Marvelous Cornelius

This month I’m spotlighting Marvelous Cornelius, the creation of Phil Bildner and John Parra, with a book giveaway!


****Goodreads Giveaway Details Below****


I love how the book joyfully celebrates the life of an extraordinary garbage man, working in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

My son thought that Cornelius–the singing, dancing, and hooting garbage man–looked like a giant on the cover, which I think must have been intentional. I told him that anyone can seem like a giant if you look at them closely enough and it’s true. This is a wonderful story about an everyday hero who came to New Orleans’ rescue in its darkest hour, just by being himself!


Usually for a blog post I interview the artist or author, but Dionna Mann just hosted the most amazing six day blog party for Marvelous Cornelius, so I’m going to point you in that direction! When you are done reading all her marvelous interviews I know you will want to click the link below and enter to win one copy of Marvelous Cornelius, signed by the artist, on goodreads!


An Interview With John Parra (a marvelous illustrator)

An Interview With Phil Bildner (a marvelous author)

An Interview With Melissa Manlove (an extraordinary editor)

An Interview With Ryan Hayes (a most amazing art director)

An Interview With Angie Arnett (a laudable librarian and her 4th grade team)

Greg Pizzoli on TRICKY VIC

I’m so pleased to welcome Greg Pizzoli to the Nonficiton Nook!


Greg is the Geisel Award winning author and illustrator of funny, spectacularly designed, and visually stunning picture books for very young readers. His first non-fiction picture book, TRICKY VIC, is as slick as his con-artist protagonist. In TRICKY VIC Robert Miller, AKA “Count Victor Lustig,” uses a string of aliases across the world, sells the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal in France, and even cons the infamous Al Capone in Chicago. The sly humor, stunning design, and real world villainy of Robert Miller in TRICKY VIC is sure to thrill young readers.

After reading my interview with Greg, if you still need more convincing, you can sneak a peek at my goodreads review. But if you’ve already been conned, simply add a comment to the interview post to enter to win one of two signed copies of Tricky Vic!


1. Hi Greg! Does your interest in conmen go back to your own childhood? Did you know about Robert Miller before you began to research this book, or did you go hunting for the perfect conman character?

Great question! Like most kids, I was really into the idea of getting away with things. Although I don’t know if I ever even heard the term “con-artist” until high school. But I was always super interested in books that catalogued people like Al Capone, John Dillinger, etc. with a photo and maybe a paragraph about their worst crimes. I ate those up.

I first heard about “Count Victor Lustig” in 2008 or 2009 while in graduate school. I went hunting for nonfiction stories because it seemed like a different kind of challenge than the work I was doing at the time. It took another three years or so and lots of luck before I conned Viking into publishing it. I didn’t find out his real name was Robert Miller until I started researching the book in earnest in 2013.


2. Did you learn anything interesting about Robert Miller that didn’t make it into the book. I’m asking for the grownups in the room. Don’t hold out on us!

The best stuff is in the book! We did very little sanitizing to make the book more “kid-friendly” – a term I despise – and we didn’t hide any of the good stuff.

That being said, some stuff didn’t make it into the book either because the cons weren’t quite as dramatic or the pay-off wasn’t that great. One of the cons we cut was a “trick” where Miller convinced a banker he wanted to buy a bank-owned farm, and through literal sleight-of-hand, switched some envelopes in the banker’s office and walked out with $10,000. That’s impressive to be sure, but it doesn’t showcase the same kind of ingenuity he displayed in his other cons.

I will say that there is a secret* in the book for anyone interested enough to hunt a bit. I think of it as a nice surprise for the readers who really devour the book and want to see Miller from all angles.

*This is a part of the secret brilliance of Greg’s illustration. The pictures can be read just as deeply as the words. I love the spread (shown below) that illustrates the knife fight, because it displays how the book balances the inclusion of real and uncensored details with interesting (but not gruesome) illustrations.


