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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Interview with Children’s Author Lee Bennett Hopkins

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

For what age audience do you write?

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

Henry: Wow!

Tell us about your latest book.

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

Henry: Who wouldn’t be thrilled?

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

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

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

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

Do you have any favorite quotes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry: You have my vote.

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

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

Henry: I would happily cook that dinner for you.

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

Shop! And shop I do.

Henry: Like a boss.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

R.I.P. – He Rests In Poetry.

Henry: Well played, sir.

Where can readers find your work?

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

Henry: Thank you for spending time with us!

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Interview with children’s book author Lori Mortensen

When award-winning author, Lori Mortensen, is not letting her cat in. Or, out. Or, in–she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. All that tapping has resulted in the publication of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include Chicken Lily (Henry Holt 2016), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury, 2016) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013.

mortensenlori

For what ages do you write?

All ages. I love picture books and when they’re well written, they can captivate, enlighten, and entertain readers young and old.

Tell us about your latest releases.

Any release is exciting, but it’s a special thrill to have three picture book releases in 2016. First out of the gate–or the egg as the case may be–is Chicken Lily, a punny story about a chicken that’s . . . chicken! Who knew, right? In this case, Chicken Lily doesn’t want to recite a poem at the school’s Grand Slam Poetry Jam, but it could have been almost anything because (don’t tell anyone) Chicken Lily was a lot like me when I was a kid. Raise my hand in class? Forget it! Eat something new at lunch? No way! These days, I’m not so chicken, but it was fun to reconnect with my own “inner chicken” and write this egg-citing story.

The next release is Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, the sequel to Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. In Clyde’s next adventure, he learns how to ride one of them new-fangled bicycles. Thankfully, I haven’t met all the pokey, pesky, and downright dangerous critters Clyde encounters on his first ride, but as an author, I was plum tickled to conjure up some mischievous mayhem for Clyde to sort out along the way. “Another doggone funny cowboy caper chock full o’ chuckles.” Starred Kirkus Reviews.

The last book to waltz out onto the bookshelves this year is Mousequerade Ball, A Counting Tale. This book is particularly gratifying because eons ago, I earned my degree in dance from Brigham Young University. Although I don’t leap across the stage anymore, I’m tickled to people my literary stage with whatever whimsical characters come my way–moon-jumping cows, dirty dogs, chickens, cowpokes, . . . and even some dancing mice!

Henry: And who doesn’t really like dancing mice? No one, that’s who.

What do you hope readers will get from reading these books?

A ginormous helping of humor, with a dollop of courage, determination, and friendship.

Henry: Hey, is ginormous a word? Oh, wait. We authors get to make up our own words!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

For me, the biggest challenge is coming up with that initial idea. While some writers can’t scribble down their ideas fast enough, I’m more like a patient hen that pecks here and there. When I find an idea that resonates with me, I scratch my ideas together like a hen building her nest. (It’s clear I’ve spent too much time with Chicken Lily!) After lots of false starts, it comes together and I get a glimmer of hope that this could be something! Not all of my ideas come this way, however. Sometimes a title pops into my head and I’ll know exactly what I’ll want to do. The hard part is when you’ve finished a project and think, now what?

Henry: For me, the two biggest challenges are the first draft, and knowing when to stop revising.

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

I’ve learned that passion and persistence make all the difference. Without passion, you won’t care enough to keep trying. Without persistence, you won’t pursue your dream long enough to cross the publishing finish line.

Henry: Very true.

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

Standing up in front of an auditorium full of people and talking about my books. I was always the shy kid at school, (much like Chicken Lily!) so the idea that I would one day fill an author’s wobbly shoes in front of an eager crowd is mind-boggling.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read. Read some more. Then, write what you’d love to read. Be patient as you learn the craft and enjoy the journey. Join SCBWI. Find a critique group. Sidle up to revision. It’ll be your best friend.

Henry: I completely concur.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge

Henry: Nice. I also like, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

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

Interestingly, no. While my very ordinary life unfolds, I show up at my computer and see what happens. (If you know any strange rituals that work, let me know.)

Henry: When it comes to strange rituals, I don’t think the benefits are transferable. Eating large amounts of Boston Cream Pie may not help your writing one bit.

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

Flying would be at the top of the list. (Who doesn’t want to fly?) However, if I wanted to consider this very important option carefully, I would wave my magic wand and remove the curse of self-doubt. . . Unless of course, there’s a better super power. You never know. Self-doubt isn’t everything. There’s probably lots of super powers that would be far superior, like laser vision, invisibility, shape-shifting. You know, now that I think about it, I should have chosen something else. I’m not the best person to ask about super powers. Now, if you asked about baking cookies, or straightening a picture, I’d be on much sturdier ground. So let’s give this some more thought…

Henry: Well played, Lori.

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

Arthur Murray (love to dance!), Arthur Rubinstein (imagine the great dinner music!), and Arthur D. Levinson (talk about tech support!). Oh! You meant authors. I get it.

