Fantasy & Sci-Fi Books for Kids


Interview with NY Times bestselling children’s book illustrator Tim Bowers

Tim Bowers is a children’s book illustrator. His first picture book was published in 1986. Since then, he has illustrated over 45 other titles. A couple of the titles have landed on the New York Times best seller list. His art is usually filled with animals and humor…and people, when needed. Tim currently lives in Granville, Ohio with his beautiful wife. They have four talented grown children and are proud grandparents.


For what age audience do you illustrate?

I illustrate for all ages, but mostly for children. I hear from many parents who have enjoyed my books as much as their kids. That’s especially true for my title, MEMOIRS OF A GOLDFISH by Devin Scillian. A very funny story.

Henry: Sounds like quite a fish tale…

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is FOOTLOOSE by Kenny Loggins. Kenny re-wrote his 80’s hit song, Footloose, into a kid’s version, which includes a zoo keeper (who, I’m told, looks a lot like Captain Kangaroo), dancing animals and a couple of curious kids.

What do you hope readers will get from that book?

When your life is a total zoo…DANCE!

Seriously, it’s a fun story about two kids who sneak into the zoo just before closing. The zoo keeper and animals have a great dance party under a full moon. The party continues until sunrise.  Kids can read the story, follow the illustrations and listen to the song (a CD is included in the book). So, I hope kids will put on their dancin’ shoes and have fun!

Henry: Fun! And now you’re only one degree away from Kevin Bacon.

“Now I gotta cut loose
Footloose, kick off the Sunday shoes
Please, Louise, pull me off of my knees
Jack, get back, come on before we crack
Lose your blues, everybody cut footloose”

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging?

A children’s book is a long project: from character development, sketches and book dummy to the final art. It takes focus and endurance to keep the process moving forward. There are times during the painting of the final art that seem to move at a snail’s pace. My mind seems to wander during those times. I’ll think of new book projects, other art techniques to explore, people I’d like to meet, a good name for a pet elephant, how would I even get a pet elephant?, would I rather have an elephant or a monkey?… and guitars, wish I could practice more, wish I could buy another guitar.

Then, I snap out of it and get back to the final artwork. Come to think of it, I’ve had this problem since childhood. Focus, focus, focus.

Henry: Would You Rather Have a Monkey or an Elephant sounds like a great picture book idea. Thanks!

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

Art is a powerful tool used to tell a story, deliver a message or share an idea. I want to use my talent to help deliver positive messages and good ideas and stories to viewers and readers. That’s why I like to illustrate children’s books.

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

There are a lot of them. I’ve been to hundreds of elementary schools to share my experiences and talk to students about making art for picture books. I love talking to kids and sharing my art with them. I wouldn’t have had that type of a connection without being an illustrator.

I’ve also worked with some celebrities because of my illustrations. I illustrated DREAM BIG, LITTLE PIG! by Kristi Yamaguchi. Without the illustration connection, I probably would not have worked with Kristi because I’m a lousy skater. I’ve also illustrated books by Neil Sedaka (DINOSAUR PET) and Kenny Loggins (FOOTLOOSE). I’m not in their social circles, and I need a lot more practice on my guitar so being an illustrator got me those “gigs”.

I guess the “powerful lesson” would be that being an illustrator has allowed me to connect with people through stories, from children learning to read to well-known people with stories to share.

Henry: I’d pay good money to watch you play guitar while ice skating. Triple axle!

What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book illustrators?

Surround yourself with books. Study the great picture book art of the past, explore current art trends, and use the best of both to create your own personal voice.

Work on your craft. Draw. Learn the elements of visual story telling/sequential art. Draw more. Strive to create art that connects emotionally to the reader. In most books, the words and art must unify to tell a clear story. Practice working with text, using your art to compliment the written word. Then, draw some more.

Much can be learned by connecting with groups like The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org).

So, three things that I would suggest: One- work to improve your art skills, Two- learn about the business/process of creating children’s books, and Three- make connections (network) with people in the biz: editors, authors, designers and others who are pursuing your same goals.

Henry: Four – get an elephant. Or a monkey.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have a huge file of quotes. Here are a few of my favorites for today:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
– Miles Davis

“I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. This makes planning the day difficult.”
– E.B. White

“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
– Charles M. Schulz


“Every dog has his day, unless he loses his tail, then he has a weak-end.”
– June Carter Cash

“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

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

Hmmm, let’s see. I usually listen to music, have a cup of coffee by my side and try to keep focused on the task at hand (see earlier answer about staying focused). I find it extremely hard to work if my paintbrush isn’t just right for the job…if it’s lost the sharp point, too big, too stiff. The wrong brush can drive me crazy. Brushes wear out after a while, so I have a container filled with hundreds of those retired brushes. I often work better at night. Between 11pm and 3am seems to be an easier time to focus. I can’t think of anything else that might apply…Hey, did I tell you that my Grandpa had a monkey?  Would you rather have a monkey or an elephant?  Oh, sorry… where were we?

