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Yeah, I may receive a “cease and desist” letter from the Peanuts people any minute for using that image as my header, so let me get right to my first “write” gift…the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

What kidlit writer doesn’t love Schultz’s merry misfit, his pilot puppy, and a girl named after candy?

You get the sensation, right?

Oh geez, those York folks may be after me now, too.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree With Blanket Tree Skirt

Available from Vermont Country Store. (And you may be reminded of Christmases past when I say “some items sold separately” and “some assembly required”.)

Now, time for booties.

No, not baby booties. Book booties…

Available from Groove Bags.

I’m not the most organized writer, but this looks like it can help. It features an area for notes plus numbered pockets for keeping mind memos and snippets—maybe to represent each chapter?

Industrial-Inspired 12-pocket Wall Memo Board


Available from Overstock.

You’ve probably heard the writing advice “B.I.C.”: BUTT IN CHAIR. But your butt may hurt after sitting a while. This funky stool by ErgoErgo “encourages you to make small movements that help circulation, breathing, and keeping your mind more alert. And unlike a stability ball, ErgoErgo looks cool and won’t roll away.”

Adult Active Sitting Stool

Available from The Grommet.

A good game during the holidays brings family together…so you can show off your word superiority and crush them all in a pile of defeat!

Anagram, The Ingenious Game of Juggling Words

Available from The Literary Gift Company.

I know, we writers have high shelf esteem.

Available from LookHuman.

Perhaps the writer you know is seeking a little R&R (wRiting and Relaxation). What better place to get away than the Highlights Foundation? Your own private cabin, three scrumptious meals a day, hikes through the countryside, a poetry garden…it is a marvelous retreat. When Highlights isn’t hosting a workshop, anyone can visit and create their own private UNworkshop. Genius idea for genius ideas to flourish.

Highlights Unworkshop

Available from Highlights Foundation.

Now, lemme ask some writer friends what they recommend.

How’s about Katey Howes, author of the upcoming BE A MAKER?

“For the writer with published books to promote, these tabletop chalkboard signs are a godsend. They pack up easily for travel to book festivals, conferences, and anywhere else you find authors and illustrators tucked behind tables of books and swag. Add a pack of brightly colored chalk markers and even the most introverted writers can get shoppers’ attention and communicate prices and details—without having to make eye contact or speak above a whisper. Not published yet? Use these chalkboards to post a motivational message on your desk or a Do Not Disturb: Writer At Work sign for your children to completely ignore.”

Mini Chalkboards

Available from Factory Direct Craft.

“Also essential for the writer on the go—this folding dolly can haul boxes of books to school visits, fairs and festivals. The removable bag is great for storing the posters, promo items, snacks and cardigan sweaters essential for author events.”

The Trolley Dolly

Available from dbest products.

‘Scuzi, Tara here again…Katey’s suggestions reminded me about these sturdy and portable book display stands. Bookstand.net displays are invaluable at book festivals and events. Your book gets displayed face-out and tilted slightly upward for passers-by to notice, plus there’s space on the front of the wood base to put a little sign. You can stack a few books on the stand so if one person picks up a book to read, there’s still another book on display. The dowels are removable so everything can be packed away flat and neat. These wood stands are far better than flimsy plastic photo holders (that keep falling over). My local indie uses them throughout their store, too. They come in various sizes and configurations for books big and small.

The Bookstand

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Welcome to picture book cover reveal headquarters! TA-DA!

Today I’m welcoming writer Laura Gehl and illustrator Joshua Heinsz, the team behind EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, a light-hearted look at gender stereotypes. Coming in May 2019, the book celebrates the idea that children should feel free to be exactly who they are.

I asked Laura and Joshua to interview each other, so without further achoo…

Joshua: Laura, when did you first get the idea to write EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, and what inspired you?

