Perfect Picture Book Friday – Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, Plus Straight From The Editor #4 and a Surprise!

I promised you an action-packed Friday and here it comes!  I hope you’re eating your Wheaties this morning 🙂
We’ll start with the Perfect Picture Book, so as to keep that at the top and easy to find.  But the agenda will include November’s Straight From The Editor and SUCH an awesome surprise that I will only blame you a little if you have to scroll down quickly and take a sneak peek!  Just scroll back up again so you don’t miss anything 🙂

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree
Written and Illustrated By: Robert Barry
Doubleday Books For Young Readers, October 2000 (originally Random House 1963)
Suitable For: ages 4 and up
Theme/Topics: Christmas, sharing, optimism, “waste not, want not”.
Opening and brief synopsis:  “Mr. Wiilowby’s Christmas tree came by special delivery.  Full and fresh and glistening green – the biggest tree he had ever seen.”  But to his dismay the tree is too tall!  He calls upon his butler to chop off the top, and so begins the tale of a Christmas tree that brings joy to homes of all kinds.  Over and over the top of the tree is trimmed, becoming a tree for smaller and smaller homes.  Instead of serving only one family, Mr Willowby’s tree becomes a tree for seven.  Children will be delighted when they see where the last, smallest piece of the tree ends up!

Links To Resources:  Mr. Willowby Activities, Stacking Trees, Preschool Discussion Topics, Gift Tag Activity.

Why I Like This Book:  Catchy rhyme, a charming story and a theme of generosity and making the best of whatever comes along all combine to make this a delightful holiday tale.  From Mr. Willowby right down to the last recipient, each character uses just what he or she needs and the rest goes on to someone else.  Nobody says it isn’t big enough.  Rather, they all feel overly blessed.  The art is warm and engaging, with each little home and family cozier than the last.

If you haven’t read Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, get thee to a library right quick 🙂

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Next, it’s time for Straight From The Editor!  You will recall Dee’s pitch:

Working Title:  Hating Ric
Age/Genre: YA Verse
Pitch:  On the day of his brother, Jason’s funeral, 17 year-old Ric’s anger explodes, and he races Jason’s car through the streets, crashing and badly injuring jogger, Kate.  Ric is sent to a juvenile justice centre, where survivor guilt and grief set him on a reckless destruction course. Help comes through his music and from an unexpected source in Kate who is struggling to put her own life back together.

And here are Erin’s comments:

This needs to be short and sweet. Your long sentences are somewhat confusing and an editor would have to read it twice to figure out what you are saying. Basically, Ric is angry after his brother’s death. Did he cause it, was he with him? Is that why you’re implying survivor’s guilt? Be more to the point. You want the reader to be intrigued, not guessing. And don’t be afraid to use cliché’s. Sometimes they can get the point across quickly and in fewer words. Can you say Kate is battling her own demons? Something like that. I think an editor will be intrigued if it’s more direct and to the point.

I find Erin’s comments very interesting and helpful, and I hope you all do, too!

And now… duhn duhn duhn… the moment you’ve all been waiting for… duhn duhn duhn….  THE SURPRISE!!!

This is really for all of you, so I hope you like it!  Think of it as my little holiday gift to you 🙂

Presenting, the Perfect Picture Book Badge!  LOOK!
Badge designed by Loni Edwards

Is it just me, or does everyone totally love it?  I just can’t get over how cute that little guy is, reading a perfect picture book to his little buggy friends! 🙂  Anyone who participates in Perfect Picture Book Fridays may lift this badge for their blog.  It would be super fantastic if you could link the badge back to Perfect Picture Books.  It will soon be appearing in my sidebar, but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise this morning 🙂

So now I must tell you about the extraordinarily talented artist who created this badge.  I know this will come as a shock to you – especially those of you who have had the opportunity to witness my unrivaled drawing skills (tee hee) but I did NOT draw this.  I know.  Nearly impossible to believe 🙂

This gorgeous badge was designed for all of us by the incomparable Loni Edwards.

Loni, please be so kind as to tell us a little about yourself!

Loni:  I am a digital artist, although I have been known to dabble in watercolor, acrylics and pen & ink.  The core of my art is digital though.  It is created by using Photoshop techniques and a Wacom tablet.  I sketch out my idea, then scan it into Photoshop where I ink and color.  Influences are Charles Schulz, Jim Davis, Walt Disney Studios, and many artists that I have come into contact with mostly through social networking.

I attended the Art Institute of Seattle where I had the opportunity to take a class with William E. Cummings, a Pacific Northwest painter.  His use of color and movement influenced me greatly.  I love to use bright, bold colors in my art.  It is rare that you see me do anything else.  I also like to incorporate joy and humor in my art.

Loni’s picture for Project Smile
illustration copyright Loni Edwards

I have participated in a lot of volunteer events, such as Heroes4Haiti, Art4Japan, and the Ripple Project. One that is special to me is the Project “Smile”.  It is based in Poland.  The exhibit collects picture/art smiles and autographs.  It is then toured in children’s hospitals exhibiting around the world.  My piece was included in the exhibit that was seen in Cairo, Egypt.  It is a wonderful exhibit, and I hope someday soon it makes its way to the United States.

I have also participated in a number of artistic challenges, including PiBoIdMo 3 years in a row.

