TWO Happy Book Birthdays: ONE BLUE GNU + WAKE UP FREIGHT TRAIN = 6 Qs with award-winning #kidlit author Danna Smith

Danna = rhymes with banana. : )

All aboard! I’m doubly excited to celebrate TWO Book Birthdays with Danna Smith on the blog today:


(Illustrated by Ana Zurita/ Amicus Ink / March 8th)


(Review from author Charlotte Offsay)


(illustrated by Jon Andersen/  Little Simon / board book / March 29th!) *

Hop aboard this train-shaped board book that introduces

each car of a freight train during a nighttime adventure!

Blow the train whistle, shovel more coal.
Here we go, freight train! Get ready to roll!
Toot-toot goes the horn, Blink-blink go the lights,
Clang-clang goes the bell, all through the night.

Featuring all the cars of a freight train, this board book is perfect for young readers who love trains! And since freight trains ride at night, there are adorable sleepy animals throughout for little ones to find. 

–Little Simon

Aren’t these adorable?

And we have questions for Danna Smith!

ONE BLUE GNU by Danna Smith; interior art by Ana Zurita/ Amicus Ink.

Q 1. If ONE BLUE GNU planned her own book launch party, what would it look like? How do you plan to celebrate—your TWO upcoming launches?

Danna Smith: If One Blue Gnu planned her own book launch party, there would be pizza of course! And lots of pictures taken with her “gnu” new cell phone. As for my plans, I am going to double the fun! I will be celebrating with a double book launch party at Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, CA on April 9, 2022! Little readers can join me from 11 am-1pm.

ONE BLUE GNU by Danna Smith; interior art by Ana Zurita/ Amicus Ink.

Q 2. In your bio you say: “I wrote my first poem when I was eight, my first short story when I was ten, and my first picture book when I was seventeen.” Now that we know the “when” –HOW did your love of word play and rhyme begin?

 Danna Smith: My maternal grandmother was a writer and poet. Had she not dedicated her life to her 12 children, she would have, no doubt, pursued her dreams of becoming a journalist. She shared her love of writing with me at an early age. She could weave words like magic. My uncle was a big influence as well. He’d gather his nieces and nephews around and entertain us with off-the-cuff silly poems and         songs. We’d clap and giggle—I have no doubt that his joy of rhyme and rhythm sparked mine.

Q 3. What surprises did illustrator Ana Zurita bring to ONE BLUE GNU? How about Jon Andersen (WAKE UP, FREIGHT TRAIN) ?

Danna Smith: As an author, it’s an exciting time when you learn which illustrator will be bringing your words to life! With her quirky, colorful style, Ana Zurita captured ONE BLUE GNU’s character right away and filled the book with laugh-out-loud humor. 

ONE BLUE GNU by Danna Smith; interior art by Ana Zurita/ Amicus Ink.

Danna Smith: With his soft, warm illustrations, Jon Andersen is the perfect illustrator for my bedtime board book, WAKE UP, FREIGHT TRAIN! I expected a beautiful introduction to freight cars in his signature style, but he surprised me (and our little readers will be thrilled) with sweet, sleepy animals to spy and seek   throughout this nighttime journey.

WAKE UP, FREIGHT TRAIN! by Danna Smith; interior art by Jon Andersen/  Little Simon.

Q 4. I never realized –until I read  WAKE UP, FREIGHT TRAIN that the crew rides in the caboose! Who are your #kidlit crew—the ones that keep you on track and moooving full speed ahead?  

WAKE UP, FREIGHT TRAIN! by Danna Smith; interior art by Jon Andersen/  Little Simon.

Danna Smith: Good question! We’ll need to hook a few more cars to the train —I have a large crew!  I belong to two critique groups full of amazingly talented authors and illustrators, my agent, Tracy Marchini at Bookends Literary, and the many editors I’ve worked with on my books throughout the years. They all keep me on track! Each member brings a different perspective and experience. I could never take this journey without my crew!

