Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


Ten Picture Books You Should Read in 2016

I’m participating with a lovely group of authors and bloggers in a picture book review schmooze (PCJ Kidlit Faves Blog Party). We are discussing our favorite children’s books of 2016! Each of us has written about one book; my review is below, followed by a list of links to the others’ reviews. You can learn more about the participants at the bottom of this page.

Without further ado…

My favorite picture book of 2016 so far is RETURN. RETURN is the third and final installment of the JOURNEY trilogy of wordless picture books (written and) illustrated by Caldecott honoree Aaron Becker. As with all wordless picture books, the burden is completely on the artwork to tell the tale. And it should come as no surprise that Becker’s wondrous illustrations are more than up to the task.


We follow once again an adventurous girl and her magical red crayon. This time, her father follows her through the magic portal she draws. And this time, their foes brandish a device that negates the magic crayons’ ability to create. Dad and daughter can only flee. Is the solution to their dilemma contained within mysterious petroglyphs they discover?


Audiences can enjoy RETURN without having read its predecessor books. The magnificent artwork is extremely effective at building an alternate world, immersing readers into that world, and conveying a story without using a single word (perhaps the trilogy is itself an homage to petroglyphs). Unconstrained by vocabulary level, RETURN is a marvelous read for kids of any age, while the artwork makes it coffee table-worthy for adults as well.


About the authors/bloggers

Cate Berry is an author, performer, songwriter, and teacher. She’s the author of two original shows, one of which (Dish) was produced at the Long Center for Performing Arts in 2014. Cate’s debut picture book, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime will be available in Spring 2018 (Balzar + Bray).

Charnaie Gordon, a computer programmer by trade and a Distinguished Toastmaster, is the blogger behind the popular Here Wee Read blog, where you’ll find tips and suggestions for finding the best children’s books, and be inspired to make the most of your read aloud time, however much that is.

Danna Smith is the author of many books for children, including her most recent fiction titles, Swallow the Leader and Arctic White, as well as numerous non-fiction titles, such as Balloon Trees and the forthcoming The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry (Candlewick, 2017).

Eileen Manes is a writer, an artist and the blogger behind Pickle Corn Jam, a blog about books and writing for children of all ages. She was recently nominated as a finalist for the SCBWI-Austin Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award, and her current projects include picture books, a middle grade novel and a novel for adults, all in various stages of completion.

Henry L. Herz is the author of numerous books for children, including Mabel and the Queen of DreamsLittle Red Cuttlefish and the forthcoming Dinosaur Pirates (Sterling, 2017). He’s a regular panelist at conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon, and has been a guest blogger on several blogs, including Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) and Angie Karcher’s Rhyming Picture Book Month (RhyPiBoMo).

Karen Santhanam is a writer, an artist, a blogger and host of the popular Storybook Spotlight podcast. Storybook Spotlight is about reading with kids, children’s books and family fun, including interviews with children’s books authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, preschool folks and friends. She was also recently nominated as a finalist for the SCBWI-Austin Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award.

Kell Andrews writes novels and picture books for children and nonfiction for adults. A little bit of magic helps with both. Her first novel, Deadwood, was published in 2014 and her debut picture book, Mira Forecasts the Future, came out this year (2016, Sterling).

Keyosha Atwater is an avid reader, Instagramer and blogger. When she isn’t reading to her own kiddos or reviewing books on Instagram @weebooklovers, you’ll find her working on her brand new blog, Wee Book Lovers, where she’ll be reviewing even more books and suggesting the best of the best kid-tested, mom-approved books to try with your own family.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book, All the World, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. She’s also a poet, a teacher and a frequent, popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences.

Vanessa Roeder (Nessa Dee) is an illustrator, painter and self-proclaimed crafty mess-maker. She’s worked as a muralist and made art for magazines, children’s books and homes around the world. She’s taught art, writes stories, has been featured in Highlights Magazine and on Apartment Therapy and was the grand prize winner in the Austin SCBWI 2016 portfolio contest.


Interview with picture book author/illustrator & Caldecott Honoree David Ezra Stein

Children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, writing in The Horn Book, called author and illustrator David Ezra Stein “One of the most gifted younger artists working today.”

