FOSSIL Blog Tour & Special Guest Post with Bill Thomson

At the beginning of November, I had a chance to meet up with the amazing, Bill Thomson in person.  He emailed me to say he would be in town and did I want to get together.  Well, I didn't need to think about it.  Of course, I wanted to meet up.  I picked Bill up at a local artist's studio and we headed over to Kidspace Children's Museum in Pasadena.   It's a great space to hang and I wanted to introduce Bill to one of the staff at the museum.  As we walked around the museum, we talked about Bill's newest book, FOSSIL and about children and imagination and science and more.

After leaving Kidspace, we headed over to Montrose and stopped by Once Upon a Time Bookstore.  We were lucky that owner Maureen Palacios was in and I had a chance to introduce Bill to her.  I must have done a pretty fabulous job book talking Gris Grimly's Frankenstein because Bill picked up a copy while we were there.

We then headed to a small barbeque place for dinner where we managed to talk books and creative process for a couple more hours.

Here's a few things you need to learn about me...I will never make a great reporter.  I managed to not take a single picture or take notes throughout my whole time with Bill.  It just felt wrong somehow.  It would have completely messed up the tone of the afternoon/evening.  Another thing about me, I was plotting the whole time about how I might be able to create several events around Bill and his books.  Did you notice that I was taking him to places that could be potential event spots? *smile*

Now, here is the fun stuff.  During our dinner, Bill was talking to me about how he sometimes makes creative decisions with his art so that it will work better for children who are viewing his books.  I was fascinated with what he was sharing.  He then offered to share some images with the readers of my blog.  If you haven't figured this out yet, Bill is one of the nicest people I have ever met, and I am very blessed to have had the chance to spend so much time with him.  

This is what Bill shared with the readers of my blog about creating the Pteranodon in the book.

From Bill - Here are the steps used to create the illustration:

My initial thumbnail sketch establishes the basic idea.

Then I take the reference photos so I can make the details looks as convincing as possible. I shot photos from higher vantage point matching my thumbnail sketch, but I thought a lower perspective worked better. I shot over 10,000 reference photos for this book, and usually take multiple vantages for each illustration to see what works best. I have a very skinny nephew named Sam and used his back as the basis for my pteranodon. The pteranodon was a mix of a figure that I painted, Sam’s back, lizard photos, ptranodon research, and stuff I made up. I was originally going to make him brownish, but then opted for a reddish color so he would stand out from the other colored fossils and also to add more color to the book.

Looking at the reference photos, I make a tight pencil drawing.

Then I paint a light coat of yellow acrylic paint over my entire pencil drawing, and add black acrylic paint on top to establish the darkest areas.

I paint over the entire illustration with a light coat of purple oil paint and remove the areas of sunlight with an eraser. This creates a yellow and purple under painting, establishing base colors for light and shadow.

I always paint backgrounds first. The flat blue color of the sky was painted with an airbrush to keep it smooth, and the ground painted with a sponge to create texture. Many of the illustrations in the book had actual rock mixed in with the paint, but the ground in this illustration was from a farther vantage point.

Then I create a tight acrylic painting on top of the under painting. This is the most time consuming part of the process.  And finally, I go over the entire illustration with colored pencil to refine the illustration. This final step is also quite time consuming, but brings the illustration to life with subtle details and textures.

Other illustrations with closer views of the ground included actual volcanic rock in the paint:

To create texture in ground on the closer scenes, I mixed rock in with my paint and dabbed it on with a sea sponge.

While the printing process can’t reproduce the three dimensional aspects of the rock, it does capture how the paint reacts to it. I liked including actual rocks in the paint for the illustrations of a book about fossils.

And then you have this amazing book trailer:

For more information about Bill Thomson:

Bill Thomson has been called “a master at visual storytelling.” He is the illustrator of several children’s books, including Chalk (Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2010), which received many accolades. Thomson is also Professor of Illustration at the University of Hartford. He lives with his family in Connecticut. Visit Bill at

To download a copy of the educator guide or student activity guide click on the images:

To check out all of the stops for the FOSSIL Blog Tour:

Sat, Nov 9
Booking Mama
Mon, Nov 11
NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Nov 12
Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Nov 13
There's a Book
Thurs, Nov 14
Fri, Nov 15
Kid Lit Frenzy
Mon, Nov 18
Once Upon a Story
Tues, Nov 19
The Children's Book Review
Wed, Nov 20
5 Minutes for Books
Thurs, Nov 21
Geo Librarian
Fri, Nov 22
Growing with Science

For a chance to win a copy of FOSSIL, complete the form below.  Winner must be 13 or older and have a US mailing address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blog Tour Giveaway & Interview with author Helen Stringer

Thanks to Barbara and the folks at Blueslip Media, I have this wonderful opportunity to participate in a Blog Tour Giveaway featuring Helen Stringer and her books Spellbinder and The Midnight Gate. Click here to read my review of Spellbinder.