In that case, I’d invite Madeline L’Engle, Beverly Cleary, and Maurice Sendak, each of whom made a lasting impression in my childhood. L’Engle for how she pulled me into the far-reaching wonders of A Wrinkle in Time. Cleary for creating Ellen Tebbits, a young character so much like me, trying to figure out the complexities of friends and foes, and Sendak for Where the Wild Things Are, who first showed me the inexplicable enchantment of a picture book.

Henry: Sendak is why I love fantasy books so much. I’m distantly related to Madeline L’Engle!

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

Go on walks, browse the library, ignore the weeds, and think about my next writing project!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She’d rather be writing.

Henry: Indeed, wouldn’t we all?

Where can readers find your books?

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, indies, and cozy laps everywhere. For more information about me and my books, visit my website at http://www.lorimortensen.com.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Lori.


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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.

KoehlerFred

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_
aaaand… ANYWHERE BOOKS ARE SOLD!

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Fred.


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Interview with children’s author Susanne Gervay

Picture book and young adult author Susanne Gervay is perhaps best known for her I AM JACK series. She is a SCBWI regional advisor, has appeared on Oprah, and lives in Australia.

GervaySusanne

For what age audience do you write?

I write to reach audiences of all ages.  It is about being authentic and about character and ideas. My writing is social realism ranging from picture books, children’s and young adult.

Tell us about your latest book.

Jack is inspired by my son. He’s an inventor, tells great jokes,plays soccer, annoys his sister, helps his Nanna, who wobbles and when she coughs too loudly her teeth can pop out. Nanna is the world’s best bargain hunter and her speciality is purple underpants for EVERYONE. Jack’s mix master family contain characters everyone seems to have met. Jack’s a great kid with lots of real feelings. He’s a good mate, good brother and his Mum (me) loves him heaps.

ALWAYS JACK is a standalone book that is also part of the I AM JACK series (Kane Miller) – for ages 9-12 years.

In I AM JACK, Jack battled bullies at his school and won. In SUPER JACK, Jack faced the trials of a newly blended family. Now, in ALWAYS JACK, our hero faces a challenge bigger than he’s ever faced before. Nanna is older and wobblier than ever. Jack is experiencing strange emotions whenever he sees his best friend Anna. Then there’s mum and Rob’s impending wedding, which seems to be taking over the world.

But everything pales into insignificance when mum delivers the news that she has breast cancer. Jack sums it up incredibly succinctly: ‘I look up at him. It’s hard to speak. ‘But it’s cancer Rob.’ I can’t live without mum. None of us can love without mum.’

But while mum’s illness makes Jack re-evaluate aspects of his life, it doesn’t dominate the narrative. It’s funny and real, yet still deal with big issues such as cancer. Death. Divorce, grandparents, sibling rivalry, friendships, refugees and the Vietnam War.

Part survival manual, part therapy, part autobiography, part fiction, ‘Always Jack’ is a part of life as kids and families navigates the challenges, with love and humour.

The 4th and final I AM JACK called BEING JACK will be published soon. It’s Jack turning 13 from the bullied kid to one who stand beside others.  It’s the cycle of bullying from name calling and cyber bullying to becoming a great kid who knows himself.

The adaptation of I AM JACK by Monkey Baa Theatre will be touring US theaters again in October-November 2015 brought to the US by Holden Arts– 

Henry: I look forward to a fifth book, perhaps titled PNEUMATIC JACK.

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

I hope ALWAYS JACK gives children and families a sense of the joy of life whatever the challenges, be it a sick parent, coming from a refugee or immigrant family, having aging grandparents. Endorsed by the Cancer Council, it offers pathways to understanding, being a friend to others as everyone is touched in some way by cancer.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The search for strong images and words to convey the great passions I want to share with young readers and old. It is about going deep inside myself, and that is hard.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.      
(Gaelic blessing)

“War is not brave, but men can be brave in war and in peace.” From THE CAVE by Susanne Gervay.

Henry: Hey, you quoted yourself! “War does not make one great.” — Yoda

Are there any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

It’s not very strange but I can’t write when there is mess around me.

Henry: On the contrary – that puts you in a very small minority of authors.

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

Charlotte Bronte because her JANE EYRE inspired courage and the power of love and ethics.

John Boyne who wrote the moving BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS to ask him how he created the simple fable that revealed the inhumanity of Nazism and the innocence of children.

George Orwell who understood the abuse of power and whose books 1984 and ANIMAL FARM shone light on totalitarianism.

Henry: “All animals are created equal. But some are more equal than others.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Skellig by David Almond who is an angel who suffers with a spinal deformity, but has such wisdom.

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

I find touring all over the world speaking about my books, having new experiences that I translate into story, fascinating.

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Susanne at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Susanne Gervay wrote books so children would never be alone and be a little safer.
Loved mother of Jamie and Tory.

Where can readers find your work?

