Thursday, November 10, 2016

11 Years, 1,000,000 Books, 700 reviews and One Giveaway!

***** GIVEAWAY ENDS NOVEMBER 30, 2016 *****

My first book, May I Please Have a Cookie? was released in October of 2005.  I never dreamed it would still be going strong a decade later.  In the past eleven years it has sold over one million copies.  And this month the number of Amazon reader reviews surpassed 700. Thank you everyone for all the kind words for Alfie the Alligator.  I'm thrilled that so many people enjoy Alfie the cookie-loving alligator.

Here are some samples from the original dummy proposal that I submitted to Scholastic next to the final artwork as it appears in the book.  There are no words in the dummy version because I originally envisioned it as a wordless picture book.  The only words in the original were, "Please may I have a cookie?" and "Thank you".  I never thought it would get published as part of the Scholastic Reader series.  Heck, I never thought I could write a book!

As you can see most of the illustration spreads didn't change much. But my editor for the book, Liz Mills, made some astute suggestions to the text that I think really helped to make the book a success.

One thing that did change was the title.  Marketing thought a more polite title would be more appealing. 

The book is still published as a Scholastic Reader but many people have told me that their toddlers really enjoy the book.  So I was thrilled when Scholastic released a baby board book edition and a bilingual English/Spanish board book edition.

Thanks again everyone for your kind reviews of Alfie.  I read them as I think most author's do and it really makes my day when someone says they really enjoyed my book.  So if you read a book and like it, I encourage to leave a nice review.  I'm sure the author will really appreciate it.

Now for the giveaway....

Enter below to win one of five signed copies of May I Please Have a Cookie?  (Paperback, board book or bilingual - your choice)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Trick-or-Reaters Promotes Literacy This Halloween

With schools promoting healthy eating and some banning sweets all together, what about giving little ghosts and goblins a bucket full of stories this Halloween?  Trick-or-Reaters makes it easy (and free!)  Just download one their fun printable flyers and give one to each ghoul that knocks on your door.  Kids can then visit the Trick-Or-Reaters website to read spooky stories and fun activities by some of their favorite children's book authors, they might even discover some new favorite author in the process.  Stories are sorted by age range and by scariness so everyone can find a story that is just right for them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Draw a Halloween Witch using the Alphabet

It makes me sad when I hear someone say they can't draw.  If you can write your name then you can draw.

All you need to know is just 3 letters of the alphabet (U, A and L) to draw this little Halloween witch.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Free Kid Halloween Comic to Download & Color

Are you looking for something other than candy to give the little ghosts and ghouls this Halloween? Are you participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project? Here is a sugar free Halloween treat to add to the kid's goodie bags, a mini-comic book to color and read!

Download the PDF here. (Adobe Acrobat Reader is required)

NOTE: When you download the PDF you may think the pages are out of order.  But if you print or Xerox the PDF using double-sided printing it will work out properly (honest!)  Just cut the pages in half on the dotted line, place the pages in numerical order, fold and staple together.  Two pieces of letter-size paper are required to make each mini-comic book.

You may copy and distribute for non-commercial use only.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Interview with Author/Illustrator Shawna JC Tenney and Book Giveaway

* Giveaway Ends October 25th 2016 *

I’m so excited to have children’s book author and illustrator Shawna JC Tenney visiting my blog today to talk about her illustration process and to share with us her adorable new picture book, Brunhilda’s Backwards Day published by Sky Pony Press. After the interview keep reading to find out how to enter and win your own copy of Brunhilda’s Backwards Day!

Welcome Shawna. The illustrations for Brunhilda are fantastic. I love the mad scientist cat. 

Thank you, Jennifer! I’m happy to visit your blog today!

You have illustrated books for other authors, is this the first book you wrote as well as illustrated?

Yes… at least the first one that has been published!

When you are doing both the writing and illustrating where do you begin? Do you start with an image or do you start with the words? 

I actually start with the writing, but I always have images in my mind. I like to write illustration notes for myself as I write the story. I like to get the story whittled down and revised many times before I start designing my characters and drawing thumbnails.

How do you approach an illustration? Can you walk us through your illustration process? 

After my story is written, I design the characters.

