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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW original art giveaway!

WIN AN ORIGINAL DINOSAUR PAINTING!

Enter for a free chance to win an original signed painting by Benjamin Schipper, illustrator of the picture book, CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW, by Sterling Publishing. The painting of Kyle the Ankylosaurus pirate is roughly 8.5″ square, and was created with Holbien Acryla gouache and Prismacolor pencils on Arches Cold-pressed illustration board. It’s suitable for framing and mounting in any dinosaur pirate-loving kid’s room.

HOW TO ENTER

The winner will be chosen at random from all qualifying entries received by August 31, 2017. To submit an entry:

1. Take a photo of your child holding a copy of CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW. The cuter, the better!

2a. Tweet the photo with the caption: @HenryLHerz My kid loves CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW!

or

2b. Post the photo on Facebook with the caption: @Henry.Herz My kid loves CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW!

Your entry grants Henry Herz the right to republish the photo on Twitter, Facebook, and this website. The winner will be announced on this web page and social media within one week of the deadline. The winner will asked for a postal address to which the painting will be mailed. ONLY U.S. ADDRESSES, PLEASE. Henry Herz is not responsible for damage that occurs during postal delivery.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Captain Rex and his dinosaur pirates sail the seven seas in search of buried treasure. But whenever they hit an obstacle—like a giant shark or pea-soup fog—the crew members are quick to say they can’t overcome. To this, Captain Rex always glares with teeth bared and says, “CAN’T YE?” And, somehow, the crew always comes up with a clever solution. This delightful story highlights the value of one’s creativity and determination in tough situations. It will encourage kids everywhere to think and say, “I can!”

  • “Is there room for one more piratical dinosaur tale on the seven seas? There be! As Capt. Rex and his dinosaur pirates three search for buried treasure, they are beset by toothy megalodons, thick fog, and volcanoes. However, each time his crew declares they cannot do something, the captain glares with teeth bared and murmurs, “Can’t ye?” That kind of motivation can’t be denied, and the dinos go out of their way to think of clever solutions to their seemingly insurmountable obstacles. At last the treasure is uncovered, but when the captain fails to share, it takes a carefully placed “CAN’T YE?” from his crew to convince him of what’s right. With his emphasis on invention over brute force, Herz eloquently models positive attitudes for young readers. Less chompy than the text, Schipper’s art repeatedly softens the storyline. For example, rather than glare with teeth bared as the text suggests, the illustrations portray Rex smiling knowledgeably as his crew puzzles through their problems. The dinosaurs may be extinct but let’s hope dinosaur pirates keep on sailing for arr-ternity.”
    Kirkus Reviews
  • “Arrr, if ye be lookin’ for a rollicking read about pirate treasure and persistence, REX marks the spot.”
    Molly Idle, Caldecott Honoree author/illustrator of TEA REX
  • “A darling book about problem solving and utilizing arrr! gifts. And the gorgeous illustrations are a treasure. Pure gold!”
    Sherri Duskey Rinker, NY Times bestselling author of MIGHTY, MIGHTY CONSTRUCTION SITE
  • “This story will certainly thrill the pirate in your house. Through humor and ingenuity we learn that anything is possible!”
    Barney Saltzberg, NY Times bestselling author/illustrator of BEAUTIFUL OOPS!
  • Gorgeous illustrations paired with a satisfying story. CAP’N REX is tons and tons of dino fun!
    Fred Koehler, author/illustrator of SUPER JUMBO
  • “Pirates, dinosaurs, a voyage to a volcano? Well, shiver me timbers! There be surprise and rollicking adventure within these gorgeous pages. CAP’N REX gives readers a taste of pirate etiquette in this see-worthy treasure.”
    Pat Cummings, Coretta Scott King Award winning author/illustrator of MY MAMA NEEDS ME
  • “Cap’n Rex and his jaunty crew take us on a jolly journey, fraught with perilous adventures. Sticking together and using their wits to overcome obstacles at every treacherous turn, these dino heroes are destined to rake in their fabulous bounty. Gorgeous textures and sumptuous-shaped illustrations help make this book a delight for any young pirate.”
    Joe Cepeda, Pura Belpre Honoree author/illustrator of I, FREDDY
  • “A clever yarn about overcoming obstacles that will have little buccaneers chanting “Can’t ye!” even after the last page has been turned.”
    Corey Rosen Schwartz, author of NINJA RED RIDING HOOD


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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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Interview with children’s book author/illustrator Daniel Kirk

Daniel Kirk has been writing and illustrating children’s books for over twenty-five years. In that time he’s published nearly fifty titles for Abrams Books, Hyperion, Scholastic, Putnam, and Simon and Schuster. His books include the best-selling LIBRARY MOUSE series. He lives in New Jersey, a short train ride from New York City.

