Monday, March 2, 2015

Interview with Shelley Swanson Sateren

So honored to have Shelley Swanson Sateren on the blog today! She has written many books for children, both fiction and non-fiction. Her latest project, just released by Capstone, are four chapter books in the Adventures at Hound Hotel series, and illustrated by me, Deb Melmon. Mudball Molly, Homesick Herbie, Growling Gracie and Fearless Freddie are funny and endearing stories about the Wolfe family and the antics that ensue when different breeds of dogs are boarded at their family-run kennel. Since I was lucky enough to illustrate these books, I thought it would be fun to do an in-depth interview with Shelley. After you read this you can head over to my personal blog and see more about the process of illustrating the covers!

Welcome Shelley! How did you come up with the idea for Adventures at Hound Hotel?

Hello Deb and all children's book lovers! Before I answer your first question, Deb, I'd like to thank you for interviewing me. It's been a joy getting to know you through the Hound Hotel series. I'm a very lucky author to have such adorable illustrations bring my stories fully to life. You handled the project with such skill, talent and humor. I absolutely love the doggone cute pictures of the Hound Hotel gang and kids everywhere will love them too!

To answer your first question, the idea for a chapter book series set at a rural dog-boarding kennel was generated in-house at Capstone Press. I’d previously written numerous children’s books for their company (fiction and non-fiction) and an editor approached me with the Hound Hotel concept. I love dogs and immediately accepted the assignment. I had a contract in my email inbox three and a half hours after the editor’s initial email!

The editor gave me this three-sentence pitch to work with: Eight-year-old twins Owen and Emma and their mom own an established boarding kennel out in the country. They live, work and play with dogs every day. Each story will feature a new dog and his/her adventure at the kennel, introducing a variety of breeds of dogs and typical dog antics.

Besides reading level, word count and front/back matter expectations, this brief, simple pitch was the only guideline I received. After much research and many deep dives into my imagination, I created the Hound Hotel world around it, though I changed the children’s names to reflect the humorous tone of the stories. I love writing to assignment like this. It’s an invigoratingly creative process for me.

The main characters of the book, the Wolfe family, are so cleverly written. Can you fill us in on the dynamics of the family and the twins, Alfie and Alfreeda?

My first draft of the first book, Homesick Herbie, was a realistic account of two siblings helping a little Yorkshire terrier adjust to his first over-night stay at a boarding kennel. I had bits of humor in that draft and the editor asked for more; she encouraged me to push beyond the boundaries of reality and bring more over-the-top humor to the script. So I re-wrote the whole story to match the new comedic tone and turned the main character, eight-year-old Alfie, into an underdog who’s always in competition with his “top dog” twin sister. I based their ever-competitive spirit on the dynamics of wolves in packs—dominant versus submissive (information gleaned in part from the excellent book, The Dog Listener, by Jan Fennell, which links dog behavior to wolf behavior).

No matter how hard Alfie tries to become an alpha (top) dog in his pack (family), his sister usually triumphs. Of course this dynamic lent itself to much more humor. (As Garrison Keillor says, “Humor belongs to the losers.”) After I turned Alfie into an underdog, the stories became much easier and more fun to write. I named the twins Alfie (as in Alpha) Wolfe and Alfreeda Wolfe for an added sprinkling of comedy. And I gave their father the job of wolf researcher. He’s often gone on long trips to study wolves in the wild, which Alfie bemoans; Alfie really misses his father, which parallels the little terrier, Herbie, missing his owner. Also, I named the twins’ mother Winifred Wolfe. I considered the word “win” within “Winifred.” As much as the twins vie for top-dog status, of course their mother is truly the one in charge at Hound Hotel.

How did you select the breeds of dogs that come to visit the Hound Hotel?

I spent many weeks researching dog breeds and dog-boarding websites/facilities. Choosing four breeds (one per book) wasn’t easy because there are so many great ones! These were my criteria: a breed that young kids could safely play with; a loveable breed; a bit of a troublemaker. Trouble = entertainment.

Do you have your own dog?

Not right now. I grew up with various canine breeds as pets and, as an adult, adopted a West Highland terrier named Max. Max now lives in the happy dog park in the sky and I miss him! He was full of crazy high energy and I thought of him often as I wrote these books, especially Mudball Molly.

I visited dog kennels as part of my research for this series and had a difficult time not adopting one of the adorable dogs on the spot! But owning a dog is a huge responsibility and my husband and I agree that we’re too busy to give a very social pet, such as a dog, the attention it needs. Last summer, soon after wrapping the final book in the series, I dogsat a tiny teacup Yorkshire terrier named Chloe. She helped ease my desire to adopt my own dog—just a little!

Do you write every day? Tell us a little bit about your process.

It’s a rare day when I don’t write. Mornings are my most productive time. I try to get household tasks done in the evenings so that my weekends are free to write, too. It’s a very time-consuming process, writing books that kids will enjoy, so I devote many hours to it every week. For me, writing is a vital part of my day, as important and necessary for my wellbeing as brushing my teeth and eating healthy meals.

I write longhand for the first several drafts and type only when the story is close to sharing it with my first readers. Because the deadlines were so tight, just one person read the Hound Hotel scripts before I sent them to my editor: my son, Anders. He was a senior in high school at the time. He’s a very good editor, in my opinion. He understands the sensitive, playful mind and heart of an eight-year-old boy very well.

I see you come from a very creative family. Can you tell us a bit about your parents?

It would be impossible to encapsulate fully, in this small space, how very creative these two people are. Nothing about Steve and Judy Swanson’s life is cookie cutter, except maybe their “Minnesota Niceness.” Their house is filled with their creations—paintings, ceramics, sculptures, etc.

My mother is a graphic designer. She’s designed countless logos, brochures, book covers, banners, posters, production sets, convention spaces, etc. My father, besides being an English professor and Lutheran pastor, is a book writer and a metal sculptor. He welds animals out of old car parts and other cast-off metal. I grew up watching him type his many sermons, articles and book manuscripts. He’d pound away at his noisy typewriter and I knew from a young age that I’d be happiest sitting in front of a typewriter doing the same thing.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Consciously, fifth grade. My teacher in Seguin, Texas, where we lived at the time, read A Wrinkle in Time to our class. I went straight home and told my mother, “You know what that book makes me want to do? Write.” Immediately, I began to draft a chapter book called “Mystery in the Library.” I loved reading mysteries in elementary school. In seventh grade, I turned “Mystery in the Library” into a play. I wrote, directed and starred in it. Some of my classmates and I performed the play at my middle school in Camrose, Alberta, Canada, where my family lived at the time.

I was always a big letter writer, to my grandparents mainly, since we always lived far away from them. I often kept a diary, too. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I, as a teenager, threw away my childhood diaries. (I think I saw them as “baby writing.”) My mother must not have been aware that I tossed them in the trash; for sure she would’ve stopped me.

What books influenced you when you were young?

The ones with the most endearing and enduring characters influenced me the most: Curious George; Max in Wild Things; Pippi Longstocking; Harriet the Spy; Madeline; Peter Rabbit, etc. Strong-minded characters with a mischievous streak always took permanent residence in my childhood heart.

What other books have you written?

My complete bibliography is posted on my website: Because I love research and because I once worked as a children’s non-fiction book editor, I’ve written many non-fiction books for kids. My Humane Societies: A Voice for the Animals was a Children’s Choice book. I wrote twelve early chapter books in the Max and Zoe series (fiction) plus a humorous, contemporary middle grade novel called Cat on a Hottie’s Tin Roof (Delacorte/Random House) which Publishers Weekly called “hilarious, punny and fun.” I’m currently at work on two more middle grade novel scripts.

Do you have plans for more Hound Hotel adventures?

I did loads of research on different breeds and dog-behavior issues for the first four books and have a three-ring binder filled with extraneous material. If the good folks at Capstone Press decide they want more books in this series, I’m ready!

Where do you find your creative inspiration when you are not actually writing?

From many places: long walks in my pretty neighborhood or around the lake near my house; trips to the family cabin or museums; soul-enriching movies; gorgeous music; farm and zoo animals; my funny friends or family members; great books, etc. However, because I write primarily for children my greatest inspiration comes from kids. Of course, memories of my own childhood are paramount, especially emotion-laden ones, times when I felt really afraid, excited, joy-filled, etc.