David was born in Brooklyn, NY. By the time he was one-and-a-half, he was asking adults, “Wanna come to my room? Read books?” This love of reading grew into a love of telling stories, and then, writing.

David Ezra Stein’s INTERRUPTING CHICKEN was awarded a 2011 Caldecott Honor, as well as many state awards. His picture book LEAVES won the Ezra Jack Keats award and was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice, and a School Library Journal Best Book.


For what age audience do you write?

To date, I have written for ages birth to 7 or 8. In other words, picture book age. But I include many levels to my picture books, such that an adult will enjoy reading them just as much.

Henry: I love multi-layered picture books. I’m working on one now with fruit and vegetable characters, but there’s an entire layer of word play on top that is for the benefit of older readers.

Tell us about your latest book.

TAD AND DAD is the story of a fast-growing little tadpole who loves his dad so much that he won’t be separated from him, even at night. As Tad gains new skills, Dad cheers him on during the day and endures sleepless nights of his little one jumping on his head.

Henry: There is a lot of humor and love in that story.

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

The book is a love letter to dads, and points to the complexities of a dad’s relationship with his kids. I hope dads will curl up with their kids and share lots of warm moments together reading the book.

Henry: But by reading this book, do dads risk encouraging their young kids to jump on their heads at night?

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

All the procrastination and avoidance techniques we writers build up. I think the better you get, the more wily your self interference can become. This also goes for beginners; they are even more accustomed to believing in their reasons to not start writing. Just write, and the rest will come.

Henry: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

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

On the flip side of just writing, you can’t live only on the page. You need to lead a full life and a happy life to be productive. And everything you do in that life, every failing, or quirk, or wish, or experience can be used by you in your work.

Henry: Plus, if you like eating food, wearing clothes, and having a roof over your head, you should probably have a day job.

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

Watching school kids put on skits based on my first book, COWBOY NED & ANDY. They even had actors to play fictionalized versions of me and my wife.

Henry: Fun!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

See above. Just write. Learn to turn off the inner critic and learn to be your own best supporter.

Henry: While I agree, writers must turn off their inner critic, it is absolutely essential to use critiques from fellow writers to hone your craft and illuminate your writing blind spots.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“There’s nothing to it but to do it.”

Henry: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

And: “There are only two ways to do something: The right way, and the wrong way.”

Henry: “There are only two ways to do something: My wife’s way, and the wrong way.” – Unknown

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

I put my doubts and fears into a box. Julia Cameron calls it “the god box.” You put them in there, and let god handle ‘em. It really frees you up to do your work.

Henry: Available at a big box store near you.

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

Flying. Because I’ve done it so many times in my dreams; I know I’d love it. The speed, the new perspective. The wind. The freedom.

Henry: People rarely think through the ramifications of superpowers. For example, flying would be awesome, but it would have to be done low and slow. I have a fake interview with Edna Mode (from The Incredibles movie) to explain why.

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

I first have to answer this question by saying, Alive. Because I don’t enjoy having dead people over for dinner. Then, to answer the question for real: P.G. Wodehouse, James Marshall, and Arnold Lobel. I’d be afraid to talk to Wodehouse, but I’d just like to observe him, watch how he drinks his tea. I feel like James Marshall would have a good, big laugh. And I’d ask Arnold Lobel to doodle on a napkin for me.


Henry: Good point, though the dead eat less. Arnold Lobel, of course, is the Caldecott and Newbery Honor winning author/illustrator behind FROG & TOAD. Wikipedia helpfully adds:

“Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (1881 – 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. His early novels were mostly school stories, but he later switched to comic fiction, creating several regular characters who became familiar to the public over the years. They include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster and his sagacious valet, Jeeves; the immaculate and loquacious Psmith; the feeble-minded Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle set; the loquacious Oldest Member, with stories about golf; and the equally loquacious Mr Mulliner, with tall tales on subjects ranging from bibulous bishops to megalomaniac movie moguls.

