Sue Lowell Gallion


By Sue Lowell Gallion (adapted from a post for NF Fest 2022)

It is such a joy to introduce children to nature, starting with the very youngest. There is nothing like walking outdoors with a baby on your hip, giving her the opportunity to touch smooth leaves, rough bark, or the layers of a pinecone as you talk about the amazing world around us.

Books, particularly board books, offer a tactile experience to young readers as well. The size, shape, and other physical features of the book communicate along with the text and illustrations. Today’s board books offer many novelty elements that can enhance nonfiction subjects for the youngest child. In addition to the sturdy, chewable (and safety tested) cardboard pages of a board book, consider the shape of the book and other physical elements as creative tools available to you.

For example, PEEK-A-BABY OCEAN by Mike Orodan (Chronicle, 2019) uses wave-shaped pages to introduce marine creatures in their habitats and lift-the-flaps to reveal the matching babies.The combination of shape, design, illustrations, and text along with the peek-a-boo activity makes this a marvelous nonfiction concept board book. PEEK-A-BABY FARM is a companion title.

Nonfiction board books can appeal to a wide range of ages, with layers of information for younger and older readers. BUG HOTEL by Libby Walden, illustrated by Clover Robin (Caterpillar/Little Tiger, 2018) is shaped like a house, with each spread dedicated to one insect.

When my first grandchild arrived, I became more interested in (obsessed with?) board books. I knew many board books are created by author/illustrators or in-house. But I made a point of attending a workshop on novelty board books for authors and author-illustrators by Ariel Richardson, editor at Chronicle Books, at an SCBWI-Kansas/Missouri conference several years ago.

Ariel encouraged attendees to brainstorm how the physical shape of a book could enhance a story or a subject. The one requirement was that the book must have a spine, so it could be shelved. She suggested we also explore novelty elements, such as die cuts, different textures for surfaces such as scratchy or mirrored, and lift-the-flaps. These suggestions could be included as illustration options in a board book manuscript.

The final exercise was to take paper, stapler, and scissors and brainstorm with book dummies (See the Action Item below!) As I snipped, I wondered if a board book about the world might take the shape of a globe. And in 2020, OUR WORLD: A First Book of Geography, illustrated by Lisk Feng, was released by Phaidon Press. A second book in the series, OUR SEASONS: The World in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn, releases April 20, 2022.

Many board books will grow with a child. Details in layers of text, illustrations, and physical aspects of the book become more meaningful to the child as he enters different stages of development.

Finally, as a geography lover, I have to share Chihiro Takeuchi’s PAPER PEEK ANIMALS (Candlewick Studio, 2020). This square novelty board book introduces the continents, animals that are native to each continent, and the world map. It also includes counting and seek and find elements. Die cut windows in the shape of animals emphasize the seek and find activity. And there’s a companion board book, PAPER PEEK COLORS.

There’s so much choice in board books today. Move beyond the classics and explore the amazing options available to share!

My friends, Pug and Pig

Pug and Pig entered my world more than a decade ago as an idea that just might make a picture book. I’m thrilled to be introducing the third book in the series, PUG & PIG AND FRIENDS. PUG MEETS PIG was my first trade picture book sale, and I had no idea I’d have the opportunity to continue to develop the characters and their world with Joyce Wan, the illustrator, and the Beach Lane Books team. What a joy to share PUG & PIG AND FRIENDS now, with vaccinations and a brighter world (especially once children can be safely vaccinated). I’m so looking forward to being able to share the latest Pug and Pig book and more in person.

I’m ever so grateful to my friends — friends who supported my dream all along, the amazing friends I have made within the children’s book community, and especially my new friends (and their wonderful parents who read to them!) who know the books by heart.

To me, the underlying heart of all three of the Pug and Pig books is empathy and friendship, so it’s apt that the third book has “friend” in the title. What is friendship when someone new comes on the scene? How can someone be true to themselves and at the same time think of others? How can a sense of humor improve a relationship or help someone else see that not everyone likes the same things or reacts the same way? How do you communicate your feelings and needs with others? (This is particularly tricky, of course, for pigs, dogs, and other backyard buddies!)

Thanks for being on the adventure with us!

New Books

It’s a strange time to be prepping to release three new books this summer and fall. My usual events — celebrating with readers, friends, and family at local favorites like Rainy Day Books, The Learning Tree toy store and bookstore, and Fat Brain Toys, — aren’t an option. In-person library events aren’t a possibility, either. And there’s nothing I look forward to more than sharing my books with a circle of kids, carrying on conversations, watching reactions, seeing what they notice (which I probably haven’t noticed at all!)

But I do think books have fared well in this bizarre time. Yes, we’re all doing our share of binge-watching (I never saw 30 Rock, and I’m enjoying it immensely now!) But I think, and I hope, many families have spent time snuggled up with books. And I hope that continues. My two grandsons (ages 2 1/2 and 4 1/2) are almost always ready to sit down with me and a book, especially a funny one. Those moments are magic for me, and are one of the best ways I escape today’s news, sadness, and uncertainty. 

And have we ever appreciated our libraries more? Or our librarians, library staff, and the volunteers that make the hold system work? My county library system opens this week for book returns, although I’m giving them some time before I bring my stacks back. Next week they begin curbside checkout. If they can do that safely, I am more than ready to tap into that marvelous resource again. Same with area bookstores. I’m ready to add some new titles to my shelves and the shelves of others. 

I hope you are, too!

Molasses Crinkles . . . and more

I just had the privilege of being interviewed as a New Voice on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s invaluable blog, Cynsations. What a thrill! Here’s the link to the article:

One of the questions was about what I enjoy doing in my free time. You can often find me in the neighborhood or nearby trails walking my dog, Tucker, a 7-year-old black lab mix who found us at Wayside Waifs animal shelter when he was just four months old.  Tucker is grateful to finally have his picture shown after all the focus on pugs and pigs in our world ever since PUG MEETS PIG came out in September 2016.

I also mentioned baking therapy, which is a family tradition attributable to my mother’s Norwegian-German heritage. Comfort food means a homemade cookie at my house. And if you like the smells of ginger, cinnamon, and molasses, and want some cookie fame, here’s my mom’s Molasses Crinkle cookie recipe.

Molasses Crinkles are easy enough for kids to make with a bit of help. You can cut this recipe in half if you don’t want to make as many, but why would you do that? One of my grandmother’s cookie recipes calls for nine cups of flour. Now that’s a big batch of cookies!

Ruth’s Molasses Crinkles

1 1/2 cup Crisco

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 tsp. salt

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cloves

2 tsp. cinnamon (I use Vietnamese cinnamon)

2 tsp. ginger

2 tsp. grated orange rind (or more, I grate the rind of one large orange.)

White sugar

Combine Crisco shortening and brown sugar in large mixing bowl, mix on medium until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. Add molasses and blend. Combine flour and spices in a separate bowl, add to the molasses mixture and blend. Add grated orange rind and blend.

With your hands, roll a small ball (my mom would say the size of a black walnut.) Roll the dough balls in a small bowl of white sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet. Take a drinking glass, butter the bottom of it, and dip it in flour. Press each dough ball slightly to flatten it. Bake 10 to 12 minutes at 375 degrees.

Store in tightly closed container. Put a slice of apple or part of a piece of bread in the container to keep cookies chewy. They freeze well.  Serve with a cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk and a good book.

It’s a Book Birthday!

The gestation period of a picture book varies, but it’s safe to predict that it will be longer than that of a walrus (16 months), a rhino (13 months), or a velvet worm (15 months.) The one constant? It takes a looooooong time.

PUG MEETS PIG will make its appearance on bookshelves and at bedtimes almost three years after the manuscript was sold. And actually, that’s not long in the land of children’s picture book publishing.

And the waiting’s been worth it. Participating in the process of picture book creation, from manuscript to an actual book, has been a dream come true for me.

One of the questions I get asked the most is, “Does the book look like you pictured it?”

And the answer is, “No. It is so much more and so much better than I ever imagined.”

Why? Picture book making starts with words on a page, that come from the mind and heart of the author. An editor reads those words, and just may see those words as the foundation of a book. That book will be a physical object, with a size and shape and pages to turn.

If the publishing house decides to buy the manuscript, the editor and art director will choose an illustrator, the author’s partner in the creation of this book. That isn’t the author’s decision, although sometimes the author can give feedback. (My editor shared some images from SLEEPYHEADS (written by Sandra J. Howatt, illustrated by Joyce Wan) with me as they were selecting an art director. I loved everything about Joyce Wan’s work.)

So, an illustrator is sent those words on a page to consider, then she (or he) must make a decision whether that project is right for her.  After all, the visual half of that story is the story that children will “read” with their eyes. Often, if the illustrator says yes, the book then will wait for the illustrator to have time to move ahead on the project. That waiting time may be several years.

Once the illustrator starts work, the book begins as sketches and pencil “dummies” that turn the story from text into a performance that unfolds page by page, with a combination of words and art and design. The editor and art director advise and guide. As the visuals unfold, some of the words aren’t necessary any more, or another word may be a better choice. Scenes change and characters develop. Editors vary on what the author sees during this process.

But during this time, the book gets better and better. What may seem like tiny decisions to an outsider, such as whether a sentence should end with a period or a question mark, or whether a welcome mat should be plain or say WELCOME, make layers of differences as the book is built.

I love the comparison of a picture book with a theater performance. A picture book is meant to be read aloud, listened to, and looked at. As pages turn, story happens. The listener cares what happens. The art offers stories within the story. Tension rises, characters change and grow, a problem is resolved, and a world is created.

And the ultimate compliment will be a request from a child to read it again.


A Baby Gift That Lasts…

Feb. 25, 2016

Want to give expectant parents a gift that will benefit their child (and them!) for a lifetime? Give books. Better yet, give two different kinds of books.

Book #1:

Give the expecting mom and dad a book that tells them why and how to read to their baby. Give it to them now. Any veteran parent knows that the soon-to-be-new mom and dad have more time now, BEFORE the baby is born.

My go-to baby shower gift is a slim paperback by the amazing Australian author, Mem Fox: Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever (Mariner Books, 2008).

Sit down and read a chapter or two of this book by author/teacher/reading advocate Mem Fox, and you will want to go find a baby or child and start reading! It’s available on Amazon or Barnes & if you can’t find it at your local bookstore. I keep several copies on hand to give away.

Book #2

Give the expecting mom and dad a book for the baby.

I love browsing the board book section of a bookstore. Many wonderful picture books are subsequently released as board books. They’re sturdy, chewable, and easy to toss in a diaper bag or backpack. Look at the illustrations and skim the text. Would it be fun to share with the new family? Does it make you smile or make you laugh?

A nursery rhyme collection is a lasting present for the whole family. Nursery rhymes are just plain fun to read aloud, and good practice for new moms and dads in reading with inflection and enjoyment. And their rhythm and rhyme are ever so entertaining for children to hear, plus important in language and pre-reading development.

Many marvelous artists have illustrated nursery rhyme books. One of my favorite new nursery rhyme collections is Over the Hills and Far Away, a treasury of nursery rhymes from around the world, collected by Elizabeth Hammill and illustrated by more than 70 different artists. Other favorites of mine are Here Comes Mother Goose by Iona Opie and Pocketful of Posies by Salley Mavor.