Author Archives: mariagianferrari

About mariagianferrari

I write both fiction and nonfiction picture books, usually while my faithful companion, Becca, snores at my feet. I love nature and animals, especially dogs! My debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July 2015. A second Penny & Jelly title will follow in spring 2016. Roaring Brook Press will publish three picture books, two works of nonfiction, Coyote Moon, to be illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (spring 2016), and Highway Hawks, to be illustrated by Brian Floca (winter 2016), as well as Hello Goodbye Dog, a fiction picture book in fall 2016. Aladdin Books for Young Readers will publish Officer Katz & Houndini, a fiction picture book, to be illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Boyds Mills Press will publish Terrific Tongues, a work of nonfiction, illustrator to be determined. I am represented by the amazing Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Please visit my website at

Flying the Emu’s Nest

Many of you may know I love birds—I’m a very proud bird nerd indeed! I’m obsessed with birds, and of course with nests.

Nests conjure up images and feelings of coziness, warmth and safety—a place to rest.

This is my all-time favorite, a hummingbird’s nest found when we were living in San Diego:




So, it has been apt on many levels to have been a part of the wonderful community of writers and illustrators nesting together at Emu’s Debuts, and helping to launch so many phenomenal books into the world:

Who doesn’t love a bunny, especially Kevan Atteberry’s Bunnies!!!! (+ a few more !!!!!), and Declan too! I loved interviewing Kevan, and being able to witness the evolution of Declan.




I joined the Emus post Changemaker, but was fortunate to have been able to help spotlight Laurie Thompson’s Emmanuel’s Dream, the inspirational story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah,



as well as her sweet and funny, My Dog is the Best, though I have to quibble with Laurie—my dog, Becca, is actually the best ;).


My Dog Is the Best cover

Right, Becca?  BD-dog2


Another highlight was re-visiting my favorite detectives and compiling the post for Susan Vaught’s touching middle grade novel, Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy. Columbo, anyone?


Y'all, this book is gooder'n grits!


Megan Morrison’s Grounded had me hankering after ubiquitous acorns, and book two in the Tyme series, focusing on a post of our favorite fractured fairy tales. Go team Rapunzjack!




Christine Hayes’s Mothman’s Curse was a deliciously creepy page turner, and I especially loved reminiscing about my favorite scary movies (REDRUM),  and fun family games.




An homage to mothers everywhere, Rebecca Van Slyke’s Mom School gave us even more reasons to celebrate our mothers. Every day should be Mother’s Day :).



I had a blast writing Pin the Quotes on the Emus to show which games we’d like to see come to life for Jennifer Chambliss Bertmann’s Book Scavenger. Jenn’s books are hiding all over the U.S.—have you found one yet?


Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 11.51.40 PM


What a treat it was to interview Christopher Silas Neal, illustrator for Tamara Ellis Smith’s Another Kind of Hurricane, and see some of his early sketches for this beautiful and heartfelt book.




I celebrated Penny Parker Klostermann’s There Was An Old Dragon Who Swallowed A Knight launch by interviewing agent extraordinaire, Tricia Lawrence, and her dogs, Rue & Toledo. Woof :).


There Was an Old Dragon cover


Teachers are so under-appreciated, and I loved extolling the virtues of our own favorites as well as Mr. Robert Looney, fictional and real-life hero in Luke Reynolds’s The Looney Experiment. I mentioned my all-time favorite 5th grade teacher, Miss Mellion, and I just recently found her address and wrote to her. I hope I’ll hear back!




And just last week, we paid tribute to Norse mythology, hero-squirrel Ratatosk, and MC Pru for Adam Shaughnessy’s The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB! I cannot tell a lie—I cannot wait to read this book!



We’ve been busy here at Emu’s Debuts :)!

During my time here, I was lucky to have interviewed agents and artists.  And one of the best perks of being an Emu was having the privilege to read ARCs and F&Gs and see the finished products before they were revealed to the rest of the world. Lucky, right?

But, without a doubt, the very best part of being an Emu was getting to know, and becoming friends with so many of you. I look forward to the day when we’ll get to meet in person, perhaps at one of the famous EMLA retreats!


Today I am fledging, leaving the Emu’s nest. It is bittersweet, but I’ll be waiting in the so-called wings to cheer on the upcoming titles of my fellow Emus: Janet Fox, Donna Jannell Bowman, Calista Brill, Carole Gerber, Mylisa Larsen and Elaine Vickers!

Some Emus have hatched, nested, and fledged, and the latest clutch of Emus is incubating. In the next month or two we will be welcoming new Emu’s to the nest with introductory posts from Elly Swartz, Debbi Michiko Florence, Hayley Barrett, Darcey Rosenblatt, Sarvinder Naberhaus, Jason Gallaher and Katie Slivensky. And my good friend and critique partner, Andrea Wang, will be joining too!

And most of all, before I fly the Emu’s nest, thank you to my fellow Emus for your support and all the posts for Penny & Jelly! There were so many fantastic posts on literary dogs, best friends, interviews with illustrator Thyra Heder, and editor Cynthia Platt, and of course, wild and wacky Emu talents.


I wouldn’t have wanted to celebrate my debut anywhere else!




And here’s the cover for the second Penny & Jelly book!



Becca enjoyed her appearances here too!

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Taking wing!

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Photo credit: Monogram Arts Photo

Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  on July 7, 2015. A second book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, will follow in June 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website:, or visit Maria at Facebook.



