Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest Post: Cathryn Sill on the 10th Anniversary of About Habitats


Cathryn and John Sill's About Habitats series is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! To learn a little more about the creation of this award-winning nonfiction series for young readers, Cathryn Sill provides insight into the different excursions that inspire their books about the beautiful and varied habitats around the world and the emphasizes importance of encouraging younger generations to appreciate and protect the natural world.

I have always loved nature and was fortunate to grow up with parents who encouraged me to experience the many wonders of creation. We had family adventures in various habitats including camping trips to mountains, deserts, forests, and seashores. Sunday afternoons in spring and summer were often spent in the woods looking for wildflowers and birds.

When I was a teacher, I wanted nonfiction books to use in a classroom setting. Using lessons about different animal groups was a good way to integrate learning reading and science for children. That’s how the About series on animals was started (with About Birds in 1991), and the About Habitats series naturally evolved from that. 

John and I are birders, so most of our travel involves looking for birds. While we don’t often travel specifically to research the books we create, many of our opportunities for travel research have been coincidental. We crossed the prairie on a trip to an event to display John’s paintings. We just happened to be working on About Habitats: Grasslands so he was able to observe and photograph ideas to use in his illustrations. 

As we were working on About Habitats: Oceans, we were able to take a sailing trip with friends. 


An earlier trip to Panama during the rainy season was helpful when we were working on the book About Habitats: Forests.


A trip to Santa Catalina Island was helpful in writing About Habitats: Seashores as well giving us experience with marine mammals (for About Marine Mammals).


Unfortunately, we aren’t able to travel to every habitat and every region in the world, but we gather information, memories, and photos from our trips to use as needed and where appropriate. Often John and I choose subjects we are more familiar with to use to illustrate the books. When we are not able to travel to gather information, we research our subject using reliable books and websites.

The About Habitats series has been around for 10 years, and in that time, concern of the many negative impacts on earth’s habitats has caused me to think of ways I might make a difference. I feel strongly that the younger generations are a definite hope for the future protection of the environment. The earlier they can develop an appreciation for the world around them, the better they can prepare to help preserve it. We are hopeful that these books will instill a love for this fragile planet that is our home and give young readers incentive to be good stewards.


Cathryn and John Sill are the dynamic team who created the About... series as well as the About Habitats series. Their books have garnered praise from educators and have won a variety of awards, including Bank Street Best Books, CCBC Choices, NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12, Orbis Pictus Recommended, and Science Books and Films Best Books of the Year. Cathryn, a graduate of Western Carolina State University, taugh early elementary school classes for thirty years. John holds a BS in wildlife biology from North Carolina State University. Combining his knowledge of wildlife and artistic skill, he has achieved an impressive reputation as a wildlife artist. The Sills live in Franklin, North Carolina.

Books in the About Habitats series at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble. The most recent book About Habitats: Seashores came out this August 2017.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Guest Post: Margarita Engle on Don Quixote and Miguel's Brave Knight


Why did I write a picture book verse biography about the author of Don Quixote, and why now, when so many modern problems seem overwhelming? I’m going to answer these questions as if I am interviewing myself, because the responses form a dialogue between my younger and older selves.

Why is Don Quixote important to you?

As a child, I grew up surrounded by images of Don Quixote. In Cuba, he is a beloved figure, with statuettes and re-told stories as common as comic book superheroes in the US. In Los Angeles, my father painted Don Quixote and Sancho Panza repeatedly. Sometimes the knight was attacking a windmill, but there were quiet moments too, riding off into the sunset, reflecting on the day’s rebellions against looming threats. Both the Cuban and American sides of my family accepted the importance of tales about an idealistic, misunderstood knight who longs to defend poor people against powerful monsters, and right all the wrongs of the world.

Is the life of Cervantes relevant in the twenty-first century?

As a child, I never thought about Cervantes. Don Quixote seemed like folklore, a story passed on by ordinary people. Quixote’s legendary heroism is so ingrained in the daily life of Spaniards, Latin Americans, and US Latinos, that we tend to think of him as a historical figure, rather than a fictional character.

