With children out of school and hunkered down at home, there's never been a better time to pore over the many children's books written here in Colorado. Get to know some of the state's best picture-book authors and find out how they're wowing little ones with words and illustrations. Here are ten of our favorites:
If you've ever seen author and illustrator Lindsey Bell's colorful first book, The Zoo's Secret, which was published locally in Colorado by JAM Publishing in 2017, you know she has talent both with visuals and storytelling.
"Children's books have been a major part of my life since I was a little girl, and I have every picture and story book I have ever been gifted alongside my personal collection over the years," says Bell, who got a BA from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. "I loved illustrating and depicting stories visually, but one day it occurred to me that I could also be in charge of the stories I was illustrating."
While illustration and storytelling drive her, Bell also runs Whimsy Paint and Sip Art Studio with her best friend Kristiana Miller at the Orchard Town Center in Broomfield. Not only does this venture help others learn how to paint and create, but it fuels her imagination, too.
"Aside from being inspired by children, I find inspiration in other artists, friends, wacky dreams and conversations," she says. "I also spend a lot of my time hiking and develop ideas while being submersed in the quiet nature has to offer."
Look for her latest illustration project soon, The Noises in My House, by local author L.R. Mickelson, as well as Bell's personal book project, In the Shadows, about a girl named Bella overcoming her fears with the help of Fergus, her cat sidekick.
Ever since she was a kid, Arvada native Jenny Goebel has loved to read. Her joy for children's literature was sparked again when she was working as an elementary school teacher, reading aloud to the students.
"Then, when my own children were young and we were making weekly treks to the public library, I decided I wanted to create stories like the ones we so loved reading together," says Goebel, who lives with her three sons and husband in Westminster. "I’ve always had a strong desire to create, and writing books for children felt like a natural fit from the very beginning."
Though inspired, it still took Goebel years of research and perseverance to get her first story published. That was the tween-focused Grave Images, which came to print in 2013 and won a Colorado Book Award the following year. Her first picture book was Foreman Farley Has a Backhoe, followed by Foreman Frankie Is Handy and The Firefighter. This coming fall, look for two more tomes: Alpaca My Bags, part of Scholastic’s Wish line for kids ages eight to twelve; and Adelita, a Sea Turtle’s Journey, her first picture book based on a true story.
"I’m so excited for both books to hit the shelves, and to be working on a new project that I can’t yet discuss," she says, adding, "As an author, it’s my job to take notice of the world around me, and to find inspiration in what I see. And when I look for it, it’s usually not hard to find."
Author and illustrator Steve Jenkins has come a long way since his first book, 101 Animals, which he wrote when he was six years old. A mere 35 years later he came out with his first published book, Duck’s Breath and Mouse Pie, about superstitions that involved animals. Today the Boulder resident has written 45 titles, and while that first book may not have made the lists, his second book, Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, has been doing well since it came out in 1995.
Jenkins co-authored about half of his books with his wife, Robin Page. The two just finished a tome about sharks that will come out in 2021. He also recently wrote a series of infographic books for young readers about the solar system, Earth, dinosaurs, natural disasters and insects.
"I began writing children’s books when I lived in New York City," he says. "But spending time in the mountains and looking out my studio window at trees and the creatures that live in them, rather than office buildings, has given me a much more direct connection with the natural world." Young readers can see some of these influences in other works including, What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo and Look at Me.
Six years ago, Pueblo native Niki Knaub decided to start writing kids' books, which was right about the time her older daughter, Amelia, was born.
"I’ve been an avid reader since I was a child, so naturally when I had my first baby, I begin to put forth the same enthusiasm when choosing books I wanted to read, into choosing books to read to my daughter," says Knaub. "One thing I noticed was there weren't very many board books that told a story, so I decided to write one."
Hence Knaub published Ela Cat in the Jungle, the first in her series of the Ela Cat board books she has since put out. Last year she came out with The Night Chorus, a picture book with illustrations by the visual artist Someday. Currently Knaub, who lives in Denver with her two kids and husband, is working on three more books, including what will become a fantasy series.
"Channeling the mind of a child to find an idea that speaks to them while also staying true to myself as an artist can be challenging," she says, but with five books under her belt and more on the way, it looks like she has been mastering this skill pretty well.
Carmela LaVigna Coyle
Ever wonder what princesses can and can't do? Well, author Carmela LaVigna Coyle has mapped it all in her (thus far) ten-book series. Carmela Coyle’s Do Princesses… books are beautiful and empowering stories about being whoever you want to be, however you want to be it," says Britt Margit Hopkins, of the popular children's bookshop Second Star From the Right. "She puts so much heart in everything she does, and she even made her own rocket ship when she came for a story time last year. But most of all, we love seeing kids learn to be confident and self-assured in reading them."
