The best yes ever

News / Videos

Some time ago, I wrote and dummied this story about a bear named Ursula (natch) who does water ballet. She’s training for the big water ballet championship with her friend Ricardo..

…until one morning, when they discover a new pool policy: NO BEARS ALLOWED!

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A Studio Visit with Paul O. Zelinsky

Interviews / Process / Studio Visit

Above: An original painting for Swamp Angel written by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Oil on wood veneer.

I was first introduced to Paul O. Zelinsky’s work when I heard him speak at the 2010 SCBWI Illustrator’s Intensive. I was inspired by the way his style changes depending on and in service to the story, so I was very excited when he recently agreed to speak with Liz and me at his Brooklyn studio.

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Sunshine covers!

Featured Books / Inspiration / Just Because


These three books are on my bedside table*; they make me happy. First and foremost, they happen to be fantastic reads that I highly recommend full of humor, heart and outstanding illustrations. I look at them and rearrange them often and even though I’ve finished them, I just don’t want to put them away. I think that has something to do with the yellow. I rarely use yellow in my work, it seems like a bold choice and an even bolder one for a cover.  But seeing these three side by side is a reminder that I should. I can’t get over how great they go together and most of all, how they make me feel just seeing them. I looked on my bookshelves and found only two other book covers that were yellow (both unremarkable books). Is this a trend in publishing and book design or is this just a happy circumstance?

Do you use yellow or have any noteworthy yellow covers? Tell me about them in the comments!

And make sure you check out their work:  Sara Varon, Allie Brosh, Marc Boutevant and the Ariol series written by Emmanuel Guibert.


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“If you are drawing characters really swing your cat.” Highlights From the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference

Events / Inspiration / Process

Above: My piece for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, an assignment for the Illustrators’ Intensive.

I am still riding an inspired high from last weekend’s SCBWI Winter Conference. I’ve been to the conference four times now and the Illustrators’ Intensive Day is always the highlight for me. Art Director Cecilia Yung’s interview of Tomie dePaola was fantastic. They structured the talk around a comparison of Tomie’s book illustrations and his costume and set design work. Tomie and Cecilia drew insightful parallels between the stage and the picture book spread and picture books and the theater in general. As an illustrator, you are the casting director, costume designer, set designer and director.

Cover from Fun With a Pencil. Brett Helquist says "If you buy one book on drawing, buy this."

Cover from Fun With a Pencil. Brett Helquist says “If you buy one book on drawing, buy this.”

Brett Helquist offered some great insights into creating memorable and engaging characters. He also encouraged us to practice every day. “Musicians practice daily,”  he said. We should practice things that won’t necessarily be published to refine our skills. His recommended reading: Fun With a Pencil and Creative Illustration, both by Andrew Loomis, and Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm.


An interior page from Fun With a Pencil by Andrew Loomis.

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Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book

Favorites / Featured Books
My Heart (click to enlarge)
Map of My Heart (click to enlarge)

I’ll never forget when I came across Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book while I was re-shelving books at the independent bookstore I worked at many yesara_fanelli_my_map_bookars ago. It made me chuckle that the bookstore had decided to shelve it in the non-fiction area under geography. Anyone looking for a map or an atlas would not find what they needed in this book. Though I’m not sure where I would have shelved it. After all, it is non-fiction.

It was so unlike anything I had ever seen. Really raw paintings, honest representations of mappable factors in a child’s life. These aren’t the kind of maps you would study in school. But they should be the maps that children be asked to illustrate for themselves.These maps make particular sense to me. I cannot tell you how many times as a kid I tried to imagine how the food I just ate all looked in my tummy at that moment. I often pondered the layout of my bedroom that I shared with my older sister, where my stuff ended and her stuff began. A few of my favorites are pictured here, but there are several more in the book just as engaging.

An added bonus: the book jacket unfolds to become a giant map. On the other side is a large blank area asking the reader to make their own map.

Perhaps I’m a sucker, but I get a lump in my throat when I look at my favorite of these maps: the Map of My Heart.

My Face (click to enlarge)

Map of My Face (click to enlarge)

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Events / Videos

This is a lucky time of year for New Yorkers. There are a bunch of fantastic things to get out and see in the world of children’s books. And it’s the usual suspects who offer us these great opportunities. Click the bold title for more details:

  • Writing for Children Forum at the New School 6:30pm on December 3rd. “A panel on the nuts and bolts of breaking into publishing. With Alessandra Balzer, editor, Balzer & Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins, and Joe Monti, agent, Barry Goldblatt Literary.”