As an adult, the idealistic knight is still a hero to me, but I also admire his author: Cervantes was the real hero. He defiantly wrote a fantasy novel at a time when imaginative works were prohibited by the Inquisition. He wrote about book burning, and an ordinary man so determined to read freely that he absorbs the idealism of knightly characters.

Don Quixote can be read on so many different levels that it’s easy to overlook the true story of Cervantes’ childhood. Born into the family of an impoverished minor nobleman, he knew the pain of a father in debtor’s prison, and a mother struggling to keep food on the table. These are experiences familiar to many children today. Homelessness, fleeing, plagues, wars, all of this resonates. Throughout it all, young Miguel found comfort in the power of his own imagination. Centuries have passed, but Cervantes is still a good role model for young readers who have their own daydreams.


Perseverance—that is the real lesson of Don Quixote. This is what my adult self would want my child self to know and believe. No matter how crazy the world around us seems, we can remain hopeful by imagining, and then working toward, a better future.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I became fascinated by the life of Miguel de Cervantes. It was after 9/11, when the US invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. I remembered reading that Cervantes had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Algeria. After he was finally ransomed, he advised his family and the Spanish military not to seek revenge, and said that despite everything he’d suffered in North Africa, he still admired Muslim culture. I can’t think of a more relevant biography, now that the modern wars of revenge show no sign of ever ending.

What was really unique about Don Quixote?

Imagine the lives of ordinary people in Spain and Spanish colonies at that time! Books were precious, but not everyone could read, so one person would read out loud, while groups sat around and listened. People must have loved the accessibility of such a long, entertaining story that could go on and on, chapter after chapter, offering so many fascinating and satisfying adventures. Children must have listened to the same stories as adults. To them, perhaps the idealistic knight did not seem like a fantasy. Maybe they assumed he was real. Even though there weren’t enough books for every child to own—or even hold—one, at least they could get to know Don Quixote simply by letting their daydreams join his.


Don Quixote was written in a time when the printing press was new, and for the first time, large numbers of copies could be distributed. Don Quixote reached the Caribbean and other parts of the Spanish-speaking Americas on ships that delivered goods from Spain. The oppressed of Spanish colonies could relate to an idealist who wanted to help the needy, but they also enjoyed the humor, the magic realism, the fantasy! Rules made by the Inquisition didn’t stand a chance, when pitted against the population’s desire for good storytelling. The book thrived, and still thrives today. Just as Shakespeare—a contemporary of Cervantes—is viewed as unique in English literature, Cervantes is now seen as the inspiration for all the wonderful literature of Spain and the Spanish-speaking Americas.

Perseverance and the comforting power of the imagination are two themes in Miguel’s Brave Knight. How can young readers be inspired by those themes?

Young Cervantes found refuge in daydreams, which are the starting point for every poem and every story that I write. Daydreams are like seeds that can grow into an immense forest, but only if the author keeps working to transform those dreams from a private experience into communication with readers. I think Miguel’s Brave Knight can be used to teach about creativity, and also to teach about the persistence of creative people. Just like dancers and athletes who rehearse and practice, writers need to keep trying. We can’t give up when our first drafts are still scribbled daydreams. We have to keep revising until readers can understand and share our dreams.



Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse books, including a Newbery Honor winner,
The Surrender Tree; a PEN USA Award winner, The Lightning Dreamer; and a verse memoir, Enchanted Air, winner of many awards, including an inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award Honor and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Her books have also received three Pura Belpré Awards and four Américas Awards, as well as a Jane Addams Award, International Reading Association Award, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and the Charlotte Zolotow Award. In 2017, the Poetry Foundation named her the Young People’s Poet Laureate. She grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. She was trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a full-time poet and novelist. You can visit her website here.

Look for Miguel's Brave Knight at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

That Fall Feeling: Books for Autumn Months

Summer came and went in a hurry, and you know what that means! The leaves are changing, the weather is cooler, and soon, pumpkins will be on parade. It’s that time of year again! Fall is a time for walks in the great outdoors, playing in the leaves, apple-picking, and getting ready for the holidays. It’s also a wonderful time for discovering new things and snuggling up with loved ones. While  cuddling up on the couch to escape those cooler days, why not share the joy of exploring and learning with the whole family?

