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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview Amy Novesky and Gael Abray

Amy Novesky is an author and book editor.

Photo of Amy Novesky

She likes to write picture books about interesting people and places. Amy began making books at Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Thirty years and hundreds of books later, she has worked with authors, artists, agents, bookstores, toy companies, film studios, packagers, and publishers. Amy lives, writes, and rides just north of San Francisco.

Collage of Amy Novesky's eight book covers.

Amy’s the award-winning author of picture books include Girl On A Motorcycle, illustrated by Julie Morstad (2020), Cloth Lullaby, The Woven Life Of Louise Bourgeois, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (2016), Me, Frida, illustrated by David Diaz (2015), Langston Hughes' Lullaby, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2013), Mister And Lady Day, illustrated by Vanessa Newton (2013), Imogen, The Mother Of Modernism And Three Boys, illustrated by Lisa Congdon (2012), Georgia In Hawaii, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (2012), and Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh, illustrated by Belgin Wedman (2004)

Gael Abary is a Filipino-American illustrator based in O’ahu, Hawai’i with her family, a cat called Stella, and a retired racing greyhound called Storm.

Illustrator photo of Gael Abary

She started working as an illustrator many years ago in the fashion industry while studying metalsmithing at Parsons School of Design in NYC. Later she worked as a production director for a jewelry company before moving to Woodstock, NY where her daughter was born. Over the years of reading with her little one every night and spending days at the Free Library of Philadelphia, she developed a passion for picture books.

When she’s not making art, Gael enjoys having coffee at the beach, spending time with her family, and tending to her garden where she grows pineapples, calamansi, and Hawaiian chili peppers.

Book cover - young girl looking up at a crow perched on the title lettering.

Gael’s the illustrator of Crow Spirit, written by Debra Bartsch (2019).

Their newest picture book, If You Want to Ride a Horse, was released on March 12th.

Welcome Amy and Gael,


Hello, thanks for this interview!


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


AMY - I’ve been writing in some form since I was a kid; studied poetry and short story in school. And I have been writing picture books for nearly 25 years. I’ve long been drawn to writing (and editing books) about artists and, according to a recent starred review for this book, “admiring biographies of unconventional women and adventurous protagonists.” That was fun to read! That said, my books are shifting away from real people to real life, or at least my life and what I can authentically relate to, identify with, call my own—like horses and bees.

As for the actual writing, I think about it every day, but I don’t do it as much as I should. When I catch a spark of something I want to write, I write.

GAEL - I live and draw on the island of O’ahu in Hawai’i. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and never stopped. I had a job as an illustrator while in college where I studied metalsmithing, and I worked in a few different creative fields before finding my way to children’s books. I love drawing animals and people. I went through a phase when I was a kid where I drew horses obsessively, so this book is very fitting.


It is nice to get to know you both a little. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?


AMY - Atop a horse—actual and imagined. Not literally writing, of course; that would be dangerous, but working, nonetheless, on this story, in particular. I did similar “work” on the back of a motorcycle for my book Girl on a Motorcycle. But my most fun place to actually write is on a beach, on an island, in the middle of the ocean. [Sounds perfect!]


GAEL - The most fun was sketching horses at Kualoa Ranch while I was working on If You Want to Ride a Horse. I also went trail riding there through the breathtaking Ka’a’awa Valley (imagine riding a horse through 'Jurassic Park').


I totally agree with you both. One of my favorite horse rides was on the Big Island, Hawai’i at Kohala Na’alapa Stables. It was amazing! Amy, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for If You Want to Ride a Horse?

Book cover - girl standing head to muzzle with a horse with an orange and cream ray color burst in the background.

AMY – I was on a panel of editors with Taylor Norman, the editor of this book, and one of the questions was what kinds of books we were each looking for. Taylor mentioned she’d love to see a book about horses. I was in between writing projects, am always looking for the next book. I had just started riding again, at the age of 50, at the beginning of the pandemic, and it was a gift and a lifeline and a complete joy to write this book. I wrote the story for Taylor and submitted it exclusively to her, and she loved it and wrote me the most amazing offer letter ever. This book is as much hers as it is mine. I am deeply grateful she inspired me to write it.


That’s such a great convergence of events. Gael, what about the If You Want to Ride a Horse

manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page - hoofprints leading from lower left corner to upper right corner.

GAEL - I was already a huge fan of Amy’s work to begin with and have several of her books on my shelf. But when I read the manuscript it spoke to the child in me - I was that kid that dreamt of riding horses and also drew horses obsessively as if I had been training for this moment.


I know what you mean! But I was drawn to your cover as much as the premise of the book. What is the hardest or most challenging thing for you both about writing or illustrating If You Want to Ride a Horse? What was the most fun?