Henry: Life’s too short to use the wrong brush.

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

The power to heal at will. I could eliminate the pain of people suffering from abuse, burns, cancer and accidents… as a starter. It breaks my heart to see kids who suffer in life. Having wings would also be cool but then what? You fly around. That would be nice but I think that healing would be my superpower. But, having two powers, flying around AND healing, would be even better. I’d like to negotiate for two superpowers, if that’s ok.

Henry: Ah, the old “wish for more wishes” ploy. Healing is a lovely wish.

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

The Apostle Paul…because he was there.
Kate DiCamillo…because her work is full of heart and humor. One of my very favorite story tellers.
Cynthia Rylant… because her work is full of heart and humor. Another one of my very favorite story tellers.
There are so many amazingly talented authors (I’ve worked with a lot of them), so I’d have to have a few more dinners.

Henry: Trying to break the rules again? I sense a trend. 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’d have to go with dragons. I’ve illustrated a great dragon book, NOT YOUR TYPICAL DRAGON by Dan Bar-El. Mermaids would come in a close second place…who doesn’t like mermaids? I’ve illustrated one book with a mermaid, Sometimes I wonder if POODLES LIKE NOODLES by Laura Numeroff.  I created some “Mer-mutts” (dog mermaids) in THE ADVENTURES OF UNDERWATER DOG by Jan Wahl, but that probably doesn’t count.

Henry: The blog judges rule that Mer-mutts is an acceptable response.

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

I play the guitar. I do more listening to great players than playing but I’m always thinking about guitars. I also have a beautiful ukulele and mandolin (my grandpa, who had a monkey, was also a mandolin player). They get less playing time than my guitars. I also like to fish. I only had time to fish a couple of times, this summer. That’s why I didn’t have you over for a big fish fry, Henry. I really like to golf, but I’ve only done that several times. My kids bought me a new set of clubs for father’s day, so I need to golf more often.

This question is leading me to believe that maybe I work too much. I have a lot of interests but don’t seem to have much time outside of my work schedule. I think I need more balance in that area. Thanks for bringing it up, Henry.

Henry: You’re welcome, Tim. You should definitely have more fish fries. I’ll even bring the fish!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I’m not sure but here’s another quote that might apply:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
– Henry David Thoreau

Where can readers find your work?

In children’s books at your local library or bookstore. On line, you can visit my website: http://www.timbowers.com/ and my blog: timbowersart.blogspot.com.

Henry: Thanks for joining us, Tim!

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Interview with graphic novel/picture book author/illustrator Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is an author and artist of graphic novels and picture books. His notable works include the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL TRILOGY, the Eisner award-winning LITTLE ROBOT, and the picture book JULIA’S HOUSE FOR LOST CREATURES.


For what age audience do you write, and in what genre?

My comics are mostly classed as “middle grade” but I really try to write for everybody. I also make picture books which are even more for everybody. As to genre, I tend toward fantasy and science fiction. I tend to add swords and robots and goblins to just about everything I touch.

Henry: You complete me. Fantasy makes everything better. And cowbells.

Tell us about your latest book.

MIGHTY JACK is a two-book, modern-day, graphic novel retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story.

Henry: Fun! I’m a big fan (and writer) of fractured fairy tales.

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

A sense of wonder.

Henry: Wonder at the world you created, or wonder at what goes in inside your head?

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

It’s all challenging, and really, the challenges are the best part. Except for drawing cars. That’s just terrible no matter how you look at it.

Henry: Conversely, I can only draw cars. Ha! Let’s collaborate on a fantasy picture book: DON’T LET THE DRAGON DRIVE THE BUS.

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

You never know who will be touched by your books, or how. It’s incredibly humbling to see both kids and adults connecting to some crazy story you made up.

Henry: Right! Which is why it is so important to weave a positive theme in one’s story.

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

There have been many. In 2014, I was invited by my French publisher to the big comic festival in Angoulême. It was such an amazing week that I cried at the end.

Henry: Oo la la! Not only do they host the Angoulême International Comics Festival, but “the commune has been awarded four flowers by the National Council of Towns and Villages in Bloom in the Competition of cities and villages in Bloom.”


