Author Interview: Rich Okun

THE SUN, THE MOON, THE STARS AND MAYA BY RICH OKUN The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, and Maya by Rich Okun

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Our lives are bombarded with things that take us away from the special connections we are capable of. Each of us has the ability to demonstrate love, compassion, gratitude and generosity. We can choose to live our lives by the golden rule. We can make time to appreciate the exquisite construction of our planet, and experience the joy of nature. We can look towards the star spangled heavens, appreciate the velvet silence, and draw peace from spirituality. We have the ability to find beauty in simplicity, and we can marvel at the complexity of what at first glance, appeared deceptively simple. Many of us have just forgotten how.  My intention is to help connect and expand the most meaningful of relationships, that of parent and child.

In today’s busy, electronics oriented world, dominated by distractions, special effects, and noisy shoot ’em ups, simple earth based spiritual / moral issues have been all but forgotten, effectively obscured from view, buried in the smoky haze of the fiery explosion of Computer Generated Images. We conceptualize creation rather than competition as a means to engage and grow relationships. We offer alternative perspectives that are meant to evoke awe and wonder in all things and capture the imagination of the child and the child within the parent. With illustrations of Maya, my puppy muse, in complementary settings, accompany bits of wisdom relating to spiritual and moral issues. Notable quotations are the inspiration for Maya’s simple-language lyrical interpretations. Maya represents a reassuring presence, a gentle guide who leads by example. She helps encourage and pave the way for a rewarding dialogue with children, teaching them to appreciate the earth, and to follow the golden rule.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
As part of my spiritual journey, I want to contribute whatever I can through creative expression of spiritually impactful messages in words and pictures. I was inspired to this format and genre during meditation where I felt my inner voice move me to action while on a nature walk with my puppy. Although I am an unlikely children’s book author not having written or read children’s books throughout my life or even when I was a child.

I would post these on my website and social media pages and they became very popular with over 110 countries and tens of thousands of viewers monthly. I then decided to self-publish this book to use as a platform to help Parents and Children to be able to discuss these important matters instead of ignoring them. I use simple language so that all ages can understand, but they express very big ideas. I was picked up by a traditional publisher after a few months and have since published 2 additional books and about to release the fourth.  I use my pets (puppy and cats as well as other animals) not in an anthropomorphic way but recognizing that all living beings have a spirit that speaks the same language. It doesn’t matter whether it is a cat, dog, or wild beast, we all are the same if we can see with spiritual eyes. I want to contribute to this and help awareness to spark a change in the way we have operated on this planet. To help the golden rule to emerge as the way of being – going forward.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
Maya is my puppy’s name and this series is a compendium of different spiritual topics such as love, compassion, paths, fear, happiness etc. Part of my spiritual practices embrace Native American philosophies that honour the directions, the sky and earth the elements and all things with spirit. The Sun, the moon, the stars and Maya seemed to fit that bill.

The second book is titled Earth, Wind, Fire and Maya along the same lines. The third book is titled Embrace every step; life is a dance, which had more themed poems in life path so it wasn’t as broad in topics. My soon to be released fourth book is all about one specific topic and uses my cat as the main character.

4) As a child, your parents didn’t read you books and you didn’t read any either. Why then have you decided to become a children’s author? Why did you pick this genre?
I want to help. I want to contribute to a positive world and use whatever life experiences and talents I have to that end. Although I have always been a seeker, I became more engaged in my spiritual journey when I turned 47, and I didn’t want children to have to wait until they were that age to discover the magic in everyday life with the right set of eyes. However, I see that todays busy, hectic, two working parent households, time and energy are extremely challenged. Everybody is so tired and there are so many things to worry about. Technology furthers this distance in the family. Everyone has their heads down, surfing the internet on their smartphones, or texting in short meaningless sound-bites, or watching reality TV. Family time is limited and nobody has dinner table discussions anymore.

Spiritual matters are important, but complex, and parents have a difficult time bringing them up in a way that could engage their children. The traditional children’s stories are longer and attentions spans are shorter. I wanted to provide a medium to be a way that parents could discuss and expand upon these issues with their children through colour, language, words and pictures, using my little puppy as a centrepiece to engage.

5) How did you use your illustrations to convey your message? How does the colour palette complement your book?
I was the youngest member of the Art Student’s League of New York, across the street from Carnegie Hall at 6 years old, but I was afraid of color and using it so everything I did was in Black and White. However, when I started this effort, I used color openly and with courage, and vividly as another source of expression and to capture the child’s eye (and the child in you) and draw attention. I found that my fears of the past were unwarranted and that I could approach color with confidence.

The use of color represents the vibrancy of life and stimulates a sense of beauty.

6) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
When I know that something that I contributed to, helped someone. There are many reviews of this book, but this one touched my heart and answers your question best – an excerpt is quoted here:

“I read several of these vignettes to my son at bedtime, and instead of lulling to sleep we ended up having a full discussion about fear and how to deal with it. It allowed him to reveal that he was being bullied in school but he never felt that he could bring it up to anybody without feeling ashamed. But it seems that Maya, has some magical tricks up her sleeve and made it okay for him to tell us before something tragic happened. I am going to buy this book for every parent I know as a Christmas gift. Buy This Book!”