Also, I usually have a part-time job to support my writing income and many have involved working with kids. I’m inspired to write board books or pre-K picture books if I’m working with babies and toddlers; I’m inspired to write chapter books if I’m working with older kids. I’m always scribbling down something that kids in my life say or do, funny things, sad things. I’ve got boxes filled with these scribblings, including my priceless journal notes from the years my two sons, Erik and Anders, were young. I hope I live beyond age one hundred so I can turn many of these golden nuggets into publishable stories for kids’ enjoyment!

For more information about Shelley, you can visit her website here and to see my blog post on how I created the covers for these books, you can visit here. And you can also visit my newly revamped website at

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas and a very 
Happy New Year from the PBJunkies!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Review: Superfab Saves the Day

If you love super-hero books, here is a super-fun one with a twist. Superfab is the best-dressed superhero around. He's got a walk-in closet, an extensive collection of outfits, and fabulous style to boot. The only problem is, he can't leave his house to go fight crime until he has the perfect outfit ––and sometimes that takes awhile. It often takes so long that by the time he arrives at the scene of a crime, another superhero has already gotten the job done.

Superfab finds himself less and less in demand, until one day he gets called to help out in a crisis where all other superheroes have been defeated –– and he discovers that his exquisite sense of style is just the weapon he needs to beat (and befriend) this particular monster.

Published by Owl Kids and written by Jean Leroy, this fun, quirky superhero story will have the reader rooting for the underdog and celebrating Superfab's unique pizazz. 

The whimsical illustrations, by Bérengre Delaporte, are loose and childlike in their colored-pencil style, filling the page with lots of hidden details and energy. And Leroy's fresh approach redefines the traditional superhero and shows the value of embracing your own unique interests and talents.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: Dojo Daycare

I've been meaning to share this gem of a picture book for some time. Dojo Daycare, written and illustrated by Chris Tougas is published by Owlkids Books

There is so much to love in this smart, modern, and funny rhyming picture book. It is paced beautifully and you can feel the tempo pick up and then settle down for the ending. I found the framework of the dojo daycare and sympathetic storyline toward the 'master' really inventive. My kids (5 and 3 years old) love rereading to follow the smaller details and mini-plots. 

You can track each ninja and their ninja pets at home, the bear as he gets pulled apart (and see where he ends up!), and my kids' favorite part - see the little green fluff coming from one little ninja. Yup. It's a silent but HILARIOUS surprise when you figure out how that last fight starts. 

I was given a review copy by the publisher, but my words and opinions are my own.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Change Your Name Store: Giveaway Winner!

Don't you love wandering character maps in books?

I looked all over Wilma Lee Wu's town until I found a winner.... Daniela Weil! Congratulations!!!!

Thank you to everyone who commented and shared the giveaway for The Change Your Name Store. Be sure to get your hands on this picture book soon to enjoy the whole story for yourselves. You can buy it here, or here, or ask for it at your local library or bookstore. And thank you to Tina Kugler for donating a signed copy with a little extra swag tucked inside.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: The Change Your Name Store (AND A GIVEAWAY!)

The Change Your Name Story, written by Leanne Shirtliffe and illustrated by Tina Kugler is packed with humor and heart and... names! Tina has generously offered a signed copy as a giveaway - be sure to read to the end for details!

I did a big double take on the opening page. What a powerful way to kick a story off! It's a great first impression of our protagonist, Wilma Lee Wu - both in the art and that opening line!

This is such a fun read-aloud book and perfect for leisurely re-reads. You'll want to pick out all the fun names and details that Tina has peppered throughout. Wilma Lee Wu's story speaks to diversity, but also that universal feeling we have at times of just not liking our names. I'll leave the rest of the story as a surprise, as it should be!

Comment here for a chance to win a signed copy of The Change Your Name Store. You can also share this review on Twitter for a chance to win (just be sure to tag @PBjunkies). Enter until midnight of May 29th EST - the winner will be announced on May 30th.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Author/Illustrator Interview: AJ Smith and Even Monsters

I'm really excited to share this interview with author/illustrator AJ Smith. His picture book, Even Monsters, came out earlier this month and it chock-full of monsters, cooties, and a silliness that kids and grownups alike will really love. So let's get right into the wit and wisdom, shall we?

G: I love the rich, layered look to your art for Even Monsters. What is your process like?