Thanks so much, Loni, both for sharing all that and for creating this beautiful badge that we will all be able to proudly display on our blogs!
For those of you who are as impressed as I am with Loni’s art – who might be looking for someone with artistic talent to help you with any number of projects – Loni is available for book cover design, children’s book illustration, spot illustrations, character design, greeting cards, and private commissions.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to visit her website and blog and see what she has to offer!  You can also “Like” Loni on Face Book and follow her on twitter @LoniEdwards.  Here are a couple other samples of her art, one in the holiday spirit, and one to show that she does draw people too 🙂

illustrations copyright Loni Edwards
illustrations copyright Loni Edwards

PHEW!  You’re going to be needing another bowl of Wheaties after all that!  Sorry it was so long, but everything just piled up onto today!  I hope you like the badge and enjoyed meeting Loni!

So now, go have a great weekend everyone, and remember, the Holiday Contest opens bright and early Monday morning!  (Please scroll down that link to see the rules.)  I can’t wait to read all of your stories!!!
(And don’t forget, if you posted a Perfect Picture Book, please put your link in the list below!)

And We Have Two Winners…!

I know.  It’s past 9 AM EST.  So sorry to keep you waiting when you’ve been all a-twitter wondering who the big winners would be.  It’s just, I got distracted by bookshelves.

You all remember my office, right?

Well, I got the opportunity to pick up a couple bookshelves for a good price, and in the interest of being able to actually enter my office, I rushed off to get them, abandoning my blogging duties in a most reprehensible fashion.

But now I’m back.  The bookshelves are in the yard awaiting dusting.  And although it’s making them very impatient, they will just have to wait because I don’t want to keep you in suspense a moment longer!

I hope you guys realize just how lucky you are.  By entering a contest on my blog, you are way raising your odds of winning because my blog is obscure new enough that I have yet to get masses of entries 🙂

For this particular contest, we have 2 prizes and 7 contestants, so you do the math.  Really.  You do it.  I am terrible at math.  But I’m pretty sure it works out to You-Have-A-Great-Chance %.

So here we go.

The names are being written on slips of colored paper (very festive!)…

…the papers are being as thoroughly and randomly mixed as 7 pieces of paper can be…

…the judge is reaching into the cookie jar….

Oh, you thought I meant the papers were in the cookie jar?  No, no.  The judge just needed fortification….

Okay, now the judge is selecting the first winner…

…for a free signed copy of Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend….

…and the winner is…


Oh my goodness!  The excitement is overwhelming!  Everybody else go get a cookie to sustain themselves.

All right.  Ready?

The judge is reaching for the second winner…

…the lucky recipient of a free signed copy of Are You Eating Something Red?

…and our second winner is…

TERI!!!  (Who is apparently making a habit of this :))

Wow.  All this excitement is exhausting!  Raise your hand if you think this calls for another cookie 🙂

Winners, please use the Email Me button on the right hand side of the blog to let me know your address (so we know where to send the book) and how you’d like it signed (so Ryan can get it just right!)

Thanks so much to the other contestants.  I really appreciate your enthusiasm.  I wish everyone could win, but alas, not possible.  For those of you who would still like copies of Ryan’s awesome books, please visit Ryan Sias on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  And thanks again, Ryan, for such a great interview!

Now, I’m off to dust my new shelves, install them in my office, and attain a state of Feng Shui hitherto unknown in the House of Hill 🙂  Have a great weekend everyone!

Children’s Book Giveaway Contest – Meet Ryan Sias Part 2!

Holy Swiss Cheese, Batman!  As if Monday wasn’t awesome enough, today we get to finish our interview with author/illustrator Ryan Sias AND we will have a contest so that not one but two of our lucky readers will win signed copies of Ryan’s books!

Deep breaths!  No hyperventilating, please!  We certainly don’t want anyone to faint from an overdose of excitement!

It’s true.  Ryan has most generously offered not only a signed copy of Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend, but also a signed copy of Are You Eating Something Red?  So read on, enter the contest, and we will have two lucky winners on Friday!

Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend, ages 4-8,  hardcover, 40 pages
Are You Eating Something Red?  Ages 0-3, board book, 5 pages

Welcome back, Ryan!

SLH:  What kinds of things have you done to publicize your work?  (Website? Blog? FB? Twitter? Flyers, promotional postcards? School visits? Etc…?)
RS:  Over the years my main promotion tool has been my website. I have done comic conventions, licensing shows and some web advertising. I hand out postcards to every person I meet. Facebook, live journal and twitter have all been good tools also.
With my books I’ve been going to more book events.  I’ve got a bunch of festivals lined up and have started working on getting signings for Zoe and Robot. I can’t wait to get out there and promote the books!
SLH:  Do you have an agent?  If so, who, and how did you get him/her?
RS:  Yes, Judy Hanson is my agent. She works with a lot of my friends and I knew her pretty well. So it was natural that I work with her.
SLH:  The world of children’s books is in a state of flux right now.  Do you have plans for writing/illustrating stories for ipad, iphone, kindle, nook or other apps?

RS:  I am talking to my publisher about doing an App for our book Are You Eating Something Red? and I’ve been getting requests for a Zoe and Robot app. I think it would be cool to see it on the ipad. So hopefully soon!
An interior shot of Are You Eating Something Red?

Interior shots of Zoe and Robot (above and below)
Seems like Ryan’s books would make great apps!

