Category Archives: Uncategorized


The celebration of Sarvinder Naberhaus’ new gem of a board book continues! Have you ever wondered what unicycles, doughnut trucks, towns, and our solar system have in common? (C’mon, you have at least once, haven’t you?) I’ll let you in on the answer: LINES.



And illuminating profound connections between disparate things doesn’t require as high a word count as you may suppose. As authors, we may think more often than most people about the number of words we are writing – did I make my daily quota for NaNoWriMo? Has my picture book inadvertently expanded to chapter book? Is my YA novel so long that no agent could ever even lift the manuscript?


Female face behing pile of paper


The fewer words we choose to use, the bigger the challenge to create something of substance, a book a child will enjoy having read to them again and again (and a book adults are happy to pull off the shelf again and again). LINES offers the simplest of ideas, carefully crafted. Sarvinder uses sparse language and simple repetition to condense the shapes around us to their basic essentials. Then she expands the reader’s view to see those shapes filling out into every nook and corner of the world around us.

In less than twenty words.




That’s right – she pretty much covers the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, from doughnut trucks to the solar system, with just a double-handful of nouns, verbs, and prepositions. The famously constrained Green Eggs and Ham uses a whopping fifty. Goodnight Moon and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! both have over a hundred. Just sayin’.


If you’re a writer like me who usually functions at maximum verbosity, you can’t help but be impressed with the skill of writers who can pare down to the essentials and create an engaging book for the youngest readers-to-be.


Now are you wondering not only how LINES links so many things but how it does it so succinctly? Only one way to find out – pick up a copy (I promise, it’s as light as a doughnut) at IndieBoundBarnes & NobleAmazon or your favorite bookseller and take a look at how Sarvinder and illustrator Melanie Beck made it happen!


Filed under Board Books, Book Launch, craft~writing, Uncategorized




I had just come off of an SCBWI conference, and I was inspired!  I decided that I wasn’t going to go to sleep until I got an idea. I just wanted to have a revelation. I kept thinking, brainstorming, trying to think of possible picture book ideas. I just wasn’t going to go to bed without one. And late that night (early in the morning) I caught the edge of my bookshelf with the corner of my eye, and the edge formed a LINE. And that’s when I thought, that’s it. Lines.
From there, I sat down quickly and started typing out LINES. For me, this is absolutely the best thing I’ve ever written.

I spent the next day making illustrations to go with it. LINES ALL AROUNDYou can’t really understand it with just the words which seems to be typical of my books (it was subbed with my dummy book art). Whenever I shared LINES at conferences, it seemed to make an impact on people, so I hope people enjoy it.

I love the fact that a true line, according to the dictionary, goes on forever in both directions. Isn’t that cool?  Forever east and forever west. It occurred to me that a circle is a line, because it also goes on forever and ever. And it is!  A circle IS a line!  It’s just a bent line. Or is a line an unbent circle?  What came first, the chicken or the egg? In this case, I believe it is the chicken & circle, since almost all math is built upon the principles and equations relative to it (the circle, not the chicken). So I believe the circle came first. LINES GO UP
If you take a straight line (180 degrees) and divide it into 360 segments, and bend each segment 1 degree, you will have a circle. So a circle is a line. Or a line is a circle. This is just a small taste of what makes this a STEM book. One may argue that LINES is for the very young, and very simple, but I absolutely disagree! I use LINES in the presentation I give to college students. We go from a line segment to Einstein’s theory of relativity. A line is a profound phenomenon. Things can be simple AND profound at the same time. Simple can be profound.

burgandy starI really wanted LINES to be a picture book because board books don’t necessarily get the recognition they deserve, and rarely get reviewed. You can imagine how excited I was when LINES got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. I’m so excited to see LINEs go out into the world and hopefully make a profound impact on people’s hearts and minds. I feel so privileged to be the messenger that brings concepts such as LINES into the world.


Sarvinder Naberhaus is a the author of Boom Boom, a picture book about the seasons, illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Her most recent book, Blue Sky White Stars received 4 starred reviews and is a patriotic salute to the flag, paralleling the forces that forged this great nation, illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson. Look for her upcoming STEM book, Lines (book launch August 26, 10:30 at the Ames Library) and visit her website


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Final Countdown – an Interview with Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette.

The Countdown Conspiracy 3What a fabulous week it has been celebrating the rockety roboty launch of Kate Silvensky’s fabulous debut THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY. I got to interview Kate’s brilliant agent Ammi-Joan Paquette about the journey of bringing this great book to the world.