James Edward Marshall (1942 – 1992) was an American illustrator and writer of children’s books, probably best known for the George and Martha series of picture books (1972–1988). He illustrated books exclusively as James Marshall; when he created both text and illustrations he sometimes wrote as Edward Marshall. In 2007 the U.S. professional librarians posthumously awarded him the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for “substantial and lasting contribution” to American children’s literature.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Gurgi from the Taran books by Lloyd Alexander. Because he was so dirty and loveable and needy and just seems like he SHOULD exist.

Henry: Wow, what an interesting choice. Many people favor the more dramatic dragon. I loved how Gurgi spoke: “Crunchings and munchings.” But I fear he struck me as somewhat derivative of Gollum. That said, I thought Alexander’s creation of an oracular pig (and making his protagonist an assistant pig-keeper) was pure genius.

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

Swim, run, cook, go out oil painting, sing in a choir.

Henry: But not all at the same time. Oil paints mess up the swimming pool.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

He died laughing.

Henry: OK, then I’m not telling any more jokes to you on Facebook.

Where can readers find your work?

All indie bookstores and sometimes even in Barnes & Noble. Go figure!

Henry: Thanks for visiting with us, David. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


Fun at WonderCon 2016

My sons and I made our annual pilgrimage to WonderCon to enjoy great art, revel in geekiness, and meet lots of interesting people. Here’s a samplingWC2016-05

Josh & Harrison outside the LA Convention Center


The BACONNATION food truck. It’s porktastic!


Not to be outdone is the Godzilla-themed MeSoHungry food truck.


Why, yes, I WAS wondering what a Star Trek-cat mashup would look like. Scotty is a Scottish Fold! Chekhov should’ve been a Siberian.


Captain Mexico and Mexican Punisher and a Trump pinata saying “Por ser un pendejo”. Well played, guys.


Harrison as a dwarf barrel-rider from The Hobbit at The OneRing.net booth. He’s got the long hair – just needs a beard and some scale mail.


My sons in front of our books at the Mysterious Galaxy booth.


Josh with a Type-2 Energy Weapon, more commonly known as the Gravity Hammer – a powerful, two-handed melee weapon used by the Jiralhanae in the Covenant Empire. Or so I’m told.


A quick photo prior to our panel. From right to left, authors: Barney Saltzberg, Josh Herz, Harrison Herz, Dan Santat, Bruce Hale, and Lisa Yee. Lisa was not part of our panel, but she is legally required to be present when Dan is in public. 🙂


I secretly brought a furry trapper hat to make a THIS IS NOT MY HAT joke. Little did I suspect that all other four male panelists would be sporting hats. From right to left: Jon Klassen (including priceless expression), Antoinette Portis, Bruce Hale, Dan Santat, Barney Saltzberg, and Henry Herz.


Me looking all moderatory while Bruce Hale answers a question from the audience.


Me looking like the cat that ate the canary because I’m signing books with Jon Klassen, Antoinette Portis, Barney Saltzberg, Dan Santat, and Bruce Hale.


This is Jon Klassen, but THIS IS NOT MY HAT. I’m wearing Bruce Hale’s famous fedora!


Interview with Caldecott Award-winning picture book author/illustrator Dan Santat

Dan Santat has published over 50 books for children (three of which he has authored). He worked in the video game industry, had his own Disney cartoon show (The Replacements), and turned down a job from Google. He recently won the prestigious Caldecott Award.


For what age audience do you write/illustrate?

My writing is varies from pre-school all the way up to middle grade (and possibly a future YA). I, so far, have written mostly picture books and graphic novels.

Tell us about your latest book.

THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE; THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND is a story about an imaginary friend who hasn’t been imagined yet and goes on a journey to find his child.

Henry: Something tells me that book will do well…

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

I hope kids realize that there is always someone out there for them and sometimes it’s just a matter of going out and meeting that person.

Henry: For example, I introduced myself to Dan at a SCBWI conference.

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

The pacing of a story is challenging, especially in picture books. When you have a finite number of pages you have to be very economical about your narration. When you find yourself needing more room to flesh out a character, sometimes it will take away from an impactful moment that needs space to build up to that scene. It’s a constant juggle.

Henry: So true. Picture books are a dramatically different art form than novels.

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

You can write things you love and are proud of, but your range of audience can be short. It’s all subjective, and in the end you do it for yourself.

