THE READER - Blog Tour & Giveaway

Recently, I was offered the wonderful opportunity of interviewing both Amy Hest and Lauren Castillo.  I jumped at it.  I loved Amy's books Remember Mrs. Rossi and Letters to Leo and adored Lauren's book Melvin and the Boy

Hi Amy and Lauren, I have a few questions for both of you to get us started.

I know that many authors and illustrators don’t get to communicate much during the process so I wondered how the process was for this book. THE READER has a bit of an old-timey feel to it both in text and illustrations. Did you discuss this or did it just happen?

Amy: We did not discuss the old-timey feeling at all! My language is often old-timey (and not a bit hip) and very happily Lauren picked up on that.

Lauren: When I received THE READER manuscript, I immediately fell in love with the classic, timeless quality of Amy’s story. It was beautiful and poetic and I imagined the reader’s world right away. Because I was able to visualize so quickly how I would illustrate the story, I took it as a sign that this was definitely a project I should take on (And I’m so glad that I did!). I did not speak directly with Amy the whole time I worked on THE READER art, but we did have conversations through our editor Melanie. Amy saw my work at various stages, and gave input here and there, and even tweaked the text based on what she was seeing in the illustrations. So, even though we were kept pretty separate during the creative process, I think there was great teamwork between author, editor and illustrator!

What are your writing or illustrating days like? Do you have a specific routine? Play music or certain snacks?

Amy: I always keep good, strong coffee within reach. And ice cream. COFFEE ice cream!

Lauren: My days vary, depending on the stage of the project I am in, but when I am working on final art for a book (like right now) they are LONG ones. I usually spend most of my morning responding to emails and all other internet related things (of course you know that this is code for Facebook and Twitter!). Then after the coffee kicks in, I jump in to the art-making part of my day. I’ll usually work till dinner. But, when a book deadline is approaching, I could be at the desk till midnight (or much later). I sometimes listen to podcasts while I draw, but most of the time it’s Pandora internet radio. I have created probably 100 different stations on there, and like to bounce around depending on my mood. Today I’m feeling a little bit country (must be the Nashville ( influence…) :)

November is Picture Book Month - I find that I receive a lot of resistance from upper grade teachers in using picture books as part of their curriculum. Any suggestions for how I can convince them that picture books have a role in classes even at the High School level? 

Amy: I’ve always thought that a good picture book is a poem. A poem set to pictures. Because I’m a writer and NOT in any way capable of illustrating my own books, I need to be very precise with my language. To set the stage, in a way. And in the end, a story is a story. A memorable picture book rings true with kids AND grownups. Good writing is good writing and that’s all there is to it!

Lauren: I absolutely believe that picture books are for all ages. I think the pairing of words and pictures has a greater emotional impact on a reader, big or small. Picture books encourage creativity and imagination—something that should not be left behind as we grow older. This question reminded me of a fellow author’s blog post on the subject that I read a while back. It is much too good not to share:

Here are a few questions specifically for Amy:
I know that you have written quite a few picture books; however, I fell in love with Remembering Mrs. Rossi and the sequel Letters to Leo this summer. (And I have shared both with several students.) How is the process of writing a picture book different from writing a chapter book?

Thank you for liking REMEMBERING MRS. ROSSI and LETTERS TO LEO! The process of writing a novel is pretty much the same as writing a picture book for me. Only, longer. Much, much longer! (It took me 4 years or maybe 5 to write REMEMBERING MRS. ROSSI!) I go sentence by sentence. Very slowly. Then I go back and start all over again. And over again. And over again. Picture book, novel . . . it’s all the same. Getting just the right word, just the right tone, just the right voice, making all the bits and pieces come together somehow, like a puzzle. It’s a miracle that I EVER finish a book!

When did you decide you wanted to write books? Do you write a lot of stories as a child? 

Second grade. That’s when I decided to become a writer. It took me a while to get going, however . . . maybe 25 or 30 years! (I didn’t actually think I had anything to write about: boring, boring, boring was my childhood! All I did was GO TO SCHOOL. COME HOME AND WALK THE DOG. HAVE A FIGHT WITH MY BROTHER. GO TO SCHOOL. WALK THE DOG. FIGHT WITH MY BROTHER ... and so forth!) And no, I didn’t do too much writing on my own in the 1950’s, when I was growing up. I was storing it all up, I suppose.

What was your inspiration for writing THE READER?

Billy! That’s my daughter’s dog (Wheaten Terrier and he was the runt of the litter so he’s half the size of most Wheaties) and he is QUITE an inspiration. We spend a lot of time together, Billy and I, and snowy days are our favorites. Most days he sleeps at my feet while I write.

Here are a few questions specifically for Lauren:
In the case of The READER you illustrated the text written by Amy. In MELVIN AND THE BOY, you wrote and illustrated the book. How is the process different when you are writing and illustrating the book vs. illustrating for someone else’s work? Is one easier than the other? 

I don’t have a ton of author experience yet, but so far my process has been very similar illustrating another author’s story as it has been illustrating my own. Just as I would receive a typed up manuscript from an editor, I like to have the same starting off point for my own stories. It’s easier for me to begin breaking down the text into pages (even though I’ve already visualized much of the book while writing it). I think the biggest difference is that I can edit the text down in my own stories without asking. For example, when I was sketching out the storyboard for MELVIN AND THE BOY, there were some parts of the original manuscript that I was able to show in my images. So I cut out the words that weren’t necessary. Although, as I mentioned above, Amy actually edited her writing based on what I was showing in the pictures. So, in a lot of ways, working on THE READER felt very much like my process for MELVIN AND THE BOY. Hooray for great collaboration!

Did you have a favorite illustration in THE READER? If so which one?

Every page of THE READER was so much fun to create, that it’s hard to pick a favorite (There’s nothing I love to draw more than dogs, tiny kids, and snowscapes . . .and I got to illustrate 32 pages worth of that!). But if I have to choose, I think I’ll go with the most special moment in the story—the spread where the boy reads his favorite book “Two Good Friends” aloud to his dog on the top of the hill. This spread may have been the most difficult too. It’s such an important moment, and I wanted to make sure that the art exuded a sense of warmth and magic. And, the addition of subtle letters falling like snow made me happy as well :)

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator of children’s books?  Have you always done this or did you get here from a different career? 

I went to art school (Maryland Institute College of Art), and knew that I wanted to be an illustrator, but it wasn’t till my junior year that I decided children’s books would be my focus. I took a picture book illustration class that year, and my awesome teacher Jeannie Turner was so encouraging. She worked in the field, so I witnessed how fantastic a career as a picture book illustrator could be. She even offered me an independent study where I put together my first ever children’s book (I sent it out to about a dozen publishers . .. though it did not get picked up [thankfully] . . .I had SO MUCH to learn still!). I ended up going to graduate school in New York City (School of Visual Arts) and it was there where I began to make some direct connections with editors and art directors in the publishing world. I shopped my portfolio around to all the NY publishing houses for two years while attending school—no job offers came yet, but lots of helpful feedback! Then, directly after graduation, I began working at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers as assistant to the art director. I was so fortunate to land that job, and learned a ton about the industry and the many hands it takes to put together a book. Just about 2 months in, I got offered my first picture book deal from Frances Foster at Farrar, Straus and Giroux! And it was a dream project too (WHAT HAPPENS ON WEDNESDAYS, by Emily Jenkins). But after juggling both the book illustration and the day job for about year, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith and begin illustrating full time. Happily, it was the absolute right decision :)

For More Information on Amy and Lauren:

Amy Hest's many acclaimed children's books include the New York Times bestseller Kiss Good Night. A three-time winner of the prestigious Christopher Award, she lives in New York City. She claims to have absolutely no hidden talents, unless you count an uncanny interest in coffee ice cream and certain dogs in the Wheaten Terrier or Airedale family. Amy likes to take long walks (in the city), ride a bike (in the city), and swim (also in the city). She likes movies and reading, of course! For more information, visit her website at

Lauren Castillo grew up in small town Maryland, but now spends her time in the bustling borough of Brooklyn, New York, writing and illustrating books for children. She likes exploring the city, daydreaming in parks, doodling in cafes, and spying cute dogs on the street. Visit her website at and her blog at You can follow her on twitter: @studiocastillo or on facebook. Drop by and say "hello" any time!

Thanks to Blueslip Media & Amazon Children's Publishing, I will be giving away one copy of THE READER to a lucky reader.  You must live in the United States or Canada to enter.  a Rafflecopter giveaway