Saturday, October 1, 2022

Nicole Tadgell: Watercoloring Windows into a Wider World


Nicole Tadgell, , is the award-winning illustrator of over thirty picture books. Her radiant watercolors capture the heart and emotions of characters from a variety of cultures and eras. Her goal is to bring stories to life while advocating for diversity in childrens literature. A winner of the Christopher Award and the Childrens Africana Book Award, her books have also been included on the Bank Street College, Smithsonian, and the New York Public Librarys notable lists. Her forthcoming title, Leaves to My Knees, written by Ellen Mayer, will be released this fall by Star Bright Books.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of this exuberant book. Camille, the main character, is determined to rake a pile of leaves big enough for jumping. Comparing her pile to her dads and her little brothers as she works, shes frustrated when a vagrant wind blows some of her leaves away. Will her pile ever be big enough for jumping? This sweet book gently supports math concepts of size comparison and measurement.

Thank you for joining me today, Nicole. Measurement is a tough topic to tackle in a picture book yet Leaves to My Knees is picture perfect for its young audience. How did you become involved with illustrating this project?  I was approached through my agent, Christy Tugeau with this project and was so excited as New England in the fall is spectacular!

After receiving the authors text for a book like Leaves to My Knees, how do you approach planning out your illustrations? How do you determine where the page breaks will be? Do you use thumbnail sketches? Do these have to be approved by the art director along the way?  I like to plan, and I have a method that works well for me. First I read the story many times, often with a sketchpad and draw thumbnails of what I see in my head. I can see page breaks where they make sense, and often the publisher has notations as to what they would like to see. In this book, they definitely did because of the leaf pile sizes. Yes, the team at Star Bright and I worked together throughout the project, it was a good process!

As illustrator, you are the one who determines what a storys characters will look like. What is your
method for creating characters? Do you use models? How do you manage to capture emotions so well?  I’m inspired by kids I know or memories of my siblings when they were young. I did use models for this book! My sister’s friend had two kids the right age. Their Dad was wonderful - instead of taking pictures of the kids playing in leaves, he shot video so I could pause and sketch. They were perfect! Original down to Camille’s double pom-poms and Jayden’s dinosaur coat. As for capturing emotions, that is hard to describe! I like to immerse myself into the world of the book, feel what the character is feeling.

What is your technique for varying your illustrations? Are you
conscious of plot arc and pacing as you work? Yes! I feel following the energy of the story and the author’s intent is key in finding what the story needs. In this book, showing the leaf piles clearly was a core intent, so I did my best to be sure everything stayed clear.

Ive seen some of your amazing fine art portraits. How is illustrating a book different from creating a piece of fine art? There’s more of a wandering, explorative process in my portraits. I don’t need to be concerned about many of the things I do in a book - like whether the character looks the same on each page. Or making sure there’s room for text, or being careful about color
choices for reproduction.

You have another career as the art director for an advertising company. How does that job intersect with your illustration work? Early mornings and weekends are my time for studio art! Sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to create watercolors for clients at the agency, which is always fun.

Many of the books youve illustrated are nonfiction or have a strong nonfiction component. What is your research like for books like In the Garden with Dr. Carver, With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School, or Fatumas New Cloth? How do you ensure that your illustrations are historically accurate? Do you visit the settings of books like Libertys Civil Rights Road Trip or Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town? I love doing research! It’s hard to pull away from it to start those nonfiction titles! Accuracy is important to me. I use libraries, the library of congress has an extensive image library, and I’ve even reached out to professional historical costume designers to check on clothing. I visit as many locations as I can, such as Nicodemus, Kansas.

The scope of your work is amazing. Your characters come from so many cultures and eras. Do you actively pursue projects that represent humanitys variety? Not yet! I do have ideas on writing my own stories, hopefully this will come to pass soon.

Looking back at all the books youve illustrated do you see a theme or thread that ties them all together? Love! Connection. Family. Friendships. A character with relentless curiosity and determination. These are what pulls me to each of these books.

Is there anything else youd like to share with our

readers? Knowing the season, I began with fall colors: reds, oranges, yellows. I felt that contrast would help our family stand out, so I chose cool colors for Camille and Jayden. I chose earth tones for Dad to make the kids stand out even more. Interestingly, in the images I used for reference the real leaves had lost their color, so I just painted them colorful. I did make our Jayden a bit younger than the model’s age. I found a place nearby that had an interesting fence and small leaf-filled yard. I watched as cardinals flit between branches and squirrels chased each other – inspiration came for the animal antics in the background! And finally, my partner Anthony was kind enough to pose as the Dad in the book!

Thank you so much for being my guest today, Nicole. I wish you all the best with the delightful Leaves to My Knees! You can find out more about Nicole Tadgell and her illustrations at






Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Nancy Tupper Ling: Poet, Children's Book Author, and Anthologist

Today I’d like to welcome the delightful Nancy Tupper Ling to Lupine

Seeds. A poet and children’s author, Nancy is a superb wordsmith who won both the prestigious Writer’s Digest Grand Prize and the Pat Parnell Poetry Award. Recently retired as a librarian, she is the founder of Fine Line Poets,, who seek to give voice to contemporary womanhood. Her children’s books include My Sister, Alicia May, Double Happiness, The Story I’ll Tell, and The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful. She also has a number of books for adults, including Toasts and Family Celebrations. 

