Q&A with Leslie Evans

In Finding Christmas by Lezlie Evans and illustrated by Yee Von Chan, Squirrel, Mouse, and Hare are getting ready for Christmas. While Mouse is out looking for the perfect gift for Hare, she finds Swallow sick in the snow. The three friends bring Swallow home and try to nurse the bird back to health. Squirrel and Mouse realize their Christmas gifts will help Swallow get well. As they give up their presents to help Swallow, they find the Christmas spirit.


We were lucky enough to chat with author Lezlie Evans about writing children’s books, celebrating kindness, and Finding Christmas.

Q. Why write children’s books?

A. I didn’t grow up thinking I would write for children. There were many career paths I considered: an actor, a doctor, and a detective. Being a children’s book author never crossed my mind. In college, I majored in broadcast journalism and took several creative writing courses along the way. After many trips to the public library and reading hundreds of books with my six children, I discovered my true passion: writing for children. Many special bonding moments have come from reading with my children over the years. It’s my hope that my books might do the same for others.

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

A. Make Way for Ducklings was one of my favorite picture books as a child. I read it over and over again. My favorite novels included Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Incredible Journey. These books made me cry. Books that tugged at my heartstrings and made me feel something deeply; those are the ones that have stayed with me.


Q. What was your inspiration for your title?

A. One Christmas when my six children were still at home, we ran into a snafu that changed the way we gave gifts. It was Christmas Eve and the pile of toys and trinkets we’d bought for the children lay on our bedroom floor waiting to be wrapped. My husband offered to help and I gratefully took him up on it. He quickly set about wrapping all of the gifts and finished the job in record time. But it was soon discovered that in his determination to get the task done, he had forgotten to put names on the gifts. When he realized his mistake, in an effort to save the day, he suggested we put the presents under the tree as is, let the children choose one at a time, open it, and then give it to the family member they thought needed it/would love it the most. This turned out to be one of our most cherished family memories. The children loved giving the gifts away to their delighted siblings, and my husband and I loved watching the sweet exchanges that took place. It was so much fun that our children asked if we could leave the names off the Christmas gifts the next year…and so we did. I didn’t see it at the time, but after writing Finding Christmas, I realized that Hare, Squirrel, and Mouse were a lot like my children: they found great joy as they gave their gifts away!

Q. Do you have any writing rituals?

A. For many, writing is a solitary endeavor, but not for me. My two cats see to that! I wouldn’t know how to write without Maxine and Callie by my side. As soon as I sit down at the computer, Max is at my feet and Callie jumps up and sits in between the keyboard and my computer screen. They are the purrrrrfect companions! Besides having my cats nearby, I also like to keep snacks close at hand. In my left-hand desk drawer, you’re sure to find salt and vinegar almonds and buffalo pretzel pieces. These treats keep me going. If I’m struggling with a particular passage or a part of the story, I’ll reach for the right-hand drawer. That’s where I keep the good stuff: chocolate!


Q. How do you share the message of kindness and friendship during the holidays?

A. The holidays are often hectic and many times I get overbooked and overloaded and don’t get around to doing everything I’d like to for my friends. I think that’s true for a lot of people. So when I found out Albert Whitman had created a Finding Christmas advent calendar (a simple, fun way to think of others during the holidays), I was thrilled! This free downloadable craft kit is something that families can create together. Then, on a daily basis, children can track the little ways they show kindness and think of others during the holidays. I can’t wait to make one with my grandkids when I see them at Thanksgiving! Feel free to share caring calendar with your friends.

Q. Hare loves to sing Christmas songs. In Finding Christmas, he declares it’s his favorite part of Christmas. Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?

A. I’m a lot like Hare! I love Christmas music and can be found “singing at the top of my lungs” all throughout the season. Sometimes I put on Christmas music at other times of the year just because it makes me feel happy! As for choosing a favorite, I don’t think I can pick just one. From Jingle Bells to Joy to the World, I love them all.