I always pictured myself as the kind of parent who would support and encourage my kids in all directions, no matter what. The kind of parent who wouldn’t push my kids to conform to gender norms. But that turned out to be harder than I thought (just like every single other aspect of parenting). Yes, I’ve done countless art projects with my sons, and played football with my daughter. And yet…I also discouraged my oldest son from buying the pink boots he liked, thinking other kids might tease him. And I gave away most of our toy vehicles when my three sons outgrew them, assuming my daughter wouldn’t have an interest (wrong—it turned out she loved playing with cars and trucks). So I was re-examining my own assumptions. And I was thinking about all the kids out there who might feel like they didn’t fit in the roles they were assigned by society—or even by well-meaning parents.

Joshua: Were there any particular challenges you faced as your worked on the manuscript?

Writing in rhyme is always challenging. After Charlie, our editor at Little Bee, acquired EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, he wanted me to write a new section transitioning between the first part of the book (which highlights gender stereotypes) and the end of the book (which encourages kids to be exactly who they are). I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write a brand new section in rhyme that worked as a smooth transition. But I was really happy with how that section turned out, and so was Charlie! Phew!

Joshua: What was your favorite part of the writing process for this one?

I like to share my work with my own kids, and I read this book out loud to my daughter. As you know, the first few lines all put children in gender stereotypical roles. So I read those first verses…

Boys play monster trucks with glee.
Girls bake cakes and serve hot tea.
Girls like pompoms, pink, and jewels.
Boys like fighting pirate duels.

And my daughter looked at me, wrinkled up her nose, and demanded, “SAYS WHO?!”

“That’s the whole point,” I told her. “Just wait a few more lines.”

In the end, she loved the book and its message. I hope every kid who reads it feels the same way.

Laura: Joshua, what were your thoughts when Charlie first approached you about illustrating this book?

I was so thrilled! The topic of gender stereotyping is one I’ve been passionate about for a very long time, and is one I had been specifically looking to address in my published work. I was the boy growing up playing with tea sets and dolls, and it’s really great to illustrate a book that would have been so exciting for me to have as a kid myself.

Laura: What was your first step in terms of thinking about how you wanted to do the art?

The biggest thing for me was to showcase as much diversity as possible and to make all of the characters in the book feel relatable to anyone. I knew I wanted the art to be particularly colorful as well so that whatever colors kids may not usually associate with would still feel very inviting and inspiring. Lastly I really love playing with shape language, so I knew I wanted to play around with simplifying the design in some ways I hadn’t tried before.

Laura: What was your process for designing the cover? Did you sketch out a bunch of different possibilities before hitting on a winner?

Truthfully, the cover was the toughest nut to crack for me on this project. I went through several rounds of sketches to find the best way to showcase the message of the book without crafting any sort of narrative or scene. There was a lot of playing around with which characters to include on the cover, and for a while I really had it in my head that I wanted a plane on the cover, although I couldn’t really say why–haha. I’m really happy with where we landed in the end, though.

Thank you, Laura and Joshua!

You can enter to win an F&G (folded and gathered advance copy) of EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T by making a comment below. One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected before the end of December.

Good luck!

Laura Gehl is the author of picture books including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, and My Pillow Keeps Moving. In addition to Except When They Don’t, spring 2019 releases include Baby Oceanographer and Baby Astronaut, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman; and Dibs!, illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski. Laura lives in Maryland with her family and a large stash of dark chocolate. Visit her online at lauragehl.com and follow her on Twitter @AuthorLauraGehl.

Joshua Heinsz is the illustrator of A Paintbrush for Paco. He has a love for bright and whimsical imagery with a flair for the fantastical and an air of nostalgia. When not drawing or painting, Joshua can be found working as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. See more of his work at joshuaheinsz.com and follow him on Twitter @JCHeinsz.

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An agent I follow online posted about a squirrelly situation last month.

Umm, not that situation.

A querying writer had told other agents that she had offered representation–BUT SHE HAD NOT.

Why did the writer do that? Supposedly to elicit offers from the agents, or perhaps just to hurry them along.