Today, she’s visiting my blog as part of her tour promoting her latest title, For Every Little Thing. This beautifully illustrated collection of poems and prayers is such a lush celebration of life. What was the genesis for this collection?

Truly, it’s been such an honor to be work with the Queen of Anthologies, June Cotner. I’m amazed at all her book ideas that she’s constantly generating. The initial impetus for our anthology, FOR EVERY LITTLE THING, was to name it “Counting Blessings,” which was based on a poem by a long-time contributor, Barbara Younger. As we started gathering poems to inspire gratitude in a child’s day, I wrote a poem called “For Every Little Thing.” This became the title poem for our book and we began to refer to it as FELT in our daily emails. In March of 2018, we signed with Eerdmans and they hired the fabulous illustrator, Helen Cann to bring our poems to life.

You contributed a number of poems for this book. They are some of my favorites. Where did you find inspiration for poems like “Hearts in My Pocket” and “Tonight…”?

Thank you so much, Linda! I’m thrilled that you liked those poems. I wrote “Hearts in My Pocket” when our editor, Kathleen Merz, specifically requested a piece that would speak to families who have experienced divorce or separation. On the other hand, “Tonight . . .” was inspired by my daughter, Elizabeth, when she was about six-years old. We were visiting family in San Francisco, and after a beautiful day, she said: “Mama, tonight I will dream of the purple flowers, the ones that made you smile today. They’ll dance overhead. Their blossoms looked like fingers waving to the people. And I will dream that an orange fox sits beside me.” And there it was! Sometimes poems come to us as gifts and we need to be ready to receive them. 

Some of the poets represented in For Every Little Thing are quite famous, others are lesser known. Some are older poets, one is only eight. How did you hunt down the poems you wanted to include in this anthology? 

Great question! When we wrote the initial proposal, June and I included a variety of poets, dead/alive/famous/lesser known. Like you said, this requires a lot of research and “hunting down.” Since June has been creating anthologies for nearly thirty years, she has a database of over 1000 contributors. We also begin with a physical binder full of potential poems. Eventually, a “Call for Submission” goes out. We share the proposal as well, so potential contributors know what we’re looking for in terms of topics, themes, and chapters. As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts.

You worked on For Every Little Thing during the pandemic. Did world events influence you? 

By the time the pandemic started, our anthology was in the capable hands of illustrator, Helen Cann. She worked during multiple lockdowns in the UK. In her words: “I was grateful for such a large project that not only kept me employed when so many others were losing their jobs, but it kept my brain occupied at a time of great stress.” Helen blogged about this difficult time and I’ve added the link here because it’s such a heartfelt description of how the practice of gratitude and appreciation for “the smaller things” in life can really provide hope.

Helen Cann’s post is heartwarming, a great reminder that, even now, children and adults have so much to be grateful for. Who do you imagine as the audience of For Every Little Thing? 

According to Kirkus Reviews, FOR EVERY LITTLE THING contains “thoughtfully selected and prettily illustrated verses for religious households.” While this description is lovely, we’re hoping our selected poems are for every household, to encourage appreciation for little and big encounters in a child’s life.

Which came first, writing poetry or writing for children? How do the two aspects of your writing intersect? 

Poetry came first. Ironically, when I was young, I vowed that I would never write poetry since that was “my Mom’s thing.” (My mother, Jean Tupper, is a published poet) That attitude changed in high school when I had a fabulous creative writing teacher, Ms. Alice DeLana. By my senior year, I was winning prizes for my poetry. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but I didn’t start writing picture books until I had two children of my own. In 2005 I won the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize. Part of the prize was a flight to New York City to meet an editor or agent of my choice. I quickly realized it would be best to present my  children’s manuscripts that I’d been working on, rather than my poetry. Getting a picture book accepted is monumentally more challenging, and I needed all the help and advice I could garner.

My Sister Alicia May was your first published children’s book. Tell us about your journey to


In many ways, the Writer’s Digest prize led to my first picture book. When I sent my story, My Sister, Alicia May, to editor, Jean Cochran, at Pleasant St Press, the fact that I had won the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize definitely got her attention. Turns out she fell in love with the story too, which is based on two real-life sisters, one of whom has Down syndrome. Of course, I thought having one book under my belt would ensure others would easily follow. Ha! That was not the case. It’s been a long winding road, with lots of submissions, plenty of rejections, and conferences, workshops, and great critique groups mixed in along the way. 

Double Happiness is written in poetry. What was your process?

It took ten years before Double Happiness was published. It had so many different iterations, but it began as one poem. The poem was about a brother and sister who are bored on a rainy day, so they gather treasures around their house and put them in their happiness boxes. Each object lent itself to a poem. That was the easy part. The hard part was trying to sell the idea to publishers. Finally, one editor suggested it needed more movement. I thought hmm? Maybe it should have a literal move, from one part of the country to another. That was the storyline that sold to Chronicle Books.  

You’ve mentioned that you draw inspiration from your multicultural family. Can you tell us more?

Yes, my husband is Chinese-American, and so our two daughters are multiracial. When they were younger, I noticed there weren’t many picture books that represented children from blended families like ours. Certainly, this has changed in the past five years for the better, and I’m excited to see how many more choices and new authors await this next generation.

Do you have any advice for poets and children’s writers? 

