Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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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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Fun at the 2016 Orange County Children’s Book Festival

I had a fun time signing books, meeting authors, and making new friends at the 2016 Orange County Children’s Book Festival.


Signing with Dan Paley at the Once Upon a Storybook booth


Author Francesca Rusackas and illustrator Priscilla Burris.


With author/illustrator Jennifer Gray Olson.


Middle grade/young adult author Shannon Messenger.


Me in front of the SCBWI booth.


Illustrator Chris Robertson and his helpful if shy son.


Author/illustrators Frans Vischer and Rodolfo Montalvo.


Picture book author Marcia Berneger.


The Cat in the Hat had Thing 1 and Thing 2. They seem to have gotten busy and created Thing 3!


Interview with children’s book author Lee Wardlaw

Lee Wardlaw swears that her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!) and published 30 award-winning books for young readers. Two of Lee’s newest books include Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (Holt; illustrated by Eugene Yelchin), recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award and the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry; and its recently released companion title Won Ton and Chopstick – A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. Lee lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with her husband and two dog-disdaining cats.


For what age audience do you write?

Is there a word like ‘omnivorous’ that means I write everything? I’ve published board books, picture books, easy-readers, first chapter books, middle grade and young adult novels, non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Whew! (And people wonder why I love naps so much…)

Henry: Let’s call you a polygraph. Oh, wait…

Tell us about your latest book.

Won Ton cat has a happy life with his boy until the family adopts a (gasp!) puppy. Think sibling rivalry with whiskers. Won Ton and Chopstick – A Cat and Dog Told in Haiku, is the sequel to my first book about Won Ton, although it works purrfectly well as a stand-alone title, too. And, despite the fact that most bookstores are shelving it in the ‘children’s poetry’ section, I think cat-lovers, poets, and picture book lovers of all ages will find something to meow about in this story.

Henry: Great character names!

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

Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if we could control what our readers think and feel and say about our books?  (Just imagine the starred reviews!) Since we can’t, I can only hope that my audience will enjoy my book enough to want to read it over and over. Rosemary Wells (author/illustrator of the Max and Ruby books) once said that a good picture book should be able to stand up to 500+ readings aloud. That’s a number I’m hoping for!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Starting. Finishing. Oh, and those pesky middles that tend to sag. Revisions! Endless revisions! And…

What I’m trying to say is: Writing is a challenge. That’s a good thing. If writing were easy, I’d be bored. And a bored writer writes boring books. Where’s the fun or the point in that – for my readers or me?

Henry: So, the writing part of writing is the most challenging…

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

My favorite ’writing’ book is Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Every page is filled with simple yet wise, powerful lessons. Seriously! But this one is key: “Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.” I’ve been writing for the children’s market now for thirty years, and I still have to remind myself at times that ITPS: It’s the Process, Stupid! You need to be able to enjoy every step of the journey – not just the destination. Especially since it can be years between when you finish writing a book and when you finally see it published. (I once waited seven years between signing the contract and holding the actual book in my hand.)

Henry: So you’re saying, don’t write children’s book for the fame and riches?

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Many! Here are three:

“…becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”
– David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art and Fear

“Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids – just as simple as bringing them up.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin

“All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
– E.B. White

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

What is your definition of strange? All my rituals are normal – aren’t they?

Henry: Well played. No one is strange in their own mind.

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

I already have a superpower. It’s called Napping.

Henry: Lee Wardlaw – The Narcoleptic Avenger! World’s worst superhero.
“Help me!”
“I’ll save you,” replied the Narcoleptic Avenger.” *naps*
“Dammit, Lee!”

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

What’s for dessert? If it’s not flourless chocolate cake, forget it. Oh, and must these authors come to dine on the same night? I prefer separate evenings so I get more one-on-one time with each.

Henry: Focus!

