Getting to Know: Jasmine Warga


October 4, 2022 is National Rover Book Day! Maybe not officially, but when I learned that acclaimed author Jasmine Warga (OTHER WORDS FOR HOME) also has a book for young readers releasing on that day featuring planetary rovers I suddenly feel on the cusp of a trend (are rovers the next vampires?!?) Though mine is a humorous graphic novel and Jasmine’s is a heartfelt middle grade novel, I’m in no way surprised we each chose as our heroes these mechanical explorers that inspire us so much in real life. I caught up with Jasmine to learn more about her wonderful book, A ROVER’S STORY (Balzar + Bray):

Me: What sparked you to write A Rover’s Story?

Jasmine: I was first inspired to write A Rover’s Story while watching the launch of Perseverance in July 2020 with my daughters. As we watched the rocket carrying Perseverance shoot into the sky, my oldest daughter clapped, but my younger daughter looked concerned. She asked, “Mama, do you think the robot is scared?” And that’s when I first got the idea for the book!

Me: Res is modeled on actual rovers but also self-aware. How did you pull off that balancing act and develop his distinct voice?

Jasmine: Recently, I heard a quote from an educator (and I forgot who said it, but if anyone knows the attribution please tell me!) that said something like, “Non-fiction is learning through facts, and fiction is learning through imagination.” To me, that’s what this book is all about. I took real-life, amazing scientific facts, but made them come alive through imagination. It was so fun to imagine what Res’s voice might sound like—taking what I knew about rovers and then letting my imagination run wild.

Me: You obviously did meticulous research. Did reality get in the way of how you wanted to tell your story? Learn anything especially cool?

Jasmine: I think the coolest fact I learned was that NASA always makes two identical rovers. One rover goes to space, and the other stays back here on Earth, to be a model to help troubleshoot problems. To me, there’s so much narrative tension in that premise, and I love that it’s a real life fact!

Me: I love space stuff, but would probably freak out sitting in a small space capsule on the ground. Once they start sending people back to the moon and to Mars for the first time, and they find they need poets, artists and novelists to express the experience, are you likely to volunteer?

Jasmine: I think so! I love a good adventure 😊.

Me: Can you share what you’re working on now?

Jasmine: Yes! I’m working on another middle grade novel. It’s a family story with a lot of humor and a bit of mystery. It’s in early stages so I can’t say too much about it now, but I’m having a lot of fun working on it.

Me: I can’t wait to see it! Thank you so much for appearing here, I’m wishing great success for A Rover’s Story.

Learn more at Jasmine Warga

photo by Lillian Warga



Getting to Know: Megan Hoyt


One of my favorite picture books of 2021 is BARTALI’S BICYCLE (Quill Tree Books), written by Megan Hoyt and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. It follows the true story of Gino Bartali, the Italian Tour de France winner who secretly helped rescue 800 Jews in WWII by smuggling papers in his bicycle frame (for a great adult book about this, check out ROAD TO VALOR).

Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero: Hoyt, Megan, Bruno, Iacopo: 9780062908117: Books       Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation: McConnon, Aili, McConnon, Andres: 9780307590657: Books:


I was recently excited to learn that Megan has a new historical picture book coming out this July 5th, THE GREATEST SONG OF ALL: HOW ISAAC STERN UNITED THE WORLD TO SAVE CARNEGIE HALL (Quill Tree Books, 2022, illustrated by Katie Hickey), and I caught up with Megan to learn more about this compelling story.

Me: How did you get into creating children’s books?

Megan: I started out making up bedtime stories to tell my children, and when I got my first laptop computer I used to get up at 5 am and write. It was quiet me time with nothing but the dim morning light, my imagination, and a chocolate-y mocha latte! My first stories were horrible. I remember I once wrote a 3800 word picture book when the industry standard is around 500 words for fiction and 1000 for non-fiction. I clearly knew nothing about the actual business of writing picture books when I started out. But then I met a group of authors at an SCBWI Schmooze in Davidson, North Carolina, and we formed a critique group. We called ourselves the Mudskippers. If you’ve never heard of a mudskipper, it’s a fish that can actually walk on land! We wanted to encourage ourselves to believe that we could do anything we poured our hearts into. I think five of us ended up published authors and one is now an agent. But we will always be Mudskippers!

What inspired The Greatest Song of All?

My parents met playing violin and viola in the pit orchestra at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and I always thought their story was so charming. Their first date was for cheesecake at Carnegie Deli. I wanted to dig into the time period when my parents lived in New York—to see what life was like back then. They were older by the time I came along, so this was the 1950s and 60’s. As I researched, I came upon a photo of a ballet dancer leaping across Broadway at a protest, and I thought that was so interesting! I’d never seen a ballet dancer dancing in the street, much less protesting in dance clothes. It was Valerie Harper, who later became a famous tv sitcom actor.

