Interview with Hannah Holt

Hannah Holt is just your everyday children’s author… with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

First, thanks so much for hosting me! From the time I was little, I enjoyed writing and telling stories. In fourth grade, I wrote forty pages of my first attempted novel. As a teen, I created elaborate bedtime stories for the children I tended. However, my family is full of scientists and engineers. I didn't know the first thing about writing as a career, so I majored in engineering. It wasn't until years later that I submitted my first manuscript to a publisher.


Can you tell me about your new book coming out?

My book, A Father's Love, celebrates animal dads around the world. There's also a secondary layer of exploring colors in different habitats. From the jacket flap:

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Throughout the animal kingdom, in every part of the world, fathers love and care for their babies. This book takes readers around the globe and across the animal kingdom, showcasing the many ways fathers have of demonstrating their love. Whether it's a penguin papa snuggling with his baby in the frosty white snow, a lion dad playing with his cub in a yellow field, or a seahorse father protecting his young inside his pouch in the deep blue ocean, we see that a father's love comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Kirkus calls it, "A sweet bedtime book about fathers and how their “love is everywhere.”

I dedicated this book to my husband, but really it's for all dads.

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What were your books inspired by?

As I mentioned earlier, my family is very science-focused. In fact, my first book, The Diamond and the Boy, is a biography of my inventor grandfather, H. Tracy Hall. Maybe science is in my DNA. Maybe I'm just curious about the world, but the manuscripts I write tend to be nonfiction or informational fiction. There's so much to explore about the world, and I want to know it all.



How have the illustrations for your books matched up with what you originally imagined them to be?

I usually don't have a firm vision for what the illustration style should be. My illustration ideas are more like a dream--vague ideas of what could be. I feel very lucky to have been paired with amazing illustrators like Jay Fleck and Yee Von Chan.

Did you always want to be a children's book writer?

No. Despite my love for writing and storytelling, I didn't believe I was very good at it. I applied for honors English almost every year in high school and was rejected a lot. My senior year, I didn't even apply for the program. My handwriting and spelling lagged behind my peers, and my teachers let me know it.

I thought I would spend my life designing bridges. If you told me twenty years ago I would be where I am now, I probably would have laughed. I didn't know "professional children's book writer" was a possibility for me.

What is your favorite picture book?

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Instead, can I tell you about a book that hasn't been released yet? I first heard about A Small World by Ishta Mercurio back when it sold. The book description is lovely, and I can't wait for it be released this summer:

When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms. But as she grows, the world grows too. It expands outward—from her family, to her friends, to the city, to the countryside. And as it expands, so does Nanda’s wonder in the underlying shapes and structures patterning it: cogs and wheels, fractals in snowflakes. Eventually, Nanda’s studies lead her to become an astronaut and see the small, round shape of Earth far away. A geometric meditation on wonder, Small World is a modern classic that expresses our big and small place in the vast universe.

Where can we find you online?

Twitter: @hannahwholt

Website: https://hannahholt.com/


Thanks for joining us, Hannah!

Interview with Stacy Innerst

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Stacy Innerst is an acclaimed artist, illustrator and arts educator. He was born in Los Angeles and studied Art and History at the University of New Mexico.

His picture books for children have earned a host of starred reviews as well as numerous awards, including a 2017 NY Times/NY Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award (for Ruth Bader Ginsberg), the 2017 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration (for The Music in George’s Head), the BCCB Blue Ribbon, two Parents’ Choice Gold Medals and recognition by the NY Society of Illustrators, the Smithsonian and the American Library Association, among many others. M is for Music was named a 2003 Best Book of the Year by the School Library Journal and Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2011. His paintings and prints have been exhibited widely in New York, California and throughout the United States and abroad. He lives in Pittsburgh.

The artwork for your pictures books is very unique. How did you develop that style of art?

I’ve always had a painterly, loose style and I studied painting and printmaking in college so that carried over into my work as an illustrator. I never really set out to develop an illustration style, per se, but I suppose I have over the years.

It’s more a function of doing what comes naturally and making pictures that I find pleasing rather than settling on a style. I love the way paint looks when it’s brushed onto a surface so that dictates pretty much everything I do.

How much planning and research do you do before you actually start painting?

The research component of my nonfiction picture books is actually quite time-consuming, but it’s also quite fun. The historical research leads me in directions that I might not otherwise go in picture-making. Part of my process is watching films that are set in the period I’m illustrating or researching the art and music of the era.

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Which picture book was your favorite to work on?

