Picnic Days

Bread Lab interiorSeveral countries, towns, and neighborhoods around the world celebrate official Picnic Days in July. Even in a year when attending a big outdoor gathering might not work well, you can still have a variety of picnic events on a smaller scale.  Pack a basket or a paper bag, take a tablecloth or a towel to a park, to your own backyard or porch, or even your living room floor, and enjoy a July picnic. Besides the food, be sure to pack a good book or three to share between courses.

Readers To Eaters can guide you through the process of making and baking  Bread lab cover
sourdough.  Not only can you get ready for a future picnic with the assistance of Kim Binczewski, Bethany Econopouly, and illustrator Hayelin Choi’s Bread Lab, you can enjoy the idea of breadmaking chemistry replicating a picnic scene among the microbes that help to form sourdough starter.

In a hurry to get on with your picnic? Pack along Gecko Press’s new edition of Selma, by Jutta Bauer. This is a sheep who models the joys of simplicity, tempted neither to hurry through her day nor change its activities even if offered more time, money, or other supposed attraction. Maybe after the picnic meal is eaten, you and your co-picnickers can settle into discovering how, like Selma, a gentle pace can be pleasing.

Selma cover

Fly FliesIf you’ve had the opportunity to take your picnic outdoors, you may have a variety of tiny visitors, including ants and, of course, flies. If this seems a likely part of your picnic, pack along Cicada Books’ Fly Flies, by Ziggy Hanaor and Alice Bowsher, and see how many flight patterns you can find matched in your own picnic surroundings.

If you want to plan your picnic ahead of the special day, Floris Books has a lot of picnic-worthy Night Walksuggestions, including recipes for kid-friendly outdoor meals. Even if you and yours won’t be preparing these specific dishes, you’ll find inspiration for including some of your own warm weather treats in this recent blog postYou don’t need to limit your picnic time to daylight, especially when July nights can be too warm for sleep to come readily.  Take a cue from the family in Floris Books’ The Night Walk, by Marie Dorléans, and bring along a snack to share before turning back home.

How about preparing a pretend picnic to share with your household’s assortment of toys?  Child’s Play Books publishes a new series – “Rosa’s Workshop” by Jessica Spanyol – featuring activities that are Rosa's Big Pizza Experiementrich in exploration and learning opportunities just right for preschoolers.  In Rosa’s Big Pizza Experiment, everyone gets to discover aspects of food preparation, including lining up ingredients and creating something completely new (pizza!) from them. Right now you can download a copy of this one from NetGalley.  And if you go to Child’s Play’s website, you’ll find a packet of activities to extend Rosa’s discoveries by preparing a paper pizza (and more) for local stuffed animals to enjoy in repeated picnic “outings” to different locations in your home.

Enjoy July with your own picnic and remember to feed hungry minds and imaginations as well as tummies by making room in your basket for books, too!

Selma interior





Father’s Day Picture Books and Books with Pictures

The HaircutFathers receive their special day of public (and family) recognition on the third Sunday of June. To celebrate, we’ve gone to our stacks to show off some books featuring stories (and pictures) about dads. The Haircut interior

The Haircut, by Theo Heras and illustrated by Renné Benoit (Pajama Press) provides a toddler and daddy bonding story of a first trip to the barbershop.  Pair it with this Sony’s Oscar-winning anime short, Hair Love, written by Matthew A. Cherry, to broaden the spectrum of hair-related tasks fathers take on as acts of parental affection.

Barefoot Books’ board book Baby’s First Words, by Tessa Strickland and Kate DePalma, and illustrated by Christiane Engle, has become a contemporary classic. The toddler in these pages has two dads, each of whom has his own personality, appearance, and evident household tasks.  With page spreads that follow the family through a day of thematic activities, and relevant images tagged with their early vocabulary names, this offers repeated and even independent browsing opportunities by fathers and lapsitters.

Baby's First Words interior 1

Baby's First Words interior 2Baking with DadFor dads and kids who are ready for some activity inspiration, there’s Baking with Dad, written and illustrated by Aurora Cacciapuoti and published by Child’s Play. If the local dad in your household isn’t feeling much like taking on the wild adventures of baking with his preschooler, the publisher has provided a great assortment of other book-related activities to pursue. Click on the link here to find them.

