Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


Interview with Picture Book Author Deborah Diesen

Deborah Diesen’s first book, THE POUT-POUT FISH (illustrated by Dan Hanna), was published in 2008 and has developed into a Pout-Pout Fish book series that now includes three more pouty picture books, three mini-adventure board books, a lift-the-flap book, a wipe-clean alphabet/numbers workbook, a sticker book, and several plushes. She is also the author of the picture books CATCH A KISS (illustrated by Kris Aro McLeod), PICTURE DAY PERFECTION (illustrated by Dan Santat), and THE BAREFOOTED, BAD-TEMPERED BABY BRIGADE (illustrated by Tracy Dockray). She has worked as a bookseller, a bookkeeper, and a reference librarian. She and her family live in Michigan.


For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books for young children.  Many of my stories are written in rhyme.

Henry: Writing rhyme is so fun and so hard to do well.

Tell us about your latest book in the Pout-Pout Fish Series.

THE NOT VERY MERRY POUT-POUT FISH is the newest book in The Pout-Pout Fish series.  In the story, Mr. Fish’s attempts to find perfect presents for his friends do not go very well.  He shops till he plops but has nothing to show for it but a yuletide pout!  Happily, Miss Shimmer reminds him that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart.  With her help and encouragement, Mr. Fish makes handmade presents, and then gathers with his friends.  Together, they celebrate peace, joy, and love – what a very merry gift!

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

Most of all, I hope readers will enjoy the story.  Dan Hanna’s artwork is amazing, and I hope readers will lose themselves in the fun of exploring the pages.  But I also hope that Mr. Fish’s experience will remind them that the holidays, celebrated in many different ways by many different people (and fish!), are above all a time not for commercialism but for connection, community, and caring.

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

One of the most delightful aspects of being a writer has been discovering and exploring the way books connect us to one another.  I’ve met (in person and virtually) children and families I would have otherwise never known, simply because they’ve read the stories that I’ve written.  I’ve also met many writers and others in the children’s book community.  Everyone I’ve met has been welcoming, encouraging, and inspiring.  I feel very lucky and grateful to be a part of the world of children’s books!

Henry: Ditto. It’s wonderful how collegial our fellow KidLit writers are.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I love to write, and yet I do not do enough of it.  An ongoing challenge for most writers is committing enough time in one’s schedule to actual writing time.  It’s too easy to get distracted by other things that seem to need doing first.  Thankfully, once I do settle into the task, I always enjoy it.  Writing is challenging, frustrating, and wonderful, all at once!

Henry: Those pesky life responsibilities like earning a living and taking care of family!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My best bit of advice is to find a good writing group. I rely on the members of my critique group for their feedback, their advice, and their friendship. Their generosity with chocolate is also a plus!

Henry: I agree on both counts. Critique groups are invaluable to honing one’s craft. And because chocolate.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

There’s a kind of longish one, attributed to William Penn, that I really like: “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” I definitely don’t always live up to that advice, but the quote is a good reminder of how I’d like to try to live my life. In short: be kind!

Henry: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – Saint Basil

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

I’m not sure I’d call it a ritual, but I think it would probably seem strange to an observer to see me when I’m revising a rhyming manuscript, as the process involves me reading the same thing over and over and over out loud while snapping my fingers to the rhythm, then periodically stopping abruptly and writing or scribbling, or flipping open my thesaurus or rhyming dictionary, then returning to the over and over and over again reading and finger-snapping.

Henry: I track my meter with dots and dashes. We rhymers are a weird crew.

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

There are at least three thousand I’d love to meet! So I’ll go with a top-of-my head answer, choosing from the no-longer-with-us category, and invite Dr. Seuss, Carl Sandburg, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m not a very good cook, so we’ll be ordering pizza.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:
“Carl Sandburg was an American poet, writer, and editor who won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. During his lifetime, Sandburg was widely regarded as “a major figure in contemporary literature”, especially for volumes of his collected verse, including Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1920). He enjoyed ‘unrivaled appeal as a poet in his day, perhaps because the breadth of his experiences connected him with so many strands of American life.’”

“Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American writer known for the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s novels (1932 to 1943) based on her childhood in a settler family. The original Little House books, written for elementary school-age children, became an enduring, eight-volume record of pioneering life late in the 19th century based on the Ingalls family’s experiences on the American frontier. The First Four Years, about the early days of the Wilder marriage, was discovered after Lane’s 1968 death by her literary executor Roger MacBride and published in 1971, unedited by Lane or MacBride. It is now marketed as the ninth volume.

Since the publication of Little House in the Big Woods (1932), the books have been continuously in print and have been translated into 40 other languages. By the mid-1930s the royalties from the Little House books brought a steady and increasingly substantial income to the Wilders for the first time in their 50 years of marriage. Various honors, huge amounts of fan mail, and other accolades were bestowed on Wilder.”

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

I love to read, especially but not exclusively cozy mysteries. And I’m a fan of long walks. I also like doing crosswords, and I recently discovered kakuro puzzles, which are mildly addictive.

Henry: Wikipedia again to the rescue:
“Kakuro is a kind of logic puzzle that is often referred to as a mathematical transliteration of the crossword. Kakuro puzzles are regular features in many math-and-logic puzzle publications in the United States. In 1966, Canadian Jacob E. Funk, an employee of Dell Magazines came up with the original English name Cross Sums, and other names such as Cross Addition have also been used, but the Japanese name Kakuro, abbreviation of Japanese kasan kurosu (addition cross), seems to have gained general acceptance and the puzzles appear to be titled this way now in most publications. The popularity of Kakuro in Japan is immense, second only to Sudoku among Nikoli’s famed logic-puzzle offerings.”

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“Not here yet!”

Henry: Well played.

Where can readers find your work?

Head to your local library. Whether or not you find any of my books there, you’ll discover dozens of other books just waiting for you to take them home! Or try your favorite bookstore. In the FishLit section. 😉

Henry: FishLit, the up and coming subgenre of fantasy… Thanks for spending time with us, Debbie. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Interview with picture book author Josh Funk

Josh Funk is the debut author of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling Children’s Books). In addition to expertise in breakfast foods, Josh has studied dragons (DEAR DRAGON, Viking/Penguin, 2016), researched pirates and dinosaurs (PIRASAURS!, Scholastic, 2017), and thoroughly investigated giants (JACK [AND THE BEANSTALK], Two Lions, 2017). When not exploring the world of literature, Josh lives with his family in New England and spends his days writing software.


For what age audience do you write?

My publishers would tell you I write picture books for ages 5-8. I would say I write fictional picture book texts for ages 0-91 (I haven’t tested my stories on anyone older than 91, so I can’t honestly say a 92-year-old would enjoy them).

Henry: Way to select a market niche, bro’. 🙂

Tell us about your latest book.

LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST is a thoroughly delicious picture book about the funniest “food fight” ever! Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have a beautiful friendship—until they discover that there’s ONLY ONE DROP of maple syrup left. Off they go, racing past Orange Juice Fountain, skiing down Sauerkraut Peak, and rappelling down linguini. But who will enjoy the sweet taste of victory? The action-packed rhyme makes for an adrenaline-filled breakfast . . . even without a drop of coffee!

Henry: Coffee? Hmmm. Sequel idea – COFFEE & TEA LOST AT SEA. You’re welcome. Actually, we seem to think alike. MONSTER GOOSE included a giant. I have a manuscript featuring fruit and vegetable characters, and my picture book DINOSAUR PIRATES comes out from Sterling next year.

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

I really just want kids and their parents to have fun reading it. I hope they enjoy the humor, the rhyme, and the amazing illustrations from Brendan Kearney. I’m not trying to teach anyone anything, relay any morals, or inspire anyone. I really just hope folks will grab a bowl of popcorn (or carrots) and open the book for a healthy serving of fun.

