Thankfully, We’re All Works in Progress!

I caught up with Jarrett Lerner who is one of our many wonderful featured authors at the 14th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 20th.  He is a prolific children’s author, having published five books in the past eight months: The Hunger Heroes: Snack Cabinet Sabotage (October 2022),  Nat the Cat Takes a Nap (January 2023), Goes for Gold: Geeger the Robot (April 2023),  Nat the Cat Takes a Bath (May 2023), and A Work in Progress (May 2023).  His other middle grade series, EngiNerds and his unpublished eBook Knights of the Kids’ Table round out his book family.

 A Work in Progress is about a “boy who struggles with body image in this poignant middle grade journey to self-acceptance told through prose, verse, and illustration.”  I am so thankful that Jarrett wrote this book – there are too many kids who need to read it because they are struggling with their negative self-image and self-talk. Both the kids who say mean words to others, and the ones who are the recipient of those mean words – they need to read this book.  And discuss it. Together. He shared a powerful message in a very accessible way.

Jarrett will be presenting A Work in Progress in a panel discussion with Janae Marks (On Air with Zoe Washington), and John David Anderson (The Greatest Kid in the World)  in the Jim Henson Pavilion, beginning at 1:15 pm (yours truly will be moderating the conversation).

He will also present his graphic novel chapter book, The Hunger Heroes: Snack Cabinet Sabotage with Jonathan Roth (Rover & Speck: This Planet Rocks!) in the Graphic Novels and Workshops Pavilion beginning at 11:15 am.

I hope you enjoy my interview with the kind-hearted (and witty) Jarrett Lerner.

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author/illustrator?

I was first inspired by becoming a reader, and finding books I loved and connected with. That’s still one of my greatest inspirations. And when I finally realized that I actually COULD attempt to become an author-illustrator — like, as a JOB — I had boatloads of encouragement from my family and friends. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done and continue to do without them.

What is your writing space like? Your art studio?  

I’ve got a space at home that I use. It’s full of natural look, great books, and my kids’ artwork. And while I love creating there, I also make sure not to get TOO attached to it or any of the conditions I can reliably create there. To have a job doing what I do, I need to be able to be productive and occasionally even creative on demand, and often that means when I’m AWAY from my studio space. That being said, I love it there.

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

The cover art for a book is the illustration that you usually spend the most time and energy and thought on — and that you usually discuss most extensively with your publishing team. I always tell kids that the advice “don’t judge a book by its cover” is great advice for everything BUT books. Because we put so, so, SO much time and energy into making those images just right, so you’ll get a very particular idea about what the book’s going to offer you. I’m pleased with all my covers, and think they do a good job letting readers know what’s in store for them if they actually pick up the book and give it a read.

Can you speak to your creative process?  Do you write the words first, or sketch out the panels or pages?

Regarding my process — no matter how the book looks in the end, it always begins in a notebook, and I both write and draw. My first drafts are a mess, a mix of words and pictures, usually only half-formed. It’s an “idea dump,” and once I’ve gotten everything out of my head related to the story, the characters, and the world they inhabit, I go back through the notebook and try to clean up the mess, tidy it into something that looks like a story — or even just scenes or moments. From there, I’ll try to put together a draft, and at that point I usually get a sense of how the story will best be told — mostly text and occasional illustrations, as a graphic novel, or as some kind of hybrid. For me, that’s how I make the decision: I choose the form that will tell the story in the best way for my intended readers.

Do you have a discussion guide for A Work in Progress, and if so, could you share with me?

The AWIP Educator Guide just became available, and was created by Carrie Friday, a library media specialist in Florida.

Your two books are very different – for each of them, who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them, and what you hope that the reader will learn.

They are different, but they have similarities for me, too. I try to make books that kids both want and need. My youngest readers, who are just learning how to read, are going to want and need something different than my older readers, who are in middle school or high school. But focusing on my readers, giving them what they want and also what I believe they need (even if they don’t realize it!), is what guides me and has yet to steer me wrong.

In the sketch of yourself on the author’s page and the dust jacket you look so serious or troubled – maybe even a little angry, but in every picture of you I see on social media, you have a big, happy smile.  Why did you sketch yourself that way? What message are you giving us?

