chance to prove what she can do.

Henry: My agent is right now shopping a narrative nonfiction picture book told by and about fleas. Fascinating little dudes.

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

There are two messages in this book. First, it’s important to do what it takes to follow ones dreams. The second message is that no matter what knocks us down, we have to get back up, brush ourselves off and get back on the horse… But I usually don’t set out with a mission for my books to have a message. It just happens sometimes.

Henry: If you’re a flea, you brush yourself off and get back on the cat.

What aspect of writing​ or illustrating​ do you find most challenging?

For me, writing is more challenging. I write something and, at first, I love it. Then I kind of like it, then I’m not sure about it at all, so I put it away for a few days. When I look again, I say, “OK, this has potential!” Then I show a friend and they make me see something I could do to make it better, so I do it and I like it better. Rinse and repeat and then maybe I send it to my editor and maybe it gets published. I don’t have as much back and forth when it comes to illustration because I’ve been making pictures since I was a little kid.

Henry: I certainly agree that critique groups (the external opinion) is absolutely vital to good writing.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer​/illustrator​?

The powerful lesson I’ve learned is the more research the better! Nowadays, the internet makes it easier to find books, gather information, and see images from different regions. When I was younger I illustrated a book about the Navaho and I thought I did a good job in recreating their hogans, but I got a very sweet letter from the tribe saying they weren’t accurate. I felt terrible. More recently, when I illustrated, SHE SANG PROMISE about a Seminole woman named Betty Mae Jumper, I was thrilled that National Geographic sent my images to the Seminole museum to be approved.

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

The memorable experiences for me are when I do a drawing at the end of all my school visits. They’re not preplanned. I use the students’ ideas, and they never cease to amaze me. When their creativity is lit up, there is an exuberant energy in the room. They might call out instead of raising their hands, bounce around, and get a bit loud, but it’s all worth it to me because when creativity is unleashed, it’s wild. It’s not always about being perfectly behaved.

Henry: I also call out instead of raising my hand.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors​ or illustrators​?

I would tell aspiring authors and illustrators to read as much as you can. Go to the library or bookstore every week–read classics and the latest books. Take a class and join the SCBWI. If kid’s books are truly your passion, you will have the energy and desire to follow the ideas that come to you. Some of my ideas have flowed quickly, but most of my books have taken years to come together and sell.

Henry: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been helpful to many a career. Their website is http://www.scbwi.org.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

My favorite quote: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Henry: I also like “Whether you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write​/illustrate​?

I like to clean up and organize before I start working on a new project. Then I read a bunch of favorite books. Even if they’re not related to my new project, they get me excited and revved up about stories and the infinite worlds they create.

Henry: Is that preparation or procrastination? 🙂

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

My superpower would be the ability to teleport myself–anytime and anywhere.

Henry: I love it. No time wasted commuting or in traffic. No greenhouse gas emissions.

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

Is it OK if I answer a slightly different question–a dinner with my favorite characters from books instead of authors? I love authors, but Owen Meany, Harry Potter and Pippi Longstocking popped into my mind!! Owen because he is so dearly earnest, Harry because of his bravery, and Pippi because of her adventurous spirit!

Henry: No, it is not OK. This interview is cancelled! Per Wikipedia:

A Prayer for Owen Meany is the seventh novel by American writer John Irving. Published in 1989, it tells the story of John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany growing up together in a small New Hampshire town during the 1950s and 1960s. According to John’s narration, Owen is a remarkable boy in many ways; he believes himself to be God’s instrument and sets out to fulfill the fate he has prophesied for himself.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

My favorite creature is a centaur. I like that they have the intellect of a human and an animal’s wild nature.

Henry: I like them too. One is featured on the cover of my first book.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing​/illustrating​?

When I’m not writing, I like to be with my husband and our kitty Crash, cook, read, watch movies, be in the garden and do yoga.

Henry: But not all at the same time…Yoga cooking!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I plan on being cremated and turned into a tree, so my treestone would say, “She always tried to be better and do better.”

Henry: I’m going to go out on a limb and say the root of that choice is that one must be thick-skinned to be an author.

Where can readers find your work?

You can find my work in bookstores, libraries and on my website: http://www.lisadesimini.com

Henry: Thank you for spending time with us, Lisa!