In our fall round up, we invite you to answer your child’s excitement and curiosity with adventures and new discoveries in some of our seasonal picture books. Add some new titles to your fall collection and celebrate the season!



By playing, fishing, toasting, and listening to music by the firelight, one boy and his father enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a well-crafted introduction to the fun of being in the woods, exploring the many things to do outside, and enjoying nature’s beauty. Soft colors and beautiful scenery will excite the explorer in every child!

In the Woods is a charming board book about a boy and his father camping together. Each page brings a new rhyme and a new sight for any child to enjoy. A perfect addition to your family’s reading experience!



This wonderful story captures the love between Big Bear and Little One. Beginning with the first buds of spring, Big Bear teaches Little One all about life in the forest. The two enjoy eating, playing, and swimming as the seasons change from one to another. As winter returns, Big Bear and Little One also return home, where they can wait for the next spring.

Young readers will love exploring alongside Little One and connecting their own experiences with one who is also seeing the world for the first time. Cuddle up and enjoy reading such a heartwarming picture book with your little one!



Chicken likes Scarecrow’s hat and Scarecrow will glad hand it over, but for a walking stick in return. Clever as Chicken is, she embarks on a quest to find a walking stick amongst her farm animal friends. Presented with a fun problem, one chicken seeks a solution that will have children fully engaged!

With bright watercolor pictures and a beautiful setting, children will love joining Chicken in search of a walking stick to swap for Scarecrow’s straw hat! A delightful page-turner that’s sure to be a favorite!



In the vast expanse of Utah, Mary Ann lives with her family and her special friend: a wheat-filled doll named Betty. Mary Ann knows that Betty watches over her while she does her daily tasks; she even listens to all of Mary Ann's secrets. One day, a storm rolls in and Mary Ann is unable to save Betty from the winds and rain. Determined to find her lost friend, Mary Ann continues to search for Betty even when it seems that Betty is truly gone. Time passes, winter melts into spring, and Mary Ann spots a familiar face growing in the grass!

Set in the 1800s, this classic tale of childhood friendship and devotion shares a beautiful lesson of never giving up. It’s the perfect book to read alongside your child and their favorite toy!

Find these books and more at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble

Friday, September 29, 2017

Author & Illustrator Interview: Margarita Engle and Raúl Colón

The stunning new picture book Miguel's Brave Knight introduces the life of young Miguel de Cervantes and his inspiration for creating one of the greatest works of modern literature, Don Quixote. To celebrate and honor Miguel de Cervantes's 470th birthday today, we asked author and Young People's Poet Laureate Margarita Engle and award-winning artist and illustrator Raúl Colón some questions about their celebrated careers and what inspired them to create Miguel's Brave Knight.


Q: Margarita, what inspired you to write Miguel’s Brave Knight as a collection of poems?

M: The first draft was one simple poem for younger children, similar to Drum Dream Girl. All I wanted to do was honor the comforting power of imagination found in the life and work of Cervantes. Margaret Quinlin, the editor, suggested including more information, to make the book suitable for older children. So I began to experiment, and decided on the format of separate poems for various stages in the childhood and youth of Cervantes. I’m thrilled with the end result. Combined with the incredible artwork of Raúl Colón, I think that in its final form, Miguel’s Brave Knight can be read on many levels, depending on the age of the child or teen.

Q: Raúl, what part of Miguel’s Brave Knight did you most respond to?

R: The parts of the story I most responded to was whenever young Miguel was imagining Don Quixote’s character. There are two pieces where both Miguel as a boy and Don Quixote appear together. I really enjoyed working on those.

Q: Who is Miguel de Cervantes to you?

R: Miguel de Cervantes is a hero to me. I had heard about him since I was quite young, but I really came to know him while working on this book. I decided to read his masterpiece Don Quixote in its original language (Spanish) and realized that Cervantes could have been a best-selling contemporary writer today, chock full of wit and stinging satire—maybe even been an HBO limited series writer.

Q: Margarita, you were trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a writer. What made you make the switch? How do you still use your scientific skills today?

