Picture Book Pass it On


Are you looking for a wonderful cause to support during the holidays? Please check out Picture Book Pass it On.

Originally posted on ajschildrensbooks:


Picture Book Pass it On is a literacy initiative that encourages folks to donate new or gently used picture books to children. Picture Book Pass it On was founded by Michelle Eastman in November 2014. Michelle is a teacher and a mom who is passionate about children’s literacy and the power of picture books.

Picture Book Pass it On 3 calls to action:

#1 Post a “shout-out” to celebrate your favorite picture book. It can be anything from posting a selfie of you and your fave picture book kickin’ it, to tweeting a line from one of your favorite characters or scenes, or post a picture or video of you reading a favorite picture book with a child, pet, or loved one. Or blog about a favorite picture book memory from your childhood.

#2 Pledge to donate a copy of your favorite picture book to a local children’s charity or cause…

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By rnewman504

A Writer’s Call to Santa

Santa-phone-call-300x169“Santa, thanks so much for taking my call.”

“Who is this?”

“Robin. Robin Newman. Remember me? The children’s book author.”

“What time is it?” asked Santa.

“It’s 7:00 a.m., New York City time. What time is it on the North Pole?”

“Early! Can you call back another time? I need my beauty sleep,” said Santa.

“Of course! But don’t you want to hear that I’ve been a good girl this year? All right, ‘good’ may not be 100% accurate . . . perhaps ‘well intentioned’ is a better choice of words. And ‘girl’ maybe a tad bit of a stretch. How about pre-octogenarian?”

“Robin, since you’re not going to let me sleep, have you been writing every day?”

“Writing every day? That’s a good question. A very good question. You know the beard really looks good on you. Not a lot of people can get away with the beard, red suit, and boots, but on you it looks great.”

“Are you going to answer my question?”

“Oh, right! I mean write. I try to write most days. Sometimes I get stuck on rewrites. Rewrites are really not my thing.”

“What would you like for Christmas?”

“Thanks so much for asking. I would like to sell ALL of my manuscripts.”

“That’s a lot of manuscripts,” said Santa.

“Some of my manuscripts? Three manuscripts? One’s as low as I’m going.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Santa, “I get a lot of requests from writers this time of year. You may have to wait a bit.”

“I’d also like all of my writer and illustrator friends to find agents and get book deals as well. And while I’m at it, can you end starvation, poverty, and disease? I’d also like to make a pitch for world peace.”

“Will try my best. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best of luck to you and your friends with the writing, rewriting, and illustrating. Now, I’m going back to bed.”

“Thanks Santa. Good night! You’re the best. Oh! Do you ever talk to the Tooth Fairy? She didn’t leave me anything for my last tooth. It was a good tooth. All right, maybe not in the best of shape, but in reasonably good shape. Santa? Santa? Are you there? Did you just hang up on me? Seems like we got disconnected. I’ll call you back.”

“This is a recorded message. Please leave your name and number and an elf will return your call in the order it was received. Thank you for calling the North Pole. Happy Holidays!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a dangerous time to be a bird. And even though everyone is talking turkey, the peacocks on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine weren’t taking any chances. Yesterday they were spotted wearing their “Proud as a Peacock” t-shirts, and they were carrying signs, “Eat beef!” “Tofu, it’s what’s for Thanksgiving!” and “Nothing says Thanksgiving like mac ‘n cheese!”

They left a note on their coop. “Happy Thanksgiving! Back on November 28.”


Gobble! Gobble! Honk!

By rnewman504

An Interview with the Amazingly Talented, Author/Illustrator, Vin Vogel

Vin Vogel

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unabashed HUGE fan of Vin’s work. I met Vin back in 2013 at the NJ SCBWI Annual Conference when he won the Juried Art Show for a Published Illustrator.

And here is a true story. A year or so had passed since we met, and one day I happened to be browsing the new releases coming out of Flashlight Press (I am also an unabashed HUGE fan of Flashlight Press), and I was automatically drawn to Maddi’s Fridge, and I wondered, who is this awesome illustrator? It was Vin.

