Q&A with Cindy Rankin

In Under the Ashes, Elizabeth “Littlebeth” Morgan’s family wants her to become a proper lady, so they send her to stay with her Aunt Sally in San Francisco. But before Littlebeth can adjust to cultured city life, the earthquake hits. Will Littlebeth be able to survive the disaster and be reunited with her family?


We were lucky enough to sit down with author Cindy Rankin to talk about Under the Ashes, finding inspiration close to home, and her nineteenth-century idols.

Q: Your novel is centered around a historic earthquake. Why did you choose to write about that?

A: This began as a short story about a spunky girl. When I decided to build a novel around Littlebeth’s character, I needed a big challenge for her to face. I knew the deadliest earthquake in U.S. history happened in San Francisco in 1906. In researching what was called the Great Quake, I became fascinated by the era, and wondered how Littlebeth would manage in an unfamiliar city that collapsed around her.

In 2003, my hometown had a destructive temblor. I learned first-hand how frightening an earthquake can be. It left a lasting impression. Under the Ashes is a historic novel, but young people still deal with the same kinds of  issues as Littlebeth—living up to parental expectations, finding one’s own place in the world—and unfortunately, there will always be disasters that result in loss and refugees. I hope readers experience what it was like to live in another time, yet understand how Littlebeth feels when her parents send her away, and imagine how they might react if they were caught in an epic calamity.

Q: Did you base the character of Littlebeth on anyone?

A: As a child, my daughter’s confidence amazed me, yet it was also irksome. She posted her “rules of life” on her bedroom door: “Everyone has to stay ten feet away from me!” That didn’t work. Our house was too small and I’m a hugger. Smart, strong-willed kids are a challenge to raise, but usually grow into fine adults. I dedicated this book to her.

Q: What inspired the title of your book?

A: It had to reflect the story. After the Great Quake, a huge fire broke out and burned for three days. Ash rained down and covered everyone alike from the elite to the poor as they all tried to survive the catastrophe. Littlebeth came to understand the similarity and difference between people isn’t status, religion, skin color, or nationality. It’s inside the heart that matters most. She discovered even under the ashes hope exists for a new beginning.

Q: If you lived in 1906, would you have been wild like Littlebeth or the proper young lady her parents wanted her to be?

A: Well, you’d never catch me chasing skunks or a rattlesnake! But I wouldn’t be a proper young lady either, because my imagination is too big to stay quiet or still for long. Today girls have the freedom to play sports, excel in school, and be who they want to be. It wasn’t always like that. In the past, standing out like Littlebeth wouldn’t be acceptable.

Q: Littlebeth gets to meet famous opera singer Enrico Caruso in San Francisco. If you lived in the early 1900s, who would you like to meet?

A: Like Littlebeth’s papa, I’m a fan of our 26th president,Teddy Roosevelt. Also, I admire Andrew Carnegie. He was born poor in Scotland, came to the U.S. and made a fortune, then donated great sums to enrich communities. I’d like to thank him for all the libraries he built. My hometown has a Carnegie Library that opened in 1909. My children and I spent a lot of time there. Now it’s the home of our Historical Society.

Q: What books did you like to read when you were young?

A: The Boxcar Children. Kids making it on their own struck my fancy. Also Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series—solving mysteries and driving a roadster—nothing better! But my all-time favorites (I reread them every few years) are: Anne Of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Q: Are you working on other projects?

A: I’m writing a contemporary middle grade novel about a boy whose father is missing in war, and the unusual way he copes with his dad’s absence. I come from a military family. This story is in my bones.


Thanks, Cindy. Check out Under the Ashes on our website, where you’ll also find links for purchasing the title.

Q&A with Cindy Rankin

Q&A with Linda Joy Singleton

In The Secret of the Shadow Bandit, the fourth title in the Curious Cat Spy Club by Linda Joy Singleton, Kelsey and her friends discover a new mystery at a local castle.


We were lucky to sit down with author Linda Joy Singleton to chat about The Secret of the Shadow Bandit, her writing routine, and cute animals.

Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?  

 A: I get up each morning and write on my laptop until it’s time to exercise.  But I have to confess I am easily distracted…by email, games, Facebook, Twitter, and my family. So some days I don’t get much written. But when I need to write faster, I work morning and night. It usually takes about 6 months to write a book.

Q: Do you have any writing quirks? 