A: My process involves a hodge-podge of mixed media: pencil, ballpoint pen, sometimes technical pens or brush pens, acrylic paint, cut paper, a shoddy laptop (donations welcome!), lots of caffeine, with a dab of old school Crayola crayons! I work different depending on the client but the common denominator is always rough pencil sketches on 8.5 x 11" copy paper.

G: What came first for you with Even Monsters: the words or the visuals?

A: Mostly the words came first for Even Monsters (way back in 2006). As I revised it, I began to ping pong ideas back and forth: a written idea would become a sketch and then that would ignite some new writing brainstorms and 'round and 'round we go...

G: Could you share one sparkling nugget of advice for aspiring author/illustrators?

A: First, have a sound foundation in drawing and/or in writing. Practice often and always. If you want to write and illustrate picture books,you should be reading picture books! Beyond that, I think you have to bring something new to the table. Have a unique voice, unique style. Be yourself. Be different. Do the art you want to do. You will meet rejection at every stage of the game (I'm always surprised to hear how much Jane Yolen is STILL rejected) so be doing the art you want to be making, not what you think publishers/editors want to see.

G: You are one busy guy - speaking at events, creating fun videos, and throwing awesome monster book parties. What has been the best part of promoting Even Monsters so far?

A: To me promotion is something an author/illustrator HAS to do. It's part of the job. And that is not always something that's easy to grasp. The tricky part is that you don't get paid to promote your book. In fact, it's been quite the opposite in my empty-pocketed experience. That said there is a reason I do it: To help the book do well (I'm terrified and convinced that this cannot happen on its own unless you are already a bestselling author/illustrator) and to network: meet new people -- educators, librarians, parents, KIDS. Promotion is not just promoting your book. It's promoting and fostering literacy. And if that didn't answer your question, I'd say making videos where I dress up like this has been the best part:

G: What's your next project? And does it involve having the readers spot cooties? (I do love the cooties! They are little orange puffs with silly eyes. Can you spot 3 in the illustration below?)

A: My next book is Even Dinosaurs, which comes out in 2015. There might be cooties. If there are, they'll be Cave Cooties. Still toying with that idea, but I really like the idea of adding an "Easter Egg" element to the book that kids can hunt for on a second read of a book. I hope kids really like them... Really like them or say "eww, gross -- cooties!" Either would be perfect really.

*FYI: My kids LOVE finding the cooties. Like it's their job. And everyone at the book launch loved the way AJ kept 'finding' cooties.

Many thanks to AJ for his thoughtful answers and insight. Be sure to visit to see where you can buy his book, see more silly videos, learn how to draw Skeebu and Glubb, have your kids enter in his Monster Art Contest, and even design your own silly underpants. I know what my kids will be doing after breakfast!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sneak Peek: Even Monsters book trailer

Tomorrow I will be posting a fun interview with my super talented friend, AJ Smith. We'll be talking about his new picture book, Even Monsters, available now! Until then, enjoy his awesome book trailer!

I was way lucky enough to go to his official book launch a few weeks ago - check out my mug in his oversize monster board! (The things mommies do to get our kids to do something silly too!) I was blown away with all the layers of fun he built into the book launch. He has tons of events in the New England area, be sure to visit for more info and fun for the kids.
Check back tomorrow for the interview!!!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Double Book Review: Wild About Bears & Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo

Since it's been awhile, I'm popping on the PBJs today to post a double book review. I was lucky enough to get the above books signed by the author/illustrator Jeannie Brett and author Ammi-Joan Paquette. Both books are visually beautiful and offer layers of interest and depth for readers.

Wild About Bears is a non-fiction picture book giving an overview of the eight bear species. The artwork is captivating and lush, and the facts are so intriguing. This is a true family book, and I can see us returning to it for years to come. Visit Jeannie's website for loads of information and bonus materials. 

 If you recall, I reviewed Mustache Baby last year, illustrated by Joy Ang. I instantly recognized her bold, expressive style on the cover of Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo, written by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

True to picture-book form, this book is a fine marriage of words and images. Ammi-Joan has written a big, bold, hilarious tale full of big, bold, hilarious words.

 I love that my near 3 year old walks around saying hullabaloo after reading this book (and knows EXACTLY what it means). The endpapers smartly include definitions - I know I needed to reference it for the word 'defenestration'.

Everything is done with fun and mischief so you might not even realize that you've been hornswoggled into learning a few new words. Thanks, Ammi-Joan!