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

Seeing someone dress up as one of your characters is an amazing feeling. To know that you made that big of an impact on a person is phenomenal.

Henry: And, in some cases, may require a restraining order…

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Be EXTREMELY critical of your own work. Don’t blame others for not understanding what you’re trying to do or not wanting to give you work. A lot of folks seem to hit a wall and think it’s as good as they can be. You need to look past that and always strive to be better because regardless of any level you are in your career you always can improve.

Henry: The continuous improvement mindset (Kaizen) is fundamental to Toyota’s success as a car manufacturing. And you’ve applied it to KitLit. Well played, sir.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships were built for.” – John Shedd

Henry: Nice. I like the related: “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.”

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

Strange? I know my lips pout when I’m extremely focused on my work (I noticed that my father would do that too), but that’s pretty much it.

Henry: Hmmm, Santat tries to look sexy while working…

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

I wish I could fly so I wouldn’t have to go through TSA screenings anymore. I’d save a mint on airfare, too. I would probably travel more as a result. Avoid flight delays, etc.

Henry: Flying would be awesome, although if you stop to analyze it, there are some downsides to that superpower. For details, see my mock interview with Edna Mode (from The Incredibles).

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

David Sedaris, Tina Fey, and Ernest Hemingway. I feel like that would be a concoction for a really interesting evening of discussion and I could just sit back and listen.

Henry: Nice, although Hemingway would empty your liquor cabinet.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

A Chinese Dragon – they seem to be the smart lucky ones. The other type of dragons, the Europeans ones, are apparently jerks.

Henry: Dragon lovers should check out HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON by Naomi Novik.

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

I’ll play a video game or cook. I’ve really grown fond of cooking lately.

Henry: I’m really fond of eating. You complete me.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

He was overworked.

Henry: Mission accomplished.

This interview also appears on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner


Me with Dan Santat at the 2014 Los Angeles SCBWI Conference.


KidLit Creature Week Guests of Honor

KidLit Creature Week is an annual online gathering of creature illustrations for children’s books or comics. It offers a great opportunity to see others’ work, network, and even win some signed swag. We will start revealing the participant illustrations on January 15, 2015. Full details on the free event. You can also join the Facebook page.


Contributions from the 2015 Guests of Honor are below. Enjoy!


Emilio & Buster by Joe Cepeda


Faun Troll by Pat Cummings


Old Monster by Rebecca Emberley


Rex by Molly Idle


Qwerty by Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Cuddle by Luciana Navarro Powell


Bailey and Blaine by Peter H. Reynolds


Leaf Monsters by Elizabeth Rose Stanton


Mister Terrific by Brian Won


Frosto Snowksi, Floe, Snowy Joey, Sheldon by Dan Yaccarino


The Dark by Emma Yarlett


Blip by Salina Yoon

KidLit Creature Week was created by Henry Herz and is sponsored by Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, due out Feb. 7, 2015 from Pelican Publishing Co.



Photos from the 2014 Los Angeles SCBWI Conference

I had an amazing time yesterday in Los Angeles shmoozing at the Los Angeles SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference. I got to see friends from the San Diego and Los Angeles SCBWI chapters, and rub elbows with some rockstar authors and literary agents. Here are some photos:


Dan Santat – hilariously funny picture book illustrator of Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz. With goatees and enhanced foreheads, we are almost the same, except that Dan is more talented and more Asian.


Aaron Becker – author/illustrator of the Caldecott Honor-winning picture book Journey. At this point, I appear to only be posing with authors who’s hairline matches my own. Sadly, I didn’t have my Journey on hand for him to sign. FYI, his new PB, Voyage, is about to release. My previous interview with Aaron.


Maggie Stiefvater – I was just a big squeeing fangirl when I spotted the lovely and talented YA author of The Raven Boys walking by as I was chatting with Shannon Messenger and Salina Yoon.


Salina Yoon – author/illustrator of Penguin & Pincone and many other picture books. Also, inventor of the “puffin beak cozy”. My previous interview with Salina.


Cindy Pon – author of the YA Silver Phoenix. My previous interview with Cindy.


