Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans

There are some books that are etched in my memories of childhood—Babar, Where the Wild Things Are, Pierre, and last but certainly not least, Madeline.

I remember when my twin sister and I were about six-years old running down the streets of Paris on our way to school, chanting, “Boohoo, we want to have our appendix out, too!”[1]

And so, my heart skipped a beat when I heard that the New York Historical Society Museum & Library was commemorating the 75th anniversary of Madeline’s publication, with an exhibit entitled, “Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.”

Madeline - NYHS

The exhibit follows the life of Ludwig Bemelmans, most notably from his arrival in New York through Ellis Island in 1914. He became a busboy at the Ritz Hotel on Madison Avenue and 46th Street in 1915.[2] He then served in the army, became a naturalized citizen, and subsequently returned to the Ritz. He spent 15 years at the Ritz, working his way up to assistant banquet manager. It was during the 1920s and 1930s that he also started work on cartoons and commercial pieces to help to pay his rent. His work for Judge magazine caught the attention of children’s book editor, May Massee at Viking Press, who thought, “he had potential as a children’s book author.” (Source: NY Hist. Society Exhibit) Working on cartoons, also helped “hone his craft as a storyteller . . . “ where he learned to “balance strong images with minimal text.” (Source: NY Hist. Society Exhibit)

Madeline - Stairs

Bemelmans started to write Madeline at Pete’s Tavern. (Interestingly, Madeline was originally spelled as “Madeleine,” but as Bemelmans worked the story, he realized it rhymed better as “Madeline.”) The idea for the story came to him when he was hospitalized in 1938, after having been hit by a baker’s truck. When he was in the hospital, the girl resting next to him had appendicitis. He did some sketches at Café Voltaire in Paris, but “it was only in New York that he realized the full story of Madeline.” (Source: NY Hist. Society Exhibit) Madeline won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940.

The exhibit includes illustrations from all six Madeline books, among his other notable works.

There is a wonderful family audio guide, for children ages 4 and up, to accompany you on your visit. The audio guide is geared for children with questions for them to ponder as they examine Bemelmans’ work. The audio guide also includes an excerpt from Bemelmans himself. What a treat it was to hear his voice!

Bemelmans loved his work. He once described children as, “A clear-eyed, critical and hungry audience of people, all of whom are impressionists themselves, who love my pictures and sometimes even eat them.” (Source: NY Hist. Society Exhibit)

The exhibit runs through October 19, 2014. The New York Historical Society also offers Madeline tea parties. For more information about the exhibit and their tea parties, please click on the word, Madeline.

And on a parting note,

“Good night, little girls!

Thank the lord you are well!

And now go to sleep!”

said Miss Clavel.

And she turned out the light—

and closed the door—

and that’s all there is—

there isn’t any more.”[3]


[1] Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline. Ed. Simon and Schuster. 1939. New York: Puffin Books, Published by Penguin Group, 1998.

[2] The hotel was demolished in 1951, but Town & Country magazine commissioned Bemelmans to document his career at the hotel, and his wonderful illustrations are included in the exhibit.

[3] Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline. Ed. Simon and Schuster. 1939. New York: Puffin Books, Published by Penguin Group, 1998.

2014 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference—The BEST CONFERENCE EVER!

Every year NJ SCBWI’s annual conference gets better and better, and this year was no exception. And I would like to shout out a very big THANK YOU to everyone who made this year’s conference so very special.

Volunteer Committee

The Incredible and Amazing Volunteer Committee 

Me & Leeza

Me and Leeza Hernandez

Rosanne Kurstedt

Rosanne L. Kurstedt

Lauri Meyers & Tara Lazar

Lauri Meyers & Tara Lazar 


Mike Allegra perfecting his “I won the 2014 Highlights for Children Fiction Contest” look. 


The good old “thumbs up.” 


And of course, the “I can’t believe I won” look! 

