The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with the "Notable 19s"

June 5, 2019

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to thirteen authors and illustrators - The Notable 19s - who joined together to celebrate and help promote their books releasing this year. I promise, it's not too long a post. I do hope you enjoy this peek at some great books and fascinating creatives. 



"A group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. "



Welcome to all of you! Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/ draw? How long have you been writing and illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)  *[Note: Their photos link to their websites!]*


 Lisa Anchin – The Little Green Girl (4/2/19) I’m a Brooklyn-based author-illustrator, and I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil and making up stories since I could speak. I’ve been freelancing for the better part of a decade, working as a book designer to pay the bills and writing and illustrating in my spare time, though more recently, that spare time has been eaten up by caring for my 19-month-old daughter. My studio in our apartment is a haven for my work, but before my daughter was born, I loved working outside of our home. I often find it helpful to work elsewhere when I need a creative jump start. Pre-baby, I would hole up in a café with a bucket of tea and sit, doodling, dreaming, and stringing words together for hours. When the weather was lovely, I would make one of NY’s many parks my office for part of the day, often finding a shady spot in Prospect Park or on the Highline. I love to work on stories that feel a bit magical. It’s really satisfying to let your imagination run wild on the page.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins – Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature (9/3/19) I have been writing as long as I can remember. I started a graduate program in Children’s Literature at Hollins University and spent many summers reading and writing children’s books. However, during the school year, I didn’t make much time for my writing because teaching took up so much of my time and energy. When my second child was born, I realized I wasn’t going to find lots of time to write anytime soon, so I needed to make the time. That was 2009. I took myself much more seriously in 2012, starting a 5:00am writing routine that is still my favorite time to write. It’s the only time that no one really needs anything, and I can think clearly. After I get home from a full day of teaching, my brain is much and not much writing gets done. I subscribe to the idea that doing something consistently—even in short spurts—produces results.

     I really love writing nonfiction and poetry. My debut picture book is a marriage of the two. I also love writing longer fiction, but my current novel (after several in a drawer) is still in revision. 

Cassandra Federman – This is a Sea Cow (9/1/19) I’ve been doing some form of writing or storytelling since at least middle school. The only reason I know that for sure is because I cleaned out my parents’ house last year and stumbled upon a picture book that a friend of mine and I wrote for an assignment. Our teacher actually tried to get it published, which was very sweet of her, and upon rereading it as an adult, the book wasn’t half bad! But knowing what I know now about picture books, I wouldn’t say it was quite...errr... “ready for submission” either. Ironically, I basically gave up drawing in middle school because I decided I’d never be a good enough artist to illustrate comic books (my favorite books to read.) I picked a pencil back up about five years ago and have been drawing as much as possible to make up for lost time!


Richard Ho – Red Rover (10/29/19) I've been writing my entire adult life, but I only started writing children's books a few years ago (after our first child was born). It's been great discovering and exploring new corners of the kidlit landscape alongside our kids! I enjoy writing a wide range of picture books, from non-fiction (science and history) to wacky and everything in between. I do most of my writing on my train commute to and from my day job, and during evening coffee shop sessions after the kids are asleep.


Brooke Boyton-Hughes Brave Molly (4/3/19) In 2002, I earned a BFA in Printmaking from Colorado State University. In 2006, I went on to earn an MFA in Figurative Art from the New York Academy of Art. I have wanted to illustrate picture books since I was little, and I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2005 while I was in graduate school. I spent several years attending SCBWI conferences and learning how to put together an illustration portfolio. In 2011 I received my first book deal after exhibiting my portfolio in the SCBWI portfolio showcase at the summer conference in L.A. Now I work on book projects in a little room in my basement while my twins are napping or after they go to sleep at night.

 Jessica Lanan The Fisherman and the Whale (5/14/19) I first started seriously working on my writing and illustrating back in 2010 or so. I didn't know what I was doing so I went to some SCBWI conferences to learn about the craft. Like most aspiring writers, I collected lots of rejections. (Let's just say that it's a very good thing those early dummies weren't published.) Nowadays I like to work on all kinds of books. My favorite thing about working in this industry is the way that every project is different.