Cat Character Designs for Brunhilda's Backwards Day

After the characters are designed for my story, I always start with thumbnails. I thumbnail out the entire book to make a storyboard. With a storyboard, I can make sure the whole story is flowing well. I like to make sure I have a good variety of spot illustrations, full page illustrations and full spread illustrations.

When I feel happy with my storyboard, I sketch out the entire book to make the dummy book. I revise these illustrations until I feel like the sketches are doing their part to tell the story well.

Then I move on to color. I usually do a color study to make sure the colors and values are working out well.

If the color study is working well, I often use the color study for my under painting in my digital painting. Then I move on to the final painting and details.

Have you always worked digitally?

No, I haven’t always worked digitally. When I graduated from school, I was afraid of digital art. (haha!) I painted all in acrylics. I used acrylics for the first several years of my career. Since I had little kids during that time, there were several disasters where I found a child had painted all over my half-finished painting for a client. Other times I found children had painted all over their clothes or the carpet. Something like this could happen in a matter of seconds.

After several years of working in acrylics, I went in search of something less messy and less time consuming. I asked a few of my illustrator friends to help me learn some tips and tricks for digital painting in Photoshop. I had learned the basics in school. At first, I was very slow and painted just as I would with acrylics. But over time I have learned some great time saving techniques. Now I could never go back to acrylics!

Why did you decide to make Photoshop your medium of choice?

Like I mentioned, there are a lot of time saving techniques I have learned in Photoshop. I like the look and feel I can obtain with Photoshop, and I want to learn even more cool techniques in the medium. There is also no mess (which is a huge plus), and I don’t have to buy a bunch of art supplies every few months.

I love the rich colors in your illustrations. Do you have any tips you can share for selecting a color palette?

Thank you! I have learned over the years to focus my colors. When I painted in acrylics, I used to use any and every bright color I could. Now I have learned the power of using some saturated colors in the places I want my audience to focus, and then pulling back the colors and using more neutrals in the places to which I want to give less attention.

Brunhilda is a very interesting character. How did you go about developing her look? 

I had fun designing Brunhilda! Here are some of my character sketches.

I drew many character design sketches before deciding on the final character. I was inspired by the character design of Carter Goodrich. I love how he always varies the shape and sizes in his characters. Brunhilda’s design uses some sharp points and angles because she has a bad side. But she is also big and round to make her lovable. I thought it would be extra funny to give her very tiny hand and feet but very large arms and legs. I think the end product makes Brunhida a very funny, lovable witch character with evil intentions but redeeming qualities. At least, that is what I was going for!

You have a fun YouTube video where you show how you created a 3D model or maquette of Brunhilda. How do you use 3D models when creating your illustrations?

I was able to use the maquettes of Brunhilda, the cat, and her house to turn and look at different angles for my drawing, and even in getting reference for lighting.

What is the one piece of advice you wished someone had given you when you were starting out as an illustrator? 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Editors and Art directors are friendly people who are willing to answer your questions. The most important thing is to have good communication with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for a fair price on a job. Don’t be afraid to let editors and art directors know that you might need a little more time. It’s better to communicate everything than to be silent and scared. That can result in miscommunication, which is never a good thing. We are all in this together, so it’s best to be clear with our goals and ask plenty of questions!

Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Her work can be found in many children’s books, magazines and games. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator, was published by Sky Pony Press. Shawna is also the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, where she loves helping other authors and illustrators. Shawna lives in the beautiful state of Utah with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @shawnajctenney. Find more fun with Brunhilda and The Cat at

= Brunhilda's Backwards Day Book Giveaway =

Contest Ends October 25th, 2016

Enter to win your very own signed copy of Brunhilda's Backwards Day.  When you enter, don't forget to send out a tweet and you will get a second entry in the giveaway.

(Contest open to US residents only.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Talk with Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell and Free Book Giveaway!

* Giveaway ends October 15th, 2016 *

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. 
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Today I’m honored to have children’s book author and illustrator and all-around good egg, Hazel Mitchell visiting my blog to talk about her artistic process. 

Read to the end of today’s post to enter to win your own copy of Toby.

Hazel’s new picture book, Toby, was released by Candlewick earlier this month. This adorable book is about the bond between a boy and his rescue pup, Toby. The story is loosely based on Hazel’s real life four-legged friend.