Vin has illustrated more than 45 books for children and young adults. He has also provided illustration and character designs for a wide variety of print, animation, apparel, and web projects in his native country of Brazil, as well, the United States, Canada, and France.

His debut picture book as an author and illustrator, The Thing About Yetis! (Dial Books for Young Readers), hits bookstores fall of 2015.

Vin, thanks so much for doing this interview.

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you start writing and drawing? Did you always want to be a picture book author and illustrator?

I started drawing when I was around three, a bunch of scribbles on my parent’s apartment walls and books. Maybe my most impressive work as a little kid was drawing all the characters from Star Wars. My parents still have these drawings!

Oh yeah! I spent half of my childhood creating my own comic books and picture books with my own characters (the other half I spent dreaming of being Jacques Cousteau). Winning some prizes as best story and best illustrations when I was in primary school definitely contributed to my dream of being an author and illustrator.

Can you share some insights into your creative process? How do you develop a book from beginning to end?

Whether I’m creating a story or illustrating, it always starts with doodles. And almost always I doodle with pencil on paper.

I carry with me a notebook the size of a pocket everywhere I go, 24/7, so I’m constantly doodling—even when I’m standing up and being squeezed by other people on a NYC subway train. My creative process is very, very visual. Often stories begin from those random doodles. Doodling frees my mind, because it’s spontaneously visceral.

When I’m illustrating a book, the whole process starts with doodles, as well. I read the story and start imagining what the characters look like. During this process, I tend not to be rational; I enjoy seeing my hands drawing these characters without my brain thinking much, in the most spontaneous and natural way as possible.

When the characters are approved, I start working on sketches, on how I envision each illustration. When these sketches are approved, I start working on the final art.

Do you like to work in a particular medium?

My final illustrations are always and ultimately digitized. So I do like to work on my computer, mixing digital with more traditional techniques, when I feel it works visually.

Is your illustration process different when you’re working with someone else’s text? 

The Thing About Yetis! is my debut picture book as an author and illustrator. It feels different because I’m the author as well, so it’s a different kind of adventure/challenge. The creative process is the same, though. But every book is different, and I like to try something new, a new approach in every new project.

Your latest book, Maddi’s Fridge, written by Lois Brandt (Flashlight Press 2014), is the story of best friends, Maddi and Sofia, who attend the same school, live in the same neighborhood, and play at the same playground. But there is one significant difference: Sofia’s fridge is full of nutritious food, while Maddi’s fridge is practically empty. Sworn to secrecy, Sofia has to decide whether she’ll keep her friend’s secret, or breach that confidence to get Maddi and her family the help they need. 

This wonderful book touches upon so many important issuesfriendship, trust, hunger, and poverty without ever being preachy. And your beautiful illustrations create an incredible sense of warmth and humor that all children can appreciate and connect with. How did you approach this project? (I think I read that you used your own neighborhood as a model for creating Maddi and Sofia’s neighborhood.)


I was hooked when I read the manuscript. I always wanted to work on a picture book that touched an important and polemical subject, like hunger, for example.

Shari Greenspan, editor for Flashlight Press, loved the laid-back, scratchy, urbanite style of one of my illustrations on my website (the two kids on a NYC street) and thought that it would be a good match for Maddi. We decided the background for the story would be a big city. So I not only chose NYC, the city where I live and that I love, but I also chose Harlem, which still has some architectural jewels. I’m crazy about architecture, by the way. I rode my bike around the neighborhood and took some pictures of streets and buildings that caught my attention. I’ve also used Google Maps for reference. All the buildings that you see in the main scene actually exist—with a little personal touch, of course!

©vinvogel_maddi_spread1Did you collaborate at all with the author?

The storyline and text were worked on by Lois and Shari.

Can you also tell us a little bit about Flashlight Press?

They gave me my first opportunity to illustrate my first book in the U.S. And I like their mission statement, which focuses on family and social situations.

I haven’t seen a lot of picture books about yetis (which I gather is a very good thing!). How did you become interested in yetis, and how did your picture book, The Thing About Yetis! (Dial Books for Young Readers, fall 2015), come about? 