SLH:  What are you working on now?
RS:  I have just signed a contract for a companion book to Are You Eating Something Red? It is related to healthy eating, but I can’t tell you any more, it’s a secret!  Shhhhhh.
My agent is showing a totally new series pitch to editors. Hopefully I can announce something soon!
SLH:  Do you have advice for aspiring authors, illustrators, or author/illustrators (kids or grown-ups :))?
RS:  Practice, practice, practice. Do your homework, join SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), go the library or book store every week, and write every week. Same goes for drawing. When you are ready to submit, target the editors and publishing houses you want to work with.
I see a lot of people who get hung up on one story. I suggest, write three to six ideas and show them to friends. Then pick the one that seems to be working the best. Also don’t work in isolation. I did this for many years and got nowhere.  Show your work to friends or join a writing group to get feedback. It will automatically make your work stronger. Same rules apply to artwork. Show it around and get notes about colors, composition and concepts.
Also, STAY positive; don’t let negative thoughts get in your way. Stay focused on the goal and make it happen. It will not be easy, you will get a lot of rejection, but use that to learn and improve. It is totally possible to do picture books and it’s so great when the first one comes out. So stay positive and keep trying! You will get there.
SLH:  Are you available for school visits?  What is your preference for audience age, size etc.  Where can interested people get information?

RS:  Yes I am. I have two different talks. One is about growing up and becoming a professional cartoonist. The other is called “Sketch a story” where I teach creative storytelling and we create a book as a class. I seem to go over best with kids ages 5-10. They’d need to contact me for more information.
I am also looking to do readings at book stores and libraries, where I can do the same thing.
Ryan’s school visits look awesome!

SLH:  Do you have any else to say?

RS:  Working on picture books is a life long dream. I’m thankful to Blue Apple Books for letting me work on books with them. I hope to do many more fun books for everyone to enjoy. I’d like to end by saying, “Keep drawing, keep writing and never give up on your dreams!”

Thank you so much for joining us, Ryan, and all the best of luck with your new book and your secret projects!  Please visit Ryan at!

And now – the moment you’ve all been waiting for – THE CONTEST!!!

Since Ryan’s drawing has a cartoon style, that will be the theme of our contest.

Here’s what you have to do:

1.  Be a follower of this blog (bonus entry if you get someone else to follow the blog and tell me who it is.)

2.  Leave a comment naming your favorite cartoon character.  It can be from comic books, Saturday morning TV, or any other cartoon venue.  The comment should also tell why you would like to win Zoe and Robot and/or Are You Eating Something Red.

3.  Be sure to leave your comment by Friday, April 22, 9 AM EST because that’s when the drawing will take place and the winners be announced!

That’s it!  That’s all you have to do!  I hope we’ll get lots of entries so Ryan will feel loved and appreciated 🙂

Looking forward to hearing who your favorite cartoon characters are!  (That means you too, Ryan!)  I am personally on the fence about my favorite – it’s between Hong Kong Fooey, the Kung Fu crime fighting dog; Muttley, from Dastardly and Muttley of Yankee Doodle Pigeon fame; and Mush Mouse and Punkin’ Puss…. apparently I lean toward animal characters 🙂

Meet Ryan Sias!

Wow, do I have a treat for you guys today!  Allow me to introduce the one and only Ryan Sias!

Ryan Sias

Ryan is the author/illustrator of  Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend (Blue Apple Books 2011) and the illustrator of Are You Eating Something Red? and Are You Eating Something Green?- placemat books from Blue Apple Books 2010. His story and illustration work have appeared in Nickelodeon magazine, the Flight series (Villard) and Mad magazine.

Ryan earned a B.F.A at the Ringling School of Art & Design in Florida, where he created the puppet troupe, “Patchwork Puppets” and performed in schools, libraries and theme parks. After working for five years at ReelFX in Texas as an art director for videos he moved to New York to pursue his television and children’s book illustration career.

Ryan has considerable experience in the world of television and film. He has directed videos for Barney and Chuck E. Cheese and his storyboarding credits include the movie Bowling for Columbine, as well as Robots and Maya & Miguel for Scholastic Entertainment.  He is currently working with Sesame Workshop (a dream come true!)

Ryan has so much interesting information to share that I will probably divide his interview between today and Wednesday so you can enjoy it fully.  At the end there will be a contest (you know how I love contests!) and the prize will be a signed copy of Ryan’s most recent title:  Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend!

Welcome, Ryan, and thank you so much for joining us!

SLH:  Ryan, how old were you when you started writing stories?  Drawing?

RS:  According to my parents I started drawing when I was 1.5. I’ve seen a drawing I did of Ernie at age three. (I loved Sesame Street!) I have books I made all through school. So I’ve been creating stories my entire life!
Two of Ryan’s early drawings (above and below)

SLH:  Were you encouraged to pursue writing/illustrating?

RS:  Yes, my mom taught Kindergarten and my dad was a Industrial designer. So it was a house of creative people. I remember drawing all the time.  I was diagnosed with dyslexia very young, so I was encouraged to draw since school was tricky for me.

SLH:  How has being dyslexic affected your career?  (Although dyslexia makes writing harder, dyslexics are notoriously original thinkers, often very spatially gifted – more right-brained than the rest of us – are there things you think actually come more easily to you?)

