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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Maria Gianferrari and Ishaa Lobo Plus Giveaway

As I wrap up my interviews for 2023, and write my 905th blog post, I am honored to interview the creative duo behind a loving ode to the dogs who do so much for us in our times of greatest need, the talented author Maria Gianferrari and illustrator Isha Lobo.

For Maria Gianferrari, dog love is the most pawsitive medicine of all!

Author photo of Maria Ginaferrari.

To Dogs, with Love is Maria’s seventh book featuring beloved canine characters, following Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness, Operation Rescue Dog, Hello Goodbye Dog, Officer Katz and Houndini, and the Penny & Jelly series.

Collage the covers of Maria's 18 books.

Maria’s the author of Thank a Farmer (2023), Fungi Grow(2023), You and the Bowerbird (2023), Being a Cat (2023), Ice Cycle: Poems About the Life of Ice (2022), Bobcat Prowling (2022), Being a Dog (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), 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 about Maria see our earlier interviews (here), (here), (here), and (here).

Ishaa Lobo is a Children’s Book Illustrator living in London.

Illustrator photo of Ishaa Lobo.

In her spare time, she likes to visit galleries, go to the cinema, and go on walks.

Collage of the covers of Ishaa's two books.

She is the illustrator of There’s Always Room for One More by Robyn McGrath (2023) and The Mystery of the Love List by Sarah Glenn Marsh (2022).

Their newest picture book, To Dogs with Love. releases on December 19th.

Welcome Maria and Ishaa, thank you so much for stopping back by to talk about your new book!

Thanks for having us here, Maria!

Thank you for having us!

Ishaa let’s start with you. 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?)

ISHAA - I illustrate at home in London mostly! When I want a change of scenery I go to a cafe or the library and I find it’s much easier to concentrate when there is a lot happening around me. I’ve been illustrating books for about two years but I’ve been drawing my whole life! I specialize in picture books and I love working on them because there’s just so much opportunity to be creative and add your own personal elements to the pages.

It's so nice to 'meet' you. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written of illustrated a manuscript?

ISHAA - I wish I could say I’ve illustrated my books in many exciting places! But whenever I go travelling, I always leave my work behind. I like to switch off completely. However, I usually get a lot of inspiration from traveling, so I always take lots of photos to refer back to, things like cute alleys, the woods, cottages, pretty streets and so on!

That sounds like fun! Maria, what is your connection with therapy dogs? Was that the inspiration or spark of interest for To Dogs, with Love?

Book cover - young girl snuggled on bed, reading to an English sheep dog.

MARIA - Even if you don’t know me, you might guess that I’m a dog lover based on my book covers 😊. I knew I wanted to write another dog book, one that focused on how dog love helps us heal from all kinds of things, though I wasn’t sure what the angle would be. My dog-loving editor at Roaring Brook, Emily Feinberg, reached out to me after another yet senseless act of gun violence. She had been getting a lot of therapy dog-oriented manuscripts and wanted to gauge my interest in writing one. Of course, I was in. It took quite some time to find the right format, but I am so happy with the way it turned out, complemented by Ishaa’s sweet and tender art.

I love your approach of a love letter to our various canine companions. Ishaa, what about the To Dogs, with Love manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page - boy lying on his stomach, reading to an English sheep dog

ISHAA - As soon as I saw it was about dogs I was immediately hooked! I love dogs so it was the perfect manuscript for me. I love that it is a love letter to dogs and all the little jobs that they do, and so beautifully written. While I was reading it, my mind was getting filled with illustration ideas, that’s always a good sign!

A manuscript creating a world of possibility is a great reason to sign onto a project. How much research did it take to discover all the different ways dogs provide therapy or assistance? Was any one harder than the others?

MARIA - I’m a research nerd—that’s the fun part. I love learning all kinds of new things, so there wasn’t anything in particular that was inherently hard. I already had some sense of the different kinds of ways that dogs are our helpers, but I loved discovering that there are grief dogs at funeral homes, and in courtrooms for kids who have to testify about terrible traumas that they have experienced. A dog’s touch and mere presence is such a balm and has a true calming effect.

ISHAA – I really enjoyed the research stage of this book, being able to watch videos of dogs is a wonderful way to spend a work day! I spent a lot of time reading up about the various therapy dogs and support dogs, Maria included some helpful links in the manuscript too. I especially enjoyed learning about therapy dogs visiting children’s hospitals, such a wonderful initiative that I hadn’t heard about before.

You both covered so many different ways dogs help us. I had not heard of the grief dogs at funeral homes. How many revisions did To Dogs, with Love take from the first draft to publication? How long did it take to find the voice for the text and the illustration?

MARIA - This is always such a hard question to answer! This one took a lot of exploration and so many different formats until I found the right voice and tone. I went back and perused some of my files for titles—there were generic ones like “Comfort Dogs” and “Healing Dogs;” One called “Dogs Heeling/Dogs Healing.” Then there were some fictional explorations, “Lucy and the Sniffer Dog,” and “Pogo and Tessa.” It wasn’t until I read April Pulley Sayre’s Thank You, Earth, that everything clicked: this would be a love letter to therapy dogs. Once I came up with the epistolary format, then things flowed. I’m sad that April is no longer with us, but happy that her joyous nature-loving spirit lives on in her beautiful books.

ISHAA – We went through three rounds of sketches. Some of the changes included things like turning a page illustration to a full spread, changing the expressions of the characters on one of the pages, and adjustments to improve the pacing of the book. I wanted to stay true to my art style while also doing justice to some of the heavier themes that the book deals with.

