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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Maria Gianferrari & Jieting Chen, Review of Ice Cycle & Giveaway

Today, I get to visit with the talented Maria Gianferrari and the amazing up and coming illustrator Jieting Chen about their collaboration on the phenominal picture book, Ice Cycles. Plus there's a giveaway!

Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. And as a lover of dogs, Maria’s fiction picture books star dogs as main characters and explore the human-canine bond. She writes from her light-filled, book-lined study in Massachusetts with rescue dog, Maple at her side.

Maria’s the author of Being a Dog (2022), Bobcat Prowling (2022), Be A Tree (2021), Whoo-Ku Haiku (2020), Play Like an Animal (April 2020), Terrific Tongues (2018), Hawk Rising (2018), Operation Rescue Dog (2018), Hello Goodbye Dog (2017), Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars (2016), Penny & Jelly: The School Show (2015), Officer Katz and Houndini (2016), and Coyote Moon (2016).

For additional information on Maria, see our earlier interview (here) and (here).

Jieting Chen is a New York-based illustrator, animator, and designer. With years of experience, she produced and directed several award-winning short animation. Her illustrations are strongly influenced by oriental paintings. The point of views are delicate and sensitive.

She’s the illustrator of Stop That Poem! by Eric Ode (2021).

Their newest picture book, Ice Cycle: Poems About the Life of Ice, releases TODAY! Happy Book Birthday to you both.

Welcome Maria and Jieting, thank you so much for coming by to talk about yourselves and your newest picture book.

Thank you for having us, Maria!

Let’s start with you Jieting. Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you illustrate? How long have you been illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to illustrate?)

JIETING - I have been fascinated by art since I was little, and I never thought I would do anything else for a living. I went to college and graduate school majoring in traditional animation. So, I came from a background of moving images. It was up until recently I decided to move into the world of illustration. I enjoy it so much and I feel very fortunate to have the chance to make books for young readers.

It is hard to pick a favorite type, but I love illustrating books that focus on people’s emotional needs. Children are very sensitive and I hope my book could help them facing their internal needs and adapt to difficult situations.

I am so glad you decided to bring your beautiful art to children's books! What do you both like to do outside?

JIETING - I am usually an indoor person. But when I feel stressed, I love walking dogs in a nearby dog park. I love the fact it looks and feels so different in different seasons. Though it is just a small park in the middle of the city, I can feel how time leaves a mark every day.

I also go play tennis with my wife sometimes. I am a terrible player, but I think the pure fun of playing is the best part!

MARIA – I love watching birds, and wandering in the woods, just taking in the sights, smells, and sounds. There’s always something new to discover, especially very cool mushrooms. I’m very fortunate that we have a nature trail bordering our backyard. It’s easiest to get there in the winter when the poison ivy is buried under snow and there are no ticks. Though I technically live in a city, we have spotted all kinds of wild creatures in our yard—we even had a yearling black bear who visited in June as well as coyotes, bobcats, wild turkeys, cottontails, chipmunks and all kinds of woodpeckers and songbirds.

Those both sound like wonderful places to spend time. Maria that sounds like my backyard (except I have stinging nettle instead of poison ivy). Can you each share the name of an author, illustrator, and/or perhaps a book that made an impact on you as a child?

JIETING - One of my favorite books is called When the Moon Forgot by Jimmy Liao. It is a picture book illustrating the fallen moon meeting with a lonely boy. They keep each other company and share a journey together. The moon grows bigger and bigger and eventually must go back to sky. They have to say farewell, but the moon will always shine at night to warm the boy’s heart.

I just graduated from primary school when I read this book. And I was having a lonely moment because I had to leave my friends. This book healed me and gave me the courage to say goodbye.

MARIA – One of my favorite picture books was called Miss Twiggley’s Tree, about a shy woman who lived in a treehouse with her dog, Puss, and some bears—my introvert dream come true!