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When is a Starbucks Siren not a Starbucks Siren?

KidLit authors and illustrators know well the rejuvenative power of coffee. And here is proof that the effect is almost immediate, thanks to Abe Green and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

“Like must of us I love coffee that dark smelly and hot thing that keep you running during the day that can only be compare whit tacos and tamales.

One day when I was waiting for a test I finish my cup of coffee and with a pen in my hand start drawing in my cup a really quick sketch that I post in my account of IG before I start my test. When I finish start looking for the messages of friends that love it and during the next days people start brining me empty cups to draw on it.

So I make a series of cups with the title of “The Secret Life of the Starbucks Siren” after that more people start asking me for special designs so that’s how the second series came out.

I believe that anything in this world is a canvas and you can use it to express yourself and in this case I use what must of the people think is garbage.”

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup 

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

Drawing On Cup

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Custom Condos Built by Insects

From Nicky Bay and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

My picture book, MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, is inspired by Mercutio’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio describes how the tiny Fae Queen Mab travels in her flying chariot, built by a beetle and drawn by a dragonfly. The photos in this post show some potential real-world housing options for the Fae Queen.

“I traveled around the world to explore the jungles because I wanted to photograph all things small.

I discovered some of the most intricate almost man-made structures, created by the world’s smallest architects of nature. Feel free to admire!”

Log Cabin – bagworm moth caterpillar collects and saws little sticks to construct elaborate spiral log cabins to live in

Some log cabins are cylindrical fortress sticking out almost vertically from the leaf or branch surface

Cage Fortress – The arctiine moth caterpillars remove their long hairs before pupation to construct a protective caged fortress and suspends itself inside

Web Tower – mysterious silk structure from Peru baffled scientists worldwide

Jungle Tent – Other types of bagworm moth caterpillars build tiny tents in the jungle using leaf bits

Some Jungle Tents are just artistically messy

Poop Barricade – Just surround yourself with poop so that no one would come near

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Butterfly Wings Turn You Into Fae

With the recent release of my urban fantasy bedtime picture book, MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, from Schiffer Publishing, I’m always on the lookout for fun images featuring fairies or other fae. These hand-drawn butterfly wing scarves turn any girl into a Fae. From Iveta Pete and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

“Spanish costume designer Alassie, of El Costurero Real, has designed light muslin scarves with beautiful, realistic, butterfly wing prints. Always wanted to be a fairy? Well now you can be the envy of all your wingless friends!

Alassie was born in Granada into a family of seamstresses. Having studied fashion design and styling at the Art School of Granada, she moved to Barcelona where Alassie began a Masters degree in Costume Design for Theater, Movies, Opera and TV at the Istituto Europeo di Design.”

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Photos of the Tiny Fae World Around Us

From Magda Wasiczek and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

My picture book, MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, is inspired by Mercutio’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio describes how the tiny Fae Queen Mab travels in her flying chariot, painting people’s dreams. The photos in this post show that the Fae Queen could live in our world quite comfortably.

“My name is Magda Wasiczek, I am a flower & nature photographer based in Trzebinia, Poland. Photography to me is a tool of raising the awareness to the beauty of nature. I’ve learned to see invisible things, to enjoy million small details, which I did not pay attention to before.

I do not know who or why, what strength created the world that surrounds us. I know that it is an unusual and fascinating in every smallest detail.

Before I began photographing, I liked to draw, paint. Then I just changed the tool and instead of brushes and pencils I began to use lenses and I have learned to use their optical properties to achieve the desired effects.

I want to show the world of plants or insects in such a way that would impress an average person who has paid no attention to the world at his feet or even hated those “nasty bugs”.

When going to the meadow or the garden, I have no planned shots. I let the nature surprise me. I love the thrill when you find a theme in the open air. It’s like opening presents at Christmas.

I want to present my vision of the world, this idyllic paradise of fairy tales. I hope that looking at my pictures, a child inside of them wakes up, because the world in the eyes of a child is always more colorful, fascinating, mysterious and full of surprises.”


Interview with picture book author/illustrator Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian has written and illustrated more than fifty children’s books including beast feast, winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, MAMMALABILA, winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and INSECTLOPEDIA, a national bestseller featured on National Public Radio and The Today Show. He has recited his poetry at Carnegie Hall, The White House, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.


For what age audience do you write?

I think most of my books can be appreciated by all ages of people, but my favorite audience to recite my poetry is second and third graders. They are my biggest laughers.

Tell us about your latest book.

In my newest book, HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON, I show boys and girls how they too can draw dragons while enjoying such things as a bike ride, soaring flight, violin lesson, and marshmallow roast. The end papers give some practical tips, and the ending has a big fold-out surprise. The idea for this book took shape at a school library in Houston, Texas, where a humongous dragon was suspended below the ceiling.

Henry: Dragons AND marshmallows!? Sign me up!

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

I’m sure readers will enjoy the wide variety of dragons and start creating their own dragons and dragon adventures.

Henry: I also think drawing dragons should be added to Common Core requirements.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of writing is to keep things fresh and also create something new and different from what I’ve done before. I want each book to be better than the one’s I did before. It’s also a challenge to make sure my facts are accurate if I’m incorporating information in a poem.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

I think it’s important to believe in your own work and to constantly improve it, but at the same time to be open to suggestions from an editor or designer. My book HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON went through many changes, but in the end it soared as high as it could.

Henry: Yes, book publishing is truly a team effort.

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

It’s been a great pleasure to recite my poems and show my artwork to students across the country. The response I get from them is inspiring and deeply rewarding.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice would be keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, and keep your mind open. Read a lot. Write a lot. And re-write a lot.

Henry: Yes, the concept of revision is alien to many people, particularly young people.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Nobody is sure where this originated but someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” I have found that to be true in most cases. I also like this quote from the scientist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

Henry: “Fortune favors the prepared.” And don’t get me started on quantum mechanics…

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

Yes, I only write when there is a full moon. I’m just joking. My only writing ritual is to have no ritual. I can write any time, any place. In fact I just wrote a chapter book while writing this sentence.

Henry: Damn, you’re good!

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

I would like to have four or five clones so I would have more time to do all the things I want to do, like fly to Mars.

Henry: And think of all the writing that clone could accomplish on the long commute to Mars!

If you could have three authors (alive or dead) over for dinner, who would it be?

I don’t think I would want a dead author at the dinner table, but if I could bring three authors back to life I would enjoy meeting Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. Twain because he was so witty, saying such things as “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Poe, because I think he would be creepy, scary, and spooky, and it’s good be creeped, scared, and spooked once in a while. Lastly, Emily Dickinson because she is one of my favorite poets. Meeting her would be a unique and memorable experience, and she wouldn’t hog all the food, I imagine.

Henry: There was a dead poets society, so why not a dead authors dinner? After such a dinner, the expression “neither the twain shall meet” would take on new meaning for Poe and Dickinson.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’m partial to dragons, and they, unfortunately, are partial to me.

Henry: Gee, I did not see that coming.

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

I usually like to track down tarantulas, komodo dragons, and boa constrictors. Actually, I love to read or go to an art museum.

Henry: You just gave me a picture book idea: Kimono Dragons.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

His day is done. His time is through. He wrote a witty poem or two.

Henry: The creatures he drew, many a mind blew. He’s run out of time; here’s his last rhyme.

Where can readers find your work?

In Outer Mongolia and libraries through the world.

Henry: Your works are ubiquitous, though they haven’t yet reached Inner Mongolia.

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


Ten Less Well-Known Picture Books I Loved in 2014

As we approach 2015, I’d like to give a shout out to the authors and illustrators of (dare I say it?) less well-known picture books that I read and loved in 2014. Note that some of these books are not out yet. In no particular order, here they are:


Monster Book by Alice Hoogstad


Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, art by Brigette Barrager


Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi, art by Brendan Wenzel (pub. Mar. 2014)


Mustache Baby Meets His Match by Bridget Heos, art by Joy Ang


Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine, art by Christopher Denise


How to Draw a Dragon by Dogulas Florian (pub. Apr. 2015)


Beastly Babies by Ellen Jackson, art by Brendan Wenzel (pub. Jul. 2015)


Sleepyheads by Sandra Howatt, art by Joyce Wan


I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz, art by David Slonim


Memoirs of an Elf by Devin Scillian, art by Tim Bowers

Click to Tweet: Less Well-Known Picture Books I Loved in 2014 at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Ns via @Nimpentoad