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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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Updated: July 26, 2016

This is part of the super-fantabulous Bonus Page for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, Debbie's first solo picture book, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2015.

If you're interested in finding out more, please visit the Simon & Schuster website, the WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? Bonus Page or follow my WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? Facebook page


Mini-interview with Mary Brown, owner of indie bookstore Books, Bytes & Beyond

Today's post is part of my WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? book tour series, where I highlight some of the places I'll be visiting or working with to visit local schools.

Mary Brown, owner of Books, Bytes & BeyondMary Brown is the owner of Books, Bytes & Beyond, children's specialty book business located in Glen Rock, New Jersey, right outside of New York City.  You can find out more info about Books, Bytes & Beyond on their website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

I asked Mary what made her bookstore special. Mary's answer:

"Books, Bytes & Beyond opened as a children's only specialty retail bookstore over 20 years ago. Over the years, we have established a reputation for helping educators and parents find the right book to help children develop a love of reading that can last a lifetime.

"We also began servicing schools by developing guided reading leveled libraries for classroom use and providing trade books for curriculum needs. As the school, library, and author events business became more important to our bookstore model, it was decided in 2013 that our customers could be better served by concentrating our efforts almost exclusively on these markets.

"With our focus on the personalized approach to educating children, Books, Bytes & Beyond's goal is to put the right book into the hands of each child to encourage excitement about both reading and learning. I am aided in my new bookstore model by Trish Bernabeo, who many people in the industry know, as she has worked with me for almost 20 years, acting as Store Manager and, more recently, as Publicity and Events Coordinator:

Trish Bernabeo, Publicity/Author Events Coordinator at Books, Bytes & Beyond

"I also have to say that I am so proud of the industry success of two old high school employees: my son, Jordan Brown, is an Executive Editor at Harper Collins Children's Books, and Cristin Stickles is the children's buyer at McNally Jackson."

Q. If you had to pick one piece of advice for parents who are trying to get their children to read more, what would it be?

Mary's answer:

The best advice I could give a parent is to set the example. Children learn through observation, and having the parents demonstrating the importance of reading in their own lives is critical. And, of course, read aloud to your children on a regular basis.  There is a wonderful poem, entitled The Reading Mother, by Strickland Gillilan, which I've copied here.  It is in the public domain. The last four lines say it all.

"I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me."

Don't those last lines almost move you to tears?! Of course, you could paraphrase & substitute "parent" for "mother".

Q. What are you reading these days?

Mary's answer:

Right now, I'm reading a couple of manuscripts for books not scheduled for release until 2016, but some of my favorite novels for 2015 so far are (in no particular order!):

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby

Listen Slowly, by Thanhha Lai

Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff (for which I wrote a review for PW's Galley Talk)

There is just so much great literature out there for children these days, that it is truly hard to list favorites! And I'm not forgetting picture books & graphic novels! Without these, we wouldn't be able to begin that love of reading at such an early age."

Thank you, Mary!

I look forward to working with Trish Bernabeo, the bookstore's Publicity and Author Events Coordinator, to visit schools in the area during my visit. You can find out more info about the rest of my Where Are My Books? book tour here.

A photo of the main entrance of the complex where Books, Bytes & Beyond is located:

Photo below: These holiday deliveries of classroom library books back in December made for a very happy New Year for hundreds of students. :-)



Toronto Book Launch for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? and an interview with Anjula Gogia of Another Story Bookshop

I'm delighted to announce that the Toronto book launch for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? will take place at Another Story Bookshop on Thursday, May 14th from 6-8 pm. Address: 315 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto ON M6R 2M6. Please do help me celebrate the launch of my first solo picture book! Please RSVP on Facebook or (if you're not on FB) post in the comments below.

Anjua Gogia was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me about Another Story Bookshop.

Q. How did you become involved with Another Story?

Well, I am the former co-manager of the Toronto Women's Bookstore, from 1997-2006. Of course I knew about Sheila and Another Story Bookshop, and always loved the store. A few years ago I was looking for some part-time work, and I walked into Another Story and knew immediately I wanted to be a bookseller again! I now organize all the book launches and events.

