Category Archives: author interviews

Author Interview: Jenna Grodzicki

I recently had the pleasure of meeting debut author and fellow elementary librarian, Jenna Grodzicki, at the spring NJSCBWI Conference. Jenna’s newest book is “Pixie’s Adventure,” published by  eTreasures.

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What inspired you to write your debut picture book, Pixie’s Adventure?

The idea for Pixie’s Adventure came to me over 10 years ago.  Our cat, who was always trying to sneak outside, escaped during a thunderstorm.  My husband and I spent two hours looking for her in the pouring rain.  We finally found her on our neighbor’s front porch.  Even though I had always dreamed of writing picture books, it took me a long time to actually start. Quite frankly, I was scared to take that risk.  In early 2015, a combination of events prompted me to pick up a pencil, and Pixie’s Adventure was the first story I wrote.  The rest is history!

What is the topic of your next picture book?

My second picture book, Finn Finds a Friend, is coming out in October with Clear Fork Publishing.  It is about a lemon shark named Finn who wants to make some new friends. Unfortunately, his sharky appearance causes potential buddies to swim away or hide.  Finn must demonstrate it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters in order to convince the sea creatures that he’s not looking for his next meal.

In addition to Finn, I have 6 other manuscripts (and counting!) I’m working on, including one nonfiction piece.

Who are your favorite authors for kids?

Wow, this is a tough question.  I have so many favorites, it’s hard to choose!  When I was little, I loved Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene) and the Babysitters Club (Ann M. Martin). Among my favorite picture books were Miss Nelson is Missing, The Paper Bag Princess, and Click, Clack, Moo.   Today, I absolutely love Mo Willems.  His Elephant and Piggie books are a hit with every one of my students, as well as my son.  I’m also a big fan of Ame Dyckman, Kate Messner, Drew Daywalt, and Jon Klassen.

What are your interests/hobbies besides writing?

In addition to writing, I absolutely love to read.  I’m really into YA right now, especially anything by Sarah J. Maas.  I love the Boston Red Sox – we try to go to Fenway Park at least once a year.  In the winter, I enjoy skiing.  And of course, my favorite thing to do is spend time with my husband and our two crazy awesome children!

 

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Thanks Jenna, for your awesome answers!

 

 

 

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I had the pleasure of chatting with the lovely Cynthia Levinson, author of  the 2012 award winning “We’ve Got a Job,” that highlights four youngsters who took active roles in the Civil Rights Movement. One of those children was Audrey Faye Hendricks, the subject of Cynthia’s newest book, “The Youngest Marcher,” illustrated by the fantastic Vanessa Brantley Newton.

LI:1. How did you decide to focus on Audrey Faye Hendricks after writing We’ve Got a Job?

Cynthia Levinson: The idea actually came from Atheneum. When my agent, Erin Murphy, called in 2009 or 2010 to tell me there was interest in the book proposal I’d written about the Birmingham Children’s March, she said there were two offers—one for a picture book and the other for a middle grade. What did I want to do? My instincts told me the story needed multiple perspectives, and I opted for a book for ten- to fourteen-year-olds. After We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree Publishers) came out in 2012, I asked Erin to find out if Atheneum would still be interested in a picture book. And they were!

We’ve Got a Job focuses on four young marchers.  One of those four children was only nine years old. With a protagonist the same age as my readership, Audrey Faye Hendricks instantly became the main character.  

LI:2. Was it more difficult to write the picture book or the YA book about the Civil Rights Movement and kids’ involvement  in it?

Cynthia Levinson :Both! We’ve Got a Job was my first book. So, I had to learn to conduct interviews, find photographs, keep track of all of the research, write a book, get edited… It was a real learning experience in so many ways.

But, so was writing a picture book. Honing in on younger readers, cutting and shaping text, and considering page turns are very challenging. And, for the first time, I experienced working with an illustrator—the fabulous Vanessa Brantley Newton.

  LI:3. Did you meet any of Audrey’s family in real life?

Cynthia Levinson: Indeed. I interviewed Audrey at her home and saw where her mother made Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter, where Dr. King sat at her dinner table, and where her church choir director practiced protest songs on her upright piano. Then, Audrey’s sister, Jan, filled me in on details about how feisty Audrey was! And, she gave me the recipe. That was like gold.