My love of nonfiction was also evident back then. I had a well-worn copy of a book called Shark Attack that was scary and fascinating and when I was very young, I used to pore over a state dictionary that listed state birds, flowers, flags, capitals, mottos, nicknames, etc. I loved re-reading it.

I also read and re-read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, and I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins. I wanted to live alone on an island with dogs. Are you sensing a theme here? At the time, I wasn’t aware of their problematic and stereotypical portraits of native characters. I wish the young me could have known and read Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark book series back then. I know the younger me would have loved it too.

Yeah, two 'new' books for my TBR list. Maria, what was your inspiration for Ice Cycle: Poems About the Life of Ice?

MARIA – This book has a very specific inspiration story. Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher at Lerner, and I worked together on another book, Play Like an Animal, and I have been following her on Instagram where she posts lovely and interesting photos. A few years ago she posted these gorgeous and feathery photos of frost. I was wowed by their intricate beauty, and began looking into ice and crystal formations and I was equally wowed by what I discovered, and Ice Cycle was born.

So many book ideas are spurred from random pictures. Almost justifies our time spent on social media. Jieting, what about the Ice Cycle: Poems About the Life of Ice manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

JIETING - I love the fact it tells a story without human figures. I could really focus on illustrating the beauty of mother nature throughout the book. Ice itself is an interesting topic that has a lot of possibilities. I could experiment with different color schemes by putting ice into different settings – lake, ocean, ice cave, daylight, sunset, etc. I had so much fun illustrating it.

That element of fun shines through the illustrations. Maria, as a collection of different poetry forms, how did writing and/or revising Ice Cycle differ from Whoo-Ku Haiku? What was the toughest aspect of writing of this book?

MARIA – Whoo-Ku is a series of haikus, and it has a narrative and seasonal structure whereas Ice Cycle is separate poems about different kinds of ice. I wrote the poems separately, and then had to figure out how to string them together as ice forms on land and sea ice. The most challenging part was getting the science right, especially when it came to the sea ice, and land formations of ice at sea. We were very fortunate to have had the help of Dr. John Cassano, Lead Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Center and Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science. He’s also a Professor at UC Boulder. He carefully reviewed my text as well as Jieting’s illustrations to ensure scientific accuracy, and we are so grateful for his expertise.

Interesting. Thank God for experts. What's something you both want your readers to know about Ice Cycle?

JIETING - I learned a lot of new knowledge about ice in illustrating this book. I did not know that ice has this many forms, and it could even make sounds in some circumstances. Nature is very magical, and I increase my respect for it every day. To me, ice is like a mirror. It is reflective and can be shaped into anything. It shows that how we treat the earth results in how it treats us back.

If someone could gain interest in ice after reading this book, it will be a blast to me.

MARIA – That it’s a celebration of ice, both visually in words, and in Jieting’s artful illustrations, and also aurally—there are so many fun ice formations that are like found poems in a way—hummocks and bummocks as well as pancake, cat, and dragon skin ice which are so evocative. Poetry seemed the best way to celebrate both the visual and the aural aspects of ice.

I'm pretty sure that your readers will gain a greater appreciation or interest in ice. Jieting, what is your favorite medium? What do you find most challenging about illustrating picture books?

JIETING - I am working digitally. I use Photoshop for most of my projects. I like it because it is very forgiving, and I can make adjustments at any stage of a project.

The most challenging part – also the most satisfying part – of illustrating picture books, is to keep the rhythm of the story. Coming from an animation background, I usually treat each book like a short film. I want to be able to visually lead the audience through the book, build up their anticipation, and give them the best part when the highlight is anticipated.

Even for a non-fiction book like Ice Cycle, I needed to think about how to distribute visual information. I want the readers to gain knowledge where they need to, and still follow full-spread illustrations where they can relax and enjoy the poetic side of the text.

What a great description of the inter-play of text and illustrations. Maria, how long did it take from the idea for Ice Cycle to publication?

