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For the month of May, I am excited to feature Ann Bonwill on the blog. I have used Ann's picture book THURSDAY in several sessions with children experiencing divorce or changes in their home situation and it strikes a chord with children on many levels.

Ann Bonwill enjoys writing children’s books every day of the week, but especially on Thursdays. She has lived and worked in many places, spending time as a social worker in Washington, DC, a teacher in Oxford, England, and a cinnamon bun baker in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ann is the author of multiple picture books and nonfiction books for children, including I Don’t Want to be a Pea!, illustrated by Simon Rickerty, and The Frazzle Family Finds a Way, illustrated by Stephen Gammell. She lives in Virginia with her husband, son, and rescue Shar-Pei.

THURSDAY tells the story of a young girl who learns about her parents divorce on a Thursday. Told through the point of view of her stuffed unicorn friend who steps in to help, the book shows their adventures through both cheerful moments and times when feelings are difficult.

Ann, thank you for joining us this month! I'm a big fan of your writing.

To start, can you tell us what the inspiration was for THURSDAY?

Thursday was inspired by an illustration shared with me by my agent, Marietta Zavker. The illustration is not in the book, but it showed a small character that I thought could be a toy come to life. The character inspired me to write a story from the point of view of a toy that supports its child through a difficult time. Because of this focus, Thursday is as much about being a good friend as it is about experiencing a divorce.

THURSDAY approaches the topic of divorce in such a gentle way for readers. What influenced your decision not to directly address divorce in the text?

Thursday started as a book about loss. As I wrote it, I drew on my own experiences of loss in various forms. I wanted to make the story as universal as possible, so I didn't specify why the main character was missing her parent. In my mind it could have been due to divorce, death, or even deployment. Later in the process my agent and I decided to focus on divorce and the illustrations were created with that theme in mind. At that point, I changed the text just a bit to fit the separation storyline, but I mostly kept it general. I hope that by not being too specific, more kids would be able to see themselves in the situation. I feel that the story is still ultimately about loss and change, as well as support and kindness, and in that way most everyone can relate. What was the process like from inspiration to publication?

The process was truly a collaboration between me, my agent, the talented illustrator Kayla Harren, and the editorial staff at Two Lions. It took many years to go from the spark of inspiration to the final product. With most traditionally published picture books, the illustrator is chosen by the publisher. In the case of Thursday, Kayla and I were matched by our agent, Marietta. The story then found a home at Two Lions. The book was made better by every hand that touched it each step of the way. Do you have a scene in the book that was your favorite to write or see illustrated?

I was blown away when I saw Kayla's illustration of the scene at the aquarium when the day turns from good to bad. I had imagined the main character seeing a family together, which would remind her that her own family was splitting apart. I love how Kayla made this family a family of seals. Her use of space and color on the page is striking. It perfectly captures the bittersweet moment and conveys the main character's pain and loneliness. It is a turning point in the story.

How can parents, teachers, or counselors use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

I think my books work well when read one-on-one with a child in a quiet moment. Adults can ask open-ended questions and follow the child's lead in the discussion. One idea is to ask what the characters are feeling at various points in the story. This type of question can help a child learn to express feelings in words and develop a sense of empathy. Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics?

My advice is not to shy away from topics that are meaningful to you. Kids can handle tough things. They live through difficult times in real life, and seeing these topics depicted in books can help them make sense of their own situations and understand the experiences of others. I think it is important to respect the child reader and not lecture them or talk down to them. Let the lessons arise naturally from the story without being too heavy-handed or message-y. Where can we find you to keep up with your work?

The best place to find me is my website: I love to hear from readers and writers!

Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! Readers, grab your copy of Thursday here.

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Updated: May 11, 2023

This month I have the pleasure of featuring a newly released picture book HUMPHREY THE EGG-SPLORER by Nadia Ali (YeeHoo Press, 2023).

Nadia Ali is a children’s author who writes fiction and nonfiction picture books. Her stories range from funny to fanciful to factual. She is a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 community and was honored to be a Grand Prize Winner in the #SunFunWrite Contest, a #DVPit Critique Winner and a 2021 Picture Book Party Finalist. Humphrey the Egg-splorer with illustrator Valenti Gubianas is her latest picture book.

Humphrey the Egg-Splorer is a "rollicking story that expands the famous tale of a fragile egg to a new story about bravery, creativity, and forging your own path. Eggs are fragile and bought specifically to be cracked. . . but what if they don't want to be cracked and have their own ambitions and goals for life like becoming a great egg-splorer?"

Nadia, thank you so much for taking the time to join me on the blog! Let's jump right in.

Humphrey takes a classic tale and then runs with it in a totally new way. Tell us about what inspired you with "Humphrey the Egg-splorer"!

Humphrey was inspired by reading a picture book story by Dan Santat called ‘After the Fall: How Humpty Got Back Up Again'. It sparked my imagination and I wanted to bring back the character of Humpty Dumpty to today’s generation. I thought and thought and came up with the idea of Humphrey – his grandson who wants to continue in Grandpa Humpty’s footsteps and become an egg-splorer but won’t easily crack!

What was the process like from inspiration to publication?

