Feb 102016

Andrea Gabriel, Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs Illustrator

Meet Andrea Gabriel.

Today is the official launch day of Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs. To celebrate, I’d like to introduce you to the book’s illustrator, Andrea Gabriel.

How did it come about that you were asked to illustrate this book? How did you connect with Arbordale?

Because I love science, I naturally loved Arbordale books (back when they were Sylvan Dell—they had a name change), and often sent them samples in hopes of being asked to illustrate one of their books. Little Gray’s Great Migration was my first book with them, followed by Wandering Woolly and now Been There.

What made you want to illustrate this book, and what was your favorite part?

My father was a wildlife biologist who spent a lot of time showing me animal signs in the woods. In fact, I spent one summer helping him track collared deer with radio collars. So I already had an interest in animal signs. I love drawing wildlife!

Was there anything particularly hard about the project?

Drawing people is not easy for me. I definitely am more comfortable drawing animals! Luckily my neighbor, Lulu, and her best friend, Mason, were willing to pose for me, which helped greatly.


Been There Cover Sketch, by Andrea Gabriel

Cover sketch, by Andrea Gabriel


If you had to illustrate this book all over again, and you weren’t allowed to paint, what would you do instead?

Hmmm . . . I always wanted to do a book with cut paper illustrations. So maybe I’d try that.


Otter and Bear, cut paper art, by Andrea Gabriel

Otter and Bear, cut paper art. ~ Andrea Gabriel


Of the animals in the book, which is your favorite and why?

I really liked the snowshoe hares. It is a challenge to paint white animals on a white background.

I love the hares, too!


Snowshoe hares eating willow bark, by Andrea Gabriel

How the snowshoe hare sign came to be. ~ Andrea Gabriel


Have you had any cool animal or animal-sign sightings? Tell us.

Oh yes. Once, when hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and my hiking buddy was miles ahead, I saw prints of a mama and young cougar. That woke me up! I also love to see how all the squirrels chew down the pine cones before they are ripe, and sometimes the bears get to them before the squirrels can. I love to see snake tracks in the sand.

If you were to do a follow-up book with kids hiking in a different place, where would you have them go and/or what animals would you have them looking for?

I would love to see a book with kids hiking in the Sonoran desert. So much to see!

Name a picture book you wish you had illustrated.

Animalia. Yes, I definitely wish I had made that book.

I have that one on my bookshelf. Yep, that’s a good one!

If you could paint with only one color for the next three years, what would it be?

Burnt Sienna


Inspecting Hare Sign, by Andrea Gabriel

Inspecting hare sign. ~ Andrea Gabriel


You have to paint something but you can’t get any paint on your hands, and you can’t use a brush. What do you do?

I would use sponges.

Pretend your next picture book project is about a yummy dessert with a problem. What is the dessert, and what is its problem?

I guess it would have to be a chocolate mousse. Well . . . can you imagine how amazing it would be to catch a chocolate mousse? I imagine he has a problem with strangers who want to lick his fur.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you be?

I would like to be an ornithologist at Cornell.

You’re going to be locked inside a closed factory for a weekend. What kind of factory do you choose and why?

Hmmm. I think I would like to be in a factory where they make virtual reality games and equipment. I would like to play all weekend without anyone noticing how silly I look or how bad I am at games!


A piece of your art will be displayed anywhere in the world you choose. What piece of art will you show and where?

What would be fantastic is if Oprah Winfrey decided to buy one of my otter paintings for millions and millions of dollars donated to wildlife preservation, and then displayed it in her house.


Discovering Beaver Sign, by Andrea Gabriel

Discovering beaver sign. ~ Andrea Gabriel


The celebrity of your choice will read our book on the TV show of your choice—and we will both become rich, famous, beautiful, brilliant, and fit. Who is the celebrity and what is the show?

I would like Helen Mirren to read our book on Masterpiece!

Oooooo, I’d like that, too!

You know, I’m pretty sure both Oprah and Helen read this blog, so you’ll probably be getting phone calls soon.


Books by Andrea Gabriel

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

Little Gray's Great Migration, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Little Gray’s Great Migration

Wandering Woolly, By Andrea Gabriel

Wandering Woolly

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?

Where Do I Sleep? A Pacific Northwest Lullaby, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Where Do I Sleep? A Pacific Northwest Lullaby

Animalia, by Graeme Base

Animalia, by Graeme Base (NOT by Andrea)


Feb 042016

Once Upon an Elephant, by Linda Stanek, illustrated by Shennen Bersani

Linda and Shennen’s book, not mine.

Listen. Do you hear it? That’s the sound of fingers no longer drumming.

Linda received the first batch of her new picture book, Once Upon an Elephant, about six months ago (or maybe it was two or three weeks ago). And then Linda’s co-creator, illustrator Shennen Bersani, received hers, as evidenced on Facebook, and my co-creator, illustrator Andrea Gabriel, received hers.

Me? Nada.

Every day, I walked to the mailbox, with pen in pocket, ready to sign the little slip of paper our rural carrier would leave notifying us that we had a package too big for the mailbox. I was sure the book box would be too big for even our super-sized mailbox. That’s an almost-two mile round trip . . . through the snow . . . sometimes through bitter wind, too . . . down and up our steep driveway.

Every day, there was no slip, no box.



Linda reported the first review of her book.


You know that scene where Charlie Brown opens his mailbox, hoping for a Christmas card but finding an empty, echo-y cavern? That was the scene here.


Until a few days ago.


Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs, by Jen Funk Weber, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Now, this one is mine. Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs, by Jen Funk Weber, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel


We were so used to the routine of finding an empty mailbox, we were caught off guard, gobsmacked by a giant box rather than a tiny sliver of paper. It juuuuuuust fit inside our jumbo mail receptacle. That our mail carrier knew it would fit is impressive.

Trouble was, we weren’t exactly prepared for a box, especially a heavy box too big for my backpack. Mike tried to cram the box in my pack, but no way was the zipper zipping, and the strap was too short to snug around the box and keep it in. Had I been expecting a box, I would have brought rope.

Oh, sure, we could have left the box there and returned with the truck, but where’s the fun in that? No, Mike carried the book box to the snow mound behind the mailboxes and used a key from his pocket to open it. He then rearranged the four sets of paper-wrapped books in my pack, along with the Arbordale catalogs and other sundry marketing materials.

Mike carried the empty cardboard box home. I carried 32 pounds of books and catalogs. Did I mention that the almost-mile trip home is uphill? And that our driveway is particularly steep?

Should I mention that it was also kinda fun? I felt as though I’d earned something.

Best of all: They’re here!


Snowshoe Hares in Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

I’m especially fond of this illustration by Andrea Gabriel.


Buy the book
(Head’s up! It’s available in both hardcover and soft. Make sure you get the one you want.)

Fireside Books | Amazon | Powell’s

Please note: These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I might earn a small commission. Fireside Books is my local Indie bookstore, located in Palmer, AK. They ship.

Oct 302015

Times’s up! Pencils down . . . er, fingers off the keyboard.

Last week we chatted with Jackie Morris and Ivy about Jackie’s new book, The Wild Swans, and about the writing life, painting, knitting, modeling, and more. If you missed it, you should check it out: It was awesome!

Jackie’s publisher, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, offered to send one of our readers a copy of The Wild Swans, so we held a contest, and today I consulted the Random Number Generator to select a winner.

And the winner is . . .


Jeannette Wiggins

Congratulations, Jeannette! I’ll be in touch via email to get your mailing addy.

Thanks to everyone who came and read, and special thanks to everyone who left a comment to participate in the giveaway.

Queen of the Sky, by Jackie Morris

Queen of the Sky

I recently read Jackie’s book, Queen of the Sky. It’s a true story about Ffion Rees, a friend of Jackie’s, who rescues and rehabilitates a peregrine falcon. What a fascinating and heartwarming story! And what a beautiful book, too, chock-full of color photographs and Jackie’s paintings. Put this on your holiday gift list for natural history enthusiasts of any age. It would be a great family read-aloud.

Some of Jackie’s Books

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

he Sun, West of tEast of the Moon, by Jackie Morris

East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Fireside Books

Oct 232015

Jackie Morris: Author/Illustrator of The Wild Swans

Format: Hardback, 176 Pages
ISBN: 9781847805362
Age Range: 8 to 12
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Published: Oct. 1, 2015

Jackie Morris, Author and Artist

Meet Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris is an artist and writer, living in a small house by the sea in Wales where she writes, paints, walks and watches, and dreams of bears and whales. She is the author and illustrator of many gorgeous and lyrical books. This month, we celebrate the arrival of The Wild Swans, the much anticipated companion to East of the sun, West of the Moon.