MARIA – I first had the idea several years ago upon spotting Carol’s feathery frost photos. I started researching ice and discovered so many fascinating things that I knew I had to share and celebrate it. Then it took multiple drafts to find the right format, and to get the science right. I would say it was approximately five years from idea spark to publication.

Jieting, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Ice Cycle? Could you share one or more with us?

JIETING - This is such a fun question! I absolutely love leaving my personal marks on illustrations! I did not do much in Ice Cycle because it is an informational non-fiction book. However, in one spread, I added a light tower. It is my favorite light tower color combination of a game, where I can build my own island.

How fun! Maria, when you first saw Jieting’s illustrations did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2022. Image © Jieting Chen, 2022.

MARIA – I love Jieting’s art and the color palette for our book! She did such an amazing job! It’s so hard to pick just one spread—there are so many details that I just love, from the threads on the hair ice spread, to the feathery frost. There’s something special about the perspective and the energy in the Sea Ice Flows spread, with the ship sailing through the ice floes. It’s so eye-catching.

I totally agree with you that all of her spreads are magical. Jieting, is there a spread you are especially proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2022. Image © Jieting Chen, 2022.

JIETING - I would not say it is my “favorite” spread, but I really like the one where we have most of the page covered by ice cap, and a single ship is riding in from the right side of the page.

It is a relatively quiet spread where not much is happening. But for me, it is very immersive scene, a rest point for the readers to enjoy the beauty of ice. As I mentioned in the previous question, this spread is designed to slow down the story, and to get the audience prepared for the ending. I hope it makes sense.

Definitely makes sense and it is restful. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

JIETING - There is one book I am very excited about. It is based on a traditional Chinese poem of an emperor’s queer love. I feel it is important to let kids know that we were celebrating love of all kinds through our history. This book is planned to publish in 2024 and I cannot wait for it to be released.

MARIA – I have been re-visiting and revising a manuscript on rats that I hope will some day find a home, though it’s a hard sell. They make wonderful pets, and I had a special bond with our first pet rat, Sky. My daughter recently adopted two rat boys, Walnut and Clover. Aren’t they cute?

Although I am not comfortable with rats, these three are cute. We will keep our eyes open for your upcoming books. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

JIETING - I have been wanting to visit Acadia for a long time! I visit Maine almost every year but never had the chance to drive up to give Acadia National Park a visit. It is one of the places that is on my bucket list, but I always miss for some reason. I really hope I get to visit it in the next year or two.

MARIA – Another difficult question! We drove cross-country to spend a year in San Diego for my husband’s year-long sabbatical (2011-2012) and we were so fortunate to have visited many national parks along the way. I love trees and temperate rainforests and was in such awe of the ancient redwoods when we visited Redwood National Park on our way to SD.

I’d LOVE to visit Saguaro National Park. We were supposed to go on our trip home back in June 2012, but it was a sweltering 118 degrees, so we had to pass. I have a picture book manuscript on saguaros and am captivated by the desert landscape and its many creatures. I hope it will soon find a home somewhere!

Thank you, Maria and Jieting for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with both of you.

To find out more about Maria Gianferrari, or contact her:

Penny & Jelly Website:

To find out more about Jieting Chen, or contact her:

Review of Ice Cycle: Poems about the Life of Ice and Giveaway

I adore Maria Gianferrari's books and really looked forward to this collection of poems about ice. I found her concept of 'the life of ice" intriguing. The playful interaction of the poems and illustrations make this such a fun way to explore ice.

Ice Cycle: Poems about the Life of Ice

Author: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrator: Jieting Chen

Publisher: Millbrook Press (2022)

Ages: 5-9



Ice formations, poetry, nature, and science.


Pancake ice, floebergs, glaciers, icicles . . . cold temperatures create an astonishing variety of ice forms!