A Work in Progress is largely autobiographical, and toward the end, Will talks about how he still has bad days, days when he isn’t doing all that great. I think that’s an important point to make (I explore it in my third Geeger the Robot book as well). There is a lot of intentionality behind my author portrait for the book, including that expression. I wanted my readers to know that while I’m usually happy and full of positive energy, I still have bad days, like everyone — days when, like Will, I just want to hide in a hoodie and stay in bed.

Do you think there will be a second book about Will?

I’m not sure! I’d like to revisit Will, a couple years down the road. Lately, I’ve actually been thinking about writing a story from one of the minor A Work in Progress character’s perspectives. We’ll see!

What is something that you really want your readers to know about you?

I have lots of hobbies and passions that have nothing to do with books or making them, and I think that’s hugely important if you want a career making books. I love skateboarding, I love cooking and going out to eat, and more recently, I’ve fallen in love with Formula 1 racing.

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

The reading association of my home state, Massachusetts, once gave me an award for being a “champion of literacy” in our community and the country at large, and that was deeply meaningful and hugely rewarding to receive.

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

Meeting all the young readers!

Additional Resources

Team Pom: Fun, Adventure, and Mystery!

I met Isabel Roxas at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington, DC, in June 2022. I instantly became a fan of hers, in part because she was so warm and welcoming to this introvert, but also because of her artistic talent – I love that she’s illustrated both picture books and chapter books, as well as written and illustrated her own graphic novels. Whether you read, Let Me Finish! (Min ), Hello, Universe (Erin Entrada Kelly), or Team Dodo, Isabel and her art embody the phrase, “there is a book for everyone, and for everyone there is a book”.

Isabel Roxas is a featured presenter at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 20, 2023, and will be sharing (The Adventures of Team Pom: The Last Pom (Team Pom Book 2)). She and her friend,  Mika Song (Pizza My Heart (A Graphic Novel). will be presenting their books and leading a workshop together entitled, “Sticky Situations”, at 1:15 pm in the Graphic Novels and Workshops Pavilion.

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author/illustrator?

I started collecting children’s books while I was a freshman in College. There was a specialty bookstore in the Philippines called Young Minds that had a wonderful collection of books for young children from all over the world. I was always there, browsing, reading, and buying books. I met some artists painting a mural on their wall one day, and it turned out that they were members of a newly formed Illustrator’s guild that made books for young readers. The organization Ang Ink–Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan or Illustrators for Children, helped guide me to this path of making books.

What is your writing space like?

 It is a bright and cozy studio full of plants, books, post-it notes (when I am writing) and art supplies. Right now, my drawing table is buried under fabric because I am making models of my characters to help me draw them from multiple angles.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your current book?   Describe your art style and your art process.

My team at Flying Eye are really great at making our covers eye-catching and dynamic. I think that the cover for The Last Dodo really communicates a sense of fun, adventure and mystery of the story inside.

Who is your favorite character in your book and why?

I am ALL of the characters in my books at some point or another. Agnes, Ruby and Roberta all have some aspect of myself—my enthusiasm for learning languages (Agnes), book addiction (Ruby), overzealous adventure planning (Roberta). 

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

They can promote it as reading for pleasure, but there are also ways to use it in the classroom too: Squid Happens can jump-start conversations on hobbies, friendship or Cephalopods. The Last Dodo can be used to talk about extinction or start a debate about whether or not we should be bringing animals back from extinction.

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

The reader I am writing for is someone like my characters—smart, funny, quiet or extroverted (depends on which character you identify with) who is very curious about the world.

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

The most rewarding review is one that I got from a teacher who gave Team Pom to one of her students and said that it got her through a lonely period when she felt abandoned and had to go looking for her “own Team Pom.” Books got me through a lot of tough moments in my life, and continue to do so today, so it means a whole lot to me for my own books to be there for young readers too.

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

Meeting your community of readers!

What message do you have for your readers?

Come to the Gaithersburg book festival and let’s find you something to read!! 

Want to learn more about Isabel Roxas?

Author Reading and Activity: Isabel Roxas | Brooklyn Public Library

Children’s Book Week: How Do You Draw? (handout)

Five Questions with Isabel Roxas and Minh Lê

Let’s Talk About Diversity with Isabel Roxas

Let’s Talk Picture Books

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2022


Donuts, Pizza, and Fortune Cookies (oh, yum!)

