The Picture Book Buzz - Kidlit Caravan Spring Releases
KidLit Caravan is a troupe of authors and author/illustrators with debut picture books headed your way in 2022!
Hit the road with the caravan and swing their website for their "scenic stops including:
creator profiles, news and upcoming events;
storytime for kids;
contests & giveaways for lucky winners; and
craft and industry insights for fellow writers.
Not to mention cover reveals, tales from our journey, and much more. Our debut picture books will be "gnu" in 2022, but there are already more stories coming down the pike for 2023 and beyond."
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or draw? How long have you been writing and/or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
Harshita Jerath – The Leaping Laddoo (Albert Whitman, 3/1/2022) - I became serious about writing about 6 years ago when I joined SCBWI. Though I mostly write picture books, I’ve begun to dabble into longer chapter books. I write pulling from my growing-up memories in India, due to which my stories are sprinkled with cultural details.
Carrie Tillotson – Counting to Bananas (Flamingo Books, 4/12/2022) – My first memory of writing is back in Kindergarten, hand-lettering my name—“Janel”—on my school papers. Yes, I changed my name to my best friend’s middle name when I was five years old. I even held onto some of those papers to this day! Nowadays, I write as “Carrie” and one of my favorite places to do so is my blanket fort. I sometimes take a beautiful quilt my mom made and drape it from my writing desk to the bookshelf. Then I sit under it with a lantern, cozy blankets, and pillows. I get some of my best writing ideas in this creative space. The only thing I still need is a better seat cushion!
Kimberly Wilson - A Penny’s Worth (Page Street Kids, April 19, 2022) - I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. In third grade, I wrote in the woods behind my house in upstate New York, collecting my handwritten stories in my butterfly Trapper Keeper. One Christmas, I received an electronic typewriter and moved my writing to my bedroom desk. Now, I write on my MacBook in my Charlotte, NC, home office, my outdoor porch, local cafes, and even my car! I love writing funny, punny fiction with a dash of education.
Debbie Zapata – Up and Adam (Kids Can Press, 5/3/2022) - I grew up in a multicultural family in Austin. We had a bedtime ritual of telling stories. My dad was the best storyteller. My sister and I would beg him to make up stories. My family is full of writers including my parents who wrote poetry. As a child, I loved to write stories. I now write stories that people can enjoy all over the world, but certain people can see themselves reflected in a new way.
I used to write in coffee shops and at home, but the last few years it’s been mostly at my kitchen counter. I’ve studied the craft of picture book writing for over six years. Writing picture books is a beautiful art form. It’s my favorite type of book to write because it is such a unique storytelling genre for readers of all ages and all abilities.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Harshita Jerath – I enjoy my fitness routine. It gives me clarity and the much-needed energy to embrace my day with positivity.
Carrie Tillotson – Few people know that I have unusually long arms. Not so much that I look super awkward (unless you ask my older sisters), but long enough that they came in handy when rebounding in high school basketball. Most people’s arm span is about the same length as they are tall. My arm span is three inches longer than I am tall. It’s even longer than my husband is tall, and he’s two inches taller than me! But I can reach the top shelf when others struggle, so I don’t mind.
Kimberly Wilson - I can tell you when almost any 90’s song came out, based on what grade I was in at the time. I can also perform the fast part of Hook, by Blues Traveler, like Emma Stone did in the Lip Sync Battle with Jimmy Fallon.
Debbie Zapata – I have a passion for learning languages. In college, I studied Arabic, French and German. I earned a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas in 1994. I worked in international human resources in Austin and New York City. After 9/11, I went back to school and earned my Master in Social Work from New York University and became a counselor.
Now that we know a little more about each of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Harshita Jerath – The Leaping Laddoo (Albert Whitman, 3/1/2022) - The Leaping Laddoo ((luh-DOO) is a cultural take on the classic story of The Gingerbread Man. The idea came to me while I was making laddoos, an Indian dessert, for my son’s birthday, but the inspiration was much deep-rooted. When my kids were little, I could not find a children’s book that introduced India the way I wanted them to see it. So I wrote one.
Carrie Tillotson – Counting to Bananas (Flamingo Books, 4/12/2022) – The idea came when I observed an interaction between my son and his swim instructor several years ago. Every lesson, my son had to perform a starfish float, which is a skill where he lay on his back and floated for ten seconds. The instructor always counted “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!”, and my son would laugh hysterically. One day, the instructor said, “Don’t you love my counting to bananas?” In that moment, I knew a picture book title was born.
Kimberly Wilson - A Penny’s Worth (Page Street Kids, April 19, 2022)- During Storystorm 2019, I looked at the coin jug on my kitchen counter and saw something more––a plucky penny on a mission to prove she’s cent-sational! Through Penny’s journey, I realized I had the opportunity not only to make readers laugh with countless puns and introduce them to money math, but to show them something priceless––the importance of self-worth.
Debbie Zapata – Up and Adam (Kids Can Press, 5/3/2022) - My story is inspired by my son who has Down syndrome. While many people focused on what my young son couldn’t do, I concentrated on his strengths. He showed me that he is smart and strong. He reminds others to practice patience, share the gift of a smile and take time to have fun. I wrote a first draft version for my son’s student of the week project. Six years later, it is my debut picture book.
