Embracing Imperfections: Interview With Illustrator Freya Blackwood

Freya_BlackwoodWhile reviewing Banjo and Ruby Red recently, I was instantly captivated by Australian artist, Freya Blackwood’s use of color and playful characters. It was Freya’s own trouble-making, pet chicken that inspired her to create the character Ruby Red, the chicken. (By the way a chicken is commonly referred to as a “chook” in Australia.) Her work brings an enchanting element to the stories she illustrates, and she uses a technique she calls “rough drawing” for her final illustrations that really draw the eye into the images. Today I asked her about how that technique came to be, how she goes about her creative process and what it was like to work behind the scenes on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as an Effects Technician. After reading the books she has illustrated and visiting her beautiful website, you too are sure to put Freya at the top of your list of favorite illustrators.

FB twitter

How did your artistic parents influence you creatively while growing up?

My parents are both creative and definitely unusual for a country town, so my brother and I had to learn how to cope cleo cover_swith being weird. But we were subjected to a diverse range of experiences and learned to see things a bit differently than other people around us. I guess my mother taught me a wide range of artistic skills and always fostered creative thinking, while my father provided me with an interest in design and buildings. And together they contributed to my general education in design and aesthetics.

Is your daughter, Ivy an artist too?

Ivy does have a creative spark, but I’m not sure in which area it will blossom.

What was that like for you working on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy?

The experience working on such a huge production was terrific. All around you were people doing amazing things and being part of something unique and exciting. I met some very talented designers and illustrators while working in New Zealand, so it introduced to me the idea of illustration as a career, or at least a hobby.


That really is amazing that you were able to have that experience working on an epic film. What mediums do you use for your picture books, and do you also work with digital illustration?

I generally work with watercolour on watercolour paper, but have recently greatly enjoyed using oil paints on paper. I haven’t, as yet, tried illustrating anything on the computer.

After you are presented with the text of a picture book, can you explain how the creative process works for you to illustrate the story? Are you generally given a great deal of direction by the publishers or do you typically have a lot of freedom to illustrate the way you see the story yourself?

LAB_4I will sometimes have a brief discussion with the publisher before starting a book, just so that we’re both on the same wavelength, but generally I’m given a lot of freedom. And this allows me the chance to interpret the story and make it feel like my own.

I don’t necessarily ‘see’ a story when I first read it, so for me, the process starts with lots of note making while reading the story. Once I’ve written enough to have the beginnings of visual ideas in my head, I draw very small and rough sketches, just to get the ideas out and onto paper. These drawings are often rather hard to decipher, but they help me decide what could work on each page. Hopefully by this point I will have developed ideas for a visual theme for the illustrations. From there it is a case of gradually building each page in greater detail, in a set of bigger drawings, or roughs, slowly ironing out any issues I come up against while working out a colour scheme and overall feel for the final illustrations. And then doing them!

© Copyright-  image from Look a Book (Little Hare Publishing) courtesy of Freya Blackwood

Read about Freya’s Four Stages of Drawing on her blog.

“Sometimes I’ll leave a difficult page until the very end of the process and either I’ll have solved it along the way if I’m lucky, or the pressure of having to solve it immediately does the trick!”

The thought process that goes into your illustrations really shows in your outstanding work.  Do you ever experience creative blocks when it comes to illustrating? If so, how do you manage those?

I definitely do experience creative blocks! And I’ve learned the best way to deal with them is to leave whatever I’m working on, and do something else mundane for a while. I find that my mind sorts things out if given some space. Sometimes I’ll leave a difficult page until the very end of the process and either I’ll have solved it along the way if I’m lucky, or the pressure of having to solve it immediately does the trick!


© Copyright –  image from Banjo and Ruby Red courtesy of Hardie Grant Egmont

I was so drawn to your illustrations in Banjo and Ruby Red. The way you outline your images liberally really makes them come to life. How did that technique come about for you?


