Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Imagination Soup: book recommendations for your kids

Melissa Taylor's website Imagination Soup is a great resource for teachers and parents for book recommendations for kids on just about any theme you can think of. 

I am thrilled that my books are often included on her lists.

And here is the link to her recent thought-provoking article in Publisher's Weekly about making books that really help children learn how to read.

Check out Imagination Soup here, for lots more!

Sunday, August 20, 2023

I had a visit to Petaluma, CA - once known as "Chickaluma" and the "Egg Basket of the World" - and when I got back - Surprise! - Paperback copies of EGGS FROM RED HEN FARM were waiting for me! 

Once upon a time August 20, 1921 was Egg Day in Petaluma. (Now National Egg Day is on June 3) Here are a few pictures from Petaluma Historical Library and Museum:

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Interview with debut illustrator ALLYN HOWARD

It is so very exciting to hear about an artist's debut picture book! I just now have had the chance to catch up with Allyn Howard about her book SPRING PARADE. "Here comes a soft breeze"... Whether it is spring or another season, it is joyful to follow Allyn's bunny and adorable creatures through the magical scenes in this enchanting book. 

Can you tell us about your journey from idea to publication? How did SPRING PARADE get started? What were some stages of working on this book?

I was contacted by the art director for Cameron Kids through Instagram in January 2021. My understanding was that the editor had passed on my account to her. They asked if I had written anything that I would like to publish or would I be interested in working with them on an idea. I chose the latter. Because I've painted lots of bunnies and small animals in garden and forest scenes, they liked the idea of a spring book. Initially, they considered a counting book, like counting animals and things in nature, as mama bunny and baby make their way to an Easter egg hunt/party. There was some back and forth as the editor and I worked out a storyline. And I sketched it all out, loosely. Nothing felt really special. In March, the editor wrote to say they came up with the idea of a parade, which would be "more inclusive and universal" than a counting book. Soon after, the publisher, art director, editor and I had a meeting online. They couldn't have been nicer or more welcoming! I felt really lucky that they were taking a chance on me. I had not pursued illustration for picture books in years. Although, I had continued to make and share artwork pretty consistently. I loved the idea of a Parade! It made sense for the kind of scenes I like to paint. It's simple and sweet and the parade structure felt perfect. It was written in-house, which was fine with me. We were aiming to publish in Spring 2022. I started again on sketches, which went pretty quickly. Changes were made, of course, before getting the greenlight to start on final art. 

What was your favorite part of working on this book?

I really enjoyed working on the pacing. Baby bunny is a little timid early on. By the end, he's leading the parade into spring at its most festive, *spoiler alert* the Finale involves Cherry Blossoms falling from their branches like Confetti. I also enjoyed working out the color scheme. And I love painting animals! Oddly enough, I was happy that I didn't have more time than I did, to work on it. It helped me maintain a looseness to the artwork. I know most books have a longer gap between creating the art to the actual publication.

And the most difficult part?

The most difficult part was telling them I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My annual mammogram, in April 2021, caught it. I was very fortunate to have caught it early and there wasn't any spread, but I did require surgery and a month of radiation. I was afraid they would assume I wasn't up for meeting my deadlines. They were incredibly understanding and did give me some leeway. I had just started on final art when I received the diagnosis. It was nice to have something like this to focus on. I just couldn't believe the timing. 

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?

I live in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. It's a suburban/urban part of Brooklyn with tree-lined sidewalks and Victorian homes. I live in a one bedroom pre-war apartment building. I love being on the 6th (top) floor with nice big windows. I'm on the lookout for a larger place, though. I have very large rooms and a nice foyer, but I have to split my bedroom in half for studio space to paint. I use water based paints, acrylics and acrylic-gouache, typically on wood panels or gesso board, sometimes paper. A section of my living room is where I use my computer, scanner, etc. It's a true live-work space!

What were you like as a child? Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?

