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.

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.

Be a Tree at Gaithersburg Book Fest (the Tree City)

Maryland author, and illustration instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Joyce Hesselberth, will be joining the many wonderful children’s authors and illustrators presenting at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21, 2022.  Joyce will be a featured presenter along with the equally talented Julia Kuo in the Willa Cather Pavilion (12:15-1:05 pm), immediately followed by a book signing.  GBF will be at our new location Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 S Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg.

I am not only looking forward to meeting Joyce at GBF, but I am also looking forward to teaching a lesson to my young naturalists this week using Beatrice Was a Tree as my anchor text (a future post will include this library media lesson).

I hope you enjoy my interview with the lovely Joyce Hesselberth.

What is your writing space like?

I have two writing spaces. One is our* studio in Baltimore. It’s a renovated warehouse space and I’m surrounded by all my favorite art supplies there. That’s important because I switch back and forth between writing and drawing. The second place is our den at home, with a cat by my side. 

(*Joyce and her husband, David Plunkert, own Spur Design in Baltimore)   

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

I hope librarians will share my books with kids, and also with other librarians. Just sharing books they love is the perfect way for them to promote authors. I also love when they reach out to other teachers. During a recent school visit, we were able to combine a book reading with a hands-on project that the art teacher and I planned together. It was a great way to extend the reading experience and engage kids who like to tell stories with pictures too!

(Note to educators and parents:  Joyce has an Activities for Kids section on her website – check it out for some great extension activities)!

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

Most of my books look at the world in a slightly different way. Beatrice Was a Tree is a book about why trees are important, but it’s also a book that asks readers to turn inward and imagine themselves as a tree. I hope they come away feeling that they have a connection to nature.

I hope they come away feeling that they have a connection to nature.

~ Joyce Hesselberth ~

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

I think I’m always writing (and drawing) for myself. Or maybe for myself as a kid! It might sound silly, but if I’m not having fun while writing, then my reader probably won’t have fun reading it, right? 

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

My family has seven chickens. I can list all fifty states in alphabetical order. 

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

Since this is a book about trees, there are thousands of leaves in it. I loved drawing each and every leaf. There is something so satisfying about those shapes. I also love that on the cover some of the leaves are shiny. The publisher used a special varnish to make them look that way and if you tilt the book back and forth they shimmer!

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

Probably that Beatrice ended up having purple hair! I didn’t plan it that way when I started drawing her, but a lot of the book takes place at night, and the purple just seemed to fit with the deep blues in the sky.

(All shades of purple is my absolute favorite color, so I adore Beatrice’s hair)

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

One of my reviewers called my book Kafkaesque and I really like that! Picture books can be weird and imaginative.

(For those of you (like me) not familiar with the term Kafkaesque, per Dictionary.com, Kafkaesque means relating to, characteristic of, or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka; marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity).

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

People! I’m so looking forward to seeing people in person!

I hope you will join me at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st to meet Joyce Hesselberth!

Joyce Hesselberth’s illustrations have appeared in national ad campaigns, theater productions, and major newspapers and magazines. She writes and illustrates children’s books, including “Mapping Sam,” which won a special mention award in the Bologna Ragazzi non-fiction category. Her most recent book, “Beatrice Was a Tree,” was published in 2021 by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins). Her work has been recognized by American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, and the Art Directors’ Club of New York among others. She and her husband David Plunkert co-founded Spur Design in 1995. Spur Design is located in a renovated factory building in Baltimore, Md. Joyce is also a professor of illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art.

Moonwalking with Zetta & Lyn at GBF

Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann will be joining us as featured presenters at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21, 2022, at our new location Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg, MD.  They will be sharing their co-authored book, Moonwalking, a stunning exploration of class, cross-racial friendships, and two boys’ search for belonging in a city as tumultuous and beautiful as their hearts.

Zetta and Lyn are presenting their book 12:15-1:05 pm in the Ogden Nash Pavilion. MCPS School Library Media Specialist, Joela Paik, will be moderating the discussion. Their presentation will be immediately followed by a book signing.

