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WHAT IN THE WORLD IS AN ICHTHYOLOGIST? Mahalo and a final aloha to an amazing man.

I originally posted this story August 17, 2019. I am republishing it today in honor of Dr. John E. Randall, a distinguished ichthyologist and coral specialist who discovered and named more species of fish than anyone. He died April 26 in his home in Kaneohe, Hawaii. He was 95.

Since the original post, the picture book titled after Dr. Randall, Randall and Randall, has been released and was named as one of the best 100 indie books in 2019 by Kirkus Reviews. Author, Nadine Poper and the Blue Whale Press team will be forever grateful for Dr. Randall and his contributions to this educational and funny book. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. May he rest in peace. 

With a final aloha to Dr. Randall, we offer the original post below.

Before I answer the ‘ichthyologist’ question, I want to explain why I’m presenting the question in the first place. Blue Whale Press’s latest picture book, Randall and Randall, is now available for pre-order, and this book just happens to have a foreword written by the renowned ichthyologist Dr. John E. Randall. Please read the post to the end because while I was writing it, I got some fantastic, must see, news. I want to share the surprise with you.

Cover corrected 978-0-9814938-7-9

An ichthyologists is . . .

. . . a branch of zoology that deals with the study of fish and other marine life. Ichthyologists (ik-thee-AH-lo-gists) are also called marine biologists or fish scientists. They discover and study new and existing species of fish, their environment, and their behavior.

Ichthyologists dedicate their time to studying different kinds of fish species, though many will focus on one family of fish in particular. They generally focus on the biological history, behavior, growth patterns, and ecological importance of these fish. Most ichthyologists will go into the field to collect various samples or observe fish behavior and then return to a lab or office to analyze their collected data. If funded by a university, many of these scientists may be required to teach in addition to their other duties. Some of these scientists may also dedicate their time to educating others about the field and advocating for the importance of fish to ecosystems.

About Dr. Randall Dr R head shot

Dr. John “Jack” Randall, ichthyologist emeritus at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, has over 900 publications and has described more valid marine species than anyone, living or dead—at least 800 of them.

Dr. R book 1

Why did Dr. Randall write the foreword for Randall and Randall?

First, the author, Nadine Poper, named the characters and the book in Dr. Randall’s honor. But the answer goes deeper than that.

Why are goby fish named Amblyeleotris randalli and the pistol shrimp named Alpheus randalli? Either there is a strange coincidence between Dr. Randall, the Randalls in the book, and the scientific name randalli or there is a strong connection and explanation.

The explanation starts with Dr. John E. Randall.

“A dive pioneer and a dedicated taxonomist for over 70 years, it’s doubtful there is anyone who knows more about fish than Hawaii’s Jack Randall.”

–Christie Wilcox, Hakai Magazine

Some fun facts about Dr. Randall

• He is sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fish”
• His O‘ahu home is methodically littered with hundreds of pickled fish specimens sequestered in alcohol. Click here to read why he collects these specimens.
• For Dr. Randall, collecting the fish has been exciting and adventurous. He has dived on some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, but the actual process of identifying species takes passion and patience. Dr. R book 2
• Dr. Randall was one of the first to study fish in their ocean habitat. He first dove in the mid-1940s, before the acronym SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) was even coined.
• He became one of the first scientists to use scuba gear, allowing him to access fish that no one else had ever seen.
• Dr. Randall even pioneered wet suits—sort of. He tried using long underwear to stay warm at first, but they didn’t retain heat. Then he got the brilliant idea to dip his long johns in liquid latex, creating a primitive wet suit years before the first neoprene was used.

 

All the above facts came from an article by Christie Wilcox at Hakai Magazine (May 15, 2016)

Two more wonderful facts about Dr. Randall

1) Dr. Randall celebrated his 90th birthday by SCUBA diving off Waikiki.

2) At the age of 91, he received the 2016 Darwin Medal from The International Society for Reef Studies. The award was presented at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium on June 20. Jack gave an entertaining presentation on his work with coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands to an enthralled audience of hundreds of conference attendees.

Dr. Randall has likely won many other awards, and here is one more example: At 94 years of age, he won the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) Pioneer Award for Science.

Dr. Randall’s scientific and academic achievements are too extensive to list in one blog post, instead I will share the following video. Although it doesn’t cover all his accomplishments, it is so much better than a list! It’s only six minutes long and definitely worth viewing.

This man is amazing, and I urge you to read more about him and to visit the links I have shared.

Finding Dr. Randall: Nadine Poper’s research for the book

Dr. R book 3During Nadine Poper’s research for this book, she was eventually led to Dr. Randall, and they became friends. Dr. Randall told Nadine anything she wanted to know about these creatures and their symbiotic relationship. He even provided her with photos that he took personally under the sea. And Dr. Randall graciously obliged when Nadine asked him if he would write a foreword.

When Nadine asked Dr. Randall how the fish and shrimp species came to bear his name, he responded with the following: “If you see the two-part scientific name Alpheus randalli, Alpheus is the generic name for a group of very similar shrimps, and randalli is the species name which was given by the person who prepared the scientific description of the genus to honor me. . . .”

I’m going to assume the same goes for the goby (Amblyeleotris randalli). And it makes sense, given the interesting relationship between the shrimp and goby (Randall and Randall).

Ambyleleotris yanoi Bali

Live goby fish and pistol shrimp, compliments of Dr. Randall

Goby 2

A real-life view under the sea. Goby fish guarding the burrow and protecting a pistol shrimp while it digs their home. Compliments of Dr. John E. Randall

As I was writing this post, the Kirkus review for Randall and Randall arrived . . .

and I cannot resist hijacking this Dr. Randall post to share an excerpt from it (in green below). Well, I’m not fully hijacking it because they do mention ichthyologist Dr. John Randall. But the really exciting thing about this review is it is starred review! According to Kirkus, only 10 percent of the 10,000 reviews they do a year earn a blue star. And according to Washington Post, only 2 percent of independently published books earn a blue star. This also means that Randall and Randall will automatically be entered into the Kirkus awards!

 

Young readers get a slice of science in this undersea tale about symbiosis.

Randall the pistol shrimp accidentally gets a new roommate when he snaps at a fish he believes is a threat. But the goby fish, also named Randall, offers to let the shrimp know when genuine predators are around. Unfortunately, the goby misidentifies plankton, a sand dollar, and a sea cucumber as dangerous foes, all the while singing songs that drive the shrimp to distraction. Likewise, the noises the shrimp’s snapping claws make irritate the goby. After a huge fight, the goby leaves, only to run into a real killer . . . Based on a real-life symbiotic relationship, this silly tale makes the science approachable through the goby’s giggle-worthy antics. Notes from ichthyologist Dr. John Randall describe the phenomenon for adults, and Gortman’s (Fishing for Turkey, 2016) closing illustrations supply diagrams of the charismatic creatures. The picture book’s cartoonish interior images deftly mix human and animal characteristics, showing the shrimp’s long antennae as mustaches. Poper’s (Frank Stinks, 2017, etc.) simple English text seamlessly introduces a few straightforward Spanish-language phrases (“mi casa”) due to the coastal Mexico setting. The ingenious aquatic tale also encourages readers to realize they can find friendship even if they don’t see eye to eye with their cohorts.

A clever introduction to a scientific concept with an accessible moral.

Written by Nadine Poper
Illustrated by Polina Gortman.
Dr. Randall’s foreword does a fantastic job of explaining all about the goby and pistol shrimp and their special relationship.
Published by Blue Whale Press

Book trailer for Randall and Randall

More about the picture book Randall and Randall

Randall, the pistol shrimp, is a master at excavation. Randall, the goby fish, is his skittish, yet happy-go-lucky watchman. The problem is that both have quirks that drive each other bananas until one day their relationship is driven to the breaking point. This very funny informational-fiction story about one of the sea’s naturally-existent odd couples illustrates how certain species depend upon their symbiotic relationship for survival. It also shows children how two very different beings can embrace each other’s peculiarities and become best of friends.

