The Picture Book Buzz - Kidlit Caravan Summer 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 by 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?)
Robyn McGrath – Dolly! The Story of Dolly Parton (Christy Ottaviano Books/Hachette, 6/7/2022) – Hi, thanks for having me. I’ve been writing for over 20 yrs., but only really got “serious” about 10 yrs. ago. And by serious, I mean actively putting my energies into carving out time to write, attend conferences, workshops, meet with critique groups, and send query after query on the search for an agent. At the beginning of my writing journey I only wrote fiction stories, but once I was challenged to write a nonfiction picture book that’s when things took off for my writing career. I realized how much fun it is to write non-fiction – it’s like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, and I LOVE doing puzzles in my spare time. When I’m not writing picture books I work with children ages 3-13 as a play therapist. My work focuses on helping children manage feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger, to name a few, and so much of it informs my writing as well! (You can find out more about me and my books at Robynmcgrathwrites.com.)
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – Brainstorm! (Sleeping Bear Press, 8/3/2022) - Officially, “I’m a children’s book author and poet with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme.” Unofficially, I’m a wife and a mom of two boys, a mediocre cook, and an anxious introvert who didn’t much mind being in quarantine. In my life B.C. (“Before Children”) I was a magazine and newspaper journalist, but I was a “writer” long before that – I’ve been scribbling in a journal and writing poetry and stories since I was 8-years-old. In addition to BRAINSTORM!, I am extremely excited to share that I have four more rhyming picture books coming out in the next two years! (For more about me and my books, or to get in touch, please visit RebeccaGardynLevington.com. I’d love to hear from you!)
Lisa Gerin – Rosalind Looked Closer (Beaming Books, 8/30/2022) – I live in Vail, Arizona, just outside of Tucson, in the Sonoran Desert! But I was born in NYC and lived 50 years of my life on the East Coast. I moved here about 5 years ago when I retired from teaching.
I write nonfiction- bios and creative nonfiction. I started to write almost ten years ago while I was still an elementary school librarian. I tried my hand at fiction and nonfiction, but nonfiction writing has always been my favorite. Writing nonfiction always starts with the research. And it’s like putting together a puzzle and letting the pieces fall into place. Some ideas will fit, others won’t. Although I have a home office, I tend to work at my kitchen island or dining room table. I don’t write every day, but when I do it will be for hours at a time-especially when researching or doing revisions. (You can find out more about me and my books at https://www.lisagerin.com/.)
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Robyn McGrath – In my undergraduate studies, I focused on reading education. My professor at the time helped foster my deep love of children’s literature. She was also a part time editor at a school text book company. When I heard this, I wanted to be just like her! There was a job opening, I applied, she sent in a good word, and… they ultimately chose someone else. I shut the door on my dreams of becoming an editor, but not my love of children’s books. [I'm glad!]
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – As a kid who grew up in the 80s, I was a HUGE girly-girl and was VERY focused on “matching.” My shoes, purse, earrings, socks, shirt…It all HAD to match. I would take swatches to the mall to make sure I found a purple scrunchy (Yes, a scrunchy!) in the EXACT shade to go with my outfit. I also couldn’t leave the house without perfectly executed make-up and Rave-sprayed bangs. (Oh, it was bad.) Thankfully, I grew out of the “matchy-matchy” stage of life, and as an adult I don’t think I’ve ever given a second thought about the color of my socks. 🙂
Lisa Gerin – I have central heterochromia! If you are really close to me you will see my hazel (light brown) irises are ringed with a dark blue circle. And my pupils are surrounded by lighter gold flecks than the rest of my iris. So when I wear green, my eyes look green as the gold and blue combine! [So cool!]
Now that we know a bit about each of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Robyn McGrath – Dolly! The Story of Dolly Parton (6/7/2022) - Dolly Parton is an inspiration for so many reasons. She’s sweet and soulful but also… a powerhouse! And her music always moves me. Dolly comes from very humble beginnings, she lived in a one room cabin with 11 siblings, grew up what she calls “dirt poor,” and was teased repeatedly as a kid. Despite those obstacles she made it big. I wanted to channel that drive and determination into a children’s book so readers could see that anything is possible.
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – Brainstorm! (8/3/2022) - On my #BrainstormBlogTour, I’ve shared the story many times about how there was a rainstorm brewing out my window on the day I first drafted BRAINSTORM! and how that sparked the initial curiosity of what a literal “brain-STORM” of ideas falling from the sky would look like. However, there was another inspiration for this book. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I wrote BRAINSTORM! for my two boys – and other reluctant writers like them -- who often complain about how “boring” writing is. Brainstorming is SO fun and it saddens me that sometimes the enjoyment that comes with letting your imagination go wild gets forgotten when kids feel they “have to” write. My hope is that this book will encourage kids to start PLAYING with their ideas again!