Stephanie Lucianovic - The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral (9/10/19) I have been writing for about 19 years now. First, it was internet stuff about pop culture and then it was food writing. Finally, in 2012, my first book was published in the adult trade market and I swore I would never write another book again. It was too stressful. I hated the feeling of looming deadlines and the fear that I didn’t know what I was doing. A few years after that, I picked up a book that changed my life. It was Julie Fogliano’s and then it’s spring. I realized I was so in love with the incredible, beautiful, inventive way picture books were being written these days that I wanted to see if I could do it. At the time, my oldest was 5 and my youngest was barely 1, so I worked during nap times and after bedtime. Now I sit on my bed and try to work between their school time and volunteering and other duties. It’s not always easy to make it fit but I love writing picture books so much, I try my best. 


Cathy Ballou Mealey When A Tree Grows (4/2/19)  I wrote my first picture book in 2010 to enter the Cheerios “Spoonful of Stories” contest. Even though Ozzie the Oyster was definitely not ready for publication, my prize was discovering a passion for the craft of picture book writing. After attending conferences, classes and workshops, I joined SCBWI, the 2012 - 12X12 Challenge and two critique groups. I have been writing, revising and studying ever since!



Shauna LaVoy Reynolds Poetree (3/19/19) I’ve always enjoyed writing but threw myself into writing picture books when I couldn’t read one to my son without thinking about characters I would have left out, plots I would have twisted in another direction, or endings that felt like crash landings. I had to try it myself!



Teresa Robeson – Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom (9/17/19) After immigrating to Canada when I was 8, I learned English and began to write poetry at the age of 9. I don’t remember why, honestly. My mother loved my work and encouraged me to continue writing. Unlike the stereotype Chinese parents who want their kids to be doctors or lawyers, mine wanted me to do a degree in creative writing or fine art.

     So, of course, I chose to pursue science instead because don’t all children rebel in their own way? But when I was stuck in a sucky job while my husband was completing his Ph.D., I turned once more to what gave me joy: writing (and some art). I took the beginners course from the Institute of Children’s Literature around 1991 and submitted a short story that grew out of an assignment to a couple of children’s magazines, It was immediately picked up by the wonderful Paula Morrow who was then editor of Ladybug Magazine. A few more sales followed, and I was hooked.

     But I never thought I could write an actual book back then, so I didn’t pursue that until after a hiatus from writing to raise and homeschool my kids. I began learning how to write picture books around 2011, and 8 years later, here I am. Guess I’m a slow bloomer. 



James Serafino – This Little Piggy (1/8/19) I love making picture books and I have been doing it for a long time, so I am very happy to finally publish my first book! I have always been an illustrator, I think. I was always making comic strips and stories when I was young, and I just never stopped. Now, I like to work on much bigger and more ambitious stories in my studio as much as time will allow!


Sara Shacter Just So Willow (10/19) I wrote my first (terrible) picture book just after I graduated from college. I honestly don’t remember what inspired me, but I’ve always loved telling stories and reading fiction. Soon thereafter, I signed up for a children’s book writing class, met “my people,” and was hooked! I worked on my craft for years (and I mean YEARS) before getting published, first in magazines and then by a book publisher. I write in my basement office, or in my kitchen, and my favorite type of writing is whatever my current work-in-progress happens to be. I love the energy of creating something new. How long have I been writing? Well, that terrible first book was penned in 1988 – you do the math!


 Hannah Stark - Trucker and Train (8/6/19) I live in New York City and teach third grade. I’m also a single mom to two young boys. In all honesty, my writing these days looks like scribbling lines into my notebook or typing ideas into my notes app on my phone. Developing my manuscripts takes a long time because my focused writing blocks are very limited. With that being said, I have many manuscripts at work. My hope is that as my boys grow more independent and my writing time increases I’ll be able to polish the pile of projects for the world to see. Since I wrote Trucker and Train, I’ve found myself really drawn to non-fiction topics. Three of my current projects are non-fiction or historical fiction. The research time is slow and long but fascinating. Right now, I’m feeling impartial to writing in any particular genre.


So many different ways to get started and hooked into creating children's literature. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


Lisa Anchin – I used to tap dance competitively when I was in high school. I love dancing, and I especially love the percussive, noise-making joy of tap. I took classes in the city even while I was pregnant with my daughter, but while I love tap dance, my knees feel otherwise. [Wow, tap dancing pregnant, I'm impressed.]