LI:4. Do you have a favorite illustration or scene from the book?

Cynthia Levinson: I have two favorites. One is the spread at the dinner table where Audrey and her mother both have one eye open and the other closed during Dr. King’s prayer. Audrey looks saucy and her mother disapproving—it’s perfect! The other is the spread where Audrey is lying on her side on her cot in jail, with her back to the reader, staring at the wall. It’s both brilliant and heartbreaking.

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  • Age Range: 5 – 10 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten – 5
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (January 17, 2017)

Author Interview: Celebrating Reading with Lisa Papp

 

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I had the pleasure of chatting with author/illustrator Lisa Papp, whose newest book is titled, “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog,” published by Peachtree Publishers. Lisa has illustrated numerous picture books, but I was captivated by this one that celebrates the idea of using therapy dogs in libraries to help struggling readers. Lisa and I are both pet owners of rescue cats and my lovely rescue cat, Lucy, is by my side as I am writing this blog post!

 LI: What inspired your idea for Madeline Finn and the Library Dog?

Lisa Papp: This story comes straight from the heart. When you meet these beautiful therapy dogs and their owners, you can’t help but fall in love. They are such a tremendous gift to our communities. I discovered the Reading-to-Dogs program at my local library. My husband, Rob, and I were returning books when we saw a long line of dogs waltzing in the side door. We couldn’t help but follow them in. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I remember these gorgeous dogs sitting in a large, bright room with lots of windows. There were about twelve dogs that day along with their owners. A couple of minutes later, the kids came in. That’s when the smiles started. For an hour and a half, we watched kids read to the dogs. The children chose a book, then chose a dog. Some of the parents told us they couldn’t get their child to pick up a book at home, but they would come to the library for this.

It was so inspiring to watch. Many of the children were self-conscious at first, but that all changed when they got next to a dog. Dogs have that wonderful gift of unconditional love. That wonderful gift of accepting you just as you are. The children responded to that immediately. They read them story after story, petting the dogs and stroking their ears while they worked out the tough words. And they stayed at it – the entire hour and a half! The bond between the children and the dogs was pure magic. These wonderful therapy dogs and their owners let me tag along for the better part of a year. I count them as dear friends now. They, and the children they help, are the inspiration for the book.

LI: Do you have any pets/rescue pets?

Lisa Papp:As a matter of fact, we have three rescued cats. All siblings. My husband and I had gone to a flea market in search of a sprinkler. We came home with three kitties instead. Who could resist? We told ourselves things like…oh, so and so loves cats, maybe she’ll want one.….and this one looks like our real estate agent’s cat, she’ll probably want another one just like him, etc. That was eight years ago and we couldn’t be happier to have kept all three. They are wonderful little beings, even if a bit naughty at times. Can’t imagine life without them. I guess you could call them therapy cats because they definitely keep me and my husband sane. There’s nothing better than a kitty snuggle after a hard day. And when we take life too seriously, they are the first to remind us to lighten up – a “who can catch the ball in the air” game does wonders for the soul.

LI: What future projects are you working on?

Lisa Papp: I have the unfortunate habit of working on multiple projects at once. With that in mind, I can tell you I do have a few Madeline Finn adventures up my sleeve, as well as a couple of novels midstream. All illustrated. It seems, no matter if I’m dreaming up picture books or novels, they always center around animals.

LI: What advice would you give to today’s kids who love to draw?

Lisa Papp:I would say, “Keep doing it!” All the time. Anywhere you can. All those characters, all those stories you’re dreaming up will stay with you somewhere. It’s like an invisible basket you’re filling up. All that imagination, the practice of making something from nothing, the pure joy of creating – all of that will serve you well. Because that’s what will sustain you – even if you don’t become an artist. You will know how to reach inside yourself, into that basket of freedom where your imagination has no limits. When you learn to tap into that creativity, it’s something you’ll enjoy the rest of your life.

  • Age Range: 4 – 8 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
  • Lexile Measure: 370
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (October 1, 2016)

Author Interview: Celebrating Hanukkah with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

Hanukkah’s starting one week from today and it’s a perfect time to grab a copy of author Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s newest gem, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match.