My favorite bits of advice:

~Ask questions


~Be generous 

Even now I need to be reminded of all three of these. They may look simple, but it’s not easy for some writers to listen to advice. Sometimes we think we already know what we’re doing. I also hope I’ve become stronger writer in spite of or because of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. One of my favorite poetry teachers was a quiet, soul-filled man named Donald Sheehan who ran the Frost Festival in Franconia, NH, for many summers. Daily, he reminded the participants that while we might be desiring to break into the world of publishing more than anything in the world, if we’re unable to have a kind and generous spirit along the way, we’re missing the essence of the journey. I couldn’t agree more. 

Are there any new projects in the works? 

Just last month, June Cotner and I had another children’s anthology accepted. This one is entitled Bless the Earth: A Children’s Book of Prayers and Poems for Honoring the Earth and will be published by Keren Baltzer at Convergent/Penguin. We’re excited that this book will convey a spiritual perspective of caring for and appreciating the world, and will be the perfect way to acquaint children with the idea of respecting and being kind to our home.

Exciting news! In this time of environmental crisis, Bless the Earth sounds like a much-needed title.

Thank you so much for being my guest today, Nancy. I wish you the best of luck with For Every Little Thing, which is available for preorder here: or

To learn more about Nancy Tupper Ling and her work, you can visit her website at

Monday, September 20, 2021

Mary Jane Begin: Illustrator Doing the Work She Loves


Mary Jane Begins illustration career has been incredibly varied and prolific. A Rhode Island School of Design graduate, she is now a member of their Illustration faculty. Shes won multiple awards of excellence and held one-woman shows in places like New York, Beverly Hills, and the National Museum of Illustration in Newport. Shes created art for corporations and for childrens books.

Mary Janes art has an arresting larger-than-life quality, exemplified in her most recent picture book, Ping Meets Pang. Written and illustrated by Mary Jane, it will be released in July. When a red panda and a giant panda meet at the Panda Palace, they initially notice their differences, but soon discover the many similarities they share in this heartwarming and lushly illustrated book.

Welcome to Lupine Seeds, Mary Jane! Could you tell us about your inspiration for Ping Meets Pang?

I visited China a few years back and went to a panda sanctuary in Chengdu. I was delighted to see the sleepy giant pandas but was surprised to also see just over a large wall, red pandas racing up and down trees.  When I saw the red pandas I thought “THAT is a panda? It looks like a raccoon!” Then I imagined a red panda being rather annoyed by my comment. That led to the idea of the two pandas meeting unexpectedly, each incredulous that the other claimed to be a panda. I started to sketch out the two pandas, and named them Ping and Pang, Mandarin for ping pong, going back and forth with their rebuttals.  I imagined them initially in a much longer story, but realized it needed the text needed to be swifter like a game of ping pong. I started with some simple character sketches, then created the image of the cover that was actually the sample piece for the book.

You wrote and illustrated Ping Meets Pang, but you
ve also illustrated many books authored by others. How you approach an illustration project written by someone else versus one youve written yourself?

The beauty of writing a book myself is that I can ask the writer to change something, and she usually does it! Seriously, there’s something rather lovely about being able to bounce back and forth between the text and pictures, and make changes to strengthen the book, right up until the book goes to the printer. When you have creative control over the whole project, it’s easier to work on it as a whole, like the director of a film orchestrates all the players and makes the magic.

Your My Little Pony books and your Willow Buds books were part of a series. Does series work present any special challenges? Benefits?

When you develop a set of characters that need to adhere to a specific design and/or storyline, it’s more complicated, as you are building a larger world. For the Pony books, I had to pay very close attention, not only to the look established by Hasbro for the ponies, but also the world of the animation. They refer to it as “cannon” and the fans of pony would be upset if I broke with the established lore!  That said, I did explore my own style for the ponies, as Hasbro supported me in both creating original stories and bringing a special spin to the dimensionality of them. As to the Willow Buds, that was my own invention based off of the classic tale The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, and I had much more control. I did follow the established characters personalities though and made sure that the prequels were set in the right time frame based on the original story.

Your illustrations have a luminous quality, offering a glimpse of a magical world. How do you achieve that sense of hyper-realism?

Although I vary my materials from watercolor and colored pencil or pastel to watercolor and acrylic, I have a very specific layering technique that creates luminosity. My method involves layering colors based on Renaissance techniques and is also very focused on light. I’ve been obsessed with how light creates the illusion of form in a painting ever since I was a child, and am endlessly fascinated with how it affects color, both in the real and imagined world of a painting.

Youve also created art for Celestial Seasons, Hasbro, Disney, and Universal Studios, among others. Sounds exciting! Do you have any interesting stories to tell us?

I’ve done a fair amount of advertising illustration, a very different pursuit than working on books. With books, you work with a publisher, who gives you tremendous freedom typically. With advertising, the images are very prescribed based on the client’s desires. I remember painting a Celestial Seasonings package and having to count the exact amount of chamomile flowers that would be in the field, as well as make the shine of the Mama Bear’s nose on the right not the left side! My painting was quite small, about 4 inches by 9 inches, so it seemed like such a funny thing to focus on, but in the end, I was happy with the illustration, and it stayed on the box for many years.

What drew you to childrens literature? Which came first, your corporate work or your work as a picture book illustrator?