That roughly drawn technique came about when illustrating Harry & Hopper written by Margaret Wild and published by Omnibus in 2009. Harry & Hopper is about a young boy and his dog, named “Hopper” because he is as jumpy as a grasshopper. I did a rough drawing of Hopper bounding up to Harry and realized I couldn’t replicate it with the same freshness for the final drawing, so my mum, who happens to be my very dedicated artistic adviser, suggested I somehow use these rough drawings as the final artworks. I simply copied the rough drawings onto watercolour paper and then paint over the top of the photocopy. The effect works very well for certain subjects. Banjo & Ruby Red had a similar feel so I deliberately kept my drawings very sketchy to give the impression of movement and excitement.

I absolutely love your technique! What did you use for inspiration for what the wonderful animal characters Banjo and Red Ruby would look like? Are they drawn from animals you have yourself?

indexRuby Red was based on our Rhode Island Red chook called Socca. Socca is a magnificent, strong, and destructive chicken and after three years of destroying my garden, I am ashamed to admit that I decided to take control of my backyard and she has gone to live with my best friend who has lots of space for roaming chickens. That was only a couple of days ago and I’m still feeling a bit sad. Banjo wasn’t based on any one dog, but a selection of dogs, mostly Kelpies and Blue Cattle dogs. He needed to be a good contrast to Ruby Red, so a black and white dog seemed the best option. Most of my drawings of dogs end up looking a bit like my whippet, Pivot, who does sad and pathetic very well.

© Copyright –  image from Banjo and Ruby Red courtesy of Hardie Grant Egmon

“After this I was desperate for bright colour and determined never to use the colours raw umber, paynes grey, or watercolour EVER again.”

I never realized a pet chicken could be so much trouble! Your use of color is brilliant in that book and really draws the eye into the illustrations. You write on your blog about the color wheel you created. Can you explain to our readers how you use that to help you illustrate?

the-treasure-boxBanjo & Ruby Red came after a very serious book called The Treasure Box, written by Margaret Wild and published by Viking in 2013. It was mostly created using two very somber colours – raw umber and paynes grey. After this I was desperate for bright colour and determined never to use the colours raw umber, paynes grey, or watercolour EVER again. So Banjo & Ruby Red was painted in oil paints. It was a fantastic change from watercolour; the colours were so vivid and didn’t dry lighter like watercolour.

I don’t actually know much about colour theory, but am slowly learning more. My mum, an art teacher, recently gave me a few colour theory classes and reintroduced me to the colour wheel and the concept of colour opposites. This theory became the basis for a book I was doing which revolved around a scenario involving lots of opposites.

colour wheel

© Copyright-  image of Freya’s color wheel courtesy of the artist

I read on your blog that you recently acquired a projector. Is that something you plan to use in your picture book illustrations?

No, not for my picture book illustrations. I’ve used a projector for producing murals before, for scaling up small drawings to wall-sized drawings. It’s lots of fun!

When you are not illustrating what do you enjoy doing most? Maudie&Bear

Well, I have an 8-year-old daughter, so I enjoy spending time with her, picnicking, visiting my parents’ farm and swimming in their dam. I’ve been learning to play the cello recently and love practicing and playing. I enjoy our quiet life in rural New South Wales.

“But most importantly, remind yourself to relax and enjoy it – the work doesn’t have to be overly perfect – if it is it can be boring to produce and to look at, whereas there’s a freshness that comes with embracing imperfections.”

It sounds like a wonderful way of life, conducive to inspiring creativity. Do you have any advice for artists who wish to illustrate children’s books?

I wouldn’t swap my job for anything else – it’s satisfying and rewarding and allows me to have a very flexible life. So it is most definitely worth the effort to get there. In terms of technique, I always recommend life drawing to improve drawing and observational skills. I also think it’s important to be able to offer something unique, unlike anyone else’s work. But most importantly, remind yourself to relax and enjoy it – the work doesn’t have to be overly perfect – if it is it can be boring to produce and to look at, whereas there’s a freshness that comes with embracing imperfections.

Freya, thank you for taking the time to share your work and fascinating creative process with our readers. I was instantly drawn to your unique and beautiful illustrations and so look forward to your next book.

Readers, visit Freya Blackwood’s website. Read my review of Banjo and Ruby Red here.  Stop by Freya’s Etsy Store.