From the initial idea to publication, it took about a year and a half. I was un-agented when I started submitting Humphrey to publishers. It took roughly 3 months before I got a yes and then a further 3 months before a contract was signed and fortunately by then, I was represented by my agent Joyce Sweeney.

Do you have a scene in the book that was your favorite to write or see illustrated?

I am particularly fond of the double-paged spread where Humphrey is relaxing in what he thinks is a bathtub. The illustrator Valenti Gubianas did a wonderful job showing the changing facial expression of Humphrey as the water begins to boil and bubble.

What do you hope readers take away from Humphrey?

I hope that readers get the sense of not having to follow everyone else or give into peer pressure. If you have a good goal then create your own path. Be strong. Be positive. Let your adventure begin.

How can parents, teachers, or counselors use your book to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

I believe Humphrey provides many themes that parents, teachers and counsellors can discuss at a deeper level. These include bravery when Humphrey stands up to his dozen not wanting to be just another ingredient. Humphrey shows creativity in choosing different ways to become stronger. He sets a goal and is determined to become an egg-splorer. I believe, these are great points for discussion which will encourage thinking skills in a challenging world.

Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics?

When I began writing Humphrey the Egg-splorer it did not start out to be about tackling a tough topic, it is something that evolved through the revision process. That said, writing about tough topics is tough, you need to research or if possible, add your lived experience to the story. And most of all, read, read, read.

Where can we find you to keep up with your work?

Fortunately, I am NadiaAwriter across all of my social platforms. Feel free to connect!

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This month's Picture Book Therapy Thursday feature is Howard Pearlstein and his book "Sally Ann McFidgetbottom".

Howard Pearlstein is the author of 10 picture books that have been translated into five languages and an advertising copywriter who has worked on some of the world’s most popular brands, including Toyota, Verizon and Mitsubishi. A California native, Howard now lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, Debi. Howard has three daughters, Amanda, Jacquie and Emily, who live across the country, and one dog, Maeby, who still lives at home.

What inspired you to write Sally Ann "McFidgetbottom"?

My wife teaches kindergarten and always comes home with the best stories. The ones that entertain me the most are the stories about the kids who can’t quite help themselves from misbehaving. They’re not trying to misbehave, but sometimes they have to dance down the hall instead of walking in a straight line or jump up at rest time to tell my wife about something that happened the day before. I thought that if these stories entertain me, maybe a picture book about a girl who can’t help herself from misbehaving would entertain others.

What was the process like from original idea to publication?

Surprisingly, the process from original idea to publication was incredibly smooth. I started writing the manuscript in February of 2020 and had a contract from Clavis Publishing by June. After completing the manuscript, I first queried agents. But, after receiving nothing but form rejections or crickets from them, I queried publishers that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. The manuscript must have hit Clavis’ inbox

at the exact right time for them to have responded so quickly.

Do you have a passage of the book or illustration that is your favorite?

To me, this line sums up not just my inspiration for the story, but also Sally Ann’s overall state of being: “I tried,” she says, “I really did, not to be the squirmy kid.

But my body prefers motion. Sorry for the big commotion.” She feels bad about causing so much chaos in the classroom, but, honestly, could not help herself.

You made an interesting choice to separate the "fidgets" from Sally Ann. What was your goal here? 

I’ve been meditating for about five years, and one of the key points I’ve learned is that our thoughts are just thoughts, and our feelings are just feelings. Neither one of those are who we are. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but I wanted to find a way to get this idea across to children. “Fidgets” became a vehicle for demonstrating to children that thoughts aren’t who they are and that they don’t define them. My hope is that children like Sally Ann will recognize that certain thoughts and actions – ones that don’t align with the expectations of others – don’t make them “bad.” “Fidgets” may be a part of them,

but they are not who the children are. In addition, by introducing the principal who also has Fidgets, I wanted to show children that they’re not alone. Others sometimes can’t help themselves from acting a certain way – even grownups.

How do you think teachers, counselors, or parents could use Sally Ann McFidgetbottom to have deeper conversations with kids? 

I would love to see Sally Ann McFidgetbottom used as a practical tool by teachers, counselors and parents. In a classroom setting, for example, teachers could settle down an excited class by having students follow the simple breathing exercise…“take three deep breaths and three deep sighs.” Teachers could also incorporate the idea of Fidgets as a gentle way to reel in students who may have lost their focus on a particular task. At bedtime, parents could lead students in a guided meditation (without calling it that), by describing the process of the Fidgets going to be.

Why do kids need "Sally Ann McFidgetbottom" on their bookshelves? 

Anytime kids want a fun story, they can count on Sally Ann McFidgetbottom to deliver plenty of laughs. Classroom chaos. An escaped rat. Food flying. This book includes a lot of wacky, physical humor to entertain children. As out of the control as the story gets, it finally settles down to a quiet peaceful ending – just like Sally Ann. For kids who sometimes feel like Sally Ann, Sally Ann McFidgetbottom would make the perfect addition to their bookshelves.

Where can we find you to keep up with your work?

IG: howard.pearlstein

Twitter: @HowPearlstein

Thank you Howard for taking the time to talk with me about Sally Ann! This book is an excellent addition to any bookshelf, and I can definitely see many kindergarten teachers (and older teachers!) using it to help kids grasp these concepts of "fidgets" as well as why sometimes it feels just SO hard to behave!

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