I was drawn to children’s books specifically because of one book: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg. I was in a drawing class at RISD as an undergrad and saw this book sitting on a desk. I was absolutely floored by the soft, gothic illustrations and the unusual story. I ended up taking several courses of Chris’s when he taught at RISD and fell in love with the idea of telling stories with pictures. When I graduated, I did both books and commercial work, mostly illustrations for elementary grade textbooks. As an illustrator, I’ve found that the staying power is all about having a few different sources of income, and a nice variety of projects to keep me creatively satisfied. Many artist’s need variety as their spice of life…maybe we get bored easily or maybe change and variation keep the juices flowing, but certainly, it’s a common refrain amongst creatives.

How has your style evolved?

My style varies between a more stylized way of working like the My Little Pony Books and Willow Buds series, to a more realistic approach like Little Mouse’s Painting or R is for Rhode Island Red. It is really dependent on what the project calls for, though it’s still certainly within a range that people recognize as my work. I can’t say that my style has evolved dramatically, but my openness to try different subject matter, and to work on fine art/noncommercial work has grown. I painted a series of landscapes and seascapes that pushed me out of my comfort zone with being object oriented and tested my ability to let things be soft and illusive in a painting. I did a charcoal series on breast cancer a few years back that was raw and emotionally expressive in a way that is very different than my children’s book work or my commercial work. Being an artist means taking chances and trying things you’ve never tried before.

You teach at the college level, offer professional workshops for adults, and visit elementary school classrooms. How do you manage to reach students across this broad age spectrum?

That’s an excellent question, one that I’ve never really thought about before! I think that storytelling is not unique to any age group, nor is the imagination. When I engage people, I try to tap into who they are and what they want to share.  With adults, I try to dust off their imaginations and re awaken their passion for creative ideas for making art themselves. As a Professor at RISD, I teach a lot of students who want to illustrate books.  In my role as Chair of Illustration for Hollins University MFA in Children’s Literature program, I work with students that are writing and illustrating books as they gain their master’s degree. With the kids, I play illustration games and create projects, as well as teach them about what I do as an illustrator.  In the end, I think that people of all ages like to look at images and hear stories and I have plenty to show and tell :)

Teaching, commercial art, book illustration, how do you juggle them all and keep your balance?

I do like the variety- it keeps me hopping creatively…and I enjoy the juggling. My brain tends to have 10 tracks running at any given moment. I think it comes from raising kids and all that multitasking, though when my kids were young it was harder for sure. Now I have more time, and the biggest challenge is carving out swaths of time to draw and paint for myself. I sometimes find that life stuff pops up and I’m swimming against a tide to get to the art making. Covid was helpful for getting me to stay put and work with focus for Ping Meets Pang. I finished that book in 6 months which is quite fast for me!

What is your advice for beginning illustrators?

My advice to beginners is to carry a sketch book and draw EVERYTHING! Draw from life, draw from your head…just draw.  The 10,000 hours rule definitely applies to illustrating. Be sure to learn about illustrators, both past and present as it helps to know context for the thing you want to do. Taking classes, finding the peers that support your interests, and giving yourself clearance to make art unapologetically, are all good places to start.

Do you have any new projects in the works?

I just started a new book entitled Mama’s Purse about a dog’s life. The idea started when I was getting my car fixed and had a conversation with the owners of the auto body shop about their Boston terriers, Oscar and Meyer. We talked about how hard it is to say goodbye to an old pooch, and how these two terriers- one old and one young- were amusingly attached to their mama’s purse.  A story began to form in my head shortly thereafter and it’s now written and being storyboarded. You never know when inspiration will show up, but when it does, you should always welcome it with open arms.

Is there anything else youd like to share with our readers?

I hope that they will check out my new book, as its theme is so important right now.

The book is about otherness, differences and friendship. Ping and Pang are both Pandas, but they don't look a thing like one another and that's a problem. Each maintains they possess the true qualities of being a Panda; the correct color, the size and shape of their ears, the even fluffiness of their tails. It is only when they realize what they have in common do they slowly appreciate each other's differences. The analogy to today's political and racial climate points to acceptance of the other side's differences and finding common ground. Here is a KIDLIT TV link of my reading Ping Meets Pang that your readers might enjoy:

My granddaughter loved Ping and Pang! Thank you so much for being my guest today! To find out more about Mary Jane Begin and the wide range of her work, visit her website at

Monday, March 8, 2021

Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo Finds Her Brave


Kids discover their inner BRAVE in Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s award-winning middle grade books.

In her first novel, Ruby in the Sky, Ruby has just moved to Vermont and she tries hard to be invisible, especially after her mom is arrested. But that isn’t possible when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian Refugee, declares he’s her best friend and when Ruby’s elderly neighbor, Abigail, reaches out to her. As Ruby’s mother’s trial date draws near, Abigail is about to be evicted. Will Ruby find the courage to speak out to protect those she loves?

Jeanne’s newest book, A Galaxy of Sea Stars, was released in February 2020. Izzy’s whole world has shifted since her dad returned from the war in Afghanistan. Her family lost their home when Dad could no longer fish and they moved into the marina that he’s running instead. Except Izzy’s mom didn’t move in with them. Izzy wants to forget all about the war, but she can’t when an Afghan family her dad knew overseas moves into the marina’s upstairs apartment. Their daughter Sitara is Izzy’s age and Izzy’s life-long friends make fun of Sitara’s hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food. As Izzy comes to admire Sitara’s bravery, she is forced to choose between her forever friends and standing up for Sitara.  

Jeanne, I invited you to my blog because I admired your writing, but after learning more about you, I admire you so much more. Before becoming an author, you had a career as a public defender. Can you tell us what your role was? How has that experience influenced your writing?

 Hi Linda! Thank you so much for having me. I admire your writing as well! For many years I worked in both private practice as a criminal defense attorney and later as a public defender. As you know, under the Sixth Amendment, the U.S. Constitution guarantees legal representation to citizens facing incarceration. I loved working as an attorney in the Connecticut Public Defenders office because of the high standards and passion its attorneys, social workers, investigators and support staff bring to the job. I’d like to think we changed people’s lives for the better. In court I got to experience the true power of story. Telling a client’s story in a way that a judge or jury will understand best can mean the difference between freedom and incarceration. I saw firsthand how the first version told isn’t always the true one, and that that there’s another side to every story. My clients’ courage inspired the character Dahlia Hayes (Ruby’s mom) in Ruby in the Sky. I met many Dahlias in my time, and I’m a better person for knowing them!

 You’ve said that your volunteer work with the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services was your inspiration for A Galaxy of Sea Stars. You interviewed a number of young women there and they helped you in crafting Sitara’s character. Tell us more!

 I began working with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services ( in New Haven, Connecticut, when I was writing Ruby in the Sky. Some friends at IRIS organized a book club with young men and women refugees who read Ruby. They generously shared their experiences coming to the U.S. as refugees, advised me on the character Ahmad Saleem, and helped ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the story. When we finished that project, six young women expressed interest in working on another book. Before I even began writing A Galaxy of Sea Stars, I sat down with Hilla, Asma, Nour, Maria, Safia and Deyana and began with this question: “If you could go back to when you first came to the U.S., what would you tell your peers that would have made your transition easier.” The unanimous answer was, “Be kind. You don’t know what other people have gone through.” From there we went on to discuss their experiences leaving their homes and families and friends and coming to the U.S. Through our conversations, the character Sitara was born. We met for close to two years as the ladies read several drafts of the book and offered their expertise and advice. I was sad when the project ended because I miss seeing them so regularly, but we keep in touch. They are truly inspiring and continue to do many amazing things. If you want to learn more about these wonderful women, you can read the interview at the back of the recently released paperback version of A GALAXY OF SEA STARS!

The immigrant experience is close to your heart, since you are the granddaughter of immigrants; how did that inform your writing?

 I grew up with my grandparents’ stories of the struggles they faced as immigrants. These injustices have stayed with me, so when I see xenophobia and prejudice continue today, I feel not only compelled to speak up, but obligated to. I only hope that my books serve to elevate the already powerful voices of immigrants and refugees.

Have you drawn on other aspects of your life to create these stories?

 My books are drawn from every aspect of my life. From growing up in a rural town as the granddaughter of immigrants, to handfeeding chickadees with our elderly neighbor, to being a shy kid who liked to hide behind her bangs, to worrying about losing friends when moving to a regional school. I am lucky that my mother saved all the journals I kept since I was a kid. Before I start each new book, I re-read them to remember how life felt for 10-year-old Jeannie. Then, I do my best to bring these emotions into my stories.

 You live in Connecticut, but Ruby in the Sky is set in Vermont and A Galaxy of Sea Stars is set in Rhode Island. Do you have a special connection to these states?

 My family and I spend a lot of time in both states. Although my books are set in fictional towns— Fortin, Vermont is inspired by Chester and Cavendish, and Seabury, Rhode Island is based on Charlestown and South Kingstown. Everything my characters do in my books—snowshoeing, boating, even measuring the pond—are based on things I’ve done. I’m so grateful for every second I get to spend in these beautiful locations!

Why are you drawn to writing about girls who struggle to find courage?

Probably because it has never been something that has come easy for me. In my books, I like to remind kids that courage might come in lots of different shapes and sizes, but it’s inside each one of us. The important thing is to find your own kind of brave.

What has your writing journey been like? Were you able to publish the first book you wrote? What was your revision process? How long did it take you to find an agent? Have you been helped by being part of a writing community?

I’ll try to give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version of a long answer! The first book I wrote was called Listening in the Snow, and no, it will never be published. I struggled to write that book and in fact quit writing altogether over its demise. But I think as artists, we can’t stay away from the things we love, so when I was ready, I eventually put pen to paper and began all over again with the line, “Sometimes people disappear…” which became the first words to Ruby in the Sky. As our good friend Lynda Mullaly Hunt has said, “the people who get published are the ones who don’t give up.” Lynda’s words really stuck with me and inspired me to persist. I eventually met my agent, the wonderful Stacey Glick, with Dystel Goderich and Bourret, through PitchWars. Stacey sold Ruby to my editor Janine O’Malley, at Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan. I’ve gone on to do two more books with FSG and (fingers crossed) will do many more! Of course, the writing community is instrumental in any writer’s success. I can confidently say that I would have never been published without the help the many friends I’ve met through NE-SCBWI!

(To access the phenomenal community that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators offers, go to )

You did a lot of hands-on research for both your books. What were some of the things you did?

If it happens in my books, I’ve done it, witnessed it, or both! I’ve snowshoed, got my boat license, experienced a middle school news production, measured Charlestown Pond with a knotted string and fishing weight, drove a boat through the breachway, and enjoyed a melmastiyâ feast. For my next book, Each of Us a Universe, I learned to rock climb (the steep stuff!) with ropes and a belay device, and even scaled a rock face at Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont. This kind of “active research” is my very favorite part of each book!

You’ve also taught English in Slovakia and worked on Capitol Hill. Did either of these experiences plant seeds for future stories? What can we expect from you in the future?

Working on Capitol Hill showed me the power of the spoken word. I was lucky enough to witness many powerful and persuasive speeches on behalf of issues I care deeply about such as poverty, homelessness, equality and justice. I had the privilege of working for U.S. Congressman Sam Gejdenson (D-CT) who fought for these things and was one of the first members of Congress to push for Universal Healthcare legislation. That experience constantly reminds me of the importance of speaking up and fighting for issues you care about.

 My next book comes out on February 1, 2022, and is titled Each of Us a Universe. It is about Calliope Scott (12), who, after her mother becomes sick with cancer, sets out with her new friend, Rosine Kanambe (12), to scale the impossibly tall Mt. Meteorite to find the magic she believes will heal her family.

I’m also currently working on a historical fiction set in Communist Czechoslovakia, inspired from my experience teaching English there.

Thank you so much for being my guest. I’m so glad that I had this opportunity to get to know you better and I can't wait to read Each of Us a Universe. To find out more about Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo and her books, visit

Thank you, Linda!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Matt Forrest Esenwine: Picture Books, Poetry, and Voice


Today I want to welcome picture book author and poet, Matt Forrest Esenwine  Matt started out in radio, working behind the scenes and on the air. He still maintains a career as a voice actor. But the publication of one of his poems in a college journal when he was just a high school student led to a passion for poetry that’s never waned.  

Matt has written poems for adults and children. His lighthearted verses have appeared in prestigious children’s magazines such as Highlights, and in numerous collections including many edited by the renowned Lee Bennett Hopkins. Matt’s picture books include the spooky Flashlight Night and the rollicking Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, which was co-authored by Deborah Bruss. Once Upon Another Time, co-authored by Charles Ghigna, will be out in 2021. And I hear there is a lot more to come. I can’t wait!

What draws you to poetry, Matt?

I always tell people that one of the main reasons I love poetry is that you can say so much in a tight, compact little package. A poem can be full of imagery, emotion, wit, and beauty – and you don’t need 500 pages, or even 32. And with my attention span, I love that I can write a short little scene in just a few lines and then move on to something else!

Is it difficult to get published as a poet? Is it true that many editors discourage submissions of rhyming picture book texts? How do you approach marketing your work?

It is difficult, but I think the more you get your name and work out there, the easier it gets. I’d been writing poetry since I was in high school, but had never been published as a children’s writer, so it took some effort to show decision-makers what I could do. A lot of beginning children’s poets feel that they need to write silly poems, or write poems that rhyme, or use simple words…and none of that is necessarily true. There’s a wide variety of poetry out there for kids and the one thing you don’t want to do is try to be the next Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss. Be your own writer and develop your own unique style.

As for editors, it’s true that many discourage rhyme, but that’s because they see so much bad rhyme: words that are simple or expected rhymes; slant rhymes, which are words that almost rhyme but don’t quite (man/hand, down/loud, can/pans); words that are used only for the sake of the rhyme and not to move the story forward; and uneven rhythm/meter. So in my cover letters, I rarely tell editors I have a rhyming PB, lest they develop a preconceived negative expectation – I just say it’s a PB and let them read it for themselves!

I created my blog back in 2012 as a way of showcasing my abilities – knowing how difficult it would be to promote my poetry – so that has been a very useful means of marketing. Taking part in online events like #PoetryFriday and #PBPitch has helped me promote and market my writing, and I’m very active on social media, which also helps tremendously. Moreover, having spent 25 years in radio as an on-air personality as well as a commercial production director, I’ve learned a lot about advertising!

Do you have any suggestions for those of us, like me, who’d like to sharpen our poetic skills?

I’d say the first thing anyone should do is read, read, read! As I mentioned earlier, so many folks just getting started are unfamiliar with the variety of children’s poetry out there:  the witty rhyming poetry of Douglas Florian, the understated simplicity of Charles Ghigna, the emotional insight of Nikki Grimes, the variety of voice and style of Jane Yolen. And there are so many others! Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, Rebecca Kai Dotlich…the list goes on and on, and that doesn’t even include the long list of past children’s poets who have come before us.

As for honing one’s craft, I suggest paying attention to the story or scene; don’t just rhyme a word because you need a rhyme, don’t use words or imagery that a reader might already anticipate, and definitely pay attention that you’re not speaking down to the reader. Kids are smarter than you think! In fact, don’t even worry about rhyming in the first place –free verse poetry is a wonderful (and quite popular) option, and is a great way for beginning poets to practice learning their subject and honing their skills without worrying about rhyme and meter.

What suggestions do you have for teachers who’d like to share poetry with their students?

Again, introducing children to a variety of poetry is crucial, because I think the reason many adults don’t appreciate poetry is because they were never introduced to the right ‘kind’ of poetry – that is, poetry they actually enjoy – as children. People who love Shakespeare might not like the work of Charles Simic; those who love poetry slams probably can’t get into Robert Frost. But it’s all poetry, whether it’s Jack Prelutsky or Kwame Alexander! A few books I recommend:

       Catch Your Breath: Writing Poignant Poetry, Laura Purdie Salas (Capstone, 2015)

       Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater (Heinemann, 2017)

       Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry, Myra Cohn Livingston (HarperCollins, 1991)

       Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader, Alice B. Fogel (Hobblebush Books, 2009)

You were one of the judges for the new poetry collection, Friends and Anemones. How did it feel to be on the other side of the desk, selecting poems instead of submitting them?

