Interview: Deborah Diesen

[Text from my Q&A column in Story Monsters Ink Magazine, Feb 2018, check out SMI here!]


Q & A with Deborah Diesen, author of The Pout-Pout Fish series!

Deborah, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for all our Story Monsters! The Pout-Pout books have been a staple in our house since my daughter was born, and we recently added The Not Very Merry Pop-Pout Fish as a holiday treat this year!

Pout-Pout fanatics know how our favorite lovable and grumpy fish turns it all around in the end for a happy ending. What was the inspiration for your Pout-Pout character? Where did our unlikely yet utterly-relatable champ come from?

Many years ago, my elder son, who was a toddler at the time, was having a pouty day. I tried to cheer him up by making an exaggerated pouty face at him. He smiled, and then he made a pouty face back at me. We both started laughing and I said, “We look like fish. Like pout-pout fish!” And just like that, the idea appeared. Mr. Fish has been swimming around in my head ever since!

The illustrations (by the fabulous Dan Hanna) are so captivating – how much art direction did you have on the original project and how on earth did you ever explain your idea for the sulky yet adorable fish?

Dan’s art is amazing, and the series wouldn’t exist without his talent and vision. As we began work on the first book, I provided no art direction to Dan. I wasn’t actually sure what Mr. Fish looked like! But as soon as I saw Dan’s illustrations? I said, “That’s it, exactly!”

At events and book signings, I’m sure you hear “I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book…” Any words of advice you’d like to give our readers?

I typically give four pieces of advice to would-be authors (and I regularly repeat the same advice to myself).

  1. Writing grows from reading. The more you read, the more you understand about story structure, plot, character development, and use of language.
  2. Meet with other writers to receive feedback on your work. Writing starts as a solitary activity, but it develops from the input and encouragement of others.
  3. All aspects of the writing process, from first drafts to revision to finding a publisher, require doses of hard work, and you’ll occasionally be doused by discouragement along the way. So commitment to your craft is crucial.
  4. Have fun! Enjoy what you’re doing. That will always improve your writing.

Your latest release, The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully-Bully Shark just came out this fall! Any behind the scenes tidbits or interesting facts on this new addition to the Pout-Pout family that our Story Monsters might love to know?

When I was writing The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully-Bully Shark, I felt a little stuck for a while, because I wasn’t entirely sure how I wanted the story to unfold. So I just skipped ahead and wrote the ending first! That made it easier to go back to the beginning and see where I was headed. The writing got easier after that.

“We are kind. We are fair. We are all potential friends. So we speak up when we need to – that’s how bullying ends.” 

With the full and mini versions of his adventures available, our favorite gloomy hero has a dozen books out now – as well as an adorable stuffed animal – since that first release in 2008! How has Pout-Pout evolved through you? What would you like to see Pout-Pout swim towards as he celebrates his tenth birthday?

As I’ve written Mr. Fish’s stories, I’ve learned something new with each adventure. I look forward to continuing to learn as I write, exploring topics such as how to fall asleep, what to do with good advice, how to handle anger, and how to clean up the ocean. I’m delighted and grateful that so many children, families, teachers, librarians, and more have welcomed The Pout-Pout Fish books into their lives. A writer and an illustrator may create a book, but it takes readers to bring books to life!


Deborah Diesen is the author of many children’s beautiful picture books, including the favorite Pout-Pout series kicked off by the NYT-bestselling The Pout-Pout Fish. Connect with amazing Deborah Diesen through her website!


Julianne Black has written and illustrated several books, including Sleep Sweet the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book. She is an internationally recognized graphic artist, fine artist and author. She can be reached at


Interview: Stacy McAnuity

[ This is the text from the interview that was published in the December 2017 issue of Story Monsters Ink Magazine, check out the magazine here! ]



Stacy McAnuity is BRAVE. Not just “brave” (as in the regular old lowercase version) but really BRAVE. The kind of BRAVE that leads the team! The BRAVE that never gives up! The BRAVE that fights the toughest battles, and faces – gasp – kindergarten school groups! She’s also the author of Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years, Beautiful, Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite, 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath, as well as The Dino Files and the Goldie Blox series.

I reached out to her after reading her latest release BRAVE (didn’t see that coming did you?) and I had to ask how it all came about. And also, how does one have “2.5 dogs”? These are the burning questions that keep me up a night, you know!

  • Stacy, I loved BRAVE! It is just the kind of book you want to share with all the kids of all the world! On your website you mention you are a mom of three, was there an incident or event that sparked the idea for BRAVE?

