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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Martha Rago was Debbie's art director at Random House for the Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective picture books. Martha was SO fun to work with! Here are some photos from when Debbie had lunch with Martha in New York while they were both working on the book:

Martha was kind enough to answer a few questions for young illustrators.

Q. What is your position at Random House Children's?

I’m the Executive Creative Director.

Q. What do you do in your position?

I oversee the art department at Random House Children’s Books, which includes the imprints under the RHCB umbrella: Knopf, Crown, Delacorte, Doubleday, Little Golden Books, as well as the Random House imprint itself.

Q. What are some of the best-known books or series that you’ve worked on in the past?

My very first project as an assistant designer was the mini edition of Eric Carle’s THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR! I remember the textface was Bodoni and I set it in a teeny tiny size— in 6 or 7 point type!

At Putnam I also worked on Marc Simont’s NATE THE GREAT series which was wonderful as Marc was smart, funny and a joy to work with. There I also designed REDWALL, my first novel, and had the chance to hire a brilliant calligrapher Jeanyee Wong for the title lettering. She is a legend in calligraphy circles.

I’ve had a chance to work on a lot of great books since then: Ed Young'’s CATS ARE CATS, all of Peter MCarty’s books at Henry Holt until I left that house, starting with NIGHT DRIVING by John McCoy, and then his more recent titles at HarperCollins, CHLOE, HENRY IN LOVE and FIRST SNOW.

I’m proud to have worked on Kadir Nelson’s NELSON MANDELA, HEART AND SOUL while at Harper, and also on Antoinette Portis’s NOT A BOX among others of hers, and many great titles from Mo Willems like GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE DINOSAURS and THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!

At Harper I also worked on the Shel Silverstein estate program and with the Silverstein family to bring Shel’s previously unpublished work from the archive into a new collection in RUNNY BABBIT and as new material in a special anniversary edition of EVERYTHING ON IT.

And working with illustrator David Weisner, I repackaged the 7 CHRONICLES of NARNIA titles by CS Lewis with new jacket art that refreshed the look of series in a terrific way.

Q. What do you like best about your job?

There is so much to like! The relationships with other creative people- authors, illustrators, editors – is endlessly stimulating and inspiring and that is probably the primary pleasure in this work. I enjoy the interactions I have daily with my smart, creative colleagues and artists. Book-making is an evolution of shared ideas over time and through many stages, twists and turns and explorations, and that creative process completely absorbing. The final outcome of the collaboration between us all usually contains something surprising, or is in itself a surprise, in a good way, because the path there is not a predictable, straight line. I’m never bored.

Cathy Goldsmith, Maria Modugno and Martha Rago at Random House Children's.

Q. What is your favorite flavor of birthday cake?

Orange ricotta cheese cake :)

Q. Do you have any pets or hobbies?

I love to make things, and so if I am not making books I make ceramic pottery and found object sculpture. I love to take photographs and create photo books, and I make jewelry out of semi-precious stones, metals and found objects. I garden in the summer, practice yoga, and have a cat named Cosmo :)

Q. What advice do you have for young illustrators?

While it's important to be aware of other artists’s work, to admire and certainly to be influenced by it, avoid imitation. Find you own voice, allowing yourself to synthesize what is meaningful to you and express it in your own way. Be patient, but be focused and put in the work and time. Never give up on your passion. It will pay off!


You can find Martha Rago on Twitter at @martharago as well as via her design and jewelry websites, and

Also see some of the other interviews with the team who helped create the Mitzi Tulane books