I had the pleasure of catching up with her and chatting about not only Farmer Kobi, but some of her earlier works. Karen is an award-winning New Jersey author who loves to feature animals as her main characters. What better way to get kids interested in reading!  Library Inspirations had the following questions to ask:

LI:  What inspired your idea for Farmer Kobi’s Hannukah Match? You often have animals as characters, but this time with a Jewish theme.

Karen: Ever since I wrote “Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo,” in 2004 for Dial Books for Young Readers, which sold A LOT of copies, was nominated for awards: The Missouri Show Me Award, The International Reading Association, Children’s Choices Award, was put on the Bureau of Education and Research’s Best of the Year list for 2005, and selected to be a Dolly Parton Imagination Library selection two years in a row (selling like 75,000 copies both years) I couldn’t get farm animals out of my head.  They wanted to be in another book.  Since the Rooster book was doing very well, my editor at Dial had asked me to write a sequel.  I did.  It was called “Farmer Ted’s Dinner Date.” But, like most good things in life, that editor left Dial.  So, I kept that book sitting in my drawer until 2013.

In 2013 I met with Rabbi Ron Isaacs.  He was my Rabbi at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, NJ.  I wanted to tap a different market–the Jewish market–and I wondered if there were any stories that I currently had that would be of any use, if I just revised them.  One of the manuscripts that I gave him to read was “Farmer Ted’s Dinner Date.”  He told me that there were a lot of Jewish values in that book, and that I should send that manuscript to some Jewish publications once I “baked” in more Jewish customs, or food, or something.  That night I went home and did a lot of thinking.  It dawned on me that I had the perfect fix.  A lot of my family members live in Israel and some live on the most famous moshav there–The Nahalal Moshav.  I went to the library, and found out that there are currently NO (nada, ziltch) children’s books about life on a moshav.  So I contacted my cousins in Israel, had them send me photographs of life on a moshav-pictures of the tractors that they drive, the houses that they live in, the clothes that they wear, animals that they have, and things that they keep in their pantry.  I rewrote the book, changed the animals (and the puns), changed the food that the farmer served (he was always a vegetarian, but now he was eating more Israeli food), the farmer’s name, the setting, and the title to “Farmer Yehuda’s Dinner Date,”  and submitted it to Behrman House.  At that time Behrman House, which is a publishing house that is really big in the Jewish Educational world, was launching a new press for the trade market called, “Apples and Honey Press.” It was perfect timing.  🙂

LI:  Was it fun to collaborate with your co-author, Rabbi Ron Isaacs? What are the Jewish values in your book?

Karen: Rabbi Ron and I are having a blast working together.  Not only did we write together (me: the story, Ron: the “A Note for Families”), but we are also putting on Hanukkah shows.  I didn’t realize that Ron not only sings and plays guitar, but is a magician as well.  I am an author and a ventriloquist, so it is quite the match.  We are having so much fun; I can’t believe we are getting paid for it.  🙂

LI: I love your Ferret character series, any plans for more books in that series?

Karen: Thank you for loving my ferret friends (Fudge and Einstein).  They are quite the ferret duo.  When the first ferret book, “Ferret Fun,” came out I was working with Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish.  Marshall Cavendish was sold to Amazon when “Ferret Fun in the Sun,” was released,  and Margery Cuyler left, so I don’t think more ferret books will be coming out.  😦

I write about animals because they don’t have limitations or restrictions.  What I mean by that is that no one (parents, editors) gets upset if a cat goes outside alone, without holding someone’s hand to cross the street, or if a ferret explores a bit in the book and meets up with a snake, without its owner, etc.  There is a bit too much to consider when writing about an actual child.  Also, I get to use puns when I have the animals talk and that is always so much fun.  🙂

 Karen’s website is: http://www.karenrostoker-gruber.com/

And get your latkes frying, dreidels spinning and please read this newest Hannukah classic with your family!

Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match
by Karen Rostoker-Gruber & Rabbi Ron Issacs; illus. by CB Decker
32 pages; ages 4-7
Apples & Honey Press, 2015

 

 

Back to School with Picture Book Author Audrey Vernick

It’s that time of year again! Parents and teachers are getting ready, kids are getting nervous that summer is ending. To ease the transition back, why not introduce some humorous and fun new books into your school year? As a librarian I love to find new picture books perfect for my kindergarten and first graders. I interviewed Audrey Vernick, who is not only a great picture book author, but a fellow writer friend who I grew up with back in Queens, NYC.  Our  shared love of reading and baseball (Yankees and Mets) probably harkens back to those simpler days in the 1970’s before cyberspace and cell phones.  Audrey is a prolific writer who has four new books to be released in 2016, both fiction and non-fiction.  Her newest is the hilarious “First Grade Dropout.” We had a lovely chat about books, writing and baseball.

Lisa:  What were some of your favorite books/authors to read when you were in elementary school?

Audrey: I very much remember loving Ursula Nordstrom’s The Secret Language, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I read that magical garden-discovery scene over and over. Syd Hoff’s novel, Irving and Me, is something I read repeatedly too, though I don’t know why. I think it was fascinating to be in a boy brain in that way for me when I was in fifth grade.

Lisa: How did Mrs. Falon, our PS 184 librarian, influence you?

Audrey: For me, Mrs. Falon is most memorable for coupling arts and crafts with alliteration and ambitious lyric attempts. Every year, as I remember it, we had to make a “Barney Bookworm” out of a squiggly piece of styrofoam. We may have pierced Barney in the general eye area to string a bit of yarn through his head so we could wear him around our necks. And Mrs. Falon wrote her own lyrics to “O Tannenbaum” to include Chanukah in a December holiday song, memorably rhyming remember and December. But most palpably of all, I remember that Mrs. Falon wore a very generous amount of tea rose perfume.

Lisa: Who are some of your fav picture book authors for kids today?

Audrey: SO MANY! Liz Garton Scanlon, Deborah Underwood. Bob Shea hits my funny bone. Newcomer Beth Ferry is sort of astounding with her perfect debut book, Stick and Stone hitting the NY Times Bestsellers List! I’ll always be madly in love with James Marshall’s George and Martha books. And I could spend years looking at Kadir Nelson’s illustrations and not grow bored.

Lisa: Do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction, since you are a prolific author in both
genres?

Audrey: I honestly enjoy both–that’s why I write both. I wouldn’t love writing about something I don’t care about–like explorers or clouds or something. That would feel like dreaded homework. But I get to choose what I write about, one of my favorite things about what I do.

Lisa: Some of your books are so funny. (ie. Is YourBuffalo Ready for Kindergarden?,
First Grade Dropout, Edgar) Do you have an author who influenced your
humorous style?

 Audrey: Thank you! I had to think about the answer to this one. And I’m pretty sure this is it. Mo Willems broke it all open. Or at least he’s the writer on my radar who leapt over what passed for funny in picture books to a genuinely funny place. I wouldn’t say he influenced my style, but I think he’s the one who gave me permission to be a more genuine kind of funny in my books. People who know me well say my books read just like me talking. For that influence, I guess I’d look toward my family on 23rd Avenue in Whitestone

LIsa: Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your love of baseball. You have a new book coming out next year, The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, about a female ball player and have 2 prior titles about baseball players. How did you get so interested in the sport?

Audrey: I become a stuttery mess when I’m asked this at author visits. I’ve concluded that explaining why you like something is really hard. My preference for purple over white grape juice–it tastes better–is not easy to articulate in a way that really explains it. There are a few reasons. I love baseball’s rich history. I like that it’s played without a clock. It’s a game with an enormous amount of time in it (too much for those who are not fans), and it allows a brain to sometimes get hazy and drift and find the stories within the game or reflect back on another game or just savor the moment. As someone who is not a natural high-fiver, I have hilarious memories of high fiving strangers at Yankee Stadium after some incredible moments–amazing plays in the postseason, Jeter’s 3000th hit, Josh Hamilton’s insane moonshots at the Home Run Derby come to mind).

There’s also the improbability of the game that delights me. In crafting stories, we’re supposed to write an ending that’s surprising but that ultimately seems almost inevitable. On the nights that baseball does that–wow.

To read more about Audrey’s books, take a look at her lovely new website at http://www.audreyvernick.com/