Today we are excited to feature picture book and MG author Sarah Sullivan! Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter to win a copy of her MG novel, ALL THAT'S MISSING (Candlewick Press, 2013)!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
For years, while I was practicing law, I was also a freelance contributor to my local newspaper. I wrote articles and interviews about children's literature and children's writers. I also attended children's literature conferences and writing retreats and was active in a statewide literacy program called Read Aloud West Virginia. I wrote late at night and early in the morning before work. Along the way I received small bits of encouragement, including being a finalist in a publishing contest for a middle-grade novel.
It was tragedy, that took me to writing full-time. When my son was ten, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Though he fought valiantly for two years, the disease came roaring back and took his life when he was twelve. I was devastated.
I was trying to make sense of events that made no sense at all and working through grief that was soul-crushing, to say the least. My first steps forward came when I was offered the opportunity to teach English as a long-term substitute. The students were my son's classmates who had, by that time, become juniors in high school. They helped me heal and come back to life. And, literature helped too . . . the healing power of story.
I started writing a new middle-grade novel for which I received a grant from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts. And, I attended a writing workshop led by George Ella Lyon. In that workshop, I began writing a poem that ultimately became my first picture book, ROOT BEER AND BANANA. A year later, Candlewick bought the manuscript for my second book, DEAR BABY: LETTERS FROM YOUR BIG BROTHER.
And, that's when I decided to apply to Vermont College's MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program. The students and advisors in Vermont saved my life. I found a community of supportive writers and friends. Those friendships and the tie to Vermont College still sustain me to this day. Tell us about ALL THAT'S MISSING and what inspired you.
Though the plot of ALL THAT'S MISSING has nothing to do with me, its origins clearly lie in something that happened when I was eleven or twelve. We were living in Littleton, Colorado, which is where I grew up. One afternoon, when I was home by myself, I happened to find a faded telegram from the U.S. Department of the Army folded away in a drawer along with birth certificates and the cake topper from my parents' wedding cake. When I opened up the telegram and read it, I did not understand what it meant. I had to ask my mother. That's when I learned that my brother and I had different biological fathers. He was thirteen years older than I was, so by the time I found the telegram, he was already married and living in another state. I found out that my father had adopted him when our parents were married. His biological father had died during World War II.
I had never known any of this and, while it did not really change anything, it still affected me deeply. Why had they kept it a secret?
In my novel, Arlo, my protagonist, goes in search of the grandmother he has never known and, in the process, he uncovers a family secret. His secret is not my secret. His story is not my story. And yet, the impetus for telling his story, the need to explore the feelings an eleven or twelve-year-old might experience upon learning that something they have taken for granted all their life is not what they thought it was, came directly out of personal experience.
You write both picture books and MG. How did you make that transition?
I think of writing picture books as writing poetry or very short plays. You are working in such a tight format. A limited word count, which generally means a small cast of characters and not a lot of description. Each and every word counts. That's a challenge.
When I write middle grade, my starting point is always character. There is a character's voice in my head and she desperately needs to tell me her story. Unfortunately, for some reason, she always quits talking right in the middle of the plot . . . doggone it! That's the part of writing middle grade that I hate. You know exactly where the story is going to end. It's just the space in between the middle and the end that eludes you. That's the tough part about writing middle grade for me.
What projects are you working on now?
I just saw sketches for my next picture book which is coming out with Candlewick in the fall of 2019. The title is A DAY FOR SKATING and Madeline Valentine is illustrating. It's a rhyming picture book about ice skating and was inspired by memories of ice skating with my dad on a pond not far from our home in Colorado. It's always exciting to see art for the first time. I love what she's done. I can't wait for the book to come out. I wish my dad could have been alive to see it.
I always have two or three picture book manuscripts rattling around. I take them out and tinker with them and send them out to my beta readers. They send back comments and I tinker some more.
