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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - The Soaring 20's Spring Releases

The Soaring 20’s High Flying Picture Book Debuts is a group of authors and illustrators hailing from California to New York (and Canada!), who’ve joined together to help promote their 2020 debut picture books.

Be sure to visit their website to “discover picture book talent on the rise.” Their website includes “behind-the-scenes posts about how these books were made; resources for using these books in your classroom or library; places you can meet these talented authors and illustrators in person; and of course, GIVEAWAYS!”

Welcome Everyone,

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or draw? How long have you been writing and/or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

Rob Justus - Kid Coach! (2/4/2020) - Hello there! I’m author/illustrator/nice guy, Rob Justus. I’ve been writing and drawing seriously for the past five years now. A series of events nudged me towards changing my focus and career in life. It was scary and tough, but now here I am! I spend most of my mornings writing or drawing at a local coffee shop in downtown Ottawa, Canada. I generally enjoy writing and drawing fun, playful picture books. Ones with bounce in their step that have drawings that leap off the page! I definitely do not write quiet bedtime stories.

Elisa Boxer The Voice That Won The Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History (3/15/2020) - Hi! I’ve been writing children’s books pretty much ever since I could hold a pencil, but ended up in a journalism career (newspapers, magazines and television stations). I specialized in long-form reporting featuring underdogs and unsung heroes. I loved everything about the process: The research, the interviews, finding the emotional resonance and distilling it down to a story. A couple of years ago, I decided to parlay that focus into my current career, writing nonfiction picture books. I use that same journalistic process to highlight stories about underdogs and unsung heroes. I now work from home, and I am super excited that my first book releases this month!

Keith Marantz Clyde Goes to School & Clyde Likes to Slide (4/14/2020) - I started writing about 20 years ago. I don’t remember why actually. I never had an interest in doing so before that time. I felt compelled to start writing screenplays. I did write a couple first drafts, but after finding out how difficult was to get representation, I put writing on the back burner until recently. Now, I write anywhere at any time.

Larissa Marantz Clyde Goes to School & Clyde Likes to Slide (4/14/2020) (Illustrator) - I’ve been drawing since I was in Kindergarten and always knew I wanted to be an artist. Now, I have a studio in my home where I draw cute kids and animals every day.

Kelly Carey - How Long is Forever? (4/17/2020) - I’m a reformed insurance representative who tossed in her briefcase for creative dreams. I got serious about writing in 2007 when I took a correspondence class through the Institute of Children’s Literature. I sold my first magazine fiction story that year and then worked for 14 years to create the right manuscript, at the right time, for the right editor and publisher. The stars had to align with a lot of hard work and persistence.

I’m an empty nester now but when my three kids were still at home, finding time to write was tough. I declared every Wednesday to be Writing Wednesday. On Writing Wednesday, I didn’t do laundry, empty the dishwasher, cook, or even brush my teeth! Wednesdays were sacred writing days and it helped to make sure that I gave time and attention to my writing. Now I write almost daily.

I love it went I fall into my writing like Alice down the rabbit hole. When you are in the zone, you can look up and realize that hours have gone by and you hardly noticed. That’s what happens when you are doing what you love. [*Smile* I so agree!]

Qing Zhuang How Long is Forever? (4/17/20) (Illustrator) - I immigrated to the U.S. from China as a small child and grew up all over New York City, mostly south Brooklyn. I fantasize about being a nature person but feel best in cozy indoor environments so sketching and writing ideas on my bed is my favorite! I love a mix of something quirky, poetic and humorous. I think my artwork hints at these qualities. I hope to be able to write well one day!

Vicky FangInvent-A-Pet (5/5/20) - I've been writing for four years now, mostly in coffee shops or my writing studio. I write playful stories to inspire kids in STEAM. I've also started illustrating, which is fun and exciting!

Kjersten HayesThe Elephants’ Guide To Hide-And-Seek (4/7/2020) - I live, write, and draw in a century-old house full of color, books, pottery, art, music, and happy kid noises. I’m a lifelong artist even if I didn’t illustrate this book, collage is my favorite medium. My city and home overlook beautiful Bellingham Bay in Washington State. I like to gain perspective (and procrastinate) by staring out the window and enjoying the view. My favorite kind of books to work on are picture books that are either funny or filled with wonder.