Buy a copy of Banjo and Ruby Red. It’s one of my favorite picture books of the year; the story is just as special as the illustrations.



The Paper Doll’s House of “Miss Birdie” 1884


Cover image – Courtesy of Thames & Hudson

 The Paper Doll’s House of Miss Sarah Elizabeth Birdsall Otis, Aged Twelve

  • Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary, Middle School, Adult (Ages 9 and Up)
  • Genre:  Non-Fiction Biography/Art
  • Author/Photographer: Eric Boman
  • Publisher: Thames and Hudson
  • Publication Date: October 14, 2014
  • Binding: Hard Cover
  • Dimensions: 11″ x 9″
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 80 Pages
  • Retail: $30.00
  • ISBN: 978-0500650417


© Copyright – Image of doll house parlor

Late 19th Century Paper Doll House Brilliantly Designed by a Twelve-Year-Old

Untitled-3In 1884, at age twelve, Sarah Elizabeth Birdsall Otis decided to create her own paper doll house using collage materials she gathered from scraps of wallpaper, cuttings from mail-order catalogs, trimmings and paper cut-outs she colored. She put it all together in the format of a book, with no special regard to scale –  including bedrooms, a dining room, conservatory, kitchen and bathroom. She even made paper dolls, which she named and cataloged in labeled envelopes, and also made paper clothing and accessories for them from parasols to hats and lace collars.

The result of her efforts is an impressive display of artistry magnificently displaying the style of the period. Her eye for color and cutting wallpaper and found images in just the right places and arranging them is nothing short of remarkable. All of her impressive paper creations have been well preserved and beautifully photographed by the author in The Paper Doll’s House of Miss Sarah Elizabeth Birdsall Otis, Aged Twelve.

You’ll find the book to be of the highest quality in binding, paper, printing and photography.

© Copyright – Image of doll house bedroom – Courtesy of Thames & Hudson


© Copyright – Image of doll house child’s bedroom

A Wealthy Girl from Long Island

Untitled-3Sarah Elizabeth Birdsall Otis was the youngest of three girls living with her parents on Long Island in the village of Bellport, in a grand Greek Revival mansion. Birdie’s mother had inherited a great deal of money from her family and purchased the 125 acres of land the house, named Near-the-Bay, still sits upon. Her wealth meant that her husband did not have to work, so he tended to the house, keeping a detailed journal of his chores. Growing up, Birdie observed all tasks relating to the mansion and the countless hours of decorating that took place. This set the stage for her to create a house of her own at the age of twelve, albeit a paper doll house.

© Copyright – Image of doll house bedroom -Courtesy of Thames & Hudson

Eight Paper Dolls and Four Pages of Costumes Included

As if the book itself weren’t enough to entertain readers, eight of Birdie’s named paper dolls have been recreated, waiting to be punched out, along with four pages of richly-colored costumes for dressing them up. These will provide hours of fun for any paper doll enthusiast.


© Copyright – Image paper dolls and clothing included with every book

What This Book Teaches

Readers get a glimpse into late 1880s America – not just the style of houses and clothing, but also the way of life for the elite. Historic images of Birdie’s house and family members set the stage for children to envision this era. It makes them appreciate the style and grace of an earlier time in our great nation as well as the modern conveniences of today. In addition to teaching readers about design and architecture they also learn about the fascinating life of Birdie, who grew up to be a wife, mother, playwright, suffragette and President of the Girl Scouts.


© Copyright – Image of accessories for the paper dolls wonderfully photographed on a black background courtesy of Thames & Hudson

Why You Must Buy This Book

Paper dolls have been around since the early 1800s and are just as appealing to girls today as they were 200 years ago.  I recall playing with paper dolls as a child with my sister for hours on end. We were so excited to carefully punch the dolls out of the cardboard, name them, dress them up and play make believe. None I ever played with were as glorious as those created by Birdie.

