Monday, May 25, 2020

Interview: Hayley Barrett

My guest today is Hayley Barrett, the author of three very distinct picture books. 

In the lyrical Babymoon, a tiny new person has arrived. Mom and Dad and Baby learn the rhythm of being together through this dawn to dusk story of a baby’s day, taking the time they need to fall in love as a family. (This is the perfect gift for new parents or toddlers welcoming a new brother or sister.) 

Hayley’s second book, What Miss Mitchell Saw, recounts the story of astronomer Margaret Mitchell’s amazing discovery of a comet. Back in 1847, her find caused an international sensation. Could a woman claim the gold and glory of a royal reward? What Miss Mitchell Saw garnered a starred review from School Library Journal and was named a Mighty Girl’s Book of the Year.  


Hayley adds, since we last connected, it was named a MA Book Must Read and longlisted for a MA Book award. It’s also one of five NE finalists for SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award. J I couldn’t be more proud of it. 

Hayley’s third book, Girl Versus Squirrel, is the rollicking tale of an intrepid girl and a resourceful squirrel’s battle of wits. It will be coming out on August 11th and I can’t wait to read it. 

Hayley, you’ve written fiction and nonfiction, poetic books and funny books, books for the very young and books for school age readers. Everything you write is a new and delightful surprise. What threads tie your body of work together? You’ve mentioned that there are elements of nonfiction in everything you write, can you tell us more about that? 

As a young person, I was more information-hungry than entertainment-hungry. I looked to books to teach me about the world. When I read (and reread) the LITTLE HOUSE books, I wanted more than to pal around with the Ingalls family. I longed to learn how to build, grow, and make whatever I might need. When I read (and reread) BLACK BEAUTY, I learned how to respectfully care for horses and how to avoid the careless mistakes that ruin them. In books, information was there to be found, and I wanted all of it. 

This is why I try to include solid, well-researched facts in all of my books, even the lighthearted, fictional ones. For example, in GIRL VERSUS SQUIRREL, the animal character’s behavior is believable because it’s scientifically accurate. I know because during my research, I consulted a well-known squirrel expert. Yep. 

Why newborns? Why Maria Mitchell? Why squirrels? What was the spark that generated each of your projects? What do you hope your books accomplish? 

Well, this world is a fascinating place, isn’t it? I find I’m interested in nearly everything, so naturally, I like to write about nearly everything. That’s one of the joys of writing picture books. I can write about whatever catches my fancy. 

The inspiration for BABYMOON happened many years ago. At that time, I was attending Penn’s nursing school in preparation to become a Certified Nurse Midwife. Although our family plans changed and I did not complete the program, I never forgot what I learned about the importance of welcoming babies with gentleness and respect. A new family must be allowed to rest and bond, but in our increasingly busy and distracted world, such families are often pressured to “bounce back” to “normal life.” We forget to take time to nurture and protect those who need it most. BABYMOON—the term was coined by a British anthropologist—is my effort to reclaim that sense of restful space. 

I must have read about Maria Mitchell when I was a girl, and she stayed with me. From time to time, I’d come across her name in something I was reading, and it always piqued my interest. Finally, I was interested enough to research her life and accomplishments in earnest. That’s when I began writing WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW. 

GIRL VERSUS SQUIRREL also came from my childhood days. As a kid, I spent hours watching the squirrels that lived in my neighborhood. If they were feeling sociable, they’d sometimes sit on the fence and let me talk to them. I’d cluck and chirp as best I could and they’d reply in fluent squirrel. If they ever tried to speak my language, I never noticed, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Squirrels are mighty smart people. 

What obstacles have you had to overcome in your writing process? Is there a particular aspect of the writing journey that challenges you most or is each project different? 

Some writers enjoy the revision process, but I find it deeply challenging. A picture book’s text is necessarily spare, yet its story and characters must be well-developed and engaging. To accomplish this requires painstaking work and focus, and the resulting manuscript is delicate, much like a sandcastle. Changing even one small part of the whole invites collapse of the structure. 

