Archive for ‘Notes’

October 10, 2015

Interview with Jack and Holman Wang


Today I am have an awesome interview lined up with the duo team, Jack and Holman Wang, that are the creators behind the Star Wars Epic Yarn books and Cozy Classics series. Checkout my review of the Epic Yarn series and a chance to win the books! Enjoy!

1) Prior to creating the Star Wars Epic Yarns books, you created a series of board books called Cozy Classics which abridged adult classics such as Les Miserables, Oliver Twist, and Emma. What was the driving force behind bringing these stories to young children?

J: I came up with the concept for Cozy Classics after my older daughter was born. I was reading a lot of word books about things like colors, shapes and animals, which got a little stale. That’s when I started thinking about how to make board books more fun and original for kids and adults. I came up with the idea with abridging classics in twelve words, and organizing word books around the concept of narrative. Then Holman came up with the idea of needle-felted illustrations. That’s when Cozy Classics was born.

H: We wanted our books to appeal to any one of any age, serving as true word primers for wee ones, storytelling vehicles for older kids, and fun, ironic abridgements for adults. Hopefully, we’ve achieved that goal.


2) Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

H: One of our literary heroes is Maurice Sendak. He once talked about a great misconception regarding children’s books: that they should always be healthy, funny, clever and upbeat. But Sendak wanted to show “the little tattered edges of what life is like.” So in Where the Wild Things Are, Max yells at his mom (unheard of for a children’s book at the time). In the Night Kitchen features full frontal nudity of a little boy, while Outside Over There depicts a fantastical baby kidnapping by goblins! So we agree with Sendak’s attitude that children’s books don’t need to be hyper-sanitized.


3) Where you always into crafts? How did you come upon needle felting and why did you choose it as your medium versus other 3D art styles?

Jack and Holman Wang - Halloween CostumesJ: I wouldn’t say we were always into “crafts.” We made a lot of stuff when we were kids, like our own Halloween costumes out of cardboard, without any help from our parents. We didn’t think of it as “crafting.” We were just doing stuff as kids and having fun.

H: As an adult, I never thought of myself as a “crafter” until I taught myself to needle felt, expressly for the purpose of illustrating Cozy Classics. Needle felting is actually a fairly new crafting technique that is still growing in popularity, but it seemed old-fashioned in a way that we thought resonated perfectly with the classics.


4) Is it truly amazing that you are able to boil down the essence of each movie into 12 words. Can you share your process for determining which scenes and which words to choose?

J: When you only have twelve words to work with, you have to focus on the main narrative arc. You can’t just pick the twelve coolest or most iconic scenes from each book or movie, because you have to make sure there’s at least some sense of narrative continuity for the uninitiated. Then you need to ensure that each image conveys in a direct way a child-friendly word or concept. So a lot goes into determining each page.

H: For example, Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope begins with the words “princess” and “trouble,” because that’s the essence of the story: a princess is in trouble and needs to be rescued. The next two words are “boy” and “learn”—Luke needs to learn to use the Force and become a Jedi. So on one level, our books just pair simple words with simple images, but on another level we’re trying to help parents and kids find the story arc for each character.


5) Did illustrating Star Wars seem daunting since it is so iconic and universally recognizable? What steps did you take to make the art as authentic as possible to the movies?

H: Absolutely, it was daunting! When abridging classic novels, there’s always room for interpretation, because the original text is written. But with Star Wars, the original “text” is filmic, so we knew that readers would have a very clearly idea of what they wanted to see. So it was less about interpretation and more about homage. We ensured authenticity by watching the movies again and again, and studying film stills, and then recreating sets and doing location photography as slavishly as we could.

J: We even flew down to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California—where George Lucas filmed parts of Return of the Jedi—for the desert scenes on Tatooine. It doesn’t get more authentic than that!


6) Any new books we should be on the look out for?

