Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Antoinette

The year after I resigned from teaching, I skipped the annual Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival. The call was too strong this year to resist.

Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival, now in its 23rd year, is for anyone who loves to read or write children’s books. Saturdays are for adults. Authors sign books at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sectionals follow the morning signings and precede the afternoon signings. An author luncheon is at noon.

This year I attended sectionals by five authors. I’m featuring picture book authors in this post and will feature authors who write for older readers in a separate post. Notes are transcribed as I heard them, but at times edited or rearranged for a more cohesive read.


Kelly DiPucchio is a New York best-sellers’ list author. She received 600 rejections before she got her first acceptance. I bought two of her books at the festival: Gaston is about a puppy mix-up and its sequel Antoinette is about a puppy in peril. My husband reviewed Zombie in Love here in 2013.

DiPucchio shared a presentation entitled My Life in Dog Years. Dogs have always been part of her life.

If my publishers allow me, I’ll keep writing books about just dogs.

Pokey Years

Even DiPucchio’s first memory of a book is a dog title. The Pokey Little Puppy, a children’s book by Janette Sebring Lowrey, was first published in 1942 as one of the first twelve books in the Simon & Schuster series Little Golden Books.  As of 2001, The Poky Little Puppy is the single all-time best-selling hardcover children’s book in the U.S., having sold nearly 15 million copies.

Fluffy Years

DiPucchio grew up on a small farm in Michigan. She used to jump off the barn roof into covered manure piles and had a pet goat. For fun, she and her friends played in the cemetery. She grew up outdoors with her imagination.

Her mom belonged to a book club where one receives books through the mail. DiPucchio has found most of the titles she remembers from childhood on Ebay and has enjoyed reliving them.

Her first dog was a cock-a-poo named Fluffy. He inspired the writing of Goldfish wants a Pet.

Chip Years

Her next dog was Chip. “He wasn’t the smartest dog,” DiPucchio said. “He used to sleep on the pavement.”

DiPucchio began to read on her own. When her parents stopped reading to her, DiPucchio’s favorite part of the day became when teachers read to the class. She was excited to buy a hardcover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from Scholastic and still owns it.

During her childhood, the family’s basement was flooded. Most of her writings lost. A series DiPucchio wrote called Vegetable Hospital (inspired by General Hospital) was salvaged.

In high school, DiPucchio took art classes and began to compare herself to others. DiPucchio said, “I drew realistic drawings but thought I wasn’t good and so I stopped. I’ve always wonder what might have happened if I had continued. Maybe today I’d be an illustrator too.”

Cujo Years

DiPucchio entered a dark time in her life. “I joke that I’m Barb from Stranger Things,” she said. Her dog Fluffy died. Her parent divorced. Her mom moved off the farm into a townhouse. DiPucchio cut herself off from others and began reading adult novels.

Ming Years

At a new high school, DiPucchio took advantage of the opportunity to change her life. She got contact lens, made new friends, and took an English composition class. At graduation time, whenever everyone was throwing out stuff, she held onto a notebook that she didn’t want to discard. “I wasn’t dreaming of being an author,” DiPucchio said, “but the seeds were planted.”

Spot Years

DiPucchio graduated from college with a degree in social worker. Working with foster care families was tough work but she loved it.

As a mom, she read what she considers cheap commercial books to her children. Everything changed when she started checking out books from the library. DiPucchio said, “I discovered True Story of 3 Little Pigs and wanted to become Jon Scieszka.”

Her grandmother sent her dream notes and asked her to turn them into a story. The result was an unpublished story called The Turtle Who Could Dance. DiPucchio began working seriously on her craft. Her books were too long and so she joined a critique group. “One is told to write what you know,” DiPucchio joked, “I knew sleep deprivation best because of my kids and so my first book was Bed Hogs.”

Whimsey Years

DiPucchio’s next dog was Whimsey. Her son had terrible school anxiety and wanted to trade places with Whimsey. Her son grew up to become a professor!

During the years that the family owned Whimsey, DiPucchio wrote several books. McBloom Clean Up Your Classroom, published in 2008, won the Golden Sower. It resulted in her first trip to Nebraska.  Grace for President was inspired by a student who when looking at a wall of presidents asked, “Where are the girls?” DiPucchio researched the field and found no picture book had covered electoral votes. Crafty Choe also won the Golden Sower. It was Inspired by her daughter who loved to do crafts. DiPucchio wrote Zombies in Love! for fun after she realized no one had written about bacon. She pitched the book this way to her agent: This is the best and worst story I’ve never written. I’ve no idea what you’ll think.”

Gaston Years

Whimsey lived for 14 years. After this death, DiPucchio didn’t plan to get another dog. “I couldn’t handle the emotional loss,” she said. Then she got two dogs!

She also wrote the book Gaston, earning her a third Golden Sower. Gaston was inspired by a You Tube video of a French Bull dog. The narrator’s voice for the book came to DiPucchio in a French accent. The Gaston “phenomena” has caught DiPucchio off guard. “People send me their French Bull Dog photos,” said DiPucchio. “A special needs student is obsessed with Gaston and writes his own.”