In Australia, my books are published by HarperCollins and my picture books by Ford Street Publishing. In the USA, my I AM JACK books and BUTTERFLIES are published by Kane Miller Books.

They are available through Barnes and Noble online and many online bookstores, as well as bookshops.

My website has information – www.sgervay.com

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


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KidLit Authors at the LA Times Festival of Books

Pelican Publishing asked me to sign some books at their booth for the LA Times Festival of Books. I had never attended, and so was looking forward to experience “Bookstock”. I had a great time meeting some kidlit authors:

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This made my day. I got to meet Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett (again). Too much awesome!

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With James Burks, illustrator of The Monstore and author/illustrator of Bird & Squirrel.

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Here is Debbie Diesen, author of The Pout Pout Fish, and Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of Found and Stormy Night.

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Here is author/illustrator Andrea Zimmerman.

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And here is yours truly in costume to lure customers. Read or die!


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My Excellent Adventure at the Texas Library Association (TLA) 2015 Convention

My publisher, Pelican, flew me out to the Texas Library Association’s 2015 convention. TLA is the second largest such convention in the U.S., after ALA. It’s Comic-Con for librarians! I had a terrific time signing books, getting free books, getting books signed by authors I admire, and meeting lots of cool librarians and teachers. I was a kid in a candy shop. Below are photos of some of the talented KidLit writers and illustrators I met.

Highlights that I was not able to capture in photos included:

  • signing a book for a child with the cool name, Azul Estrella (blue star)
  • I approached Mac Barnett, who was wearing a name tag of “Harry N. Abrams”, and said he looked a lot like Mac Barnett. He concurred. We also agreed that he looked pretty good for someone who passed away years ago.
  • watching Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers sign The Day the Crayons Quit in parallel, Drew on the left side of the spread, and Oliver on the right. They needed to be efficient given how long the line was.
  • seeing Dan Yaccarino (the Italian Stallion) vs. Dan Gutman (the Kosher Butcher) verbally sparring to a standing room only crowd.

Larry Brimner – prolific author and all-around nice guy. I have an interview with him elsewhere on my blog.

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Justin Chanda, aka very busy guy. Not only is he the editor of children’s imprints at Simon & Schuster, but I saw him setting stuff up, taking photos, etc., all with a big smile on his face.

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Dianne De Las Casas – fellow Pelican author

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Peggy Eddleman – author of the Sky Jumper series. I have an interview with her elsewhere on my blog.

EddlemanPeggy

Dan Gutman – funny and prolific author of Honus & Me, the My Weird School series, and the Genius Files series. I first met him at LA SCBWI 2012. I have an interview with him elsewhere on my blog.

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Henry Herz – yours truly signing Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes at the Pelican booth

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Molly Idle – Caldecott Honor-winning author/illustrator and all-around delight. She was on a KidLit panel I moderated at WonderCon 2015. I have an interview with her elsewhere on my blog. She hogs all the talent.

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Cynthia Leitich Smith – NY Times bestselling author of the Feral and Tantalize series. I have an interview with her elsewhere on my blog.

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Meg Medina – Pura Belpre medal and CYBILS Fiction winning author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. I’d vote for it based on the title alone.

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Karen Santhanum – Up and coming picture book author/illustrator from San Diego.

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Neil Schusterman – NY Times bestselling fantasy author. I met him at the 2014 ABLA Big Sur Writing Workshop. His voice sounds like Jon Favreau’s.

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Jon Scieszka – Awesomely creative author, whose name I’ve spelled correctly.

ScieszkaJon

Don Tate – picture book illustrator. He’s cool, plus his hair is the inverse of mine. Together, we are fully coifed. He completes me.

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Eugene Yelchin – Newbery Honor-winning author illustrator. I first met him at LA SCBWI 2012.

YelchinEugene

Jane Yolen – Nebula, World Fantasy, Golden Kite and other award-winning author of Owl Moon. She contributed a story to my dark fantasy anthology, Beyond the Pale. I refer to her as a legendary writer, but she assures me that she does indeed exist.

YolenJane

“A good time was had by all.” – Tea Rex by Molly Idle

 Click to Tweet: My Excellent Adventure at the 2015 TLA Convention at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Pq via @Nimpentoad


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KidLit Creature Week 2015 Launches!

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KidLit Creature Week 2015 has launched! KidLit Creature Week is a free illustrator collaboration displaying an online gallery of monsters, creatures & other imaginary beasts suitable for children’s literature. In addition to creatures from 12 Guests of Honor, starting January 15, we will start revealing the other participants’ creatures, roughly five per day. The first batch is below. View ALL the images at http://www.birchtreepub.com/kcw/

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‘Sup by Kathryn Ault Noble

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Fredlet by Julia Shahin Collard

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Nimpentoad by Sean Eddingfield

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Little Witch Muffet by Abigail Larson

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Atlas & Tarf by Shirley Ng-Benitez

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Scroffie Fondu by Karen Santhanum

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Flowerbot by Toni Yuly

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Queen of Dreams by Lisa Woods