Author Elizabeth Laird at Tiny Owl Publishing takes a Rumi tale for a spin in Grobblechops, illustrated by Jenny Lucander in a going-to-bed book that’s just right for Father’s Day. Featuring a nervous child, a loving dad, and the potential to make friends with those who bring difference as well as similarities into our world, this picture book could become a ritual read every evening between now and next Father’s Day.

Grobblechops interior

Luke on the LooseBeginning readers can share Toon Books’ Luke on the Loose, by Harry Bliss, with their father, taking the lead inLuke's Dad unfolding the story of a little boy who decides to go off roaming on his own in Central park when his father becomes absorbed in a boring adult conversation with another grownup.  Follow Luke’s path up hill, down dale, around pond and over puddle, and lots more.  Then dad and child reading at home can draw their own maps of neighborhood paths they might imagine taking when on the loose.

Grandfathers also merit attention in our Father’s Day book bag.  From New Zealand publisher Gecko Press, The Runaways, by Swedish author Ulf The RunawaysStark and illustrated by Belgian artist Kitty Crowther, translated by Julia Marshall, has appeal as international as its creators. This picture book offers a tale of adventure undertaken by a small boy and his grandfather, both of whom are in need of escaping their circumstances if even for a brief sally into the wider world. If you’re connected across generations by video chat between grandparent and child households these days, share this one so granddads and grandchildren can have a shared experience, too

A different sort of grandfather stars in a series of early chapter books published by Floris Books. David MacPhail’s humorous storytelling is paired with occasional illustrations by Laura Aviño in a series that offers detection as well as all-in-the-family companionship in Top-Secret Grandad middle grade books that are well represented by the publisher’s description:

You’d think a ghost grandad would be a great sidekick for a wannabe detective. Unfortunately, if there was a ‘being a good ghost’ exam, Jay’s grandad would fail spectacularly — he hates walking through walls, he can’t touch anything and he’s rubbish at haunting. Since his dad literally did a vanishing act (he’s a magician), Jay Patel has turned detective, and now, with the help of his grandad, he’s on the case….

Top Secret Grandad Death by Tumble Dryer Top Secret Grandad Death by Soup

Authors Jesse Unaapik Mike and Kerry FamiliesMcCluskey’s Families, illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko and published by Inhabit Media, can be a good choice for Father’s Day in families where there may be no father or in any configuration where a father is a family member. Not all families are the same and that is both okay and may create the need for some reassurance when the calendar points up an occasion for celebrating what many people assume all families include.

Older offspring of the dad being celebrated on Father’s Day, or looking for something for dad himself? Check out Excellence, from Image Comics, written by Brandon Thomas and with art by Khary Randolph.  Another father/son themed story, this one features Black magicians, super powers, and created by people of color.

Fathers receive their special day of public (and family) recognition on the third Sunday of June. To celebrate, we’ve gone to our stacks to show off some books featuring stories (and pictures) about dads.

Black Lives Matter All the Time for All Children

At a time when many people around the world find themselves willing to focus on the material truth that Black Lives Matter, we want to make sure that all kids—regardless of identity—have plenty of access to books that show and tell the wide range of interests, appearances, languages, and concerns that everyone, including Black children, shares.  Next time you’re able to visit a library or book shop, make sure to pick up a few of these:

The Thing about Bees picture book coverBrand new and available in two different formats from two of our favorite publishers is Shabazz Larkin’s The Thing about Bees: A Love Letter.  The picture book version was published by Readers to Eaters less than a year ago.  Just thing-about-beespublishing is Live Oak Media’s delightful audiobook version, which, of course,  author and illustrator Larkin also performed, along with a small cast of family.

Trombone ShortyAlso from Live Oak Media, be sure to listen to Odyssey Honor winner Trombone Shorty, the picture book autobiography by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier, and performed by Dion Graham.  The trio has created a followup, too, 5 O’clock Band.  For a rousing good time learning about the making of a New Orleans bandleader, their work together can’t be beat.

Magnificent Homespun Brown interior

Magnificent Homespun Brown interior 2Tilbury House’s recent picture book, Magnificent Homespun Brown, by Samara Cole Doyon with illustrations by Kaylani Juanita, has collected starred reviews everywhere you turn.  And not only is it stuffed with little Black girls of many shades and hairstyles, engaging in many activities that connect them to the natural world, the poetic text bounces, too.