The Wild Swans is an expansion and retelling of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

I had the honor of interviewing Jackie, and she was so gracious as to indulge more than the usual number of questions! Today, you can enjoy the following treats:

Grab a cuppa, and enjoy!

Q & A with Jackie Morris

Why did you choose to write this story as opposed to a different one?

There was something about this story that called to me for a long time. I have always been fascinated by silence, which is so hard to find in our modern world. Many people are made uncomfortable by silence. There is also much to learn and understand about communication. Even when we speak to each other sometimes we fail to understand each other and this is often when conflict arises.

This and the love of the idea of transformation. Eliza’s brothers are turned to swans. The stepmother, who isn’t really wicked, just misunderstood, perhaps, can turn herself into a wild white hare.

And at the end of the day I write to try and make sense of the world, to learn, to try to understand.

Eleven Swans, by Jackie Morris

Eleven Swans, by Jackie Morris

The Wild Swans is a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Why do you think some stories are retold, and what’s the significance of a retelling?

I think there are stories that have lived for centuries because they speak to the soul, ask questions of each time. Stories like Beowulf. When I first heard this story I felt as if I was listening with my blood and my bones as well as my ears. And because times change stories do too. And a story heard when a child can mean something different if heard or read again as an adult.

What is the hardest part about retelling a fairy tale?

Always the hardest part of any story is being true to the story and to oneself.

In the forest maze, by Jackie Morris

In the forest maze, by Jackie Morris

Did you imagine yourself or your friends or family as any of the characters?

I would love to have a pair of fur slippers to tuck under my bed that would transform me into a wild white hare. I would love to fly like Cygfa and feel myself held up in the air on white wings.

When I painted the hound, Shadow, the dog that began as Eliza’s mother’s hound and then became Eliza’s Shadow, she came out of the book and into my life and now sits beside me, silently watching the world while I knit.

I know an illustrator who painted a character to look like his mother. Have you ever painted or written yourself or your friends into a character?

I wrote a book about my friend, Ffion, who rescued a wild peregrine falcon from a watery grave, Queen of the Sky, published by Graffeg.

And yes, I have written familiar characters into my books, but I am not saying who, or where. Everything a writer does works its way in there eventually.

Most, if not all, of your books include animals. Why is that?

Because I love animals; the shape of them, their company.

Please share one of your favorite personal experiences with an animal.

I walk with my cats, write with them beside me on the high hill top above my house. I love their quiet company. On some days it is so quiet here you can hear the air pass through a bird’s wings as it flies, and the soft paw pad of a cat as it steps on the earth.

What animal have you not yet written about that you would like to write about? Can we expect to see something along this line anytime soon?

So many, too many to name. I am working on a book about a small arctic fox, a true story I found in Seattle. I would love to write more about cats and I hope to do a book about the Days of the Grey Dog and the White Cat.

I’m a needleworker, so I’m always keen to see handwork featured in a story. Do you knit or do any other fiber art?

I knit, yes. I love the time spent making, quiet, stitch after stitch.

If so, how did you learn, and what do you do with the skill now?

I used to watch my aunty. I loved her so. She would knit beautiful Aran sweaters with twisting patterns, with seeming ease. And she tried to teach me but I just couldn’t learn. Then one day I saw a Fair Isle cardigan knitting pattern. And I wanted that cardigan. So I taught myself.

I used to knit for a shop in Bath when I first left college and learned why it was referred to as ‘pin money’ because for the hours you put in you get little money back. But I loved the making of things.

Have you ever considered including fiber art in illustrations?

If you look I am always painting textiles. I was told when I was at college that I should do textiles, but I have always loved paper, making marks on paper. But there are textiles woven everywhere in my work.

Eliza and Shadow, by Jackie Morris

Eliza and Shadow, by Jackie Morris

Have you ever had any writing or illustrating disasters? If so, spill, please! How did you recover or fix the problem?

Many. There is a whole book I failed to illustrate, but will come back to. Sometimes I work pieces 2 or 3 times. Sometimes there’s only a little wrong with a piece, but sometimes it’s a real disaster.

What do you like to read? Where do you read? When do you read?

I love fantasy. I love good writing. Recent reads are Thomas The Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane, Into the Fire by Manda Scott, The Museum of Extraordinary Things and The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. I love Robin Hobb’s books and have the great good fortune to work on the jacket art in the UK for all her books.

I try to read for half and hour before I get up and again before I sleep. Bookending my days. But sometimes I just read any minute I can. I even take a book with me when I go out to see friends, incase there is a lull in the conversation.