Way!

But the publishing world is a very small place, so the agent found out…and without naming names, warned fellow agents about the situation.

That writer put the kibosh on their career.

Now, I understand why the writer resorted to such a tactic. Writing is like being that squirrel—you are so close to the prize, but you feel like you are being whipped around. You want that golden nut but you can barely hold on. Impatience and frustration set in. Then, perhaps, desperation.

However, nothing will shut you out of the publishing business—really, any business—faster than lying and being unprofessional.

If you have a positive attitude toward writing and your place in it, you will eventually succeed. I recall hearing Jarrett J. Krosoczka once say that if someone hires you to do a $50 job, but you really want a $500 job, do that $50 job like it was paying $500. Deliver beyond expectations. Be kind to everyone. Be grateful. Soon word will spread that you’re awesome…and you’ll attract those bigger gigs. The good guy & girl really do finish first.

And here’s who else finishes first in all the recent giveaways!

PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN
Kelly Rice Schmitt

YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL
Linda Mitchell

SUN!
Liz Bedia

POE WON’T GO
Barbara Bockman

FUTURE ASTRONAUT
Katie Engen

VAMPIRINA BALLERINA
Lynne Marie

TAMMI SAUER
Megan Waloord

ALL OF US
Jennifer Phillips

Congratulations! Watch out for an email from me.

And watch out for another giveaway tomorrow.

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by Lisa Robinson & Eda Kaban

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN (Two Lions/Amazon), which hits the shelves in August 2019. We’d like to share a few stories about the book.

Pirate Emma is about to start kindergarten. But Emma’s not so sure she’s ready for a new captain and crew. Especially since her beloved Cap’n Chu is right down the hall. So Emma decides to sail back to preschool and stir up a mutiny against kindergarten. Is that what she really wants? Or does she just miss her beloved Cap’n Chu? Batten down the hatches, mateys, because the first day of school is going to be stormy!

Lisa, what was your inspiration for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN?

My daughters loved their preschool teachers and had a hard time saying goodbye to them. When I want to process something with my kids, I look for a book to use for discussion. Although there were many books about the first day of school, I couldn’t find any about preschool children who were sad to leave their preschool teachers behind. So I decided to write one.

What did you think when you saw how Eda Kaban brought your story to life? 

I was so impressed with her vision for the book. I love how she made Emma such an expressive, lively, assertive character. What also amazed me was how Eda handled the interplay of fantasy and reality. Every time Emma leaves her kindergarten classroom and runs back to the preschool classroom, Eda portrays Emma as swimming through the ocean. This creates a delightful visual refrain.

What was your journey to publication? 

It was a long haul. I was writing for almost ten years, which included getting an MFA, before Marilyn Brigham, my Two Lions editor, offered me a contract for PIPPA’S NIGHT PARADE (which comes out soon after PIRATES). I made contact with Marilyn through the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature Conference, which I highly recommend (so does Tara–she is the co-chair). Soon after that, I signed with my agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin. I couldn’t have done it without the thoughtful feedback from my two critique groups, one online called Crumpled Paper, and my local SCBWI group.

Eda, what was your approach to the cover design?

I was picturing her doing a Tarzan swing while I was illustrating the interiors. She has such a big and strong character that I thought she should be doing something big and dynamic on the cover as well. I originally had her swinging on a rope in a pirate scene rather than kindergarten but our art director and editor had the input to have her in a classroom setting to tie up the concept more strongly. And with that feedback, the cover sketch came together.

What was your process for developing this distinctive and spunky pirate girl? 

I fell in love with Emma the moment I read the manuscript. I could visualize her spunky attitude and I started sketching her out right away. I could see myself as a kid in her so it was easy to get into character and animate her in different poses. I created a lot of rough sketches. I edited the ones that didn’t relate to her as closely and cleaned up and colored the rest. Luckily everyone loved the designs when I presented her.