Zachary Ohora is an award-winning illustrator and author. I bought one of his books at the festival: Niblet and Ralph is about two pet cats that switch places in a story of mistaken identity. He debuted a presentation called Keeping It Weird.

In the back of my mind when I’m creating books I think “keep it weird.” The children’s book industry is a conservative field. It’s fuzzy and cute. I push limits to be weird.

Ohora is the oldest of five siblings. All had Z names.

He attended a school without library; the school did have a bookmobile. Ohara wanted to grow up to operate a bookmobile.

As a child, he wasn’t allowed to have candy. He drew cartoon cartoons for his peers in exchange for candy bars. Ohara decided to illustrate books as an adult.


  • Hunter Thompson: Gonzo Journalism
  • Frank Zappa: Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.
  • Nick Cave (artist who makes sound costumes)
  • Richard Scary


My Cousin Momo is about a flying squirrel that doesn’t want to fly for his cousins. Ohora wanted to write a book about theme: “If you set aside expectations, nice things might happen.” Real flying squirrels inspired the book.

Niblet and Ralph was inspired by an actual incident from his childhood where his family adopted a cat named Ralph that got lost but, in the meantime, an identically marked black, white and gray feline showed up at their house. Ohora realized it was not Ralph, but his parents believed it was the real Ralph until they saw signs posted for the missing cat. The cat lived with them for two years. Their own family cat died, but Niblet and Ralph has a happier end.

No Fits Nilson! is about a friendship between a preschooler and a gorilla. About this picture book, Ohara said, “Kids accept weird stuff make it their own.”

Not So Quiet Library is about two brothers whose Dad would take them out for doughnuts and then to the library, but then one day their outing was interrupted by a monster. According to Ohora, librarians criticize the book for promoting library as “daycare center” and believe that the monster symbolizes a predator or a bad person. All the backgrounds in Not So Quiet Library are from a childhood library. Ohora hired photographers to shoot photos of the library and intended to use the photos as background but marketers wanted more color and so used paintings instead. When Ohora revisited the library after the book’s publication, he realized that his monsters were inspired by painting at library.

Wolfie the Bunny is about an abandoned wolf that gets adopted by bunnies. Ohora wanted the wolf to be scary, the publishers disagreed, and so he put the wolf in a bunny suit. To his surprise, “The wolf looked cute and the book worked.”


Scott Magoon has illustrated several acclaimed picture books including Rescue & Jessica by Boston Marathon bombing survivors Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes. Rescue & Jessica is based on their real-life experience with Jessica’s service dog Rescue. Magoon shared a presentation entitled You Rescued Me.

I spent the last year wondering how I could impart what this experience means to me.

Magoon has run the Boston Marathon. There are three legal ways to run:

  • Qualify: tough to do
  • Fundraise: partner with the cancer institute
  • Invite: happens to celebrities

The illegal way to run is to “Bandit: jump in and do it.”

In 2013, Magoon ran the Boston Marathon as a bandit. He couldn’t run it as fast as normal due to the heat and the problem gnawed at him. A friend offered to bring him by car to a spot close to the event. As he neared the finish line, he heard an explosion, but didn’t know where it came from and so he continued to run. When screams filled the air, Magoon realized something was horribly wrong.

In the months that followed, Magoon suffered no physical ill effects but emotionally he wasn’t fine. His sleep was disturbed, and he developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He needed something good to come out of the Boston Marathon tragedy.

Out of the blue, Candlewick Publishing called him. The editor had a manuscript about a couple who had run in the marathon and been injured. A service dog had helped in their recovery, and they wanted to share their story. The editor asked Magoon to illustrate the book.

The book gave me something else to focus on. It took the attention off me and it gave extra confidence as I returned to work. I could educate kids about service dogs.

Magoon talked with his editor about the approach for the book. Together they decided on a balance between cartoonish and serious. When he submitted his art to his editor, Magoon was nervous about how the couple would react. After all, it was their story not his.

His editor called and told him that they loved the sketches, and she invited him to send the sketches directly to the couple. Everyone got together. They picked out 10 favorite songs each and shared them over meals together. They bonded. Magoon was asked to illustrate their Christmas card.

As Magoon worked on Rescue & Jessica, his own experiences filtered into the backgrounds. Memories of the couple were also included such as the scene shows where the couple were engaged. Finally, there are hidden themes such as the inclusion of Canis Major (Sirius), guide dog.

Since completion of Rescue & Jessica, Magoon has ran the Boston Marathon again. He’s also worked with an organization that trains service dogs and raised thousands to support them. Promotion of his book has been huge. A news van showed in his driveway. The story was on the Today show. He appeared on ESPN. His whole life is now this book.

The book is doing its mission. It’s helping my new friends healed. Rescue has helped me heal too.”


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