There is a bit of a twist here. My 10 year old niece, Jackie, loved Spellbinder and she created the questions for the interview. We were thrilled to find out that Helen answered all of our questions.  Hope you enjoy the questions and answers as much as we enjoyed thinking up the questions.

So does Belladonna have a crush on Steve or are they just friends?
No, Belladonna doesn’t have a crush on Steve, he’s a bit too annoying for that at the moment. As to being friends, the only time she ever really talks to him is when it’s something to do with the Dark Spaces. The rest of the time he spends with his other friends talking about football and making trouble.

Has there been any other Spellbinders, and if so how many?
Yes, there have been other Spellbinders. In “Midnight Gate” the Queen of the Abyss tells them a little about the last one and they meet the shade of the last Paladin, whose name is Edmund de Braes. The last time a Spellbinder was needed was in the mid-14th century. In the past, though, Spellbinders were always adults. Belladonna is the first one to be a child, which makes her task much more difficult.

How long did your research take you especially on the Greek language?
The Greek language thing took ages! I don’t speak modern Greek, let alone ancient Greek, and because the Sibyl is from ancient Greece she had to speak the ancient variety. I tried using online translators, but they were all modern Greek. Then I tried to find an ancient Greek dictionary and had the same luck as Belladonna and Steve. I finally found something that translated individual words into ancient Greek and used that, but I’d already discovered that the ancient Greeks had different words or the same thing – for example, the word “door” could be different depending on whether you were opening it or going through it, and whether it was an outside door or an inside door – so I was fairly certain it was wrong. My editor thought so too. She had a Greek friend and asked her, but the friend only knew modern Greek. She then called her local college and managed to speak to someone in the Classics department who knew ancient Greek and gave us the correct translation. Phew! Funnily enough, no one has ever asked if the ancient Sumerian is right, although it really is actual ancient Sumerian, or as close as I can get it using a massive lexicon I found online!

What made you decide to write a ghost story?
I’ve always liked ghost stories and cemeteries. When I was about 12 my family and I went to Scotland on vacation. We stayed in a cottage in a tiny village that had a wonderful old graveyard. The gravestones were huge and had all sorts of details about the person’s life. Many of them had carvings of skulls and crossbones on them, as well as carvings of hourglasses. If the hourglass was lying on its side, it meant that the person had died young – before their time. A lot of the stones went back to the 1600s and were fascinating and sad. On some you could see that entire families had died within days of each other and you knew that some awful disease must have swept through the village. It’s hard not to think about ghosts in places like that, and to wonder if people hang around for a while after they die, and what they might make of our modern world if they do.

Who is your favorite character in the book? (Jackie's response "That's kind of hard. I liked all the characters.")
I’m with Jackie on this one! I like Belladonna because she’s so shy and quiet, yet really brave and smart. Steve is just so much fun to write – he gets to say all those things that you wish you’d said but couldn’t think of at the time. He’s also the kind of kid that everyone thinks they understand because they take him at face value, but he’s so much more than that and only needs the opportunity to be challenged and prove it. I also love Elsie. The Edwardian period was one of great confidence and she embodies that with her gung-ho, can-do spirit. She’s the exact opposite of Belladonna and can be really annoying, but her heart is in the right place. As to the other characters, I’d have to say that I like the Leader of the Wild Hunt and the Queen of the Abyss. They are both mysterious and dark and it isn’t entirely clear whose side they are on.

Why does Belladonna's aunt seem so scared of the Hunt?
She’s not scared. If she was scared, she wouldn’t have gone chasing after them. She has met them before. She knows they are dangerous but there is something that she is hiding. In “Midnight Gate” Belladonna asks the Leader if he has seen Aunt Deirdre and it is clear that he knows who she is too, though he says he hasn’t seen her.

In the book, The Hunt seemed nice to Belladonna but can they be harmful to others? 
The Wild Hunt are very dangerous. They ride the night and can scoop up anyone they want and force them to join the Hunt and ride with them forever. The Wild Hunt are well-known in the mythology of several northern European countries. In Germany they are known as Odin’s Hunt and in France as Arthur’s Hunt. Their legend even crossed the Atlantic and can be seen in songs such as “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Whatever they are called, the story is the same, a band of mysterious riders that appears out of the night sky to punish the wicked and occasionally even the good. I always liked the idea of these immortal riders who should be avoided at all costs. The Leader has taken a liking to Belladonna, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is any less dangerous.

How come people didn't know the truth about Lady Mary?
It’s not at all unusual for history to forget certain details about people and events. This is even more common when the people and events are only of local importance. And, of course, ghosts are good for business. What old house doesn’t claim to have at least one? The story of Lady Mary and her demise is based on a story that the guides at the real-life Speke Hall in Liverpool tell, but although the lady’s husband did gamble away their fortune there isn’t really any evidence that she killed herself and her baby as a result. (And the windows in Speke Hall really are far too small!)
Speke Hall

Now here are some questions for the main characters:

To Belladonna: What did you like most about our adventure?
Gosh, I don’t know. Finding my mum and dad, I suppose. But…well, it was exciting to be able to do something and not be ordinary. I’d always wanted to be ordinary before, of course, and dreaded someone finding out that I could see ghosts – though they’d say that I thought I could see them and then everyone would laugh and…well, it didn’t bear thinking about, really. It was better once Steve could see them, too. The thing with the Words was really scary at first, but it felt really great to stand my ground and send the Kere back to the Dark Spaces. It’s going to be weird having to go back to school and pretend nothing happened!

To Steve: Has your ruler turned into anything else other than arrows and swords?
Yes! The thing is totally brill! It’s been a shield (twice), a blow-gun and a quarterstaff. I’d only seen a quarterstaff in that Daffy Duck cartoon (the Robin Hood one), but it was great. At first we (that’s me and Belladonna) thought it would only work on the Other Side, but it turns out that I can use it in the real world if there are supernatural creatures about, which is good because otherwise Belladonna would be toast by now.

To Elsie: Did you learn anything else (besides the information about the Night Ravens and the Dog) from Ashe's helper?
Not really. The chap was dashed cagey about things. No idea why he picked me, either. I suppose it could have been because I was at the school, but there are a couple of ghosts of teachers flitting about there, too, and you’d have thought he’d pick them. Mind you, now that I think about it, the ghostly teachers are a rather drippy duo. One’s an old art teacher who spends all her time fretting about the quality of everyone’s work and weeping at the windows. The other was a cook in the kitchens and all she does is follow the canteen staff around yelling that they’re doing it all wrong. I’m not sure that either of them would be much use in a crisis, and my grandfather was at Roarke’s Drift, as I said, so I’ve got proper brave soldier’s blood running through my veins. Anyway, I haven’t had such a ripping good time since my dad’s friend took me up in his flying machine!

Thanks Helen for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy and answering all these questions.  Jackie and I wish you the best of luck with The Midnight Gate and we will post our review after we stop fighting over who gets to read it first. :-)

Spellbinder series giveaway!
Three lucky winners will receive one copy each of THE MIDNIGHT GATE and SPELLBINDER along with some bookmarks!

1. To enter, send an e-mail to
2. In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address).
3. One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses.
4. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/17/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 6/18/11 and notified via email.

For excerpts, games, links, and more, visit Helen's website at:
Read Helen's blog:

To follow her on twitter: @hcstringer

To find her on Facebook:

Tomorrow's stop will be Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books at

Spellbinder Series Blog Tour Information

Blue Slip Media has arranged for a Blog Tour for author Helen Stringer's The Midnight Gate release.  If you are interested in checking out all of the blog posts and interviews, click on the links below.

May 23, 2011 - Mundie Kids:

May 24, 2011 - Poisoned Rationality:

May 25, 2011 - Cracking The Cover:

May 26, 2011 - Bookworming In The 21st Century:

May 27, 2011 - The OWL for YA:

May 30, 2011 - Wicked Awesome Books

May 31, 2011 - TeenReads:

June 1, 2011 - Kid Lit Frenzy (that's me):

June 2, 2011 - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books:

June 3, 2011 - The Joys of Reading

June 6, 2011 - The Bluestocking Guide: