friends · interview · picture books

Virgil & Owen: An Interview and a Book Giveaway

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of this book.
Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of this book.

I have been reading a lot of fiction picture books in the past few weeks since I’m looking for the final title for which I’ll write lessons for in Craft Moves. I have this bizarre, self-imposed criteria not to write craft lessons for books where animals talk.  It’s not because I don’t like those books, but I want to make sure teachers across K-5 grade levels will be able to use my lessons in their classes.  I read very few talking animal books to my fourth and fifth graders so I hesitate to include them in Craft Moves. BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t feature books with talking animals here, does it?   

Paulette Bogan’s wonderful Virgil & Owen landed on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago.  I instantly fell in love with this story about a penguin and a polar bear who have a rough start at becoming friends mostly due to Virgil’s poor attitude about making friends.  As the mom of a preschooler, I could relate to the way the characters acted and how the story unfolded. So I did what any reasonable mom/literacy specialist/blogger does after reading a new picture book. I contacted the publisher and requested to interview the author/illustrator.

Paulette answered my questions and shared photos of her studio with me.  I hope you’ll enjoy the peek into her process and her studio that’s filled with art supplies lots of penguins.

SAS: Do you think in words or pictures?

PG: I talk to myself all the time – in words. But in my mind I see pictures.

If I have an idea about a character’s personality, or the problem they need to solve but no clear picture in my head, then I do a million sketches till I come up with a character that fits. If I clearly “see” a character then I spend a lot of time walking around talking to myself working out who this character will be.

paulette officeSAS: Tell me about your writing and artistic process. What would we see if we visited your studio?

PG: My stories will often start in a sketchbook, on a scrap of paper, or on my favorite – post-its! I love post-its.

Then I usually sit in my mother’s old rocking chair and write the story on a legal yellow pad. After many drafts, I will type it up on the computer, which always results in many more edits. As I’m writing, I automatically think in terms of 32 pages for a picture book.

Then I do thumbnail sketches on tracing paper with pencil, enlarge them and do full size sketches, also on tracing paper. Next they are scanned in and a dummy is formed on the computer. (I made them by hand in the old days…)

For the final art I use Winsor & Newton watercolors and Micron pens on Arches 140 LB. cold press watercolor paper.

If you visited my studio you would see a mess, lots of books, penguins everywhere, Patrick from Sponge Bob, Gumby, Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo, coffee cups filled with colored pencils, paintbrushes, and glue sticks, pigs, and two dogs, Spikey and Mufasa, sleeping on the floor.

another view

SAS: Who or what inspired Virgil & Owen?

PG: I was drawing penguins, polar bears, squirrels and hedgehogs, and fell in love with these two! I had no story, but definitely knew their personalities. Owen the polar bear is named after my nephew, and the name Virgil was chosen by my oldest daughter, Sophia. After many versions I settled on how they became friends. Two very different characters. Owen is quiet, and steady, and sweet. He likes to think things through, and take his time. Virgil can’t do things quickly enough, has a very hard time sitting still, and is NOT a ‘look before you leap’ kind of guy.

SAS: Why a penguin and a polar bear instead of kids?

PG: I do love drawing animals! But the truth is I never know what the character will be till it pops in my head or comes out in a sketch.

SAS: My daughter noticed Owen floating away from what looked like his family in the beginning of the book. What happened there? Will he ever be reunited with them?

PG: I like to think Owen just took a trip. Although he is a quiet kind of guy he has an independent streak in him. Who knows, maybe Virgil and Owen will take a trip up north one day?

SAS: What do you want children to take away from this story?

PG: Making friends and sharing them is really hard! Not everyone handles things the same way. We are all different and that’s okay. (Hmmm, sounds a little preachy… but I mean it!)

SAS: What was the hardest part of this book to get across to young readers? (That is, how did you manage to teach a lesson without sounding didactic.)

PG: I think that’s one of the hardest things about writing for children.

I talk out loud to myself and try to think about what a child would say instead of an adult. I think about my childhood and often draw from my own childrens’ experiences. Although my girls are all teenagers and older, they are very quick to point out when I’m being too preachy in my stories (AND in real life!)

SAS: What are you working on next?