I didn't really paint until college, but I loved to draw, color, collage and make dollhouse furniture as a kid. I was a huge fan of Spirograph and I loved this pop-up book I had, you could color the interiors and furniture. I wish I could remember the name. I think it had very ornate furniture. It might be that each pop-up had a different style. I'm not sure now. I also loved to make paper dolls and make up stories for them. I was an only child, so I learned to entertain myself early on. I also liked to be outside. Riding Big Wheels with friends on apartment sidewalks when I was really young was a thrill. I always loved swimming. When I was 8, we moved to a house and joined a nice pool and tennis club. I never learned to play tennis, but I practically lived at the pool. Between swim team practice, playing in the pool, tanning and in later years, working as a lifeguard and teaching swim lessons, my days were pretty full. I didn't draw as much during summertime. 

How did you decide you wanted to do children's books?

I think it was always in the back of my mind, because I loved them as a kid. I studied Communication Arts & Design in college. I still feel some regret, not choosing Illustration as my focus after Foundation at VCU. I started taking painting classes during my junior year. When I came to NYU for grad school, my intention was to become a fine artist. I'll spare you the details, but I spent several years waitressing, eventually working my way into the film business, painting sets. I guess you could say, my paintings became more illustrative than explorative over time and I decided to try my hand at illustration. Again, I'll spare you the details about missed opportunities and a rather lackluster portfolio. I was about 34 when I took a picture book class with Brian Floca at SVA. Like your class, he taught in the Continuing Education department. I wrote and illustrated "Fashion Bear". She had a heart of gold and a lust for nice clothes! Choosing to help her friends over buying a fancy dress she'd been saving up for, she made her way into countless children's hands and hearts. No! That last part is far from true. My story did garner a few laughs during presentation night. That gave me a little boost of confidence. But, my story and my art needed a lot of work. As I was working more steadily as a scenic artist in film/TV, it became harder for me to make time for painting and rewriting. In 2009, I took a short summer children's book class, again at SVA, with Rachael Cole. I worked on "Floaty, the Hovering Dog". It started as a pretty simple idea. As you know, I reworked "Floaty" when I came to your class a year or two later! 

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?

I never actually sent a dummy out. I did have a meeting with an editor in 2015. I had a chance to share a couple of my book dummies with her. The idea I blurted out towards the end of our meeting was the one for which she seemed most interested. She was incredibly nice. Unfortunately, I let that opportunity slip away. Maybe it will come back around. You never know. I've experienced plenty of rejection, in general. Whether I was overlooked by galleries and group shows in my early years or not hearing back after sending illustration and design work to manufacturers for licensing opportunities. More recently, I've received a couple very flattering notes about my work from agents. They were rejections, nonetheless. The ups include exhibiting my paintings, in juried shows and also at local Brooklyn spots. I sell original work and I did break into art licensing. 

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?

You're such an encouraging teacher. The interest you show in everyone's work feels genuine. Our critiques were constructive, really helpful. You created a warm environment where classmates felt free to talk open and honestly about each other's work. I'm still good friends with several classmates. Four of us have been published. You must be doing something right! 
I also want to add something you probably don't remember. I ran into you at The Princeton Book Festival in 2015 when Kristine's book was out. Afterwards, a group of us went to the festival's picnic and you introduced me as a future published picture book artist to a few people. It might seem like a casual gesture, but it stayed with me. I think like many artists, I've been plagued by insecurity and just not feeling like I quite belong. I realize that's not so uncommon. A little suggestion can go a long way. So, thank you.
Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?

I would say to push your point of view. It's become more difficult to stand out. I think it's important to look at lots of picture books and pay attention to which are doing well. But, you gain so much confidence when you know yourself. A style will emerge and then you pray it connects with someone! I was fortunate that the art director I worked with on this book has a similar aesthetic to mine. I had a roundabout path to picture books and who knows how many more I'll get to work on. 
One thing I've learned is that I wasn't really confident about my work until about 6 years ago. Not that it's become all smooth sailing, but I felt a shift in 2016. I was painting as much as I could, even after a long day at work, I would paint for at least an hour - anything! Some Instagram challenges gave me focus and provided subject matter when I wasn't sure what I wanted to paint. 
Fortunately, books for children remain very popular. There are so many themes, too. It really feels wide open. Of course, the more you work, the better you get. I always think if you create enough art and/or stories, something is bound to give way! 
Best of luck to all!!!