Floyd Cooper

Opening Keynote Speaker Floyd Cooper 

Sheri, Annie

Sheri Oshins, Annie Silvestro & Laurie Wallmark


Corey Rosen Schwartz 


Kami Kinard 


Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen 

Ame and Adam

Adam Lehrhaupt & Ame Dyckman 

Creston Authors

Laurie Wallmark, me & Darlene Beck-Jacobson 


Rachelle Burk 


Kim Pfennigwerth  

Robin Fox

Comedian Robin Fox 


Closing Keynote Speaker Rachel Vail 

Not to sound preachy, BUT if you are a writer or illustrator considering doing one conference this year, this is THE conference! It is invaluable for making professional connections, getting editorial and agent feedback, and best of all, it’s just a ton of fun!


My Twenty-Fifth College Reunion

On a sunny August morning in 1985, two station wagons stuffed to the gills left New York and headed down to Bryn Mawr College. My dad and I were in one car; my twin sister and Aunt Peggy were in the other.

ID My Old College ID

I hadn’t planned on going to a women’s college. I had attended an all-girls high school and the very last thing that I wanted was a women’s college. But from the moment that I stepped on the campus, I knew it was the place for me. So, did my twin. And two years later, so did my stepsister.

Twins Hilary and me

This time around my twin and I were heading back for our twenty-fifth college reunion. We took one station wagon, my nine-year old niece, and somehow still managed to overpack. We also found ourselves arguing over who was going to wear what. Some things haven’t changed.

We stayed in one of the dorms. Not one that I had lived in during my three years on campus. (I spent my junior year abroad studying in Strasbourg, France.) I forgot much of what it was like to live in a dorm: the musty smell and worn carpets; the closet-sized rooms (palatial by New York housing standards); the beds hard as rocks; the community bathrooms with the skimpiest of shower curtains; and those wonderful corkboards with welcome notes on the doors.

At the top of my to-do list was a visit to the library and my old carrel in the Romance language room. And like old times, I seemed to have a hard time getting to the library. Instead, I made it to the Cloisters and Thomas Great Hall. In Thomas, there is a statue of Athena. Students leave offerings for Athena, hoping she will help them do well on exams. I had a spare piece of chewing gum on me and I couldn’t help but leave an offering—just in case, she might have some influence over my manuscripts on submission. You never know! :)


Cloisters 2



Thomas Great Hall

AthenaStatue of Athena  

Both my dad and aunt have passed away since our journey down in August 1985.  My dad loved Bryn Mawr. He loved academia. He felt less of an affinity for the tuition bills he paid for the three of us! I recall the morning of Hurricane Gloria he called me to see if I was going to classes. I explained to him that I had a class that morning at Haverford and that the Blue Bus wasn’t running. His response, “You better walk carefully.” Instead of making it to class, I ended up at breakfast in the Campus Center. And guess who else was there? My twin sister.

Going back to the mothership, as one of my classmates described it, felt like going home. We were older, most of us a few pounds heavier, but some things remained the same: our friendships, support for one another, and our love for this amazing institution.

Hil, Me & Sarah

Hilary, me, Sarah Longstaff

I cannot wait till the next reunion. And perhaps down the road, my niece will be joining us for one of her own reunions. Anassa Kata!

class of 1989

Bank Street College of Education’s Irma S. and James H. Black Award and The Cook Prize

I get an enormous amount of junk email. Seems like everyone and his brother, sister, cat, dog, and ant has me on their mailing lists. But from time to time, something good pops up. And occasionally, even a gem!


So, I was delighted and quite surprised to get an invitation to attend the award ceremony for The Bank Street College of Education’s Irma S. and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature and The Cook Prize for Excellence in Presenting STEM Principles.

The Irma S. and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature goes to an outstanding book for young children – a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing the other to produce a singular whole.

The Cook Prize honors the best science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) picture book published for children aged eight to ten. 

What makes these awards extremely special is that children are actively involved in the process of evaluating the text and illustrations, both in the library and the classroom, over a five-week period before ultimately judging the finalists.

Fourteen schools originally participated in the voting for the Irma S. and James H. Black Award. Today voting has extended to such far off places as Hawaii, Pakistan, and Sicily, with 7500 votes for That Is Not a Good Idea! written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Balzar + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books). And 3700 children in third and fourth grade voted for The Cook Prize.

This year’s keynote address was given by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, co-authors of Battle Bunny, both previously honored by the Irma Black Award.