Henry: And here I thought the book was allegory about not being greedy, and losing sight of what is most important.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I often think of fun things I’d like to see illustrated, but I need to find ways to fit them into a compelling story, with engaging characters, filled with conflict and rising tension, ultimately culminating in a satisfying conclusion. So, to answer the question, I guess I find ‘writing’ the most challenging aspect of writing? I guess I could narrow that down to ‘story, plot, characters, conflict, and the endings.’

Henry: Note to self: writing is the hardest part of writing. And then, to make it even more difficult, you went and wrote in rhyme, which brings its own unique set of challenges. But at least you find punctuation to be a breeze.


“The whole bed is my side of the bed!”

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

Know when to trust your instincts. I’m not always right (or so says my wife). And when you write, it’s critical to get critiqued by others. But it’s easy to over-revise manuscripts to the point where they’ve lost their original charm. It’s definitely tough to know when your work is ready and done. But it’s important to know when to stick to your gut as opposed to listening to others’ advice.

Henry: Yes, knowing which feedback to integrate is a tough one. My wife has an excellent technique when asking me questions. If I give the wrong answer, she just keeps asking the question until I get it right.

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

I drove Dan Santat to Mo Willems’ house. Enough said.

Henry: Well, I can’t top that. Was Mo’s house a magical land with chocolate waterfalls and Oompa Loompas? My claim to fame is below. 


This is Jon Klassen, but this is not my hat. It’s Bruce Hale’s famous fedora.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write. Don’t think about writing or talk about writing or imagine what it would be like to be a writer. Just write something. Nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And if you’re interested in learning more, I’ve put together a Resources for Writers section on my website.

Henry: Thanks on behalf of our aspiring authors! My favorite lesson is Don’t Write in Rhyme. Just don’t.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Yes, I do.

Henry: Ah, so it’s gonna’ be one of THOSE interviews. How about

“Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

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

I generally put on a favorite movie of mine as background noise. Something like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, one of the 8 Harry Potter films, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Music doesn’t really work when I’m writing, because I need to pay attention to the meter of words and a song’s rhythm just gets in the way.

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

Photographic memory. Is that a superpower?

Henry: Absolutely eidetic memory is a superpower, and a fine choice at that. No more having to look up what T-Rex’s eat, or cracking open that rhyming dictionary.

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

Marcus Samuelson because maybe he’d offer to help make dinner.
Michael Ian Black because he consistently makes me laugh.
JK Rowling because she’s pretty much awesome.

Henry: Our audience may be interested to learn that in addition to being a comedian and TV actor, Michael Ian Black also wrote several picture books, including NAKED, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

I didn’t recognize the name Marcus Samuelson until I saw his photo on Wikipedia, which also helpfully tells us that Marcus ‘Joar’ Samuelsson (born Kassahun ‘Joar’ Tsegie) is an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef and restaurateur. Let that sink in for a moment… Swedish… chef. *swoons*

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Oompa Loompas. They sing, they seem pretty helpful, and they usually come with candy.

Henry: A good choice, particularly since you met some at Mo Willem’s house.

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

Read with my kids, tweet with authors and educators, watch dumb comedies, apologize for annoying my wife (sorry, honey – I love you!), and sleep.

Henry: Husbands are genetically wired to annoy their wives and embarrass their kids. It’s what we do. *drops mic*

Where can readers find your work?

LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST is available in bookstores and online. You can find out more information about me at and my writing at http://www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Josh. I can’t wait to see PIRASAURS! This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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One Word Was Too Big, and One Word Was Too Small

Writing GOOD rhyme is hard. We still have to create an engaging story with endearing characters… in under 500 words! Rhyme also constrains syllable counts and meter. And as with all picture books, word choice must be suitable for young readers. This can lead some authors to end their rhyming picture book (RPB) lines with single-syllable words.