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Cover Reveal: COYOTE MOON!!

I’m thrilled to announce the cover of my debut nonfiction picture book, COYOTE MOON, to be published by Roaring Brook Press in July 2016!




Isn’t the cover stunning? It was illustrated by the incomparable Bagram Ibatoulline! His illustrations are so intricately detailed that they appear photographic. I am so fortunate to have him as the illustrator of this book which is near and dear to my heart, and to be working with editor extraordinaire, Emily Feinberg!

Here’s a synopsis:

A howl in the night.

A watchful eye in the darkness.

A flutter of movement among the trees.


In the dark of the night a mother coyote stalks prey to feed her hungry pups. Her hunt takes her through a suburban town where she encounters a mouse, a rabbit, a flock of angry geese, and finally an unsuspecting turkey on the library lawn.


Perhaps Coyote’s family won’t go hungry today.


Thanks for letting me share this with you!

Happy Monday!


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Photo of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.

Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  on July 7, 2015. A second book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, will follow in June 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website:, or visit Maria at Facebook.


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Celebrate our last day of launching THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann! Meet Marvelous EMLA Agent, Tricia Lawrence (plus a couple of dogs!)

It’s a red carpet welcome for agent extraordinaire Tricia Lawrence at Emu’s Debuts today to celebrate Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT!


Dragon Cover High Res copy

Welcome, Tricia! We’re so happy to have you here!

How did you come to represent Penny? What were your first impressions of her?

Penny was a referral from Erin, which is commonplace in EMLA. We often refer to each other if we’re feeling overly full of MG novel clients, or in Penny’s case, PB writers.  My first impression was someone who was passionate about her craft, determined to work harder than she had ever worked to become a success. And she is so much fun!


pic of Penny and Tricia

Since you’ve now met Penny in person, how did your initial impression match up with your in-person one?

Penny is SO MUCH FUN. We laugh, goof off, crack jokes, and then there was that time I told everyone she was ten years older than she was! <blushing still> I’ll never live that one down. And she’s always thinking about her manuscripts. At our annual retreat one-on-one meeting, she was typing away madly just before it was her turn. And then she read it to me! I LOVE that about Penny.

Here’s evidence of Penny’s silliness, a bobble Tricia likeness:

Bobble Trish


What was it about There Was an Old Dragon that first grabbed your attention?

The FUN rhyme and the silliness of the characters. And that clippity-clopping part. Who wouldn’t love it?

Now that you’ve read the final version, is it much different from the original that you first fell in love with? Can you talk about how it evolved?

It was hilarious, but with editor Maria Modugno’s wonderful guidance, it all fits so beautifully with illustrator Ben Mantle’s art. I think I giggle about this story still and I’ve read it more times than I could count. Which I LOVE! This is the magic of picture books, the author and illustrator create this wonderful symbiosis under the guidance of a skilled editor/art director, and voila! You want to read it again and again and again. And then you giggle again and again and again.

If you were a dragon, what would you eat?

All the chocolate cake. Hands down. I’d clean out every single bakery within a 50-mile radius. Oh, and add in some maple bars. And peanut M&Ms. And chocolate-filled Oreos. And . . . yes, there is a theme here.


chocolate cake

What are the first three phrases that pop into your head when you think of Penny?

Sparkly writer. Comedian extraordinaire. Rhyming superstar.

What are the first three phrases that pop into your head when you think of Penny’s writing?

Brilliantly crafted (although she makes it look easy). Always has something of Penny in it (very sparkly). Tons of fun.


group with Penny and Tricia (2)


Our Emu’s Debuts readers may like to know what kinds of submissions you’re currently interested in. Are there particular genres, or what are you looking for most in a manuscript?

This is the year of the novel for me. I’m looking for YA that could sit on a shelf next to Laura Ruby’s BONE GAP and Jennifer Mckissack’s upcoming SANCTUARY. And as for MG, again, something that could sit next to Alice Hoffman’s NIGHTBIRD and H.M. Bouwman’s upcoming THE TRADED GIRL. In a nutshell, a little bit of magical realism and a story that you can’t help but just sink into.

Tricia, Penny and some of Tricia’s EMLA clients:


What’s your typical work day like?

A lot of email. A lot of reading. A lot of chocolate rewards!

What’s your favorite thing about being an agent?

Getting to be a part of an author or illustrator’s creative cycle, seeing new ideas be born, revised, challenged, then turned into something truly astounding. I love the creative process (as an artist and writer myself) and getting to be near all these lovely authors and artists on a daily basis. Well, that is my favorite part! And then getting them connected to amazing editors is like ganache icing on my chocolate cake!

Disclaimer: this is completely unrelated to Penny’s book launch, but as a fellow dog lover I must ask you about your dogs—what are their names? Do they help you screen manuscripts?

We have a 2-year-old husky shepherd (mostly white, a little bit of gray now, with dark brown eyes) and her name is Rue. She’s a fluffy butt, but we adore her. She has a younger brother (actually not related at all, but they are now inseparable) 18-month-old English mastiff mix (a lovely chocolate brown with dark markings; he’s a 100 lbs!) named Toledo Vader. He drools a LOT being a mastiff, but we love him so.

They have turned our lives upside down, ruined the backyard and our downstairs family room carpet, but oh well. We LOVE our dogs.

(I can so see why–they’re adorable!)