What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Make things and share things all the time. Creativity is a habit, and the more you do it the better your work will become.

Henry: For example, Ben posts sketches on Facebook.

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

You know, I honestly can’t think of anything…

Henry: Uh huh. Really? A guy who teaches his daughter to shoot flaming arrows has no strange work rituals?

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

The ability to know with certainty, once a day, when and where something terrible was going to happen. Everything else can be planned for.

Henry: Coupled with the power to NOT BE THERE.

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

C.S. Lewis: because I feel like he’s my fairy godfather, my Serious Black.
Neil Gaiman: because very early on I modeled many of my career goals after his career, and boy do I have questions for him.
Jane Austin: because she has hilarious insight into human nature that make me think she’d be lots of fun at dinner, and because my street cred would be through the roof.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Rothfuss, because we got to be friends while arguing in front of a full room at Comic-Con last year.
Extra Honorable Mention: Cory Doctorow, because he’s fun and I think my wife would get a huge kick out of arguing with him.

Henry: By the way, I was in that room at Comic-Con (as was Laini Taylor) when you and Patrick spoke. I watched the bromance bloom in person. You guys were great.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

That …whew, that can change from day to day. Goblins, though. I think Goblins are my steady. I love those filthy little guys.

Henry: Didn’t see that coming AT ALL from the author/illustrator of NOBODY LIKES A GOBLIN… I loved the wink at Dungeons & Dragons.

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

It’s really hard for me to distinguish my hobbies from my work. Even when I’m hiking, I tend to bring a sketchbook. The closest thing I had to a pure hobby was skipping rocks. I also really have a deep love of archery. Gosh I love arrows.

Henry: Especially exploding arrows! How do you feel about trebuchets?

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I guess if I live a life of legend, my tombstone could say “Yes, THAT Ben Hatke.”
Oh! Or how about “Here lies Ben Hatke: shit got real there at the end, didn’t it?”

Henry: Also consider, Ben Hatke: Teller of Tall Tales and Drawer of Dark Domains. You’re welcome.

Where can readers find your work?

At the library! (and online at BenHatke.com, Instagram @heybenhatke, Twitter @benhatke)

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Ben!

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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown is a New York Times bestselling illustrator, author, and cartoonist. Her books for young’uns include HOW TO BE, BABY MIX ME A DRINK, THE LATKE WHO COULDN’T STOP SCREAMING by Lemony Snicket, EMILY’S BLUE PERIOD by Cathleen Daly, and MUMMY CAT by Marcus Ewert. She teaches picture book writing and illustration at the California College of the Arts. Her most recent book, THE AIRPORT BOOK, is about the airport. She lives in San Francisco.


For what age audience do you write?

A better question might be “for what age audience DON’T you write?” I’ve created humor books and comics for adults, picture books for kiddos, one co-authored illustrated novel for teens (PICTURE THE DEAD, with Adele Griffin), and I am blissfully at work on a YA graphic novel.

Henry: FYI, the YA graphic novel is entitled THE LIVING DOLL, and tells the story of conjoined twins who remain connected even after one of them dies during the operation to separate them.

Tell us about your latest book.

It’s a picture book about the airport. Called, creatively, The Airport Book.

Henry: Hey, spoiler alert!

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

I hope to demystify and mystify an airline journey.

Henry: Always burning the candle at both ends, eh?

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Perhaps the most challenging thing is letting it out of my hands. I always think that there is more to be done.

Henry: I agree. I suspect sculptors feel the same way, although it’s worse for them. If they remove something, it’s much harder to put it back.

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

Don’t read Amazon reviews.

Henry: So true! Note: this is not a criticism of Amazon. Rather, it is advice about reviews in general. The good ones tell you what you already know, and the bad ones make you sad or frustrated. My writer friend Deborah Underwood got a bad review because the book arrived damaged! My bedtime picture book MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS was dinged for not having enough action!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

You can’t write well if you don’t read well. Read. Read everything. Read like a writer, with one eye always on craft.

Henry: A lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. I read critically now, although I find it can take some of the joy out of reading others’ picture books.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
a medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
and I am Marie of Romania.” —Dorothy Parker

Henry: “Wanna be the ruler of the galaxy?
Wanna be the king of the universe?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!
Wanna be the empress of fashion?
Wanna be the president of Moscow?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!” – B-52’s

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

Define strange.

Henry: That is my life’s work, and we don’t have room here…

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

Invisibility. It would be useful while eavesdropping, an activity important to any writer. And relaxing for introverts like me.