If you have events, readings, exhibits, lectures, screenings anywhere in the country that you’d like us to share, please leave info in the comments or hit me up at

Endpapers (a short postscript)


Speaking of endpapers: I was at my friend Sarah’s recently, digging through her children’s books. (Sarah teaches third grade.) She kept handing me stuff, saying, “Oh, this one is GREAT.” Then she handed me Johnny Penguin, published by Doubleday in 1931.


My immediate reaction: “OH HELLO DELICIOUS ENDPAPERS.”


(Click to enlarge.)

Ah, the good old days of pre-separated artwork (some of which appears to have been prepared in lithographic crayon, yum yum!). These endpapers, and some of the interior illustrations, are printed in black, a lovely warm gray, orange, and turquoise. All I can say is that I would like wallpaper made out of this stuff.

Trick or Treat!

Show and Tell

Illustration from Miss Elephant’s Gerald, a tablet app based on a song by the Pop Ups.

A couple of months ago, the awesome Brooklyn-based children’s band The Pop Ups contacted me, asking me if I wanted to illustrate their jazzy Halloween song Miss Elephant’s Gerald. There would be animals. Playing instruments. Wearing costumes. Oh yes, I was very interested.

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Creatures of the Night

Show and Tell

Above: Opening image for Creatures of the Night, Real Simple Family 2013 by Robin Rosenthal

Art Director Tova Diamond at Real Simple asked me to create some illustrations for an article about sleep for their 2013 family issue. The article, titled “Creatures of the Night” and written by Naomi Shulman, details different child sleep behaviors and how parents can handle them. Each behavior is represented by a different animal.

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We Art Boston

Events / News

Above: Christoph Niemann: Petting Zoo, Limited Edition Silkscreen Print

Fellow art director Jenn McManus recently tipped me off to We Art Boston, an awesome online auction of original children’s book art that starts today.

Susan and Joe McKendry have collected over 100 original works of art from 50+ amazing children’s book illustrators and are auctioning them off online to raise money for the Emergency and Trauma Fund at Boston Children’s Hospital in memory of the Boston Marathon bombing victims. The auction runs through October 24.

A beautiful message from Susan and Joe, excerpted here, sums up the amazing generosity they encountered while putting this auction together.

“…As so many parents felt in those hours and days afterwards, I was certain that it very easily could’ve been us. We were anxious to find a way to help. As an artist, my first thought was to auction off a few paintings I’d created during the making of my first book, Beneath the Streets of Boston, and send the proceeds to the One Fund. But if I wanted to get involved, I thought, perhaps others would, too. I reached out to a few other children’s book author/ illustrators—David Macaulay, Matt Tavares, and Chris Raschka—to gauge interest in putting together a small collection of original art to be auctioned. Not only did every single one say yes, without hesitation, but they were so enthusiastic that they offered to help solicit donations from other illustrators as well.”

Read the full message here and check out all of the artwork here. A sampling of the great art for sale below…


Mo Willems: Elephant, Piggy & Pigeon, Blue Pencil on Layout Bond


Oliver Jeffers: The Great Paper Caper, Page 8 & 9, Print on Archival Paper from Pencil & Digital

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Animal Faces

Featured Books / Inspiration

animal_faces_satoh_todaI’m an animal fan (to put it mildly). When I came across this book, Animal Faces by Akira Satoh and Kyoko TodaI couldn’t believe my luck. It’s such a simple idea; take a bunch of portraits of one kind of animal and put them next to one another. What comes out is something truly amazing: we see how each animal is an individual. Personalities appear. The disparities in their markings or fluffier cheeks make a huge difference when you compare one to the others in her species.

It reminds us of the power of observation. It’s a book about discovery and gently questions you to find subtle distinctions in the 24 portraits of each species. You might assume that tigers are generally all the same, until you really examine their stripes and suddenly an array of patterns stand out.

It brings me back to when I first studied painting many years ago and the teacher really pushed us to spend far more time studying our subject than staring at our own canvases. We were all so worried about the mechanics of painting that we forgot to just spend time truly looking at the model. Taking time to stare deeply at things and to examine all the minutiae that surround us is incredibly important; not only for our craft.

I find this book extremely useful for illustration. It reinforces how one small tweak can bring out a different character, personality or emotion.

What do you like to really stare at? What inspires your illustrations?

Here are a few of my favorite spreads (and species) from Animal Faces:

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)



(click to enlarge)

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The Story With Endpapers

Featured Books / Inspiration / Interviews

Above: Endpapers for The Big Tidy Up by Norah Smaridge, illustrated by Les Gray.

I love opening a children’s book to find beautiful, surprising endpapers inside. Here’s a round up of some of my favorites.

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