Can you say a little about your journey to becoming an illustrator for children’s books?

I’m originally from Turkey and I moved to the U.S. around 13 years ago to study art and become an illustrator. I spent 4 hard working years at art school. It’s a challenging restless marathon of drawing and painting everyday to build up your skills. Next big challenge was breaking into the industry. There are so many ‘no’s before you get one ‘yes.’ It can be really tough. About a year after art school, I signed with my current agent and only a week after that, I was offered my first book deal. I’ve been illustrating children’s books professionally since then for over 5 years now.

Thank you, Lisa & Eda, for revealing your cover! And now let’s reveal that Lisa is giving away an F&G to one lucky commenter.

Leave a comment below for a chance to enter–one entry per person, please. A winner will be chosen soon!

Good luck!

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by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

When my high-school-aged son was a toddler, I recall a day when he was in a particularly silly mood, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked, in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?” I knew immediately this was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after.

Over the next couple of years, the manuscript went through many critiques and many revisions, but the core story about the universal childhood experience of, “I gotta go. Now!” told from the perspective of a pirate on a quest to find just the right spot to leave his…uh, treasure…remained consistent throughout.

In 2006/2007 I submitted the story for professional critiques and participated in opportunities to read the story aloud at various SCBWI events. The story was a crowd-pleaser, and several editors expressed interest and invited me to follow up with a submission. In 2007, one of those editors took the manuscript to her editorial meeting, and then to acquisitions. She was extremely enthusiastic about the story, and I felt confident a contract offer was on the horizon. But that was not to be.

I was thrown by the emotional roller coaster of being so close to making my first sale, then having it fall apart, but I refused to give up on the story. I continued submitting it and bringing it to conferences for awhile, but eventually my focus shifted to new stories and new submissions. After signing contracts for my STORY TIME WITH SIGNS AND RHYMES series, my attention shifted to editing and launching those books. Even so, every now and then, I’d re-read my Pirate Potty manuscript, and tinker around with it some. I never stopped loving it.

Fast forward to 2015. I was invited to write a story for Oregon Reads Aloud, a keepsake collection of read-aloud stories for children, published in celebration of SMART’s (Start Making a Reader Today) 25th anniversary (Graphic Arts Books, 2016). I was grateful for the opportunity. I gladly contributed a story for the project and actively participated in the promotional events for the book.

In October of 2016, I drove 3 ½ hours from Portland to Seattle to spend a couple of hours signing copies of Oregon Reads Aloud in the Graphic Arts Books booth during the Pacific NW Book Association conference. During my time in the booth, I got to know some of the folks at Graphic Arts and familiarized myself with their regionally-focused list. I remember thinking, “These are such nice people. I’d love to work with them on other books. I wish I had a manuscript with a regional theme that I could submit to them.”

Over the course of the next year, I continued wishing that I had a book that was a good fit for Graphic Arts. Not surprisingly, wishing did not make it so. One day, as I re-read and reflected on my beloved Pirate Potty story, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could westernize this story?” That moment was a turning point.

I got all of the “feels” that you get when you have a good idea, and I started making notes. I challenged myself to replace the pirate character with a different character, and the idea of a cowboy soon came to mind. I tried plugging “Cowboy” elements into the story in place of “Pirate” elements, but I was not keen on the changes that came out of that exercise. I think there were a few different reasons the cowboy changes weren’t working, but the biggest issue was that during this phase of re-vision, I was essentially trying to insert a cowboy into the pirate’s story. The roots of my story were based on that memorable moment when my son posed the silly question, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?,” and I “saw” a very specific Pirate character in my mind every time I sat with the story. I couldn’t simply replace that character with a cowboy.

