Thursday, March 30, 2023

One More For Your Awards Season: The 2023 Walter Awards - We Need Diverse Books

The Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Children's Literature recognize diverse authors whose works feature diverse main characters and address diversity in a meaningful way.

Jacqueline Woodson hosts the 2023 Walter Awards

Check out the livestream recording of the 2023 awards, hosted by Jacqueline Woodson, celebrated author and former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. 

The video starts at 00:11:50, with a Symposium: "Books Save Lives" — Kick off with a conversation with the 2023 Walter Honorees, moderated by Ellen Oh, WNDB founding member, CEO, and award-winning writer! The symposium highlights the recent bans and challenges facing diverse books across the country.

At 01:13:40, the award ceremony and speeches begin.

You can learn more about We Need Diverse Books here.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Behind the Book Banning -- Chatting with Publisher and Author/Illustrator Maya Gonzalez


photo of Maya Gonzalez

Maya's picture book They, She, He, Easy as ABC was on PEN America's top ten list of banned picture books for the 2021-2022 school year. We connected to find out more and get the scoop behind the book banning...

Lee: Hi Maya! What’s your mission/vision as an artist, and as a publisher?

Maya: In 2009, my partner and I cofounded Reflection Press, a small, Queer/Trans, POC press committed to equity and freedom. We published the social justice curriculums I developed and taught over the years for educators and professors. Then in 2017, we needed books about gender for our four year old. So using my many years in the children’s book industry coupled with my gender curriculum, we started making picture books! We’re still at it. 

We recently created an imprint for our growing gender materials called the Gender Wheel World. This year we’re producing another 3 books and an educational tool that will fill out the foundation of our curriculum along with our video series and other books. We’re very excited.

Lee: Can you pitch us the book that was banned?

Maya: They, She, He easy as ABC celebrates diversity, while learning the alphabet. It lets kids know that their personal uniqueness is valued and just as necessary and fundamental as the letters of the alphabet. The text is rhyming and playful and the imagery keeps names, clothes, hair and behavior fresh and diverse as kids learn to use multiple pronouns.

Cover of "They, She, He easy as ABC"

It’s a super sweet book that uses the same characters from our They, She, He, Me/Free to Be, a book about breaking down gender stereotypes using pronouns. We were surprised by the intense attacks against ABC. A lot of it was the usual hateful rhetoric, but we were impressed when one called us the “alphabet mafia.” What does that even mean?

Lee: What’s your strategy for putting all the noise of the world aside so you can create?

Maya: That’s a great question. I’ll be honest, last year threw me for a loop. I was disoriented by the aggressive, organized and pointed hate. It was like old ghosts came haunting. Thankfully, the work is rooted in holistic, healing frameworks and geez, did I turn to them to hold me. Somatic Experiencing ™ with Peter Levine, my daily practice called I See Peace, the 5 Agreements with Don Miguel Ruiz, and daily meditation. I’m still employing them all to keep my center as the attacks continue. In a strange twist, “the noise of the world” is encouraging me to call forward the healing frameworks of our gender work. 

Lee: You use crowdfunding as part of your business model - talk to us about that…

Maya: It’s a whole conversation! We’ve used crowdfunding to jumpstart new projects in the past. I thought we had moved beyond it to be honest. But everything changed last year with the book bans, educational gag orders, anti-LGBTQI+ legislation… our book sales plummeted to levels we’ve never seen in all our years having a press. 

We had to have a serious sit down (or ten) about whether it was all even possible, or worth it. We’re still figuring it out. What it showed us though, is how committed we are to our press, our work, and the kids we serve. To keep working we created a presales event for our latest book that includes special offerings not usually available, as well as the opportunity to contribute to our work. 

We have two more books coming out this year and plans to open up bigger conversations about how to bring a holistic approach of gender into the classroom. But what if our books are no longer allowed in the classroom? Where to then? Presales and crowd-funding aren’t going to cut it. How do we keep flowing so we can support our kids through this political onslaught? The conversation continues…

Lee: Tell us about the new project - and why you’re excited about it!