RS:  Being dyslexic made school very difficult for me, and was hard on my ego. I drew all the time because it was easy and I got praise for it. I think that is the main reason I draw all the time still.
I love to write because it is so creative, but it can be hard because I have typos and wrong tenses all over the place. (Probably in this interview!) I  use spell check, but I’ll use the correct spelling of the wrong word. So I have to have everything checked by friends.
I do find I am able to generate ideas very fast, and I am creative all the time. I’m not sure how much of that is the dyslexia or just my lifetime of being creative.  I’m not sure if I do it better than any one else.
I have learned to accept my dyslexia. It is an extra challenge, but I’ve never known any different and I don’t let it get in the way of my dreams!

SLH:  What was your first published book?  How did you feel/react?

RS:  When Are You Eating Something Red? came out it was very exciting! But I didn’t fully believe it until I had a copy in my hands. The most shocking thing for me was when I saw it in the store of the Museum of Modern Art! Now I tell people that my work is in the MoMa next to the Picasso’s! 😉

SLH:  What books have you published subsequently?

RS:  My brand new book Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend was my next book, it is also with Blue Apple Books. It is part of their Ballon Toons line of books. It just came out April first!

SLH:  Which is your favorite of the books you’ve published so far?

RS:  I like all my books, but at the moment my new book Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend is my favorite. I like the comedy and how the Robot talks in third person. My goal is to do more silly books, so this is a step in that direction.

SLH:  You have been both author and illustrator of your books.  When you create a story, which comes first – the writing or the drawing?  Or do they go hand-in-hand?

RS:  They go hand in hand for me. I’ve started books both ways. I flip between both as I’m developing an idea.

This is how I normally work.  I do pencil sketches for the whole book.
I use a light board, making the lines with water color instead of the ink that many people use.
I scan the finished inked page.
I color in PhotoShop and TA DA!  Finished art!

Wow!  As someone who cannot draw, I am fascinated by Ryan’s process.  I hope you’re finding it interesting too!

Tune in Wednesday for the conclusion of Ryan’s interview, when we’ll learn about his marketing techniques and school visits, among other things, and finish with A SECRET! and our contest for a free signed copy of Zoe and Robot – Let’s Pretend!  See you then 🙂

And if you have questions for Ryan, please post them in the comments!

In The Pink! – A Winner and Some Good News!

One of my favorite things about blogging – aside from getting to talk with so many interesting people! – is getting to give prizes 🙂

Today, we have a winner in the PENNY LOVES PINK contest.  I’ll give you a hint.  She (okay, all the entrants were shes, so not much hint so far!) said her favorite pink things were:

1. Laynie! (Even her sling is decorated in pink stickers!)
2. Grapefruit lip gloss from Bath and Body Works.
3. Strawberry Cake, which I made for Laynie’s birthday. 
4. Pink cheeks! Is there anything cuter?
5. Flamingos. Call them tacky, but how can you hate anything that is naturally that pink!

Note the reference to the sling?  How fitting that the winner should be someone who can use a little pick-me-up this week 🙂  It turns out, the winner (well, actually her daughter) needs a little cheering from a broken collar bone, so isn’t it nice we can help?

In case you haven’t guessed yet, the winner is BECKY!  Come on down!  Please use the Email me button on the right hand side of the blog to let me know your address (so I can mail your prize) and how you’d like the book signed (so Cori can get it just right :))

Thanks to all the other contestants.  I really appreciate your enthusiasm.  I wish everyone could win, but alas – not possible.  For those who would still like a copy of PENNY or any of Cori’s other books, please visit Cori Doerrfeld on Amazon.  And thanks again to Cori for such a terrific interview!

And now, for some other great news in the pink department:  April Fool, Phyllis! arrived in the warehouse on Wednesday!  Hurray!  *cheers and throws confetti*  This means that, once they get around to inventory and unpacking boxes, it should be available any time now.  So exciting!  Keep your eye on Merritt Book Store (likely to have it first), Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and you could be among the first to have your very own copy 🙂

Here’s a sneak peek 🙂

The Cover (OK, you’ve seen this before :))

Phyllis surveying Punxsutawney Hollow
illustration copyright Jeff Ebbeler 2011
illustration copyright Jeff Ebbeler 2011

Really, how cute is Phyllis 🙂
illustration copyright Jeff Ebbeler 2011

Okay.  That’s all you get.  You have to go read the book to see the rest 🙂
Have a great weekend everybody!

Think Pink! Meet Cori Doerrfeld – Part 2

As if yesterday wasn’t exciting enough, today there’s more!  Read on for the rest of Cori’s interview, and then… wait for it… a CONTEST!!!  You could win a free signed copy of Cori’s new picture book PENNY LOVES PINK!

So, onward…

SLH:  PENNY LOVES PINK, your most recent title, is the first book you have both written and illustrated.  Was the process different for you?  Easier?  Harder?  What gave you the idea for the story?

CD:  PENNY LOVES PINK, will be the first book that I have both written and illustrated.  It was definitely different for me than other projects, and more difficult.  The main reason was because I cared so much about every detail, since my name was the only one appearing on the book.  It was also more personal when editors suggested big changes or wanted to tone down certain elements.  There were times when I wondered whose book it really was.  In the end however, the publisher has been so supportive and truly wants only the best for me as an illustrator and author.  I originally wrote the book in 2005.  I was working at a daycare, and I could  not believe how self-absorbed the two year olds could be.  Some of them literally lived in their own worlds, where the color of a shirt, or a certain stuffed animal decided the fate of the world.  The original book was called, Leah Loves Pink, inspired by a real little girl who would not potty train unless her toilet was pink.

SLH:  What are you working on now?  Do you have manuscripts out for consideration?