I think it’s great that you picked out the playing card image as a favorite – it’s one of my favorites, too. I had a lot of fun sneaking small details into this book and I think that image in particular speaks to that – for example, Vic as the “joker” card is pretty obvious maybe, but then having the queen be the woman he’s wooing over the poker table, and the jack being the man who slashed his face. Vic’s holding flowers towards the queen and cards towards the jack. Maybe it’s obvious to some people, maybe some people won’t even notice it, but adding little details makes it a lot more fun for me. Oh! And the lipstick on Vic’s card, too, that’s another example.


3. TRICKY VIC strikes me as the kind of book that kids will pass around among themselves, whisper about, maybe even hide (while we all watch them sideways and smile). Do remember any books like this from your childhood?

I love this question! It would be great if readers thought that reading this book meant that they were getting away with something.

But I have to be honest – while I do remember CDs and video games (with profanity or violence) getting passed around as you describe – I don’t remember any books that weren’t fair game.

4. I think school visits with this book are going to be a lot of fun! Do you have anything tricky up your sleeve? Will you be teaching confidence tricks, sleight of hand, making up aliases?

All of those things! Kids are all (or, ok, mostly) natural cons and tricksters anyway, and it will be fun to engage with them in a way that encourages those tendencies – and maybe help kindle some interest in nonfiction that’s different from what they typically see or read. 

5. I know you have another nonfiction title in the works, about a jungle explorer—can you tell me anything interesting about that? Like does anyone get eaten by a jaguar, laid up with a mysterious jungle fever, or get lost FOREVER?

Yes! Thanks! I don’t want to give too much away – but yes, another book is in the works – and it’s about an explorer – there are jaguars, anacondas, and cannibals – I’m working on it now and it will hit shelves later next year.

Voila. There you have it folks.

Tricky Vic & the brilliant con-artist Greg Pizzoli!

Readers who want to know even more about Greg’s process for creating TRICKY VIC can sneak on over to the Seven Impossible Things blog. Greg says, “My dream for this book—besides, ya know, ten million copies sold—is that some kid who maybe is dreading yet another book report on a goody-goody President “who never told a lie” can pick up Tricky Vic and write a biography of the man who conned Al Capone.” I’m pretty sure this book is going to make Greg’s dream come true in spades (because they are cleverly hidden up his own sleeve).

If you want to win one of two signed copies of TRICKY VIC just add a comment to the interview below. I’ll announce the lucky marks on March 10, 2015.



Today I’m posting double interviews with debut picture book author Dianne White & Caldecott medal winning illustrator Beth Krommes. I’ll be giving away two copies of their new book, BLUE ON BLUE, signed by both the author and the artist!*


BLUE ON BLUE is a thing of beauty! Dianne’s graceful and spare poem of a stormy day is the like the sound of rain on a roof, rhythmic, comforting, and thrilling. Beth’s visual world is the earth on which that rain falls. The book, pictures and words together, is a house, a cozy world where family, childhood, and home are connected with the wonder of the natural world.

I was so pleased to ask Beth and Dianne each three questions about BLUE on BLUE and since picture books usually begin with the words, I’ll start with Dianne:

Dianne White

1. Dianne, your perfect little poem only gives the slightest hint of the child’s story in the words “Singing, swinging outdoor play,” but I imagine you had your own visual story of the child’s rainy day. I wonder how much of that you shared with the publisher and how much of what you imagined, but didn’t share, made it, magically, into Beth’s intricate art?

When I write, I often do have some sort of vague image possibilities floating in my head. But in the case of BLUE on BLUE, I don’t recall giving much thought to it because the story came quickly and in its entirety. As such, it wasn’t a manuscript I labored over in the way that I have most others.

In one of my first classes in writing for children years ago, I was told that the author’s job, once a book has been acquired, is to step aside and let the illustrator bring her vision and narrative to the text, and the editor, her wealth of knowledge and experience. So when I got the news that Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books wanted to acquire the book, and Beth Krommes would illustrate, I was over the moon. I’d greatly admired the books Allyn had published over the years and I’d been a fan of Beth’s work since I first encountered it in her illustrations of Phyllis Root’s, Grandmother Winter. I knew, on all counts, that BLUE on BLUE had been placed in the very best of hands.