J: Yes! Our Cozy Classics series is moving over to Chronicle Books starting next spring. Chronicle will be re-issuing backlist titles, as well as three new titles: Great Expectations (spring 2015), The Nutcracker (fall 2015) and The Wizard of Oz (spring 2016).


7) Where can readers find you on the Internet?

H: Our website is and our Twitter handle is @jackandholman. You can find all of our additional social media pages from there!


Check out this video to get a Behind the Scenes look at the making of the Star Wars Epic Yarn books!

September 12, 2015

Interview with Laurie Wallmark

Laurie WallmarkI am delighted to bring you today’s interview with Laurie Wallmark, author of the beautiful non-fiction story Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Check out my book review.

1) Writing for children is not your first career. Tell us about your background and how you came to write picture books.

Writing is my third (out of four) careers. After graduating from college with a degree in biochemistry, career #1 was as a scientific programmer in the pharmaceutical industry. While working there, I received a masters degree in Information Systems. For career #2, I left Corporate America and opened a mail order company specializing in books about adoption and infertility. I had a bookstore on the web before Amazon! One day I had an idea for a middle-grade novel, so here came career #3. I didn’t try picture books until several years later, because I knew how hard they were to write. Coming full circle back to computers, I now teach computer science at the college level, both on campus and in prison. I’m also in my last semester in the MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Wow that is impressive that you’ve had such a variety of careers with a continuous connection to science.


2) What was your inspiration for writing about Ada Byron Lovelace?

I’m drawn to writing about strong, underappreciated women in STEM. I feel it’s important for all children, not just girls, to realize the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. People often ask me how I heard about Ada, since she’s such an unknown (until now) person. My reply is, “Do you remember when you first heard about <insert famous person’s name here>.” I know when I learned about George Washington, because I went to Washington Elementary School, and his picture was in every classroom. But what about all the other familiar names from history? I certainly don’t remember how I heard about them. My guess is I first came across Ada in one of the many books about mathematics and mathematicians I read as a child.

I only learned of Ada Lovelace a few years ago because of a Google Doodle.


3) Can you tell us about your writing process? (research, writing, finding the story)

Writing biographies starts and ends with research, research, and more research. Whenever possible, you want to use primary sources so you don’t receive information filtered through someone else’s impressions. As I do the research, I keep a list of events from the person’s life I think might make a good picture book scene. Then I let the project sit for a while to allow time for my subconscious to come up with an approach to sharing that person’s accomplishments with the world. Even though a biography is nonfiction, it still needs to contain a story arc. It’s up to me as the writer to find that story. Finally, it’s time to sit down and write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And…, well you get the idea.


4) What advice would you give to someone who wants to write nonfiction?

Writing nonfiction is rewarding and a great deal of fun, but only if you enjoy doing the research. Yes, you want a fun and engaging story, but it’s important your facts are correct. After all, your book might be a child’s only source of information about your subject matter. When you do your research, you often find conflicting “facts.” It’s your job to dig deep and discover the truth.


5) What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a picture book biography about Grace Hopper, another strong woman in STEM. Like Ada, she’s an important person in the history of computing. Grace was the first person to use words in her programs instead of only “1”s and “0”s.

Yeah another STEM book about women in technology!


Some rapid fire questions.

Fact that most people don’t know about you?
I have prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. My college students have to sit in assigned seats. Otherwise, even at the end of the semester, I still can’t tell them apart. I tell them if they say “hi” to me in the hallway, I’ll always say “hi” back. This is because I’m a polite person, not because I recognize them. This is why any events I help organize always include name tags.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read children’s books, of course.

Favorite pick me up snack/drink?
I only drink water—about a gallon a day.

Where can readers find you on the Internet?


Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison. The picture book biography, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.