Birdie’s paper doll house represents the hopes and dreams of a twelve-year-old girl living in America during the 19th century. Her vivid imagination and incredibly keen eye are sure to inspire readers to create their own doll houses from found paper, perhaps reflecting a more modern view. The fact that a young girl had the wherewithal and motivation to get this museum quality collage project done, 120 years ago, is testament to what each and every one of us can accomplish if we just take the time to observe, let our imaginations run wild like that of a child and get to work.  The Paper Dolls House is a book worthy of a permanent place on a bookshelf in your home library.


© Copyright – Image of doll house bedroom

IMG_5747About the Author

Eric Boman is a photographer and writer, whose work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and House & Garden. His publications include Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel. He lives in New York in a house that coincidentally once belonged to one of Birdie’s aunts. In the back of  The Paper Dolls House  is a most interesting explanation of how he came to write and photograph this outstanding book.

Further Learning

  1. Learn more about the history of paper dolls.
  2. Visit the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society website.
  3. Visit the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.

For more unique and outstanding children’s books and adult non-fiction, visit the Thames & Husosn website.


The Green House on the Prairie: An In-Depth Interview with Children’s Book Illustrator Cathy Morrison

Morrison1408-011 copyI recently reviewed The Prairie That Nature Built (Dawn Publications), written by Marybeth Lorbiecki and illustrated by Cathy Morrison. Cathy’s digital illustrations are so incredibly detailed and her beautiful depictions of the prairie are so authentic, I asked her if she’d share some insights into her enviable artistic talents. After reading what Cathy has to say about her work and her idyllic studio in the mountains of Colorado, you’re sure to be inspired.

© Copyright – Image of Children’s Book Illustrator Cathy Morrison

Can you tell us a bit about where you live in Colorado? You must find the scenery incredibly inspiring.

I live in an area called Glacier View Meadows in the foothills northwest of Fort Collins  – elevation is about 7,600 ft. My husband, Andy Brown and I both work from home so we are able to live almost any place as long as we have access to the Internet. When our kids were young we’d come camping and hiking in this area and always enjoyed it. And being close to Ft. Collins, a college town was attractive as well.

view of sunset at cabin

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison – A view of the Colorado sunset, one of Cathy’s many inspirations

I understand you built a green home too.

When we decided to buy land and build we knew sustainability and energy efficiency were important to us. We wanted to leave a small footprint and keep the land as natural as possible because the building process can really decimate the land. Our home is built from SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels) and is passive solar with radiant heating. Living here is very comfortable and fits our lifestyle. Here are some photos of the building of our home on our contractor’s website. And since I spend so much of my time working I really wanted a well functioning and comfy studio with an amazing view.

Studio with my view (and mess on my desk)

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison – The mountain view from Cathy’s studio near Fort Collins, CO.

Do you ever draw or paint outside your amazing studio?

I love to travel and have a small drawing tablet I bring with me on trips. A couple of years ago I went to the Lake District in England for a Kindling Words writing/illustrator retreat. After that I went to Bangkok where my husband was freelancing for a start-up television company. While I was there I was illustrating Nature Recycles and got to see and touch Asian elephants. Most of my research was done online but there’s nothing like being up close and personal and seeing the real thing. My daughter who was a recent film graduate from CU in Boulder went along as well and actually got a full time job with the company.

“I got a great art education, developed a strong work ethic and tough skin as well. All that comes in handy as a freelance artist because you can get a lot of rejections before landing a contract.”

That was certainly a bonus for your daughter! How old were you when you realized you had a talent for art?

I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. My family and teachers always encouraged me and nobody tried to tell me I couldn’t or shouldn’t be an artist. I went to East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas (now Texas A&M) and earned a double major in fine arts and education along with a teaching certificate for K-12. We had an amazing staff of teachers, Lee Baxter Davis, Jack Unruh, Gerard Huber, Charles McGough, others as well. They pushed hard and demanded a lot from their students. I got a great art education, developed a strong work ethic and tough skin as well. All that comes in handy as a freelance artist because you can get a lot of rejections before landing a contract.

TLIYL spread 8LR

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison – Inside spread from This Land is Your Land by Catherine Ciocchi (Arbordale Publishing)  

Do you think a person has to have natural talent to become an artist?

