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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Cathy Ballou Mealey and Ariel Landy

Cathy Ballou Mealey has roasted marshmallows, pickled cucumbers, and written picture books, but also worked in college administration and teaching. 

Author photo fo Cathy Ballou Mealey in front of a lake.

When not writing, Cathy volunteers for organizations supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders.


For basic information on Cathy, see our earlier interview (here) and (here).

Collage of Cathy's two published book covers.

Cathy is the author of Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle, illustrated by Kelly Collier (2021) and When A Tree Grows, illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska (2019).

Ariel Landy is an illustrator and educator from New York City.

Illustrator photo of Ariel Landy.

Ariel began writing and illustrating stories as soon as she could hold a pencil and she never stopped. She currently lives in France with her husband and their dog, Sid.

Collage of the 8 covers of Ariel's books.

Ariel is the illustrator of Brand New Bubbe by Sarah Aronson (2022), Auntie & Me by Rosie Birdsong (2022), Gitty and Kvetch by Caroline Kusin Pritchard (2021), The $150,000 Rugelach by Allison Marks and Wayne Marks (2021), The Elephant’s New Shoe by Laurel Neme (2020), Good Dog: Home Is Where the Heart Is by Cam Higgins (2020), This Is the Church by Sarah Raymond Cunningham (2020), and The Spacesuit: How a Seamstress Helped Put Man on the Moon by Alison Donald (2019).


Their newest picture book, Make More S'mores was released on March 15th.


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


Ariel let’s start with you. 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?)


ARIEL  I’ve been illustrating picture books for about 6 years. I began in New York City where I previously taught high school English. I now illustrate at my kitchen table in the sunny south of France. I’m not a morning person, so after I’ve dropped off my daughter and had my coffee and gotten some errands done, I’ll get to work right after lunch. My favorite type of book to illustrate is like Make More S’mores actually! I absolutely love silliness, adorable animals, and shenanigans of all sorts. Also, I’m much happier drawing a forest than a cityscape. 


Sounds like the perfect match for this book! What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?


ARIEL – The wonderful thing about drawing on the iPad is how transportable it is! I’ve worked on books in an airplane, on trains, in bed, at cafés etc. One of my favorite places to work is the library because I’m surrounded by inspiration! 


CATHY – I used to write and revise in my car, on paper, while waiting to pick up my kids from school or activities. Now that they are older, I am writing at a proper desk, on a laptop. No more accidentally honking the horn if I scribble too hard!


Ha! Flexibility can have a downside. Cathy, what was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for Make More S'mores?

Book Cover - Grizzly, Mamma Black bear, & her two cubs stacked on left by size, staring at raccon about to eat a s'more.

CATHY –  My first draft was based on a math and numbers book because ONE marshmallow plus TWO graham crackers and THREE chocolate rectangles creates one perfectly proportioned, traditional s’more. After my agent suggested that I delete the math element, the newly shortened text morphed into a rhyming story about hospitality.


I get it, but that is the perfect proportion for a smore! Ariel, what about the Make More S'mores manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page - Paws from three black bears and one grizzly reach toward a plate of s'mores.

ARIEL – This was my first rhyming book and I love to read rhyme. My favorite part of illustrating is character design, and I could tell from the manuscript that I would be getting to draw a lot of expressive animal characters. 


And you did that perfectly! I love all the animal's varied expressions. Cathy, how did the writing and journey to publication of Make More S'mores compare to that of  Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle and When A Tree Grows?


CATHY - What an interesting question! The process has been different every time since I have worked with three publishing houses and three editors. What has changed the most has been me, because I try to learn, grow, and become a stronger, more adaptable writer with each book.


And I, for one, can't wait to see what you do next. What was the hardest part of writing or illustrating Make More S'mores? What was the most fun?


ARIEL – The hardest part was probably getting the night scenes right. It was challenging to draw black bears in the dark so I had to be strategic about what colors I chose for the sky or where I placed the bears so they wouldn’t get lost. 


