8 Qs with Jeanne Walker Harvey about her new #NF #PB ABLAZE WITH COLOR: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas = Happy Book Birthday!

2.22.22 feels like a lucky day, doesn’t it?

And we have the excellent good fortune of celebrating

#BlackHistoryMonth with the Book Birthday of

ABLAZE WITH COLOR: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas

by Jeanne Walker Harvey,

Illus. Loveis Wise, Harper Collins.

Check out these STARRED reviews

“This charming biography’s title describes not only Alma Thomas’ signature paintings but the book’s radiant artwork, which emphasizes how the colors of the natural world inspired her unusual, iconic works. Neatly encapsulating a long life that saw social and personal upheaval, as well as gorgeously showcasing the art produced along the way and the natural world that inspired it, this title is a must for art and biography shelves.” — Booklist (starred review)

“In clear language and straightforward presentation, the author [Jeanne Walker Harvey] (Maya Lin) focuses on Thomas’s family’s intellectual ambitions and support of her aspirations, her love of nature and education, and her determination and persistence in the face of societal obstacles. Wise celebrates Thomas’s work with saturated, page-filling, vibrant color; the rich, flat, atmospheric compositions fit Thomas’s tessellated style and high-key colors. An inspiring introduction for artists and appreciators, as individuals or shared in groups.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

“This superb picture-book biography profiles Alma Thomas. Harvey’s (Maya Lin, rev. 7/17) poetic text is imagistic and deftly paced; Wise’s (The People Remember, rev. 11/21) digital artwork is boldly, fittingly colorful.”-Horn Book (starred review)

Welcome to the blog, Jeanne.

We have questions!

Q 1. How and when did you first become aware of Alma Thomas and her art? 

Jeanne Walker Harvey: In 2015, I read about First Lady Michelle Obama surprising visitors touring the White House by opening up the Old Family Dining Room, a room established in 1825, for the first time to the public.  She and President Barack Obama worked with the Curator of the White House, William Allman, to fill this historic room with contemporary art and design, another first for the White House. They wanted to show that life in the White House could be forward thinking without losing any of its established history and tradition.

And one of the paintings chosen was Alma Thomas’s 1966 abstract painting titled “Resurrection” (which is featured in ABLAZE WITH COLOR) which was the first artwork by a Black woman to be added to the White House permanent collection.  I immediately loved this vivid painting, truly ablaze with color, and began finding out all I could about Alma Thomas so that I could share her amazing life story and art with children.

Q 2.     ABLAZE WITH COLOR is your third picture book biography, after My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey (Illus. Elizabeth Zunon/ Two Lions), and Maya Lin–Architect of Light and Lines: Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Illus. Dow Phumiruk/ Henry Holt), to be followed this fall by Dressing Up the Stars – The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head (Illus. Diana Toledano / Beach Lane/ S&S). What a line up! All of these books highlight fabulously creative people. Have you always been drawn to the arts and creative expression? 

Jeanne Walker Harvey: Yes! And I love your term, “fabulously creative people”. I’ve always been fascinated by what inspires creative people and what challenges they have overcome in pursuing their creative endeavors. My mother took me regularly to modern art museums and exhibits which ignited my interest in art. I then became a long-time docent for school groups at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  I find it so gratifying to share my passion for modern art with children, and a great way to get children excited about the art is to share stories about the artist and their creative process.

Interior art by Loveis Wise from ABLAZE WITH COLOR: The Story of Painter Alma Thomas (Harper Collins)

Persistence, Patience, Perseverance = PIVOT

Q 3.   I read (via Mr. Schu’s interview.) that, due to the onset of crippling arthritis during her 70’s, Alma Thomas changed her painting style and… OK no spoilers from me… To the  question: Is there a key moment or take-away from Alma Thomas’s work and life that inspires Jeanne Walker Harvey, the author?   

Jeanne Walker Harvey: Great question and hah! Thanks for letting me give away the spoiler. Yes, I think Alma Thomas demonstrated persistence, patience, and perseverance during her lifetime which I find very inspiring. She endured and overcame racial injustices as a child in Georgia and as an adult in Washington, D.C., but she sought to bring joy to others through her teaching (up until she retired at age 70) and her artwork. And, as you mentioned, she changed her painting style to accommodate her painful arthritis which led to unexpected successes. She was able to pivot and try something new.  Not only was her art chosen for the White House, but she was also the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York City.

Q 4.   We picture book authors know that every word counts. And it’s often difficult to focus on only certain areas of your subject’s journey. Is there a scene or section in earlier drafts of ABLAZE WITH COLOR that was hard to cut?  