M: It was a gradual transition. As a child, I wrote poetry. As an adult, I alternated between poetry, fiction, opinion columns for Hispanic Link News Service, and scientific nonfiction articles for agricultural and landscape magazines. My first feeble efforts to write novels occurred while I was taking a graduate creative writing seminar from Tomás Rivera, the first Latino Chancellor of a University of California campus. Eventually, beginning in 1991 when I was finally able to start returning to Cuba, I decided to focus on fiction. Some of the reviews said my novels were “too poetic,” so a light bulb went off in my mind, and I returned to poetry. Nevertheless, several of my picture books are about scientists, and forests and farms often appear in my verse novels for older children. In some of my verse novels, such as Forest World, The Surrender Tree, Mountain Dog, and Silver People, wilderness actually feels like one of the characters in the story. In my verse memoir, Enchanted Air, I showed how I became both a writer and a scientist, by falling in love with tropical nature during childhood summers spent with relatives in Cuba.

Q: As the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, you have the opportunity to inspire a new generation of poets. What poets have inspired you?

M: Most of my favorite poets are from Spain and Latin America: José Martí; Rubén Darío; Juan Ramón Jiménez; Antonio Machado; Miguel Hernández; Gabriela Mistral; Octavio Paz; Dulce María Loynaz. I also love nature poets, especially Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver.

Q: Raúl, what other illustrators inspire you?

R: Well, when I was very young comic book illustrators such as Steve Ditko (Spiderman-Marvel Comics), Joe Kubert (Sgt. Rock- DC Comics), and others really got me started drawing my own characters.

A bit later I learned who Norman Rockwell was, and that's when I knew that I might try to do what he did. Finally when I grew up, illustrators like Brad Holland, Mark English, and Matt Mahurin were an inspiration to me.

Q: How is your work with children’s illustrating different from your “grown-up” murals and covers?

R: Illustrating for children is not necessarily much different than illustrating for adults, except for the mature themes you may create for an adult audience. There is a good deal of fantasy involved in all art. Children tend to remember this much better than adults do.



Q: What do you hope readers take away from your art in Miguel’s Brave Knight?

R: My wish is that young readers can enhance their own mental images of Miguel's world by reading Margarita's words and looking at the visuals I put together. I hope that at some point in their lives they're inspired to learn more about this Don Quixote character and decide to read Cervantes's novel.

Q: How do you hope Miguel’s Brave Knight will be used in the classroom and elsewhere?

M: Cervantes is just as famous in Latin America as Shakespeare is in the US. I hope teachers will help children see that they can learn about the whole world, that they are not limited by borders. Stories travel, and they time-travel. Poetry is like a magic carpet that can take us anywhere.

With respect to the power of imagination, maybe teachers could talk about the importance of daydreaming in the writing process. Daydreaming is at the heart of creativity, and from early childhood, Cervantes was a master of this essential skill.

Q: What do you hope young children will learn from this book?

M: I hope they’ll see that the human imagination is more powerful than any monster, including the Spanish Inquisition, which tried to prohibit imaginative literature. 


Miguel's Brave Knight will be at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on October 1st! To learn more, check out our New Book News post.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

National Hispanic Heritage Month Round Up

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to discover and recognize Hispanic and Latino influences in the United States, and as a nation of immigrants, we use this month to remind us of how those from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean have shaped and contributed to our society today.

To celebrate and honor the histories and cultures of people with Hispanic heritage, we want to share some stories that feature strong Hispanic and Latino characters in all forms—skeleton, insect, or human. Pick one to read today and celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month with us! And don’t forget to check out our Spanish and Bilingual books round-up!


Miguel’s Brave Knight
Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

To escape the hardships of his family life, Miguel lives in his imagination, and finds inspiration in wandering actors and storytellers. Based on the real childhood of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote, the first modern novel, this fictionalized first-person biography tells the uplifting tale one of the greatest Spanish writers of all time.