But to answer your question directly – No, I didn’t share thoughts on illustrations. Beth was kind enough to share the initial sketches/dummy of the book once she began working. And of course, they were as wonderful as I knew they would be! But when I saw the final images – ohhh! They were glorious. And the colors! All of my favorites. It was like receiving a most beautiful and exquisite gift.

Glitter stars

2. In your words there is a dance between the simple beauty of a child’s experience, of mud and outdoor play, that then expands upward to encompass a more extraordinary appreciation for the natural world. In doing that you link the mundane, earthly beauty of childhood to the twinkling of stars—something quite heavenly. I see this again and again in Beth’s work, and I’m guessing it’s one of the reasons you two were paired on this book. My question is, where do you think that comes from? From where inside you does that spring?

That’s a fascinating observation, and it makes me very happy to know that the connection between the ordinary, mundane things of life with the extraordinary beauty of our world comes across in both words and illustrations. It wasn’t by conscious intention on my part, but it’s something I find myself more and more fascinated by – how amazing our world is and how important it is to pay attention to “small moments” and even smaller things.

3. Would you please share a favorite rainy day memory from your childhood?

One of my favorite memories is of the sound of the rain pounding on the corrugated roof over the indoor garden of our family’s home in the Philippines. It was loud and exciting, and echoed throughout the entire house! More recently, in Arizona, we’ve experienced pounding, hounding, noisy-sounding thunderstorms such as we’d never known for all the years we spent in Southern California. These sudden bursts blow over fairly quickly, but I still find myself fascinated, and often stand on the patio or porch taking photos and video.

Thank you, Dianne & happy first book birthday!


Now it’s Beth’s turn:

beth1. Beth, when you read Dianne’s poem how much of the visual story came quickly, and how much was developed over a longer period? When my son and I read this book we spent time finding his favorite things: the kitties, the turtles, the tractors. Do you put those little spot illustrations in instinctively, or have you learned what children love to hunt for over the course of your career?

Fairfield PorterI wrote at least six pages of notes after reading Dianne’s manuscript, dissecting every word of the text. For example, I wrote down “cotton”, then listed everything I could think of about cotton: plant, white, fluffy, shirts, sheets, white laundry on a line, etc. After analyzing each word, I wondered who needs to watch the weather? Pilots, sailors, farmers. I thought about what kind of animals might react in advance to a storm. Dogs, birds, horses, among others. Who likes to play in the mud? Children, dogs, ducks, pigs. Who doesn’t like mud? Parents, farmers. I thought about everything to do with water: the journey from rain to sea, sheets of rain, ocean, river, stream, raindrops, faucet, tub, pitcher, baptism, bathing, drinking, cooking, cleaning, reflections, etc. After tons of brainstorming, the characters and setting started to come into focus for me.

Grant WoodI looked at the work of two of my favorite artists for inspiration: Fairfield Porter, especially his painting “Island Farmhouse”, and Grant Wood for his painting “Spring Turning”.

I’ve been told many times by parents that their children love to hunt for things in my pictures, so I always include lots of fun details, especially animals.


2. Over and over again in your art I notice that same sensitivity that is present in Dianne’s poem, that ability to link the experience of childhood, the earthly acts reading, playing, and snuggling, with an expansive, birds-eye wonderment of the natural world. So where you think that comes from inside you? From a person, an experience, a place…

I’m not sure where that comes from. I’m from a Lutheran family and have attended church for most of my life. I love to ponder the beauty and mystery of the world. I’m also an art lover. Museums are holy places to me.

3. Would you please share a favorite rainy day memory from your childhood?

I have many cozy memories of watching rainstorms from a safe place indoors, such as through a screen door. My best mud memory, though, is when my friend Ann lost one of her brand new penny loafers the day before fifth grade started, when we climbed a huge mud mountain in the construction site behind her house. That shoe was sucked right off her foot, never to be found again. It was the darndest thing.