For what age audience do you write?

For the most part I make picture books for young readers, and have made a few stabs into the realm of chapter books and young adult fantasy novels. But mostly I’m known for my picture books! My characters tend to be talking animals, though some of my more popular titles are about vehicles. Apparently people like the way I draw shiny metal things with wheels, but I prefer painting four-legged creatures.

Henry: As a picture book author myself, I’m amazed at people who can write picture books AND young adult novels. They are such different art forms.

Tell us about your latest book.

My new picture book is called RHINO IN THE HOUSE, and it is my first non-fiction title I’ve both written and illustrated. It tells the story of Anna Merz, an Englishwoman who moved to Kenya in 1976 to found a rhino sanctuary. She’d intended to retire there, but when she got to Kenya and saw how so many animals were threatened by hunting and poaching, she decided to do something about it. Anna had a fence built around thousands of acres of land, and arranged for rhinos in danger to be brought to her sanctuary. It wasn’t long before she discovered a baby rhino calf that had been abandoned by its mother. Anna named the calf Samia. My book is about the relationship between the woman and the rhino as she raised the calf to adulthood, and some of the challenges the two of them encountered along the way.

It’s a sweet story about Anna’s devotion to Samia, as well as a tribute to a woman who learned many things about rhinos that nobody had ever bothered to learn before.

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

These days there are many endangered animals on the brink of extinction, and I hope that by sharing the story of Anna and Samia, I can encourage kids to understand that when they grow up, they have the power make a difference too. I want to reinforce the fact that endangered animals matter, and that there’s still hope for making our world a better place. As part of my research for this book I went to Lewa Downs in Kenya to see where Anna and Samia had lived. I’d like children to understand how important travel is to understanding the world we live in. At the back of the book I’ve devoted some space to sharing pictures and sketches of other animals I got to see on the range in Africa.

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

I love coming up with ideas and developing them into stories. The challenges are in keeping it all as simple as possible, and keeping it fresh for myself as well as the reader. It can take months, or even years, to come up with appropriate endings for stories, find the right voice for characters, and figuring out what you DON’T have to say to still get across your ideas. People are always surprised to hear that picture books are not written in about the time it takes to read them. They look so simple! But of course, making things appear simple, even when they’re complicated, is very important.

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

Patience! I’m continually reminded that my first ideas aren’t always my best, and that nothing gets accomplished without a lot of effort and attention to detail. My brain and my hands never seem to work fast enough, and everything takes longer than I’d like. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough time to accomplish all the things I want to do. But slow, baby steps are the only way to really get things done!

Henry: Exactly. Patience and persistence.

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

Part of my mind is always tuned into finding inspiration in what happens around me. I hear and see things in the most common and ordinary situations that I wouldn’t have noticed if I weren’t making books. I guess you could call that “writer’s radar”. Certainly I’ve had lots of opportunity to travel and meet people as a writer that I wouldn’t have had if I had some other occupation, but in answer to your question, the biggest thing is the awareness that comes in every waking moment when you don’t just see the events of the day, but you see the way people and things are connected, and ordinary events teach us things about life. This is often how stories get their start!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Whatever you do with your writing, always do it foremost for the love of creating and sharing. Creativity has its own rewards, and those rewards are limitless.

Don’t box yourself in with too many self-imposed limits. Try writing in different styles and genres until you find your own voice and the things that you’re passionate about. Try not to look too much at other people’s work or you’ll be distracted from the quiet voices inside your own head. Don’t compare yourself and your successes or failures with other people. These are things that will throw you off balance and just make you feel insecure.

And remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Creativity is a journey—sort of like life in general!

Henry: And don’t quit your day job. Writing picture books is not a path to fame and fortune.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I like a lot of zen snippets like “Chop wood, carry water”, and “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is”. They combine the mundane with eternal verities in an appealing way. Here’s another–“The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target”. I try to remember these when I find myself struggling too hard for perfection in my work!

Henry: “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.”