Here is Allyn at her virtual book launch at Books of Wonder: CONGRATULATIONS!
I hope we will be seeing Allyn's bunny and creatures in many more books to come!

Join me in thanking her for bringing us so generously behind the scenes with SPRING PARADE.

And for more about Allyn and her many talents, here is her website:

and her instagram:

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Interview with debut illustrator RISA HORIUCHI

I am thrilled to introduce sisters Rina and Risa Horiuchi and their debut picture book K IS FOR KINDNESS. Illustrator Risa was in my summer SVA class several years ago and she just sent me the happy news that her first book has been published, a collaboration with her writer sister, Rina. CONGRATULATIONS! 

From School Library Journal: "The Horiuchi siblings bring a fresh appeal with this book's emphasis on incorporating kindness into daily life. The theme feels especially timely for today's audience, as parents and caregivers increasingly seek to instill empathy as a core value."

It is exciting to hear about an artist's debut picture book – can you tell us about your journey from idea to publication? How did K IS FOR KINDNESS get started? What were some of the stages of working on this book?

My sister Rina was inspired to write the book because of current events and feeling like the world needed more kindness. She wrote it hoping for a kinder world for her daughter (my niece) and her generation. Rina wrote multiple drafts, and I gave suggestions. Then, as the story was revised, I drew rough sketches of the main characters, and Rina gave me feedback. Once we were both happy with the text and the sketches, we made the book dummy and showed it to our agent.


A collaboration like this doesn't happen very often - Congratulations!


Yes, usually the author and illustrator for a picture book work completely separately! I have been drawing ever since I was a child, and Rina had many ideas that she wanted to turn into books, so it made sense for us to collaborate. We’ve both always loved children’s books. We do give feedback on each other’s work, which is nice.  We have been working on several book ideas in addition to K Is for Kindness, so we hope we get the opportunity to release more books together.


What was your favorite part of working on this book?

My favorite part of working on this book was drawing the lion and the scene with the Jaguar! I am a cat person so it’s always fun to draw big cats. 


And the most difficult part?

I think figuring out how to make the last illustration balanced and not too busy was a challenge.The last scene shows several characters at a picnic, doing different acts of kindness. So it was challenging to make sure everyone and everything was in proportion. 

What were you like as a child? Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?

 As a child, I always enjoyed drawing. Comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Garfield” inspired me to draw my own animal characters and also comics. I was also influenced by movies like The Great Mouse Detective and Abel’s Island which is probably why I like drawing mice. 


When did you decide you wanted to do children's books?

In 2006, I had the opportunity to work on some illustration projects, and the process of planning and sketching for a picture book made me realize that illustrating children’s books was what I wanted to do. I then came to New York City and got my degree in illustration at SVA: The School of Visual Arts 


Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?

I would say to connect with other illustrators and writers through critique groups. If you can, join organizations like SCBWI because you have access to different events and classes. Keep drawing what you love and don’t give up. 

For more about Risa, here is her website:

and her instagram:

Good luck to Risa and Rina, and we look forward to many more collaborations!

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

My newest book: EGGS FROM RED HEN FARM: Farm to Table with Mazes and Maps

Where do eggs come from? How do they get from farmer to consumer? Join Ruby and Ned for answers to these questions. From collecting eggs in the morning to setting up at the farmers’ market and making deliveries to their city customers, they work together to make their little business a big success. With the help of maps, math, and some simple economic concepts, follow these two resourceful young people on a journey over the course of a busy day. Hard work pays off — and there’s a yummy treat at the end!