This is why I do it. What I am now trying to do is get some corporate support to be able to give my book away to children’s hospitals, hospices, senior centers, and other places where spiritual voids can be lifted. I would love to take Maya with me and be able to bring some smiles.

7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I want children and adults to gain insight to how they feel about spiritual matters.  Most of us, most of the time do not have or devote time to thinking about things that are not immediately on our plates. We are constantly entertained, distracted, diverted, working, busy, marketed to and, and, and ….. The reasons we are here, the way to be, the things that are more spiritual and ethereal are not something that our society has valued. For too long, society is manipulated into believing that life is a job you hate, that you are the sum of your material objects, and many end up living a life that’s meaningless and the really big questions are replaced by “how am I going to pay my bills this week, what job will pay me the most, what will others think, etc.?”

Religion tries to answer these questions, but spirituality begs the questions. I prefer questions to answers that have a particular point of view. I want to help children to become more self-aware of things the ancients knew, but have been suppressed by our way of life. I would like to give them choices as to how to live their life, and to pursue their dreams, rather than take what they feel is good enough.

8) What are you working on now?
I just submitted the draft for my fourth book, to my publisher. It is titled, ‘Annie and me, a shared journey home.’  This is a different book than the Maya series, which was a collection of various topics.  Annie was my elder cat who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February.  I decided to journal her progression in my words and pictures format. My intent in doing this was to identify my own feelings and observations about the process of death, dying, grief and loss through the eyes of love and palliative care.

My mother died when I was too young of cancer – I was not able (or willing) to provide the kind of care that I know she needed. For the past 50 years I regretted this as well had unknowingly formed fears, angers and many other hurtful inner feelings surrounding this subject – We all will die, we all have loved ones that die around us at some time in our lives. I wanted to see if I could sensitize to this important event and tell this story. What happened during this sacred journey was that I started to heal, the fears and angers simply fell away from me. I feel that this body of work is my best to date. I want to offer this healing to all.

THRich OkunANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Rich Okun and would like to purchase his book, here are all his pertinent details.

Website: Rich Okun
Where to purchase his book: Amazon, Balboa and Barnes & Noble
Rich’s social media connections:

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Author & Illustrator Interview: Kurt Cyrus

TADPOLE REX BY KURT CYRUS Tadpole Rex by Kurt Cyrus

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about
A prehistoric tadpole grows up in the footprint of a dinosaur, where he gets in touch with his inner tyrannosaur.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
My wife and I found frog eggs in our little backyard pond. I rescued them from the goldfish and raised the tadpoles in an aquarium. At a certain stage of their development, when their hind limbs and tails were large but their forelimbs were tiny, I noticed a resemblance to T. Rex. A little research confirmed that frogs did coexist with the dinosaurs, and this gave me the idea to write and illustrate Tadpole Rex.

3) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope their love of reading is somehow enhanced, or at least not diminished! And especially I hope that their curiosity about the natural world around them is piqued. I don’t really write lessons or morals into my books.

4) After bouncing from job to job, how did you come to write and illustrate and why did you pick this genre?
All that job-bouncing was getting really old. I had been drawing as a hobby for my entire life, and felt that it was the one thing I could do better than the average person. The writing aspect was something I developed just so that I’d have stuff to illustrate. Children’s books are a good fit for me because of the storytelling, both verbal and visual. My drawing has always leaned toward storytelling.

5) When you have an idea for a new book, what comes first? The words or the illustrations and what is your process of putting them together?
Often it begins with a visual concept, but the writing must come first. Toward the end of a project I’ll often tweak both the words and the pictures to get as perfect a flow as possible.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors/illustrators influenced you the most and why?
There’s no escaping the influence of Dr. Suess. McElligot’s Pool was the big one for me. But I think a guy named Carl Barks had a bigger impact on my style of storytelling. He wrote and illustrated the Disney duck comics for several decades, and spun some great yarns.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The joy of feeling something finally click into place after having struggled with it.

8) Describe your illustration style and when did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
My drawing skiils exceed my painting skills, so my illustrations are basically colored drawings. The first few books were illustrated in watercolor, oils, or scratchboard. Now I draw digitally. Earning a living from it began to happen after five or six books.

9) What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a picture book titled Billions of Bricks, to be published next year, and starting illustrations for a picture book titled Shake a Leg, Egg! I’m also revising a middle grade novel. Variety is the spice of life!

THKurt CyrusANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Kurt Cyrus and would like to purchase his book, here are all his pertinent details.