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

Rob Justus - Everyone thinks I love fancy socks. Everyone tries to buy me fancy socks. These socks are ALWAYS too small. Rob Justus does not like fancy socks. [HA! You heard it here.]

Elisa Boxer – In my other life, I’m an environmental health activist. After getting sick from toxic chemicals used to build our new home, I began helping to pass laws here in Maine and all around the country for safer chemical policy, including getting BPA and other chemicals out of children’s products. And my father was a lawyer representing the polluters! But he has since switched over from the dark side. *wink* [That's amazing. Thank you!]

Keith Marantz – I still do not think of myself as a ‘writer.’ [Hmm, that nagging imposter syndrome.]

Larissa Marantz – I once had a job where I had to dress up as Elmo. [How cool is that!]

Kelly Carey - I grew up on a fish hatchery and my grandfather and father delivered trout, bass, and other fish to fish and game clubs and restaurants. I don’t like fishing or even touching fish, but sometimes when I went on fish deliveries, the restaurants would give me a delicious dessert – I do like dessert! [How unique & delicious.]

Qing Zhuang – I absolutely love New York City and its history. I am a very good listener and remember personal details and never forget them! I am not very good at remembering numbers or anything “useful” though. [Ha! What we do remember is so funny sometimes.]

Vicky Fang – I was once a game designer! For a brief moment in time (a loooong time ago), I designed online games for an awesome indie game company in New York. [That sounds fun!]

Kjersten Hayes – In my early twenties, determined to overcome a strong tendency toward being afraid of everything (also yolo!), I took paragliding lessons and got my paragliding license. I rarely tell anyone this because soon after I developed a fear of flying. This all seems amusing to me now—thankfully I’m no longer afraid of flying—but hey, I tried! And it was indeed a pretty amazing thing to do, even if it was umm…scary. [That's impressive.]

Now that we know you all a bit better, what inspired you to write your story?

Rob Justus - Kid Coach! (2/4/2020) - I’m just a huge wrestling fan. It is my guilty pleasure. When I wrote Kid Coach! in the shower, I was thinking of how wrestlers are amazingly colourful characters that can appeal to children. They’re larger than life! They do flips! Wear cool/hilarious costumes! They got it all!

From there, the story of a regular, boring old, couch potato dad trying to become a wrestler just came to me. I added in the role-reversal element of Kid Coach being the voice of reason to the aloof dad, then 100 revisions later Kid Coach! as you know it was ready for the limelight!

Elisa Boxer The Voice That Won The Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History (3/15/2020) - An email from my agent, Steven Chudney! He’s full of great ideas. In 2018, he sent me an email letting me know the women’s suffrage centennial was coming up and asked if I’d be interested in writing a picture book about it. From there, having always been drawn to changemakers and unsung heroes in history, I began researching little-known figures in the women’s suffrage movement.

When I found the story of the mom who saved suffrage, and when I learned that there weren’t any children’s books about her, I instantly knew this was a story I wanted to tell.

Keith MarantzClyde Goes to School & Clyde Likes to Slide (4/14/2020) - When our youngest daughter was five years old, she would incessantly ask us if we could get a dog. And every time she would ask, we would have to gently tell her that we were not ready to have one. After hearing the question over and over, I one day responded to her with the question, “why do we need a dog when we already have a hippo? She would look confused and then ask, “where is he?” “I don’t see him,” she would say. I would tell her that he was hiding in the backyard and that she should go look for him. That would buy us some time, but not much. I then thought the idea of a really big hippo hiding would be a great idea for a picture book, and thus, Clyde the Hippo was born.

Kelly Carey - How Long is Forever? (4/17/2020) - The nugget that inspired How Long Is Forever? happened when I was a teenager. I was with a friend when a song came on the radio and I excitedly squealed, “Turn it up! This is the best song ever.” My friend’s Dad scoffed and replied, “Really? This is the best song ever?"