“A sense of joy pervades Wellington’s well-structured gouache paintings, which use color and detail to create profuse yet orderly patterns within the scenes. This appealing picture book offers a playful introduction to maps for young children.” Booklist

“A winsome interactive picture book with STEM appeal.” Kirkus

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Interview with debut author AZADEH WESTERGAARD

One of the rewards of teaching is watching students explore and develop during and after class. Azadeh Westergaard was in my class "Writing and Illustrating Children's Books" at The School of Visual Arts years ago, at that time pursuing illustration. Over the years she focused more and more on her writing and she makes her debut as an author with A LIFE ELECTRIC: the Story of Nikola Tesla illustrated by Júlia Sardà.

"An elegant and enlightening look at a man who brightened the whole world." - Booklist 

Congratulations on getting off to an electric start!

Azadeh introduces young readers to this important inventor (as well as grownups if you are like me and don't know anything about Nikola Tesla.) The important thing for a picture book biography is to find a hook for children: what is going to draw them in? In the case of Tesla, how to draw children into the wonders of electrical engineering? Azadeh had the perfect hook: his love for animals, in particular his childhood cat and in later life, New York pigeons.

What was your favorite part of working on this book? 

Everything about this book project was exciting since it was my authorial debut. The research process was a true delight - I can really lose myself in the process and with a subject as brilliant and interesting as Nikola Tesla, it was hard to know when to stop. Since I was so deeply moved by Tesla as a person and by his life story — it was important to me to help shed light on what were considered his eccentricities from a different, more positive angle.

A research highlight was corresponding with the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade and receiving my requested items from their archives by email. Another highlight was receiving Julia Sarda’s beautiful and intricate sketches during the height of the pandemic and discussing them with my wonderful editor, Tamar Brazis. The drawings were quite polished and not at all rough, so it was extremely easy to visualize the finished piece… especially since I have long admired Julia's work on other picture books.


What were you like as a child?

I was an extremely shy child and very much in my own creative world. On any given afternoon I could be found drawing mushrooms, rainbows, and upside-down girls hanging from tree branches; writing in my treasured Hello Kitty journals with a pseudonym, or writing fantastical stories inspired by Roald Dahl. 


One of my favorite memories of childhood is reading Pippi Longstocking on my favorite maple tree branch right next to our covered garage while my mom made dinner. I also adored anything by Shel Silverstein and memorized many of his poems, especially the one where the little girl pretends she's sick so that she doesn't have to go to school. A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends are one of only a few books that have traveled with me into adulthood and still have a special place on my bookshelves. 

When/How did you decide you wanted to do children's books? Two books have been instrumental in my creative life. Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day and Maira Kalman’s Ooo La La Max in Love. The former was one of the few picture books I had access to as an immigrant child in the 80’s and the illustrations resonated with me so deeply I remember staring at them for hours. And as for Maira Kalman, it’s because of her wildly imaginative and funny books that I fell in love with picture books as an adult and why I decided to pursue the field professionally. Her books quite simply blew my mind.


What was your path to publication? How did you find your agent? 

I found my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Birch Path Literary by researching agents on Publishers Marketplace. It’s a terrific resource in that you can search by authors, editors, and agents and get a sense of who is represented by whom, what kind of projects specific editors and agents are drawn to, the name of  the books they’ve acquired and authors they’ve signed on. In my case, Alyssa was one of the first agents I reached out to (I am a big fan of many of her clients) and I consider myself extremely lucky that my manuscript resonated enough with her to offer representation. 

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you? The importance of making rough thumbnail sketches and picture book dummies. It’s my favorite part of the creative process when it comes to picture books.


What I also loved about your class was that you held a great space of creative possibility for each and everyone of your students. You nurtured our projects in a completely non-judgemental way and it was exciting to see so many classmates and workshop members go on to publish their books.   


Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for writers starting out now? 

You have to take yourself seriously enough to start work on your projects, but not so seriously that you freeze up in the creative process. My new mantra is all about focusing on the fun. The minute I feel myself tensing up creatively, that’s my cue to take a breath and let go. For me the key is to loosen up and trust the creative process. First drafts will always be awful, but look closely and you’ll always find a little nugget of something interesting to hold on to and build upon.