Website: Kurt Cyrus
Where to purchase his book: Barnes & Noble and Amazon
Kurt’s social media connections:

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Author Interview: Mariana Llanos

The Staircase on Pine Street by Mariana Llanos

THE STAIRCASE ON PINE STREET
BY MARIANA LLANOS

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
The Staircase on Pine Street is a story that will touch your heart with its tenderness, humor, sensitivity and page-turning narrative. I have crafted a beautiful story of family love to share with readers of all ages. Ten-year-old Lilly has to learn to live with her grandfather’s diagnose of Alzheimer’s disease. Lilly and Grandpa Leo have a close, loving bond but ever since he’s been diagnosed, things have drastically changed. Alzheimer’s is taking away her grandpa’s memory. Lilly feels that there is nothing she can do to help. Until one day, Grandpa Leo gives Lilly an important assignment: to find a long-forgotten treasure. Lilly— with the help of her best friend, Mei Ling— goes on an exciting quest where she discovers more than she could have ever imagine.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
Something funny happened when I started writing this book. The main character, Lilly, popped up in my head with a blank piece of paper asking me to draw on it. Something like The Little Prince. Then I realized she was at a park talking to her grandfather. I learned that her grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease. Then it all came to me, I remembered my own grandmother who wasn’t officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but I’m convinced she was in on the early stages when she died. She inspired me to write it, like a tribute to grandparents everywhere.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
I picked one of the elements of the book. I didn’t want to give away too much, because there’s a mystery surrounding the story, but I didn’t want it to be bland either. I think The Staircase on Pine Street have a little mystique in it.

4) Why did you pick this genre?
I think it’s just the way I write. I don’t think genre when I write. But I like it that my writing in mainly geared toward children. It’s hard to impress children, and I feel like a champion when I do.

5) School visits is a large part of your portfolio, including your Spanish visits for immersion schools. Tell us a bit about them and what do you hope to gain from them?
Yes, this past year I’ve been visiting schools around the world: Nigeria, India, Canada, Mexico, Pakistan, Australia, Argentina, and Ireland. And around the US: Illinois, Florida, California, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and more. Also I’ve done visits in person in Oklahoma City, where I live. My goal is to inspire children to write and read. It’s amazing to see how children relate to my stories, no matter where in the world they are. This visits have an unmeasurable educational value for children (and me!) as they get to talk to a real author, ask questions about the book, the process, and life as a writer. Also, for me, as an author, school visits are a great way to build an audience and be in touch with their needs.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I was a classic literature geek. I read anything that was on my parents bookshelf: classic tales by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Prince, short tales by Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, even Shakespeare.  It wasn’t like it is today where children’s literature is so defined as a genre. Well, at least not at my house.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
Hearing from people that have read your book and knowing that I’ve touch them. I received a message by a gifted 5th grader the other day, regarding The Staircase on Pine Street: “Your book was the first book that made me cry. You lied when you say it will touch my heart. It drilled a hole straight through my sensitive, emotional, heart. Also, can’t wait for the Skype lesson!”

Do I need to say more?

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope this book helps them appreciate their grandparents, and enjoy them while they have them close. Lilly and Grandpa Leo’s relationship is sweet, they’re friends and partners, and I hope children learn from it. I also want to create awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, and help children understand it and be empathic with people who have this disease.

9) You heavily promote #weneeddiversebooks and #biligualkids. Please tell us more about them and why it is so important to you.
These two hashtags where created by people who are serious about promoting diverse literature and bilingual literature. In the case of #weneeddiversebooks, I jumped in the wagon immediately after I perused through their website and learned the lack of representation of minorities in children’s literature, not only ethnic, but also gender, religious, disabilities, etc. I want my children to grow in a tolerant and inclusive world. In the case of #bilingualkids, well, my family is bilingual and I’m always looking for more resources to motivate us. I also use it to promote my own books in Spanish. I started my own hashtag: #multiculturalbooksmatter to help highlight the need of multicultural characters in our literature.

10) What are you working on now?
I’m working on two stories: A Superpower for me, a picture book to help children understand the power of the vote. I’m already working on the illustrations and I hope to have it out by the beginning of the new school year.

The other story I’m working on is about a girl who is afraid of a boy with Down syndrome because he’s ‘different’. Through the story she learns that they are more alike than she thinks. This story is still in development.

THMariana LlanosANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Mariana Llanos and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Mariana Llanos
Where to purchase her book: Mariana Llanos, Amazon US and Amazon UK
Mariana’s social media connections:

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Author Interview: Lesley Gibbes

SCARY NIGHT BY LESLEY GIBBES Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Once upon a scary night three friends set out on a journey. Hare with a hat. Cat with a cake. Pig with a parcel. But where were they going in the dead of the night, tiptoe creeping in the pale moonlight? It was a mystery!

Scary Night is a rhythmical, rollicking read-aloud picture book with a lot of suspense and a dash of surprise. It’s about three friends who set out on a mysterious journey. They meet up with all kinds of scary creatures but they never ever give up. I won’t spoil the ending. You’ll have to read to book to find out just where Hare, Cat and Pig were going and what dangers they faced. You won’t believe surprise!