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett

Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka

And wow! Let me tell you, they did not disappoint! They were hysterical.


Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka shared a photo of themselves dressed as bunnies for some Texas librarians. (Wish the lighting had been better.) 

I especially enjoyed their acceptance speech for Mo Willems. Mo is currently in Paris for the year and he sent back his “supposed” acceptance note in French. Well, Jon gave his version of it in French, and Mac gave the English translation which obviously strayed significantly from the French. It was one of those things where you just had to be there. The audience was in stitches!

9781442446731If you haven’t read Battle Bunny, illustrated by Matthew Myers, it’s the story of a boy who’s grandma has given him a sugary sweet book called Birthday Bunny. Well, the boy has his own ideas and he starts marking up and doodling on the book so the story morphs into Battle Bunny. The book is wonderfully empowering for children because it unleashes their creativity and conveys a message that their ideas are important and their stories are worth telling.

During the keynote address, Jon and Mac happened to mention that the illustrator got 6 versions of Battle Bunny.

And now, without further ado, the winners are  . . .

The three Irma S. Black Award Honor Books published in 2013 are:

Lenore Jennewein

Lenore Jennewein

Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad? by Julie Middleton, illustrated by Russell Ayto; published by Peachtree

Chick-O-Saurus Rex by Lenore Jennewein, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein; published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The King of Little Things by Bil Lepp, illustrated by David T. Wenzel; published by Peachtree

The 2014 Irma S. and James H. Black Award Winner is:


That Is Not a Good Idea! written and illustrated by Mo Willems; published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

The three Cook Prize Honor Books published in 2013 are:

Sara Levine

Sara Levine

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine, illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth; published by Millbrook, an imprint of Lerner Publishing

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong; published by Charlesbridge

Toilet: How It Works by David Macaulay with Sheila Keenan; published by David Macaulay Studio, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

The 2014 Cook Prize Winner is:

Deborah Heiligman

Deborah Heiligman

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham; published by Roaring Brook, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Today’s event was sponsored by The Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature. For more information, go to

And for more information about any of the Bank Street College of Education children’s literature initiatives, contact

Congratulations to the winners! What a wonderful morning!


By rnewman504

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter at the New York Public Library

On this glorious Saturday, I had the afternoon free, and what better way to spend it than at the New York Public Library?


The ABC of It exhibit draws from 250 items in the New York Public Library collection, spanning a period of 300 years, as it shows us in a particularly powerful way “Why Children’s Books Matter.”

abc of it

It looks at some of the earliest books for children, including the New England-Primer, first published in 1690, to Aesop’s Fables and selections from Songs of Innocence by William Blake, as it works its way to the present day.


The New England-Primer

Of particular interest to me was how the development of child psychology in 1900 helped inspire progressive educators, such as Lucy Sprague Mitchell at the Bank Street School, and writers, such as Margaret Wise Brown, Maurice Sendak and Crockett Johnson, to write “stories about the world [preschoolers] knew, as well as books that invited their playful, collaborative participation.” (Source: Exhibit Poster, The Work of Play: The Progressive Child.)


During my tour, the guide mentioned that Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, first published in 1947, was not included New York Public Library’s collection until 1972 because it was not considered literature. Isn’t that unbelievable?


The exhibit delved into topics of censorship, the influence of children’s literature on film, theatre and merchandising, the artistry of the picture book, and the exhibit concluded with a look at New York stories.



The New York Public Library offers free 45-minute tours. For information about tours and the exhibit, please click here.



On my tour, we had a lovely 10 month old, Abigail. Although she didn’t say much about the exhibit, she grabbed a copy of Goodnight Moon and started to chew on the book. I’m assuming that was her way of saying she liked it.


I highly recommend the exhibit. The exhibit runs through Sunday, September 7, 2014.



Three Cheers for Tori Corn and Nancy Cote’s, Dixie Wants an Allergy!

Yesterday The Corner Bookstore was buzzing with excitement, as eager fans came out in droves to celebrate the launch of Tori Corn and Nancy Cote’s picture book, Dixie Wants an Allergy.