Okay, moving along…

First on the list: Thomas Jefferson because the Declaration of Independence is a brilliantly written document – philosophically, politically, stylistically. It was composed for the eye, the mind and the ear. Read it aloud and you’ll see what I mean. The rhythm, cadence, timing, word choice, etc. is almost poetic.

I’d also like to dine with Phillip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials trilogy. I have so many questions about ‘dust’ and dark matter and how he actually managed to slog through Dante’s Inferno. (I’ve tried. Whew.)

Finally: George R.R. Martin (Song of Ice and Fire series) and/or Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicles). I’ve read and hugely enjoyed both these authors’ books, but my main reason for inviting them would be to score points with my 20-year-old son. Martin and Rothfuss are two of his favorite authors, so if they showed up on our doorstep, I would get the Lifetime Mom-of-the-Universe Award!

Henry: Everyone knows of Martin, but I don’t hear many people mention how well he describes food. I just read a couple of Rothfuss novels and, Damn, that guy can write! Here are some samples.

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

“Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.”

“You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Mermaids. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mermaid for three reasons: 1.) So I could swim under water without having to come up for air every 30 seconds; 2.) All mermaids had long, thick, flowing hair – which I definitely did not; 3.) I looked good in green.

Henry: Your logic is unassailable, as is your color sense.

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

I enjoy beach combing for sea glass, swimming, reading (or course!), playing with our cats, getting together with friends and family, and napping (it’s my superpower, remember?).

Henry: And looking for mermaids?

Where can readers find your work?

Their favorite library or bookstore! (And if they don’t have any Lee Wardlaw books, I’m sure they’d be happy to order them.)

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

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KidLit Creature Week 2016 now open for submissions

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

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

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

bowers2 Krispin Blaze by Tim Bowers

florianMostly Monstrous Monsters by Douglas Florian

kirschDragonfleez by Vincent X. Kirsch

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


Facial Hair and Children’s Literature

If you think about it, elaborate facial hair is a great way to add personality to characters in children’s books. But, with a few exceptions (Bridget Heos’s MUSTACHE BABY comes to mind), most kidlit authors don’t take advantage of this potential source of hilarity. Think of the humorous options offered by the following types of facial hair, courtesy of Reference.com.


Though this retro style is associated with the 1970s, the word sideburns entered English almost 100 years earlier. This eponymic fuzz is named after Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, who sported sideburns, or as they were first called, burnsides, so long they connected to his mustache.







Muttonchops are sideburns that resemble pieces of mutton growing out from under the ears, down to the jaw. Though this style is sure to be spotted in any Pride and Prejudice adaptation, the word didn’t come about until the mid-1800s, more than 30 years after Austen died.






vandykeVandyke beard

The 17th-century Flemish painter Anthony Vandyke is perhaps just as famous for his portraits of the aristocracy as he is for his short, pointed beard paired with a thick, upturned mustache. A true trendsetter, he also lent his name to wide lace collars with scalloped edges, often depicted in his paintings.






fumanchuFu Manchu

This term describing a mustache with ends that droop to the chin or beyond is named after the character Dr. Fu Manchu, a master criminal from the novels of Sax Rohmer. These novels were made into popular films in the 1920s and ’30s, and the term took off from there.







Goatees first starting growing on human chins in the mid-19th century. This Americanism got its name from its likeness to the tuft of hair that grows from a goat’s chin.







fiveshadowFive o’clock shadow

The five o’clock shadow is the stubble that appears on a man’s face, typically in the late afternoon, if he shaved that same morning. A very short beard is also called a five o’clock shadow.







handlebarHandlebar mustache

The handlebar mustache, often just called a handlebar, is marked by its long curved ends. Its resemblance to a bicycle handlebar gives it its name. Famous wearers include surrealist artist Salvador Dali and everyone’s favorite fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.






chinstrapChinstrap beard

The chinstrap beard was part of the signature look of Abraham Lincoln, who famously grew out his facial hair at the request of 11-year-old Grace Bedell. She promised Lincoln she would try to get her four brothers to vote for him if only he would grow a beard. “All the ladies like whiskers,” Grace wrote to Lincoln. The chinstrap beard features full sideburns and a beard, but no mustache.





