Questions from Kwansei Gakuin University

Furoshiki wrapping cloths

In September my dear college friend Naoko asked if I would correspond with her English-language students at Kwansei Gakuin University. Their assignment was to interview a professional about their work, and many were interested in learning more about authors and children’s books.

Of course I was delighted to accept, and even more excited to receive their thoughtful emails and questions. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if one or more of them actually wrote and published a children’s book someday? I shared the contact information for the Japan chapter of SCBWI with one student who was particularly keen on securing an internship.

Fifteen students contacted me, and each one asked, in one form or another, “What inspired you to write picture books?” That was good practice for me, answering a typical getting-to-know-you type question. The second most common question, “Where do you get your ideas?” also provided practice in preparing for future book talks or school visits.

My childhood books from Yokohama

Some of the more unusual questions prompted me to think deeply before answering. Here is a sample of those intriguing questions:

• Did you read picture books when you were young? Please tell me a memorable episode about picture books.
• What is your happiest and saddest experience in your job?
• There are a lot of picture books of old Japan, but is there also such a phenomenon in a foreign country? If it’s good, please tell me a famous story. ( I particularly enjoyed this question because my uncle sent me books from Yokohama in the 1970’s, and I loved Japanese fairy tales)
• What do you think is the power of a book?
• What do you think about e-books versus paper books?
• What can we do for children in poor countries who cannot read even if they want to read books? Do you think each of us can do something?
• What should I do in the future if I want to change people’s minds?

It was a thrill to correspond with such engaged, interesting students. One sent an illustration of a delightful manga-style monster. Another wrote about how much she enjoyed Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish. Other childhood favorites were Kon to Aki, Guri and Gura, and Leo Lionni’s Swimmy. Their hobbies and dreams include watching baseball, interior design, illustrating, working with children, and teaching.

Today I received a lovely package of tea, chocolate, stationery and other goodies from Japan. Thank you Naoko, for the perfect fuel to inspire me on this mid-winter day! And thank you to Sae, Nozomi, Ikuho, Miki,Moe, Tomoka, Kanon, Anna, Tomoka, Riho, Kazuma, Yurika, Yuki, Ryosuke and Kana for your questions!

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PPBF: I Have a Balloon

I Have a Balloon

Written by: Ariel Bernstein

Illustrated by: Scott Magoon

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (September, 2017)

Suitable for ages: PreK -3

Themes/Topics:   sharing, not sharing


“I have a balloon.”

“You have a balloon.”

“I have a balloon.”

“That is a – big –  balloon.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher’s website):

Owl has a balloon. Monkey does not. What will happen next? Hint: this is not a book about sharing.

Owl has a red balloon. Monkey does not. “That red balloon matches my shiny red tie,” says Monkey. “I’d look fancy walking to school with a shiny red balloon. The only thing I’ve ever wanted, since right now, is a shiny, big red balloon. It would make me SO HAPPY!” But Owl does not want to give it to him. So Monkey tries to find something that Owl wants: a teddy bear, a robot, a picture of TEN balloons. Owl does not want any of these things. But then, Monkey offers him…a sock!

Hmmmmm…Owl is intrigued. Will he trade his shiny red balloon with Monkey?

Links To Resources:

Play with a balloon! Here is a link to 11 fun balloon games.

Make sock puppets! Here is a link to crafting a super sock friend.

Eat ice cream cones! You’ll understand why after the last page.

Why I Like This Book:

Kids and their stuff. Littles can become ardently passionate about the oddest possessions, particularly when said items are desired by a member of the competition. Bernstein nails this dynamic perfectly in her dialogue-driven story. Magoon enhances the hilarity with quirked eyebrows, defeated slouches, and exasperated frowns exchanged between the main characters, Owl and Monkey. Packed with funny, charming and oh-so-insightful truths for parents and young readers alike, I HAVE A BALLOON is a lighthearted look at the process of negotiation when sharing becomes paramount.

My favorite line:

“All I can do with my balloon is hold it. All day. Just standing here, holding it.”

My deepest thanks to illustrator Scott Magoon who sent me this book after I entered his giveaway for subscribers to The Magoon Tribune. Kudos on the endpapers Scott – a really nice touch!

For a complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books hosted by the incomparable Susanna Leonard Hill.

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PPBF – Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton

Big Machines: The Story of
Virginia Lee Burton 

Written by: Sherri Duskey Rinker

Illustrated by: John Rocco

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics:   biography, storytelling, heavy equipment

Opening:   This is Virginia Lee, but everyone in seaside Folly Cove simply calls her Jinnee. Anyone who meets Jinnee will tell you that she is quite magical.

Brief Synopsis:

Virginia Lee Burton created much beloved, classic picture books starring the big machines that her sons, Aris and Michael, adored. From a steam shovel named Mary Anne to Katy the brave tractor, and Maybelle the cable car, Jinnee Burton wove endearing stories around the rumbling, chugging, heavy-hauling BIG equipment that fascinated her sons.

