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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Maria Gianferrafri + 2-Book Giveaway

Maria Gianferrari is a picture book reader/writer, tea-drinker, dog-lover, and birdwatcher with an MA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English.

Author photo of Maria Ginaferrari.

Maria writes books that honor our bonds with creatures both domestic and wild, and that celebrate urban ecosystems and the natural world around us.

Maria’s most recent titles include Being a Cat: A Tail of Curiosity, You and the Bowerbird, Thank a Farmer, Fungi Grow and the forthcoming To Dogs, With Love. She lives with her family in Massachusetts where deer, coyotes, bobcats, bears and wild turkeys pass through her backyard.

Collage of Maria Gianferrari's 15 published book covers.

Maria’s the author of Being a Cat (2023), Ice Cycle (2022), Being a Dog (2022), Bobcat Prowling (2022), Be A Tree (2021), Whoo-Ku Haiku (2020), Play Like an Animal (2020), Terrific Tongues (2018), Hawk Rising (2018), Operation Rescue Dog (2018), Hello Goodbye Dog (2017), Officer Katz and Houndini (2016), Coyote Moon (2016), Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars (2016) and Penny & Jelly: The School Show (2015).

For additional information see our earlier interviews (here), (here), and (here).

Her newest picture books are Thank a Farmer (9/5) and Fungi Grow which releases on October 17th.

Maria thank you so much for stopping back by to talk about both of your new books!

Thank you so much for having me back again, Maria!

What was the inspiration or spark of interest for Thank a Farmer?

Book cover - family enjoying a meal in front of a field full of famers and a tractor.
Thank A Farmer bumper sticker - crop rows behind a farmer digging up potatoes.

I cannot take credit for Thank a Farmer—that was the brilliant idea of Publishing Director, Simon Boughton. He wanted to take the conservative bumper sticker concept of thanking a farmer, and subvert it into a food-to-table celebration of all kinds of farming and where our food comes from. Norton even created their own Thank a Farmer bumper sticker featuring Monica Mikai’s gorgeous art which I have proudly placed on the back of our Subaru.

That's so cool! How about the spark of interest for Fungi Grow?

Book cover - a bunny sits surrounded by about fourteen types of mushrooms.

When I was doing research for Be a Tree! I first learned about mycelium and the wondrous world of mycorrhizal fungi, a type of fungi which partners with trees to exchange resources. I became fascinated, and discovered so many cool things that I wanted to celebrate and share with readers. Those were the so-called spore-seeds that became a manuscript called Marvelous Mushrooms which eventually morphed into Fungi Grow.

I love your metaphor for the germination of this book! As a different style from many of your books, what was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing or researching Thank a Farmer? And though we don’t often focus on it much, what was the most fun part of creating Thank a Farmer?

I love research—that is always the really fun part for me. I am a curious person, and I just love learning and discovering new things. I had a plethora of material—so many things that it was really hard to figure out where to start or how to shape things. Once I came up with “Thank a Farmer” as a refrain, things began to come together. Another challenging thing is often deciding what not to include—it’s sometimes hard to let those things go.

For this particular project, I also felt really conflicted. As a vegetarian and animal lover, I chose not to include meat farms. I just didn’t feel like that was something that I could personally celebrate, even in the case of small, ethical family farms, so I chose not to include them (though I did include a dairy farm in the book).

It is so hard not to include all the interesting information one discovers. While not a series of poems, I feel like Fungi Grow with the “cycle” of mushrooms and the sounds and gorgeous in-depth and zoomed out illustrations is a little similar to Ice Cycles. What was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing or researching Fungi Grow? And what was the most fun part?

True—I tend to like life cycle types of narratives (that is the case for both Coyote Moon and Hawk Rising—and in a seasonal way with Bobcat Prowling and Whoo-ku Haiku too). I feel like topics in the natural world tend to lend themselves organically to a cycle of life structure.

I loved researching and learning about fungi—there is so much that is still unknown and waiting to be discovered. Mycology is a really exciting field of research. The challenge was (and always seems to be) finding the right voice and structure. How do I shape all of this amazing information into something that is both engaging, and lyrical? There’s a lot of experimentation, and I need to be willing to let go of that first draft to move forward. As I mentioned above, the first draft was called Marvelous Mushrooms, but when I shifted the focus to the ways fungi grow, with that as a refrain, it became the celebration of fungi and mushrooms that I was hoping for.

I'm glad you figured it out. It is a glorious celebration of fungi. How many revisions did Thank a Farmer and Fungi Grow take from the first draft to publication?

It’s always hard to say exactly how many drafts it takes, because I do a lot of paring in the process. Thank a Farmer, probably took 4-5 main drafts to get it mostly into its final shape (then the subsequent revisions where more shifting of sections for flow and clarity). The first draft was nothing like its current form and was way too long—something like 40 pages of text. But I don’t want to censor myself when I’m at the discovery draft stage.

For Fungi Grow, it took many, many drafts. I was lucky that editor Andrea Welch saw a spark of promise in that early draft, Marvelous Mushrooms and requested an R&R. We had a great conversation before I began the deeper dive into what was truly a re-envisioning of the project. I began in earnest to re-think the approach, and by the next draft it had its main shape that was further honed and pared and re-shaped.

Wow, thank you for sharing the books' journeys. It's always fascinating to glimpse behind the scenes. When you first saw Monica Mikai’s illustrations in Thank a Farmer, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread or one you particularly enjoy?

Internal spread - on left farmers picking tomatoes, while on the right a child enjoys eating a tomato.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Monica Mikai, 2023.

