Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

RUTH A. MUSGRAVE is the Director of WhaleTimes Inc. ( and an award-winning writer. In addition to National Geographic Kids Magazine, she has also written for Scientific American Explorations, SuperScience, and Ask. Her awards include Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Magazine Merit Honor Award for Nonfiction and two Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences-Southwest.

In addition to teaching and writing, her background includes 25+ years developing and producing K-12 marine science education programs, curricula, professional development seminars, and a children’s television series.

While writing the NGK Everything Sharks, Ruth was inspired to create a holiday for sharks, called “Fintastic Friday: Giving Sharks a Voice.” She knew once kids discovered what magnificent and important animals sharks really are, they would want to protect them. Hosted by WhaleTimes, the holiday gives children a platform and opportunity to make a difference.

Congratulations on your success with National Geographic Kids Everything Sharks, just released this spring (April 2011). National Geographic is a “closed” house, meaning they don’t take unsolicited submissions. Could you give us some background on how you broke into this extraordinary publishing house and what it’s been like working for them?

Thank you. I’m so excited about my book. National Geographic Kids Everything Sharks is full of stunning shark photos and the layout is a delight to the eyes. Before you even get to the text, you can spend hours just looking at the photos. Writing it was fun because I was able to show sharks as they really are — these incredible, diverse, sometimes odd and quirky creatures. It has a lot of humor and tons of great information.

The best part is, kids will read about sharks and fall in love with the real animal, not some fictional beast. The vicious animal portrayed in movies, books, and television doesn’t exist. Sharks are extraordinary animals, but they are not invincible. They are in trouble and they need kids’ help.

Hmmm, how I got my foot in the door at National Geographic Kids…well, Terry, I’d tell you, but then I’d have to…just kidding!

I have been fortunate enough to be a frequent contributor to National Geographic Kids Magazine for a many years. The editors knew about my marine science background and asked if I’d like to write about sharks for their very cool new “National Geographic Kids Everything” series. Working with such talented editors and a publishing house that loves animals, embraces the fun of science, yet prizes accuracy…well I still expect someone to wake me up from the best dream ever!

What is the best advice you can give for writers who want to write non-fiction (articles or books)?

This is a good question. Only write nonfiction if that’s what you really want to write. Become an expert about the topics that you love, figure out what age levels you like to write for, and, as you’re figuring that out, keep writing to find your own style or voice. I think readers want more than facts, figures, dates, or timelines. Your style should make the science, history, person, or whatever come to life.

What if you really want to write fiction, but heard from writer friends that starting in nonfiction is the easy way to go…get different friends! Okay, keep the friends, just get better advice! If you want to write fiction picture books or poetry or YA or…you should do that. Don’t get sidetracked. Getting published is hard enough. Don’t waste time and opportunities by writing in a genre you don’t love.

What is your favorite children’s joke?

Let’s see, how about my 10-year old daughter’s latest and greatest joke from school:
Q: How do you get a tissue to dance?
A: Put a little boogie in it!

Thanks so much, Ruth!



Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

KATHI APPELT is the author of over thirty books for children and young adults. Her book, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS (Henry Holt, 2004) won the Paterson Poetry Prize for Young Adult Literature and was selected as “Book for the Teen Age,” by the New York Public Library, as well as a “Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers.” Her picture book, BUBBA AND BEAU, BEST FRIENDS was given the Irma and Simon Black Award for excellence in children’s literature.

Her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, was a finalist for The National Book Award, a Newbery Honor book, and the winner of the PEN USA Award for Children’s Literature.

Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She and her husband Ken live in College Station, TX. For more information, check her website:

You’re a master of picture book writing, whether it be non-fiction (MISS LADY BIRD’S WILDFLOWERS, ELEPHANTS ALOFT) or fiction (BATS ON PARADE, or your newest title, BRAND NEW BABY BLUES), to prose (the BUBBA AND BEAU series) to rhyme (ALLEYCAT’S MEOW, OH MY BABY LITTLE ONE). Can you tell us about your process? Are there some things that you consistently do with every story or is each one a new journey its own right?

What a good question! And oh, if only I had an answer. To be honest,

I used to pay a lot more attention to process than I do now. I hope that this lack of attention-paying is because I’ve just gotten more used to writing rather than a laziness on my part, but I’m not so sure about that. Certainly, each book has its own path. Some come a lot faster to me. Some, not so much. Most of my stories require multiple drafts, and we’re talking multiple, like fifteen, twenty, more. I think I rewrote Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers about fifty times.

If there is, in fact, a common process element, it’s that I always begin with something from my own experience and life, even it means bats or cats or hound dogs. I’m also really kind to myself when it comes to early drafting. I try not to be too judgmental about what shows up on the page, at least not until I’ve gotten a couple of drafts down.