I’ve always been a big fan of yetis and big foots. I see yetis and big foots as a link to our more primitive, animalistic side. I remember watching Jonny Quest’s Monster in the Monastery as a kid, and being completely fascinated with this ape-like snowy creature. . . . And after spending three winters in Montreal, I ended up feeling like one!


So over the Summer of 2013, I was doodling this super sweet, yet bratty and monstrous, yeti kid that I named Jimi Icicle, and I thought: Hmm, maybe there’s something in there! A couple of months later Heather Alexander, back then editor at Dial and now my agent, ended up buying the project. John Cusick was my agent at that time, and he had brokered the deal. Thanks again, John and Heather!


Can you give us the scoop on Music Class Today, written by David Weinstone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, fall 2015), and the lowdown on some of your other works in progress?

Music Class Today was a fun project; it was great working with David and the FSG folks. The idea was placing these super colorful and dynamic characters against a white background. We wanted to stress the characters, their movements, their actions, their feelings. We wanted them to pop out of the page. I think it’s a fun book to look at!

I’m about to finish The Thing About Yetis! and there are other projects I’m working on now—more soon!

How can your fans get a hold of you for a school visit?

Please visit my website and contact me from there.

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

The classic triple P’s: passion, patience and perseverance. Dream big and work hard! And don’t forget to become a member of the SCBWI.

Maddi’s Fridge is available at independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes and Nobles.

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

My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Robin!

Brooklyn Book Festival

If there ever was an opportunity to use the word cornucopia, the Brooklyn Book Festival is it! The Brooklyn Book Festival, celebrating its 9th year, is the largest free literary event in New York City, with a little bit of everything for everyone, including indie booksellers and imprints, writing groups, workshops, poets galore, and lots of opportunities to find just the right book for you.


And here are some photographic highlights:


 The AWESOME SCBWI Metro NY Chapter 


 Abrams Books 


Bank Street Bookstore


Bank Street Shoppers




Richard T. Morris, author of This is a Moose (illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld), with Moose 


Christiane Krömer, illustrator of King for a Day (written by Rukhsana Khan)


The Strand Bookstore


The Brooklyn Public Library


With two awesome book festivals this weekend, there’s only one more thing to do.


Time to settle down in my comfy chair with a good book! Happy Reading!


Princeton Children’s Book Festival

Celebrating its 9th year, the Princeton Children’s Book Festival provides children, and bigger children like myself, the opportunity to meet some of their all-time favorite authors and illustrators, to learn about their craft, and to pray that their credit cards won’t exceed their credit limits because they’ve bought so many books. :)


And here are some photographic highlights of this year’s festival:


John Bemelmans Marciano


 Laurie Calkhoven


Ammi-Joan Paquette


Floyd Cooper 


Me & Leeza Hernandez 


Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen 


 Zachariah Ohora


 Peter Brown 


Corey Rosen Schwartz


Dave Roman 


Sophie Blackall


Dan Yaccarino


Brian Floca 



Tad Hills


Lauren Castillo


Adam Lehrhaupt


 Shhh! You didn’t see me.


Ame Dyckman


Donna Marie 


Charise Harper 


 Debbie Dadey 


Nancy Viau


Matt Phelan 


Michelle Knudsen 


Jon Scieszka




Maryrose Wood


Alison Ashley Formento


Tommy Greenwald


I had an awesome, amazing, super, wonderful, very, very good day at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival! And I’m looking forward to next year’s festival—especially as an author with my own books on the way in 2015! Woo-hoo! :)

Darlene Beck-Jacobson: Bringing Stories to Life

I am thrilled to interview my friend and fellow Creston Books author, Darlene Beck-Jacobson.

blog tour photo

Teacher, speech therapist, and freelance writer, Darlene’s stories have appeared in Cicada, Cricket, and other magazines. Her debut historic middle grade novel, Wheels of Change (Creston Books), hits bookstores on September 22, 2014. She has also been working on another historic middle grade novel, A Sparrow in the Hand, exploring the coming of age of two sisters growing up in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during the 1920’s. A chapter from this novel appeared in the March 2001 issue of Cricket magazine. You can also read this story on her website: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com 

Here’s what Kirkus has to say about Wheels of Change:

Changes fomenting both locally and nationally during the final year of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency are seen through the eyes of feisty, bighearted Emily Soper, daughter of a carriage maker in Washington, D.C.