Maya: I wrote and am currently illustrating The Gender & Infinity Book for Kids. Rooted in the Gender Wheel Approach, this framework fundamentally shifts the gender conversation away from definitions and social constructs, and instead centers kids first and foremost in the wonder and awe of nature’s infinite diversity. This is seen in plants, animals, birds, fish, bugs and humans. The kids are then confronted by the two very small gender boxes that all of nature must squeeze into, including themselves.

Two of the kids remember the pressure to conform to gender stereotypes before finding their own comfort and reflection in nature’s necessary and awesome diversity.

A discussion guide in the back provides facts about body and gender diversity in nature and a holistic approach to gender that deepens the story and experience with each reading. Nature’s nonbinary reality is becoming more and more evident. This kind of information helps keep our kids strong and supports them from internalizing damaging political rhetoric. 

You can learn more about it here:

Lee: Anything else you want to tell our audience of people who write, translate, and illustrate works for children and teens?

Maya: It’s working! Slowly, but surely, children’s books are bringing new ideas, necessary reflections and fresh paths to our kids. I’ve seen freedom and equity move ever closer over my last 30 years in the industry. It’s a long dance, but the song is getting louder! Lean into the healing this year. Now is the time. You rock! Blessings OUT. xo maya

Lee: Thanks, Maya! 

And for everyone reading,
Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!

p.s. - Have you had your book for kids or teens banned? Want to share your perspective, your vision, your insights? Let me know, and we'll continue to share some of these 'Behind the Book Banning' stories here.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Ten Random Thoughts From an Author/Illustrator

    As I was racking my brain for what to write for this post, I had two problems. I had no ideas, yet also too many ideas. Random phrases and miscellaneous publishing thoughts kept inserting themselves onto the page. However, as soon as I typed them out, my mind went blank.

    So instead of making a choice, I’ve decided to share them all with you. Here are my top ten random thoughts about writing, illustrating, and being a creative person, in no particular order. (Complete with random art!) 

1. Trust Your Reader

     When we are writing or illustrating, we should intentionally leave room for the reader or the viewer. Sometimes we get feedback asking us to explain things more thoroughly or assuming that our audience won’t pick up on the intended message of the book. When you get this type of feedback, consider: If I take this feedback will I be over-explaining? Is there, in fact, something missing that is making the message unclear? Or if I add more details, am I not trusting my reader?

2. Blank Pages Are The Worst

illustration of a child and a zebra sitting and painting pictures, making a mess. Text on image reads: be an artist, make a mess
Be An Artist - Illustration by Anne Appert
    Get something, ANYTHING on the page. You never know where it will take you. A chance phrase may just be the idea that carries your story or illustration across the finish line. When brainstorming this post, I wrote “light up sneakers” on the page because it popped into my head as I was pondering ideas, and didn’t want to be staring at a blank page anymore. This phrase helped me arrive at the idea to share my ten random thoughts. You never know where seemingly unrelated ideas will lead you!

3. Everything Takes Time. And Always More Than You Think It Should

    The amount of time you think something should take? Double it. Triple it. It is incredibly satisfying to reach your audience with your book(s), but publishing is a slow industry. One of my favorite pieces of advice that I have ever received was from one of my college professors: If you don’t give up, you will succeed. In publishing, just know this could take two or five or ten or twenty (or more) years. However, if you are passionate about getting your stories into books for children to read, it will be worth it. 

4. Any Idea Can Be A Good One, With A Little Work

    Okay, I know people will disagree with me on this one. Hear me out. If you thought it was worth writing down, if it made you laugh or someone else laugh, if someone started building off your “silly” idea when they heard it, then maybe, just maybe, there is a seed of something there. Just like a random phrase can lead to a post worth sharing, a bad idea can lead to a good idea worth writing or drawing. You may just have to polish it a bit (ok a lot) before it shines.

Illustration of a child riding a zebra, both are wearing sunglasses and a party hat as a unicorn horn. Text on image reads Be your own unicorn
Be Your Own Unicorn - Illustration by Anne Appert 
5. Put Yourself On The Page

    My first post for this blog was about how BLOB helped me discover myself. You may think you don’t have anything new or unique to say, but your writing and art will surprise you. By being you, by allowing yourself to be vulnerable, by allowing yourself to be silly or frustrated, happy or sad, by letting yourself feel whatever thing you are feeling, you will connect with your audience.