I love being a school librarian for many reasons, but the most important one is that I get the opportunity to introduce my readers to interesting and talented authors and illustrators – and Mika Song is one of them! Donut Feed the Squirrels and Pizza My Heart are a popular choices in my elementary school library, and rarely stay on my bookshelf for long as they are in the hands of another enthusiastic reader. Norma and Belly’s next adventure, One Smart Cookie (August 2023) is going to be equally as loved!

Mika Song is a featured presenter at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 20, 2023, and will be sharing Pizza My Heart (A Graphic Novel).  She and her friend, Isabel Roxas (The Adventures of Team Pom: The Last Pom (Team Pom Book 2))  will be presenting their books and leading a workshop together entitled, “Sticky Situations”, at 1:15 pm in the Graphic Novels and Workshops Pavilion.

I hope you enjoy my visit with Mika Song!

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author/illustrator?

My father is a photographer and my mother is a magazine editor and they both encouraged me to draw and write. My grandmother was a writer and jewelry designer. As a kid I loved visiting her tiny bedroom where she worked with her many art supplies, typewriter and crafts books. I still remember her showing me how to put a watercolor wash around a figure to make a drawing look more cohesive. I realize I still use that trick all the time. I learned so many things that I am not even conscious of from her.

What is your writing space like?

My work space is a big desk in the corner of my bedroom next to the window with a good view of the street. I can hear the train and people walking by. I get many of my ideas this way. The plot of my early-reader graphic novel, DONUT FEED THE SQUIRRELS, came to me when I was working at home and I smelled something delicious outside my window. On the street below me was a donut truck, CARPE DONUTS. I imagined a hungry squirrel jumping into the chimney of the truck from a tree branch above.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your current book?   Describe your art style and your art process.

The thing I love most about my Norma and Belly covers is that each title mentions a specific snack. Patrick Crotty, the designer at RHG, came up with a really fun way to design the cover so it looks like a pizza box but also still fits in with the template of the previous books in the series. I like that the squirrels are eating while running with the pizza because it is such a New York thing to eat your pizza while walking.

I think my art style for these books is approachable to a young reader. The characters are composed of a few expressive handmade lines and shapes that are not always perfect or regular but fun and lively.

Who is your favorite character in your book and why?

My favorite character is Belly the squirrel because she doesn’t let things get her down. She keeps her eyes on the donut, not the hole. She’s a breeze to draw and always cute. Most of the time I am actually like Norma, always thinking about some plan or worrying about the future.

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

Librarians have been helpful in getting my books to young readers. I remember during lockdown in 2020 watching a librarian do a read aloud of DONUT FEED THE SQUIRRELS which had come out very recently. Even though they are graphic novels for independent readers, I hope they get shared as read alouds too. One student told me it only takes 13 minutes to read all the chapters. 

I draw new Norma and Belly comic strips once a week on, a free comic newsletter by KidLit creators, that is another way to share the world with readers. I think it’s a good resource for librarians running comics clubs and makerspaces. I hope it shows the diversity of the comics format.

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

My reader is anyone who is having a long day or work at school and just wants to sit in the trees of Fort Greene park with Norma, Belly, Gramps and Little Bee and imagine a world where the only thing that matters is a donut guarded by a very uptight food truck seller.

What is something that you really want your readers to know about you?

One thing readers should know about me is that my next book in the Norma and Belly series is coming out on August 8, 2023. It is called ONE SMART COOKIE. It takes place partly in a fortune cookie factory and we learn something important about Little Bee. It was fun to make this book because I learned about the history of the fortune cookie and its significance in Asian American history. I also learned while working on the book that my grandmother’s first job as a young adult was typing up fortunes for fortune cookies.

Another thing readers should know about me is I enjoy getting letters from them.  Write to me at

Mika Song, PO Box 4594, Sunnyside, NY 11104.

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

One of the first honors Donut Feed the Squirrels received was from the Texas Library Association’s Children’s Round Table. They put it on the 2021 Little Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List. I didn’t know about the list at the time because graphic novels for kids were not as popular. It made me happy to see that librarians love comics for kids and that my book was one of their favorites.