WAKE UP, FREIGHT TRAIN! by Danna Smith; interior art by Jon Andersen/  Little Simon.

Danna Smith: I also belong to launch group #bookcrew2022. We will be celebrating and sharing my five 2022 books along with the books of eight other authors and illustrators on all social media platforms. Come follow us!

Q 5. Congratulations on the publication(s) of your 15th and 16th books! And I see that ROOFTOP GARDEN will release in May. What’s next in the queue?

Danna Smith: My debut Young Adult novel THE COMPLETE BOOK OF ASPEN releases in Spring 2022. And I have two new board books in the works, THE THANK YOU BOOK (fall 2022) and a lift-the-flap board book (Title to be announced SOON!). You can find all my books at

Q 6. Besides reading your rhyming picture books and board books, how else can we put a pop of poetry in our day? 

Danna Smith: Thanks for asking! You can join me on my poetry blog I created this space for adults who love to read, write, and share poetry for all ages. I’d love for you to pop in!

Thank you for joining us today, Danna!

To learn even more about Danna Smith, you can follow her on Twitter: @DannaSmith8

Instagram: dannasmithbooks

And check out her books & more links here.

Happy Book Birthday to FALLING SHORT (Quill Tree Books) + 6 Qs with award-winning mg author Ernesto Cisneros = slam dunk!

Congrats to my friend Ernesto Cisneros, on the launch of his new middle grade novel, FALLING SHORT (Quill Tree Books). We’re celebrating this wonderful book with six questions for Ernesto. But first…


Three STARRED reviews!

“Told through animated alternating first-person chapters, Cisneros’s story not only captures the anxiety—and at times, humor—of trying to measure up to expectations, it also tackles delicate subject matter, such as parental absence and alcohol reliance, with profound sensitivity and nuance. A narrative slam dunk for fans of Donna Barba Higuera and Meg Medina.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Cisneros’ touching sophomore novel is an ideal pick for sports fans and will reel in reluctant readers.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (Quill tree Books)

You can read about Ernesto’s award-winning debut novel Efrén Divided, here.

Time for some FALLING SHORT questions!

Q 1.  Since one of the themes of FALLING SHORT is dealing with pressure—how did you manage the pressure of writing your second middle grade novel, after your debut novel, Efrén Divided, garnered so much praise, including winning the Pura Belpré Award?

Ernesto Cisneros: Not very well I’m afraid. I had huge anxiety that my sophomore book would, well… “fall short” of everyone’s expectations, including my own. I questioned whether I even had another book in me. In the end, I decided to address the I’m-not-good-enough syndrome many of us tend to feel growing up.

It was definitely the right call.

Take aways and Surprises

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

Ernesto Cisneros: Writing this book is my way of taking the struggles and negative experiences from my life and changing them into something more positive . . . something that might help readers avoid these same pitfalls. The way I see it, if my experiences help others, they are good regardless of how they felt at the time.

Ernesto Cisneros with the famous Dos Equis, as seen in the novel Falling Short. (No spoilers!)

Q 3. Were there any surprises you encountered while writing this book?

Ernesto Cisneros: Definitely! I did not anticipate how much humor would derive from my experiences as a teacher. Looking back now, I realize that after 26 years of teaching, I have heard and seen just about everything that can happen at a school.

*Speaking of which, check out this fun unboxing of FALLING SHORT that Ernesto made with his students!

In Celebration of March Madness…

Q 4. Which basketball term best describes FALLING SHORT’s path to publication—or your writing process:

A.   Fast Break

B.   Traveling

C.   Slam dunk

D.   Assist

E.    Full court press

Ernesto Cisneros: I’d add one more. It was definitely more like–

F.   Airball, airball, brick! Airball, airball, brick! Airball, airball, brick! Airball, airball, Swish.

Q 5. What words of advice would you tell pre-published Ernesto, and writers just starting out on their #kidlit journeys, who might have occasional doubts they’ll “fall short” of getting published?

Ernesto Cisneros: To quote Koro-sensei, from Assassination Classroom: “The difference between the novice and the master is that the master has failed more times than the novice has tried.”

Each time you fail, you simply get one step closer to succeeding. So never, ever give up. It took me 14 years to realize my dream. Honestly, the wait only made the accomplishment all the sweeter.

Note: giveaway contest has ended but you can order your copy HERE!

Q 6. OK, I know my answer to this last question is EVERYONE, but I’m going to ask you too, Ernesto: Who should read your book?

Ernesto Cisneros: Anyone who has ever felt like they fall short of what the world expects of them.  

ED note: I’m pretty sure that’s EVERYONE, right friends?

Thank you, Ernesto, for joining the blog today and


To learn more about Ernesto Cisneros and his books, visit,

follow Ernesto on social media–

Twitter: @Author_Cisneros

Instagram: cisne.writes


Livestream Reading alert!

Save the Date: March 29th 7pm Pacific –and Register here for a virtual ZOOM visit with Ernesto Cisneros and author Sonja Thomas, hosted by Annie Bloom’s Books.

Next up on the blog: a DOUBLE Book Birthday celebration for Danna Smith!

Happy HAPPY Book Birthday to SUN AND SON + 7 Qs with Linda Joy Singleton = Win Win!

It’s a Happy HAPPY Book Birthday to Linda Joy Singleton’s SUN AND SON

(Illus. Richard Smythe / Amicus) TODAY!

What a sweet book!

In SUN AND SON, the companion book to CRANE AND CRANE, Linda Joy Singleton uses homonym pairs to tell two parallel stories between the human world and the natural world: While a father nurtures a son during a birthday camping trip, the sun nurtures our planet.

7 Questions for Linda Joy:

Q 1. Congrats on the Book Birthday of SUN AND SON, your sweet sequel to CRANE AND CRANE. I LOVE that with very few words, the homonym pairs you chose tell such a lovely story. For this question, let’s have some more fun with homonyms.

Which (of any of these) would you choose for a book about your picture book writing process:

a. (just) WRITE or (get it) RIGHT?

b. PEN (vs computer) or PEN (corralling your thoughts)

c. JOURNAL or JOURNEY? (I cheated a bit here.)   

Linda Joy: I would say a: (just) WRITE or (get it) RIGHT.

I have known since I was a child that writing was right for me. No one told me to write, I just did it as if stories and characters inside me were eager to play. I wrote at home and school, filling notebooks with stories that I’d start, get bored with, and then put aside. Later, though, when I was in my 20’s, I seriously pursed a writing career, and quickly learned that it takes lots of rewriting to get the words just right.   


Q 2. What surprises did your illustrator, Richard Smythe, bring to the book?

 Linda Joy: Richard is amazing! He took my spare words and brought them to life with beautiful art. In both CRANE & CRANE and SUN & SON he included subtle details that tell layers of story.  If you read the book through a few times, you’ll notice these layers. And it was a nice surprise for me when he included a cat in the story because he knows I love cats.


Q 3. Writing a book with so few words like this is NOT easy! This sounds crazy, but were there any words—or pairs of words–that you had to cut or revise?

Linda Joy: Two of the words/scenes were changed from the manuscript I submitted to my editor.

“Set” where they set up a tent while the sun “sets” was actually supposed to be two dramatic scenes with the word “burn”—a sunburn for the child and fire fighters putting out of forest fire. Also, the ending was going to be different. Art was nearly completed when this decision was made to change the ending.

Interior art from SUN AND SON by Linda Joy Singleton (Illus. Richard Smythe / Amicus)

Linda Joy: Originally the word “spin” was going to show the world spinning around with a final scene of a new family on the other side of the world starting a day under the sun with their son. Instead, my editor at Amicus Books wisely wanted to have a warm fuzzy ending continuing the story with the same characters, so instead of “spin” the word “beam” showed a happy ending with one last word reflecting the love between a parent and child.

Interior art from SUN AND SON by Linda Joy Singleton (Illus. Richard Smythe / Amicus)

Tips for #kidlit Creators

Q 4. I’m a fan of the wonderful interviews you post as a reporter-at-large for the Cynsations blog. What kernels of wisdom have you learned from interviewing fellow #kidlit creators?

Linda Joy: My most recent interviews were with the talented authors Danna Smith and Lynne Marie, both of whom have inspired and critiqued my work. I’ve learned so much about poetry, rhyme, and pictures books from them. And their picture books are wonderful.

ED Note: Danna Smith has two new books out this month TOO!

ONE BLUE GNU by Danna Smith (Illus. Ana Zurita / Amicus) releases today too!

Look for her Book Birthday interview about ONE BLUE GNU and WAKE-UP FREIGHT TRAIN (Releasing 3/29) on the blog here March 22nd.

55 Linda Joy Singleton books and more to come!

Q. 5. What would you say to pre-published Linda Joy, now that you have 55+ titles out in the world?

Linda Joy: When I first started writing, I was desperate to publish—anything and everything! I was passionately in love with each book I wrote and thought it was ready to submit right away. But when I joined critique groups, I quickly learned that my books needed lots of rewriting. Some manuscripts had to be put aside. There was so much I had to learn, which took time, experiences, rejections, and more rewriting. I began to understand what “learning my craft” meant. Craft is more than just the words on a page—it’s the rhythm of your words, important details, and layers of plot + characters. If I had rushed to publication when I first started writing, I would have missed out on so many lessons. And I’m still learning….

Q. 6. They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Of ALL of your books, which is the most autobiographical?

Linda Joy: Most of my books have pieces of my life and personality. The main character, Kelsey, in the CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB (6 books/Albert Whitman) is a lot like me.

She has a club similar to I did when I was a kid and loves solving mysteries to help animals. When Kelsey wishes for a cat of her own, that’s totally me. I used to listen near my window, hoping to hear the plaintive cry of a kitten in need of rescue. In the third book in the CCSC series,  KELSEY THE SPY, I use a memory from my childhood of going to a small zoo where I was fascinated to learn tortoises could live for over 150 years. And when Kelsey finds a mystery in a castle in the SECRET OF THE SHADOW BANDIT, I used my love for series books like Nancy Drew to include many series-book tropes like finding jewels, a castle, missing heir, mysterious shadow, hidden money, and being captured and tossed into a dungeon.  One of my favorite books!

Up Next

Q. 7. What projects are you working on currently?   

Linda Joy: I finished edits on a middle-grade mystery for my agent, which she’ll be sending out soon. And she’s submitted a non-fiction picture book. I’m working on a 3rd book to follow up SUN & SON and CRANE & CRANE—hoping my editor loves it. Fingers crossed.

P S –Thank you for this interview, Erin!!

Thank YOU for joining us today, Linda Joy!

To learn more about Linda Joy Singleton’s books, follow her on Twitter: @LindaJoySinglet

And Instagram: lindajoysingleton

Heads-up teachers and librarians: There are downloadable activities for both SUN AND SON


Happy Book Birthday to WASHED ASHORE: Making #Art from Ocean Plastic + 5 Qs with author / photographer Kelly Crull

We are Marching forward on the blog with a Book Birthday celebration that “the kids in Room 5” and I have been excited about for months.

WASHED ASHORE: Making Art from Ocean Plastic

by author/photographer Kelly Crull (Millbrook / Lerner) hits the shelves TODAY!

Isn’t this cover fabulous?

“An excellent work on an unusual topic and a must for school and library shelves.”–Booklist

“Washed Ashore is a “first choice” selection for elementary and middle-grade librarians for use in art classrooms as well as science and English Language Arts (ELA)!”

-Melanie Dulaney, Librarian
WASHED ASHORE by Kelly Crull (Millbrook); photo credit: Crull / Sculpture by Angela Haseltine Pozzi


In WASHED ASHORE, author / photographer Kelly Crull highlights fourteen incredibly mind-blowing sculptures created by Angela Haseltine Pozzi. Each spread features common objects hidden among the debris for readers to find, as well as facts about the ocean animals in the book, and tips about how readers can reduce plastic use, hold a beach cleanup and make their own plastic art.

WASHED ASHORE by Kelly Crull (Millbrook); photo credit: Crull / Sculpture by Angela Haseltine Pozzi

Sculptor Angela Haseltine Pozzi and her Washed Ashore organization gather trash from beaches, using it to create one-of-a-kind sculptures of wildlife. These sculptures travel the country to teach people about the importance of these animals―and the problems caused by plastic pollution.

And now there’s a book about them by Kelly Crull.

How did this book happen?

Q 1.    After you and your kids first discovered the amazing ocean trash sculpture of Angela Haseltine Pozzi at the zoo, what came next in creating what eventually became your book, WASHED ASHORE: Making Art From Ocean Plastic—research? A first draft? outline? Connecting with the Washed Ashore organization?

Kelly Crull: The very first thing I did was a quick web search to make sure no one else had already written a book about the Washed Ashore Project. I’ll often have an idea for a book only to discover that someone else already had the idea and wrote the book before I did. In this case, I didn’t find any books about Washed Ashore, so I began to research. 

I love to do research because one of my absolute favorite things is learning about something I don’t know anything about. I knew very little about the problem of ocean plastic before I began working on the book, which was the perfect excuse to learn everything I could about a subject that interested me. 


Kelly Crull: I like to research a topic from all kinds of different angles and viewpoints. I make sure to research the opposing viewpoint as well, so in this case, people who would say ocean plastic isn’t a big problem. In the end, I might not agree with their perspective, but I always learn something I didn’t know. 

WASHED ASHORE by Kelly Crull (Millbrook); photo credit: Crull / Sculpture by Angela Haseltine Pozzi

Q 2.    Which of the sculptures in the book might best represent your #kidlit journey thus far?

Kelly Crull: I have a soft spot for Priscilla the parrotfish, so naturally, I would compare my #kidlit journey to her! At first glance, parrotfish might not seem to be doing much at all, but if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that they are nibbling away at the coral reef. If you do a little research, you’ll discover that they are cleaning the coral reef by nibbling away the dead coral and making space for new coral to grow. They grind up the dead coral with their super-strong teeth, and it comes out the other end as sand. That’s right, parrotfish make sand! A single parrotfish can produce enough sand in one year to fill an entire sandbox.

Just keep going.

Kelly Crull: What does all of this have to do with me? Well, I don’t work particularly fast, but I just keep at it. I never stop. Sometimes the thought of writing and illustrating a whole book can seem quite overwhelming, so it helps me is to just take it one day at a time, nibbling away, piece by piece, until months later I’ve surprised myself with a new book!

WASHED ASHORE by Kelly Crull (Millbrook); photo credit: Crull / Sculpture by Angela Haseltine Pozzi

Q 3.    What was the biggest challenge in creating this book, WASHED ASHORE?

Kelly Crull: The most challenging part of making the book was taking the photographs of the sculptures. First of all, I had to find the sculptures! There are over 80 of them, and they are constantly moving around the country. I live in Spain, so I had to try to find a time when all the sculptures in the book were near enough to each other that I could take pictures of them in one trip.

I finally set the date to take the pictures, but by the time the day came to leave on my trip, Oregon was experiencing wildfires, protests, and a pandemic! Up until the moment I was standing in front of the tiger shark sculpture in the Oregon Zoo, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get the pictures I needed for the book. I do love adventure, and in the end, everything turned out great. I even got to share a special moment with the red pandas before the zoo opened to the public.

One of these masked wonders is Kelly Crull’s agent from East/West Literary. Can you guess which one?


Q 4. What unexpected discovery did you make while creating WASHED ASHORE?

Kelly Crull: I grew up in Iowa, which is a long way from the ocean. I guess I thought the plastic in the ocean was coming from people who lived along the coast. I didn’t really think it was my problem. So I was surprised to discover that most plastic in the ocean starts on land and is carried by wind and rain into streams, rivers, and storm drains, which empty into the ocean. We’re much more connected than we realize. Even kids living in Iowa can help keep plastic out of the ocean by carefully disposing of their waste. 

Find some plastic, pick it up…

WASHED ASHORE challenge: A few years ago, Kelly and his kids made a commitment to pick up at least one piece of plastic on their walks to and from school. Why not try this where you live?

As Kelly says, “It’s like a treasure hunt every day!”

Q 5.    I LOVE the innovative, find-the-items element in your book—encouraging readers to search for the household plastic objects used in each of the Pozzi sculptures. Aside from the FUN, what kinds of discussions do you hope will come from this activity?

Kelly Crull: Angela Haseltine Pozzi founded the Washed Ashore Project. Her story began with a walk on the beach. She picked up what she thought was a bone and discovered that it was a piece of plastic. She started to notice more plastic on her beach, and she realized she needed to do something about it. She was an artist and a teacher, so she used what she knew how to do best to solve the problem that was in front of her. She made beautiful sculptures out of the plastic she collected.

When people read my book, I hope they realize that small acts can create big change. We can use whatever it is that we like to do, even making art out of trash, to solve real problems. I wonder what it is that you love to do and how that activity might help solve the problems you see around you.



To learn more about Kelly Crull and his books (and cool photos & illustrations), check out

You can also follow him on Twitter: @KellyCrull and Instagram: kellycrull

To find out more about the Washed Ashore Project go to

PS #Teachers and #librarian friends…

I can’t help feeling that the kids in my book, DEAR EARTH…From your Friends in Room 5, would LOVE Kelly Crull’s WASHED ASHORE, and get inspired to make their own art from found items.

I bet your students will too!

**** Next on the blog–> Don’t miss our Book Birthday celebration for SUN & SON by Linda Joy Singleton.

6 Goldie Locks Stories to Share & Compare!

Dear #Teachers & #Librarians –this Friday Bonus Blog is for you!

Whether you celebrate Read a Fairy Tale Day, hold an annual “Fairy Tale Bowl” competition, or your class writes Fractured Fairy Tales, these six picture books are tons of fun to pair, share and compare!

  1. GOLDY LUCK AND THE THREE PANDAS by Natasha Yim, Illus Grace Zong (Charlesbridge). Check out the book trailer and info here: .

2. GOLDIE ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Beth Coulton, Illus. Nate Wragg (G.P.Putnam’s Sons). Read more on Corey’s website here: .

3. GOLDIE LOCKS AND THE THREE DINOSAURS by Mo Willems (Balzer & Bray). Here’s a YouTube read aloud.

4. MOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE SCARES, a Zombie tale by Lynne Marie, Illus. David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Union Square Kids). Book trailer and info here at .

5. GOLDIE LOCKS AND THE THREE ENGINEERS by Sue Fliess, Illus. Petros Boulobasis (Albert Whitman). Book trailer and info here at .

6. GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX by Erin Dealey, Illus. Hanako Wakiyama (Atheneum / Aladdin). Here’s a YouTube read aloud. And check out this finger puppet activity for your students at . Create your own puppet show or pair up the characters and write a new fractured fairy tale.

Happy Friday, dear Teachers & Librarians.

THANK YOU for ALL you do!

PS Check out our most recent Book Birthday interview with author Jeanne Walker Harvey about her wonderful new NF picture book ABLAZE WITH COLOR here.