Gravity is a Tribute to Streetball

One look at Charly Palmer’s art and you know it makes bold statements. He has said, “I put all my focus, energy and love into us. I’m an extremist when it comes to the love of Black people,” and there is no doubt that is true. Visit his website here to view some of his magnificent fine art and picture book illustrations.

In his author-illustrator debut, this multi-award winning illustrator has created a book that is a loving tribute to streetball.  The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale is set in Milwaukee, where Palmer grew up, and the words and images show the fluid movement of the game throughout.

Charly will be  presenting his picture book at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 21st, 2:15 – 3:05 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion (a book signing immediately follows).  The festival will be at its new location – Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park. 

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book? “My desire is to encourage children; to tell their story.  My message is teamwork and working together. “

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book? “Team work. Getting the message further from working together.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Describe them. “Everyone! There is no age limit in learning.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you? “I do children’s books because I love children. I collected children’s books when I was a child. It a love for me.

This is your author/illustrator debut – what inspired you to try your hand at writing a picture book? “My conviction, is I believed I could do it; then I discovered I was good at telling a story. I’ve been inspired by all the great writers higher than myself.

What do you love most about your cover art and illustrations in your book?   Can you tell us about your creation process? “It’s hard to say. I’m critical of my own work. I’m proud to capture GRAVITY as an illustration. I think I did well with him.”

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book? “The children in my book represent everyone., and I relate to myself, as their narrator.”  It’s not about race or gender. It’s just about “being.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you? “I am happy that I am getting reviews. I don’t look to be confirmed or verified. That’s not my motivation. My motivation is children!

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival? “I’m looking forward to meeting new people, hearing their stories, sharing our stories; how my book may have inspired them. I am currently working on a follow-up to GRAVITY…stay tuned!

If you would like to learn more about Charly and his creative process, check out these two articles:

Charly Palmer’s picture book ‘The Legend of Gravity’ is a loving tribute to streetball (Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
 Meet the world-renowned artist from Milwaukee who’s pushing the way we read children’s books (WTJM-TV Milwaukee)

Charly Palmer is a graphic designer, illustrator and the Africana Book Award and Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe New Talent Award winner for “Mama Africa!” As a child, he was fascinated by Ezra Jack Keats’s illustrations for “The Snowy Day,” which inspired Charly’s own use of color and geometric shapes. He studied art and design at the American Academy of Art and the School of the Art Institute, both in Chicago. Charly will be presenting “The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale” at the Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Kitty Sweet Tooth Makes Her Way to GBF

My students LOVE graphic novels.  Strong readers, reluctant readers, those with attention issues – nearly all my students read graphic novels. They also love dogs and cats, so you can imagine that Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series, John Gallagher’s Max Meow series,  John Green’s InvestiGATOR series (yes, I know gators aren’t dogs or cats) books don’t stay on my library shelves for long – if at all.  I am excited to add Kitty Sweet Tooth to my ever-growing graphic novel collection!

Abby Denson will be part of an “animals and their antics” graphic novel panel, along with John Gallagher (Max Meow), John Patrick Green (InvestiGATORS), Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy series) at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21 at our new location, Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 S. Frederick Avenue, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Abby’s Graphic Novel Author Presentation:  12:15-1:05 pm in the Willa Cather Pavilion. It will be immediately followed by a book signing.

I hope you enjoy my interview with the delightful Abby Denson!

What is your creative space/studio like?

Abby’s creative space – photo provided by the author.

It’s a large room with a couch and a lot of natural light that has two computer workstations and a drawing space. I have multicolor fairy lights hanging around the room and wall art that includes a black cat hanging rug and various Japanese furoshiki cloth hangings with patterns I like. I also have book shelves with lots of comics and graphic novels on them as well as my small collection of dolls and action figures. This includes a Kitty Sweet Tooth plush doll that my editor Robyn Chapman commissioned as a (very thoughtful) gift when the book launched! It was made by the talented Claire Sanders.  

Kitty Sweet Tooth plush doll created by Clare Sanders.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

Mainly, I just want my books to be available to readers, but I love it when my books are part of a nice display, or if they get featured as a recommended read. That’s great! I also hope for my books to be included on ALA recommended reading lists and considered for awards. I love to do library events, and luckily have been able to do several virtual library talks over the past year.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

Kitty Sweet Tooth is about friends creating something great for their community together, and it can teach kids about overcoming obstacles and unexpected mishaps through cooperation. It centers on a character who has an enthusiastic love for movies, and she is inspired to share that with her town at the movie theater. I hope it will encourage readers to share their enthusiasm and appreciation for the arts and encourage their own feelings of creativity.

Uniquely Japan is a non-fiction book covering different Japanese cultural topics. I hope that readers will learn a lot about Japan from it, or at least enjoy  looking at my comics, photos, and drawings!

Who is the reader you are writing for? 

Anyone who wants to have a fun and enjoyable read, but is also interested in learning something new. 

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I’m hoping that my books will make people smile, and I want readers to know that if they are inspired to do so, they can also create their own books and comics. Please go for it!

What do you love most about  your cover art and illustrations in your book?   

For Kitty Sweet Tooth, the entire book was illustrated by Utomaru, who is a brilliant artist! I’m so glad I get to work with her. Frankly, I love everything about her cover art! Though if I had to pick out details, I do especially love the cake that Kitty is holding and also the way the film reel wraps around to the back of the book. Also, there is a totally different (equally gorgeous) cover design under the dust jacket, so please look inside and check it out. Molly Johanson did the amazing design work!