2) What inspired you to write this book?
As a child I loved exploring and going on journeys into the unknown. I love all things scary so of course my first picture book had to be a scary journey set in the dead of the night when anything can happen.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
I wanted the title of the book to help children predict what the story might be about. So a scary book set at night just had to be ‘Scary Night’. But the title doesn’t give everything away. I kept lots of things a mystery!

4) Why did you pick this genre?
My background in primary education ignited my interest in picture book writing. I was lucky enough to be taught at Sydney University by some very passionate lecturers in children’s literature such as Robyn Ewing, Len Unsworth and Geoff Williams. I’m pleased to say that their passion for children’s literature rubbed off on me and I spent the next 16 years immersed in the world of children’s literature at the forefront of teaching.

Writing children’s books was something I’d always wanted to do but I never seemed to find the time. It wasn’t until I took leave from sixteen years teaching in the NSW public school system to have my two children that I began to write. I attended many writing courses and wrote as often as I could sending manuscripts to publishing houses that accepted unsolicited texts. ‘Scary Night’ was pulled out of the slush pile in 2012 by Jane Covernton at Working Title Press. When she told me Stephen Michael King would be illustrating the book I danced the conga!

5) You have a further three books due out in 2015/16 with different illustrators. How do you work with their different styles to ensure the message of the book is appropriately captured and conveyed?
In August this year ‘Bring A Duck’ illustrated by Sue deGennaro will be released, followed by ‘Fluke’ illustrated by Michelle Dawson, ‘Little Bear’s First Sleep’ illustrated by Lisa Stewart, ‘Quick As A Wink Fairy Pink’ illustrated by Sara Acton, an information book ‘The Cicada Hunters’ and a chapter book series about a feisty dog named Fizz illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

My books are very varied in their writing style and publishers have chosen illustrators to reflect these differences to bring about a unique look for each book. Although I have opportunity to comment on illustrations it is primarily the responsibility of the publisher/editor to work with the illustrator. I have a great deal of respect for my illustrators and I just let them do their stuff!

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
It took me a while to find that one book that turned me onto reading. It wasn’t until my fourth class teacher read ‘Bottersnikes and Gumbles’ by S. A. Wakefield that I caught the reading bug.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The people that I’ve met along my writing journey, is by far the most fulfilling thing about writing. The generosity and encouragement from other authors, illustrators, editors, publishers and my agent has taken me by surprise in the nicest of ways.

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope children are utterly entertained, rolling around the floor laughing and singing in delight wanting to read it all over again. I’d like them to take away a message about friendship and perseverance, about never giving up no matter how hard the journey.

9) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
Well, I definitely haven’t grown up because my favourite authors write children’s books. At the moment I’m really into Louis Sachar and have just finished ‘Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes’.

10) What are you working on now?
This year is about writing more picture books and some longer pieces too. But I won’t tell you what they’re about, it will spoil the surprise.

THLesley GibbesANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Lesley Gibbes and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Lesley Gibbes
Where to purchase her book: Booktopia, Fishpond and Bookworld
Lesley’s social media connections:

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Author Interview: Meredith Costain

DOUBLE DARE YOU – THE ELLA DIARIES BY MEREDITH COSTAIN Doube Dare You - The Ella Diaries by Meredith Costain

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your latest children’s book is about and what inspired you write it?
The Ella Diaries is a series of books that reflect the life, thoughts, fears and dreams of a 10-year-old girl. There are lots of musings from Ella on friendship, family, school bullies and ‘fitting in’. Besides her diary entries, Ella also expresses herself in times of angst or great joy by writing poems.

I was commissioned to write the series by the publisher. The brief was to make the writing ‘reflective and funny’. Hopefully I’ve achieved that! I wanted to make my character warm and funny and ‘imperfect’, but also resilient and strong. Someone who can stick up for herself and others.

2) How do the illustrations complement your picture books? What was important to you as an author when you collaborated with these artists?
The Ella Diaries are more like chapter books than picture books. But the illustrations – there are two-colour ‘doodles’ on every page – do play a very important part, in that they tell part of the story – and give a further insight into Ella’s thoughts. I was very lucky to have the brilliant designer and illustrator Danielle McDonald work on these. Sometimes I give her ideas for what a particular illustration could be, but most of the ideas are hers. They’re very funny and provide an extra level to the story – as is the case with the illustrations in my more ‘traditional’ picture books.

3) With over 200 books in your bibliography, do you have a favourite and also was there one particular book which you felt was the one that catapulted you to becoming the prolific author you are today?
I have several favourites! Musical Harriet was my first picture book, way back in 1995. It was illustrated by the fabulous Craig Smith (we’ve gone on to do several other books together since then.) Harriet was made into a TV show by the ABC, and was the inspiration for a piece of music by the Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. Although I already had several books published by the time this one came out, this was the one that made me truly believe I might be able to make a living out of writing (if I worked really hard!)

One of my other favourites is Doodledum Dancing, which is a collection of poems for the very young, illustrated by Pamela Allen.

