UP!–Princeton Children’s Book Festival 2017!

OK, it’s my guess you didn’t know that the Emerald City is actually made up of Big White Tents and the yellow brick road happens to be flagstone. Well, take it from me — it is! On my FAVorite “KidLit” day of the year, I “fly over the rainbow” to the Princeton Children’s Book Festival to take in everything this “Oz” has to offer 😀

Each September as the date approaches, I await the beautiful poster art (this year by Brian Biggs), and I wish upon a star in anticipation of the list of authors and illustrators I’ll see when I peer through that “crystal ball” on the site. I am always elated because, without fail, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are there, along with other treasured friends and many new ones I hope to meet AND—their books! There’s always the inevitable struggle whittling the list of dozens of books I want down to a chosen “few,” but I can’t think of anything I’d rather be struggling over 😮 .

Having attended five years now, I’ve developed strategies to make my way through the whirlwind (for me) day successfully, including my charts of books to have signed, who to try to talk to and get photos of and where they are:


I couldn’t do this without the help of the amazing staff at JaZams Bookstore, including Erica and Zane (right), and Joanne (*left), the “Glinda-like” owner. Before hand they gather the books I’m purchasing so I’m SURE they don’t sell out by the time I get through the aisles of attendees’ tables (85 attendees total!). The thing is, it seems that no matter how prepped I am, I’m always rushed by the end of the day to get my books signed! You may ask, “But, Donna—why? After all, you do have 5 hours!” I’ll tell you why! I can easily get into conversation on any given day with any given person (yes, I know this is a GREAT shock to anyone who knows me), but add in the “friend” factor, the “KidLit” factor and the “I’m so excited to meet you!” factor, and the effect explodes exponentially! lol

So…the day arrives. With basket in hand and the help of a few bluebirds, I head due south toward the Princeton Public Library. Of course, my basket (actually a box on wheels 😉 ) won’t be toting Toto, but a barking bunch of books! 😎 After the tornado-like trip down the Garden State Parkway and beyond, I eventually land on my parking spot, gather my Image result for lemon dropgear, check to make sure a wicked witch wasn’t flattened by my car, and work my way out of the black-and-whiteness of the parking garage. As I turn its corner, that familiar “door” opens to a color-filled world of wonder with Munchkins of all shapes and sizes milling about. Needless to say, my troubles melt like lemon drops 🙂 .

Fortunately, there are no restrictions in “Oz” with respect to photo-ops, so I can share a bit with you here, though should have had more! And I must include my standard apology for the few “less than perfect” photos. What can I say? I have a dinky little phone and sometimes the sun and shadows can be a bit obstinate! 😉

Here are a few of those Big White Tents I was telling you about:

Richard Michelson, Poet Laureate of Northampton (2012-2015), is an accomplished author of children’s books, one being S is for Sea Glass, a book I already owned and had signed by Doris Ettlinger, but hadn’t realized to bring with me! And while doing research for this post, I came across a video of Richard speaking at Harvard Law School (Aug. 15, 2012) on what is now an extremely heated subject with the recent spotlight on NFL players, owners and staff. How timely!

He is posing here with the aMAzing illustrator and author, Ruth Sanderson. When I saw she was attending, there was NO question I was purchasing one of her books! Her artwork is astounding and I was ecstatic we were able to talk about many things art-related, my having learned a couple of tips in the process 😀 I also found out she has a line of adult coloring books and instructional videos on YouTube. Just fantastic 😎 …

This festival is special to me for many reasons, one being the place I first met super-talented author/illustrator Lauren Castillo. I own a number of her books (wish I had them all!), including City Cat, Nana in the City, The Reader and It Is Not Time for Sleeping. I was more than excited she got her studio mate, Jonathan Bean, to be one of the attendees this year! One of my favorite books of his is Building Our House based on the true story of his parents doing just that—building their house. What a classic!…

I am always surprised and flattered when someone I don’t expect to remember me—does. Anna Raff was one of them and it really brightened my day 🙂 . This year an added “moment” for me was in her new release World Rat Day I learned that World Rat Day is the same day as my boyfriend’s birthday! 😛

Some people come onto the KidLit scene and within a few short years end up changing it forever. Blake Hamilton is a multi-talented visionary who recognized the potential should he reach out and ultimately collaborate with another multi-talented visionary: Matthew Winner (my Q&A with Matthew). Together they have created an iconic KidLit website “All the Wonders.” I had the extreme pleasure of getting to meet his family, his daughter having been featured in this charming video Blake created.