For Uniquely Japan, the cover includes my own illustrations, and I am really happy with the compact hard cover design of the book – the Tuttle team did a great job! I especially like the way the sushi and bento illustrations came out.

[Melissa:  If you would like to read more about Uniquely Japan, here’s the link to an article in Stars and Stripes.]

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

 In Kitty Sweet Tooth, it can be surprising how resilient and tough Kitty is (you’ll see more of this in her next book Kitty Sweet Tooth Makes a Movie). Even when different mishaps occur, she and her friends can figure things out together. 

Publishes October 18, 2022.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

Receiving an International Manga Award for my book Dolltopia was really special. Having my work recognized by a board of established manga creators was very meaningful to me. 

I also recently got a very insightful review for Uniquely Japan from UK Anime Network. I felt that they really understood what I was aiming for with the book. Read the UK Anime Network review here.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

Meeting the readers and my fellow authors!

Please join Abby Denson at Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!

Abby Denson is the author of “Uniquely Japan,” the “Kitty Sweet Tooth” series (illustrated by Utomaru), “Cool Tokyo Guide,” “Cool Japan Guide,” “Dolltopia” and “Tough Love: High School Confidential.” She has scripted comics for Amazing Spider-Man Family, Powerpuff Girls Comics, Simpsons Comics, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, Disney Adventures, and many others. Her work has garnered the International Manga Award, Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, and IPPY Award. She has taught and lectured at various venues including the Eugene Lang College at The New School and Sophia University in Tokyo.

P is for Puffin: ABCs and GBF

Maryland author-illustrator Timothy Young is a long-time friend of the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and the creator of many wonderful children’s books, including his newest, P is for Puffin: The ABCs of Uncommon Animals, a delightful nonfiction board book for children of all ages.

Melissa with Timothy at 2017 GBF

Timothy seems to love the beautiful Atlantic Puffin which nests in the North Atlantic. In the summer, birdwatchers “flock” to Maine and eastern Canada to catch a glimpse of them.

Fans of Timothy’s picture books will remember that in 2014 he published the children’s book, The Angry Little Puffin, about a Penguin – er – Puffin with lots of feelings. Four years later, in 2018, he published If You Give the Puffin a Muffin, about the same grumpy Puffin who realizes that he’s the subject of another picture book and the target of a rhyming scheme gone wrong.

Timothy will be presenting P Is for Puffin: The ABCs of Uncommon Animals along with June Smalls (He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, The Gentle Giant 11:15-12:05 in the Jim Henson Pavilion (immediately followed by a book signing). 

He will also lead an illustration workshop for teens entitled Drawing Animals: Either Realistic or Funny 2:00-2:45 pm in the Children’s Village Workshop Tent.

I hope you enjoy my interview with author-illustrator Timothy Young.

What is your creative space like? 

I have a great workspace in my home. I moved into a larger room in the house in January 2021 so I could have room to set it up so that half of it is a presentation space for virtual visits. I have so many lights it’s like working in a TV studio! I also have lots of books and toys and other stuff, things I have worked on and things that I just like having around. I also have my drawing table on one end near the front window and a reclining chair by the back window where I can relax, think and read.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your new book (or any of your books)?

While it is a board book I would hope that the illustrations and animal facts would appeal to older children who are interested in animals.

Can you tell me about your research process for P is for Puffin?

I have been interested in animals since I was very young. I still have a set of animal cards that my mom signed me up for. I received a new set of cards each month for many years. Many of the animals in the book I already knew about. In picking specific animals for each letter I learned about some animals I had not heard of before like the Shekru and the Fairy Armadillo. I read everything I could find about each animal and picked some interesting facts about each.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them.

As with most of my books my first audience is me. I write books that I would have liked reading as a child. I hope that there are kids out there who love to learn about new animals and it sparks their curiosity further. 

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

This book began as another vehicle for my Angry Puffin but as I worked on it I realized I wanted to represent these animals differently. Most of my books are just funny stories. The more I worked on it the more I wanted to do something for these animals I cared about and that’s when I decided to donate my royalties to an animal charity. I friend of mine introduced me to the Wildlife Conservation Network and I was very happy when they accepted my donation. They help quite a few of the animals in my book like the Okapi and the Pangolin and give every penny they raise to organizations directly involved in protecting animals.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book? 

I created my illustrations in a different style than my other books. I wanted the focus to be on the animals and I illustrated them more realistically rather than in a cartoony style. They are still a bit stylized and look friendly and approachable. I spent a lot of time drawing fur. Even digitally it take some time and brush stroke to draw that much fur.

Can you tell us about your creative process? What medium did you use? Could you share images of your work in progress?

In the early stages, when it was more of a story, I drew some of the animals in my usual way. Since I had already written books with a puffin, a coatimundi and a capybara as characters I drew similar versions of those characters in more animal type poses. I then decided to change that and draw them with more detail. Once I have a pencil drawing I inked them and then scanned the ink drawings into Photoshop. I did all of my coloring, detailing and shading in that program. Originally the animals were on solid color backgrounds. At the suggestion of my publisher I added subtle backgrounds to my illustrations.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

If I were in this for awards I would have stopped long ago. Being with a small publisher it’s easy to be overlooked. I toyed with the idea of putting a circle on the cover of “untitled” with the words PLACE CALDICOTT HERE but I liked the blankness of the final design.

The best awards come when you get a note from a parent, teacher or student about that one kid who loves your book so much that they read it over and over or it’s the first book they wanted to read in front of their class. 

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I love the Gaithersburg Book Festival. This is the first one I’m doing in almost three years. I love meeting the readers, I love re-connecting with other authors who I only get to see at festivals and, of course, seeing all over, the volunteers who bring this all together.