It was definitely an unusual experience! I’ve critiqued poems and manuscripts through critique groups and the SCBWI, but never in this particular situation. Kip and I used a spreadsheet program to vote 1, 2, or 3 (1 was yes, 2 meant good but needed work, 3 meant likely not) and then the editors compared our notes to theirs and we moved forward.

You wrote Don’t Ask a Dinosaur and Once Upon Another Time with co-authors. What was that like? How did you share in the creation of these books?

Jane Yolen has said in the past that co-authored books are twice the work and half the pay – which is funny, but true! However, the experience is extremely gratifying, as well, because you get twice the insight and joy of watching your baby grow with both “parents.” For each of these books, I was given the germ of an idea by my co-author, spent a great deal of time considering narrative possibilities, wrote the initial rough draft, and then worked with the co-author on 20 or so revisions before we’d finally polished it to the point of being submission-ready.

Even after the manuscripts were picked up by their publishers, it was a great deal of fun working on editorial revisions, bouncing ideas of each other and seeing what surprising, creative solutions we’d come up with. I’m actually in the process of submitting a poetry collection that is also a collaboration with a highly esteemed children’s poet, so fingers crossed!

Flashlight Night
was unique in many ways. You wrote it in second person, a device that invites the reader to participate in its adventure. You also the worked closely with illustrator in creating the book. How did this book evolve?

I wrote the manuscript after a long drive at night, when all I could see were my car’s headlights. The phrase, “Flashlight…opens up the night” popped into my head, and I had no idea what to do with it. So I worked on it as I continued my drive home and eventually nailed it down after a couple of weeks. I deliberately wrote it in such a way as to have the reader as the person on the adventure – there’s no “Billy did this” or “Sally said that” – there are no characters mentioned at all, save for the flashlight!

It’s interesting to note that a published author critiqued the manuscript and had a number of concerns, including:  a) I was using 2nd person POV; b) flashlights show reality, not imagination, c) a tomb was too scary for kids, and d) I needed a better opening line. Good thing I stuck with my instinct, or we wouldn’t have a book to talk about!

Illustrator Fred Koehler are Facebook friends, but we didn’t work together directly…although you might think we did! The seamlessness of text and picture are all due to editor Rebecca Davis’ magical juggling handiwork, keeping Fred and I apprised of what each of us was doing. At one point, there was one scene where Fred had a lot going on in a spread, but Rebecca felt it was taking the reader away from my narrative, so she had to “reel him in,” so to speak – but there was another part in the book where his sub-narrative of the flashlight showing the story didn’t really mesh with my initial ending, so I had to slightly alter my text to better match his vision. In the end, Rebecca’s work made for a beautiful blend of art and text, and the book has even been used as a mentor text for that very reason.

Once Upon Another Time
is coming out in March 2021. How exciting! What is it about?

It’s a poetic look at the natural world around us, what it used to be like before humans made their mark, and how we can all experience that world again. Charles Ghigna (aka, “Father Goose®”) initially shared with me the first 4 stanzas he’d written back in 2012; not knowing where to go with them, he asked if I had any ideas. So I thought about it for a while and came up with a proposal for a storyline, and sent it to him along with 4 more stanzas so he could get a sense of what I was thinking. Charles couldn’t believe how closely our writing styles matched, and suggested I finish writing the rough draft.

So that’s what I did! And after about a dozen revisions back-and-forth, we began sending it out. A lesson in tenacity and persistence to those who are just starting their publishing careers:  our manuscript was rejected at least 25 times before getting picked up by editor Naomi Krueger at Beaming Books. Twenty-five times – and that’s with the gravitas of Father Goose’ name attached to the project! So if you send out a manuscript once or twice and it goes nowhere, don’t give up!

You have an incredible number of other books in the chute. (Something like eight, right?) Certainly, something to look forward to in the future! Tell us more!  

Yes, eight more books under contract, including a board book to kick off the new year,
Elliot, the Heart-Shaped Frog (Rainstorm Publishing, 2021). I have two other board books on the way (possibly this year), a few more picture books, and a poetry collection I’m eager to talk about – but can’t yet!

Wow! That’s extraordinary! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I would just say that if you’re considering writing for children, do your homework and read as much as you can – not only to get a sense of the varieties of storytelling and books out there but to get a sense of the market. Learn as much as you can about craft, the industry, and the people already doing what you want to do. What’s that saying, “if you want to get better at something, surround yourself with people who are better at it than you?” That’s absolutely true! It’s what I did, reaching out to as many folks  as I could through social media as well as through the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).

In fact, I tell people I owe my entire career to lunch. I was attending my first SCBWI conference in 2011, and while chatting during lunchtime with my New Hampshire neighbor, the late Tomie dePaola, and SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver, I mentioned that I write poetry. Lin told me I needed to contact the late Lee Bennett Hopkins, since he was “the” children’s poetry guy! I had no idea who Lee was, but we eventually connected and he was so taken with my work he said he’d do what he could to help me with my career. He eventually introduced me to his longtime friend, Rebecca Davis, who would become my Flashlight Night editor and the editor for several of Lee’s poetry anthologies to which I’ve contributed.