Q: What was it that first attracted you to THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY?

A: This was one of those manuscripts that hooked me in right from the first page – talk about a heart-pounding opening! As I kept reading and flipping those pages, I stayed just as engrossed, and the premise felt so fresh and exciting. Basically this manuscript was your all-around winner. How could I possibly resist?  ☺

Q: Can you tell us anything about the process of working with Katie before it went out to sub? What did you and Kate have to do to get to a version that could go out to submission?

A: We didn’t really do much in the way of revisions – the story was terrifically strong, and any changes were just to streamline some plot and logic questions, and make sure all the character threads lined up in the strongest possible way. Katie is a terrific writer and reviser, so the process was as seamless as could be!

Q: Was there anything specific about the story that made you think it would be a good fit for Harper Collins?

A: I knew that Erica Sussman was a fan of high-concept, action-packed stories, so I hoped this terrific book would be right up her alley. I was never more thrilled than to hear that she was!!

Q: Is there a certain reader you envision for this book and or a niche you are hoping it will fill?

A: Oh my gosh, this is a book that will appeal to just about every reader! It’s ideal for girl and boy readers, those who love smart and strong characters as well as those who love complex plots and heart-pounding action. Best of all, Katie is a legitimate scientist, so every bit of the scientific backdrop is 100% sound and centered on the most up-to-date research. It’s an amazing way to show kids the thrilling side of science, and keep that STEM energy flowing – in the best way possible.

There you have it – if you don’t already have a copy of this book in your hands don’t waste another minute. Thank you to both Ammi-Joan and Kate for launching this fantastic read.

FullSizeRenderDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California.


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Robots on Parade!

THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY is an action-packed sci-fi adventure that will keep middle-graders turning the pages to follow every nail-biting twist and turn of this thrilling tale. Kids will also be won over by protagonist Miranda’s unforgettable robot, Ruby. I certainly was! In fact, Amazon listed THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY as its Number One New Release in Children’s Robot Fiction Books, so to celebrate I thought I’d ask other EMLA debut authors about their favorite robots.

Hayley Barrett says:

I’ll take the Jetson’s wise-cracking, big-hearted, all-capable Rosey. She’d roll in on her one leg, red eyes blinking and antennae bing-bing-binging, taking care of household business and not hesitating give rude Mr. Spacely his pineapple-upside-down comeuppance. “The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.” Gotta love Rosey’s gumption!

Darcy Rosenblatt says:

I loved Lost in Space but I also love and fear the Cylons from The remake of Battlestar Galactica. As a writer they are such deep and interesting characters. Frightening because they are part of a history that could happen.


Jason Gallaher says:

I mean, I have to go with WALL-E! A robot who is also a hopeless romantic and just wants to find true love? Yes, please! Also who’s environmentally friendly? WALL-E, me and FernGully sounds like a recipe for a perfect vacation!

Christina Uss says:

I feel like L. Frank Baum’s Tin Man was the first robot-ish character with whom I really connected. Our library had these big Wizard of Oz books with excellent pen-and-ink illustrations and I always thought the Tin Man looked nicer and more trustworthy than any of Dorothy’s other traveling companions.

Then my older brother was Star Wars-obsessed when we were growing up, and I remember occasionally being invited into his room to listen to “The Story of Star Wars” record on his tiny record player, and looking at the album cover of R2-D2 and C3PO while listening to their dialog. Was there ever a robot who communicated so much without a single word as R2? I wanted him for my very own.

Lately, I’ve fallen for a new literary robot: Roz, from Peter Brown’s THE WILD ROBOT. I read this novel out loud to my kids this summer and it was a real page-turner – not only to see how Roz would learn to adapt and survive with each new challenge that came her way, but also to see how Brown chose to draw her in all kinds of odd circumstances. I think Roz and THE CONSPIRACY COUNTDOWN’S Ruby would become friends if their book worlds ever collide and they meet!

And finally, let’s hear from THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY’s author herself!


Katie Slivensky says:

C-3PO and R2D2 will forever be my top robots. As a kid, I lived and breathed Star Wars. It’s no surprise at all a mechanical sidekick found its way into my debut novel. 😉 Ruby definitely came from the part of my brain that always longed for my own R2 unit!