Still, unless I want my work to molder in a drawer, I must revise. The process of revising BABYMOON was profoundly instructive and, to be honest, something of an ordeal. Revising any manuscript is tricky, but one that rhymes? Doubly so. To follow the sandcastle metaphor, it’s like trying to modify a castle that’s finished and dry. At the slightest touch, those seemingly solid walls with their boxy battlements will disintegrate and must be resurrected into an entirely new, structurally stable, and equally compelling creation. GULP. 

I’ll probably spend the rest of my life making peace with the revision process, but that’s a happy prospect. I’m fortunate to be doing the work I love. 

Your picture books have all been illustrated by others. What is your experience with the author/illustrator dance? 

I love partnering with illustrators! They get to do what they like to do best—create art—and I get to do what I like—wrangle words. There’s a strange sort of disconnected collaboration that’s required to make a picture book. Both parties are creatively separate and yet somehow, they end up in a new place together. That’s the magic we all hope for and work toward. When it happens—that magical pairing of words and images—the result is something truly special. 

Now that I have a few books in the world, I realize how much I enjoy having books that differ from one another visually. BABYMOON bears no resemblance to WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, and GIRL VERSUS SQUIRREL looks nothing like THE TINY BAKER. I appreciate each of my illustrators, and I’m committed to supporting not only our shared “book babies,” but all of their future work too. 

In the middle of creating these books, you also contributed to a poetry anthology, An Assortment of Animals. What was it like collaborating with other authors on this project? Does your work as a poet influence the way you approach picture books? 

The Writers’ Loft is the center of my writing life, and I’m glad I can contribute to their anthologies. I only rarely write poetry, but I adore rhyming. Once I begin to hear the music and rhythm of a poem in my head, I can’t help but work on it. That’s what happened for the first anthology, AN ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS, for which I wrote a poem about a prehistoric equid. There’s another anthology coming, all about the ocean and its creatures, and I contributed two poems, one about diatoms and another about right whales. 

I hear that there is a fourth book, The Tiny Baker, on its way. Illustrated by Alison Jay; it will be published by Barefoot Books.  Could you tell us a little about that? 

Gladly! THE TINY BAKER is a sweet story about the proprietress of a bustling teashop that caters to stylish ants and other elegantly attired insects. When kitchen disaster strikes, her can-do clientele work together to help their baker friend. I just saw the color proofs, and the art by Alison Jay could not be more perfect. Wait ‘til you see the sugary delights she cooked up! 

Oh, sounds delicious! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? 

I’d like to add that the children’s literature community is wonderfully friendly and welcoming. If any of your readers are thinking about writing or illustrating for young people, they should go ahead and jump right in. The water’s fine, I promise. 

Thank you so much for being my guest today! You can find out more about Hayley Barrett and her books at    



Monday, May 18, 2020

Author Roundup: Hazel Mitchell

Hazel Mitchell and Toby
When I interviewed Hazel Mitchell back in 2012,, she had just illustrated her first nonfiction book, Hidden New Jersey. She was hoping that project would lead to others.
Boy, did it! At this point Hazel has illustrated or written and illustrated twenty-two books. Here is just a partial list of her titles:
Oceanly, written by Lynn Parrish Sutton and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, a sweet lullaby for beach-going toddlers.

Borrowing Bunnies, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, a heartwarming book written by Newbery Honor winning author, Cynthia Lord, about her experience fostering rabbits.
Imani’s Moon, written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, about tiny Imani and her Maasai village where the animals always have something to say and a girl can touch the moon. (Reading is Fundamental Multicultural Booklist) 

How Do Fairies Have Fun In The Sun?, Fairies 1,2,3,  and Do Fairies Bring The Spring? all part of a fun fairy series written by Liza Gardner Walsh and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell. 
Toby, written and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, about a rescue dog’s struggle to adjust to life within a family and the boy who helps ease him into his new home. (Dog Writer’s Association Children’s Book of the Year) This book was inspired by Hazel's poodle, Toby. 

Hazel’s 23rd book, The Fall Fairy Gathering, the last of her seasonal fairy series, will be coming out in July from Down East Books.