Not only does this book provide insight into the hardships in young Miguel’s life in Spain, but it also highlights the influence he and Don Quixote had on Western culture in the United States and around the world. Cuban-American author and poet Margarita Engle, and illustrator Raul Colon, who grew up in Puerto Rico, also explain in each of their personal notes what Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote mean to them. Be on the lookout for the all-Spanish edition coming out Spring 2018!



Martina the Beautiful Cockroach
A Cuban Folktale

Based off of a Cuban folktale, this picture book tells the story of Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha and her difficulties finding a good husband among her fellow cockroaches. After taking her Aubela’s advice to test her suitors with café cubano, can anyone pass the test and win their way to Martina’s heart? Abuelas always know best!

Sprinkled with Spanish words, puns, and plenty of humor, this book is perfect for reading aloud. It is also available in Spanish and audio.



Clatter Bash!

A Day of the Dead Celebration

Celebrate Dia De Los Muertos with playful skeletons that rattle and shake as they rise from their graves to receive offerings, sing, dance, and feast before the sun rises. Rollicking rhyme—sprinkled with Spanish words—captures the bone-rattling sounds and fun of the evening, while the vivid cut-paper art is sure to raise the spirits of young readers without frightening them. 

Dia De Los Muertos, a celebration of life and legacy that originated in Mexico, has become a huge part of how we celebrate Halloween in the United States today, and this picture book is perfect for storytime and introducing the holiday to young readers.




Truth and Salsa

Almost-thirteen-year-old Hayley has to spend six months with her eccentric grandmother in the rural mountain town of San Miguel, Mexico after the breakup of her parents’ marriage. Going by her new, more glamorous chosen name Margarita, she finds life in Mexico surprisingly exciting and full of adventure, including mystery of la fantama (“the ghost”) that has been haunting her grandmother’s house. Margarita enjoys the Mexican culture and lifestyle she has been immersed in, but also becomes aware of the poverty and demand for migrant work that affects those around her.

This entertaining and engaging coming-of-age story reminds us that our experiences can change how we see the world and ourselves.




Growing Up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia

Follow popular storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy as she takes listeners through her childhood experiences of moving from Havana, Cuba as a refugee to Decatur, Georgia in this compelling audio CD. This collection of twelve stories, several of which have been featured on NPR’s “Weekend All Things Considered,” is a perfect glimpse into Deedy’s collision of cultures and what it’s like for a child to transition from one country to another.



Find these books and more at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

New Book News: Miguel's Brave Knight


Have you ever wondered what inspired the creation of the first modern novel? Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote tells the story of the boy who started it all. Written in easy-to-understand verse by Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle and accompanied by stunning artwork from award-winning illustrator Raúl Colón, Miguel’s Brave Knight will both delight and instruct readers of all ages as they learn about young Miguel de Cervantes, author of the Don Quixote.

While navigating the difficulties of living in 16th Century Spain with a gambling, vagabond, barber-surgeon father, Miguel escapes his struggles by daydreaming of a heroic knight. At a time when access to books was limited,and many writings were censored and banned, Miguel finds inspiration in storytellers and wandering actors, and longs to share his own imaginative stories with others. Finally at age 19, four of Miguel's poems are published, launching the career of one of the greatest writers in the Spanish language.

This fictionalized first-person biography introduces children to important themes of poverty, censorship, and social justice while encouraging imagination, hope, and ambition. The book also
includes back matter with historical context, more biographical information, and personal notes from both the author and illustrator to help readers learn even more about Miguel and Don Quixote and their legacy. Sure to become a classic, Miguel’s Brave Knight is a must-read for anyone who has ever struggled, questioned, or dreamed.

Read an excerpt, and check out the downloadable poster and Teacher's Guide.

“Engle’s poems are lyrical yet direct… Colón’s pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations (inspired by the prints of Gustav Doré) accompany every poem bringing Engle’s words into sharp focus…. An intriguing, lightly fictionalized introduction to an iconic author, this will encourage readers to learn more about the first modern novel.”—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Beautiful and engaging, this book will inspire readers to find out more.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Colón’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are paired perfectly with the text and the subject…This expressive picture book biography presents a solid argument for why Cervantes should be revered as an important figure in the Western canon. A gorgeous and well-crafted work for all nonfiction collections.” —School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Look for Miguel's Brave Knight at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on October 1! And check out the rest of our Fall 2017 list, both new titles and new paperbacks!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Giveaway: Miguel's Brave Knight


Banned Books Week is September 24th-30th, and we are so excited to celebrate our freedom to read with all of our book-loving community! This year, we get to share a special book during this celebration that tells the story of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote and father of the modern novel.