As robots continue to become a more integral part of our everyday lives, there is no doubt that we’ll see more robots in fiction, too. But THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY’s Ruby will certainly be an unforgettable addition to the world of beloved robots. Congratulations, Katie!

Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Currently the only robot in her life is a vacuum cleaner. Her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You can find Kat at or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.






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Initiate Interview of Erica Sussman, Editor of THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY

I’m delighted to introduce Editorial Director Erica Sussman of HarperCollins. She graciously agreed to be interviewed for Emu’s Debuts as we celebrate author Katie Slivensky’s debut middle grade novel, THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY. 

To begin, Erica, can you explain what was it about THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY manuscript that made you sit up and pay attention? When during your initial reading did you decide to acquire it for HarperCollins?

“I was drawn into the story from the very first page. Miranda is an incredibly sympathetic and relatable narrator, despite the fact that she’s in a pretty crazy situation! I was never a science buff, but Katie’s story is so accessible that I didn’t get confused by any of the technical aspects of the space travel—I was too busy trying to figure out what would happen next! And Katie’s manuscript also made me cry – in the best and most surprising way – which is a pretty tough feat! She’s crafted the most wonderful friendship between Miranda and Ruby, a robot that Miranda built. There’s a moment of such heartbreaking sacrifice in the book (I won’t tell you what happens, don’t worry!) that is handled so deftly – when I read it I knew I had to get Katie’s debut novel on my list.”

Confession: I haven’t read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY yet. If I asked you for a book recommendation, how would you persuade me to drop everything and read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY?

Here’s what I’d say: If you’ve ever felt out of your depth, if you’ve ever had to make new friends, if you’ve ever had to step up and be brave, if you’ve ever had to stand up for yourself or a friend, if you’ve ever longed for an out of this world adventure…PICK UP THIS BOOK.

I’ve had to face situations like those, but always right here on terra firma. This book’s readers, on the other hand, will encounter such relatable challenges as they thrillingly zoom through space. Much more fun and interesting.

What were your favorite books when you were a kid? Does THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY have anything in common with them?

I had a bunch of favorites, but the one that stands out in relation to The Countdown Conspiracy is SpaceCamp, which now that I think about it may possibly have just been the novelization of the movie with Lea Thompson. It was about a group of teenagers accidentally sent up into space and I think I read it approximately a zillion times. There was a lot about Countdown Conspiracy that reminded me of it in the best ways: unlikely friendships, strong characters, a great sense of humor, fast-paced adventure, danger—and, thank goodness, a happy ending.

And with that, we are GO for launch. Editorial Director Sussman, in six seconds and six words, please commence the launch sequence for THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY.







I couldn’t agree more! I can’t wait to blast off with Miranda and Ruby. Thank you, Erica, for all you do to bring exciting, uplifting books into the world. THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY will surely encourage in its readers an enterprising spirit and a love of science and space.

You can purchase THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY at your local bookstore or here:

Barnes and Noble:…/the…/1124860410

To learn more about author and science educator Katie Slivensky, visit her website.


About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming in spring 2019 from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is also coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.

















Filed under Book Launch, Characters, Editor, Interviews, Launch, Middle Grade, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized

This. Is. It.

Guys.The Countdown Conspiracy 3

This is it.

Today is the day kids will get a chance to meet Miranda. And Ruby. And Esteban, and Najma, and Tomoki, and Rahim, and Anna. This is the day I get to introduce my kids to kids in real life.

I have waited so long for this day. I still don’t quite believe it is happening.

Just over two years ago, I got the call that every writer dreams of getting. And that night, as I lay in bed, the giddiness still bouncing around in me, it hit me: kids were going to meet Miranda. A young girl out there somewhere might someday pick up my book, read about Miranda and all her determination, self-doubt, grit, and drive to become an astronaut, and maybe…relate. Maybe be inspired to achieve her own personal goal.

That was the moment it felt real.

And today, it doesn’t just feel real. It is real. It’s happening.

I wrote this book for a lot of reasons. But one of which was the desire to share the excitement of space travel with as many kids as I could. And after years of writing and revising, of querying agents, of being on submission with publishers, of doing rounds of edits with my editor, and of simply waiting, today is the day kids get to read my book.


I have a lot of people to thank for getting my novel (and me) to this time and place. My family. My friends. My writing group. My agent. My editor. My whole team at HarperCollins. My fellow EMUs. My cats.