Hannah Barnaby, an award-winning novelist and picture book author is one in the select group whose contributions make “All the Wonders” the outstanding resource for “everything KidLit” that it is. An adorable, recently-released picture book coloring up the bookshelves is Garcia and Colette Go Exploring in the universes both above and below the earth’s surface!

Two little brothers I know (my son and daughter-in-law’s nephews!), 3 and 6 years old, have become fascinated with “poop,” so Kevin McCloskey‘s The Real Poop on Pigeons was the PERfect selection. And get a load of that hat! Isn’t it the coo-coo-coolest? 😎    

Walk into any book store and you’re bound to catch a glimpse of a book by Diana Murray. Along with her popular “Grimelda” books, City Shapes and Ned the Knitting Pirate, her newest releases Groggle’s Monster Valentine and Doris the Bookasaurus don the shelves…

As is evidenced here, if anyone knows about unicorns, it would be Ame Dyckman! She insists You DON’T Want a Unicorn! Granted—she obviously has one and I’m sure she’s trained this one. After all, we couldn’t have it pooping cupcakes (yep, that’s what they do!) all over the festival 😉

I’m guessing Zachariah Ohora heeded her advice, otherwise I bet there would’ve been a unicorn in his recent hit The Teacher’s Pet. When you check it out, you’ll see the pets that DO show up and what mischief they’re up to! 😮 . For sure, Ame and Zach know about animals and pets, them having appeared in so many of their books, both individual and collaborative efforts such as Wolfie the Bunny, Horrible Bear, The Not So Quiet Library, My Cousin Momo and their upcoming Read the Book, Lemmings! releasing on Nov. 7, 2017. Can’t wait!

Without question, a name synonymous with KidLit is Jane Yolen, author of over 300 books, numerous award winners among them including Caldecott Medal Winner Owl Moon (of which I now have a signed copy! 😀 ). When I saw her name added to the list of attendees, I was ecstatic! I’d always wanted to meet her, but New Jersey is a long trek for her, so the opportunities are sparse. And the fact that Jane’s daughter, Heidi Stemple would also be there added to the “highlight” factor 🙂 Heidi also writes, which goes to show how heredity can be a wonderful thing—and who better than “Mom Jane” to have as a mentor? Getting to talk to both of them was SUCH a treat!

These lovely ladies were ALL smiles, regardless of the heat. Alexandra Penfold lives her KidLit life on both sides of the aisle. Yep, she’s an author and a literary agent! I really hated having to cut back on my book list to such a degree because I really wanted to give Eat, Sleep, Poop to my son and daughter-in-law, them being new parents 🙂

Lisa Papp is a very talented author/illustrator. Her picture book artwork is just stunning! You can see one of her beautiful books, Madeline Finn the Library Dog, and the stuffed Library Dog on the table greeting fans 😎

My daughter-in-law’s mom is a HUGE Beatles fan, so when she found out about Stacy Innerst‘s book The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny), it was a no-brainer. If you check out all the signatures I collage at the end of this post, you’ll see the sketch he did of the Fab Four when he signed the book 😀   

I was delighted to see that author Claire Legrand was coming back to the festival, having SO enjoyed talking to her last year 😀 . That’s when I asked her to sign two copies of The Cabinet of Curiosities, a brilliant compilation of stories written by four authors, Claire being one of them. At that time she told me she and her editor loved the characters in one of her stories so much, they ended up with a novel of their own: Foxheart. For the life of me, I could NOT remember which story it was that had evolved, so I asked her again this year. It is “Quicksilver and the Stranger” which, when I began writing this post discovered that all along I had the information in LAST YEAR’S POST! lol

And Tad Hills is one of the sweetest guys anywhere. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him at many festivals and even the KidLit TV 1st Birthday Party (at which he conducted a charity event, ArtWorks for Youth). Chances are, you’re very familiar with his appealing books and characters such as his “Rocket” (Rocket, R is for Rocket, etc.) and “Duck and Goose” books…

For years I’ve adored Joyce Wan and her art. I have a very hard time resisting her books such as Sleepyheads, and her many adorable board books, a new one being Goodnight, Sweetie. I’ve certainly fallen in love with hers and Laura Gehl‘s adorable Peep and Egg books. If you haven’t seen them, you must!