Jeanne Walker Harvey: You are spot on, Erin! Every word is carefully chosen and many words need to be deleted to honor the throughline of the story. When I talk to children, they are often amazed how long it takes me to write my books. “How can it take you years to write something that doesn’t have that many words?” Of course, I explain to them that the writing also involves researching the subject in every way I can discover. And just as you are saying, there are always parts of the story that I need to delete in later revisions.

I found this section about Frank Borman, USAF astronaut, difficult to delete because I was drawn to the idea of Alma listening to inspiring music and words while she created her Space paintings:

While Alma painted,

she listened to music about space

and a recording of an astronaut

saying “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful”  

while he gazed at the glowing blues and white

of the earth rising

over the moon’s horizon

as the spacecraft floated in darkness.

Interior art by Loveis Wise from ABLAZE WITH COLOR: The Story of Painter Alma Thomas (Harper Collins)

Jeanne Walker Harvey: I also liked this deleted passage about her Nature paintings:

Alma often said the words

Wind, Sunshine and Flowers

should be the book title

of her life.

Interior art by Loveis Wise from ABLAZE WITH COLOR: The Story of Painter Alma Thomas (Harper Collins)

Q 5.  How does your experience as a blogger/reviewer of over 170+ picture book biographies fluence your own writing? 

Jeanne Walker Harvey: I learn so much every time I study the way different authors choose to tell the stories of others. Sometimes I type up the words of a book (including the page breaks) that particularly drew me in so that I can get a sense of the pacing and choices in the storytelling.

Q 6.  What surprises did illustrator Loveis Wise bring to the book?

Jeanne Walker Harvey: I was truly amazed by how stunning Loveis Wise’s illustrations are. They not only evoke the essence of Alma Thomas’ work, but convey in their own style the joy and exhilaration of the colors bursting forth from the paintings.  I think I was surprised by the myriad of details included in each of Loveis’ illustrations that capture Alma’s life beginning as a girl in Georgia through to her adult life in Washington, D.C. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the book we’ve all created, and that team includes Loveis, the whole team at Harper Collins, including our wonderful editor, Megan Ilnitzki, and my amazing agent (and yours too, Erin!), Deborah Warren at East West Literary Agency, who found a home for this story.

Q 7. What do you hope young readers will take away from ABLAZE WITH COLOR? I hope our book inspires children to seek joy on their own creative paths and overcome their own challenges.


Q 8. I am definitely feeling inspired! What ideas do you have for artists, students, illustrators, and readers young and old to create our own Alma Thomas inspired artwork?

Jeanne Walker Harvey: Check out these fun activities which you can download on my website at https://www.jeanneharvey.com/projects.  Not only is there a terrific comprehensive Guide for Educators, Librarians and Parents, there’s also an Alma Thomas Activity Kit with a Create Your Own Collage and a Colorful Paper Puzzle. And I’d love for anyone to share what they create and I can post it on my website. Or send me a photo of any of your pets working along with you. My cat adores stretching out on these project pages when I’m creating.

Jeanne Walker Harvey: Heartfelt thanks, Erin, for hosting today’s Book Birthday interview for ABLAZE WITH COLOR – A Story of Painter Alma Thomas. I so enjoy reading all the kidlit interviews on your blog, and I’m very honored to be included.

To learn more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her work, check our her website: jeanneharvey.com

and follow her on Twitter: @JeanneWHarvey

and Pinterest: JeanneWalkerHarvey

6 Qs with #debut #mg #superhero author Shawn Peters about THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER & a super #Giveaway–WOW!

THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, by Shawn Peters (Harper Collins / Illus. Petur Antonsson) 

We had so much fun talking to Shawn Peters about his superhero adventure book, THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, that we decided to do a two part interview. And this time, the #Giveaway details are included.

ICYMI Part 1 of our interview is here.

Packed with superheroes, supervillains, and epic showdowns between good and evil, The Unforgettable Logan Foster from debut author Shawn Peter shows that sometimes being a hero is just about being yourself.

–Harper Collins

You can see why we had more questions!

Interior art by Petur Antonsson from THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, written by Shawn Peters (Harper Collins).  

World Building

Q 1. A multi-layered superhero action book like THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER takes a lot of world building. Any tips? Did the world come first –or your story line?

Shawn Peters: The storyline came first. I wanted to tell the story of kid who had been made to feel different his whole life who suddenly finds himself as part of a found family where he’s the closest one to “normal” in the group. That’s where the idea of having him adopted by superheroes came from. But when it comes to superhero stories, there really have only been two options of “worlds” to choose from.