I’ve liked them all for different reasons, but The Music in George’s Head was especially gratifying. I really liked being able to visually represent Gershwin’s music. It was a kind of visual poetry for me.


Who is your favorite illustrator?

If I have to pick just one children’s book illustrator, I’d say Edward Ardizzone or Leonard Weisgard, I think, but it’s tough! Tough question! It changes from day to day. A few of my favorite artists and illustrators, in no particular order: Vladimir Radunsky, Quentin Blake, Robert Lawson, Carson Ellis, Wanda Ga’g, Sydney Smith, Edward Gorey, Eva Bednářová, Roger Duvoisin, William Joyce, Oliver Jeffers, Lopez Rubio, Leonard Weisgard, Antonin Clave, Pablo Picasso, Edward Ardizzone, Ludwig Bemelmans, Sean Qualls, Willem de Kooning.

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Do you have any upcoming books?

I’ve recently completed two picture books and the cover and interior illustrations for a middle grade chapter book. They should all be out next year. They are:

Saving Lady Liberty: Joseph Pulitzer’s Fight for the Statue of Liberty, by Claudia Friddell, Calkins Creek

The Book Rescuer, by Sue Macy, Simon and Schuster

The Mostly True Story of Pudding Tat, Adventuring Cat, by Caroline Adderson, Groundwood Books.

I’m super excited about all three! They’re wonderfully written books by excellent authors.

Where can your fans find you?

I’m on social media-- mostly on Instagram but also Twitter and Facebook --@stacyinnerst. My website is stacyinnerst.com.

Thanks so much for joining us, Stacy!!

Interview with Susan Hans O'Connor, owner of the Penguin Bookshop

Susan Hans O’Connor is the owner of the Penguin Bookshop, an independent bookstore located in Sewickley, PA since 1929. She has owned the store for five years and works tirelessly to bring her community a place to converse, buy books, and meet authors. We are so happy to interview her and learn more about her and the Penguin Bookshop!

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I began my publishing career back in the 90s (yes...I’m ancient :-)). I was doing temp work in NYC, and the agency sent me to Penguin Books. I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw the big Penguin logo behind the receptionist’s desk. I had always been a big reader and a writer and devoured books published by Penguin, but growing up in the Midwest, I never really thought about HOW or WHERE a book was created. The people there were all so nice and smart, and their talent was inspiring. Long story short, I ended up taking a permanent job there as an Editorial Assistant to two big-shot editors.

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Why did you decide to buy the Penguin Bookshop?

When we first relocated to Pittsburgh in 2003, I looked for a way to continue my editorial work, but it wasn’t easy. So I did freelance editing, and then I got a Masters Degree in Education and my Teaching Certificate so that I could teach English and writing, which I always thought would be fun. While I was long-term subbing in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, I also began working as a bookseller at the Penguin Bookshop. I loved it. In the store, I felt reconnected to my publishing roots. Then it just so happened that Janet McDanel wanted to sell the business in 2013, just a few months after I started working there. And the rest is history. :-)

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Why is it important to shop locally, and what do independent bookstores do for the community?

Shopping locally is all about creating the kind of communities we want to live in.  Do you want to be able to literally walk down the street and go into a coffee shop, pick up a cute scarf for Aunt Harriet, have your kids ride their bikes into town for some special candy, then stop in for storytime and a book recommendation? Or do you want to stay at home and order everything from your computer, while your town looks like a wasteland? In the end, it’s a choice.

Independent bookstores provide conversation and connection. We bring in authors, both locally and nationally, who spark those conversations, conversations we might not otherwise have.  We give back to our local library, Y, and other organizations. We provide part-time jobs for students and contribute to the local tax base. We have a national presence in the book community, as members of the American Booksellers Association, which is good for our town and good for Pittsburgh. Thanks to the Penguin Bookshop, the White Whale, and Riverstone Books, Pittsburgh will be the host city in the summer of 2019 to the ABA’s Children’s Institute, a national conference that brings in hundreds of booksellers and publishers from around the country. This wouldn’t have happened without the bookstores we have here.

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What do you see for the future of independent bookstores, and how can we help ensure their success?

The future of independent bookstores depends on you, the community.  Successful bookstores meet the needs of their communities, which we try to do everyday, but the community has to want a local bookstore in their town and demonstrate that interest by shopping there.


What’s the most important thing you have learned as a small business owner?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one, because I have learned SO MUCH in the last five years. I think one thing that stands out is that for a business our size in a community of our size, it is important to focus on the things that really matter. I can’t change the demographics of our town or force people to walk through our doors. But what I can do is work to create a bookstore, built on an 89 year history, that is relevant to the community, and that the community still finds valuable. This is what I have tried to do since buying the store in 2014.

Thanks so much for joining us, Susan!

You heard her folks - the best way to keep independent bookstores alive is to shop there. If you haven’t visited the Penguin Bookshop yet, I encourage you to do so! Its local charm and great books will keep you coming back!

Interview with Caroline Carlson

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Caroline Carlson is the author of many books for young readers, including The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, The World’s Greatest Detective, and The Door at the End of the World, coming in April 2019. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found taking a long walk, baking cookies, or attempting to get lost in a good book.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your new book, The Door at the End of the World?

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Sure! It’s about a girl named Lucy who lives at the end of the world—the place where her world is connected by a magical door to the next world over. Lucy works as the Gatekeeper’s assistant, helping people who want to travel between the worlds by stamping their passports and making sure their paperwork is in order. It’s not a particularly exciting job, but Lucy knows she’s not the sort of person who’s meant to lead a particularly exciting life.

Then the Gatekeeper goes missing in another world, the door at the end of the world breaks, and Lucy is sure it’s all her fault. She sets out to fix the door and set things right. Without quite meaning to, she collects traveling companions along the way: a boy who might be a prince, a girl who might be a criminal, and a whole bunch of magical bees. And together, they discover that they’ve stumbled onto a dangerous plot that could put all eight of the connected worlds at risk. With the fabric of space and time falling down around their ears, they race through the worlds to stop the plot, find the villain, and rescue the Gatekeeper. Truthfully, it’s a lot more excitement than Lucy bargained for. She’s never had to save the world before—and now, somehow, she’s got to find a way to save eight of them.


There are eight worlds in The Door at the End of the World. Did you plan out each world before you started writing or did they come to you as you wrote?

I’m normally a meticulous planner, but nothing much about The Door at the End of the World was planned—especially not the other worlds! I was racing to get a draft down on paper, and I didn’t even have time to put together my usual outline; I had to sit down each morning in front of a blank page knowing very little about what would happen next. But that mix of excitement and sheer terror made the writing process a lot of fun.

When I first came up with the idea for the book, I didn’t actually intend to send the characters on a journey through lots of different worlds. (At one point there were twelve worlds, but I had to whittle the number down to keep it more manageable.) Creating one imaginary world for the story seemed like a lot of work as it was, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull off building seven more. But I realized pretty quickly that you can’t write a book about other worlds without actually sending your characters to explore those worlds for themselves! So I decided to take a bit of a worldbuilding shortcut by giving each world a particular characteristic it was famous for: its advanced technology, for example, or its maritime culture, or its vast number of cows. My characters do visit all eight worlds, but they only spend a lot of time in four of them—and one of those four is our own. It’s the first time any book of mine has been set even partially in the real world. Actually, I found that part of the book really tricky to write. When I’m writing about places I make up from scratch, I don’t have to worry about real-world inconveniences like the distance from New Zealand to Colorado, or how a group of otherworld travelers would be able to make it past TSA security screening at the airport.

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You have four novels published and one coming out in 2019. How are your books similar? How are they different?

My first three books—the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy—are fantasy adventures, my book The World’s Greatest Detective is a murder mystery for kids, and with The Door at the End of the World I’ve come back to fantasy, or at least to speculative fiction. It’s got a different sort of magical flavor from the Pirates trilogy. It’s also the first book I’ve written that’s not a riff on a well-known genre. My Pirates books play with the conventions of stories like Treasure Island, and The World’s Greatest Detective is a sendup of classic mysteries like the Sherlock Holmes stories, but The Door at the End of the World doesn’t play with the tropes of existing stories in that way. It’s something that’s entirely my own, and I’m really excited about that.

But I think all of my books are similar in lots of ways, too. All of them are adventure stories. All of them are mysteries in one way or another—I can’t resist a good plot twist or a revelation of a character’s secret identity. I try to give each one of my books a good dollop of humor. And I’m usually drawn to characters who are searching for their place in the world, trying to figure out where they belong, who they belong with, and what kind of person they want to be. I think a lot of my readers are grappling with those issues as well, so I hope they’re able to find a few kindred spirits in my books.

Are you as adventurous as the characters in your books?

