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The Picture Book Buzz

The Perfect Picture Book Buzz - Interview with John Bray and Review of The End

First a bit of good news. The winner of the Fridge-Opolis giveaway is -

Beth Anderson


Now to introduce you to another wonderful author with a humorous and thought-provoking picture book.

John Bray is an author of books for children and an assortment of other things. He won a bookmark design contest in second grade and can only assume that’s what set his path for a future of writing. He lives in Chicago’s western suburbs with his son and a rambunctious dog who’s the size of a modest cat.

When he’s not writing, he’s probably running, lost in a book, or feeling like he should be doing something — anything — because sitting still isn’t one of his greatest skills.

His newest picture book, The End, releases September 13th.

Welcome John, thank you so much for coming by to talk about your newest book and your writing.

Thanks for hosting me, Maria!

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

I’m a freelance writer, so I’m constantly writing, but I divide my time between client projects and books for children. I focus mainly on picture books and try to do most drafting in the morning. I also like to run in the morning (especially in the summer to avoid the hottest part of the day), so that gets tricky.

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

I always say my first book was The ABCs of Origami (written for the Young Author’s program in 3rd grade), but I spent much of 1st and 2nd grade creating elaborate, single panel comics all ominously titled “Killer Tomatoes.” Page after page of small red circles holding tiny guns (the capital L turned on its side) with bullets flying everywhere. I still have no idea where the idea came from or why I was so committed to creating them (tomatoes on pirate ships, tomatoes in trees, etc.) but I had quite the collection. And they terrified my first grade teacher enough to call my parents in for a conference (which my dad found very amusing).

I have to admit, I can see where the teacher could be a little concerned. Where did you get the inspiration for The End?

Originally, it was a lyric from Semisonic’s “Closing Time” — "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end" — written by Dan Wilson. That eventually led me to a few lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”: "What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from." And everything grew from there. I like the idea of trying to make something intangible a bit more tangible, so I ran with the concept. In part, I think I wanted to explore the idea of endings and beginnings for myself, too.

Before illustrations, the story was still a little intangible (as words often are) and very conceptual, but Josh Cleland did an incredible job grounding the idea in something relatable. He perfectly complemented the written story while also telling a story of his own in the art.

I love the cat sidekick Josh added into the story! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

My favorite picture book as a child — and still one of my favorites today — was Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse! by George Mendoza and illustrated by Doris Susan Smith. Tragically, it’s out of print, but it’s wonderful. Some of my best book memories also come from my dad’s read-alouds of Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein.

That might explain the tomatoes. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about The End?

One thing I hope people realize is that, while The End very obviously deals with the idea of endings and beginnings, my plan wasn’t to educate or explain as much as it was to explore. My whole goal was simply to look at what it means to end and to begin.

It does raise a lot of questions and musings. How many revisions did The End take from first draft to publication?

Wow. I don’t entirely remember. There was one fairly significant revision under the careful eye of my editor at the time, Allison Hunter Hill, but before that? Several. Many. To give you a better idea, the original manuscript — the very first draft — was nearly 1000 words and the final book is under 400. So, it went through several phases along the way. Fortunately, I’d done most of that before my publisher saw it.

*Smiling* What was the toughest aspect of writing or revising the book?

Losing the 600 or so words I cut from the first draft. I know The End is better without them and those major edits needed to happen, but I still struggle with cutting. But I’m much better than I used to be.

I think your Kirkus starred review shows it was worth the work. When you first saw Josh Cleland’s illustrations in The End, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © John Bray, 2022. Image © Josh Cleland, 2022.

Everything surprised me. I knew what I saw in my head, and somehow Josh took things in a completely different direction while also perfectly matching what I had in mind. Not being an illustrator myself, I thought it was a challenging story to illustrate — and it might have been! — but I think Josh really understood what I was going for. As for a favorite spread, that’s an easy question. It’s the spread on X-X. In part because I love the fort, but the main character’s facial expression is perfect. Flawless.

Oh I remember building forts like that! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’ve always enjoyed wordless picture books and, over the last few months, I’ve spent time reading as many as I can get my hand on because I’m currently drafting a wordless book. I don’t want to share too much, but I will say it’s about plants and learning how to write in only art notes has been a fun challenge.

I can imagine. Good luck with it! Lastly, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Does the Upper Peninsula of Michigan count? It’s technically not any of those things, but so much of it feels like a gigantic wilderness. Or at least it did when I was young. I grew up blocks from Lake Superior, biking distance from Sugarloaf Mountain (which is actually a picturesque hill with brilliant lake views), and driving distance from too many densely wooded areas to count, including Little Presque Isle which probably qualifies as a park. After a couple of years in college, I couldn’t get away quick enough and all of my family has since moved away, but sometimes I long to go back.

