Tag Archives: picture book

princess hair: an interview with sharee miller

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (2017) is, like its cover, delightful. It’s exuberant! Kirkus calls it: “An all-out celebration of black hair…” Indeed, this picture book celebrates African American girls, and their hair, portraying princesses doing all kinds of tasks, from solving math problems to baking to dancing. It’s a joy to behold.



“All princesses wear crowns, but underneath their crowns, not all princesses have the same hair.”







Author-illustrator Sharee Miller was kind of enough to answer some questions about her debut picture book. Check out our interview below!



(click image(s) to enlarge)

PRINCESS HAIR is a delight, starting with the playful, colorful cover and all the way through. Thank you so much for speaking with This Picture Book Life about it!



This Picture Book Life: Will you tell us the story of how Princess Hair came to be? What sparked the idea and how did you develop it?

Sharee Miller: I created Princess Hair because growing up I had barely seen any princesses that looked like me and I had never seen any that had hair like mine. I knew how it felt to not be represented, and I wanted to create Princess Hair for my younger self and other girls who deserved to see themselves in the books they read.


I felt no one else could represent black hair in all its diversity as I saw it. Our hair isn’t just an afro; it’s braids and dreadlocks and blowouts. I wanted to show a variety of princesses with different hair textures and different skin tones so I could represent as many black girls as possible. We are often portrayed in one way and we all have to identify with this generic black girl, but we are all so unique and I wanted to celebrate those differences.

I initially self published Princess Hair and sold it through Amazon as well as at festivals and events. Eventually, I was able to get my book in the hands of publishers at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers thanks to my agent, Monica Odom. With their help, I have been able to make Princess Hair into a fully realized book available to children all around the world!



TPBL: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

Sharee Miller: I spent most of my free time growing up in my school library. I loved reading picture books and comic books and acting out the stories. My favorite was Cinderella. I have read and seen so many variations on her story, but I always come back to it. Though others tried to hold her back, she was able to overcome her struggles with positivity and of course a little bit of magic. Sure it is a little dated that her goal was to go to a ball to meet a prince, but I am sure today Cinderella would be aiming higher with the help of her fairy godmother.


TPBL: My favorite spread is “And princesses with FROHAWKS rock!” I think it embodies the exuberance of the book. Will you tell us about creating that page, both the text and accompanying illustration? How did you decide that while portraying princesses with different kinds of hair on each page, you would also portray different activities, especially those not historically associated with the princess role?

Sharee Miller: I wanted girls to be able to see themselves in the book so I made sure to show the princesses doing relatable and fun things. I thought back to activities I liked to do like jumping on the bed and baking and of course drawing. I wanted to think outside of the rigid boundaries we have for princesses. When you think about it they are just girls in crowns and what girl doesn’t want to rock?



TPBL: You’ve created a wonderful affirmation of one’s hair and one’s self throughout the story. What’s been the most gratifying part of the journey for you? Is there one interaction with kid readers or their parents in particular that sticks out to you as you’ve shared it in bookstore or school settings?

Sharee Miller: I get so much joy seeing little girls point out which princess they are in my books. When I see them connect with it like I hoped, it makes me proud. But the most gratifying experiences are when I speak to women who are my age or older who either bought my book for a child or for themselves. They echo my feelings of there not being books like this when we were growing up and how my book would have meant a lot to them as children. I wrote this book for childhood me who didn’t see the beauty in her hair, and I am glad the next generation can have it to help instill them with self-confidence and pride.

TPBL: What are you working on next?

Sharee Miller: I just completed the art for my second book Don’t Touch My Hair!, which is coming out next November. I am now brainstorming new ideas for my third!


Thanks so much for speaking with me, Sharee! And big thanks to Little, Brown for images, and for the review copy!


Sharee Miller has a BFA in communication design from Pratt Institute. She lives in Brooklyn, where she enjoys spending time with her two cats, illustrating fun stories, and playing with her princess hair. Sharee invites you to visit her website www.shareemiller.com and her Instagram @coilyandcute.

























Duncan Tonatiuh’s picture book life

In this”their picture book life” installment, I bring you the wonderful picture books of Duncan Tonatiuh, award-winning author/illustrator. In my mind, his books expand the boundaries of the form by using new, unexpected story techniques, something I absolutely love and admire. His books ask questions directly of readers and bring the past right into the present and into kids’ lives. They experiment and enlighten. And they always do so in Tonatiuh’s distinctive illustrative style, which is inspired by “Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.”