That exchange stuck with me and became the kernel that launched the interaction between young Mason and his Grandpa. Mason is waiting for the first blueberry pie of the season and it’s taking forever. At least that’s what Mason thinks, until Grandpa asks him to prove it and sends Mason searching the family farm to find the meaning of forever. I loved the idea that what can seem like the best song ever to a teenager or what can feel like forever to an eight-year-old can be very different for an older adult.

By the way, my friend’s father was right. Thomas Dolby’s, She Blinded Me With Science was clearly NOT the best song ever! And Mason is going to find out that waiting for a blueberry pie to bake is not forever.

Qing Zhuang How Long is Forever? (4/17/20) - As the illustrator, I was drawn to Kelly Carey’s manuscript because it celebrates intergenerational love and its ability to live through things like say...blueberry pie.

At the end, nothing is forever, but love can be passed down through the generations and food can be the vehicle. For the illustrations, I referenced the Catskills farm that is operated by Manhattan Country School, where I currently work as a teacher.

Vicky FangInvent-A-Pet (5/5/20) - I used to design kids' STEAM educational products at Google. I wrote Invent-a-Pet to introduce basic STEAM concepts in an engaging and accessible way, particularly for girls and minorities. My goal is to inspire tech literacy and creativity for all kids!

Kjersten HayesThe Elephants’ Guide To Hide-And-Seek (4/7/2020) - The inspiration to write this book came from a personal challenge I gave myself to write a bunch of stuff really fast just for fun. At the time, I was trying to get over a creative slump. Guess it worked!

The idea itself though came from a brainstorming session where I pulled two separate ideas from my idea list together. One was to write a spoof guidebook, and one was a memory I had jotted down on that list. The memory was from when I lived in Malaysia when my son was little. We had come home from Malaysia to the Pacific Northwest at one point for a visit, and my son commented that the forest along the road must be where the elephants hide. While elephants do live (or hide) in forests in Malaysia, it amused me to picture them instead hiding in Washington State. So, the memory inspired me when I was brainstorming what to make a spoof guidebook about.

I love that there are so many different things that inspire books. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

Rob Justus - Honestly, I didn’t really read books too much as a kid. I read comic books. Lots and lots of comic books! It probably helped me with writing my graphic novel that’s coming out next year - Death & Sparkles (Chronicle, 2021). That said, I read a ton of comics from the 90’s by the likes of Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Erik Larson, and Frank Miller. But of all those comic books, it’s the comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes that I love the most. Each strip, each panel, each speech bubble or thought balloon is sheer genius. [Comic books count as books! Reading is reading!]

Elisa Boxer –Two come to mind. First, The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss. It has such a simple, strong message of sticking to what you know is true, regardless of what others would have you believe. I remember my parents reading it to me as a child, and it was one of my favorites to read to my son when he was little.

The second is Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig. Oh my goodness, I get chills when I think of Sylvester the donkey having been turned into a rock, and his parents searching for him while he’s right under their noses. We all want to be deeply seen, and this book always highlighted that for me. [Two great books.]

Keith Marantz – I was a Curious George fanboy. [Can't say I've ever met or heard of a CG fanboy!]

Larissa Marantz – I really loved Babar. [Me, too.]

Kelly Carey - I grew up in the same town as author and illustrator Stephen Kellogg. I have a signed copy of Stephen Kellogg’s Island of the Skog. It’s my favorite picture book not just because it’s a fun adventure story with great loveable characters, but because holding his book in my hands, the one he had written my name in with big bubble letters, and knowing that he lived where I lived, made me think, for the first time, that I could be a writer. It’s been a crazy stop-and-start journey ever since. [Books are so powerful!]

Vicky Fang – I loved Enid Blyton as a kid. My parents bought me a huge set of The Famous Five and I couldn't get enough of their awesome adventures and snacks… and pets! [I loved those books, too!]