CD:  Right now I am currently working on new ideas for books. I have one book out for consideration, a dummy in progress, and a few ideas just simmering in my mind.  I will say that this stage is the most difficult for me.  It takes a lot of focus and energy to actually sit and take a blip of an idea to a fully formed dummy with sketches.  I also get distracted easily when a new idea occurs to me…it is hard to find time to work on them all!

SLH:  What are your inspirations?  Most difficult obstacles?

CD:  The majority of my inspiration comes from the kids I have known and cared for.  I was a toddler teacher and a nanny for several years.  It was always fun to see what ideas the kids really responded to, and of course to hear all the wacky little ideas and sayings they had themselves.  My own daughter is quite the inspiration at times.  She gave me one idea that I hope to get into dummy form sometime soon.  Other than that, there are the people who inspired me as a child, Jim Henson, Tim Burton, Chuck Jones, Bill Peet, Don Bluth, and the countless animators at both Warner Brothers and Disney. I spent a good part of my childhood wanting to be an animator, and animated films still influence and inspire me today.  As far as obstacles go, time is my greatest enemy.  I sometimes feel if I just had a tiny bit more time in each day, I could truly develop a masterpiece.

SLH:  Do you attend writers or illustrators conferences?  Enter writing contests?

CD:  I have never attended any conferences.  I really should find out how to become a part of my local illustrator/writing community.  I do have one friend who I meet with on a regular basis to brainstorm and share ideas.  And I once had the amazing pleasure to meet with some local greats including Caldecott Award winner, Stephen Gammell, and best selling illustrator, Derek Anderson.  The birth of my daughter prevented me from going to the next group meeting…and I never got back in touch with them.  The only contest I ever entered was to be the artist for The Minnesota State Fair Commemorative poster.  I didn’t win this year, but someday I hope to make that poster.  I love our state fair!  

SLH:  (Hang on – this one has a lot of questions in it!)  What has been your best selling book so far?  Which book’s sales (if any) did not do as well as expected?  Why do you think that might have been?  Were you surprised by one book’s success over another’s?  Have all your titles earned out?  Are they all still in print?  Have sales affected publishers’ willingness to do further projects in a good or bad way?  (WHEW!)

CD:  This question is difficult to answer.  First off let me explain that the majority of my books were done under a work for hire contract, and therefore I earn no royalties whatsoever on those titles.  I currently have four books still on the market trying to earn royalties, and two more on the way.  The Brooke Shields books sold well enough I suppose, but I have been disappointed in the overall sales of the two books.  I earned one royalty check with the first, and nothing on the second.  The first book, Welcome to Your World, Baby! was picked up by a Korean publisher, so that has given me a little bit of hope.  Penny Loves Pink has only been out a month, and I honestly have no idea how well it is selling. I have been very nervous about the over-saturation of pink themed books, and worry that it will ultimately effect sales.  I think how well Penny does will influence whether or not Little Brown wants to do another book with me.  I am still waiting for my best seller.  It is definitely something I’d like to achieve, for my career and my bank account!

SLH:  Are you available for school visits?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for teachers and/or parents that go along with your books?

CD:  I  am available for school visits.  I taught preschool for many years, and I have also spoken to college level illustration classes.  I do prefer to either talk with young kids, the age group my books are created for, or college level kids who are interested in pursuing a career in art.  I would however be happy to speak to any class.  When I speak, I try to bring along sketches, proofs from the book, and fun examples of my art to help show my process.  I am also happy to prepare a project for the class, such as generating a story idea, or making a pink monster.  This can be done while I am visiting the class, or whenever the teacher has time.  

SLH:  What is your website, FB fan page, blog, twitter?

CD:  My website badly needs to be updated, but for now it’s what I’ve got.  Please find me at and on Facebook as Cori Doerrfeld.  One of my other goals is to make more of an online presence, so hopefully I’ll soon have a new website with a blog as well.

SLH:  Do you have any advice for beginning authors, illustrators or author/illustrators?

CD:  I truly feel that I myself am still beginning.  I know for me the biggest shock upon getting my first book, is how quickly you are expected to work.  I have typically had three to four months to complete an entire book from start to finish.  That includes sketches, revisions, finished art, and revised finished art.  It can be grueling at times, but ultimately it is worth it to have a job you love.  I would also say that you should truly just create what you enjoy.  Don’t try to force an idea or painting.  Think of things that inspire you, that make you happy, and go from there.   You do need a bit of a tough skin, especially if your work is published.  Editors will want to change things, critics won’t like you, and sometimes you have no money.  But I will say that there is nothing more satisfying than seeing your ideas in print.  

Thank you so much, Cori.  I have really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on all of this.  Thank you for sharing your experiences so generously.

And now…. the moment you’ve all been waiting for… THE CONTEST and your chance to win an awesome prize!!!

Here’s what you have to do:

1.  Be a follower of this blog (bonus entry if you get someone else to follow the blog and tell me who it is :))
2.  Leave a comment telling why you would like to win PENNY LOVES PINK (or for whom) and listing your 5 favorite pink things!
3.  Make sure to leave your comment by Friday February 18, 9 AM EST because the winner will be announced on Friday’s blog post!

That’s it!  That’s all you have to do.  Although, if you’d like to also share your thoughts on how awesome Cori is, or how much you love this blog and can’t wait to read it every day, feel free to gush 🙂

Meet Cori Doerrfeld!