Nancy Cote and Tori Corn

Nancy Cote and Tori Corn


“Dixie Wants an Allergy provides a comical and engaging approach for children who are beginning to learn about and who are coping with allergies—and who also have trouble finding what makes them unique. Corn’s playful text and Cote’s inviting illustrations encourage children to accept those with differences while learning that wanting what others have is not always a good idea.” (Source: Sky Pony Press)


Julie Matysik, Nancy Cote, Liza Fleissig, Tori Corn, Ginger Harris 


And check out these adorable, not to mention delicious, cookies!

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Dixie Wants an Allergy, please stop by The Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Avenue, at the corner of 93rd Street, New York, New York. (If you stop by, I promise you’ll have a hard time leaving! :) ) You may also contact The Corner Bookstore at (212) 831-3554, or via email at

Dixie is also available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Congratulations Tori and Nancy! What an amazing evening!

Do Writers Ever Take Vacation?

Whether I’m stepping away from my laptop or putting away my pen and notepad, I still find myself thinking about my stories. I have an extremely hard time shutting down my writing brain.

But this past week, I decided to do a temporary shut down—or at least put my writing brain in a kind of semi-pause mode. We were in Paris for my seven-year old’s spring break, and I just wanted to step away from mice, witches, wolves, pigs and peacocks, and absorb everything around me.

eiffel tower day - cloudy

I love Paris. I lived in Paris and Normandy for a number of years when I was a child, not to mention my stepmother is from Brittany, so going back to Paris is very personal. It feels like going home. And when I’m there, I have these wonderful flashbacks to my childhood—learning how to ride my bike on Rue de Bellechase, watching the puppet show in the Tuileries, and trekking to Joe Allen’s for burgers and apple pie. What can I say, we were still Americans. :) And I keep hoping that when my son looks back at his childhood, he’ll have his own cherished memories of Paris.

me and noah seine 2

On the Seine

For this trip, we rented an apartment in my old hood, the 7th arrondissement, down the block from my old school, and within walking distance to the Eiffel Towel and the Tuileries. The location could not have been better.Rue de Grenelle

Doors of Ste. Clotilde

My old school

We did a bunch of touristy things—went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited the Catacombs, took a ride on the Bateau Mouche, and did a world-wind tour of the Pompidou Centre.



view of nd from bateau mouche

View of Notre Dame from Bateau Mouche 

At the Musée Grevin, the wax museum, I got the chance to catch up with my friend, Gerard Depardieu, and my husband managed to practice some of his karate moves with Jackie Chan. My son also enjoyed learning about the process of making a wax figure.

front of musee grevin

me and gerard d.

Me and Gerard Depardieu

michael and jacki chan

Michael and Jackie Chan 

process of making a wax figure

And when in Paris, we naturally indulged in the food. How can you not? We pretty much ate our way from arrondissement to arrondissement, and not once did we cheat from our Nutella banana crepe-a-day diet! :)

But the highlight of the trip was catching up with old friends and visiting the Luxembourg Gardens. In the Luxembourg Gardens, there’s an enclosed supervised play area. It costs a few euros to enter. The play area has climbing structures and jungle gyms for kids of all ages, including a replica of the Eiffel Tower, for the seven and older crowd. To my delight, my son started playing with a group of three or four children. I was hopeful he’d pick up some French words or at least try to use the few that he knew. But then I heard the mother of one of the kids yell out, “Speak French with the little boy,” and one of the kids shouted back, “But he speaks English!” Turns out they were from New York too.

Noah in Luxembourg Gardens

And while I was watching my son play, my writing brain started up again. But instead of drifting to my old stories, I started to think of new ones. So, perhaps a vacation, even a temporary one, wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The Little Prince, A New York Story


Yesterday I had the extra-special treat of meeting up with fellow blogger, picture book writer, and Francophile, Laura Sassi, at The Morgan Library & Museum to view their exhibit of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original manuscript and watercolor drawings of The Little Prince.

The exhibit focuses on the two-year period from 1941-1943 when Saint-Exupéry was living in Manhattan and Long Island, having been exiled from France during World War II.