PG: I just finished a new book called Bossy Flossy, for Henry Holt, coming out Spring 2016. Flossy is the bossiest kid around and doesn’t understand why no one will listen to her. Then she meets Edward, who may be just as bossy as her!

I am almost done with a new Virgil & Owen adventure for Bloomsbury Children’s Books, coming out Winter 2016. This time Virgil and Owen go to school. Owen likes to do things his way and of course Virgil doesn’t agree. They both learn how to be patient and compromise, two very hard things to do.



  • This giveaway is for a copy of Virgil & Owen . Many thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Virgil & Owen, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, March 22nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, March 24th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Bloomsbury will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of RAISING A LITERATE HUMAN – Virgil & Owen. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed (3/24).  Congratulations to Terrie whose commenter number was selected. She’ll receive a copy of Virgil & Owen.

giveaway · interview · picture books

Chatting with Author/Illustrator Steve Antony + a Giveaway

Leave a comment on this post if you'd like an opportunity to win a copy of Betty Goes Bananas.
Leave a comment on this post if you’d like an opportunity to win a copy of Betty Goes Bananas.

Like all toddlers, sometimes my daughter can be completely irrational.  (I’m hoping that changes when she turns four next month.  Somehow I know that’s wishful thinking!)  Teeny-tiny things get blown out of proportion.  Every day we struggle with what she wants to do by herself vs. what she can do by herself.  Battles involving tears and raised voices often ensue.  Of course, those spats are always followed by hugs, because toddlers are quick to forgive (and quite cute).

Betty Goes Bananas is the story of a gorilla, Betty, who finds a bananas but cannot open it.  Try as she might, she cannot peel the banana, so Mr. Toucan steps in.  While Mr. Toucan can help, Betty wants to peel her own banana by herself.  As I flipped through the pages of this adorably illustrated book, I found myself thinking: This could totally happen in our house.  Therefore, I knew I wanted to interview the author, Steve Antony, to learn more about the making of Betty Goes Bananas, his debut picture book.

Stacey:  Please share your inspiration for Betty Goes Bananas.  I’m thinking a short-fused child inspire this story since I saw a little bit of my three year-old in this book (and not just because she wears a bow, like Betty).  Is there a real-life Betty in your life?

Steve:  I’m so glad to hear that you can relate to the book. I love it when people say that they know a Betty.
The story was actually inspired by a drawing in my sketchbook. It was of a goofy gorilla about to slip up on a banana peel. The name, Betty, popped into my head. I imagined what might happen if Betty slipped on the banana peel. My guess was that she’d be pretty upset about it, and that’s when the alliteration ‘Betty Goes Bananas’ came. So I had this amusing character and a catchy title; all I needed was a story! My UK publisher for Betty suggested that I explore temper tantrums as her theme. It made perfect sense. I borrowed two big books about managing temper tantrums from a friend, I tried remembering my brothers’ tantrums, and I recalled the tantrums I had as a child. My niece, now 17, used to have epic tantrums as a toddler, so there’s probably a bit of her in Betty too. I think we all know a Betty.

Stacey:  What do you think parents can learn from Betty’s, shall-we-say, expressiveness?  What can toddlers learn from Mr. Toucan’s patience and rationale explanations?

Steve:  I just wanted to make a really simple, fun, amusing and relatable story about tantrums, something we’ve all had to deal with at some stage in our lives. But I wanted it to be told through the eyes of a long-suffering parent/guardian figure: Mr Toucan. This way, we empathise with poor Mr Toucan. We see how exasperating and needless tantrums often are. But we can also empathise with poor Betty as she tries to cope with her frustration. Toddlers might learn from Mr Toucan that patience and perseverance pay off, especially if they like bananas, and that tantrums are maybe sometimes just a little bit silly. Adults might learn from Betty’s expressiveness never to buy bananas! Ultimately, I wanted this book to be both fun and useful, which is why at the end the reader gets to decide what happens next.

Stacey:  Please tell us about your process as the author and illustrator of this book.

Steve:  With Betty, the picture came first, but generally it all starts with a concept. If an idea leads to a concept that inspires me, I’ll start doodling or writing. I’ll jot down words and phrases, and once I’ve got a story, even if it’s just a basic outline, I’ll draw a storyboard. While storyboarding, I refine the text. Eventually, once I’m happy with the story’s structure, I’ll start drawing the final illustrations for the book.