At one point, I pulled out my old files from back when the Pirate Potty story “almost sold,” and I re-read what the editor wrote to me. She had said, “…Everyone in our group just loved it and thought it’d be a slam dunk, but Sales thought that a pirate potty book would only appeal to boys, thus cutting our readership in half. I totally disagree with them…but without their support, we just can’t move forward…”

I, too, disagreed with the assessment that only boys would be interested in a Pirate Potty book, but this time as I re-read those words, a new question emerged: What about a cowgirl? I found myself immediately transported to a time when my college-aged daughter was in grade school, and her wardrobe included a bright pink pair of cowgirl boots. I paged through old photos and found the one I was looking for: A photo of my daughter dressed-up for her western-themed grade school carnival. I finally had the kernel of a new character in my mind’s eye. This character was unique and separate from the Pirate character that I couldn’t let go of, and she had her own story to tell.

WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? spilled onto the page with urgency.

And all of a sudden (and about a dozen years later) I had two potty stories I loved, one with a decidedly western theme. I identified several publishers that might be a good fit for Cowgirl, and I developed a submission plan. Graphic Arts Books was at the top of the list.

I submitted WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? to Graphic Arts Books in 2017, and I’m happy to share that it’s scheduled to hit bookshelves in the fall of 2019…along with WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? Yarrr! They loved that story, too.

One key revision, and two new books. Yee-Ha!

Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019) and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She is the founder of SmallTalk Learning based in Portland, Oregon. Learn more at dawnprochovnic.com.

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SUN! ONE IN A BILLION released last week. I meant to have Stacy on the blog then to talk about her newest book. But the website went down, I had conferences and school visits, and my plans were sunburned to a crisp.

But the SUN rises again another day!

Stacy, I did not realize you had an “Our Universe” series, but it makes total sense since your book EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS was such a hit.

Did you pitch EARTH as a series, or is it something the publisher requested?

EARTH was not pitched as a series. She’s a pretty independent planet and went on submission solo. When we sold the book to Henry Holt, it was a two-book deal but the only requirement for book 2 was that it needed to be funny nonfiction. Once EARTH was a finished book, we knew we had something special, and the publisher wanted to do more. And I wanted to do more! Currently, “Our Universe” consists of EARTH, SUN, MOON (2019), and OCEAN (2020).

That’s out of this world! But no Pluto?

What’s your take on Pluto, by the way? Planet or not?

I just wish scientists would make up their collective mind! I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson speak last year, and he convinced me that Pluto is absolutely not a planet. But I recently read about a new study that wants to change the planet definition again (currently, the IAU—International Astronomical Union—sets the rules) and that would allow Pluto back into the group. For now, I will say Pluto is a dwarf planet and a loyal dog to Mickey.

You know this blog often focuses on how children’s book creators get ideas for stories.

So, what’s the genesis of EARTH? 

And why is SUN the next in the series?

EARTH emerged from the wreckage of a failed project. I’d written a story about a pet rock, who lived with kids from cave times up to modern day. My critique group hated it. But I realized I wasn’t trying to tell a story about a rock. I was trying to tell a story about time and how humans are here for just a blink (in geological terms). So I refocused on telling Earth’s story because she’s been around for a bit.

When I talked to my publisher about doing more books, I pitched Sun, Moon, and Mars—all are extremely interesting. They selected Sun. (I’m glad they picked. I would have had a hard time making that choice.)

If you could be any planet, star or other object in the universe, who would YOU be?

I’d say Mars. I don’t want to be the center of attention—like Sun. Moon is a bit too familiar. Mars is the right balance of mysterious and recognizable. Plus, I think it’ll be the first planet Earthlings visit.

Well, thank you for visiting this blog, Stacy. 

Henry Holt is giving away copy of SUN to a random commenter.

Leave one comment below and a random winner will be selected soon.

GOOD LUCK!

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Happy Birthday, SUN!

Is it your 4,603,000,004th birthday? Or the 4,603,000,005th? Well, it’s OK, enjoy, who’s counting anyway?

STACY MCANULTY! She’s counting, that’s who! And she was counting on me to host her on the blog today.