Before leaving New York to re-enter the war effort as a reconnaissance pilot, he gave his friend Sylvia Hamilton a rumpled paper bag containing the manuscript and illustrations for The Little Prince.  He told her, “I’d like to give you something splendid, . . . but this is all I have.” (Source:

The exhibit features 25 of the manuscript pages and all 43 of the book’s earliest versions of the illustrations. The manuscript pages are handwritten rough drafts, replete with cross-outs, rips, stains and cigarette burns.  You really get a sense of Saint-Exupéry’s meticulousness and attention to detail—not to mention his pure genius—when you read through his notes, and see his first sketches.

One item that caught my eye was his preliminary publishing contract, dated November 12, 1942, with Reynal & Hitchcock for The Little Prince and another book, which he never completed.  The contract provided for an advance of $3000.

The exhibit also had some interesting materials covering the marketing of the book.  Seems that there were questions about whether the book should be marketed for children, adults, or both.

If you love The Little Prince, it is definitely worth a trip to The Morgan.  The exhibit is running through April 27, 2014.  They also have two lectures coming up about The Little Prince.

  • Saint-Exupéry in New York, A Conversation with Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer (March 11, 6:30 p.m.)
  • The Pilot and the Little Prince, A Conversation with Peter Sís (April 22, 6:30 p.m.)

And if you have time, lunch at their café was also an extra-special treat.  In keeping with the theme of the exhibit, Laura’s grilled cheese sandwich came in the shape of a star and was served with the most adorable airplane cookies.


By rnewman504

Leeza Hernandez, Award-Winning Illustrator and Children’s Book Author


Photo by Linda Littenberg

I am thrilled beyond words to be doing this interview today.  I met Leeza at last year’s annual NJ SCBWI conference, but have been fortunate enough to have sat in on some of her amazing workshops at past SCBWI conferences.  

Award-winning illustrator and children’s book author, Leeza hails from the south of England, but has been living in New Jersey since 1999.  In 2004, she switched from newspaper and magazine design to children’s books, and has never looked back.  With a few books now under her belt, she’s currently working on a follow up to Dog Gone! called Cat Napped! and a sequel to Eat Your Math Homework, called Eat Your Science Homework (both titles are due for release in 2014).  Leeza also illustrated, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo, written by acclaimed actor and author John Lithgow.  

Leeza is the current Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI chapter.

Leeza, thanks so much for joining me today.  Let’s start at the beginning.  How did you get started writing and illustrating?

Hi Robin, thanks so much for having me!  Okay, so art came first.  It’s cliché but art has been a part of my life since I was a baby.  My mum jokes that I fell out of the womb with crayons and paper in my hand!  I loved anything that involved making art such as Playdoh, Fashion Wheel, Etch-A-Sketch, and Spirograph—I still do—and I had my parents’ support.  They always made art materials available to me.  The writing came only a few years ago, though, and I confess it’s hard.  I love to tell stories but feel like a clunky novice when I sit down to write.


Me with Santa receiving a Playdoh set aged five years old.  

What led you to switch from newspaper and magazine design to children’s books?

The switch came in the early 2000s.  As much as I loved working in editorial, I wasn’t being as creatively challenged in my day-to-day work, so I looked for another outlet.  Blogging, which was the new trend back then, was what led me to Illustration Friday—an online community where a word of the week prompts you to create an illustration.


This was the first Illustration Friday piece (Word prompt: Wisdom) that went

into my children’s book portfolio and got some positive feedback from art directors.

That eventually led me to SCBWI.  I was fascinated and knew immediately that I’d found the outlet I’d been looking for.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to SCBWI—because of the connections, members, friends and mentors who have supported and helped me along the way—the organization is an awesome blessing to each of us in this business!

Can you tell us a little bit about your illustration process? Does your process change when you are also writing the text?

In a nutshell:  I read a manuscript a few times first and circle key words or components that stand out to me.  Sometimes I see a scene play out in my mind like a mini movie.  That’s usually a good indicator that I am connecting to the story.  I then put the manuscript away for a week or so and go back and do the same thing again.  When I have a good sense of where I’m headed visually, I create fairly tight sketches that are approx. 70 percent of the finished book size—that’s what I submit to the publisher.  For my own stories I’m a noodler and a doodler—that’s where a lot of my ideas begin.  I start by noodling with word play (phrases and alliteration).  At the same time, I’ll doodle until a concept or a character emerges.  Each book that I’ve worked on to date has presented different challenges in some way or other, but the underlying bones of my process seems to remain the same.