If you view rhyming big words as a chore,
Your new book could end up a big bore.
Instead, if you use big words that add spice,
Most readers will find your book is quite nice.

Now, my meter is off, but I had two goals for that rhyme. The first was to reiterate my thesis. The other was to illustrate my thesis with a counterexample. The lines do rhyme, but the word choice is a bit boring. Multi-syllable words are definitely more challenging to rhyme. But their use adds spice and demonstrates a higher mastery of the craft. Below is a contrasting excerpt from an early draft of my (as yet unpublished) RPB, Never Feed a Yeti Spaghetti, in which monsters misbehave at a party.

vampireThe big night’s arrived, and the vampires knock first;
Unquenchable drinkers, who’re known for their thirst.
These two guests are gracious, and always say ‘please’.
Undying politeness is their expertise.

The multi-syllable “their expertise” adds sophistication and fun. I made sure that the meter matched that of the previous line’s “always say please”. I also worked in puns with “undying” (vampires are undead) and “thirst” (for blood). But perhaps expertise, undying, and unquenchable are a bit of a lexile stretch. And, thirst for blood is probably too dark for a PB. Further, using expertise to describe politeness feels forced. The requirements of rhyme don’t excuse us from the responsibility of remaining aware of whether words serve the story and are suitable for young readers. We must still be willing to murder our darlings, if necessary. Those lines did not make the final cut.

Here is a stanza I kept, which (I hope) demonstrates the desired characteristics of more complex words that add spice to the rhyme.

yetiIt’s dangerous serving a yeti spaghetti.
They toss it around like it’s crimson confetti.
There’s pasta afoot and red sauce on the wall;
A dining fiasco they failed to forestall.


Now, get out there and keep rhyming!


Interview with debut picture book author Penny Parker Klostermann

Penny Parker Klostermann loves all kinds of books, but especially very silly picture books that make her laugh. Her debut book flew onto shelves August of last year. She has been known to hug her favorite picture books, and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too.


For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books and poetry for the young and the young at heart.

Henry: Me too!!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book happens to be my debut book. THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT is the tale of a very hungry dragon whose manners are somewhat medieval. Burp!

Henry: Bad manners, but at least a nutritious diet high in fiber and iron. Never chew a knight with your mouth open.

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

A fit of the giggles . . . followed by an irresistible urge to hug my book . . . followed by another irresistible urge to open the front cover and start all over again.

Henry: I’m sensing a hugging trend here. I’m happy when kids read my stories, regardless of how they publicly display affection for books.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The first draft. I have a story in my mind, but when I start putting it on paper, it seems to lose some of the sparkle. Instead of just getting down the basic story and adding the sparkle later, I have a tendency to self-edit as I go making a 500 word story a painfully long ordeal.

Henry: I give myself permission to NOT edit the first draft. So, for me, the first draft is the easiest. It’s the revising, especially trying to look at a manuscript with fresh eyes, that I find hardest. Murdering one’s darlings is hard work.

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

Meeting the KidLit community. What an amazing bunch of people! They are generous and encouraging.

Henry: I completely agree. The experienced writers are welcoming far beyond my expectation. I wonder if Hollywood treats new actors the same way…

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read stacks and stacks of books in your genre. Reading will give you a reference point as you’re learning your craft.

Henry: That’s good advice. Learn from others. Or take it in a new direction, as you did with OLD DRAGON, and I did with WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY – my medieval fantasy homage (clearly one was needed) to Laura Numeroff’s brilliant IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A PENNY.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have to choose Seuss. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Henry: Once in a while I meet someone whose brains are located elsewhere…

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

Flying. It would be so handy and save a lot of money. No gas. No tires, etc.

Henry: Flying IS a very handy superpower. However, if you really think about the details (which is what all obsessive-compulsive types do), there are some related challenges to overcome. See my post in which Conan O’Brien interviews Edna Mode.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Why the old dragon, of course. Why? He inspired my debut book! Go dragon!

