Thursday, May 31, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Kathryn Erskine

The last five months, I have been on a fabulous middle grade binge.  I love so many of the titles that have been recommended to me, but I can honestly say I was blown away by Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird and how genius it was. Having had my life touched by individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, I was immediately fascinated by the book's protagonist. While faced with the challenge of learning the emotional cues of those around her, the main character is catapulted into an intensely emotional situation with the tragic death of a family member. Winner of the National Book Award, Mockingbird is an essential read in that it will allow its audience a glimpse into the lives of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and those who love them.

I am so honored to host today's featured author, Kathryn Erskine. =)


Hi, Elizabeth and all!

What a great idea to capture banana peel moments because it’s true that we often learn more from our failures than our successes.  My first book was a litany of lessons because I was relatively new to the writing experience and, honestly, in the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s there wasn’t as much information online about craft and publishing as there is now.  So … here’s the list of mistakes:

1.      Publishing with PublishAmerica.  Wow!  They wanted my book and I’d received rejections from some of the major publishers.  It wasn’t a vanity press (it didn’t cost me anything and I did make tiny royalties, probably from my wonderful sister, who bought many copies) but there were drawbacks:  NO editing, NO distribution, and NO publicity.  Nowadays, of course, you can publish your book electronically and, if you have existing readers, a good social media presence, or a lot of bloggers lined up to promote you, you could be successful.

2.      Choosing a title no one could pronounce.  I thought it was cool to use Ibhubesi, a Zulu word for lion, but if people are too embarrassed to ask for it by name because they don’t want to stand there stumbling over “I--boo…?  Ib-hoo…?” it’s better to pick something else.  I did, at least, subtitle it “The Lion,” but still.

3.      Choosing a different name.  Sure, if you want to write in different genres and have a nom de plume for each, that’s fine, but if you’re writing for the same market, think hard about how you’re presenting your name now, and for the future.  I’d heard that my book might be more marketable if it was not gender specific, i.e., boys might be more likely to read it if it wasn’t written by a girl.  I don’t actually believe that but, as I mentioned, I was a newbie.  My initials are “K.D.” but since that could sound like “Katie,” I switched it to D.K.  I’ve spent the past eight years explaining why.  :o)

Generally, I’d say to learn all you can about the craft and business--easy to do with classes, writers’ groups, and online chat and writing sites.  Writers are a friendly community and we love to help each other -- like Elizabeth here!  Thanks, again!

Kathy Erskine

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are Ya Ready?

Dear Blogoshphere:

I will have you know that I am officially ready.

I've dusted and polished. I've scrubbed and decrusted.

And now I celebrate, for in less than 48 hours, a National Book Award winner will be on my blog. Yay!

Hope to see you Thursday when Kathryn Erskine reveals some thoughtful, banana peels moments!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Jennifer Ward

Not too long ago, I found myself in a rather ironic situation. While my children were in the middle of deep conversation about a very educational TV show, eh hem... excuse me, I mean, while my children were sitting watching TV in erie vegitative states, slightly resembling this one...

 ... I sat on the couch next to them reading, Jennifer Ward's, Let's Go Outside, an excellent book that  describes outdoor activities families can enjoy together. While a whiny little episode or two of Caillou is not the worse thing my children could be watching, you can probably guess I was feeling a slight twinge of mommy guilt. But then, wasn't I doing something right by reading the book in the first place? Huh, huh? Who's with me? Anybody? Somebody? Ping.

 I must admit, that her book is one I feel ALL parents should own, especially parents like me, who need some coaching in the outdoor play department. I am more of a picnickey, go-and-run through-the sprinklers, kind of mama.

I am so happy to introduce today's Banana Peel Thursday author, the very funny, Jennifer Ward!


When Elizabeth invited me to slip and slide my way down memory lane to share my journey to publication, I was both honored and excited to partake. My first published book, "Way Out in the Desert", came out in 1998, and I've been published consistently since that time - feels like eons ago that it all started - and boy, was I green back in the day. Today I'm still a bit green, but all bananas ripen eventually, don't they?
So I was the typical school teacher having a major love affair with children's books, implementing them to teach every subject in my classroom. Of course, with each book I fell in love with, I also had that nagging, 'I wish "I" had written this book' mentality. But I had no clue about how one could become published, other than knowing that publishing houses existed and writer's existed - but each was a mysterious entitiy to me. I didn't personally know any authors. I didn't know SCBWI existed. This was somewhat pre-world wide web access. And I lived in a bubble, evidently.
So my school invites an author to visit. An amazing author, whose work has received several Caldecott medals, whose entire body of work I admire with deep emotion, adoration, and appreciation. I was over the moon, getting to meet my first "real" author in-person.

-Insert Banana Peel Here - Maybe if I introduce myself, explain that I've always wanted to write children's books, too, she will give me her phone number and help me get published?
Okay - so her response wasn't what I had envisioned. There may have been a subtle eye roll (or maybe that was my imagination), and at the very least, a subdued sigh under her breath. Apparetnly this author had certainly been told by a thousand, overly-eager, enthusiastic fans over the years, "I want to write children's books, too!"

She didn't give me her phone number. However, she did give me a, "Good luck. This is a tough business, and the industry isn't what it used to be." End of conversation.
Granted, this was back in the early 90's, and she had been published since the early 70's. Talk about evolution. I wonder what she thinks about the industry today?

Not to be dismayed or dissuaded, I had a great idea for a book one summer (when school was out), wrote several drafts, went to a bookstore to find a book on how to publish, found "The Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market", figured out the process, sent off my manuscript to one publisher referenced in CWIM, and Wa-La! A few months later I received a phone call and and an offer to publish. No kidding.
-Insert Banana Peel - Wow! This business is easy! ha ha ha
Okay, just throw down a whole mess of peels for me to slip and slide on from here on out. Call it the School of Banana Peel Hard Knocks:

-My editor was thrilled with the book's f
irst wonderful review from SLJ. Me: What's School Library Journal?

-A librarian tells me my book is nominated for a state award. Me: What's a state award?

-A school a few hours away invites me to visit. I take a personal day to do this, leave before the crack of dawn, show up and proceed to present EIGHT back-to-back sessions, a.m. K/p.m. K through- 6th grade, no breaks, no lunch, no time to pee, no time to breathe. I execute each session giving 100%, only collapsing once I get in my car to drive home, unable to sing along with my car radio because my throat is swollen shut from being "on" all day.

-My second book lands a record number subsidiary sale to Scholastic (for my publisher) and I proudly share this sales number with a newspaper reporter who is interviewing me. Number is published in the paper. I receive a scathing letter from the publisher, slapping my hand for divulging such information. That's where I learn the terminology "off the record" for interviews.
-In the early days, I eagerly sent manuscripts off to my editor straight from my brain to paper - no revisions. Ugh. What was I thinking? Ugh. What was my editor thinking I was thinking?

-I've trusted GPS to get me to schools, only to wind up on dead-end dirt roads and the clock ticking toward my first session.

-I've trusted schools to trust their technology works.

-I drove an hour to a B&N for a book signing, only to discover they had ordered copies of a book written by a different "Jennifer Ward", and the book we were supposed to be launching (mine), they hadn't gotten in yet. Good times.

-I've signed contracts without negotiating them. I even had an editor once tell me, during a contract discussion, "Jennifer, you know...we have wiggle room if there are areas you want to negotiate." Can I just say my agent is worth her weight in gold, because I suck at negotiating contracts. (Can I say suck?)
-I have a book that just surpassed 100,000 in hard cover trade sales, and too bad my agent wasn't on board for that book. Live and learn, right?

-I have a typo on my website I can't fix (new site launching soon, though).

-I once had a school ask me if I could cut me fee in half because budgets were tight. Being an educator, I agree. Their response, "Great! Thanks! Now we can also hire XXXX author, because he's expensive!"

-I once had a librarian tell me I was cheap. But I assured her I wasn't easy.

-I once saw Jimmy Fallon perform "Whip My Hair" as Neil Young, and I actually thought it "was" Neil Young. Okay, so that's not writing related. Just thought I'd toss that one in, too, because those dang banana peels are everywhere in life.  (I HEART Jimmy Fallon, and I HEART Neil Young, too! : )
So would I change any slips and slides I've experienced along the way? No. The journey has been a fun ride and blessed and a blast, and I expect more banana peels in my life, as long as they help me grow and progress in this profession.
And as a final note: bananas are not only tasty, they're high in potassium.

Jennifer Ward is the author of numerous acclaimed books for children, including, Way Out in the Desert, Somewhere in the Ocean, Over in the Garden, Way Up in the Arctic, The Seed and the Giant Saguaro, The Little Creek, Forest Bright/Forest Night, Because You Are My Baby, There Was a Coyote Who Swallowed a Flea, There Was an Old Monkey Who Swallowed a Frog, There Was an Odd Princess Who Swallowed a Pea, and, The Busy Tree.Her parenting books include, I Love Dirt! 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature, Let's Go Outside: Outdoor Activities and Projects to Get You and Your Kids Closer to Nature, and, It’s a Jungle Out There: 52 Nature Adventures for City KidsForthcoming titles by Jennifer Ward include What Will Hatch? illustrated by Susie Ghahremani (Bloomsbury/Walker Books), Mama Built a Little Nest, illustrated by Caldecott artist Steve Jenkins (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books), The Sunhat, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson (Rio Chico), and, There Was an Old Pirate Who Swallowed a Fish, illustrated by Steve Gray (Marshall Cavendish).

Jennifer’s writing is often inspired by nature. She lives in Southern Illinois with her daughter, her boyfriend, their dog, Bandit, and a cat they call Jaz. When not writing, Jennifer is unplugged and outdoors where you’ll find her canoeing, jogging, meandering, gardening, bird watching, barefoot, and cloud gazing.
Visit her on the web at

Monday, May 21, 2012

Oh, woe is me...

Oh, woe is me....

It has been three weeks since my first submission.

I thought I could handle the waiting, but you see, I am totally, completely, utterly....FULL OF IT!

I revise, I check my email.

I read, I check my email.

I Facebook, I check my email.

I check the missed call on my cell phone from a mysterious area code, it's that political party needing money to stop the end of the world.

The home phone rings, it's Velma looking for Dr. Mortinson's office.


What if no one likes my baby?
I think I might be sick.
What the heck am I doing with my life?

But I know I don't want to do anything else in the whole, entire universe! I've checked. And for that I say, YAY! =)

Oh, woe is me.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Candy Gourlay

Attention all banana peelers...I must warn you. The list below, what I have coined as The Gourlay 10 Step Program on How to Be an Expert Banana Peeler is not for the faint of heart. Half of the time I was reading it, okay three-fourths of the time, I was thinking, ah man...I DO THAT!?!

Luckily, no one knows except for these guys. Phew!

If you can stomach it, there is some pretty solid advice. If you can't stomach it, no need to sweat it... I am here for you, as I too am guilty of committing many of these blunders along my journey to publication.

Please welcome this week's Banana Peelin' featured author, Candy Gourlay!

So many banana peels, so little time. My dear Elizabeth, with such a focused theme, how long do you suppose will you be able to keep this blog going? Well ... forever.  The road to publication is LITTERED with banana peels. For every book published, four score and seven commissioning editors lie snoring, bored to oblivion by their slushpile. Let not their sacrifice be in vain. Here are some choice banana peels for the discerning blunderer on his or her journey to the slushpile:

1.  By all means, spend hours ... YEARS ... on that hooking first line to get that editor to read on. The rest of the manuscript may be crap but you sure hooked that sucker.
2. Ditto your covering letter. Craft it, love it, spit and polish it. Hone it to perfection. The phone will ring and you'll hear the words you never thought you'd hear. Send us the full manuscript, please.  Er. What manuscript?
3. Keep an eye on trends. Vampires? Check. Mermaids? Check. Dystopia? Check. Gritty? Check. They say editors don't know what they want until they see it. And when they see your saber fanged mermaid living in an alternative parallel world populated by knife-wielding hoodies, they're going to know exactly what they want. Someone else's book.
4. Authors have to build their own platforms in this digital age. So get on with it ... friend everyone on Facebook, Tweet like the the world is coming to an end, respond to every comment on your four blogs. There's only one problem. Everyone else is doing it too. Being noticed has everything to do with standing out, not hanging with the rest of the sheep.
5. Fed up with sad stories and depressing plots? Go ahead, write a book filled with goodness and light. Let the hero's dreams come true. Let the sun shine on your characters. Let their every desire be met. It will be the first tension-free book! Surely, a world record! Which will be wonderful because it will make up for the fact that nobody's going to want it - nobody wants to read a book with no tension.
6. Cherish your prose. Hold it close, savour every word. Only show it to people who you know will love it, like your children and your best friend, the one who owes you money. Put that manuscript on a pedestal. It will look great up there. Safe from the bitter criticisms of commissioning editors and critique groups. Never to be thrown to the mercy of the undiscerning, unreliable reading public.
7.  Rejected? Again? Tweak that manuscript, tweak it, I say! Tweak it if it takes years! Then reformat the whole thing, print it once, twice, print it three times until it looks perfect. Then send it out again. Multiple submissions, that's the trick. Do everything to get it published. Everything to avoid writing another book.
8.  You have no time to write. You tweet about this sad fact, you blog about it, you discuss it with your friends on Facebook, and  you discuss it on the phone, and on the way home from school and on the way to work. And at bedtime, you have a row with your partner because he or she hasn't been supportive enough to help you find the time. Yes, you definitely have no time. And you definitely have no book.
Photo by Raymund Rivera
9. You're nearing the end of the manuscript! Hurrah! But what's this? You haven't planned for the ending? You were trying to allow the story to develop organically, you say, and now you don't know how to finish? Keep calm, here's what you do. Simply wake your character up. That's right. It was all a dream. Sorts everything out.  Or even better, why not end it at a bad moment and say it's the first of a trilogy. What about the other two books? No point worrying about the rest of the trilogy until you've got the book deal.
10. You've written your novel, perfected your submission, caught the eye of an agent. You've done it! Time to celebrate! What's that? You've got no friends to celebrate with? What about family? Oh I'm sorry to hear that. I could have told you. Alienating your friends and family is one of the slickest banana peels on the road to publishing success.
Candy Gourlay's debut novel TALL STORY made a splash when it was published in the UK in 2010, with nominations and shortlistings to the Carnegie and other major children's book prizes. It won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe and since publishing in the US appeared on Kirkus' Outstanding Children's Debut list for 2011. Candy was a journalist in her native Philippines. Marriage to a British foreign correspondent brought her to England.

Dang. That is all I can say, other than where was Candy Gourlay when I submitted my autobiography on being a saber fanged mermaid living in an alternative parallel world populated by knife-wielding hoodies? NO wonder I haven't been contacted for my own Lifetime movie! =)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Ruth Vander Zee

I would like to begin today with the results from the 10,000 Hit Giveaway. Thank you all for your continued support. I have really loved getting to know this amazing community of writers here on the blog. Thanks for those of you who liked me over this last week. YOU REALLY LIKE ME!?! 

I am in the process of slowly making my writery page more writery and your likes got me over the 68 fan slump. Woo hoo! I would like to congratulate Verbenabeth and Susanna Leonard Hill as they are the winners of the autographed* copies of the book of their choice! Yay! Thank you ladies! 