Okay, all you picture book fans.  Big excitement today!  Allow me to introduce you to Cori Doerrfeld, author/illustrator of PENNY LOVES PINK, as well as illustrator of 14 other books!

Cori has so many interesting things to share, that I am going to divide her interview between today and tomorrow.  At the end, there will be a contest, and the prize will be a free signed copy of PENNY LOVES PINK.  Woo-hoo!

Welcome, Cori, and thanks so much for joining us!  I am especially interested in talking to you because you do both writing and illustrating, so your approach to creating picture books comes from a whole different angle than mine does!

Cori Doerrfeld and devoted fan 🙂

SLH:  When did you first become interested in writing and illustrating?

CD:   As I child I was always creating something.  I would cut out paper animals and leaves and turn our family room into a jungle.  I would terrify my little sister with ghostly stories about the old mirror under her bed.  In school I was always recognized as the “kid who could draw” and fulfilled many requests for Ninja Turtles, Roger Rabbit, and Aladdin.  I was always eager to participate in the yearly “Young  Authors” competition, although I never won.  Many of my teachers, however, encouraged me to focus on my writing skills.  In high school I participated in a few competitions and I did win a full college scholarship based on a fantasy story I wrote.  Unfortunately, I did not attend that college…but instead went on to receive my BA from St. Olaf College.  I focused solely on my art while I was there, and really didn’t come back to the idea of writing and illustrating until about 8 years ago.  The short answer: writing and illustrating have always been a part of my life in some form or another.

One of Cori’s early drawings!

SLH:  Which came first for you – writing or illustrating?  Does one help you with the other?

CD:  Drawing has always been the number one way I spend my free time.  I drew everything as a child, from unicorns to portraits of Jack Nicholson.  As mentioned above, I wrote for school, and enjoyed doing it, but art has always been my main passion.  Professionally, I also find myself more in the realm of illustrator than author.  I was first hired to work on books as an illustrator, and I am just now getting the chance to prove if I can juggle both roles.  When I write, I often think in imagery, almost like a storyboard reel for a film.  Most of my stories emerge from random sketches and doodles.  I often thumbnail an entire book, and then go back to create text for each page.

Another early drawing

SLH:  What is your typical work day like?  How do you find time to write while being a mom?  Any particular rituals that help you get into work, or do you have a favorite time of day to work?

CD:  My typical work day is anything but typical.  I am for now, a mom first.  My husband also takes on freelance work…so I have to factor that into my work time as well.  The best solution we have come up with is simply trading off evenings and weekend days.  When it is my night to work, I try to get down to my studio as quickly as I can after dinner.  I usually pick a podcast or playlist of music to listen to, and get right to work.  When you have limited time, there are few seconds to spend on ritual or sometimes even making sure your work space is clean!  I literally take a seat, and get to work!  My favorite time to work is late morning, which I only get once a week for now.  Luckily, I do not have any other jobs to compete with my time, but I would love to find something part time at some point for a more stable source of income. 

Cori’s studio

SLH:  What was your first published children’s book?

CD:  The first children’s book I ever worked on was called, “Ticktock: Time Nursery Rhymes”.  It was published through a local educational publisher called Picture Window Books.  I believe it came out in 2007.  Since that first book I have illustrated nine more titles with Picture Window Books, two with Harper Collins, three with Little Brown, and one with Dial Books for Young Readers to make a grand total of fifteen books!

SLH:  Do you work for one publisher or multiple publishers?  If multiple, do you find the different houses different to work for?

CD:  As I mentioned above, I have worked with several different publishers…and they are all their own unique experience.  Picture Window Books is a smaller, local publisher so they really gave me total freedom with my art and layouts.  The bigger publishers, however get far more involved….which has been both good and bad.  Some of my most challenging experiences were while working on the Brooke Shields books.  I had to not only please my editors, but Brooke also got to personally approve each drawing…even though I never directly heard from her!  It has been interesting working with different publishers.  Some have been very laid back and fun to work with, while others are more passive aggressive and controlling.  The biggest issues I have ever run into, have been over time.  It is so frustrating when you work so hard to stay on schedule, only for things to get tied up and dragged out on the publishers end.  Overall, I have truly enjoyed working with the editors and staff at each publisher…every book is it’s own adventure!  

SLH:  What is your process when you receive a manuscript?  How do you evaluate whether you think it’s a manuscript you can illustrate?  Have you ever turned a manuscript down?

CD:  First,  I have never turned down a manuscript…although if a story didn’t seem like a good fit, I would consider passing.  Usually a publisher will email me a manuscript roughly broken up according to spreads.  I always start with thumbnails, quick rough little drawings that try to capture the basic shapes and layout of each page.  From there I move on to rough sketches.  I always scan all of my sketches, clean them up and play around with them in Photoshop, and then I actually layout the book myself with text in Indesign.  This truly gives me an instant feel for how the book will look.  I also do color roughs in Photoshop, so all my colors are planned out before I paint.  I send PDF’s of the book all laid out to the editors, and if they approve the sketch, I go ahead and paint the final! 

SLH:  What is your medium of choice?  Do you always illustrate in watercolor, for example, or do you use different approaches for different books?

CD:  Most of my books have been created with acrylic paint.  I have done a few books digitally, but my medium of choice is acrylic.  I paint on Bristol paper, with no prep layer.  I have dabbled in pastels as well…but the dust drives me crazy!  I would love to explore other ways of using paint, or perhaps some pencil or ink…but I find that the more work I do, the more anal I become.  And there is nothing more satisfying, then just instantly painting over a mistake when you’re using acrylic paint! 