I love all the different things and people which inspired each of you. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
Harshita Jerath – I grew up in India reading a lot of comics, books, and magazines. My favorite graphic novel series is called Amar Chitra Katha’ which brings to life historic events, biographies, mythology, and folktales. I enjoyed Nancy Drew as well. And my favorite novel was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
Carrie Tillotson – I loved books written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg when I was young. Possibly because he came to my older sisters’ school, so we had a bunch of books by him. I don’t remember meeting him, but I loved all of his books, especially The Mystery of the Missing Red Mitten. Having my very own signed copy was awe-inspiring. I still have my copy today!
Kimberly Wilson - As a young child, I really enjoyed Marc Brown’s Arthur books. Fun fact: when my kids were young, he visited Park Road Books in Charlotte and signed my 1985 copy of Arthur’s Tooth! As I grew older, the Anne of Green Gables books, by L.M. Montgomery, became my favorites and really inspired me to write at an early age.
Debbie Zapata – As a child, I adored Eric Carle’s A Very Hungry Caterpillar for its vibrant colors and the glimpse into the natural life of a caterpillar. I liked the whimsy thrown in—he eats chocolate cake, ice cream cone, pickles, swiss cheese and salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake and watermelon. And of course gets a stomachache!
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Which is your favorite spread in the book?
Text © Harshita Jerath, 2022. Image © Kamala M. Nair, 2022.
Harshita Jerath – The Leaping Laddoo (Albert Whitman, 3/1/2022) -With this book, I seek to introduce the streets of India and some of its integral elements such as the favorite sport which is the game of cricket, a popular drink which is tea/chai, cultural aspects such as the dance and the wedding procession.
The favorite spread is difficult to choose as I love them all. Kamala Nair’s illustrations are vibrant and gorgeous. But this particular spread I like the most as it shows a larger view of the street with cows, traffic, and kids playing cricket.
Text © Carrie Tillotson, 2022. Image © Estrela Lourenço, 2022.
Carrie Tillotson – Counting to Bananas (Flamingo Books, 4/12/2022) – I hope that readers notice all the amazing details the awesome illustrator, Estrela Lourenço, put in the book. There’s one page where Banana is dragging their fingers across the page. It looks as if the page is tearing, and the color showing through is the same color as the page below. My favorite spread though, is the page with the leeches. I just love how Estrela illustrated all of Banana’s expressions on this page. So much humor there!
Text © Kimberly Wilson, 2022. Image © Mark Hoffmann, 2022.
Kimberly Wilson - A Penny’s Worth (Page Street Kids, April 19, 2022) - Mark Hoffmann, the amazing illustrator for A Penny’s Worth, does not know this, but in earlier versions of the manuscript, I had an art note at the end that said, “The other money shows up to celebrate Penny.” So, you can imagine my delight and surprise when I saw the end papers with this scene! It just shows how perfectly Mark’s illustrations, the editorial and art team’s vision, and my writing aligned.
Text © Debbie Zapata, 2022. Image © Yong Ling Kang, 2022.
Debbie Zapata – Up and Adam (Kids Can Press, 5/3/2022) - The book Up and Adam is designed for readers of all ages and all abilities. It is a story about inclusivity and community. The character Adam captures education themes of kindness, teamwork, initiative and citizenship. My favorite spread in the book is the scene where Up and Adam look at their reflection in the mirror and realize their impact on others.
So, if you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Harshita Jerath – I’d like to meet Madeline from the book by Ludwig Bemelmans. She’s such a courageous and endearing character who inspires me.
Carrie Tillotson – This question always practically paralyzes me. Me? Meet someone?! Terrifying! Can I choose an animal? I love meeting animals. I’d really like to meet an orca one day. I’ve seen them in the wild from afar, and would be delighted, amazed, and terrified to see one while paddle boarding or kayaking or something. I know, I know—we’re supposed to stay away from wildlife, so don’t worry about me actually going and doing this. (**packs up paddleboard and heads to the San Juan Islands**)
Kimberly Wilson - This is tough. I’m a bit of an extrovert and really enjoy meeting new people. So, I asked my 16-year-old daughter who she thought I’d like to meet if I could only pick one person, and she said, “Billy Joel.” And…she nailed it!
Debbie Zapata – My eight-year-old self would love to hang out with Jasmine Toguchi from Debbi Michiko Florence’s chapter book series. Jasmine Toguchi is a determined, smart Japanese-American heroine unafraid to try new things while learning life lessons about family, friendship and sisterhood along the way. I think I relate to her because I grew up in a multicultural household with an older sister who got to do things first.
This would be such an awesome tea party! What was the hardest or most challenging part about writing your book? (such as maybe research, rhyme, word count, a particular portion….)
Harshita Jerath – The Leaping Laddoo (Albert Whitman, 3/1/2022) -The most challenging was finding the perfect word choice for the refrain. I wanted to introduce Hindi words in the refrain without making it complicated. And, nailing the ending was equally challenging. I worked on multiple endings until I found the one that I felt was satisfying.