I also have two middle-grade manuscripts that I'm working on. There is something in me that says, what if one of these stories is total garbage? You need to have another one to work on. Otherwise, you'll have nothing. So, when I become discouraged with one manuscript, I put it down and turn to the other one. It's a bit of a mind game I play with myself.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? The easiest?
The first draft is torture. Plain and simple. And the worst of the worst is that point in a novel that is two-thirds of the way through a story (see "hard part about writing middle grade" above). I long to get to the fun part -- the climax and the ending. I love writing the ending. What a relief!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Hmmm . . . . Well, I used to play left forward in soccer in middle school because I was the only one on the team who could kick with her left foot.
Sarah Sullivan’s middle grade novel ALL THAT'S MISSING (Candlewick, 2013) received a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. She is also the author of five picture books, including the forthcoming A DAY FOR SKATING, ill. Madeline Valentine, (Candlewick, 2019). Her 2011 picture book, PASSING THE MUSIC DOWN,, was an N.C.T.E. Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book, and was chosen to represent the state of West Virginia at the National Book Festival. Sarah holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College where she won the Harcourt Post-Graduate Scholarship. Her poetry has appeared in Cricket magazine and she is the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts. Sarah writes and conducts school visits and writing workshops from her home in Williamsburg, Virginia where she lives with her husband.
Today we are excited to feature author illustrator, Jonathan Roth be sure to enter the Rafflecopter to win a copy of both his debut MG books in the BEEP & BOP series (Simon & Schuster)!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write and illustrate for children.
I’ve had a passion for drawing and writing since I was a wee lad (see my Batman cartoon, one of the few early elementary artifacts I have left) and my desire to create characters and stories of my own has been with me the entire time.
Shortly after graduating from the Cooper Union School of Art in New York I began working on picture book dummies to submit, though I also began getting some freelance cartooning work at the time and put my book ambitions on hold for some years. But after I became a full time elementary art teacher in Maryland, my desire to make books for kids was reawakened and has never let up.
Congrats on your debut series, BEEP AND BOB. Tell us about them and what inspired you.
BEEP AND BOB is a funny and action-packed chapter book series about the reluctant new kid at space school and the devoted little alien who won’t leave his side. Bob “writes” the books as an assignment and Beep “illustrates” them (even though he keeps eating his pencils).
As for inspiration, I love all things that have to do with our beautiful planets, moons and stars, so I try to play with interesting space settings. The school setting is also very important, and has definitely been inspired by my many years as both a student and a teacher. As a teacher, I think I have a good sense of what kids are concerned about, and more crucially, what makes them laugh. The books are very silly by the way, so if you’re a grown-up, beware.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
I still had pretty thick hair when I sent out my first submission, I’ll say that much. It’s been such a windy, up and down process it would probably look a lot like Dorothy’s journey to Oz and back if you mapped it out (and maybe, like hers, it’s all been a dream). But I learn more and grow all the time, which is the important part.
As an author-illustrator, what drew you to illustrate chapter books rather than picture books?
I’d definitely love to do picture books, but I’m more of a cartoonist by practice (I used to do cartoon strips for various publications), which is a style that lends itself naturally to black & white spot illustration for chapter books. The writing for me comes first, but I also feel lucky I get to illustrate my own characters and stories.
I’m finishing up some details for Beep and Bob 3 (Take Us to Your Sugar, out in September, in which Bob discovers Halloween isn’t celebrated at his school in space, so he and Beep have to come up with another scheme to get free candy) and Beep and Bob 4 (Beep, Beep, Bob, Bob, in which they accidentally create evil doubles of themselves). Beyond that, I’m always thinking of potential Beep and Bob adventure, as well as other series ideas, too.
What advice would you give to other author-illustrators trying to break into illustrated novels?
Always look to see what’s being done, but in the end only create what really moves you. Also join SCBWI to learn about the industry and meet like-minded people, and always be open to feedback and prepared for rejection, because it’s a tough, competitive business that requires relentless perseverance.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Though I spend large parts of my day thinking about kidlit and how to teach and entertain young people, I know just about nothing about TV or video games aimed at the kiddos.
