top of page


Updated: Nov 29, 2022

Shimmer, glimmer, glowing light – twinkle, twinkle, winter night. Celebrate winter with this magical twist on a beloved nursery rhyme that brings the shimmering season of lights to life.

Max's Boat Pick:


Written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Nneka Myers

Publisher: Clarion Books (September 20, 2022)

Buy now

Thanks for coming onboard, Megan! Can you tell me the origin story behind Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night? ML: "This book began with a distinct initial spark on a dark December drive…eleven years ago. My then-toddler son was newly mesmerized by all the different kinds of light we passed – from lights on houses, trees and lampposts, to the starlight and moonlight and glittering snow. He started using the phrase 'twinkle lights' to call out everything he saw. That car ride was full of joy and excitement and wonder at the world. A simple drive had turned simply magical! I’ll never forget it. And it got me thinking about how in this darkest time of year, our world is truly filled with light. Light that we can ALL share. I knew I wanted to make a book that celebrated that in some way."

For those who love Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night, can you recommend a few other titles that you think they might also enjoy? "I’d recommend they cozy up with these winter titles that are filled with a sense of wonder, joy, and optimism, and where children are finding all kinds of magic in the season:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Snow by Uri Shulevitz

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes

Snowy Race by April Jones Prince and Christine Davenier

Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer

Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night has the honor of being one of the very few rhyming books on Max's Boat! I'm in awe of your rhymes, though I'm sure you've heard the same advice I have, which is that books in rhyme are an extremely hard sell. I'm curious why you decided to go in rhyme for your debut book? "I’m thrilled to have that honor – I am a huge fan of Max’s Boat! But oh yes, I have certainly heard that same caution on rhyme. And yet – we are who we are, right? I write in rhyme because that’s the way my brain works. When I do school visits and talk about writing I often say that I 'play with words' for a living. I feel like I work on word puzzles all day. Once I have an idea and a story shape in my head, I let it all pour out (and that is usually, but not always, in rhyme or some sort of lyrical fashion) – and then I get to work. Swapping a word here, shortening a beat there…changing the sound and shape and flow of the text. I think some of it may stem from my background in education, where I worked for many years helping children learn to read, often through poetry and song and rhyme. I’ve always been a little enamored with language and wordplay. And for Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night, it certainly seemed like the right fit, given the nod to 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' in the title and the fact that I had a repeated refrain I wanted readers to feel in their heart."

What are some of your favorite books in rhyme?

"Andrea Beaty, Julia Donaldson, Chris Van Dusen, and Josh Funk are masters at what I would call 'rollicking rhyme.' Books like Ada Twist, Scientist; Room on the Broom; The Circus Ship; and Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have this wonderful rhythm that pulls you along to the climax in an 'I-just-can’t-stop-reading' kind of way! Those are all read-aloud GOLD and so much fun to share.

Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Godwin and Blanca Gómez is another read-aloud gem with that same clever, fast-paced rhyme, but done in a way just right for the youngest of young readers.

And then there is the more thoughtful, quiet rhyme. The kind where you might sit with a line for a beat or two before turning the page, and where the connection and emotion that is happening for the reader is more internal. That is very different than the kind I just spoke about – but equally satisfying. A perfect example of this would be All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee, one of my

favorite picture books of all time and a real mentor text for me. I remember thinking 'THIS. I want to

make picture books like THIS one day.'

Similarly, Wondering Around by Meg Fleming and Richard Jones is another poetic text I love that allows

for this kind of pondering and pausing."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Picture books are my favorite books in all the world, so my list could stretch on forever and ever! In the spirit of brevity, I’ll name just one. My favorite holiday book: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. I actually wrote my application essay for the Children’s Literature graduate program at Simmons University on the magical realism in that book way back in the year 2000. I’ll love it forever."

What forthcoming books are you most looking to get your hands on? "There are two upcoming titles I’m really looking forward to that fit quite nicely into this conversation, and they are from creators whose whole body of work I admire. I’ll be first in line for the December release of Dark on Light by Dianne White and Felicita Sala, and 2023’s In the Dark by Kate Hoefler and Corinna Luyken."

All is quiet in the forest as the Great Star rises in the distance, and two little musicians, Strum and Drum, wake up from a deep slumber and set out to make the most joyous music they can! But as Strum strums his guitar and Drum drums her drum on their way to the North, some mysterious obstacles fill their paths...

Pick by Eric Fan, Night Lunch:


By Jashar Awan

Published by Tundra Books (October 4, 2022)

Buy now

Thanks for stopping by again, Jashar! Let's start out in the way these interviews always start: Can you tell me the origin story behind Strum & Drum?