Be sure to checkout other stops on the blog tour:

9/15/2015 – Frog on a Blog (STEM and Trade Picture Books)
9/22/2015 – Writing and Fishing (Interview)
9/28/2015 – My Brain on Books (About Writing Ada)
10/2/2015 – Still a Dreamer (Interview)
10/6/2015 – Robin Newman Books (Writing About Strong Women)
10/9/2015 – Yvonne Ventresca’s Blog (Five Detours on the Road to Publication)
10/13/2015 – Writing and Illustrating (Writing Firsts)
10/15/2015 – Geek Mom (Acrostic Poem)
10/18/2015 – The Children’s Book Review (Interview)
10/20/2015 – Kaleidoscope (Using Ada in the Classroom)
10/26/2015 – Gold from the Dust (Interview)
11/6/2015 – Picture Books Help Kids Soar (Five Favorite STEM Women in History)
11/6/2015 – VCFA Launch Pad (Interview)

September 6, 2015

Reading to Babies plus book recommendations

Recently I received the following question from a friend and thought I would share my response as it might be helpful to other new parents.

anjbook2Q: My daughter is five months old and I haven’t been able read her much except book that you gifted. Can you help me with what kind of book should I read to her now?  Also I am not good at storytelling to such a small baby. So any pointers would be very helpful.

First I am so happy to hear that you are reading to your daughter that is wonderful. Just the act of your baby hearing your voice for periods of time will help with her development. An NPR article about early childhood reading states:

“Early exposure to language, whether through reading, talking or even singing, has a profound influence on children’s learning through life, research has found. Hearing language from a TV isn’t the same, studies have found. For young children, the words have to come from a real live human.”

So don’t worry about whether you are good at storytelling or not. You are doing just fine. If you do want to make reading more entertaining consider speaking in funny, exaggerated voices. Or take on the deep voice of a hearty pirate or a high-pitched fairy voice. Your baby will love you reading with any voice you take on. Another way of making the reading more interactive is to have the child find things on the page. Ask “Where is the cow?” or “Where is the mouse?” while reading the book and her point to it. (I can’t remember at what age I did this with them. You might have to wait until they are a little older.)

There is no mandatory amount of time that you need to read. Some babies will sit still and get through three books others may start squirming after half a book. It’s okay. It’s more important to make it a part of your daily routine. When my kids were babies I would read a few books right before nap time and then again at bedtime. I would also keep a basket of board books near their toys in the family room and upstairs in their bedroom, that way they could reach them once they were mobile. My oldest loved books so much that I would place her favorite book away from her to encourage crawling and later walking.

As for what type of books to get, I would recommend board books because babies find many uses for books with the most popular being a chewing toy. Babies also love lift-the-flap books, books with textures, and books with photographs of other babies and young kids. Here is a Pinterest search link for finding the best board books for babies.

Here is a list of our favorites:

Baby Faces Board Book (Smile, Sleep, Eat, Hugs & Kisses)
Bear on Bike, Bear at Home – Stella Blackstone
One Moose, Twenty Mice – Clare Beaton
Goodnight MoonThe Big Red Barn – Margaret Wise Brown
B is for Bear – Roger Priddy
What Makes a Rainbow – Betty Ann Schwartz and Dona Turner
Pajama Time – Sandra Boynton (actually any Sandra Boynton book)
Where is Baby’s Bellybutton – Karen Katz
Peekaboo Zoo: Lift the Flap Book – Susan Hood
Brown Bear, Brown Bear – Eric Carle
Tails – Matthew Van Fleet
A Children’s Treasury of Songs – Illustrations by Linda Beck
Violet’s House – Julie Aigner-Clark
Peek-a-Who? – Nina Laden
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – Sherri Rinker
Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell
We’re Going On a Bear Hunt – Helen Oxenbury
Little Blue Truck – Alice Shertle
Tons of Trucks – Sue Fliess


If you have a favorite board book let us know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

July 27, 2014

Behind the Scenes with Chronicle Books plus a Video Book Review

Hi Readers,

So sorry I have been away for the past four months. I have missed all of you. I have been focusing on my own picture book writing and it has been going really well. I am definitely finding my groove so I will start blogging again. I cannot wait to tell you about all the fabulous books coming out this Fall 2014. And I am also taking Katie Davis’s Video Boot Camp course so hopefully you will start to see more video reviews from me as well.