Beth was kind enough to send along some process pictures which show the transformation from tiny thumbnails, to finished sketches, to scratchboard, to the final full-color art!

progression 1 progression 2 progression 3progression 4Blue p4-5 PP*The BLUE ON BLUE book giveaway contest is closed!*

To read more about Dianne:

To read more about Beth:

The Kite That Bridged Two Nations



Today I’m posting my interview with Alexis O’Neil, one of my favorite picture book people! Writers, readers, librarians, and teachers all love her. She’s our Southern California school visit expert and an SCBWI Emeritus Regional Advisor! Her blog, School Visit Experts, guides writers and illustrators in developing meaningful, memorable, and fun school visits, helping them to develop their own fan base. She’s loud, she’s fun, and she’s fabulous! Here we go…

1. Hi Alexis, at my house we love your book, Loud Emily, but shhh — this blog is just for nonfiction. So, very quietly, can you tell us one FACT you uncovered while writing Loud Emily?

I had to uncover LOTS of facts for this tall tale adventure. For example, I looked at a map of where wealthy merchants and sea captains might have lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts to determine if Emily could have walked down to Front Street fairly easily. I also studied whale migration. There’s a line in the book that reads, “They [the whales] hastened from Baja, they raced down from Iceland, they speeded their way from the tip of Cape Horn.” These are all real migration routes. I found books with authentic sailing language and used phrases liberally. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons that Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut loves my book!) Also, the end papers have bit of actual sea chanties sung by sailors in the 19th century (and even today).  At the end of the book, the illustrator Nancy Carpenter and I both included historical notes. So, as you can see, there’s a need for research even in fictional stories!

2. The Kite that Bridged Two Nations is about a boy who gets to be a part of building a great bridge, which I think is such a powerful fact to share with kids. What do kids ask you when you tell them the story? I kind of wonder, do they tell you about their own accomplishments?

I think that this would be wonderful to do – thanks for the suggestion! What I do want kids to know is that an ordinary boy, Homan Walsh, earned an extraordinary place in American and Canadian history by doing what he loved to do.  For him it happened to be flying kites. But I hope this book inspires kids to think about what they know how to do well – or want to learn how to do well – and persist at that skill until they feel confident.

3. So I know you are a school visit expert. I feel like you must have quite a roadshow. Have you done many visits for the new book? What’s your act like?

Roadshow? Love that image! All I need is a bus, roadies and a country song!

Since the Kite book came out in September, I’ve been doing all different kinds of presentations: school visits, family fest events, social club talks, bookstore appearances, library programs, conference sessions, TV interviews and more. Each presentation is tailored to a particular audience’s needs, but I use many of the same set of props and images to help me tell the story. That presentation “story” might be about Homan Walsh himself (the kite flier), or about how the book came to be written, or how to use research skills to find and shape a story’s “voice.” And I always try to bring someone up out of the audience to become my main character which I do by dressing him in a cap and scarf and then handing him his kite, Union. This 3-D treatment helps make the presentation memorable.

Alexis, thanks for playing along!

To see more of Terry Widener’s lovely art, full of truth and heart, click here!




***Book Giveaway Details*** CONTEST CLOSED ***Book Giveaway Details***

Today I’m posting my interview with Patricia Hruby Powell, author of Josephine. Josephine is a verse picture book biography and I’m in absolute book love! This book has beauty, fun, fire, heart, and truth. It’s a visionary picture book. It’s perfect.

Just look & listen:

On the opening page Patricia writes, “America wasn’t ready for Josephine, the colored superstar. PARIS WAS.” Well, I think this book is a superstar too and yep, there are going to be some readers who are not ready for it. In the video above I showed you a page that details young Josephine’s experience in an East Saint Louis race riot. Patricia uses the words murder and rape in a book intended for 7-10 year olds. Those are big words, I know. But Josephine was a LITTLE girl when she heard them, and I believe the BIG star with the BIGGER heart that she became cannot be described without using them in the book. I also love that the beauty of Josephine’s life, and of this book, cannot be sullied or denied because of those words written on one page of a life. A strong and important message for young girls. Even seven year olds.

I’m so pleased that Patricia was willing to be interviewed! Here we go…

1. Hi Patricia! First of all, I think the book is absolutely AMAZING, words, pictures, design — it is a superbly put together book. I’m in love with it and I’m in love with Josephine. She moved me to tears. But the book is unique, unusual, maybe even going to be controversial. When you wrote the beautiful verse text did you envision it as an illustrated book for 7-10 year olds?