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

The thing about the Gaithersburg Book Festival that I am most looking forward to is drawing with my friend Isabel Roxas (THE ADVENTURES OF TEAM POM) and the kids. I just never know what will happen when we draw together. And making up comics with kids on the spot always makes me see new things in my work.

What message do you have for your readers?

My message to readers is life is beautiful – stay curious about the world around you so you don’t miss anything fun.

Credit: Jae H. Song

Want to learn more about Mika?

Elena Reads and Reviews: With the Stroke of Her Brush, Mika Song Brings Diversity to Books

Get to Know … Mika Song!

Mika Song Draws author website

Mika Song Printables – fun for kids (and adults!)

Sunday Haha


Jump into Line with Susan Stockdale

Susan Stockdale is one of the kindest, joyful, and encouraging people I have met in children’s literature. I discovered her books several years ago, and in 2019, invited her to lead a workshop at the 10th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival. Her workshop, “Let’s Create Fabulous Fishes!”, based on her nonfiction picture book Fabulous Fishes, was a popular one, and the young participants left as happy as their bright and beautiful fishes. I had also featured her on my blog and asked her to discuss her research and creative process – Exploring the Amazing Natural World with Susan Stockdale.

At the 14th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival, Susan will be presenting her most recent title, Line Up! Animals in Remarkable Rows along with Jennifer O’Connell (Elephants Remember) at 10:15 am in the Jim Henson Pavilion.  She will also lead a children’s workshop, Let’s Create Animals at 12:25 pm in the Graphic Novels and Workshops Pavilion.

I hope you enjoy my interview with the talented author-illustrator Susan Stockdale!

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author/illustrator?

My mother, a published poet and master of rhyme, inspired my love of language. Her profound influence is reflected in how I write my picture books: entirely in rhyme!  My mom also encouraged my interest in drawing pictures.

What is your writing space like?

I both write and paint in my home studio. It’s a cozy, cheerful space that’s flooded with natural light.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your current book?  I’m happy with the quirky hermit crabs on the cover, which support the book’s theme in a fun and surprising way. It was a joy to express my passion for color, pattern and design in depicting the book’s different animals and habitats.

Describe your art style and your art process.

I consider myself a stylized realist. Using photos as visual references for my subjects, I create many sketches for each image and select the one I like best. I revise that sketch into a detailed drawing and transfer it onto paper. Then I apply three or more layers of acrylic paint to create my final illustration.

What information surprised you most during your research?

I knew that hermit crabs use abandoned sea shells as their home, but I wasn’t aware that when an empty shell washes up on shore, some crabs line up according to size and swap shells. This is the kind of unusual behavior I was excited to share with kids.

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

I’d be thrilled to learn that librarians share Line Up! with children interested in learning about animals and nature. Teacher’s Guides are available on my website ( for all my books. The guides suggest dynamic activities that incorporate language arts, visual art, science, movement and more.

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

I hope the various line formations I depict in Line Up! spark children’s interest in animal behavior and science – and that my bold and graphic images fill them with a sense of wonder about our natural world.

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

Because animals are so different from people, children are naturally curious about them and benefit from developing an understanding of them. I create my books to open their eyes to the marvels of nature.

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

 I spend a lot of time consulting with scientists to make sure I convey factually accurate information in my books. I make many mistakes in both my writing and illustrations before they correct my work. I’d like kids to know that creating anything worthwhile in life takes diligence, humility, and patience.

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

Though not a review or award, a mother wrote to me that her nine-year-old autistic daughter was so inspired by my picture book, Bird Show, that she created a fully illustrated, 32-page “humanized version” of it. She sent a copy of her daughter’s beautiful book to me. It was the most compelling affirmation of the positive influence of my picture books that I’ve ever received.

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

I’m very excited to attend other authors’ talks and run into author friends I haven’t seen in a long time.

What message do you have for your readers?

Play outdoors. Enjoy nature. Read a book and create one of your own! Kids often tell me that they want to become an author and illustrator when they grow up. I tell them they can be one now!