But, you may have noticed, the blog has been DOWN for DAYS…while I co-chaired the RUCCL One-on-One conference this past Saturday and could do nothing about it. So, frantically on Sunday, I renewed the domain (after having mucho problems logging in), but it remained unprocessed. Then I woke up from a nightmare. Yes, this morning, I woke up from an actual nightmare, checked the URL and BAM! It’s back!

But I am also backlogged because I did not work with Stacy to create this wonderful blog about her second book in the Universe series, SUN, releasing TODAY!

So, consider this post a placeholder until I am able to get something worthy of Stacy, Stevie Lewis, and YOU, my dear blog readers, up and running today.

My apologies to SUN!!! Our favorite celestial body deserves better.

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by Lori Alexander

Last October, I headed into our pediatrician’s office with my 12-year-old who could not shake a deep, rattling cough. While we waited in a small, astronaut-themed room I wondered if my son might have pneumonia. While we waited some more, I wondered about this picture hanging on the wall.

As a seasoned Storystormer, I knew inspiration could strike just about anywhere. The image of the baby got me thinking about board books. I knew science-themed board books were selling well. But I didn’t have much interest in writing a book of facts for toddlers. What about a book that showed a baby’s current skills and how they might tie-in with a future career? I made a few notes in my phone, snapped the picture, and got back to checking my son’s temperature with the back of my hand.

One year later, I’m excited to share FUTURE ASTRONAUT (Cartwheel/Scholastic), illustrated by the amazing Allison Black. Part of the “Future Babies” board book series, upcoming titles include FUTURE ENGINEER, FUTURE CEO, and FUTURE PRESIDENT. And because I’m such a fan of Allison’s, here’s a peek inside Book #1 and a few words from the illustrator herself:

Allison, your style is so perfect for the youngest “readers.” Is this your first time illustrating board books?

Thank you! This is not my first time working on board books.  I currently have three published, but I think this series is really special and I can’t wait for them to be released! I love making board books because I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son and it’s nice to be able to read to him without worrying that he’s going to rip, eat or destroy them!

How did you get your start in children’s publishing?

I’ve always been interested in children’s publishing, but I didn’t get really involved in it until 2016. That year I was approached by a couple of publishers who had discovered my art through my stationery line and my work with Target. I enjoyed making those books so much that I decided to get an agent and leave my job to be able to focus on this type of work – and I’m so happy I did!

What else are you working on, if you’re able to share?

Right now I’m working on a few books (which is all I can say about those), as well as developing some new items for my shop. I just released my Fall line a couple weeks ago so now I’m focusing on holiday products. I’ve also started to write some children’s book manuscripts. There’s a lot more work to be done on those (authors really are amazing!), but it’s exciting to try something new!

Plan for the future and pre-order a copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT today.

Lori will give away one copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT to a lucky commenter (in the future, release date is June 2019)!

Leave a comment below and a random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck.

Lori Alexander is the author of picture books BACKHOE JOE (Harper, 2014) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling, 2017) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic, 2019). She also writes non-fiction for older readers. ALL IN A DROP, a chapter book biography of scientist Antony van Leuwenhoek releases in fall 2019 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, followed by A SPORTING CHANCE, a biography of Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Games, in 2020, also from HMH. Visit her at lorialexanderbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @LoriJAlexander.

Allison Black is an illustrator and designer specializing in cute and colorful creations. Originally from Upstate New York, Allison now lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, son and four pets. Allison’s career started as a designer for Target where she developed items ranging from Christmas ornaments and Easter baskets to party décor and apparel. In 2017 Allison left Target to focus on children’s book illustration and to work on her own line of products. She now has six published books and has another ten in progress! You can find Allison’s books, stationery and more in her online shop, Hip-Hip. In addition to making art around the clock, Allison has a particular love for goats, guinea pigs and gummy bears. Visit her at allisonblackillustration.com, shop for art at hip-hip.com and follow her on Instagram @allisonblackillustration and @hello.hip.hip.

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