Their favorite thing is to sit as close as they can to me when I’m on my laptop, or when I’m not downstairs, to sit on the stairs waiting for me to be done with my laptop.


Laptop vs. lapdog  ;).

Rue’s favorite picture book is ART & MAX by David Wiesner. It still bears her teeth marks from when she was a puppy.

Toledo prefers to eat SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, specifically issues with basketball players on the cover.


What else would you like to tell us about yourself?

I don’t know. I’ve bared my chocolate soul to you. What else is there? Oh wait, I’m crazy for soccer. Go Seattle Sounders! Go Seattle Reign!

Thank you Tricia, Rue and Toledo for visiting us here today!

And many thanks to our Emu’s Debuts guests for joining us this week to celebrate THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT!

Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win your very own copy!

For personalized signed copies of There Was an Old Dragon, you can order from Texas Star Trading Co. and give your dedication details in the Gift Message box. You can also contact them by email at or call  (325) 672-9696.

Penny’s book is also available at your neighborhood indie:


Or at these locations:

Books A Million



Barnes & Noble





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Top 10 Book Launch Dos, A Few Don’ts & The Power of Roberta




Penny & Jelly



Welcome One & All!

Invite your family, friends, new and old neighbors and acquaintances from all walks of life—you never know who will come! I expected my mother, siblings and their families to be there, but I was surprised by some cousins, some of my former classmates from St. Joseph’s elementary school—even my daughter’s kindergarten and 5th grade Montessori teachers drove up from Boston!



Ms. Rubina, Maria, Ms. Jutta, Anya & cousin, Brynn.

My high school English teacher popped by too, though I didn’t have a chance to speak with him. My Emu’s sister, Tam came, as did my new writer friend Cathy and her daughter, Grace.



An old neighbor, Jennifer came, as did many of my mother’s current neighbors. But by far the most people in attendance were friends of my mother’s (see # 1 :)).


Get Happy!

This may be obvious, but it bears repeating—have fun! You’re here to celebrate your book’s birthday and your journey to becoming a published author.

Tam as a silly musician-magician and Maria as a snake charmer.




C is for Cookies!

Did you say cookies? Who doesn’t love a cookie? I had two kinds of cookies, themed sugar cookies: dog, bone and pawprint shaped, and the quintessential American classic, chocolate chip cookies. Ask your friends and family for help. My mother made one batch of chocolate chip cookies, and Karen, my sister-in-law, made a second; I made the sugar cookies. They were eaten before I could get a good picture ;).



Everyone loves Freebies!

I prepared a basket of goodie bags with postcards, a Penny & Jelly notepad, mini-pen, stickers & business cards in a drawstring organza bag.





Calling all techies!

Tech support is a must, especially if you’re technically challenged like me! My techie husband, Niko, set up the slide show for me, and cleverly slowed down the pace when I began to read too quickly. He also designed both my website as well as the Penny & Jelly website.






Delegate, delegate, delegate! Niko helped me set up tables, the screen and projector for the slideshow. I had a basket with different colored pens (thanks for this idea, Megan!), and my niece Brynn’s job was to ask people which colors they’d like to have their books signed in. She also helped with props and drew the winning raffle ticket (see #4).



Anya and nephew, Aidan, expertly took down names and numbers for the raffle tickets.  My sister,  Lee Lee handed out cookies.





Aidan (before his raffle duties began).


Grand Prize Drawing!

Along with the freebies, have some kind of prize for people who buy your book. Those who purchased a copy of Penny & Jelly were entered into a raffle for a gift basket for each book purchased. My raffle basket contained a signed copy of Penny & Jelly, a Penny & Jelly tote bag, a Penny & Jelly “best friends” mug, assorted postcards and stickers, doggy cookie cutters, a feather boa and a kazoo. Anya tied the perfect bow.




Keep it Local!

Give back by organizing a community and theme-oriented charity event tie-in. Since I love dogs, and Penny & Jelly celebrates a bond between a girl and her canine best friend, I organized a goods drive with the local animal shelter, the Monadnock Humane Society. Anya decorated a collection box for food, toys and towels, the items they most needed.




I bought a cute pawprint jar at the Dollar Store and we collected over $50.00 which was totally unexpected, and wonderful. I also offered to donate $1 per book sold (but ended up contributing more, since they ran out, see #1). The Monadnock Humane Society was happy to help advertise the event on Facebook.  Lincoln, the Toadstool Events Manager, also partnered with a local pet store, One Stop Country Pet Supply, who placed a box for in-store donations. And I felt really happy about helping local animals in a small way—win-win!  ❤


Get Curious about Curious City!

Hire Kirsten Cappy—marketing guru extraordinaire! Seriously! She’s smart, savvy, creative and so down-to-earth! She designed my business cards, postcards, notepads as well as the Penny & Jelly banner for kids to “be” Penny and pose with Jelly and a variety of props from the book, featuring original art by the über-talented, Thyra Heder.












The Power of Roberta :)!

Spread the word aka—the power of Roberta, my mother, who has a ton of friends, and invited them all. Thanks, Mom!!



Roberta, in blue, among friends.

This may give you a hint, to quote her granddaughter, Brynn who ran errands with her one day, “Nonna—you know too many people.”