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

When I was a little kid I did most of my arts and crafts stuff either in front of the TV or sitting at the kitchen table. I’d say about half of my creative time today is spent working at the kitchen table. There’s a lot of sunlight, and constant access to snacks. And my laptop functions as an entertainment unit, where I get music to work by, or a series on Netflix to listen to while I draw. I don’t know if that constitutes a ritual, or anything strange, but I’m not the kind of guy who likes putting on a suit and tie and sitting at a desk to get my work done. To me, that would be strange!

Henry: You had me at snacks.

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

I’d be the guy who could slow down time. To everybody else I’d look like a hummingbird, but I’d really be getting things done. I guess there’s already a superhero like that, The Flash, so I’d be like him. Except without the red costume.

Henry: But, then you’d have to be even MORE patient!

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

I’m kind of shy, so I don’t know about having them over for dinner. But I can imagine randomly bumping into some of my favorite deceased authors. The writer and artist James Flora was a big inspiration to me—even though our work is nothing alike. We both grew up in Ohio. So in my fantasy scenario I’m sitting next to him on a flight to Columbus, and I work up my courage to introduce myself as a fan. Then we discuss media and changing styles, among other things. Tove Jansson is one of my favorite author/illustrators, she created the Moomin books. I can imagine I bump into her on the ferry from Sweden to Finland and we might chat about the mischievous Little My. I love the Frog and Toad books, and actually, anything created by Arnold Lobel. I imagine I’m waiting for the subway train in Brooklyn, when I spot him on the platform. I’d have to ask him what he thinks Owl Tear tea would taste like!

Henry: I imagine Owl Tear tea tastes like disappointment.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Mythological creatures tend to be dangerous, and danger isn’t really my thing…but I can’t help being curious about Sirens, as I’ve always tried to imagine the song they sing to lure sailors to their demise. Is it the melody? The lyrics? The singing voice? I’d love to hear a short, non-fatal sample to help me figure that one out.

Henry: It’s the sirens’ dance moves…

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

I love to write and illustrate books but my great passion is music. I’m in a couple of bands, singing and playing guitar, and I love harmonies and rhythm and playing with other like-minded people. Making books is good creative fun but tends to be solitary. When I write songs that’s solitary, too, but making music together is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

When my time is up on this planet, I plan to have my ashes tossed into the wind over some lovely vista. No tombstone. The memories of my friends and loved ones will keep me going for a while, and if anybody finds my books in used book stores and likes what they see and read, that’s enough eternity for me.

Henry: Indeed, books are authors’ tombstones.

Where can readers find your work?

Well I certainly hope in new and used book stores, on Amazon and Ebay, and of course, in libraries. My website is danielkirk.com, and you can get a decent glimpse of what I do by checking me out online. I’ve also got a bunch of short videos that I just put up on Youtube for my new book, “Rhino in the House”!

Henry: Thanks for visiting with us, Daniel.


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Interview with NY Times bestselling KidLit author David Elliott

David Elliott is a New York Times bestselling writer of books for young readers. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife of 33 years and a rescued Dandie Dinmont terrier mix.

elliottdavid

For what age audience do you write?

I write for the very young, the middle grades, and with the release of BULL in March, teen readers. I’m currently working on one of each kind of book. I like to have a few things going at once. It’s the ADD.

Henry: Given the slow speed of the publishing industry, working on multiple projects simultaneously isn’t just ADD, it’s a good idea! Speaking of which, I recently wrote a picture book featuring an OCD owl and an ADD hummingbird.

Tell us about your latest book.

BULL (HMH, March 2017) is an expansion of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. I know that sounds kind of highfalutin – expansion. But I use it because the book doesn’t at all change the outline of the myth; rather, it fills in areas about which the myth remains silent – the Minotaur’s childhood and adolescence, for example. At least that was my intention. The story is told in the various voices of the main players, each character speaking in a distinct poetic form. It practically killed me, but I loved writing it.

Henry: BULL is terrific. Sort of a YA mashup of Homer and Eminem.

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

O dear. I think I’d better leave that to the readers. But it would be terrific if one or two saw that each of us has the potential to become either Asterion — the Minotaur’s’ actual name, by the way, meaning Ruler of the Stars — or the Minotaur. Or maybe even more important, the ability to encourage one or the other in the folks around us. We are now seeing at the national level what happens when the monstrous is excited — the uptick in hate crimes, the increased cruelty in our schools, all of that. Our leaders on both sides of the aisle seem lost in the labyrinth.