Where can people find you online?
My website is www.beepandbob.com, which has book and contact info, as well as a hand-out for kids on how to draw Beep. Thank you so much for having me!!
Author-Illustrator Jonathan Roth is a public elementary school art teacher who lives in Rockville, Maryland, with his wife, two kitties and three or more bicycles. Though Jonathan has never left the Earth, he has met four of the astronauts who have gone to the moon. Beep and Bob (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) is his first series.
Today we are excited to feature author Tami Charles! Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter to win a copy of one of her debut MG, LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge March 13, 2018)!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Thanks for inviting me! I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I was also an avid reader and devoured books by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Lois Lowry! Growing up, however, I didn’t read about girls who looked like me. It wasn't until I became a teacher that I discovered the wonderful, diverse books of today. I would have begged for the books of Meg Medina, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Kwame Alexander as a child!
As a teacher, I enjoyed sharing these books (and more!) with my students. But as a writer, I was itching to reignite my passion. Thankfully, my students cheered me on as I picked up my writing habit again.
Congrats on your debut MG, LIKE VANESSA. Tell us about the story and what inspired it.
Thanks so much! When I was thirteen, I entered my first scholarship pageant. Growing up, I had always watched the Miss America pageant. The only reason why I even thought I had a chance of winning a pageant was because Vanessa Williams paved that path for so many girls of color, back in 1983. Her historic victory and grand success that followed made me believe that I mattered and stood a chance.
LIKE VANESSA was born from this merging of my childhood heroine and teen hobby of competitions. It tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who, after witnessing Vanessa Williams’ victory, decides to enter her school’s very first beauty pageant—even though her father and resident mean girl think she doesn’t stand a chance.
In life, there will always be someone to tell you that you’re not enough—not tall enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough. Like Vanessa (Williams) and so many other influential women who have broken barriers, my novel encourages readers to ignore the haters and walk your path.
Your debut PB, FREEDOM SOUP, also debuts in 2019. Tell us about that one.
Every New Year’s Day, my family gathers at my mother-in-law’s house to eat Freedom Soup, also known as soup joumou.
The story behind Freedom Soup is a triumphant one. When slavery still existed on the island of Haiti, slave masters would ring in the New Year by eating this soup. Naturally they didn’t grow the vegetables or even cook the soup. Their slaves did that for them.
Enter the Haitian Revolution in 1791. After twelve years of fighting against slavery, Haiti finally claimed its independence on January 1, 1804. Take a wild guess how they celebrated…
I highly suggest that if you have never eaten this soup before, visit a Haitian restaurant. Better yet, find yourself some Haitian friends and thank me later! Has your road to publication been long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
How about all? When I first took myself seriously as a writer, I penned a lot of awful stories. Many have been shelved and never to be seen again, thank the good Lord himself! As I began writing stories that spoke more to my own childhood and family experiences, the writing process became more organic for me.
I wrote LIKE VANESSA for Nanowrimo in 2013, began querying in spring 2014, landed an agent that summer, revised (for a very long time), and then finally landed a book deal in fall, 2015. It also happened to be Miss America week. It was meant to be!
You write for all age groups. How do you decide when a story is meant for a particular age group (i.e. PB or MG or YA)?
Subject matter and voice drive my decision to categorize the age group I’ll write for. For example, even though my debut picture book FREEDOM SOUP deals with the topic of slavery, I felt it was better to write it for the younger set. Those type of discussions can be handled with grace, even at an early age.
With LIKE VANESSA, I knew that had to be a middle grade/early YA novel because it dealt with deeper issues of identity, racism, and faltering friendships.
What is the easiest part of writing for you? The hardest?
Easiest = making the pot of coffee Hardest= starting
What projects are you working on now?
Right now, I’m revising the follow-up to LIKE VANESSA. In that story, we’ll explore the backstory of the bully Beatriz Mendez. I also have another middle grade novel in the works. Lastly, I have a few picture book manuscripts I need to dust off and revise.