I also never talk about a book in progress. It’s a superstition of mine. I learned this when I was a graduate student–that if I talked about a project before I had words on the page, then I found that I couldn’t write it. My brain was already convinced that the project had been completed. And it’s funny because when people start to tell me, “I have an idea for a book,” I’m quick to say, “No, don’t tell me. Write it. Then we can talk.”

You’re also an accomplished writer for older readers with many books for teens on writing, poetry and novels, including THE UNDERNEATH, which won a 2009 ALA Newbery Honor. Could you briefly share with us how winning a Newbery Honor affected your life? Can you tell us a little about your next novel?

In a million ways, writing The Underneath changed my life. Just the writing itself was where the change occurred. It’s hard to explain, but I felt as though I had to simultaneously step out of my own skin in order to get the story down, but at the same time I had to dive as deeply as I could into the darkest realms of my own life in order to find the true story. Winning the Newbery Honor was amazing. Truly. It was a gift. I’m still amazed by it.

Next novel: Keeper. It’s due out in mid-May and is about ten-year-old Keeper who lives with her foster mother, Signe, along the Texas coast. Keeper believes that her real mother, Meggie Marie, is a mermaid because the last time she saw her, Meggie Marie swam away. So, the book is Keeper’s quest for her mermaid mother, who may or may not be a real mermaid. There’s a companion dog and an errant seagull who go along for the ride. August Hall has created some beautiful art for the interior and his jacket is drop-dead gorgeous. I told my editor that I want to blow it up and paper my bedroom wall with it.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?

Q: What do you have when you have snakes on the windshield?
A: Windshield vipers!

Hee-hee! Thanks so much, Kathi!



Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling

MARILYN BRIGHAM is an editor at Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, where she has been working for over 5 years. She edits everything from picture books and chapter books through novels for both middle grade and young adults. In addition, she oversees Marshall Cavendish Classics, a line of previously out-of-print titles by award-winning authors and illustrators, as well as Board Buddies, Marshall Cavendish’s board book line. On her own time, she loves sports, concerts, the beach, cooking, watching television shows meant for teenagers, and reading magazines while taking a nice hot bath. She wishes she had time to read adult books . . . but there are just too many fabulous kids’ books to be reading. . . . She is enjoying life as a newlywed and lives in Tarrytown, NY, with her husband.

How do you define your role as a children’s book editor at Marshall Cavendish? What have been some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

I definitely think of my role as an editor as a helper and co-conspirator with the author; I love the relationships I have with authors where we discuss our vision for the book and I help the author get it there and make it the best book possible. Sometimes the editing process can be a seemingly endless process and takes a while to come together, and sometimes the pieces of a book just fall into place really easily; either way, though, it’s always this great journey and so much fun for me (I do have one of the best jobs on the planet…). And, of course, I love for the kids who read it to have the last word and for the books to really speak to them and who they are right now in their lives—that’s the ultimate goal with every book I work on.

One of my favorite projects to work on was the first novel I ever edited, RETURNABLE GIRL by Pamela Lowell, which followed a 13-year-old foster child in middle school, who ultimately has to decide between her birth mother and her foster mother, and between “being popular” and being true to her best friend, an emotionally disturbed girl who is bullied incessantly for being overweight. I think this book has stuck with me for so long not only because it was my first book, but also because it spoke to the universal experiences—trying to fit in and the need for all of us to have a safe place to call home. It also showed how one person can make a huge difference in your life—the main character and her foster mom really develop this amazing relationship, which is also scary for the main character because loving someone puts you at the risk of being hurt by them as well. I do have a thing for books about foster children—WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch is another amazing book (although that one’s for adults).

Another book I edited that’s definitely high on my list of favorites is PRINCESS PEEPERS, a picture book by Pam Calvert, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning. This is a quirky tale of a not-so-average princess—she’s kind of clumsy and she has this fabulous collection of funky glasses. But when she starts attending school with other the princesses, they make fun of her glasses, which forces the princess to go without them. Well, our clumsy princess is even clumsier without them and has all these funny mishaps . . . until the day she runs into Prince Peerless. Turns out the prince wears glasses too. In the end, Princess Peepers snags the princess and sets off a new trend at the castle (last illustration shows the other princess, royal horses, and other characters from the book, all donning funky glasses). The illustrator did a great job of capturing our special princess, and I loved that overall the story had a great message about being true to yourself and defying stereotypes but that it got across the message without being preachy. It was a familiar concept for a picture book, but it was written and illustrated in such a way that it stands above the competition and has lasting power; I think kids will come back to it again and again and that’s the true test.

We know that all editors are looking for well-written stories, but could you summarize your specific taste in books and which kinds of stories usually catch your attention (or possibly send you fleeing down the hallway ;-)?

