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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with B.J. Lee and Review of There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed A

Here's another of those promised, or was it threatened (?), double posts. So many great books are being released this Spring. This one is the debut picture book of B.J. Lee.

B.J. Lee is a former librarian at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. She is an award-winning poet, musician, and former piano teacher. She enjoys getting kids excited about the writing process using story, poetry, and music. She is also working on a verse novel. She lives in Florida with her husband and their toy poodle, Bijoux.

In addition to all of that, she is now a picture book author. Her debut picture book There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth released January 28th.

Welcome B. J.,

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

B.J.: I write as much as possible. I have a work area set up in my living room with bookcases on either side and a reading stand so that I can have materials at eye level. I also write in my study at my computer. I have been writing since 1990 when I started writing a novel while still working as a librarian.

It wasn’t until 2009 that I started writing for children. I have to say my favorite type of book to write is poetry collections; however, since I understand poetry is a hard-sell, I tried to write other types of books.

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I married the same man twice.

Interesting answer. The "smart aleck" response is - "on purpose?" Where did the idea for There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth come from?

The idea was born when I saw a baby gator riding waves in a local lake. I realized how iconic and larger-than-life the gator is especially in Florida and the idea was hatched.

What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for There Was an Old Gator?

I’d say the most rewarding part was having the illustrations come together with the words. David Opie is the best illustrator I could’ve ever imagined for this book.

Is there something special you want your readers to know about There Was an Old Gator?

It is only one of a series of There Was an Old… books I have written.

So, there may be more on the horizon? Exciting. Who/what is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)


If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Try to do something you love for a living.

Great advice. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m working on poetry collections of course, more picture books of course, and a YA verse novel.

Any advice you can give those balance on the cusp of getting an agent or getting published?

Never give up. It can be exhausting. Keep an open mind. Listen to what people are saying to you in critiques and so forth. You never know what might come of a conversation or chance meeting.

What is your favorite animal? (Or one you are currently enamored with) Why?

I have a thing for pigs. My whole family does. I just think they’re so strange and cute and whimsical and silly all at the same time.

To find out more about B.J. Lee, or get in touch with her:

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth - A Perfect Picture Book

When I was in Italy recently, I visited the Medici Palace in Florence. They had an animal fashion exhibit which was both fascinating and at times revolting (an entire outfit made from beetle carapaces). In one room I found some outfits that reminded me of B.J.'s book. Mostly because, I think the wearer would almost look as though by an alligator had swallowed them.

There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed A Moth

Author: B.J. Lee

Illustrator: David Opie

Publisher: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. (2019)

Ages: 5 and up



Florida animals, folktale, and rhyming.

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble):

Gators and panthers and crabs, oh my! The classic cumulative tale There Was an Old Lady gets a Floridian flourish in this charming adaptation. Down in the southern swamps a hungry gator accidentally swallows a moth. Of course, he swallows a crab to get the moth! What will he swallow next? The gator predictably continues swallowing bigger and bigger creatures until the unexpected happens―all over the page! Along the way to its hilarious ending, the story―strengthened by the delightful illustrations―introduces readers of all ages to the many critters, both big and small, of the Florida swamp. With a familiar use of repetition and an abundance of rhythm, this silly story is perfect for read-aloud experiences.

Opening Lines:

There was an old gator who swallowed a moth.

I don’t know why he swallowed the moth.

It made him cough.

Why I liked this book:

This is a fun, regional tweaking of the well-known fable/tale "There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly." In addition to the gator, all the poor swallowed animals are from Florida.

Text © B.J. Lee, 2019. Image © David Opie, 2019.

David's fun illustrations increase the humor of BJ's rhyme. Especially the cut-away views of the animals all packed together inside the alligator. As with the original tale, the animals the gator swallows get increasingly outrageous, as the Old Gator tries to get rid of the moth.

Text © B.J. Lee, 2019. Image © David Opie, 2019.

Wait until you see the final animal poor gator swallows to get the fly. Unlike the original, no animals are harmed. They are a bit bedraggled and upset, but no one dies in this version. Not even the alligator. Though David's illustration after the author's note does beg the question whether Old Gator learned his lesson. It is a fun read aloud with a catchy rhyme and great muted toned wetland scenes and endearing animals.


- write or draw a story of the animals in your area that a gator could try to swallow;

- read and compare some other "There was a ____, who swallowed ____" stories; or

- make your own alligator ( and play along with the story.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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