Aside from that, I hope readers will enjoy the humor in the book and the language used to tell the story, their language (for speakers of English.) It’s resilience. Its playfulness. It’s beauty.

Henry: We should mail balls of string to Congress so they can navigate the labyrinth!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Oh, writing comes easily to me. But writing well comes very, very hard.

Henry: That pesky adverb well again! When I first began writing for children, I was surprised at how many revisions are necessary. Not like writing when in school, where the first draft was the final draft!

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

I think sometimes people feel that publishing a book changes your life. And I guess it can if you’re someone like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, at least in terms of material security. (Uh . . .that has not been my experience.) But here’s the thing: Even after that book is on the shelves, you are still who you are. There’s no escaping that.

For me, and especially since every book is different, being a writer is a process, not a result. I now try to think of myself as a scribe rather than the more elevated “writer”.

Henry: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how collegial the KidLit author/illustrator community is. Not at all like the hyper-competitive Hollywood scene.

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

Well, the most memorable is very difficult to describe, and if I did, people would think I was crazy, so let me just say that a few years ago, I was invited to Germany to visit schools there. My wife and I became very good friends with the person assigned to interpret for me. She is still an important of our lives. How lucky is that?

Henry: So, you think describing a memorable experience will push people over the edge on assessing the sanity of a man who fractured a Minotaur myth with rap?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Accept all criticism as one hundred percent accurate.
For twenty-four hours.

Henry: Interesting approach. Another good piece of advice I’ve read, is never read reviews of your own work. The positive reviews don’t tell you anything you don’t already know, and the negative ones are so rarely constructive, that you’ll just end up depressed.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Here are three:
“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written.” Eudora Welty.
“Habit is more important than inspiration.” Octavia Butler.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

Henry: So, Doctorow was a pantser, not a plotter? Isaac Asimov said “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” Then there’s Ray Bradbury: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

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

My entire life has been, and continues to be, One Strange Ritual. I think everybody’s is.

Henry: Capitalizing the phrase makes it sound like a great book title. Well played, sir.

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

I know from the one I already possess – the ability to eat non-stop –that superpowers are very difficult to control. I think it might be wiser to bestow them on those better equipped to manage them.

Henry: Isn’t it only a superpower if you can eat all you want and NOT gain weight?

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

Not many people know this, but Charles Dickens and the Polish poet Wyslawa Symborska are conjoined twins, so if invite Charlie, he’ll have to drag Wyslawa along. (The original meaning of Plus 1, by the way.) That’s also true of Teju Cole and Richard Wilbur. Then there are those famous triplets, George Eliot, Shakespeare and Moliere. Journalist Masha Gessen and the Australian novelist David Malouf are my alternates.

Henry: Boy, give you and inch, and you take a mile! Wikipedia helpfully offers:
Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.

Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian. Cole is the author of three books: a novella, Every Day is for the Thief (Nigeria: Cassava Republic, 2007; New York: Random House, 2014; London: Faber, 2014), a novel, Open City (New York: Random House, 2012; London: Faber, 2012), and a collection of more than 40 essays, Known and Strange Things, published in 2016. He is currently working on Radio Lagos, a non-fictional narrative of contemporary Lagos. Salman Rushdie has described Cole as “among the most gifted writers of his generation”.

Richard Purdy Wilbur is an American poet and literary translator. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987, and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and again in 1989.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

As you know, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with The Minotaur recently. I think I might choose someone a little cheerier next time around, The Mad Hatter, maybe. Or someone really solid like the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, in Philip Pullman’s wonderful book, The Golden Compass. I do wish the Oracle of Delphi had a better sense of humor.

Henry: Please note the minotaur on the cover of MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES in the header image above. But, I’m with you on the panserbjørne!
panserbjorne

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

These days, I feel like I’m always working. I’ve got three separate and very different (from each other) projects going right now, and the administrative part of the writing life – interviews like this one, for example, are taking more of my time. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Who doesn’t relish the opportunity to talk about himself?) To complicate matters, for the first time ever I’ve become actively political. Nobody is more surprised about that than I am.

Staring out the living room window into the fields behind our old house is a wonderful thing.

Henry: Can we say your passion for democracy has trumped your desire to focus on writing?

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

He wasn’t afraid.