Twelve-year-old Emily loves helping her father in his barn; she even dreams, in futility, of becoming a blacksmith like her father’s beloved employee, Henry. She and her best friend, Charlie, ponder such things as gender roles, women’s suffrage and “horseless carriages.” She dutifully tries to become a lady even while working on a secret that uses her “masculine” skills. As the year progresses, Henry falls ill, and Emily and her family are subjected to the uncertainties of changing times as well as some nasty treatment from white supremacists. Resemblances to To Kill a Mockingbird are strong, especially during a tea party hosted by Emily’s mother. A nice touch: Throughout much of the book, Papa teaches Emily—and vicariously, readers—new vocabulary words. The strength of the text lies in Jacobson’s ability to evoke a different era and to endear readers to the protagonist. The prose is straightforward and well-researched, heavily peppered with historical references and containing enough action to keep readers’ attention.

Readers will empathize with Emily as she goes through her own changes, and they will applaud her heroism in more than one chapter. (author’s note, photographs, recipes, bibliography, websites) (Historical fiction. 8-11)

Darlene, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.

It’s my pleasure, Robin.

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer, and more specifically a children’s book author?

I’ve loved writing since I was a girl. I wrote letters to everyone I knew and made up stories in my head. Even as a student, throughout school, I was crazy enough to actually enjoy the writing or essay portions of exams. I began writing short stories in the late 1980’s into the 1990’s. Even though the stories were for adult publications at first, there was often a child narrator or main character. I think it may have been my own inner child directing me. There’s something about giving a voice to young people that appeals to me. It was a natural progression to want to write a book for young people.

How did you end up gravitating toward middle grade historic fiction?

It just seemed like a good fit. I love hearing stories of the past from people who lived it. I grew up listening to my dad recount his WWII experiences as a POW in Japan. I listened to my mother tell her childhood stories of life as a coal miner’s daughter during the depression. These are the personal stories you don’t read about in history books. Creating characters in those long ago settings brings the era to life for me.

I think Middle Grade kids like to hear about kids from the pastwhat they ate, wore, the games they played, and what they worried about. While many of the things seem strange to modern children, there is much that remains the same: friendship, family, getting along, fairness, righting wrongs and fighting injustice.

I LOVED Wheels of Change! I could not put it down. It has a timeless feel, akin to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, and from page 1 found myself rooting for 12-year old Emily Soper, who unlike some of the adults in her life, was unafraid to take a stand for what is right. What makes Wheels of Change even more special is that it was inspired by the real life experiences of your grandmother, Mary Emily Soper. When did you realize that you wanted to tell her story?


There were two family facts I discovered while researching my family tree. One was that my paternal grandmother’s father was a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The other was that grandma received an invitation to a reception held at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt. She attended that reception and met TR. The story grew from there.

While this was the catalyst for Wheels of Change, I want readers to know the story is NOT a biography of my grandmother’s life. Everything else that occurs in the story is made up. I like to think of it as a re-imagining of grandma’s childhood. The grandmother I knewand the Emily Soper in WOCare two entirely different people.

You also explore the socio-economic, political, and industrial changes facing the United States in the early twentieth century. Was this your intention at the outset?

It was. I wanted to show how change affects us all and can bring welcome and unwelcome things into our lives. It’s up to each of us to decide the importance of those changes. We can’t stop changeit still happens all around us. But, if we make it work for us, we can see a better outcome.

From start to finish how long did it take you to write and research Wheels of Change?

It took about five years from the “idea” to a picture book that was too long and complex, and then to the final middle grade manuscript.

I’ve been fortunate enough to read your picture book, Together on Our Knees, about a young abolitionist, Matilda Joslyn Gage. Can you tell us how you became interested in her story?

I found Matilda’s name on a poster of The Alternative Alphabet For Big and Little People under the letter G. When I researched her online, I discovered she was a prominent abolitionist and suffragist who worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, yet few people know about her. There are some wonderful books written about her adult life: She Who Holds the Sky by Sally Roesch Wagner, and Sisters in Spirit also by Sally Roesch Wagner. There is nothing featuring her as a child. Together on Our Knees is my attempt to rectify that.