Some of Tilbury House’s older picture book characters are collecting fan art depicting the Astronaut Annie fan art on library bookmobileBlack lives they reflect. One of Worcester Public Library’s bookmobiles sports a giant reproduction of Astronaut Annie, by Suzanne Slade with illustrations by Nicole Tadgell, a picture book that might well inspire your local science explorer.


hair, It's a Family Affair US coverThere’s a lot of Black joy and shared human experiences Princess Arabella Is a Big Sisterbeyond the United States, of course.  Author artist Mylo Freeman’s picture book work is available from Nigerian/British publisher Cassava Republic.  Princess Arabella is a character who stars in her own series—not always eager to cede the spotlight—so finding out how she adjusts in Princess Arabella Is a Big Sister provides older siblings an instant heroine/role model.  In Hair, It’s a Family Affair, Freeman offers every variation on hair texture, styling, and skin tone the extended Black family in its illustrations can sport.

Mayowa and the Masquerades

Getting beyond the immediate family circle, Cassava Republic also gives young readers the opportunity to visit good times in Ilisan with Lola Shoneyin’s  Mayowa and the Masquerades, illustrated by Francis Blake. This one gives kids (and adults) lots of inspiration to dance! One reviewer (linked at the title) noted that perhaps 90% of this book is smiles.

Federico and All His Families interior

From Spanish publisher NubeOcho, and available in both Spanish and English editions, Federico and All His Families, by Mili Hernandez with illustrations by Gomez, introduces a neighborhood through the intentional visiting cycle of Federico the cat.  All kinds of families live in the neighborhood and Federico finds a way to fit into each one’s day.

A Story about Afiya

BAME-focused Lantana Publishing’s A Story about Afiya, by Jamaican poet James Berrya Story about Afiya interior with gorgeous illustrations by Anna Cunha, may be the perfect book for this pandemic summer of changed routines in readers’ own lives. Each day of her summer season, Afiya’s white dress collects the beuty of that day’s adventures.

From Brazil, Otavio Junior’s story of his favela home comes to English language From My Windowreaders in a colorfully illustrated edition published by Barefoot Books. From My Window, with art by Vanina Starkoff can both take kids abroad to a community they may never see in person and suggest a daily activity to pursue at home. What can they see from their windows? How does the sight make them feel? What colors do they need to paint it? We all have a lot in common and yet everywhere we look we can spot something or someone new to enjoy, consider, mourn, or find hopeful.



Listening Is Reading – and June Is Audiobook Month

We’re sure you value literacy. What do you know about the connections between listening and literacy?  June is a great time to explore them through audiobooks, and we have lots of new suggestions to set you on that adventure.

Sound Learning 2020 infographicThe Audio Publishers Association’s Sound Learning initiative has updated both their visual display and the list of research articles that address the importance of listening to becoming a more literate, aware, and empathetic person. If you aren’t already an audiobook fan, you might want to start here to get a more informed sense of why and how they can enrich the lives of your kids (and yourself).

The Audio Publisher’s Association is also sponsoring a month of challenges that you and your family might enjoy as a change of pace from other focused activities you’ve undertaken in the recent weeks of pandemic-induced changes in lifestyle and access to learning and libraries.


Our own publishers have an array of audiobooks you can access both online and, in some cases, physical copy. Here are some recent award winning options for your family:

The Wall in the Middle of the BookLive Oak Media is well known for developing and producing high quality read-along recordings of award winning picture books. This might be the time to explore Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book, narrated by Everest de Montebello and Marc Thompson, who together “provide a young knight with a youthful voice and a large ogre with a deep and gravelly voice in this examination of children’s perception.” Somewhat HORSEolder listening readers can find inspiration both as poets and basketball players by tuning into the Odyssey Award winner by Christopher Myers, H.O.R.S.E., narrated in style by the illustrating author and Dion Graham. “The entire production is infused with infectious energy and good-natured competitive fun.”

This year Karadi Tales won the London Book Fair’s award as audiobook publisher of the year.  You can find their audiobooks on their website and get started listening with some of your favorite print titles, too, including Shobha Viswanath’s Little Vinaya

This month also brings What On Earth and
Christopher Lloyd’s Absolutely Everything, brand new to the audiobook format and read by the author. This one has much to offer middle grade listeners who love to browse with their eyes and can now enjoy hearing the factual explanations the print book includes. Treat yourself to a clip from it here.