Kjersten Hayes – My dad died when I was small. As a result, I was sort of traumatized with no words for it and often felt alone, even if my family loved me. Part if it was that I lived in rural Minnesota and was one of only three girls in my kindergarten class (the other two were cousins). So, I played alone a lot simply because there weren’t a lot of other kids. And because I was in Minnesota, I played alone in the snow. Maybe that’s why my favorite book was The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats. Peter felt like a friend. He might have been from the city and I from the country, but I related to his day of wonder playing alone in the snow—I felt like he knew me. [*Smile*]

It's such fun to see which books resonated with authors when they were children. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?

Rob Justus - Kid Coach! (2/4/2020) - Kid Coach! is not just for the wrestling fans. It’s a fun father-son book that also just so happens to be about sportsmanship and being a good winner. In today’s day in age, I think that’s important and sometimes forgotten in our over-the-top world.

Elisa BoxerThe Voice That Won The Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History (3/15/2020) - I hope that readers come away from the book with the message that their voices matter. And I hope it inspires them to stand up for what they believe in, no matter what society might be saying.

Keith MarantzClyde Goes to School & Clyde Likes to Slide (4/14/2020) - Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Larissa Marantz Clyde Goes to School & Clyde Likes to Slide (4/14/2020) (Illustrator) - Clyde is really Keith.

Kelly Carey - How Long is Forever? (4/17/2020) - features an adorable black and white barn cat. The text never mentioned a cat but I’m so grateful that illustrator Qing Zhuang let that cat be a part of our story. In addition to going on a search for their own forever, I hope readers enjoy spotting the barn cat on almost every page. By the way, I’m allergic to cats but book cats are the perfect pet substitute. No sneezing or itchy eyes with a book cat. Meow!

Qing Zhuang – How Long is Forever? (4/17/20) (Illustrator) - There is a tuxedo cat that follows Mason and Grandpa around on almost every page. See if you can find him!

Vicky FangInvent-A-Pet (5/5/20) - Invent-a-Pet is about problem solving, and functions, and inputs and outputs, but it's also about finding the extraordinary all around you! (Plus, there are lots of adorable wacky creatures.)

Kjersten HayesThe Elephants’ Guide To Hide-And-Seek (4/7/2020) - One fun thing about my book is that I chose a challenging voice for the heck of it, to see if I could do it. I wrote from the point of view of The Elephant Hobby and Sport League in the first-person plural. But then to complicate things, The Elephant Hobby and Sport League is speaking in second-person singular to another elephant. Just imagine the field day my critique group had with that clunky POV choice until hey—I finally got it!

This is such a great collection of inspiring, funny, and encouraging books. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?

Rob Justus - I would meet the Hug Machine, from the book aptly named Hug Machine (Atheneum, 2014). I like hugs, and this book was/is a huge influence on me becoming a professional children's book author/illustrator. [Ha!]

Elisa Boxer – My Nana (again). I wish I could introduce her to my son. [ ❤ ]

Keith Marantz – Either Albert Einstein or Carl Jung. [Wouldn't that be amazing?]

Larissa Marantz – Kadir Nelson is my all-time favorite artist/illustrator. [Definitely.]

Kelly Carey - I’m going to throw a tea party and invite a few female authors who made their publishing dreams come true in a time when women writers were hardly popular. Around my table you’ll find Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, Louisa May Alcott, and Mary Shelley. Pass the sugar, hand me a petit fours, and let’s dish! [This sounds like such a fun party!]

Qing Zhuang – As a child I would have loved to be friends with Harriet the Spy! I’d go spying with her and draw all the interesting people in my community. [What fun!]

Vicky Fang – Ah, this is hard! The person that comes to my mind is Stephen Sondheim. His shows and his music were such an inspiration to me throughout my life! [That'd be a treat.]

Kjersten Hayes – Even if technically I have already met him, I guess I’d choose my dad, who died in an accident when I was three. Because I’d like to meet him again and really get to know him, hang out with him, or create some memories I could hold on to better. [❤]

Thank you for sharing these wishes/dreams with us. Describe one thing you’ve learned from your journey, so far.

Rob Justus - Kid Coach! (2/4/2020) - The one thing I have learned along this journey is that you need to be patient. This is a marathon, not a sprint. So, if you feel like you’re never going to get signed, you just need to be patient. It will happen. You just have to keep working hard.