It was so nice to see Lori Richmond again this year. Her recent release Pax and Blue is lighting up the bookshelves! Her table mate was none other than debut author/illustrator Jessie Sima. I’ve known Jessie for quite a while online through Twitter (I love Twitter!). We “met” in the Thursday night weekly Twitter chat #kidlitart (it’s SO much fun) and getting to meet her in person was something I was really looking forward to. It was a special moment getting her to sign her smash hit debut picture book Not Quite Narwhal 😀

Having gotten to meet Ed Steckley and Jennifer George, it’s very apparent where all the humor comes from in their book Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day. Look closely and you can spot Ed’s antics 😉

Anyone involved in the KidLit community knows that author Josh Funk has taken it by storm. Not only is he a master of rhyme and the prolific and successful author of books like Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, its sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench!, Pirasaurs, Dear Dragon, and his newest release It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk!, but he’s one of the greatest supporters of and inspiration for fellow kidlit authors and illustrators. He is truly beloved—certainly by me 😀 ❤

The first time I had the pleasure of meeting husband and wife team Anna Kang and Christopher Weyent was at a special event at which they were on a guest panel along with author and literary agent, Holly McGhee and author/illustrator David Small (the same event at which I first met Blake Hamilton!). What fun it was to see them again and have them sign their 2015 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award-winning book You Are (Not) Small, the first in a string of exceptional books 🙂

I’ve been very fortunate to have met and befriended some amazing people through the NJ SCBWI, and Marcie Colleen is one of them 😀 She’s another multi-talented “jack of all trades” kind of gal who I’ve always known to be incredibly warm, friendly, bubbly and brilliant! Add “talented” to her many attributes and you end up with clever picture books like her new release Love, Triangle, and super-successful Super Happy Party Bears chapter books…

As I rushed about at the end of the festival, having forgotten to take photos along the way, I was lucky to grab one of Middle Grade and Young Adult novelists Jen Calonita and Ruth Behar, having heard great things about their novels. Pictured here is Jen’s Tricked, the third in her “Fairy Tale Reform School” series, and Ruth is signing a copy of her April release Lucky Broken Girl…   

It is impossible to not feel happy every time I see Carol Weston. She’s always got the most welcoming, genuine smile and the fact that she remembers who I am when I come barrelling up to her table is quite the compliment 😀 You may know her for her Ava Wren books and here she is holding up her latest masterpiece: Speed of Life

KidLit authors and illustrators are generally happy people, and psst—don’t tell anybody, but sometimes they can even be a bit goofy 😛 . Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk are no exception. You’d never guess this pic was taken after a long, hot day signing books and meeting fans! 😀

It was a couple years ago when I got to meet Phil Bildner when he attended the festival with John Parra, the illustrator of their magnificent book Marvelous Cornelius. That year I was able to get a pic of John, but Phil had to leave before I got the chance to take it! It more than annoys me that I finally got a pic, but the shadow hid his face! What’s great is you can see his face quite clearly at KidLit TV where he does a fanTAStic, lively interview series called “Phil’s Fast Five.” I LOVE these quick, fun interviews with some of the best KidLit authors and illustrators the industry has to offer. Phil is a natural!

Another “solely online” kindred spirit was Anika Denise until we finally got to meet IN PERSON! Yep—face to face 😀 Throughout the day, as timing would have it, every time I reached her table—she was gone! Thank goodness she was still there at the very end of a busy, sweltering day and she still looked gorgeous 🙂 She’s holding the book I brought for her to sign: Baking Day at Grandma’s. This has been an absolute favorite of mine since it was published. It just happens to be illustrated by Anika’s husband, Christopher Denise whose artwork I adore! I cannot WAIT to share it with my grandchildren 😀 .

Recently I became a first-time grandma, so when I saw Fran Manushkin‘s book Big Sisters are the Best, it immediately made it onto my preliminary book-buying list. Seeing as she’s only a few weeks old, my granddaughter is not a big sister just yet, but plans dictate she’ll eventually be one, so I’m happy there’s a very cute book I can buy!