I love edgy YA fiction with contemporary settings/issues, chick-lit for MG or YA, funny boy books (particularly for middle grade—see THE ADVENTURES OF BENNY, written and illustrated by Steve Shreve), and books with sports themes (see THROWING LIKE A GIRL, a novel by Weezie Kerr Mackey, and my forthcoming picture book WHEN JACKIE AND HANK MET by Cathy Fishman, illustrated by Mark Elliot, about Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg). I am also developing a taste for sci-fi and fantasy, as long as it’s not too high-fantasy (talking animals don’t really do it for me in older fiction, but I love interesting worlds and futuristic societies in which the rules have changed). I also like books that have a multicultural angle or unique perspective (see THE FIESTA DRESS by Caren McNelly McCormick, illustrated by Martha Aviles—sibling story but with multicultural angle). I tend to veer toward quirkiness and humor in picture books, although I also have some picture books coming up that are very sensitive and sweet. I’m not currently looking for folktales. I’m not hugely into rhyming picture books—I think so much more can be done with the language when you’re not confined by rhyme schemes. I’m also not really into historical fiction or nonfiction—but occasionally the right subject matter can grab me.

What is your favorite children’s joke?

Oh, man. This is a toughie. Well, the first thing I thought of was not actually a joke but something my big brother would sometimes sing to my mom when I was a kid: “Hey, Mom, what’s for dinner? Go up your nose and pick a winner…” (How’s that for boy humor?) I think he had a few other rhyming sayings like that. My mom would always laugh it off and tell him to stop being gross. I thought it was pretty funny, too.

Also, my grandfather used to tell a joke about a man who meets a genie and gets to make three wishes; I don’t remember the whole story, but somewhere in the midst of trying to think of his third wish, an Oscar Meyer Weiner commercial comes on the TV. The man starts singing along: “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, oh, that is what I’d truly like to be…” and he gets his wish. That always cracked me up, picturing a grown man in a wiener costume.

Actually, any joke featuring an adult in a compromising position is pretty funny to me, even today.

Thanks so much, Marilyn!




Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Erin Clarke is a senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, where she has worked for eleven years. Authors and illustrators with whom she works include Markus Zusak, Julia Alvarez, Meghan McCarthy, Lesley M.M. Blume, Anna Alter, Mark Alan Stamaty, Karen Foxlee, Mick Cochrane, Barbara Jean Hicks, and Sue Hendra. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and one-year-old daughter, who enjoys eating broccoli (albeit with lots of butter).

How did you discover MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI and what was your reaction? What are your hopes for this title?

I first saw Sue Hendra’s illustrations for the project in the UK in 2005, and I instantly fell in love with her monsters. Sue had written a text for a novelty book, which is the format in which the British publisher originally wanted to publish MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, but I thought it would work well as a traditional picture book. I had just worked with Barbara Jean Hicks on a wonderful picture book called THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY and thought her sensibility would match Sue’s illustrations perfectly.

My hope for this book is that kids will want to read it again and again and again (the real sign of a successful picture book in my mind). The text is bouncy and fun to read aloud, and the illustrations are hilarious, vibrant, and full of details to pore over. Of course, I love the message about eating healthily and the fact that it is conveyed in a completely non-didactic way.

The bold, colorful artwork in MONSTERS is a perfect match with the text, as it not only supports the words but enhances them. Can you tell us about the process you went through in matching up Barbara Jean Hicks and Sue Hendra?

I think I answered this above, but with all picture books, you want to the text and illustrations to work together equally to tell a story, and Barbara and Sue managed to do just so with incredible humor and fun. They share a similar sensibility even though they use different mediums.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?

My favorite book-related joke:

Q: What do Sea Monsters eat for lunch?
A: Fish and ships

Thanks so much, Erin!



Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

BARBARA JEAN HICKS lives in Oxnard, California with her partner Michael and a bad-tempered cat. She is the author of five children’s picture books. MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI is her second book about monsters and her third book in which food is an important element. She is working on her relationship with vegetables but has a monster appetite for fun! To learn more about Barbara and her books, visit her website.

MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI is a rollicking book with lots of fun concepts and language. Can you tell us a little about how the story came to be?
An interesting story: the pictures came first! Sue Hendra had created a dummy for a pop-up book that was about all the crazy things that monsters eat. Erin Clarke, the editor I had worked with on THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY, loved Sue’s monsters but wanted them in a traditional picture book. I feel so fortunate that she decided to ask me if I might be interested in working with the sketches Sue had already done. I fell in love with Sue’s cheerful, colorful monsters! I wanted her to be able to use at least some of the fun, funny sketches she’d already created, so I decided to keep with the eating theme. When I found a sketch of the monsters having a food fight with vaguely broccoli-looking trees they’d been munching on, I immediately thought of the way so many parents get their kids to eat broccoli by calling it little trees.