I love them! I love how Monica included the table in many spreads to echo the farm-to-table theme. Monica’s art is so warm and inviting with its earthy tones. It’s always impossible to pick a favorite spread, so I will select two—I love the one with the tomatoes—they just pop off the page and tomatoes are one of my all-time favorite foods. There is nothing better than a warm tomato fresh off the vine with a sprinkling of salt.

internal spread - farmers harvesting many types of fungi in an indoor grow operation.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Monica Mikai, 2023.

And there is so much beauty and flow in the mushroom one—I love mushrooms too (no surprise there!)

I am in love with this book! Did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you when you first saw Diana Sudyka’s illustrations in Fungi Grow? Which is your favorite spread or one you particularly enjoy?

Pretty much everything about Diana’s art delighted me! I have long been a fan of her work (and I have some of her framed art in my home). As I wrote and revised I was imagining/hoping she’d be its illustrator--I was THRILLED when she signed on!

Diana’s work has such a lovely, organic flow, and it is truly impossible to pick a favorite spread—I love them all, because there are so many lovely, little details, like the creatures she adds in—the frogs and snails and slugs and moths!

Internal spread - double page full of different sized mushrooms releasing spores.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Diana Sudyka, 2023.

For the sake of this blog post, I just closed my eyes and turned to this random page. It features such an amazing variety of mushrooms: lion’s mane and chicken of the woods, other-worldly red cage fungus and bleeding tooth, the velvet foot and black trumpet as well as jack-o-lanterns which are also fruiting in my yard right now—just in time for Halloween 😊. And a cute creature too!

Anyone find the salamander? This illustration is "bewitching." Is there something you want your readers to know about, or takeaway from, Thank a Farmer? How about Fungi Grow?

All of my books are celebrations of sorts—a way of finding joy and curiosity and wonder in the natural world, or with our beloved furry family members, and a way of celebrating gratitude—to be grateful for our food, and where it comes from; to be grateful for beings in the natural world like fungi and trees and all creatures, and how are lives are so enriched and made full in their presence.

Maybe that's why I love your books so much. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

With three consecutive book releases in August, September and October, my main focus has been promotional work at the moment—blog posts and event planning and tons of emails, and that takes up a lot of extroverted type energy for me which makes it hard to have the quiet time I need to create new work.

I hope to work on some edits for a couple of newly acquired, not yet announced projects.

This summer, I worked on edits for Rain and the Reading Horse, which is coming in Spring 2025 from Clarion Books. You’re going to love Hannah Salyer’s beautiful and moving art.

Book cover - a bunny sits surrounded by about fourteen types of mushrooms

Sounds intriguing, I can't wait to hear more. Good luck with your other projects.

Thank you Maria for stopping by and sharing a bit behind the scenes with us. It’s always so wonderful to chat with you.

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

Thank YOU, fellow and dear Maria for having me!

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

Penny & Jelly Website:

Special 2-Book Giveaway

Awesome news! Maria Gianferrari is offering a copy of Thank A Farmer and a copy of Fungi Grow to two lucky readers!

- Simply comment below and/or on the Friday #PPBF post to be entered in the random drawing on October 23rd.

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

- *Sorry US Residents only.*

If you're in the area, check out Maria Gianferrari's upcoming events:

Sunday, October 22nd:

Bookstore logo - open book with letters rising from it in a heart around the name - Booked.

10:30 AM: Everything’s coming up mushrooms: A FUNGI GROW launch event with Diana Sudyka at Booked. (506 Main St, Evanston, IL 60202).

2:30PM: Magic & Nature at Evanston Public Library with Diana Sudyka, Elizabeth Shreeve and Karla Arenas Valenti! (1703 Orrington Avenue, Evanston IL 60201, Community Meeting Room 107).

Bookstore logo - unicorn head front (right) and open book back (left).

Saturday, October 28th at 11:00 AM Celebrating Moons & Mushrooms: an event with Melissa Stewart for THANK YOU, MOON & FUNGI GROW at Silver Unicorn Bookstore! (12 Spruce Street, Acton, MA, USA, 01720)

As an extra bonus, I thought I'd give you all a little taste of Thank A Farmer (Norton Young Readers 9/5/2023):

Book cover - family enjoying a meal in front of a field full of famers and a tractor.

This is a wonderful book exploring twelve to thirteen types of farms - "a small survey of methods" as the detailed back matter asserts. A fun refrain - "If you like _____, THANK A FARMER." - begins each double spread's look at a type of farm by connecting it to a food kids are familiar with and enjoy - bread, milk, rice, or peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. The colorful, bold, diverse illustrations pair beautifully with lyrical, free verse explorations of the operations, harvesting, and fun terminology for each farm. Abounding with fun onomatopoeia and gentle alliteration, it features small and large, traditional and inventive farming operations.

Internal spread -  man bicycling past a school with children tending lots of multi-colored raised pots full of plants.

It's a beautiful, joyful ode to farmers of all ages, farm workers (even worms and bees), and everyone who supplies us with fresh, healthy food.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Monica Mikai, 2023.

Synopsis: Infused with jubilance and warmth, this luminous, lyrical picture book celebrates the people and the work that put food on our tables.

Bread, milk, wool, fruits, and vegetables: things that fill our day to day lives. But where, and who, do they come from? Across wheat fields and city rooftop gardens, mushroom beds and maple forests, Thank a Farmer traces the food and clothing that a family uses back to the people who harvested and created them.

With Maria Gianferrari’s informed and poetic text and monumental artwork from Monica Mikai, Thank a Farmer gently emphasizes the importance of agriculture in our day-to-day lives and reminds readers to give thanks to farmworkers around the world.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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