AMY – The hardest thing for me was making sure to get all the horsey details right (horse people know their um, manure, so to speak). Just the other day someone questioned my definition of “piebald.” Did I get it right? I don’t know. I did my best. And the copyeditor worked very hard!


The most fun thing was writing about something I love so much and which was a big part of my childhood, actual and imaginary. I discovered I was and have always been a horse girl and it’s been incredibly fun to step back into those riding boots again and more fully.


And, making this book with Taylor, who also rode horses as a child and is as geeky about them as I am, and with Gael, who is based in Hawai‘i, has been super fun. 


GAEL - Horses at weird angles are challenging for me to draw but studying their anatomy a bit helped. The birds-eye view of a horse galloping away is tricky to capture.


The most fun was drawing horses!


Despite the challenges, it’s obvious this was a love letter from you both to horses. How many revisions did If You Want to Ride a Horse take for the text or illustrations - from first draft to publication?


AMY - The writing trotted along fairly smoothly once I happened upon the rhythm of the story. That said, every story needs work. My amazing editor and fellow horse girl helped me to refine the story in about 3 or so drafts. [😊 Ha!]


GAEL - For the illustrations I did one round of sketch revisions and maybe another round of smaller edits before moving to final art.


Gael, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in If You Want to Ride a Horse? If so, could you share one or more with us?


GAEL - Yes! Because I felt such a personal connection to the manuscript, I drew myself as a kid as the main character. It didn’t start out that way; initially I thought I would draw a different child in each scene but little me took over.


That’s so cool! What's something you each want your readers to know about If You Want to Ride a Horse?


AMY - Even if you never sit atop a horse, you can still be a horse person. You can read about them. Write about them. Draw them. Collect them. While I was lucky enough to be raised in a horsey family and to ride briefly as a kid, I spent far more time reading about them. I wanted to write a book that made horses accessible to everyone, even if only in one’s imagination, where most of us spend the most time riding. If you want to ride a horse, all you have to do is close your eyes.


And, if you don’t want to ride a horse, that’s okay; this book is more broadly about dreams of all kinds. If You Want to ________ [fill in the blank]. What is your dream? What does it look like? What will you need to do it? How will you do it? Where will you go? Every dream is filled with hope, hard work, and maybe even literal dirt, heartbreak, fear, and sheer fun.


GAEL - Though it’s specifically about riding horses, this book is also about the power of imagination and dreams. I’m curious to know if readers will interpret the ending as something real or in the child’s imagination.


I don’t know, but as a child riding bareback on my half-Arab/half-Appaloosa horse felt like a cross between flying and heaven. Amy, when you first saw Gael’s illustrations in If You Want to Ride a Horse, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread? 

Photo of Amy Novesky and her horse Hula.

© Amy Novesky

AMY - Ooh, all of it. I love the warm, beachy palette. I love the peppermint-stripes/sunshine visual metaphor. I love the heartfelt connection between horse and rider. I love all the horses and horsey details. Most surprising, amazing, and delightful for me: the horse Gael chose to feature in the book was inspired by Hula, one of the first horses I learned to ride and connect with. Gael even captured Hula’s pale gray, flea-bit speckled coat.

Internal spread - a child 'soaring' across a beach barback on a horse, with arms outstretched.

Text © Amy Novesky, 2024. Image © Gael Abary, 2024.

And I think my favorite illustrations are the final three on a beach on an island in the middle of the ocean, as those lines were inspired by the island of Kaua‘i, and specifically a beach called Maha‘ulepu, where I’ve ridden, just like the rider in the book. Oh, and the case wrap (beneath the book jacket) is exquisite.

That is such a special gift! Gael, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one which is your favorite spread? 

Internal spread - carousel full of horses, with one trotting of and across the page.

Text © Amy Novesky, 2024. Image © Gael Abary, 2024.

GAEL - When I was being considered for illustrator of this book, I was asked to do a sample spread, and that’s when I drew the carousel. The horse colors were different on the sample I submitted, but it got me the job so I’m proud of that one. 


Your carousel is so fun, the horse galloping off reminds me of the scene in Mary Poppins. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


AMY - The Poet and the Bees, a picture book about the year poet Sylvia Plath kept bees, illustrated by Jessica Love, will be published by Viking next Spring (2025). I keep bees, too, and that was my inspiration for writing this book. That book will be followed by To Wander, a picture book about travel, far and near, but more so a metaphor about how to travel through life.


GAEL - I’m currently working on illustrating a picture book called Made For More, written by Chloe Ito Ward. The story takes place here in Hawai’i and it’s been lovely to draw from my surrounding landscape.


These books sound fun. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for them. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why? 