Bruce Hale – multi-published PB/MG author of Snoring Beauty, wearing his trademark hat. He’d lost his voice the night before, but it was still nice to whisper with him. My previous interview with Bruce.


Megan McDonald – What!? Won the KidLit lottery when illustrator Pat Cummings was kind enough to introduce me to the author of the wildly successful Judy Moody series

Although I don’t have photographic evidence, I also got to say hi to Caldecott Award winner David Diaz, illustrators Lori Mitchell & Tricia Benson, YA authors Christa Desir, Jenn Bosworth, Steph Funk, Jenn Reese & Sara Wilson Etienne, MG/YA author Shannon Messenger, MG authors Kristen Kittscher & Matt Ward, PB authors Denise Vega, Cindy Jenson Elliot, Edith Hope Fine, Jennifer Gray Olson, & Jamie Swenson, and literary agents Danielle Smith, Jill Corcoran, Lara Perkins, Jen Rofe, and Laura Rennert.

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Interview with Aaron Becker, Caldecott Honor-winning author/illustrator of JOURNEY

“Like many American boys born in the wake of the Apollo missions, I decided early on I would be an astronaut. My mother was an astronomy teacher at a local college in my hometown of Baltimore. She would take us along on her nighttime field trips to the observatory; its musky smell relieved with the opening of its domed roof. The vastness of the starry sky was thrilling. Below, above, to the right and left – nothing but infinite space.

At some point, I surmised that a career in actual space travel required military training, and this seemed like a lot of work. So I switched gears and started drawing pictures of outer space instead. There was palpable joy in this: creating civilizations and stories filled with a cast of characters of my own design. To be sure, these worlds were reflections of places inside of me. But more importantly, drawing was an immediate path for creating something I could manage on my own terms. These worlds were mine and mine alone. With a pad of paper and a set of markers, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted. For an eight year old confined by the limitations of his material existence, this seemed like a pretty good deal.

Years ago, after working as a designer in San Francisco’s dot-com craze, I quit my job and headed to Monterey, California for a children’s book conference. At the time, I had a vague idea of why I thought it’d be fun to write and illustrate books. After presenting some hazy ideas to a guest editor from Candlewick Press, I left the conference content to wander. I traveled. I returned to art school and earned my chops. I worked in the Bay Area with some of my heroes in film design for nearly a decade. But eventually, the children’s book bug returned. This time, I had some real drawing skills and a much greater understanding of why these books might matter. After all, I had my own child by this time, and it was becoming clear to me that there’s no purer form of story-telling for an illustrator than creating their own book full of pictures. Luckily, children seem to like this kind of stuff. And publishers will go along with it as well if the idea is up to snuff. When my agent gave me the good news that my first book had a solid offer, the name of the editor sounded eerily familiar. It was none other than the same editor I’d met in Monterey nearly fifteen years before.

I now live in Amherst, Massachusetts where every day, I return to that place of being a kid again, ready to fly into outer space with a ship of my own design. I’m fortunate to have a job that lets me keep doing this, and I would imagine that even in the darkest of my creative slumps, surely this must beat astronaut boot camp.”


Aaron recently (and deservedly) won a Caldecott Honor for his picture book, ‘Journey’. Whether you read it aloud or read it to yourself, you’ll be left speechless. In the former case, because Journey is a wordless picture book. In the latter case, because Journey’s story and artwork are breathtaking.

What do you hope readers will get from reading ‘Journey’?

My hope for readers, and this goes for both adults and children alike, is that it will connect them their sense of wonder.  It’s not hard to find the world an enchanting place, but sometimes we have to remember it’s there.

Henry: Well, it worked for me.

A little girl is bored. Sepia-toned images symbolize her ennui. Until she (and the reader) notice a little red marker lying on her bedroom floor. She uses that marker to draw a portal through which she enters a magical city of waterfalls and flies through the air on craft of her own creation.

Journey reminds me of ‘The Red Balloon’. But Aaron has elevated a simple concept into an emotionally moving ink and watercolor journey. Some of the art covers a two-page span, some a single page, and some pages sport three small illustrations. Aaron’s use of image size for pacing and emphasis is profound.