Two of my favorite KidLit pals are Denis Markell and Melissa Iwai who just happen to be husband and wife. So far they’ve collaborated on one picture book: Hush Little Monster, and I wonder if they’ll do more! Melissa has so many wonderful picture books like Goodnight Engines and Let’s Go to the Hardware Store, and Denis’s debut Middle Grade novel Click Here to Start is now available in paperback! Yep, they are quite the pair 😀 By the way, this gorgeous photo is courtesy of Melissa ’cause I could NOT believe I didn’t get a pic of them! lol To me, this one is frame-worthy 🙂

I barely got to see Jessica Olien but it was still a pleasure even though it was a drive-by! There is just never enough time to talk to everyone as much as I’d like 😮 . At last year’s festival, she had two books out Shark Detective and Blobfish, both of which we have signed copies 😀 (my daughter-in-law’s students LOVE the inflatable blobfish Jessica gave them), but since then she’s got TWO MORE! Lucky readers can now enjoy Adrift along with the JUST-released book Hamsters Don’t Fight Fires which Jessica illustrated. She’s one talented lady!…

Some authors have it ALL going on. Sarah Beth Durst has KidLit covered and beyond, from picture books to Middle Grade to YA and even adult! I’m a big fan of covers and Conjured ALways attracts me. One notable event is the recent Lifetime TV premiere of the book-turned-movie: Drink, Slay, Love. How exciting!

Veronica Chambers is EVERYwhere and does pretty much EVERYthing, including editing! She has authored a wide variety of books including co-authoring books with celebrities such as Michael Strahan, Robin Roberts, Timbaland and Marcus Samuelsson. Her recent KidLit creation is a beautiful nonfiction picture book: Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa

OK, Patrick McDonnell is pretty amazing 🙂 I’m sure you’d agree! Chances are you know his “Mutts” books, but are you familiar with Tek? See it there on the bottom right? I LOVE it and had every intention of buying it till I had to narrow down my list! I WILL eventually own that book :D…

One of the most special people in the KidLit industry is Margery Cuyler. As you can see, she looks terrific and retirement is agreeing with her! She’s got more time to write while still keeping her toes in the “editing” pool doing private consultation. Here you can see her most recent picture book release Bonaparte Falls Apart. She’s written many books, a few of which I have, this year having added 100th Day Worries to my personal library 😀 

If you check out Jerry Pallotta‘s array of books, I’m sure you’d agree he’s a very diverse author! So many are educational, from the early learner “alphabet” books to more advanced subjects including his “Who Would Win” series, I’m sure teachers love him 🙂

OK, who doesn’t know Biscuit? He is one of the most recognizable picture book puppies. Well, I recently gifted my new granddaughter with a copy signed by Alyssa Satin Capucilli  herself 😀 …

Since the first time I saw the artwork and read about the making of Lucy Loves Sherman on Writing and IllustratingMeg Walters having illustrated it (there’s a sequel coming in 2019!), I knew it would be adorable 🙂 It was on my original “to buy” list and I figure SOMEday… Her table mate, Jeffrey Turner got my purchase this year with Who Broke the Vase? Anyone who’s familiar with the “blame it on the other guy” scenario will love this book. It’s hiLArious! 😀 I also see one of his mugs in my future, too! And he’s got Who Am I? coming out in just a few weeks (Oct. 24th)!

I know NO one in the KidLit community who doesn’t admire the work by Deborah Freedman! This year, in honor of This House, Once , she had a fun craft project going 🙂 She was cutting out and sketching “house fronts” for little hands to design and color themselves. They’re creativity was adorable! And I can tell you, this author of beautiful books such as The Story of Fish and Snail, Blue Chicken and (yes, I own all three!) is as beautiful and warm as you would expect 😀 I was so happy to see her again!

One of the most fun authors I know (who does NOT look her age, by the way!) is Audrey Vernick, and if you’re familiar with her work, you know I’m right! She’s the prolific, award-winning author of SO many great books of which I own a few and plan on having Bob, Not Bob on my shelf at some point, too! 

We have two fanTAStic authors of nonfiction here. I was honored to have facilitated an excellent workshop at this year’s NJSCBWI Conference conducted by Emma Otheguy and Andrea J. Loney (not pictured here). That’s when I first became aware of Emma’s book Marti’s Song for Freedom. It was after listening to her moving podcast at “All the Wonders” that clinched my purchase this year. What a book!

And Laurie Wallmark has been cranking out award winners, not that I’m surprised! I worked closely with Laurie through the NJ SCBWI and know for a fact—she’s brilliant! It’s no wonder Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine and Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code are hits :D…

Losing someone close to you is a difficult subject. Based on a true story, Caron Levis‘s book, Ida, Always handles it with beauty and tenderness. It was such a pleasure meeting her and tough having to pass this year on buying this gorgeous book! And, of course, there’s her ever-so-clever and most recent release May I Have a Word? 🙂

Barbara DiLorenzo is another New Jersey success story 😀 . I was glad to finally meet her in person (though we’ve probably seen each other in passing at our conferences!). We shared our appreciation for our NJ SCBWI Chapter and the generous spirit and heart of Kathy Temean, a former Regional Advisor and good friend. You can learn about Barbara’s Renato and the Lion book journey in a great post on Kathy’s blog where she was also featured on Illustrator Saturday. Barbara also participates on Drawn to Picture Books, a blog she shares with five very talented illustrators (Mike Ciccotello, Deborah Cuneo, Diana DeLosh, Patricia Keeler and Jason Kirschner). I look forward to every post!

I’ll never forget the first time I met Tracey West when I happened to witness the special moment she and her editor Katie Carella (Senior Editor of Scholastic Branches Early Chapter Books) first met 😀 I’m always so flattered (shocked!) that she remembers me! 😀 . This prolific author has over 200 books, including Pokemon Chapter Books! This year I was going to purchase one because I LOVE the Disney movie “Inside Out” and I’m a sucker for the fact that Sadness Saves the Day 🙂 It turned out there wasn’t a copy there and this generous, delightful woman offered to send one to me! 😀 😀 😀 And note how prepared she was for a hot day!

OK, very simply — I adore my friend, Beth Ferry. Whenever I get to see her, I’m happy. Not only is she an absolutely brilliant author of her increasing list of delightful books which include Stick and Stone, Land Shark, Pirate’s Perfect Pet and her beautiful soon-to-be-released A Small Blue Whale, but she is delightful in every way :D.

She and Greg Pizzoli were certainly having one good time! And why not? After all, they were neighbors at one of the BEST festivals anywhere 😀 Greg is always surrounded by piles of books, one of which is The Watermelon Seed, the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner. I have several of Greg’s books, Good Night Owl now in my granddaughter’s possession (for future reading, of course!) and they are ALways hard to resist, his most recent releases being The Twelve Days of Christmas and I Love You Like a Pig 🙂

I got to chat with (got no pics of this year, but did last year!) favorite authors and illustrators (and their spouses!) Judy Schachner (Skippyjon Jones) and Steve Light (Swap! was the one I wanted this year, but couldn’t buy sigh). With all I’ve posted here, can you believe there were actually friends I didn’t see, and authors and illustrators I never got to meet? Yep, that’s how it goes for me! So, after another wild and full Princeton Book Festival …

The day comes to a close, I click my ruby-red heels and head home, due north, back over the rainbow. Of course, my heels are actually wheels, and though the journey home is still somewhat tornado-like, I feel like I’m flying because I again dared to dream of that magical KidLit Land over the rainbow — and it came true. Lucky me, I even have proof that it wasn’t all a dream…

Books my family ordered:

Books I already owned or purchased at the festival, most of which I was gifted by my boyfriend and family. Yes, THIS is what I typically want for my birthday! 😀 …

A few pieces of SWAG (I don’t overdo this aspect 😉 )…

And this, the thing that tickles me “rainbow” every year:                                                          (for a closer look, “right click” and “Open Link in New Tab”)

This festival never fails to “blow me away” — tornado or not — by the outstanding effort and job done by all involved at the Princeton Public Library and JaZams Bookstore. I will continue to believe that book-loving people — especially lovers of children’s literature — are a friendly, passionate breed. It has so much to do with why I adore this event and KidLit events, in general. It is a community I am SO grateful to be a part of, having given me inexplicable joy through the years. Thank you ALL for another unforgettable day.

As Dorothy would certainly say, “There’s just NO place like the Princeton Children’s Book Festival!” 😀 😀 😀 ❤ ❤ ❤


(*photo of Joanne from JaZams, courtesy of Euna Kwon Brosserman, author of an excellent article about JaZams Bookstore)



8 thoughts on “UP!–Princeton Children’s Book Festival 2017!

    • That my posts enable you to do that makes the work worth it, Anne! 😀 It’s always disappointing when dates coincide. I know that since our NJSCBWI conferences are pretty much always the first weekend of June, I’ve missed the annual “Duck Derby” in a local town, which was SO much fun!


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