Photo of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

AMY - Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes many areas of San Francisco, as well the Marin Headlands, my backyard, one of my favorite places to be, and where I spend much of my time walking, writing, and riding. Miwok Equestrian Center (named for the indigenous Coast Miwok who inhabited the land) is an historic 150-year-old public property, one mile from the ocean, in the gorgeous Tennessee Valley in Marin County.

Kauai Waimea Canyon State Park ©  M Marshall

GAEL - I don’t have a favorite, but I’m lucky to be living in Hawai’i, where I’m surrounded by spectacular views - mountains, beaches, forests, cliffs, waterfalls… I have yet to visit the Volcanoes on Hawai’i Island. I think it would be very cool to go there and see a bit of Earth in this active state of creation. The formation of these islands is beautiful and fascinating.


The light and colors are surrealistic. This is a photo of mine from Waimea Canyon State Park. Thank you, Amy & Gael, for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your new picture book.

Thank you!

To find out more about Amy Novesky, or to contact her:


To find out more about Gael Abary, or to contact her:


Review of If You Want to Ride a Horse

 I adore horses and this cover is so enticing. It reminds me of a special horse I had when I was a kid. This is a great book for every horse-crazy (or soon to be horse-crazy) kid.


Book cover - girl standing head to muzzle with a horse with an orange and cream ray color burst in the background.

If You Want to Ride a Horse

Author: Amy Novesky

Illustrator: Gael Abary

Publisher: Neal Porter Books/ Holiday House (2024)

Ages: 4-8



Horses, dreams, riding, and horsemanship.


In lovely, lyrical fashion, If You Want to Ride a Horse introduces young readers to the joys of owning, riding, and caring for horses. It only starts with imagination—from there, the possibilities are endless.

Beginning with a daydream, our young rider goes from dreaming about a horse, choosing the ideal kind of horse, meeting the horse, cleaning the horse, tacking up in preparation to ride, soothing their horse through a hard moment, triumphantly getting on, and finally riding gloriously off down the beach.

Is it the best dream ever or a dream come true? It hardly matters: Gael Abary’s art makes even the most incredible fantasy feel possible, and award-winning author’s Amy Novesky’s unforgettable language is an ode to the power of dreams and self-belief to change any young child’s life.

The book includes an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, and tantalizing fun facts about horses and horseback riding.

Opening Lines: If you want to ride a horse,

all you have to do is close your eyes

What I LOVED about this book: Hoof prints across the title page lead into a shadowy silhouette of a child on a galloping horse across the dedication page and this enticing opening. It's wonderful, especially for horse-crazy kids who don't live in an area where they can ride or own a horse. A delightful celebration of horses and dreams. Using a second-person narration, Amy Novesky addresses the reader and Gael Abary's illustrations provide a surrogate child to follow.

Internal spread - girl at a desk drawing and dreaming of a horse.

Text © Amy Novesky, 2024. Image © Gael Abary, 2024.

I really enjoyed the combination of whimsy (a horse trotting off from a carousel) and information (various colors of horses) contained within the book.

Internal spread - carousel full of horses, with one trotting of and across the page.

Text © Amy Novesky, 2024. Image © Gael Abary, 2024.

What color will your horse be?

Black or bay?

Dappled like a starry sky, or gray?

Or roan, rose, blue, brown?

Golden chestnut, metallic, dun?

Once you've imagined the color of your horse, you're invited to think about the markings and special features, such as "stockings or socks? Feathered fetlocks?" Any markings on the face and its type of mane, "braided in buttons, straight or French plaits?" And then, of course, the most important thing - the horse's name. Be sure to check out the bridle of the horse in the image for a touching gift to Amy from Gael.

After the child breathes in the calm of the barn and meets her dream horse, we get wonderful spreads detailing the grooming tools, care guide, and equestrian gear and clothing. Gael's use of soft peaches, teals, and light greens in her mixed media illustrations add to the dreamy effect of the book.

Internal spread - on the left tools for grooming and a knot explanation. On the right, four illustrations of a child craing for a horse.

Text © Amy Novesky, 2024. Image © Gael Abary, 2024.

The final spreads offer a joyful and powerful ode to the amazing relationship between people and horses, imaginary or not. I am absolutely in love with the final few spreads. There is something amazing and magical when you have a special bond with a horse. Detailed information on the various breeds, markings, care, and styles of riding, as well as author and illustrator notes. This is a loving, beautiful book about horses.


Photo of seven of ten horse crafts.
  • create your own horse using some of these craft ideas and some of the colors and markings in the book.

  • have you ever ridden a horse? Write a story about the ride (where did you ride, what did you see, what was the most exciting part?) or draw a picture of the ride.

  • pair this with If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino and Hello, Horse by Vivian French, illustrated by Catherine Rayner.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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