Henry: You gave me a Monty Python opening, and I’m taking it.

Bravely bold Sir Robin
Rode forth from Camelot
He was not afraid to die
Oh, brave Sir Robin
He was not at all afraid
To be killed in nasty ways
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin

He was not in the least bit scared
To be mashed into a pulp
Or to have his eyes gouged out
And his elbows broken
To have his kneecaps split
And his body burned away
And his limbs all hacked and mangled
Brave Sir Robin

His head smashed in
And his heart cut out
And his liver removed
And his bowels unplugged
And his nostrils raped
And his bottom burnt off
And his penis split and his…

“That’s… that’s enough music for now, lads.”

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever weird books are sold, but especially at your local independent bookstore.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, David. For something completely, different, check out David’s THIS ORQ (HE CAVE BOY)
orq


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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.

brownlisa

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 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 Anika Denise

Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, BELLA AND STELLA COME HOME, AND PIGS LOVE POTATOES. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book MONSTER TRUCKSillustrated by Nate Wragg—“a mash up made in heaven” in a recent starred review. 

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For what age audience do you write?

I’m published in picture books (those are for all ages, right?) and I have a particular love for rhyming books, but I’m also at work on a picture book biography and a middle grade novel.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book MONSTER TRUCKS is a high octane, action-packed rhyming Halloween book about trucks who are monsters in a spooky nighttime race.

Henry: As a fan of fantasy, starting with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, I have a special place in my heart for monster books.

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

Pure fun! I want them to shout, “read-it-again!” And I’d love if it were a perennial favorite for Halloween story hours, and the truck and monster-loving set.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Probably finding the hours to write every day. Juggling writing with being a mom, promoting new books, and doing school visits and appearances can be a challenge. This year (knock on wood)—with my littlest in full day school for the first time—I’m enjoying a more consistent writing schedule. We’ll see if this helps with my second greatest challenge, which is not abandoning longer works when I hit a slump. Before I chalked it up to being away from the piece for long stretches and losing the thread of the yarn. But really, it’s fear. The only way around that kind of self doubt is through it—and that means showing up.

Henry: Butt in chair!

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

I think that’s it, the bit about pushing through fear. Fear often shows up to the same party as creativity. Occasionally, they dance. But fear should never lead. My best work comes when I let go and dance (write) like nobody’s watching—including my own inner-critic.

Henry: If you’ve ever seen me dance, you’ll understand why fear is present.

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

Sitting on a panel between Maira Kalman and Chris Raschka. I remember being star-struck, with the Talking Heads lyrics running through my mind: “How did I get here?” Bob Shea was on the panel, too. He was reading aloud from DINOSAUR VS. POTTY, declaring, “Potty wins!” in a boxing match announcer’s voice. We were asked to read only a few pages of our books, so Bob never got to the end; and Chris leaned over to me with a wry smile and whispered, “So, who won? Dinosaur or Potty?” I think part of the reason I remember this is, I’d been so nervous. And Chris totally broke the ice.

Henry: Nothing breaks the ice like a potty-trained dinosaur.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

The same advice I give myself: finish. Don’t give up.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I’ve always liked, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Henry: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.,

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

I wouldn’t say this is strange, necessarily, but I do occasionally burn sage in my workspace to clear the energy. And I infuse essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint that are supposed to help with concentration and creativity. Plus they smell nice.

Henry: I infuse pie. Plus, it smells nice.

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

Invisibility. For sure. A writer needs to observe and listen. Invisibility would make that a whole heck of lot more convenient, am I right?

Henry: There’s a picture book right there.

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

Maurice Sendak, Zora Neale Hurston, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Maurice and Zora because they were both fearless voices in their genres. And Elizabeth because she (literally) wrote the book on living a fearlessly creative life.

Henry: We all know of Maurce Sendak. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist, and memoirist. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which as of December 2010 has spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and which was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’d have to go with the Phoenix. I love the symbolism: rebirth from the ashes. It’s also cool that it pops up across various mythologies and cultures. Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Egyptian and Native American all have a version.

Henry: Plus, it’s a dry heat…

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

I love nesting with the fam: reading, cooking, baking, gardening—I’m a bit of a homebody at heart.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She was funny and kind. And made the best guacamole.

Henry: Achievement unlocked

Where can readers find your work?

Pretty much wherever books are sold. (But when you can, shop indie!)

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Anika