Additional resources:

Susan Stockdale’s Teacher Guides

TeachingBooks: Susan Stockdale


Bird Show: An Extended Metaphor for Integrated Science and Literacy Learning


Teaching Patterns to Infants and Toddlers

Understanding Difference

Susan Verde’s Celebration of Senses & Self

From the moment I first read I am Yoga many years ago, I fell in love with Susan Verde’s books, and have used many of them in my school library media lessons over the years.  The social emotional themes that flow through her books touch my readers, and me, in important ways. My students need to hear messages that affirm they are loved and celebrated just as they are – I am Me is a delightful, and much needed, book about authenticity.

When I teach a lesson based on a picture book, I teach from cover to cover, as described by Megan Dowd Lambert in the Reading Picture Books With Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See . Can You SEE It? is a perfect book with which to use this method – and my students were thoroughly engaged in my recent lesson about it. Discussing the difference between looking and seeing, discovering the hidden gems in the illustrations, and also pulling off the dust jacket to reveal a completely different hardcover were all part of the lesson.

Susan Verde will be a featured presenter at the Gaithersburg Book Festival at Bohrer Park on May 20, 2023.  She is presenting Can You SEE it? along with Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld (The Umbrella) at 12:15 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion, and I am Me: A Book of Authenticity with Carole Lindstrom (My Powerful Hair) at 3:15 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion.

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author?

Source: Susan Verde’s Instagram

Before I was an author, I was a teacher, and as you can imagine, I read and used lots of picture books to help my kids manage feelings and see themselves and to start discussions about feelings and all kinds of topics. I think it was those authors and the kids I was teaching that really inspired me to want to write for young children. As I had more things written, but nothing published, there were two people who really encouraged my journey. One was Emma Walton Hamilton, who ran the Southampton Children’s literature conference and had me take her picture book writing class, wholeheartedly supporting my desire to write. The other was Peter H Reynolds.  It was in his picture book writing workshop that I got the chance to share my work with him. He saw potential and asked to illustrate our very first book The Museum (this librarian is so very glad he did – it is delightful!). Being seen that way was a gift and motivated me to keep going. Along the way, I am constantly inspired by other book creators by the kids and educators I get to visit and buy my own children and the child within myself. 

What is your writing space like? 

I have a little office space I made for myself in my home, where my animals and kids can come hang out with me while I write and where I feel most creative. It has framed artwork on the walls that my kids made when they were little and a big photo of water which is soothing. I also have shelves behind me on which I keep my books and that too keeps me going. 

Source: Susan Verde’s website

What was your inspiration for Can You SEE It? and for I am Me: A Book of Authenticity?

I am always looking to find ways to encourage readers to slow down and really savor the beauty and wonder around them. I feel like we all are moving so fast, and we forget to be in our experiences and connect with ourselves and the world. It felt like taking a deeper mindful dive into our senses might be a wonderful way to find this connection. Can You SEE It? Is the first in the Sensing Your World series and explores the many ways we can be present and tune into others and ourselves. It is something I am always practicing myself.  

Can you tell us about your essay collection, Say One Kind Thing? What was your inspiration for writing this nonfiction book for adults?

This book is really about my continuing journey to change my inner dialogue from negative and unkind to supportive and kind.  I realized as I was talking to students and educators and parents about mindfulness and caring for ourselves that it might be important to share my own process and how I try to care for myself. I wanted to openly share my experiences without telling anyone what to do but rather express what has helped me and what I am still working on, in the hopes the reader will feel seen and supported. 

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

I love the illustrators I get to work with. They are incredible and inspiring. The cover art from Can You SEE It? and that from I Am Me is quite different, but what it shares is magic. Juliana Perdomo’s cover art with a child and their big beautiful inquisitive eyes just brings me right into the moment and that sense of seeing. Peter H Reynolds’ covers always capture the essence of the story and make every child feel seen, and make me feel seen because our intentions are so aligned. Both of these covers fill me with joy! 

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

Librarians don’t need any guidance from me as they are brilliant and know best how to connect kids and books. That being said, I hope these books will be used to help students feel seen, feel connected and learn to embody empathy and compassion and a sense of wonder. They are great books to include in SEL curricula as well as mindfulness. 

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

I really am writing for everyone. I know these are picture books geared towards a younger audience, but the magic of picture books is that they take big concepts and break them down so everyone can understand and explore them. I am writing for the reader who is interested in considering their inner and outer worlds which again, to me, is everyone. 