JA: "Sure! I was hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree a few years ago and I noticed how each branch looked like it could be its own little tree. I thought, 'This could be a forest.' As the tree filled with ornaments, it quickly became an enchanted forest in my mind. I already had the names Strum and Drum from a project that I had set aside and decided to attach them to this idea.

Early sketches of Strum & Drum:

Around that time, I found a copy of The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee at a book sale. It’s all about a painter whose paintings are so lifelike, they actually come to life! The story had a sense of surrealism that I hadn’t seen outside of Chris Van Allsburg’s books, but it was drawn in a linear cartoony style that was nothing like the realism of Van Allsburg’s work. It got me thinking about style and how it’s used. I thought, 'Wouldn’t it be fun for a children’s book to change styles at a pivotal moment in the story?'"

Early sketches and an interior spread from Strum & Drum:

I had all of these thoughts and influences brewing in my head for a few years before I finally started writing the story. Recently, I was looking back through my sketchbook and I couldn’t get over how much development went into the book. There was a moment when Strum and Drum were anthropomorphic instruments and another when Strum was an angel with a harp and Drum was the Little Drummer Boy. It was a good reminder that it takes time for creative work to get to where it’s going. It’s always tempting to look at the final book and say, 'Of course—that’s how that story goes and that's how the characters look.' But that’s not true at all—there are so many decisions made and roads not taken along the way."

Interior spreads from Strum & Drum:

Strum & Drum has a very modern fairy tale quality to it, and reminds me of Tom Gauld's The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess. For those who love Strum & Drum, can you recommend a few other titles that you think they might also enjoy?

"Chirri & Chirra: The Snowy Day by Kaya Doi was a big influence on Strum & Drum (so much so that I used the same book dimensions!). There’s a whole series of Chirri & Chirra books. They usually involve the characters going on a bike ride and ending up in a whimsical fantasy world filled with beautifully illustrated details. Chirri & Chirra: The Snowy Day was the first one I read and it's my favorite of the series—it’s just so cozy and inviting!

Phoebe Wahl’s Little Witch Hazel is another book that I’d describe as cozy and inviting! Wahl builds a fantasy world where chores and colds still exist but so do toads who want to take you rafting with them. (Also, I’m kinda a sucker for tiny doors on the sides of trees.)

I’ve mentioned to you before that I’m a big fan of the illustrator Júlia Sardà. She just made her authorial debut with The Queen in the Cave. This book is overwhelmingly gorgeous! It tells the story of a girl who leads her younger sisters on a journey where they see many fantastic and strange things.

And, finally, if you enjoyed Strum & Drum, you might also like The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. It is a retelling of a classic fairy tale that feels modern due to the sensibilities of its creators—Barnett’s way with words, Klassen’s visual pacing, and their shared sense of humor. They make it look easy!"

What are some of your favorite holiday books? "It almost goes without saying The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg is a favorite holiday book of mine. Its imagery is so memorable and I love the bittersweet note at the end about how the sound of the sleigh bell gets fainter every year. It’s a book with nostalgia built into it.

My family's favorite nostalgic Christmas read is Clement Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas. We have an old paperback copy illustrated by the great Golden Age illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith. My wife and I read and reread this our son so many times, he could recite large portions of it by the age of 2! (I included a nod to the opening line of Moore’s text in Strum & Drum—a sleepy mouse can be seen marching in Strum and Drum’s merry band!)

The Sweet Smell of Christmas is another favorite in my household. It’s written by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by J.P. Miller. It’s a scratch-and-sniff book so you really get to experience the smells of the holiday along with Little Bear and his family as they prepare for and celebrate Christmas.

My studio mate Lala Watkins just released an adorable board book called Little Santa’s Workshop! It’s a rhyming behind-the-scenes look at the North Pole as preparations are made for Christmas Eve. Lala’s art always makes me smile—it is so joyful and bold!

One non-book recommendation—I realize that The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats isn’t a holiday book but check out its animated adaptation on Prime Video. This cartoon sets the story at Christmastime and is wonderfully inclusive in a way that I imagine Keats would have liked. It really captures the feeling of Brooklyn in winter."

You've spent years illustrating for the New Yorker. I'm curious whether any picture book illustrators inspired your work there? "I’ve always been a big fan of William Steig! When I was little, I was inspired by Gorky Rises to make potions in the kitchen sink. Steig was a New Yorker illustrator, too. Like Steig, my editorial work was very linear (although I reinvented myself stylistically when I switched to picture books)."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Most of the books I’ve already mentioned would probably find their way onto my list! They’d be joining books like—

"Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans I am a Bunny by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson Corduroy by Don Freeman Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola Doctor De Soto by William Steig Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak Anatole by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone

The Lion and The Stoat by Paul O. Zelinsky

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket and Matthew Forsythe Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley Mile End Kids Stories by Isabelle Arsenault Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak would take the top spot for sure. I love the way he's able to transport us to another world and back again before supper even starts to get cold."

Ozzie and Prince Zebedee are the best of friends. They do everything together, but things change when Prince Zebedee accuses Ozzie of cheating and Ozzie swallows up Prince Zebedee in one big GULP!

Pick by Mags DeRoma, To Make:


By Gela Kalaitzidis

Publisher: Flamingo Books (October 11, 2022)

Buy now

Thanks for coming onboard, Gela! Let's start off the way these interviews always start: Can you tell me the origin story behind Ozzie & Prince Zebedee? GK: "First, thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to talking picture books with you. The origin story behind Ozzie & Prince Zebedee probably comes from my fascination with studying my three kids’ mysterious sibling behavior. I’m an only child, so to see them bickering and fighting and then so easily switch to joy and love is a completely foreign behavior to me. It's a lot of them in the book. This story is also a result of a script I wrote many years ago. In that version, Ozzie and Prince Zebedee were just side characters. When I rewrote the script my critique group helped me see that the heart of the story was in the arguing prince and dragon. From there the script grew to what it is today."

A great critique group is pure gold! It looks like you've found yourself a phenomenal one. What I've been struck by ever since I heard your book's title is the name Zebedee, which is a name in the Bible. I'm curious whether you meant to give a religious connotation to the book. Or is there another story behind the name? "I never intended for the book to have a religious connotation but in hindsight, I think the message of repentance and forgiveness might come from my Catholic upbringing. In the early version of the script, Zebedee was only referred to as 'the prince' but when he became one of the main characters, I needed to find a name. At that time my daughter had a friend in kindergarten whose brother was named Zebedee. I'd never heard the name before but it had a beautiful exotic sound to it. (Maybe, I should also mention that Ozzie's original name was Ozymandias after Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem.)"

Images from Ozzie & Prince Zebedee (above and below):

"And when dragons are mad, sometimes they make bad choices." What a phenomenal line! Are there any other memorable lines that have popped out at you? "Thank you! I have to give credit to my agent Deborah Warren who helped me develop that line. It originally had a different setup. This was a hard question. First I could only think of beautiful quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh but then I thought of this line from The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren that is so familiar to most Swedes: '…Sometimes you have to do things that are dangerous, because otherwise you're not a man, just a piece of dirt.' Unfortunately, it’s poorly translated from its original. The line is not exclusively referring to doing dangerous things, but rather things you might not dare to do (which is a big difference in my opinion!) and if you don’t do them, you’re not 'dirt.' You’re more like a messy little 'muck.' The original line has both a grandness to it and is very child relatable."

For those who love Ozzie & Prince Zebedee, can you recommend one or two other titles that you think they might also enjoy? "For fans of dragon books, I would recommend East Dragon, West Dragon by Robyn Eversole and Scott Campbell, or if it’s anger and emotions with a funny twist that appeals to you, I would recommend Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol."

Gobble-up stories are certainly a (fun) genre in and of itself. Are there other titles where characters get eaten that you love? "I love the idea of gobble-up stories as a genre in itself. What a fun question. The most peculiar gobble-up book must be The Wuggly Ump by Edward Gorey which I read over and over as a child. I’m a big Edward Gorey fan.

I also like Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder Illustrated by Chuck Groenink.

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom and Brendan Wenzel was my inspiration for an inside-the-belly P.O.V."

What forthcoming books are you most looking to get your hands on?

"I can’t wait to read Ode to a Bad Day by my friend Chelsea Lin Wallace and illustrated by Hyewon Yum. I’ve seen this script in an early stage and know it’ll be a hilarious read.

As an artist, I’m looking forward to Shaun Tan’s Creature book. Since I’m blown away by Beatrice Alemagna’s beautiful art, I’m curious about You Can't Kill Snow White, especially since it’s released as a picture book for adults. That’s an interesting genre."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Many of my favorites have already been mentioned on your blog. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is brilliant. Same with Klassen’s This is Not My Hat. I love Beekle by Dan Santat and you’ve even hosted Sergio Ruzzier himself. All his books would be on my list.

Here are some others that come to mind:

Who's Got the Apple? by Jan Lööf – One of the most iconic children’s books in Sweden.

The Three Robbers, Crictor, and almost every book by Tomi Ungerer – I grew up with his stories.

There's a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer – Read this over and over with my kids.

Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke – Because I love creatures.

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Oboli and Mariachiara di Giorgio – Beautiful Art

When Owen's Mom Breathed Fire by Pija Lindenbaum – Because I love mama dragons with ponytails.

Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon – So relatable for any storyteller.

bottom of page