SYNC 2020

There’s a fantastic free audiobook program for teens underway as well. You don’t need to belong to any institution or even geographic location to take part in this whole world access opportunity to download to keep a pair of free audiobooks each week from AudioFile Magazine’s AudiobookSYNC program for ages 13 and up. Follow the directions on the site for registering, connecting with the Sora app, and then “borrowing” the offerings; we put “borrow” in quotation marks because once borrowed they are yours for over 98 years–plenty of time for listening!

Read Your Way into Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

We’re always on the lookout for books that reflect authentic cultures and come from voices that are authentic reflections of the cultures about which they tell stories.  May is a month designated for celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander roots in American cultures, so it’s a great time to explore kids’ books that reflect the vast array of experiences these cultures both bring to and have created in storytelling.

Baseball Saved Us

Author Ken Mochizuki performs his picture book Baseball Saved Us, illustrated by Dom Lee, for Live Oak Media’s collection of Read-along audiobooks. Listen and learn about where the author’s Japanese-American parents were forced to spend World War II, and how the all American sport helped government internees keep a semblance of normalcy in kids’ lives.

Illustrator Man One shows off his skills as a fine performer as Chef Roy Choihe delivers author Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix along with co-narrator June Jo Lee in another of Live Oak Media’s Read-alongs.  Join the fun and explore Los Angeles’s Korean-American food scene!

Girl of the Southern Sea
From Pajama Press, the multi-award winning middle grade novel Girl of the Southern Sea gives us author Michelle Kadarusman’s  experienced insights into growing up Indonesian.  While set outside North America, this story connects with North American readers because of the author’s multicultural experiences and capacity to bridge different cultures. Follow it up with Kadarusman’s new Music for Tigers, which lets readers accompany a Canadian girl on her trip to Australia.

Peach Girl interior

Also from Pajama Press, younger readers can delight in Japanese-Canadian author Raymond Nakamura’s fun twist on a Japanese folktale with his gender flipping version  Peach Girl, illustrated by Rebecca Bender.

What a delight it is that have a seemingly endless supply of stories to discover!  We hope that you find lots of ways to explore the world through books this month and every month.

Fresh Air Science Fun – and Giveaway!

Springtime offers so many inviting ways to explore and celebrate nature that we’ve decided to offer the chance to teachers and librarians to win a nature exploration picture book shelf!  The collection includes seven different books, one for each day of the week, and everybody can follow these links to the free web-based resources their publishers are offering. To win the collection of picture books, comment below about how you’ll use them in your classroom or library next spring. To enter to win, you need to enter your comment by May 20.

Now, every nature lover gather round and let’s go exploring!

First on the shelf is Toon Books factual graphic novel for beginning readers.  We’ve all come to love Kevin McCloskey’s witty, informative books about small, common creatures. Toon publishes this book as part of their aptly named series “Giggle and Learn.” To learn and enjoy more related to Snails Are Just My Speed, visit the lesson plans created by Maureen Schlosser.

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table is Jacqueline Briggs-Martin’s children’s biography of former basketball star Will Allen’s work to make urban gardening an attractive reality. The picture book is illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin,  and the version we are including on our giveaway shelf is the award-winning read-along audiobook from Live Oak Media and narrated by Peter Jay. Urban and community gardening offer great ways to actively participate in nature.  Want to get started?  Visit these resources related to this picture book.

A Walk on the Shoreline

Taking a walk in nature becomes even more rewarding when we have some guidance about potential attractions we can spot (and hear) along the way. Two different environments for such casual walks are featured in A Walk on the Shoreline, by Rebecca Hainnu with illustrations by Qin Leng, and published by Inhabit Media, and A Walk through Nature, by A Walk Though NatureLibby Walden with illustrations by Clover Robin and published by Tiger Tales.  Whether the walk you can take in a nearby natural setting—a park, your back yard, or maybe another environment—shares some of the plant and wildlife features in these books can make for a great discussion itself.  You can find more ideas for building on experiencing your own and a picture book nature walk by visiting our Pinterest board of At-home Fun Activities we’ve collected.