Please come to the 13th annual Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st to meet Timothy Young, and lots of other talented children’s authors and illustrators!

As a child Timothy Young always wondered who made the toys he played with, who wrote and illustrated the books he read and who made the cartoons he watched. He grew up to be one of the people who got to do all of them.

His career has included being the head model-maker for the Penny cartoons on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, building Muppets for Jim Henson and sculpting the first Simpsons toys. He is the author/illustrator of 13 books including “I Hate Picture Books!,” “The Angry Little Puffin” and his newest, “P is for Puffin.”

Karthik Finds His Passion @ GBF

The School Library Journal review of Karthik Delivers shares that “Chari’s prose has a very conversational tone, which adds to the book’s authenticity and ease of reading . . . A wonderful realistic fiction title about a young Indian boy following his heart.”  I agree whole-heartedly. Karthik is a character that many can connect with on a variety of levels and is so very endearing. I found myself rooting for him the entire time I listened to the audio book. Simply trying to navigate one’s teenage years along with an annoying older sibling and nerdy parents is difficult enough, without taking a chance and doing the unexpected (like acting in a play.) But those who have been part of a theatrical performance know that it is a great place to be to find – or reinvent – yourself!

Author Sheela Chari will be presenting her newest middle grade novel, Karthik Delivers, on May 21st at the 13th Gaithersburg Book Festival at its new location, Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park.

Sheela will be presenting Karthik Delivers along with Mariama J. Lockington (In the Key of Us) in the Willa Cather Pavilion 4:15-5:05, immediately followed by a book signing. The discussion will be moderated by MCPS School Librarian,Terri Perper.

I hope you enjoy my interview with author Sheela Chari.

What is your writing space like?  

Photo provided by the author.

My writing space is my attic office. It’s beautiful and quiet, and from up here, I can watch birds in the tree next to my window,

and the gorgeous, evening sunsets. I also have a bulletin board hanging over my desk, with pictures, postcards, and mementos that inspire me. 

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

I think Karthik Delivers is a funny book and a quick read, but it also gets to the heart of some important questions facing middle schoolers:

What am I passionate about? How do I fit in while still being myself? How am I going to be different from my family and their expectations of me? These are questions especially important in immigrant households like the one I grew up in, when our cultural backgrounds shape those expectations our parents have for us.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

In this story, 14 year-old Karthik is working in his dad’s Indian grocery store when he gets unexpectedly cast as the lead in a play. This might sound like a miracle, but such miracles happen in life all the time. When an opportunity falls in your lap, grab it! You never know what will happen next.

Melissa – I loved the audio book narration by Varun Sathi, a Boston-based voice actor.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them.

I’m writing for middle schoolers, parents, librarians, and anyone who is interested in the creative arts (drama, art, music), growing up in an immigrant household, or finding their passions!

Melissa – I continually encourage my students to get involved in the creative arts – especially theatre, as there is something for everyone, and it is so empowering.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I grew up playing the violin, and so music is a very important part of my life. I’m always interested in finding ways to include art and music into my life. 

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?    Who is your illustrator?

I love my cover! The illustrator is Kitt Thomas, and they did a fantastic job rendering Karthik riding his delivery bike in Boston, while looking upwards and dreaming!

If you look carefully at the cover, you will notice that Kitt incorporated orange, green, white, and blue — the colors of the Indian flag! 

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

One of my hopes was to show that kindness prevails nearly in every situation. All of my characters grow, either by learning to adopt more kindness towards others, or to accept it when shown to them. Karthik delivers groceries, the lines from his play, but most importantly, on kindness to his friends, family, and the customers at the store. But I’m most surprised to see how this kindness turns out to be the very basis of how all the characters relate to each other by the end of the story.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

I was thrilled to receive the APALA Children’s Literature Honor Book award for my first novel, Vanished!  

I was also so excited to receive a starred review from Publishers Weekly for Karthik Delivers, who describes the book as “overflowing with love.” Wow! For me, writing the book was definitely an act of love.

Melissa:  Want to learn more about Sheela? Please read the We Need Diverse Books blog Q&A With Sheela Chari, Karthik Delivers – it is a wonderful interview!

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

Books are about readers and writers intersecting with each on the page. But book festivals are about people being together. I can’t wait to see readers of all ages and passions together in-person!

I hope you will join Sheela and me at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!

Sheela Chari is the author of the Edgar Award finalist “Vanished” and “Finding Mighty,” a Children’s Choice Award finalist and Junior Library Guild selection. Sheela has an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, and is a faculty member of Vermont College of  Arts’s MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives with her family in New York. She will be presenting “Karthik Delivers” at the Gaithersburg Book Festival.

A Joyous Family Collaboration @ GBF

Sisters-in-law Sanyukta Mathur and Courtney Pippin-Mathur will be joining the stage together to present their book Happy Diwali! at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st.  Their presentation will be in the Willa Cather Pavilion beginning at 10:15am. The picture book Happy Diwali! is a joyous family collaboration about the Hindu festival of lights.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Sanyukta Mathur and Courtney Pippin-Mathur.

What prompted you to write this book together?  How did you get started?
Courtney – I drew an illustration of my daughter hiding behind some sarees and mailed it out on a postcard. An editor (not the one who acquired HD) approached me at a conference and said that I should write a book featuring our inter-racial and intercultural family celebrating holidays in the US. So, I ran back to my hotel room and called Sanyukta and asked her to list everything that she does to prepare for Diwali for our family. I added a few things and put it into a picture book format and created a rough dummy (like a sketch of the entire picture book) and it was sent off for submissions.