CATHY – Seeing Ariel’s wonderfully creative illustrations was 100% the most fun part of the book’s path to publication. Sharing the finished book with kids comes in a close second! Cutting and revising a rhyming text was definitely the hardest part, but also the most satisfying when it was completed.


I bet figuring out the colors might be almost as hard as nailing that pesky rhyme. Cathy, how long did it take from the first draft to publication for Make More S'mores?


CATHY – I wrote the first draft in mid-2020, so it was roughly 2 ½ years before holding a finished copy in my hands.


Not too bad! Ariel, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Make More S'mores? Could you share one or more with us?


ARIEL – I love a bit of mischief, so I added a trio of squirrels in the background who attempt to steal some s’mores from Roscoe. They are the only characters who don’t quite learn their lesson. 


They are delightfully sneaky (peaking around the edge of the log), and I'd bet that Cathy's squirrel likes them a lot. Cathy, when you first saw Ariel Landy’ illustrations was there anything that surprised you? What is your favorite spread in the book?

Internal spread - on left two black bear cubs sprawl on top of grizzly, licking clean plates that had s'mores. On right, racoon starts making more s'mores.

Text © Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2024. Image © Ariel Landy, 2024.

CATHY – Ariel’s squirrel trio completely stole my heart from the outset! I wrote squirrel characters into my first two books, so I was completely thrilled that Ariel cleverly wove an adorable squirrel secondary storyline into Make More S’mores!


I can imagine. Ariel, is there a spread of which you are especially proud? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - Grizzly sits on a log and catapults racoon and bag of marshmallows into the air.

Text © Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2024. Image © Ariel Landy, 2024.

ARIEL – I really love the spread where Grizzly sits on the other side of the log from Roscoe and sends him flying through the air with the marshmallow, chocolate, and graham crackers. I think it shows a lot about Roscoe’s character that he isn’t easily perturbed and is willing to share no matter the challenges. I also like the contrast between the chaos of the illustration and relative calmness of the text. 


It is really funny! Is there something you want your readers to know about for Make More S'mores? 


ARIEL – Yes, drawing all those s’mores made me very hungry! But it’s nearly impossible to find graham crackers here in France. So, I haven’t had an actual S’more in 5 years. 


CATHY – There are delightful coloring pages to download on the Sleeping Bear website if readers would like to design or color their very own s’more! Here is the link:


Aww Ariel, I hope you get to have some soon. Thanks, Cathy! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


ARIEL – I just wrapped up a non-fiction book about dinosaurs that will have you seeing them from a new perspective. 


CATHY – Look for more fun adventures coming soon from the pickle pop pals, Sloth and Squirrel, in a new book illustrated by Kelly Collier coming from Kids Can Press!


Yeah, Cathy, how exciting! We'll have to keep our eyes for projects from you both! What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Arial photo of Central Park in NY.

ARIEL – I have to say Central Park because I lived within a few blocks, and it felt like my big back yard! My dog essentially grew up there. It is such a special place of peace within the chaos of the city. 

Photo of beach and rocky shoreline at Acadia National park.

CATHY – Acadia National Park in Maine is one of my favorites, because I always feel happy near the ocean. Glacier Bay is a park I am longing to visit!


Both are great parks. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing, publishing, or not?


ARIEL – I recently heard this advice while doing yoga, but I think it applies to a creative life as well: "If what you’re doing feels hard, you’re in the right place." 


CATHY – In the publishing world a positive attitude can take you far, but uplifting others along the way is equally rewarding!


Both are great advice for many aspects of our lives. Thank you, Cathy and Ariel, for stopping by. It was wonderful to chat with you both.

Book Cover - Grizzly, Mamma Black bear, & her two cubs stacked on left by size, staring at raccon about to eat a s'more.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review post on Make More S'mores.


To find out more about Cathy Ballou Mealey, or contact her:


To find out more about Ariel Landy, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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