And most importantly, listen to that still small voice in your head. It’s never, ever too late to either start or pick up on a path already started but halted. Take writing and art classes, join SCBWI, and consider fully immersing yourself in your creative path by completing a graduate program. I attended Vermont College of Fine Arts for my MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults and the experience was a major turning point in my writing life. 

For more about Azadeh visit:

and for illustrator Júlia Sardà visit:

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Now in Paperback!

SQUEAKING OF ART, NIGHT CITY, and NIGHT HOUSE BRIGHT HOUSE are all available now in paperback! I think of these three books as my "trilogy" because they all have cats and mice running around amongst miniature versions of famous paintings. 

Here are just a few of the famous works of art you can spot in one, two, or all three books!

In Night House Bright House, silly rhymes bring this house alive as the cup speaks, the daisy complains, the dress yells out, and the mice lead the cat on a wild chase from room-to-room, in a merry nighttime romp.

In Night City, as a child falls asleep, mice and a cat travel through the city visiting the night workers busy at their jobs. Hour by hour, from dusk till dawn, musicians, truckers, and bakers are among the people who keep the city humming.

In Squeaking of Art, ten mice and a cat visit an imaginary museum filled with 75 of the world's greatest paintings through themed galleries such as Children and Pets, Fantastic Creatures, Abstract Art.

And now I have added a glossary at the end of each book with more information about the artists and artwork, and suggestions for projects with kids.

These books are available through bookstores everywhere, and from my website BOOK SHOP here. 

For more about each book, click on these links: Night House Bright House and Night City and Squeaking of Art


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Interview with author/illustrator JENNIFER MERZ

It is great keeping up-to-date with the talented illustrators who have been in class at SVA and I’m excited to feature their new books!

Jennifer Merz recently published her non-fiction biography picture book, Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers’ Rights.  With bold, beautiful collage illustrations and words, Jennifer perfectly captures the spirit of urgency and commitment that Frances Perkins lived by. First out in hardcover, it is about to be available as well in paperback. 


I hope you enjoy hearing about Jennifer’s journey to bring this book to life, from first idea to the decision to self-publish. Read on as Jenn shares her expertise, advice, and tips!

This was a book that needed to be published! Tell us why!

Frances Perkins was a strong, courageous woman, an unsung American hero and trailblazer for workers’ rights when women were not encouraged to speak up, let alone have careers. She’s responsible for many of our workplace safety rules; and she became the first woman in a U.S. Presidential Cabinet as well as the force behind the New Deal.


I felt it was important to get her story out to children, girls in particular, to inspire them to fight against injustice, the way that Frances did, and not be limited by others’ ideas of women’s roles. I also saw a great opportunity to provide my readers with a stellar role model: someone with great integrity and tremendous character who worked steadfastly to make changes within the system. We’re living in a time when it’s increasingly important to step up to the plate when we see injustice. Frances did that, and I hope my readers will embrace the idea to do that, too.

How did your picture book, Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers’ Rights, get started? What were some of the stages along the way?

The seeds of Steadfast were planted when I was doing my MFA in Illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. It was 2011 and F.I.T., with its long connection to textiles, was commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a workplace disaster that Frances Perkins witnessed as a young social worker.

I created a handcrafted collage for that Triangle Anniversary, a work that spoke to the 1911 narrative. I incorporated the fabrics and trimmings of my past textile background. I used cut and torn papers, laces and trims, to make a shirtwaist collage to honor the 146 workers, mostly girls and young women, who lost their lives in that fire.

From that shirtwaist collage, I wrote and illustrated a picture book called Sew Strong, about the conditions leading up to the Triangle Factory fire and the subsequent groundswell for change. My agent was excited to share this version with many publishing houses. Editors took my dummy into acquisition meetings, but ultimately, it didn’t get picked up. It was later, only after I’d discovered Frances Perkins and her incredible story of steadfast achievement that I knew I was truly onto something special. I took more children’s book classes and workshops (including Monica’s at SVA, for example!) and I continued to work on my book.

