Interview with Author/Illustrator Abi Cushman

Abi Cushman

Thanks for joining us, Abi! Your new book ANIMALS GO VROOM is so fun! What is your process like
creating new stories as an author/illustrator? Do you write the story first, or do
you start with an illustration then build a story around it?

Thanks, Cassie! The idea behind ANIMALS GO VROOM! started with this drawing in my

I got to thinking about animals and vehicles making the same sound. As I was coming up with
more animal/vehicle sound combinations, I realized that I could make a chain-of-events type
story: the roaring truck could drop some tacks on the road which would cause the hiss of the flat
tire of the car behind, etc.

With my debut picture book, SOAKED!, it started out with a concept first. I got stuck in the rain
and thought about how my attitude about the rain changed after getting soaked in a storm, even
though the rain didn’t subside. I wrote down that idea and started drawing images of a very
soggy bear in my sketchbook.

So whether I start the story with a picture or with a concept, either way I make doodles in my
sketchbook to try to flesh out a story. I usually draw and write snippets of text at the same time,
thinking about how the words and pictures will interact. The scenes are usually not in order
when I start. Trying to piece everything together into a story comes later in the process.

What inspired you to write this particular book?

I was reading a ton of board books and novelty books with my son who was a toddler at the
time. He has always loved transportation books as well. So when I came up with the idea for
ANIMALS GO VROOM!, which would have peekaboo windows AND cars and trucks, I knew I
had to try it.

Onomatopoeia plays a big role in your story. What is your favorite onomatopoeic

I think my favorite one is Squeak, because by that point a lot of kids have figured out the pattern
of the book, but they probably won’t guess what’s making the squeaking sound. I also think it’s
fun because it’s a small, quiet sound unlike most of the sounds in the book.

Was it easy to find an agent you were excited to work with or was it a long

I started querying in 2015, and I spent about 6 months working with an agent at BookStop
Literary on revisions to my story before she offered representation. That story ended up not
selling and so I made a new picture book dummy, which we extensively revised together, and
that didn’t sell either, though we had some close calls. After that, she decided to leave agenting,
and I was devastated. Two years had passed since I had started writing and illustrating stories,
and I didn’t have a book deal, an agent, or a new story to submit.

But Kendra Marcus, the owner of BookStop Literary, offered to take a look at my new stories
and see if we were a good fit. So I got back to work on some new stories and submitted two to
her. She gave me feedback, and I decided to focus on revising one of them. That story was
SOAKED!, and we ended up selling it to Viking in 2018.

And ever since then, I’ve had a really solid working relationship with Kendra. She knows the
industry so well, so if I’m not sure about an idea, I talk to her about it first. And she really helps
me polish up my stories to get them ready for submission; she’s a very editorial agent. She is
encouraging, but will also be very direct and honest about things she doesn’t think are working.
And that’s what I need.

Tell us about your journey to publication! I am most curious if you pitched the
book with the die-cuts, or did that addition come later in the publishing process?

Yes! The concept for ANIMALS GO VROOM! always had die-cuts. Here are a couple spreads
from my initial mini dummy. This is what I showed to my critique group. You can see the
drawings are REALLY rough, but it’s just enough for them to get the idea of what I’m going for.

After I revised the story and polished up the drawings, Kendra pitched the story to my editor at
Viking, Tracy Gates. I wasn’t sure if she’d be on board with a book with novelty elements
because I didn’t think Viking published many of them (if any). I was thrilled when she said yes.
When I started working on the logistics of the die-cuts with Jim Hoover, the art director at Viking,
he pointed me to THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY by Simms Tabek,
another picture book with die-cut holes, published by Viking.

It was so helpful to look at this book when I was thinking about the shapes and sizes of the
die-cuts in my book.
[Spreads from ANIMALS GO VROOM!]

Where is your favorite place to write?

I actually write at my desk in my office in front of my computer, but I’m not usually using my
computer. I write by hand in a sketchbook so I can also doodle pictures at the same time.

What advice would you give to aspiring author/illustrators?