Henry: Boy, I did NOT see that coming… As Bilbo Baggins says, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” I’m a huge fantasy fan, and have a dragon in my as yet unsold picture book, BEST PET IN THE CASTLE.

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

I love to travel and hope to see many more places in my life. When I’m home, I enjoy walking outdoors and enjoying nature.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

There WAS an old author . . .

Henry: There was an old author who liked to write rhyme. No more are forthcoming; she’s run out of time.

Where can readers find your work?

In bookstores and at http://pennyklostermann.com/

Henry: Thank you for participating, Penny. This article is also posted at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


Interview with picture book author Pat Zietlow Miller

Pat Zietlow Miller knew she wanted to write books for children since she was 19, but didn’t actively pursue her goal until she was 39. Her debut picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award and was chosen as an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer honor book and a Charlotte Zolotow honor book. Pat has seven other pictures books under contract.


For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books for children ages 3 to 7. (Although I think picture books are perfect for all ages!)

Henry: Agreed. Good picture books, like a good dessert, work both for kids and adults.

Tell us about your latest book.

WHEREVER YOU GO came out April 21 from Little, Brown. It’s my second book, and it’s a lyrical poem.

Henry: Good for you. I often tell folks that writing good rhyme is hard!

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

On the surface, it’s a book about traveling and the joy of the open road. But … I wrote the book with my oldest daughter’s upcoming high school graduation in the back of my mind. Underneath the basic story, is all the love and advice I hope she’ll carry with her to the next stage of her life. In a nutshell, the message is: “Life is not a straight path to the destination you hope to reach. There are hills and valleys. Twists and turns. Unexpected detours. But there are always options if you don’t like where you are. And the journey – the journey – is wonderful.

Henry: And thus, the path to publishing a book is also a metaphor for life.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Finding the time to do it. I have a full-time job and two busy kids, so I’m usually writing late at night or in odd bursts of time. There are never enough hours. Lately, I’ve been writing on a laptop with a very dim screen because I just haven’t had the time to take it in to be fixed. I’ll have to at some point, but for now I’m muddling through.

Henry: But the fame and fortune of being a picture book writer make it all worthwhile. Right?  *crickets*

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

You are rarely done when you think you are. Your story can almost always be made significantly better if you’re willing to work on it. Having this kind of tenacity can pay off in other areas of your life.

Henry: SO true! I think my books are done half a dozen times before they are. Tenacity and PATIENCE to revisit one’s manuscripts are important disciplines.

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

Having a little boy at a school visit run up, throw his arms around me, hug me and then run off screaming, “I hugged a famous person! I hugged a famous person!”

And, occasionally being recognized. I am a fairly average middle-aged woman. I don’t stand out I crowds. So I’ve been surprised that people in certain very small circles know who I am and seem happy to meet me. A librarian once told me, “This is like meeting Gwyneth Paltrow!” I wanted to say, “Um … no … it’s really not.”

Henry: Interesting, because once Gwyneth Paltrow ran up, threw her arms around me, hugged me, and then ran off screaming. Only the screaming part is believable.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

You writing is likely not as good as you think it is. It sounds harsh, but every published writer I know – including me — made great strides from his or her initial submissions to what eventually got them published. And we all know there are even more strides to be made after that.

To close the gap between where you are and where you want to be, you need to immerse yourself in good writing. I read hundreds and hundreds of picture books. All those great words and phrases and styles and voices will stay in your head and come out as you write new and better material.

Henry: Right on. Just as a lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten, a writer is the product of all the books he or she has read. Writers must strike a delicate balance between being a harsh self-critic and having the self-confidence to persevere.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Lots. I adore quotes. Two of my favorites are:

“Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” It’s great for writers because it says very eloquently what I stumbled about trying to say in the last answer. To be as good as you want to be takes a lot of sometimes painful work.