 A: I write in the mornings on my laptop in my bed. Here’s one secret for anyone who enjoys vintage series books like Nancy Drew: I sneak in series books references in all of my CCSC books. I did it in my previous series, The Seer, too. If you spot any series references, message me on Facebook and I’ll tell you if you’re right.  Hint: the name of the middle-school is based on Nancy Drew’s first best friend (all super series fans know that Bess and George weren’t in the early books). And sometimes I base a character on a real person.

Q: Why do you write for kids?

 A: Kid books are hopeful, exciting, and fun. When I was a kid, I had lots of fun with my best friend and enjoy writing adventures for my characters. Kelsey, Leo, and Becca have much more exciting mysteries to solve than I did, although there really were three abandoned kittens that ended up at my best friend’s house. We loved animals and mysteries so much we created a club we called the CCSC.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: YES!  I’m writing the 5th CCSC mystery which is all about dogs. There’s a tiny pug puppy, a search and rescue German Shepard, and even a super dog with her own comic book. The main mystery, though, involves a missing person—someone very close to Kelsey. The title will probably be Dog-Gone Danger, and it should be out Spring 2017. (But first I have to finish writing it and I have about 50 pages to go.)

Q: Do you have a favorite Curious Cat Spy Club adventure?

 A: Secret of The Shadow Bandit—and not just because it’s my newest. This book is my tribute to the mystery series I read as a kid (and still collect!). My favorites were about sleuths names Nancy, Judy, and Trixie. The mysteries had fun plots with hidden jewels, missing heirs, and mysterious castles with eerie dark dungeons. So I put all these plots tropes and more in the 4th CCSC mystery.




Q: What was your inspiration for your title, The Secret of the Shadow Bandit?

A: There’s a mysterious animal in CCSC#4 which lurks in shadowy places and steals things like a bandit. Can readers guess what it is?

Q:  What is your favorite animal?

A: Cats, with dogs as a close second fav. I have three cats and a cute little poo-pom named Lucy Goosey.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? 

A: Mysteries! My parents would take me to secondhand store for older series like Judy Bolton, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and many more. When I was in 4th grade my teacher had a chart on the wall with how many books everyone read for that month—and I was tied for first place, reading a book a day. My favorite authors for current kids’ books are: Neal Shusterman, Ingrid Law, Eva Ibbotson, J.K. Rowling, April Henry, Alex Flinn, Scott Westerfeld, Suzanne Collins, and many more (check my Goodreads for books I’ve reviewed). I also read adult mysteries; my favorites are by Kate Morton, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton.


Thanks, Linda! Explore the latest Curious Cat Spy Club mystery, The Secret of the Shadow Bandit on our website.

Q&A with Linda Joy Singleton


Cornelius was not expecting a cat to be left on his doorstep in Drat That Fat Cat! by author-illustrator Julia Patton.



We were lucky enough to sit down with Julia Patton to chat about Drat That Fat Cat!, her career trajectory, and the cat—and human—who inspired the story.

Q: How did you become a children’s book author and illustrator?

A: When I was very little my earliest memories were playing ‘Post Office’ underneath my Grandma’s kitchen table. I’d spend hours cutting and sticking making envelopes and stamps to post to my long suffering sister. I always knew my heart lay in being a creative so I followed this pathway through my undergraduate in Textile Design which was very fine art-based. I then spent many years creating greeting cards & wrap for international stores. My interest in children’s picture books was reignited when I began sourcing books for my own small boys. I fell in love with picture books and I knew it was time to go back to big school myself. I swiftly enrolled on the MA Illustration program at Edinburgh University and had my first picture book Unstoppable Max was published a year later.




Q: In Drat That Fat Cat! which came first: the text or the art?

A: Both are intrinsically linked, interwoven at every stage. When writing books I initially create the protagonist in my sketch book, secondly the other characters, and then I create a title, which just has to be a showstopper! Then the story arc grows from there. The funnier the better. I find humour and picture books perfect partners. I wrote Drat That Fat Cat! over five years ago and showed it to my editor and art director at The International Children’s Book Fair in Bologna last year. The silly end papers had us all howling with laughter. We worked together collaboratively to strengthen the story and its publication date is this October.

Q: Do you have a cat? What would you do if one was left on your doorstep?

A: I’ve had one very fat, stray cat arrive at my doorstep a few years ago, covered in fleas, wriggling with worms and creating the most horrid smells. We loved her. The idea of the highly contrasting Cornelius Van Ploof’s character in Drat That Fat Cat! comes from my beloved father. He loves order, with everything being very neat and tidy. I knew putting him and a flea-bitten, smelly cat together would drive him utterly bonkers! He’s yet to see the book. I may be in trouble!