I have a lot of friends who are artists and I see them enjoying the process of creating, being very hard working and focused. It’s like anything else, the more you do something, the better you get over time. Nobody starts out being great, but you do develop, grow and find your niche. So I think that it’s really important to expose kids when they’re young to a lot of different experiences. Encourage them when they find that creative spark or whatever that “thing” is they like to do, whether it’s art, music, science, math or sports for that matter.

I like your philosophy, because many people are under the impression that you can’t develop into a good artist if you don’t have the natural ability. You started your career in animation, so what happened to change your focus on illustrating children’s books?

Right out of college I got a job with K&H Productions, an animation studio in Dallas, Texas, as an in-betweener. I interviewed with Tom Young, the head of the art department and showed him my big fine arts portfolio. I knew absolutely nothing about animation. He said as long as I could draw he could teach me everything I needed to know. I was there for five years and still stay in touch with many friends from those days. The animation field is a pretty tight knit community.

 DT spread 13 LR(flopped)© Copyright by Cathy Morrison – Inside spread from Dino Tracks written by Rhonda Lucas Donald (Sylvan Dell Publishing)

While working at K&H I took a trip to Colorado Springs and fell in love with the state. That was around Thanksgiving and by the end of that year I had quit my job and moved to Colorado and started freelancing as an editorial/advertising illustrator. Looking back, I must have been very naïve but that leap of faith worked out for me. I met my husband there and eventually we moved from Colorado Springs to Denver and I started Big Chief Graphics, a small graphics design and illustration studio working with cable companies, hospitals, restaurants, advertising agencies, etc. I kept that business until I had my two children, downsized and began working from home, and became interested in illustrating children’s books.

What traditional media did you use before switching to digital illustrations?

I worked with black and white pencil and colored pencil for a lot of my early work. While living in Pennsylvania I took a watercolor class in botanical illustrations from Anna B. Francis at Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square. I mainly switched to watercolor at that point.

How long have you been creating digital illustrations?

I’ve been working digitally for about 8 years now.

Can you briefly explain how your digital illustrations are made?

I illustrate on a Wacom Cintiq, which is a graphic monitor that I draw directly on with a pressure-sensitive pen. It’s actually the same process as drawing on paper, but I use a couple of software programs, Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop which allow me to work in oils, pastel, watercolor, any art medium. It’s great because I can work in layers (actually it’s a similar process to how we worked in the animation studio with a main character isolated on an acetate cell and that would be positioned on top of a background painting. Most publishers need certain characters pulled out of the background and used for game apps, teaching guides, or marketing materials, things like that. Plus it’s much easier for revisions.

Crowley on ARCs & publishing promos copy

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison – Cathy’s dog, Crowly, at home in her studio

What did you use for perspective to create your illustrations? Did you go out into the prairie, use photos, etc?Prairie spread 26&27LR

I use the Internet a lot for research, plus go to the library as well. For Prairie, I needed to give my art director and editor at Dawn Publishing the names of all of the plants and animals that are in the illustrations to make sure that I was accurately showing life on the prairie. They have researchers who fact check things if there are questions. Also, I walk my dog, Crowley, twice a day and as I worked on the book I noticed things that I usually wouldn’t pay attention to during our walks; These were things like little details about the birds, wildlife, rocks, flowers, drifts of grasses and rolling hills, vistas. I just became more aware of my environment in general. So both my local surroundings and my dog, Crowley are in the book.

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison- Cathy used her own dog for inspiration for this inside spread, from The Prairie That Nature Built (Dawn Publications)

Prairie spread 20-21LRI was extremely impressed with your depictions of fire, rain and lightning in The Prairie That Nature Built. How did you achieve that level of depth?

Showing fire and lightning is difficult for me. I basically just kept working at it until I liked how it looked. I looked at a lot of reference and realized there wasn’t a right or wrong way to show fire and lightning; it’s always a different experience. I wanted to portray the feeling you get more than concern myself with realism.

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison-  Inside spread, from The Prairie That Nature Built (Dawn Publications)

“I knew absolutely nothing about prairies before seeing the manuscript. I didn’t even realize I lived on a short grass prairie before researching this book.”

The imagery is really amazing! Did you learn anything you didn’t know about prairies while illustrating the book?

I knew absolutely nothing about prairies before seeing the manuscript. I didn’t even realize I lived on a short grass prairie before researching this book. There’s a Prairie Primer in the back section of the book that goes into a lot of detail. It says that prairies are crucial habitats for the health of the planet. I hate to admit it but this was a new concept for me and a real light bulb moment.

I felt the same way when reading the book. There’s a wealth of information there not often discussed.

Think of all the attention that we’ve given to disappearing rainforests and I am seeing signs of our prairies getting that same recognition now. Only 4% of North America’s original grasslands still exist, which is shocking but I realize how easily this happens. The beauty of the prairie and the mountain views are mainly why I chose to live here, so I realize I’m also part of the problem. At least I’m aware now and can hopefully do something to help.

What was the process like making the app for the book?PRAIR_COVER

Malachi Bazan with Dawn Publications creates the app. In the artwork I tried keeping certain elements on separate layers to make his life a little easier when he needed to make an animal move. But Malachi is the one who brings the art to life, integrating animation and interactivity. This will be the first time one of my books has included a game app so I’m excited about it.

Apps are certainly becoming an important part of publishing. What advice do you have for another artist who is thinking about illustrating digitally?

So many illustrators work digitally now and personally I love it, and even in the beginning it was pretty intuitive for me. If you want to work in publishing I think that working digitally is a huge benefit; it saves time, money and potential frustrations for the illustrator and publisher.


DL spread 13 LR

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison – Inside spread from Daisylocks, written  by Marianne Berkes (Arbordale Publishing)

When you’re not illustrating what do you most like to do?

I have many hobbies. I love to garden and walk with my dog. Gardening is really cathartic and lots of artists are gardeners. I’ve always grown flowers – mostly drought-tolerant perennials and native wildflowers. And this summer I had my first vegetable garden as well.

I’m in a book group, “Text in the City” that is made up of all women artists. We meet approximately every six weeks and our book selections vary but should be related to art in one form or another. The group has been going strong for almost twelve years now. There are photographers, teachers, sculptors, painters, graphic artists, writers, etc. It’s a very fun group and we’re very supportive of each other.

P&P spread 14 & 15LR

© Copyright by Cathy Morrison- Inside spread from Pitter and Patter, written  by Martha Sullivan (to be published by Dawn Publishing)

Your lifestyle seems very conducive to the creative process.

There are hectic times too, but volunteering helps keep me sane. I volunteer at the Science and Discovery Museum in Ft Collins. Mostly I work with the education department, with school groups on field trips. Sometimes I’ll create a poster or some illustrations or activity sheets for kids. Last year I helped out coordinating with the museum and Read Aloud Colorado to develop an event for Children’s Book Week. This year I also started volunteering for Tavelli Elementary school in Ft Collins where my grandson attends kindergarten. They are a STEAM school, (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Being around these kids is very energizing.

Cathy all those children whose lives have been touched by  your awe-inspiring talents are so fortunate. Thank you so much for taking us inside your artistic mind and sharing with us your passions for art and nature. Your work is sure to move many who see it and inspire children to learn to draw and want to read more. I can’t wait to see your next book!

Thank you so much Debbie for reviewing The Prairie That Nature Built and doing this interview. I love your blog, Smart Books for Smart Kids and appreciate all you’re doing to bring attention to the world of children’s books.

Readers, I highly recommend you follow Cathy’s Studio With A View blog. Whether you are an artist yourself, wish to be one or just appreciate outstanding work, you’ll be inspired there. Buy a copy of The Prairie That Nature Built.

FB twitter

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for children’s book reviews, interviews and giveaways.