What advice would you give to your earlier self? Is this the same advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
Advice to my earlier self? Move at your own pace, holding the vision and trusting the process along the way. And for aspiring authors, I wish them this same valuable lesson.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
In the 1990s, I was in an all-girl R&B singing group. We had a song that played on the radio at like two in the morning. And I’ve already said too much.
Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, and nonfiction. Her middle grade debut novel, LIKE VANESSA, has earned the following recognition: a Kirkus starred review, a Spring 2018 Jr. Library Guild Selection, ABA’s Indies Introduce Top Ten (Kids) List, and the SCBWI Book Launch Award. Tami’s debut picture book, FREEDOM SOUP, releases in fall, 2019 with Candlewick. She had the honor of appearing on Good Morning America, in a cooking segment, where she made a Thanksgiving version of this popular Haitian New Year’s Day soup. Tami is also the author of four more books forthcoming with Albert Whitman & Co, Candlewick, and Charlesbridge. Tami resides in New Jersey with her husband and son. a Rafflecopter giveaway
June 22-24 Vermont Writer's Roundtable: How to Write Creative Nonfiction for Children and TeensThe field of creative nonfiction is expanding and generating attention from editors, teachers and award committees. Limited to 15 participants, the Vermont Writers Roundtable features small-group critique sessions, one-on-one time with a faculty member, and workshops that build on each other so you leave with a solid action plan on how to write, revise and pitch your creative nonfiction manuscript. Plus, you'll have a group lunch (via Skype) with a top editor and a follow-up webinar with faculty. (South Londonderry, VT)
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We are pleased to introduce author Kerri Kokias and her debut PB, SNOW SISTERS, illustrated by Teagan White (Random House, Jan. 2018). Be sure to enter her giveaway!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I started writing picture books when I left my social science research job to be a stay-at-home mom. At first, it gave me something fun to focus on while using the same energy I drew from to parent. Before long I knew writing children’s books is what I wanted to do as a career. I’m always at my happiest when I’m creating, and kids are my favorite kind of people, so writing children’s books is a good fit for me. Which doesn’t mean it came easy- but more on that below.
Congrats on your debut SNOW SISTERS! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
SNOW SISTERS! is the story of two sisters’ different experiences during a snow day. It is told in the structure of a reverso poem, which means that mirrored language is used. In this case, the text builds up to the middle of the book and then repeats itself backwards for the second half and the two sisters’ stories are told in reverse of each other. A lot of the plot and character development in this story take place in the illustrations done by Teagan White.
SNOW SISTERS! primary inspiration was its structure and it took me quite a while to arrive on these particular characters and the snow day setting. Once I found my sisters, the characters seemed perfect for the reverso poem structure. I like how the text of their stories being the same but in opposite order heightens how the siblings are different but also connected.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
Long and bumpy! It took me around 12 years from when I first started chasing this dream of publication till I spotted SNOW SISTERS! in the wild. (This is the phrase authors like to use when they spot their books in a store.) I had a lot more than I realized to learn. I am fortunate to live in Seattle where there are many great authors and a strong regional chapter the Society for Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators (SCBWI).
I also completed an advanced education certificate program in Writing for Children at the University of Washington. I read a lot, both books on the craft of writing and many, many picture books. But mostly, I wrote, I revised, and kept writing. It took me a long time to reach my goal of being a published author. There was a lot of stubborn persistence involved and a lot that was out of my control and was dependent on the right story getting in front of the right editor at the right time.
What projects are you working on now?
At this exact moment I’m between writing projects and schooling myself on marketing and publicity. I’ve been doing a lot of story times at libraries and bookstores and am working on developing school visit curriculum.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? the easiest?
For me, the easiest (and most fun) part is coming up with ideas and researching/brainstorming ways the story could go and things that could be included.
The hardest part is turning that list of random thoughts into a first draft. And although I like to revise, I do find it hard to do major revisions where I’m trying to really overhaul a story. I can tweak little things happily and forever but if someone I trust gives me feedback that I want to try but isn’t totally in line with my original vision I can really get stuck.