Q: What is your favorite medium to work with?

A: With an undergraduate in textiles I’m instinctively drawn to creating beautiful aesthetics and tactile surfaces and with my new found love of illustration the two are now inseparable. I love collage and incorporate it into picture books whenever I can. I believe the multi-media approach to my illustrations make them easily identifiable from other’s work.


Q: What was the process of working with your editor and art director like?

A: Albert Whitman and I are on our third book together and Jordan Kost has been my art director on all of the projects. She is an incredibly talented creative to work with, professional, hard-working and we’ve developed a very close and hilarious friendship which moulds our books. She is the magical glue. I’d be lost without her encouragement, support and humour.

Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: The routine is work, work, work. Seven days a week, lots of late nights, until it’s finally done. The best books happen when you listen carefully taking everyone’s advice from art directors, editors and publishers. Then take a breath and begin the next project.

This quote is exactly how I feel: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. —Confucius

Q: Are you working on any other projects? 

A: I write continuously and have approximately 6-10 books in various states of completion that I visit and rework at different times. I have been very fortunate to have been commissioned three of my new titles recently that I’m going to be working on over the next year. It’s going to be a very busy but exciting time. I have also recently written a story called Charlie & Pip inspired by a non-verbal child we know as family friend. It’s a story about a child not engaging in the outside world or communicating with anyone, until she meets Pip. He becomes her voice, her emotional buffer, showing her how to interact with others. This is a book for anyone struggling to find their voice, whether it’s a language barrier, anxiety or self-confidence problems. I think it’s a special book with a story that needs to be told. I’m very proud of it.

I believe my responsibility and role as an author and illustrator is to illuminate words, suggest the magical and interpret the unspoken.



Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: I was obsessed with any book by Richard Scarry because of all the funny details I could find, this was later replaced by Heath Robinson with his hypnotic contraptions and fabulous inventions. I adored, and still do, Dr. Seuss’s wonderful books. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? is a favourite of mine. Now I read every picture book I can get my hands on. I’m initially attracted to the artwork but love deconstructing the narrative. Some of my favourite illustrators include Quentin Blake, Barroux, Dan Santat, and Oliver Jeffers.


Q: Any last words?

A: I love my job.

Thanks, Julia! Fall in love with Cornelius and his fat cat, and check out the book on our website. Find out more about Julia on her website, and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter.


Q&A with Lisa A. Koosis and Kara Bietz

AW Teen, Albert Whitman’s young adult imprint, has two great teen novels publishing this fall.


In Resurrecting Sunshine  by Lisa A. Koosis, Adam is given the opportunity to bring his girlfriend and bandmate, Sunshine, back from the dead using cloning and memory implantation techniques.


In Until I Break by Kara Bietz, star athlete Sam is the victim of bullying. When gunshots echo through the halls of Broadmeadow High School, whose finger is on the trigger?


Lisa and Kara had a chance to sit down with one another to talk about being debut authors.


Kara Bietz: Hello, Lisa! It’s so nice to meet you. Congratulations on your upcoming release!

Lisa A. Koosis: Hi Kara! Congratulations to you, too. Your book has been on my radar for a while now, so it’s great meeting you. I’m looking forward to chatting.

Kara Bietz: Why children’s books? Was it a conscious decision or something that just kind of happened?

Lisa A. Koosis: I actually started out writing short stories and then, after that, books for adults. I’d never considered writing for children or teens. Then I won the grand prize in Family Circle’s annual short story contest. Part of the prize package was a certificate for an online writing course. I wanted to take a course taught by an editor and the one I chose was YA Novel Writing, taught by Kendra Levin of Viking. Very quickly, I fell in love with writing for teens. I think it’s an age group I strongly identify with. How about you? Have you always written for children?

Kara Bietz: What a great story! I love that it happened that way and you ultimately fell in love with it. I’ve been writing stories for a REALLY. LONG. TIME. And they’ve always been about teens or tweens. When I began writing seriously, writing with an eye toward publication, my stories tended to have main characters around sixteen or seventeen years old.

Lisa A. Koosis: It’s interesting how you’ve always gravitated toward a pretty specific age range.

Kara Bietz: I guess it’s always been in me to write for teens, though I never really consciously made that decision, if that makes sense.

The premise for Resurrecting Sunshine is so unique; how did you come up with the idea?