Do you like to work in a particular medium?

I have three preferred mediums now and the tone and content of a project will typically dictate which medium is called for.  The first is mixed-media:  fusing hand-made textures, stamping, printmaking, collage papers and hand-drawn line into a digital collage.  The second is silk-screening/printmaking and the third is pencil.

How long does it generally take you to work on one book?  Do you work on more than one book at a time?

In the fall I came out of a 19-month period of working on three picture books:  a 32-pager, 40-pager and 48-pager—it was cool but brutal at the same time!  I’m not sure I would want that intensity again for a while, although for the most part they staggered okay.  Each book project varies in terms of deadlines, schedules, revisions, etc. but generally, the illustration portion of my work on average takes about seven to nine months, from concept to final art. Having said that, I’m currently working on a new book and the illustration turnaround will only be about five or six months.

Do you find it easier to write and illustrate your own books, rather than to work on someone else’s manuscript?

Yes and no.  When I write and illustrate my own work, I can make changes to either in order to marry the words and visuals in the best possible way—take a sentence out here, add a spot visual there—but that also means I can overthink the project.  I can’t do that with someone else’s writing (nor would I want to), but the fact that the text is already written and approved means that I can focus solely on illustration, and pay all my attention to adding visual depth to the story.  I like both ways—they simply hold a different set of challenges.

Do you collaborate at all with the author on a project?

I’ve become great friends with Ann McCallum as a result of working on the Homework books. We have a lot of fun when brainstorming ideas for other books in the series and what new characters we can introduce, but I don’t really get involved with her actual writing nor she with the illustrating.  We definitely collaborate on marketing efforts though.

Dog Gone! has been a HUGE success!  Can you tell us how it came about? 

Dog Gone! was the result of NOT having a dog sample in my portfolio.  An art director asked if I could do dogs, so I created this piece.


The story came to me unexpectedly.  I played with the word  “dog” to inspire the illustration sample—but “Hot Dog,” “Top Dog,” and “Dog Gone It!” led to “Dog Gone!”  A story of a puppy that runs away—thus the story was born.

And can you give us the inside scoop on Cat Napped!?


Cat Napped! releases in June, and I am really excited.  When I worked on Dog Gone! I knew I wanted to create a cat companion book, and was so happy when my editor acquired it.  In fact, if you look in Dog Gone! there’s a scene that maybe suggests a little foreshadowing or wishful thinking on my part!  Cats are curious creatures by nature.  I’ve had plenty of cats in my life that loved to wander off and ended up having an adventure of some sort or other—which fueled the idea for this book.  I think I’m kinda like that too, curious about the world and keen to discover a new adventure.

Yummy recipes + fun math facts + bunnies = SUCCESS for Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds, written by Ann McCallum.  How did you end up working on this project?  And what can readers expect to see in Eat Your Science Homework?

EYMH_cover_72dpiGreat question!  I attended a Rutgers One-on-One day back in 2007 and had lunch at a table of folks with the then editor from Charlesbridge.  We all exchanged business/promo cards and honestly, I didn’t think the editor cared for my work but she was polite enough to take my card.  EYSH_cover_72dpiSix months later, my agent forwarded the request for availability from Charlesbridge for a new math book they had acquired and I later discovered that the editor took my card back to the office and looked for a project for me.  Turned out she very much wanted to work with me and I am so grateful that she did!  You can expect more delicious recipes linked to great experiments, and you’ll see the dufus bunnies back in Science.  They’ve donned lab coats and goggles this time in place of aprons and chef hats. There’s another character that breaks some new ground in the book, too.

There’s been quite a buzz (or maybe it’s more of an excited roar!) about your illustrations in Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo.  (I love the yak playing the sax!)  Can you tell us what was your inspiration?