4) Which award / accolade are you most proud of winning and why?
Doodledum Dancing was an Honour Book in the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards. I’ve been writing poems since I was six (mainly doggerel and catterel!) so it was very special to think other people liked them enough to give them a gong. I’ve also had lots of teachers and parents tell me how much their students/children love the poems in the book, which is great!

5) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
I’ve always loved reading and writing, so to be able to do these things as my ‘job’ is wonderful. It’s also lovely when I receive emails from young readers who’ve enjoyed my books – especially when they tell me the character in the book is ‘just like them’. Or emails from teachers who let me know about one of their students who had never finished reading a book until they found my book about cheetahs – and is now doing a project on them, without any prompting from them. These are the moments that make the endless hours of drafting and editing definitely seem worthwhile.

6) Do you enjoy the teaching part of your career?
I do quite a lot of writing workshops – working with both children and adults – and yes, I enjoy them very much! It’s always rewarding to see the wonderful ideas kids (and adults!) come up with and to help them shape these into polished pieces of writing. Writing workshops also give me a way to keep in touch with the audience I write for – to listen in to their speech patterns and find out their current interests and passions.

7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your books?
A shared appreciation of the joy of language, rhythm and rhyme! And the understanding that reading can be fun.

8) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
I read lots of books written for children and young adults as well as adults – possibly because in my head I am still 6, or 12, or 17 … Some favourites are Libby Gleeson, Sarah Dessen, Cathy Cassidy, Ruth Rendell, Maeve Binchy, Helen Garner – a very mixed bag as you can see!

9) What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the edit on Book #5 in the Ella Diaries series and I’m about to start Book #6. I’ve also been invited to write a book of short stories for 6 and 7-year-olds, which is keeping me busy!

THMeredith CostainANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Meredith Costain and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Meredith Costain
Where to purchase her book: Scholastic, Dymocks and Readings
Meredith’s social media connections:

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Author Interview: Mara Van Fleet

THREE LITTLE MERMAIDS BY MARA VAN FLEET Three Little Mermaids by Mara Van Fleet

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Three Little Mermaids is an under the sea book that teaches counting. With touch and feel elements, pop-ups, and sturdy pull tabs.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
My mother used to draw mermaids for me when I was child. Her mom went to Cooper Union and was a fashion illustrator for the New York Times in the 1930’s. Her portfolio was very inspiring to me.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
The title supports the general theme of the book.

4) Why did you pick this genre?
I wanted my book to contain teaching elements paired with fun interactive elements.

5) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
My illustrations are bright fun and colourful, which works well with the target age group (preschool).

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I really enjoyed Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I just loved how Max’s room slowly grew into a jungle. It inspired me to use my imagination. I also loved Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. I thought it was so great that he could draw whatever he needed through the use of his imagination.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The characters in my book are mermaids, fairies, and princesses, but they are also little girls. I wanted the girls that read my books to identify themselves in my characters. It was amazing to hear one little girl at a book signing point to my book and say, “Look mommy, this one is me, this one is my sister, and this girl is my best friend.” That was exactly what I had been aiming for.

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope they will learn to count and enjoy all the moving pieces and textures.

9) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
My favourite book is Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, the Calamitous 14th Century. I enjoy reading anything with a medieval theme, and Ms. Tuchman’s book is factual history but written in a novelistic style. I also love books with a time travel theme. I’m currently reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, which is a time travel back to the Jacobite rebellion in 18th century Scotland.

10)  What are you working on now?
I’m working on another preschool book with interactive elements. This one will be different from my other books in that it will not be for girls only. I’m excited about it!

Mara Van FleetTHANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Mara Van Fleet and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Mara Van Fleet
Where to purchase her book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Mara Van Fleet
Mara’s social media connections:

Author Interview: Tony Jerris

THE BIG CHEESE FAMILY – NOT’CHO CHEESE! BY TONY JERRIS The Big Cheese Family by Tony Jerris

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
They are a cheese-loving family of mice that live in a grocery store, giving them free range to the dairy section. There’s only one problem standing in their way- Mr. McGrime, the cranky store owner. Still, that doesn’t stop the playful critters, who somehow always outsmart Mr. McGrime. Written in metered poetry, this series of books will take kids on a fun-filled romp with each new story.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
I wrote a series of book several years ago know as “the littlest” series. So, I thought, why not do another series, only using the word “big,” even though the characters are tiny mice! I was also inspired to write it because I would attend Artisan shows, and couldn’t believe the number of young kids who were Foodies. So, I named members of The Big Cheese Family all after cheeses, like Papa Parmesan, Grandpa Gouda, and Mama Brie. There’s even a glossary at the end of the books that teaches kids about various cheeses.

3) Why did you pick this genre?
I’ve always enjoyed writing for kids, where there is always some sort of moral message and resonance of family values. When my nephew was first born, I wrote a poem for him called “The Littlest Spruce,” about a small blue spruce who gets separated from his parents, only to be reunited with them on Christmas Day inside a family’s home, where they are all decorated. This poem inspired the  book, “The Littlest Spruce,” which was featured on “Good Morning America,” and the third book in the series, The Littlest Witch, I turned into a musical.

4) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
I was introduced to up-and-coming illustrator, Oliver Batin, who had never illustrated a book before. When I sent him the initial outline for “The Big Cheese Family,” I instantly fell in love with his work, knowing we could have a continuing series with the characters of mice. As an author, I enjoy working with an illustrator who shares my vision, which Oliver does.

5) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
Hands down, the Dr. Seuss books are my favorite. I write a lot in metered poetry, which stems from reading Dr. Seuss as a kid. Yet, Dr. Seuss entertains on two levels: for kids and adults. And they still hold up today!

6) What enjoyment do you get out of writing children’s picture books as opposed to screen or playwriting?
You have more freedom writing children’s picture books, meaning, you can truly be creative and let your imagination run wild. That’s not to say you can’t be creative writing screenplays and plays, however, scripts have to follow a certain structure; like a formula, if you will. With children’s picture books, the picture itself is worth a thousand words, so as an author you don’t have to write so many!

7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope children walk away identifying with the characters, so that they will want to know more about the mice in their upcoming ventures. But most of all, I want them to be entertained.

8) Tell us about your Littlest Witch project and did you enjoy working with your sister?
As I mentioned before, “The Littlest Witch” started out as a book before I adapted it into a musical with my sister, Corinne, who is a very talented composer/musical director—And I’m not just saying that because she’s my sister! She’s played Broadway and beyond, and it took us over 10-years to workshop and rewrite “The Littlest Witch” before it was finally published (by Stage Rights Inc). To date, it has played nation-wide, including New York and Los Angeles. Last year it ran at the St. George Theatre in Staten Island (3,000 seats), and at the end of March (2015), will play at The Two Roads Theater (60 seats) in Burbank, CA. So, as you can tell, it’s a diverse little play, or as I like to call it, “the little play that could!”

9) What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on getting the second book in the “The Big Cheese Family” series finished, which is called “The Big Cheese Family – Plus Two!” Yep, that’s right. The mice are having more kids! I also have several scripts in the works, including a heart-warming Christmas script called “Lost Claus,” about a Santa Claus with amnesia, who helps a young couple and their children save their failing diner. And I’m excited about a new play I’ve written for Young Adults, called “Snow White & The Seven Felonies!” It’s a comedy of errors, when Snow White is wrongly accused of some very funny felonies in Fairytale Land. I’m also looking to write the third book in my “Holly Weird – 5th Grade Drama Tween” series. The theme in the series is about anti-bullying, and I have donated some of the proceeds from the first two books to various anti-bullying campaigns.

THTony JerrisANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Tony Jerris and would like to purchase his book, here are all his pertinent details.

Website: Tony Jerris
Where to purchase her book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Tony Jerris
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Author Interview: Rowena Wiseman

AUNTY ARTY AND THE DISQUIETING MUSES BY ROWENA WISEMAN  Aunty Arty and The Disquieting Muses by Rowena Wiseman

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Aunty Arty is a series of books for junior readers who love art. Frieda’s Aunty Arty has a magical paintbrush and a sheet of round red stickers that can transport them into famous works of art. In the first book, Aunty Arty takes Frieda and her sister Mona into Georgio de Chirico’s painting ‘The Disquieting Muses’. Will they be able to save their new friend Fibula from Cupid’s lead arrow, sentencing her to a lifetime without love? The statue of Venus is suffering from lovesickness, she’s lost her common sense and her keys, but will she be able to help them?

2) What inspired you to write this book?
I work at an art gallery and I often want to know what is the story in a painting … I guess I wanted to make up what might happen if we could meet the characters in an artwork.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
The title ‘Aunty Arty’ popped into my head pretty much the moment I thought about writing the series.

4) Why did you pick this genre?
I’ve written adult and young adult fiction before and I was quite keen to see if I could write children’s fiction. I’ve now written three books in the Aunty Arty series and three books in another series called Astro Circus Kids (also to be published by Jet Black Publishing). I especially love writing children’s dialogue because kids can say outrageous things! Children aren’t restricted by the social norms expected of adults.

5) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
It’s the first time I’ve worked with an illustrator and I’ve been so pleased with this collaboration. I didn’t have firm ideas about how I wanted the illustrations to look. I knew Aunty Arty was a challenging series, because in each book the characters enter a new artwork – so the characters and the style of illustrations would have to work with different paintings. My illustrator, Narelda Joy, read the three books and I was happy for her to come up with the main points that she wanted to illustrate. I didn’t want to be too prescriptive and say ‘illustrate this moment’ when it was the next moment that was flashing ideas into her head. She’s a fabulous artist and I wanted to give her the freedom to work her magic. She’s added character to my characters – little touches like curly hair, red glasses and fluffy animal slippers bring Aunty Arty alive in a way that I hadn’t imagined. Aunty Arty is a series of ebooks and we’ve been able to do far more detailed colour illustrations than we would have been able to do in a printed book – and because the books are all about art this has been very important.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I loved Enid Blyton’s books. I still clearly remember that the Adventures of the Magic Wishing-Chair was the very first book that I read all on my own. My mother kept our original Blyton hard covers and gave them to me when I had my first child. Just the other day my sister asked if she could have our original Magic Faraway Tree copy for her daughter and my heart almost bled … I stood by my bookshelf stroking our old copy and found that I just couldn’t part with it. Ridiculously sentimental, I know. In terms of how they influenced me, I guess they are about children going on adventures, they’re good wholesome fun, they’re stories that I used to read, close my eyes and wish desperately that I had my own magic wishing-chair …

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The thought that what I write means something to someone out there. I’ve had a lot of people contact me about my YA novel Silver, on Wattpad, saying that they have synesthesia and how much they’ve enjoyed reading a novel where the main character has synesthesia. Or just the other day, a man in the US contacted me about my novelette Bequest where a man wants to donate his tattooed skin to a gallery. This man who emailed me worked at a museum as a curator 36 years ago and a similar thing happened to him. He was on the collections committee that had to make the decision whether to accept the donation. It’s obviously something that he’s thought a lot about since. I loved hearing his story and how it had connected with my story …

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope that they might like to close their eyes and think about an adventure that they’d like to go on with Aunty Arty and her magical paintbrush …

9) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
In terms of writing style I adore Tatyana Tolstaya’s short stories and John Updike. Peter Carey and Raymond Carver are authors that I keep on revisiting and Émile Zola is my latest discovery. He was childhood friends with Paul Cézanne and artists are often creeping into his stories too!

10) What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a YA novel Repeat After Me about two street artists. It explores how the love interest can also be the enemy …

THRowena Wiseman ANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Rowena Wiseman and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Rowena Wiseman
Where to purchase her book: Jet Black Publishing
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Author Interview: David Dickerman

MOM, DAD, AND EVERYONE ELSE BY DAVID DICKERMAN Mom, Dad, and Everyone Else by David Dickerman

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about
Mom, Dad, and Everyone Else is about a boy whose life is turned upside down when his parents tell him they are getting a divorce.  After the initial sadness he discovers something positive and unexpected.  As a result of these life changes, he has the opportunity to meet new people and do new things that he would not have been exposed to before.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
This book was part of my graduate thesis on bibliotherapy in relation to divorce.  I was tasked to locate a gap in children’s literature, support it, and back up my stance with research.  My parents had a very acrimonious divorce, but after the dust settled I had many new enjoyable experiences and relationships that I would not have had if not for the restructuring of my family.  I found that most children’s books about divorced only focussed only on the negative and did not accurately convey what I believe is a common story.  While not a foregone conclusion, I felt it was important to share my experience as it could help reframe the idea of divorce for children and possibly give them hope where there is often none.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
Mom, Dad, and Everyone Else conveys the idea that a family is not just a mother and a father, but also everyone else that touches a person’s life.  Additionally, children’s worlds are small when they are young.  The title shows the expanding network that the main character will be gaining at a time when it would intuitively appear to be shrinking.  It is not just the mother and father caring for the child, but now everyone else as well.

4) Why did you pick this genre?
I have a history as an educator and have always loved working with children.  This type of content appeared to be missing for children of this age.

5) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
I created the characters and several features of the images from clay.  In addition to giving the images depth and texture, this material is found in many classrooms and in that regard, intended to create a stronger connection between reader and text.  The backgrounds were created digitally and added to bring a stronger visual presence while elevating the book.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I was a fan of the typical child literature.  Some of my favourites were The Giving Tree, Where the Wild Things Are, and anything Dr. Seuss related.  As I grew into adolescence I enjoyed books such as Bridge to Terabithia and Where the Red Fern Grows (I guess I like to cry!) to lighter, more fun works like comics or choose your own adventure books.  That said, I’ll take a good Harry Potter story any day.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
I enjoy writing because it has always been the easiest way for me to communicate.  Not being blessed with a strong memory, writing allows me to get thoughts out in a timely fashion, and then refine them later once I have had time to process.  Furthermore, I have always been able to express a greater level of passion through the written word which, in turn, gives things that are important to me more weight.  Every writer feels he or she has a perspective that is worth sharing.  I feel this way because I found a lack of my perspective while researching.  It is incredibly fulfilling for me to provide a resource for children going through a tough time that I would have found useful while I was going through that time.

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
As mentioned before, I am hoping for this book to be a resource for teachers, therapists, mediators, families, and most importantly, children.  I want it to give them hope and help them realize that even though this is just one possibility of how changes that seem negative can end up positive, their lives are changing.  Change leads to possibilities and they must use that as something to look forward to for a positive future.  I am hoping that they will then use this attitude moving forward with all aspects of their lives.  Even though they may feel like they are drowning in the divorce, this too shall pass.  Furthermore, it will inform their personality in many ways.  The book is not just about divorce, but also about the perspective one chooses to take on negative events in life.

9) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
I enjoy Chuck Kloseterman very much for his quick witted intelligence and conversational style writing.

10) What are you working on now?
I currently work as an Assessment Specialist at The Educational Testing Service in the Teacher Licensure and Certification division.  In regards to writing, I am currently in the early stages of developing several ideas.

David DickermanTHANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about David Dickerman and would like to purchase his book, here are all his pertinent details.

Website: David Dickerman
Where to purchase his book: Barnes & Noble, Amazon & Noisetrade
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Author Interview: Roopa Weber

MESSY PENNY BY ROOPA WEBER Messy Penny by Roopa Weber

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s picture book is about
Messy Penny® is a story about a lovable peacock who discovers that beauty is not about how you look, it’s all about how you feel.  Penny wakes up with excitement only to be disappointed when she does not look beautiful—her hair is a mess, her feathers are all rumpled and her face is missing that special glow.  When Penny focuses on the happiness in her heart, not even her messiness can stop her from feeling beautiful.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
My husband and I began reading to our daughter at a very early age and so I thought a lot about the messages in the books we were reading and what I wanted to teach her as she grew up.  One of the most important qualities I wanted her to possess was self-confidence.  I truly believe when one can fully embrace who they are – differences, uniqueness, quirks, imperfections and all – true happiness is realized.  It brought me to think about my own mother and how she was able to instil confidence in me by valuing kindness, respecting myself and others, having humility, accepting and being grateful for what you have.  I wanted to find an avenue to instil my mother’s wisdom in my own daughter and carry the message forward generationally. And, so I wrote.

I chose a peacock because when I was growing up, the peacock feather was a good luck symbol.  I thought it would be lovely to start with a little luck and so Penny was born.

3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
In the spirit of luck, I always pick up a penny for good luck.  When I was visualizing the character, I always just referred to her as Penny.  I thought it was a sweet name and it conjures up goodness and simplicity to me.  It just seemed to fit so the Penny the Peacock® series came to life.

4) Why did you pick this genre?
I adore children and almost became a grade school teacher, but I followed a path in the financial industry and have been writing on the side.  That said, I have always been a big proponent of early childhood education/development and truly believe those early years are critical in defining who you may become.  Kids (and adults) are shaped by how they are treated and the love they feel around them.  If you can give a child a sense of security, safety, love and understanding early on, they will look at the world differently, and hopefully with a sense of optimism. I hope this book brings joy and invites acceptance and appreciation of the simple things.  In the end, if you feel good about yourself, you will treat others well—kindness brings great things.

5) How do the illustrations complement your book? What was important to you as an author?
The illustrations bring Penny to life.  Manda, my illustrator, did an incredible job and I am so fortunate to have had her dedication and care with this project.  I wanted the book to be colourful and upbeat.  My hope is that the message allows all of us to embrace ourselves and be grateful for the simple pleasures.  As an author, I want Penny to be a character that readers connect with and want to see more of.  If that happens, I will keep writing and spreading Penny’s goodness.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I loved Charlotte’s Web, Corduroy and the Berenstain Bears because they brought back wonderful memories of my childhood.  I have re-read them with my daughter, which was pure magic when I saw the wonder, kindness and excitement in her eyes with the very books I adored.  Today, I think Mo Willems is ingenious and advante garde in his story telling, approach and use of imagery.  I can still hear my daughter’s giggles every time she picks up his books.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
I love being able to make a difference in a child’s life.  If a kid smiles because they love the pictures of Penny, or talks to their loved ones about their feelings, or ask questions, we are creating a love of books and making progress by opening up a dialogue.  I think it’s important to introduce the concept of self-esteem much earlier in a child’s life on a proactive (versus reactive) basis.  Instilling positive messages at a young age shapes a child’s view of the world.  As an author, I have also met so many fantastic families and I feel such gratitude about the support and encouragement I have received.

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope children and parents alike will be kinder, more accepting, and less judgmental of themselves and others.  I place great value on being a good person above all else and try to impart that on my daughter every day.  You can certainly work on yourself and strive for the best, but at the end of the day, you must find a place of peace and happiness with who you are and what you have.

9) Who is/are your favourite author/s as an adult and why?
I read a little bit of everything and wish I had time to read a little more.  I think Khaled Hosseini, who wrote the Kite Runner is an incredible and captivating story teller.  On my nightstand is his other book, And the Mountains Echoed as well as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

10) What are you working on now?
I have written two other Penny books and am hoping to get them illustrated if there is success and traction with Messy Penny®.  My goal is to make the Penny the Peacock® series a staple for all young children.  I hope I can make a difference, remind people about what matters most, and bring a smile to someone’s day.  What a joy…what a joy that would be to continue on this journey.

Roopa WeberTHANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
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Website: Roopa Weber
Where to purchase her book: Roopa Weber
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