Lisa A. Koosis: Thank you! Resurrecting Sunshine actually started out its life as a short story. I wanted to write something where the main character, the person that everyone else revolved around, never appeared “onscreen.” But the short story never really worked, no matter how many ways I tried, so I filed it away. A few years later, I was looking for an idea for a book, and that “off-screen” character popped back into my head and I ended up writing the book.

Kara Bietz: Was Sunshine your off-screen character?

Lisa A. Koosis: Yes! I had a picture in my mind of a girl in a yellow dress standing barefoot on a stage. That girl became Sunshine.

So school violence (and bullying) are such timely and important topics these days, of course, but was there something specific that inspired Until I Break?

Kara Bietz: The idea grew from one of those “what if” games with my husband that kind of got out of control! In all honesty, it grew from a very small incidence of bullying that involved my own son, who was only eleven or twelve at the time. I let the idea of a bully story tumble around in my head for a long time before I started writing. At first, I was thinking I may even write the story from the bully’s point of view, but that didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would. Best laid plans, right? It turned into a mystery/suspenseful kind of story as I continued to revise and reimagine my original idea.

Lisa A. Koosis: I’m always amazed at how ideas can take on a life of their own and how far a story can stray from that original spark of an idea. Did the changes that happened to your story ever surprise you?

Kara Bietz: They did, actually! I had a lot of trouble writing some of the scenes because they felt very raw. After they were written and I was rereading, I was thinking: “holy cow what did I do to these poor characters!” Sometimes it’s very obvious that the characters are in charge and we, as writers, are just along for the ride.

What was the hardest part of writing Resurrecting Sunshine?

Lisa A. Koosis: Oh that’s a tough one! I wrote Sunshine in sort of a blur. Only days before I set pen to paper, I’d separated from my husband of fifteen years. My life was in complete turmoil, but I was determined to participate in my favorite annual event, National Novel Writing Month. And I think as hard as it was, writing this particular story during that time was somehow right because I understood Adam a little better, and I understood the choices he made after experiencing such a life-changing loss.

Kara Bietz: I’m a big believer that every story you’re called to create serves some kind of purpose in your own life, too. While we are largely writing for readers, writing can be pretty therapeutic, too.

Lisa A. Koosis: I agree. I think some of our most authentic writing comes from how we connect with our own work.

I know you mentioned that you’ve been writing stories for a long time (me too!) so is this your first book-length work?

Kara Bietz: No. I wish I were that lucky! I have several “shelf” novels that will never see the light of day—at least not without some major revision! This is the fourth book-length novel I have finished, but the first to be published. I think my critique partners way back when helped me realize when I had something that might be ready for publication. Do you connect with other authors in any way?

Lisa A. Koosis: I’m lucky in that where I live, we have a vibrant writing community. Most of my closest local friends are writers, and we have a local chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) that meets regularly. But I do connect pretty extensively with other writers online. My critique partners live in Canada, New Jersey, and Tennessee. I love that the internet has given us the ability to connect so easily as writers. I don’t know where I’d be without that community. Some days my critique partners are my lifeline.

Have you connected with many other writers in person or online? Is it something you’ve done for a while, or only recently, as a debut author?

Kara Bietz: I still keep in touch with my writing “family” in Atlanta, even though I now live in Houston. We try to get together at least once a year or so. My agent has a private Facebook group for her clients, and we all connect daily. They’ve been a great, supportive community to be a part of. I also attend monthly SCBWI meetings here in Houston, too. So not all of my interactions with other humans are online!

What kinds of things did you like to read as a child or a teen? If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Lisa A. Koosis:
 As a child, my weakness was stories about animals (dogs mostly, but also cats and horses). But when I reached my teen years, I fell in love with science fiction and horror. I devoured all of the Writers of the Future anthologies and promised myself that one day I would have a story published in them (which never actually happened, though not for lack of trying). If I could only read one book for the rest of my life it would probably be either Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (ironic considering my love of animals) or Piers Anthony’s Rings of Ice, which is a great little apocalyptic tale. And this is such a great question. I’d love to hear your choices, too.

Kara Bietz:
 Pet Sematary! Aaaaaah!!!! I loved this book as a teen—it was probably my favorite. Misery was a close second. I remember reading it through one eye because it freaked me out so much! As a teen I read lots of horror. Almost all Stephen King, though I’d throw in a John Saul novel here and there for variety. As a child, I loved Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, and any kind of series I could get my hands on. My very favorite book as a child was Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume and I’m happy to say that it still stands up today ;). If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I think I’d choose Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.