Thank you! I love sharing my book with readers. I can’t say that there was one specific incident that sparked Brave. But as a mom of three, I get to see almost daily how bravery is different for every kid. My one daughter gets very nervous speaking in front of the class. My other daughter hates heights. I wanted to show how being brave is different for each of us but also kind of the same. We will all be faced with challenges and choices. No one is exempt.

  • BRAVE is so beautifully distilled into bitesize concepts of kindness and self esteem, what was your process in creating your BRAVE recipe?

Brave is a follow up to my 2016 title, Beautiful. The editor for Beautiful asked me to create my own definition of beauty. So when we started working on Brave, I wanted to do the same thing. Now my definition is not of Merriam-Webster caliber. This is simply what it means to me, and what I was trying to show in the book.  Brave: listening to your heart and doing the right thing, especially when nervous or afraid. I used this definition along with super-hero language to create the text.

  • The text and illustration go together like cake and ice-cream- how much say did you have in choosing the scene for each page?

What a yummy analogy! Joanne’s art is delicious. She’s done a fabulous job bringing Brave and Beautiful to life. In the manuscript, I did make a suggestion for every page. I had to do this for me, to help me visualize the book. I’m not certain how many of my illustration notes were shared with Joanne. Some scenes match what I’d pictured, and some are completely different (and better!) than I imagined. Brave is a collaboration of writer, illustrator, editor, and art director.

  • I noticed you worked with the same illustrator (Joanne Lew-Vriethoff) on Beautiful, are there additional collaborations in the works?

The final book is this definition series is Love. That will be out in late 2018. In Beautiful, the text sounds like an old-fashion etiquette guide for girls, then we twist it to give it a modern meaning. Brave uses super-hero lingo but shows kids stepping up.  In Love, we tap into Valentine’s-Day language and redefine what love means.

  • Your website does a great job of showcasing your work as well as providing resources, but I have to admit I got tripped up. Do you have 2.5 dogs (as mentioned in your bio) or 3 dogs (as mentioned in your “About Me”)? Might one have been halved in some hopefully painless fashion or is just half the size of the other two? Is the dog ok? Your fans need to know!

You’re right! Readers do want to know. When I go to schools, I’m always asked what I mean by 2.5 dogs. The half refers to our new puppy. When Munchkin joined the family in January, and she was only four pounds. Now, she’s twenty-two pounds, but since my other two dogs are over seventy pounds, she’s still half a dog by our household standard. Rest assured, each dog has a head, four legs, and a tail. And each is ridiculously spoiled.

  • What kinds of reactions are you getting from schools about BRAVE? It is so perfectly timed with the anti-bullying movement gaining awareness.

It is fun and interesting to talk about Brave with students. I share the book and my definition, and then we dig deep into what it all means. Because each art spread stands alone, I ask the students, what they think is happening. How are the kids in the art being brave? What choices are being made? How do we think that kid is feeling? There’s so much to discuss and think about. There is one scene that deals directly with bullying, and it has several kids in it. We can dissect this picture and look at the roles each character is playing. It can bring up many tough questions.

  • Your school visits look like so much fun – do you have any favorite questions you have been asked by students?

There are two questions students always ask me. How old are you? (Answer: 42) Which is your favorite book that you wrote? (Answer: I don’t have a favorite. Read Mr. Fuzzbuster for more on that issue.)

Then I get the funny questions. Did you know my grandmother writes books? (Answer: No, I didn’t know your grandmother writes books.) Why are your teeth so big? (Answer: Ummm… the better to eat you with. Kidding! I’ve never threatened to eat a student.)

But the best question was asked last this month, and it was posed by a kindergartner. Do you ever get frustrated with your job? (Answer: YES! But I wouldn’t want any other job. Being an author of kids’ books is simply the best!)

Stacy_McAnulty_01 web

Stacy McAnulty is the 2017 Ezra Jack Keats Book New Writer Honor Recipient for her picture book Excellent Ed and lives in Kernersville, NC with her 3 kids, 2.5 dogs, and 1 husband. She can be reached through



Julianne Black has written and illustrated several books, including Sleep Sweet the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book. She is an internationally recognized graphic artist, fine artist and author. She can be reached at


Book Review: Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt

Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt (Author),‎ Vin Vogel (Illustrator)


Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt is a beautiful story of friendship centered around a hardship too many children face today–not having enough food. The two friends hold the secret that Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough to eat, while Sofia makes well-meaning attempts to bring her food each day.

It’s a topic difficult to talk about, especially to this age group, but Brandt spoons in just the right amount of lighthearted humor to make a typical ‘bringing awareness’ style book into a classic feel-good story about the bond between two friends.

