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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Rest in Peace, Richard Peck

Newbery Medalist Richard Peck has passed, and the world is a poorer place for it. Every time I heard him speak, he inspired me to be a better writer.

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Interview with author/illustrator/graphic novelist Matt Phelan

Matt Phelan is the illustrator of many books for young readers, including XANDER’S PANDA PARTY by Linda Sue Park, MARILYN’S MONSTER by Michelle Knudsen, and FLORA’S VERY WINDY DAY by Jeanne Birdsall. He is the author/illustrator of the picture books DRUTHERS and PIGNIC, as well as the graphic novels THE STORM IN THE BARN (winner of the Scott O’Dell Award), AROUND THE WORLD, BLUFFTON, the New York Times Bestseller SNOW WHITE, and most recently, IF WENDELL HAD A WALRUS by Lori Mortensen. Matt lives in Pennsylvania.

For what age audience do you write​/illustrate?

I both write and illustrate picture books and middle grade novels (both graphic novels and prose).

Tell us about your latest book.

IF WENDELL HAD A WALRUS by Lori Mortensen is about wishing for a special friend and getting one (but not the one you wished for).

Henry: Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

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

I hope they laugh a lot and also care about the boys in the story. Finding good friends is an important part of life.

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

Illustrating a book written by another author is a wonderful challenge. I feel a responsibility to “get” what the author was intending as well as to add something of my own to the mix.

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

No matter how many books you have made, it always feels like the first time.

Henry: That makes sense. You’re creating art, not baking apple pie from a recipe.

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

I really enjoy visiting schools and talking to kids directly about the process of making books. It’s always a pleasure and a privilege. And maybe I’ve inspired a future author or illustrator.

Henry: With great power comes great responsibility.

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

Draw and write as much as possible. There are many factors to breaking into publishing that you cannot control. However, the one thing you have 100% control over is your work. And that is the key to breaking into publishing.

Henry: Hone. Your. Craft.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: A plan, and not quite enough time.” — Leonard Bernstein. I have that above the door in my studio.

Henry: That should be the illustrator’s credo. “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” — Woodrow Wilson

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

Is drinking coffee strange? How about a lot of coffee? I tend to stay away from rituals. But I take frequent breaks to play some kind of musical instrument in the studio.

Henry: Coffee is not a strange ritual unless you imbibe it intravenously. 

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

Flying, because it has to be the most fun of the superpowers.

Henry: True, but also fraught will perils. See my interview with Edna Mode on this subject.

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

Jeanne Birdsall (because she’s brilliant and funny), P.G. Wodehouse (same), and Isak Dinesen (because she could tell us all a fantastic story after dinner).

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers: Jeanne Birdsall is an American writer of children’s books. She is known mainly for the “Penderwick sisters”, whose third chronicle was published in 2011. The first, which was her debut novel, won the 2005 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse KBE (1881 – 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humourists of the 20th century.

Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke (1885 – 1962) was a Danish author. She is best known under her pen names Isak Dinesen, used in English-speaking countries, and Tania Blixen, used in German-speaking countries. 

Blixen is best known for Out of Africa, an account of her life while living in Kenya, and for one of her stories, Babette’s Feast, both of which have been adapted into Academy Award-winning motion pictures.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Medusa is a good one. I’ve always like the Minotaur, too. The Greeks were great at mixing a bit of tragedy with their horrors.

Henry: I’ve always been struck by how flawed their gods were.

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

Hanging out with my kids.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

He’s Not Here.

Where can readers find your work?

http://www.mattphelan.com

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Matt.


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Interview with Children’s Author Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins is recognized as “the world’s most prolific anthologist of poetry for children” by Guinness World Records. He has received the Christopher Award for his BEEN TO YESTERDAYS: POEMS OF A LIFE (Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong). Among many other honors include the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, the Regina Medal, and induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

For what age audience do you write?

I write for all ages. I have written professional books, picture books, novels, poetry, and have compiled over 120 anthologies, including the first I CAN READ POETRY BOOK, SURPRISES (HarperCollins).

Henry: Wow!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, WORLD MAKE WAY is a collection of especially-commissioned poetry, all inspired by art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, and the world’s most encyclopedic art museum. I was thrilled when I was approached by Abrams Books for Young Readers to engage in this project.

Henry: Who wouldn’t be thrilled?

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

Looking at artwork by such masters as Mary Cassatt, Fernando Botero, Winslow Homer, and the contemporary work of Kerry James Marshall, and reading poems written from hearts of America’s greatest poets writing today including Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Carole Boston Weatherford, brings together an aesthetic experience for readers of all ages to appreciate. It is of utmost importance we bring the arts into children’s lives.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Writing of any kind is challenging. Poetry, in particular, is among the most difficult genre, being able to create brief stories with limited words that must fall in place like chords in a symphony. Not only does each word count, each syllable must be thought out.

Henry: Yes. I jokingly send novice rhyming picture book writers to http://www.dontdorhyme.com.

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

Reaching children to bring books into their lives is not only a powerful lesson, but a powerful responsibility. Reading is powerful. It can change minds, hearts, and generations of being.

Henry: True. “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

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

My life has been blessed with so many memorable experiences. To reach the age of 80 and have a book such as WORLD MAKE WAY appear is like an out-of-body experience. To be in the Met! To bring poets’ words into the Met! To pair their work with artistic masterpieces. It is as Julie Fogliano writes in “Cat Watching Spider” based on a work by Oide Toko, ‘…all prowl and prance/and teeth and claws”. Centuries after art was produced poets are writing about the artist’s work. What a tribute to our culture.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read. It will help you find your own voice.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

A favorite quote of mine comes from Langston Hughes’s poem “Dreams: Hold fast to dreams…”. I truly believe if we do hold fast, dreams will come true. Thanks, Lang, for your insight.