But honestly, the people I should thank the most are the kids I have had the honor of teaching in my various roles throughout my life. Some of you I got to know for long stretches. Most of you were one face in a crowd of hundreds during a 20-50 minute presentation. But all of you mattered, because it was your energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity that inspired me to write this book, and to keep writing books.

Whenever you’d gasp when I brought out Gollum or Norman (two charismatic prehensile-tailed skinks) to climb up my gloved arm, or laugh at my bad jokes as I taught you Newton’s Laws using bright orange carts to knock over giant grey plastic boxes, or cheer when the first bolt of lightning leapt from the Van de Graaff generator, or shoot all your hands into the air when I asked what your favorite dinosaur was, or fall into an almost reverent silence when the lights dimmed and the stars turned on and you got to take in the beauty of space…

All of that. All of that and more. You’re who I’m writing for. So thank you for being you, and I hope my books can help keep that wonder in your eyes for as long as possible.


Katie Headshot.jpgKatie Slivensky’s debut novel (THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY) releases on  August 1st, 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. She lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.


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WHOOO WHOOO! Interview with Whobert Whover’s Illustrator Jess Pauwels!

We’re wrapping up the party for Jason Gallaher’s debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective with an interview with Jess Pauwels, the talented illustrator. It’s such a thrill for me to chat with Jess, because not only do I love this “whodunnit” fun story starring an owl (one of my favorite animals), but I adore the wonderful illustrations!

First, WHO is Jess Pauwels? In her own words:

I live in Brussels Belgium. I grew up in a family of professional dancers, but pencils were more appealing to me (and less exhausting ^!^) ! I studied arts and I graduated in illustration from St Luc-Brussels. For a few years, I was both an illustrator and a bookseller.

Six years ago, I chose to concentrate only on my graphic career. I drew for magazines, music labels, and picture books publishers. Since then, I have illustrated great stories, mostly in France, and some of them have been translated into Chinese and Italian.

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my very first USA picture book

And now, on to the interview!

Tell us a little about your creative process. What are the steps you take before you start working on the book’s illustrations? How did you come up with Whobert and the other cast of characters?

First, I sketched all the characters. Like a « forest theme » movie casting – how should they look like to stick to the story? It helped me to get their reactions and to find the appropriate facial expressions for each one.

Then, I waited for the publisher’s creatives to send me the text layout – the way they want the text to be spread from one page to another.

After they decided where to put the text and where my illustrations would stand, I made several storyboards (small fast drawings with the same proportions of the book) to settle who is in the picture doing what and what is the general ambiance. I tried to find a balance between close ups, large views, etc. It helps with the dramatization of the image.

The drawings part was the most creative, fun, personal touch part. I was able to choose how I would tell Jason’s great story with my own touch.

Then, when the publisher’s team validated this part, they pretty much left me to decide on the rest of the job. They gave me advice more than asked for changes.

So next, I drew properly the whole thing, with all the details and the intentions I wanted – every image at the final book size, this time. Sometimes when the image is bigger than in my storyboard, things didn’t work anymore, so I changed or got rid of some stuff. I’m not usually very satisfied with the firsts results. Slowly, I found the right tone to satisfy me.

To complete and color, I scanned my drawings to the computer. This helped me to make final changes (eyes too close together or add a feather here and there, resize a worm …). If I had to do it in traditional techniques it would have taken ages.The computer can be a wonderful tool if you don’t skip important first creative steps.

Were there any specific challenges you encountered during the process? Any particular joys?

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my first USA picture book collaboration. Humor is very different over there (in the USA). You are less serious and you seem to trust more the kids’s sense of humor. It’s very liberating to illustrate.

But the most challenging thing for me was the long wait before the launch of the book. In Europe, it takes around 3 to 6 months. With my project for Whobert, it took more than a year between the finished illustrations to the real printed copies.

But the real challenge for me was when I was finishing the pictures, because my 10-year-old French bulldog became very hill. Rushing into work helped me not to be too depressed about it, as he was my hairy muse for so long. He left us in February 2016.

A year and a half later we are welcoming our new puppy and Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is going out. It’s been a long, dog-free, but projects-full year in my studio. The wait for this fun picture book gave me hope and kept me focused on my other books to finish.

Meeting Jason through this project and seeing him be so enthusiastic, proud, and thrilled with the result was a vitamin shot to my self esteem.

Who is your favorite character from Whobert Whover, Owl Detective? Why?