One trick I found that is probably old news for a lot of writers but was life changing for me is that it helps me to revise if I simply rename the document and treat it like it’s an entirely different story.
What is a piece of advice you'd give to your younger self? Is it the same as you'd give to aspiring authors?
I think I would tell my younger self to be patient, there is a lot in this business that is outside of your control. And yes, I think that’s good advice for aspiring authors as well. As you’re moving through your writing journey pay continuous attention to what is in your control and what is outside of it and focus your energy on the areas you can control.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I got stuck on this question and solicited help from my family. My husband suggested I mention that I had a pet hedgehog that lived loose in my college bedroom and would run laps over us all night while we slept on a futon mattress on the floor. My daughter suggested that most people don’t know that I’m really good at stalking people online. (Although maybe I should keep it that way?) And my son thought that most people don’t know that I’m 40 years old. (But really, I’m 41, so I guess my age truly is a big mystery even within my own family.)
Learn more about Teagan White and her children’s illustrations at tinymothstudios.com. Or connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook @tinymothstudios.
Kerri Kokias credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. Snow Sisters! is her first picture book. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family.
Brad McLelland & Louis Sylvester, LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES (Henry Holt & Co., Feb. 20, 2018)
E. Latimer, THE STRANGE AND DEADLY PORTRAITS OF BRYONY GRAY (Random House Feb. 13, 2018)
Lora Hyler, THE STUPENDOUS ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY MARTY HAYES (HenschelHAUS Publishing, Feb. 22, 2018)
Enter to win all these books!
Author of P.S. I MISS YOU (Feiwel & Friends)
About your book & what inspired it: P.S. I MISS YOU, told entirely in letters, is the story of twelve-year-old Evie, who belongs to a very Catholic family and whose beloved older sister Cilla left home after getting pregnant at sixteen and fighting with their parents. As Evie writes letters to Cilla about her life and her friends, she starts to realize that she may have a crush on her new friend June. I was inspired to write P.S. I MISS YOU after picking up a battered copy of DEAR MR. HENSHAW at my local library's yearly book sale. I hadn't read it since I was a kid, but it made me remember how much I love books told in letters. And the rest is history...
Favorite classic MG: I can't even tell you how many times I've read THE WESTING GAME. The combination of Turtle Wexler's sass, brilliance, and vulnerability combined with an ingenious mystery gets me every time. I read this book as a kid, as a teenager, and as an adult, and every time, I see something different and pick up on new levels of author Ellen Raskin's brilliance. I'd love to write a mystery of my own one day!
Favorite recent MG: I was a huge fan of Karina Yan Glaser's THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET. I got such a Penderwicks/All of a Kind Family vibe from the close-knit family, and the determination of the siblings to save their apartment was so inspiring.
One thing most people don't know about you: Hmmmm. I'm a pretty open book, but I do have double-jointed elbows. It freaks my husband out when I demonstrate it!
Where to find you online: ou can find me in lots of places! My website is jenpetroroy.com, I'm on Twitter as @jpetroroy, Instagram as @jpetroroy, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JenPetroRoy/. And yes, I do find time to write in as I bounce between those places!
Jen Petro-Roy is a former teen librarian, an obsessive reader, and a trivia fanatic. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Massachusetts. P.S. I MISS YOU is her debut novel.
BRAD McLELLAND & LOUIS SYLVESTER
Authors of LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES (Henry Holt)
About your book & what inspired it: LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES is a MG Western Fantasy that combines the adventurous spirit of The Goonies with the raw, gritty realism of Louis L’Amour and the dark thrills of The Walking Dead. Set in 1855 Missouri, this first book in a series tells the story of 13-year-old Keech Blackwood, who seeks vengeance upon a deadly desperado obsessed with retrieving an ancient, magical relic known as the Char Stone.
LEGENDS comes from a strong desire to give young readers a book that we ourselves would have cherished at their age. We hope they love it as much as we’ve loved writing it.