Fortunately for you, we have a Goodreads giveaway for a few lucky people to win Miguel's Brave Knight, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Raúl Colón. Don't miss out on your chance to get a copy this week during Banned Books week!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Miguel's Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel's Brave Knight

by Margarita Engle

Giveaway ends September 29, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New Book News: In the Snow


Snowmen, sleds, and sliding on frozen puddles—young booklovers can experience the most exciting parts of winter fun in Elizabeth Spurr’s In the Snow, the second in a board book series devoted to discovering weather.

In a similar style to In the Wind, the first book in the series, Spurr’s simple rhyme is coupled with Manelle Oliphant’s delightful illustrations that depict a young girl of color with her mom and pet dog having fun on a snowy day. The charming protagonist’s chilly adventures will introduce your earliest readers to the beauty and wonder of freshly fallen snow and the activities they can experience in the coldest parts of winter.

Perfect to use as a read aloud, this board book will help introduce the youngest readers to one of the most magical seasons of the year, whether or not they get to experience snow for themselves.

Read an Excerpt.

Look for In the Snow at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on October 1!


Check out the rest of our Fall 2017 list, both new titles and new paperbacks!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Guest Post: Bethan Woollvin on Princesses, Fairy Tales, and Gender Stereotypes

Classic stories like "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel" usually evoke a girl who finds herself in some sort of trouble and ends up getting rescued by a strong, capable man who conveniently appears just in time. But for author-illustrator Bethan Woollvin, there can be so much more to these stories than the typical fairy tale trope of a “damsel in distress.” With the success of her debut picture book Little Red and the buzz surrounding her upcoming book Rapunzel, Bethan agreed to provide some insight into her inspiration and decision for creating the self-empowered protagonists who challenge the traditional gender stereotypes found in fairy tales.

When I wrote Little Red and Rapunzel, I didn’t necessarily write them with a feminist agenda in mind. It all happened a lot more naturally than that. I simply wanted to create stories and characters that I would have enjoyed to read about when I was a child, instead of the damsels in distress we so often read about in classic tales.

As a feminist, my views and opinions will instinctively feed into my work—because it’s just a part of me—but there was never a conscious agenda in my stories. So to see something so close to my heart receive such a warm reception makes me so happy. It’s brilliant to see “girl power” connect with so many people. This being said, the amount of readers voicing their surprise or excitement to my books highlights just how much of a problem gender inequality remains.

The topic of gender and what it means has always interested me. I even went as far as writing my dissertation on gender equality in food advertisement. While researching for this project, I stumbled across an article which quoted Melvin Burgess saying:
“Girls will read books that have boy heroes, whereas boys won’t read books that have girl heroes.”
Similar to other industries such as clothing and toys, children’s books are still often targeted at gender-specific audiences, which I believe is incredibly outdated.

I wrote Little Red and Rapunzel, not just to satisfy me, but for my younger, head-strong sisters. I want them to have access to books with brave and daring female characters to look up to, without the well-worn narrative of being saved by a handsome prince or a burly wood-cutter. I created my female protagonists to be resourceful, smart, and brave, who are undeniably capable of saving themselves. In turn, I chose to leave out the male saviors from my re-tellings because they simply felt unnecessary.

As I developed my stories, I realized that adding in extra characters only diluted my protagonists’ power. I wanted them to dictate their own stores, and including other entities only hampered this. With this in mind, I leave out a lot of the peripheral characters from my stories that are present in the classic tales.

Since the publication of Little Red, I have often been asked whether I intended to illustrate my characters to look quite androgynous. Indeed I did, mainly to challenge the problem Melvin Burgess highlighted. I design my characters so that all young readers, regardless of how they identify their gender, will be able to relate to them and invest in the story.