Marcie Flinchum Atkins – I’m terrified of chickens. Go ahead and laugh. But I am. No chickens for me after I was repeatedly attacked by a rooster in high school. However, I’ve written two unpublished picture books about chickens. [Not laughing, roosters can be mean!]

Cassandra Federman – I played action figures with my best friend up until college. I also LARPed (Live Action Role Play-ed) with that same best friend, which, in a roundabout way, led to me working in the indie-wrestling circuit on the east coast for a while. [Didn't expect that - wrestling!]

Richard Ho – I have a black belt in karate, which I hesitate to tell people about because I feel as though I've betrayed my Chinese heritage by learning a Japanese martial art!

[No judgement here - promise!]

Brooke Boyton-Hughes – From the ages of 12 to 17 I sang and played guitar in an all-girls country band. We traveled around the west and mid-west performing at fairs and rodeos.  [What fun!]

Jessica Lanan – When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to sleep in a hammock instead of a bed. I saved up my money until I could buy one and talked my parents into installing hooks in the walls. I slept like that for years. It was great because I could easily put it away and have the whole room to play in. [I love it! What a great idea.]


Stephanie Lucianovic - I have a tattoo on my back, just below my neck. I got it when I was 30 after I was laid off from my publishing job in Boston and my husband was finishing up his math Ph.D. at Harvard. It’s π which, at the time, had two meanings: it represented my husband’s work but also that I was going to culinary school … to make pie.

[Interesting route back to publishing.]


Cathy Ballou Mealey – I can fold a king-sized fitted sheet to crisp-cornered, shelf-square perfection.  [I'm impressed.]


Shauna LaVoy Reynolds – I can sing you the theme song to (almost) any 50s-80s TV show, whether I’ve ever seen it or not. Just one of my totally useless skills. [We do recall the darnedest things.]


Teresa Robeson – I once met Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, the TV series that raised me, at a promotional event for Star Trek: The Motion Picture in Vancouver! I am still kicking myself for not having the chutzpah to ask him a question during the Q&A.  [WOW!]


James Serafino – I kind of wanted to go into the film department in art school, but I didn’t think I could trust other people to be involved in my art process. I like to be in control of the whole thing, so writing and illustrating picture books is just right for me!  [*big smile*]

Sara Shacter – I cannot stand still when I brush my teeth. I wander around my bathroom and my bedroom.  [Thanks for the chuckle!]


Hannah Stark - I spent a couple of summers driving taxicabs in Montauk, New York. I loved the job because of its unpredictability. I never knew who was going to step into my cab and I heard so many amazing stories from the passengers. It was before cell phones were smart phones, so people really talked to each other. As a storyteller at heart, I loved these little windows into the lives of others. I laughed a lot during that job.  [Haven't heard this one yet!]


Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your story?


Lisa Anchin The Little Green Girl (4/2/19) It was entirely inspired by a morning sketchbook doodle of a tiny plant girl. At the time, I knew right away that this little character had a story to tell, and I remember quickly filling the page around her with additional character sketches and scratchy story notes. Her story evolved as I doodled, thinking that a little plant girl surely needed a gardener and a garden to live in.


Marcie Flinchum Atkins – Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature (9/3/19) When I wrote this book, I was a fourth-grade science and language arts teacher. I loved using picture books as read alouds to introduce concepts. I had to teach about dormancy, and I couldn’t find anything for kids about it, so I began to research. I thought I’d write a short article or book about dormancy in trees. Then as I began to research, I became more curious about other things that go dormant. I wrote the first draft in April 2015, during my last two months of teaching in the classroom. The next fall I started a job as a librarian across the state, but I kept working on the book.




Cassandra Federman – This is a Sea Cow (9/1/19) I spent a semester my senior year of college studying abroad in Belize. While there I did an independent study on manatees: tagging, tracking, and rescuing them. It was a life-changing experience and I wanted to pay tribute to this big squishy beautiful animal.




Richard Ho Red Rover (10/29/19) I've always been a huge space nerd, and I especially have a fondness for all things Mars. The Curiosity mission is such an amazing story, and the rover itself is on the one hand so valiant and intrepid, and on the other hand so earnest and adorable. The idea of this tiny rover roaming the vast Martian landscape on its own just resonated with me on a deep level. I thought it would be the perfect subject for a picture book!