Elisa Boxer The Voice That Won The Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History (3/15/20) - I’m writing this amid the coronavirus pandemic, and if I hadn’t learned this lesson before, I certainly have now: Nothing is certain, so savor every part of the process that you can. And be super flexible! So many of my colleagues debuting this month are having to cancel events, book tours and school visits. My launch event has just been cancelled. But now the local indie where it was supposed to take place is offering free shipping nationwide. And authors and illustrators are stepping up in a huge way, using their platforms to support each other and boost each other’s books. Definitely lemonade out of lemons! We’re also connecting with teachers and parents to find ways to connect with kids during all of these school cancellations. I’m part of #writetoanauthor, so if you’re reading this, email me for my address, and I promise to write back to your child! [That is such a gift!]

Keith MarantzClyde Goes to School & Clyde Likes to Slide (4/14/2020) - It takes a team of dedicated and passionate people to make any book/project successful. There are lots of elements that need to come together to make it happen, and no one can do it all alone.

Larissa Marantz Clyde Goes to School & Clyde Likes to Slide (4/14/2020) - Making picture book illustrations is so much more than just pretty pictures. Creating narrative illustrations takes a lot of thought and planning, revising and finessing.

Kelly Carey - How Long is Forever (4/17/2020) - I had always thought that writing was a solitary endeavor - just the writer alone with their keyboard. But I’ve learned that being a writer means you get to be a part of this wonderful community of authors, readers, librarians, teachers, and bookstore owners. What I thought was going to be a lonely pursuit is actually a lively and fun party!

Qing Zhuang How Long is Forever (4/17/2020) - That growth is more important than being perfect. When I was in school, I used to feel very frustrated that I was not achieving some level I wanted for myself. I still feel those anxieties, but to a much healthier extent. I noticed that even though it took me a long time to become a published illustrator, all those years of updating my portfolio and showing up made a difference. As long as I am working hard and growing it is going to be okay.

Vicky Fang Invent-A-Pet (5/5/2020) - The kidlit community is amazing! I've been so grateful for my critique partners, my mentors, and everyone I've met online and in person—everybody is so supportive and wonderful.

Kjersten HayesThe Elephants’ Guide To Hide-And-Seek (4/7/2020) - I’ve learned that my best work (and best life and best relationships) come from play, adventure, humor, and wonder. Whenever I am stuck or afraid, I usually can find a path forward if I turn to these things.

Community and dedication are so important to success in children's literature. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?

Rob Justus - Well, since I’m a proud Leo, naturally my favourite animal is...elephants. They’re big, beautiful, caring, intelligent animals. I would even go as far to say they are majestic. I’ve always been fascinated by them. Plus, they’re fun to draw! Also, Bernese Mountain Dogs. I had one for ten years and he was the BEST! [Both, great animals.]

Elisa Boxer – The geese that have just come back for another season on our pond. They have goslings every year and it’s magical to watch them grow. I feed them every day, while the neighbors try to drive them away with rocks and pellet guns. I might have called the cops on them. [How fun.]

Keith Marantz – The koala bear. Still is since I was little. [Aww!]

Larissa Marantz – I love my little hippo. [*smile*]

Kelly Carey - I love birds. Maybe because I have a horrible voice and I wish I could sing and it would be awesome to fly! [Ha!]

Qing Zhuang – I love the typical pets, cats and dogs because while there are other awesome animals out there, I personally know some pretty cool cats and dogs and can vouch for them. Also, there is a very cute tuxedo cat in How Long is Forever? so there’s definitely that! [*smile*]

Vicky Fang – I have two small boys who love bugs, so I have a newfound appreciation for their pet blue death feigning beetles… But if I had to pick a pet for myself, I'd probably pick a kitten! [What is that? I couldn't resist sharing a photo for anyone else who isn't familiar with it.]

Kjersten Hayes – Elephants who wear glasses. No reason. Just kidding, check out the cover of my book to see why. [*Grin* I do love your humor!]

Thank you all for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you all great success with these book and in the future.

To learn more about these writers and illustrators, visit Soaring 20’s High Flying Picture Book Debuts @

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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