Acadia Files Spring

You can also receive some expert guidance in becoming a naturalist with the latest volume of Tilbury House’s “Acadia Files” factual picture book series.  The Acadia Files: Book Four, Spring Science, by Katie Coppens with illustrations by Holly Hatam, gives us plenty of inspiration for applying scientific methods to exploring close at hand nature. Each chapter offers an activity that can be achieved in most home settings, with some that may need to wait until schools, libraries, and other places further afield can be reached again.


Common Critter

Also from Tilbury House, for younger picture book readers is the brand new Common Critters, by Pat Brisson and with humorous illustrations by Dan Tavis.  Here’s a perfect guidebook to the very small animals that appear in spring, including worms and birds and even houseflies. The book also contains the author’s sharing of her poetry toolkit, another aapproach we might want to take when enjoying nature.

Leaf Litter Critters

Finally, the seventh title on our giveaway shelf of nature books for spring is Leaf Litter Critters, by Leslie Bulion with illustrations by Robert Meganck, and published by Peachtree Publishing. Again using poetry as the narrative vehicle, this one gives readers a tour of the “brown food web” of tiny animals that are part of nature’s recycling system. The publisher has supplied a classroom-ready lesson plan that can be used at home with ease.

Let’s all find ways to enjoy spring safely this year. And enter to win this collection to support the programming and lessons you can take into next spring, too! Remember to tell us at which school or library you will be using the collection to explore nature in a future spring.


Children’s Book Week: Read All about It!

Whether you’re living in a house with a big back yard or a small apartment, this Children’s Book Week can help you expand your horizons.  With so many good new books arriving, even while most of us are staying in place, there’s plenty to celebrate.

From My Window, published by Barefoot Books, is Otávio Júnior’s picture book for older From My Window coverreaders, with gorgeously bright illustrations by Vanina Starkoff. Here’s a read that can inspire kids and adults alike to see the world beyond our window views with fresh eyes.

From My Window interior

The House of Madame MOver at Gecko Press, Clotilde Perrin’s newest picture book promises you may never see anyone’s house the same again! The House of Madame M is, well, let’s take a peek:

In the Sky at Nighttime

In the Sky at Nighttime, published by Inhabit Media, brings together Tamara Campeau’s lush, night-lit images with Laura Deal’s sleepy time verse for the very young.



In the Sky at Nighttime interior

NubeOcho Books has just published a free picture book for all of us unable to get out into the world right now! Download Jose Fragoso’s I Will Be Patient… right here.

HamletOlder readers in your household can take a staycation with Manga Classics, dipping into the terrors Edgar Allan Poe could evoke or goingTom Sawyer on endless adventures with Tom Sawyer.  Bookworms will delight in having a whole shelf of retold classics including tales from Shakespeare and romance from Charlotte Bronte! There’s plenty here to make time at home pass quickly.


A Trreasury of Scottish Castle TalesFloris Books has both picture books and novels for older readers that are great ways to mark Children’s Book Week, too. Author Theresa Breslin’s An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends may be just the thing to browse if you’re feeling housebound. The large, detailed color illustrations by Kate Leiper will feed your imagination and maybe inspire some mural painting inside your own castle.

No matter where you’re spending this Children’s Book Week, there’s lots of companionship to be found in stories old and new. So stretch out, dig in, and read away the hours.


Climate Action from Home on Earth Day 2020

Today’s post is by Becca Hampton, our Publicist and Social Media Coordinator.

Calling all eco-heroes! April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. While this Earth Day falls in the middle of a global pandemic and we are socially distanced, we can use the power of digital media to unify our voices and spread one message: we are committed to climate action. Share the call with your young readers with some great books that explain why we need to act.  Here are some picture books for all ages that guide how we can all take climate action now.

From What on Earth Books come two environmentally conscious titles. Planet SOS: 22 Modern Monsters Threatening Our Environment (and What You Can Do to Defeat Them!) is a beautifully illustrated collection of the monsters threatening our planet right now. This book challenges young eco-crusaders to make small changes that can have big impacts on climate change. Also from What on Earth is Every Second: 100 Lightning Strikes, 8,000 Scoops of Ice Cream, 200,000 Text Messages, 1 Million Gallons of Cow Burps … and Other Incredible Things That Happen Each Second Around the World, an illustration-first that reveals intriguing environmental facts taking place around the world every second. Did you know that every second, 15,000 plastic bottles are produced and only1,600 are recycled during the same time?