Henry: Invisibility is a good choice. Like mind reading, though, it could lead to learning things you really don’t want to know…

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

I already have an author over for dinner almost every night, my husband, Daniel Handler (http://www.danielhandler.com). So maybe I’d choose some other kind of artist. I’d have loved to have dined with David Bowie, of blessed memory, Dorothy Parker, and Edward Gorey.

Henry: Hey, that’s cheating! For the few that don’t know, Daniel Handler is also known as Lemony Snicket. Wikipedia helpfully adds: “Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

“From a conflicted and unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in publications such as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.”

“Edward Gorey was an American writer and artist noted for his illustrated books. His characteristic pen-and-ink drawings often depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings. He illustrated works as diverse as DRACULA by Bram Stoker, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H. G. Wells, and OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS by T. S. Eliot.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I always really, really wanted the Borrowers to exist.

Henry: A fine choice. Note: THE BORROWERS is a children’s fantasy novel by Mary Norton, featuring four-inch tall people who borrow things from their human hosts.

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

Read. Draw. Drink coffee.

Henry: Write. Read. Draw. Drink coffee. Repeat.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Please stay off the grass.

Where can readers find your work?

In bookstores and libraries, naturally. And online… I post my daily sketches on my Tumblr, here: http://americanchickens.tumblr.com. They can also take a peek at my Three Panel Book Reviews, which will be collected and expanded into a book by Algonquin Books, here: http://threepanelbookreview.tumblr.com

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Lisa.

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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Terry Fan

Terry Fan received his formal art training at Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada. His work is a blend of traditional and contemporary techniques, using ink or graphite mixed with digital. He spends his days (and nights) creating magical paintings, portraits, and prints. Born in Illinois, he now lives in Toronto.


For what age audience do you write?

Our books are listed for “young readers”, but I’d like to think that any age group could enjoy our books.

Henry: Please note: when Terry uses first-person plural, he is not employing the “royal we”. He collaborates with his brother Eric.

Tell us about your latest book.

Our latest book is entitled THE DARKEST DARK, in collaboration with Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield and co-writer Kate Fillion. It’s a very cool story inspired by real-life events that happened during his childhood. In picture book form, it recounts what how he overcomes his childhood fear of the dark and goes on to become an astronaut.

Henry: Teaching kids to reach for the stars. Literally and literarily. Well played, sir.

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

That everyone started from somewhere, and that it took conquering his fears to accomplish all the incredible things that he has. Hopefully it will inspire children to face their own fears, knowing that even future astronauts can be afraid of the dark. I’ll quote a lovely passage (written by Chris Hadfield for the epilogue of the book) that encapsulates what the whole book is about: “The dark is for dreams —- and morning is for making them come true.”

Henry: Speaking of quotes about the dark, I always liked “Character is who you are in the dark.” Bonus points for anyone who can name the movie in which that was uttered.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

To be honest I find all of it challenging, it’s difficult to pick one aspect. However when it comes specifically to picture books, there often has to be a strict economy of words because it’s such a compressed format, so that’s definitely challenging. Our books often have spare dialogue, which some might think would make things easier, but it’s really the opposite. A lot has to be said with very little text and it has to marry with the illustrations seamlessly.

Henry: It IS all hard to write picture books! I agree the tight word count is a big challenge. As a non-illustrating author, I think another challenge (that you talented author-illustrators don’t face) is ensuring every aspect of a spread is conveyed without resorting to copious art notes. 

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

That it always takes so much more care, thought and time than most people realize, even for something as seemingly straightforward as a picture book. Countless revisions are pretty much par for the course, at least in my experience.

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

I never would have met our wonderful agent Kirsten Hall, published a picture book, met all the fantastic people associated with the books I’ve worked on, flown in a plane with Chris Hadfield… the list goes on and on.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Just never give up. I didn’t start making a living off art until my mid-forties. Since joining her agency (Catbird Agency, based in NYC) I’ve finished two picture books with Eric and we have four more projects in the pipeline. That should give some hope to all those late-bloomers out there.

Henry: I was also a late-blooming kidlit author. It’s not when you start; you just have to start!

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have a bunch of them, but here are a couple of my favorites:

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” ~ Crowfoot

“The tree wants to be still, but the wind keeps blowing” ~ old Chinese proverb.

Henry: Nice. My wife uses a variant of the latter. “You want to lie on the couch, but I need you to take out the trash.”

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

I have similar rituals for both. Nothing too strange, usually just drinking wine, listening to music and sometimes chomping on a Nicorette. Creating art can be a lonely business, so a few distractions are often helpful.

