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Welcome to the start of Picture Book Therapy Thursday!

Each Thursday we will discuss a different picture book (or books) that can be used to tackle tough topics with children.

For our very first author interview on the blog we have the incredible Anthony Lloyd Jones, author of "The Princess & the Fog" and "The Nervous Knight".

Anthony Lloyd Jones is an author and illustrator from Portsmouth, UK. As well as award-winning children's books about mental health, he has also been known to make promotional illustrations for Let's Players, zines, webcomics, paintings of birds, fursonas, art and animations for puzzle roguelite video RPGs, and all sorts of other stuff. He is very tired but he will never stop.

Anthony, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!

To start, what inspired you to write The Princess and The Fog?

I have depression. I've had it since I was a child, but I didn't have the tools at the time to know what to do about it. While taking a break from University, I made some comics about depression that people really resonated with. I decided I wanted to make something on the same topic when I resumed my studies, thought a children's book might be an interesting challenge, but in my initial project research I found a surprising lack of resources for children about the subject at all. It turns out childhood depression isn't something that's been officially recognised in the psychology market for very long, so there was a gap in the market.

As someone who also struggles with depression, I love that its becoming a topic that can be openly discussed so that people of all ages know that this is something they don't have to be ashamed of.

Most kid lit writers know getting the book from concept to published can be quite the journey. What was the process like for you from inspiration to getting published?

It was a pretty long process, which I'm grateful for. It being a university project meant I had a lot of time and space to experiment and explore. I really played with the idea and visual style for a long time, used my friends' kids as sounding boards for early drafts, stuff like that. I'd also never made anything for kids before at all, so I had to do more research than you might expect to make sure I got the language right. A classmate, Emmi Smid, also made a kids' book for her final project and after graduation was in the process of pitching it to Jessica Kingsley Publishers. She mentioned my book to them as something else they might be interested in and they got in touch, we refined the story a bit more and now it's out there. I got really lucky! It's not usually that easy to get a book published.

In addition to The Princess and the Fog, you have a second book about a tough topic. Tell us about The Nervous Knight.

The Nervous Knight is about anxiety. It is set in the same universe as The Princess and the Fog, and focuses on a young trainee knight who is always wearing a needlessly bulky and inconvenient suit of armour because they're afraid of seemingly just about everything. They spend so much time stuck in their own head imagining every possible bad outcome to every possible situation that they never want to do anything with their life, just in case their fears are realised. They don't see how badly they're holding themselves back until a new friend encourages them to gradually (literally!) come out of their shell and learn that things are usually not as scary as they might seem. The book covers everything from symptoms of anxiety to possible short and long-term exercises to try to help develop healthier habits.

Do you have a scene in either or both books that was your favorite to illustrate?

Weirdly, my favourite scene to illustrate from TPatF actually ended up being cut from the book. After finally asking the Princess if she wants to talk, her friend is suddenly bombarded with a torrent of thoughts and feelings (in the form of huge messy speech bubbles) The Princess had been bottling up. The conclusion to the story was eventually reworked to be more gradual but it was fun to draw all this chaos.

In The Nervous Knight, I loved coming up with different art styles and using different media, drawing with my left hand and emulating the way kids draw to represent how the characters' internal thoughts look.

Alternatively, every time I get to draw a wide shot of the relatively normal, modern-looking kingdom with the enormous, absurd pink Princess Barbie castle sitting proudly in the middle. I do it a lot. It's a funny visual.

Why do you think these books are important for kids to have on the shelves?

I basically made TPatF for myself, retroactively. It's a book I could have really used when I was a child to help me understand what I was going through and how to ask for help. I wanted to make this book to help other kids like me and The Nervous Knight fulfills a similar purpose. When you're a kid it can be hard to articulate your feelings. An illness you don't understand can feel insurmountable, and the adults in your life can easily misdiagnose it. It can be very lonely.

I use fairy tale tropes to make the stories feel familiar at first glance, but then to subvert expectations and take away some of the stigma around mental illness. You don't expect a beautiful princess who lives in a huge pink castle and has a bunch of horses to be depressed, somehow. But if it can happen to her, it can happen to anybody. How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

The cool thing about Jessica Kingsley Publishers is that they always include a section written by someone much cleverer than me at the back of the book that guides grown-ups through these deeper conversations. The stories themselves are designed to be relatable and get kids thinking, but these sections are good in driving those conversations with specific talking points and questions. If a grownup knows a child in their life feels like either The Princess or The Knight does, I hope they would sit down with them and read the book together and if anything in the story sounds familiar, work on a plan using suggestions from the book on how to get through it. Do you have any advice for authors hoping to write books about tough topics?