Better yet, hire Roberta to do some publicity for you—there’s one catch: you must come to Keene, where she knows everyone :). I don’t exactly know how many people attended, but the Toadstool had only ordered 30 books, and they sold out quickly, and many more people wanted to buy copies. I just ordered a bunch of plain bookplates that I can sign and send to the Toadstool for those unable to buy signed copies that day. They’re also useful to send to family and friends who live far away but want their owned signed copies.



Three siblings: Lee Lee, Maria & Michael.



Don’t worry, be happy :).

It’s about celebrating, not sales (see # 9 Dos).



Smile! I really dislike being the center of attention and public speaking, but once I began talking and engaging with the audience, I relaxed, and it actually became fun.




Long Presentation:

Short and sweet is key, especially when there are lots of kids in the audience. And if you’re like me, you’ll be happy when you can just chat with people one-on-one.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped out and attended, those both near and far, and thanks to my fellow Emu’s Debuts for supporting the virtual Penny & Jelly book launch! ❤


Just one more thing: it’s time to announce the lucky winner of Tamara Ellis Smith’s ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE launch: LINDA MARTIN ANDERSEN!!!

Congrats, Linda!! You’ve won a signed book plus a lucky marble keepsake. Please contact us with your mailing address.


Thanks to all who stopped by last week to leave comments!

And don’t forget to join us in August when we launch Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON starting August 3rd, as well as Luke Reynolds’s THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT on August 10th!


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Photo of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.


Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  on July 7, 2015. A second book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, will follow in June 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website:, or visit Maria at Facebook.






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An Interview With Christopher Silas Neal, Book Cover Illustrator of Another Kind of Hurricane + a GIVEAWAY!!

It’s day four of our week-long launch celebrating Tamara Ellis Smith’s Another Kind of Hurricane! We’re rolling out the red carpet to welcome multi-talented artist Christopher Silas Neal. Is there anything he can’t do? I don’t think so! He creates book covers, illustrates picture books and articles for magazines, makes animated videos and exhibits his work in galleries. Today, Chris is stopping by Emu’s Debuts to tell us about his process for designing Another Kind of Hurricane’s cover, his creative processes within various artistic media, and the life of an artist.




Welcome, Chris!

You’ve illustrated so many stunning book covers. What were your first impressions of Another Kind of Hurricane? Did that lead to any immediate images or sketches?

Thank you so much for saying so. Rather than tell the story with an image, I think the goal of a cover is to give the reader an impression of how it feels to be in the story—how it feels as a reader to connect with the characters. Sometimes this is giving a since of location or time period and most importantly, to convey a feeling. In the case of Another Kind of Hurricane, there’s turmoil in the lives of the two characters—one being uprooted from his home in New Orleans, the other losing his best friend and thus changing life as he knows it. The flood is a great metaphor in the book and I thought it would be a great visual signifier for the cover. There’s the mountain, another great piece of imagery and lastly, the duality between the two boys. Oh, and the marble. The wavy and chaotic patterns found within a marble have an interesting connection to the upheaval in the boys’ lives and the wavy and chaotic storm that changed everything. I usually start with these visual signifiers and make a few rough thumbnails. After some discussion with the art director and editor, we choose a direction to take to the next step.

Here are some of Chris’s early sketches:





The varying shades of blue that you selected for the cover have a somewhat tranquil quality, and yet there is a lot of dynamism and energy in the clouds and the uneven way the title is presented. Can you tell us a little a bit about the process for arriving at this cover?


Color, for me, is sort of intuitive. The art director did mention that cover shouldn’t feel too out of control, and so the tranquil palette and sturdiness of the two faces work to temper the movement of the water. It’s a lot of trial and error to get just the right color.

Some early color sketches:




I also love how the silhouettes lend balance to the tension in the cover. Your art has a very vintage, nostalgic quality, and the silhouettes give it a timeless feel. How has your background as a designer shaped your work?


Thanks. Having worked as a designer before starting my practice as an illustrator, I often compose a drawing in the same way I might layout a page—moving around shapes and colors while trying to find balance and visual hierarchy. Some artists are masters of lighting, others are really good at expressing mood through facial expression. I tend to use shape and color and not too much rendering. Within the textures and drawing, there’s a flatness to my work.


You’re multi-talented and you work in a variety of visual media—from illustration in magazines, book covers, picture books, TV, and motion graphics. Are there any commonalities in terms of your creative process, or does it change from project to project, or in terms of the medium you’re working in?


Things like shape and color that I mentioned above are a constant, but each medium has its own rules and quirks. In a picture book, you have several pages for pacing. In magazines you’re doing less story telling and more visual twists, concepts and puns. Book jackets for adults rarely show the character, but in books for KidLit you almost always show the character. However, publishers of YA and middle grade books often come to me when they are looking for something that blurs traditional lines, for instance using silhouetted faces rather than showing facial details or doing a mostly typographic treatment rather than a character-based one. These are more commonly associated with adult fiction but I think work just as well for young readers. One thing that is constant regardless of what I’m doing—everything starts with a sketch.



Could you describe a typical work day?


I ride my bike to my studio which is located in an old pencil factory in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. I share it with 4 other amazing artists/designers. The first thing I do is make a cup of tea and check emails. Then I get to work sketching or working on art in progress. My studio mates and I usually eat lunch together around noon and talk about work and life. Then it’s back to work for the rest of the day.

A peek at Chris’s studio:



My favorite picture book as a kid was Frederick by Leo Lionni. It’s a story about a group of field mice who are preparing for winter by storing wheat and corn. Except for one mouse, Frederick who is storing colors and words and sunshine. It’s a quiet, poetic book. I just love it.


(One of mine, too!)









I’m a fan of your picture book illustration as well—the bold shapes, colors and folksy quality of the images in your books with Kate Messner, in Go to Sleep, Little Farm as well as Lifetime. Your debut as an author-illustrator, Everyone, is forthcoming from Candlewick in 2015. Could you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this project?


Everyone… is about a boy and his feelings. It explores how we feel, what we feel and how everyone (and everything) feels it too. We’re printing the book on a wonderful uncoated stock with 3 spot colors.




What’s your favorite thing about illustrating, or having a career in the arts?


One of my favorite things is the freedom that comes with running your own illustration studio. I choose when or when not to go to my studio and I can take or decline projects as I see fit. I get to express my personal voice through drawing, and at the end of the day, I feel good about what I put out into the world. Not all careers in the arts are like that and if I were chained to a desk 9-5 being told which projects to work on and what to draw, I’m not sure I’d get any enjoyment out of it.


What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?


Dream big!


I read that you have an orange tabby gatto named Fabrizio. Please tell us more about him.


He’s a cat of simple pleasures. He likes to eat, he likes to go outside and he loves to snuggle. If those three things happen everyday, he’s pretty happy.



Fabrizio cat-napping.


Thanks so much for joining us at Emu’s Debuts, Chris!!

Learn more about Chris at his website.

And to learn more about the lovely Tamara Ellis Smith, stop by her website, or listen to an interview on Vermont radio station, WKVT 100.3.


You know you want your very own copy of Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith! You can find it at  your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Random House, Powell’sB&Nor Amazon.


It’s Becca’s new favorite book :).




Thank you for spending time with us at Emu’s Debuts!

Be sure to leave a comment to be eligible for a chance to win a signed copy of Another Kind of Hurricane, or a lucky marble keepsake!








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Pin the Quote on the EMU & Win A Mystery Prize! It’s time to celebrate Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger!!

Do you love treasure hunts, puzzles and books? Then you’re going to love Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger!!



It’s an homage to The Westing Game, westing


Edgar Allen Poe,


and the art of ciphering.

To celebrate Jenn’s book, we’re going to play a game of pin the quote on the Emu! Each Emu listed below picked a game that s/he would like to see come to life.  See if you can match the quote to the Emu’s listed below. Whoever accumulates the most points wins a signed copy of Book Scavenger plus a mystery prize! Each correct answer is worth one point.

Here are the quoted Emu’s in alphabetical order: Adam, Calista, Christine, Elaine, Janet, Jenn, Laurie, Luke,  Maria, Megan, Mylisa, Penny, Rebecca, Susan & Tam.


Ready? Set? Go!

Pin the quote on the Emu!


1).        I’d like to bring a Star Wars game to life. Space travel? The Force? Lightsabers? Yes, please. I’d either want to summon into existence a tabletop RPG campaign (like the amazing ones that my friend Lisa writes) or else I’d want to live in the 2003 Game of the Year: Knights of the Old Republic, the video game that made me love video games. Just thinking about that game makes me want to put on my Jedi robe (yes, I have one) and do katas while listening to John Williams. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…




2).        My vote goes to “Ticket to Ride,” the European edition. Who wouldn’t want to see a train-riding adventure come to life? One game I wouldn’t want to come to life: Ouija!!


ticket to ride


3).        Oh, BALDERDASH! I haven’t got a CLUE how to pick just UNO. At first I thought this question was a MASTERPIECE, but with all this AGGRAVATION it’s causing my CRANIUM, I think it’s a real brain TWISTER. I’m SORRY. It BOGGLEs my mind. I don’t want to RISK my reputation on such a TRIVIAL PURSUIT, but I have so much TROUBLE with my MEMORY. I could just SCRABBLE around for an answer that is absolute PERFECTION, but I’m no MASTERMIND. Well, I don’t want to have a MONOPLY on this whole OPERATION, so YAHTZEE what I can come up with.


4).        Two Emu’s would like to see the game Hungry Hungy Hippos come to life. Who are they? Worth two points!       hippos_


5).        It would be amazing to see a real-life game of Quidditch. quidditch  I’ve also been a longtime fan of Clue, but that wouldn’t be a great choice since it would involve, you know, murder.  clue_

Chutes and Ladders would probably be a lot of fun as a real-life game!    chutes

6).        I’d love to see Parchesi come to life. I played it with my Grandpa whenever he babysat me when I was little, and wouldn’t it be just incredible, to imagine that the four “pawns” from the game are really four children on a dangerous, remarkable mission? And they have to make it through 68 obstacles (spaces, in the game) in order to get back “home.”




7).        I would like to see Candy Land come to life with real candy/sweets at each stop. I would choose to be Gramma Nutt since she lives in a peanut brittle house on the corner of Candyland. I don’t think there would be much left of Gramma Nutt’s house by the end of the game. I’m sure I’d get hot playing this game, so I’d want to spend extra time at the bubbly Ice Cream Sea where Queen Frostine resides. My sweet tooth should be very happy by the end of the game.        candyland_

8).        I’d love to have a game like Jumanji come to life. The idea of falling into an “alternate world” and then have it pop into this one – especially with all those animals – I love it!