Links To Resources:

Read Virginia Burton’s books!  Here is a list of her HMH titles.

Activity pages! Try these printable pages for Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel

Watch a movie! Preview a movie about Jinnee’s life in this trailer.

Visit Cape Ann MuseumLots of Jinnee’s work is on display.

Why I Like This Book:

I’ve been crazy about Jinnee Burton’s work since my first visit to the Cape Ann Museum in 2013. You may remember reading my blog post Follow Me to Folly Cove in which I gushed about seeing her books, tools and samples of her work on display.

Aris Demetrios (c.) shares the Burton archives with Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco in Santa Barbara, September 2015

When I learned that Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco were teaming up to create a tribute book about Jinnee in preparation for the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott-winning The Little House, I was really excited to see their work.  In August, Publishers Weekly offered a sneak-peek into their collaboration. Sherri and John worked closely with members of Burton’s family, which including digging through the vast archives stored in her son’s garage!

The Cape Ann Museum hosted one stop on the national tour for BIG MACHINES, an event I could not, would not miss. Sherri and John gave an engaging, entertaining presentation to an audience that knew, worked and lived with Jinnee in her heydays.  Their loving tribute to Burton echoes throughout the book’s pages in carefully-chosen words, rhythm and iconic patterns  of swirling, swooshing text and image pairings. For the adults who love Jinnee’s books and the new generation of young readers that will be introduced to them for the first time, BIG MACHINES is a big winner!

For a complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books hosted by the incomparable Susanna Leonard Hill.

Sherri and John signed lots of books!

Love my Mary Anne illo!


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Hello Goodbye Dog and Giveaway!

Hello Goodbye Dog introduces us to an affectionate, bouncy pooch named Moose who thinks saying “goodbye” to his girl Zara as she heads to school is as awful as “an itch that couldn’t be scratched.” Can Zara find a way to make Moose a welcome presence in the classroom? Yes!

Maria Gianferrari is no stranger to Bildebok readers as I’ve featured three of her picture books, Penny and Jelly: The School Show, Penny and Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars, and Officer Katz and Houndini. Since we’ve met Maria, for Hello Goodbye Dog I thought we might learn more about her own beloved canine companion, Becca!

Becca, Maria has just said “goodbye” but the door isn’t shut tight. If you follow her, where are you hoping she is headed?

To Granite Lake in NH, so I can go for a long walk and a swim.

Becca, you sniff something delicious and slip into the school cafeteria. What are three things can Maria say or do to make it easier to leave when it is time for “goodbye”?

1) Ask me if I want to go for a ride in the car—I love that!

2) Get out my leash, and take me for a walk.

3) Give me a Kong with a treat, that’s what she always does before she leaves, and I know she’ll come back.

Library reading dog enjoying “The Four Puppies” with my kiddo and her favorite librarian, Fifi Abu,, circa 2007.

Becca, Maria is helping you with homework for therapy dog school. What books do you hope she chooses to read with you?

For picture books: Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (illustrations by Christian Robinson), Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy and My Father the Dog by Elizabeth Bluemle (illustrations by Randy Cecil).

For longer books: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Thank you Becca for your woof-ully wonderfully delightful answers! Readers (sorry – USA only, as it will be shipped by the publisher) who would like to win their very own copy of Hello Goodbye Dog can comment below. One lucky winner’s name will be drawn and they will be notified in the next 10-14 days.


Congratulations Danielle Hanmelef – you are the lucky winner! Please forward your mailing address to me at cmealey (at) so we can send your book!


Please visit all the stops on the Hello Goodbye Dog Blog Tour for more fun and giveaways with Maria, talented illustrator Patrice Barton, and perhaps even some furry friends! Here are the links you want to follow:

*Monday, July 24th:                            Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!

Two for Tuesday, July 25th:            Librarian’s Quest and Reading for Research

Wednesday, July 26th:                     Homemade City

Thursday, July 27th:                           Kid Lit Frenzy

Friday, July 28th:                                Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook

Monday, July 31st:                             Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Wednesday, August 2nd:                   The Loud Library Lady

Thursday, August 3rd:                       DEBtastic Reads!

Friday, August 4th:                            Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

Monday, August 7th:                         Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

EXTRA: August 25th:                      Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton

Becca and Maria

Maria Gianferrari is a picture book reading/writing, tea-drinking, dog-loving, birdwatching author of the Penny & Jelly books, Coyote Moon, an ALA Notable Book and a Junior Library Guild Selection and Officer Katz and Houndini. Her newest picture book, Hello Goodbye Dog, is illustrated by Patrice Barton. Maria lives in northern Virginia with her scientist husband, artist daughter, and rescue mutt, Becca. She has additional titles forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press, GP Putnam’s Sons and Little Bee. To learn more about Maria, visit her website:,  Facebook or Instagram.