Keep writing more stories. Eventually one of them will resonate with the right editor at the right
time. Find a critique group that you trust. It’s so important to learn and grow as a writer and
illustrator with good critiques, but the people in your critique group should also be reading and
analyzing current children’s books. You don’t want to listen to advice from just anyone- they
have to get what you’re trying to do and also have a good understanding of the craft.

Your 2020 book, SOAKED, received lots of praise! What was it like finding out you
were nominated for such honors like the Keystone to Reading Elementary Book
Award, Colorado Children’s Book Award, A Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick,

It’s interesting because I actually found out about these honors from my kidlit friends. (I love the
kidlit community! Everyone is so happy to share and celebrate good news with you.) But yeah, I
was so thrilled with the recognition. You work so hard on something and hope it’ll resonate with
people. But I also feel like which books get recognized and which don’t can be sort of random.
And sometimes getting one honor leads to other people actually reading it, which leads to
another honor, and another, and so there’s a momentum there. But it doesn’t mean that the
books that didn’t get any awards or get placed on any lists weren’t also great books.

Can you tell us a hint of what we might see next from you?

I am currently working on an informational picture book that will come out in 2023. I’m really
excited about it. It’s something that I would have wanted to read when I was a kid. After that, I
have another project lined up where I’ll be illustrating someone else’s story. This will be a first for
me since all my books so far have been author-illustrator projects. I’m really looking forward to
it. It’s a fantastic story by an author I admire, and it’ll come out in 2024. I’m hoping both of these
books will be announced soon so I can share more details!

For more information on Abi and her other work (like these adorable wombats) visit

Interview with Author Nadia Salomon

Welcome Nadia! What inspired you to write GOODNIGHT GANESHA and how long did it take you to write? I saw a virtual presentation you did and I recall you being inspired by a classic story, but really putting your unique spin on it. 

My child inspired me to write GOODNIGHT GANESHA. We were reading Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, Goodnight Moon, one night. While reading, my child asked, “Why don’t we have bedtime stories with our nighttime routine in it or that showcase our culture?” I replied, “Someone hasn’t written that story yet.” And of course, the next question, “You’re a writer, why not YOU Mammie?” That night, I got the idea for GOODNIGHT GANESHA. I immediately started writing. The title came to me first, then the story. It was in October of 2017. By the time I rewrote it, revised it through my critique group, landed an agent in 2018, revised some more, and went out on sub – it was January 2019. 

Tell us about the moment you found out this book was going to be published! What was it like working with Philomel?

The moment I found out I was going to be published was quite magical. It played out like a fairytale. I happened to be at my agency’s 13th annual retreat in July of 2019 in Redwing, Minnesota. I decided to dress up that night and wore a green party gown. We were about to go into the ballroom for our dinner party, when my agent pulls me aside before I could enter the room. She reached out and took my hand. She said she had something important to tell me. It felt like she was about to propose to me. And with the biggest smile, she said, “We have an offer on Goodnight Ganesha!” I couldn’t believe my ears. We both teared up and hugged. I could barely feel my legs after that. The next morning, she emailed me, “Did you think you dreamed it?? It’s really real!!! “

It’s a moment I’ll never forget. 

Working with Philomel was such a dream. Our editor and all the teams we collaborated with took great care in respecting the story and the vision behind the book.

How long did it take you to find your agent? How did you know she was the perfect fit to champion your work? 

I don’t have an exact time, because I queried intermittently. I also queried when I had NO BUSINESS querying – meaning, my writing wasn’t ready. But from the time I joined SCBWI and felt my writing was more polished, I’d say two years.

However, the real story is… my agent found me on #Pitmad. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and the ‘force’ was with me.

I knew she was the perfect fit based on our unfiltered conversation, her vision for some of the stories I felt would be tough to work with, and her openness to my eclectic body of work.

What has it been like doing virtual and in-person school visits?

I haven’t done in-person school visits yet due to the pandemic. I have been doing virtual visits and events. I did WRAD Readings for World Read Aloud Day and a camp out with Homer Public Library. These virtual visits allowed us to be as creative as we wanted. I also mentor Mrs. Sahagian’s Kinder/First grade class with Ellington Elementary School through the #KidsNeedMentors program. We have been able to do a lot of readings, fun projects via video, and virtual meet-ups on Fridays.

I am available only for Virtual School Visits. Requests visits through my contact page on my website:

What advice would you give to aspiring kidlit authors? 

Be open to being an eternal student. There’s always room for growth and honing of your writing skills. Keep taking classes. Exchange ideas with everyone around you. Because there’s always something new to learn. And remember, even a child can be your teacher. You just have to be ‘open’.

Get cozy, cuddle up and click the image below to watch Nadia’s live storytime for GOODNIGHT GANESHA on the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s Facebook channel:

(Or click this link if you prefer:

Interview with Author Megan Clendenan

FRESH AIR, CLEAN WATER will release March 15, 2022.

Pre-order it now:

Hi Megan! It’s so great to chat with a fellow British Columbian about your forthcoming non-fiction book. Can you summarize your book for us?

If your drinking water is dangerous, your air is polluted and your soil is toxic, what can you do? Fresh Air, Clean Water: Our Right to a Healthy Environment explores the connections between our environment and our health, and why the right to live in a healthy environment should be protected as a human right. It features inspiring stories of people – including kids – who are taking their governments to court to protect both people and the planet, as well as profiles of youth activists, and actions anyone can take to make a difference in our world. 

What inspired you to write this book and how long did it take you to write? Have you always been passionate about the environment?

I have always been passionate about the environment, and spent much of my childhood outside in the woods behind my house or sitting in a tree reading a book! I was inspired to write this book because of the global movement of youth activists who are standing up for their future, such as Greta Thunberg and Autumn Peltier. As I began to research further, I found youth from across the planet who were taking action, and I reached out to many of them to interview for the book.

I believe this is an incredibly important topic as it’s a big picture look at how everything we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the materials we use every day affect our health, and that protecting the environment is also about protecting our own bodies. I had been introduced to the idea of the right to a healthy environment when I worked at an environmental law non-profit, and I have shared that rights-based approach in the book with readers. 

I worked on the draft of the manuscript and edits on and off for two years, from the time that I received news that the book would be published, to when I completed all the edits before the book went to print.

Tell us about your journey to publication! How did you connect with your agent and what has it been like working with her?

I have been very fortunate that Orca has acquired and supported several of my proposals, they are a fantastic group of book-loving people to work with. My first book with them came out in 2018; it was a fiction novel that was plucked from their slush pile. I then switched my focus to non-fiction and put together a query and then proposal for what would become Design Like Nature: Biomimicry for a Healthy Planet, co-authored with my writing buddy Kim Ryall Woolcock. That came out in March 2021 and was a ton of fun to work on as biomimicry is a fantastic and exciting topic. This year I signed with my agent and we will be working together to get more books out in the world!

I love hearing stories about being “plucked from the slush pile” that give us all hope! Tell us about the day you found out this book was going to be published. Did you already have a strong relationship with Orca after the publication of your last book?

Orca is a wonderful, supportive publisher to work with. I knew I wanted to continue working with them after such great experiences with previous books, so I prepared my query, and thankfully I got the green light to write a proposal. It took me a few month to complete my research and write the proposal. I submitted it and then I waited (there’s a lot of waiting in publishing!), as my proposal went through the acquisitions process. I was thrilled when I found out my proposal had been accepted and the book would be published, but I also got to work right away as I had a lot of research and writing to do! I was also excited to start contacting some youth activists and hear their stories. 

That’s so neat you interviewed youth activists! Was your book one of the ones impacted by the incident in BC this past month? I heard 15,000 Orca books (many by local authors) are sadly MIA after a ship caught fire off the coast of BC during a storm.

As far as I know, my books were not affected, but I’m so sorry to hear that other Orca authors’ books were lost. Local authors are such fabulous resources for a community, and so it’s great to support them as best possible! My go-to Christmas gifts for friends and family are books – there’s so many great Orca books for all ages and all styles of reader, so I encourage everyone to check out their offerings and to support local indies.

I agree, now is a great time to support Orca authors and purchase their books for the holidays! Where is your favorite place to write?

If it’s not raining, and not too chilly, I like to sit outside on my deck. I’m lucky to have trees nearby, and there’s usually a few squirrels around plus hummingbirds who visit our feeder. Otherwise, I sit at my desk, which also has a nice window where I can see the trees. I used to love going to the library to write, and as things open up more, I hope to get back to doing that more often. 

Outdoors in Beautiful BC is the perfect place to write books about the environment! What advice would you give to aspiring non-fiction kidlit authors?

Read as much as you can, both fiction and non-fiction. Read for both simple enjoyment, read for research, and read for inspiration. I find a lot of inspiration in adult non-fiction books, which often spurs me on to further research, which helps me to develop ideas for middle-grade non-fiction. I also read lots of recently released middle grade non-fiction and pay attention to the different styles and presentations. As well, if you’re interested in writing non-fiction then learning to write a proposal is a crucial skill. They take a lot of research and a lot of revisions, but it’s worth it when you have a solid proposal to send out to either agents or editors. I took several webinars to learn this skill and there’s often new ones offered if you do a little online research.

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?

I once went on a six-month long camping trip with my husband – and yes, we’re still married, even after that!

What other projects are you working on?

I’ve got a few other middle-grade projects in progress – watch my website for updates!


What’s your favorite wacky fact about the environment?

If you’ve ever wondered why digging in a garden both feels and smells good, it turns out there’s a scientific reason why! Mycobacterium vaccae is a type of bacteria found in the soil that’s sometimes known as ‘the happy bacteria’ because it helps our brains produce more serotonin, a chemical that many scientists believe is connected to the feeling of happiness. Besides boosting our mood, happy bacteria can strengthen our immune system and protect us from allergies. So there are so many wonderful reasons to get outside and play in the dirt!

Megan Clendenan
Another book by the author. Biomimicry sounds fascinating!

Interview with Author Terry Lee Caruthers

Watch the trailer for “The Big Day” by Terry Lee Caruthers, illustrated by Robert Casilla.

Purchase the book here:

Thanks for joining me Terry for my very first author interview! Happy Book Birthday – I understand THE BIG DAY just celebrated its first birthday on October 30th! Here’s your chance to brag about your book. Please give us a summary!

When Tansy’s grandmother hurries her through breakfast and a bath and dresses in her Sunday finest, the little girl wonders what’s so special about this day. As they ride the trolley, she not only learns that Big Mama is voting for the first time but why this is important. Robert Casilla’s gorgeous watercolor illustrations provide the visuals for my book The Big Day, that celebrates Agnes Sadler, the first Black woman to cast a ballot in Knoxville, Tennessee.  

How did you get the idea for your story, and how long did it take you to write?

I discovered a collection of articles about the women in Knoxville preparing for an upcoming mayoral election, after the state of Tennessee passed Woman’s Suffrage in July of 1919. Included among them were the names of the first woman to register to vote in every precinct as well as the first woman to cast a ballot in each ward on that historic day.  

When I saw Agnes Sadler’s name with no honorific title and the letters ‘col’ after her name, I realized I had discovered a lost piece of history—the name of the first Black woman to vote in Knoxville, Tennessee. As I drove home, I thought about what a ‘big day’ that had to have been for a woman descended from slaves. Being able to walk into a precinct that day and cast a ballot. Getting to finally ‘have a say.’ That evening, the idea of a little girl accompanying her grandmother to vote on such a historic occasion began to swirl.  

Knowing the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment was only four years out, I thought publishers would be receptive to the topic. Especially since there were no books that approached voting from the simplistic view of a child—and certainly not a child of color.  

It took about three months to write. Then I vetted it with Robert Booker, a prominent Black leader in the community, Civil Rights activist, author, and local historian; as well as with Renee Kesler, Director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center—Knoxville’s museum of Black history. With their blessing on its content and portrayals, I then began sending the manuscript out to publishers.  

Tell us about the day you found out your story was going to be published!

I was home, reflecting on the first anniversary of my husband’s death, when I opened my email and found an inquiry from Star Bright Books. It seemed ironic that the worst day of my life, January 30, 2017, had possibly become one of the best days in my life a year later. Because of the timing and since my husband had always championed my writing, I could not help but think he had a hand in this. 

How did you feel the first time you saw the illustrations by Robert Casilla bring your story to life?

I wept. When I wrote The Big Day, I had no preconceived notions regarding Tansy and her grandmother’s appearance. I just wrote the events of that day. It wasn’t until March of 2020 that I got my first glimpse of my characters. Star Bright Books had sent me some sketches to verify the background details. That was the first time I saw Tansy and Big Mama, and the tears flowed. 

Where is your favorite place to write?

If the temperature is ‘just right,’ I enjoy sitting in the swing outside on the screen porch. 

Tell us about your journey to publication!  How long did it take to land your book deal?

I’ve been writing for a long while and had some near misses along the way. In the 1990s, there was a small press interested in one of my picture book manuscripts; but because of a change in circumstance, they closed and returned it with apologies. I was always encouraged by the fact that many of my rejections included handwritten compliments—along with the hope I could find a publisher for the work. That’s always the puzzle. An editor or agent who likes what he or she has read enough to take the time to write a note but not enough to publish and market it. 

In 2014, I signed my first contract. It was with Schoolwide, Inc. They licensed my children’s history book, Sergeant Stubby, Soldier Dog, for their digital subscription library. While I was delighted to finally have a book under contract, it was frustrating that there would not be a physical copy of it and that the book would be limited to only those who subscribed to their program. As a career librarian, I want all the tactile experiences a book brings to the reader. It’s what I’m ‘programmed’ for. 

What was it like holding your book for the first time? 

It was magical. A visual feast. Seeing Big Mama and Tansy in their home, attending to their lives and preparing for the big day. Robert Casilla’s watercolors are breathtaking.  

What advice would you give to aspiring kidlit authors?

Never give up. The rejections are going to come. Don’t let them defeat you. See each of them as a stepping stone toward being published.  

Immerse yourself in reading. The more you read, the better writer you will be. 

And above all—and I can’t stress this enough, join an in-person writing critique group. This group setting, rather than individual beta readers, is vital. It allows for a give-and-take discussion. When a comment is raised, others chime in—agreeing and disagreeing. You are exposed to the pros and cons. Why do you need this? No matter how well you believe you write, I can tell you, you don’t. You need those outside the realm of yourself, your friends, co-workers and family to give real insight to your work. I know. I’ve been there. I was one of those who reveled in my own words, my turn of phrase, etc. And I remember the anger and the hurt from some of those first critiques, only to later realize I was wrong, and the commenters were right. The important thing to remember about critique groups is, you don’t necessarily have to make the recommended changes; but you need to think long and hard about what’s being said—particularly if it’s being mentioned by more than one person. That’s a red flag, indicating there’s a glaring problem with your work. 

In 2010, I joined my critique group; and every year, I’ve grown exponentially as a writer. How do I know? It took three years to critique my YA novel with the group. Prior to submitting it to a publisher, I sat down to review it one more time. As I read the chapters I had written three years prior, I immediately knew I had to rewrite the first half of the book before I was comfortable submitting it to a publisher. I did, and the result was a contract.

Final Question: What picture book were you obsessed with as a child?

One? You’re limiting me to one? That’s challenging. I guess I’ll have to go with a book that I still have in my possession and that is falling apart from much love over the last 61 years. The Kitten Twins by Helen Wing, illustrations by Elizabeth Webbe, and published by Rand McNally in 1960. Told in verse, it’s the story of Twinkle and Boo’s mischievous antics. 

Photo of Terry with her book, courtesy of @tlcaruthers