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

Super healing powers, because life is too fragile.

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

Mark Twain, Charles M. Schulz and Maurice Sendak. They’ve all had a huge influence on me, and I’ve always felt a certain kinship with the way they approached things. Charles and Maurice might be a bit glum from what I’ve heard, but Mark would no doubt get them laughing. I’d also have to add Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I’m a huge Holmes fan. Maybe there would even be a séance after dinner.

Henry: I can see Sendak’s influence in your art for THE NIGHT GARDENER. I have a relevant Twain quote: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

That’s a tough one! I’d have to say Gollum, from THE HOBBIT. He’s just such an awesome, well-realized character with a fascinating back-story.

Henry: Great choice. He’s a classic example of “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Many readers don’t notice that without Gollum, the One Ring would never have been destroyed.

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

It feels like I’m always writing/illustrating, but I confess when not working I’m usually not up to much. I try to spend as much time as I can with family. Other than that, watching Netflix on my iPad or trying to catch up on my reading is about all I can manage. Although I do try to get out at least once a day. I live near a beach and there’s a boardwalk that runs along it, so when I get the chance, I go for brisk walks. I also enjoy cooking a lot and by extension, eating a lot.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

That Crowfoot quote.

Henry: We are all fireflies in the night.

Where can readers find your work?

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo Books, most independent book stores.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Terry. You can see more of his beautiful artwork at http://www.krop.com/terryfan/

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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Fred Koehler

Fred Koehler claims he was raised by dolphins in the warm waters off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Which would explain why he spends all of his free time fishing, diving, and searching for secluded beaches. He splits his time between a day job in advertising and a nearly full time job as a children’s writer and illustrator.


For what age audience do you write?

I write the stories that come to me, and I let the publishers decide who they’re for. My books range from picture books for 3-5 year-olds all the way up to novels for middle grade readers.

Tell us about your latest book.

SUPER JUMBO continues the story of HOW TO CHEER UP DAD. It’s a tale of a well-intentioned little elephant who, despite his best efforts, can’t seem to save anyone’s day.

Henry: Been there…

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

I hope readers see the value of trying. And trying again. And again. And even if we never get it quite right, that something we did could have a positive impact on someone else.

Henry: Plus, experience is what we get, when we don’t get what we wanted.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I think ideas are the hardest. A good one is like a gold doubloon in a treasure chest filled with plastic coins. You have to pick up each and every one to examine it and determine which one’s worthy and which ones are only shiny objects.

Henry: Yarrrr, I love a good pirate metaphor, me bucko.

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

We stand in the gap for our readers, kids who have not yet learned to tell their own stories. We are their voices and there can be life and death stakes if we don’t communicate truthfully on their behalf.

Henry: Wow. That gives new meaning to the British expression, mind the gap!

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

I’m leaving next week to backpack across the United Kingdom with just a pack and a camera. I’ll be shooting reference photography for a book I’ll illustrate in the Fall. It’s the type of thing I’d never have given myself permission to do if I weren’t telling someone else’s story.

Henry: Fun! And, tax deduction!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Stop talking during your critiques. Listen. Listen. Listen. Then go out and be a different writer based on what you learned.

Henry: Good advice, with the implicit bonus advice: join critique groups. We don’t know our own blind spots.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” ~ Walt Disney

Henry: Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

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

I tend to wake up with no alarm at 4:30 in the morning on days that I write. My body just knows that’s when there will be the fewest interruptions.

Henry: Yes, few interruptions, but what about SLEEP!?

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

I wish I could heal the mentally ill and free others from addiction. Because.

Henry: I was expecting something related to children’s books, but that is a lovely thought.

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

Sarah McGuire (because she’s cute), CS Lewis (because he was a prankster), and Hemingway (because we’d go fishing after dinner).

Henry: Friends don’t let friends go fishing drunk. Sarah McGuire is the author of VALIANT (and Fred’s girlfriend – smart man!), C.S. Lewis wrote (among other things) the Narnia series, and if I have to tell you who Ernest Hemingway is well, then, words fail me.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Honest politicians. Oh wait, that’s not the kind of answer I was supposed to give, is it? Um… Okay. Dragons.

Henry: The judges rule that “honest politicians” is a valid response. Tell him what he’s won, Bob.

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

I crank up the country music in my pickup truck and drive till the map turns blue.

Henry: You drive into the ocean?

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“We wish you more stories than stars.” From Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s DAPHNE, WE WISH YOU MORE

Where can readers find your work?