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PPBF: Escargot


Written by: Dashka Slater

Illustrated by: Sydney Hanson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers (April, 2017)

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics:   friendship, picky eater, new experiences, gastropods


“Bonjour! I see you are staring at me! I don’t mind. My name is Escargot, and I am such a beautiful French snail that everybody stares at me. Right now I am traveling to the salad at the end of this book. It is a beautiful salad, with croutons and a light vinaigrette. You should come!”

Brief Synopsis:

Bonjour! Escargot is a beautiful French snail who wants only two things:

1. To be your favorite animal.
2. To get to the delicious salad at the end of the book.

But when he gets to the salad, he discovers that there’s a carrot in it. And Escargot hates carrots. But when he finally tries one—with a little help from you!—he discovers that it’s not so bad after all.

Links To Resources:

Make a salad! Here is a link to 20 kid-friendly salad suggestions from Today’s Parent.

Get a pet snail! Here is a link to keeping a pet snail safe and healthy.

Create a snail craft! Here are a dozen cute ideas for making fun snails.

Use the Escargot Activity Kit! Loads of fun ideas to pair with the book.

Why I Like This Book:

Funny, charming and interactive, ESCARGOT was utterly endearing. The illustrations are a hoot and the dry witticisms are perfectly tuned for the ears of little listeners as well as adult readers. The concept of taste-testing feared foods is so subtle and sweet that it will not strike kids as cloying or message-y. Sweet, sincere and tenderly vulnerable Escargot is the most expressive and adorable picture book snail I’ve ever met. Coincidentally, I recently finished reading The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, an incredible memoir/meditation by Elisabeth Tova Bailey ideal for sustaining or restoring your sense of wonder about the natural world. Also highly recommended!

My favorite line:

“Nobody ever says their favorite animal is the snail.”

For a complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books hosted by the incomparable Susanna Leonard Hill.

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On the Floor and Upside Down: Writing Strategies

artwork by Sarah Lynne Reul

If you ever have the great good fortune to attend a workshop with Kevin Lewis, you may want to sit in the back row. It’s his favorite spot for selecting volunteers! At the April 2017 New England SCBWI conference, Kevin invited one person to join him, stretched flat on the floor, to emphasize the importance of taking in the world from a child’s perspective. At the equivalent of toddler eye-level, she remarked with wonder at a horizon cluttered with tote bags and knees.

After the conference, I was eager to practice any and all writing tips from the maestro behind CHUGGA- CHUGGA CHOO-CHOO so I flopped right down onto my living room floor. Let’s not mention the dust bunnies, shall we? But overall, the view was fairly uninspiring. No wonder kids engage their imaginations dozens or hundreds of times during the day.

Then I flopped, stomach side down, onto the ottoman and realized “This thing would be more fun with wheels.” Wow – my inner toddler had begun to express herself! I noticed that the carved carpet was too bumpy for a floor puzzle, but could become zippy tracks for little cars or animals. Vroom, vroom!

I flipped over, stomach side up. My head and arms dangled over the ottoman’s edges. I tried to ignore a wispy cobweb framing the skylight. Some clouds, then a bird flew overhead. I remembered reading about inversion therapy – something Dan Brown advocates to combat writer’s block. There are some quirky writing habits detailed at that link that don’t involve gravity boots but may require déshabillé (I won’t be trying either). However – BOOM! Suddenly I had funny inspiration for a story that I put aside months ago.

In short, don’t forsake opportunities to change your perspective occasionally when doing creative work. Whether conceiving, writing, revising, or battling writer’s block, shaking up your orientation may be just the thing. Sit in the front row, or the last row. Flop onto the floor. Of course a rich weekend of inspiring conference presentations, engaging with friends and mentors old and new, and lugging home a tote full of shiny new books are wonderful ingredients to incorporate in the process.

I would love for you to share any other creative strategies or flashes of inspiration in the comments. Happy writing!

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So You Think You Can Write a Children’s Book…

Thank you Cheerios, because it was your “Spoonful of Stories” contest that first piqued my interest in writing for children. I clipped this tiny column from a parenting magazine and stuck it in my desk drawer almost seven years ago.

Then I began to write, to read, to revise, to conference, critique, and connect. This work is indeed a marathon, not a sprint. Clipping the Cheerios column was the first step for me, but the entire race requires miles of training (read 1,000+ books), conditioning (revise, revise, revise), and dedication (keep putting one word after the other -persist!).

I owe huge thanks to my editor, Meredith Mundy at Sterling Children’s Books, and my agent, Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, as well as to the kidlit bloggers, authors, editors, librarians, artists and fellow writers that I’ve been lucky to know along the way. Each of you have inspired me to keep plugging along with my stories. Lest this post in dry, inventoried nature, risk being played off the stage Academy Award style, let me say how delighted I am to share the news of my debut picture book, When a Tree Grows, sprouting onto shelves in Fall 2018;




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