How did you come to collaborate on this book? Brad: The partnership on LEGENDSbegan, really, as a pleasant surprise. Louis and I had both been graduate students at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and we would sometimes run into each other in creative writing classes or at social get-togethers. One afternoon in Summer 2010, we attended a friend’s birthday party and started chatting over sodas about what we liked to read. During our conversation, we discovered that we both loved reading fantasy and Wild West fiction -- particularly books like TRUE GRIT that features a kid MC with a heart of gold. We also discovered that we both wanted to write exciting adventure stories of our own. I pitched a small concept about a dark outlaw and a posse of orphans to Louis, and he started tossing out the coolest, most surprising ideas. We met a few more times at local restaurants and coffee shops to swap notes, and very quickly we came up with the initial plotting for LEGENDS. Our story was so intriguing to us, even after Louis moved across the country to Idaho, we continued to work with each other online, passing draft chapters and revision notes and series ideas back and forth. We haven't stopped since.
Favorite classic MG:
Louis: I grew up reading MG science fiction and fantasy books such as ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card, FARMER IN THE SKY by Robert Heinlein, and in later years (of course) the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Brad: Growing up I was always a massive fan of Robert Arthur Jr.’s THE THREE INVESTIGATORS. The series followed the adventures of three junior detectives named Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews. I still read The Three Investigators to this day. I also greatly love Jack London’s THE CALL OF THE WILD (published by our very own book family, Macmillan!)
Favorite recent MG:
Louis: My favorite recents are books by Neil Gaiman including THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, CORALINE,and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.
Brad: I’ve had the privilege of reading some fantastic 2018 MG titles. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Tae Keller’s THE SCIENCE OF BREAKABLE THINGS, as well as THE LAND OF YESTERDAYby K.A. Reynolds. I’m also a big fan of the BARTIMAEUS SEQUENCE by Jonathan Stroud.
One thing most people don't know about you:
Louis: I’m a collector of tabletop role-playing game rulebooks. RPG rulebooks can be as thick as 300 pages, but I love to flip through them and read different sets of rules. On occasion, I get to play some of these games (like Dungeons and Dragons), but most of my games’ rules will never be played – yet I’ll still keep reading them!
Brad: Let’s see. I can whistle and hum at the same time (which makes me sound a bit like a robot). Also, one time I left a page of poetry at the grave of my favorite poet, W.B. Yeats, at Drumcliffe Church in County Sligo, Ireland. I wonder if he ever read it ...
Where to find you online:
Louis: I’m not currently easy to find online. I’m signed up on Twitter @louisnsylvester, but I rarely visit or post there.
Brad: Folks can visit me at www.bradmcbooks.com; or they can follow me on Twitter @bradmcbooks, and on Instagram @bradmclelland. I’m a little easier to spot than my super-secret cohort, Louis.
Brad McLelland was born and raised in Arkansas and worked as a crime journalist in the South before earning his MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. A part-time drummer and singer, Brad lives in Oklahoma with his wife, stepdaughter, a mini-Aussie who gives hugs, and a chubby cat who begs for ham.
Louis Sylvester is a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He earned his PhD from Oklahoma State University. He enjoys playing tabletop games from his collection of over 1,000 card and board games, watching western films, reading fantasy novels, and spending time with his wife and two dogs.
Author of THE STRANGE AND DEADLY PORTRAIT OF BRIONY GRAY (Random House)
About your book & what inspired it: I've always loved Oscar Wilde. Especially his, PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. I've always been taken by the idea behind the story (a weird, haunted portrait that lets you live forever? Sold!) so I wanted to do a spooky, MG spin on the tale.
Favorite classic MG: I love everything by Roald Dahl, and I grew up reading as much Enid Blyton as I could get my hands on. A few years back I discovered Diana Wynne Jones and I truly wish I'd known about her books as a child, I would have loved them.
Favorite recent MG: I recently read CUCKOO SONG, by Frances Hardinge, which was clever and creepy and fantastic. Hardinge is, in my opinion, a true genius. All her books are an automatic buy for me.