6. It’s Always Okay To Buy Another Notebook Or Sketchbook

    Don’t even question it. Of course you need it. It may just be the thing that unlocks your next idea! You never know, and you wouldn’t want to risk anything by NOT buying the notebook/sketchbook. Right? 

7. Always Tell A Story

    As writing advice this may seem obvious; however, sometimes we get so caught up in adding elements such as alliteration, repetition, and lyrical language that the story gets lost. The story is what is important. Always. As for drawing advice, you can create a gorgeous painting, but if it doesn’t tell the viewer a story, you won’t be hired to create a book. Always think: what story am I trying to tell? What details can I add? How can I hint at the before and after? How can I get the reader or the viewer to ask, what happens next?

8. When In Doubt, Add Sparkles

    Those light up sneakers? Of course your character needs them! While we don’t want our story to get lost in too many unnecessary elements, a little extra bling in the form of outrageous outfits, creative color choices, or alliterative adjectives can bring your manuscript or illustration to the next level.

9. It’s Okay To Be Not Ok

Image of a child crying, sitting next to a zebra. text on image reads it's ok if some days your eyes shine more than they sparkle.
It's Ok to Be Sad - Illustration by Anne Appert
    Hey! We are still in a pandemic. Life is hard. Writing is hard. Illustrating is hard. Maybe you got a rejection from your dream agent. Maybe your advance was lower than you wanted. Maybe you didn't get the call to illustrate the book you really wanted to illustrate. Maybe you are burnt out and can’t think of a single idea for anything, not even a blog post. Sometimes we try to squash our feelings because we convince ourselves we should just be happy with how far we’ve come, that because we have had some success our feelings aren’t valid. Publishing can still be disappointing, and It’s ok to feel how you feel.

10. Celebrate Everything

    Sold a book? Celebrate! Signed with an agent? Celebrate! Finished your book dummy? Celebrate! Figured out that ending you could never get right? Celebrate! Finished a sketch that was keeping you up? Celebrate! Made it to your computer to write? Celebrate! Decided to take a self care day? Celebrate! Cleaned off your desk? Celebrate! Went on an artist date? You know what to do.

Bonus Thought! Ignore Everything I’ve Said

    Everyone's journey is different. Everyone has opinions about the right way to do things and the correct path to success. As with a critique of your work, perhaps some of this stuff feels superficial or unimportant to you. That’s ok! You find you and your own path. Then, celebrate that.

    Maybe add some sparkle too. Just for good measure.

    And of course, buy that notebook.

Photo of author with purple hair in yellow shirt. they are smiling in front of a green foliage background
Anne Appert (they/them ) is a nonbinary author/illustrator who spent their childhood with their nose stuck in a book, while their wild imagination transformed their New Jersey backyard into faraway places. Anne still enjoys spending time in their backyard dreaming, and now their imagination turns their dreams into words and pictures for children. Anne wrote and illustrated their debut book Blob, which was published by HarperCollins in Fall of 2021. Their second book What If You Wish? will publish with HarperCollins in 2024. They are a member of SCBWI, from which they received an honor in the 2021 Conference Portfolio Showcase. When not writing and illustrating, Anne enjoys teaching college students, dying their hair every color of the rainbow, and attempting to roller skate. You can see their work at

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Jamar J. Perry's Honesty About a Disappointing Book Event Leads to a Huge Win

Many of us have been there -- showing up all excited for an in-person event at a bookstore or library, and...


The audience you imagined, that you reached out to, that the venue promoted to, just doesn't show up.

It's embarrassing, and the last thing you want to do -- okay, I'll take it out of second person and be honest myself: the last thing I wanted to do --was let the whole world know that the turnout was super disappointing.

But get this: Iyana Jones reported in Publishers Weekly last week about Jamar J. Perry having this really hard, embarrassing experience. Jamal went on Twitter and focused on the good:

Kinda embarrassing to admit, but not one person came to my Atlanta tour event. Instead of being bummed about it I’ve decided to focus on being grateful that I get to do this work.

Let’s thank the bookstore & order all 50 copies they have of my books!