What is something that you really want your readers to know about you?

All the things I talk about in my books are personal to me. I am practicing my own mindfulness; my own self-care and each book has a piece of my heart in it. Also, I was a kindergarten teacher for many years and feel very connected to educators and elementary students. 

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you? Although being a New York Times bestselling author is huge and incredibly meaningful, more than any award is the feedback I get from students and educators about how the books have helped or inspired or supported them. To see a librarian or teacher share the books means the most. 

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

I am so excited to be under the same roof as so many brilliant book creators and librarians. Being around book lovers and those who understand the importance of books and representation and self-expression are the BEST people to be around. I can’t wait! 

What message do you have for your readers?

My message is to keep reading, whatever that looks like for you. Keep loving yourself and being and celebrating who you are. Know that your own story is important and that YOU are important. 

Please visit to learn more about Susan and her books, and visit to learn more about the 14th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Additional book resources:

*Abrams Books For Young Readers: “I Am Me” Activity Sheets

*Abrams Books For Young Readers “I Am” Teaching Guide

*Author-Illustrator Peter H. Reynolds’ TLC Books & Resources

*Illustrator Juliana Perdomo’s Website

*Mindful Teachers: Q&A with Susan Verde

*The TeachingBooks Blog: Finding Peace in Books by Susan Verde

Rebekah Lowell’s Hope-Filled Books

Because I love sunflowers, the beautiful cover art of Rebekah Lowell’s poignant debut novel in verse, The Road to After, caught my attention, but I soon realized that the beauty of the book was also found within its pages. It is “a portrait of healing, as a young girl rediscovers life and the soothing power of nature after being freed from her abusive father.” When I discovered that she also had a debut picture book, Catching Flight: Soaring on the Wings of Birds,  I was thrilled not only because of the absolutely stunning nature artwork, but because of the healing poem within, which also speaks of hope.   

Rebekah will be a featured author at the 14th Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 20th, and will  present The Road to After with Amina Luqman-Dawson (Freewater) at 11:15 am in the Willa Cather Pavilion, and Catching Flight: Soaring on the Wings of Birds during her workshop, “Nature Journaling for Beginners”, at 2:25 pm in the Graphic Novels and Workshops Pavilion.

Having grown up in Maine, within an hour from where Rebekah lives, and a fellow nature lover,  I felt a kinship with her, and we have had a warm correspondence over the past several months. Below you will find a delightful interview with her.

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author/illustrator?

From a young age, my parents were encouraging and supportive. I grew up homeschooled in the middle of a field of buttercups and Bobolinks. Whenever I was outside, which was most of every day, I would sketch plants and then look them up in field guides to find out what I saw. Both of my parents are also creative. My mother is a quilter and gardener, and her career was in hair. My father is a carpenter and made me a flower press, so I created flower art as a child as well. He also made me an easel when I was maybe 10 and built my first art display stand and drove me to exhibit at my first art festival when I was 14. My parents gave me canvases and oil paints and framed my early work. This fueled my fire to create.  

Later into homeschool co-ops, high school, college, grad school, all the teachers and mentors along the way took pages of thanks in the acknowledgments for THE ROAD TO AFTER. I think we are a culmination of the mentors before us, of those who support us, cheer us on, and offer pieces of themselves to our benefit.

I always wanted to create, but it was those who mentored me and nurtured me, and there are many, that made sure I knew it was okay (and celebrated) to pursue what I was passionate about. 

What is your writing space like? Your art studio?

It hasn’t always been this way, but I finally have a designated room as my studio. My studio used to be a tiny table in the corner of my daughters’ toy room, and now I work in a home studio with windows that see out on three sides. The other wall has the door to the rest of my house, so I’m very connected to my daughters throughout the day. As a homeschooling mom, I feel like I have one foot in the studio and one foot in the home. My studio walls are painted with a color called “moonlit beach” and it’s a very faint neutral peach that feels like white with a soft glow. The pale curtains let light in, but are enough to make me feel cozy. I have flat files, and benches with cubbies, a Homasote fiber board wall to pin ideas and projects on.  I have natural objects and original art made by dear friends. My studio is light, and airy, and full of books— and I wish I was better at keeping it tidy. I have one side as my work side, and the other as my “clean side” but it’s not very tidy. By clean I mean that I try not to have paint and art supplies going wild on that side. I have a paper cutter, wax seal supplies, shelving for completed works, shelves of books (mostly nature and kidlit).