INTERVIEW WITH MIDDLE GRADE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR LAURIE SMOLLETT KUTSCERA

I’d like to introduce Laurie Smollett Kutscera, author and illustrator of the exciting middle grade book Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, published by Blue Whale Press. Her book launched on April 1, 2020. Today, I share an interesting interview with Laurie about her experience as an author and illustrator. She also offers tips for writers and illustrators!

First, I’ll share excerpts of a recent review of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, and I will follow that with the book trailer.

Midwest Book Review

“. . . Laurie Smollett Kutscera weaves a strong story of personal struggle and achievement into a tale that takes some unusual twists and turns as Alex continues to learn about the magic of human emotion, recovery, and resiliency from his unusual mentors: “Isn’t it possible everyone would appreciate you for who you are?” What could have been a singular story of a boy’s special talents thus evolves into an unusual exploration of the roots of magic, ability, and support systems that come into play when loss changes one’s familiar life patterns. . . .

Readers who choose the book anticipating a dose of magical encounters will not be disappointed, while those who like interpersonal relationships, intrigue, and growth as subplots in their stories will find Misadventures of a Magician’s Son holds an action-packed touch of all three to keep readers guessing about Alex’s future and incredible adventure, right up to the end.”                         

 — by Diane Donavan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Book Trailer

Interview

Alayne: How did you get your start as a children’s book writer? And illustrator? What brought you to this world?

Laurie: Thank you for that lovely introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here with you!

I knew art was always going to be my path from a young age. As a teenager, flipping through the pages of Mademoiselle, I reveled at Betsey Johnson’s quirky illustrations with dreams of being a fashion illustrator. But once I entered Queens College, my drawing teacher Marvin Bileck, introduced me to the magic of children’s books and changed the course of my life. He was a remarkably talented artist and an award-winning children’s book illustrator. He taught drawing, printmaking, and book design, all of which were filled with energy and exploration. He invited other illustrators to the class including his dear friend Ashley Bryan. What a talented artist and author. And when I was ready to show my portfolio- Professor Bileck arranged for me to meet with Margaret McElderry! I was terrified. I’ll never forget, sitting beside her, she paused at one of my illustrations and smiled.

After college, I spent the next eight years freelancing as a graphic designer when two dear friends approached me about illustrating a story they had written about a cliff dwelling tribe and a fearless girl named Ravita. I was thrilled. I decided to work in pastel—a medium I had never used before. I used my handy dandy Xerox machine and made dummies that the three of us sent to various publishers. Rizzoli Books in NY loved the story and a year and a half later, Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published and in the windows of Barnes and Noble all over Manhattan!

Ferdinand and Joker from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

It never dawned on me that I would ever be an author. In truth, I hadn’t thought about writing seriously until ten years later. A writer friend suggested I take an essay writing workshop that lead me to a memoir class. Memoir was fascinating. I learned so much about world building, dialogue and writing in the moment. But knowing memoir is a challenging sell, I decided to take elements of what I had written, and incorporate it into Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. Soon after, I found a critique group at Media Bistro that focused on MG/YA. Once I opened a Twitter account, I discovered Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. What a find! I learned so much about the craft of writing picture books and also connected with my current (and may I say, amazing) critique partners.

Alayne: You are also a wonderful illustrator. Which came first? Writing or illustrating?

Laurie: Thank you Alayne. Can you guess? Following is a photo of me with my first paint set when I was 3 or so. ( Nice bangs!) My mother was an artist so I was lucky in that I received plenty of encouragement, (even when I drew people with wheels for feet!) In school, art was always the best class. One of the few I paid attention in. As I grew older, I loved writing poetry and in high school I wrote a fractured fairy-tale that made my English teacher laugh out loud. That always stayed with me, but that was as far as I took it. I didn’t have the confidence to take a writing course until much later. Art was always going to be my profession, or so I thought.

Laurie with her first paint set at age three.

Alayne: Does your art influence your writing or does your writing influence your art?

Laurie: That’s a great question. Most of the time, I think the tone of the story affects the art. It doesn’t happen often, but I have written a few stories based on an illustration.

Alayne: Do you think you would ever do a wordless picture book or a graphic novel?

Wordless picture book dummy THE RED BALL, pastel (2019) Laurie Smollett Kutscera

Laurie: As daunting as that sounds, I just recently finished a dummy for my first wordless picture book and am excited to find a home for it. I’d love to learn more about graphic novels, then get down to some serious playing!

Alayne: What is it like to see your printed book for the first time?

Laurie: As you yourself know, there are no words to describe what it feels like to hold your book, years of hard work in your hands. Writing, editing, sweat. Re-writing, editing, tears. Re-writing editing, prayers. Blue Whale Press did such a lovely job designing it. I am beyond thrilled to finally share Alex’s adventure with everyone!

Alayne: Misadventures of a Magician’s Son is super creative and unique. The characters are so special. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

Laurie: It was a kind of perfect storm. I had just finished a long conversation with a dear friend who was trying to help me out of an emotional slump. We both agreed I needed to find a creative project to delve into. Later that week, I was sitting in a movie theater with my husband watching the opening credits of Casino Royale. I was immediately struck by the graphics that filled the screen. These larger than life card characters suddenly consumed me, and became the impetus for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. Had I not had the conversation with my friend, I don’t think I would have been as receptive. This was before Tara Lazar’s Storystorm, which for those of us who join every year know has the same powerful intention.

Alex and King Anton from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Kutscera copyright 2020

Alayne: Blue Whale Press offered quite a few edit suggestions. I know we all had trying times with that process. But you have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways. Do you have any tips for authors regarding how to keep from taking edits personally?

Laurie: Well that’s the key really, not taking it personally. I think most creative people are super sensitive to begin with, so having an editor revise what seems like a brilliantly crafted sentence can feel like a stab in the heart, LOL. I think communication, intention and flexibility play a big part here. Editing takes on many surprising facets, including when the author and editor live in different parts of the country, or world for that matter! But stepping back always helps. Take a break and come back to it. Have someone unfamiliar with the story read the revisions. The bottom line, editing is part of the process and will only make your work stronger.

Alayne: I’ve mentioned your wonderful characters before, but only asked where you found the inspiration for your “story.” Where did you find your inspiration for so many great characters and their voices?

Laurie: This is a fun question to answer. In high school and college, I was totally into acting in plays and tried to tap into the personalities around me. I guess I still do. In our charter boat business, I’ve met and worked with some interesting people. Not all were delightful. Joker for example, (who is hilarious and whom I love dearly!) was based on two extremely annoying people I worked with. They were beyond self-involved and snapped their fingers at everyone. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at many of their comments. Queen Olivia was based on a very dear neighbor who reminded me of Eleanor Roosevelt. With her queen-like demeanor, she always found something nice to say about people…most of the time. Alex’s character was inspired by my nephew. He is insightful and resilient, but struggled quite a bit when it came to navigating relationships in school. There are parts of me in Alex, too. We moved when I was 10 and I felt so lost in a new school, and I’m pretty sure my teacher had it out for me, too!

Alexander Finn and friends from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Kutscera copyright 2020

Alayne: Are you a pantser or a planner? Did you plan and outline, or did you just let the story flow out of you organically.

Laurie: I am a total pantser! Before I understood the definition, I would sit at the kitchen counter, open my laptop and begin typing, anxious to see where the story was headed. It was a bit freaky, like I was being channeled and had nothing to do with the outcome. Undiagnosed, that first draft was an exciting process!

Alayne: I recently did a Chapter Book Challenge guest post where I analyzed Misadventures of a Magician’s Son using The Hero’s Journey. Did you study that storytelling structure before writing the book, our do you just have that natural storytelling ability?

Laurie: Wow. That sounds interesting. I was not familiar with The Hero’s Journey when I began writing. I approached Misadventures of a Magician’s Son much like I was watching a movie unfold. I tried to build an arc to the story line based on lots of visual action. Once I joined that MG/YA critique group at Media Bistro, I learned more about structure and was able to strengthen Alex’s voice, clarify details, and build more tension using short sentences.

Alayne: This is your debut middle grade book. How long had you been writing and submitting before signing with Blue Whale Press?