I turned the “what monsters eat” theme on its head and focused instead on what monsters (and their child counterparts) often don’t eat—their veggies. A phrase popped into my head from the old fairytale JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and I turned that on its head as well. Thus: “Fum, foe, fie, fee, Monsters don’t eat broccoli!” I rearranged the sketches, leaving out some and suggesting others to make the book a little longer, as part of the process of writing the text. I had lots of fun, and the text came very quickly.

MONSTERS sends a great message to kids about healthy eating. I know you’re active in promoting healthy eating for children. Can you tell us a little bit about this and how you’re hoping that MONSTERS will help the cause?
The creative process is so fascinating. When we write (or draw, or sing, or do any number of other creative things), our subconscious draws from many disparate memories, ideas, emotions and experiences and makes connections we aren’t even aware of on a conscious level. I wrote this story thinking it was about the power of a healthy imagination—which it is. But it’s also, perhaps even more, about healthy eating habits. I grew up with a father who loved to garden and was crazy about fresh vegetables—and a mom who didn’t much like vegetables. So we had opportunities to eat lots of fresh vegetables but were never forced to eat them. I had my favorites (like corn on the cob and peas right out of the pod), but other veggies have been an acquired taste. Many of them I’ve discovered just in the last year, when my partner was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. We went on the South Beach diet, which is heavy on vegetables and whole grains. This new way to eat totally reversed the blood sugar problem, and we both dropped pounds as well. We discovered a lot more vegetables we liked, and those have become a regular part of our diet.

When the reviews started rolling in for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, every single one commented on the “healthy eating” aspect of the story that I hadn’t even realized I’d written! I also got lots of comments back when I sent a notice out to my e-mail list that the book had hit the bookstore shelves. One was from a school superintendent I had worked with in the past who asked if I would be interested in partnering with the district to encourage healthy eating habits in the elementary schools. I realized that many kids don’t have the advantage I had as a child of a big garden in the back yard, and I liked the idea. Obesity and diabetes are increasingly significant problems in this country, not only for adults but for children, and poor diet is the main culprit. Lack of exercise is a second element that I’ll also address in the program I’m developing for the district, which we have dubbed the Rio Healthy Kids Initiative.

My book launch for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI was part of a weekend long fundraiser in cooperation with our local Barnes & Noble for the Initiative. We not only had great fun, we taught kids the “broccoli chant,” engaged them in a healthy-eating poster contest, and had a slide show about ways to eat healthy even at fast food restaurants.
I’ve discovered that several members of my local SCBWI chapter have developed or worked with nutrition curricula for elementary school children and are willing to share their materials and experiences with me as I develop the program for the Rio Healthy Kids Initiative, which I hope to make available in other schools as well.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?
Appropriately enough, when we’re talking about healthy eating, it’s a fruit joke.

Q: What was Beethoven’s favorite fruit?

A: Ba-na-na-na (sung to the tune of the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth!)

Thanks, Barbara Jean! For more information on Barbara Jean’s blog tour schedule, read on!

SATURDAY OCTOBER 17: Review: Elizabeth Bird for School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. “More fun than a book with a message should ever hope to be.”

SUNDAY OCTOBER 18: Book Trailer: Monster reviewers Gene Sisko and Roger Elbert go two thumbs up for BROCCOLI!

MONDAY OCTOBER 19: Interview: Terry Pierce talks to Barbara about children and healthy eating.

TUESDAY OCTOBER 20: Interview: Little Willow talks to illustrator Sue Hendra, editor Erin Clarke, and Barbara in a single interview.

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 21: Interview: Sherrie Petersen talks to Barbara about the switch from writing romance to writing children’s books.

THURSDAY OCTOBER 22: Interview: Terry Pierce interviews editor Erin Clarke (Random House Knopf).

FRIDAY OCTOBER 23: Interview: Jaime Temairik and the Zombie talk to illustrator Sue Hendra in sock puppet form for Zombie Broadcasting Services. You’ve never seen an interview like this one!

SATURDAY OCTOBER 24: Podcast Review: Mark and Andrea’s Just One More Book audio blog. “Gasping, gobbling, grinning, crunching and belching, seven sherbet-coloured monsters revel in outrage at their broccoli-loving readers in this rhyming enticement to eat green.”

SUNDAY OCTOBER 25: Book Trailer: Cecilia Olivera-Hillway of Polar Twilight animates Sue Hendra’s cheerful monsters as giant broccoli falls from the sky.

MONDAY OCTOBER 26: Photographs: The Broccoli Book Launch, August 28, 2009, Barnes & Noble Ventura. Seen: Chow, Chompers, and Barbara Jean the Story Queen!