Lisa Gerin – Rosalind Looked Closer (8/30/2022) – I had written another bio about a scientist in 2013, that went to acquisitions meetings but was never published. I wanted to write about another inspirational scientist and had noticed there were no children’s books about Rosalind. And her story is such a great one that needed to be told. She persisted and followed her dream to become a lady scientist from a young age; such a great role model for children. Rosalind is Jewish, like me and had cancer at a young age, like me.
The story of discovering the shape of DNA is close to my heart, as I found out with genetic testing in 2001 that I have a genetic mutation in my DNA, the BRCA1 gene.
It's so fascinating to discover the inspiration behind books. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Robyn McGrath – The Secret Garden was a favorite as a child. Books with gloomy houses, hidden spaces, and budding friendships still entice me. My favorite now… Out of the Dust. I can’t even count how many times I’ve read that book, and it still brings me to tears.
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – It’s tough to pick one, but I would probably say Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends. I really gravitated toward his crazy, silly (and sometimes dark) sense of humor. As a poet and author, I can absolutely see how my own work has been influenced and inspired by his poetry.
Lisa Gerin – I loved the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When I was in second or third grade, I discovered them and devoured the series one by one.
Such awesome books! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?
Robyn McGrath – Dolly! The Story of Dolly Parton (6/7/2022) – Dolly is a slice of life biography, not your usual birth through life story. Our picture book tells how Dolly set a goal for herself and went after it at a young age, despite all the obstacles. While there is so much to Dolly’s life, her dream to perform at the Grand Ole Opry was something I had not known about in her journey to stardom. When I read that she was told “you’re just a kid” and “too young,” I knew that would resonate with young readers! How many times were we told that as we forged a path towards our own dreams?
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – Brainstorm! (8/3/2022) - BRAINSTORM! began as a short poem. That’s all I ever thought it would be. Just a poem. But it kept calling to me and over the next several months, as I tinkered with it, I wondered: could this be a picture book? In writing BRAINSTORM! I inadvertently discovered an awesome writing tool that has helped unblock my creative juices when I’m feeling stuck.. Now when I sit down to write, I tell myself I’m writing “just a poem,” and see where it goes. In fact, 4 of the 5 books I’ve sold so far have started as “just a poem.”
Lisa Gerin – Rosalind Looked Closer (8/30/2022) – There was a lot of change to the original manuscript I wrote back in 2018. My editor, Naomi Kruger, at Beaming Books was wonderful to work with. There was no one refrain that became our title. The title was originally THE GIRL WHO LOVED SCIENCE. Also, the backmatter to the book is really robust. I spent a lot of time on the timeline of Rosalind’s life, which ended up being a two pager. My editor loved the idea of having a strand of DNA to illustrate the timeline, with the events in her life on different rungs of the DNA helix.
Wow, thank you for sharing this special bit of your books? Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first saw the illustrations? Which is your favorite spread in the book?
Text © Robyn McGrath. 2022. Image © Ellen Surrey, 2022.
Robyn McGrath – Dolly! The Story of Dolly Parton (6/7/2022) – The colors are so fun and vibrant, like Dolly’s personality. But I especially love the cover of the book- the pink is so eye catching. (I was thrilled when I found a matching dress for my book party.) The talented illustrator, Ellen Surrey, put a butterfly, or two, on each page for readers to search for. Love, love, love! My favorite spread in the book is Dolly and her family listening to the battery powered radio in the living room. I love seeing her dreaming surrounded by her family, because both dreaming and family are equally important things for Dolly.
Text © Rebecca Gardyn Levington. 2022. Image © Kate Kronreif, 2022.
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – Brainstorm! (8/3/2022) - Yes, I have a funny story! So, BRAINSTORM! is written in the first person with an unnamed MC, so I had no idea how Kate would choose to depict the child. Both of my own children are boys, so in my head I always assumed the MC would be a boy. When I first saw the initial character sketches, I yelled out loud: “IT’S A GIRL!” I was so thrilled to have my first girl! Lol. Oh, and my favorite spread in BRAINSTORM! is the final spread, but since I can’t show you that (no spoilers!), my second favorite is the one where our MC is “sopping wet with wacky thoughts, of characters and twisty plots…” I love how happy she looks! (I’m pretty sure this is how I looked when I writing BRAINSTORM! Having so much fun getting soaked by my ideas!)
Text © Lisa Gerin, 2022. Image © Chiara Fedele, 2022.
Lisa Gerin – Rosalind Looked Closer (8/30/2022) – My illustrator, Chiara Fedele is amazing. There are so many beautiful spreads in the book, it is hard to choose just one. But I think the final spread when my Rosalind is thinking back about herself as a young girl is lovely. I love how DNA comes alive and sprouts like a plant in that spread.
They are all such great illustrations and I love how much they mean to each of you. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Robyn McGrath – Dolly Parton of course! 🙂 [I hope one day you get to meet her!]