 What was your inspiration for Catching Flight and for The Road to After?

For CATCHING FLIGHT, my inspiration was based on a painting. One day I posted a watercolor painting of a turkey feather with birds flying out of it for the Colour Collective challenge on Twitter and Frances Gilbert from Doubleday BFYR private messaged me asking if I had a book to go with it. I told her yes, that I would come up with one. I promptly wrote down a poem in my journal, sent her a photo, and she said yes, type that up and send it to me please. The poem was based on light and a feeling of hope and the willingness to go on. We were in the middle of the pandemic, and I had just parted ways with my first agent, but I was searching for hope, and found it in birds because even before the art, there was my family who loved birds and showed me how to love birds. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters and one brother— we all love birds. So even before the art, my family was the inspiration.

For THE ROAD TO AFTER, the inspiration was based on my experience of being abused and held captive for ten years. I’m mostly like the mom in the book. It’s hard to think back to what life was like then and what I survived, but I needed to so I could write this story. But I couldn’t include all the details. This wasn’t a memoir. I wanted to offer this story in a way that could be shared for young readers because I knew if my daughters had experienced this kind of childhood, other kids had too. But even though THE ROAD TO AFTER is about recovery from domestic abuse and trauma, it’s mostly about hope. I didn’t want the book to focus on the terror of abuse, but to celebrate the strength in leaving and starting life anew. My daughters were 4 and 6 when I left with them, but the characters in the book are each younger and older. The inspiration was real life, but it led to a work of fiction that can tell a story of its own and create something beautiful from something so awful. It gives what we went through a sense of purpose and renewal as well. 

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your current books?  Can you speak to your creative process? For your picture book, did you write the words first, or sketch out the pages?

I love that I was able to create them to begin with. I feel so fortunate to be doing this work. I love that in a world that is going more and more digital, I could still create art for my books using the traditional media that I love. I’m also learning vector art, repeat patterns, and procreate, and I finish my illustrations in Photoshop, so I’m not against digital art, I just love to feel the materials I’m using, hold a paintbrush in my hand, make a bit of a mess, get into the flow, and just create. I love the tactile, tangible nature of traditional materials and I’m thrilled to be using them to make my books.

For my picture book, the process was art, then text written inspired by that art, then art made for that text. The first painting that inspired the book was never used in the book. It was the door to the book, but not the book itself. 

Once we finalized the text, I created a series of thumbnails, then a storyboard, then sketches and more finished sketches. Next, I used a light table to refine those sketches into final drawings, then I scan and print out those drawings on hot press watercolor paper. Then I soak the paper and staple it down to Homasote fiber board, then use water-based mixed media to complete the final art.  Once the final art is created, sometimes the text changes a little again as well. A line moved here, a different word there, maybe a comma is added or dropped. Tiny tweaks in response to the art.

Do you have discussion guides for either of your books, and if so, could you share?

I don’t yet, but I would love to know more about creating discussion guides. Being a new author, this world of kidlit is a mystery unfolding.

I do have a Nature Journaling Activity to accompany THE ROAD TO AFTER. 

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

I hope that librarians see the child who needs a glimmer of hope, or a story about freedom, finding your way, starting over, and being brave, and they offer one of my books for them. My books also follow a theme of nature, so anytime there are days like Earth Day, or Draw a Bird Day, I hope they find a place to share my books. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month and my books both fit on those lists well. The family in THE ROAD TO AFTER suffers from complex PTSD and anxiety, and CATCHING FLIGHT is uplifting, reminding us that bright skies are ahead. We are lifted up by the birds, catching their current of joy, hoping to be brought along for the journey.

Your two books are very different – for each of them, who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them, and what you hope that the reader will learn.

Recently, I received a note from a reader thanking me for writing CATCHING FLIGHT. She talked about a tough time that she was experiencing and telling me that this book was a bright spot for her in a hard time. This made me realize that even though my books are both different, I’m writing for the same person—the person who needs someone to come alongside them and say, “It’s going to be okay.”