Obviously do your research. See how other books, TV shows, films, songs, video games or whatever have tackled the same topic. Know your audience and research how to write specifically for them. (Don't assume you already speak their language!) If you have experience with the topic yourself, use that. If you don't, listen to somebody who has. With young readers it's important to not make them feel put on the spot. A kid can be turned off by a story that hits too close to home, so be gentle, use metaphor and don't write like there's only one possible solution to a problem. Suggest possible solutions, but also give them some room to think about it and experiment and figure it out themselves. I use a lot of humour and hope as well so that, despite the subject matter, my books aren't a downer to read. Your point about not writing as if there's only one solution to a problem is a great one. In my work as a therapist, your job isn't to tell people how to fix their problems but help them see the possible answers and decide on their own what's best for them. This is so important for kids to know as well!

Thank you so much again Anthony for taking the time to discuss your work. Where can we connect with you on social media to follow your upcoming projects?

I'm always working on something or other! Follow @aljillustration on Twitter and Instagram for semi-regular updates, and drop me a message if you want to talk about anything I've made. I'm nice. A full portfolio can be found at (I can attest that Anthony is very nice if you drop him a message!)

Check out The Princess & the Fog or The Nervous Knight at your local bookstore or library! And join me next week for another Picture Book Therapy Thursday when we talk to author Chelsea Lin Wallace about her debut picture book!

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This week on Picture Book Therapy Thursday we have something everyone can relate with-- the Struggle Bus. We've all been on it a time or two and Julie Koon does a wonderful job using this imagery to address perseverance and working through adversity with kids.

Julie grew up as a red-haired, freckle-faced girl with glasses bigger than her head allowed for and dreams bigger than her head allowed for too. Now she works as an elementary school counselor, where she help kids learn how to navigate their feelings and the big wide world.

She is a mom of three kids and two guinea pigs. She writes and reads every chance she gets. She paints digitally and with watercolors. Julie is represented by Regina Bernard-Careeno at Martin Literary Management.

The Struggle Bus is Julie's debut picture book, published by Kind World Publishing. Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard, you’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump, and roar, The Struggle Bus is at your door. Strap in and hold on tight! Through all the ups and downs, you have what it takes to do hard things. Rolling, rollicking rhymes take readers on a journey of perseverance, where challenges are faced and mountains are climbed.

Thank you for joining us Julie! first off, what inspired you to write The Struggle Bus?

I wrote The Struggle Bus at the beginning of the pandemic, when it seemed like the whole world was facing enormous challenges. I knew that I wanted to write a book of hope, to cheer others on in difficult times. I overheard someone saying that they were riding the struggle bus, and I thought, that's it! What a fun, kid-friendly way to talk about challenges.

I love seeing you taking that imagery and bringing it to life. What was the process like, seeing the book go from inspiration, to illustration, to published? I love writing in rhyme, so I wrote as many stanzas as I could with problems that a bus might encounter. Then I picked my favorites, and formed them into a story arc that I felt good about. I hadn't even finished the dummy when the #PBPitch twitter event came up, and I decided to pitch it. I was surprised to find that the idea resonated with so many, and I got an agent through that event. Soon after, it was acquired by Kind World Publishing, who are the most fantastic people to work with. I edited and drew my heart out, and now it's in the hands of readers! It was such a fun and exciting process.

Do you have a scene in the finished book that is your favorite? My favorite scene in the book comes after the lowest low moment, where the bus breaks down. The boy's friends come to help him, and there is a page turn where the bus soars into the sky with a beautiful sun in the background. I love that scene because it speaks to the power of people coming alongside you when you are going through a challenge.

It's definitely a beautiful scene. Why do you think this book is important for kids to have on the shelves? My hope is that it will help kids feel less alone in the challenges they face. All of us go through challenges and hard times. I also hope that it will encourage kids to believe that they can do hard things and come out stronger on the other side. You’re also a school counselor! How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use The Struggle Bus to engage in deeper conversations with kids? I think parents, teachers, and counselors can use this book to talk with their kids about what to do when they have big feelings or are facing difficult challenges, and even share about their own challenges. One of my favorite parts of the book is the backmatter, which has questions about these topics, and also gives a list of coping skills that kids can try to help them feel better when they are upset.

Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics for kids? My biggest advice would be to think back to your own experiences of childhood. The small details, the way things made you feel, and putting yourself back in those tinier shoes can help you see tough things the way that kids see them. Difficult and sad things are a big part of childhood, and I think that just trusting your kid readers, that they can hold those feelings in a book, resonate with them, and won't be put off is important too. Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share? No new publishing news for me yet! I have a picture book out on submission, and I am chugging along on an early chapter book series. Thanks again for sharing the journey of "The Struggle Bus" with us Julie! Where can we find you online to keep up with your work? You can check out my website at, and follow me on twitter, @juliepkoon.