One thing most people don't know about you: If you follow my Instagram, this won't come as a shock exactly, but I’m sort of obsessed with witches. I love witch books, movies, TV shows. Anything and everything.
Where to find you online: You can find me on both Instagram and Twitter as @ELatimerWrites or at my website: www.elatimer.com
E. Latimer is a MG/YA fantasy writer who was born and raised in Victoria, BC. While she's not writing books, she makes silly vlogs with the YA Word Nerds about writing and reads excessively. Her middle grade gothic fantasy, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is coming out from Tundra Books in Spring of 2018.
Author of THE STUPENDOUS ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY MARTY HAYES (HenschelHAUS Publishing)
About your book & what inspired it: My son, William was my inspiration for the novel. I’ve always loved adventure stories. I combined multicultural superheroes, with a love of science and spy gadgets, added a dash of American Civil Rights and spy history, and voila! THE STUPENDOUS ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY MARTY HAYES was born.
Favorite classic MG: My two favorite childhood books were PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren, and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl.
Favorite recent MG: I walked into an indie bookstore in Madison, Wis. to buy T.H.U.G., and a young store clerk steered me to THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill. It turned out to be a great selection. I loved it and Barnhill just won the 2017 Newbery Medal.
One thing most people don't know about you: I’m planning to visit the world through artist and writer residencies. To date, I’ve been selected for the Noepe Center for the Literary Arts, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. (twice); CAMAC Centre d’Art, Marnay-sur-Seine, France; Write on Door County, Sturgeon Bay, Wis.; and Cassis Artist Residency in Cassis, France.
Lora Hyler began her career as a journalist, and corporate communications manager, and in 2001, founded her own public relations and marketing company. She’s thrilled to debut her first middle grade novel, the first in a three-part series, and plans to get the books in the hands of children of all colors.
Today we are excited to feature illustrator Hui Li, who won first place in Kidlit411's banner contest! Her winning entry will be displayed on our website and Facebook group for the month of March.
Tell us about yourself & how you came to illustrate.
I am always driven by curiosity. When I was four, I saw someone performing writing with a giant soft brush on thin paper. I didn’t know how to write at that time, but I was totally attracted by the flow of lines. “I want to learn that!” I went home and begged my mother. Soon I became an apprentice of this art of balancing. When I was older I began to learn perception and composition from my father, who was a professional photographer. Visual art has become an indivisible part of my life ever since.
In college, I became fascinated with the driving force of the universe and majored in science. Graduate study took my knowledge on this aspect to a slightly deeper level, yet I realized at the same time how much I didn’t know. The laws of physics can or have the potential to explain a large number of phenomenon, but not necessarily how human society works. So I began to explore it through an interesting way — my paintings.
Very soon I found out while I was painting, I like setting up environments, giving clues to describe a concept or an event, and sometimes with fun characters. It naturally led me to illustration. More specifically, illustrations for children’s literacy. I was immediately lost in this creative world. It is a great fit for my interest in visual art, my personality, the fact that I’ve been writing and publishing stories since childhood, and the hope that I can one day introduce kids to an amazing world from a different perspective. Imaging all the great things we can do with children’s books! After taking several classes, I decided to move to NYC and began this exciting journey.
You have a PhD in Computational Chemistry. How does your science background influence your creating process, if at all?
Computational Chemistry is an interdisciplinary field in which we develop and use computational techniques to answer questions in science.
Yes, it definitely influenced my creating process. It’s like carrying experiments. Collect information, generating draft, revising for several iterations until the picture works. I ask a lot of questions. If I get abstract feedbacks such as “it feels good/weird”, I will go a step further to find out the exact reason, so that I can work more on my weakness intentionally.
I also like summarizing. There was a time I was quite confused about what makes a good children’s book. So I checked out hundreds of books from local library and wrote reviews to delineate why or not the illustration/story works, then compared my reviews to those on GoodReads to see what I failed to consider. It’s been very helpful for my creating process, as the guidelines in my head is getting more and more clear.