She has another book coming out in 2021 which she will write and illustrate. What is it about? That’s still a secret, but there just might be kittens…You can find out more about Hazel Mitchell and her delightful books at

Monday, May 4, 2020

Author Roundup Leslie Bulion

In my first interview with Leslie Bulion, she discussed her humorous middle grade novel, The Universe of Fair. This is one of my all-time favorite books, with quirky characters involved in riotous situations which often tug at the heart.

The Universe of Fair also incorporates physics. Physics, as in science? Yup, that’s right. And the physics is woven into the story in a seamless and amazing way. Leslie has a master’s degree in science, so it makes sense that it often wends its way into her writing.

In fact, Leslie’s recent series pairs science with poetry. Hey There Stink Bug, At the Seafloor CafĂ©, Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse, Leaf Litter Critters, Superlative Birds, and her latest title, Amphibian Acrobats are fun and fabulous. Superlative Birds was just named to NCTE Notable Poetry List and both it and Amphibian Acrobats received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. 

To quote Kirkus’ review of Superlative Birds: "With characteristic humor and carefully crafted language, poet Bulion offers readers amazing facts about birds of our world...

When I talked with Leslie Bulion about her Author Roundup, she was just about to Zoom out to meet with students in Texas. So if you’d like to know more about Leslie, her books, or her workshops, visit

Friday, April 10, 2020

Author Roundup: Kimberly Newton Fusco and Alexis O'Neill

When I last interviewed Kimberly Newton Fusco, she had written a memorable YA novel, Tending to Grace, about Cornelia, dumped in a backwoods cottage to live with her great aunt Agatha. That book won numerous honors, including the ALA Schneider Family Book Award.

Kim had just come out with her second book, The Wonder of Charlie Anne, set during the Great Depression. Charlie Ann mucks out the privy, makes vinegar pies, and befriends an African American girl, inflaming the bigotry of her backwater town.  That book also reaped two starred reviews (Kirkus and School Library Journal)  and multiple awards.

Since then, Kim’s published two more beautiful novels, Beholding Bee (published in the U.K. as The Daring Escape of Beatrice and Peabody) featuring Beatrice who has been orphaned by her carnival parents. Bee travels with the show, helping Pauline at the hot dog stand and trying to hide the birthmark that covers almost half her face. Pauline assures Beatrice that the mark was put there by the kiss of an angel. When Pauline leaves to take a better job, Beatrice strikes out with a stray dog, a piglet, and an angel only she can see, to find her true home.

Kim’s newest novel is Chasing Augustus. Dumped with her grumpy grandfather when her mother takes off for California, Rosie’s only friend is her dog, Augustus. When grandpa tells Rosie she can’t keep a big sloppy dog like Augustus in their skinny apartment, she sets off on her bike, searching for her dog on a new road every day. Chasing Augustus was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Random House Children’s Indie Spotlight Pick. To read a sample of her luminous prose, visit 

Alexis O’Neill is the author of the acclaimed Estela’s Swap, Loud Emily, The Worst Best Friend Ever, and The Recess Queen. I interviewed Alexis when she had just come out with The Kite that Bridged Two Nations, a nonfiction book about young Homan Walsh who managed to fly his kite across the roaring Niagara River, a kite carrying the first line for the bridge that would connect the United States and Canada.

This past March, Alexis published Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children the biography of a pioneering photojournalist. It’s already Amazon’s number one title for Children’s American History of the 1800’s and garnered glowing reviews. Find out more about Alexis and her books at

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Author Roundup: Padma Venkatraman and Leslie Connor

When we last talked to Padma Venkatraman, she had just released her second book, ISLAND'S END.

Since then she’s published two more wonderful books. The first was A TIME TO DANCE, the uplifting story of a dancer struggling to recover from a debilitating accident.

Then came THE BRIDGE HOME, which I love, love, love. Apparently, others do, too, since it has won over twenty awards, including the Golden Kite and being named the middle grade Global Read-Aloud for 2019.