Perfect for libraries, but better for story time, Maddi’s Fridge is a wonderful conversation opener and has the potential for some serious healing. Adorable illustrations by Vin Vogel round out the work and give it an extra dose of approachability. Certainly a keeper and magnificent grade school resource.


Book Review: I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein

I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein (Author)


I Am a Cat, illustrated and written by Galla Bernstein, is about a small house cat comparing itself to various jungle cats. While some are stronger, brighter, bigger and faster than the house cat, they do all share many feline qualities. The story not only does a great job of highlighting differences, it brings it all back around to recognize similarities. For the intended age group, it provides a double-dose of awesome. The text is perfect for beginning readers, while the concepts are so important for an early grade-school audience already preoccupied with where they fit in compared to their peers. A fun read, important concept, and beautifully illustrated, this one merits two paws up!

Book Review – Unplugged by Steve Antony

Unplugged by Steve Antony (Author)


Blip finds herself unplugged and outdoors during a blackout! For screen families like ours, Unplugged is a wonderful reminder to build more outdoor time into our busy schedules. Author and illustrator Steve Antony uses a fantastic combination of illustration materials to express the the world of computers vs the world outside. The fun animal friends are an adorable touch. We could all use a bit more Blip-ology in our life!

Book Review – When I Grow Up by Tim Minchin

When I Grow Up by Tim Minchin (Author),‎ Steve Antony (Illustrator)


Are you a fan of Tim Minchin’s Tony Award-winning Matilda the Musical? Minchin pairs the fabulously fun lyrics from the song When I Grow Up against Steve Antony’s gorgeously detailed illustrations to bring to life the fun that comes with anticipating adult life when you are young. From ice cream, candy, and cartoons to climbing trees…each page feels like summer vacation! When I Grow Up makes a great read for school or home, with each page depicting a wonderland of experience! Enjoy!


Book Review – 100 Things I Love to Do with You by Amy Schwartz

100 Things I Love to Do with You by Amy Schwartz (Author)


100 Things That Make Me Happy author, Amy Schwartz, does it again with the super sweet 100 Things I Love to Do with You! Told in rhyme as snippets of insight featuring the essential nature of closeness between (but not limited to) friends or siblings, this book would be an especially big winner in families where a second child was on the way. Focused on the enjoyment of micro-moments in time, Schwartz does an equally amazing job with the illustrations to create an overall feeling of intimacy by celebrating simple acts of mindfulness. A joy to read and share!

INTERVIEW: Lesléa Newman

See my interview in this month’s Story Monsters Ink Magazine!

I had the amazing opportunity to interview Lesléa Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies and her latest title Sparkle Boy. Come on, you remember Heather Has Two Mommies – it was the second most controversial topic of the 90’s. Falls in right there with the O.J. car chase fiasco.

Her latest book, Sparkle Boy, is a story about choosing what makes you happy, sticking with it, and being loved for it. We watch the main character interact with his family over his decisions to wear sparkly clothes and accessories. Each character illustrates another layer of acceptance that diversity needs to wipe away to allow its shine to come through. The main character’s older sister, is an example of any kid (or adult) struggling with what it means to let go of a stereotype. But once  gone, acceptance makes way for something much bigger. Love.

Can you tell me a bit about your new book Sparkle Boy as a stream of consciousness? 

I am the type of author who takes a long time to get an idea, but once I have an idea and it “takes” inside me, I write pretty quickly. That’s because I get obsessed. Once I have a solid first draft, I pester the book endlessly until I feel that I’ve gotten it right. Usually this takes at least 20 drafts. Then the book is shown, first to my beloved spouse who is an excellent reader, then to the brilliant women of my writing group. And finally I send the book to my agent and we discuss where to send it. SPARKLE BOY took three years from idea to publication, which is actually pretty fast. I’ve had picture books take up to seven years to journey from idea to publication. I have a sign over my desk that says, “The reward of patience is patience” (and underneath I’ve scribbled, “But who wants to wait that long?”)

I read in your May 11th LA Times interview that Heather Has Two Mommies was in the top 10 most challenged books of the 90’s!  With gender identity being such a hot topic, are you feeling any stir around Sparkle Boy taking the same path from controversial to collectable? 

It’s too soon to tell, since the book is just coming out now. But I sure hope it becomes a classic! I think of SPARKLE BOY as Heather’s little brother. (though believe it or not, if Heather was real, she’d be about 30 years old now, maybe even with a child of her own!).

How are your responses so far from Sparkling families? They must be pretty relieved that the work is out there and available!