Laurie: I began writing in 2007, but with only a few winter months to devote to the process, it took me several years to complete it. I took a break for a year to work on another project, then came back to it in 2012. In 2014, I began subbing with no bites. The following year, I signed up for the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam Event in NYC. I created a deck of cards with the characters, fanned them open, and pitched my heart out to a number of agents. 500 people, 1 hour and lines 15 minutes long, I was so nervous, I left my bag somewhere in the ballroom–but I found my agent! She pitched it to a number of publishers including Simon & Schuster who loved the manuscript and asked for revisions. That was the high point. But unfortunately, they passed. (I think they had another project in the works about magic.) Soon after, my agent left the company. That was the low point. I took some time off to clear my head. When I started subbing again I discovered Blue Whale Press was open to submissions. That was 2018. And here we are!

Alayne: How long did it take you to the write the book—from first line until confident enough to submit?

Laurie: I don’t want to frighten people because my experience (and work schedule) are probably not quite the norm. But from the time I began to write until I started submitting took 8 years.

Alayne: Did you have the book critiqued or edited before submitting?

Laurie: Yes, first through my critique group at Media Bistro. I received feedback on every chapter and once I revised the manuscript based on their feedback, I hired an editor to review again. He had some excellent ideas regarding juggling and strengthening a few scenes and suggested I write a prologue for the ending. He also recommended I call the book- Dance of Suits: An Alexander Finn Magical Adventure, which I was never crazy about, but submitted it for a while with that title. I think it confused people. I finally changed it to Misadventures of a Magician’s Son a year later.

Alayne: Did you have beta readers at any time?

Laurie: Yes, I had a few beta readers, including a middle grade librarian.

Alayne: We’ve touched a little on the illustrator side of you, but I’d like to dig into that a little deeper. I’ll start with the question, Do you have a preferred medium?

Laurie: So much has changed since I opened that first paint set. In truth my work used to be very linear and detailed. Now I’m trying to find a more ethereal approach to my art. I love working in pastel–it’s dreamy and soft and likes to take the lead which is kind of cool. I love playing with colored pencil and watercolor then fine tuning in Photoshop. I also love working in Pro-Create. I’ve recently gotten to a place where I don’t need a sketch as a starting point. OK…that in itself is an amazing accomplishment especially for a control freak like me!

Polar Bears by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – pastels and Procreate

Illustration from Painted Desert Dummy by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – Pastel

Illustration from Maya’s Treasure by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – Pastel

 

Alayne: Have any other artists or children’s literature illustrators influenced you during your journey so far?

There are so many illustrators that have inspired me. After reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I was elated to see that illustrations for middle grade readers didn’t necessarily have to be cartoony. Cartoony is fine, but Bagram IbatoulIine’s artwork evokes such depth and warmth. It was the perfect choice for Kate DiCamillos work.

Illustrators I love: Brian Selznick, Erin E. Stead, James Christopher Carroll, Brian Lies, Sophie Blackall, and Pamela Zagarenski just to name a few. I love Gauguin, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, and my all-time favorite, Leon Bakst. He was a costume and set designer, and his illustrations are exquisite. I can only imagine what he would have brought to picture book illustrations.

Alayne: What medium and process did you use for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son?

Laurie: Many of the original illustrations were done in colored pencil. Soon after, an editor I met at the SCBWI conference in NY explain to me that middle grade readers prefer black and white illustrations. At first, I was disappointed to learn that, but once I converted all my work into grayscale, I was happily surprised at the results. The rich grays and deep blacks added quite a bit of mystery that complimented to tone of the story. I did the remaining illustrations in black and gray Prisma pencils on vellum paper and adjusted them in Photoshop.

Alayne: Where did you find the inspiration for the illustrations of the book’s characters?

Theo and Mr. Raymond from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

Laurie: I always try to take advantage of the resources around me…like friends. I started eyeing them up right away. For instance, the model I used for Joker is a very dear friend who was born in England and lives up in the Adirondacks. Unlike Jokers snarky character, Chris is charming and brilliant and was unbelievably patient as I took photo after photo of him. Two of our first mates posed as Theo and Mr. Raymond, and another friend’s grandson posed for Alex. I also had Joel, my technical magician/adviser pose while Alex shuffles the cards. And our dearest neighbors posed as the King and Queen of Hearts.

Alex from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

 

Alayne: How is illustrating a middle grade different from illustrating a picture book?

Laurie: There are always exceptions to the rules, which I love, but in general, there are fewer illustrations in middle grade books and most are created in black and white. Picture books are different in that much of the story is told through the illustrations and are done in full color.

Alayne: How many years did you work on the art for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son? When did you do the very first drawing?

Laurie: I started working on the first illustrations back in 2007. Mostly character studies, lots of hands and card tricks in motion. I finished the last illustration a few weeks ago. All in all, twelve and a half years of illustrating.

Alayne: For this specific project, Did the drawings inspire your writing? Or did your writing inspire the drawings.

Laurie: I visualized many of the scenes before I started illustrating them. So, in a sense, the illustrations in my head inspired the writing. Once I began, I jumped back and forth between writing and illustrating. Working this way helped me visualize specific scenes and details I might otherwise have missed.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for illustrators who are waiting for their first contract?

Jack from Misadventures from a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

Laurie: Try not to focus on the contract. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you focus on crafting wonderful stories, the contract will follow. Keep submitting, try to develop a thick skin—someone just told me this, so again easier said than done. If you’ve received feedback, try to take a step back. Put it away and re-read it again later. It’s easier to grasp when you’re not so close to it.

Alayne: I know that being a writer/illustrator submissions are different than those who are writers or illustrators only. Do you ever submit as a writer/illustrator?

Laurie: Most of the time. It’s a bit more work. Not only are you offering a polished manuscript but you’re creating an entire book with illustrations. This is the heart and soul of your story.

Alayne: Do you ever submit as a writer only? Or as an illustrator only.

Laurie: The answer is yes to both. I actually have several manuscripts that I feel would be better using an illustrator with a more whimsical approach. I also just completed a wordless picture book that I just started submitting.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for writer/illustrators?

Laurie: Read out loud. Savor every word. Have fun with your dummies. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Break rules!

Alayne: Now, I will put on you the spot, even more than I already have 😉 Why do you write?

Laurie: I have to! I love sharing stories that will touch young readers and adults. Maybe Alex’s journey will help someone who’s having a difficult time navigating this ever-changing world we live in. Maybe I can get them to laugh and see the light is closer than they think.

Alayne: It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Laurie. Your story has brought me so many smiles. You know I am in love with Joker 😉 Thank you for helping Blue Whale Press make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

Joker and his scepter Emilio. King Anton, Queen Olivia, and Jack. Characters from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutcera copyright 2020

Thank you Alayne–for believing in me and Alex’s journey.
C#&sffinxaagpzzz@l. OHHH, hey, no. Wait! UGH! Joker just climbed on my laptop. He wants me to tell you…you haven’t heard the last of him!

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son is  available wherever books are sold. Some places currently are

Amazon

BookTopia

The Book Depository

Barnes & Noble

About Laurie

laurie-smollett-kutsceraLaurie Smollett Kutscera was born in Greenwich Village and grew up in Queens, New York. At the age of 11, she performed her first magic trick and was destined to be a ventriloquist with the aid of her childhood friend, Neil, who today is a real magician! But rather than follow in the footsteps of Houdini, she went on to study fine art and children’s book illustration at Queens College with Caldecott medalist Marvin Bileck. She is an award-winning graphic designer, a published children’s book illustrator, and toy designer.

Laurie’s passion for writing began 12 years ago while cruising the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. Today she continues to write and illustrate and is currently working on several contemporary picture books and middle grade novels.

Laurie lives on the North Shore of Long Island with her husband Nick and rescue doggie, Cody. You can learn more about Laurie by going to lskillustration.com.

For Aspiring Magician’s

Laurie has interviewed the young man who helped her learn about magic as part of her research for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. He offers some tips on to get started and improve as a magician.

Introducing Joel Goldman, Magician Extraordinaire!

Happy Double Book Birthday!

What Will Change?

With Blue Whale Press’s recent announcement about becoming an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing, questions are starting to arise. I will answer a few here.