From Maria Gianferrari, award-winning author of Play Like an Animal!, comes a beautiful collaboration between verse and science. Brief poems and ethereal illustrations introduce readers to the many different types of ice on land and at sea. Fascinating back matter provides additional information about water as a solid, liquid, and gas, as well as more details about the unique forms of ice mentioned in the poems. Celebrate winter with this evocative and atmospheric exploration of ice!

Opening Lines:

Ice Is Born

From freezing water,

Bonds settle into order.

Shapes unfold,

Temperature and vapor mold.

Lattice facets

Crystals form habits.

What I LOVED about this book:

From this opening spread, we know we are in for a wonderful treat. The end of the first poem, "Lattice facets/Crystals form habits," hints at the wonderful use of language that Maria Gianferrari employs. Unexpected rhymes, unusual words, and delicious combinations make the poems so fun to read. While this gorgeous color palette of blues and teals, along with the floating ice bergs carrying the individual ice habits, "plate, pyramid, needle, column, and dendrites," are so intriguing and sweep the reader into the book.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2022. Image © Jieting Chen, 2022.

Throughout the book, the moments in the cycle are represented by the titles of the poems. Like a child, Ice Grows; frosting windows and trees. Through an open window, we not only glimpse ice's delicate frosty designs on the glass and branches, but watch two kids (note the one in red galoshes) playing in the snow.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2022. Image © Jieting Chen, 2022.

Ice Grows

Frost ferns.

It swirls and curls.

Its fronds unfurl.

It binds and winds

Its feathery spines.

Maria and Jieting follow as Ice Flows across plants and the ground (growing hairs and spikes), Ice Plays (creating spikes, whorls, and brinicles), and Ice Speaks (creaks, snarls, and sings). The lively poems roll off the tongue with fun, and at times surprising, words not usually associated with ice (plooms, pancakes, and pings). They also play with the sounds that ice itself makes and the sounds of words associated with ice. The gorgeous illustrations contain wonderful, intricate details playing with the poems and providing a mix of perspectives, as well as a look at some of the animals and plants which interact with ice.

Then in a calming moment (mentioned above by Jieting) there's a shift. "Ice on Land Meets . . ./Ice at Sea" and the short, almost staccato, poems yield to a longer, free-verse poem -

"Fields of freshwater ice form

When winter snows stay for summer,

Layer, spread, and s t r e t c h

As sheets."

which slows the reader and gradually shifts back to the shorter lines and the birth of Sea Ice. Now we follow as Sea Ice Sprouts (ice rind, shugga, and bummock), Sea Ice Flows (as floebergs and floebits), And Goes. I love how, in the last line of this poem, "And calf in half," the final two words imitate the iceberg above them and fall away from the poem. This is one of my favorite illustrations in the book. Wouldn't it look gorgeous on a wall!

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2022. Image © Jieting Chen, 2022.

As with all cycles, this one comes to an end. But even these last couple of illustrations and poems are playful and intriguing. And like all good circles, the child's red galoshes and a mirror of the opening line encourage starting the book again. Great back matter introduces the three forms of water (gas, liquid, and solid) and then delves into an expanded discussion of many forms of "freshwater ice," "sea ice," and "ice on land," including fun types like "bergy-bits" and "growlers." There's also an experiment to make ice spikes. This is a stunningly illustrated collection of poems which celebrate ice in its many forms and facets. A wonderful book for budding poets and anyone who's ever marveled at or wondered about ice.


- have some fun with ice. Try "ice fishing," experiment with melting ice, or make some "instant ice."

- explore with some ways to make a frosty painting.

- follow the experiment at the back of the book and make ice spikes.

- on the next frosty day, wander about outside and look for ice designs on plants, grass, ponds, etc. take a picture and draw the design or create a story using that image.

Ice Cycle: Poems about the Life of Ice Giveaway

Great news, we are offering one lucky reader a copy of Ice Cycle: Poems about the Life of Ice.

- Simply comment below to be entered in the random drawing on October 11th.

- Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and I'll add additional entries for you.

- *Sorry US Residents only.*


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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