My website – FreddieK.com
Facebook – @superfredd
Twitter – @superfredd
Instagram – Fred_Koehler_

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Fred.

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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Russ Cox

Russ Cox was born in the backwoods of Tennessee and raised by a pack of wild hillbillies. After spending many years in the South, he migrated North to attend art school. With a portfolio in hand, he set out into the world of graphic design where he worked for many years. During this time, he became an in-house illustrator, which rekindled his love of drawing. Having settled in the moose-juggling capital of the country, Maine, he became interested in creating children’s books, which he still does to this day. When he is not locked in studio, he enjoys spending time with his wife and 4 cats, playing the banjo, and running amok in the snow.

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Russ at a Los Angeles SCBWI national conference.


For what age audience do you write?

As of now, I write picture books for the 3-8 year old range, at least that is what I am told. I do have ideas for some early readers and chapter books.

Henry: Me too. But, writing a chapter book after writing a picture book is like playing raquetball after playing tennis. You use different brain muscles.

Tell us about your latest book.

FARAWAY FRIENDS, my debut picture book as both author and illustrator, is about a friendship lost and found, usually under one’s nose. Wannabe astronaut Sheldon has a friend who moved away, in his mind, to Jupiter. With his his trusty dog, Jet, by his side, he goes in search of his friend through an imaginary space adventure.

Henry: In space, no one can hear you bark.

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

hope that readers will learn that people come and go in one’s life, and that new friendships can be exciting. I also want kids to get the idea that they can go outside and invent worlds to play in. Imagination is powerful thing. And that computers, TV’s, phones, etc. are not needed, just brains and the outdoors.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Since I am an illustrator and new to the writing side of books, the whole process of writing is challenging to me. It is not in my comfort zone, but I find that very exciting. I learn something with each word and sentence. Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick.

Henry: As a writer only, I cannot imagine gaining the skill to become a published illustrator.

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

This is a lesson that I still need to work on: write every day. Good or bad, put words onto paper or a computer screen. You hear this from everyone in publishing.

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

I would never have thought I had stories buried deep inside me. After creating my first book, all of these stories are starting to spill out. I should thank Debbie Ohi for pushing me towards writing my first story and starting this new chapter in my life.

Henry: Fun coincidence: Debbie was the first person I met at my first Los Angeles SCBWI conference.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Do your homework by reading, especially picture books. Many people think they can write a picture book, but it is probably the hardest book to write. By sitting in the children’s section of a library or bookstore, and reading, you can learn how such a book is constructed. The words and pictures must dance in unison with our stepping on each others toes. It is a hard dance to learn and one I am still learning.

My second, and just as important, advice would be to find good critique partners. You need people who are willing to tell you when something is not working, but also cheer you on when you get things moving along. It also helps you to toughen up and become less sensitive to any criticism. You must be ready for any rejection, because it will happen. My critique group consist of about 18 very honest and supportive people. they make me so much better than if I just kept everything to myself.

Henry: And let me add that in once sense, being an author only is even more challenging, because we don’t get to live in the illustrator’s head. We have to write well, show rather than tell, but avoid excessive art notes so as to leave room for the illustrator to add their magic.

I completely agree on the benefit of being part of one or more critique groups.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King

“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” ― Neil Gaiman

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ― Maya Angelou

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” ― Walt Disney

“We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.” ― Bill Hicks

Henry: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ― Ernest Hemingway

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

When I am writing, I tend to go the library to find a quiet room, and to disconnect from the social world, meditate for a few minutes to cleanse my head, and then let the pencil go for a walk. I still write my first several drafts with pencil and paper. I need that connection of hearing the lead scribbling and seeing eraser shavings. I guess I am old school at times.

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

I think being the Flash would be helpful. I could write and type my story ideas down much faster. Plus, I can get my storyboards, sketches, etc. done quicker. Of course the drawback could be the tons of typos and bad drawings created from moving so fast.

Henry: There are other drawbacks of moving very fast. See my mock interview with Edna Mode about the drawbacks of superpowers.

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

Okay, it would Poe because of his mastery of the macabre, and he is my favorite writer; Mem Fox who can say so much with so few words, and I would want her to read to me all evening; and finally E.E. Cummings, because he uses words and sentences as instruments.

Henry: I’m sure Mem would be thrilled to learn she’s in such company.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The cyclops. I think they are misunderstood and really have a good soul. From being so different, they are ostracized which makes them a tad angry. All they need is a friend.

Henry: We haven’t seen that pick before on this blog. But, I don’t see eye-to-eye with you on this one. If you eat people, you’re more than just misunderstood. “Hey, Russ, wanna’ come over for dinner.” “Errr, I think I’m busy.”

