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)

They Just Know: Animal Instincts

Today I’m interviewing Laurie Allen Klein, illustrator of THEY JUST KNOW, ANIMAL INSTINCTS. Her new book explores how some young animals just know what to do without any help. The book has all sorts of fun indulging the way kids THINK animals grow up… before setting them beautifully straight. And like all Arbordale books, the For Creative Minds section at the end of the book contains printable activities on animal instincts, learned behaviors, life cycles, and metamorphosis!

You can enter to win a copy of your own on Goodreads by clicking the book’s cover below!



Hi Laurie, it’s so exciting to interview you for the Nonfiction Nook! Usually when interviewing illustrators, I try to be a little more professional and removed, but since YOUR book is OUR book I feel like doing a little dance.

Hooray & welcome!!!!!!!!

The very first work of yours for the book I got to see was the fully sketched dummy as a pdf, and I was so pleased and excited. The way you go back and forth between humorous anthropomorphic and beautiful realistic spreads was EXACTLY what I had envisioned. Now, we never chatted while the book was being created, I never said (even to our editor), I want one spread to look like this and another to look like that, which is a fact nervous authors out there might appreciate. So, I wonder, how and when did you decide to give the book that visual rhythm?

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.26.42 AMInterestingly enough, when I first read the manuscript I had a whole different idea in mind, but to be fair, it was a real quick read.  I was in the midst of finishing another book when I got the e-mail from Arbordale asking if I would be interested in illustrating your story, so I read it through to get the gist of the narrative and subject matter.  The Basic theme was right up my alley in terms of subject matter so I quickly said yes, and then turned my attention back to the illustrations for the other book.

I knew, from that first quick read, that the book was naturalistic, depicting the different stages of development, and because most of the animals were relatively small (certainly their earliest phases were) I pictured the spreads being extreme close-up, with lots of realistic detail of each stage, while the background would be kind of blurry and out of focus.  So that was the basic idea I had in mind, and the direction I intended to take.

Fast forward to several weeks later.  I was giving a Book Talk to a 4th grade class. On this particular day I was showing the class the illustrations for the book I had just finished, but I happened to take your manuscript with me because I thought the kids might find it interesting to hear the story, without any art yet, and follow me through the entire illustration process from Start to Finish, Words to Pictures.
After we finished talking about the finished color illustrations for the previous book I read They Just Know to the class, suggesting they listen to the words and see what kinds of images came to their minds.  Now I need to stress – I hadn’t read the manuscript since that first day I got the e-mail, and beyond imagining a series of extreme natural/realistic close-ups I hadn’t had the opportunity to think about the book, so this was only the second time I’d actually read the words with any real concentration. Plus, I was reading to a class of 4th graders.

Eat Her leavesI’m sure I would have realized the anthropomorphic elements on my own when I sat down to seriously start work on the book, but I think reading the story aloud, to a class of elementary school students, really brought the anthropomorphic quality home.   I suddenly noticed the funny comparisons between human children and their animal counterparts and I was stunned!  It really took me by surprise, but even while I was reading, the creative gears were turning and a whole new visual direction began to materialize.

It was truly a “Eureka!” moment.

I read the story more closely then, and saw the distinct separation between anthropomorphic wording and the natural descriptions so I decided I would keep my realistic close-up approach for the nature-based passages but take a more humorous approach with the anthropomorphic sections. I grew up with Disney movies and my favorite children’s books have always been the ones where animals act like people, so this book gave me the chance to share all my childhood influences.

In some of the illustrations (especially on the funny spreads) there are sneakily hidden animal facts, things you would only know to include if you did a BUNCH of your own research. Do you do this to make the work fun for yourself, to make the book fun for kids… or both?

First and foremost, and the thing I like to stress at every Book Talk and School Presentation is – I absolutely love, love, LOVE doing research!  I enjoy looking up facts and reference pictures, the more information I discover the more I can put into an illustration.  And looking up information on one subject inevitably leads you to new, unexpected connections which—again—serve to make an illustration more visually rich and interesting. For me it helps take the story, and the illustrations, to a different level. The reader may not notice anything the first time, but my hope is that every time the story is read again new things will be discovered.

FlyAwayAnd I like to be as factual as possible. For example, in TJK, the first page describes a butterfly but doesn’t indicate what type of butterfly it is.  I could have just made up a generic sort of cartoony butterfly, but since I had to draw one anyway why not make it a real one. I purposely chose an Eastern Black Swallowtail because I liked the way the caterpillar and chrysalis looked.  Also, all the plants and flowers shown in the pictures are the kinds of Host Plants and Nectar Plants Eastern Black Swallowtails use.

So, what are some of the favorite things you learned and included in the illustrations?

Oh there are lots of things.  I had particular fun with the new butterfly learning to fly because my husband is a pilot, and our daughter took flying lessons, so all those books and charts are based on the things they both used in their training.

ANGLEROn the Horn Shark page I purposely showed the type of food Horn Sharks eat.  And I think one of my favorite images is the Angler Fish serving as a nightlight.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.28.41 AMFor the Ladybug pages – I had no idea a Ladybug goes through so many stages!  Illustrator trick short cut – I colored all the stages on the naturalistic page first, then made color copies of the ones I needed, cut them out, and glued them directly onto the leaf-bulletin board art on the anthropomorphic page so each stage would look exactly the same on both spreads.

Learn to LeapOn the Spring Peeper page – that is a real mathematical formula for frog jumping seen on the garden slate blackboard. Well, technically it’s a couple different formulas, I just put them all on the slate. This is my favorite detail in the whole book 🙂


Also I’m particularly fond of the look on the Mom Snake’s face (with her angry tapping “foot”) and the expressions on the two kid snakes.  SIDE NOTE: Did you notice they were playing Snakes and Ladders. Ha! Yes, indeed I did!

TheyJustKnow2Laurie, do you have any questions for me? What do illustrators always wish they could ask authors?

I guess my biggest question is – How difficult is it to see your words visually interpreted by a stranger?  Is it weird to see characters look different than you imagined when you were writing the story?

When I first started writing this was difficult for me (in all my imaginary books). I used to put ALL sorts of illustrator notes in my manuscripts. I can’t tell you when I stopped feeling this way… it just happened. I did imagine the visual rhythm in THEY JUST KNOW, but I decided that if I controlled the verbal rhythm in the manuscript well enough, that my vision might become yours. And it did!

I guess the follow up would be – Have you ever been completely surprised by the direction an illustrator took? Pleasantly or otherwise?

Yes! I just got to see the cover for my upcoming middle grade novel and I was VERY surprised. The book is about three kids that get into a midnight war with some stinky trike-riding skunks and an army of vicious raccoons (who did you think played on your neighborhood playground all night?). Anyway, the cover doesn’t [TOP SECRET – INFORMATION REDACTED] and the snarly raccoons on the cover? They’re [TOP SECRET – INFORMATION REDACTED]. Those were surprises, but to me they were wonderful ones. It was like the artist peeked into me, not just into the book, to create that cover! We are doing a reveal soon on the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog… I’ll keep you posted!

How do you decide what you want to write about, and the point of view you’re going to take?  I ask because my dream is to one day write (and illustrate) a story of my own, but when it comes to the actual writing part I get overwhelmed by all the narrative possibilities. First person, third person, memoir, chapters, picture book, first reader, young adult.

Oooh! What kind of book do you dream of?? Tell me later!

I don’t always consciously decide how I’m going to tell my story. The first thing that comes is a FEELING. I hear a kid say something, or I say something to a kid, and suddenly I can feel this quiet space between words and the story starts to become something real in my mind. THEY JUST KNOW started when my grandmother and daughter were pretending to be a mother and baby butterfly. I said, “Did you know, butterflies never meet their mothers?” My daughter’s eyes went wide, my grandmother made a different sort of face, maybe because I’d spoiled their fun game, and then there was quiet. My daughter waited expectantly for me to explain my audacious claim. That waiting, that wanting to know, is where I think my stories start. I do often explore different points of view and formats, but usually in a revision. When I’m writing I don’t worry about that stuff.

Not to mention, my bigger/biggest problem is – all the subjects that fascinate me. I have notebooks full of plot ideas and character descriptions, even snippets of dialogue, but then can never narrow down my topic. What calls to you first? The subject? The story? The style?