9).        So one of the favorite games in our house is WHO WHAT WHERE…you probably know it?  You pick a card from the WHO (famous person or creature), WHAT (activity), and WHERE (location) piles and then have to draw a scene that incorporates all three.  So, for example, you might have to draw Big Bird ice skating on the moon.  It is so much fun for every single person in the family…fun and often funny! I would love to see WHO WHAT WHERE come to life.  Can you imagine it?  You pull the cards and then the scene magically comes to life…life sized too!  You could watch it for a moment and jump in and ice skate with Big Bird!




10).      Minecraft! Not for myself, but for my kids. I actually think it’s a great game (in moderation!) for problem solving and design and spatial skills. If you could combine that with physical activity and a separatedimension for all the endless and tedious Minecraft conversations, that would be a huge win!




11).     I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons when I was a teenager. My favorite character was Crafty Christina. She was a high-level thief, but chaotic good alignment, so she only liked stealing from rich, evil people and monsters. She was a gnome, and she rode a giant German Shepherd, who also helped her in battle. Camping and adventuring with a band of trusted friends… what could be better?

  Then and Now

12).      I’m a big gamer, so I’ll go with my current love, Lord of the Rings Online. When it comes to life, I will be a hobbit minstrel upon a white horse, healing everything in my path with my harp. Unless it makes me mad. If it makes me mad, I’ll put down my harp and shriek at it until it explodes.  lord13).      There’s a TV commercial where a man gets dropped into a life-sized version of Pac-Man, and my kids all think it’s just the coolest.





It got me thinking about my favorite video game as a kid: Q-bert. How fun would it be to jump around turning all the squares around you different colors? Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it would be fun to watch someone ELSE jump around and I could offer encouragement from the sidelines. Life-sized Frogger would be amazing too, but only if the players don’t end up flattened when they make a mistake!




14).      I had a deck of “Old Maid” cards when I was a kid, and they had the most captivating (to me) illustrations. Half the time I ended up just using that deck to tell stories about the characters in the pictures. It would be riot, now, to see what those characters would say to each other if they could.










Thanks again for helping us celebrate the launch for Book Scavenger! A general winner as well as a winner for this post will be announced on June 8th!


Want to hide or find a book, or see the latest activity, visit Book Scavenger’s website!


You can buy your very own copy of Book Scavenger at these locations:


Books a Million


Barnes & Noble


Good luck!!





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Megan Morrison’s Grounded Book Launch: Favorite Emu’s Fractured/Fairy Tales + a GIVEAWAY!!!!

grounded_cover (1)

Once upon a time, there lived an up and coming author named Megan Morrison, who breathed life and words into her very own Rapunzel tale and the enchanting world of Tyme. Today we’re here to celebrate and launch Megan’s debut, Grounded, a new twist on an old fairy tale!

Sundragons! What better way to do that, than to talk about our own Emu’s Debuts favorite fractured/fairy tale adaptations.

Cinderella tales are quite popular among the Emu’s:

Susan Vaught adores Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, “both the book and movie versions. I absolutely love the idea of Cinderella as she unfolded in this twisty-turny conceptualization of the age-old tale. The curse of obedience is just sheer genius.”



Rebecca Van Slyke treasures Ella Enchanted too, “In fact, I’m listening to it in my car now.”

And Susan’s a fan of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles too, “Taking fairytales into far-future technology, that’s just complete delirious fun.”

Janet Fox agrees and calls Meyer’s Cinder, “… a fun and extremely inventive retelling of Cinderella – I love the android aspect!”


cinder          Scarlet





Christine Hayes’s best-loved Cinderella tale takes the form of a farm girl in Fanny’s Dream, by Caralyn Buehner. “It’s a version of Cinderella where the heroine, ordinary farm girl Fanny, gets stood up by her fairy godmother. Instead she meets Heber—a far cry from the prince she’s imagined, but a decent, hard-working guy who loves her. After many happy years together, with plenty of ups and downs along the way, the fairy godmother appears, apologetic, to whisk Fanny away to the life of leisure she always dreamed of. But Fanny takes a look around at her life and decides she already has everything she wanted. It’s sweet and funny, and a  refreshing take on the traditional view of happily ever after.”




Carole Gerber most admires the Cinderella written and produced by Emmitt Owens on Youtube. “The plots, twists, cartoon illustrations – as well as the voices – are hilarious! He has several others posted as well and all are professionally done and funny.”       (To watch one of Emmit Owens’s videos, type the search term “Emmitt Owens & Fractured Fairy Tales.”)

For Penny Parker Klostermann, it’s a hirsute Cinderella story, Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by James Warhola, “You don’t have to go any further than the title. The book is just as funny!

bigfoot cinderrrella

As a child, Donna Bowman Bratton marveled at Disney’s Cinderella, “for the pure magic and fantasy of it.”  And not only that, Donna even had her own fairy tale theatre, “Before movies were available on VHS, I had one of those view master/record player doodads, called a Show-n-Tell, that allowed me to play a Disney record while the related cardboard film strip advanced. I charged my mother a quarter to enter my “theatre”. I watched them so often, I could recite The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Bean stalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Blind Mice. Fairy tales were my first introduction to story. I still have my old view master projector and some of the cards and records.”

There’s also one upcoming Cinderella fractured fairy tale that I can’t wait to get my hands on: Interstellar Cinderella, by EMLA’s own, Deborah Underwood (illustrated by Meg Hunt).