This is quite a tough question, because when I draw a story I need to step into the shoes of every character. But, I think it’s really Whobert I like the most. He is so funny and stubborn. He’s a determined hero even if he’s mostly naive. With that kind of character you just cannot stay serious about life. He’s kind of a mix between Sherlock Holmes and Kimmy Schmidt, and I’d love to be this kind of mix! ^!^

(I LOVE Jess’s answer!)

Finally, can you show us a picture of your work space (I’m obsessed with creative work spaces.) What is your favorite part of your work area? Do you have any special rituals or talismans?

I work at home in our apartment in Brussels Belgium. I have my own studio. I tried to work in an outside place with other creative friends, but I was suddenly not so productive (morning coffee talks/lunch breaks talks/afternoon coffee talks). It became harder to focus on the jobs. I love to socialize a little too much.

So back home I’m more effective. I have my morning coffee in front of my social media and news, and I’m launched.

As talismans, I need several things to reassure myself, like music (Nina Simone, Laura Veirs, Joan As police Woman). On the walls, inspiring images like Lewis Carroll’s drawing of Alice in Wonderland, other illustrators’ prints. or pictures of our trips. On my desk are my favorites pencils and markers and two mini statues of Ganesh, brought from India and Lao, which are taking care of my projects.

…and lately COOPER our new companion, watching me from his pillow…not very calmly yet. !-)

Thank you, Jess! Congratulations to you and Jason on Whobert Whover, Owl Detective! You and Jason make a fabulous team!

Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her puppy, Kiku; rabbit, Aki; and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series is now available from Farrar Straus Giroux. Two more books will follow next year: Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (4/3/18) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (7/3/18).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.




Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, Illustrators, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Uncategorized


whobert hoover

WHO, WHO, WHO doesn’t love a good mystery? Jason’s WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, is a delightful read that introduces young kids to the mystery genre through clever phrasing and hilarious illustrations. It’s sure to be a hit and become a childhood favorite for many kids!

As part of this week’s celebratory posts, I asked fellow EMUs what mysteries they remember loving from their childhoods.

For me, I berenstainbearsandthemissingdinosaurboneread all kinds of mysteries. But my earliest memory of a mystery I loved was THE BERENSTAIN BEARS AND THE MISSING DINOSAUR BONE. I enjoyed it so much, that later in life it became my go-to book to take to houses I’d babysit at, so I could share it with other kids!

As it turns out, I also loved a lot of the same mysteries as my fellow EMUS, so down memory lane we go!


Debbi says:ND1tsotoc

Here’s a funny-strange thing about me – as a child, I scared easily and did NOT like mysteries, and yet, I read them anyway. (I still scare easily as an adult so Whobert Whover is the perfect mystery for me.) As a child I LOVED the Nancy Drew series, but the covers scared me so much that I had to hide the books at night. I think I enjoyed RE-reading them more than reading them for the first time, because it was less scary once I knew everything was going to be okay. 🙂


Encyclopedia_Brown,_Boy_Detective_(1963)Sarvinder says:

I loved Encyclopedia Brown. I remember when I first read a book from the series. I was hooked. I don’t remember which title I read, but I remember the answer to the mystery, the clue that solved it, was that gold was too heavy to have been carried. I learned that gold is heavy! Encyclopedia Brown is so smart!


Christina says:

I love a good mystery, I have ever since discovering the Encyclopedia Brown series  – as nate the greatan affirmed geek, I got so excited to read about a smart kid who used his smarts to fix problems in his neighborhood, and to pit  my own brain against the same challenges.  And I liked John Keane’s books about dog detective Sherlock Bones, another animal sleuth like Whobert! But my favorite was Marjorie Weiman Sharmat’s Nate the Great series.  I loved how there were all these pets involved with the main characters, particularly Nate’s lovable dog Sludge and the deliciously creepy neighbor Rosamond’s four cats, Super Hex, Big Hex, Plain Hex, and Little Hex. I never had a cat or dog growing up, and there was just something about these kids going around and solving their own kid-size mysteries with their pets by their sides that appealed to me over and over again.

Hey, I’m just noticing something – all of these are series of books.  Is it possible Whobert will return to try to solve Who-Who-Who done it again in the future? Here’s hoping!

And that brings us to Jason himself! What mystery inspired him as a child? None other than the amazing television series, Ghostwriter!