Thank you, Robin, it was such a fun and zany book to work on, although I admit that it took me about five or six weeks to really get my teeth into the sketches.  I was very nervous at the beginning and felt a lot of pressure about who the author was.  Once I relaxed, I was able to focus on the text and figure out how I could amplify John’s humor with these musically-inclined animals.  I role-played so to speak, and posed the question “What if . . . .”  I listened to a lot of different styles of music and imagined how each animal might perform when playing their instrument to that music—jazz, blues, classical, etc.  A lot of time was spent, too, researching each animal.  I’d never heard of a Bonobo monkey before so I got a great education on wildlife during the process.


John Lithgow and me

If your fans would like for you to do a school visit, how can they get a hold of you?

The best way to find out about my school visits is to email, subject; School Visit Inquiry.  My website is going through a revamp at the moment, which I hope will be done by late spring.  Stay tuned, folks!  The new program I’m doing with students at the moment is a “What to do when you get stuck,” presentation based on my experiences of working on Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo.  It’s so much fun.  We collaborate and explore how to overcome mental blockages or fears, and ultimately by the end of the program, we’ve created hundreds of new characters together.


Photo by Edna Bercaw

Lastly, do you have any advice for new writers and illustrators?  

  • Take your time.  I was in such a rush to get published when I first looked into illustrating children’s books that I missed a lot of important steps and had to go back and start again—like, creating an appropriate body of work that defines who you are as an artist to the best of your ability for the market you want to work in.
  • Be open.  It’s great to create goals and stick to them, but be open to trying new things as well—from writing in a different tense or from a different POV to using a color palette that you normally shy away from.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone, and welcome feedback rather than resist it, even if you’re not sure you agree right away.  You might be surprised by what you discover.
  • Don’t give an editor/art director/agent what you think they want to see, give them what you want them to see.  A brilliant art director gave me this piece of advice and I’ve learned the hard way how true it is.  I wanted to be published so badly at first, that I made sacrifices.  I think it was fearful thinking of “I might not be offered another job so I’d better take it.”  When you know who you are and share what you love to do with the world, people respond in a positive way.  What can you bring to the table that’s different from everyone else?
  • Take a break.  Even if it’s only ten minutes a day, switch off and do something for fun just for yourself, guilt-free.  It’s important to nurture your creative self.  Afterall, you deserve it for all that hard work!
  • Practice gratitude for everything!  Even if it’s a silent thank you every day, always be gracious, and grateful for everyone and everything you encounter—ups and downs. Accept that it’s all part of the process and will help you grow on your path to publication!

Leeza, thanks so much for doing this interview.  All the very best and much success.

Thank YOU Robin, it was a real pleasure, and a lot of fun.  And all the very best to you, too!

Shameless Self-Promotion: My First Blog Interview


Me:  Today I am doing my first blog interview with the amazing Laura Sassi.

Random Blog Reader:  Excuse me, but will there be any giveaways?

Me:  Giveaways?  Ah, no.  I hadn’t thought about giveaways.  Should there be giveaways?

Random Blog Reader:  Of course!  A free car, free house, free vacation.  And snacks.

Me:  Snacks?  Really?

Random Blog Reader:  It’s hard work clicking a link.

Me:  What kind of snacks?

Random Blog Reader:  COOKIES!  But not just any kind.

Me:  What kind do you like?

Random Blog Reader:  Chocolate chip.

Me:  Anything else?

Random Blog Reader:  I don’t want to be any trouble.

Me:  Of course, you don’t.

Random Blog Reader:  But since you did ask, a glass of milk would be nice.

Me:  Here you go.


Random Blog Reader:  Thanks!  You didn’t make these cookies, did you?  I can always tell when they’re not homemade.     

Me:  Sorry, it’s the best that I could do on short notice.  So, are you ready to check out the link?

Random Blog Reader:  Need to do my finger exercises first.  One, heave.  Two, ho.  Breathe.  Relax.  Breathe.

Me:  I’m waiting.  Ready?

Random Blog Reader:  Ready!

Me:  Please click here for the link to Laura Sassi Tales.  Many thanks for reading and following.  Next time I’ll remember the giveaways!

Random Blog Reader:  And the cookies! :)