He’s lived in both Mexico and the U.S. so many of his books explore Mexico’s history and influential figures, as well as Mexican culture in the states.






Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras (2015). Perfect for learning about Day of the Dead, this book explores the life and art of Posada and how he developed his skeleton or skull calaveras drawings. It also expands boundaries of the picture book form with sections that outline specific artistic processes and funny calaveras poems interspersed within the story.  Its many layers are supremely effective.


“I try to make books about things that I’m passionate about

–social justice, history, art…”

                                                 (From NBC.)




Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (2014). I’ve blogged about this title a couple of times before (here and here) because I think it’s so terrific and important, particularly because I live in California. It tells how the Mendez family fought for equal, integrated education in a case that preceded Brown vs. Board of Education by ten years.


“I think kids are extremely intelligent.

But I think that sometimes we don’t give them the credit they deserve.”

                                                     (From NBC.)



Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This allegorical story follows a young rabbit who desperately misses his father and sets out to follow and find him by undertaking a treacherous journey. The author’s note in the back matter sheds light on the true experiences of undocumented immigrants who cross the border in search of a better life.


“As I spent more time away from Mexico,

I began to miss things that were around me when I was a kid.

I also became interested in issues that affect people of Mexican descent

on both sides of the border.”

                                                                                                                       (From The Horn Book.)


The Princess and the Warrior (2016). The combination of text and art really shine in this riveting story and I dare you not to tear up at the end.



Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin (2010). Tonatiuh’s first children’s book in which two cousins, one in the US and one in Mexico, exchange letters and learn about one another’s lives.


“I think it’s very important for children to see books where they see themselves.

When they see a book where they see their culture represented

and different things that they can identify with, I think they are much more motivated to read, to write and,

just in general,

to realize that their voices, their stories are important.”

                                                                                                                       (From PBS.)


Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (2011). A biography of Diego Rivera followed by a fascinating exploration of how he might portray our world today and encouragement to readers to make their own murals, inspired by Rivera’s legacy. This is something Tonatiuh does brilliantly with non-fiction: invites the reader directly into the story to participate and imagine how it might affect their own lives.



DANZA! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México (2017). I adore the illustrations of all kinds of dance and performances in this one! Ami, dancer and choreographer, is known for creating “ballets based on the folkloric danzas from the different regions of Mexico.” Her company still performs in Mexico City as they’ve been doing for fifty years.

I hope you’ll check out Duncan Tonatiuh’s books!



You might also be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life on Kyo Maclear.















Casey Lyall is the author of the wonderfully narrated middle grade detective novel, Howard Wallace, P.I. And her first picture book is coming out November 7th, 2017: Inky’s Great Escape. It’s illustrated by Sebastià Serra, and I’m delighted to be able to share the cover with you today!

“Based on a true story, this tale follows a daring, Houdini-esque octopus as he performs his greatest escape act yet.”

“In April 2016, The New York Times published an article about an octopus named Inky who escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand through a drainpipe and into the sea. In this charming fictionalized account, Inky, worn out from his exciting life in the ocean, has retired to the aquarium. There he quietly plays cards, makes faces at the visitors, and regales his tankmate Blotchy with tales of his past adventures. Then Blotchy dares Inky to make one more great escape: out of their tank. Will Inky succeed?”



Here’s the colorful, dynamic cover! (I especially like the block print quality of the title and sea surroundings and the energy that seems to emanate to and from Inky.)


  In honor of the cover reveal, Casey and Sebastià did a little Q & A about the design of the octopus characters:

“Sebastià, how did you come up with the design for the characters of Inky and Blotchy?”

Sebastià: The first sketches show a more naturalized version of Inky and Blotchy, with the head back like it is in a true octopus. I knew this wouldn’t be the final version because the characters were really fun and lovely and, bit by bit, the curves softened, the eyes grew and moved up the head, and the head gained importance in relation to the tentacles. All these changes were made with the intent of getting a more expressive face because this was a main point in Casey’s text – full of expressive nuances in the characters. Really it was a surprise for me to discover how expressive an octopus can be.