Henry: On a first-name basis, are we? Impressive.

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

Not really. I am very intense at whatever I’m writing.

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

To bring peace to the world, to have each and every person treated with respect and dignity, to be a world of one.

Henry: You have my vote.

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

Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. We could possibly change the world before dessert.

Henry: I would happily cook that dinner for you.

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

Shop! And shop I do.

Henry: Like a boss.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

R.I.P. – He Rests In Poetry.

Henry: Well played, sir.

Where can readers find your work?

See my site at http://www.leebennetthopkins.com

Henry: Thank you for spending time with us!


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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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Interview with picture book author Dian Curtis Regan

Dian Curtis Regan is the author of more than 60 books for young readers, ranging from picture books to YA novels. Her books have received many honors, including Best Books for Young Adults, Children’s Choice Awards, Junior Library Guild selections, Los Angeles Times Recommended Book, and New York Public Library’s Best Books. Space Boy and the Space Pirate was a 2017 finalist for the Colorado Book Award, and the winner of a 2017 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Space Boy and the Snow Monster is brand new this fall. Dian lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For what age audience do you write?

My books range from board books and picture books to young adult novels, and anthology stories. Mostly I write humor, although I’ve published fantasy, mysteries, and even a tall tale.

Tell us about your latest book.

SPACE BOY AND THE SPACE PIRATE, the second picture book in a trilogy, was a 2017 finalist for the Colorado Book Award, winner of a 2017 Crystal Kite Award from SCBWI, and the one book chosen by Colorado Humanities and the Colorado State Library Association to represent the state at this year’s National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

The third book, SPACE BOY AND THE SNOW MONSTER, was published a few days ago. The trilogy has been picked up by the international Space Foundation as “certified imagination products.” I am honored!

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

I hope readers get caught up in the fast-paced adventure when Niko’s imagination turns a cardboard box into a spaceship which blasts off to other worlds with his loyal crew: Tag, his dog, and Radar, his robot copilot. To quote Kirkus: “Intergalactic derring-do–and home in time for supper.”

Henry: “…and it was still hot.”

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

After publishing books in all genres, I can say that each book, from idea to finished product, is extremely challenging. No, it doesn’t get easier with each book. Plus, the shorter the text, the more difficult it is to get it right.

Henry: Coming up with the idea, deciding the manuscript is ready to submit, and everything in between.

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

To be conscious of where my time goes each day. It’s easy to waste hours on social media, but writing is a solitary endeavor. You have to turn off the noise. I have a sign in my office that says, “What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” That is sobering enough to get me into the chair.

Henry: That is a great, mindful quote.

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

When I lived in Venezuela, I wrote three anthology stories completely different from anything I’d ever written. I’d been suddenly thrown into a totally different dynamic from living in the USA. But I’m proud of the stories. They would not have been written if I hadn’t moved to South America. ( SHATTERED—Knopf, SOUL SEARCHING—S&S, and FIRST CROSSING—Candlewick)

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Never send out a project too early. Stories need time to “steep.” Put it aside for a couple of weeks—or months. Your “undermind” will continue to work on it. When you pick it up again, you’ll be amazed at how many changes you’ll make.

Also, be aware of language. Rise above worn out descriptions, characters, and what my friends and I call “word pockets.” How can you say or show something better and more creatively?

When editors say they receive 50,000 manuscripts a year, it’s up to you to give them something they’ve never seen before. Something that makes them sit up and keep reading. It may take years to get your project to that place. Take the time.

Henry: That said, one must strike a balance between innovative and so far out that editors won’t take the risk.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“When it comes to disciplining yourself to write, guilt is very useful.” — Susan Meyers, author

Henry: Also “Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.” – Roy L. Smith

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

I do a lot of “circling” before I settle in to work. Is that strange? When asked the same question, Ernest Hemingway said, “First, I defrost the refrigerator.” I can relate to that.

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

Time travel. What a great way to do primary source research. Or, imagine sitting with Margaret Wise Brown and her writer friends as they discussed one of her works in progress called Goodnight Moon…….

Henry: Also, a great way to never miss a writing deadline!

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

C.S. Lewis (because NARNIA), Lloyd Alexander (I met him once and tried to tell him he’s the reason I am a writer, but instead, I burst into tears), and Lucy Maud Montgomery (because ANNE OF GREEN GABLES).

Henry: I assume dinner would include crunchings and munchings.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Right now, I’m rather fond of Radar, the toy robot in Space Boy. At the beginning and end of the stories, he’s a small stuffed toy, but as the adventures begin, he grows tall and becomes an equal crew member alongside Niko and Tag–fighting battles and overcoming enemies.

Henry: Robots can make interesting characters. I just sold a picture book with a robot protagonist, TWO PIRATES + A ROBOT. It’s Firefly meets The Giving Tree.

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

Besides reading? Last year, we bought an RV. It’s a great way to travel—with the dog and cat. However, I do keep working while my husband drives. Other than that, my high school friends and I have started having our own adventures. We’ve been to Europe, Alaska, New York, the Caribbean, Nova Scotia, and even a visit to the Anne of Green Gables house on Prince Edward Island.

What would you like it to (accurately) say on your tombstone?

Visit diancurtisregan.com!

Henry: Best. Answer. Ever.

Where can readers find your work?

The Space Boy books should be available at any bookstore or online. Since I’m often asked for autographed copies of various titles, my new website is set up to take orders here: http://diancurtisregan.com/product/autographed-books/

To learn more, and to download a curriculum guide, visit diancurtisregan.com and spaceboybooks.com.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Dian.