Today I’d like to focus on your creative process in creating the lovely illustrations for Toby. 

You have illustrated numerous books but this is the first that you also wrote. How is the creative process different when you are both the writer and illustrator?

Hi Jennifer .. thanks for inviting me and Toby to visit your blog :-).  I guess the main difference is that when you’re illustrating someone else's book you get a manuscript! Sounds obvious! So, then you have a story already and a concept and theme. It's your job to imagine and create the pictures that will accompany it and weave them around the words. But, when it's you are the author, the first thing you’re thinking about IS the story.

Do the words or the images come first?

It depends. When you see things visually, sometimes you 'write' the story in images. (And the ultimate conclusion to that process is a wordless book!). With Toby I’d begun to draw him as soon as we adopted him. It's what we do, right? Sketch stuff! If it moves, draw it! I’d already fallen in love with his cuteness and vulnerability. I began to think about writing a story starring Toby and what happened was I continued drawing him. I started to draw all the things he would do; hide, howl, run away, lay and look at us soulfully, be scared. Then when he started to play and run and be interested in things I drew him doing those too.

As I made these scenes up I began to add a new character … a boy … much more interesting than drawing me! I realized that I was creating a story based on things that Toby was doing, but with the fictionalized character of a boy and then the boy's dad. The theme of the book became the growing friendship and trust between them. I pieced the scenes I’d drawn together, adding the missing links and it was only then I began to think about the words that would bind it all together.

At first I thought it might only be dialogue, but by the time the book was finished I had a good many linking sentences so the flow of the story made sense. There are still few words in the book. I should count them! I think there are more words in the author note at the end than in the book. To sum up … drawing images is like writing with pictures. (I should have just said that 10 minutes a go!)

 Do you find it easier or harder when you are also crafting the story? 

Different. I like the challenge of illustrating another author's manuscript, but writing my own story has been a very personal experience (perhaps because I was so close to the subject). I enjoyed the process of pacing the story, working out the arc and the ending. OK, the ending was the hard bit! It was a different feeling not wondering if I was fulfilling another writer's vision. There’s a certain freedom in that. You have to make sure the story is working when it’s just you. I guess there are pressures on both sides of the fence. I look forward to illustrating other manuscripts and writing more of my own, too.

Can you explain your process for creating the illustrations? What medium do you use? 

Sure. The process I used for 'Toby' is one I’ve used in other books … 'Imani's Moon' by JaNay Brown Wood and 'Animally' by Lynn Sutton Parrish. Previous to those books I usually drew by hand in pencil or pen and ink and then scanned and coloured quite heavily in photoshop. (Mainly to meet tight deadlines … although most deadlines are tight in books!). I was beginning to feel that depth, light and shade and texture was missing in my work. I love to paint in watercolour, oils, pastel. I hadn't brought these skill sets into my work. But I also like to colour digitally!

As a compromise, and because 'Imani's Moon' cried out for lots of texture, I decided to do a watercolour underpainting. In that book I really could let rip with lots of salt and scraping and blotting. It was like a grisaille underpainting. I usually do this in one colour, either prussian blue or burnt sienna, it just works for me. And it really doesn’t matter what medium you use, but I use watercolour (I am impatient and it dries fast!). I painted on top of my graphite final drawing done in 7b pencils for Toby (I use 9B for something like Imani's Moon.) Toby was done on Fabriano 140lb hot press paper. (Imani's Moon was cold press 300lb because I wanted a rougher texture and I punished the surface). Surprisingly the soft pencils (Derwent brand) don't bleed much when painted on top. And I actually like it when they do, causes those 'happy accidents'. Often I go in afterwards with more pencil.