— Dr. Jamar J. Perry (@jamarperry) March 2, 2023


screen shot of Publishers Weekly article "Book Community Rallies Around Author After Disappointing Tour Event" showing cover of amar J. Perry’s middle grade Cameron Battle and the Escape Trials

That tweet got more than 2.5 million views, and as the PW article explains,

“To date, Little Shop of Stories has sold more than 500 copies of Perry’s Cameron Battle and the Escape Trials, which Perry will sign for readers.”

Happy ending!

I've always looked for ways to turn lemons into lemon meringue pie -- I've made videos (recording on my cell) to help get the content of a live presentation out to more than the handful of folks in the room; I've told myself that connecting with the bookstore staff and having them hear my story makes them my proxies in the future, and I think all that is good and true.

And still, I applaud the honest vulnerability Jamal showed, and how he leveraged this to try to help the bookstore out to sell the copies of his book they brought in for the event... and that honesty resonated with so many folks (including some best-selling authors) and paid off in a really tangible way with Jamal selling so many more books! 

Our community of folks who create works for kids and teens is the best.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,

Friday, March 17, 2023

When in Doubt: Change Locations!

Have you ever felt super stuck?

Like the jar of a lid that refuses to budge stuck?

Like you wore too many socks with your snow boots and now you can’t get them off stuck?

Like you typed some words and deleted them just to type the same words again stuck?

Like why am I even attempting this because it won’t be good stuck?

    Perhaps you get to the point where, out of desperation, you try something new. Recently, I impulsively booked a writing retreat. I thought I might try the “change your location” trick to get myself writing again. Amazingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it worked. In addition, by leaving my space and writing somewhere new, I also remembered the habits I used to have within my own studio space to create this same kind of experience at home: a desk for writing, a table for drawing, a couch for reading (Admittedly, most of my work gets done on the couch).  

sunset over a shed and a winter grassy area
A sunset at the Highlights Foundation
  I realize this is not new or original advice. I also realize that many of us can’t impulsively book writing retreats and run away from other obligations. However, as I was walking during a writing break while on retreat, I had a realization: this advice doesn’t just work to get your creative wheels turning again. It can also help get your story or art unstuck.

Is your story super stuck?

Like your character has run out of things to say stuck?

Like you need to get to a plot point but what you just wrote won’t get you there stuck?

    Try changing locations! If you are bored with your story or character, consider putting them in a new setting and see what happens. What do you discover about your character? Your story? Who do they meet? How do they change? What secrets does this uncover for them? For your story? Now, with the answers to those questions, infuse new life into your project.

    The same can go for portfolio development or when creating a book dummy.

Is your art super stuck?

Like you always draw the same characters and emotions stuck?

Like you have created all your stories in the same setting stuck?

    Try changing locations! If you are bored with your art, try putting your characters in new settings and see what happens. What would they do in that location? Who would they meet? How do they feel about it? What angle would add to the emotion of the scene? Can you create sequential images of the same character in different settings? Now, with the answers to those questions, start creating some new art.

Illustration of a child in a boat fighting off giant dragonflies with their oar
Take your characters on a journey. Illustration by Anne Appert 

    One thing to avoid when changing locations is relying to much on here-to-there scenes to hit your word count. In writing, consider what is most important in the journey to the changed location and cut everything else. Do we even need the in between scene? Can this just be a writing aid to get you to the next chapter? In art, the journey should still tell a story. Even when creating sequential art, consider what is most important to show to tell the entire story, and cut everything else. Do we need to see every action between each illustration? Or can these just be an illustration aid to get you to the next scene? The here-to-there may be useful for you as a creator, but remember to trust your readers or viewers to be able to fill in the gaps in order to create your strongest work.

    I wish I could book a trip every time I felt super stuck. However, I can change my characters’ locations in my stories or in my art when I am feeling creatively stumped. These could just be exercises that help me know my characters better, that give me new ideas for my stories, or that introduce me to a new illustration style I want to investigate further. Even if these journeys don’t end up in my stories or in my art, they were worth the time to get me from there to here.

From stuck to inspired.

It could even bring us from I don’t know why I do this stuck to I remembered what I love about the process inspired.

I hope it does!