Brooke Boyton-Hughes – Brave Molly (4/3/19) The seed of the idea for Brave Molly came in the form of a sketch that I made while attending an SCBWI conference. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and socially awkward and I made a quick drawing of a girl who reflected how I felt at the time. I imagined that she was being followed by shadowy creatures (the embodiment of my own shyness and social anxiety). The sketch stuck with me and eventually (via many, many drafts and revisions) grew into Brave Molly.


Jessica Lanan – The Fisherman and the Whale (5/14/19) I was at a music concert and one particular piece reminded me of a story I had heard on the news about an entrapped whale that was rescued off the coast of California. The idea clicked together at that moment, but it took another 15 drafts to get to the final version. In case you are curious, you can listen to the music yourself and tell me if it reminds you of a whale or not: (


Stephanie Lucianovic - The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral (9/10/19) One of our family cats had died unexpectedly and I wanted to tell his story and what he had meant to our family, especially to our oldest son with whom he was so patient and gentle. After wrestling with the writing of various versions of “pet death” stories, I remembered what I did as a kid when a pet died: having funerals in my backyard with my older sister. I started thinking about how one would write a picture book explaining backyard funerals and the first line came into my head: “First you need something dead.” And the rest of it just flowed out.


Cathy Ballou Mealey When A Tree Grows (4/2/19) My inspiration arrived during a woodsy family hike. As we trudged along, enjoying nature, we heard a distant creaky Crash! Was it a tree? An animal? We froze, and after a long silence, hiked on. I continued to wonder: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer? Building on that “OR” question, I framed a wacky story with two opposite possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny and unexpected. Readers will find the “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect. 



Shauna LaVoy Reynolds Poetree (3/19/19) It started with a title that popped into my head and wouldn’t go away. The story was inspired by the stories, songs, and poems that kids create. I also found inspiration in the way the world wakes up from its winter nap every spring.





Teresa Robeson Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom (9/17/19) My love of science and desire to raise awareness about the accomplishments of people of color, especially women of color, inspired me to write this book. 



James Serafino This Little Piggy (1/8/19) I had been writing long-winded fairytale type stories with lots of words and descriptions for a long time with no real success. So, as just a change of pace and kind of a challenge for myself to try something new I started writing a simple story about a kid with a pig, too much success!



Sara Shacter Just So Willow (10/19 )I, like Willow, am a tad type-A. Like her, when it snows, I hate to see the smooth, beautiful expanse of white get ruined by footprints, cars, etc. I remember, as a kid, trying to walk in the snow as lightly as possible so as not to damage it. That memory made me think, “Wouldn’t it be funny if a huge, heavy animal tried to do the same?” Hence my early drafts, entitled The Just So Hippo. Many drafts later, the story morphed, as did my main character – who is now a polar bear!


 Hannah Stark - Trucker and Train (8/6/19) When my son was three he was in a pre-school class made up predominantly of boys. Some of the kids had much more rough and tumble personalities than my son does. I was fascinated by how each kid used their budding personality, as well as, their body size, volume, and speed to sometimes take power over one another during play. At about the same time, my son was into trucks and trains. We spent countless hours lying on the apartment floor drawing roads on butcher paper and creating worlds using wooden interlocking train tracks. One day my son got really aggravated that the trucks couldn’t fit on and drive smoothly along the tracks. There was a meltdown and afterward we spent time talking about the differences between trucks and trains. This was when I first thought about a character named Trucker.


Inspiration truly comes from everywhere. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?


Lisa Anchin – I was a precocious reader, and most of my important book memories are as an older reader. I do remember poring over Gyo Fujikawa’s illustrations, and I loved the Jenny Cat books. However, most dear to me are chapter books like L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I love a plucky heroine, and the characters in these books felt like friends.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins – I lived overseas and we didn’t have public libraries, so I read my way around my small international school’s library. Most of my classmates had pretty large libraries at home, so we also traded a lot of books amongst ourselves out of necessity—we didn’t have TV or Internet. Buying English books overseas was really expensive. Our pediatrician was next door to an English bookstore. If we had to get shots, my mom would buy us a book! Enid Blyton books, any book about horses, and Sweet Valley Twins were some of my favorites.