From Cicada Books comes Earth Shattering Events, an illustrated guide to the natural disasters that happen across the world and what leads to more of them. From volcanoes to cyclones to tsunamis and more, this book goes in-depth with each natural disaster and gives tips on what to do if you’re ever caught in the middle of one.

When the Earth Shook, from Tilbury House Publishers, is the story of a little girl who uses her voice for good in the middle of a disaster. When the stars are shrouded by smog and humans can no longer marvel at them, two stars yell at Earth and cause Earth to start sobbing. Earth feels sick and begins to shake, and it seems like there’s nothing anyone can do… until a little girl named Axiom uses a megaphone to share a message of change to make Earth feel better. Because she chose to raise her voice for change, Earth finally stops shaking and the stars twinkle brightly again.

Finally, King Leonard’s Teddy, from Child’s Play, carries a strong environmental message everyone needs to hear. King Leonard is very rich and has everything he could possibly wish for. If anything breaks, he doesn’t try to fix it. He simply buys a new one! That is, until his favorite teddy bear rips and he realizes buying a new one just wouldn’t be the same. On his journey to fix his special bear, King Leonard learns a valuable lesson about reducing, reusing, and recycling, and realizes he has everything he could wish for!

By staying informed about what’s impacting our environment now, we can fight today for a better tomorrow. Celebrate Earth Day at 50 and every day! The Earth needs us and we need the Earth to be healthy.


National Library Week at Home

bookworm toyThis year National Library Week falls in the midst of a time when most public and school library buildings are necessarily closed. However, in many communities, library services and online collections are very much available. In 2020, celebrate the library at your place instead of in a library building!

Not sure how to find your local public library’s services and available collections during the COVID-19 pandemic?  Just find your state on this list, click on it, find your local town or Find the Library at Your Placecounty, and you’ll have a direct link to its website.  What kind of services can you expect to find? Many public libraries are offering online story times, games, and reading suggestions for all ages. If you have a question about health, or another topic that has come up for you during the stay-at-home period, check the library’s site to see how you can get professional reference help.

What about collections of books, audiobooks, and other media for kids?  Many public libraries, and school libraries, too, will walk you through the few steps you need to follow to start using them. Here’s what you’ll see when you first arrive at Nashville Public Library’s site, for example:

Nashville Public Library April 2020

Clive Is a LibrarianAnother way to celebrate National Library Week this year is to show off your own home library on social media. What’s on your child’s shelf of favorites? Post them in the Reply area here, too, and we’ll share as well!

Gecko Press Pajama Press Inhabit Media Tiny Owl Tilbury House

Meet Artist Katie Brosnan

Illustrator and author Katie Brosnan has two new picture books coming to North American readers this spring and we were lucky enough to interview her in spite of various quarantines! Thank you, Katie, for sharing your work and words with your North American fans.

PubSpotlight: You have two books coming out this year which you both wrote and illustrated. Tell us about the process for each, how they were different and how they were the same.

Katie: I developed Keith Among the Pigeons (Child’s Play International, 2020 in the US) Keith Among the Pigeons coverduring my masters studies. It started as a spontaneous short book which then became a comic and finally a picture book dummy. It really came together as I started screen printing images for the story, and this was how I worked out the color palette and my way of working. After receiving the MA I developed the story further with my publisher.

With Gut Garden (Cicada Books, 2020 in the US), I was approached to create a book about microbes, I have always loved writing and research, so I knew it would be a fascinating subject to explore and very fun to illustrate. The process started with lots of research. I learned a lot about planning the layout for text in nonfiction books and reigning in some of my more narrative ideas for the illustration.

The challenges and focus in making both books were very different because in Gut Garden it was about allowing the information to come forward and keeping the content engaging and fun. With Keith Among the Pigeons it was trying to find the magic in the text and image relationship and showing Keith’s journey of discovery and self-acceptance.

Both books started with the same process of drawing from life which always helps me to spark ideas.

PubSpotlight: How did you do the research for Gut Garden? How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?

Sketches for Gut Garden made at Micropia

Katie: I started research with reading lots of books, I listened to podcasts and radio shows, took a trip to Micropia, a dedicated museum for everything microbe in Amsterdam, and visited the Superbugs exhibition at the Science Museum in London. I also started making my own kombucha and kimchi. I discovered a lot of incredible things and it was starting to feel like a huge topic that would be difficult to condense into an illustrated book for children.