Image of person with short purple hair in yellow shirt, smiling in front of a green backgroundAnne Appert (they/them ) is a nonbinary author/illustrator who spent their childhood with their nose stuck in a book, while their wild imagination transformed their New Jersey backyard into faraway places. Anne still enjoys spending time in their backyard dreaming, and now their imagination turns their dreams into words and pictures for children. Anne wrote and illustrated their debut book Blob, which was published by HarperCollins in Fall of 2021. Their second book What If You Wish? will publish with HarperCollins in 2024. They are a member of SCBWI, from which they received an honor in the 2021 Conference Portfolio Showcase. When not writing and illustrating, Anne enjoys teaching college students, dying their hair every color of the rainbow, and attempting to roller skate. You can see their work at

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Bologna 2023 Wraps With Attendance at Nearly Pre-Pandemic Levels!

The Bologna Children's Book Fair had its 60th anniversary this year, and SCBWI was "in the house!"

SCBWI Instagram post from Bologna with text that reads: Portfolio review at the booth. So many talented illustrators that we went overtime to get everyone seen! Thanks to our reviewers @ericarsilverman @dearnetta @ammi.joan.paquette @martharago#bcbf23 #portfolioreviews #illustratorsofinstagram #illustrationartists #artist

Over at Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson reported in this piece, Bologna’s 60th Edition Draws 28,894 Visitors, that the “in-person professional visitor count at Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2023 jumped by 35 percent over 2022... nearly equivalent to pre-pandemic attendance levels."

Read more about the fair here.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!

Thursday, March 9, 2023

So You Want to be an Author/Illustrator

    Frustration is growing among querying picture book creators: currently many agents seem to only want author/illustrator submissions. As a writer-only creator or an illustrating-only creator you may be wondering if you need to be able to both write and illustrate to succeed in this industry. The short answer is no! Take a look at the picture books currently being published and you’ll see that many are still created by a separate author and illustrator. However, you may decide you want to learn to write or illustrate anyway. Do you know where to start? Learning a new aspect of picture book creation can be completely overwhelming, so let’s start with five things you can do.

5 Things To Do As A Writer Who Wants to Illustrate
cover of the book Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. White cover with 4 black rectangles at varying places and one red triangle.
First, assess why you want to illustrate. Learning to illustrate simply in order to get an agent is not going to be a sustainable motivation. In addition, it is not a quick fix for your querying woes! A lot goes into creating an illustration and this takes time to learn. However, if you enjoy making art, it’s worth exploring illustrating.

    The second thing to do is draw every day for a year. You may have loved art in high school, and may even dabble in it now. Making art is fun! However, illustrating a picture book is a big time commitment, and you will quickly burn out if the process isn’t something you can stick with. Drawing every day for a year is a good way to determine if you actually enjoy the commitment of making art. It’s also a great way to improve your skills.

    Now that you know why you want to illustrate and you know you enjoy making art, the next step is to take art classes and learn the language of art. Just like writing has particular skills to make your work stronger such as sentence structure, word choice, repetition, and more, illustrating has particular skills you will need. These include composition, color choice, character design, and many other things. You do not need an art degree to be an illustrator, and there are many great online options for learning art.

    While taking art classes, start step four: study picture book illustrations. Take what you are learning about art and see how illustrators apply these concepts to picture books. In addition, study how illustrators build on the text, how they pace the images to aid the reading experience, and what choices they make with composition and color to create a visual arc throughout the book.

    Finally, make a lot of art. A LOT OF ART. The more art you create the more consistently you will make good art. Many people jump right into creating a picture book dummy when they move from writing to writing and illustrating. Before you do that, you will need a website of your 10-20 strongest images. When an agent or editor sees your dummy, they are going to want to visit your portfolio to see that you can create consistently strong art.

5 Things To Do As An Illustrator Who Wants to Write

cover of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul showing a child riding an animal through a scene filled with trees.
    First, assess why you want to write. Writing is less time consuming than illustrating, but you still need to stand out with a unique voice in this competitive market. Usually author/illustrated books have more time between their publication dates, so if you are looking to create more books, this may not be the way to do it. However, if you have a story to tell, learning to write is worth exploring.

    Next, study picture book texts, particularly those written and illustrated by the same person. A common mistake illustrators learning to write make is describing exactly what they are illustrating with their text. Study how picture book art and text works together while not being the same.

    Then, take some writing classes or go to some writing workshops. While many of us know the basics of writing, you will want to learn how this applies specifically to picture books. Published authors have great insight into the particulars of picture book creation.