Maria, thank you for sharing some of the revision titles. And Ishaa, you did such an amazing job with the illustrations. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Ishaa, did you do this in To Dogs, with Love? If so, could you share one or more with us?

ISHAA – Yes, I did! I don’t have any dogs of my own, but I did sneak in some dogs of family and friends into the fundraiser spread. Some of the human characters are also loosely based on people I know.

Also, a few years ago I did a drawing of a little girl and a Dalmatian reading a book together and this illustration is what got the attention of editor Emily Feinberg who hired me for this project! So, I had to include the little girl and Dalmatian in the book somewhere, they appear in the library scene, the fundraiser scene, and the final spread!

Thank you so much for sharing these treasures with us, Ishaa. Maria, if you don’t mind my asking, how did it end up with you releasing five picture books this year? What was the hardest part of having so many books released in one year?

MARIA - That’s just the way it turned out. As a picture book author, I work with several different editors and publishing companies, so the book releases depend on their schedules, not mine. There were also a couple of pandemic-related and other delays—an illustrator dropped out, and then the process for finding another illustrator had to begin anew—those kinds of logistical things. While it is a “feast” this year, next year is a famine—I have no books releasing until 2025.

The hardest part for me is that to promote and publicize, one has to wear an extroverted hat, and I am an introvert. I can summon up the energy—I love meeting with fellow book lovers and kids and other book creators, but I definitely need quiet, alone-time to re-charge and to create, so I haven’t really had the energy to work on any new projects—all of my energy has been on writing blog posts, organizing events at bookstores, libraries and schools, etc. And normally, it’s enough to have to do this for one book, but to have five, and basically four consecutive ones (a release in April, then August, September, October and now December)—it has been go-go-go, and I am exhausted. I am really looking forward to the fact that I have no books releasing next year—I can still publicize this year’s releases, but in a more leisurely fashion. I’m looking forward to alone-time and time for forest bathing, to feeling more centered, and being able to work on the creative projects that have been on hold.

Sorry to be contributing to your workload, but I (we) appreciate how open you are to sharing the inspiration and creation journey of your books. Maria, when you first saw Ishaa Lobo’s illustrations in To Dogs, with Love anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread or one you particularly enjoy?

Internal spread - on left, small hand rests on a Saint Bernard's head. On right a big Saint Bernand curls around a girl on a hopsital bed, wearing a vest saying "Comofrt Dog. Hug me!"

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Ishaa Lobo, 2023.

MARIA - I LOVED Ishaa’s art! It’s very sweet and adorable and it strikes just the right tone for the text. I especially love her dogs. The doggy endpapers are so cute! Arghh—I hate just picking one spread! But the one that really makes me smile is the one of the hospital spreads with the tiny girl and the huge dog sharing a bed.

Dedication Page - cartoon cameos of author Maria and her two dogs and editor Emily Feinberg and her dog.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Ishaa Lobo, 2023.

This dedication page with cartoon versions of me and editor, Emily Feinberg is also a favorite😊.

Those are both amazing! Ishaa, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one which is your favorite spread in To Dogs, with Love?

Internal spread - on left cameos of bog running in grass with English sheep dpg, putting on socks with dog watching, and lying on stomach reading next to dog. On right, boy and dog snuggled under covers, sleeping.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Ishaa Lobo, 2023.

ISHAA – I really love the spread with the little boy and his Old English Sheepdog. The vignettes of them playing in the field together, the dog waiting patiently while the boy takes off his wellington boots, the two of them reading together with a hot chocolate and of course when they snuggle up in bed. I just love these two characters! I think I’d read a whole book about them. They appear in three different spreads throughout the book.

Maybe we all will get to read a book about them. 😉 Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

MARIA - As I mentioned above, I am in promo mode at the moment, so I haven’t really been working on any new projects—sniff-sniff! Stay tuned for a couple of new book announcements though.

ISHAA – Yes! I’m working on a fun book Bigfoot’s Big Heart by Sarah Glenn Marsh who I’ve already worked with. It’s about ‘a lonely Bigfoot hiding away in his cave, who decides to write Valentine’s Day letters to his equally lonely mythical friends hiding out all across the world- only to have the letters lost and then found by some unlikely new friends along the way.’

I’m also working on another lovely book, Family of Friends, by Varsha Bajaj which is all about celebrating chosen family when a little girl’s neighbour helps make her birthday party special when her grandmother can’t attend.

I feel very lucky to work on such adorable picture books!

I can't wait to see those covers, Ishaa and to hear about your 2025 book and coming announcements, Maria. Is there something you want your readers to know about, or take away from, To Dogs, with Love?

MARIA - Hug your dog or cat or rat and let them love you back! Savor those moments of joy and play and companionship, be truly grateful—their time with us is far too short, and embracing that gratitude is so uplifting. I hope our book brings readers that same joy and love.

ISHAA – Yes, I’ve learned a lot about the wonderful ways that dogs help us and bring joy to our lives. I’d love for the readers of this book to feel like they’ve learned something too and have a greater appreciation for dogs!

Book cover - young girl snuggled on bed, reading to an English sheep dog.

I think this book will definitely be both instructive and uplifting! Thank you, Maria and Ishaa, it was wonderful to chat with you both.

Many thanks for featuring To Dogs, with Love, Maria!

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post on To Dogs, with Love.

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

Penny & Jelly Website:

To find out more about Ishaa Lobo, or contact her:

🎉 Book Giveaway for To Dogs, with Love 🎉

Awesome news! Maria Gianferrari is offering a copy of To Dogs, with Love to one lucky reader.

- Simply comment below to be entered in the random drawing on December 12th at 11:59 pm PT.

- 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. *


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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