Pigs are also perennial Emu favorite:

Rebecca Van Slyke loves Jon Scieszca’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as “a great example of voice and an unreliable narrator!

So does Laurie Thompson: I think it’s great for kids to think about the fact that there is another side to every story, and that each teller–for various reasons–may not always be completely reliable. Great fun, with some important lessons to learn and critical thinking exercises to engage in all at the same time.”




Both Jennifer Chambliss Bertman and Penny Parker Klostermann are fans of Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat’s Three Ninja Pigs (so am I!). Penny says, “It is written in perfect rhyme and keeps me laughing.”

And Jenn explains, “The first time I read this book, I laughed out loud. The meshing of the traditional three little pigs’ story and ninjas is so clever and funny, and the rhyme is incredibly well done. It’s a lot of fun to read out loud. I bought the book for myself, really, because my son was too young at the time to appreciate it. Or so I thought–I’ve read to him since he was very little and this is one of the books that captivated him early on. I think it was a mixture of the illustrations and the rhythm of the story? As he’s gotten older, he continues to appreciate it, picking up on new layers over time. It’s been a fun book to read throughout his different developmental stages.The last beautiful illustration spread is our favorite. He always points to it and says, quite incredulously, ‘Is that their school?!?’”



Here are some of our other assorted favorites:

Penny’s top choices also include Goldilocks and Just One Bear, written by Leigh Hodgkinson, a book that’s “just right” and “… quirky and charming and Leigh’s illustrations are a delight




as well as Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, “Oh my! Clever, clever, clever and it has so many nuggets about writing.

I LOVE Little Red Writing too! It’s full of such fun and clever word play, and Melissa Sweet’s illustrations add another level of humor.


little red


Who’s Adam Shaughnessy’s prime pick? Dr. Who, that’s who!“One of the first things that came to mind when I started to think about this topic was Season 5 (by Netflix’s counting) of Doctor Who. It was Stephen Moffat’s first (and I think best) season as show runner and he said on many occasions that he set out to tell a fairy tale through the season. I think he succeeded—no small task, considering Doctor Who is firmly set in the realm of science fiction. But the feel of the season, the references, and the imagery all suggested a fantastic journey complete with a magic castle (the TARDIS), a magician (the Doctor), and a brave hero (Amy). It’s well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it (but read Grounded first!).”

Tamara Ellis Smith’s most beloved alternative fairy tale is Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, “I love the setting, in stark, rural Alaska. I love the prose, also stark but gorgeous. The story seems to hover on the line between wild and magical. There is just so much nature in it, raw and instinctual nature, but also the magic of very human emotion and desire. It is haunting and beautiful.”


snow child


For Mylisa Larsen it’s a mouthful of a title: The Cat, The Dog, Little Red, The Exploding Eggs, The Wolf and Grandma by Diane and Christyan Fox: “It’s almost an attempted retelling, there is so much interference from the dog. It makes me laugh.”




Calista Brill says, “My favorite interpretation of a fairy tale is actually a whole collection of fairy tale interpretations … into comics format! It’s called FAIRY TALE COMICS, and it has some of the funniest, most interesting, most beautiful comics treatments of fairy tales I’ve ever seen. I especially love Graham Annable’s take on Goldilocks.”




Laurie Thompson sings the praises of Serendipity Market, by EMLA client Penny Blubaugh, for its vivid storytelling, “The world has gotten off kilter, so Toby helps Mama Inez plan for the Serendipity Market, where honored guests from afar make their way to the storytellers’ tent. Their stories are all twists on a well-known fairy tale or folk tale, and they prove that magic is everywhere. Combining the magic in the stories with the power of storytelling, they just might have what it takes to get the world back on track. The stories are fun, and the language is absolutely beautiful!”    




And to bring this post to a happily ever after, I’d be remiss without mentioning two wonderful poetry picture books, Mirror Mirror  



and Follow Follow, written by Marilyn Singer, and illustrated by Josée Masse. Singer has developed an ingenious poetic form called a reverso, which can be read forwards and backwards to reveal entirely new stories. Talk about craft!




And Donna Jo Napoli is a fractured fairy tale master. Her book Breath, a re-telling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, is exquisite prose, with an inquisitive main character named Salz, and a palpable sense of place, 13th century Hameln.




If you love fairy tales, you must read her books! I also love her Zel, Beast, Bound (a Chinese Cinderella story) and Hush.

But before we reach “the end,” let’s hear a bit about why Megan wrote a re-telling of Rapunzel, “I gravitated toward Rapunzel because I wanted to explain that story to myself, I think. I wanted to know why a young person would stay in a tower for so long without rebelling, and I decided that it must be because Rapunzel loves her tower. It’s her home. She’s safe there, and she’s the center of the universe, and she gets everything she wants from her Witch, who adores her. She thinks her life is perfect and that she’s the luckiest girl in the world – so why would she ever leave?  



The more I played with that idea, the more it felt right to me. I loved the idea of a girl who wasn’t fragile or frightened or waiting for rescue, but who instead was full of self love and self-righteous delusion. I wanted to see that girl interact with reality. So I wrote it!”

Adam Shaughnessy adds, “There are so many great options of things to talk about when it comes to fairy tales and fairy tale re-imagining. And it goes without saying that Megan Morrison’s Grounded will soar to the top of everyone’s list of favorites!”  (Ditto!!)