I first wrote Josephine as a 1000 word picture book. After getting editorial feedback at a workshop, I re-wrote it for a young adult audience in verse envisioning black and white drawings inspired by Paul Colin’s poster art. (Never mind that no such format really exists). Submitted that way, I was asked by Chronicle Books to cut the word count down from 7500 words to 3000 words and delete the more adult parts. I sold that Josephine, a 3500 word piece, and then my visionary editor started adding stanzas from the 7500 word manuscript back in—or asking me to do that. So the piece evolved.

2. I read Josephine to my seven-year old, who hadn’t learned the words rape or murder yet, and I have some thoughts on why keeping those words in is so important (see above). How do you hope the book gets read? Why did you choose to keep those words in?

I wrote, “WHITE RABBLE-ROUSERS spread lies—said Negroes were invading white neighborhoods/ to steal, rape, and murder. White folks got scared.  Those ugly rumors incited some white folks/ to beat, murder, and burn BLACK EAST SAINT LOUIS.”

Those lies were the ugliest scariest terms that whites could conjure up. If you analyze it to its core, the fear of black men sexually forcing themselves on white women, nothing could be more frightening—more debasing—to a white racist. And that’s what the rumor-mongers wanted—to scare and incite a riot. It worked. It’s history. It has happened throughout history and continues today.

I’d explain it to kids when they asked. And of course that’s done differently for each child, for each parent, for each classroom, and teacher.

3. You are a dancer too, just like Josephine. What did you learn about her when doing your research that really spoke to you as a dancer?

When I saw footage of the young Josephine Baker dancing I was smitten. She was wild, original—she was unique. She improvised herself. That is, her dancing was her personality. And that personality was charming, flirtatious, joyous, on fire.

Patricia, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and congratulations on such a beautiful, visionary book!

❤ Robin



PS – to see more of Christian Robinson’s amazing art check out his interview on the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog!

***Book Giveaway Details*** CONTEST CLOSED ***Book Giveaway Details***

Interview with Terry Pierce


Banquet_187To celebrate my interview with author, Terry Pierce, I will be giving away two signed copies of her book, BLACKBERRY BANQUET! The book is a fun, cumulative, rhyming tale about all the woodland critters who share one blackberry bush. You can enter to win by commenting on the blog post any time during December. If you are a subscriber to the blog, or become one, I will count your entry twice!

1. Hi Terry! I love that you wrote BLACKBERRY BANQUET in rhymed verse. Does the poetic structure you used in the book have a name? How can we write a poem like yours?

Thank you, Robin! Great question! BLACKBERRY BANQUET uses a cumulative story structure, where the story builds to a point and then subtracts from itself. As far as the rhyming form goes, the overall structure doesn’t have a name; I developed the pattern as I rewrote the story in rhyme.

I opened with a quatrain (four lines) with the second and fourth lines rhyming, but then switched to a rhyming couplet (two lines) with a building text that followed each couplet (this is the part where the animals make their sounds). I purposefully broke the pattern when the bear appears to reflect a change in the plot. After that, I used single sentences (with alliteration and/or assonance) to reflect the ensuing chaos at the blackberry bush. The ending comes full circle with a final quatrain that is similar to the opening.

As far as how to write a story-poem like mine, this might sound odd but sometimes (for the sake of creative experimentation) when I want to try a new poetry form, I experiment by finding an existing poem that I like and then I try to rewrite it (down to the same syllables and accents) but using a completely different subject. For example, if you want to write a story-poem similar to that used in BLACKBERRY BANQUET, start by trying to rewrite the opening of the story but using a different story premise:

In a wee green wood

Near a stream so blue

Grows a blackberry bush

Shining bright with dew.

Here’s a quick example I just wrote up:

In the deep dark sea

In a world so black

Swims a firefly squid

Hunting for a snack.

You get the idea! It’s a fun method to experiment with words and poetic forms.