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Things are warming up here in Texas (and by that I mean 90 degree days already!), so Summer is heavy on our minds. And with summer comes swimming! This week our tough topic book discusses facing your fears, incorporates yoga techniques, and features swimming as the main activity. Stephanie Wildman is here to discuss her picture book "Brave in the Water".

Stephanie Wildman, author of Brave in the Water (2021) (illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar; translated into Spanish as Valiente en el Agua by Cecilia Populus-Eudave), became a Professor Emerita after serving as the John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law. She directed the school’s Center for Social Justice and Public Service. Lawley Publishing will release her second children’s book Treasure Hunt (illustrated by Estefania Razo) in November 2022. Her other books include Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America (with contributions by Armstrong, Davis, & Grillo) (2021); Race and Races: Cases and Resources for a Diverse America 3d (with Delgado, Harris, Perea, and Stefancic) (2015); Social Justice: Professionals Communities and Law (with Mahoney and Calmore) (2013); and Women and the Law Stories (with Schneider) (2011). Stephanie is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she can sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice.

Brave in the Water (2021) (illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar and translated into Spanish as Valiente en el Agua by Cecilia Populus-Eudave) addresses a common swimming fear in a new and powerful way, incorporating mindfulness and yoga techniques. With the help of his loving grandmother, Dante learns how to face his hear.

What inspired you to write Brave in the Water?

Swimming has been an important part of my family’s life. I didn’t learn to swim until I was twenty-six, and I didn’t want my own children to grow up afraid of water like I had been. I took them to swim lessons at an early age, and both of my kids became competitive swimmers. One founded and coached an award-winning swim program for vulnerable youth, and the other swam for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics. I hope this book encourages children, and everyone, to learn to swim.

I love that personal connection! And what incredible ways your family has found meaning in swimming.

What was the process like, seeing the book go from inspiration, to illustration, to published?

The process can be embodied by the word “lucky.” I was so lucky to have a wonderful teacher in Maxine Rose Schur. She believed in this story from the beginning and urged me to write it as a picture book. I was also lucky to have the book accepted by Lawley Publishing. In our first book meeting, the publishers asked me how I envisioned the book, and I had the opportunity to describe my ideas that couldn’t be represented on submission by art notes. The feathered peacock yoga pose plays a key role in the story, and I wanted to have a peacock hidden on pages throughout the book. The third stroke of luck was having art teacher Jenni Feidler-Aguilar agree to illustrate. Jenni loves peacocks and swimming, so she was a natural to bring this story to life. I love the cover portraying Diante being brave in the water.

Do you have a scene in the finished book that is your favorite?

I love the peacock on the cover page (and note: teachers and parents can find two peacock sketches to download for a coloring project on the resources page for the book here). But my favorite scene might be the image of Diante and the peacock staring into the pool together, while he is thinking about whether he is really ready to try putting his face in the water.

Why do you think this book is important for kids to have on the shelves?

I got one lovely photo of a child holding Brave in the Water with a heart shaped book-mark she had made for it – it being her new favorite book. Her parent had said the child hadn’t been reading but loved this book and read it over and over. So, on a basic level, Brave in the Water is a great book for beginning readers.

The breathing exercise portrayed in the book does have a calming effect; it’s something children and caretakers can do together – not just to face fear, but to relax.

You incorporate a lot of mindfulness and yoga techniques in the book, which are great for kids dealing with anxiety and fear! How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use Brave in the Water to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

I start virtual school visits by asking the class to raise their hand if they have ever felt afraid to do something. Everyone raises their hand. I ask if anyone wants to share what they have been afraid of – everyone knows the feeling of being afraid – often fear of trying something new. I also share my own fear of water. I think it helps for children to understand they aren’t the only ones with these feelings.

Of course, the particular fear is personal to each child. Giving them the breathing technique can empower them. Parents have told me they use pranayama – special breathing as the book names it -- when a child is upset or worried with great calming effect. I hope a deeper conversation can result from children understanding it is possible to move past fear to constructive action.

Having those tools to empower kids to de-escalate and problem solve on their own is so powerful.

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

Yes! Please do write about tough topics for kids, even though it feels hard. Kids are facing hard issues all the time and a story where the main character works through feelings about a tough situation can help a child work through their own. The challenge is in showing the child work it through.

Thank you for sharing your work with us Stephanie! Brave in the Water is such a wonderful book. Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?

I’m excited to report that Lawley Publishing will release my second picture book, Treasure Hunt (illustrated by Estefania Razo) on November 1, 2022. Twins Roberto and Flor follow clues planted by their elder brother Luis to search for hidden objects and to figure out what they can be used for.

We will be on the lookout for it! Where can we find you online to keep up with your work?

Twitter: @SWildmanSF

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