In one, the world is full of superheroes and people know who they are. The Avengers in the MCU are an example of that. Everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man. The other option is a world where all the superheroes are walking amongst us, in secret identities like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, and only reveal themselves when absolutely necessary. But in these versions, people in the world still get that there are superheroes on the planet. I wanted to create a new option where superheroes are real, but almost no one knows about it, not all that different from how Rick Riordan handles demigods or how the “Men In Black” comics and movies handled aliens. Once I did that, it opened the door to a ton of fun where comic books and superhero movies we all know and love are all just cover stories and money makers for the secret organization that is in charge of the superhuman population. By the way, if I suddenly “disappear” you’ll know I got too close to the truth.

Interior art by Petur Antonsson from THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, written by Shawn Peters (Harper Collins).  

Be the Hero

Q 2. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

***I ,for one, appreciate the way it turns certain perspectives upside down, like this quote about villains: “I don’t like that term…I’ve found no one is a villain from his or her point of view.” Thoughts?

Shawn Peters: You’re making me smile as I write this because you’ve hit the nail on head. I very much want to ask the reader to see that everyone gets to be the hero of their own story, whether that’s an orphan who assumes he’ll never be adopted, or a super-villain who is willing to do terrible things for a cause. Logan is on the autism spectrum, but he has all the same emotions his peers have; he just has a harder time identifying them in the moment and thus, he doesn’t express them the same way the people around him do.

Once he finds a “family” that accepts that instead of trying to get him to act like everyone else, his life changes. Necros is the “big bad” in this book, and she has differences she can’t control too– albeit ones with more serious consequences than Logan’s quirks—but she isn’t motivated by pure evil. She demands the same rights as everyone else. I hope this book can be a subtle empathy tool for kids (or adults) to see that the people around them, even the ones that they deeply disagree with, are likely acting out of motivations that are not that different than the ones that motivate all of us each day.

Photo courtesy of Shawn M. Peters.

Q 3. How does/did your experience writing for TV and advertising—and also as a kid actor– influence your #kidlit writing process?

Shawn Peters: My experiences as an unsuccessful child actor (photo above!) taught me to deal with rejection and keep trying, so that’s invaluable in every arena of life. As for my writing careers in TV and advertising, they both taught me about taking feedback (I am not one of those writers who shies away from it or thinks that what I wrote HAS TO BE PERFECT or else I stink) and also how to deliver on a deadline. Once you’ve been a creative director on an ad campaign that has to be seen by millions of people on a specific date or else multiple-millions of dollars in media spend go to waste… having a new draft due to an editor in a month feels doable.

Photo courtesy of Aesop’s Fable Bookstore.

#Kidlit Advice

Q 4. Any advice for beginning, not-yet-published #kidlit writers?  Is this crazy #kidlit world what you expected?

Shawn Peters: I’m not sure I should give advice since I was blissfully unaware of the inner workings of the #kidlit world when I started. I just had a story I wanted to tell and really hadn’t thought too much beyond making it the best I could and praying I’d find an agent who loved it the way I did. Staying grounded in “What is the next step?” has been a big key to me remaining relatively sane and focused. Of course, it has also meant I’ve learned a lot on the fly. So, my advice to folks who are drafting or in the query trenches is to stay focused on that next step and put your efforts there. But also, as I mentioned earlier, get your work into the hands of your audience (and not just your own kids/relatives) if you can and then listen to what they say. It’s a gift.

Photo courtesy of Shawn M. Peters.

There’s MORE!

Q 5. I hear there will be an UNFORGETTABLE Book 2. How has your approach for Book 2 differed from your debut novel?  

Shawn Peters: I’m thrilled to confirm that the sequel is due out on January 3, 2023 and I’ll be revealing the title and cover over the summer. The sequel was bought at the same time as THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, which was amazing, because it shaped how book one ends as well as how I thought about everything in the story. I did detailed outlines of both books, but with the sequel being purchased, I realized I needed to get alignment with my editor, David Linker. So, I boiled the story down into a page-and-a-half synopsis that I shared and we went over together to make sure he was totally into the plot and the new characters. I know a lot of my fellow debut writers HATE this part of the process, but I loved talking about the book at the high level so early, and because of that, I felt a ton of momentum going into the drafting process. Unlike my original first draft of book one, I was able to write, polish and share my rough draft of book two in just about three months after I started. Amazing how a paycheck and deadline speeds up your process: the days of “one page a night” were gone.

Giveaway Time!

Q 6. How do readers enter the #Giveaway?

Shawn Peters: For a chance to receive a copy* of THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER:

  • Follow @ShawnTweeters on Twitter
  • Share this post on Twitter and tag two friends, as well as @ShawnTweeters and @ErinDealey
  • And (extra points)/OR Share this post on FB and tag two friends, as well as @ErinDealey

For U.S. residents only. Deadline Tues. Feb. 8th.

ALSO– you can purchase a signed, first edition copy right here!

SUPER thanks to Shawn Peters for joining on the blog.


Happy Book Birthday to HER NAME WAS MARY KATHARINE: The Only Woman Whose Name is on the Declaration of Independence = 8 Qs with Ella Schwartz + Dow Phumiruk

Her Name Was Mary Katharine: The Only Woman Whose Name Is on the Declaration of Independence, the important, historical picture book by Ella Schwartz & Dow Phumiruk, releases TODAY with Christy Ottaviano Books and we get to talk to the fabulous author/illustrator team who created it!  Are you ready?

HER NAME WAS MARY KATHARINE by Ella Schwartz, Illus. Dow Phumiruk (Christy Ottaviano Books)

Welcome to the blog, Ella & Dow!

Q 1. Ella: When and how did you discover the story of Mary Katharine Goddard?

Ella Schwartz: I came across a random mention of Mary Katharine Goddard in a random news article. The article mentioned, in passing, that her name was on the Declaration of Independence. My first thought was: How could this be? There is no woman’s name on the Declaration! The article gave no specifics but triggered me to research more. I figured out pretty quickly Mary Katharine’s story deserved to be told.

Q 2. What was one of the most surprising discoveries each of you made in creating this book?

Dow Phumiruk: I was immediately shocked to learn about this influential woman left out by history books. It really makes a person wonder what else is missing! I’m so glad to help bring her story to attention now.

Ella Schwartz: I went through so many emotions writing this book. Here was a woman whose name is on one of our nation’s most treasured documents. She should be celebrated and honored like any of the founding fathers and yet hardly anyone has ever heard of her! Like Dow, I was shocked at how selective history can be. Who gets to write history? Who gets to say which historical figure should be remembered? I’m honored that Dow and I finally get to tell the story of this remarkable woman who deserves to be celebrated.

Attention to Details

Q 3.    In addition to your answers to #2,

Ella: What surprises did Dow bring to your story?

Ella Schwartz: There are so many nuances to Dow’s gorgeous illustrations that surprised and delighted me. There isn’t a single known photograph of Mary Katharine Goddard in existence today, so I worried depicting what the heroine of our story looked like could be challenging. However, I was already familiar with Dow’s previous work and knew if anyone could do Mary Katharine justice it was her! Dow’s drawings of Mary Katharine blew me away! She captured the period beautifully, but certain small details surprised me. Notice the ink stains on Mary Katharine’s fingers. Notice how Mary Katharine’s hair is gathered under a bonnet. All these nuances are what makes the story come to life beyond the words.

Dow: Did Mary Katharine’s story—or the fact that it’s about the Declaration of Independence—or Ella’s text –take your illustrations in a direction you didn’t expect?

Dow Phumiruk: When I learned that Ella had taken pictures of the newspapers, I knew I wanted to incorporate those somehow into the book. My family and I had planned to visit the Library of Congress ourselves the spring that the pandemic arrived. I was so glad Ella had been there already! I decided to use many of the photos as textures for the backgrounds on several spreads. You can see examples of this on both the jacket and the image here.

HER NAME WAS MARY KATHARINE by Ella Schwartz, Illus. Dow Phumiruk (Christy Ottaviano Books)

Illustration Challenges

Q 4.     Dow: In addition to the fact that you had NO photos of Mary Katharine to go by (More about this in Q 8.), what other illustration challenges did you encounter in this project? 

Dow Phumiruk: I decided to draw the image of the Continental Congress drafting the Declaration of Independence in a unique way. I used an aerial vantage point, which I had not seen in any of the reference paintings I had searched through. Then, to add energy to the spread, I tilted the spread diagonally. With these techniques, I wanted to give the feel of a dynamic and tense time, when the colonies’ future lay on the line. This made for a very challenging drawing of the room from above, extrapolated from all the stage view paintings I had found. I also was tasked with depicting the Revolutionary War in a way that was appropriate for children, and this, too, was challenging. On a spread that mentions that the war raged on, I drew wounded soldiers in pencil and all in white, in the sky like clouds. It’s an abstract and subtle portrayal of the soldiers’ fear and agony. 

Writing a Historical Picture Book–and Research

Q 5.  Ella: Can you describe you writing process for this book? How is it different from your process for Stolen Science, or Can You Crack the Code? How do you go about your research?

Ella Schwartz: My previous books have all been STEM focused chapter books. This was my first foray in historical picture books. My background is in the sciences, so my previous books came about a bit more organically. Mary Katharine forced me to really dig into RESEARCH. I learned quickly that I couldn’t trust anything on the Internet, especially Wikipedia. Since Mary Katharine’s story had never been told before, I had a massive responsibility to get the historical details right. My research involved several late-night sessions in the bowels of the Library Congress pouring over manuscripts and documents that were hundreds of years old. I am so grateful for the amazing librarians at the LOC. I could not have written this book without their help and research assistance.

Photos courtesy of Ella Schwartz –Library of Congress research.

What’s next?

Q 6.  Tells us about your upcoming projects: Yes We Will (Dow) & Is It OK To Pee in the Ocean? (Ella).

Coming in May from Dial Books.

Dow Phumiruk: YES WE WILL is an anthology written by New York Times best-selling author Kelly Yang. It includes biographies of several incredible and important Asian Americans, from sports legends and artists to activists and politicians. I had the privilege of creating one of the spreads alongside other Asian American illustrators who contributed to the project. I drew a row of children and a row behind them of adults, squared to the viewer. They are all holding hands to show their strength together in defending their rights as Americans in that early time of anti-Asian discrimination. Sadly, as you know, this discrimination has not been eliminated from our country, and I think this book will be an important one both for people to learn about our incredible changemakers as well as for young Asian American children to see themselves in our book.

Ella Schwartz: IS IT OKAY TO PEE IN THE OCEAN is the second book in my middle grade STEM chapter book series. The book helps kids understand the impact humans have on the ocean ecosystem and encourages them to be agents of change. Spoiler: It really is okay to pee in the ocean!

Balancing our #kidlit & real lives

Q 7.  How do you manage to balance your busy #kidlit careers with real life, family—and Ella, with your job as a “cybersecurity warrior interfacing with the U.S. federal government on strategic technology initiatives.” (!)

Photo courtesy of Dow Phumiruk

Dow Phumiruk: It’s a struggle! I always need to be as efficient as possible in my work, whether drawing or writing. If I am stuck on one part of a project, I leave it and work on a different part or different book while letting the problem sit in my subconscious for a while. But I always keep going. I also think about new story ideas and think about any problem areas as I try to fall asleep at night or while I am out walking the dog. Essentially, it’s whenever I can. If I am tight on deadlines, I let go of any nonessential elements of my life. I rarely watch TV, though some weekend time with the family is a priority for me. Fortunately, my kids are pretty much all grown now, and I work only one day a week out of the house, teaching medical students. But clearly, squeezing in creative time when you are a caregiver or full-time employee in a “day job” is quite difficult. I was much easier on myself back then!

Photo courtesy of Ella Schwartz

Ella Schwartz: It’s definitely a struggle! I work a full-time day job, so most of my writing is done in the evenings, after the kids have gone off to bed. I find the middle of the night is my most creative and productive time. I drink way too much coffee. I also don’t watch any TV, except for family TV night to watch new episodes of anything Marvel or Star Wars on Disney+. Those are non-negotiable in my house! I don’t think there’s any magic to balancing writing, day jobs, and family. It’s just a matter of minimizing distractions and prioritizing time. I am grateful for an extremely supportive husband who gives me the space and time to pursue my writing. I know I could not do this without the support of my family.

Q 8. Ella: since your bio says you’re always asking questions, what question would you like to ask Dow? –Dow, please answer Ella’s question.

Ella Schwartz: With pleasure! Dow, in the book you depicted Mary Katharine both as a young girl and as a grown woman. As you know, there are no known pictures of Mary Katharine in existence. How did you decide what Mary Katharine should look like?

Dow Phumiruk: Great question, Ella. I started with the decision to make her strong in some way. I made her tall, for the physical leverage longer limbs would have to work the printing equipment I saw in my research. I chose a medium brown hair, a common hair color. I wanted her eyes to hold a steely gaze, such that men of the period would take her seriously. And then I searched for the style of clothing women wore then and dressed her in this way. I was told she would have a leather apron and always a bonnet (originally meant to keep long hair out of the fireplace), so I included these. For childhood, I extrapolated her features down to a younger age. That is an art class in itself to recognize that children have larger heads/foreheads, smaller noses and mouths in proportion to their faces, and generally thinner and finer hair, among other differences.

HER NAME WAS MARY KATHARINE by Ella Schwartz, Illus. Dow Phumiruk (Christy Ottaviano Books)

Wow! What great answers.

Thank you both for joining the blog today. HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY to this wonderful nonfiction picture book, AND a long-awaited recognition of Mary Katharine Goddard.

to learn more about these wonderful #kidlit creators, check out their web sites:

EllasBooks ArtByDow

And follow them on social media:

Twitter: @EllaSchwartz @DowPhumiruk

Insta: schwartz.ella dowphumiruk

Next week on the blog: Part 2 of our Shawn Peters interview and a #Giveaway of his #mg #kidlit #debut: THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER (Harper Collins).

6 Qs for mg #debut author Shawn Peters + a #Giveaway = Happy Book Birthday to THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER!

THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, by Shawn Peters (Harper Collins / Illus. Petur Antonsson) 

I’m SUPER** excited to celebrate the Book Birthday and mg debut of THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, by Shawn Peters ( Harper Collins / Illus. Petur Antonsson). **See what I did there?

I was lucky to receive an ARC of this book and enjoyed it thoroughly and TODAY is its release day.

But don’t take my word for it:

“Peters folds laughs and action aplenty into a winning series opener that features both a ka-pow! premise and a particularly memorable addition to the recent uptick of neurodivergent narrators. ‘That,’ to quote Logan’s mantra, ‘is a fact.'” — Booklist (starred review)

You can read Shawn’s bio here.

I’m also SUPER excited to ask Shawn some questions:

Q 1. I love Logan’s voice, and his goal of communicating with his sibling– (No spoilers.)  –and the fact that your wife’s 5th grade students lead you to this approach. Were there any other “notes” the 5th graders gave you that ended up in your manuscript?

Shawn Peters: Thank you so much for the compliment on Logan’s voice, and for having me on your blog on the book birthday for THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER. You really don’t know whether you have something your reader will like, or better yet, love, until it’s in their hands. In general, the enthusiasm those 5th graders showed for this story and these characters was a massive influence because of the confidence it gave me, especially in terms of how neurodivergent readers might identify with Logan. But the biggest “note” they gave me was around who Logan was writing to in the book. In the original drafts, he was writing to his mother, who he can’t remember. But when I asked the kids about it, they were not huge fans; they all knew they weren’t Logan’s mom. But when I asked them if it would mean more if Logan was writing to someone their age, it was unanimous. That was when I got the idea to reframe it all as Logan speaking to a sibling he believes is out there, and that has made a HUGE difference.

Q 2. Which of the superheroes in your book might best represent your writing process or path to publication for THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER:

  • Quicksilver Siren
  • Seismyxer
  • Quarry Lord
  • TideStrider
  • Ultra-Quantum?

Shawn Peters: This question might be my favorite of this whole pre-publication blog-a-palooza! [ED note: THANKS!]

Seismyxer –from THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER, by Shawn Peters
(Harper Collins / Illus. Petur Antonsson) 

Shawn Peters: It’s definitely not Seismyxer (I outline my books, so there are rarely seismic shifts) and I’m not feeling Quarry Lord or TideStrider. I’d say my process is a bit like Ultra-Quantum in that I work in short, fast bursts. I wrote the first draft of this book by committing to drafting a single page every night for a year. I’d write for twenty minutes, in between work, commuting, coaching my kids’ teams, making dinner and occasionally sleeping. But my path to publication was more like Quicksilver Siren, because to deal with rejected queries and submissions for the better part of five years, you need a little metal under your skin.

ED Note: So glad you didn’t give up!

Q 3. Were there any surprises that your illustrator Petur Antonsson brought to the book?

Shawn Peters: As soon as I saw Petur’s portfolio, especially some of his work on the UK versions of the Artemis Fowl series and Joshua S. Levy’s “Seventh Grade vs. The Universe” book, I was unabashedly thrilled he was doing my cover. But I had no idea until the cover was almost set that he was also adding several illustrations throughout the book. Each one is like a surprise mini comic book when you turn the page.

Hooray for Random Facts

–and copy editors!

“Kittyhawk Circle was named after the place where the Wright Brothers made their famous first flight on December 17, 1903…although to be fair, the flight was actually in Kill Devil Hills, which is almost four miles away from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That is a fact.” –Logan Foster

(Harper Collins / Illus. Petur Antonsson) 

Q 4. I’m a big fan of the random, SMART facts that spill from Logan’s eidetic memory. I noticed in your YouTube interview (Caution: spoilers) that your brain “collects” facts too.  What’s your favorite fact in TULF? What’s one that got cut from your manuscript.

Shawn Peters: I’m a sucker for those random facts too, both in Logan’s world and my own. And it’s true that as a kid (and sometimes still) I’ll instantly retain a very specific fact that I’ve seen or heard. It was pretty helpful at school, I’ll admit.

But Logan has that trick times a million, and it is his “superpower” to be sure. My favorite example in the book is when he hears Spanish word and reveals what the same word means in Korean, but I can’t say more than that. As for facts that got cut out of the book, there weren’t many. In fact (no pun intended), Logan got even more factural in the editing process. That’s the thing about this book. So many of the locations and almost all of the details are actually real – the names of books, auditoriums, scientific quotations–  that the fabulous copyeditors at Harper Collins actually had more questions when I made things up, because they couldn’t find actual citations.

(Harper Collins / Illus. Petur Antonsson) 

Q 5. My first reading experiences—at least the books that hooked me the most — were comic books. Was that your experience too?

Shawn Peters: Reading comic books wasn’t my first reading experiences, per se, but they hold a really specific place in my heart. When I was home sick as a kid —  and as a child with rampant allergies and tonsils the size of golf balls that never were removed, I had my share of sick days—my parents would go to the store and buy every comic book they had and I’d read them until I felt better. Maybe it was just the cough syrup and fevers, but it felt like those heroes were rescuing me from feeling so crummy. I even liked the Marvel Universe comics, which were basically just encyclopedias of all the heroes and villains and their origins. I never collected comics as a hobby, but I definitely held on to those characters and stories.

Q 6. What has surprised you most about the process as a debut author?

Shawn Peters: I’d say two things. The first is that everyone expects authors, even debuts, to “know” how the process is “supposed” to go. Being part of a debut group and then connecting with a few more established authors, I was shocked that everyone, even people working with the same imprints, have wildly different experience depending on genre, audience, editor and publicist. The standard is… there is no standard. And the second is that writers genuinely believe in the “pay it forward” ethos. When I was trying to write screenplays, it felt like writers were competing to get seen. At least among the Middle Grade writers I’ve met, everyone wants to help each other, both out of empathy and a sense of doing the right thing. The first thing a lot of debuts want to do, even before their books are out, is get a chance to be mentors for Pitch Wars and other contests. It legitimately feels like authors get that it’s not a zero-sum game; every time one person’s book “hits”, it actually creates more opportunity for all writers because it brings in more readers. It’s beautiful, and it spills over to all the librarians, bloggers, teachers and bookish folks who make up the community. The act of supporting others has zero downside.

To learn more about Shawn and his work, check out his web site ShawnPetersWrites

and follow him on Twitter @ShawnTweeters and Goodreads.

Heads up MASSACHUSETTS friends–

Don’t miss the in-person launch party for this awesome book TONIGHT!

January 18th ~ 6-7pm EST

at An Unlikely Story Bookstore, Plainville MA

You can also help Shawn celebrate–and buy a FIRST EDITION of his book–

on Saturday, Jan. 22nd – 3pm EST at Aesop’s Fable Bookstore, Holliston, MA.

Pre-Order Signed First Edition. Available on January 18.
If you would like your copy personalized copy, please email the shop and we’ll be happy to assist you ([email protected])

Now about that #GIVEAWAY…

Stay tuned for part 2 of this super** Book Birthday blog party —Tuesday, Feb. 1st –and the details about how YOU can be randomly selected to receive a copy of THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER–as well as Shawn Peters on world building, this crazy #kidlit world, and a possible sequel—(Fingers crossed!).

And that’s a fact!

On the blog next week, Author / Illustrator team Ella Schwartz & Dow Phumiruk join us to talk about their new picture book, HER NAME WAS MARY KATHARINEThe Only Woman Whose Name Is on the Declaration of Independence (Christy Ottaviano Books).

Happy Book Birthday to ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU + 10 Qs with Benson Shum!

It’s our first Book Birthday celebration of 2022 and I’m happy to welcome author/illustrator (and Disney animator) Benson Shum. His latest book, ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU (Roaring Brook), is the sweetest!

But don’t take my word for it.

“[E]ngaging and heartwarming. . . . A tongue-in-cheek bildungsroman spun around celebrating differences and the underrated superpowers of gentleness and sweetness. ―Kirkus

“Shum’s experience as an animator. . . is evident in the way he storyboards the narrative, pulls readers along with cinematic energy, and celebrates Japanese aesthetics―with everything from bonsai trees to golden picture frames to tiny creatures that look like adorable walking dumplings. [A] wholly original tale, which proves humorous, heartfelt, and as sweet as the flowers Anzu conjures.” ―Booklist

Time for some questions:

Q 1. What was the inspiration for Anzu the Great Kaiju?

Benson Shum: Anzu the Great Kaiju was inspired by my love of giant monsters. The idea of a creature that towers over buildings and is larger than life blows my imagination. They’re always seen as destructive and I wanted to see them from a different perspective. 

Interior art & text by Benson Shum from ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU (Roaring Brook).

Q 2. Is a kaiju originally a mythical creature? Can you explain how you first became aware of them?

Benson Shum: Yes, kaiju means giant monsters in Japanese. When I saw Godzilla or King Kong as a kid, I loved the fantasy of it all. Where do they come from? What do they eat? How do they live?

Q 3. I love Anzu’s special power. (No spoilers here!) If you were a kaiju, what would you want your power to be?  

Benson Shum: Thank you! If I was a kaiju, I would probably say the power of water. Water gives life and can create amazing things. Or wind, I would love to be able to fly. 

Interior art & text by Benson Shum from ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU (Roaring Brook).

Putting pen to paper.

Q 4. Since you are the author/illustrator of this book (the first of many in a series,  I hope!) Which came first—the story or the illustrations?

Benson Shum: For this book, the story came first. Though, while I write, I’m always picturing ideas and characters in my head. The situations they are in. But in my head, the designs of the characters aren’t fully realized until I put pen to paper. Sometimes an illustration does spark the story, but it depends on the story I’m telling.

Q 5. What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made in creating this book?

Benson Shum: The most surprising discovery I found when creating Anzu was, the character wanted to write itself. It had its difficult moments, but Anzu has so many stories he wants to tell and explore.  Maybe my mind was jumping from one idea to another, so I had to stay focused. haha!

(Penguin Workshop)

Q 6. Which title /story –from three of your other books—best describes your creative process or #kidlit journey thus far?  (Please explain.)

a.      Alex’s Good Fortune

b.     Sloth Went

c.      Little Seed

(written by Adam Lehrhaupt / Bloomsbury)

Benson Shum: All three had a different process/journey. But maybe I would say Alex’s Good Fortune and Little Seed. I learned to go with the flow and let the story take you where it’s meant to be. Both stories originally started off as picture books. Then we got a note from the editors about possibly having them as an easy reader (Alex’s Good Fortune) and a board book (Little Seed). I’ve never written in both formats before. So it was a challenge to learn, and I love it!

(Little Simon)

Let’s talk ART!

Q 7. What is your preferred medium—or does it vary with each project?

Benson Shum: I can work digitally or traditionally, but I do love working with watercolor and ink. I love and hate the fact that I can’t fix my mistakes, once the ink or watercolor sets, I’m stuck with it. But I think that adds some charm to the painting and illustration. 

Q 8. How has your work as an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios–where you were a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Frozen II, Raya and the Last Dragon, and the recent hit, Encanto—influenced your work as a children’s book creator? 

Benson Shum: Thank you! Yes, animation has totally influenced my work. There is a lot of crossover in book making and animation. It’s all about storytelling. How we layout the book, how we direct the readers eyes, using words and illustration to make you turn the page. Clarity, posing and emotions in our characters.

Interior art & text by Benson Shum from ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU (Roaring Brook).

Q 9. Any tips for would-be children’s illustrators just starting out?

Benson Shum: Read. Read. Read!  Definitely read in the genre you are writing in, but also read others as well.  For illustrators, look at how the illustrator of the book uses the format of the page. Is the book square shaped? More horizontal or more vertical?  Ask the question why. Everything in the book was decided for a reason. I love talking about these little things during story times with the kids too. And maybe the adults will find it interesting as well. 🙂

Q 10. Please tell us about your other projects, to be released or in the works. Also–will there be more ANZU books in the future?

Benson Shum: I have a couple of projects in the works that I’m writing and illustrating. And am developing some new ideas as well. They’re all in my head mostly, but there are some with one liners that I keep in my notes folder. As for more ANZU, the answer is YES! I’m almost wrapped up on the 2nd Anzu book. I’m super excited to share more of Anzu’s stories. And hope there will be many more.

Thank you for joining us on today, Benson, and


Benson Shum: Thank you so much for hosting me on your wonderful blog, Erin! It’s been fun sharing Anzu’s journey with you. I really appreciate it! 

You can learn more about Benson Shum and his work at

his website: http://bensonshum.com/

Twitter @bshum79

Instagram bshum79

For those celebrating Lunar New Year soon, here’s a little more


And –> heads-up friends:

Don’t miss TODAY’s VIRTUAL STORY TIME with Benson Shum hosted by Once Upon a time Bookstore in Montrose, CA. (Click link for more details.) at 4pm Pacific/ 7pm EST. Purchase a personalized/signed book through Once Upon a Time and receive an Anzu Art print with every book!

Next week, we’ll hear from Shawn Peters, about his #MG debut novel, THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER –which, coincidentally, is also about super powers.