Can you share some insights into your writing process? What’s a typical writing day like for you?

One of the few consistencies in my process is the first draft which I always do with pen and paper. I lose a measure of creativity trying to get the original ideas down on a computer, so I don’t use one until I have a written draft. That frees me up to make mistakes, scribbles and jot down ideas in margins or on sticky notes as I go. I try to write something every daywhether it’s a blog post, letter, a few pages of editingand on days when I can’t or don’t write, I read or review ideas or plot points in my head to keep the story going, and to work through problems I’ve encountered.

How did you meet your agent?

I am especially happy to answer this question for you Robin since you and I share the same agent: Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. I met herand her co-agent Ginger Harrisat our NJSCBWI annual conference in Princeton, NJ in 2010. I pitched the idea for WOC to Ginger who requested 30 pages. Liza then asked for the full manuscript and made an offer of representation not long after that.

Liza selling the book to Marissa Moss of CRESTON BOOKS is another serendipitous thing we share, since your books, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery (illustrated by Deborah Zemke), and Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep (illustrated by Chris Ewald), will be coming out with CRESTON next year. It’s fun having that connection.

I couldn’t agree with you more! :)

Do you have any words of wisdom for new writers?

Two things always come to mind and have become a sort of life philosophy with regards to writing: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, which means you can’t be afraid to dive in and write, edit, pitch, ask for critiques, and do what needs to be done to get your manuscript out into the world. The second is, persistence. How many times did Edison fail before he got a light bulb to work? How many other authors faced multiple rejections before a success? If you learn your craft, do the revisions that are necessary and keep trying to improve your writing, YOU WILL GET PUBLISHED.

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


Website: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com

Blog: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.wordpress.com

If anyone is interested in pre-ordering Wheels of Change, it is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and at a number of independent bookstores.

Darlene, many thanks for doing this interview. And congratulations and much success with Wheels of Change.

It’s been a pleasure Robin. Thanks for having me.

And to learn more about Darlene, Wheels of Change, and toys and candy from the early 1900’s, please don’t forget to stop by Tara Lazar’s awesome blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), www.taralazar.com, on September 19, 2014.

Let’s Talk Book Fairs

With the beginning of the school year come eager faces, sharpened pencils and new notebooks, and all those wonderful fall book releases. But it is also the glorious season of the book fair, and I wanted to let you know about two awesome book fairs coming up this fall.

The first is the Princeton Children’s Book Festival, celebrating it’s 9th year, taking place on Saturday, September 20, 2014, from 11 am – 4 pm at the Princeton Public Library and Albert E. Hinds Memorial Plaza in Princeton, New Jersey. For details and directions, please go to: http://bookfestival.princetonlibrary.org


The second is Collingswood Book Festival, celebrating it’s 12th year, on Saturday, October 11, 2014, from 10 am – 4 pm, on Haddon Avenue in downtown Collingswood, New Jersey. For details and directions, please go to: http://www.collingswoodbookfestival.com


Both events are FREE. Don’t forget to book the dates! 

By rnewman504

Back to School


Summer’s coming to an end, and writing for my part has been moving at a snail’s pace. At the beginning of August, I was the queen of high hopes: make progress on my YA novel, write 500 picture books, and come up with solutions for world peace and hunger. Okay, maybe the latter three were a bit ambitious, but a girl can dream, right?

So the summer progressed with my sending out one picture book. El numero uno. I suppose one is better than zero. I also started on another picture book and made some progress, “some” being the operative word, on my YA novel. A start. Baby steps.

And speaking of baby steps, my son, who’s no longer a baby, starts second grade next week. Where did the time go?


How was your summer? Did you accomplish all that you set out to do? Read any amazing books?

I would like to note that unlike myself, the bugs on the North Fork of Long Island have been extremely busy little beavers. I have been bitten by EVERYTHING this summer, and stung by two extremely vindictive bees. The first bee was upset because I stepped on him while going into the pool. The second one, who must have been friends with the first bee, was just pure evil. He staked out a spot in my sneaker.

By rnewman504