LaVigna Coyle also has written four other books, including Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears, Wild Zoo Train, The Tumbleweed Came Back and Thank You, Aunt Tallulah. Raised in Colorado, the author lives in Denver with her husband and an occasional visit from her two college-aged children.
Pediatrician by day, children's book author and illustrator by night, Dow Phumiruk is one super mom who has created a world of support and fun for kids all over. Her first authored book, Mela and the Elephant, tells the story of a little girl in Thailand who leaves her village and gets into all sorts of trouble. Phumiruk herself is from Thailand, but came to the United States when she was three years old. Now in Colorado, the doctor-author lives with her three girls, her husband, and a myriad of pets.
While she wrote the aforementioned book, most of Phumiruk's side work is in illustration. Last year she created the art for Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team, by Susan Hood and Patthana Sornhiran, which tells the factual story of the boys who were rescued in 2018. She also did pictures for Counting on Katherine, by Helaine Becker, about Katherine Johnson, the black NASA mathematician who helped with the Apollo 13 mission. Look for her latest picture book, One Girl, by Andrea Beaty (October 2020), and her first authored and illustrated book, Hugsby (November 2020).
With two Colorado Book Awards under her belt for Light Up the Night and Time Out for Monsters, author Jean Reidy is a staple in the local kids'-books scene. Her latest book, Truman, about a little girl and her courageous tortoise, has also won numerous awards. Though she grew up in Chicago, Reidy made Colorado her home, and the place she has raised her children and now grandchildren.
Her first book came tumbling out of her decades ago when she was on a road trip with her kids. They were listening to a book on tape, and ideas just started forming, so Reidy had her daughter take notes that later became the story. Even though the kids are grown with their own little ones, Reidy is still making up tales to share with all who will sit down to read them. Enjoy her other whimsical and bright titles, such as Too Princessy!, Too Pickley!, All Through My Town and more.
This California native loves animals and the environment enough to make it the subject of many of her kids' books. These include If Elephants Disappeared, If Polar Bears Disappeared and If Sharks Disappeared. Not that all of her books are great for little kids. Go With the Flow is her latest tome and is an illustrated graphic novel best for tween girls who are coming into womanhood.
"Lily Williams is a lovely illustrator and author whose books and social media face down issues like climate change, gender equality, mental health and so much more," says Second Star's Hopkins. "She isn’t afraid to speak up, and she does so in a way that’s incredibly accessible to all ages, plus her illustrations are to die for."
Now in Denver, Williams lives with her two rescue rabbits and spends her time creating, making gluten-free waffles and daydreaming.
Inspired by the classic poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore (often referred to as "The Night Before Christmas"), author Natasha Wing created a series of "night before" books covering a range of kid-focused topics from going to kindergarten to class picture day to getting a new pet. Though this set of books spans over twenty tomes, the first published work Wing sold was Hippity Hop, Frog on Top in 1992.
"That confirmed I was doing the right thing, and I’ve been writing ever since," says Wing, who lives in Fort Collins with her husband and cat Purrsia. "Inspiration for my stories comes from a lot of places...overheard conversations, things I read about on news outlets, or my active imagination."
Over the decades, Wing has published dozens of books, including An Eye for Color, about a famous neighbor that lived in her old neighborhood in Connecticut; Bagel in Love, about a bagel looking for a dance partner; and When Jackie Saved Grand Central, about the time First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis helped save Grand Central Terminal in New York City. She has also also written three joke books, the newest being Saltwater Sillies: 300+ Jokes for Buoys & Gulls.
"That was fun for me to write, since I love to play on words," she says. Coming soon, she adds, is Night Before the Dentist and a narrative nonfiction about another first lady.
Wing hopes one day to write a children's book about prairie dogs, an animal she feels strongly about. "I'm a northern Colorado prairie dog advocate, and it breaks my heart to see the prairie dogs being poisoned by developers," she says. "I'm hoping to one day publish a story about prairie dogs so kids can learn about how important they are to our short-grass ecosystem." Until then, look for one of her many other books.
For as long as she can remember, Denver resident Denise Vega has loved to read and write stories, and started creating her own when she was around ten years old. "Denise Vega is one of the sweetest humans out there, and a fierce advocate for children’s literacy," says Lauren Casey, the school and author liaison for Second Star From the Right. "Her books make for an incredibly fun read-a-loud with memorable characters — like the monster who won’t go to bed — and messages."
Check out her latest picture book, If Your Monster Won't Go To Bed. Vega has also written some books for middle-school grades and is working on one right now.
"Kids inspire me because of their curiosity, spontaneity and honesty," says Vega, who also uses art, nature and walking to give herself a creative boost.
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