  • First, let me say I am excited and happy to be working with the amazing Callie Metler-Smith.
  • The simplest way to explain things is to say that nothing is changing with Blue Whale Press when it comes to authors, illustrators, and submissions. Any changes with Blue Whale Press being an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing are about behind-the-scenes business management.
  • Blue Whale Press submissions will remain the same. Visit the BlueWhalePress.com submissions page for guidelines. We will be putting out a special celebration call for submissions very soon. For announcements, follow the Blue Whale Press Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/BlueWhalePress/ or you can search Facebook with @BlueWhalePress. You can also follow the Blue Whale Press Twitter page @BlueWhalePress.
  • If you have submitted to Blue Whale Press in February THERE IS NO NEED to resubmit.
  • Alayne Kay Christian will remain the acquisitions editor and creative director for Blue Whale Press. Steve Kemp will remain the publisher.
  • Blue Whale Press will still design the books.
  • Any changes in how things work that might impact authors and illustrators will be announced.

What About Submissions? What is Blue Whale Press Looking For?

People often ask what we are looking for. Currently, our focus is on picture books. STEM and clever and/or humorous informational fiction that is written with young readers in mind is at the top of our list. Even the STEM books must have a great hook. To see what a great STEM book hook (or any book hook) is, read RANDALL AND RANDALL, WHO WILL? WILL YOU? and PORCUPETTE AND MOPPET. Blue Whale press is looking for unusual characters, strong narrative arc, strong voice, fresh/unique premises, and surprise twists. We are drawn to unique stories that standout from all the rest. We gravitate toward humor, but we would love some stories that tug at the heartstrings, but again, in a unique, standout way. Alayne also has a soft spot in her heart for nature.

Some have asked what we are not interested in, so I will offer that we are not interested in trends. Trends eventually lead to an abundance of similar stories. If you haven’t seen it before, your chances are probably better with us. We aren’t able to produce board books at this time, so manuscripts for the newborn to three age range are not for us. We are not against faith-based stories that give a mild universal message. However, heavy messages or stories about specific beliefs based on specific religions aren’t a good fit for us.

Remember: Always read the submission guidelines carefully. Do not send attachments other than PDFs for art. We usually discard Word attachments for security reasons. Contact information is not just your email. Provide your name, physical address, phone number, email, and website/blog if you have one/them.

Ask yourself what makes your story different. Read Blue Whale Press books. They will give you a better feel for what appeals to us. If we aren’t able to acquire your story, don’t let that discourage or stop you. But do keep working to hone your craft. Now, having said that, there are many reasons that we pass on manuscripts and sometimes it has nothing at all to do with writing skills. No matter what, always do your best and keep on keeping on.

Always check our website before submitting. If we are closed to submissions and you send a manuscript, it will most likely not be read or responded to.

An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin is Here!

Can be found at the following and more!

Amazon

Book Depository

Barnes and Noble

Books-A-Million

We are excited about this good news, and I (Alayne) looks forward to working with Callie Metler-Smith and being part of the Clear Fork Family.

The winners have been chosen for the No Bears Allowed photo caption contest and the Who Will? Will You? What’s in Lottie’s Wagon? writing contest.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the fun. We have some great caption entries. Most of them are funny and one is sweet. They are all creative. And the stories for What’s in Lottie’s Wagon? are all entertaining, and some are very touching. Each writer did an excellent job with the limited word count of 100 words. And then trying to fit in the required words the contest rules listed on top of that? Wowza! Hats off to you all.

We’ll start with the caption contest winners and then move on to the writing contest winners. But before I move on, I want to wish everyone a joyous holiday season. May 2020 bring each of you all that your heart desires.

Also, I want to share an old-old blog post from 2013 Just Say No to New Year’s Resolutions. It offers up a perfect way for writers, artists, or anyone really, to end a year and begin a new one.

PHOTO CAPTION WINNERS

First place goes to . . .

pamela's caption

Pamela Courtney

Pamela has won a pre-release proof (hardcover) of No Bears Allowed and a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone.

Winners who placed second through fourth will each win a softcover copy of No Bears Allowed. If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC

Second place goes to . . .

Stuffed Teddy Bear

Ciara O’neal

 

Third place goes to . . .

Hare in my Stuffing

Tara Cerven

And fourth place goes to . . .

Thankful We're Together

Katie Williams

 

WHAT’S IN LOTTIE’S WAGON WRITING CONTEST WINNERS

Who Will 1 giftaway

I must say, the judges struggled to choose the first place winner. If there could have been a tie, we would have had one. You can read the winning stories at the end of this blog post. Spoiler alert! I give away the ending of each story in the prize announcements. If you want to read the stories and be surprised by the ending, jump to the end of the blog post and then come back to see where each story placed.

First place goes to . . .

What’s In Lottie’s Wagon?

By Mona Pease

In Mona’s story, Lottie’s wagon is filled with found treasures, love, hope, and dreams. Lovely story.

Mona has won a pre-release proof (hardcover) of Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and Alayne’s critique will have to be Skype or written.

Winners who placed second through fourth will each win a soft cover ARC of Who Will? Will You? If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC

Second place goes to . . .

Lottie’s Little Treasure

by Kristen Reinsel

In Kristen’s story, a sea turtle is in Lottie’s wagon. A creative and poetic story filled with imagery.

Third place goes to . . .

Precious Cargo

by Linda Staszak

In Linda’s story, Lottie’s aging dog is in her wagon. A very touching story.

Fourth place goes to . . .

The Mystery of the Missing Sandwich

by Kiley Orchard

In Kiley’s story Lottie’s wagon holds mysterious bread crusts, a beach pail, and one sandal. A humorous ending with a twist.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Please come back in 2020 for more giftaways and informative blog posts. And visit Blue Whale Press to see what’s coming next year.

AND JUST IN CASE YOU’RE CURIOUS, HERE ARE THE WINNING STORIES

What’s In Lottie’s Wagon?

By Mona Pease

98 Words

Lottie felt sad. It was almost Christmas. Mom and Dad were deployed. Grandma tried to help make things special. Still, nothing felt right.

No snow.

No live tree.

No Mom and Dad.

Gazing toward the horizon, Lottie’s mood lightened. “Come on Pup. Let’s walk along the beach and fill our wagon with treasures.”

Afterwards, she decorated Grandma’s shrub with shells, sea glass, driftwood.

Then, Lottie took her rarest finds from the wagon: blue glass, wishing rock, and large shell that whispered sea songs.

Lottie listened. Mom and Dad felt close. Grandma listened. She smiled. What songs did that shell whisper?

 

Lottie’s Little Treasure

by Kristen Reinsel

88 Words

Lottie gently pulled her wagon

Toward the shore with urgency

She knew her precious cargo

Was indeed an emergency.

 

She found this little treasure

In a surprising sort of spot

While on a beach vacation

In the hotel parking lot!

 

Green and gold, yet hidden

In the grass nearby their space

Her helpful pup ol’ Rufus

Was quickly on the case.

 

Placed in her wagon with great care

For it was lost and lured to roam

Away from sea, toward the lights

A baby turtle… far from home.

 

Precious Cargo

by Linda Staszak

90 Words

Lottie tugged on her squeaky wagon. She inched her way down the beach, walking past the rainbow shells and sparkly stones.

The wagon was hard to move through the deep sand.

“Do you need help?” a lady asked.

“No thank you,” Lottie said. She dragged the wagon close to the water and sat next to it.

“You liked the beach when you were a puppy,” she said to the wagon.

A tail thumped. Lottie gently patted her old dog’s head.

“I thought you’d like to be here one more time.”

 

The Mystery of the Missing Sandwich

by Kiley Orchard

100 Words

 

“Lottie, I found another clue!” Pup dropped two bread crusts into the wagon. SOMEONE had eaten Lottie’s sandwich—but who? Pup considered the clues: bread crusts, a beach pail, and one sandal.

“Maybe our thief doesn’t like crusts,” said Pup.

“Crusts are gross,” said Lottie.

“And was on their way to the beach,” Pup continued.

“Just like us!”

“And they’re probably only wearing one sandal.”

“Great thinking!” said Lottie. Pup was so helpful!