Stacey:  Seeing as Betty Goes Bananas is your picture book debut, how will you celebrate its release today?

Steve:  I’m celebrating by holding a contest to win a signed copy of Betty Goes Bananas. The details are on my website.

Stacey:  What are you working on presently?

Steve:  The book I’m currently working is very detailed and very funny, but I’m sworn to secrecy! I can tell you that I’ve recently finished a second ‘Betty’ book: Betty Goes Bananas in her Pyjamas! I’ve got details of all my picture books, including future releases, on


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Betty Goes Bananas.  Many thanks to Random House for donating TWO copies of this book for two readers.
  • For a chance to win a copy of Betty Goes Bananas, please leave a comment about this post by Tuesday, December 30th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, January 1st.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Random House will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of RAISING A LITERATE HUMAN – Betty Goes Bananas. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.  I used a random number generator to select the winners. They are Amanda and Dana.  I’ll pass along your contact info to my contact at Random House.

bedtime stories · giveaway · interview · picture books · read aloud · slice of life

A Bedtime Slice + An Author Interview

Enter to win a copy of this book by leaving a comment on the bottom of this post.
Enter to win a copy of this book by leaving a comment on the bottom of this post.

You know you’ve found a great picture book to read to your kiddo when you hear her say “again!” as soon as you finish. That’s what happened with Mama’s Day with Little Gray, which I received a review copy of two weeks ago. It’s what I think of as a quiet book that tells the story of one day in the life of an elephant, Little Gray, and his mama. They talk about what life might be like when Little Gray grows up and his Mama grows down.  (Isn’t that a marvelous way to think of growing older and having one’s body change?)

I have a heightened awareness about everyday moments since the Slice of Life Story Challenge is happening now.  As a result, Mama and Little Gray remind me a bit of me and Isabelle since they spend a lot of time together and love each other very much.  As a result of reading Mama’s Day with Little Gray with Isabelle, I’ve begun to talk to her about what life will be like when she gets older (and taller than me). She claims she will still love spending time with me.  I hope that’s true. I can’t rely on her responses since she is, after all, three.  I can just hope for the best and seize the day since my little curly girl probably won’t want to snuggle in bed for bedtime stories in another five to seven yeas.  😦

Mama’s Day with Little Gray is Aimee Reid‘s first picture book.  I knew I wanted to interview her since she’s also an educator and a mom who believes in finding the beauty and joy in everyday moments.  Therefore, I thought it’d be neat to mesh a slice of life story post with an author interview this month. My interview with Aimee Reid follows. Also a snippet of tonight’s read aloud of Mama’s Day with  Little Gray with Isabelle comes towards the end of this post.  Finally, leave a comment on this post if you’d like a chance to win a copy of Reid’s book.

SAS:  What inspired you to write Mama’s Day with Little Gray? How do elephants help you convey your message in a way humans couldn’t?

Liitle Gray 1AR:  Mama’s Day with Little Gray began with my daughter’s words one bedtime. She liked to ask about our plans for the next day. That way she knew what to look forward to.

One night, our discussion inspired her to dream about being a grown-up. She said, “When I grow up and you grow down . . . .” Then she listed off a number of activities she would want to share with me. Her words were like a spark that flew straight to my imagination. This could be a story, I thought.

The choice of elephants for this book happened as a flash of intuition. I was attending a writers’ conference in L.A., and I had woken up with this version of the book writing itself in my head. I grabbed a pen and jotted down the draft. Then I took a break to go swimming. As I relaxed in the water, I remembered a time several years prior when I had seen an elephant family swimming together. Suddenly I knew: the characters for my book are elephants!

Since that time, I’ve researched elephants a great deal. I continue to be impressed with their intelligence and loyalty.

SAS:  I love the language of growing up and growing down. How did you think all of that wonderful language?

AR:  As I mentioned above, my daughter’s words during a bedtime conversation first gave me the idea of playing with this sort of role reversal in a picture book.

Another aspect of Mama’s Day with Little Gray also arose from that discussion. When my daughter imagined our ideal “growing up/growing down” day together, she spoke of sharing normal activities.