Incredibly, this is Aaron’s publishing debut! Kids and parents alike will read (and re-read) this book, just like I did as a young boy with ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. I give ‘Journey’ five out of five stars. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

What aspect of writing/illustrating do you find most challenging?

Coming up with a story is always much harder than doing any illustrations.  While inventing places and costumes and characters comes relatively naturally to me, finding the reason for them to exist (and for the reader to care about them) is always the hardest part.

Henry: As a writer who cannot draw beyond stick figures, the story is much easier than the illustrations for me. It just proves the old saying, “the grass is always greener when someone else is drawing it.”

It’s hard enough to be a published author, but to be an author and an illustrator is amazing. Did you start with one skill and later add the other skill?

I used to help film directors with developing the look and feel for their animated movies; so story telling was always a part of what I did. But the visual side was certainly what I spent the most time on, and so when it came time to do my own book, I felt pretty confident I could make something *look* beautiful.  Though I did teach myself watercolor!  Everything I had done previously was either in oils, acrylics, or digital, but I wanted ‘Journey’ to have a precious, handmade feel that only watercolor can pull off.  It was a steep learning curve, but I think it was worth it!

Henry: So basically, writing and illustrating a New York Times bestselling debut book was not enough of a challenge, so you decided to work in a brand new media. Did you also grow berries from which you distilled your own organic watercolor paints? *slaps own forehead in disbelief*

Do you belong to a critique group?

I do.  Having a group to bounce ideas off and share work with is essential to me.  Sometimes my best ideas come from these conversations and discussions.  I feel amazingly indebted to these friends and colleagues.

Henry: I agree completely. There’s that expression, “You only get one chance for a first impression.” Critique groups are extremely helpful in that regard. We never have 100% clear self-perception. We already know our characters’ motivations, but have we conveyed them to the reader?

What is your illustration process? How much digital work, if any, is involved?

I always start with a sketchbook, to keep the ideas flowing quickly without getting hung up on details.  But eventually I scan these pencil drawings and play around with them a bit on the computer; this is what illustrators used to use xerox machines, and before that, light tables, and before that, cut and paste.  It’s just a tool to move images around and test out ideas that have been sketched on paper.  Sometimes things need to be shrunk, swamped, or cut all together.  Once the story is finished, I go back to the computer and build out all of the architectural elements of the story in a 3D program, which helps speed up perspective and helps me create more dynamic compositions than I might otherwise be able to accomplish on paper.  Once I’m happy with the shapes and designs, I print out a very light outline onto watercolor paper that helps speed things up for the final painting. It’s a laborious process, but it helps me create complex images that would be prohibitively time consuming. Now if I had ten years to write my next book…

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“A man’s work is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened.” Albert Camus

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

I would love to be able to stop time.  For one, I’d get a lot more done every day and could take a nap in the afternoon.  And two, the world would be so quiet.  I’d pick the perfect sunny spring day and just take a long walk in absolute stillness.

Henry: You’d be surprised how many authors choose that power. It sounds like you want to live inside a story.

Where can readers find your work?

In fine bookstores everywhere, and at http://www.storybreathing.com

Click to Tweet: Interview with @StoryBreathing Aaron Becker, Caldecott Honor-winning author/illustrator of JOURNEY http://wp.me/p31Xf4-C4 via @Nimpentoad

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

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Interview with Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator David Diaz

David Díaz is an American illustrator of children’s books. In 1995, he won the Caldecott Medal for U.S. picture book illustration recognizing ‘Smoky Night’ by Eve Bunting. The Caldecott Medal recognizes the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children”. The Caldecott and Newbery Medals are the most prestigious American children’s book awards.


Ironically, David’s parents were concerned that his love for art would lead to struggle with the uncertainty of being an artist. Happily, that concern proved unfounded, as David’s talents as an artist are now known worldwide. He has also won the 2009 Parents’ Choice Award for ‘Ocean’s Child’, and has been a runner-up for the  Pura Belpré Award three different times. The Pura Belpré Award is a recognition presented to a writer and illustrator whose work best portrays the Latino cultural experience in a work of literature for children or youth.

David is a board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI “is the only professional organization specifically for those individuals writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. ”

For what audience do you illustrate?