THE BRIDGE HOME is the heartwarming story of Viji and her developmentally disabled sister Rakku as they gather a chosen family and make a home in the dangerous streets of Chennai. You can listen to a sample. To find out more about Padma and her incredible books, visit her website Padma Venkatraman

Leslie Connor visited my blog back in 2013 to talk about CRUNCH the story of how a young boy with a bicycle repair shop copes when the nation’s gas pumps run dry. Every book she’s published since has been extraordinary.

ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK follows Perry, whose mother is incarcerated. He has grown up with her in prison, but the new district attorney insists he be removed and put into foster care. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry searches for the truth about her crime.

THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE gives voice to Mason, who struggles with reading, but always tells the truth as he knows it. The bully next door torments Mason, saying he is responsible for the death of his best friend, Benny, found dead in the Buttle family orchard.  When Mason’s new friend Calvin goes missing, Mason is desperate to find him.

Both these books won multiple prestigious awards and MASON BUTTLE was a National Book Award finalist. I expect no less from Leslie’s latest book, which just came out in February. A HOME FOR GODDESSES AND DOGS tells Lydia’s story as she deals with grief after her mother’s death and adjusts to life with her quirky Aunt Brat, her wife, and a troublesome stray dog. Learn more about Leslie Connor and her books at

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Kristin J. Russo: Iron Will

My guest today is Kristin J. Russo, author of over 20 nonfiction books for young readers, including titles in Capstone’s Facts and Fibs and What You Didn’t Know About Military Life series, and Cherry Lake’s Viewpoints & Perspectives library. A fun and energetic presenter, Kristin has taught writing and rehetoric at the university level for nearly ten years. An experienced editor, copy editor, indexer, and proofreader, she is also a dog lover, a surprising good tap dancer, and a terrible cook. 

Today she’s here to talk about her latest books in Full Tilt’s Iron Will survival series, Surviving the Storm, Surviving the Ice, Surviving the Cave, and Surviving in Space, and her Capstone Edge book: Survival, Facts or Fibs. These are books that I would have loved as a kid, packed with real life adventures. Loaded with great survival tips, they empower kids to face the challenges of our changing world.  (As I write this in the midst of the CORVID 19 crisis they seem more pertinent than ever.)

Welcome, Kristin, so glad to have you! Can you tell us about how this new series came about?

Hello Linda! Thank you for having me. I am delighted to be here.
I am a work-for-hire author and work mostly with editors who already have projects in mind and need a writer who can produce them fairly quickly. An editor reached out to me in August 2018 asking if I could write this series and have it completed by the end of October 2018. I said yes. With a few bumps in the road, as is the way of things, the entire writing and editing process was completed by spring 2019 and the books were on the shelves in September 2019.
This is often how work-for-hire projects go—very quickly and accomplished on very tight deadlines. It was a whirlwind, but I really loved the whole process of writing these books!

How do you go about researching books like these? Did you have any of your own adventures along the way?
I’ve traveled widely and had some fun adventures prior to becoming an author that have helped me bring nonfiction stories to life. Years ago, I explored a bat cave in Morocco, and I’ve visited several cave systems in the U.S., such as Howe Caverns in New York and Indian Echo Caverns in Pennsylvania. I drew upon those experiences to write about cave disasters in Surviving the Cave.
What’s fun for me is that though the nonfiction books I’ve written are technically about specific topics and include historical and scientific facts, in the end, they’re really about people and how humans can accomplish amazing feats in unimaginable circumstances. So, these science and history books are in many ways biographies, which I love to read and really love to write.