Carrie Tillotson – Counting to Bananas (Flamingo Books, 4/12/2022) – The hardest part of writing Counting to Bananas was trimming down on the back-and-forth dialogue between the narrator and Banana. I originally had many more interjections from Banana and responses from the narrator that slowed down the pace and weren’t really necessary. It was a balancing act to figure out which dialogue was punchiest and landed best.
Kimberly Wilson - A Penny’s Worth (Page Street Kids, April 19, 2022) - I love taking a double-meaning and making it into a story, but the challenge of using “worth” as the face value of money, while also conveying the importance of “self-worth,” was particularly difficult. It took me many drafts, and a year and a half, to figure out how to incorporate both successfully.
The other thing that came into play was working with an anthropomorphic inanimate object. I had to answer questions like, how does Penny move? Does she roll? Is she passed around from person to person? Taking logic into account, I noted Penny being picked up and passed from purse to pocket, like money is in real life. But I also wanted her to be active in reaching her goal, so I had her pop out of a hole in a pocket, catch a wave (out of a soda cup, thanks to Mark Hoffmann’s genius), cling to a shoelace, and dive headfirst into discovering her real value.
Debbie Zapata – Up and Adam (Kids Can Press, 5/3/2022) - I like to write character driven picture books. I think because my character is inspired by my son, it took some time for my protagonist and his dog to reveal themselves fully to me. Our family doesn’t have a dog due to allergies. But I really wanted Up and Adam to be a dynamic duo. At the level of working with my editor, Debbie Rogosin, the relationship and partnership between Up and Adam solidified in a super satisfying way for me as a writer.
It's always so fascinating to learn about the little (or big) issues that writers grappled with in writing their manuscripts. Describe one thing you’ve learned from your journey, so far.
Harshita Jerath – No amount of talent can beat someone who shows up regularly. So staying persistent in writing and showing up for what’s important to you is the key to success.
Carrie Tillotson – One thing I’ve learned is to follow my heart, gut, intuition—whatever you want to call it. When I first wrote Counting to Bananas, I had this really excited feeling about it. But some early beta readers told me it was their least favorite of the things I had written. Somehow though, I had a deep “knowing” that this book had something special about it. I didn’t think it would be my debut since concept counting books are notoriously hard to sell. But I listened to my intuition to press on and am so glad I did, because here I am with a concept counting book as my debut and now an alphabet book sequel on the way!
Kimberly Wilson - I could go on and on about what I’ve learned. But the first thing that popped into my head, and perhaps the biggest lesson for me, has been patience––with my own writing, querying, all the way through publication process (and beyond).
Debbie Zapata – I’ve learned that you have to write down what you really want to have happen. Be completely honest. We know when we stray off course, but may not know why. I believe that is where the real work as a writer begins—what we learn about our own doubts and fears, but also what propels us forward and through it is reflective of our personal story that often shows up in our writing. Like my son Adam’s wisdom, as writers on a journey to publication, we have to practice patience, smile and have fun.
Writers definitely need large doses of persistence, intuition, patience, and fun! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Harshita Jerath – My favorite is Banff National Park in Canada. Its turquoise lakes and snow-capped mountains are simply breathtaking.
Carrie Tillotson – I am so enamored with Yellowstone National Park right now! My husband got me a travel book all about it for Christmas, and I am excited about the possibility of seeing so many cool sights and amazing wildlife.
Kimberly Wilson - I’ve visited Watkin’s Glen many times and it’s always been one of my favorite New York State Parks. The waterfalls and hike through the gorge do not disappoint! There are so many wonderful parks upstate––Stonybrook and Letchworth are also breathtaking. © Rolando Y. Wee
Debbie Zapata – I can’t name just one. I am enchanted by Muir Woods outside of San Francisco and Central Park in New York City. Each location is a magical setting. I can feel a pulse of energy that serves as a muse for creativity when I’m on their ancient grounds, under a canopy of trees and serenaded by birds.
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all great success with these and future books.
To learn more about these authors, visit Kidlit Caravan @ https://www.kidlitcaravan.com/.
Tribute to Paula Cohen
Prior to her untimely death on February 24, Paul Cohen was a member of the Kidlit Caravan, and the creator of their logo. Her debut picture book as author-illustrator, Big Dreams, Small Fish (Levine Querido, 3/1/2022), released five days after her death. Although I didn't get to complete her interview, I'd like to be sure you all discover her beautiful book about growing up, family, and making your dreams come true.
Synopsis: "In the new country, Shirley and her family all have big dreams. Take the family store: Shirley has great ideas about how to make it more modern! Prettier! More profitable! She even thinks she can sell the one specialty no one seems to want to try: Mama's homemade gefilte fish.
But her parents think she's too young to help. And anyway they didn't come to America for their little girl to work. "Go play with the cat!" they urge.
This doesn't stop Shirley's ideas, of course. And one day, when the rest of the family has to rush out leaving her in the store with sleepy Mrs. Gottlieb. Shirley seizes her chance!"
Text & Image © Paula Cohen, 2022.