Little Red is (arguably) human, but nothing about her shape or facial features looks typically female. The only way we really know that she is a female is by her pronoun usage throughout the book. Rapunzel, on the other hand, looks typically more feminine than Little Red does as Rapunzel’s a more human shape and clearly wears a frilly dress.

Both Little Red and Rapunzel have the fact that they are heroines in common, but both are expressing their gender identity in different ways.

I believe it’s really important for me as a children’s book illustrator to be responsible for representing different kinds of characters throughout my books. I give each character their own personality and their own clothes. I don’t focus on making any of my female characters “pretty” or visually ‘beautiful’ unless it’s part of the narrative. This is because my characters aren’t there to show children what females should look like; they are there to tell a story.

I’d like to think that the publishing world can become more forward-thinking in the future and will create more children’s books with strong female protagonists and inclusive characters.


Look for 
Little Red and Rapunzel at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Damsels No More: Books with Strong Heroines

Who says a girl can't save herself? We've put together a list of books featuring strong, independent, and determined female protagonists who defy traditional gender expectations and don't let anything get in their way!

Picture Books

On her way to Grandma’s house, Little Red meets a wolf. Which might scare some little girls. But not this little girl! She knows just what the wolf is up to, and she’s not going to let him get away with it. A sly, subversive retelling of the classic story “Little Red Riding Hood,” this picture book is a tribute to the power of little girls.

Read an Excerpt.




With irreverent humor and striking illustrations, the same creator of Little Red puts an empowering and delightfully dark twist on a classic story of a helpless damsel. Rapunzel lives all alone in a tall, dark tower. Under the threat of a witch’s fearsome curse, the poor girl seems doomed to a life in captivity. But is Rapunzel frightened? Oh no, not she!

Read an Excerpt.



illustrated by Poly Bernatene

Fairy tales are just stories—or so Princess Martha believes. But when her sisters meet a talking frog, they’re convinced that giving him the royal treatment will turn him into Prince Charming. After all, that’s what happens in their story books. Martha isn’t so sure. The more she sees of Prince Ribbit, the more suspicious she becomes. Armed with the facts, Martha sets out to expose Prince Ribbit and prove to her sisters that “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true.” This clever twist on the “The Frog Prince” pits a spunky, bespectacled princess against a sly amphibian to teach a charming lesson on the pitfalls of trusting everything you read.

Don't miss the Activity Sheets.



illustrated by Jenny Mattheson

We all have likes and dislikes, but some of us are just more vocal about it than others. This upbeat book features a likable little girl with an independent (and opinionated) spirit who spends her day letting the world know what she doesand does notwant to do and wear. Definitely not a dress and definitely no bows!

Don't miss the Teacher's Guide.


illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss


“I declare, Emmy,” said Gramma. “That mimosa tree is a lot like you. Stubborn and strong and a little bit wild.” Emmy loves trees. She loves oak trees with acorns; she loves pine trees with cones, and willow trees with swishy branches. But best of all, Emmy loves the mimosa tree that grows in her grandmother’s pasture. So when Emmy decides she wants a mimosa tree of her own for her birthday, she is dismayed to find that many garden stores only sell ornamental trees like plum or pear or tulip trees. Emmy is crushed—until she discovers that the answer to her problem is growing right before her eyes!

Middle Readers
illustrated by Alice Ratterree

She is a girl three inches tall with eyes like drops of dew. Her clothes are cut from handkerchiefs and stitched with spider silk. For half her life, she has been trapped in a birdcage while her giant kidnapper sits beside her, writing in a leather-bound book the size of a house. Her name is Lily, and tonight she is escaping. She is going home. To Lilliput.

Read an Excerpt.



illustrated by Paul Bachem

Twelve-year-old Anna loves life on the Nebraska prairie where she lives with her parents and four-year-old brother in a simple sod house. But at school she feels hopelessly out of place. When an intense Nebraska blizzard traps Anna, her schoolmates, and young teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, Anna knows they must escape before it is too late.  Does she have the courage and strength to lead her school through the whiteout to safety? Based on the 1888 "School Children's Blizzard," author Alison Hart offers young readers a dramatic story of rescue and survival featuring a plucky, determined protagonist.

