Archive for the ‘author/illustrator interviews’ Category

What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner?

Is it that steamy mound of creamy mashed potatoes, begging for a generous splash of savory gravy? Grandma’s candied sweet potatoes or Aunt Beverley’s green bean casserole? Maybe for you it’s all about the turkey itself with its golden brown crispy skin — moist when you slice into it, even better with cornbread stuffing and fresh cranberry sauce. Can’t forget the pies — homemade pumpkin or apple? Yes, please!

Safe to say, this traditional holiday meal wouldn’t be quite as delicious without all the sharing — the sharing of cooking, baking, and serving tasks, and of course, having family and friends sitting around the table to devour every last bite.

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Pat Zietlow Miller’s delectable new picture book, Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story (Schwartz & Wade, 2015), invites us to step back into the 19th century to feast with a lively family of 10:

Mama, fetch the cooking pot.
Fetch our turkey-cooking pot.
Big and old and black and squat.
Mama, fetch the pot.

An enthusiastic young boy coaches each member of his family on a specific task: Mama prepares the turkey, Daddy tends the fire, Sister kneads the dough, Brother bastes the turkey, Grandpa boils the cranberries, Grandma bakes pumpkin pie, Auntie mashes potatoes, Uncle pours cider, and even Baby’s got a job — to “be a sleeping mouse.” With his brother and sister, the boy also makes paper pilgrim hat placemats, and when all is finally done, he calls everyone to the table. Yum!


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Look who’s here! :)

By now, most of you know I’m a big Jorge Argueta fan. I’ve previously featured four titles from his fabulous bilingual Cooking Poem Series here at Alphabet Soup: Rice Pudding/Arroz con leche (2010), Guacamole (2012), Tamalitos (2013), and most recently, Salsa (March 2015), all published by Groundwood Books.

Today, Jorge is here to talk about Olita y Manyula: The Big Birthday/El gran compleaños (Luna’s Press Books, 2015), a new bilingual picture book that represents yet another milestone in his esteemed literary career as author, poet, publisher and bookstore owner — a semi-autobiographical story that’s especially close to his heart.

Since founding Luna’s Press about 20 years ago, Jorge has published a number of chapbooks by San Francisco poets, but Olita y Manyula is the press’s first children’s book. This charming story features a young girl named Holly (Olita) who travels from the U.S. to visit friends and family in El Salvador. Once there, her aunt, cousin, and two friends excitedly escort her to a special birthday party for Manyula, whose house is within walking distance.

On the way, they stroll through the San Jacinto neighborhood with its colorful painted houses under the “tik-tik, tok-tok” of warm, intermittent rain, laughing and jumping in mud puddles. Rather than divulge any details about Manyula’s identity, the boys instead focus on pointing out several notable landmarks en route (the San Salvador volcano, beautiful Alcehuate River, a cement statue resembling a big handkerchief).


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Several years ago, in order to illustrate Monica Brown’s Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt, 2011), Julie Paschkis immersed herself in Neruda’s poetry and took Spanish language classes.

She fell in love with Spanish, its sounds and structure. Already a lover of words, she found these new words both interesting and fascinating, so much so, that she incorporated them in her paintings to stunning effect. She had created her own brand of visual poetry inspired by Neruda’s words.

Her love affair with the language didn’t end with that book. As one thing can sometimes beautifully lead to another, Julie discovered that her unfamiliarity with Spanish freed her to write poetry. The fourteen free verse animal poems in Flutter & Hum/Aleteo y Zumbido (Henry Holt, 2015) were first written in Spanish, then translated by Julie into English. And as she did with the Neruda book, she added words inspired by the poems to her illustrations.

In this exquisite tapestry of three languages — Spanish, English, and Art — we are treated to Julie’s charming insights and observations of creatures inhabiting land, sea and air, inviting us to appreciate them in new and surprising ways. Did you ever wonder what a turtle might be hiding in her shell?

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The turtle hides
in her shell.
But maybe there is space,
a place
for hidden treasure.
Just for pleasure
she could put an emerald
and a ruby or two

When she walks
she listens to the rattle of the gemstones.
That is why she goes so slowly —
she doesn’t want to spill
her secrets.



La tortuga se esconde
en su caparazón.
Tal vez hay un vacío,
un espacio
para un tesoro escondido.
Sólo por gusto
la tortuga podría meter
una esmeralda y unos rubís

Cuando anda
escucha el traqueteo del tesoro.
Por eso ella anda lentamente —
para no deja caer
sus secretos.

And the snake? He writes “a slippery poem/with his body . . . He only knows one letter: ssssssssss.” There’s also a whale that dances “In a dazzle of bubbles.” Sheer delight!