Trust me. You’re going to love this new version of Rapunzel! Want to win your very own signed copy of Grounded, plus a cool bookmark? Please leave a comment here, or after of any of this week’s posts, for a chance to win!

You can also buy a copy of Grounded at the following locations:

Third Place Books

The Secret Garden Bookshop




Barnes & Noble


Thanks for joining us here at Emu’s Debuts!! Be sure to visit every day this week for new and exciting posts on Megan Morrison’s Grounded!





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Grounded Book Trailer!!!



You think you know Rapunzel, but you’ll see another side of her in Megan Morrison’s Grounded.


Here’s a sneak peek at the book trailer:


Join us here at Emu’s Debuts for Grounded’s book launch on April 27th!


We hope to see you there!!


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Zen & Pen: Are You Ready to Be a Student—Again?

This week I came across a video by one of my favorite authors, naturalist Sy Montgomery, who’s often described as a cross between Emily Dickinson and Indiana Jones—what’s not to love about that! As a resident bird-nerd, her Birdology is one of my favorite books.


She mentioned a quote frequently attributed to the Buddha, though some think it has theosophist origins. Either way, it’s instructive: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

I’ve been thinking about this lately—the different ways that we are students, and the various forms in which our teachers appear. For me, last month, they were fiction and nonfiction picture books. I participated in writer-educator Carrie Charley Brown’s March challenge, Read for Research Month, otherwise fondly known as ReFoReMo, where we studied mentor texts of our own choosing, and where Emu’s own Penny Parker Klostermann was a contributor.

At first, I thought I’d only participate sporadically—I want to do this, but do I really have the time? I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by things like promotion (for another post!), trying to write new manuscripts and just the every day stuff that needs to get done. But once I started, I was hooked. Since I primarily write picture books, I already read a lot of them. But this was taking the time to look more closely,


to get under the skin of the story, seeing the bones, the story’s structure, the way its muscles, rhythm, refrains, and repetition are bound together. Finding a story’s heart, and something somewhat more elusive: its soul.










It has been enlightening, and liberating. Not because I’ve never done this before, but because I was ready to be a student, to see these stories as teachers, and uncover what my works in progress were really about. I usually read a picture book and I love it, or like it. I may find it kind of meh (or maybe, I even hate it—I’ll keep those to myself). So I tend to have an almost visceral, emotional reaction—I laugh, chortle, cry, gasp—and now I would take this one step further, dissecting the HOW of this reaction.

I have several works in progress that were all rather meh. One near to my heart was a fiction picture book about two rat sisters, pets of two human sisters, modeled on our own pet rats, Nera (who died on Christmas day 😦 ), and Lucia.


But I was stuck in reality for the first draft—it was a rescue story, of a rat trapped behind the refrigerator (which really happened to Nera); I ventured away from that in the second and third drafts, but still, the story wasn’t really feeling like it was going anywhere. Then, I decided that it was time to step away from my words entirely, and let some other books teach me about possibility. And what a world of difference it has made! I’ve changed everything about the story—it has moved from fiction, to nonfiction. The voice, which had been somewhat lyrical in tone, is now humorous and ironic—at least I hope it is! I found the heart of the story I wanted to tell.



And most of all—I had fun doing it! It’s not there yet, but it feels like I’m heading in the right direction.

While writing this post I was also reminded of grad school, when I studied under the late poet-activist, June Jordan, whose teaching strategy was to have us write what she called “imitations.” We would slip on the skins of other poets, and try out their voices. Imagine writing an “imitation” of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl or Emily Dickinson’s I Heard a Fly Buzz? Challenging indeed!

We can slip into the skins of picture books by writing or typing out the text. The act of doing this helps us to feel its rhythms, the pulse of the story in our fingers. To absorb it even more fully (and better yet, read it aloud while doing so). I’m not an illustrator, but one could do the same with images, “imitate” or mimic an artist’s style, feel the line, smell the color, hear the scratchboard. Sometimes though, our stories need to steep a bit longer, like a good cup of tea.


Reading mentor texts, gaining perspective,  enabled me to let go of the words themselves, black and white on the page. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do, even though we know, deep down, that it’s essential. There is so much to learn, even if we’ve been writing a long time, by opening ourselves and our hearts to being a student.


The ReFoRe challenge let me play, and experiment, and be, and that is the way of finding our true stories.

So, who are your teachers: literal, literary, or perhaps figuratively speaking?

Where, when, and in what form will they appear?


Here’s to being ready!


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Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July 2015, with a second Penny & Jelly book to follow in Spring 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press,  Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website:, or visit Maria at Facebook.

Photos of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.


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Prepare to be schooled–we have a WINNER for Mom School!!!

BD-dog2        Becca would like to thank you for helping us celebrate the book birthday of Mom School, by Rebecca van Slyke! We hope you enjoyed our posts on Emu’s mothers, and the various ways we’d love to be schooled!





The winner of a signed copy of Mom School goes to …


Maryanne (mfantaliswrites).  Congratulations, Maryanne!!! Please contact us with your mailing address. 🙂


And for those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Mom School, here’s where you can buy your very own copy.  It’s also a perfect Mother’s Day gift!


 Village Books

Barnes & Noble

Liberty Bay Books

Auntie’s Bookstore

Thanks again for joining us here at Emu’s Debuts!!!



Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July 2015, with a second Penny & Jelly book to follow in Spring 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press,  Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website:, or visit Maria at Facebook.

Photos of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.


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