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Independent-minded twelve-year-old Sam does not like the fact that she has to spend a month of her summer vacation at her crotchety retired grandfather's place while her parents are away. Soon Sam finds that her grandfather is acting even stranger than expected, disappearing into the woods and being secretive. When she finally discovers that he is building an airplane, will she and her grandfather find common ground to finish the plane together?

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Irene loves soccer, and, back in Missouri, she was one of the top players on her school’s girls’ team. But things are different in Merano, Italy.When Irene decides to join the highly competitive boys’ team, she has little idea what she’s getting herself into. She must prove herself to the strict coach, and her teammates make it clear they don’t want her on the field. Especially Matteo, the team’s star player, who goes out of his way to make Irene unwelcome. But Irene does not give up easily.

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Thirteen-year-old Joelle Cunningham is passionate about baseball. But when her family moves to the small town of Greendale, Iowa, she quickly discovers that there are strict rules preventing her from playing on the school baseball team. But Joelle is determined to play. Through some creative problem-solving and surprising alliances, she finds a solution to her dilemma that brings the disputing sides together…and baseball to the girls of Greendale.

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For Beauty McElwrath, a shy but spunky girl from an unconventional family of strong-minded women, the first day of sixth grade proves to be exactly the catastrophe she expected, and she’s sure she’s doomed to be a social outcast for yet another school year. But then she meets Alane Shriver, a new student who suffers from progeria—a rare, rapid aging disorder. At first Beauty is frightened by her fellow outsider’s appearance, but fear gives way to curiosity, and Beauty discovers that, on the inside, Alane is just like any other twelve-year-old girl. When a life-threatening event puts the two of them in harm’s way, Beauty finds the confidence and inner strength to save Alane. 
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Young Adult


Evie is different. Not just her upbringing—though that’s certainly been unusual—but also her mindset. She’s smart, independent, confident, opinionated, and ready to take on a new challenge: The Institution of School. It doesn’t take this home-schooled kid long to discover that high school is a social minefield, and Evie finds herself confronting new problems at every turn. Not one to sit idly by, Evie sets out to make changes. But when her plan begins spiraling out of control, Evie is forced to come to terms with a world she is only just beginning to comprehend.

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Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends. The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details. Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared. And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails. Even her latest comic book creation is misbehaving. On top of all that, the world might be ending—which is proving to be awkward. As doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.


Find these books and more at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble. For more books featuring self-empowered females, check out our Books to Celebrate Women in History and Books with Character posts.



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Book News: Claude on the Big Screen


The sweetest surrealist dog is back for a new adventure in Claude on the Big Screen! Claude and his sassy sidekick Sir Bobblysock are at it again as they learn the inner workings of making a movie, filled with fabulous wigs, famous actors, and frivolity!

When Claude discovers a movie is being filmed on Waggy Avenue, he and Sir Bobblysock race over to investigate. After stumbling onto the set, he decides to help the director and actors with their rehearsal of Gorilla Thriller! in typical Claude fashion—with clumsy curiosity and flair. But when Claude accidentally sends the main stars to the hospital, will he and Sir Bobblysock be able to fill in for them and save the film? Fans of this cheeky canine will get a kick out of watching the duo wiggle their way of imaginatively absurd situations and will love guessing what happens next.

Alex T. Smith’s illustrated early chapter book series, featuring his signature cheerful two-color illustrations, promises giggle-filled bedtime reading and a laugh-out-loud adventure for readers transitioning from picture books to chapter books.


Look out for Claude on the Big Screen at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble October 1! 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Giveaway: Rapunzel


It's time for more free books! This week's giveaway is Rapunzel from Bethan Woollvin. If you loved her New York Times Best Illustrated Little Red, this new twist on the classic fairy tale is a must read.

Rapunzel is trapped in her tower by the wicked witch, but it doesn't take long for the fearless girl to take matters into her own hands.

Enter for your chance to win a copy in our Goodreads Giveaway! The giveaway will last one week, so make sure you enter soon!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin

Rapunzel

by Bethan Woollvin

Giveaway ends September 15, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway