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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Sarah Hovorka and Alicia Schwab

Sarah Hovorka is the author of picture books, novels, and short stories for children.

Author photo of Sarah Hovorka.

In addition to writing, Sarah works in the public sector and spends her free time reading, homeschooling, and playing video and board games with her husband and three sons in California.

Collage of Sarah's 2 book covers.

She’s the author of Same Love, Different Hug, illustrated by Abbey Bryant (2023), and Hattie Hates Hugs illustrated by Heather Brockman Lee (2022).  


Alicia Schwab is an author-illustrator based in Minneapolis, MN, and she creates character-driven children’s book illustration stories and book designs for fiction and non-fiction publishing.

Illustrator photo of Alicia Schuab.

She supports those with a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experiences and strives to create quality literature that reflects the lives of all children.

Collage of the the 6 covers of Alicia's books.

She’s the illustrator of 12 books, including The Goat that Ate the Remote by Eunice Hafemeister (2024), The Forgotten Doorway by A. G. Roberts (2024), The House We Sheltered In and The Masks We Wore: A Pandemic Picture Book by Freeman Ng (2023), Lite: The High Treason Incident by A. G. Roberts (2022), Takoza Walks with the Blue Moon by Tara Perron (2019), and The Mukluk Ball by Katharine Johnson (2018).


Their newest picture book, Unicycle Dad, was released March 12th.

Welcome Sarah and Alicia, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and writing.  


Tell us a little about yourself. (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?)


SARAH – I have been writing seriously for about six years and I still can’t pick a favorite type of book to write. I love it when inspiration strikes so greatly that an entire book pours out of me. Although I’m generally an organized, type A personality, that doesn’t come out in my writing routine; I write whenever and wherever I find the time and thoughts come into my head.


ALICIA - I write anywhere I can. I’ve written outside, but I primarily write and illustrate in my home studio. 

Photo of Alicia, painting in her studio.

I’ve been writing for 25 years. I love writing picture books. But I started drawing when I was a toddler. My older brother (who had a speech delay) was encouraged to draw his thoughts to release the words stuck inside him. Upon seeing his pictures, I marveled at our newfound communication. I started communicating in pictures like him. In fact, we got so good at “speaking in pictures” it became our superpower.

I’m still communicating in pictures. My illustrations combine patterns, mixed media, bold colors, and beautiful, resonant acrylics. I start by sketching and designing in digital media. Then, I paint layers of acrylic washes on watercolor paper and add mark-making with colored pencils and crayons to capture the character’s emotion, plot dynamics, and the setting’s feeling. I finish the art with digital media to make the illustration come alive.

It's nice to "meet" both of you. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Book cober with a futuristic robot.

SARAH – I hate this question! There are so many favorites from when I was a child. I have a special place in my heart for I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. This is not a children’s book, but I discovered it at the library of my middle school and it was my first exposure to science fiction which I have loved ever since.

Book cover with a young child eating blueberries.

ALICIA - So many, but I do love Mary Blair and Robert McCloskey


Sorry Sarah! But it is fun to see what books influenced authors and illustrators. Sarah, what was the inspiration for Unicycle Dad?

Book cover - the arm, torso, and legs of a dad riding a unicycle., wearing a backpack and carrying a doll under one arm.

SARAH – Unicycle Dad is based on my experiences growing up with a single father in poverty. It is inspired by true events, and my dad really does ride the unicycle and I really did try to learn as well. After I announced to my dad that I had sold my first book, he suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that I write a book about the unicycle. So, I did!


And I think you did a great job! Alicia, what about Unicycle Dad manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page - oa girl and her father fixing a unicycle with an air pump and a tool box by their knees.

ALICIA - Even though I was raised in a two-parent household, I was immediately drawn to the narrative. I felt connected to the characters in the book because of my own personal struggles. My parents couldn’t finish college and worked several jobs to provide for myself and my siblings. Seeing my parents toil in dead-end jobs gave me an unwavering resolve to graduate from college.

I advocate for autism and learning differences and specialize in heartfelt stories about overcoming hardships. I have ADHD, and like many people in my family, I am slightly dyslexic. Dyslexia is a learning difference that involves difficulty with reading but can also make it cumbersome to retrieve words while speaking. The words are there but just out of reach. When you grow up surrounded by hidden disabilities, you learn two things: be grateful for what you have and how to be resilient.

I love that the two things you learned are what the character learns in the book. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript or done an illustration?


SARAH – When the weather is nice and the neighborhood kids are playing outside, I enjoy popping up a camp chair on the sidewalk in front of my house and writing. There are plenty of things going on around me, which helps me to focus longer on writing. The most unusual place I’ve written is while getting infusions at the medical clinic. That setting offers another type of inspiration.


ALICIA - For a time, my child had a lot of doctor’s appointments. I spent that time in the waiting room writing and editing my manuscripts. I have gone to the zoo to draw animals.

Different inspiration for sure! Having just spent time writing in a hospital, I think I'd prefer the zoo! Sarah, what was the toughest part of writing Unicycle Dad? How long did it take from the first draft to publication? 


SARAH – The toughest part of writing Unicycle Dad was balancing the trueness of the story with what needed to happen to make it work within the constraints of a picture book. I believe it took less than six months from first draft to selling the manuscript, and then another approximately 18 months or so for the full publication process. It was a smooth journey.


Sounds like was really smooth. Alicia, you’ve illustrated both picture books and middle-grade books, do you prefer either format? What’s the hardest part about illustrating picture books?


ALICIA - I love illustrating both formats. Middle grades are fun because they cover older subjects and themes that are fun to explore. However, picture books are compelling because the pictures do half the storytelling. I really love developing the worlds the characters live in and their character designs.


And I bet doing both genres of books functions to help keep you inspired. Sarah, did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Alicia’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - Dad on a unicycle, boy running on sidewalk, and girl swinging on a chain link gate.

Text © Sarah Hovorka, 2024. Image © Alicia Schwab, 2024.

SARAH – Yes! I was amazed by how well Alicia captured poverty in the settings without making it take over the main idea of each spread. The chain link fences, the bit of trash, the small kitchen… you don’t see that in picture books a lot. My favorite spread is the first one where the entire family looks so happy despite their poor surroundings.


She does a great job of showcasing the family's bond and love throughout the book. Alicia, is there a spread of which you are especially proud? Which is your favorite spread? 

Internal spread - Dad on a unicycle, and a boy and girl on their bikes with a swoosh of wyellow and birds flying away from them.

Text © Sarah Hovorka, 2024. Image © Alicia Schwab, 2024.


I like how these two illustrations work together. What's something you both want your readers to know about Unicycle Dad?


SARAH – I want readers to know that childhood hopes and dreams are important, and that’s one reason Unicycle Dad is a special book to me. Even though the events in the book happened to me a long time ago, they are still a big part of my person. Your hopes and dreams, from any age and whether you accomplished them or not, are important.


ALICIA - Based on Sarah’s real-life childhood, the story follows the journey of her father as he raises his children in an impoverished, single-parent household. Despite many obstacles, he creates a better life for himself and his family while teaching his children the value of hard work and grit. Her dad’s love of unicycle riding serves as a metaphor for the balancing act he must do to achieve it all. 


That's a great combined message. Alicia, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Unicycle Dad? Could you share one or more with us?


ALICIA – Sometimes, illustrators hide things in the illustrations. I hid two tigers in Unicycle Dad as treasures. I also introduced the neighbor character and her son into the narrative.


Those tigers are fun to find. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? 

Book cover - a girl seen on a curb peering between legs wearing camouflage and combat boots.

SARAH – I have another book coming out July 1 called Camouflage Mom. It’s written in a similar style as Unicycle Dad and is also based on true events from my childhood. I’m also working on a science fiction chapter book about the first kids on the moon. It’s a realistic book about how a moon base might actually operate with a strong social-emotional plot. This is one I really want to see published.


ALICIA - Yes, I just finished a new project, but it has an NDA agreement. Sorry, my lips are sealed! I’m also starting to illustrate the middle-grade sequel to LITE: The High Treason Incident, written by A. G. Roberts, which won the IPPY bronze award.

Alicia's new lab/golden mix ppuppy - Winnie.

But what I can share is that we just got a new puppy. Winnie is a lab/golden retriever mix and all spunk. She’s a little party girl who loves people, dogs, and Cheerios. And yes, it is hard to get much done with a wiggly puppy on your lap.


What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of avenue of the giants in Humboldt Rewoods State Park.

SARAH – My favorite is the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California. It’s a famous stretch of road through giant coastal redwoods that leads into Humboldt Redwoods State Park. I have always loved trees, especially redwoods, and that state park and stretch of road is so quiet and smells amazing.

Photo of Alaska's Glacier Pay National Park in the summer.

ALICIA - I live in the land of lakes. We love Lake Superior. I’m looking forward to taking the pup to a lake soon. I love to hike in the mountains too. I’ve spent a lot of time in the southwest (Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, and Grand Canyon). Last year, I visited my family in Alaska. We took a boat tour through Glacier Bay National Park to see whales, glaciers, and other wildlife. The scale of the landscape was so amazing! The park’s area covers approximately the same square miles as Connecticut. It’s hard to fathom coming from the Midwest. But I long to explore Olympia National Park near Seattle, WA. The northwest coast (i.e., Puget Sound), with its tide pools, wildlife, and ocean, is something I’d love to explore more.


Alicia, I hope you get to explore the Puget Sound - it is amazing! Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?


SARAH – Just try and see. Whatever it is, whether it’s a goal, a dream, a necessity that seems too hard… sometimes you need to just try and see. Maybe you’ll find you can do it and a whole new, wonderful thing will be added to your life. Maybe you’ll find out you hate it or can’t do it, and that’s ok, too, because you tried and learned.


ALICIA - The best advice I’ve received is to keep going. The children’s book industry moves slowly like a glacier, and it takes a lot of perseverance.


Great advice. Thank you, Sarah and Alicia, for stopping back by to share with us your newest picture book.

Book cover - the arm, torso, and legs of a dad riding a unicycle., wearing a backpack and carrying a doll under one arm.

Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF post on Unicycle Dad.

To find out more about Sarah Hovorka, or to contact her:


To find out more about Alicia Schwab, or to contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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