Lisa A. Koosis:
 John Saul was another of my favorites as a teenager! And Speak— now there’s a book that every teenager should read.

So now, as an adult, what books do you like to read?

Kara Bietz:
 I find myself reading a lot of contemporary YA. It’s what I’m drawn to in the library and in the bookstore. I’m still a big mystery/thriller fan, but I tend to lean toward YA mystery these days. How about you?

Lisa A. Koosis:
 I find myself reading all over the map lately: from adult horror to YA contemporary. I think some of that has to do with my days as a bookseller when a customer was equally as likely to sell me a book as I was to sell them a book, and I read things I never would have picked out on my own. But it’s funny because as a teen I read primarily adult books, and now I find myself reading more and more YA. I think some of it speaks to the amazing range of YA that’s out there today.

Kara Bietz:
 Isn’t it awesome? You could almost get lost in the YA shelves if you tried really hard.

Are you working on any other writing projects right now?

Lisa A. Koosis:
 Yes, I have been working on several writing projects, trying to find just the right one. Sometimes, for me, it’s a matter of playing with a few ideas before I settle on the right one. How about you, Kara?

Kara Bietz:
 I am the same way! I have a few different projects in different stages of “done-ness.” I have one that’s basically a finished draft, another that I’m working through the first draft now, one that I’m plotting, and one that is just an idea I like to take out and look at every so often! Being this close to publication, it’s been hard to concentrate on much of anything for an extended amount of time!

What has been the most exciting part of this journey to publication for you?

Lisa A. Koosis: I know exactly what you mean. [At the date of this conversation] I’m just about two weeks away from my launch and it’s become impossible to focus. The whole journey to publication has been amazing, and it’s hard to pick the most exciting part. But several months ago I had the opportunity to participate in a local teen book festival. I only had a single ARC at the time that I’d brought to read from. At one point, one of the teens I’d been talking with picked up my ARC and started reading…and reading…and reading. I sat there talking to her sister while she read the first few chapters of my book, and I could see from her face that she was completely lost in it. It was easily one of the best moments so far.

Have any moments stood out for you? What’s been the scariest thing for you about the journey to publication?

Kara Bietz:
 I think the first time I saw the cover was the biggest “OMG this is real” moment I’ve had so far. Every step in the process has been exciting and something to be celebrated for sure, but seeing the cover was like the moment that it became very, very real. Getting my ARCs in the mail, holding that book in my hands with my name on the cover—that was another moment I won’t soon forget. I think the entire journey has been scary! At every step, I find myself thinking “well this is new” and taking a deep breath! Thankfully it’s been more exciting/scary than horrifying/scary. More like a roller coaster than a haunted house!

Lisa A. Koosis:
 A roller coaster for sure—and now we’re both counting down to our official launch.

Kara Bietz:Are you doing a launch event of some sort?

Lisa A. Koosis: I’ll be doing an event at my local Barnes & Noble (which I worked at many years ago). It’s thrilling and absolutely terrifying all at the same time. I know your launch is a little further out, but do you have anything special planned?

Kara Bietz:
 I have a launch party scheduled for early November at a little indie bookstore I love here in Houston, Blue Willow Books. I’m really excited about it.

It was so lovely meeting you and getting to chat! Congratulations on your release; I can’t wait to get my hands on Resurrecting Sunshine!

Lisa A. Koosis: Thank you! I had a great time chatting and getting to know you, and I’m so excited for Until I Break! Congratulations to you, too!



Thanks, Kara and Lisa! To find out more about their books, Until I Break and Resurrecting Sunshine, check out AW Teen.



Q&A with Lisa A. Koosis and Kara Bietz

Q&A with Maryann and Janine

Janine and the Field Day Finish, the latest follow up to Janine, was inspired by author/illustrator Maryann Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, Janine.




We were lucky enough to sit down with Maryann and Janine to chat about Janine and the Field Day Finish, inspiration, and optimism.


Q: What was your inspiration for Janine and the Field Day Finish?

A: Maryann:  Janine and the Field Day Finish is the sequel to the first book, Janine., which introduced this spunky character. Both books and the ideas behind them were inspired by my daughter Janine, who as a child with disabilities focused on the positive while navigating life.

“Being a winner is not always about being number one” is the message in Janine and the Field day Finish. The event behind the book was actually not on a field but in a pool. It went like this: Janine has CP (cerebral palsy) and has difficulty with all sports. When she was about 8 years old, after years of physical therapy and private swimming lessons, she finally learned to swim. At the local pool “Swim Meet” she was determined to swim one length of the pool. It was a relay race. Janine was dead last and soon the only child left in the pool. Most people cheered her on, but I heard several negative comments: “Who let her on the team?” and “Now they‘re going to lose.” As a parent, I was saddened by these remarks. When Janine touched the end of the pool, we were thrilled, as was Janine. She did it! I then noticed that several kids were crying because they didn’t win. That moment stuck with me. For Janine and for many children, it is not about winning, it’s about finishing, it’s about supporting each other, and it’s about trying your best. In Janine and the Field Day Finish, I expanded the storyline and recreated this moment on a school field instead of a pool, so that all children could relate.



Q: In both books, you never mention what exactly Janine’s disability is. Why?

A: Maryann: This question was the center of many editorial discussions. From the beginning I thought it was important not to mention the disability. First off, every person, child or adult, wants to be seen as the person they are, not a label. Secondly, in reality, kids don’t care! They relate to each other as kids. Every child has weaknesses and strengths and everyone needs help now and then.

Q: How does using inspiration from a real person differ from a character that is imagined?

A: Maryann: Unlike an imagined character, when I write and draw the Janine books, I need to be true to my then eight-year-old little Janine. I keep asking myself: how would “kid” Janine handle this? What would she say? What would she wear? I look to my (now 31-year-old) daughter Janine for character guidance, but as her mom, I can bring myself back in time to visualize her spunkiness and her quirks, and pay homage to this courageous, happy child. Even today, Janine has a great attitude about life, never complains, and is always supportive of others, even when she doesn’t “make the team.”




Q: Janine, why did you give your mother permission to create a character based on you and your experiences?

A: Janine: I hope by sharing my story I will inspire others to be more tolerant and accepting of people’s differences and to inspire children who have disabilities. In the Janine books one of the big lessons is self-advocacy—standing up for yourself and loving who you are. Another is standing up for those who are being treated unfairly. These are very important messages to share with students in any age group since bullying is such a prominent issue these days.

I grew up with various disabilities and challenges. Instead of being down on myself, I have spent my whole life focusing on being positive and thankful. When people had doubt in me, my faith in myself has remained strong. Someone recently asked me, “If you could erase your disabilities, would you?” My answer is a big NO. Sure, I’d like to be able to drive, but my disabilities have made me the person I am, and I don’t want to change. In the words of “book Janine:” I LIKE ME!

I hope kids learn to love who they are and don’t feel pressure to change to fit in.


Thanks, Maryann and Janine! Get inspired by “book Janine” in Janine. and Janine and the Field Day Finish. You can also enter to win a copy on Goodreads. Find out more about Maryann on her website and about Maryann and Janine’s goals at www.Janinesparty.com.

Q&A with Maryann and Janine

All About Elections: Share These Books, Activities With Kids This Presidential Election Season

Catherine Stier is a San Antonio-based, award-winning author of children’s books including If I Were President, If I Ran For President, and Today On Election Day. She visits schools, libraries and other venues with her lively “If I Were President” Author Visit interactive program. Read on for Catherine’s suggestions of how to talk about the presidential election this fall.


Signs. Bumper stickers. TV commercials. Children may be naturally curious about the sights and sounds of the presidential election season. And often, the places youngsters frequent–libraries, community centers and even their schools–may serve as early voting sites or polling places on Election Day. All this activity may lead our young future voters to wonder–what is going on?

            As the author of three election/presidential themed books published by Albert Whitman & Company, I have noted how the election season hoopla, as well as our annual observation of Presidents’ Day, may pique youngsters’ curiosity about the POTUS and the whole electoral process. These goings-on may lead to all kinds of great questions (a really good thing!).  Children may wonder:

What is the job of the president?

Can a president do ANYTHING he or she wants?

Where does the president live?

Will the new president be president forever?

Just how does someone get to be president?

Can I be president someday?


Artwork from If I Were President illustrated by Diane DiSalvo-Ryan

Parents and teachers can make the most of the teachable moments that arise during the next few months to address such questions and support children’s growing understanding of our country’s electoral process. The actions of candidates and reporting that kids see on the media may open up opportunities to discuss really important ideas about leadership, working for the good of a diverse body of people, and communicating ideas effectively through speeches, interviews, and debates.

