Being a Bear

When you are a black bear growing up with your siblings is filled with days of learning new things. In Mary Holland’s latest book, Yodel the Yearling, incredible photographs show this little family playing, climbing and exploring their surroundings.

YodelThis bear family was special – They made headlines. The three yearlings were famous in Hanover, New Hampshire during the summer of 2017. They ventured into town, tipping over trash cans, and even exploring houses. Yodel and his family were eventually relocated to a less populated area.

Learn more about Yodel the Yearling and Mary Holland’s wonderful writing and photography through our author interview and webpage.


You Otter Love “Oliver’s Otter Phase”


Have you ever thought…what if I spent the day as an animal? Well, in Lisa Connor’s debut picture book, Oliver’s Otter Phase, one little boy spends the day as his favorite animal from the aquarium!

How did Lisa dream up this idea? It was after a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium, but don’t take it from us. Here is Lisa’s interview!

Were there any funny, special or unusual circumstances or incidents in the conception/writing of this book?

LisaConnorsI knew I wanted to write a story about sea otters after I attended a program on otters at the Vancouver Aquarium. I learned facts about sea otter behavior that I did not know, and I wanted to share this information with kids. I attempted to write a nonfiction book, but kept getting stuck, feeling it was too dry. Then I had a memory of sticking bologna on my tummy as a child and I realized I needed to write a fiction story instead.

When did you become interested in writing?

I first dreamed of writing in my early 20s after reading Winter by Rick Bass.  I thought how wonderful it could be to arrange words in a way that made the reader laugh, cry and ponder those words for days after.

When are you most creative?

A long solo walk or traveling always spark my creativity. Driving last summer in Montana, I had to pull over and have my husband drive, so I could get an idea down on paper.

What is most rewarding and/or challenging about writing children’s books? BookOfTheMonth_Cover

The most challenging aspect of writing children’s books is letting go of an original idea while revising – to rearrange it, chop it up and start over, letting the best story grow. The most rewarding aspect is when this revision process works.

Get to know more about Oliver’s Otter Phase and all the educational extras that we offer on the Arbordale website.

Meet the Illustrator: Phyllis Saroff

Continuing our artist features, today we meet Phyllis Saroff illustrator of Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant. The story, written by Jennifer Keats Curtis, is the emotional journey that took Maggie from Alaska to California making human and elephant friends along the way.

When did you know that a career in art was for you?

PhyllisSaroffI can’t remember a specific time when I knew being an artist was my plan. As a child, I was always drawing on the accordion fold computer paper my father brought home from his lab. One side was full of printed equations, and the other side was blank. I created illustrated books that were stapled together as young as age seven. Later, my father told me to concentrate on what I was good at and what I liked, and the rest would fall into place. I might have realized I could be an artist when I painted backdrops for theater productions in college, or the first oil painting I sold.

Where do you start when taking on a project like Maggie?

After reading the manuscript, I do tiny, messy, drawings in my sketch book. I choose the Maggie_Page_05ones I like and they gradually get bigger and more refined even if they stay very scribbly. Then, I start to look for elements in the book that might be all around me. For instance, the color of the sky, open fields, or the texture of trees and tires. In this book, the emotional flow of the story was very important for me to capture. I wanted the pictures to help convey how Maggie was feeling through composition and color.

Who inspired you as an artist? 

There are so many artists who have inspired me the list would be extremely long. Illustrators, fine artists, portrait painters, and mural artists have all inspired me. My problem is reining myself in. I find myself getting excited by work I see and wanting to try another discipline or medium.

What is your favorite animal?

The list of my favorite animals would also be too long to print. Animals were all I drew Sounds-Spread-2on the blank side of my father’s computer paper, and I am so lucky to draw animals now as an illustrator. I love all the domestic animals that share our homes with us. I love their faces, patterns and textures from a visual view point. I love the same qualities of the wild animals outside our homes. I even admire the shapes, colors and patterns of insects and invertebrates and I take time to look closely at them-except for ticks!

Do you have a project that you are most proud of?

The most recent work is always what I am most proud of.  Each painting or illustration shows me what I could have done differently as it gets older. I have recently experimented with mixed media paintings that I sell through a local Annapolis gallery. I am proud of the result.