Thanks so much, Lezlie. To find out more about Finding Christmas and download the advent calendar craft visit our website.

Q&A with Leslie Evans

Q&A with Gloria Koster

At Albert Whitman & Company, we’re getting ready for Hanukkah with our latest book celebrating the holiday: Little Red Ruthie by Gloria Koster and illustrated by Sue Eastland.

It was a chilly winter in the northern woods, but Ruthie did not mind. Dressed in her favorite puffy red coat, she was going to spend Hanukkah with her grandmother, who lived on the other side of the forest. Ruthie was bringing sour cream and applesauce to go along with the yummy latkes. She carefully packed her basket and kissed her mother good-bye. Snow began to fall. Soon Ruthie was lost in a thicket, and she was not alone. Someone was hiding behind the tree, and when he jumped out, Ruthie found herself face to face with a wolf. Ruthie will have to convince the wolf that eating latkes will be tastier than eating her!


We were lucky enough to sit down with author Gloria Koster to chat about folktales, Hanukkah, and Little Red Ruthie.

Q. Why did you decide to write a folktale with a Hanukkah twist?

A. As an elementary school librarian, I’ve been reading stories aloud to children for a long time. Over the years I’ve witnessed the special power of folktales. When they are told well, they have an organic quality and the power to completely enchant young listeners. I knew I wanted to write one. And holiday books are always a draw, especially in the fall and winter months when there are so many different celebrations.

Q. What makes your version of Little Red Riding Hood stand out?

A. Most Red Riding Hood characters show independence as they set out on their journeys, but few are as sharp as Ruthie. She is the epitome of someone who thinks her way through a tough situation, and she appears even more clever in contrast with my clueless wolf. Children of all faiths and backgrounds can see themselves in Ruthie’s predicament and take courage from her confidence and bravery. The inclusion of Jewish traditions also makes this telling unique. I use the Yiddish term Bubbe, for the grandmother character, and Ruthie is named in honor of Ruth from the Old Testament. In the context of a humorous Red Riding Hood story, readers will learn about the Hanukkah miracle and the significance of the menorah, latkes, and jelly donuts.


Q. What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A. The easiest part is the idea. It’s so exciting to seize upon a topic that resonates with me. Then the work begins! So far, all my stories have been picture books. I write at the sentence level, so for me, the choice of words and the sound of those words is extremely important. Writing a picture book is a lot like writing a poem. Sometimes it seems as though I’m making very little progress because I spend so much time with small sections of text.

Q. What is your favorite fairytale?

A. I dedicated Little Red Ruthie to the memory of my mother. I was fortunate to have her share many fairy tales with me. One of our favorites was The Snow Queen. I was transfixed by the idea that a shard of glass could transform the little boy from good to evil and always reassured when his true nature re-emerges. I love the magical, winter setting of The Snow Queen. It was an inspiration for the northern forest in Little Red Ruthie.

Q. What was the process of working with your editor like?

A. I actually had the pleasure of working with two different editors at Albert Whitman, with Andrea Hall guiding me through the bulk of revisions. Thanks, Andrea! Your suggestions were always on target and I so appreciated your clear communication and extremely prompt responses.


Q. Are you working on any other projects?

A. I love writing folktales, but I’ve also developed an interest in narrative nonfiction. I’m currently putting the finishing touches on two picture book biographies. It’s wonderful to write a story without having to invent the plot. But the challenge is remembering to stick with the facts. I enjoy working in different genres.

Q. What are your writing routines and quirks?

A. I try to write every day, even if it’s just for an hour or so after work. Weekends and vacations feel like gifts. Just like a lot of other writers, I take walks to clear my head and to “re-boot” when I am stuck for too long on one part of a story. I split my time between my small town and New York City, so there are always places to go for long walks. Hot showers are another great way to clear my head!

Thanks so much, Gloria! Celebrate Hanukkah this year with Little Red Ruthie.