Of course, kids might not always quite grasp the facts at first.  One of my favorite stories about a child’s electoral-related misunderstanding concerns a kindergartner who, following a certain historical Election Day, repeatedly heard the term “hanging Chad.”  Her own realm of experience led her to imagine that the fuss was about a boy showing off his acrobatic skills on the playground!


I believe books are a great way to begin exploring the complicated presidential election process, and to start building the foundation of knowledge that may help kids become informed and engaged citizens later in life.  In my own trio of presidential/election picture books–If I Were President, If I Ran For President, and Today On Election Day–I hope to illuminate the responsibilities of serving in the highest office in the land, and impart important information about the election process in a fun, informative and kid-friendly way.


I also hope these books, with engaging illustrations by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, Lynne Avril, and David Leonard, inspire some children to imagine serving one day as mayor, governor, senator, or even President of the United States.

But books are just the start.  Here are other kid-friendly presidential and election-themed activities to try out this election season.


If I Were President

Young children may not understand what a president is or does. Take time to discuss how the president has the power to shape the laws of the country, is in charge of the armed forces, and addresses the American people during times of celebration as well as tragedy. You might also point out the perks of the position–such as how the President lives in a famous mansion, and may be invited to throw out the first pitch of the baseball season! Then invite your child to finish the sentence “If I Were President…” by writing and illustrating on a sheet of paper his or her own ideas on how to be the best ever Commander in Chief (a ready-made “If I Were President…” sheet is available for printing out at the activities page at www.catherinestier.com).


Artwork from If I Were President by Diane DiSalvo-Ryan

Virtual White House Tour

Give your child a peek at one of the most famous addresses in the world: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Explain that this is where the president lives, and then embark on a virtual tour of the White House at the official White House website, www.whitehouse.gov. The current site offers a reminder that this is really “The People’s House” for all citizens of our country. It presents a look inside the famous mansion as well as link to an interactive tour with close-up peeks at White House treasures as part of the Google Arts Project at the White House.

Election Year Scavenger Hunt

Educator Leigh Courtney, Ph.D., who has created curriculum guides for children’s books (including my own), offers this pre-election activity idea: One of the ways that voters find out information about the candidates and their ideas is through newspapers and magazines. Go on a scavenger hunt through a newspaper to find examples of news articles, photographs, editorials, and editorial cartoons about the different candidates running for office. Make a scrapbook of your findings and include a description about the main points of information that you discovered about each candidate through the newspaper. For more ideas, see the curriculum guides for If I Were President and Today On Election Day.

Artwork from If I Ran for President by Lynne Avril

Vote for Me Campaign Buttons

Explain how presidential candidates run campaigns with workers and volunteers who believe in them and want their candidate to be the next president. Discuss how candidates’ names and faces may appear on signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and campaign buttons. Point out examples when you see them on walks around the neighborhood or while running errands.

election pins photo.JPG

Encourage your child to pretend he or she is running for President of the United States or another office, and invite your child to create a campaign button. Cute, eye-catching buttons may be fashioned with a few basic materials–a bit of poster board, a cupcake paper, glue, and markers or stickers. Simply cut out for your child a poster board circle about 2½ inches around. Slightly flatten the cupcake liner and glue the circle in the middle (this will create a frilly border around the button). Your child can decorate the poster board circle with stickers, markers, and perhaps add a motto (Bailey is the Best!) or even a small photo. Add double-stick tape on back so your child can wear it on a t-shirt or sweater. For inspiration, check out the campaign buttons at the Duke University Presidential Memorabilia Collection.

Letter to a Voter: Me!

Ask your child to calculate how many years until he or she is 18 years old and can vote. Then ask your child to imagine that he or she could vote. What issues are important to your future voter? Invite your child to write a letter to a voter who has the power to shape the world–his or her 18-year-old self! The letter might begin “Dear Me, I am writing to you because I am not old enough to vote yet, but you can.” In the letter, your child can share hopes and concerns about the community, country and world, and remind a future self to exercise the right to make a difference by learning about issues and candidates, and registering to vote. Tuck the letter away to share on your child’s 18th birthday–or just before his or her first election as a registered voter


Vote Today Signs

Invite your child to promote voting on Election Day by creating colorful (and perhaps persuasive) “Vote Today” signs. There are lots of possibilities for decorating a sign: paints, markers, glitter, and stickers. Post it on your front door as a bold reminder to passersby of the importance of this day.

Artwork from Today on Election Day by David Leonard


Future Voter Badge

If possible, bring you child to the polling place for a glimpse of all that goes on.  In preparation, invite your child to create a “Future Voter” badge to wear. This may be as simple as a peel-off nametag sticker, decorated by your child with markers and stickers and, of course, the words FUTURE VOTER.

By showing your enthusiasm for the democratic process and Election Day, you may instill in your children or students a recognition and appreciation of this most important freedom–our right to choose our leaders by voting.


Artwork from If I Ran for President by Lynne Avril

Thanks, Catherine! For more information about election themed titles, including links for purchasing the books, check out our website. Find out more about Catherine on her website.

All About Elections: Share These Books, Activities With Kids This Presidential Election Season

Q&A with Jacqueline Jules

In Freddie Ramos Rules New York, the sixth book in the early reader Zapatos Power series, Freddie tests out his new super-power sneakers while on a trip to the city to visit his uncle.



We were lucky enough to sit down with author Jacqueline Jules to chat about Freddie Ramos Rules New York, her inspiration, and a wish for a zapato power herself.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Freddie’s latest adventure?

 A: Whenever I do a school assembly, I always tell my audience how the plot for Zapato Power #4: Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash and Zapato Power #5: Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow came from student ideas. This generates lots of suggestions for other books in the series. I always listen carefully, because I am looking for inspiration. At a school in Atlanta, Georgia, a boy walked up to me and said: “Freddie should visit his Uncle Jorge in New York.” It was a brilliant idea and something that had not occurred to me before. I am indebted to that boy. After that, I considered situations in New York City where Freddie would naturally need to use his special sneakers. Running up the stairs in walk-up apartments came to mind. Also, New York City traffic jams. That’s when I came upon the plan to have Freddie use his special sneakers to deliver an important letter for Uncle Jorge.

Artwork by Miguel Benitez

Q: Why did you decide to give Freddie new sneakers in Zapato Power #6?

A: I needed to answer a question that students asked me at just about every school visit. What happens when Freddie outgrows his special shoes? It was a question I had not worried about when I first began the series. As an adult, I don’t outgrow my shoes anymore. But young readers reminded me how this is an important consideration for a growing boy like Freddie. It was fun to address it in Freddie Ramos Rules New York because it also gave me a chance to give Freddie an extra power.

Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A:  As a rule, I struggle with titles for my stories. But for this book, I knew I wanted a title with three elements: alliteration, an action verb, and an indication that Freddie was on an adventure outside of his home in Starwood Park. Freddie Ramos Rules New York provided all three items and fortunately came to me right away.

Q: What do you like the most about Freddie Ramos?

A: Freddie reminds me of the students I taught while I worked as an elementary school librarian in Falls Church, Virginia. He is good natured, caring, and fun to be around. While his life includes some economic and personal challenges, he has a positive, often humorous outlook. I admire Freddie. He was originally based on a Latino student of mine named Freddie. When I began the first book, Freddie Ramos Takes Off, I had a picture in my mind of this student’s very winning smile. But as the story grew in the pages of my book, Freddie Ramos became a person in his own right. I hear Freddie’s voice in my head when I write. I know exactly how Freddie would view something or describe it.

Q: If you had Zapato Power, what would you want to do with it?

A: I would do all my errands and housework superfast so I would have more time for writing and my family.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in New York City?

A: I love the High Line. It is an amazing elevated park, where you can admire plants and artwork while also enjoying a view of the city.

Artwork by Miguel Benitez

Q:  Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: If I don’t have an appointment or a presentation, I am usually at the computer writing. I start around 8:30 in the morning and work till about ten in the evening. Of course, I take breaks. Around 11 a.m., I ride an exercise bicycle. In the afternoon, I like to take a walk or do errands. I eat dinner with my husband but I eat both my breakfast and lunch at the computer. I will admit to being a bit of a workaholic.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: As a kid, I was a voracious reader. I remember enjoying The Borrowers, The Jungle Book, Secret Garden, Ben and Me, and that blue biography series, Childhood of Famous Americans. I still read every day for a half hour or more on my exercise bicycle. As an elementary school librarian, I became hooked on children’s books and they are still my favorite type of literature.

At the moment, I am devouring a pile of advanced reading copies (all children’s books) I picked up at the American Library Association conference. I don’t have a strong genre preference. I read fantasy, historical fiction, realistic fiction, verse, nonfiction—anything that has a compelling narrative.


Thanks, Jacqueline! Catch the latest title in the Zapato Power series before it zooms away. For more from Jacqueline, check out her website.

Q&A with Jacqueline Jules