What surprising or fun facts did you unearth in your research?
When it comes to research, I’m lucky that as an adjunct professor of English and Composition, I have access to a university library that subscribes to a number of academic databases, so I can trust that my sources are solid primary sources or peer-reviewed and vetted secondary sources. For some events that are too recent to have scholarly work available—the Thai soccer team cave disaster, for example—I use up-to-date, trustworthy news sources and online interviews.
One discovery that was very powerful for me was realizing how supportive the families of the Thai cave disaster victims were of one another, and the strength of the bond they shared. There were 12 boys trapped in the cave, plus their coach, who was rescued last. When they started, the rescuers did not believe that they would have a 100 percent success rate, but they undertook the challenge anyway and hoped for the best. The boys were freed from the cave one at a time, and each rescue took eight hours. After days of gripping suspense, the rescue was a complete success after all! 
As each boy emerged, he was brought to a nearby hospital. You’d think that the families would have been so flooded with relief that they would have clung to their sons and gone with them to the hospital. But no, that is not what happened. All the families remained together at the cave site until the last boy was out. Then they went to the hospital together as a group. I am deeply moved by this. It wasn’t widely reported, and in fact there was no room for it to be mentioned in my book, but it’s a powerful thing and I’m glad that I know it. 

Wow, that is an incredibly powerful story. Has what you've learned through your writing made you look at life differently?
In the Iron Will series, I wrote about people who found themselves in scary situations, but through their own tenacity, endurance, and ingenuity, found a way to survive. None of the stories are the same, yet they all touch on the same theme—that our strong survival instinct comes with an indomitable spirit.
That is holding me in good stead right now, as I watch events related to the global pandemic unfold. We humans are capable of great strength and great courage and great hope. I know,
because it’s written in the history books, all of them—not just mine!

You’ve talked to me about “finding your people.” What does that mean for you and how did you go about it?
As an English major and later a teacher, I came to realize that many of the authors whose works I loved to read actually knew each other in real life. Edgar Allan Poe was friendly with Charles Dickens, who had a pet raven named Grip. Nathaniel Hawthorne lived next door to Louisa May Alcott, who lived down the street from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had a gardener named Henry David Thoreau. And so it occurred to me that if I wanted to find my place in children’s publishing, I would have reach out and look for a group of people who shared my passion for learning and reading and sharing and teaching. I would need to find my people.
To that end, I joined a few select professional groups, including the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Writers’ Loft in Sherborne, MA. I’m so glad I did! All of my opportunities as a writer and editor in children’s publishing have come from my association with the amazing people I have met in these groups. We all have so much in common! I am so very glad that I’ve found “my people” and that they have welcomed me. I cherish the many great friendships I’ve made in the kidlit community through the years.

What do hope young readers take away from your books?
I’ve written about Ada Blackjack, who, 100 years ago, survived being stranded alone without adequate supplies on an island in the Arctic Circle. I’ve written about survivors of the Dust Bowl, the sinking of the Titanic, the attack on Pearl Harbor, equipment malfunctions in outer space, Hurricane Katrina, and more.
I’ve written about people who were afraid, who felt lost and uncertain, and who experienced crippling self-doubt. I want my readers to know that that’s okay. That is going to happen. It’s part of the human experience. From my books, I hope my readers learn that it’s possible to harness their own courage, ingenuity, and indomitable spirits, and that they do have the strength to overcome the challenges they will face in their own lives.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Hello readers! I see you! Thank you for sharing your time with me here on Linda’s blog. I think you’re all brave, and strong, and wonderful. I’m sorry that we’re facing such challenges at this time, but thanks to Linda, I’ve found you and you’ve found me. We’ve found our people. Let’s get through these challenging times together.
To learn more about Kristin, please visit her website at

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Author Roundup: Mitali Perkins, Stacy DeKeyser and Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Thought you might want to revisit some of the authors featured in my past blogs to see what they were up to now.

Mitali Perkins just won a slew of awards, including ALA Notable Book, for her new picture book, BETWEEN US AND ABUELA.
A movie, based on her novel, RICKSHAW GIRL, will be released in May 2020. You can read our original interview here.

Stacy DeKeyser just released a laugh-out-loud novel, RHINO IN
RIGHT FIELD, which is up for a number of Children's Choice awards. Here is our original interview.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt's latest middle grade novel SHOUTING IN THE RAIN, is a New York Times bestseller. Check out our interview.

We'll catch up with more of my past guests in future posts!

Interview: Hayley Barrett

My guest today is Hayley Barrett, the author of three very distinct picture books.   In the lyrical Babymoon , a tiny new person has arriv...