Maggie is Phyllis’ fourth book with Arbordale, readers can travel the world through her other titles! Check them out!


Catching the Reader’s Eye – Creating a Cool Book Cover

At a trade show a librarian once said to us “Definitely judge a book by its cover, there is a lot of time and energy put into that cover.” Today, The Lizard Lady illustrator Veronica V. Jones shares her process of creating the cover for this true story.

VVJprofileOne of the more exciting (and sometimes nerve-wracking) parts of my job as a children’s book illustrator can be coming up with the book cover. That’s because there’s a lot that a book cover has to do if it’s doing a good job.  In a world where there’s so much competing for a customer’s attention, book covers not only have to be pretty, but they have to grab someone’s attention, just long enough that they pick up the book. Book covers have to hint at the story inside, communicating that it’s worth a reader’s time and attention.  Practically, they also have to convey information about the book like the title and author, even when shrunk down to the size of a thumbnail.  That’s a lot of pressure!

By the time I begin to work on a book cover, I’ve already worked on the character designs and the rough sketches for the story, so I’m pretty familiar with how the characters look. The story in The Lizard Lady is based on real life researcher Nicole Angeli and her work with the critically endangered St. Croix ground lizard, so I wanted to make sure the cover focused on the relationship between Nicole and a lizard. Luckily, I had a lot of good photo references Nicole had sent in!


A lot of the pictures showed Nicole holding a little lizard in her hand so that seemed like a great start for the cover.  I started sketching using the photos as a guide and soon came up with an idea. I would use foreshortening, a drawing technique that allows you to create the illusion of an object receding strongly into the distance, so as to focus on the lizard in detail in the Lizard Lady’s hands.  In the cover of the Lizard Lady, the hands with the lizard appear to be very much closer because they are so much larger, and the arms are shortened.


Once I had a good sketch, I had to plan out where the title and author credit text would go on the cover. The title text needs to be legible even when the cover is small like in an online store. I also had to come up with background elements that would help frame the title.  Luckily, St. Croix has a wonderful variety of foliage to draw from!

Painting the cover was the next step.  I wanted the colors to suggest the bright sunlight on the verdant island of St. Croix, so I focused on bright greens for the plants and shading the Lizard lady with reds and oranges.  Yellow seemed like a great choice for the title text as it’s both sunny and matched Lizard Lady’s hair.  After turning in the artwork for feedback, editor Donna German suggested we flip the composition, keeping the reader’s eye movement going from left to right and encouraging people to open the book.  This turned out to be the perfect finishing touch!


Thanks Veronica for sharing your process! Check out The Lizard Lady at!


Behind the Book: Dear Komodo Dragon

dragonsDid you know…A Komodo Dragon can be a playful lizard…they have poor hearing and ok eyesight, so they rely on their keen sense of smell to capture their meals…or that they can swallow a goat in one gulp!

These are fun little tidbits that author Nancy Kelly Allen didn’t quite fit into her newest DearKomodorelease Dear Komodo Dragon! Readers will find many more fun facts as they read the letters between Leslie, a wanna-be dragon hunter, and Komo, a wild Komodo dragon. But how did Nancy come up with this idea? It happened after a trip to the Louisville zoo where she marveled at their Komodo dragon “Big Man,” Then she talked with students, and one girl said how she loved receiving letters, but they hardly ever came in the mail. A book idea was born — letters from an unlikely friend.

With the story set, now it’s time for illustrations. Artist Laurie Allen Klein was selected to put images with the words, and here is her story:

Ordinarily, I have a couple months between receiving a manuscript and submitting rough sketches, but this was something of a rushed story. Because the original book I was scheduled to work on got pushed back to the Fall, I suddenly had some open time. And then Hurricane Matthew hit! That’s when I got the news about the new manuscript but had to go down to my local shipping store to access their computer to print out the story.

