Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Author: Monique McCullough
Basic Description: For Color Me Georgi: Georgi is a sweet, playful flower who finds herself in the flowerbed without any colors. She has lots of friends, including Mrs. Sun and Mr. Ocean, who are willing to lend her some of their colors. But she needs your help to make it happen! See what unfolds, page by page, as children close their eyes and use their vivid imaginations to make Georgi a darling masterpiece!
For Mr. Doodle and the Flying Emu: Come along on this whimsical journey as Mr. Doodle reveals the mystery behind the flying emu. It is a page-turning adventure…can your imagination take you there? Join in this creative quest and you will learn the truth behind the flying emu!
Arden’s Thoughts: Finding the newest up-and-coming author is a thrill for book reviewers. Finding them in your backyard and knowing they’re a fellow Tar Heel is a thrill on thrill for me! When Monique McCullough reached out to me to discuss her books, I was so very thankful I said, “yes.” She’s a gem and I can’t wait for y’all to read these books and her many, many more to come! Check out my interview with her and see why I fell in love at first sight.
Of note: Monique is Australian. So, read her answers with your best Aussie accent!
Arden: Thanks for chatting with me today, Monique. I’ll start with my usual question, when did you decide to write and publish your own books?
Monique: I have always loved to read and write. I wrote articles for the local newspapers in high school and taught English in Indonesia, so I have had a long passion for literacy and education. When our children came along, I chose to give up my corporate career so I could stay home with them. I needed a creative outlet though! After reading hundreds of children’s books, my daughter and I started writing our own little stories. She, however, wanted to see them as a “real book” and not just on brown butcher’s paper! Fortunately, I have some friends in the publishing industry and so I was able to pick their brains and decide on the best path to take my scraps of paper and make them into a “real” book.
Arden: That’s so cool. In thinking about going from brown butcher paper to “real” books, what’s your favorite part about writing and illustrating? On that note, your least favorite part about it?
Monique: My favorite part is asking my daughter and her friends about the words and pictures. I love to listen to their big ideas and I really try to honor the brains of little people.
My least favorite part is that good things take time. I am a naturally impatient person (hence why I wasn’t prepared to wait around for years sending my books off to publisher’s haystacks!). It is really difficult to find enough time in the day to devote to writing, illustrating, cooking, cleaning, and loving on my little munchkins! The struggle to balance it all is a daily effort. Still, I think that is a powerful message in itself; find your passions, work hard, play hard. Prioritizing is hard, and some days we get it right and other days I fail miserably – but I always try to be grateful for the opportunity to fail.
Arden: Wow, Monique. That is a powerful message. Thank you for sharing it with us. Now, you’ve mentioned you include your children in the process. How does that work?
Monique: Well, it is a little like a corporate brainstorming session, but with Goldfish. We sit around and start talking about ideas and just begin doodling. We talk about characters and plot and side plots and morals and words. We just keep working on it – in the car, on the way to gymnastics, at the playground, in the bathtub. It is a very organic process in the beginning. Actually, Mr. Doodle and the Flying Emu was borne out of a National Geographic documentary we were watching one afternoon!
Once I get it in somewhat of a cohesive format, then we can start reading it and testing it out on the little people. Their questions and giggles really help guide the development process. I take my cues from them because they are my audience!
I must say, however, that it is my biggest kid who is the most helpful in the process – that’s my husband!
Arden: Hahaha, if you can get your hubby laughing then I’d say you’re on the right path for sure! I love it when fathers read to their children. So, after the writing process, you’re ready to be published. What’s your advice for others trying to get published?
Monique: Firstly, children’s picture books are a whole other world. There is a massive amount of time that goes in to the architecture of a picture book – it is meticulous work that can be very frustrating and tedious. Someone told me that picture books were ten times the amount of work as a traditional book – I can believe it! Get ready to roll your sleeves up and get frustrated! Then it will be worth it!
Arden: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything else you want Arden’s Book Club readers to know?
Monique: I try, where possible, to make these books environmentally friendly. These are, after all, children’s books and I want to make sure I am doing my little part to protect our earth for our kiddos! We try to do carbon offsets when shipping. We source local printers, and we try to use environmentally friendly papers and inks when the choice is available. We are proudly local, independent, and we are doing our best to be a good corporate citizen in our own little way. Also, 10% of the profits from Mr. Doodle will be donated to UNICEF.
Book: No, No Elizabeth
Author: Carmen K. Jimenez
Basic Description: Elizabeth wants to play all day! From running around outside to jumping on the bed, she’s a curious little girl. But Mommy, Daddy, and even Liza the kitty can’t always play and sometimes they must say “no.” Through this sweet, colorful book, early readers will learn just because grownups say “no” sometimes, doesn’t mean they love any less.
Arden’s Thoughts: I love No, No Elizabeth for multiple reasons including the bold pictures, realistic characters, and easy-to-follow plot. What I love most though is the honesty of the story. As much as it breaks our hearts to tell our children, “no”, sometimes we simply cannot play with them. And our author, Carmen REALLY knows about the importance of play at the right time because she’s actually a Registered Play Therapy Supervisor. She’s writing her book from a place of expertise. Trust the tools in this book, especially the tool at the end: a play-by-play of how to have honest conversations with your children.
I believe books open doors and dialogues for all ages. No, No Elizabeth allows the open dialogue to start early with your children. Read it again and again!