Early sketches for Gut Garden

Early sketches Gut Garden

The large intestine being the heart of the gut microbiome (where 99% of your gut microbes live) caught my imagination and made me imagine a diverse garden, giving me the title and the main steer of the book. My initial idea was to have a main tour guide microbe and a sidekick who could lead the reader through the body, and this evolved into a journey through the digestive system with lots of microbes informing you along the way. It was really important to keep zooming back out into a human context to try to keep the information relevant to the reader. The editing process was hugely important. It was tough to decide what to include and what to leave out, but sticking to the journey through the digestive system helped and luckily my editor was brilliant. The subject area is changing all the time with more research so there’s new information coming out all the time, but we kept to facts. I would really like to work on another nonfiction book as learning about how important symbiosis and balance are in nature has definitely inspired me. I would love to explore this further in a book.

Textures and mark making during illustration process of Gut Garden

Textures and mark making for the illustrations in Gut Garden

PubSpotlight: What fact did you learn in your research about the microbiome that most surprised you?

Katie: I found it very surprising that our microbiomes are completely unique, even if you live in the same house, are part of the same family and share the same diet. Your microbiome will be different from the next person, so it’s a bit like a fingerprint!

PubSpotlight: Your other title, Keith Among the Pigeons, is quite the opposite of Gut Garden. What interests you about playing in both realms of fiction and nonfiction?

Katie: I love learning and nonfiction books allow you to go on a journey of discovery with the research. Fiction is more personal and the research goes through a more subjective process so they do feel like quite different experiences. I really love artists like Shaun Tan who are able to work in different forms, across genres, and push their visual language. I believe it really helps you grow if you push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things because otherwise it could be creatively stifling.

PubSpotlight: How did you first think of the idea of a cat who wants to be a pigeon? Are there any more adventures for Keith on the horizon?

Early sketches for Keith Among the Pigeons

Early sketches Keith Among the Pigeons

: I got the idea after meeting a cat called Keith who I always passed on my way to work. He was often in comical positions lying on top of cars or on fences and he was very friendly. I had become interested in Leo Lionni and Bruno Munari and their approaches to making books in a very spontaneous way so I made a very short book about Keith on scraps of paper and just allowed the idea to unfold, and in a few short pages after asking Keith what he had done today, he appeared dressed up as a pigeon and talking to one. As I worked more on the story, it became quite personal for me and I hope it will connect with anyone who has ever felt like they don’t quite belong where they are supposed to. I would love to make a new book about Keith as he has received a lot of love so far from children and adults.

PubSpotlight: If you had to pick your favorite spreads from both Gut Garden and Keith Among the Pigeons what would they be?

Katie: This is tricky. I think anyone who makes books sees all the flaws in their own work and I often just see the things I wish I had done better. In Keith Among the Pigeons, the spread where he loses his feathers in the rain and the pigeons are staring at him from the tree was one of the first spreads I tried with screen-printing. I like the composition and I think I got his expression right in the end!

Keith Among the Pigeons interior

Gut Garden interior

In Gut Garden I think the ‘In your body’ spread worked well and I was pleased with how it
communicates your body being a home to microbes while also giving enough room for the information to breathe.

PubSpotlight: Do you have a favorite moment with a reader?

Katie: One little boy loves the bit where Keith has poop on his head and insists on pointing out the orange feather in the endpapers each time. With Gut Garden, I had a message from a nutritionist who was so happy to find a children’s book on the subject. I love hearing responses from readers and finding out which bits they enjoyed!

PubSpotlight: Your art school (Cambridge School of Art) consistently turns out graduates who excel at picture books. Why do you think that is and how did they nurture your talent?

Katie: The course was developed by Martin Salisbury and his advice and knowledge on children’s books is pretty much gold dust! All the tutors are brilliant and there is a real focus on observational drawing, thinking carefully about the image and text relationship, and finding your genuine visual language and voice. It’s busy, intense, and you’re surrounded by so many great illustrators so you can’t help but push yourself that bit more. Being an illustrator is sometimes seen as a very lovely job—which it is—but beneath it there is a the need for stamina and willpower. I think the course definitely helps develop and prepare you for that too. I feel very lucky because the course was life-changing for me. It helped me to meet the brilliant publishers I’m working with and some amazing lifelong friends.

Keith Among the Pigeons interior spread 2