I hope you will enjoy my interview with Zetta and Lyn.

What is your writing space like?

Lyn: The most unusual feature of my writing space is a giant LEGO town that I’ve been working on for 15 years. It features buildings in the LEGO Modulars series that I built according to the instructions, ones that I’ve modified to suit the needs of the town (such as adding extra floors to several of the buildings), and my original creations that I’ve designed to fit seamlessly into the display. Some of the minifigures in my town look like characters in my various books and are set up to portray scenes in those books. I have a vignette that includes JJ from Moonwalking, even though he leaves his own LEGO pieces behind when he moves from a Long Island suburb to his grandmother’s home in Brooklyn because he doesn’t have the space and has become obsessed with Joe Strummer and The Clash instead. 

Lyn’s Amazing LEGO Town – photo provided by the author.

Zetta: I tend to write all over my apartment even though I do have a designated office that’s bright and sunny (and purple!). I bought an adjustable desk so I can sit or stand when working, but I haven’t tried it out yet. I mostly sit at my desk for Zooms since the bookcase behind me shows off my dragon collection and my latest titles. By noon, I’ve usually moved into the living room—it has a bay window that lets in lots of light, and I can see and hear all the birds in the shared garden. I just moved to Chicago last fall so I’m still getting to know my neighborhood. Since writing for me is 70% dreaming, I spend a fair bit of time gazing out the window, or walking by the lake, or visiting the nearby Japanese garden to gather my thoughts and hear my characters’ voices.

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

Zetta: I trust librarians to pair young readers with the right book! I think Moonwalking will have broad appeal because of the alternating viewpoints and different backgrounds of the two main characters. Verse novels are often great entry points for reluctant readers so I hope poetry fans find our book but also folks who might think poetry isn’t for them (poetry is for everyone!). I’ve seen a lot of art in the libraries I’ve visited so it would be great to have a display with work by local graffiti artists and, of course, images of tagged trains from 1980s NYC and the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Lyn has already assembled The Clash playlists so maybe library websites could make those tracks available to patrons.

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

Zetta: I tried to create an entire village in Moonwalking and I hope readers will think about their own communities in new ways after reading our book. JJ and Pie seem like opposites but when you go beneath the surface, there are enough similarities to sustain a connection. Pie wants more from his life, he’s outgrowing his childhood friends, and his teacher is nourishing his interest in art. For JJ, playing an instrument is a way to express himself and connect to the themes of resistance in punk music. Things were kind of hectic at home when I was Pie’s age so I hope kids dealing with family drama realize they’re allowed to BE kids and can search for and find adults in their community who can provide the help they need.

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

Lyn: Like JJ, I was not diagnosed as autistic when I was in school, and I didn’t understand why I was bullied and it was so hard for me to make and keep friends. I had a whole lot of other diagnoses that tried to explain, for instance, why I never looked people in the eye, so I wore an eyepatch for months and had to do exercises that never worked. I never had a problem focusing when I read books, but eye-to-eye contact intimidated me. I also experienced selective mutism, and in fourth grade stopped speaking in school altogether for about three months. That time of being too terrified to speak, even if I wanted to, is what inspired JJ’s invisibility when he goes to public school for the first time.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?   

Lyn: I love the way David Cooper evokes early 1980s Williamsburg, pre-gentrification, with the Domino Sugar factory, the Williamsburg Bridge, the lights of Manhattan, and the graffiti murals on the sides of buildings. One can see the inspiration for the cover in Zetta/Pie’s powerful poems “Bomb” and “Sugarland” right at the beginning, and they set the tone for everything that comes after.

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

Lyn: The most surprising thing for me was how different from me JJ turned out to be, even though we’re both autistic and experience the same confusion and fear in new situations. There’s a saying, “When you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person,” and it’s true! Kiara in my earlier middle grade novel Rogue was a more autobiographical protagonist, with incidents lifted from my life, but JJ’s life, abilities, and interests are different. My parents gave me music lessons, and I hated them, but JJ embraces music as a way of communicating what he can’t express in words. Except for brief episodes of selective mutism, I was highly verbal and an A student in school. I didn’t really experience what JJ does as a struggling C student until I was out in the workplace and realized that exceptional academic skills don’t always lead to success outside of school.