Pup looked down. “Um, Lottie…”

“Yes, Pup?”

“You’re only wearing one sandal.”

Lottie looked at her feet. “Hey, Pup?”

“Yes?”

“I just remembered… I ate my sandwich!”

PLEASE HELP YOUR FELLOW CREATIVES BY VOTING! IT WILL TAKE LESS THAN ONE MINUTE!

It’s time to pick the winners of the No Bears Allowed photo caption contest.

We were supposed to announce the winners of the contest on December 7. But we are having trouble deciding between some of the finalists as far as placement. So, we thought instead of drawing from a hat, we would do a survey vote. If you have entered the contest and don’t see your caption here, please note that not all finalists are shown in this blog post. So, you may still be a winner. Finalists, please spread the word and share the link to this post, so people will vote. But please do not tell them which caption is yours.

HOW TO VOTE

You will find the photos with captions below and a title at the bottom of each caption photo. Go to the survey by clicking here, and vote for your favorite. But first, here is the voting criteria . . .

  1. Thanksgiving appeal. May just include words like thankful or grateful.
  2. Originality and creativity.
  3. Humor or heart tugging.

VOTING WILL CLOSE FRIDAY, SATURDAY DECEMBER 14, AT 11:59 pm CENTRAL. Winners will be announced Sunday, December 15 via this blog, twitter, and facebook.

The titles you are looking for by the photo and then on the survey are . . .

  • Stuffed Teddy Bear
  • Thankful We’re Together
  • Alfalfa and Carrot Masterpiece
  • Hare in my Stuffing

Thank you for joining in the fun and helping out your fellow creatives by voting.

Stuffed Teddy Bear

Stuffed Teddy Bear

Thankful We're Together

Thankful We’re Together

Alfalfa and Carrot Masterpiece

Alfalfa and Carrot Masterpiece

Hare in my Stuffing

Hare in my Stuffing

If you’ve purchased or read No Bears Allowed, please help the author and illustrator out by leaving an Amazon and/or Goodreads review. Another way you can help the author and illustrator is by asking your librarian to purchase it for you library. Thank you! 

Cover from BWP site 978-0-9814938-9-3

by Lydia Lukidis art by Tara J. Hannon

HOLIDAY GIFTAWAYS (1)

What’s in Lottie’s Wagon?

With the holidays coming, I’m offering contests with prizes and random giftaways to kid lit writers and illustrators  as a thank you for always supporting me, Blue Whale Press, and our authors and illustrators. Last week, our giftaway offered four ARCs for No Bears Allowed by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Tara J. Hannon. The first place winner will also win a 15-minute “first impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone or Skype. There is still time to get in on the fun! The deadline for the photo caption contest is December 4. The first week, we offered four ARCs for Randall and Randall by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Polina Gortman. And this week, we are offering even more!

This week, we are giving away, for first prize, a hardcover pre-release proof for Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book, Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a 15-minute “first-impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone of Skype. For second through fourth places, we will be giving away a softcover Who Will? Will You? ARC to three winners. If you aren’t familiar with Who Will? Will You? you can view the fun book trailer below.

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . .” Kirkus Reviews

“A fun, unexpected conclusion teaches kids not only about shore life, but about what makes a welcoming home for a stray. Kids who love beaches and parents who love thought-provoking messages will find “Who Will? Will You?” engrossing and fun.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

My goal is to have weekly contests until we run out of prizes. So watch for more Holiday Giftaways–books, critiques, bundles of ARCs, and some other great things.

The beauty of writing contests is it gives you a possible start for your next picture book. So, it is never a waste of time.

Following is the picture book trailer.

Following is a short peek at the Who Will? Will You? activity book for teachers, parents, and librarians

The Contest—WHAT’S IN LOTTIE’S WAGON?

  1. Write a 100-word story about what’s in Lottie’s wagon. The story must include the words pup, beach, help, and of course wagon and Lottie. Any form of the words is acceptable—for example: puppy, puppies, beachfront, beach ball, helpful, helping and so on. The title is not included in the 100 words. You can go under, but not over.
  2. It should be appropriate for children ages twelve and under.
  3. Your story can be serious, funny, sweet, or anything in between. It can be written in poetry or prose, but it must include those 3 words.
  4. NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! Keep reading beyond the following image, there are more steps you must take.

 

  1. Post the above photo with your story on your blog, along with a blurb about the contest and a link to this blog.
  2. IMPORTANT! Along with the story you paste into comments, add your name and your blog post-specific link (post-specific link not your blog’s main url because if you put up a new post on your blog after your entry during the dates of the contest, the judges will find the wrong post!)
  3. Post between now and Saturday, December 14 by 11:59 PM EDT
  4. If you don’t have a blog, just leave your name and paste your story in a comment, explaining you don’t have a blog. But please share the a blurb about the contest and the link in social media.
  5. If you have difficulty posting in the comments, which unfortunately sometimes happens, you may email your entry using the contact form on my blog or at alaynecritiques at gmail dot com, and I’ll post it for you. Please place your entry in the body of the email including your title and byline at the top – NO ATTACHMENTS!
  6. Please submit your entry only ONCE.
  7. By entering this contest, you agree that if you win, and you like the book, you will post an Amazon review.

The Judging

Judging criteria will be as follows:

  • Kid appeal—something the twelve and under reading audience will enjoy and relate to.
  • Originality and creativity.
  • Humor, heart tugging, or thought provoking.
  • Wow factor—something that makes the story stand out from all the others.
  • Following the directions thoroughly. Very important. Not following directions may result is disqualification.
  • Winners will be announced on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter on Sunday, December 8.

The Prizes

First place:

A pre-release proof (hardcover) of Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. Learn more about Sarah here and more about Alayne here.

If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and Alayne’s critique will have to be Skype or written.

Second Through Fourth Place:

A softcover ARC of Who Will? Will You?

Giving thanks! (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the holidays coming, I am offering contests with prizes and random giftaways to the kid lit writers and illustrators community as a thank you for always supporting me, Blue Whale Press, and our authors and illustrators. Last week, our giftaway offered four ARCs for Randall and Randall by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Polina Gortman.

Cover from BWP site 978-0-9814938-9-3

by Lydia Lukidis art by Tara J. Hannon

This week we are giving away, for first prize, a hardcover pre-release proof for No Bears Allowed along with a fifteen-minute “first impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via telephone or Skype. For second through fourth places, we will be giving away a softcover of No Bears Allowed to three winners. If you aren’t familiar with No Bears Allowed, you can view the fun book trailer below.

My goal is to have weekly contests until we run out of prizes. So watch for more Holiday Giftaways–books, critiques, bundles of ARCs, and some other great things.

 

Following is a twenty-six-second peek at the No Bears Allowed downloadable and printable activity book. Visit Blue Whale Press to download it.

Following is the photo for the contest.

The Contest

  1. Write a funny or heartfelt caption for the above photo of Rabbit and Bear.
  2. The caption must relate to Thanksgiving or being thankful for something. Still, the funnier or touching the better.
  3. Add interest to your caption by printing out the photo and putting it in a Thanksgiving setting and then taking your own photo starring Bear and Rabbit. You can right click the photo to save or copy it for printing or to include it with your caption on your blog.
  4. Post the above photo (or your own Thanksgiving Bear and Rabbit photo) with your caption on your blog along with a blurb about the contest and a link to this blog.
  5. Post between right now this very second and Wednesday, December 4 by 11:59 PM EDT
  6. IMPORTANT! Add your name and your blog post-specific link in a comment here in this post (post-specific link not your blog’s main url because if you put up a new post on your blog after your entry during the dates of the contest, the judges will find the wrong post!)
  7. If you don’t have a blog, just leave your name and the caption in a comment, explaining you don’t have a blog.
  8. If you have difficulty posting in the comments, which unfortunately sometimes happens, you may email your entry using the contact form on my blog or at alaynecritiques at gmail dot com, and I’ll post it for you. Please place your entry in the body of the email including your title and byline at the top – NO ATTACHMENTS!
  9. Please submit your entry only ONCE.