Jason says:

When I was a kid there was this show called Ghostwriter that I was robsessed with. This group of teens solved crimes with the help of an actual ghost they called Ghostwriter. Ghostwriter could move letters around that were near the wee detectives, giving them clues to whatever conundrum they were trying to solve. Between Ghostwriter and Casper, I was very pro-ghost in my childhood.

Jason, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’d LOVE to see you take on a 90s-style-friendly-ghost-helps-kids-solve-mysteries project in the future! But in the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS on your launch of WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE!

Katie Headshot.jpgKatie Slivensky’s debut novel (THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY) releases on  August 1st, 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. She lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.



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WHO, WHO IS YOUR AGENT? An interview with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

whobert hoover

As we continue the debut celebration of Jason Gallaher’s WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, I got to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how WHOBERT went from manuscript on submission to debuting picture book with the help of agent extraordinaire, Tricia Lawrence. For those of you interested in becoming agent-signed authors yourselves, here’s how the process worked for Jason and WHOBERT:

Tricia, I saw WHOBERT as an advance reader copy and was immediately charmed by this over-eager owl detective. Was WHOBERT WHOVER the manuscript that led you to sign Jason as a client? (If not, please tell us how you and Jason first connected!)

Actually, this wasn’t the only manuscript. Jason had a few more manuscripts and WHOBERT made me laugh out loud for the second time. The first time I laughed out loud was at his manuscript about a squirrel that hoards unusual sustenance for the winter (that one hasn’t sold yet, but if you love WHOBERT, you’ll love that one too!)

squirrelI’d love to see that one – I’m already trying to imagine what that squirrel is up to! What was it about Jason’s writing that drew you in?


His incredible sense and use of humor; his understanding of what makes a text strong enough to stand up to being illustrated; his vision coming through only the text (very sparse art notes) and the beauty and strong emotion of his writing. 

I understand you’re the kind of agent that helps her authors revise and polish their manuscripts before sending them out to editors. How did you and Jason work together to make sure WHOBERT was in tip-top shape before going out on submission?

I didn’t have to work on this one, and that is very rare. Usually, I am much more involved in manuscript revisions. This is why I knew I had to sign Jason immediately. The majority of his PB texts come to me ready to go. Jason has that strong eye to know when he needs revision before I even seen the manuscript.

Being on submission can be a nerve-wracking time for authors, since every day can Jason G.bring the chance of an offer…or the chance of another rejection. While WHOBERT was out on submission, did you do anything to keep up Jason’s spirits? (Did he even need spirit-up-keeping? He seems like one of the bubbliest and cheerfullest authors ever. And I know livens up any costume party.)

Jason doesn’t need much spirit up-keeping, true! But we keep in close contact anyway, because even if the submission process is going smoothly, he also writes novels and he is awesome about keeping me in the loop on his progress and always ready to ask for help when he needs it. 

Knowing when to ask for help is a skill in and of itself; Jason’s main character Whobert the owl certainly has trouble doing that! Have you ever done something Whobert-esque, where you were certain you were right but completely misunderstood the situation?

Oh, yes. Haven’t we all? It’s usually me intervening in the dog negotiations at our house. The big mastiff, Toledo, is a bit intimidated by his younger and smaller sister, husky-shepherd mix, Rue, and they have this long “Wookie”-esque conversation about who gets to come through the dog door first. I often think it’s Toledo trying to bug his sister, but he’s just trying to get inside out of the sun or outside into the sun. 

dog negotiationsDog negotiations do sound complicated. I know you are closed to unsolicited queries, so if there’s an author out there who thinks they have something special like WHOBERT, is there a way they can query you? And do you have a suggestion on how their query can shine as brightly as an owl’s talons among all the queries that come your way?


They can attend a conference where I’m on faculty (I’m done for 2017; stay tuned for the 2018 schedule) or they can get referred into Erin Murphy Literary Agency by an EMLA client or another industry professional. Write something good! The query should not shine brighter than the manuscript. Make your manuscript amazing first. Then get help with the query by reading aloud a lot or having someone more experienced read and review it for you. I am a BIG FAN of critique groups and beta readers. Use them.

I’m going to take a page from some previous Emu agent interviews and ask you to finish this sentence: the perfect reader for WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is…

Who, Who, Who, Whover-ific!

Who could doubt that? Thanks, Tricia!

Christina UssChristina Uss loves being part of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency since she gets to hang out with terrific people like Jason Gallaher and Tricia Lawrence and see sneak previews of books like WHOBERT.