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

You can usually find me with either a banjo or a book in my hand. Maybe at the same time. I also love movies.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Have sketchbook, will travel.

Where can readers find your work?

Many of the books I worked on can be found or ordered through your local book store.

You can find me at my website, on Facebook, the Red Fox Literary website, or Twitter.

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

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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Kelly Light

Kelly Light lives in New York, but grew up down the shore in New Jersey surrounded by giant pink dinosaurs, cotton candy colors, and Skee-Ball sounds. She was schooled on Saturday-morning cartoons and Sunday funny pages. She picked up a pencil, started drawing, and never stopped.

Kelly is the author / illustrator of LOUISE LOVES ART and LOUISE AND ANDIE: THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP. She has also illustrated ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS and ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS: SECRETS, SECRET SERVICE, AND ROOM SERVICE by Jenny Lee, and the QUIRKS series by Erin Soderberg.

She pinches herself daily that she gets to spend her life drawing.

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly at a Los Angeles SCBWI national conference.


For what age audience do you write/illustrate?

I primarily make picture books. So ages 2-6? The middle grade chapter books that I have illustrated were for ages 7-11.  I like doing both. I love the broad humor I could really play with in the chapter books, and I love the cinematic feel of making picture books. A picture book is like an animated short in my mind that I get to write, direct, cast and shoot. It’s the closest I‘ll ever get to being Orson Welles or even better! Mel Brooks.

Henry: Picture book idea: LOUISE LOVES YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. You’re welcome.

Tell us about your latest book.

Well, I am currently sitting working on a book that won’t come out for 2 years. So, I will talk about Louise and her first book, LOUISE LOVES ART and then her continuing series. In LOUISE LOVES ART, we meet Louise – seven year-old girl who is obsessed with drawing. She is consumed with the need to create. She says, “I love art. It’s my imagination on the outside.”  She’s so focused on making art that she doesn’t notice her admiring little brother, who just wants her attention. His name, just happens to be, Art. Art may just mess up some of Louise’s great works of art! Their cat sees it all happening, and tries to warn Louise. Louise realizes her little brother just wants to be like her, a great artist.

LOUISE AND ANDIE, came out Spring 2016. Louise and Art get a new neighbor moving in next door. Louise just knows the new kid will LOVE art too!  Andie, the new girl… does love art – a whole lot!! What Louise thinks will be the best day ever doesn’t go exactly as planned when she realizes she and Andie have artistic differences. Can they see past their differences to friendship?? We’ll have to see…

Louise also has a series of leveled readers coming out soon. I am a huge fan of books from Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman and Syd Hoff. I had trouble learning to read, so I spent a lot of time at this level as a kid. I am excited to make books like these!

Henry: We look forward to seeing them!

What do you hope readers will get from reading LOUISE?

I hope to connect directly with the creative spirit that thrives inside of all kids! I hope that Louise is relatable and can act as a muse and a mirror. By showing her in situations that are true to the artistic experience and also funny, I hope readers see themselves and get a glimpse into the universality of those feelings. Everyone experiences self doubt, criticism, rejection, pride, fear, jealousy, wanting to belong … whether it’s about art or life or school or friends. It’s human and real. I hope that’s what they get.

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

Illustrating is easiest. I actually storyboard the whole book for weeks before I ever write a word. I have a whole moving , animated short in my head.. then I have to hit PAUSE! Choose just the right image…the fewest words from the ongoing dialogue ….. and start cutting! Oh, I do not recommend this process to anyone. Oh the pain!! I often say, drawing is like breathing…. writing is like punching myself in the face.

Henry: It always amazes me how much process variety there is by different author/illustrators. Some write first, and some illustrate first. I can only write, so it’s face-punching for me.