2. How is writing in rhyme different for you than writing in prose? Do you use different tools, or write in a different place?

Writing in rhyme and writing in prose begin the same way, but soon take a different turn! No matter what, I always start by roughly storyboarding my idea to make sure I have enough distinct scenes required for a 32-page picture book. After that, I write the story in prose. This is an important step in writing in rhyme because it’s so very easy to get carried away with rhyming and lose sight of the story itself. Once I have the prose draft, I then decide if the story should be written in rhyme (not all stories work in rhyme—in fact, most stories work best in prose).

Once I decide to go forward with the rhyme then I will use the prose draft as a sort of “roadmap” during the writing process, to keep me on track so I don’t get swept away with the fun of writing in rhyme (because it IS fun—much like working out a word puzzle). I do keep a rhyming dictionary on hand but try not to rely upon it too much. I also like to “test” my rhyme and rhythm by walking while reading my work aloud. It’s amazing how you can feel it in your feet when the rhythm is off!

Writing in rhyme can be a tricky venture and is harder to do than it appears. This is one reason why I offered to teach a new course for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, “Writing in Rhyme for Young Children.” The debut 8-week course will be offered this winter from Jan. 15- March 5.

3. What are you writing next? Is it about animals, like BLACKBERRY BANQUET, or about kids, like your book TAE KWON DO!?

I’m currently working on another easy reader about two insect friends. It’s a simple emergent-level story that I’m hoping new readers will enjoy the friendship between the two unique animals.

Thanks so much, Terry & good luck to everybody!

TerryBlackberry2010Terry Pierce is the author of 17 children’s books, including Blackberry Banquet, Tae Kwon Do! and the award-winning series, Mother Goose Rhymes. Her easy reader, Tae Kwon Do! was named on the Bank Street College Best Books of 2007. Terry holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is an instructor for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. For more information, please visit her website at:

P.S. – Here is a little friend, checking out my favorite spread! Even upside down, there is no way that is a frown!


Charlie Russell, Tale-Telling Cowboy Artist

Russell Book Cover LVHarris where_the_best_of_riders_quit

Hi everybody! Today I’m interviewing Lois Harris, author of Charlie Russell, Tale-Telling Cowboy Artist. She’s written three lovely biographies of North American artists, perfect for use in the classroom. Charlie is a wonderfully appealing character, a painter, sculptor, and storyteller. I love that when he went west to be a cowboy he brought along a tin of beeswax for making little figures. I was so inspired I tried my hand at a little wax sculpting too!

1. Hi Lois, you have written three books about artists, which makes me wonder, are you an artist too?

I’m not a visual artist, but I’ve enjoyed looking at art since I was a girl and spent many Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Many of my friends are artists. I like being with creative people.

2. Do you have a favorite Charles Russell painting, sculpture, or story?


When I was researching for my book, I visited Montana where Charlie lived most of his life. In Helena, the state capitol, I saw the original oil painting of Laugh Kills Lonesome at the Montana Historical Society. Charlie was a working cowboy and his picture tells a story. It’s a moonlit night after a long day herding cattle, and cowboys gather round a crackling campfire under the big starry Montana sky. The firelight throws light on the cowboys and a horse while the cook wipes a pot. You can imagine someone is telling a funny story like Charlie used to. He was a great storyteller. He chose Laugh Kills Lonesome as the painting title because those cowboys weren’t lonely when they laughed and shared stories. I liked this picture so much, I selected it for a double spread (two pages) in my book.

3. Is there an interesting fact about Charlie that is not in the book?

Charlie became a famous artist, and his paintings and sculptures sold for a lot of money in Europe, Canada, and America. He could have lived anywhere, but he chose to stay in Montana. Charlie liked nothing better than getting together with his old friends. Charlie did not let fame or money change him and knew what made him happy.


  • Comment! In the comments section write the name of your favorite local museum.
  • Museum visit! Take your kids to visit a museum, ANY museum, and send me a picture of the back of your kiddo’s head, an excited pointed hand, or just let them pick their favorite piece in the gallery (we call this one ‘Favorite in the Room’) and send a pic of that to
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