Cassandra Federman – I loved this non-fiction picture book called The Value of Believing in Yourself, which was about Louis Pasteur developing the rabies vaccine. I didn’t just like the encouraging message though. Apparently I made my mom read one page where a boy gets bitten by a rabid dog over and over. I have no idea why. Maybe I liked being scared? My son loves to be scared too. Maybe it’s genetic.

Richard Ho – We had at least a dozen of the Berenstain Bears books, so I have fond memories of those! I also remember loving the Where the Sidewalk Ends collection by Shel Silverstein, and being enchanted by both the poems and the art.

Brooke Boyton-Hughes – As a child my very favorite book was probably Come Follow Me by Gyo Fujikawa. Her illustrations felt magical! The Little Moon Theatre by Irene Haas was another favorite. I loved that humans and anthropomorphic animals existed side by side in that story and her illustrations are full of lovely details and dreamy layers of watercolor. Other favorites were The Patchwork Cat by Nicola Bayley and William Mayne, The Clown of God by Tomie DePaola, and when I was a little older, Dinotopia by James Gurney.

Jessica Lanan – My grandfather would send the most beautiful book he could find for Christmas every year and those became quite a nice collection. I especially loved Trina Schart Hyman. My favorite book was Saint George and the Dragon. I remember trying to copy the exciting dragon illustrations. I also loved The Moon’s Revenge by Joan Aiken and illustrated by Alan Lee, which incidentally also has a dragon-like sea monster in it.   


Stephanie Lucianovic - One of my very favorite books as a child was Mercer Mayer’s Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo. I loved how jam-packed the pages were with all sorts of crazy creatures. Each time I read it, there was always something new to discover. Another favorite was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton because I loved the way she drew daisies and had a page with the phases of the moon.


Cathy Ballou Mealey – As I was learning to read, I loved the Richard Scarry Busytownbooks, colorful and carefully labeled. No doubt my love of anthropomorphic animals stems from those early reads!  My favorite read-to-me book was Corduroy by Don Freeman, and my all-time favorite picture book was Crictor by Tomi Ungerer. 


Shauna LaVoy Reynolds – I could not get enough of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary when I was a kid. (I still can’t get enough of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. They are national treasures!)


Teresa Robeson – There is a special place in my heart for Little Women because that was the first novel I read in 4th grade after learning English in 3rd grade. While I was learning English in 3rd grade, I read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. To this day, I can’t see the cover or read it without being transported back to the cozy, magical feeling that captures my first Christmas in Vancouver where I saw snow for the first time. Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is another favorite as it speaks to being true to your unique self and the power of quiet solitude; I was an introvert even as a kid. A final favorite is Small Pig by Arnold Lobel. I first read it in Chinese, oddly enough. The story epitomizes parental/familial love to me. In fact, my first ever published short story in Ladybug has a bit of a Small Pig feel.


James Serafino – Chris Van Allsburg without a doubt. Specifically, The Stranger is the book that I loved so much as a kid. All of his work is great and I am always in awe of his art. But for me The Stranger will always be the best. While I was in college I took a picture book making course and I rediscovered my old copy while on thanksgiving break and fell in love with it all over again. It is definitely the book that influenced me the most and convinced me I wanted to make picture books too.

Sara Shacter – I was a big Judy Blume fan. I still remember reading Blubber and having an epiphany regarding how brutal teasing can be. I love middle-grade fiction, as I write middle-grade in addition to picture books.


Hannah Stark - It would be weird to say anything but my mom. She sold her first book when I was 7 years old and is still writing and illustrating today. Her name is Marisabina Russo. I remember drawing under her art table and visiting the offices of Greenwillow with her. The editors used to let me pick copies of books I wanted from their book room. It felt like a free bookstore and I remember loving the time I spent reading in that room. Even though some of my mom’s early picture books made my childhood shenanigans public, I have always been in awe of the diverse list of books she’s written and illustrated. My mom was the one who encouraged me to finally show my writing to others.


Such varied early reading experiences! I saw some of my favorites, as well as many I have never seen before. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ? 


Lisa Anchin The Little Green Girl (4/2/19) The endpapers of The Little Green Girl were a fun addition to the book. They’re meant to be pages from Mr. Aster’s