At the time, our routines were simple. We read, we met up with friends, we visited the library and had picnics on the living room floor. No matter how ordinary our plans, my daughter would wiggle her toes in delight as she anticipated the next day’s agenda. I was struck by the incredible preciousness of time with loved ones—that shared connection that makes the everyday extraordinary.

Thus, Little Gray’s picture of an ideal imaginary day mirrors the one he is already experiencing with his mama. It’s the shared joy of being together that transforms these moments. I wrote a little about appreciating the ordinary beauty of our lives here:

SAS:  How do you balance your roles as mother, educator, and writer?

AR:  Well, I resigned from my teaching position, so I am no longer in the classroom. That decision certainly changed the contour of my days.

I love the seamlessness of my life now. I ponder a plot line while I stir the soup. Often something one of my children says or does opens up a window of inspiration for me.

I think being a mother provides a deep wellspring for my writing. I’m right here to listen in on children’s conversations and witness their worries and celebrate their triumphs. Writing for children means knowing them, and being a mom certainly helps with that.

It’s tricky to speak of balance, isn’t it? I think each individual has to find the right mix.  I don’t try to be a super-anything. That helps.

SAS:  This is your debut picture book. Can you tell a bit about your journey from writing to publication?

AR:  Sure! The conversation with my daughter happened about eight years ago. I then wrote a rhyming picture book that featured a human girl and her parent.

I attended my first retreat with the Canada East chapter of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators and read my manuscript aloud. The retreat participants encouraged me to submit the piece. I did sent it out to a few agents as well as some editors I’d met at SCBWI conferences, but it wasn’t the right fit for any of those people.

Little Gray 3 (2)Let’s fast forward a few years. In the meantime, I continued writing and formed a great writer’s critique group with fellow picture book writers. I also rewrote this piece, taking it out of verse and replacing the humans with elephants.

In January of 2012, I attended the winter conference of the Florida SCBWI chapter where I submitted four manuscripts for evaluation. An editorial assistant critiqued Mama’s Day with Little Gray and loved it. She encouraged me to submit it to her house.

After the conference was finished, I was swimming in the pool. (Did I mention that I’m Canadian? How could I resist taking a dip in an outdoor pool? Under palm trees? In January?)  Along came Jill Corcoran, an agent who had been at the conference. As we chatted, she found out about the favorable reception of my manuscript and asked me to show it to her.

Jill handed me a towel, and I climbed out of the pool. We met in the hotel restaurant just before she left to catch her plane, and she offered to represent me. A few weeks later, we had an offer from Random House Children’s Books.

SAS:  What are you working on as a writer?

AR:  I love to read. Lately, I’m working on being a reader who thinks carefully about story. Whereas I used to skip sections of novels that were dragging, now I try to single out what has pulled me out of my immersion in the story world.

My children are my best first readers. One day, after listening to my draft of a humorous chapter book and rewarding me with some belly laughs, my daughter said, “Good work, Mom.” She turned to go and then poked her head back in the room. “Remember,” she added, “keep out the boring parts.” Writing engaging stories that leave out the boring parts is what I’m working on right now.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Stacey.

Images Courtesy of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.

And now for a slice of our bedtime routine:


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Mama’s Day with Little Gray for one reader. Many thanks to Random House for sponsoring a giveaway of Mama’s Day with Little Gray.
  • To enter for a chance to win a copy of Mama’s Day with Little Gray each reader may leave one comment about this post in the comments section of this post.
  • All comments left on or before Wednesday, April 2nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on April 3rd.  I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post on April 3rd. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Random House send the book out to you. Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.

Comments are now closed.

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on this post.

Congratulations to Brittany Butler whose comment number was chosen at random.  She’ll win a copy of Mama’s Day with Little Gray.  Here’s what she wrote:

Growing up and growing down! No absolutely adore that concept! I also liked this interview a lot for many reasons. One being how she came to using elephants (a huge hit with my 2 yr old). Two, that she explained how the book transformed over time. I have a bunch of little stories like this that I
should maybe dust off and give a new spin too. Very inspiring! Great slice!

Check out the other slice of life stories at
Check out the other slice of life stories at