Ha! I do this too. I once wanted to write an entire book of poems about spiders (I love those little creeps so much), but I became overwhelmed with the possibilities. SO MANY AMAZING SPIDERS. I mean, just look at this little guy:


I knew I had to reign myself in, so I decided to write only about spiders that lived in the Sonoran Desert, but then I thought, WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER SONORAN ANIMALS, HUH??? So I had to put them in too and what began as a book about spiders has become a web of interacting poems about snakes and storms and pronghorn and javelina and a few spiders too.

And of course – Do you have a dream project you haven’t tackled yet?

Whatever I’m working on RIGHT NOW is my dream project! I have dreamt of rainbows and rosy boas and spiders, of skunks and raccoons and even little kids. Maybe sometime all of those dreams will become books. 😉

Thanks so much for answering my questions and for asking such amazing ones. I can’t wait until our book gets out there!

❤ Robin

TJK - First scribble notes (1)  TJK - Caterpillar - Black GrapeTJK-B'fly (1)729 copy 1-2_TJK copy

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.



Jeannie Brett is in the Nook today answering questions about her newest book!


WILD ABOUT BEARS came out in the spring and is an adorable nonfiction selection perfect for kids interested in up-to-date information about the eight bear species alive on earth today! ***The Nook is giving away a beautifully signed copy of the book  — after reading Jeannie’s interview just post a comment about your favorite bear species to enter to win! The giveaway winner will be announced on September 15th! (CONTEST CLOSED)***

1. Hi Jeannie! I had no idea there were only eight bear species on Earth! They are all amazing, but I have to ask… do you have a favorite bear species?

Ah, yes. I have been fascinated by the Spectacled bear for years! They are especially appealing with their facial markings that look like spectacles. You know, a bear wearing glasses! Someday I would love to visit the cloud forests of Peru and imagine that I spy a spectacled bear in its crudely made nest, way up in a tree munching on bromeliads. Most likely I wouldn’t see one because they are very shy and there are few left in the wild. But I can imagine!

pg 16 bears copy 016-017

2. You wrote AND illustrated WILD ABOUT BEARS, which makes me wonder: did you create bear sketches and paintings first or do your research and writing first?

I created rough sketches and also some detailed art when I worked on the concept of the book along with a bit of writing from my first batch of research information. The book went through many changes before becoming what it is today. It was a long process both with the illustrations, the research and editing. So to answer your question…I worked on both, back and forth.

brown bear IMG_0807 copy

3. When I got your book I was still under the impression that Panda Bears were not ‘true bears’ and I had to do a little research to confirm. I love how quickly science can change human understanding! Did you learn anything while researching that surprised YOU?

YES! I found that there was a lot of conflicting information about bears. I was lucky to meet a bear conservation expert and the executive director of Great Bear Foundation (a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the eight species of bears and their habitat around the world). She graciously was willing to check my bear facts. It was incredibly helpful to have people in the know check my facts AND my illustrations! My publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing also does a thorough job fact checking.


4. I LOVE your illustrated habitat index in the back of the book. Where did that idea come from?

Being a visual thinker I have always been a fan of illustrated glossaries. Originally I had a glossary filled with flora and fauna of the different bear habitats. It was a bit much. I tend to get carried away with detail. I do think it’s a great way for kids to get more information from a book and have a springboard to other research.

My son was a reader of non-fiction when he was in elementary school. I think he would have loved the glossary in Wild About Bears when he was a boy.


5. What do kids ALWAYS want to know when you do school visits?

First of all, I LOVE visiting schools! It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with the kids that read my books. Sharing my books, art and love for nature and animals is a thrill for me. I always learn something new from the students as well.

What do kids ask? They always ask if I will draw for them. “You bet!” is my answer.

The other question that kids always ask is, “Are you related to Jan Brett?” Proudly, I answer, “YES! She is my sister.”

6. I know you are doing a book on decorated horses next — can you give us a peek?

Yes! Decorated Horses will make its debut in the spring of 2015. The wonderful Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is the author. I finished the illustrations in late spring of 2014. I can’t wait to see it in printed book form.


I loved drawing horses as a child and I still do. I spent a lot of time researching for my illustrations, sketching and re-sketching, and then on to the final art in watercolor on 300 lb. hot press paper.