Filed under Advice, Agents, Book Launch, Picture books, Uncategorized

Interview With WHO? Whobert’s editor ~Annie Nybo~

I had the pleasure of interviewing Annie Nybo. She’s a fun editor with lots of books and lots of experience to her credit.  She gave some great insight into what editors are looking for.

Annie Nybo
  1. What are you looking for in a narrative picture book?

In narrative picture books, I am looking for something that evokes an emotional response (it needs to make me laugh out loud or literally touch my heart and  make me say “aww”). I look for something that is truly telling a story, and for something that has some kind of subtle message to it—that doesn’t just rely on silliness (more on that below). And, I can’t say this enough, a good title can make me look at a submission differently. Jason has AMAZING titles— WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is so absurdly funny—and when I saw his manuscript, I knew he would be able to make edits because he had been able hone in on such a good title. It takes both a creative mind and a very fine-tuned editorial eye to title something, and if an author has an excellent title, it shows me that they think about details.

whobert hoover

  1. How do you edit a picture book?

I read a picture book out loud at least five times before I start editing—even if it’s not being marketed as a “read aloud,” the reality is that most of these books are read to children, so the verbal pacing needs to work. I then do a macro edit where I look at the beginning, the middle, and the end, and think about whether they’re working individually, and if they are working together. I find blocking things out into sections is particularly useful for narrative books because you need to make sure that the cause and effect is working and that there is an inherent logic to the story—sometimes if you don’t look at the connections between the pieces, you’ll miss bits that were glossed over. Just because there’s only 500 words doesn’t mean it should lack dramatic structure. And I then do a micro-edit, looking at word choice, rhythm, pacing, etc.


Learn more about Whobert Whover’s author Jason  Gallaher

  1. How do you keep a funny picture book from being too slight?

The more I work with picture books, the more I have come around to the notion that every picture book needs to have a message. I think people get the “this is slight” comment when there isn’t something else at work in the text beyond the humor. Now, that doesn’t mean that every picture book should be didactic—I also make the “should be subtler” comment a lot. But take a look at something like WHOBERT. WHOBERT, on the surface, is a very funny picture book about an owl trying to solve his possum friend’s “murder”. But there are two things going on here: first, it teaches basic detective and mystery tropes to kids by introducing the concept of clues, getaway cars, hideouts, etc. This might not seem as important as learning how to share, but learning genre conventions—particularly genre conventions of a number of chapter books—is very important to growing up. And second, Whobert has a deeper message about false accusations, and about being aware of your own body and physical presence. These are all the messages that are being conveyed that keep the book from being too slight, but they’re quite subtle and absolutely inherent to the story.


  1. What kind of picture book submissions do you see the most of? What would you like to see more of?

I’m still seeing a lot of meta alphabet books, which are a really, really hard sell. The market is so crowded… It’s not a bad idea, it’s just an idea that may not be worth your effort right now. I think we’ve all been seeing a lot of STEM biographies about women, which is great! I’d love to continue to see nonfiction books, particularly about women and people of color. And I would love to see more picture books about religious minorities in the United States, preferably by authors from those religious backgrounds.

  1. What books have you edited/ worked on?

If you can allow me a quick plug for my pinterest page – I list all the books I’ve edited and worked on there: But a few highlights: In Middle Grade I’ve edited The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente, The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn and its prequel, the forthcoming His Royal Whiskers, by Sam Gayton, and in YA I’ve edited Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta and Feeder by Patrick Weekes.

glass town game lettie peppercornhis royal whiskersshimmer and burnfeeder

  1. What are some of your favorite picture books?

I love UGLY FISH by Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon. It incorporates everything I mentioned above: humor and a subtle message (well, not SO subtle in this case) with a great title. I think NIGHT ANIMALS by Gianna Marino is an excellent read-aloud, and I love David Ezra Stein’s DINOSAUR KISSES. Apparently I really like animal books.

  ugly fishnight animals dinosaur kisses


Thank you Annie for your WISE words that shed a little bit of light onto this owly business. Whobert Whover is quite a hoot & a feather in your cap.

Sarvinder Naberhaus is a the author of Boom Boom, a picture book about the seasons, illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Her most recent book, Blue Sky White Stars received 4 starred reviews and is a patriotic salute to the flag, paralleling the forces that forged this great nation, illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson. Look for her upcoming STEM book, Lines (launching August 26, 10:30) at the Ames Library and visit her website


Filed under Uncategorized