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Three Questions with Jackie Azúa Kramer & Maral Sassouni, debut author & illustrator of THE GREEN UMBRELLA (NorthSouth Books/Simon & Schuster)

I’m delighted to be one of the stops on THE GREEN UMBRELLA blog tour! This is a debut picture book for author Jackie Azua Kramer and illustrator Maral Sassouni, just launched from NorthSouth Books. The story is fun and imaginative, with gorgeous art, and the underlying message of sharing, generosity and looking out for one another is especially important nowadays.

Do check out the other posts on the blog tour for more info, especially the Design Of The Picture Book post about Maral’s mixed media process (Maral’s process involves cut paper collage and painting with oil, acrylics and inks — amazing!).

Synopsis of THE GREEN UMBRELLA (NorthSouth Books/Simon & Schuster):

“Things aren’t always what they seem in this charming tale of imagination, sharing and friendship. When Elephant takes a peaceful walk with his green umbrella, he’s interrupted by Hedgehog, Cat, Bear, and Rabbit—all claiming that they’ve had exciting adventures with his umbrella. After all, it is an umbrella, and it certainly hasn’t been on any adventures more exciting than a walk in the rain. Or has it? Jackie Azúa Kramer and illustrator Maral Sassouni both make their debut in this fun read-aloud!”

The Green Umbrella Trailer from Cynthia Nugent on Vimeo.


Jackie Azúa Kramer earned her Masters of Education from Queens College. She is a member of SCBWI and has written for the SCBWI Bulletin. In 2014, she was invited to be a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, Bank Street College. In 2015 Jackie was a presenter at the 1st nErDCamp Long Island. More about Jackie at her websiteTwitterFacebook and Instagram.


Maral Sassouni was born in Philadelphia and grew up in California. An illustrator for over 25 years, her work has won much recognition, including the SCBWI Portfolio Grand Prize, Society of Illustrators, NY, and group exhibitions of children’s illustrations around the world. The Green Umbrella is Maral’s first picture book. More info about Maral at her websiteTwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Thanks to Jackie and Maral for answering Three Questions on Inkygirl today:

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

From Jackie: This is my treasured decorative plate from the movie My Neighbor, Totoro. I love Miyazaki’s films! His fantastical work reminds me to think free, be free, and feel free.

This is my office 5-6 months out of the year. I’ve lovingly named my back yard deck, ‘The Canopy’:

It’s a secluded spot surrounded by large leafy trees and bushes. Throughout the day the quality of light shifts through the leaves and branches. I can smell the grass and feel the breeze on my cheek. And the trees are filled with all kinds of visitors– birds, squirrels and insects that become my soundtrack.

From Maral: I grew up in a house full of books. They were in a variety of languages (French, Armenian, Russian…) as my parents had arrived in the US not too long before I was born. And these were the books that I tried to decipher, whose illustrations I stared at when I was very young.

 But in this house full of books, I didn’t have a book of my own. Not until my eighth birthday, when my dad gave me my own copy of Charlotte’s Web. I’d pestered and whined and begged to have it, because our teacher had been reading it aloud to us every day after lunch (thanks, Mrs Tittley!) and I wanted to re-read passages and, above all, pore over the wonderful Garth Williams illustrations to my heart’s content.

It was the beginning of a lot of things. For one thing I discovered that I liked having my own books and so now I have a houseful of books of my own… it’s my main vice! I also became a lifelong fan of E.B. White: I especially love his essays and his letters. And to this day I love hearing books read aloud. Like so many other visual artists, audiobooks are my constant companion as I draw.

So this book is always within reach in my office, and accompanies me whenever I move.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers and/or illustrators? 

From Jackie: The stops you take on the road to create something beautiful, meaningful and perfect is unique. And how the editor and/or agent discover something wonderful in your work is also remarkable. For each story that was acquired, I’ve written stories that have been rejected many times. So don’t focus on one story just keep writing. Ideas float all around you. All you need do is pick them out of the air.

How I came to write, The Green Umbrella, and my two upcoming picture books The Boy and the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, TBD) and If You Want to Fall Asleep (Clavis Books, Spring 2018), have nothing in common.

Be a WARRIOR of CURIOSITY! Inspiration + motivation + passion = Endless possibilities. Default by Django Django…gets me pumped!

And some practical advice—join the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. In addition, join a critique group. As creators we often work in an isolated bubble. A critique group simply ‘pops the bubble’ and offers fresh eyes and ears. I feel it’s essential, especially for picture books, that someone read your story ALOUD…many times.

From Maral: IMMERSE YOURSELF IN PICTURE BOOKS, if you want to learn to write and illustrate them. Max out your library card! Take notes, analyze, make sketches, draw diagrams, do what you have to do: understand for yourself what’s working (and what isn’t), and also how it’s working. Then put them aside when you’re ready to get to work. If you want to learn to create picture books, there is no better school than picture books themselves. There are plenty of manuals, workshops and webinars, but there’s no substitute for reading and looking at picture books and figuring things out for yourself.

LOOK AT FOREIGN PICTURE BOOKS — Beautiful work is being done elsewhere: other stories being told and other ways of seeing the world that will enrich your own vision. An interesting side effect about looking at a foreign picture book is that you experience it the way a small child does: you devour the pictures to understand the story, because you can’t read the text yet. Telling stories with pictures, it’s the universal language!

GO OUTSIDE— Inspiration comes from “out there” more often than not. Whether it’s in your back garden or aimlessly walking in town or going farther afield—something might trigger a memory, spark a new interest, inspire. It definitely helps to be walking while you’re thinking, somehow. Don’t forget to bring a notebook!

Q. What are you excited about right now?

From Jackie: As Stephen Spielberg once said when asked which of his movies is his favorite? He replied, “The one I’m working on now.” Similarly, I’m excited about the stories I’m working on at this time. I say stories, because I’m usually juggling more then one in different stages; from kicking around ideas to near completion. Here are some of my inspirational snapshots.

I’ve begun research on a nonfiction picture book. I can’t say whom, but I’m amazed no one has written a children’s book about this person. History and people fascinate me. The key in writing nonfiction is to find that magical moment to enter into their life. And, EVERYONE’S invited on February 12th to celebrate with me at The Green Umbrella launch party–details on my website. Also, The Green Umbrella party is globe trekking—the story will be translated into German, Chinese, Slovenian, and I hope to visit!

From Maral: The Green Umbrella, my first picture book is coming out very soon, and I am really excited about that! SO EXCITED! And nervous too — I will be giving my first book events. One offshoot of preparing for this is going to see other children’s book creators presenting their new books — Barney Saltzberg, LeUyen Pham and Katherine Applegate, among others. They were so entertaining and informative, I left these events feeling all revved up and inspired! I hope I can rise to the occasion, too.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of THE GREEN UMBRELLA blog tour! See the full schedule here.

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.