I hope that the readers of my books will know they are not alone, that they can reach out and there is always a kind person there to help them up, and that they are braver and stronger than they think. Hope is just on the other side of the storm clouds. 

What is one thing that you really want your readers to know about you?

That I like to notice the little things that often go overlooked. I like to look for wonder in small places and find amazement in the everyday. I save caterpillars in the road and listen to birds talk to each other. That kind of wonder can’t be found in the loud. You have to explore the quiet.

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

All of them because I realize that I may never have had this opportunity if I had stayed in abuse. I never would have had the chance to make art, to make books— to be published at all. I’m grateful to have the chance to make books for kids at all. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. Anytime someone notices my books enough to share a thought, comment, or review or choose one of my books for a list— I’m brought back to that realization that I may never have been able to do this at all and I’m grateful for the chance to create, and for any kindness that results from it.

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

I’m looking forward to meeting readers and festival goers. This is the first time I’ve ever been to the festival and I’m so honored and thrilled about it!

What message do you have for your readers?

You are not alone. I may not know the exact situation you are facing, but I know you can get through it. You are brave, strong, and courageous. You are valuable. You are loved.

Learn more about Rebekah Lowell and her art by visiting her website

For more information about the Gaithersburg Book Festival, please visit

Rover and Speck: This GBF Rocks!

I met Jonathan Roth when he presented his chapter book series Beep and Bob at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in 2019, and found out that he was an art educator in the same school system as me. Since then we have crossed paths several times, and am excited to share his newest book with you – Rover and Speck: This Planet Rocks – a full color graphic novel for young readers. The second in this series, Rover and Speck: Splash Down, publishes in October 2023.

Jonathan Roth will be a featured presenter at the 14th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 20, 2023, at Bohrer Park.  He is presenting along with Jarrett Lerner and Dave Roman at 11:15 am in the Graphic Novels and Workshops Pavilion.  In addition, Jonathan will be a featured presenter at GBF Continues @MCPL on Sunday, May 21, 2023 at 3:00 pm.

 I hope you enjoy my interview with Jonathan Roth!

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author/illustrator?

My mom is an artist (painter) and my dad was a longtime English teacher. Together they fostered in me a healthy obsession with pictures and words!

What is your writing space like?

I do almost all my writing and illustrating at my desk in a little room in my home in Twinbrook, Rockville.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your current book?   Describe your art style and your art process.

I love the vibrant color! And that’s due to the talents of my colorist, Paulina Suarez (like many comic artists, I work with someone who does the coloring). I first do very rough illustrations (pencil and/or digital) as a layout, and once edited, craft the final illustrations on my graphics tablet for Paulina to work on.

What prompted you to try a graphic novel format?

I love comics! Years ago, I had hundreds of comics strips published (more for an older audience) and tried for a while to get a syndicated strip. When I finally broke into children’s book it was with illustrated chapter books with lots of dialogue. Those aren’t graphic novels, but it wasn’t such a stretch after that to then go graphic! 

Who is your favorite character in your book and why?

So hard to pick a favorite! But I have a special place in my heart for the funnier, goofier ones like Beep and Speck. 

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

Any way they choose! Important message books are crucial, of course, but so are zanier, adventurous books (like mine) that may inspire kids to pick books up. I also love to be invited by librarians and media specialists to talk in their libraries and schools.

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

I’m writing for young readers who like humorous buddy/friendship stories. Though my books tend to be zany, space-based adventures, the common thread is mismatched, funny duos.

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

Many authors, like myself, work at other jobs too. My other career is teaching art at an elementary school (next year will be my 25th year teaching!). Also, besides the next two ROVER AND SPECK books, I’m also working on my first creative non-fiction picture book, which will come out in the summer of 2024.

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

ROVER AND SPECK was placed on one of the ALA’s ‘Core Excellence in Children’s and YA Science Fiction Notable Lists’ this year, which was a surprise and a very nice honor. Go librarians!

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

Meeting young readers and creators!

What message do you have for your readers?

All authors are readers first. And all readers have worthwhile stories of their own to tell. So read, read, read, and if you’re up to it, grab some paper and write or draw whatever inspires you! 

Visit Jonathan Roth’s website and follow him on Instagram @jonmrothbooks.