So don’t forsake networking, don’t forsake learning the craft, don’t forsake revisions – and keep at it!

Thank you so much for being my guest today. Whether you’re interested in Matt Forrest Esenwine’s work as a children’s author or a voice actor, you can find out more at

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Valerie Bolling: Let's Dance!

Today I’d like to welcome Valerie Bolling, to Lupine Seeds. She’s a master teacher and the debut author of the foot stomping Let’s Dance!, a snap, twirl, and spin through the world’s dances.

Let’s Dance! is your first published book. Congratulations! It’s a romp to read and set my preschool audience off jiggity-jigging.

What was it like to see your book in print?

It was amazing, Linda! After almost two years from the time I signed my contract, I was able to hold the actual hard copy of Let’s Dance! in my hands, and it was a wonderful feeling. I felt a sense of reality, accomplishment, and gratitude. Furthermore, I was thrilled with Maine Diaz’s beautiful illustrations that really made my book “pop.”

Is Let’s Dance! the first book you’ve written? If you’re like most authors, you have manuscripts in the drawer which never reached the public but were valuable because they served as your apprenticeship texts. Can you tell us about your book’s predecessors and your path to publication?

Let’s Dance! is my first book that’s been published, but I have many other manuscripts. Some of them will be published, and some won’t. That’s just the way it works in the publishing world.

The predecessors to Let’s Dance! may never be available for the world to read, but they did spark my pursuit to get a book published, so I have no regrets about writing them. Two were inspired by my nieces, and I recently revised another – so significantly that it’s a different story. I’m hoping that one will get published.

As you know, Linda, the publication journey is different for everyone. Let’s Dance! was acquired as a result of receiving a “like” in a Twitter pitch (#PBPitch) in June 2018 by Jes Negrón, an editor at Boyds Mills & Kane. Jes and I had a phone conversation on July 2; I signed my contract later that month; and the book was published on March 3, 2020.

When I do school visits, I ask students to guess how many times I rewrote my first published piece. (Hint: more than 10, less than 20.) In a short rhyming text like Let’s Dance!, every word has to be just right. Did you have to wrestle with this story to bring it to perfection or did it seamlessly spring into being? How long did that process take?

So far, my stories written in sparse, rhyming text don’t require as many rounds of revision as do my stories written in prose. That said, my first version of Let’s Dance! needed revision. In fact, my first version had a different title: I Love To Dance. An author-librarian-storyteller-friend, Marianne McShane, provided feedback that helped me transform my story and get it submission-ready. I’m forever grateful to her because I didn’t have a critique group at the time.

You’ve said that it was important that your book represented children of diverse backgrounds. Did you find many “mirror” texts when you were growing up? Do you think that modern children’s literature offers a wider cultural perspective to readers?

Unfortunately, Linda, I don’t recall reading any “mirror” books as a child. I loved to read anyway, but I should’ve had the opportunity to see myself in books.

In recent years, there’ve been more diverse books, but we still have a long way to go. According to 2018 statistics reported by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, only 5% of authors are Black. That means that often when stories have Black characters, the author isn’t Black. (The CCBC didn’t report the percentage of Black illustrators.) We need more diverse representation in the publishing industry and in books. All children deserve to see themselves in books and to learn about others who are different from themselves.

Moreover, I want BIPOC children not only to see themselves in books but also to realize the possibility that they can become authors, contributing to a canon of literature that represents more diverse voices.

Promoting a new book during a pandemic poses special challenges. How did you approach that?

Linda, I approached the promotion of my book like a parent with a newborn. I wanted to hold it close and love on it, but I also wanted to share it and have it bring joy to everyone who held (or heard) it. Thus, I went after book promotion with a sincere commitment. I contacted librarians and bookstore owners; I reached out to bloggers; I responded to requests on social media for authors to read their books to students. I was open to just about anything.

I believed that children needed to hear my book. They needed to see children who looked like themselves as well as those who didn’t. They needed to know that we can all be connected through dance. In the midst of the pandemic shutdown, children actually needed to dance! And they still do.

You’ve been a teacher for over 25 years, working in elementary, middle, and high schools, and now serving as an Instructional Coach, collaborating with teachers to implement strategies which will bring out the best in their students. How has your teaching informed your writing?

The fact that I know kids informs my writing. Children are always at the forefront of my mind as I write. I’m always thinking about what message I want to offer them to dissect –what I want them to take away. I know, however, that children need to make these discoveries on their own.

When I was a classroom teacher, I stressed revision as an essential aspect of the writing process – the most recursive part. As a writer, I constantly revise. Thus, I have become my own student. My former students might find irony, or even humor, in this realization, but they wouldn’t be surprised.

Do you have other projects in the works? Can we expect to see more picture books, more poetry? Or are you exploring other genres?

Linda, I have a number of projects in the works. Currently, I’m starting my research to write a non-fiction picture book.

You can definitely expect more books from me – two are due out in 2022 and two more are slated for 2023. All are picture books, similar in style to Let’s Dance!

Terrific! I can’t wait to read them. Thank you so much for being my guest today. I expect to read many more of your books in the future. If you’d like to learn more about Valerie Bolling, you can visit her website at

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, Linda. In addition to my website, readers can connect with me on Twitter and on Instagram




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