I love that this book includes many cultures, places and different ages in history.


Our beloved horse Bailey served as inspiration! In fact, my dedication in the book is to Bailey.


Thank you for all the wonderful words and images, Jeannie! To learn more about Jeannie and her books you can visit her website, Facebook and twitter!

***Don’t forget to enter to win a signed copy of WILD ABOUT BEARS by posting a comment below!***

Beth Krommes Book Giveaway

Today I’m posting my interview with Beth Krommes, whose beautiful scratchboard illustrations won her a Caldecott Medal for The House in the Night. Beth’s most recent book with Joyce Sidman, Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, is a breathtaking view of the natural world, a poem that begins with one word and spins around itself into a spiral. It will send you searching for spirals everywhere you go.


***BOOK GIVEAWAY DETAILS*** I’ll be giving away a beautiful copy of the book along with a scratchboard set for any young artist itching to try their hand at her style! All you have to do to enter to win is let me know what your favorite swirl is in the comments section, or send me a message on Facebook by Sunday, April 20th! ***BOOK GIVEAWAY DETAILS***


1. Hi, Beth! When I told my daughter we could ask you ANYTHING, she quickly asked for “any tips, like for drawing really well, because I don’t.” I think she draws beautifully, but DO you have any tips for drawing really well?

I was in 3rd grade when I discovered that I liked to draw. My parents bought me a drawing book of pencil sketches of horses, and a drawing pad and pencils. I spent hours laying on top of the pool table in the basement copying the drawings from the book onto my sketch pad. Copying other people’s pictures is a good way to train your eye to really look hard at something and to try to duplicate the technique that the artist used.

2. My daughter particularly noticed and liked that you use lots of overlapping.  How did you learn to do that?

I don’t just draw out of my head when I have to draw a realistic picture of a certain kind of plant or animal, like in “Swirl by Swirl.” I collect reference pictures from library books and images from the internet. When I need to design a picture like the endpapers on “Swirl by Swirl”, I spread all of my reference pictures out in front of me on my drawing table and just start loosely sketching on a large sheet of paper, overlapping the plants and animals. I use my eraser A LOT to change my mind about where something should go. I also start over about three or four times. I have a very full waste-paper bastket at the end of the day.

I work out all of the pictures for a book in detail in pencil before I begin the scratchboard. If you go to the homepage on my website,, and read the interview “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast”, you will learn much more about the stages of designing a picture book.

3. Do you ever make mistakes, and if you do, do you start over, or work around them?

It is hard to correct mistakes on the scratchboard. If I haven’t scratched too deeply, sometimes I can re-ink over the mistakes and try scratching the picture again. But I often have to start the whole picture over. There is a big picture of a walrus and a hunter in my book “The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish” that I did over seven times.

If I have a difficult face to draw on scratchboard, I’ll always do several trials on a small scrap piece of scratchboard first.

4. Sometimes you use lots of color, sometimes just black and white. Why?

An illustrator will do what the text demands. “The House in the Night” was a story about night, so black and white was the way to go. It was the brilliant idea of my editor, Ann Rider, to add the golden highlights to give more zip to the pictures.

“Swirl by Swirl” had to have full color because of all of the plants and animals. I prefer to work in black and white because of my background as a printmaker, but am becoming more comfortable with color the more I work with it.

5. Do you have a favorite swirl from the book, and do you have a favorite swirl that is not in the book?

My favorite pictures in “Swirl by Swirl” are the ocean wave and the tornado. I can’t think of a favorite swirl that is not in the book.

6. Even though the book came out two years ago, do you still see swirls everywhere you look?

I have always been fascinated with the spiral shape and I do see swirls everywhere! I am very proud of “Swirl by Swirl”, because I iniated the project before Joyce Sidman came on board as the author. The idea for the book came from a bunch of puzzles I was designing.  I noticed  all of the designs included spirals. I thought perhaps I could take some of those puzzle designs and turn them into a pre-school shape book about spirals. Ann Rider, my editor, wanted to see a book about spirals in nature–why things in nature are shaped like spirals. I tried to do the writing myself, but it was terrible. Joyce Sidman, also a spiral lover, heard I was working on this project and asked if we could collaborate. I said YES!!!!!! I sent her all of my sketches and notes, and she came up with the text. I had to revamp my sketches considerably, but was thrilled with the structure that her beautiful poetic text gave to the book.