And …

“Let us, then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate. Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.” From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” I’ve always thought it was a great example of the qualities you need to be a published author. You do the work and write your story and then you wait. And wait. And wait. I sometimes quote this to my kids before we head out to run errands on a Saturday. And they groan.

Henry: Nice. I also like Thoreau’s “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 practise 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.”

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

I would like to be able to teleport or apparate to wherever I wanted to be. I have a lousy sense of direction, and I don’t like to drive. So often there are places I’d love to be or events I’d love to attend, but getting there is a supreme hassle. Maybe I just need a chauffeur.

Henry: Teleporting is the greenest form of transportation. However, I thought given you have a full-time job and two kids, and still write books, your answer would surely have been “the ability to slow time.”

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

I’d have to choose picture book authors, are there are a ton I’d like to meet, but I’m going to choose Judith Viorst, Mem Fox and Sophie Blackall. My apologies to all the other wonderful children’s literature folks I did not name.

Henry: I see you favor Aussies. For the benefit of our readers, Judith Viorst wrote ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. Mem Fox wrote POSSUM MAGIC and GUESS WHAT?. Sophie Blackall illustrated WOMBAT WALKABOUT and wrote/illustrated THE BABY TREE.

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

Read (I always have books on hold at the library and a reading stack I’m working through.)
Bake (If the recipe calls for chocolate, all the better.)
Post on social media. (I love Facebook and Twitter, sometimes to my detriment.)

Henry: Hey, don’t knock social media. It’s how we got connected. Plus, cat photos.

Where can readers find your work?

My website – www.patzietlowmiller.com – has information about all my current and upcoming books. And, I’m part of a blog called Picture Book Builders where several authors and/or illustrators talk about the craft of picture book creation using books we love as mentor texts.

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

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Interview with picture book author, Laura Sassi

Laura Sassi has a passion for telling humorous stories in prose and rhyme. Her poems, stories, articles, and crafts have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. and elsewhere. GOODNIGHT, ARK is her first picture book.


Tell us about your debut picture book. 

GOODNIGHT, ARK is a rollicking, yet ultimately restful, rhymer about bedtime on Noah’s ark. As the storm escalates various pairs of animals get scared and dash into Noah’s bed for comfort. The story is light-hearted and playful. Illustrator Jane Chapman, who also illustrated Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON, adds to the fun with her warm and humorous illustrations.

What are some rhyming tips you can offer other authors?

Writing picture books in rhyme can be challenging because there’s more to it than just rhyming. The rhyming must work within the structure of meter and verse. Sometimes writers are tempted to invert words to make the rhyme or meter work, but this only makes the piece feel forced.  Another common mistake is to let the rhyme drive the plot so that things happen simply because it’s convenient for rhyming purposes. So, my biggest piece of advice is to make sure the story comes first! If you’re having a hard time making it rhyme naturally, maybe it’s better told in prose.  But if you have a good ear, a lot of patience, and a passion for playing with words, go for it!  =)

Henry: I tell beginning writers to visit http://www.DontDoRhyme.com (not a real website). It IS much harder. Then, of course, I don’t listen to my own advice. My debut picture book was MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES. Do as I say, not as I do.

I’ve seen some less-than-perfect rhymes published. What is your reaction when you see that?

Rhyming poorly is akin to singing off key. It’s hard to enjoy. At the same time, reading poor rhyme brings out my passion to keep working at my craft.  So I guess as a rhymer, I find it motivating to make sure my poems and stories are in tune.

Henry: That’s like my bizarre instinct to pull weeds even on yards that are not mine.

Would you tell us a little about Zonderkidz?

Zonderkidz is the children’s imprint of Zondervan, which is part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Zonderkidz publishes bibles, devotionals, picture books, chapter books and more. They are based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, you can visit their website at http://www.zonderkidz.com.

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

Last year, after reading some of my poetry to my daughter’s third grade class, one of her adorable classmates shyly handed me a very crinkled scrap of paper and asked for my autograph. That was the first time anyone had asked me for that. I happily obliged. Now, I always carry a pen with me, just in case.  =)

Henry: I give away life-sized cardboard standees of myself to whoever will take them…

What advice would you give to aspiring authors? 

Writing is a long journey, with many opportunities for growth and improvement along the way.  My biggest bit of advice would be not to rush the process by sending manuscripts out to publishers prematurely.  Rather, keep honing your craft, day by day. Enjoy the journey, rather than focusing too much on the final goal of publication.

Henry: That’s good advice, but not so easy to implement. I find myself thinking that a manuscript is done about ten times before it’s really done.

Do you have any favorite quotes? 

I love the quote, from Antoine de St. Exupery’s THE LITTLE PRINCE, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”  Writing for very young children keeps my imagination alive as I seek to see the world from the their perspective. Children live each day so much more intensely than many adults, fully absorbed in the wonder of each moment.  That’s how I choose to live life as well – soaking up the richness of each day. I hope that comes through in the vividness of my writing.

Henry: Writing lets me visit with monsters of all shapes and sizes. I’ve never left that distant island in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

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

Hmmm… well my son often observes that I tap my fingers and murmur as I write. What I’m actually doing is filling my senses with the rhythm of the words, but my children find it mortifying, especially if done in the presence of anyone outside the family.  That’s not really a ritual, I suppose, but it is a defining characteristic of my writerly self.

Henry: I use dots and dashes to compare the emphasized and non-emphasized syllables of a couplet.

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

I’d love to have super-cleaning powers so that, with a snap of my fingers, all the laundry, dishes, floors etc. could be spotless, leaving wide open time slots for writing.

Henry: This can also be achieved by obtaining a brownie (look it up!), or via the collection of minions.

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

I love reading, going for walks with my husband (and dog), doing art projects, or baking with my daughter, and talking about the meaning of life (and other light-hearted subjects) with my fourteen year old son.

Henry: Please let me know if you figure out the meaning of life.

Where can readers find your work?

GOODNIGHT, ARK is available at bookstores everywhere. You can also keep an eye out for my stories and poems in past and/or future issues of kids’ magazines including Highlights for ChildrenLadybugSpider, and Clubhouse Jr. I also write weekly on my blog at www.laurasassitales.wordpress.com. Parents and teachers, especially, might be interested in the series I’m posting now on extension activities for GOODNIGHT, ARK.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with picture book author, Laura Sassi at xxx via @Nimpentoad


Interview with Picture Book author Denise Mortensen

Denise Dowling Mortensen is the award-winning author of Good Night Engines, Wake Up Engines, a combination flip book of Good Night Engines/Wake Up Engines, Ohio Thunder, and Bug Patrol, all published by Clarion Books/HMH. When she is not writing, she works as a special education assistant and teaches writing and knitting to elementary students after school. She also mentors aspiring children’s book authors as a council member for the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. She is the mother of five children and lives in New Jersey.


For what age audience do you write?

I write rhyming picture books for children ages 2-8. I recently submitted a longer picture book for older children that took me almost ten years (on and off) to write. It’s an historical fiction piece, which is way different than anything I’ve ever done before. It’s about my adopted sister’s journey from Vietnam to the United States as a boat person in the 1980s. It follows her harrowing journey, five-year separation and ultimate reunion with her mother.  It took me forever to write because, as a writer of short verse, I labor over every single word. I also struggled to find just the right framework for the story and wrote at least ten different versions before I came up with the right one. I’m hoping to hear some good news about it very soon.

Henry: Wow. You are really bending some PB traditions. Good for you!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book came out in 2013. It’s called Bug Patrol (Clarion/HMH), and it’s illustrated by Cece Bell, who in my mind is one of the funniest illustrators out there. It follows Captain Bob, an adorable police officer, who keeps the peace and rescues bugs as he drives through town in his bug mobile. All of the incidents involve bugs acting in ways that are all-too-familiar to humans: beetles fighting over parking spaces at the mall, crickets keeping the neighbors up too late, ants without manners overindulging on food. Its catchy refrain, “Wee-o, Wee-o, Wee-o, Woo, Bug Mobile coming through,” makes a really fun book to read aloud, especially to groups.

I was inspired to write about bugs because I’m actually terrified of them. My brothers used to chase me around the house and torment me with spiders and other creepy crawlers when I was a little girl. As an adult, I find that bugs seem to gravitate towards me. I’m always the one at a party who will have a beetle crawl up my leg or a spider land in my hair. Once, when I was nine months pregnant, a teenage cashier in the supermarket informed me that I had a cicada sitting on my collar. I think he is probably scarred for life after witnessing my crazy, preggo lady chicken dance. So I wrote Bug Patrol because wanted to avenge this fear of bugs and write a children’s book that would present bugs in a whimsical, totally non-neurotic way.

Henry: I can totally see ants in a traffic jam! And I think you just gave us another picture book idea: Preggo Lady Chicken Dance! Bugs make great subjects for picture books. I recently drafted one about a snoring ladybug.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of writing is finding the discipline to write consistently every day. I’m a busy mom, having raised five children (one still in high school), and I work outside the home. There are always a million and a half physical and mental distractions when I sit down to write: the laundry pile, the dust bunnies, my latest knitting project, family drama, my kids’ texts, and of course all of my social media vices lurking right underneath my computer screen… I could spend an entire day lost in my many random distractions. I find that I write best when I force myself into hermit mode–holed up my room, with the shades drawn, my phone turned off and my butt glued to the chair!

Henry: I feel your pain. I am a self-employed management consultant, and I work out of my home. Or rather, I try to work out of my home when my boys are home from school. Distraction is one of the bête noires of writing.

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

I’ve learned that it’s okay to be neurotic and different. As a writer, especially as a writer of children’s books, you’re constantly going back to the places in your childhood that are both dark and delightful. All of my writing has been inspired by my worst fears and my best memories. I’ve learned to embrace those qualities and use them to create humorous, quirky, tender and meaningful books. I’ve learned to never be afraid to put my creativity out there.

Henry: This is a shorter journey for me than for most adults…

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

Experiencing the joy of hearing a three-year-old recite my picture book verbatim!

Henry: Exactly! I was tickled to hear a two-year old properly pronounce “Nimpentoad”, the protagonist of our eponymously named book.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I have an entire section on my website devoted to advice for aspiring authors http://www.denisemortensen.com/For_Writers.html. However, the best advice I can give is to read as much as you can in whatever genre you’re writing, paying particular attention to character development, plot, dialogue, conflict, resolution, voice, and setting (all of which are present to some degree—even in board books and picture books). You will begin to notice common threads throughout AND you will become an expert on the authors and books in your particular genre. By doing this, you will hopefully develop your craft—and your own unique voice, which is really what gets editors and agents excited.

Henry: The lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. In my case, I’m the product of all the pie I’ve eaten.

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

The ability to predict the title and words of the next #1 New York Times best selling children’s picture book.

Henry: Ha, I see what you did there!

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

Roz Chast (wacky), Tina Fey (wackier), David Sedaris (wackiest). I don’t think much eating would take place at that meal.  

Henry: I’m pretty much seeing a food fight happening. “This is why we can’t have nice things!”

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

When I’m not writing, I like to knit, garden, workout, cook, and spend time with my husband and kids. I probably spend most of my free time knitting. It’s very centering and calming, and I love the challenge of learning new techniques.

Henry: I know what you mean. I used to paint Warhammer fantasy miniatures, and it is very relaxing. Plus, it engages a different part of your brain than speaking.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“She laughed herself to death.”

Or, more accurately, “Wife. Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Lover of words, life, and people.”

You can find out more about Denise at www.denisemortensen.com

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with Picture Book author Denise Mortensen at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-M2 via @Nimpentoad