TUESDAY OCTOBER 27: Downloads: For kids, Sue Hendra’s coloring pages for MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI. For adults, The MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI Broccoli Fan Cookbook!

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 28: Podcast Interview: Suzanne Lieurance talks to author Barbara Jean Hicks about BROCCOLI, her life, and writing on Book Bites for Kids (Blog Talk Radio).



Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

VALERIE HOBBS did not set out to write novels for young adults, but ever since critics praised her 1995 coming-of-age story, HOW FAR WOULD YOU HAVE GOTTEN IF I HADN’T CALLED YOU BACK?, she has been a respected author of fiction for teens. At the rate of approximately one book per year, Hobbs has crafted character-driven tales about young people on the verge of adulthood, forced to make serious decisions about the direction their lives will take. Often the young protagonists are confronted with circumstances beyond their control–the death of a guardian or a boyfriend, parental divorce, or physical disability. How they deal with these challenges forms the core of Hobbs’s works.

By receiving this year’s California Young Reader Medal in the Intermediate Category for your middle-grade novel, SHEEP, you’ve added another award to your extensive list of honors. You say, “Writing is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but by far the most fun.” With so many award-winning novels and such a positive attitude, can you share with us how you keep the writing flame burning so brightly?
Oh, were it always bright! I do a good deal of butt-in-chair with no lights burning, believe me. But a terrific award like this one elevates the chair quite a bit, that’s for sure.

I have to ask a question on craft. Could you tell us a little bit about your story creation process? Do you have any tips/advice for someone who wants to write a novel but doesn’t know where to begin?
I always begin with a character and that character is invariably me, though I never intend it. These characters were once the young ones, now they’re getting old. So I identify with Pearl in Defiance, but the cow and Toby, too, and with the grandmother in The Last Best Summer (Spring 2010). I’ve mined a lot of things from my own life. I always recommend fictionalizing events drawn from our own lives because getting in touch with what we remember and know really deepens what we’re writing, gives it an authenticity that’s harder to create when a story is entirely made up. Or so I think. “Sheep”, for example, is based on having a homeless Border collie for three weeks, “Sonny’s War” came out of having a brother who went to Vietnam, and my first novel, “How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn’t Called You Back” is pretty much a rip off of my 16th year.

So my advice would be to dig into the past, even the “awful” stuff and freewrite about it without judging the person who you were or the writing you do now. The stuff that makes your heart beat harder will usually do the same for a reader.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?
Well, right now anything with “butt” or “poop” in it because that’s what cracks my six year-old grandson up, and anything that cracks him up cracks me up.

Thanks, Val~ and congratulations on winning the California Young Reader Medal!


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

LISA GRAFF is an associate editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, where she has worked for the past four years. She is particularly interested in middle-grade novels, but enjoys everything from picture books to YA, especially the funny stuff. In addition to working as an editor, Lisa is also a writer. Her first book, The Thing About Georgie, was selected for seven state reading lists, including the Texas Bluebonnet master list, and her latest novel, Umbrella Summer, is due out in June 2009. With the help of seven other children’s and YA authors, Lisa keeps a blog about the writing and the publishing world, The Longstockings. Her website is can be viewed here.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa at a recent SCBWI retreat. She was funny, insightful and charming. I’m so happy she agreed to answer some questions for us!

What is it like wearing both the author and editor hats, and how does this benefit each role?
I feel very lucky that I get to be both an author and editor—two awesome jobs, and I get to do both of them! The thing I like most about it probably is talking to other authors about their craft, and getting an inside look at how stories develop, which helps me tremendously as a writer. Just knowing that other writers face the same struggles that I do all the time, and yet somehow manage to be brilliant storytellers in the end is very inspiring. And there’s nothing that makes you want to buckle down and write more than being surrounded by good books all the time! I also think that being a writer helps me when I have my editor hat on because it makes me more empathetic to my authors and to aspiring authors—and hopefully helps me skew my thoughts and criticism in a way that is most helpful to them.

Another great thing about being both a writer and an editor is that I get to work on stories I would never be able to write myself. So far all of the books I’ve written have been funny, contemporary middle-grade novels (although I’ve just signed up a funny, contemporary chapter book—so you can see I’m branching out!). But as an editor I can work on anything from historical fiction to non-fiction to picture books, all of which I think I would write extremely badly myself. So I get a chance to learn about new genres and styles, which I really enjoy doing. Still, my favorite stories to work on are funny, contemporary novels (go figure), from chapter book up through YA.

The double-life can be a bit hard, too, though. I think it’s especially taxing when I’m in the throws of working on something really wonderful and tricky at the office, and also working on my own writing at home—trying to use the same part of your brain all the day long can be very tiring! Those are the days I think I’d rather be a welder. But it’s very satisfying, too, so I really can’t complain much.