(* Fine print disclaimer: Reminder that autographs are not valuable in any way shape or form as they are my own. Consider this an investment opportunity. Please do not place any large bets or begin to take out large loans, such as on your house or for children's college tuition based on the fact that you will soon possess this signature.)

We are so lucky today to have the talented Ruth Vander Zee, who I am pretty sure was destined to be an author with such a beautiful name. I used her book Mississippi Morning in my classroom after a professor of mine assigned it as recommended reading. You will learn below, if you don't already know, that traditionally Ruth writes about hard issues. I must say that the week of this post is serendipitous.  Just last night, I had to explain to my little four year old about the sudden death of my mom's dog, who she adored.  It was rough. =( Ruth's books are thoughtful and touch on important issues and events  that create great topics for discussion at home or as extensions for classroom curriculum. What is the best way to talk to kids about the Holocaust or racism? Whether it is death, prejudice, or natural disaster, children's literature serves as such a great resource for exploring sensitive topics.

Please welcome today's featured Banana Peel Thursday author, Ruth Vander Zee.

Dear Elizabeth,
Do I thank you for allowing me to tell you about my slips on banana peels because slippin’ and slidin’ ain’t fun?

Right now I feel like I have my own personal banana peel that’s right underfoot all the time and it just won’t go away.
Let me explain.  After writing four children’s books all which

·         were accepted almost immediately,

·          received awards

·         are published in foreign countries,

·         sold without an agent

I found that the kind of picture books I write are not highly marketable right now.  My books are picture books for older readers on topics such as the Holocaust, the KKK, and the Vietnam War.  I taught Middle School and had a 7th grader perched on my shoulder when I wrote.  I knew they loved picture books and I knew I could use picture books to get apathetic students caring about kids living in and through difficult social issues by reading picture books. And when they cared, they were ready to learn more.

So now – to my banana peel.  I am trying to appeal to a new market.  Trying to write for younger children.  And it isn’t easy for me.  The voice I naturally hear is older.  To peel away different layers to find a young child’s voice is making me lose potassium.

And so, because I love picture books, I keep bringing my manuscripts to my wonderful critique group.  And they say things like, “This needs work.  It’s cute but, it needs work.  It has potential.  But it needs work. ”

And that work isn’t all bad.  In fact, it’s good.  Really good because I have to go to different places in my head and heart than I’ve been before.  It’s surprising what turns up when I go there.  All this hard work, of peeling the banana, slipping and sliding on the peel, landing on my butt and getting back up  in my own heart might just result in a great story for a four-year-old.  


Ruth, thank you so very much for sharing your experiences! I appreciate the work you have done and wish you the best of luck with your young child's voice!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Agents Beware

Get ready, get set, AGENTS BEWARE! Now where did I put that pencil? With my goggles on to shield my one near-sighted eye from all of the banana mush as well as to collect salty tears of frustration and self-pity, I have begun to really submit my work folks.

After some positive feedback on one specific manuscript and an amazingly warm and fuzzy critique with the Picture Book Whisperer, Mira Reisberg, on another, I am in agent research mode. We will see where this takes me. Hopefully to a SBAWOTLC4ME.(Want Ad translation... small boutique agency with oodles of tender loving care for me.). =)

Whatever happens though, I have the strangest feeling that all will lead back to you banana peel blog, where embarrassing moments run the show.  Ahhh...such is life. Or at least, such is MY life.

P.S. Please forgive me for running over Mira Reisberg's Banana Peel Thursday post. I am still learning. I know not what I do....Reeling from her post as well as the 10,000 hit milestone, her banana peel moments did not get the attention they deserved due to my giveaway extravaganza. Please check her post out for it is so wise and worth your time. Also, she is extending a half-off special for her ecourse, Hero's Art Journey, where I am going to explore my creative and wild side this June. (I think I'll keep the goggles handy for that experience as well.)

Friday, May 4, 2012

10,000 Hits Giveaway

All right people....

I am ready to celebrate! My blog reached  just over 10,000 hits yesterday. Yay! Can't believe that back in December, I was happy to have 100, okay well actually, 10 hits. (Added an extra zero in there.) Sure some of those hits have been from those who have been looking for pictures of hedgehogs and banana hedgehogs and banana splits, but hey, I'm not picky!

This month the Banana Peel Thursday series will have some amazing banana peel moments from some stellar talent. We kicked off May with Mira Reisberg. Next week will be Ruth Vanderzee and in the weeks to follow we will read the slips of Candy Gourlay, Jennifer Ward and National Book Award winner, Kathryn Erskine! Super excited.

To celebrate the 10,000 hit milestone and the contributions of some amazing authors this month, I would like to do a giveaway! I started writing for children  after I finished reading the first three chapters of Mem Fox's inspirational book, Radial Reflections (thank you Dr. Bercaw!) and the idea of my blog, Banana Peelin' was conceived after reading Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird...a must read and a great pick-me-up book that will make you smile. I would like to give away one autographed* copy of each book. (FINE PRINT: Autographed by Elizabeth Stevens Omlor and not by the authors themselves.)

All I ask is that you please "like" my author page on Facebook by clicking on my new, pretty button over there to the right...See it? Yup. That's it. Just click it! Just haz clic.
Leave a comment below and let me know which book you would like if you are interested in the giveaway! Thanks so very much for all of your support. These last 10,000 hits have been amazing!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Mira Reisberg

My beautiful post about Mira Reisberg was sucked into the Blogger black hole. What has worked before, did not work today. An unexplained mystery. Argh!  I sincerely apologize for the delay. =(

Friends, countrymen, lend me your ears...shhhh....we are SO incredibly lucky to have the Picture Book Whisperer, Dr. Mira Reisberg on the blog today. I love Mira and her passion for children's literature. I faithfully watch her blog series, Mondays With Mira: Pleasurable Picture Book Reviews each Monday morning. Monday mornings are now just as exciting and entertaining to me as an instant Netflix Friday Night Lights marathon!

Can I tell you that I will be participating in Mira's ecourse, Hero's Art Journey? Come join me! Writing and art go hand and hand. Both creative, both cathartic, healing even the deepest of paper cuts. In fact, if you are a banana peeler, Mira is offering half off her course! Lucky dogs! Please join me and become part of a creative community of learners!

Please help welcome the wonderful and wise, Dr. Mira Reisberg!

Mira Reisberg’s Very Own Confessional Slip Ups
Hullo all,
Having been involved in the picture book field for a long time, I’ve managed to make quite a few slip-ups, perhaps more than my share and definitely humbling. And, being a long-time teacher, I am going to share 3 of them, despite the accompanying embarrassment that comes with admitting what some refer to as f*$%-ups, messes, boo-boos, or slips. I’ll just call them “growth experiences” for now.
My first growth experience occurred in 1988 when I was asked to illustrate my first book. Uncle Nacho’s Hat was a book about change and it came just as I was quitting a bunch of bad habits and undergoing many changes myself.
So here I was illustrating a picture book about change and going through a whole bunch of changes myself and by the time I got to one particular painting, I was totally pooped. I tell you these details as a bit of an excuse or as background as to why I messed up and created what I now call my “Painting of Shame.” You see, when I did my research on cows in Nicaragua, where the story is set, I found that they had Brahmins, which are somewhat strange looking animals. But my cows were way stranger than that. Mine were weird pink mutant pig/cows. And even though I knew I should re-do this painting, I was just so tired – so I said “screw it,” or something like that.
Well, of course, it’s now over twenty years later and when I look at that book and that painting, you can imagine what I think.
Fortunately, despite the weird mutant pig/cow thingies, the book received a citation for a UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats award, was featured on Reading Rainbow and read aloud by LeVar Burton (yay!) and reprinted in many languages around the world, selling well over 200,000 copies. And the really good news is that it’s being re-released by Lee and Low in July (yay again).
So lessons learned: Always revise, revise, revise! Whether it’s text or art, and if you get too tired, take a break and come back to it because it might be 20 plus years later and you still have to live with that embarrassing painting of shame.
Growth Experience #2
Years later, I was in graduate school studying for my MFA, working 5 jobs to pay for it and I was asked to illustrate a book for another publisher. Needing money, I said yes. Even though I liked the story, it didn’t thrill me the way my other books had and when the story switched hands to another editor and changed completely, I was less than gracious in my responses to lots of major changes in the art. Coming from an expressive culture of Eastern European Jews who even have an affectionate word for complaining, “kvetching,” I kvetched quite eloquently about my displeasure with the changes and was never hired by this publisher again.
Lesson learned: Always be super gracious with editors and art directors and just say yes to whatever they want. Save your complaining for your family unless you have real ethical or narrative concerns with the book you are working on.
Growth Experience #3
Even more years later, I’m invited to do some school visits as an illustrator/author and present at the local university. While there, I’m talked into moving there and doing a PhD. By then, I’ve done lots of school visits empowering thousands of kids and teachers with my Painting of Shame and stories about immigration, being weird, and how creative people often get their creative ideas by paying attention to what’s  around them. I’d also been teaching children’s book writing and illustrating at UC Berkeley Extension and SF City College and many of my students had been successfully published, so I decided, why not!
It was the hardest thing I ever did writing a 370 page dissertation on children’s picture books and learning about them on a whole other level. This was the good part. Then I got a job in the Midwest and that was the bad part. I hated the systems of surveillance, having to write using obtuse language and publish or perish, the meanness that went on in the institution, and the constant grading to rubrics that left little room for those who were wildly creative but unable to reach the benchmarks. I had no time for writing kids books or making art and I hated who I was becoming.
We’d left a fabulous rent controlled apartment in San Francisco and a fantastic community of friends and even tho we couldn’t afford to move back to SF, we did move back  to Northern California. All in all I took a seven year detour from doing what I truly love teaching for learning rather than the grade, and making art and picture books. I’d followed the illusion of potential financial security with a “real job” and buying a house and then lost it all after realizing that I was not an institutional type of person. During the 9 years that I was not actively in the field, my main publisher went out of business (and was recently sold to Lee and Low) and the industry has gotten much harder to get into to.
I still miss San Francisco and am working on some exciting picture books of my own. I also began independently teaching picture book courses in Sacramento and doing picture book consulting via Skype (ooh and I’ll be launching the Picture Book Academy in August ). But sometimes I feel like I messed-up leaving San Francisco and making that long detour into academia, following my head rather than my heart.
Lesson learned: Always follow your heart and if you have a passion for making children’s picture books - don’t give up on it no matter how enticing something else may look.
Mira Reisberg is the award-winning illustrator of six picture books and co-author of two award-winning anthologies of stories and art. Mira received her MFA from Mills College in Painting and Digital Art. She received her PhD in Education and Cultural Studies from Washington State University. Mira is also an editor, instructor/mentor and picture book consultant whose students’ award-winning books, including New York Times best sellers, have sold over a million copies. Mira has also exhibited nationwide and internationally.

She now teaches online courses including the Hero’s Art Journey, which explores the archetypal hero’s arc underlying most plot driven books and mythology. To find out more visit And for Banana Peelin readers, Mira is extending the half-off special for the next course starting June 4th - simply email her at miraguy AT If you are in the Northern California area, Mira also has 2 spectacular upcoming picture book offerings also in June. To find out more and receive special gifts, join her newsletter tribe here or email her directly.

I love this woman! What else could you want from a teacher?! Hope to see you in Hero's Art Journey! Thanks so much Mira for your contribution to the series!