Two New Titles in the Cool Series: Cool Art & Cool Astronomy

Cool Art


Cover image courtesy of Pavilion Books

Cool Art: 50 Fantastic Facts for Kids of All Ages

•    Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary, Middle & High School (Ages 10 and Up)
•    Genre: Non-Fiction Art
•    Author: Simon Armstrong
•    Publisher: Pavilion Books Group
•    Publication Date: November 1, 2014
•    Binding: Hardcover
•    Dimensions: 8″ x  6″
•    Printing: Full Color
•    Length: 112 Pages
•    Retail: $14.99
•    ISBN:978-1909396425

FB twitter

Note: These titles will be available November 1, 2014, but it’s not too early to reserve copies today of  Cool Art  and Cool Astronomy.

“No matter how original you think you may be, everything you have ever thought of has already been done. But don’t worry – in art that doesn’t matter. It’s how YOU do it that makes a difference.”

 Never too Young to Be an Art Enthusiast

Think of Cool Art as a crash course in everything art related. Don’t let the compact size of this book fool you; it’s loaded with so much great information, it’s impossible to tell you all that’s in here. Using doodles, offset boxes, circles and arrows, illustrations of paintings and artists. Cool Art introduces readers to: different art movements throughout history from the Stone Age to Postmodernism; overviews of well known artists with a bit of history and details about their styles of painting,; how photography can be art; how messages are sent through the brain using art; the best art museums in the world; fashion as art; performance art; the value of art and much more. There’s even an A to Z Art Glossary in the back of the book.


Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.17.25 PM

 © Copyright Inside spread courtesy of Pavilion Books

Why You Should Read This Book

Besides being a totally cool book,Cool Art is packed with fascinating facts. It’s fun, easy and interesting to read, and really gives children a lovely introduction to the world of art. Those who read it will have a new appreciation for art and artists and understand the different art movements we so often hear about. Perhaps the best thing about  Cool Art is that when readers visit art museums, they’ll have a whole new and much richer art experience than they did before reading the book. Art is an important part of education, not just creating it ourselves, but comprehending what it means and appreciating its beauty.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.17.23 PM

© Copyright Inside spread courtesy of Pavilion Books

Cool Astronomy


Cover image courtesy of Pavilion Books

Cool Astronomy: 50 Fantastic Facts for Kids of All Ages

•    Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary, Middle & High School (Ages 10 and Up)
•    Genre: Non-Fiction Science
•    Author: Malcom Croft
•    Publisher: Pavilion Books Group
•    Publication Date: November 1, 2014
•    Binding: Hardcover
•    Dimensions: 8″ x  6″
•    Printing: Full Color
•    Length: 112 Pages
•    Retail: $14.99
•    ISBN:978-1909396418

“There may well be 200 billion stars in our galaxy, so there’s plenty for you discover! Can you name the nearest star to earth?Ask a friend and see if they know the answer. Many people will try to guess names of stars they may know, like Alpha Centauri or Betelgeuse, but they’d be wrong. The answer, obviously, is our sun.”

 So Much More Than the Stars

Using the same format as Cool Art, Cool Astronomy takes the reader out of this world – so to speak – and into space.  Cool Astronomy teaches: how to look at the night sky; how telescopes work; what all the fuss is about with the big bang; gravity’s role in the universe,; the solar system basics; about the nearest stars and the strangest planets; about famous astronomers; all about asteroids, satellites, the International Space Station and much more.  There are activities too including an experiment to defy gravity, building a space rocket, creating a solar system and making your own crater. There’s also a glossary in the back of the book.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.17.07 PM

© Copyright Inside spread courtesy of Pavilion Books

Why You Should Read This Book

I’ve yet to read another book for kids about the universe that is so compact and yet so informative. There’s a little bit about a lot of subjects under the astronomy umbrella. Despite the fact that rocket science can be an intimidating subject, the reading here is light, informative and fascinating. The author never talks down to the reader, and he uses language that keeps kids wanting to turn the page to learn more. Cool Astronomy shows us that the universe is an important and compelling subject, and kids are not too young to explore it. Taking science and making it fun and fascinating is the best way to create future scientists.Cool Astronomy will open doors and minds  to the knowns and unknowns of the universe, and inspire children to want to soak it all in.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.16.59 PM

 © Copyright Inside spread courtesy of Pavilion Books

Buy Cool Art

Buy Cool Astronomy

Be sure to buy the other two titles in the Cool Series:





When Emily Carr Met Woo: Based on a True Story


Cover Image Courtesy of Pajama Press

When Emily Carr Met Woo

•    Targeted Audience: Preschool, Lower & Upper Elementary (Ages 5-10)
•    Genre: Non-Fiction Picture Book
•    Author: Monica Kulling
•    Illustrator: Dean Griffiths
•    Publisher: Pajama Press
•    Publication Date: August 15, 2014
•    Binding: Hard Cover
•    Dimensions: 9″ x  10.5″
•    Printing: Full Color
•    Length: 32 Pages
•    Retail: $19.95
•    ISBN: 978-1927485408

FB twitter

A Biography for the Youngest Readers

If you haven’t noticed that authors no longer talk down to young readers like they tended to do in the olden days, where on earth have you been? What’s most exciting about this progress is that there are now early reader versions of books previously available only to older readers. The new wave of biographies for young children is so exciting, I just can’t pass up a chance to read any and all that come my way.


© Copyright – Inside Spread Image Courtesy of Pajama Press

An Eccentric Woman With a Pet Monkey

Emily Carr is a most unusual lady. She lives in a tiny mobile house on wheels deep in the forest. She loves to paint, but no one wants to buy her paintings. She loves animals too and has dogs, cats, a parrot and even a rat at home. One day, while at the pet store, she falls in love with a monkey in a cage and trades one of her puppies for the monkey with pet store owner. She names that primate, Woo, and together and they fast become terrific friends. But living with a monkey has its challenges, and Woo gets into some trouble that threatens her life. With Emily’s care and affection, along with some medicine from the vet, can Woo survive?

 More About The True Life Story of Emily Carr

In the back of the book is a summary about Emily Carr’s life. She was born in 1871 and died in 1945. She lived in British Columbia and attended art school. She loved to paint outdoors, but because no one wanted to buy those paintings, she did whatever she could to make ends meet. She built a house and rented out the rooms, bred dogs and sold pottery.  Nearly 70 years after Emily Carr’s death, one of her paintings sold for $3.39 million. Today there are galleries that display her work and even an art school named after her.


© Copyright – Inside Spread Image Courtesy of Pajama Press

Why You Should read This Book

It’s wonderful that children can learn about Emily Carr, a Canadian woman with such an interesting and eccentric life. When Emily Carr Met Woo opens the door to discussion about dealing with rejection. Emily’s story teaches readers about being resourceful too, and also that each of us should celebrate whatever it is that makes us unique.

Artist Dean Griffiths does a wonderful job depicting Emily Carr and Woo with his watercolor illustrations. You’ll love the book cover, as there is both a photograph and a painting of Emily and her monkey, and Dean really captures their likeness in his artwork. He also does a great job interpreting her paintings. You and your child will love the old photo of Emily Carr and her tiny mobile home in the back of the book.

Buy When Emily Carr Met Woo

Read my Review of Monica Kulling’s book, The Tweedles Go Electric

ph_mkullingAbout the Author

Monica Kulling is the author of over forty books for children, including the popular Great Idea series, stories of inventors. The third book in the series, In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up, was nominated for the 2012 Governor General’s Award for illustration and chosen as the 2012 Simon Wiesenthal Honor Book. In addition, Monica’s work has been nominated for numerous Silver Birch Express and Golden Oak awards. Her recent picture books include Lumpito and the Painter from Spain and Mister Dash and the Cupcake Calamity. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto, Canada.

About the IllustratorD.Griffiths-127x180

Dean Griffiths is a popular picture book artist with more than 25 titles to his name. His many awards include the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Book Prize for Maggie Can’t Wait and the Chocolate Lily Award for Ballerinas Don’t Wear Glasses. Dean’s 2012 title Lumpito and the Painter from Spain has been nominated for the SYRCA Shining Willow Award and was a Bank Street Best Book. Dean lives in Duncan, British Columbia, with his daughter.

Further Learning

  1. Learn more about Emily Carr and her paintings from the Vancouver Art Gallery.
  2. Teach your child why monkeys don’t make good pets.
  3. Read bout other artists who had to deal with rejection during their lifetimes.