Of course it does. Thank you, John for participating in this interview. It was wonderful to get to know you.

To find out more about John Bray, or contact him:

Review of The End

Well, when I started out, this was supposed to be a review posted on the book's release date. But then the date got bumped to September 13th. Just when you think the suspense will end and you can welcome the book into the are still just floating in the middle of pre-release anticipation. So, just like the book, instead of an "End" post, this is now a Sneak Peek "middle" post. Hope you enjoy an early look at this fun and thought-provoking book on endings, beginnings, and boring middles.

The End

Author: John Bray

Illustrator: Josh Cleland

Publisher: Starry Forrest (2022)

Ages: 3-7



Humor, connections, beginnings, endings, and curiosity.


The end of one thing is the beginning of something else. But what comes next? That’s up to you.

At once silly and smart, The End shows how a line we often read in books can also be found in real life. If you are eating lunch and you finish your sandwich, that’s the end of lunch! If you stop looking for your lost pair of socks to read this book, that’s the end of your sock search!

Bray also reminds us that there are more parts to stories too: “THE END of one thing is the beginning of something else. And the beginning of one thing is THE END of something else.” There are also THE BEGINNING and THE MIDDLE of everyday activities too.

This picture book is bound to entertain young readers who love to ask questions, read funny stories, build blanket forts, and complicate the passage of time. With “charmingly whimsical” (Kirkus Reviews) illustrations by Josh Cleland, this is THE END of endings as you know them!

Opening Lines:


What? It is! Oh.

You're probably

confused because

this book is just


But it is still


What I Liked about this book:

So, although that opening might be confusing on its is 100% clear with the illustration that "THE END" of the school year is the beginning of both summer vacation AND, coincidentally, the book. Sparking an intriguing thought and the book's premise - a single moment in time can be both an ending and a beginning. And a book could start at the end.

Text © John Bray, 2022. Image © Josh Cleland, 2022.

At times, both endings and beginnings are welcomed and celebrated. Few kids would feel "the end of the school year" is a horrible thing to be 'accepted'; but instead a moment (both as an end and a beginning) for joyous celebration. Likewise, a tedious search for a matching sock could end happily when you decide to read instead. The narrative thread is contained within Josh Cleland's boldly colored illustrations which are packed with enthusiasm and fantastic facial expressions of both the pigtailed, dinosaur-loving child and her adorable orange tabby cat. While the text contains more an instructive feel; an intellectual investigation of the relationship between endings, beginnings, and a bit of the middle.

However, change can be tough and endings can be frustrating or infuriating - especially when something you enjoy doing ends before you are ready - such as when rain ends adventuring. (I love this cat!)

Text © John Bray, 2022. Image © Josh Cleland, 2022.

But what if, like the child, you find you're actually in the middle of your adventuring and you've just had a change of location - instead of an outdoor adventure, you're creating and exploring the most amazing dino-cave fort inside.

Text © John Bray, 2022. Image © Josh Cleland, 2022.

But as these two eventually discover, even great adventures come to an end. Because "you can't be in the middle forever. That gets boring. Boredom is THE END of fun." Josh's feline sidekick is unbelievably cute. Pushing items about to help build the fort and mirroring the child's energy and emotions. The only thing worse than a bored kid is a bored kid with a bored cat. Though once the boredom is acknowledged, the cat wisely leads the child and the reader off the page to a new adventure.

When something ends, something else begins. School's end means the beginning of summer and one adventure after another. Some good, some not so great; but always leading to the start of another adventure. Until that dreaded moment every year, when summer's end means the beginning of a new school year and . . . even that might not be what it seems. John and Josh do a fantastic job of bringing everything full circle with a fun nod to "THE END" we saw at the beginning of the book!

This is a lively and imaginative exploration of the concepts of endings and beginnings, and the idea of change. And while change can be tough sometimes, not all endings (or beginnings) are "bad." Kids will enjoy the adventures of the child and her cat as they navigate through a summer of beginnings and endings. As well as the author's apparent flipping of a book's format on its head. It's a delightfully fun book, especially for the start of a new school year.


- using pillows and sheets or blankets, or one of these ideas, make your own indoor fort.

- can you think of other connected beginnings and endings? Do all beginnings have an end? Can you start something and it never end? Can anything begin without something ending first?

- what is your favorite thing to do during summer break? What do you like about getting ready for a new school year?

- check out THE END activity sheets (here).

If you're near Geneva,'s an upcoming reading and signing event:

Saturday, September 17, 1:30 - 4:00pm


216 James St,

Geneva, IL

[Isn't that a cool Indie bookshop name, building, & mascot? Wait until you see inside!]

To be the first to know about other upcoming events,

sign up for John's newsletter and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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