I’m currently working on my 50th book, so I think I’ve illustrated for every genre and age category, from Easy Reader up through Young Adult. I don’t illustrate TO a particular genre. I respond to the content of the manuscript, rather than to the book genre.

What’s going on lately for you?

A few months ago, I received the Pura Belpré Award for illustrating ‘Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert’, illustrated by David Diaz, written by Gary D. Schmidt. Gary is an American children’s writer of nonfiction books and young adult novels, including two Newbery Honor books and one Printz Honor award.

Henry: Congratulations! Wow, Diaz AND Schmidt. That’s like literary peanut butter and chocolate! Wikipedia helpfully provides, “Saint Martin de Porres was a lay brother of the Dominican Order who was beatified in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI and canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXIII. He is the patron saint of mixed-race people and all those seeking interracial harmony.”

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging?

For me, the most challenging aspect of illustrating a picture book is the process I go through between receiving the manuscript and handing in the first round of drawings for the entire book. So much about how the book will be illustrated is decided in that early phase.

In that regard, how much interaction do you typically have with the author for whom you are illustrating?

Typically, there is very little. The editor acts as a fulcrum between the two, although the illustrator may ask questions, and the writer may provide some initial art direction. The editor has the important role of having a vision for the author’s manuscript, and finding the illustrator who can best fulfill that vision of the book. More and more there is a trend toward using writer-illustrators, or books being presented to a publisher as a package by a collaborating writer and illustrator pair.

Henry: That’s interesting to hear. The handful of editors with whom I’ve spoken on that subject seem to prefer receiving only a manuscript if the author is not also the illustrator.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from your experience as an illustrator?

Be aware and sensitive and open to great writing (which doesn’t come along that often). Have your eyes open and your ears open. Be an avid reader of good work. We have limited time, so be selective of what you read and what you illuminate with illustration.

Henry: Forgive me, but that sounds like advice for a more well-established illustrator.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Think of art as a lifelong endeavor. It is a craft that takes a lifetime in which to become accomplished. Put everything you can into promoting your work. Take a farmer’s approach – your efforts will take time to bear fruit. Don’t be discouraged by the absence of immediate success. I illustrated for 15 years before receiving the Caldecott.

Henry: It should be noted that David received the Caldecott (the most prestigious award for picture book illustration) on the FIRST picture book he illustrated. That’s like hitting a grand slam at your first at bat in the World Series.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“There’s no greater law than love.”

Henry: Love. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.

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

Not really. Most illustrators have their methods to get themselves to a creative space. When I first receive a manuscript, I may have it for a week while I wait for life’s other stresses to subside and my mundane to-do list to subside before I’m completely open, lucid, and in a creative space where I’m ready to absorb the manuscript.

I’ll print the manuscript, and then read it with pen in hand, making thumbnail sketches. Those initial sketches uncannily inform what the final illustrations will be. It is important to give the manuscript the honor and respect it deserves. Gary took eight years to write ‘Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert’.

Henry: David often works outside, with which I can completely empathize.

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

Stopping time would be most enjoyable. Being an artist, it would be wonderful to be able to observe without being observed, and of course all that extra time to get things done.

Henry: Leave it to a creative artist to believe he can violate the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. 🙂

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

Only three? George Ohr, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Egon Schiele. All three of these artisits share a common thread, they created in the moment, they had a clear vision of their voice and craft, and they all defied convention.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully provides, “George Edgar Ohr was an American ceramic artist and the self-proclaimed ‘Mad Potter of Biloxi’. In recognition of his innovative experimentation with modern clay forms from 1880–1910, some consider him the father of the American Abstract-Expressionism movement. Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist. He began as an obscure graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into an acclaimed Neo-expressionist and Primitivist painter by the 1980s. Egon Schiele was an Austrian painter. A protégé of Gustav Klimt, Schiele was a major figurative painter of the early 20th century. His work is noted for its intensity, and the many self-portraits the artist produced.”

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Pops. Because the most important thing to me is being a father to my children.

Henry: Very nice.

Where can readers find your work?

Readers can find my work in bookstores, on Amazon.com, and the websites of my publishers, such as Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin, and HarperCollins.

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