“Casey, what was your first reaction when you saw the artwork for Inky’s Great Escape?”
Casey: Total and utter delight! When I work on characters, I think more about the voice – how they think and talk so I really had no preconceived notions about how Blotchy and Inky would look. And I’m so glad I didn’t because what Sebastià came up with was better than anything I could have imagined. First of all, I loved the colours – everything was so bright and vibrant. But Inky and Blotchy are my favourite part because I think Sebastià captured them perfectly. The different facial expressions and body language are all spot on and totally in sync with the text. He brought them to life in the best way possible. 

Casey is giving away one copy of Inky’s Great Escape! Since it’s not out yet, this will be a pre-order, shipping in November. Something to look forward to!

SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave a Rafflecopter giveaway SaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave

picture books that bring imagination to life

My favorite picture book as a child was Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel. Benjamin Dilley had a “wonderful imagination.” So wonderful he could dream up anything, including a thirsty camel to drink up the flood in his parent’s basement.

I’ve noticed some recent picture books that follow that inclination, affirming a child’s imagination, making it manifest and palpable. Here are a number that bring imagination to life:


The Storm by Akiko Miyakoshi.

A child worries a storm will cancel a trip to the beach, so he makes a wish for a ship to drive the storm away. And in the morning after a fantastic dream—or wish come true—the sun shines again in this quietly captivating picture book.


Akiko Miyakoshi is especially good at making the imaginative feel (or be) real, and the next book in this list is hers as well.


The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi.

A girl walks through the woods to deliver a pie. It sounds like a set up for Little Red Riding Hood, but while there are surprises that await, there is no danger. A gentle fairy tale about a tea party with animals (and lots of pie), something a child might easily imagine and want to be as real as it feels in this story.










A River by Marc Martin.

“There is a river outside my window,” a girl says from her drawing table. She imagines herself traveling that river in a boat. Out of the city, through the fields, down a waterfall and into a jungle. It is a wonderful voyage and the illustrations transport the reader right along with the character.



Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho.

This is a wordless and intriguing story. A man. A boy. Drawings sent across the ocean. A spectacular journey and a dream come true.




Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski.

This gorgeous book demonstrates how real a favorite stuffed animal (friend) can feel, and goes so far as to make that real. Pamela Zagarenski always captures the stuff of childhood magic.








Good Night Tiger by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Laura Hughes.

Emma’s wallpaper has animals on it, and they’re making a lot of noise. So Emma enters the world of the wallpaper and helps the animals quiet down and go to sleep.







Monster Trouble by Lane Fredrickson, illustrations by Michael Robertson.

In this one, Winifred Schnitzel isn’t afraid of monsters, but they are ruining her sleep every night. So this fearless, creative main character figures out an inventive way to make them go away. This story assumes that the monsters are real, and why wouldn’t they be?





Poppy Pickle by Emma Yartlett.

One day, Poppy’s imagination comes to life. For real. And it gets her into a bit of a pickle. This one is pretty hilarious to boot.

Poppy feels like a direct descendant of Benjamin Dilley, except that in the end, her parents do believe that the stuff she dreams up is real! Yes.










The Only Child by Guojing.

A lost child follows a stag into a magical world with kind animals and fluffy clouds, and is eventually delivered home. The expressive drawings in this wordless story make it feel that much more tangible.






First Snow by Bomi Park.

This book is enchanting! At first snowfall, a little girl sneaks outside to make a snowball. Her snowball gets bigger and bigger, and she travels farther and farther. Until! A whole field of little kids making snow people in their own magical world.






Yokki and the Parno Gry by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby, illustrated by Marieke Nelissen.

This is a traditional Romani tale. In a family of Travelers, a boy named Yokki tells stories every night around the fire. When times are tough for his and other families, he tells a story from his dreams of a Parno Gry, a giant horse who can carry them to a place where they can thrive. And that is exactly what happens. His story of the horse comes true.

“To this day, generations of Yokki’s family believe that as long as they value children’s imaginations, the Parno Gry will inspire them with new ideas and possibilities—even in their darkest hours, just when they need them most.”


The Highest Mountain of Books in the World by Rocio Bonilla.

Not only does the boy in this story, Lucas, learn that he can fly in a sense through story, he also builds the highest mountain of books in the world by doing so. And when he needs to come down, all it takes is his imagination, of course!








Lenny & Lucy written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead.