Q. How did Another Story begin?

It began as a dream by the owner, Sheila Koffman, 30 years ago. An unrealistic dream. It started off as a bookstore for adults, and when we realized need for book for good books for children in the school system and the neighbourhood that section blossomed. We started off in the east end of the city and moved to the west end 8 years ago. We love both areas, and the Roncesvalles has embraced us wholeheartedly. Although it's been a difficult dream, it's also been a blast!

Where you can find out more info:

Where Are My Books? launch info on Facebook

Another Story Bookshop website


Announcing WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? book tour!

I'm going on a book tour! Veryvery excited. Details on my WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? Book Tour page.


How WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? Was Made (Part 3): Figuring out the characters, more revisions, reading aloud

Making Of A Picture Book posts so far: Main Index/ResourcesPart 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

Back to Where Are My Books? Bonus Page

After settling on a version of the manuscript that was polished enough for me to start doing layout sketches, I worked hard on layout sketches but also thought more about my characters.

The main character, Spencer, was named after one of my nephews:

I also wanted mixed ethnicity in the characters, though the real-life Spencer's parents are both Caucasian. So as I was working on how the characters looked, I designed them with an Asian Mom and a Caucasian Dad in mind:

I'm happy to see that there are more and more books for young people being published in which characters have diverse ethnic backgrounds but their ethnicity aren't necessarily the focus of the story, and I wanted this in my book.

I tweaked Spencer quite a bit throughout the whole process. I still have the character reference sheet I had pinned up on the bulletin board beside my computer so I could look at it anytime:

My art director (Laurent Linn),  editor (Justin Chanda) and assistant editor Dani Young also gave me feedback throughout to help make sure the character looked consistent throughout the book. Even in the reference sheet above, for example, I realized that the character on the top left and top right looked too old, so had to tweak.

In the very first layout sketches I sent to S&S, the characters are very rough and just placeholders:

The handwritten notes you see above are mine, taken during a June 2014 phonecall I had with Justin, Laurent and Dani about my first layout sketches with an early version of my story. We decided that although the story idea was solid, I needed to revise to make the story more fun to out loud.

I almost ALWAYS read everything out loud now when I'm working on picture book text or even I'm reading someone else's picture book for the first time. I strongly advise all new picture book writers to do this -- reading your story out loud can help highlight issues that can be fixed early on. The goal: to make the readaloud experience fun for grown-ups as well as younger readers.

Also, we decided to go with a third person narrative instead of the conversation style above, and I was much happier with the result..

The notes above are from Sept 2013 about another version of layout sketches. Notice how much the text has changed after I went through the revision process with Justin! He's a brilliant editor, and I continue to learn so much. Justin and Laurent also had some wonderful suggestions for the art which included switching up the activities (have Dad doing gardening and Mom doing the home maintenance) as well as some visual ideas on improve the storytelling flow.

And again, I have to say once again HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS CREATIVE COLLABORATION. I am 100% convinced that my story text and illustrations are much stronger as a result of working with my art director and editor. I should also point out that there was no point where Laurent or Justin said, "You have to do xxx." It was more like "Why don't you try xxx and see what you think? Or feel free to come up with another idea that might work even better!" 

Anyway, here's what the final spread ended up looking like:

Thanks to my librarian friend Rand Bellavia for coming up with the "Send In The Clown Fish" title. :-)

Continued in Part 4

Related Resources:

My mini-interview with Simon & Schuster publisher/editor Justin Chanda: advice for aspiring picture book writers

Diane Muldrow: Pacing The Picture Book - Takeaways from a session by the editorial director at Golden Books/Random House at the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference.

3 Tips For Pacing In Picture Books - by Jo Hart

3 Ways To Pace Your Picture Book - by Joyce Audy Zarins on Writers' Rumpus.



Free stickers for anyone who reads this blog post (offer ends Mar. 31, 2015)

My new stickers from pbPrints just arrived, yay!

If you'd like a set, I'd be happy to mail you one as a reward for noticing this new blog post. To claim your set of stickers, go to my Contact Form, choose "Just saying hi", include the word SQUIRRELS and let me know where I should send your stickers.

This offer ends March 31st, 2015.