3. Congrats on winning our banner contest! How do you approach an illustration assignment like this one?
Thank you! I think I am really lucky, because there are so many great pieces in the contest showcase.
For this project, I started by thinking about the function of the banner. A few factors I considered include the mission of kidlit411.com and the user groups it serves. To illustrate them I had birds chitchatting, reading, writing and singing. I also wanted to give the birds personalities to make the banner visually interesting.
Then I sketched digitally and played around with composition, characters and texts to see what would work. This is the stage where creativity happens and it is a lot of fun. Once I am good with the drafts, I tested on a small piece of paper the color palette and values. Then transferred the design to a larger scale illustration with watercolor and colored pencils. I made digital editing afterwards.
What is your preferred medium and way of illustrating?
I use watercolor a LOT, sometimes colored pencils, gouache and digital tools. I love the textures, the randomness and the surprises that traditional medium can bring. At the same time, I always have this battle going on in my head, as there is a voice telling me not to be too emotionally attached to one medium. Just to pick up whatever tool that is efficient and effective. Emm ... That voice also gives me the best excuse to stop at an art store and pick up new products!
I recently illustrated several children’s science books called CURIOUS KIDS.A very fun project soon to be published in educational market by Nomad press.
This January, I was very lucky to have my book dummies win the 2018 Writing with the Stars Contest (organized by Tara Luebbe), in the author/illustrator category. There is one book I am going to polish with my mentors Melissa Iwai and Denis Markell through the contest. I am also working back and forth between a few other stories and am constantly trying to improve my illustration skills.
Congrats on all of your recent successes! What is one thing most people don't know about you?
When I was doing research and examining molecules, I like thinking there are tiny creatures living on atoms, just like we live on earth. They send out signals to the “universe” to search for “aliens,” while the signals are too weak to detect by human technologies. I never told my colleagues as it is not so “scientific,” but sure it is a lot of fun to imagine!
Hui Li is a children's book author/illustrator. She became an apprentice of Chinese traditional calligraphy since four and is ranked 9 dan (the highest rank). She had developed a strong interest of how particles/people interacting by practicing this art of balancing.
Hui received a PhD Degree from the University of Chicago. She had published on world’s leading science journals, including Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. With a profound understanding of the building particles of the universe, she wanted to explore more of the world with pens and brushes, and have positive influence on people’s daily lives. She moved to NYC to pursue this dream. Hui is now devoted to writing and illustrating. She had illustrated a series of science picture books for children. The book dummies she wrote won the 2018 Writing with the Stars Contest in the author/illustrator category. Hui’s apartment is full of succulent plants.
Lizzy Sherman has brought home strays before. Plenty of cats and a one-eyed poodle. But never a human. And not without her parents knowing. Living in the small town of East Thumb Maine on top of her family’s diner, twelve-year-old Lizzy copes with the pain of loss by searching for signs to guide her and perhaps, guarantee her, a bump-free path through life. If only she can figure out what those signs are trying to tell her— whether it’s a funny-shaped cloud, the ice cubes in her glass of water floating into the shape of a smile, or a heart-shaped puddle of spilled juice.
When Lizzy and her best friend Joss meet a troubled runaway, Lizzy discovers there is something unique about this girl and hides her inside her home, convinced that she is good luck and can protect Lizzy and her family from another tragedy. But what she offers Lizzy turns out to be far greater than luck. With a balance of humor and heart, Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl is a story about loss, love, family and friendship; and at its core, the awesome power of hope.
We are super excited for this book to be released in the fall of this year, and you can snag yourself a copy as soon as it is released by entering the Rafflecopter below!
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About Susan Susan grew up in the snowy city of Bangor Maine. When she wasn’t building award-worthy snow forts and making snow angels, she spent a lot of time reading. Susan also liked writing poems and stories. She wrote her very first picture book, Fredfoot the Frog, in second grade. Although it did not get published, she did receive a “great job” sticker from her teacher.