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – As I mentioned, I’m kind of an introvert, so I think that rather than meeting someone new, I’d take the opportunity to hang out with my grandma, Charlotte, who was my best friend and who passed away 9 years ago. I would love for her to see how I’ve reinvented myself and how happy I am now as a picture book author and poet, doing what I love to do. [I bet she knows!]
Lisa Gerin – My list is so long, lol. I’d love to meet artist Georgia O’Keefe or fashion designer Isaac Mizrachi. And of course, Rosalind Franklin! [What a wonderful list!]
What was the hardest or most challenging part about writing your book? (such as maybe research, rhyme, word count, a particular portion….)
Robyn McGrath – Dolly! The Story of Dolly Parton (6/7/2022) - Distilling it down to a moment/time in Dolly’s life that children could connect to. There are so many fascinating things about Dolly’s life that I started out telling everything. It took me months and many revisions to distill her story down to this window in time. Dolly has done so much: singing, movies, literacy work- I wanted to share it all!
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – Brainstorm! (8/3/2022) - This is definitely NOT usually the case, but truthfully, this story was not very challenging to write at all. I had SO much fun with it, and once I had the idea, the whole thing really just poured out of me (pun absolutely intended!). But if I had to pick something, I would say that, after I had the initial draft, going through and beefing up the lyrical language, adding all the onomatopoeia, and making EVERY word count was the most “challenging part,” but honestly I find that the most enjoyable part as well!
Lisa Gerin – Rosalind Looked Closer (8/30/2022) – I had already done tons of research about Rosalind’s crystallography skills in taking the photo of the structure of DNA that revealed it was a double helix. But with COVID on the rise, my editor wanted me to add an extended section about Rosalind’s work with RNA and viruses. I only had a brief mention in the original manuscript. I had to go back and add more research about Rosalind’s contribution to studying RNA in plant viruses and how its structure was similar to the RNA in human viruses. Her research helped doctors in the 1950s while they developed a polio vaccine! And of course, we all know how important vaccines are.
Describe one thing you’ve learned from your journey, so far. Or something you discovered about yourself or writing over the past two years.
Robyn McGrath – That you don’t have to have a set routine to write. You can write wherever the idea strikes you. First thing in the morning? Write! Middle of the night? Write! The process is different for everyone there is no one size fits all formula, with the exception of getting the words down on the page. I’ve learned that I truly enjoy the editing process, if the bones of the story of there, it’s so fun to go back and add the sparkle. [Great advice!]
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – I’m an obsessive rule follower, and when I first started writing picture books all I kept hearing were “rules” like: “Don’t write in rhyme!” and “You MUST have a traditional arc with a character with problem who tries to solve it 3 times, etc.” So, of course, I followed the rules. And, of course, I never felt fully connected to my work because I LOVED writing in rhyme and I LOVED picture books without traditional narrative arcs like Liz Scanlon’s All The World, which are more like long poems. Once I gained the courage to start ignoring the “rules” and started studying these types of books and putting effort into perfecting my rhyming skills, my work became more authentic and I started selling books. What I’ve learned from my journey is that rhyme and plotless poem-picture books are my jam, and so that’s what I’m going to write. Rules-shmules! [Yeah!!]
Lisa Gerin – I’ve learned so much about what goes into producing a book, that it takes a village of editors, designers, and salespeople on your team. Also, I’ve learned to write what I love and not just for the market. Funny stories or meta stories are not me, so why try to write them? I focus on science, nature, history for kids and try to make my manuscripts kid-friendly whether they are more lyrical or straightforward. [Definitely something to remember.]
Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Robyn McGrath – Our family loves to camp, as well as visit state and national parks. But if I had to choose a favorite, hands down… Joshua Tree in California. Dry desert regions spotted with succulents and yucca trees, ah my favorite! Even though my children were little when we visited, we have the best memories of our time spent there. We can’t wait to get back!
Rebecca Gardyn Levington – Oh, Central Park, hands down! I lived in NYC for about 14 years and it was the place I would go (when I was a single lady with time on my hands!) to chill out with a book or the newspaper or to see a free Shakespearean play or listen to the NY Philharmonic (so incredible!). And then later, when I met my husband and we started a family, we would visit the MANY Central Park playgrounds or have a picnic or go to the zoo. I just think it is incredible how such a crazy busy city, so crammed with people and buildings, and one in which space is at such a premium, has this ENORMOUS, gorgeous park right in the center of it all. NYC is amazing for so many reasons, and Central Park is truly one of them.
Lisa Gerin – I live about 5 miles from Saguaro National Park, here in Tucson. I love visiting it and looking at mountains and desert at the same time. But I really miss some of the parks on the East Coast, like Central Park or Verona Park in New Jersey, both designed by Frederick Olmstead. I also love parks where you can hike among trees and along a coast, like Torrey Pines State Park in the San Diego area.
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into you and your books. I'm sure my readers join me in wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these authors and the other authors and illustrators in the Kidlit Caravan, visit them at https://www.kidlitcaravan.com/.