The Judging

Judging criteria will be as follows:

  1. Thanksgiving appeal.
  2. Originality and creativity.
  3. Humor or heart tugging.
  4. Following the directions thoroughly. Very important. Not following directions may result is disqualification.

Winners will be announced on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter on Saturday, December 7.

The Prizes

First place: A pre-release proof (hardcover) of No Bears Allowed and a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. Learn more about Alayne here.

If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and the critique will have to be Skype or written.

Second Through Fourth Place: A softcover copy of No Bears Allowed.

Happy Thanks giving!

With the holidays coming, I wanted to offer something to the kid lit writers and illustrators community as a thank you for always supporting me, Blue Whale Press, and our authors and illustrators. I thought I would come up with some fun contests with prizes and some regular old giveaways. So I took inventory of the Blue Whale Press uncorrected-proof copies of our various picture books (both soft and hardcover), and we have lots of them to give away. In addition, we will have some surprise giveaways of critiques, bundles of ARCs, and some other great things. I decided to call the weeks of contests and giveaways Holiday Giftaways.

ARC cover for giveaways

After taking inventory, it came time for me to figure out how to do a giveaway using Rafflecopter. And I’m not sure I have it figured out yet 😉 So, this week’s giveaway is a trial run. I hope all goes well. I will be giving away four softcover ARCs (advanced review copies) of Randall and Randall by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Polina Gortman. You will find a link below that will take you to the Rafflecopter form to complete for your chance to win an ARC.

 

 

Train to take on the world's biggest waves!If you don’t know about this book, it is the recipient of the prestigious Kirkus Reviews Blue Star. You can read the review here. It is a wonderful book for the classroom and library. In addition it is funny and has fantastic illustrations! You can find more information about it and all of our books at BlueWhalePress.com.

“Based on a real-life symbiotic relationship, this silly tale makes the science approachable through the goby’s giggle-worthy antics. Notes from ichthyologist Dr. John Randall describe the phenomenon for adults, and Gortman’s closing illustrations supply diagrams of the charismatic creatures. The picture book’s cartoonish interior images deftly mix human and animal characteristics . . . Poper’s simple English text seamlessly introduces a few straightforward Spanish-language phrases due to the coastal Mexico setting.” —Kirkus Reviews

You can also view the book trailer below. In addition, there is a downloadable activity book available on the Blue Whale Press site with printable puzzles, worksheets, coloring sheets, crafts and more. See video below.

Randall and Randall Book Trailer

Randall and Randall Activity Book Look Inside

Follow this blog or follow Blue Whale Press or Twitter or Facebook for updates as the Holiday Giftaways grows bigger and bigger.

I am not Totally Selfless

Blue Whale Press and our authors and illustrators need your help. We need book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble and so on. If you’ve never written a review, it’s easy and kind of fun. Start by reading some the other other reviews to get a feel for what others do. Click here for a good article about what to look for when reading a book to review.

Another way you can help us is to request that your librarian put our books in their library.

We are grateful for any support. And the coming weeks of gifts will show you just how grateful we are!

How to Enter the Giftaway

Click “Rallecoper Giveaway” below. You will get points for all actions and information you provide, which means you could have more than one entry in the drawing. You get extra points (2 instead of 1) if you review another Blue Whale Press book that you have read. The reason it asks for your email address is so that I can contact you if you win. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Rafflecopter Giveaway

I’d like to introduce author/illustrator Milanka Reardon. She is the illustrator for Who Will? Will You?—written by Sarah Hoppe and published by Blue Whale Press. In this interview, Milanka shares excellent tips for remaining consistent from page to page, illustrating facial expressions and body language, dealing with creative direction, and more!

 

How did you get your start as a children’s book illustrator?

I have always loved to draw from the time that I was a little girl living in Titograd, Yugoslavia with my mother. I was fascinated by the pictures in the old fairy tale books from that country. I still have most of them. That is the one thing that I carried with me when I emigrated from Yugoslavia when I was six years old. I left any toys I had behind. My aunt sent us a roll of toilet paper when we lived in the old country, and I used to draw pictures on it. It made a great continuous storyboard and I filled each square with pictures!

When I decided to go back to school for art, I thought that Natural Science Illustration would be a great fit for me since my undergraduate degree is in biology, (art school wasn’t considered a practical thing for an immigrant girl). And while I loved drawing and painting plants and animals, I wanted to tell a story with them. I always loved the funny individual expressions of the animals and saw them as characters, and I wondered about their story. So that naturally led me to the Children’s Book Illustration program at Rhode Island School of Design. Once I started that program, I found that I had so many stories that I wanted to tell with pictures, and that was just the beginning.

You are also a writer. Which came first? Writing or art?

The art, definitely! I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer.

Side note from Alayne: I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of your author/illustrator pieces (Blog reader: see image above for Nana’s Wall) and it is so wonderful that I can’t forget about it!

Thank you so much, Alayne. That story parallels my life so much that it came naturally. But of course, the pictures came first. Then it took several years of revising the story to make it into a real picture book. I’m hoping that it will be published someday.

Kirkus Reviews had the following to say about your Who Will? Will You? illustrations:

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions.”

I agree with Kirkus. The drawings you have done for my next book, Old Man and His Penguin, are equally as impressive.

Do you have any artistic influences? If not, what does influence your style?

I have so many influences! I love to travel and get the feel for a place, and I think that influences my illustrations. Maybe that’s why they have an old-world feel. With Who Will? Will You? I really tried to show a diverse world of characters for the book. That is why the Kirkus review made me so happy. I was really trying to show a population of humans that was diverse without singling out one group of people. I wanted Lottie to ask different people who will take care of her pup, and I tried to imagine who she would meet in the real world. The animals were just the extra fun bonus to illustrate!

Do you have a preferred medium?

I painted mostly with oils when I started painting portraits. Then I found that I could achieve some fantastic results with colored pencils. I love to explore different mediums. Now I am happiest working with watercolors and pencils. I love the looseness of the water and paint and watching it flow on paper, and then I like to have some areas more controlled with colored pencil or pastel pencil. I try to achieve a nice variety of textures. But most of all I am drawn to whatever works for creating that unique character that best fits the story. I have also been able to add finishing touches digitally with Photoshop or Procreate.

What medium and process did you use for the Who Will? Will You? illustrations?

For Who Will? Will You? I used mostly watercolors and pencils, both pastel pencils and colored pencils. After scanning the paintings, I was able to make adjustments using Procreate and Photoshop as well.

Blue Whale Press is involved in the illustration process throughout book development. What was it like following a publisher’s process versus working independently?

Working with Blue Whale Press has been a wonderful experience. I had creative freedom with the illustrations, and the editor and publisher were very supportive while providing professional feedback throughout the process. Also the author, Sarah Hoppe, did a fantastic job writing a fun story and making each word count.

The last book I illustrated was self-published. Illustrating for someone who is self-publishing their book is very different. The author of the story had definite ideas of what he wanted on each page, and there was a lot more input on each individual illustration from the author throughout. It’s kind of nice with a small press because you have the best situation in that the publisher trusts you to create the characters and to come up with the book dummy but is available and provides professional feedback where needed. The overall process was very positive and supportive with great communication between the editor, publisher and myself. Thank you, Alayne, for that!

It has all been my pleasure, Milanka.

You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways, but also in the area of creative direction. Do you have any tips for illustrators regarding how to keep from taking direction personally?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think that anyone that has gone to art school realizes that critiques can be tough. But you try to use them to improve your own artwork. In the case of illustrating a picture book, you have to always be open to suggestions and ideas that may improve the story. So, it’s more about working together with the editor to make a better book. Making a good picture book is a collaborative effort. The author, the illustrator, editor and publisher all have ideas to make it work and hopefully it all comes together in the best way possible in the end. That is why I have always been open to edits. I know personally that I spend so much time staring at that illustration that I may miss something important, so the creative direction is appreciated.

My advice to any illustrator would be to look at the final image and to do what is best for the book. If more than one person critiques the same area of the illustration, then it’s probably not reading correctly. The creative direction from the editor and publisher is meant to improve the story, it is not a personal commentary on you.

I love the little extras you put on every page of Who Will? Will You? One little thing I noticed that made me smile is one of the sea lions is cross-eyed 😉 But you just created such a nice world for Lottie.

How do you get over the natural instinct to show only what is in the text and instead put some of yourself into the story by doing a little something extra or special on each page?

The job of the illustrator is to add to the story and to tell the story with pictures. So naturally you want to add a little something extra to the story. The illustrations should complement the text and the text should also complement the illustrations. They work together. There is no need to be redundant and only show what is told in words. It’s a lot more fun to add the little extras. Children are smart and they will notice. It’s the difference that makes a book one that a child will want to read over and over again to discover even more within the book and the illustrations each time they read it.

Does it take courage to express yourself and help tell the story?

Yes and no. Personally it does show some of your sense of humor, adventure or even if you’ve done your research correctly. But, I feel that you should show some of yourself in your illustrations because that’s the point of both telling with words and pictures. It’s all about making the story fun for children.

Do you have any tips for illustrators for going beyond the text with your expression?

Research! Research the location. In Who Will? Will You? I had to think of where could you find all of those types of animal rescue places in one area, and even a bat cave! And how do you make each one different and unique. Then you can put who would be in those places. So that research was fun – going to the beach and even a cave and sketching and photographing. You notice, especially when you sketch people and animals the different body positions and facial expressions that people have. Animals too! It’s fun to observe and sketch.

Character study, younger Lottie and Rufus

Lottie and Rufus are so adorable. Where did you find your inspiration for them—well, for all the characters, really?

Character design, older Lottie and Rufus

I can remember when I was thinking about Lottie. I was in a Paneras and I saw this beautiful little girl come in with her mother and she had this messy hair. When I came home I couldn’t forget her funny expressions and the messy hair. So I drew who I thought Lottie would be. And I remember my initial sketches were of a much younger Lottie! I remember you telling me that my little preschool Lottie would not be walking the streets alone looking for a home for a pup, so please change her to an older child. You were so nice with your directions and I thought, okay, that’s not really a problem. I can draw an older Lottie. And then what kind of dog would my older Lottie have. It was early enough in the process that it wasn’t a problem to change because I was only showing you initial sketches, and I hadn’t started the storyboard yet. I did a lot of sketching before the right Lottie and her dog appeared on the pages.

Notice the fun eyes on the sea lion. But notice the sad eyes on Lottie. This is actually an earlier image. In the book, she has tears 😦

In the Who Will? Will You? art, you do an excellent job of showing mood and emotion via facial expression and body language.

How did you learn to do that? And do you have any tips for illustrators on developing that skill?

That takes time and a lot of sketching from life. Really noticing that people hardly ever stand like those stick figures looking straight ahead that we all love to draw. Most people are always leaning or moving around. Body language tells a lot. I went to the SCBWI LA conference and took an Illustrator Intensive on character design that the art director Laurent Lin was in. He used to work for Sesame Street, so he brought in puppeteers that showed us some amazing things about body language. The stories that they told with just those puppets brought me to tears and made me laugh. That was with just body language – the puppets eyes and mouth weren’t moving, just their bodies. It was an awesome lesson, one that I am still working on. It also comes back to sketching from life and observing body language and putting in the tiny details after.

I believe one of the most difficult things for an illustrator is to remain consistent from page to page—especially with characters. What is your trick for remaining consistent?

I try to keep the body proportions the same. It’s not always easy to do, especially when you want to draw freely which I think is more important in order to get expressive illustrations. But you can always scan things into Photoshop or Procreate and check your proportions and use that as a guideline when you are going into the final drawing phase. Or you can use good old-fashioned tracing paper. Let your initial sketches be free and fun. In the final illustrations try to get those proportions right. That will make the painting stage go so much more smoothly. You will have figured it all out in the drawing stages.

You recently signed with an agent as an author/illustrator! I was so excited to get that news. Congratulations, again!

Thank you so much, Alayne! I signed with Barbara Krasner with Olswanger Literary. I am really hoping to get my picture book dummy out into the world!

Blog reader: See toilet paper art image at the beginning of this interview. That image is from the dummy for Nana’s Wall. A beautiful story.

What was it like to see your granddaughter look at the book for the first time?

Aw, look how sad she is for Lottie. So sweet.

So happy. I love it!

Yay! And happy again.

Oh my goodness, that was amazing! It truly was a test. She’s not quite two years old yet but she loves the book. She was so funny when she looks at the pictures, she absolutely loves the way each of the adults say “no” to Lottie. She actually mimics the hand movements that they use (thank goodness I got the body language on those characters!) No is a favorite word of hers! She also was sad when she first saw Lottie crying and kisses that picture. And she loves to sing one of her favorite songs in the end. (From Alayne: Sorry, we can’t share the song without giving away the ending of the book.)

She is so adorable. It is a thrill to see this. Thank you for sharing these precious moments!

It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Milanka. I’m thrilled that you are illustrating one of my picture books next! Your work has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments over the last year. And the visual story you have told is amazing! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

It has been and continues to be a pleasure working for you and with you, Alayne! Thank you so much for the kind words and for this opportunity!

BONUS!

When, at another time, I asked Milanka questions that I had for myself personally, as an illustrator wannabe, she graciously shared excellent advice—excerpts below.

About Style

I think that’s wonderful that you are taking an online art class. And cute is a wonderful style to have. We can’t all be the same, that would be boring. . . . A realistic style can be a curse. It just takes a lot of time and no matter how hard you try, there is always someone that can do it better. That’s what an illustration teacher at RISD told me. Besides, if you have a realistic style, it’s so easy to notice little mistakes. So go with your style and just practice every day.

Best Advice

Honestly, the best advice that I can give you is to sketch people every day. They don’t have to be perfect sketches, just sketch. And one thing you’ll notice is all of the wonderful gestures. People don’t just stand still, they lean, they bend they do all sorts of poses even when just standing there. Sketching will help no matter what style of illustration you choose, or sometimes I feel it’s the style that chooses you. But either way, you need to know a bit about anatomy and that’s great to be learning from online classes and reference books too.

I love “the style that chooses you”!

More about Inspiration for Lottie and other Who Will? Will You? Characters

Lottie was made up in my mind and so were her various adult people. Remember when I sent you the turnaround of Lottie. I did all the things that I needed to to map out her features and size, etc. But she looked a little stiff at first. So I never used those exact images. By observing real people, she became softer and moved better along the page. Actually even though Lottie was made up, I noticed a little girl in Paneras that was so cute but had that messy hair, and I loved the way she sat on her leg and leaned from side to side, so expressive. So, I had her in mind when creating Lottie and I knew I wanted a diverse set of characters. Children in a playground are also fun to watch and to draw. So just observing people helps. They are not all the same size or shape either.

Character study, Lottie’s dog Rufus.

Final painting of Rufus and friends

Sketching is Fun

Sketching is a lot of fun. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on it. Nobody has to look at it. Afterwards, you can choose a sketch to really focus on and draw out. It’s such a good feeling when your drawing starts to come to life.

 

Inspiration for Alayne’s Next Picture Book

Old Man and His Penguin

The kids in the penguin story came from my sketchbook from when I traveled to Cuba on a cruise. I had my sketchbook with me and children were on recess when we were in the old town in the plaza. I did some quick sketches—it was fun, and like most things in life, you never know when they might come in handy. The old man is made up, but I did ask my husband to do a couple of poses and to walk so I could take a picture to draw from. He would never stand still long enough for me to sketch even a quick two-minute sketch!

Sneak peek, dummy sketch Old Man and His Penguin

Simple Lines

You don’t have to be super realistic. Some people are so expressive with simple lines. I wish that I could be. I’m still working on that. Just go out there and sketch different people and gestures and have fun with it.

About Milanka

Milanka Reardon learned to illustrate at a very young age. When she emigrated to the U.S. from the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the age of six, no one in her school spoke her language, so her teachers sketched images of the English words for her. But instead of copying the words, Milanka took it upon herself to improve their work and draw more interesting pictures. Later, Milanka went on to earn a children’s book illustration certificate from the Rhode Island School of Design and was awarded the 2016 R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award. She is the central New England illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You can read more about Milanka and see some of her artwork by going to MilankaReardon.com.

To read interview with Who Will? Will You? author Sarah Hoppe click here.

All content copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS AN ICHTHYOLOGIST? Mahalo and a final aloha to an amazing man.

I originally posted this story August 17, 2019. I am republishing it today in honor of Dr. John E. Randall, a distinguished ichthyologist and coral specialist who discovered and named more species of fish than anyone. He died April 26 in his home in Kaneohe, Hawaii. He was 95.

Since the original post, the picture book titled after Dr. Randall, Randall and Randall, has been released and was named as one of the best 100 indie books in 2019 by Kirkus Reviews. Author, Nadine Poper and the Blue Whale Press team will be forever grateful for Dr. Randall and his contributions to this educational and funny book. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. May he rest in peace. 

With a final aloha to Dr. Randall, we offer the original post below.

Before I answer the ‘ichthyologist’ question, I want to explain why I’m presenting the question in the first place. Blue Whale Press’s latest picture book, Randall and Randall, is now available for pre-order, and this book just happens to have a foreword written by the renowned ichthyologist Dr. John E. Randall. Please read the post to the end because while I was writing it, I got some fantastic, must see, news. I want to share the surprise with you.

Cover corrected 978-0-9814938-7-9

An ichthyologists is . . .

. . . a branch of zoology that deals with the study of fish and other marine life. Ichthyologists (ik-thee-AH-lo-gists) are also called marine biologists or fish scientists. They discover and study new and existing species of fish, their environment, and their behavior.

Ichthyologists dedicate their time to studying different kinds of fish species, though many will focus on one family of fish in particular. They generally focus on the biological history, behavior, growth patterns, and ecological importance of these fish. Most ichthyologists will go into the field to collect various samples or observe fish behavior and then return to a lab or office to analyze their collected data. If funded by a university, many of these scientists may be required to teach in addition to their other duties. Some of these scientists may also dedicate their time to educating others about the field and advocating for the importance of fish to ecosystems.

About Dr. Randall Dr R head shot

Dr. John “Jack” Randall, ichthyologist emeritus at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, has over 900 publications and has described more valid marine species than anyone, living or dead—at least 800 of them.

Dr. R book 1

Why did Dr. Randall write the foreword for Randall and Randall?

First, the author, Nadine Poper, named the characters and the book in Dr. Randall’s honor. But the answer goes deeper than that.

Why are goby fish named Amblyeleotris randalli and the pistol shrimp named Alpheus randalli? Either there is a strange coincidence between Dr. Randall, the Randalls in the book, and the scientific name randalli or there is a strong connection and explanation.

The explanation starts with Dr. John E. Randall.

“A dive pioneer and a dedicated taxonomist for over 70 years, it’s doubtful there is anyone who knows more about fish than Hawaii’s Jack Randall.”

–Christie Wilcox, Hakai Magazine

Some fun facts about Dr. Randall

• He is sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fish”
• His O‘ahu home is methodically littered with hundreds of pickled fish specimens sequestered in alcohol. Click here to read why he collects these specimens.
• For Dr. Randall, collecting the fish has been exciting and adventurous. He has dived on some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, but the actual process of identifying species takes passion and patience. Dr. R book 2
• Dr. Randall was one of the first to study fish in their ocean habitat. He first dove in the mid-1940s, before the acronym SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) was even coined.
• He became one of the first scientists to use scuba gear, allowing him to access fish that no one else had ever seen.
• Dr. Randall even pioneered wet suits—sort of. He tried using long underwear to stay warm at first, but they didn’t retain heat. Then he got the brilliant idea to dip his long johns in liquid latex, creating a primitive wet suit years before the first neoprene was used.

 

All the above facts came from an article by Christie Wilcox at Hakai Magazine (May 15, 2016)

Two more wonderful facts about Dr. Randall

1) Dr. Randall celebrated his 90th birthday by SCUBA diving off Waikiki.

2) At the age of 91, he received the 2016 Darwin Medal from The International Society for Reef Studies. The award was presented at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium on June 20. Jack gave an entertaining presentation on his work with coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands to an enthralled audience of hundreds of conference attendees.

Dr. Randall has likely won many other awards, and here is one more example: At 94 years of age, he won the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) Pioneer Award for Science.

Dr. Randall’s scientific and academic achievements are too extensive to list in one blog post, instead I will share the following video. Although it doesn’t cover all his accomplishments, it is so much better than a list! It’s only six minutes long and definitely worth viewing.

This man is amazing, and I urge you to read more about him and to visit the links I have shared.

Finding Dr. Randall: Nadine Poper’s research for the book

Dr. R book 3During Nadine Poper’s research for this book, she was eventually led to Dr. Randall, and they became friends. Dr. Randall told Nadine anything she wanted to know about these creatures and their symbiotic relationship. He even provided her with photos that he took personally under the sea. And Dr. Randall graciously obliged when Nadine asked him if he would write a foreword.

When Nadine asked Dr. Randall how the fish and shrimp species came to bear his name, he responded with the following: “If you see the two-part scientific name Alpheus randalli, Alpheus is the generic name for a group of very similar shrimps, and randalli is the species name which was given by the person who prepared the scientific description of the genus to honor me. . . .”

I’m going to assume the same goes for the goby (Amblyeleotris randalli). And it makes sense, given the interesting relationship between the shrimp and goby (Randall and Randall).

Ambyleleotris yanoi Bali

Live goby fish and pistol shrimp, compliments of Dr. Randall

Goby 2

A real-life view under the sea. Goby fish guarding the burrow and protecting a pistol shrimp while it digs their home. Compliments of Dr. John E. Randall

As I was writing this post, the Kirkus review for Randall and Randall arrived . . .

and I cannot resist hijacking this Dr. Randall post to share an excerpt from it (in green below). Well, I’m not fully hijacking it because they do mention ichthyologist Dr. John Randall. But the really exciting thing about this review is it is starred review! According to Kirkus, only 10 percent of the 10,000 reviews they do a year earn a blue star. And according to Washington Post, only 2 percent of independently published books earn a blue star. This also means that Randall and Randall will automatically be entered into the Kirkus awards!

 

Young readers get a slice of science in this undersea tale about symbiosis.

Randall the pistol shrimp accidentally gets a new roommate when he snaps at a fish he believes is a threat. But the goby fish, also named Randall, offers to let the shrimp know when genuine predators are around. Unfortunately, the goby misidentifies plankton, a sand dollar, and a sea cucumber as dangerous foes, all the while singing songs that drive the shrimp to distraction. Likewise, the noises the shrimp’s snapping claws make irritate the goby. After a huge fight, the goby leaves, only to run into a real killer . . . Based on a real-life symbiotic relationship, this silly tale makes the science approachable through the goby’s giggle-worthy antics. Notes from ichthyologist Dr. John Randall describe the phenomenon for adults, and Gortman’s (Fishing for Turkey, 2016) closing illustrations supply diagrams of the charismatic creatures. The picture book’s cartoonish interior images deftly mix human and animal characteristics, showing the shrimp’s long antennae as mustaches. Poper’s (Frank Stinks, 2017, etc.) simple English text seamlessly introduces a few straightforward Spanish-language phrases (“mi casa”) due to the coastal Mexico setting. The ingenious aquatic tale also encourages readers to realize they can find friendship even if they don’t see eye to eye with their cohorts.

A clever introduction to a scientific concept with an accessible moral.

Written by Nadine Poper
Illustrated by Polina Gortman.
Dr. Randall’s foreword does a fantastic job of explaining all about the goby and pistol shrimp and their special relationship.
Published by Blue Whale Press

Book trailer for Randall and Randall

More about the picture book Randall and Randall

Randall, the pistol shrimp, is a master at excavation. Randall, the goby fish, is his skittish, yet happy-go-lucky watchman. The problem is that both have quirks that drive each other bananas until one day their relationship is driven to the breaking point. This very funny informational-fiction story about one of the sea’s naturally-existent odd couples illustrates how certain species depend upon their symbiotic relationship for survival. It also shows children how two very different beings can embrace each other’s peculiarities and become best of friends.

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