Were you a reader as a kid? If so, what did you like to read then? If not, what did you do instead?

I did read as a child. But I was slow to learn. I used to read the pictures. I loved Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. Later The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Tarka the Otter, The Bellstone Fox, Watership Down by Richard Adams. I also loved My Friend Flicka, The Green Grass of Wyoming and Thunderhead.

You are no longer allowed to be an author/illustrator. What will you do instead?

No. Just no. When I left college I did part time jobs to make a living, but for 27 years, since I have been 27 this is all I have done. Drawing to me is like breathing. I can’t stop, until I die.

But maybe. Yes. A sculptor.

Rapid-fire Round (Don’t think too hard about these):

You must illustrate your next book with just two colors. What colors do you use?

Black and white

You’ve won transportation to a place you’ve never been so that you can illustrate it. Where do you go?

Faeryland, through a hill, for seven years.

You can have any animal in the world as a pet. What do you choose?

I don’t think of my animals as pets, more as companions. So, if I could live with another? Perhaps a horse. Or an owl.

You are granted one super power. What is it?

Easy. Time travel.

Can I have another one? The power to help people realise that watching tv can be such a waste of time.

You’re making a float for a parade based on one of your books. What do you do?

Panic because I am rubbish at that kind of thing.

Eliza Under a Spell, by Jackie Morris

Eliza Under a Spell, by Jackie Morris

There is no more paint in the world. How do you illustrate your next book?

I use stone, and earth, and make pigment from plants, etc.

A celebrity will read and tout your book publicly, and as a result you’ll become rich and famous (not to mention brilliant, beautiful, and the best human ever) overnight. Who is the celebrity doing the reading?

I’m not a fan of celebrity, so, I’ll just stay obscure and remote in my house by the sea.

Your next book features a dessert. Yes, that after-dinner yummy thing. What is the dessert?

Fruit, lots of it. And honey. Peaches, toasted nuts.

Can you hold your breath for a really long time? No.
Do you parachute out of planes on the weekend? Never.
Name one skill that we might be surprised to discover you have. I make very, very good bread.

Swan Shirt in the making, by Jackie Morris

Swan shirt in progress, by Jackie Morris.

Swan Shirt Knitting Pattern

In The Wild Swans, to break the spell that transforms her eleven brothers into swans, Eliza must spin yarn from nettles and knit a shirt for each—a swan shirt—and she must do so in silence. To understand what this would entail, Jackie spent time exploring nettles (ouch!) and knitting in silence.

Jackie really is a knitter, and she really did knit a swan shirt! It’s a versatile pattern, so if you’re not a swan, you can wear it as a scarf. She provides the pattern so we can all knit our own swan shirts (or scarves).

Ivy Watching Over the Knitting, with Jackie Morris

Ivy Watching Over the Knitting

Interview With Ivy

In The Wild Swans, Eliza enjoys the companionship of a faithful hound, Shadow. Ivy was the model for Shadow. She came into Jackie’s life just as Jackie was writing this story. I asked if Ivy would be willing to answer a few questions, and she agreed—anything to support Jackie.

How do you prepare for modeling a story character, and what’s the hardest part of the job?

It’s hard work being an artist’s muse. I prepare for it by sleeping a lot. It’s the only way to keep my wonderful good looks. I am indeed exquisite.

What character from literature would you jump at the chance to portray?

I would like to play the wolf dog in White Fang because at heart I am a wild thing.

How else do you help Jackie with her work?

I mostly help Her with Her work because I need to go out for a walk every day, and that helps to keep her fit but also gives Her time to think, about ideas for paintings and stories. And it also gives Her time to rest her head.

Royal Ivy, by Jackie Morris

Royal Ivy, by Jackie Morris

Jackie Reading from The Wild Swans

Enjoy a sample of the book from the author/illustrator herself. The video is just over 5 minutes long.

If this viewer gives you problems, you can watch the video on YouTube.

What’s Next for Jackie?

When Jackie learned that Oxford University Press was eliminating a slew of nature words (including acorn, fern, heron, and otter) in favor of tech words (including blog, chatroom, and MP3 player) from it’s Oxford Junior Dictionary, her response was to start a new book with Robert MacFarlane, commemorating these words and what they really mean.

Watch Jackie Paint

Drawing and painting are not in my arsenal of skills, and I wish they were—though not enough to make them so, apparently. I’m curious about and dazzled by an artist’s process, and Jackie indulges this curiosity by filming herself as she creates her art. Then she speeds up the film so that what takes her hours over several days can be enjoyed by us in minutes. Grab the kids and take a look. It’s fascinating!

Hare's Egg, by Jackie Morris

Here are four videos filmed this year that allow to watch Jackie paint “Hare’s Egg,” from start to finish. It’s fascinating—and impressive!
Hare’s Egg, part 1
Hare’s Egg, part 2
Hare’s Egg, part 3
Hare’s Egg, part 4


Jackie’s publisher has generously offered to give away a copy of The Wild Swans to one of our readers in the US or Canada. If you’re my friend, and you live in, say, Norway or Australia or anywhere else on Earth, enter the contest anyway. If you win, I’ll have the publisher send the book to me, and I’ll send it to you from here. Enter to win by simply leaving a comment telling me what segment of this post you like best:

  • Q&A with Jackie
  • Interview with Ivy
  • Knitting pattern
  • Jackie reading an excerpt from the book
  • Watching Jackie paint
  • What’s next for Jackie

Comments must be made by 11:59 p.m. Alaska Time on Thursday, October 29th. We’ll consult the Random Number Generator and post a winner on Friday, October 30th.

The Wild Swans and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, by Jackie Morris

The Wild Swans and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, by Jackie Morris


Visit Jackie Online

See more of Jackie’s art and books in these places:
Her website
The House of Golden Dreams page on Facebook

Tomorrow, Jackie will be visiting the Imagination Soup blog.

If you’d like to visit other stops on The Wild Swans blog tour, the entire list of Jackie’s stops is here.


Some of Jackie’s Books

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

he Sun, West of tEast of the Moon, by Jackie Morris

East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Fireside Books

Oct 162015

The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A with 50 fact-filled maps!

Written by Gabrielle Balkan
Illustrated by Sol Linero
Wide Eyed Editions (Oct. 1, 2015)
ISBN: 978-1847807113
Ages: 7-10
Grades: 2-5
Pages: 112 Hardcover

The 50 States is what I call a “busy book,” like those by Richard Scarry, Graeme Base, and Stephen Biesty. It’s jam-packed with tidbits of info and illustrations. It will take hours of perusing to just see it all, and a bit longer to process the info and think through all the connections a kid is sure to make.

The 50 States Book, Alaska Spread

The 50 States Book, Alaska Spread

The facts assembled in the book focus on state symbols (state flower, postal code, etc.), geography (maps, du-uh!), history (timelines), and people (one-sentence bios). There are also some cool natural history tidbits in the mix.

Here’s a smattering of what the book has to say about Alaska:

CHANGUNAK ANTISARLOOK ANDREWUK: “SINROCK MARY,” 1870–1948, The Inupiat “Queen of Reindeer” turned a small herd of reindeer into the largest in the state, becoming one of Alaska’s richest women.

LEONHARD SEPPALA, 1877–1967, Norwegian-born Seppala’s ability to breed, train, and mush sled dogs made him an unbeatable dogsled racer.

AUGUST 19, 1923: Iñupiat Inuit Ada Blackjack is the sole survivor of a tragic Arctic expedition.

JULY 19, 1961: The first World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is held in Fairbanks; it now includes a muktuk (whale blubber) eating contest!

MARCH 24, 1989: After an oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker, 10,000 workers, 1,000 boats, and 100 airplanes and helicopters begin the cleanup.

THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE is home to all three species of North American bear: polar, black, and grizzly.

WHALE WATERS: Humpback whales travel 3,100 miles during their annual migration to Mexico.

YUKON RIVER: This nearly 2,000-mile- long river is the third longest in the U.S.

The 50 States, Alaska Close-up

Close-up of Alaska spread

Information was provided by the publisher; no product or monetary compensation was received. However, purchasing products through these links may provide a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

Oct 102015

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

You know, she worked both puzzles and got both answers correct.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

That means she got two entries. Twice as many as you, if you only solved one puzzle.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

Oh, yes, she’s a she. All you hes can stop reading now. You didn’t win.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

And remember, the prize is a collection of my puzzle books to be mailed when I am back in USPS range.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

Gee, I wonder where I’m sending them!


And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

Karen Bacigalupo


Thanks for playing, Everyone! I hope you enjoyed Alaska Book Week and maybe discovered some new authors and books.

The holidays are coming. Books make excellent gifts! Wait . . . have I said that before?