    While you are attending writing workshops, try creating some stories. Starting from scratch can be intimidating, so try taking one of the illustrations from your portfolio and creating a story for it. Before you know it, you will have a loose structure for a picture book.

    Finally, write a lot of drafts. A LOT OF DRAFTS. The more you write, the more you will figure out pacing, word choice, and how to compliment your art rather than repeat it. The more you practice, the stronger your storytelling voice will get.

3 Tips For Both Writers And Illustrators

    While you are learning how to write or illustrate, I recommend reading WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul and PICTURE THIS: HOW PICTURES WORK by Molly Bang. These books are both essential reading for picture book creators.

    In addition, get feedback on your work. This can be from a critique group or a paid critique from a professional. I recommend making connections with other writers and illustrators to form a critique group or critique swap before paying anyone for feedback.

    Finally, however long you think it’s going to take to learn to write or illustrate, double that. These are skills that take some time to master, particularly illustration. (If you don’t believe me, ask any published writer or illustrator how long it took them before they signed with an agent and then got published.) Publishing is a slow industry, and it’s worth taking your time to create work that will stand out in a competitive field.

    While I’ve given feedback to many beginning writers and illustrators, I am just one author/illustrator in the industry. Everyone’s path is different. I do hope that this makes the process of learning a little less intimidating for you and gives you a place to start. Have fun discovering your own unique writing or illustrating style!

headshot of person with short purple hair, smiling and wearing a yellow shirt with a tree behind them.
Anne Appert (they/them ) is a nonbinary author/illustrator who spent their childhood with their nose stuck in a book, while their wild imagination transformed their New Jersey backyard into faraway places. Anne still enjoys spending time in their backyard dreaming, and now their imagination turns their dreams into words and pictures for children. Anne wrote and illustrated their debut book Blob, which was published by HarperCollins in Fall of 2021. Their second book What If You Wish? will publish with HarperCollins in 2024. They are a member of SCBWI, from which they received an honor in the 2021 Conference Portfolio Showcase. When not writing and illustrating, Anne enjoys teaching college students, dying their hair every color of the rainbow, and attempting to roller skate.  You can see their work at

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

What Does Your Next Book Contract Say About AI?

The way artificial intelligence systems are trained is that they intake vast amounts of art* created by humans to then re-mix and re-purpose the human-created art into something ostensibly 'new.'

screen shot of the Publishers Weekly article, "Authors Guild Adds Clause to Model Contracts Prohibiting AI Training Uses"

In a fascinating development announced March 2, 2023 in Publishers Weekly, the Authors Guild has added a new clause to their model contract, 

"that prohibits publishers from using or sub-licensing books under contract to train artificial intelligence technologies. The clause also requires publishers to include the limitation in any sublicensee.

According to a statement, the clause is "a response to recent concerns about publishers and platforms adding language to their terms that allows them to data mine books for use in training AI models that will inevitably compete with human-authored works."

The Authors Guild, in their announcement, shares the model clause:

No Generative AI Training Use.

For avoidance of doubt, Author reserves the rights, and [Publisher/Platform] has no rights to, reproduce and otherwise use the Work in any manner for purposes of training artificial intelligence technologies to generate text, including without limitation, technologies that are capable of generating works in the same style or genre as the Work, unless [Publisher/Platform] obtains Author’s specific and express permission to do so. Nor does [Publisher/Platform] have the right to sublicense others to reproduce and otherwise use the Work in any manner for purposes of training artificial intelligence technologies to generate text without Author’s specific and express permission.

It certainly raises the question for our next contracts, both the ones we're negotiating ourselves and the ones our agents negotiate on our behalf: Do you want your art used to train AI?

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,

* "art" would include words and pictures, when it comes to children's content, and beyond...) 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Writing and Illustrating to Discover Ourselves

    As writers and illustrators of children's books, we often strive to create books for young readers to see themselves or to learn about others. This is something I hope for with many of my projects. However, in writing and illustrating my first book I was surprised with a different outcome: discovering myself.

    In the weeks leading up to my debut, I wrote about the process of writing Blob many times. Blob started as a joke about how no one could recognize the animal characters I was drawing. In exasperation, I declared that I would draw a blob. They were cute, so I decided I needed to learn more about who they were.

    In drafting Blob, I focused mostly on humor. The idea of a character who could be whatever you want them to be lent itself well to fun word play and cute illustrations. And yet, little pieces of me still creeped in. The narrator calling Blob “bob” and Blob painting the “l” in on every page was something I often did with the “e” in my own name. When I started working with my editor, she suggested that we lean in to this a bit more as a theme for Blob. In my first draft, it was a gimmick throughout the book, and she pointed out that Blob needed to stand up for themself and insist on the correct name. I agreed.

An illustrated page showing a character as a giraffe, an elephant, a unicorn, and an octopus
A page from Blob. Leaning into silly humor was fun!

    Halfway through the process of editing the manuscript, the pandemic began. As we all grappled with the fear and uncertainty of that time, my friendships moved to online forums, where I met more queer and trans authors and artists. For the first time in my life, I heard the word nonbinary. Hearing them describe their own experiences of self discovery, the old childhood uncertainty of making decisions about who I was and wanted to be began to bubble to the surface. I found myself relating to my friends’ stories and wrestling with questions about my own identity.

    As we worked on marketing materials for the book, including the book announcement, everyone was using he/him pronouns for Blob, which didn’t feel right. I asked that we switch to they/them pronouns. At the time, I wasn’t sure why I felt so strongly about this, but the publishing team immediately agreed and updated the marketing materials.

    After Blob was edited and the art completed, my editor asked me to write a letter to readers talking about what it meant to write Blob. In this letter, I discussed the many themes of my own childhood that had woven their way into this humorous story: the fear of deciding what and who to be, the pressure to be who people expected you to be, the disappointment of people not bothering to learn my name because I am a twin, and the frustration of people constantly misspelling my name. In short, Blob is about identity: being who you are, no matter what.

illustration of white blob character with star glasses on head wearing a name tag that says "hello my name is blob" and surrounded by drawings.
In writing this letter, I wrote “I hope that Blob shows children and their adults the importance of being yourself, regardless of what other people want or expect you to be. That the best answer to “what do you want to be” can be “I want to be me”! There are many children who deal with people mispronouncing their names, whose reality includes people making no effort to know who they are or say their names correctly, or whose name doesn’t fit who they are. I want children reading this book to realize that it’s ok to speak up and ask people to call you what you want to be called, to recognize you as an individual, no matter how many times it takes.”

    A lightbulb went off in my head as I wrote that. All those questions I had wrestled with while writing Blob suddenly had an answer. Blob was not only all the things I had written above, it was my journey of discovering that I am nonbinary. Blob’s feelings of not really being one thing or the other, being all the things yet none of the things was me. Writing Blob was like finding a mirror that truly reflected who I was for the first time in my life.

    I wasn’t able to share this story when Blob published, and yet Blob still found their way to nonbinary readers whose parents’ messages to me will forever remain close to my heart. I love that Blob can be so many things for readers who will come across this story, and that readers can connect to this character in their own way. For me, Blob will always be about discovering myself as a nonbinary person. Thank you, Blob.

Image of cover of picture book titled BLOB with white blob character in star glasses in the center.
My advice to other writers and illustrators: write what your heart is pulling you to write. Draw the character that makes you laugh, the character that demands attention. You may find yourself on the page, and this authenticity will connect to you to your readers. 

    I ended my letter to readers with “Blob captured my heart. I hope they capture yours as well.” And so I’ll end this post to you, writers and illustrators: Blob discovered my true self. I hope your writing and illustrating discovers yours as well. Always be you!

Image of person in star glasses and tunic top holding picture book titled BLOBAnne Appert (they/them ) is a nonbinary author/illustrator who spent their childhood with their nose stuck in a book, while their wild imagination transformed their New Jersey backyard into faraway places. Anne still enjoys spending time in their backyard dreaming, and now their imagination turns their dreams into words and pictures for children. Anne wrote and illustrated their debut book Blob, which was published by HarperCollins in Fall of 2021. Their second book What If You Wish? will publish with HarperCollins in 2024. They are a member of SCBWI, from which they received an honor in the 2021 Conference Portfolio Showcase. When not writing and illustrating, Anne enjoys teaching college students, dying their hair every color of the rainbow, and attempting to roller skate.  You can see their work at