7. I heard your next book, BLUE ON BLUE, is coming in fall of 2014. What kinds of beautiful blues will we get to see when it comes?

It is essentially a book about a rainstorm. It is a lovely simple text, and it was fun to come up with the story told through the pictures.  You will see lots of blue in the sky and water.

Thank you, Beth, for coming on the blog today! I can’t wait for BLUE ON BLUE and whatever beautiful book is coming after!

❤ Robin

Blue on Blue

***BOOK GIVEAWAY DETAILS*** I’ll be giving away a beautiful copy of the book along with a scratchboard set for any young artist itching to try their hand at her style! All you have to do to enter to win is let me know what your favorite swirl is in the comments section, or send me a message on Facebook by Sunday, April 20th! ***BOOK GIVEAWAY DETAILS***



***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***

Steve Jenkins Book Giveaway!



Post your favorite animal fact in the comments section to win a copy of Animals Upside Down or The Animal Book – a Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth!!


Today I’m interviewing Caldecott Honor Illustrator, Steve Jenkins, about two new books! All of Steve’s thirty books are filled with interesting animals, facts, and eyepopping illustrations. I love reading them and my kids love looking at them. My personal favorite is Actual Size, and my two-year old can’t get enough of Hello Baby, which is indescribably and joyfully sticky after so many readings. I was so excited to introduce my kids to Animals Upside Down and The Animal Book. Come take a peek…

Don’t shy away from buying either of these books for a younger reader (*Edited: So, ahem, my two-year old has been feeling a little “rippy” lately and the pop-up book is recovering on a high shelf. *). My two-year old and my seven-year old enjoy them each in different ways, but they both love looking, listening, and learning about all of Steve’s amazing animals. I’m continually surprised and grateful that artists like Steve are willing to answer my questions.

Well, here we go…

1. Hi Steve! Your book, Animals Upside Down, is a pull, pop, and lift book, your first one I think? Do you get to come up with all those cool paper engineering ideas or is that done by the publisher?

I made that book with Robin Page, my frequent co-author (and wife). She and I came up with all of the interactive elements of the book. When we proposed doing a pop-up book, we naively thought that we’d simply suggest engineering ideas and clever people somewhere would work out the details. As it turned out, we made functioning versions of all the pop-up elements by hand (many times). We’d send them to the printer, who would send back their interpretation of our dummied levers, flaps, and windows. It took a few rounds of this process before they understood what we wanted (the printer was in China, and I think there were some language issues). Robin did most of the actual engineering. Ultimately, it came out pretty close to what we had envisioned.

2. Where do you get all of those beautiful papers?

I’ve been collecting them for years. When we travel to other cities, I always visit art and paper stores, occasionally finding treasures. There is one store in New York City — it’s called New York Central — that has a fantastic paper department. It is the largest single source of my papers. Some of them are utilitarian: paper bags, wrapping paper, etc. I also make a few paste papers. These are Arches watercolor paper with an acrylic paint and wallpaper paste mixture that is rolled on, daubed on, splattered, and so on.

3. Do you have a favorite upside down animal?

I find the pangolin especially fascinating.

4. What do grownups ALWAYS ask you?

Where do I get my papers?

5. What do kids ALWAYS ask you?

How old were you when you wrote your first book? (40)

6. What is the most interesting thing you learned about an animal while doing your research?

Boy, it would be tough to narrow that down to one creature feature. I recently finished a book about animal eyes, and learned that the eyes of the mantis shrimp have 12 different color receptors (compared to our three). They can see all kind of things invisible to us.

See what I mean, you guys? That’s the kind of stuff that is in a Steve Jenkins book!



1. Post your favorite animal fact in the comments section to win a copy of Animals Upside Down or The Animal Book

2. Spread the word about the giveaway on any social media platform! Every time you blog, tweet, or Facebook about the giveaway you get another entry. Just send an email with a link to your Facebook page, twitter feed, or blog to: robin (at) blueeggbooks (dot) com.

3. I’ll announce the winners on Monday, March 3rd!



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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