SLH:  You have illustrated books for a celebrity (Brooke Shields).  Was that process different in any way from your other projects?  Were there special requirements because you were working on a celeb book?  Did you ever actually communicate with Brooke in any way?

CD:  I briefly touched on the celebrity book experience above.  The two books I illustrated for Brooke Shields did involve several unique factors and challenges.  Brooke was very involved, taking the time to go over all my artwork.  She communicated with me through my editors.  I never received one email, note, autograph, or personal thank you from Brooke.  Although when I was struggling to complete the work on the second book after the birth of my first child, they did send me a copy of her book on postpartum depression.  The biggest challenge on the celebrity books was the time crunch.  These books were done very quickly, with barely seconds of wiggle room.  I pulled my first all nighters since college!  

Well, I don’t know about you all, but I find Cori’s process and experience fascinating!  I hope you’ll all join me tomorrow for the second half of Cori’s interview and the contest to win her book!  And if any of you have questions for Cori, post them in the comments and we may be able to include answers in tomorrow’s post!

Meet Karen Orloff!

At last!  The big day is here!
Today I am thrilled to introduce you all to Karen Orloff!  Not only will you get to meet her, but at the end there will be a contest and you could be the lucky winner of a signed copy of I WANNA NEW ROOM!

Karen is an ex-magazine editor, currently  the author of four picture books:  I WANNA IGUANA, IF MOM HAD THREE ARMS, I WANNA NEW ROOM, and the forthcoming TALK, OSCAR, PLEASE!  She also writes two columns for The Poughkeepsie Journal and teaches classes for adults interested in writing for children at Merritt Books in Millbrook, NY. 

Welcome, Karen!  Thank you so much for joining us this morning!

SLH:  How did you get interested in writing for children?

KKO:  When I left my full-time editing job to be a stay-at-home mom, I naturally got interested in children’s books. Since I’ve always loved to write, I thought I could try to do that! Of course, it was easier said than done.

SLH:  What made you choose picture books?

KKO:  When I first started, I had no idea I could write picture books, since I wasn’t an illustrator. So I wrote a middle-grade novel! I got some nice feedback from a couple of publishers but it was ultimately rejected. Discouraged (I also hadn’t yet learned about resilience!) I shelved it. A couple of years later, I went to a conference and discovered I didn’t have to be an artist to write picture books after all! That freed me up to work on stories for younger kids.

SLH:  How did you get your ideas for I WANNA IGUANA, IF MOM HAD THREE ARMS, and I WANNA NEW ROOM?

KKO:  The iguana book came from my real life situation: My kids wanted a dog and we had allergy issues. So we opted for iguanas, something I wasn’t exactly warmed up to. The idea of the letters just sort of popped in my head as a cute format. And I walked around with the title “I Wanna Iguana” on my tongue for weeks before I actually wrote anything down. The companion book, “I Wanna New Room” went through many transitions before I got it right. I knew I wanted to do some sort of sequel but the actual story was hard to pinpoint. When my editor, Susan Kochan, said some eye-opening words – “It doesn’t have to necessarily be about the iguana – you can put Alex into another situation where he wants something” – all of a sudden, I had lots of new ideas. Of course, it still took a while to come up with the idea of having a new baby in the house, forcing Alex out of his room. In one draft, I had Alex asking for a new bike. Susan finally liked the brother dynamic of I Wanna New Room the best.

As far as If Mom Had Three Arms – I think this just came out of the
fact that I was a busy mom. I mean, what mom wouldn’t love to have an
extra arm to do more things?

My newest book, "Talk, Oscar,Please!" (Sterling, to be released March 1, 2011) probably came out of my relationship with Bailey, our dog.  Yes, we did finally get a dog and no one is allergic to her, thank goodness!

SLH:  What (if anything) do you wish teachers, librarians and/or parents knew about writing for children and/or do you have any advice for beginning writers?

KKO:  People are always surprised to know that my books are not always published by the same publisher. They want to know why I’ve “switched.” I tell them I didn’t switch, but for whatever reason, my first editor passed on a manuscript and so I tried to sell it to others. They don’t realize that having one book with an editor doesn't mean every single thing you write after that will get published! It’s that whole perception that writing for kids and getting published is easy that drives me crazy! It’s a struggle. There are many reasons why manuscripts get rejected. It may be too similar a story to something already out there, it might be too “slight” to be worthy of the investment of a picture book, it might just not be that particular editor’s taste, etc. I always tell new writers that you must be persistent! Getting a few rejections is nothing! It’s all part of the process. It actually makes your writing stronger. You must have a thick skin and keep on going if you want to get published in this tough market.

It literally took me ten years of writing, going to classes, attending workshops and conferences, sharing my work with critique groups, and revising my stories over and over before I got my first acceptance. After that, it gets a little easier because you’ve learned so much about your craft. But you are always still learning, still improving, etc. You’ve got to just keep with it!

Thank you so much, Karen!

If anyone is interested in learning more about Karen, her books, and her classes on writing for children, please visit her website.  Her books are available on Amazon, but if you'd like signed copies you can order from Merritt Book Store! (search Karen Orloff or her book titles)
And now, for the CONTEST!  I'm going to make this one easy for you 🙂
If you'd like to win a personally signed copy of I WANNA NEW ROOM, all you have to do is:
1) be a follower of this blog, and 
2) leave a comment about why you'd like a copy of the book
on this post by Friday, Feb. 12 at 9 AM which is when I will conduct a random drawing for a winner!
Good Luck!