A book about facing fear, and loneliness, and how to comfort both through friendship. It’s the visual story in this one that shows Peter’s imagination coming to life.

The image below and a wonderful feature of Lenny & Lucy can be found at the always wonderful site, Brain Pickings.





Pool by JiHyeon Lee.

In this stunner, two swimmers find a fantastic world of fish underneath the surface of a crowded pool. Whimsical and full of what might be.







The Fox Wish by Kimiko Man, illustrated by Komako Sakai.

Two children come upon a clearing of foxes playing with the jump rope they’d left there. Children and foxes jump rope together in this imaginative story of wishes and friendship.


Never Follow a Dinosaur by Alex Latimer.

A couple of kids follow footsteps, trying to piece together the mystery of who left them. They assume it’s a dinosaur. Readers might assume it’s not a dinosaur because dinosaurs are extinct. But in this case, well, let’s just say that all the facets of the footstep-leaving dinosaur these kids invent in their minds come true.






Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler.

A pond becomes a portal to an exceptional world on the other side.

My friend Carter at Design of the Picture Book did a lovely interview with Joseph Kuefler.






Please let me know in the comments if you have any books that make the imaginary feel real to add to the list!

picture books in which the visual is vital

Picture books are books with pictures, of course, which is what makes them so special. And sometimes those pictures take on something extra special in a story.

Sometimes the words wouldn’t make sense without the illustrations. Sometimes illustrations enrich the story or add another thread to follow. They can give us clues. They can contradict the text so readers have an inside track on what’s really going on. And they can reveal something essential that would be invisible in the text alone.

Here are some examples in which the visual is vital to the storytelling.

Come see!




Lizard From The Park by Mark Pett is a wonderful example. See that boy with glasses in the bottom left on the subway? He’s a parallel to Leonard—he too has his own lizard. In the end, the two boys meet. But if you’ve been following the illustrations closely, you’ll be waiting for it.





Super Jumbo by Fred Koehler. This book hinges on the difference between text and images. Is Jumbo really as super as described?






A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, illustrated by Corey R. Tabor. You and the characters are in a dark, dark cave. Until an illustration reveals where you all really are—in your imagination. It’s a wonderful and surprising technique.




Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 4.16.52 PMThe Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers. This one offers visual clues to the mystery of where the trees are disappearing to. Like that bear over there!




Mummy Cat #11[1]

Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown. A mummified cat wakes up and reads a dark, devious history on the walls in this story in a story.





I Can See Just Fine by Eric Barclay. Another example of illustrations telling a contrasted tale from the text. Paige claims she can see just fine. But can she?





Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. There is an adorable girl you might not notice the first time around, but she has the most important supporting role. She makes the whole thing sing (“Happy Birthday”).




The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski is about visual stories. So that fox may never get a mention, but he is integral nonetheless.





Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? by Eve Bunting and Sergio Ruzzier asks a question and it answers it. And you might too if you are very very observant.




1437632260025Night Animals by Giana Marino. Just follow the possum. It will tell you everything you need to know just by its eyes.





Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. A gem of an example in which we (and the dog!) know more than the characters. (Thanks to Heather for bringing this one up in a previous post comment!)





Be a Friend by Salina Yoon. The girl on the swing is someone to keep an eye on. I love how she subtly mirrors Dennis in earlier illustrations before she mirrors him for real.





It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee. The visuals are fun throughout here, but it’s the ending that they truly earn. You’ll see. It’s out of this world.


no-such-thing-bookNo-Such-Thing-5No Such Thing by Ella Bailey shows the reader stuff the main character can’t see. And I love that!





The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud. Keep your eye on the teacher. She just might show up as an integral part of this wild adventure.




a-hungry-lion-or-a-dwindling-assortment-of-9781481448895.in03A Hungry Lion by Lucy Ruth Cummins. This book is full of surprises, but there’s a visual clue as to the ending. Let’s just say, it’s hiding in plain sight.


Shout outs to other picture books with indispensable illustrations : Blown Away (the stowaway), Stick and Stone (origin stories on the endpapers), Nothing Ever Happens on My Block (oh but it does!), and There’s No Such Thing as Ghosts.


the-day-i-lost-my-superpowers-and-brief-thiefAnd also to the two I mentioned in a post last year on the power of visuals to tell the story.







Okay, what examples would you like to add to this list?