When I’m done with that I scan them. I usually create the pieces about 125% larger than the finished page. I scan at 400dpi tif so I can capture the grittiness of the drawing and painting. I found if I scan in at too high a DPI I start to lose the hand drawn feel, which is the whole point of the exercise. I import into photoshop and turn them into grayscale images. (I ‘m also experimenting with just unsaturating them to the point that I can still get the feel of the colour or turning them sepia, but in Toby I made them grayscale as I wanted to keep the colours painted over the top muted.) Leaving the grayscale as a base layer, I open another layer on top and name it 'colour' and I set the blend mode to "color". Then I begin to add color to this new layer using the brush tool also set to the "color" blend mode.  I will keep a scant (I am lazy) record for colours that I will use throughout (like skin tone and clothing), but mostly I have a finished image open on another computer screen and I colour pick from that. I paint digitally much as I would with a real paint box. Mostly everything is on one layer. I shade and lighten on that layer, and sometimes on the grayscale layer too. And I rarely use a lot of textures or brushes. I mean, when I’m painting physically I only use a couple of different brush styles in different sized. So usually I am using a soft edged round brush and hard edged one in photoshop from the standard palette and I vary the density and saturation and opacity levels. (I also don’t like the look of a lot of forced textured brushes. I guess that’s why I prefer to underpaint in watercolour to do all that. It’s easier too!). I sometimes have another layer on top if I need to have a denser colour and set it blend mode to "multiply" or "color burn" (like for the red shoes and collar throughout Toby), or if I need to add shadows or another created watercolour texture, but that's it. If someone asks me how many layers I use I say about '3' and I really couldn't tell you how I do it, just like I couldn't tell you how I do a physical painting. It's just 'doing it'. And nothing creates that lack of thought like painting and painting and painting. And then a bit more painting.

 My spreads are ready to send straight to production, (to have text added and laid out for print), so there is no scanning by the publisher. It's imperative you see a proof from the publisher, though. In the past when I haven’t sometimes it’s shock to see that the colours are just too dense, or too light when there could have been an easy adjustment. And I do digital prints as I go along to see how they are looking in real terms.

 Other tips ... get an ICC (International Color Consortium) printer profile for the paper they will be printed on, it helps to proof on screen. And don't forget to set up in CMYK for print (convert to RGB for online images).

AND ALWAYS MAKE A BACKUP EVERY DAY AND SAVE AS YOU GO ALONG!! Saving off site is a good idea too. Never hurts to have a copy somewhere else just in case!

I really like the colors in “Toby.” They are very delicate and muted and fit very well with the subject. How do you go about determining a color palette for a book? 

I once heard Paul O Zelinsky say that he could taste the colours in a book. And I know what he means, sort of, (because obviously he’s a genius). The story kind of tells you what it’s colour mood is. It might be happy or crazy or thoughtful or the culture might dictate the colours (like Imani’s moon and Africa) or sad or it might be a particular genre … well, the hows and whys of what might tell you about the colours to use are endless. Originally I’d thought of Toby as grayscale and then with coloured images when Toby got happier. Or with just red on the collar and the boy’s shoes to indicate an emotional tie. I kept that idea and added a pale colour scheme, with the great direction of Ann Stott, my art director at Candlewick Press. The boy’s sweatshirts turn different colours too - sometimes you don’t want to distract from the story with a lot of clothing changes, but you do want to indicate time is passing. And that the characters have more than one set of clothing! In the end the feel of Toby is a bit retro and European, which, of course, I love! (Being British).

I love finding out if an artist has included things in the illustrations that reflect their own life. Of course, you have modeled the dog in the book after your own poodle Toby. But are there other personal “Easter eggs” hidden in the illustrations? 

Hmm. There are a lot of things that snuck in from Toby’s real life. His rabbit for one, which I gave him when he came to live with us. In the rescue center I put the names of a couple of my dogs on the doors – Sprout was my dog, and also ‘Lynsey’ is my editor Liz Bicknell’s rescue golden retriever. And to honour my tennis-mad agent, Ginger Knowlton from Curtis Brown, Toby is pictured with a tennis ball. Oh! And the kitten Toby is scared of is ‘Powder Puff’, a kitten Liz Bicknell also rescued WHILE I was working on the book. Not really ‘hidden’, but with hidden meanings.

I’m always on the lookout for new gadgets and art supplies. Do you have a favorite artist’s tool and why?

 I’m like so zen with my equipment, less is more, or maybe I have a cluttered brain. Couldn’t do without my Wacom tablet, my Derwent pencils and a couple of Kolinsky watercolour brushes. And Photoshop and Arches and Fabriano paper. And Yorkshire Tea. (That’s an art supply, right? Should be!).

What advice would you give to an illustrator who wants to try writing their own stories? 

Read. Draw. Read. Draw. Learn from others. Read. Draw. Read. Go to conferences. Draw. Write. Read. Draw. Write. Repeat (endlessly). And don’t forget to show people your work, or you will NEVER get a contract!

Thanks for the great questions!

Thank you Hazel for being so generous and sharing your process with us. 

For more information about Toby please visit:
On Twitter @meetToby
And on Facebook at

Buy a copy of Toby today at or at

And now (drum roll please) free goodies!

==== Toby Picture Book Giveaway ====

Contest Ends October 15th, 2016

Enter to win your very own signed copy of Toby along with some exclusive Toby swag.  Sign up for my monthly newsletter so you know about upcoming giveaways and other good stuff.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Fall Mum Wreath Made from Tissues

Here's a pretty craft project to hang on your wall this autumn.  This wreath is simple to make using tissues (Kleenex or other brand) and an old cereal box.

Fall Mum Wreath


  • Empty cereal box
  • Facial tissues (about 12)*
  • Pen or Pencil
  • Scissors
  • 2 Plates (one about 2" small than the other) to use as circle templates
  • Craft glue or a hot glue gun
  • Liquid food color in yellow and red
  • Small empty spray bottle
  • Acrylic paints optional
* Note: The brand of facial tissues I used was Puffs Plus Lotion - The lotion tissues seem to resist tearing a little better when wet.

Cut open the cereal box and lay flat.  Trace the larger plate on the box.  Trace the smaller plate inside the first circle to make a wreath shape about 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick.  Cut out the wreath.  Mine is 9" in diameter.  I painted it with a dark acrylic paint but it really wasn't necessary.

Now it's time to make some tissue flowers.  Here's a video on how to make the flowers.  If you prefer you can secure the centers using a bit of string/yarn instead of a staple.

Make enough flowers to go all the way around your wreath and then make 4 or 5 more.  They will shrink a little during the next step.

This is the fun part.  Fill the spray bottle about half full of water and add some yellow food coloring.  The more food color you add the brighter the color.  Place the flowers on a protected surface and lightly spray.

Then rinse out the bottle and fill with water and red food coloring.  Spray the red dye randomly on the flowers to get a tie-dye effect.

Let the flowers dry overnight - or if you are impatient like me, use a hair dryer.  Then glue them to the cereal box circle.  I hot glued a paper clip to the back side so I could hang the wreath on a nail.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

May I Please Have a Cookie? - Kindle edition

I was confused when I saw May I Please Have a Cookie?  under hot new releases on Amazon but then realized this is for a new Kindle edition of the book. The Kindle edition will be available Aug 30th.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Lemonade Hurricane in Korean!

It's always neat to see one of my book babies translated into another language.  I just received a new copy of Lemonade Hurricane in Korean!

In the past the words have been translated and the pictures have stayed the same.  But there are a couple of scenes in Lemonade Hurricane where I showed Emma and Henry taking Taekwondo lessons.  I didn't put official patches on their uniforms (I'm always worried about the copyright police coming after me!)  But it was cool to see the Korean publisher changed the patches on Henry's dobok to look like the official Korean Taekwondo Association patches.

Phew, so glad that I drew the Korean flag correctly!

Friday, July 01, 2016

Scholastic Summer Reading Road Trip Sunday in Plainville MA

Beep! Beep! Here comes the summer reading bus!

Come see your favorite costumed characters and children's book authors Mary Newell DePalma, Tommy Greenwald, Spencer Quinn and me at An Unlikely Story in Plainville MA this Sunday from noon to 2pm.

There will be games and activities, book signing and more!

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Summer Reading Log - Ice Cream Theme

Summer Reading Log

Want a sweet way to keep track of your summer reading?  Here's an ice cream themed reading log - based on the Scholastic Reader - The Ice Cream Shop.  Download the free reading log PDF today.

Color a scoop every time you read a book and maybe when you get to the top you can reward yourself with a cold treat!

Want a great book to read, check out the Level 1 Scholastic Reader, The Ice Cream Shop.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

ALA Midwinter Meeting

I'm really looking forward to signing books at the ALA Midwinter Meeting this Sunday at the Boston Convention Center.  If you are attending the conference, please stop by and say hi. :)  We will be at booth 1917 - Publisher Spotlight.