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

Zetta: My books don’t always get reviewed but I think the most meaningful feedback definitely comes from young readers and parents or educators who are sharing books with kids. I often hear from parents who express gratitude for the books I write because like me, they remember all too well how it felt to grow up not seeing yourself in the stories you loved. Teachers tell me that students with little interest in reading became more engaged after finding one of my books—even going on to write their own story. Awards are nice and my career in kid lit started with the Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award for Bird, but so many excellent books never get that sort of recognition…it’s nice to have shiny stickers on the cover of your book but what matters most to me is that my stories resonate with a broad range of readers.

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

Lyn: This festival is a first for me. I’ve always been on the other side of the table, listening to the authors’ presentations and hoping to meet them and get my books signed. I look forward to meeting young readers and their families, talking to them about verse novels, how Zetta and I came to write this book, and my process for creating a protagonist on the autism spectrum who is very different from me even though I’m also autistic. I’m especially eager to be at the Gaithersburg Book Festival because the pandemic has isolated us for the past two years and canceled most in-person book events. While going out in public can be stressful for me, I don’t do well with isolation either. It’s too easy for me to hole up with my LEGO town and let my hard-won social skills wither.

I hope you will come to Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st to meet these two authors!

Zetta Elliott is a black feminist writer of poetry, plays, essays, novels and stories for children. Her poetry has been published in “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise our Voices,” and her picture book, “Bird,” won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Her latest book is “Moonwalking.” She lives in West Philadelphia.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is an author, teacher and librarian. Her latest book is “Moonwalking.” As an adult, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and delves into her diagnosis often in her writing. Lyn received her Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and edited the journal “MultiCultural Review” for 16 years. In 2012, she received my Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in New York City.

Twenty Surprises and Successes in 2020

I have joined the 12 Days of Christmas with Julie Hedlund Facebook group for writers, and on Day 2 of the 12-day challenge we were asked to share 2020 surprises with the group, and on Day 3 to post our 2020 successes on our blogs.  I decided to combine the two and post both on my blog – it is a list that includes a combination of personal and professional surprises and successes, and isn’t in chronological (or alphabetical) order. 

  1. When my youngest child turned 18 in February, I became the proud mama of four young adults.  It is surprising how fast 18 years flies by – my sweet little baby became a beautiful young woman in the blink of an eye – just as her three older siblings before her (well, my two baby boys became handsome young men).
  2. I was invited to join the Board of Trustees of the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County. I am very excited to be part of this wonderful group that supports the good work of our public library system.
  3. I am on the planning committee of the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and coordinate the workshops for children and teens. We successfully converted our amazing one-day hometown festival into a month-long virtual event.
  4. I was able to invest in several professional development opportunities throughout the year: ALA eCourse Leading from the Library, Maryland State Department of Education’s Teaching Online in Maryland, shadow facilitator for another MSDE course, and trained to teach literacy using the Orton-Gillingham multisensory method.
  5. In August I decided to take the plunge and invest in my dream of becoming a children’s author and joined Storyteller Academy.  The courses and instructors have been so informative, helpful, and inspiring!  I am thankful for Kathy Halsey, a fellow school librarian, and my critique group, too. 
  6. I have also joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and am excited for their upcoming Winter Conference!
  7. I have written five picture book manuscripts and started submitting to agents and publishers.
  8. I have participated in one pitch party #PitMad and got a couple of hearts.
  9. I presented Leading from the Library at the Montgomery County Public School – School Library Media Program annual professional day and at the Maryland Association of School Librarians annual conference.
  10. I am the lead teacher for our school’s CARES Enrichment Program, which provides free tutoring for students who need a little help building their confidence with reading.
  11. Despite the pandemic, I was able to get to the beach twice this summer – Old Orchard Beach in Maine and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. Putting my feet into the sand and feeling the power of the ocean revives my soul. While in Maine, I got to lie down on the beach, listening to the roar of the ocean waves, as I watched the Perseids meteor shower. Magical!
  12. I was again able to be a mentor for the NEED Project / Exelon STEM Innovation + Leadership Academy for teen girls, and helped create a series of professional skills workshops.
  13. In addition to my library media lessons, I have hosted monthly Zoom bedtime read alouds for my students. I strive to build a community of readers and dreamers!
  14. I have been able to participate in three Zoom meetings at once – using three different emails and devices.  Wouldn’t have been able to do this in person!
  15. I have attended virtual workshops and conferences that I wouldn’t have been able to attend during a typical school year.  Notables were KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives, Empowering Educators Conference with Jason Reynolds and the Mazza Weekend Conference.
  16. I have lost track of how many children’s books I have read this year, but because of the pandemic and distance learning, I have been able to spend more time walking my dog and listening to adult fiction and nonfiction as well as middle grade novels. I am constantly in awe of the amazing new books that are published each year.
  17. I have been able to spend more time taking care of myself – eating healthy and exercising – and finally taking care of some medical issues that I had been putting off for a very long time.
  18. My flower beds (wildflowers, daisies, and peonies) were just beautiful this year, and my mammoth sunflowers grew to 12-14 feet tall in my little backyard sunflower patch!
  19. I have had more time to build and nurture relationships with my friends and colleagues.
  20. My family and I were able to stay connected via video chat, text, and Zoom calls.  And the occasional socially-distant face-to-face visits.

My goals this year are to continue helping others, continue letting my creativity flow, continue challenging myself, and continue spending time with friends and family. Here I come, 2021!

Ms. McDonald, Look Behind You!

In my county in Maryland, we have been teaching virtually since March. Beginning in May, I began hosting a virtual monthly bedtime read aloud, with themes such as family, love, friendship, and positive self-esteem.  The month in which we had the most fun was October.  My Halloween-themed read aloud included titles such as Creepy Carrots, Creepy Pair of Underwear, Monster Trucks, Stumpkin, Ten Little Pumpkins, The Pomegranate Witch, and Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!

A good friend of mine created an amazing wall display of the ten pumpkins, complete with their individual personalities, and a pomegranate tree and witch silhouette. Orange lights, witch’s hat, pumpkin, and electric candles completed the spooky atmosphere of my office. My mom dressed up as a witch, and came from behind me with pomegranates so that I could show them to my students, my awesome principal dressed up as (what I called) an Elton John look-alike, and read Turkey Trick or Treat and shared “corny” Halloween jokes between my readings.

While all books were well received by our students, it wasn’t until I read Aaron Reynold’s and Peter Brown’s books that my listeners screamed with excitement!   My talented friend had created stick puppets of Jasper Rabbit, the three creepy carrots, and the creepy Frankenstein underwear, and as I read the stories, she knelt on the floor and had them pop up and dance behind me.  It was sooo much fun seeing my students light up, so excited, and trying to warn me of their existence. They screamed so loud that my media assistant kept trying to ‘mute all’, so they could hear me read, but they didn’t care if they could hear the stories – they knew them by heart – and they were desperate to warn me!

At the end of the event we had a Zoom costume parade, and “pinned” each student that wanted to show off their costume.  While this wasn’t our typical in-school Halloween celebration, it certainly did help to fill that need to be together on a fun and creepy holiday.

What fun we adults had putting this Halloween reading celebration together for our students!

  • Creepy Carrots written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown
  • Creepy Pair of Underwear written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown
  • Monster Trucks written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Nate Wragg
  • Stumpkin written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
  • Ten Little Pumpkins written by Rosie Greening and illustrated by Lara Ede
  • The Pomegranate Witch written by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
  • Turkey Trick or Treat written by Wendi Silvano and illustrated by Lee Harper
  • Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies created by Jorge and Megan Lacera