The more I read about how everyone came together to save Carnegie Hall, the more I wanted to let children know that they, too, can get involved and help save both buildings and people. Where I live now, city officials recently destroyed a “tent city” that was housing homeless families uptown. The families were to be moved to hotel rooms for eight months, and after that, hopefully, they would find housing. Well, the plan backfired when they discovered they had more homeless people than hotel rooms! I saw that and wondered how a city manager could so mishandle a situation, just like Robert Moses did when he forced out thousands of people from their San Juan Hill neighborhood in New York. I realized it’s up to the citizens to take care of one another. We can’t just depend on a city planner or organizer to handle it all, especially someone who does not have a vested interest in the issue. If no one had taken action in New York, Carnegie Hall would be gone, replaced by a giant glistening high-rise office building. It took a concert violinist, ballet dancers, famous musicians from around the world, and millions of dollars, collected from donors, young and old, to come together and save Carnegie Hall.



What was the most challenging part of your research?

The most challenging part was telling such a complicated story with lots of twists and turns in only forty pages! A few times along the way, I stopped and set it aside, thinking there were just too many details to the story for a young audience to grasp. But it tugged at my heart as sort of a tribute to my parents, so I went to the Hall and met with the archivists to get a better sense of what facts had to stay in and which ones might be okay to leave out. That was tough! There’s a whole back story to how Carnegie Hall was built in the first place that is so interesting—a musician met Andrew Carnegie on a cruise ship while the Carnegies were on their honeymoon and convinced him New York needed another concert hall. Well, that whole bit had to be cut for space. A few other details are not in precise chronological order because there were so many meetings and two different committees. Oh, and I had this whole spread where Isaac Stern talks to the Mayor at a Passover Seder and convinces him to help save Carnegie Hall. There was just no room for it, even though I wanted to be able to focus a bit more on Isaac Stern being Jewish since that is why they left to come to America to begin with.



Katie’s illustrations are amazing. How did you get paired with her?

The publisher always chooses the illustrator, but they did show me samples from three different artists to get my feedback. I already loved Katie’s work on Jess Keating’s book, Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret, so I was very excited. I think her vivid colors really bring the story to life.


What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on a biography of author Marguerite Henry, who is also near and dear to my heart, since I grew up riding bareback in Texas. I met her at an author visit at my school when I was around eight years old. I still have my autographed copy of Justin Morgan Had a Horse!

I also have two more books coming out with HarperCollins’ Quill Tree Books: A Grand Idea: How William Wilgus Created The Grand Central Terminal and Kati’s Tiny Messengers: Dr. Katalin Kariko and the Battle Against Covid-19. And I have a soon-to-be-announced picture book coming out with a Jewish publisher, Apples and Honey Press. I’m working on two middle grade novels as well.

Wow, Megan, your plate is full! I can’t wait to check out those new titles. Thank you so much for answering my questions!

To learn more about Megan, go to

Getting to Know: Terry Catasús Jennings, part 2


When I saw that author friend Terry Catasús Jennings had a new book releasing, I knew it was time to rekindle the Getting to Know the author interviews. While I’ve featured Terry before, The Little House of Hope is a special new picture book (releasing June 14 from Neal Porter Books) and I wanted to learn more.

Me: Congratulations on your beautiful, touching new book! How much of the Little House of Hope mirrors your own experiences?

Terry: Hi, Jon, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog. I’m glad you’re back in business. The answer to how much The Little House of Hope mirrors my own experience is: most of it.  When we came to the United States my uncle, my father’s brother, had been in the United States for more than year.  They had rented a house (a little house) and they opened that house to us when we came with nothing but fifty dollars for the whole family and a suitcase each.  They also opened up that house to my aunt’s brother, his wife and baby—they lived in the garage. I slept with my two girl cousins. We shared two twin beds and a cot—took turns on the cot—which was really a generous thing to do, because they could have made me take the cot all the time. And no one complained. I think my parents slept on the pull-out couch. We only took in family, so that’s a difference, but really just about everything else is true, down to making collages to decorate the walls.


Me: Though the story has obviously been with you for a long time, when did you realize it would make a good picture book? Did anything stand out about the writing process for this work?

Terry: Well, it wasn’t with me that long. I got mad at a realtor who said that “Mexicans” lived four families to a home and trashed a house, and then I remembered that for about a year after we came to the United States, the first part of that statement applied to us. We lived three families to a house.  Fourteen people on weekends when my aunt’s other nephews came to stay with us. I think, at first, it was more of having to get the story out, than realizing it would make a good picture book. As the story took shape, though, I thought it could be special. I wanted to turn it  into a good message for young readers, and maybe even the adults who read to them, that immigrants don’t come to the United States on a whim, it’s a gut wrenching decision and it is a very tough life. What stood out in the process was how quickly it came together and how few revisions it went through.  And oh, I just heard it is a Junior Library Guild selection. I’m really stoked about that.