horseshoeHorseshoe mustache

This mustache grows down from the upper lips to the chin in two thick vertical lines, thought to resemble a horseshoe. Hulk Hogan wears this style best with a yellow-white ‘stache that seems to almost emit a glow from his lower face.






pencilPencil mustache

The pencil mustache has graced many famous faces from swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn to musician Little Richard to eccentric filmmaker John Waters. This ultra-thin mustache sits neatly above the upper lip and nose.







toothbrushToothbrush mustache

The toothbrush mustache, over time, has taken on the names of its most notable wearers, including Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler. It first appeared at the turn of the 20th century in the United States, though its popularity has since declined due to negative associations with Nazi Germany.





Interview with ABLA children’s literary agent Lara Perkins

Lara Perkins is a children’s literary agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Lara works closely with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with whom she jointly represents a number of clients, in addition to building her own list. She is also the agency’s Digital Manager. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.


What types of books especially interest you?

I represent all categories of children’s literature, picture books through young adult, and I’m open to all genres within those categories. In all categories, I look for fabulous writing–the kind of writing in which every word matters–and a fresh, engaging voice. I’m drawn to intriguing characters who ring true for me and who can make me laugh, cry, and understand myself and others a little more. Basically, I read to have my heart broken, my mind blown by an unexpected twist, and my world opened to a new point of view or experience. For YA, I like stories that feel substantial and have a definite perspective, and my taste runs fairly dark, though humor is always welcome. I love working with author/illustrators and I have a soft spot for absurdist humor, especially in picture book and middle grade.

How did you become a literary agent?

After college, I was an assistant at the wonderful B.J. Robbins Literary Agency in Los Angeles. When I wanted to find a job in publishing a few years later (after grad school and a move from NY back to CA–the wrong direction to seek a job in publishing!), B.J. did me the great kindness of recommending me to her Northern California agent colleagues. Lucky for me, the brilliant Laura Rennert at the legendary Andrea Brown Literary Agency was looking for an assistant. After observing, learning from, and working with Laura, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I just hoped I might be lucky enough to find a home with the incredible ladies at AB Lit. I’m so happy and grateful that I have.

Henry: Happily, Andrea Brown is a real person. She’s non-fiction. So technically speaking, she cannot be legendary. 🙂

What are some Do’s (or Don’ts) for writers querying agents?

Do tell an agent where you think your book fits in the market–both why you think it shares some of the strengths of recently successful books, and why you think it is doing something fresh and unique that will appeal to your audience.

Do include the who, what, where, when, and “why should we care” of your story (a rubric I’m borrowing from my colleague and mentor Laura Rennert). This is the basic information that should be communicated in a compelling way in your pitch.

Do think about the details you choose to include. Do they raise productive questions and help capture the mood/tone of your story? Or do they distract from the main hooks of the story? Focus on only the exciting details that help give a clear sense of what your book is about.

Do personalize; there is so much material available online about each agent. A quick google search will give you a lot of information to work with in personalizing your query. (This is for your benefit, too; you want to be sure you really do want to work with this particular agent!)

Do keep it short and sweet. To test this, try reading your query when you’re tired (or ask a friend to read it when he or she is tired) and see if it still feels tight, clear, and compelling. Does it energize you or put you to sleep?

Please share a literary agent horror story with us.

This was only really horrifying for me, but a few years ago, at the beginning of one of my first editor meetings in NY, I got out a pen to take notes and when I opened it, blue ink instantly exploded all over my hands. I had to run to the bathroom to clean up all the ink before it got on me, the table, and everyone else. Despite my best efforts, I had a blue-stained hands the rest of the day. Luckily pretty much everyone working in kid lit has a good sense of humor, and even though that wouldn’t have been my ice-breaker of choice, it did break the ice! Now I somewhat obsessively check my pen before meetings to make sure it hasn’t been transformed into an explosive device by changes in cabin pressure.