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Not at all! I’ve never been a pirate on the high seas (I get seasick). I’ve never solved a murder (that sounds kind of dangerous). And I’ve never had to race through eight different worlds or repair the fabric of space and time, though I think I’d like to try that if I had the opportunity. But I’m generally a pretty cautious, rule-following sort of person. I’d make a terrible protagonist in an adventure story. I do like traveling, though, and trying new foods, and going on small everyday adventures in my neighborhood. I will occasionally get lost-on-purpose in the park near my house, as long as I’m reasonably sure I’ll be able to get myself found again.

What was your favorite book when you were ten?

I loved The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I still do. It’s got a brilliant mix of mythology, magic, adventure, and a sense of place so strong it will sweep you right out of your reading chair.

How can your fans find you?

I love hearing from readers! On the internet, you can find me on Facebook (facebook.com/carolinecarlsonbooks), Twitter (@carolinetc), Instagram (@carolinecarlsonbooks), and through my website, carolinecarlsonbooks.com. I love visiting schools and talking to readers, either in person or through a video chat service like Skype. If you’re a teacher or librarian, you can find out more about that on my website.



Thanks for joining us, Caroline! Be sure to check out her books!

Interview with Samantha Steiger Smith

I’m so excited to start a new feature of interviewing authors and illustrators on my blog! Today we welcome Sam Smith, a local Pittsburgh children’s book writer. Sam’s book, Cate’s Magic Garden, is about a little caterpillar that brings a garden back to life through the power of positive thinking and kind words.

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

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I grew up in Randolph, NJ (about an hour outside of NYC) and went to college at the University of Virginia, where I earned my bachelor’s in English. I started my career in advertising in Baltimore, MD and then Capitol Hill, DC, working for several ad agencies as a media supervisor. Then I finally got brave and made the jump to copywriter; writing had been my passion since I was a little girl. I enjoyed working for an agency, but when I had the chance to strike out on my own, I did! I became a freelance writer in 2006, and in 2008, my husband and I and our 2-year-old son moved to Pittsburgh so my husband could follow his dream to work in his family’s business, a 117 year-old foundry in the heart of the city. We love the area, and I recently fulfilled another childhood dream, which was to publish a children’s book! I live with my husband, sons Sutter (12) and Graham (8) and kitten Penelope.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes! Pretty much since I was six and told my parents I wanted to be Robert Frost when I grew up. My dad gently told me that it might be a difficult living. I’m happy to report that writing can be a great and exciting profession these days, especially since you can work from anywhere! Funny story: when I was ten, I wrote a poem about a butterfly….and my book is about a very similar one—I did not remember this coincidence until very recently.

How did Cate come about?

CATE was not born the way children’s books usually are—she came about rather backwards. My step-sister, Megan, put me in touch with my now co-author, Betsy Coffeen. Betsy is a dedicated Childhelp Wings Advisor and wanted to create a fundraiser for the organization, which helps prevent child abuse. We started with a story about a bunch of kids on the playground and a bullying situation, since that aligned nicely with Childhelp’s mission, but the story just didn’t feel right yet. Then the garden idea just popped into my head. First, we explored a world where a grumpy group of bugs dug holes with their negativity, literally. But this theme started getting too dark for a children’s book. That’s when my publisher had a great idea that turned the book and the entire message around. She harnessed the power of positivity and kindness. And we made the connection that words change worlds, which is a very powerful and exciting message.

We were grateful to have Ginger Seehafer join our team and truly bring the story to life through her beautiful illustrations. And Rachel Eeva Smith helped create this inspiring book with her expert book design. Amy Cherrix of Two Hoots Press finally brought CATE’S MAGIC GARDEN out into the world, and she continues to be a huge champion of its message.

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Cate was published in connection with Childhelp. Can you tell us more about that?

Childhelp is an amazing organization, founded in 1959 by two actresses, Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O’Meara from the popular tv show, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Since its inception, Childhelp has helped over 10 million victims of child abuse and neglect and is internationally renowned. Yvonne and Sara have both been honored by almost every president since Carter and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize eight times, among other important recognitions. Their work is vitally important, and I’m honored to support them. A portion of proceeds from the book go to Childhelp.

Where can readers find you and your book?

Me? Probably in a library, at my computer or on the soccer field! But seriously, CATE and I have been fortunate enough to visit several Pittsburgh area schools to talk about the power of positivity and kindness. I’ve done a number of readings/signings at local bookstores, including Penguin Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, Riverstone Bookstore, Learning Express at the Galleria and Learning Express of Bakery Square. My books are also available at Malaprops in Asheville, NC; How To Live in Beach Haven, NJ; Cover to Cover in Columbus, OH and Book Soup in LA! You can find them online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Thanks for joining us, Sam! Be sure to check out her book!