Original postcard
Final image in book

Sanyukta: When Courtney approached me with the idea I was really surprised, it’s not my field: But the more we discussed we felt this book reflecting our blended family, showing how we try to celebrate traditions in the US was maybe something that was needed. Ultimately this is the book I was always searching for when I was looking for simple books about Indian festivals to share with my kids & at their school. It’s been a joy to work on this with Courtney. 

Are you planning to write any future books together?  If so, could you tell us about it?
Courtney – Hopefully!  🙂 Two of our other favorite holidays are Holi (festival of Spring) and Raksha Bandhan (celebrating the love between brothers and sisters) so it would be lovely to be able to share those!

Sanyukta: We hope so! 😉

Do you have any resources about Diwali you would like to share with readers?   Do you have a discussion guide?  Or discussion questions?
Courtney -There is currently not a discussion guide, though I will work on something for this fall, when the book will be out before Diwali. (Shipping delays last year pushed the book to be released after Diwali.) There are a few books out about celebrating Diwali in India that we share on the holiday. I’ll let Sanyukta chime in with her favorites. 
Sanyukta: there are many lovely books about Diwali that explain the Hindu mythology behind the festival. One of our family favorites is Amma tell me about Diwali written by Bhakti Mathur (no relation). My kids also enjoy the books by Sanjay Patel (E.g., The Little Book of Hindu Deities). When I was growing up we loved reading the Indian graphic/comic books by Amar Chitra Katha that relayed Indian religious and historic stories.

Melissa – Additional resources that my readers may find helpful:
Celebrate Diwali With Books! | Parenting Tips… | PBS KIDS for Parents
21 Children’s Books about Diwali, the Festival of Lights –

What medium did you use to create your art, Courtney?  Can you tell us about your process?  Do you have any pictures of the various stages of creation?

Courtney – I combined watercolor and line drawing in photoshop. Here is a spread through a few of the stages:

Original line drawing that I scanned.
About 2/3 finished, with most of the colors blocked in.
Final image in the book.

What is your writing space/ art studio like? Courtney – My husband and I share a room. I call it my corner of chaos, because I have a lot crammed into a small space (including random things my kids throw on my desk). 

I hope you enjoy my interview with Happy Diwali! co-authors @SanyuktaMathur and @pippinmathur @MacmillanUSA @MacKidsBooks @GburgBookFest

Sanyukta – We worked on this book during the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns, so my writing and collaboration space was my basement office and zoom!

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?
Courtney – I hope they will share it in storytimes to teach kids about Diwali and connect it with other important holidays that celebrate goodness and light and being with families. 
Sanyukta – I hope librarians can use our book to talk about Diwali (the Festival of Lights), about different festivals around the world, how festivals are celebrated by people of the Indian diaspora, and how food/special meals are often a key part of many family celebrations.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?
Courtney – I hope they will learn about Diwali and how we celebrate it in our mixed cultural family. 
Sanyukta – I hope young readers will see how some families in the US celebrate Diwali. I hope, too, that the vibrant illustrations will make them curious about the traditions, clothes and foods.  

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them.
Courtney – Children who are curious about other cultures and holidays.
Sanyukta – This book is for families who want to see their culture and traditions represented and families who are curious about other cultural celebrations.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
Courtney – I love being part of a multi-cultural family and believe diversity makes people more kind and caring and stronger as a community.  
Sanyukta – I loved working with my sister-in-law on this book and am excited to share how our diverse family continues the traditions of Diwali here in the US. 

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?
Courtney – Being able to include most of the children in our family and the raised embossing and foil and the teal background 
Sanyukta – The illustrations by Courtney (my sister-in-law) really make the book and the festival come alive in all its vibrancy. 

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?
Courtney – How happy all the nieces, nephews, and cousins are about being drawn in a book. I was so stressed about capturing cartoon versions of real people! 
Sanyukta – Not so much a surprise about the characters, but I was surprised by how my son (who is one of the kids in the book) was overjoyed to take this book to his 3rd grade class and share the book and Diwali with his friends.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
Courtney – I love the vibe of being around book lovers, kids and adults! 
Sanyukta – I love the GBF and we usually make it an annual family event. I hope we get to meet lots of curious kids, teachers, librarians, and parents and share this book with them.

I hope you will join me and attend Sanyukta and Courtney’s presentation at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st.

Sanyukta Mathur

Sanyukta Mathur is a social scientist and studies how to improve the health and well-being of young people around the world. She is the author of various research publications. “Happy Diwali!” is her first children’s book. She lives in Maryland with her family.

Courtney Pippin-Mathur

Courtney Pippin-Mathur is an author/illustrator of picture books, such as “Maya was Grumpy” (2013), “Dragons Rule, Princesses Drool” (2017) and “Happy Diwali,” with her sister-in-law, Sanyukta Mathur (2021). She loves being part of a multicultural family and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, three children and one very friendly dog.

Just Right Jillian is Coming to GBF

If you haven’t heard of Nicole D. Collier’s debut middle grade novel, Just Right Jillian, you need to get ahold of a copy!  Kirkus Reviews describes it as, “A heartwarming novel about developing the courage to stop hiding.”  As someone who was very shy as a child, a straight-A student with self-esteem issues, and had my share of run-ins with bullies in elementary school, I connected with Jillian right away. I hope Just Right Jillian finds her way onto many bookshelves, and into the hands of young readers everywhere, because she will be your readers’ new best friend.

Nicole will be presenting Just Right Jillian at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in the Friendships & Feelings author panel with Hena Khan (Zara’s Rules for Ground-Breaking Fun) and Angela Dominguez (Stella Diaz to the Rescue)  on May 21st  in the Jim Henson Pavilion 4:15-5:05pm (immediately followed by author signing.)

I hope that you enjoy my interview with Nicole D. Collier, Ph.D.

What is your writing space like?

I write wherever I feel most comfortable. Sometimes I’m curled up on the floor, other times I’m sitting up tall at a desk, and still others, I may be sitting outdoors with my notebook or laptop on my lap or a nearby table. Whenever possible, I write by the light of the sun. Thankfully, Georgia is sunny year around, so you’ll usually catch me near windows if I’m indoors.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

I hope librarians will share this book with everyone. It’s great for shy readers who will see their struggles so plainly on the page. It’s wonderful for kids who love real life stories – these characters could be your classmates and neighbors. It’s a sweet book for people who enjoy reading about friendships. Friends and allies can come from unexpected places, and first impressions aren’t always right. And, I’ve had many non-shy readers tell me they’ve developed so much empathy for their shyer, quieter friends.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

Many of us have this one big thing that stops us from living the lives we want to live. For Jillian that ‘one thing’ is a lack of confidence in herself. Ultimately, she decides to go after her goal, in the face of her doubts. I hope readers will see themselves in Jillian, and decide to pursue their dreams, even if doing so feels scary.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them.

I’m writing for the reader with a big secret (smile). In all honesty, all kids have interior lives they keep hidden to all but their closest friends. Sometimes even their friends don’t know the deep down truth. When you’re growing up, there’s always something to figure out on your own. You’re trying to decide who you are, what you want to do and be, and how to bridge the gap. I write stories in the gap. I’m writing for the kids who don’t have it all together, who haven’t figured it out yet. They’re not sure what to do, or who to ask, but they are relieved to see they are not alone.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I came to writing after years of procrastination, fear, and whatever else keeps you from pursuing your dreams. Even though I’ve known since elementary school that I wanted to be a children’s author, I found a million ways to avoid it. I understand what it’s like to grapple with the truth and feel as if you can’t let it out. I think about this all the time – the struggle to be authentic. I’m writing from a place of compassion and love. I hope it shines through.

I’m writing from a place of compassion and love. I hope it shines through.

~ Nicole D. Collier ~

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

One of my friends exclaimed when she first saw the cover saying, “Wow! That looks just like my daughter.” I pulled up a picture of the little girl and she was absolutely right. I love the cover because so many young readers can see themselves in Jillian – from her Afro puffs to her wide, curious eyes. I also love that she is so big and prominent holding a newly hatching chick. This story is all about Jillian taking center stage in her own life and learning to break free from her shell. You can see all of it in just one glance.

(Kitt Thomas is the illustrator of this beautiful book cover.  Kitt also created the illustrations for Stacey Abrams’ bestseller, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words and Sheela Chari’s middle grade novel  Karthik Delivers – Sheela is also presenting at Gaithersburg Book Festival.)

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

I spent a long time with the characters before I began writing, so nothing really surprised me, but I do think readers are often surprised by the layers they each have. There’s always more than meets the eye!

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

I treasure all of the book reviews I’ve received thus far. There’s no guarantee that readers in general, nor reviewers in particular, will “get” your book. I’m so grateful that many have written so thoughtfully and warmly of Jillian. I also deeply appreciate being featured alongside other Black middle grade authors in Horn Book and Kirkus for writing books simply about daily life. I love observing and writing about everyday experiences, so it means a lot to me to see this valued by others.

(There are many wonderful interviews and reviews of Nicole’s book linked on her website here.)

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

As a debut author, this will be my first festival! I’m excited to meet new readers, meet fellow authors, and be inspired to get back to work!

Click here for more information about the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21, 2022, at our new venue, Gaithersburg Bohrer Park. See you there!

Nicole D. Collier, Ph.D., was born and raised just south of Atlanta. She has spent the past two decades teaching. Originally an elementary school teacher, she’s now a partner in an executive training, coaching and consulting firm. Nicole writes for all ages, but her first love is middle grade contemporary fiction. Young people are trying to discern who they are vs. who they want to be, and how to bridge the gap between the two. Nicole’s stories are in that gap. A self-proclaimed ever-victorious woman, Nicole has been known to run, dance, and turn cartwheels on sunny days. She will be presenting “Just Right Jillian” at the Festival.

Stella Diaz is Coming to GBF!

If you joined us for vGBF 2021 and the Dream Big panel (I hope you did!), you will be thrilled to know that Angela Dominguez is joining us again this year with her newest middle grade novel, Stella Diaz to the RescueIt is book #4 in her popular series with the delightful Stella, who is based on Angela’s experiences growing up Mexican-American. A talented artist as well as writer, Angela is the illustrator of her Stella Diaz series of middle grade novels.   Her next book in the series, Stella Diaz Leaps to the Future will publish on March 21, 2023!

Don’t miss the series’ Sea Musketeers resources and activity kit on the Macmillan website – click here

Angela has written and illustrated several children’s picture books, including the sweet, I Love You Baby Burrito. She is the illustrator for Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s newest picture book, Just Help! A talented artist, Angela is a two-time Pura Belpré Illustration Honoree for the illustrations in picture books, Maria Had  Little Llama (2014) and Mango, Abuela, and Me (2016).

Angela will be presenting Stella Diaz to the Rescue at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in the Friendships & Feelings author panel with Hena Khan (Zara’s Rules for Ground-Breaking Fun) and Nicole D. Collier (Just Right Jillian) on May 21st  in the Jim Henson Pavilion 4:15-5:05pm (immediately followed by author signing.)

I hope you enjoy my interview with Angela Dominguez!

What is your writing space like?

I have a home office where I do most of my writing. It’s filled with books, knickknacks, my computers, and drawing materials as well. It also has a wonderful view of our backyard where we have spent many hours gardening.

That said, I really enjoy writing on the couch with my dog, Petunia. She insists on curling up on my lap which can make typing a little challenging at times. But with that face, I just can’t say no to her.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

I’ve been very grateful to have librarians be some of my biggest supporters. The way they have championed the first Stella Díaz book, Stella Díaz Has Something to Say, has been amazing. However, the last couple of years have been challenging in many ways. As an author, it’s been especially hard to let people know there are new books. I hope librarians can provide awareness to other books in the Stella series like Stella Díaz Never Gives Up, Stella Díaz Dreams Big and the latest, Stella Díaz to the Rescue.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

There are many things about Stella that are relatable to kids. Her love of sea creatures, her shyness, the bullies she deals with, and her feelings of being overscheduled. Still, if her cultural experience doesn’t relate to some kids, I hope they can learn empathy by reading her story. And

that they will still cheer her on as she overcomes her fears and achieves her goals. That aside, I hope kids learn to care about the environment and speak up for the causes they believe in just like Stella.

Who is the reader you are writing for? Please describe them.

I’m writing for the kids who love series and books, but also for the kids who know what it is like to feel like they don’t quite fit in. The kids whose family speak two languages and maybe feel caught between cultures. I grew up feeling that way and I felt alone in that experience. Now, I realize that many people feel that way. I want kids to know they are not alone.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

That’s a tricky one! I guess they should know that Stella is based on my experiences and personality, but we’re not identical. Sometimes, I think she is even braver than me. One of the biggest differences is I love coffee, but Stella thinks it’s gross.

What do you love most about your book’s cover art?

I always love the job Kristie, the designer, does with the hand lettering. I illustrate Stella to fit in the space around it. I’m always so pleased to see when the full cover comes together. It’s a real collaboration.

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

I never really planned this to be a series. It just has evolved this way. It surprises me how much the characters have grown over the course of these books and the interests they have developed. Their club, the Sea Musketeers, has probably been the most surprising!

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

Winning the Pura Belpré illustration honor twice has been incredible. It helped create more opportunities for me as an author and illustrator. Also feeling embraced by my book and Latino community is a wonderful feeling.

However, I must admit winning the Sid Fleischman award from SCBWI was really special. It’s an award that recognizes humor in writing. My mom always said I was funny, but now I have proof!

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I’m thrilled to be attending in person! I’ve attended the past few years virtually, but nothing compares to seeing an audience. I’m thrilled to meet readers and my fellow authors. It’s going to be a blast!

Click here for more information about the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21, 2022, at our new venue, Gaithersburg Bohrer Park. See you there!

Angela Dominguez was born in Mexico City, and now resides on the East Coast. She is the author and illustrator of several books for children, including the Pura Belpré Illustration Honor books “Mango, Abuela, and Me” (written by Meg Medina) and “Maria Had a Little Llama.” She will be presenting “Stella Díaz to the Rescue” at the 2022 Festival. When Angela is not in her studio, she teaches at the Academy of Art University. Angela is a proud member of SCBWI and PEN America, and is represented by Wernick and Pratt Literary Agency. As a child, she loved reading books and making a mess creating pictures. She’s delighted to still be doing both.

Wildseed Witch #BlackGirlMagic at GBF

Wildseed Witch, written by Marti Dumasis described as “a fun middle-grade contemporary fantasy with an all-BIPOC cast, about a social-media-loving tween who gets sent to an ultra-private witch camp.”  I can think of many of my students who would be interested in getting lost in this story – and with good reason #BlackGirlMagic.  My readers will be able to relate to Hasani’s struggles of standing out, feeling inadequate, and accepting change.

The absolutely stunning cover art was created by the very talented illustrator and graphic artist, Erick Dávila, whose amazing book covers are written about in this Book & Film Globe article, The Amazing Colors of Erick Dávila I encourage you to visit his website linked above and follow Erick on social media to explore his other works of art.

Marti will be presenting Wildseed Witch at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st at Gaithersburg Bohrer Park.  She will be Finding the Magic with Alyssa Colman (The Tarnished Garden) in the Willa Cather Pavilion  3:15-4:05 pm (immediately followed by author signing).

I hope you enjoy my interview with Marti Dumas.

What is your writing space like?  

I prefer to write in small, quiet spaces where I can zone out and click in, but one lesson I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that—in the immortal words of the Rolling Stones—you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need. I’ve written in everything from a tent on a rooftop during lockdown, to favorite coffee shops, to my current desk situation in a corner of our dining room. Whatever works!

Photo provided by Marti Dumas.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?

Wildseed Witch is just as much about relationships as it is about magic. There are frenemies and friends, old family and new, and learning to tell the one from the other all while you learn to love and accept yourself despite being perfect. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the promise of spells, incantations, and, eventually, kittens.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

That they are as whole and imperfect as Hasani is and, no matter how many mistakes they make, they are deserving of love and friendship—just like Hasani.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them.

I wrote this story for kids roughly ages 10-13 who can see themselves reflected in someone whose family is good, but not perfect, who wants to achieve a goal, no matter how small, and who wouldn’t mind waking up one day to realize that they are magic.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

Sometimes my life has been just as awkward as Hasani’s, but I survived through THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP! (Yep. I don’t care how many memes there are. The power of friendship is a real thing.) Oh! And plants. And dragons.

What do you love most about your book’s cover art?   

I think a lot of people are drawn in by the flowers, but what I love most is the perfect humanity of Hasani’s face. It draws me in and makes me want to get to know that girl.

[I agree, the cover is absolutely stunning!]

What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?

How loving they are. How their hearts are all in the right place even when it seems they aren’t.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

2,000 kids at KIPP New Orleans got to read copies of Wildseed Witch before release. The book has had a lot of lovely reviews, but nothing could top the lines of extra-cool eighth-graders who were supposed to be being silent in the hallway risking their teachers’ wrath to say:

“I like your book.”

“I love your book.”

“Your book cool.”

Joy. Pure joy.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

Getting to finally visit Gaithersburg (I’ve never been!) and meet as many families, teachers, and librarians as I can. I absolutely love talking to people who are working to get books to kids.

I hope you will join me at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!.

Marti Dumas taught elementary school literacy for 10 years, conducts teacher literacy trainings, and is the author of “Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest.” She lives in New Orleans with her family. Marti will be presenting “Wildseed Witch” (Book 1) at the Festival.

Plucky & Cheerful at #GBF22

The Gaithersburg Book Festival is a celebration of books, writing, and literary excellence (and a few authors with alter egos). Dr. Richard Mark Huffman is an anesthesiologist by day and a prolific author by night.   As R.M. Huffman, he writes adult fantasy/science fiction and as Mark Huffman, he writes children’s fiction.  He also alternates between the two, writing The Huffman Letters: screenplays, song lyrics (and an assortment of other literary projects, including witty back copy). We are pleased to welcome children’s author Mark Huffman, and his book, Billan the Bard, to our  13th Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Mark will be a featured presenter along with Jonathan Auxier (Belly of the Beast – The Fabled Stables Book #3) in the Jim Henson Pavilion at 10:15-11:05 am.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Mark Huffman.

What is your writing space like?

I can’t say I actually have a dedicated writing space. Much of my writing – novels, screenplays, essays – is done on my trusty laptop anywhere from a coffee shop to my couch, kitchen table, or bed, to my local bookstore. Most of my children’s books have been written on my phone, if you can believe it. I’ll start a little notes file and dictate or type a stanza here and there throughout the day as they come to me. Now that I think about it, it’s a strange system, but it’s worked so far!

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your books?

When children (or their parents) ask for something lyrical, rhyming, or something with a Dr. Seuss flavor but more recent, I hope that librarians will suggest my books in the same breath as Neil Gaiman, Graeme Base, Julia Donaldson, or Chris Van Dusen.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your books?

One major intention I had throughout writing my children’s books was to sneak some vocabulary into silly rhyming books about gas and cheese. Some words became casualties of the editing process – for example, “flatulent geysers” became “gross-smelling gasses” – but vocation, fromage, invariably, statistically, mundane, piquant, and others are all in there. A few useful lessons about things like perseverance and contentment and determination are in there as well, mostly by accident.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them.

Elementary school children who think toots are hilarious, which is almost all of them, and parents looking for bedtime books that won’t become a chore to read ten nights in a row (again, almost all of them).

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I have twenty-something more of these already written (on my phone, of course) and even more ideas beyond that, and I’d very much like them all to become proper books!

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

My illustrator, Dawn Davidson, has developed a lovely style that depicts some rather stomach-churning material (see: Cheesemaker Durdsden) in a way that somehow still looks charming and cute. It’s a real gift.

What has surprised you most about the characters in your books?

All four main characters of my published (and soon-to-be published) children’s books don’t always hide their frustrations about their difficulties and setbacks, but they’ve all proven pretty plucky and cheerful about dealing with them and finding solutions. I suppose that’s most protagonists in a nutshell, but considering I was using them mostly as vehicles to make toot puns and grammar gags, I’m proud of them.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

My first novel (Leviathan, R. M. Huffman) was the winner of the 2021 IBPA Benjamin Franklin award in sci-fi/fantasy, and its sequel Fallen is a finalist this year in the same category (results pending), so I suppose that’s the strictly correct answer. However, my very favorite children’s author “thing” so far is definitely when Elijah Wood read my first book, The Toot Fairy, on video. It’s hilarious.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I can’t wait to read my stories to kids and to meet other authors! Releasing three children’s books during the Covid pandemic meant there were simply no opportunities to visit classrooms or libraries in person, and no in-person conventions were held, so I feel like I’ve been in sort of a publishing bubble by myself. So thankful that seems to be changing!

I hope you will visit Mark at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!

Mark Huffman is an anesthesiologist by day, and by night, a children’s book author. He writes about shared human experiences, which in Billan the Bard, means that he writes about learning to rhyme, asking for help when needed and becoming the master of one’s craft. The Toot Fairy was his debut children’s picture book, and he is also the author of Leviathan (adult sci-fi/fantasy series), winner of the 2021 IBPA Award. He lives with his family in Texas.

Connecting Dots & Hearts at GBF

Anyone who knows me, also knows that Peter H. Reynolds is one of my absolute favorite children’s author/illustrators. Although I have four children, and read lots and lots of books with them when they were young, amazingly I did not discover Peter’s picture books until I was in a children’s literature class in graduate school, working on my Master of Library Science. His messages of hope, affirmation, creativity, and connection have been important in my journey in school librarianship.

When I began teaching in 2012, I also began celebrating  International Dot Day (a global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration) with my students, and have made it an annual celebration ever since. We are all Dot Day Dreamers, my students and I!

Many tweets and several blog posts showcasing my students’ wonderfully creative dots are part of The Creative Librarian’s experience (check out my archives).  This past year, I was thrilled when many staff members also joined in on the fun. We definitely have been making our marks and creating bravely!

Other important social-emotional books I have regularly shared with my students in media lessons are The North Star, Be You!, Sky Color, Say Something!, Happy Dreamer, The Word Collector, Our Table, and the I AM series that Peter illustrated for Susan Verde. I will share lessons I have created for these books in future blog posts.

It goes without saying that I am overjoyed that THE Peter H. Reynolds is coming to the Gaithersburg Book Festival as a featured author on May 21, 2022. GBF will be at our new location at Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 S Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg. He will be speaking about The Table and Love You By Heart (and other PHR favorites) in the Jim Henson Pavilion 12:15-1:05 pm (immediately followed by book signing).

In addition to appearing at GBF, Peter (and his equally delightful twin brother Paul) will be at the MCPL Gaithersburg Branch on Sunday, May 22nd at 11 am for a free Meet the Authors Create Bravely interactive family storytime, and at BlackRock Center for the Arts for their debut showing of the Peter H. Reynolds’ Stories That Matter, Stories That Move film fest on Sunday, May 22nd  at 4:00 pm. I hope you and your families will attend each and every event while Paul and Peter are here in Maryland.

I hope you enjoy my interview with the talented and kind Peter H. Reynolds.

What is your creating space like?  

I have a studio I call “The Sanctuary” filled with books, art supplies and inspirational artifacts, but honestly, I create anywhere – especially in busy places like cafes. I love the energy from other humans.  I am lucky to have founded my own bookstore THE BLUE BUNNY in my hometown of Dedham, MA – not too far from Boston. It is my happy place. It has a cafe so I can sip tea and be surrounded by books – and book people! Great energy! 

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your books? 

My books are a social emotional learning toolkit. My hope is that librarians will get my books into the hands of all ages because we all need to get our creative spirits recharged.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your books (specifically Our Table and Love You By Heart) ? 

Both of these books celebrate the power of love. Our Table is a cautionary tale about letting technology get the better of us and allow it to separate us. Young Violet’s love for her family fuels her clever thinking to reconnect her family. This book especially would be a great take-home-and-read-with-your-family book! 

Who is the reader you are writing for? 

I am writing for humans seeking hope. Humans seeking to be better humans. Any age. Anywhere on the planet. I also am writing books to help teachers more easily inspire their students who can then inspire their families and communities. I want to cause “reading ripples” around the world.

“Love You By Heart” by PHR

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

I want my readers to know my twin brother, Paul. He is an extraordinary human. I was born with my best friend who also happens to be a great optimist, a teacher, a writer, a gardener, an artist, a community activist, a spiritual philosopher  and a stellar father. He has been my advocate, my cheerleader, my counselor, my thinking-partner, my challenger, my action-activator my whole life. He shares my joy in my work but also how my work can help, heal and inspire the world. My wish is that everyone have a “Paul” in their lives. 

Can you tell us about your creative process? 

I can imagine kernels of corn in my head and they pop as I get ideas. When I get a story idea – I imagine it as a film. I grab paper and quickly sketch note the little movie in my head. Nothing fancy or polished – just a doodle and a little caption to help remember what is happening in that scene. That storyboard becomes my guide to create the final book. Polishing it up might take two months – including sharing the story with my family and friends, as well as my editors who get it ready for “showtime.” 

What has surprised you most about the characters in Our Table and Love You By Heart?

I am proud of all my characters who show what it looks like to be caring, loving and kind. They are like my children. When they show unconditional love – I get very emotional and proud! 

In Our Table, as Violet started reconnecting with each o  her family members as they planned the different parts of the table, why did you keep those pages purple, instead of assigning a color to each family member, and making these pages a combination of the two colors, and ending with full color spreads as they built the table?

I love making color be intentional to help with the storytelling. I wanted the full color to represent the joy of humans being connected. I chose to make the times that Violet is alone a cooler purple – and yes, violet color (which inspired the character’s name!) I did not choose blue because young Violet was still loving and hopeful. Add a bit of warm red to blue and voila! Violet!

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you? 

My book, The Dot received The Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature which goes to “an outstanding book for young children—a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole. The Irma Black Award is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book.” I love that children gave me that award. The Dot was one of my first books and really set the course for my collection to inspire creative journeys. 

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I love connecting face-to-face with my readers which is extra special given the two long years we all have endured apart from one another. This will be a celebration of togetherness and human connection. My favorite kind of connection! 

To learn more about Peter’s work and mission: and 

Did you know that Peter created the beautiful “Peace” print in support of Ukraine? Please consider purchasing a “Peace” print – proceeds go to UNICEF for lifesaving support for children and families in Ukraine. Click here for more information.

I hope you will join me at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st to meet Peter H. Reynolds – and join me at his and Paul’s events on May 22nd as well!

New York Times best-selling author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds is the beloved creator of more than 50 award-winning picture books, including “The Dot,” “Our Table,” “The Word Collector,” “Happy Dreamer,” “Be You,” “Going Places” and “Love You By Heart,” as well as illustrator of the Judy Moody & Stink series. Peter is founder of Boston-based educational media and interactive developer, FableVision, which creates positive media, storytelling and tech-powered learning tools. He oversees a global celebration of creativity, which has attracted more than 21 million in 196 countries. Peter founded the indie bookshop The Blue Bunny nearly two decades ago in Dedham, Mass.