Henry: It sounds like you got off pretty easily. I’ve heard horror stories of agents being pitched in restrooms and (if Sara Megibow is to be believed), at the ObGyn!! That’s just wrong.

What advice would you offer to writers hoping to become traditionally published?

My advice would be to focus on your craft and keep raising the bar for yourself. You can have the best platform or connections, but your work still needs to be strong and original to find a publisher and a readership. As a writer, do your best to produce the strongest, most compelling manuscripts you can–and strive to keep growing and keep challenging yourself, no matter what stage you’re at.

Do you read for pleasure, or does reading submissions wear out your reading muscle?

The reading muscle only gets stronger with use! I read constantly, for work and for pleasure. Anytime I’m in motion (hiking, driving, doing dishes), my headphones are on and I’m listening to an audiobook. You could say that everything I read in the categories I represent is market research no matter how much I enjoy it, but I also read and listen to a lot of adult market literary fiction, mysteries/thrillers, and narrative nonfiction.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.” –W. H. Auden*

*I hope this is properly attributed; it’s one of my favorite quotes, but I haven’t come across an authoritative source. The former lit student in me stresses over this.

Henry: The consensus from a Google search is that you’ve attributed the quote properly. Please don’t stress.

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

I feel like I should make something up to sound more interesting, but I really don’t, other than needing a cup of coffee in my hand before making any phone calls. But I think that might be more “universally human” than “strange ritual.” I clearly need to work on my eccentricities.

Henry: This is an area in which I can offer some modest assistance…

If you could have one superpower, what would it be (excluding speed-reading)?

Always one step ahead of me! If I can’t choose speed-reading, I’ll choose the ability to function without sleep. I’d be like Mr. Beemis in that Twilight Zone Episode. There would be time now!

Henry: It may tickle you to learn that the most common answer that authors I interview give to that question is functionally equivalent – the ability to slow time.

If you could have three authors (excluding anyone you rep) over for dinner, who would it be?

George Eliot, because I’d love to meet the woman behind that great literary brain.

Ellen Raskin, because I adored THE WESTING GAME as a kid and only recently discovered her illustrations and cover designs, and I’m always fascinated by artists who are equally expressive in both media.

Walter Dean Myers, because MONSTER is a book that returns to me frequently, even years after I read it, and I greatly admire the compassion and intelligence that runs through his work.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature (e.g., Medusa)?

Medusa, and not just because I’m highly suggestible. I’ve always been fascinated and horrified by stories where the rules are so extreme–where all it takes is one tiny mistake–one glance, one slip–and you’re toast.

Henry: Petrified toast! Highly suggestible, huh? Have you ever considered repping someone who’s first and last initials are both H? Just sayin’…

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

I love to travel and to be out in nature. I’m not even remotely an expert hiker (I love it, but I’m slow as molasses), but I’ve been lucky enough to hike and travel in some amazing places, like Malaysian Borneo, Vietnam, and Patagonia. My husband and I try to sneak in travel and outdoor trips as often as we can.

This was fun. Thanks for the terrific questions!

Henry: Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you better.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with ABLA children’s literary agent Lara Perkins at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-De via @Nimpentoad

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Terrifying Movie Adaptations of Children’s Books

What happens when you give creative adults who like horror too much time? You get Cracked Magazine’s terrifying spin on classic children’s tales. Thanks for the nightmares, guys. Images below are from http://www.cracked.com/photoplasty_387_23-terrifying-movie-adaptations-childrens-books_p23/


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White


The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone


The Little Engine that Could


Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne


Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault


Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi


Freckle Juice by Judy Blume


Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls


Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt


Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford


Animorphs by K.A. Applegate


My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George


My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville.


Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman


Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens


One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell


The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn


The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle


Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein