Valentine’s #BookLove =Happy (belated) Book Bdays to YOSHI’S BIG SWIM and HEAR THEM ROAR + 7 Qs for #kidlit #GreenPB2023 authors: Mary Wagley Copp and June Smalls

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s a perfect time to share some #BookLove

about two new GreenPB2023 releases:

Mary Wagley Copp’s YOSHI’S BIG SWIM One Turtle’s Epic Journey Home

(Illus  Kaja Kajfez / Capstone/ Jan. 1, 2023.)


June Smalls’ HEAR THEM ROAR:

14 Endangered Animals from Around the World

(Illus. Becky Thorns / Familius/ Feb. 8th)

Let’s get started!

Q 1. I’m guessing your concerns for endangered species & our environment are behind these books but I will ask anyway: What inspired you to write them? What do you hope readers will take away? 

MWC:  Well, Yoshi, the turtle herself, the main character of YOSHI’S BIG SWIM, is the real inspiration. Animals have such a keen sense of self-preservation, of survival, and Yoshi epitomizes that.

Yoshi not only yearned to live; when she was digging in the sand at the aquarium, the staff interpreted that as her trying to lay eggs. This was the impetus for them training her for long swims and eventually releasing her. After working on this project and re-reading the text so many times, I am continuously inspired! I hope readers will be too.

JS: Humans are often the cause of animals becoming endangered. Sometimes through lack of understanding or knowledge, sometimes through greed. But good people are helping to correct these errors. All it takes is good people working together and we can accomplish great things. 

Also, animals—like the ones in HEAR THEM ROAR–are amazing!

Interior illustration by Becky Thorns from HEAR THEM ROAR: 14 Endangered Animals from Around the World, written by June Smalls (Familius)

Never Give Up

Q 2. Both of these wonderful books are about animals who succeeded and survived despite all odds. Was there a moment in your writing/publishing/#kidlit journey when you thought you might give up or you met with an obstacle? If so, how did you persevere? 

JS: It took me about 6 years to get my foot in the publishing door. Around year 5, I started losing hope and becoming frustrated. But my daughter quoted me, telling me it would be fine since I wouldn’t give up and if I kept working, I’d meet my goal.

These were things I would say to her when she struggled with learning a new move in Tae Kwon Do or baking skill, etc. Well, I couldn’t be a poor role model when The Kid was obviously watching, right? It was good I stuck with it because just a few months later I got my first contract.

Surprises and Discoveries

Q 3. Were there any surprises or discoveries you made when researching your book? 

MWC:   As I researched Yoshi’s story – her journey from rescue through rehabilitation and finally release, I was struck by the communities of people who cared about her well-being – the fishermen who found her and fed her, the staff at the aquarium who knew little about caring for injured turtles and fell in love with her.

Interior illustration by Kaja Kajfez from YOSHI’S BIG SWIM One Turtle’s Epic Journey Home written by Mary Wagley Copp ( Capstone)

They worked together to help heal her, to tend to her – for 20 years! And finally, the large community who watched, excitedly but also nervously, when she was released. Could Yoshi avoid the predators,  propellers and  plastic? Yoshi brought people together. That was an amazing and beautiful discovery as I learned more about the life of this magnificent turtle. 

Q 4. What surprises did your illustrator bring to the project? 

MWC:  The colors! Kaja Kajfez’s illustrations of YOSHI’S BIG SWIM are so beautiful and bold. This adds such a vibrancy to the text. I also was so surprised how Kaja was able to capture the tenderness and the care that each person had towards Yoshi. Their faces hold the wonder, the inspiration, the love that they felt. Wow – what a wonderful and sweet surprise when I noticed that depth in her pictures.

Interior illustration by Kaja Kajfez from YOSHI’S BIG SWIM One Turtle’s Epic Journey Home written by Mary Wagley Copp ( Capstone)

Show Some Love

Q 5. Since today is Valentine’s Day, and your books are about wildlife conservation, can you share some ways our readers might “show some love” for Earth and its incredible wildlife?

MWC: Oh, great question! There is so much each of us can do to love our Earth and all its creatures. We can try to recognize the impact we have as we live each day – asking questions like: Do I need this? Can I bring my own bags to the store? Do I need a straw to drink? Can I bike or walk instead of drive to my destination?

Also, get to know animals – how to identify them, where they live, how they migrate or hibernate, etc. When we know animals and all their remarkable ways, we are more likely to care about them. This goes for plants, trees, etc. 

Interior illustration by Becky Thorns from HEAR THEM ROAR: 14 Endangered Animals from Around the World, written by June Smalls (Familius)

JS: Show some love to wildlife any way you’d like. You can build a birdhouse for feathered friends, donate to your local wildlife rescue, symbolically adopt an endangered animal (I adopted a fossa), plant a native tree, or volunteer for a park/nature clean up. 

Q 6. Since most writers LOVE words, is there a quote on your wall or in your journal that you’d like to share for Valentine’s Day?


“Angels are watching over you.

Their wings wrap gently around you whispering you are loved and blessed.”


JS: Something I used to tell The Kid:

            “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.”

Little Richard

JS: Even if you only do a few exercises, or write a few words, or clean just one section of the house, it is making a difference. It doesn’t always seem like much, but it adds up and an all or nothing attitude can be defeating.

What’s Next?

Q 7. What new projects are you working on?

JS: I am looking at final art for THEY LEAD which is lyrical nonfiction on the gray wolf. The illustrations are amazing! And working on some humorous fiction that I’m hoping an editor falls in love with. Even in my fiction works, animals have big roles.

MWC: I have 2 other non-fiction picture books in various stages of development. While they are not about an animal, they are about people working together to bring awareness to an issue – the way the staff at the aquarium did to care for Yoshi and to, ultimately, create a more caring and compassionate world – which I hope Yoshi’s story does.

Thank you Mary and June for joining the blog today!

To learn more about their work go to their web sites: ~

And follow them on


@June_Smalls ~ @Maryfkwc


june_smalls ~ marywcopp

Next on the blog:

An interview with two incredible #kidlit illustrators!

Gabriela Lyon (9 Kilometers)   

& Luisa Uribe (DEAR EARTH…From Your Friends in Room 5)

In addition to my #BookBirthday blog posts,

I’ll be featuring #environmental and #nature books throughout 2023

–because Earth Day should be every day, right?

Interior illustration by Luisa Uribe from DEAR EARTH…From Your Friends in Room 5, written by Erin Dealey (Harper Collins) available in softcover Feb. 21st!