Q&A with Gloria Koster

Celebrate Thanksgiving with Albert Whitman & Company!

This Thanksgiving, take time to remember all the things that really matter: family, friends, good food, and great books. Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving books from the Albert Whitman collection. Stuffed with fun, these heartwarming tales are sure to leave you hungry for more.

It’s Thanksgiving, Chloe Zoe! (New Release!)

Jane Smith

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Chloe Zoe is on another adventure and this time Grammy Ella is here to help! Together, they are making Thanksgiving pie. Chloe Zoe gets all the spices for the filling, but when she accidentally uses the wrong ones the pie doesn’t taste the way it should. Grammy Ella reminds Chloe Zoe that Thanksgiving is about more than just food, it’s about being together as a family. Catch Chloe Zoe and her friends in their other books as well!


Sarah Gives Thanks: How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday

Mike Allegra


Ever wonder how Thanksgiving got its start? Even devoted Thanksgiving celebrants might not know this chapter of its interesting history: in the nineteenth century, Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned for this important day to become a national holiday. A writer and women’s magazine editor, Hale was groundbreaking in more ways than one. Paired with David Gardner’s beautiful watercolor illustrations, Hale’s memorable story is sure to inspire readers of all ages.


Duck for Turkey Day (New in Paperback!)

Jacqueline Jules


Come back to the modern age and see just how far our favorite holiday has come! Tuyet can’t believe that her family is having duck instead of turkey for Thanksgiving. She’s even more surprised when she finds out that she enjoys it! Back at school on Monday, everyone is talking about their Thanksgiving meals. From roast beef to enchiladas, everyone celebrated Thanksgiving in their own unique way. A celebration of diversity in America, this book is a perfect fit both at home and in school.


This is the Turkey

Abby Levine


In the festive sequel to This is the Pumpkin, Max is back to celebrate Thanksgiving. As he and his sisters begin preparing all the Thanksgiving treats, more friends and relatives come to join the party. Soon, all sorts of new dishes and traditions are being passed around. Readers will want to return to this fun, rhyming book every Thanksgiving season.


Not This Turkey!

Jessica Steinberg

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After Mel’s father wins a live turkey from work, he decides that this year they will celebrate Thanksgiving for the very first time. Mel has lived in America for years, but his family has only ever celebrated the Jewish holidays. Mel can’t wait for the new holiday. There’s only one problem: Mel really likes this turkey! Steinberg’s hilarious story is a must-have for this holiday season.


Happy Thanksgiving! Plus, get a jump on the winter holidays by checking out more of our holiday books here.

Celebrate Thanksgiving with Albert Whitman & Company!

Author Insight with Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

Maple syrup season is here! In Maple Syrup from the Sugarhouse by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter, Kelsey and her father begin harvesting sap from sugar maple trees. Family and friends join them to help in the process of turning the sap into maple syrup.


Author Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton walks us through her experience making maple syrup:

I was in second grade the first time I made maple syrup. We were living in a suburb of Detroit. We decided we were going to make maple syrup from the maple trees in our yard.

My father drilled a hole and then tapped a copper pipe into the side of a huge maple tree. We placed my mother’s pasta pan below to gather the sap. When the pan filled we took it into the house and began boiling. We kept gathering more sap, and boiling.

We didn’t know that it took 40-50 gallons of sap to make syrup. We also didn’t think about all that steam filling our home.  Hours later our windows were dripping with sweat, and we weren’t any closer to having syrup. What we did have was sweetened water. My mom decided to use the water to make corn beef.

I was 35 when we bought our farm in Medina, Ohio. The first fall we delighted in the beauty of the maple trees dropping their red, yellow, orange, leaves.  My husband decided we were going to tap the trees in the spring. In the meantime he located a hobbyist 55 gallon drum/evaporator, some spiles, and buckets. He built a rustic sugar-house-lean-to smack dab in the middle of the woods. Then we started stockpiling wood during the fall and winter.

We waited all winter for the right spring weather, above freezing days and freezing nights. Finally, the weather provided us with our first run. We were excited and very busy! My husband, our two daughters, and I worked all day and into the night for three days straight. Soon, our family and friends found out what we were up to and came to see and help. When we finished the season, we were overjoyed and tired. We had three runs that year and bottled 18 gallons of syrup.

Every year after that we grew: more buckets, more syrup, more friends and family. Then we decided to build a larger sugar house at the edge of the sugar bush. The great part of that was we finally had bathrooms! (Trudging through the woods to get to our home’s bathroom was hard for older people and children—and even me too sometimes!)

We purchased a larger evaporator. Now maple syrup season is a regular event for all our friends and family. Every summer and fall we cut wood and stack it next to the sugar house. We buy bottles and jugs to fill. We make sure our spiles and buckets are clean and the paths are clear through the sugar bush. When the winter winds blow, we sit inside enjoying our syrup from last season. We pour it over our pancakes, waffles, cornbread, ice cream. We put it in our coffee, add it to our pork chops, and sometimes just slurp a spoonful. When our jugs are just about empty, it’s spring time again! We don our jackets, boots, gloves and set out to the sugar bush to make some more sweet maple syrup.


Thanks so much, Laurie! To find out more about Maple Syrup from the Sugarhouse, check out our website.

Author Insight with Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

Halloween Reads for Your Trick-or-Treaters

You don’t have to be tricky to get these treats! Celebrate Halloween with Albert Whitman books featuring our favorite spooky holiday. From lessons in bravery to costume inspiration, these playful stories are a must-have for young readers preparing for Halloween! Check out some of our other seasonal reads on our website here.


It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! (New Release!)

Jane Smith

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Follow Chloe Zoe, Mary Margaret, and George as they venture into their transformed neighborhood on Halloween! When Chloe Zoe notices a particularly spooky house down the street, she feels a little scared. But, with her Dad, all her friends, and a bag full of Halloween treats, of course, Chloe Zoe learns to be brave. For even more Halloween fun, download printable activity sheets and check out more of Chloe Zoe’s holiday adventures on our site!


Trick Arrr Treat (New in Paperback!)

Leslie Kimmelman


The best part of Halloween is dressing up, and these pirates are taking their costumes very seriously. Join Charlotte Blue-Tongue, Peg-Leg Pete, Glass-Eyed Gabby, and their pirate friends on their quest for Halloween loot! As the children trick or treat, their imaginations carry them from their neighborhood to their very own pirate’s lagoon. Can the pirates protect their treasure through the night?


The Ghosts Go Haunting

Helen Ketteman


A parade of Halloween creatures marches through the school in this festive story. The teachers are frightened, but the students play along with the Halloween gang and their hijinks. Set to the counting tune of The Ants Go Marching, this playful book will keep readers glued to the page from cover to cover.


Skeleton for Dinner

Margery Cuyler


Big Witch and Little Witch are having a dinner party and everyone in the haunted forest is invited! When Skeleton mistakes the guest list for a menu, he thinks that he’s cooked for sure. Spooked, Ghost and Ghoul join him and all three creatures take off running. Will anyone be able to sort out the misunderstanding?


What Am I? Halloween

Anne Margaret Lewis

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This interactive book has all the features of classic Halloween fun. Hints and pictures under flaps guide young readers through a guessing game of seasonal symbols. Perfect for story time, this look-and-see book will have everyone excited for Halloween.


Pumpkin Jack

Will Hubbel


Halloween is over, but Tim isn’t ready to say goodbye to Jack, his carefully carved pumpkin. Instead, he puts it in the garden and waits. This beautifully illustrated book follows the life cycle of the pumpkin plant, bringing new hope and growth to Halloween traditions.


To fill your cauldrons with more books about Halloween, visit our website.

Halloween Reads for Your Trick-or-Treaters

Q&A with Jane Smith

Chloe Zoe is a sweet young elephant who loves celebrating the holidays and trying new things! Along with her friends Mary Margaret the crocodile and George the giraffe, Chloe Zoe learns important lessons about getting along with friends, enjoying new experiences, and most of all, having fun! Join Chloe Zoe on two new adventures this season, It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! and It’s Thanksgiving, Chloe Zoe!

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We were lucky enough to sit down with author-illustrator Jane Smith to chat about inspiration, holiday celebrations, and the Chloe Zoe series.

Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A: It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! is inspired by the classic childhood experience of being “scared of the creepy house down the street.” I know I certainly had a house like that on my block growing up! I was too creeped out to knock on the door during Girl Scout cookie selling season, let alone in the dark on Halloween night!! Chloe Zoe is braver than I was! (But, of course, it always helps to have awesome friends like Mary Margaret and George!!)

It’s Thanksgiving, Chloe Zoe! is inspired by a favorite family Thanksgiving memory. When my nephew was very small—about 2-3 years old—he really, really, really wanted to decorate the holiday pumpkin pie with rainbow sprinkles. And so, my sister let him go for it! The pie looked super gross, covered in melty sprinkles, and tasted kinda funny, too, but it was super awesome nonetheless. Just as Chloe Zoe and Grammy Ella discover, it’s all about just being together, making funny, happy memories.


Q: What makes your books stand out?

A: The whole Chloe Zoe picture book series, including the two newest titles, It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! and It’s Thanksgiving, Chloe Zoe!, stand out because they speak directly to kids’ very real experiences in the world and honors their emotional reactions to those experiences. This is so meaningful to young kids as they grow and begin making sense of their world and their place in it.

Q: What comes first—text or art?

A: For me, it depends—sometimes a manuscript comes first and sometimes an illustration of a character does and sometimes they kind of just happen together.

In the case of Chloe Zoe, she and her friends began as collage spot art paired with a very short story about the first day of preschool, originally designed as a novelty board book! The creative team at Albert Whitman saw this and was inspired to envision a whole picture book series—Chloe Zoe!


Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: For me, the easiest part of creating a book is coming up with ideas and characters. Those always come out of playing with art materials and enjoying everyday life. (I’m pretty much inspired by everything from a walk at the beach to hanging out with my kiddo to eating out at a fabulous restaurant to traveling to new places to everything else in-between).

The hardest part, for me, is the sketch stage. This is when the manuscript is really solid and it’s time to make the plan for the whole visual experience of the book. It requires a lot of thinking and paying close attention to details, working to really enhance the narrative that is in the text and being diligent about consistency. And often it also includes a lot of erasing and stopping and starting all over again!!

But it’s all worth it, because when the sketches are fully thought out and are as solid as the text, it makes creating the final art so much more fun! The pressure is off because there is a plan that you can trust!


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

A: It has been a dream! Over the course of creating the Chloe Zoe series, which currently includes six titles, I have had the pleasure of working with two different, but equally fabulous, editors and the superstar art director, Jordan Kost. All of them have given me a lot of freedom to bring my vision of Chloe Zoe and her world to life, all the while providing support and direction along the way.

With each title, my editor gave me a holiday or a big moment, like the first day of kindergarten, from which to begin. I would draft a manuscript with loose, rough thumbnails and we’d noodle it from there. Sometimes, a book came together quickly, while others required a lot of back and forth. Through the process, the manuscript would get tighter and more concise, while the art would become realized first through sketches and then through final art. It was amazing to see how each title finally came together as one complete, exciting package!


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

A: I loved reading as a kid! My favorite book when I was little was Watch Out for Chicken Feet in Your Soup by Tomie de Paolo, and my second favorite book was the Russian folktale, Baba Yaga. I was lucky enough to have a librarian for a mom, so our house was always filled with books, books, books!

These days I love scary, creepy books and read a lot of mysteries, thrillers and horror stories! And I am also obsessed with magazines—National Geographic, Yoga Journal, Vegetarian Times, and more!


Thanks so much Jane! Find out more about the whole Chloe Zoe series—and download fun activities to go along with each book—over at our website. Join Chloe Zoe for fun adventures this Halloween and Thanksgiving!

Q&A with Jane Smith

Q&A with Ronald Kidd

Ronald Kidd has written several books for Albert Whitman, but it’s his latest novel, Room of Shadows, that is perfect for Halloween. Here’s a brief synopsis: Ever since his dad left, David Cray has had anger issues. So after he beats up school bully Jake Bragg, his mom grounds him in their creepy new house. Bored, David discovers a secret room with an old-fashioned desk, a chest, and a carving of a raven. Suddenly he’s having strange dreams about the room and the house, and violence seems to follow him wherever he goes. Who is the Raven who is taking responsibility for these violent pranks? And why do the pranks resemble Poe’s stories?

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We were lucky enough to chat with Ronald about Edgar Allan Poe, writing children’s books, and Room of Shadows.

Q. What inspired you to write about Edgar Allan Poe?

A. Poe was amazing! He invented three genres: mysteries 50 years before Arthur Conan Doyle, science fiction 50 years before Jules Verne, and horror 100 years before H.P. Lovecraft. He lived so long ago that when he was born, Thomas Jefferson was president.

But what fascinated me the most about Poe was his death, which itself was a mystery. Found in a Baltimore tavern, sick and incoherent, Poe was taken to a hospital, where he died muttering the word “Reynolds.” That’s all we know. It was a sad, squalid death. I decided to resurrect Poe, take him to modern-day Baltimore, and give him the glorious death he deserved. The result was Room of Shadows.

Q. How does Poe come back to life?

A. Ah, but you see, he never died. Using a method he discovered when researching his horror stories, Poe suspended himself between life and death, where he ended up trapped for 150 years. Then one day, in a rickety house with a secret room, his spirit is summoned by the anger of a young man named David Cray. Just a quick preview: When Poe returns, David isn’t the only one who’s angry.

Q. You write in so many different genres. How do you decide which one to work in next?

A. I love reading about music, history, sports, all kinds of things. Typically I’ll stumble across something in a book, and it will send me spinning off into a story. So I guess you could say that I don’t pick the genre; it picks me. With Poe, I had thought I would write a historical novel and was surprised to find I was writing a horror story.

Q. Why write children’s books?

A. I once read that we’re shaped by what happens when we’re thirteen—no longer children but not yet adults, in that awkward and exciting time when we become ourselves. It was that way for me, and it’s that way for my characters. We meet them at a turning point, faced with a decision or a crisis that crowds in on them, grabs their attention, and forces them to act. It’s that way for Billie with the Freedom Riders in Night on Fire, Callie and Jeremy and their rigid dystopian world in Dreambender, Frances and the Scopes Trial in Monkey Town. I guess in some way, deep down inside where writers live and work, I’ll always be thirteen.

Q. Are you working on any other projects?

A. Funny you should ask. I’m just finishing up Lord of the Mountain, in which Nate Owens (yes, he’s thirteen) witnesses the birth of country music in 1927 in his hometown of Bristol, Tennessee. Nate’s father is a sad, wild-eyed preacher, and his mother hides a secret melody that drives Nate into the mountains, where he catches up with the Carter Family and uncovers his own family’s musical heritage.

Q. Writing is such a solitary activity. Do you really enjoy it?

A. The answer is an enthusiastic yes, for two reasons. (1) I’m not alone! I’m surrounded by my characters, and through them I experience colorful people and places. (2) When I write, I take my readers with me—the kids, parents, teachers, and wonderful librarians who enjoy my work and keep it alive. I love staying in touch with them through my books, website, Facebook page, and email newsletter.

Thanks so much, Ronald! To find out more about Room of Shadows and Ronald’s other novels, check out our website.

Q&A with Ronald Kidd