Chronicle Books is an independent publisher based in San Francisco. They produce gorgeous, smart, visually appealing books. This past week children’s editor Melissa Manlove and book designer Ryan Hayes gave a behind the scenes look at children’s publishing. The event was moderated by Irene and Sally from the Marketing department. Below are some of the highlights from the event.

Q: Who partakes in the Acquisition meetings?

A: Editors, Book Designers, Production, Marketing, Publicity … pretty much everyone involved with the book except for Sales.

Q: What makes it a great book for Chronicle? (to Melissa)

A: Magic. (Melissa retold a story of how when they were working on JOSEPHINE, they realized that the text and art were too scrunched up. So Melissa asked her boss if they could have more pages. And the answer was yes. JOSEPHINE is a 3,800 word non-fiction story told in verse. It is 104 pages long!)

josephine collage2


Q: How big is the slush pile?

A: They receive 9-10,000 manuscripts a year. The editorial team gets together once a month to go through the slush pile.

Q: Where do the stories come from that get published?

A: Most stories come from existing authors that they have worked with and from agents. However, they do find stories in the slush pile. They also have a small percentage of stories that are work-for-hire.

Q: What is Chronicle’s position on ebooks and story apps?

A: Chronicle is issuing ebooks for all their frontlist titles. With regards to storybook apps they are not seeing the return on investment at this time, so are taking a wait and see approach.

Q: How many books does Chronicle print on a first-run?

A: This is something that is discussed at the acquisition meeting but the final decision is made later on by the publishing director and sales team. Average first-run in children’s books is 10-15,000. Basically enough to last 3-6months. Their philosophy is to print small and print rapidly.

STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN did have a first run of 100,00. But keep in mind this follows GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE which has been on the New York Bestseller’s list for 146 weeks!

Q: If a writer-only is submitting a novelty book idea can they submit a prototype or extra material.

A: Submit whatever is necessary to get the vision across. (The novelty book WHAT’S IN YOUR PURSE was created by a writer-only author and she did submit additional pdfs explaining/showing the interactive portions of the book.)

Hope you found these few highlights helpful. If you have any other questions fell free to ask in the comments. If I know the answer I’ll try to answer.

For your viewing pleasure below is my first ever video review of the adorable book WHAT’S IN YOUR PURSE by Chronicle Books. Enjoy!

February 28, 2014

Interview with Salina Yoon and Penguin


Yesterday I reviewed the heart-warming Penguin series. Today I am so excited to share my interview with Salina Yoon. I met Salina through the Verla Kay Blueboards (now SCBWI boards) where she is an active member. She has a generous, caring spirit which comes shining through in her Penguin books. She is a “prolific” author/illustrator and has published over 200 books!! She has 6 new books coming out in the next two years. She got her start in novelty/board books and has recently branched out into character-drive picture books with great success. 

What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your art and writing?

I like to capture the innocence of childhood, when anything and everything can be your friend. A child has an innate love for things and a need to connect, even if they are inanimate. Children see the preciousness of things we grown-ups sometimes overlook… and I bring this character to life through Penguin.

Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

Eric Carle, Gyo Fujikawa, and Dr. Seuss were my earliest creative influences even though I don’t illustrate like any of them! Each are completely unique: Carle’s is graphic and minimalistic, Fujikawa’s is soft and rendered, and Dr. Seuss is wild and imaginative! It made me realize that a story can be delivered in many ways. I love to play around with art style from one book to the next (unless it’s a series). I could name dozens more books that are completely unique—and collectively, they are my influence, and remind me that each book can have its own character, style, and delivery. But specifically, Hervé Tullet inspired my own Tap to Play, the art of Charley Harper influenced the artwork in Kaleidoscope and Pinwheel. I also LOVE the art of Jon Klassen, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and Antoinette Portis. Groundbreakers—these talented people!

kal and pin

(Note: Pinwheel is unavailable currently, but is scheduled to be reprinted, and will be available again later this year/2014 due to early sell-out in 2013)

For Penguin’s art, though, it came internally from my childhood self. I wanted to draw Penguin in a way a child would. But at the time, I was illustrating all of my books with a mouse. This made it difficult to draw organically. So I purchased a Wacom tablet to allow myself to draw with a pen tool. Since I wasn’t familiar how to draw with this tool and tablet, my drawings were somewhat child-like. I decided to keep that “style” and it worked for Penguin.

What advice would you give to beginning authors and illustrators?

Make it your goal to CREATE, write, and grow, . . . and not to publish. Keep your eye on the ball… and that ball is to write or illustrate,… and publishing will follow!

Initially you were focused on novelty books and jumped into character-driven picture books with the Penguin series (which I love). Do you have any writing/illustrating goals that you would still like to accomplish?

Thank you (for loving Penguin!) I’ve enjoyed creating each and every one of my novelty books, but when I wrote Penguin, I was ready for a new challenge, and JUMP, I did! Since Penguin’s first book in 2012, I will have 9 character-driven picture books published by 2016 (so far)! There’s so many more I’d like to do, but I also aspire to write and illustrate for the early reader or even possibly the early chapter book market!

What were the seeds of inspiration for Penguin and Pinecone?

My first son was always very curious. As a toddler, he’d examine things very closely– like a fallen leaf on the ground. When he turned 4 or 5, he loved to collect things—like rocks, leaves, shells, and pine cones. He was very particular about the things he collected, and from his collections, there was always one that stood out. He’d take it, place it in a box, and ask for me to make it a blanket. A piece of fleece or napkin was enough. He didn’t ask for goggly eyes to attach to it or change it in any way. The way it was was simply enough. He’d name it… usually the name of the object, plus a “y” at the end. A rock became “Rocky,” a shell became “Shelly,” and so on. This sweet, nurturing spirit inspired Penguin’s character, though I didn’t know it at the time. It stayed with me, and when Penguin was born, I realized later that my son had inspired him!

What future adventures are in-store for Penguin?

Penguin is seeking to experience one of our favorite seasons—FALL—in his next adventure. And this time, he’s not traveling alone! Look for Penguin’s fourth book, Penguin and Pumpkin, in July 2014! This one focuses on the relationship of siblings. If you have a child with a younger sibling, this might be a sweet book to share.

Now some rapid fire questions for Penguin.

Who is your best friend?

I have made many best friends through my adventures! But among them, I have to say that Pinecone, Crab, and Bootsy are my very best of friends! (Learn how this happened in PENGUIN AND PINECONE, PENGUIN ON VACATION, and PENGUIN IN LOVE)

What is your snack of choice?

Fishies from the ocean, and marshmallows.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

The beach—where I met Crab.


If you weren’t a penguin what animal would you like to be?
It would be fun to be a boy dressed up in a wolf suit so I could cause mischief! That counts as an animal, right? I never cause mischief in real life.


Is Ms. Yoon a penguin-driver or laid back? 
She works very hard, but I get to do whatever I want… like bake.


Can you share with us your favorite selfie?


I like this picture because I am holding my own book!

Where can we can we follow you and Ms. Yoon?

You can follow me on my blog:
or my FB page:
and you can follow my Mama, Salina Yoon, on her FB page:
or learn more about her on her website:

Be sure to check-out Salina’s upcoming books.

FOUND (Walker Books for Young Readers), April 1, 2014
Penguin and Pumpkin (Walker Books for Young Readers), July 29, 2014
Tap to Play, (HarperCollins), Oct 7, 2014

Forthcoming in 2015-2016
Two additional Bear picture books, and one more Penguin book (untitled) with Walker Books for Young Readers

SY PB strip 2

I also recommend checking out these other fabulous interviews with Salina.


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