I recently heard from a family of two dads and a daughter. The book made one of the dads cry—in fact, I have been surprised to see many grown ups tear up while reading the book—and the little girl has asked to have the book read at bedtime for five nights in a row! Almost everyone I’ve shown the book to has told me, “I know a sparkle boy who is going to love this book.” It’s definitely a book whose time has come.

I wanted to write a book in which the adults in the family are open-minded and accepting, as Casey’s parents and Abeulita are. And I wanted to show that sometimes, it takes a while for a family member to come around, as in the case of Jessie, Casey’s older sister, who has somewhere along the way picked up the (incorrect) message that shimmery, glittery, sparkly things are only for girls. By the end of the book, Jessie is Casey’s biggest advocate. Love conquers all!

With Sparkle Boy being a very visual character, I imagine the choice of illustrator had to be very important. Can you say a few words about working with illustrator Maria Mola?

My editor and the art director worked with the illustrator, and I have to say they did an amazing job. I absolutely love the illustrations. The sparkles on the book jacket were my idea, and I have to say they add just the right touch!

As an incredibly accomplished author, I’m sure you’ve had a rollercoaster of ups and downs working in the field. Do you give your school groups any words of wisdom personal to your experiences?

Ah, words of wisdom: read, read, read. Write every day. Be kind to other writers. Believe in yourself. Never give up. I think that just about covers it.

…And any words for the wonderful Sparkle Boys out there and the people who love them?

Be yourself. (Everyone else is taken). Keep shining. The world is a brighter place because you are in it.


This book is a great way to put value on acceptance, tolerance, diversity and family, but it also opens a dialog with children about what ideas they have already come to accept as truth. My own daughter had a real problem with Sparkle Boy at first. It opened the door to a discussion I didn’t even know needed to happen. She had already begun drawing very real lines in the sand about gender, and my inner Mama Bear wasn’t digging that at all. We had a wonderful discussion about what girls and boys were expected to be vs. what the could be. I’m thrilled to have had the moment accidentally thrust upon me before her judgements cemented over time.

Sparkle Boy is a difficult subject made into a feel-good moment, and perfectly timed with current events and the struggle for our ever changing society to find common ground. As a primer for young minds to grasp the ideas of difference and inclusion, Sparkle Boy is pure gold.

Get Sparkle Boy here!


Lesléa Newman is the author of seventy books for readers of all ages. She has received many literary accolades, including poetry fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and has served as Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts, from 2008 to 2010. In addition to creating her own books, Newman teaches writing for children and young adults at Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. She wrote this book to celebrate all the “sparkle boys” she knows. Newman lives in western Massachusetts, with her spouse, Mary Vazquez.


Julianne Black has written and illustrated several books,  including Sleep Sweet the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book.  She is an internationally recognized graphic artist, fine artist and author. She can be reached at

Review: The Hug Who Got Stuck


The Hug Who Got Stuck by Andrew Newman (Author), Alexis Aronson (Illustrator)

Mom’s Choice Award-winning The Hug Who Got Stuck is an amazing visual telling of what happens in our hearts when we withhold love.

In a totally fresh allegory, The Hug Who Got Stuck creates a visual narrative for our emotional reactions to that moment we are too upset to apologize, forgive or just love who we want to love.

When the hug gets stuck in the icky web of negative feelings, the whole hug factory shuts down, and the heart grows dark. But when the hug lets go and releases itself from the negativity it can fly out to love up its intended recipient and the hugs factory starts to whirr back into business.

The illustrations are as unusual as the story itself, full of detail and meaning wrapped up in a gorgeous layered and multimedia collage. Complete with a hug meter tucked thoughtfully at the end, The Hug Who Got Stuck is another big winner from The Conscious Book Club!

Available on Amazon here!

Happy Reading!

Julianne Black

Hi! I am the author and illustrator of over a dozen children’s books, including the Augmented Reality enhanced Sleep Sweet, exhibited at BookExpo 2017 in NYC and being used nationwide in children’s hospitals for relaxation and distraction therapy. I’m the recipient of multiple awards for my writing and artwork, most recently the 2017 Jack London Award from the California Writers Club. My work as an internationally recognized graphic designer and digital/print promotion specialist with clients including Sears, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, and Quebec’s Place Des Arts can be viewed worldwide. I’ve been published several years in a row in ComicCon International’s Souvenir book, Art 278, Story Monsters Ink Magazine, and multiple travel and trade publications.

I started BookTurnip because I am passionate about children’s literature! Reviewing new releases and interviewing the amazing minds behind them fires up my own creativity and helps fuel my passion for spreading the word on great books keep up with me by subscribing to the blog and check out my own site at