You also have to bear in mind this was early October, and because this was something of a rushed schedule, the rough sketches were due at the beginning of November, not the usual time frame I’m used to. Not to mention, I didn’t have access to all my usual technology. However, prior to the storm, I had become interested in an illustration style that was a bit different from my usual look. Still “realistic”-ish, this new look was more graphic and simple. Not as semi-realistic as my usual style AND it fit the nature of the story perfectly.  A girl being pen pals with a Komodo dragon allowed for a certain amount of illustrative whimsy. I wound up whipping out fully realized, book-sized pencil roughs in the fraction of the time it usually takes me. The look and images just fell right into place.

Komodo - Leslie - Outfit Ideas

It probably didn’t hurt that I also had an immediate source of inspiration literally across the street at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm who have 2 Komodo dragons. Not to mention a great source of reference book materials. The minute I printed out the manuscript (at the shipping store) I went right over to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and checked out their exhibit, AND their books.

Then it was just a matter – as always – of letting the images come to me.  Aided in large part by a huge soft spot I have for dragons (not to mention a pretty extensive book collection of my own on the subject). I loved the opportunity to introduce images of dragons from mythology and other cultures with the real dragons across the street!

As for the character of Leslie, I made a determined decision NOT to base her on my own daughter (who is usually my Go-to Character Muse) but Jess still found her way into the illustrations by way of Leslie’s “Dragon Hunter” outfit, which I based on a long-ago Joan of Arc/Medieval Knight costume Jess wore for Halloween. I substituted the sword for a safer plunger-tipped “spear” but the medieval outfit is all Jesse.

Jesse - St Joan:Knight Inspiration

For the rest of the illustrations – I just had fun playing with textures and patterns.  And for the first time did not struggle with how to do the backgrounds – they just fell right into place. Not to mention, I have found a whole new style I can’t wait to explore some more.

Check out Dear Komodo Dragon and explore all of the educational extras that we have to offer!


Do you hear what I hear?

AnimalEarsThe latest book in Mary Holland’s Animal Anatomy and Adaptations series is all about the ears. Some ears are easy to spot, while others are concealed. Why? Mary Holland has the answers as she guides readers through the world of Animal Ears.

Mary’s lens captured ears of all sizes for this book. From the katydid that has tiny ears on its legs to the cottontail rabbit with large rotating ears to a huge black bear with small round ears, each ear’s unique traits are revealed through nonfiction text.

To celebrate the release of Animal Ears, make your own favorite animal ears with these easy headband designs!



What you need:

Construction paper

And don’t forget the other fun and informative books in this series…


Happy Birthday!


Today, six new books join the Arbordale Family! Congrats to our hardworking authors, illustrators, and editors on their new book. So, without further ado let’s meet the new titles and their creators.


Mary_Holland_72Mary Holland has not one, but two books released today! Animal Ears joins the other Animal Anatomy and Adaptations series books. Readers learn amazing facts about specially designed ears as Mary’s photographs introduce a new animal with each page turn. Then an adorable bear family makes their debut in Yodel the Yearling. Learn how a bear cub makes its way in the world and mom finds a “babysitter” while she heads out to find food for her growing family.


JenniferCurtis NicoleAngeli PhyllisSaroff VeronicaJonesAlso having double-the-fun is author Jennifer Keats Curtis! She releases Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant with illustrator Phyllis Saroff and The Lizard Lady with Dr. Nicole Angeli and Veronica V. Jones. Both books look at how human’s actions affect animals in very different ways. Maggie is the story of Alaska’s loneliest elephant and how she made her way to a new home and new friends to find happiness. Then, The Lizard Lady features the efforts of Nicole Angeli as she and other scientist work to bring back the population of the St. Croix Ground Lizard.


LisaConnors Lee_KarenLisa Connor’s makes her picture book debut with Oliver’s Otter Phase. Illustrated by Karen Jones, this fun-loving little boy tests out his skills adapting to otter life in a kid’s world. Funny troubles arise as Oliver learns otter adaptations don’t work quite as well in a human world.


NancyKellyAllen LaurieAllenKlein_72Finally, Nancy Kelly Allen launches her newest book featuring two unlikely pen pal friends in Dear Komodo Dragon. Illustrations by Laurie Allen Klein capture the playful side of the story as Leslie the dragon hunter rethinks her future career after reading about the challenges her friend faces in the wild.

This week we will introduce each book here in more detail, but you can lean more about each book on or request the titles from your favorite bookstore!