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

Creating and publishing a book is like a trip through the Fun House. Excited and happy, ticket in hand, you are now tall enough to ride this ride!! You make the book on a long and winding line. Waiting is hard as the release day draws near. You climb the metal steps behind all of the people with books coming out with you that publishing season…thinking, “Let the fun begin!!”. But, Fun Houses are designed to distort reality. The floors move, the mirrors make it hard to see yourself clearly. You try to climb a ladder that has steps that shift. With a lot of effort and determination, you make it almost all of the way through and then you reach a giant spinning barrel. You can kind of read the writing on the barrel..”Does it say Award season?” “ ….can’t concentrate… too much spinning…” You are DIZZY. Ahead….you can see daylight. You are a little worn out and discombobulated. Someone is taking your picture, yelling at you to SMILE! You have to hang on and get through the barrel. Then you slide…down… and out of this book’s release. People are all waiting for you outside of the Fun House anticipating the tale of your trip. You feel like you want to barf, so you force a smile and you squeak out, “That was great!!!” You have to remind yourself to laugh through all of this. You got to be at the Amusement Park when so many people didn’t get to come! Remind yourself that you wanted this. Approach it with the feeling that it is a wild ride, and being knocked off of your feet is part of it. There’s more rides to go on. Take some time and play skeeball. Win an unfortunate-looking stuffed animal at whack-a-mole. Celebrate the small victories. Have some cotton candy. Then you will think – “I had the best time…can’t wait to do it all over again.”

Henry: Beautifully said. You should write for a living.

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

I used to work in animation. Then I worked in cartoon licensed merchandise as a character artist for companies like Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera, Henson, Nickelodeon, etc. Cartoons are my life-long love, and I came to making books through my love of cartoons. My favorite cartoons are the Warner Bros. shorts. My favorite of all of the Warner Bros artists is Chuck Jones. I followed on the web, all of the Chuck stuff that I could for years as I pursued being published. When I was touring the U.S. last Fall for LOUISE LOVES ART, I thought I would make a stop at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, CA. Well – that little thought plus a few ounces of wishing and a pinch hope plus a smidge of believing anything is possible…and I found myself there. The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity was set up to inspire and encourage the creativity that flourishes naturally in kids. Free art classes, outreach to schools that have lost art funding, talks and workshops for kids and adults… all of these things keep the legacy of a great artist alive, Chuck Jones. A man, who in his lifetime, thoroughly enjoyed meeting and encouraging young artists. His family runs the center along with a wonderful staff and volunteers sharing that common goal. I gave a workshop on character design that had an unprecedented attendance for me and for the center. Since then, I have become a “International Creative Ambassador For The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity”, enjoying a continuing connection with that amazing place and helping to keep awareness of what they do and hope to do, along with the the work of Chuck Jones – thriving!

It was making a book and creating a character of my own that lead me to this opportunity. Life is nuts.

For more information on The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity- go to: http://www.chuckjonescenter.org/ And Henry? I know you live pretty close to it…so your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go with your kids and check out a “Drop in and Draw” day!

Henry: Challenge accepted.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

You have to really want this and treat the pursuit of being published as if you already have a career in publishing. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a dream, it’s not weekend trip to a conference. It is your life if you want it to be your life. Keep making new work and continuously show it at every opportunity you can find or make. You are your work as well, be your best self, make your best work. Everything else is beyond your control – but what you can control? Bust-a-move.

Henry: And be patient. Don’t give up your day job.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

The Gospel according to Laverne and Shirley…

“Give us any chance – we’ll take it
Read us any rule – we’ll break it
We’re gonna make our dreams come true….
Doin’ it our way

Nothin’s gonna turn us back now
Straight ahead and on the track now
We’re gonna make our dreams come true…
Doin’ it our way.”

Henry: “Na na na na, na na na na, Batman. Batman! Batman! Batman.”

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

Music and loud singing …while doing final art. Podcasts about comedians and old movies… if I am in the studio doing general stuff. Total silence if I am writing (punching myself in the face).

Henry: I’d be happy to collaborate on a picture book with you to save you from self-punchitude.

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

My superhero name would be “Deadline”. I would have the ability to freeze time, add time, procrastinate without any penalty, the more pressure I was under the stronger I would become and I would have “Storm”-like control over the world supplies of coffee and chocolate. I would always return after a battle to the fortress of Bubble bath.

Henry: Your nemesis would be “Thoughtless Reviewer”. The only drawback to Bubble Bath Fortress is when it rains.

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

I’m bending the rules. These are all writers/creators.

Well- I want Chuck Jones to be there, and his pal, Ted Geisel. I am fascinated by their friendship… and let’s add Mel Brooks. Oh, that – would – be – fun.

Henry: “Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have
to know how.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The Cheshire Cat. He’s kind of helpful but also a little snarky… and he can disappear when things get out of hand. I dig that.

Henry: “Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

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

I love to rummage through antique stores and I collect old photo albums (clue to upcoming book) and old radios.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Why are you here? GO. Live!

Henry: I notice a similarity in your words and glasses to another famous lady…


Where can readers find your work?

Well, I am truly fortunate to have books available at all major book outlets like Amazon and indies all around – check Indiebound.com… and to my ultimate happiness..in SO many libraries!!! My website.

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