Can you tell us about your latest book?
My newest novel is coming out in June, and I’m getting very excited about it. It’s called Umbrella Summer, and it’s about a ten-year-old girl named Annie who becomes a bit of a hypochondriac after her older brother, Jared, dies unexpectedly. It’s a weighty subject, obviously, but there’s a lot of humor in there, too, and some very fun characters that just a ball to write.

What is your favorite children’s joke?
My absolute favorite joke makes no sense written out, unfortunately, but I’ll give it to you anyway:

Q: What do you call a pig with four eyes?
A: A piiiig.

See? Totally not funny on paper. But for some reason every time I tell that joke it makes me bust up laughing. I am obviously very easily amused.

Thanks so much, Lisa!



Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

JILL CORCORAN is an Associate Agent at the Herman Agency representing MG and YA authors, as well as being a children’s book author. Lee Bennett Hopkins will be including her poem PIRATES in his upcoming Holiday House MG collection, I AM THE BOOK.

Jill has a terrific blog, Jill Corcoran Books. I’ve known Jill for years—she’s funny, smart, hard-working and persistent! I was so happy for her when she told me of her recent move into her new role as a children’s literary agent.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am an Associate Agent at Herman Agency representing Chapter Book, Middle Grade and Young Adult authors.

I have a BA in English from Stanford University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Chicago. I’ve marketed everything from cereal to sneakers at Leo Burnett Advertising, Mattel, LA Gear and my own company, Launch! New Product Marketing.

I am also a children’s book writer and poet. Lee Bennett Hopkins will be including my poem PIRATES in his upcoming Holiday House middle grade collection, I AM THE BOOK. My poem will be one of only l4 in this fully illustrated picture/poetry book.

I’ve won an SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s Day Poetry Award for my humorous picture book collection, SINK YOUR TEETH INTO POETRY and an SCBWI Work-in-Progress Letter of Merit for my YA novel, TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU. Plus, an article about me and my writing workshops has been syndicated in parenting magazines nationwide by Kathy Sena (

Could you please summarize your specific taste in books and which kinds of stories usually catch your attention (or would be an automatic “No, thanks”)?
I am a huge fan of humor. If you can make me laugh or crack a smile, you are my kind of writer. Even in a serious literary book, there is room for humor.

Some of my favorite books are Frindle, Stargirl, Speak, Stuck in Neutral, How I Live Now, Millicent Min, Good Enough, Seeing Emily, Things Left Unsaid, Flipped and Because of Winn Dixie.
I would also love to find funny boy books that are mixed prose and graphic novel a la Wimpy Kid, Bruce Hale’s Prince of Underwhere, and even full graphic novels like Bone. BTW, Ronnie Ann Herman is also looking for Graphic Novels and I will be passing on illustrator-driven GN to her attention.

What catches my attention is great writing. As I said in my blog post HOW I READ SUBMISSIONS, a great idea can only get a book so far. It is the execution, the writing that brings a plot, a cast of characters, the soul of a book alive. A quick side note here–When I go into classrooms to teach, I’ll give 30 students one prompt, but I get 30 different versions of a story. That is how it is with manuscript submissions. I get a fair share of similar plots outlined in query letters, but the executions of those plots are what determines if I ask for a full or not.

I want a book that I can’t put down. That I have to read in one sitting because I have to know what happens next. I want to close your book and keep living with your characters in my head.

An automatic “No Thanks”… forced dialog, flabby prose, mixed metaphors, expected plot turns and endings, etc.

What will your role be at the Herman Agency? (How will you work together, will you both read all genres, how would you handle authors who write across multiple genres, etc.–anything you feel readers should know)
Ronnie Ann Herman started Herman Agency in 1999 and represents many of the leading illustrators and author/illustrators in today’s children’s book market. As a former Art Director at Random House and Associate Publisher at Penguin Books’ Grosset & Dunlap, Ronnie art directed thousands of children’s books during her more than 20 year publishing career. Ronnie is also the author of 8 picture books with 1,000,000 books in print.

Most of Ronnie’s clients are PB author/illustrators or illustrators. Ronnie has sold CB, MG, YA and adult over the years but her heart is in picture books and that is why she brought me in to expand the company.

For a single author who writes YA and PB, for instance, I will rep the author’s YA and Ronnie will rep his/her PB. When an author signs with me they are signing with the Herman Agency and they will benefit from both Ronnie and my expertise, dedication and effort.

For my clients, Ronnie and I will work together to create a submission lists. While Ronnie is very familiar with different houses’ and different editors’ preferences, I also have editors contacting me, telling me their preferences so that I can direct the right books to their attention. Ronnie will handle all contract negotiations until I know contracts inside and out.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?
I never remember punch lines so I am a bad joke-teller. But I’m a huge fan of riddle poems. Here is one that I wrote a few years ago:

I love to eat green moldy cheese,
Chewed up meat and smashed down peas,
Clippings from your puppy’s nails,
Squashed-shelled squished-up garden snails,
Gooey tissues, chicken fat,
Droppings from your fur-ball cat.
Lumpy milk, month-old trout,
Fill me up…
Throw me out!

What am I?

(answer: a garbage can)

Hilarious poem, Jill~ and thanks for the interview!



Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

SARA DOBIE is the Public Relations Coordinator for Sylvan Dell Publishing. She has been featured on the ForeWord Publishing Insider blog,, and If you’re an author without a website, she will find you and throw tomatoes. Rotten ones. Say hello at, or check out all the Sylvan Dell Publishing titles at

I’ve had the privilege of working with Sara while promoting my latest book, Blackberry Banquet. Sara is a dynamo with enough energy to light up any metropolitan city (who says we’re having an energy crisis with Sara around?). I knew she would have some terrific advice on book promotion for us!

What are the three most important things (general or specific) an author and/or illustrator should focus on to promote his/her book?
(Disclaimer: I feel like the multitude of answers to this oh-so-important question varies from day to day. So today? My answers are as follows.)

1. Know the World Wide Web.
This is a monster of a task, I know. There are millions of websites and blogs out there. How do you navigate? Well, you could start by having a website/blog of your OWN. Sounds obvious, right? Then, how come so many authors DON’T? Tell people about your website. Point interested booksellers, librarians, and strangers you meet on the street to your website…well, maybe not that last one…but you get the point!

So you have your website. Now, do your homework. Find out which sites you should be following. Who knows their stuff? Who should you be reading for valuable advice? Where should you be leaving comments that lots of people see? And when you leave those comments, is there a LINK TO YOUR WEBSITE by your comment so that people know where to find you?

This process builds into a rapport. Now, you can see if the people who know their stuff want to review your book. Ask them. Most will say yes. Then, there will be a review of your book on their high-traffic website. High-traffic website equates to book sales equates to you can stop eating Ramen noodles like an unemployed college kid.

2. Know your local media.
How are people going to know you published a book if no one tells them? You, as an individual, can only knock on so many doors. Standing on corners screaming your ISBN doesn’t do much, either. However, how about a feature story in your city newspaper? How about a TV spot on the five o’clock news? That’s the way to spread the word, and your publicist—if you’re lucky enough to have a publicist—can’t do it all. Your publicist can’t walk into the newsroom and start shaking hands for every client in every city with every book, etc. However, you can do this for yourself. As soon as you sign that publishing contract, get ready to make friendly. Go in and meet the story assignment editors and program directors. And once you have review copies of your opus, be sure to hand-deliver them to these same contacts! The media is your FRIEND. Say it with me: “THE MEDIA IS MY FRIEND.”

3. Know your niche.
If you spent a year researching and writing your book, then you should know what it’s about, right? If you know what it’s about, you should know your target audience, right? If you know your target audience, they should know about your book, right? RIGHT? If they don’t, you don’t know your niche. A niche is a targeted, little place in the big book world where your book belongs. Your book lives in that niche, and it should sell to that niche market. In other words, let’s say you wrote a book about herons. Who should you be sending it to? How about Audubon? What about wetlands conservation organizations? Did you know that the official city bird of Seattle is the HERON? Well, you should, if you just wrote a book about them! No, I’m not obsessed with herons. I know this stuff because I just launched a book about herons. I know this stuff because I saw the niche, and so should you, when your book comes along.

What are the most common mistakes that an author and/or illustrator can make in regards to promoting his/her book?
I was going to make a list of no-no’s, but when I looked at it, the list boiled down to one thing—a lack of pride in your product. Your book is your baby. And I’m not talking about the ugly baby in Seinfeld. I’m talking about a beautiful, well-behaved baby that chews with its mouth shut and knows the alphabet at two weeks old. Think about it…

Would you hide your baby at home? No. You would run out and show it to the world. The same goes for your book. You need to schedule events. You should have signings, school visits, library visits, workshops, etc. You should be out there meeting your fans with a smile—the proud parent of a newborn masterpiece. Never hide at home.

Would you leave your baby in the car on a hot day? NO! You would take it with you when you left the house or went into the grocery store. You would take that newborn EVERYWHERE! Never forget that you are an author. Always have copies of your book in your car. Always have business cards with an image of your book and your website address. Never forget your baby.

Like I said, a lack of pride in your product is a problem. (Whoa. Too many P’s…) Have pride in your masterpiece. Have pride in your CREATION. Have pride in you. It’s a package deal, and having pride in yourself and your product will turn you into a promoting machine.

What’s your favorite children’s joke?
Q: What has four wheels, is yellow, and lies on its back?