The poems vary in mood from playful (a dog’s wagging tail “fans wild happiness/into the wild world”) to peaceful and evocative (“Out of the darkness/an owl hoots./An echo./The night train/is leaving”) to ethereal (“I am a fish in the sea of dreams”).

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I really love the CAT:

Fat cat
naps on a map.
When she gets up
s  h  e     s  t  r  e  t  c  h  e  s
from Arequipa to Zanzibar
and her belly bumps  Topolobampo.
Elastic cat.



La gata gorda
se duerme en un mapa.
Cuando se levanta
s e    e s t i r a
desde Arequipa hasta Zanzibar
y su barriga choca contra  Topolobampo.
La gata elástica.

Isn’t ‘Topolobampo’ the best word ever? Even if we didn’t know it’s a city in Mexico, we get a good sense of how the cat’s moving in that winsome alliterative line, so much fun to read aloud. Flutter and Hum truly celebrates words, languages, and instinctual creative expression. It certainly contributes to our appreciation of how and where poems might emerge, and it’s fun to imagine Julie playing with both Spanish and English and exploring some of the magical places in between.

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As someone who loves hand lettering, I fairly swooned over Julie’s gorgeous paintings. As words slither on long blades of grass, swirl in the ripples of pond water, ride atop the backs of crows (“crass/brash,” “craven/crooked,” “brujo/brusco”), float in clouds, adorn both halves of a juicy strawberry (“fresh, blush, ripe, giddy, gozo, julio, frivolo”), and stream in dark ocean waves (“nightfall, fill, flow, flung, luna, lustra, bunco, oscuro”), we hear these juicy words spark and sing, bask in their collective serenade, feel the heart quicken. Her careful choice of words, as well as how they are paired or juxtaposed, creates a new energy, another poetic revelation.

Readers will also enjoy the little touches of humor: the parrot is “cheery, cheeky, beaky,” the whale, “buoyant”/”oh boy,” and that irresistible cat,  “now/then,” “here/there.” Surprise gifts in the fine details, a veritable feast of words. Perfecto!

I know you’ll enjoy hearing more from Julie herself, and we thank her for visiting today, and for creating this treasure of a book. Perhaps the turtle should stash a copy in her shell? :)


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Guess who’s having a birthday?

You may remember this pretty-in-pink frosted cutie from Terry Border’s delightful debut picture book, Peanut Butter and Cupcake (Philomel, 2014), where she boinged on a pogo stick and bedecked a castle with colorful sprinkles.

This time it’s Cupcake’s birthday, and she’s planning the perfect themed party with the help of her best friend Muffin. But for every one of Cupcake’s bright ideas (beach party! boat party! makeover session! musical chairs! getting down with the limbo!), Muffin counters with reasons why they wouldn’t work (drippy guests! sick soup! disgruntled burger! squished guest of honor! decapitation . . . gulp).

Talk about a party pooper.

What’s a birthday girl to do? Well, she could follow Muffin through the garden gate. Won’t tell you what happens, but let’s just say it turns out to be the happiest, sweetest, tastiest celebration ever (I wanted to devour all the party guests). Looks like Muffin has topped himself. :)


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Today I’m doubly pleased to welcome poet and author Nancy Tupper Ling, who’s here to tell us all about her new book Double Happiness (Chronicle Books, 2015), a heartwarming story about a family moving from San Francisco to the East Coast.

Beautifully told through a series of lyrical poems in the alternating voices of Gracie and her little brother Jake, Double Happiness deftly captures the mixed emotions of leaving loved ones behind, traveling across country, and seeing one’s new home and surroundings for the first time.

It is especially hard saying goodbye to Nai Nai (Grandmother), Auntie Su and Uncle Woo. To help ease the transition, Nai Nai gives each of the children a special box, suggesting they fill it with four treasures “leading from this home to your new.” She explains that when she was young she had her own “happiness box,” which enabled her to keep special memories close.

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Jake is as much excited, adventurous, and playful as Gracie is apprehensive, reflective, and sad. The treasures they add to their boxes (panda, marble, lucky penny, leaf, snake) mark specific moments in their journey with attendant feelings and impressions.

Both Gracie’s and Jake’s voices ring true, and the poems seamlessly keep the engaging storyline moving forward. Alina Chau incorporates cultural elements (Chinese calligraphy, Jake’s mystical dragon, first dinner) in her charming soft watercolor illustrations, illuminating this gentle gem of a story that will surely resonate with young readers.

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In Chinese tradition, “double happiness” is usually associated with weddings, but Nancy’s story artfully extends the concept: two homes, two coasts, two cultures, two boxes, the old and the new, two children, a dragon and a phoenix, two halves of a perfect whole coming full circle in the blessed harmony of family.

I know you’ll enjoy learning more about how and why Nancy wrote this book. And yes, she’s sharing a favorite recipe! Enjoy!

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