Me: Raúl Colón is an amazing illustrator and his illustrations for your book are stunning! How did you end up working with him?

Terry: He is amazing, Jon. Neal Porter, the editor of the book picked Raúl and I couldn’t be happier.  He knows Cubans (he’s married to one). His style is so unique. I think anyone who picks up the book is bound to open it to see the rest of his illustrations. You can’t ask more than that.


Me: There have been a couple more books in the Definitely Dominguita series come up since the last time I interviewed you. Can you briefly tell us about those, and your Pauli Murray biography?

Terry: Well Dominguita went on two new adventures since we last spoke. In All for One, she and the crew pretend to be musketeers and save a quinceañera party—a debutante party Latinx style—from the dastardly Bublassi clan.  They arm themselves with toilet plungers, instead of musketeer swords that could poke their eyes out, but I have to say the toilet plungers are award-winning toilet plungers. It’s a big part of the plot. I bet you can tell what Dominguita and her crew are in Sherlock Dom, they work on the mystery of the Lost Goat of Tapperville, which could be vaguely, vaguely reminiscent of the Hound of the Baskervilles.  Pauli Murray, The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist is a biography in verse about the person who figured out the strategy that would win Brown v. Board of Education and desegregate schools. She didn’t get the credit, though, because she was a woman. She was also responsible for including gender as a protected category in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and getting equal pay for equal work for women. But she was so much more. She wrote, to anybody that could help the cause of human rights, including Franklin Roosevelt, and the First Lady. She and Eleanor became great friends. She also wrote beautiful poetry and a history of African Americans in the United States which was focused on her family but chronicled the journey of Black Americans until that time. She was so much, and she was so humble. She never stopped fighting. I collaborated with her niece, Rosita Stevens Holsey in writing it.


Me: What are you working on now?

Terry: I have two books out on submission right now, one is a picture book biography of Pauli Murray and the other is a book about a young boy and his grandfather, on a day when grandpa doesn’t feel so well and the roles are reversed. It’s a sweet story. I hope both of those become books. And I have two other mg novels in the final editing stages. I hope they’ll go on submission this summer.

Jon, thank you so much, again for hosting me. I can’t wait to see your new books. You know you’re my grandkids’ favorite author.

Me: Aw, second favorite, I’m sure. Wishing The Little House of Hope much success!

To learn more about Terry and her books, go to and on Facebook: Terry Catasús Jennings, Twitter: @TerryCJennings, Instagram:  Terry.C.Jennings 

Getting to Know: Joyce Hesselberth


I really love books. I really love trees. And I don’t have to go too far out on a branch to admit I love finding beautiful and meaningful books about trees, and our relationship to them. So I’m happy to report I’m adding a new one to my collection, Beatrice Was a Tree (Greenwillow Books, 2021) by Joyce Hesselberth, which I’ll certainly use in my art room and highly recommend to other teachers. I caught up to Joyce to learn more.

Me: How did you get into creating children’s books?

Joyce: I kind of took the long path to get here. I remember thinking how great it would be to work on children’s books when I was in college, but I realized I didn’t have the skill set. I was studying graphic design, which turned out to be a great skill to have, but wasn’t what I ultimately needed to make book content. After I graduated, I slowly migrated over to illustration. I started doing a lot of work for newspapers and magazines. In my thirties, I still had that itch to make a children’s book, so I decided to dedicate some time to it each day. When I made my first dummy, I sent it to anyone who would accept un-agented submissions. That book never got published, but I kept making dummies. Many rejections later, and after I managed to get my wonderful agent, Erica Rand Silverman, I sold my first book, Shape Shift.

What inspired Beatrice Was a Tree?

Well, first, trees are amazing. Who doesn’t love trees? I like drawing plants and nature, so that was part of the inspiration. But ultimately, this book was based on a little tiny sketch in my sketchbook. I was flipping through it, looking for ideas, because I didn’t have any at the moment and needed something to pitch to my editor. The sketch was a picture of a kid wearing a tree costume, like they were in a school play. It was something I drew for an editorial job about summer camps, but it got me thinking about what it would be like to be a tree. That’s one of the things I love about keeping a sketchbook. They are records of ideas you have and once you draw them, you can go back to them later and they can inspire other projects.


Beatrice has a great intuitive connection with nature and if every kid could relate to just one tree on that level, I wouldn’t have too many worries about the future. Was this you as a kid? How do we help more kids see the world this way?

