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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At the 2018 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival

I had a wonderful time at the 2018 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival. I presented “Using Fiction to Interest Young Readers in Nonfiction”, and got to meet some amazing authors.

With literary agency sister Erin Dealey, author of K IS FOR KINDERGARTEN.

With Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of BOYS OF STEEL.

With Janay Brown, author of IMANI’S MOON.

With Karen Jameson, author of the upcoming MOON BABIES, and Dianne White, author of BLUE ON BLUE.

With Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt, author of MAYBE A FOX.

With Coretta Scott King Medalist illustrator James Ransome and his equally talented wife author Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Closing session speaker Georgia Heard presented “Seeing the World with a Poet’s Eye.” I loved the following slide that said poets…

  • Observe the small moments around us
  • Find poetry in the ordinary
  • See beauty in the ugly
  • Are curious and filled with wonder
  • Look at the world in a new way
  • Pay attention to and write from all our feelings
  • Love the meaning the sounds of words
  • Give voice to the unspeakable
  • Are empathetic

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California School Librarian Association Conference – Feb 2018

I had a fantastic time at the California School Librarian Association Conference, held in Yosemite, CA.

I was on a picture book panel with fellow authors (l. to r.) Marcia Berneger, Linda Joy Singleton, and Erin Dealey.

Erin moderated, so I introduced her.

As the panel progressed, audience member (and author-illustrator) Ashley Wolff sketched us!

Life imitates art.

My literary agency, East-West Literary was well-represented by fellow authors (l. to r.) Patricia Newman, Erin Dealey, and Gayle Pitman.

Our dinner centerpieces honored SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen.

Got to say hi to Mac.

The next morning, my wife and I went for a walk in the woods. Here’s a pair of trees hugging.

Here is one determined little sapling.

And here I am, bold outdoorsman with a dorky hat.

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Photos from San Diego Comic-Con 2017

Here, in no particular order, are photos from San Diego Comic-Con 2017

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Only D&D fans will get that pun.

A classic Comic-Con mashup. Elvis Boba Fett!

Cabbage merchant: An obscure, but lovable character from Avatar: The Last Airbender

A huge dragon you could ride. Stuffed animal sold separately.

D.VA’s mech video game character from Overwatch

A flying (thanks to magnetic repulsion) Iron Man and friends.

NY Times bestselling fantasy author Gail Carriger

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy from Batman

NY Times bestselling fantasy author Ilona Andrews

Life-sized Iron Man model

Pint-sized General Grievous and Boba Fett

The eloquent First Second editorial director Mark Seigel

NY Times bestselling fantasy author Mary Pearson

Megaman video game character

My fantasy novel panel with Seanan McGuire, Robin Hobb, Gail Carriger & Mary Pearson

The authors of my panel packed the room!

Authors Todd McCaffrey, the Winner twins, and Seanan McGuire

The world’s largest Pikachu (from Pokemon)

Two fun posters. “Gandalf Airlines. Fly you fools! Our planes are never late. Nor are they early.
They arrive precisely when they mean to. You shall not need a boarding pass!” and
BatPug: “I am the night… but mostly I just piddle on stuff”)

Three princesses, or perhaps two princes and a Mother of Dragons

NY Times bestselling fantasy author Robin Hobb

Even the animals get in on the cosplay action. Ye scurvy dog!

Does this Skyrim helmet make me look fat?

Super Saiyan Blue from Dragon Ball Z

Some fun toothy artwork I bought.

Fantasy/sci-fi authors Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire and Scott Sigler.

And, of course, Wonder Woman.

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Fun Times at LA Times Festival of Books 2017

I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Here are photos from that event.

Always a good way to start an event…

I got to meet Karen Lechelt, debut picture book author/illustrator of WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOU? Bonus fact: she has a French Bulldog, so you know she’s cool.

John Rocco introduced me to graphic novelist and picture book illustrator Matt Phelan.

Then John hopped up on stage and worked his magic.

I wandered around the booths, and found the dynamic duo of Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett signing books.

In the audience of the Children’s Stage, I bumped into friend Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of PENGUIN AND PINECONE, and met Jean Reagan, author of HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA.

On stage, we were regaled by a duck hat-wearing David Shannon, author/illustrator of NO, DAVID!

Lee Wind moderated a graphic novel panel with Faith Erin Hicks, Matt Phelan, and Cecil Castellucci.

I wandered some more, and found James Burks, author/illustrator of BIRD & SQUIRREL, Amy Sarig King, author of ME AND MARVIN GARDENS, and Jarrett Krosoczka, author/illustrator of LUNCH LADY at the Once Upon a Storytime booth.

Author/illustrator Jon Klassen and author Mac Barnett read their picture books EXTRA YARN and TRIANGLE to us. Best part: a kid in the audience said “I have THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT”, leading Mac to talk about how Drew Daywalt planted the kid in the audience to promote book sales.

Here is the exuberant Megan McDonald, author of the JUDY MOODY series.

This is a life-sized Olivia.

Lastly, we were entertained by the lively Adam Rubin, author of DRAGONS LOVE TACOS, ably assisted by a dragon.

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Good Times at WonderCon 2017

My sons and I had a great time attending WonderCon yesterday.

We had beautiful SoCal weather.

Comic conventions always boast entertaining food trucks.

A well-designed Gen. Grievous costume from Star Wars.

With author/illustrator Will Terry at his booth.

With NY Times bestseller and Caldecott honoree, John Rocco.

I moderated a rock star KidLit author/illustrator panel with Joe Cepeda, Stacia Deutsch, Eliza Wheeler, John Rocco and Marla Frazee.

Signing books after the panel, next to Caldecott honorees John Rocco and Marla Frazee (looking like the cat that ate the canary)

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My excellent adventure at the 2017 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival

I had a terrific time at the 2017 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival.

I registered for the conference, and popped into the festival book store, run by Frugal Frigate. I look to my left, and there’s Caldecott Honoree and Pura Belpre Medalist, Yuyi Morales!

Yuyi gave the keynote address on the first day. Her description of the work involved in creating her book Viva Frida was captivating.

David Schwartz talked about helping kids wonder about what they read. Here he is unfurling a banner with one million stars on it.

I listened to the delightful George Ella Lyon speak about poem and picture books.

At the book signing, I got to meet Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca. I asked Yuyi Morales to take a photo, but she took a selfie by mistake.

Here, Yuyi’s photography skills improved. Me with Brian Floca.

The next day, I got to sit next to Brian for another book signing.

The conference attendees got a surprise song via Skype from Emily Arrow.

Then, Brian Floca presented about his writing/illustrating process.

I moderated a panel, Research for Picture Books, with David Schwartz, Brian Floca, and Lois Harris.

The conference wrapped up with a lovely presentation by Newbery Honoree Pam Munoz Ryan. Good times.