Meet Kathy Welsh!

Writers, sit up and take note!  This post includes potential writing opportunities – how’s that for making your day 🙂

After being deliberately vague yesterday about the timing of upcoming guest posts, we’re off and running with one today!  (Maybe I should remember that trick…!)

Please welcome Kathy Welsh, a talented writer and the creator of Country Courier Magazine!

Kathy Welsh

Kathy’s story is an inspiring one for aspiring writers.  She was not encouraged to write as a child, nor did she have formal training or education in her chosen field of journalism.  Nevertheless, feeling that her community lacked adequate coverage in local news, she “took the bull by the horns”and began submitting articles to her local weekly paper.  Although she had no writing credentials to speak of, her passion for local news came through and her articles were published.  It was the beginning of a career in freelance journalism.  She moved from the occasional article to weekly articles and eventually to a weekly column.  Today she is editor-in-chief and publisher of her own magazine, Country Courier, a local publication for Union Vale, New York.  She is a role model for making writing dreams come true!

SLH:  Kathy, how did you first become involved in writing?

KW:  This really all began quite by accident!  My very first job was in the publishing world – Western Publishing Inc. in Poughkeepsie, NY – as an expediter in the purchasing department.  After leaving my job when I had my first child, I began writing for Taconic Press, which I did for several years.  My husband’s job relocated which took us to West Virginia.  There I connected with The Valley Press, a local weekly newspaper, and freelanced for them until our next relocation – northwestern New Jersey.  Again I contacted the local weekly newspaper, The Star Gazette, and began covering three counties for three different editors.  This is where I really honed my skills as a reporter and covered everything from school news to feature articles to municipal news.

SLH:  How did you get involved with Country Courier?

KW:  When I created Country Courier Magazine we had made our final move back home here to Union Vale. Publishing the magazine was a natural progression from newspapers to a magazine-style format. I already knew what my readers liked so I used those topics to create this publication. And it has been very well received!

SLH:  What are your goals for Country Courier?

KW:  Our goal is to remain a free, direct-mail and online publication. We have currently updated our website from quarterly to daily news to provide our readers with “More News More Often.”  And, we are also changing our print format from magazine style to more of a tabloid style to provide more news for our readers. This will debut mid April.

SLH:  What, if any, writing opportunities might there be for interested authors?  What types of submissions are you looking for?

KW:  Now that we offer a daily online website, we are looking for writers and photographers to contribute articles, news and photographs.  I am interested in local news about people, places and things from municipal to feature stories.  All submissions will have a byline.  Writers need not have previous publishing experience, but I reserve the right to reject any pieces that do not fit the criteria of the magazine.

Sample photographic cover
from Country Courier

SLH:  How can writers/photographers contact you?

KW:  Please email Kathy[at]CountryCourierMagazine[dot]com.
SLH:  Where can interested readers and/or writers view the magazine and follow your writing and activities?
KW:  The magazine is online at Country Courier Magazine.  You can also follow me on Twitter and FaceBook.
Thank you so much for joining us, Kathy!
I urge everyone to visit Country Courier online.  The new website is beautiful, and a quick perusal will give you a feel for the type of writing Kathy might be interested in publishing!

Chasing Away The January Blues

Yep, in case you were wondering, it’s still January.  It’s still cold.  And it’s snowing… again….  I’m guessing y’all could use a little pick-me-up.  Am I right or am I right or am I right?
So I will give you a quick glimpse of things to come and then you’ll have something to look forward to!
Very soon (we’re going with vague here because, well, I don’t actually know when they’ll be ready) we will be having a guest post with Kathy Welsh, creator of Country Courier Magazine, who may have some opportunities for aspiring writers!
Also, possibly even more exciting (if you can imagine that) a guest post with Cori Doerrfeld, the talented author/illustrator of the new children’s picture book PENNY LOVES PINK.  Her post will include a contest for a free signed copy of PENNY!

Also, a guest post with Karen Orloff, author of the best-selling I WANNA IGUANA and the new I WANNA NEW ROOM!  Her post will include a contest for a free signed copy of I WANNA NEW ROOM!

Also (yes! even more!) an upcoming guest-post with Donna Farrell, children’s illustrator and creator of beautiful websites and blogs for children’s authors, illustrators, and others, which will discuss important design features to keep in mind when creating an internet presence.  Maybe we’ll think up a contest and prize to go with that too!
So now, aren’t you all feeling much better?  Filled with enthusiasm to head out to work in the frigid, snowy darkness?  (Well, maybe not that much better… :))
Here’s a little something to occupy your mind so you don’t think about how January it still is:
What kinds of games/contests do you like to play?  If we were having a game/contest on this blog, for example, say, to give away a copy of a book like PENNY :), what do you think would be fun?
Anyone who posts a comment with ideas will get an extra chance at PENNY or NEW ROOM (please specify your preference) for every useful unique contest idea they contribute.  (First one to list the idea gets the credit for that idea.)  That’s like a contest for contests!  So fire when ready – I’m open to all ideas!  (And Teri, I will count yours from back in December when you listed them in the Contest Contest post!)
Mwaa-ha-ha… I think we showed those January blues who is boss!