Little did I know that my participation in the 2011 F.I.T. event would ultimately lead to my picture book on Frances Perkins. As I researched, whom did I find – who found me – but Frances! She was everywhere: pushing for workers’ rights, women’s rights, safety reforms, abolishment of child labor, and immigration reform. Why had I never heard about this woman? Why had so many people not heard about this remarkable woman?

I was bitten by the Frances bug and she wouldn’t let go. I needed to create a picture book on this American hero and role model. I had to get the word out to children. Children, girls in particular, needed to know the empowering, inspiring story that is Frances Perkins. Her strength of character, her integrity, her determined nature – all beckoned me to create this book.

Quite by accident, I discovered the Frances Perkins Center in Damariscotta, Maine. I met Tomlin, Frances’ grandson and remaining living relative. I met Sarah, the Board President who read and approved my manuscript. I was invited to the film premiere of Summoned, a documentary about Frances Perkins created by esteemed PBS filmmaker Mick Caouette. All the while, I kept creating: writing, editing, revising, sketching, and cutting buckets and buckets of collage papers.


Steadfast was released in hardcover on Sept. 1, 2020, and in softcover very soon (March 1, 2021) - in time for Women’s History Month! It’s available at, through the Frances Perkins Center, and on Amazon and other online stores. Art prints and cards will also be available soon, both at the Frances Perkins Center and on my website.

How did you choose to self-publish? 

I knew this book needed to be published and was having trouble locating a traditional publisher. I knew that a traditionally-published book takes about a year (or more!) from when the finished art and manuscript are delivered and the release date, and I was not willing to wait any longer, having started this project in 2011!

What have been some of the pros and cons and advantages of self-publishing?

Self-publishing gives you a wonderful sense of freedom. You are in control of every aspect of the project from design to manuscript, pricing, release date, quality of paper and binding. It’s fantastic to have that free reign.

The flip side is that you don’t have others to collaborate with and you need to seek them out to create a quality book. Mostly, you don’t have the broad overview that an editor or designer has. They have worked on many books, know what problems to anticipate, and understand how each book fits into the overall scheme of bookstores’ lists.

What was your favorite part of working on your book?

I approach book-making from the art side and loved doing the hand-crafted collages. Research and writing is also rewarding but can’t compare to the lovely tactile creation of the illustrations.

And the most difficult part? Did you take on some new roles? 

For me, the business side was the toughest part. Learning how to price, fulfill orders, market, and organize a complex business spreadsheet were all new tasks for me. And don’t get me started on taxes!

When working with a traditional publisher, you work with a team of people: editor, art director, copy editor, marketing and publicity team... Did you bring in some people to help you?

When you publish traditionally, the process is very collaborative, as you mentioned. However, self-publishing is an independent undertaking, so it’s important to hire people to help. I brought a copy editor and a book designer on-board who were very professional and skillful.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators and writers who are considering self-publishing now?

Initially, work hard on your craft, and don’t focus too much on being published. Being published is really only a by-product of doing the work. Read – a lot! By this, I mean read current picture books. Study them: how are they put together? How does the writer create compelling page-turns? How does the illustrator create exciting compositions? Join the SCBWI. Join a critique group. Be patient with yourself and your progress. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Carry around a little notebook wherever you go to catch those ideas as they come to you. Ideas are like butterflies and can fly away quickly if you don’t!  


If your project is ready for publication, decide first if you want to self-publish or traditionally publish. They are two vastly different paths! Self-publishing is very rewarding – but you are setting up a business. You must want to do all the marketing and business work yourself. Have realistic expectations for what you can do on your own without a large company behind you. Both paths have pros and cons!

How delightful to appear on your blog, Monica! Thank you so much for having me.

If anyone has questions regarding my creative journey or my picture books, I’d be happy to hear from you. Please visit and leave me a message. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And, of course, if you’d like me to sign a copy of my book to you, I’m happy to do that, too!

All the best! Jenn

And for my first Q&A with Jenn about her first books: