amwriting, Author/Illustrators, authors, books, bookstores, chapter books, children's books, children's books, children's writing, creativity, illustration, illustrators, libraries, memoir, middle grade books, non-fiction, publishing, reviews, star ratings, support an author, writing journey, YA books

Calling All Readers!

Support authors, illustrators too, they need you.

Just think about it, they’ve poured all of themselves into creating that book you enjoyed. They’ve revised, reworked and fine tuned the words and images you escaped into. They’ve worked hard to get their book(s) published and made available to you.

They deserve a shout out, or a pat on the back, you know they do.

So, that book you’ve just started, or are mid-way through, or are close to finishing? Once you’re finished, use your power as a reader to share your thoughts.

Here are two super easy ways to do just that.

Give it a rating and a review.

It won’t take long. Ratings and reviews can be found on most bookselling sites as well as Goodreads.

You have the power. Books and their creators need your input. It’s a harsh publishing world out there. A little appreciation goes a long way.

Illustrator, Debi Ridpath Ohi says it all!

Your star rating and review can help new readers find and enjoy the book you loved. The more new readers that a book gets, the more likely it is that the writer and illustrator will have opportunities to publish again.

So please, take a few moments to flex your reading power. Help the authors and illustrators you enjoy have the opportunity to create more books. Your imagination will reap the benefits.

The Imaginators by Linda Scott is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Amal, author interview, Author/Illustrators, books, children's books, children's writing, Clavis Publishing, illustration, Key Colors Competition, picture book author, picture book illustrators, picture books, support an author


I’ve been away from my blog for awhile, but I’m very happy to be back at it, especially because today I’m posting to share the news of a good friend’s well earned success. Below is the cover of her newest picture book which won the Gold Medal in the Key Colors Competition hosted by Clavis Publishing, Inc.

Book description:
When two ordinary objects land on a city sidewalk a little girl’s dull day becomes an odyssey of new places and unusual faces. Led to the library on a dragon boat she spies erudite elephants who open her eyes to the beauty of books, faraway lands, and a group of bats with hidden musical ambitions—who need her assistance.

My Key is available through these two sites as well in most bookstores:


Link to Indie books stores:

Author/Illustrator Bio:

Amal’s work covers a spectrum of books, magazines, posters and cover art. Her work is influenced by a lifelong interest in multi-culturalism and any excuse to research a good story.
Her fascination with various materials stems from her studies in the conservation of art on paper and is often incorporated into her work. Amal’s art has been featured in museums that include pieces now held in private collections. She received her MFA in Illustration from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco and is the 2020 Gold Medal Winner of Clavis Publishing’s Key Colors Competition. Her work in children’s books has been recently shortlisted for a regional IBBY Award. To learn more about Amal check out her website and Instagram.

As I thought many readers would be interested in Amal’s creative process along with the book journey of MY KEY, Amal very generously agreed to an interview as well.


 Do you remember what drew you to illustration initially? And later on, what made you choose a career as an author/illustrator?

I’d an older sister with a unique method of babysitting: She’d leave me either in the local Baltimore library or Walters Art Museum where, in both places, I was most attracted to large books. Those in the museum were under glass because of their delicate pictures while those in library seemed to cry out for any picture at all. I felt I had at least one task in life…

Do you write/illustrate every day?
I draw just about every day but it doesn’t necessarily translate into an illustration. And I write every morning.

Do you have a special place that you prefer to write, or to illustrate? How do you break up the two creative tasks or do you combine them? Would you be comfortable with providing a photo of that place?

I’ve taken over what we never called a living room and created a studio for writing and illustration in the same spot, more or less. I write on one side of the room then swivel around to my drafting table to swap jobs.
For the most part the day is split between writing in the morning and drawing/painting in the afternoon.

Do you flesh out the setting of your stories completely before sitting down to write or to illustrate? Do you have any techniques that you use to help you see your character’s world view?

The setting is often the place that helps prompt the story so it’s often there already, but a physical loose outline, where I can insert pages as needed and some sort of map—literally a map that moves the character from point to point—is incredibly useful.
Before getting into an illustration though I go over the text several times, then close my eyes to all distractions. Something always appears, eventually, but no real special technique for world view other than experience and observation. There are probably better ways to go about it but these are tools already at out fingertips.

Do you handwrite your first drafts or go straight to the computer? Similarly, what is your illustration process?

I do hand write the ideas because I use the computer as little as possible—my eyes hurt. Illustration is usually totally done with traditional materials: paper, pencil, charcoal, canvas, paints… When visual adjustments need to be made I try and do this by hand as well unless there are spots within the composition where I’d like to add layers and for these I do some stitching in either Photoshop or Procreate to do it.

How many drafts on average does it take for you to feel comfortable that you have a finished piece?

Two billion?

How has your writing/ your illustration changed over the years?

In both cases I started off doing a lot of work for educational publishes with tight parameters that at first you think, well,  there’s no way I can get anything interesting out of what feels like a myriad of rules, but then you do and quickly realize the benefits of limitations. The danger happens when the shackles are off—I now apply my own limits or rules which frees me up from a lot of potential confusion and, weirdly, gives space I didn’t before feel I had to both the writing and the art.

Where did you get the idea for My Key from?

It was the memory of a day when I was so bored I thought I’d split in two and I wondered how I’d go about making an illustration that depicted boredom. Redrawing from original sketches I got to a place that felt right and the story took off from there.

Are you presently working on another project?

I’m working on a rather hefty illustrated middle-grade novel.

 Is there any genre that you’d like to try that you haven’t, as yet?

Loads. I really haven’t worked in a wide variety of genres and if were up to me it would be mysteries all the way!

Is there anything you would suggest to those who are beginning their careers in writing or illustrating?

Don’t bother to procrastinate, don’t even clean the dishes, you’ll just get them dirty again. Start a routine where you begin your work soon after waking up rather than worrying about making time to work and not actually getting to it. Stop at the same time too.

Is there anything you would like to share with those who might be wondering if they should persevere?

If you feel queasy when you’re not doing it then your only option is to move forward. 

books, books about books, characters, children's books, Don Quixote, illustration, imagination, Margarita Engle, Miguel's Brave Knight, Raul Colon, reviews, Sancho Panza, writing journey

An Ingenious Gentleman

Last week I finished Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes. I had read it in Spanish class back in high school, but at that time I was so intent on deciphering the language that I didn’t absorb the content. This time reading it through I was overwhelmed by the story.

If you haven’t read it, Don Quixote is divided into two parts. The first in which Don Quixote’s most well known scenes are played out. He battles windmills he perceives as giants and sheep he takes as an advancing enemy army. To Don Quixote’s eyes the most mundane everyday thing becomes extraordinary. Simple rustic inns are seen as castles to him.

His friend and steadfast companion, Sancho Panza is at first impressed with Don Quixote’s knowledge of and devotion to knight-errantry. As time goes by, Sancho’s view teeter-totters on a seesaw of cynicism and rationalization, and yet he maintains his loyalty to Don Quixote. No longer bonded only by their roles of a knight-errant and his squire, they have developed into good friends, who have become such in spite of and more so because of their acknowledged differences.

In the second part of the book, poor Don Quixote is often duped, and his noble perceptions are used against him. Don Quixote’s imagination makes his world and the world of the reader grander, more poetical and ever full of possibilities. I found it heartbreaking when he was played the fool by characters who thought they knew better the reality of the world.

While reading the book, a friend shared with me the picture book Miguel’s Brave Knight- Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote. Poems written by Margarita Engle and Illustrations by Raul Colon.

There is so much to recommend in this book. From Margarita Engle’s dedication, “No giant or dragon is bigger or stronger than the human imagination,” to Raul Colon’s illustrations and Ms. Engle’s poems that convey the timeline of Miguel Cervantes’ learning years, as well as his emotional growth. Through her poems she takes the reader on Miguel’s Cervantes’ writers journey to the point where his dreams, and his imagination allow him, as she writes in the poem titled Imagination, to work toward telling the tale of his brave knight who will set out boldly to right all of the wrongs of this wonderful but terribly mixed up world. I hope you get a chance to enjoy both of these beautiful books.

children's books, Chris Van Allsburg, creativity, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, illustration, imagination, picture book illustrators, story starters

Images for Inspiration

After reading my post about creativity and my mention of The Imaginaries-Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin, :Donna@ recommended the picture book THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK by Chris Van Allsburg, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1984 and a book of short stories THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK, again published by Houghton Mifflin, this time in 2011.

The picture book came about from 14 images each with titles and captions, which Mr. Harris Burdick had given to Mr. Peter Wenders to consider for publication.

A Strange Day In July- He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.

Mr. Wenders liked the artwork and was interested in reading Mr. Burdick’s stories. Mr. Burdick was to return with the stories the following day, but he never returned.

Years later, Chris Van Allsburg told Mr. Wenders that it was difficult to look at the images without making up a story at which point Mr. Wenders brought out a cardboard box containing dozens of stories inspired by the images, which had been written by Mr. Wenders children and their friends.

The book of short stories was written by 14 well known writers: Sherman Alexie, Linda Sue Park, Stephen King and Gregory Maguire to name a few, and the tales tell the stories those authors thought of after viewing the pictures.

The House on Maple Street-It was a perfect lift-off.

I hadn’t looked at the book of short stories until after I tried my hand at a timed story starter writing exercise (ten minutes) afterwards I read what Jules Feiffer wrote after looking at the same image. It was a fun exercise to try and equally enjoyable to read Mr. Feiffer’s full story. Below is what I wrote within my ten minute practice exercise after looking at this image and reading its title and caption.

Uninvited Guests-His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn.

Malcolm was sure he heard laughter. But how could he have? No one was home and they wouldn’t be for hours. It was just he and Mrs. Murphy, his grandmother’s cat who was sound asleep on the back of the couch. There it was again. Malcolm moved slowly, quietly to see if he could pinpoint where the giggles were coming from. As he passed the basement door he heard a soft shushing. He opened the door a crack and peeked. He didn’t like the basement. It was full of forgotten things. Things that had once been useful, but now were left to gather dust. He flicked on the light, swallowed hard and took a step down. Right foot, left, right foot, left, he was more than halfway down when he noticed a small wooden door painted yellow. It came barely above his ankle. Why was there door there-and so small? Had it always been there?

The timer rang, and that’s where I stopped. It was a fun exercise, and I’d recommend trying it. I’d suggest getting both the picture book and the short stories and having a go at a timed practice. See what you come up with and read what short stories were created from the images. If you try it, please share what you created. I’d love to read and post your tales.

Thank you :Donna for the great recommendations!

Alison Hawkins, Angela Shante', back to school, children's books, children's writing, illustration, learning, picture book author, picture book illustrators, picture books, pre-school classroom, re-mote learning, re-mote teaching, teacher, teaching, West Margin Press

Teaching Creatively=Learning Fun!

Learning is the end goal any teacher wants their students to achieve. How a teacher gets a student there is in their lesson plans, their creativity and engaging ideas.

In The Noisy Classroom, written by Angela Shante’, illustrated by Alison Hawkins and published by West Margin Press, the main character is a little girl who is concerned about her upcoming year in third grade and the possibility that her classroom might be the noisy classroom. The noisy classroom doesn’t have the familiar structure or rules she had been used to. She’s so concerned she thinks she ought to pack up and move to Antarctica.

When it happens that she does get enrolled in Ms. Johnson’s noisy classroom she finds she’s having fun, but she’s not so sure she’s learning. The week flies by and she’s learned about: skip-counting by threes, writing a story from an ant’s point of view, playing math ball, writing calculations on her desk with dry erase markers, appreciating a poem written by Nikki Giovanni and freeze dancing her way to lunch.

Waiting to get a drink from the water fountain, she is standing behind two quiet rows of 2nd graders and realizes learning in Ms. Johnson’s noisy classroom is way better than any other class and way, way better than Antarctica.

I appreciated this book from both a student’s point of view and a teacher’s point of view. Going into a new class and meeting a teacher who teaches and manages the classroom differently than a student is used to is understandably anxiety inducing. But seeing the creativity and joy of learning presented in the persona of Ms. Johnson and her noisy classroom was validating for me as a teacher.

I’m a teacher for visually impaired and blind pre-school students. I adapt my lessons and materials dependent on an individual child’s usable vision, and try my hardest to tap into what’s fun for each child.

If I can hone in on what’s important to my student and have the lesson include whatever that might be, be it: car emblems, construction trucks, tools, happy faces, characters from TV or from movies, etc., I know I’m heading toward engaging my student’s interest in learning. When it all comes together and I see their faces light up with smiles and laughter, it’s the best!

Sometimes, it’s hard to get there. Sometimes, the thing that really engages a small child can make it difficult for them to transition onto the next task. When that happens the if . . . then scenario has to be put into action, if you do this . . . then you’ll get to do that. It’s not optimal because if the child digs his or her heels in, it takes a good amount of creative brainstorming to figure out how best to change the dynamic. And if you add on that the student is learning remotely, well you have to enlist the parents, more so than ever, to team up with you to make their child’s learning successful.

Whether you’re a parent, a student or a teacher or all three, I hope your week is full of noisy, fun creativity because that equals a whole bunch of learning!