I definitely spent my fair share of time playing in the woods as a kid. I still do actually. There’s a trail near our house where I love to go running. I don’t think I would be a runner if it weren’t for that trail. Just being in nature is so healing.

I think having unstructured play outside is so important for kids, but really for everyone. Also, another thing that definitely connected me to plants as a kid was my family’s garden. They planted acres and acres of vegetables (I’m kidding, but their gardens did tend to be large). I think having that experience of planting something and watching it grow is really special.


Your art is stunning. Can you share a little about your process?

Thank you! I started the art for this book by creating a lot of messy paint swatches. Although I love creating art digitally, there are some things that are better with traditional media. Plus, it’s really fun to just paint and experiment! When I had a little library of textures that I liked, I started cutting into them digitally.

Color is really important to me, and this book was a little tricky because it has a broader palette than some of my others. I needed the palette to really change from season to season, so having that library of textures helped me unify the book too.


What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing up the artwork for my next picture book, When Molly Ate the Stars, (Chronicle Books, expected Fall 2022). This is the first story I’ve written that is completely fiction and I’ve been having so much fun working on it.

I’ve also been writing my first chapter book. It’s not far enough along to share yet, but I’ve been obsessing over this story for about a year now and I’m really excited to bring it out into the world.

Any advice for young artists, naturalists and storytellers?

Sure, I like that grouping! I think keeping a sketchbook or journal is a really great habit to start. And give yourself room to be messy/silly in it. It doesn’t need to be precious. The important part is to keep drawing, and observing, and writing!

Perfect advice. Thank you so much, Joyce!

Learn more about Joyce and her books at and on Instagram and Twitter: @hesselberth


Getting to Know: Suzanne Slade

I still remember, as a young boy, staring in stunned wonder at the photos taken of tiny rocks on Mars by the Viking I lander in July of 1976. I couldn’t believe those detailed rocks were on another world. Another world! I’ve been fascinated with the exploration of Mars ever since, including up to today, when I woke early to watch the NASA feed of the historic first test flight of Ingenuity, a tiny but hugely important helicopter drone. Luckily, there are many books showcasing the beauty of our red neighbor, including the stunning  new MARS IS: STARK SLOPES, SILVERY SNOW, AND STARTLING SURPRISES (Peachtree, 2021), which showcases images captured by the HiRISE camera, accompanied by poetic text. I caught up with the author, Suzanne Slade, to learn more:

Me: MARS IS is a beautiful, engaging look at a huge (literally planet-sized) subject. How did you organize and write it?

Suzanne: I brainstormed various ideas while considering the best way to share the incredible HiRISE Mars photos in this book. This process involved random scribbling on papers: title ideas, Mars features I wanted to include, a list of descriptive words, book organization outline, etc. Eventually I decided on the title “Mars Is”, and also used that repeater sentence in the text to drive the story.

Me: Do you follow the Mars rovers? (My next series is about two fictional rovers, I’m a little obsessed myself!)

Suzanne: I’ve followed Spirit and Opportunity through the years, and am now a huge fan of Perseverance.

Me: How did you get into writing for kids?

Suzanne: It started with my love of books as a child. Then as a mom, I read LOTS of picture books to my children. About 20 years ago I decided to give writing a try and took a class at a local college, joined critique groups, and attended SCBWI conferences. Eight years and over 80 rejection letters later, I finally had my first book contract.

Me: I love space stuff, but definitely have the wrong stuff for space travel (like claustrophobia and an aversion to speed). If given a chance, would you sit on a ride into orbit or beyond?

Suzanne: I’m with you! Space travel isn’t my bag, but I adore researching various missions and am utterly fascinated by all things space.

Me: How cool that Alan Bean (of Apollo 12) wrote the afterword for your book DARING DOZEN (about the 12 humans who have walked on the moon). My favorite astronaut! How did you set that up?

Suzanne: I sent Alan a blind email explaining the project, and he kindly responded the next day. At first he answered questions via email. Then he asked if we could talk on the phone a couple of times, which was fantastic. One fun sidenote he shared was that he wished he’d smuggled a football aboard Apollo so he could have thrown the longest pass in the universe!

Me: Any dream topics you hope to tackle in the future? Can you share what you’re working on now?

Suzanne: Next up is more space (surprise) — THE UNIVERSE AND YOU (illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman). It’s a gorgeous bedtime book which shares a bit about our solar system, galaxy, and universe. It releases August 15. Then a few picture book bios. after that, two of which are about STEM women who made great contributions to our understanding of space.

I can’t wait to read them. Thank you so much, Suzanne!

To learn more about MARS IS check out this cool trailer and to learn more about Suzanne and her books, go to And please support your local indies if you can, like Politics and Prose, where I first heard Suzanne (and whose books can be ordered at P&P here).

Suzanne as she would actually look on Mars! Cool, huh?