Nina Crittenden – Illustrator Interview

I am so happy to have Nina on the blog today and I hope you will return on Friday as I received an early review copy of her new book The Three Little Pugs, which is coming out on march 6th! And it is adorable.




[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[NC] Illustrator/author. It is much easier for me to make the pictures than to write the words. I probably begin some place in the middle and hope that it will all come together eventually.                                                                        

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[NC] Minnesota has always been my home. I love it here. I find myself drawn to mosses and ferns, rocks, the lakes, and all of our woodland creatures.             

[JM] I love these natural details. Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[NC] Drawing was my favorite thing to do when I was little. I also loved animals and wanted to care for them. I became a certified veterinary technician and worked in a small animal practice for about a year and then joined the staff at the University of Minnesota in small animal surgery. I became a stay-at-home mom after we had our youngest daughter. Shortly after, I started attending kid book conferences and began slowly building up a portfolio.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[NC] I love to draw with a 005 black Micron pen on Arches 140# hot press paper and I paint with Prang watercolors.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a work in progress, and the process of creating them?

[NC] This is a really new sketch that I am working on right now. When it is finished, I will send it off to my client to get approval (and make any revisions that they request). I will then transfer the approved sketch to a nice piece of bristol paper and ink it, as it will eventually become a coloring page for kids.

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

Flutterby by Stephen Cosgrove and Robin James

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[JM] Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to?

[NC] Dogs and cats. Mythological creatures. Underwater life.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your home? 

[JM] When did you get your first pug?

[NC] We got Gordy when he was a puppy in late 2008 and then his littermate, Jilly, joined our family in the spring of 2015.

[JM] So did Gordy and Jilly recognize each other after 7 years?

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[NC] Not sure if it is officially considered a park, but the Alpenzoo in Innsbruck, Austria was one of the coolest places I have ever been. I will never forget how lovely it was to see Alpine creatures up close in their natural habitat.

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[NC] Both!

[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city!

[NC] The Choo Choo Bar in Loretto, MN is probably one of my favorite places to go out to eat.

[JM]  What was your first paid job out of high school?

[NC] I worked on the Barn Crew at the Large Animal Hospital at the University of Minnesota all through college. If you need someone to clean some stalls or milk a cow, I’m your gal.

[JM] Such a cool job! Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[NC] Earl grey tea (with half&half and sugar) and crackers.

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A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider

Author: Barbara Herkert

Illustrator: Lauren Castillo

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, 2017

Ages: 4-8

Genre: biography

Themes: authors, E. B. White, inspiration


When young Elwyn White lay sick in bed,
a bold mouse befriended him.
Elwyn made a home for his companion.
If Mother knew,
she would not approve.


When young E. B. lay in bed as a sickly child, a little house mouse befriended him. When the time came for kindergarten, Elwyn was terrified, and longed for his home on the farm, where animal friends awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. His love of writing carried young ‘Andy’ (his college nickname) into adulthood, even leading him to his wife. But it was his love of wild places and animals that lead him to Maine, and a farm full of animals (including a pig he raised). It was there that he was inspired to write down the stories about Stuart Little, the mouse raised by humans, that he’d been telling his nieces, nephews, and children for years. The animals he loved also inspired him to write Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. 

Why I like this book:

Today, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web are beloved classics of children’s literature, and E. B. White is recognized as one of the finest American writers of all time. The author brings especially the childhood of this much loved author alive with sensory moments of fear and inspiration on young Elwyn’s life. Herkert uses a spare poetic language in this biography, honing in on White’s personal inspirations to evolve, from his connection with animals and his sense of place. As you might expect from a biography about this author, every word in this text counts, and the imagery is super visual:

In the refuge of the stable,
Elwyn’s senses sharpened to the ripe scent of manure,
the creak of harness leather,
the perfect shape of eggs

I have been a fan of Lauren Castillo’s art for years, and once again she achieves such intimacy and warmth in creating these biographical moments in time. She changes the pacing by varying single and double paged spreads or having more than one scene on a page. Note the smooth use of almost identical double-paged spider spreads–first of White as a boy, looking up at a spider in its web, then as an adult, also gazing at a spider in their web.


This is a must for your school or home library, and don’t miss the author’s note giving far more biographical detail, as well as a bibliography.

Read one of E. B. White’s classics to your children!

Here’s an interview I did a couple of years ago with the illustrator.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.


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Mary’s Monster – Book Recommendation

Title: Mary’s Monster-Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created FRANKENSTEIN

Author & Illustrator: Lita Judge

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2018

Ages: 12+

Genre: Graphic novel in verse/biography

Themes: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Pierce B Shelley, Lord Byron, female authors, gothic literature, feminism, catharsis, romantic poets.

Opening – Prologue:

The Creature

Most People didn’t believe Mary Shelley,
a teenage girl, unleashed me,
a creature powerful and murderous
enough to haunt their dreams.


A young adult biography of Frankenstein’s profound young author, Mary Shelley, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its publication, told through free verse and 300+ full-bleed illustrations.

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later. (Goodreads)

Why I like love this book:

While the five page prologue is from the monster’s POV, the rest of the story is told from young Mary’s POV, which is the perfect choice for this dark and haunting free-verse novel/biography. The inner psychological process of such a tragic and abused life needs the first person to convey the anguish, yet Lita’s Mary also shares perceptive insights of the external world and the lives’ of her fellow “romantic” players. Lita has included over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations, packing even more stoic gothic punch into this unforgettable work of art.

Based on months of intense primary source research, this verse narrative offers both a beautiful and heartbreaking account of Mary Shelley’s early life leading up to (and just beyond) the publication of her at the time anonymous horror story.  

The book begins by emphasizing the role of her dead mother’s progressive feministic and literary world view on her children’s lives transferred by Mary’s father, notably before his remarriage. The story follows the abuse Mary suffers at the hands of her step-mother and her choice to elope at 16 with the already married idealist and aspiring poet, Shelley. The series of losses she endures (three children/babies as well as her step-sister and Shelley’s first wife to suicide) would break the hardiest of individuals,  but Lita depicts a young creator who allows torment to fuel her pen. Mary uses each excruciating memory to fuel her creation of  Frankenstein.

The choice of verse and the use of white, or in this novel more ‘black’ space, create the somber yet compelling mood of the novel and Mary’s life. I read this in one sitting as I was fascinated by all I hadn’t known about this 200 year-old monster’s author. Her life is heartbreaking and I would say in our “me too” times, while addressed appropriately, Lita hasn’t held back from the abuse that Mary, her sister Claire, and Harriet, Shelley’s first wife, suffered at the hands of the romantic poets Shelley and Byron. The inner strength Mary Shelley finds to persevere and finish her novel, is inspiration to all young (teen) women today. 

This is a moving and wonderful tribute to this world famous author, and the perfect classroom text to celebrate 200 years of Frankenstein’s existence. The author’s note, resources and personal testimony bear witness to exemplary research and a commitment to accuracy, as well as the personal way in which Mary Shelley is an inspiration. This is an exceptional accomplishment.

And, by the way, if you love the Romantic Poets, which I do, you will never read Byron and Shelley again in quite the same way.


Mary’s Monster contains a very useful index at the back with a list of the author’s sources. The index provides a valuable resource for those wishing to delve even deeper into Shelley’s life too.

The author has a terrific study guide for teachers on her website.

FYI, the U.K. will make new coins this year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein’’ as well as commemorate a century since women started gaining the right to vote. Frankenstein will feature on a two-pound coin as well, but without any picture of the monster of Shelley’s Gothic novel. One side of the coin has the word “Frankenstein” in the steel-colored center, with the description “The Modern Prometheus” in the yellow outer ring.

According to Leo Braudy, University Professor in English, Art History and History, at USC, Mary had her terrifying dream on June 16, 1816… exactly 200 years ago!  In the below video he tells us how it happened.

In a series of letters, Robert Walton, the captain of a ship bound for the North Pole, recounts to his sister back in England the progress of his dangerous mission. Successful early on, the mission is soon interrupted by seas full of impassable ice. Trapped, Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein, who has been traveling by dog-drawn sledge across the ice and is weakened by the cold. Walton takes him aboard ship, helps nurse him back to health, and hears the fantastic tale of the monster that Frankenstein created…


Thank you to Roaring Brook Press for sending me a review copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.

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