A: A dead school bus

Thanks, Sara!

(Note: The book featured to the right is one of Sylvan Dell’s Spring 2009 releases, One Wolf Howls by Scotti Cohn, illustrated by Susan Detwiler. To learn more about this title, click HERE.)




Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

RUTA RIMAS has been at HarperCollins since 2007, and with Balzer + Bray since the imprint’s inception. She has done the following: taught math to Brooklyn teenagers; valet-parked cars in Chicago; waited tables with marinara sauce on her forehead (for a whole shift! And no one told her….); worked at a Hallmark store, doing nothing but answering questions about collectible figures; travelled to Lithuania; and fallen out of a tree in Central Park. She lives in Brooklyn, with her ever-patient boyfriend, and a pride of cats.

How do you define your role as a children’s book editor at Balzer & Bray?
I am an acquiring editor, looking for picture books, middle-grade, and YA. While my bosses have edited fantastic chapter book series, I tend to shy away from that age range. Can’t really tell you why, other than those books are just not up my alley—which is a tad bizarre, as the 1980s Ruta enjoyed reading chapter books, very much so. Go figure.

My role is to be the champion of my authors/illustrators, through every step of the process. From our Balzer + Bray team meetings, to the oft scary Acquisitions meetings with sales, to Cover Strategy meetings, and our seasonal launch meetings, I advocate, advocate, advocate. And then, I advocate some more.

I also assist Donna Bray–editorially and administratively. What this means to you: If you have sent a manuscript to Donna, I’ve seen it!

We know that all editors are looking for well-written stories, but could you summarize your specific taste in books and which kinds of stories usually catch your attention (or possibly send you fleeing down the hallway ;-)?
My taste in books…Well, it has to be something that moves me—in a humorous way, in a touching way, in a thought-provoking way…

I’m not a known crier (with the exception of watching a high-profile couple dancing to AT LAST on January 20th) but if I read a book and it moves me to tears, it’s a winner!

Perhaps a list of “Books-that-have-moved-me” will help to define my specific taste:

Picture Books:
Seriously hilarious. I laugh each time I read this.

HARRY AND HORSIE by Katie Van Camp; picture by Lincoln Agnew
A Balzer + Bray launch book (Fall 2009). The art, oh the art! Just amazing. So new, so fresh, so great!

Middle Grade:
MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli
Love the voice. Love the story. From a master of the middle grade novel.

Groundbreaking. So clever.

A Balzer + Bray launch book (Fall 2009). Incredibly new, fantastic idea: the main character can heal people, take the pain,and then shift the pain to another. Zowie!

This book just rules, in so many ways. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s thought-provoking. One of my absolute all-time favorites.

THE AFTER by Amy Huntley
Another Balzer + Bray debut (Fall 2009). This one made me cry. Like a baby. Plus, I loooooved that the author used a non-linear structure. That is fresh.

No words, really, can describe this masterpiece. It is flawless.

I’d like to point out that three out of the six books on the Balzer + Bray launch list are debut authors. That’s right: HALF! How exciting! And, I am so sorry, but you will have to wait until September to get your hands on the titles…unless you are fortunate enough to score an ARC!

I will send an almost 100% guaranteed NO to the following:
Rhyming picture books
Overly cute picture books
Picture books that condescend to children
Didactic books, all ages
Preachy books, all ages
Books with inconsistent narrative, all ages (a sign, to me, of amateurish writing)
Books with wizards, all ages
Books with vampires, werewolves, zombies, all ages (would be willing to bend this rule for picture books, but it has to be great!)

What is your favorite children’s joke?
Not kidding…I love this one:

Q: Why does Santa Claus have a garden?
A: So he can ho, ho, ho!

And, for those with sustainable reading skills, who can appreciate the following when told orally, and, well, can deal with the fact that this is not *quite* for children, this one is a close second favorite. Bear with me…

A piece of string walks into a bar. He sits down and says, “Bartender. Gimmee a beer.”
The bartender looks at him and says, “I’m not serving a piece of string! Get outta here!”
So the piece of string leaves.

He spots a guy on the street and says, “Psst. Hey buddy! I need you to tie me in a knot!” The guy looks around, and, though confused, ties the piece of string into a knot.

Another guy walks by and the piece of string whispers, “Psst. Hey buddy! I need you to fray my ends a bit.” The guy looks around, shrugs his shoulders, and frays the string’s ends.

So the piece of string walks back into the bar, sits down and says,” Bartender! Gimmee a beer!”
The bartender looks at him and says, “Hey. Aren’t you the SAME piece of string I just told to leave?”

The piece of string looks the bartender straight in the eyes and shakes his head. “No, man. I’m a frayed knot (afraid knot).”

Thank you so much, Ruta!