Reflections on Mothering and Making Books


This post is part of celebrating Women’s History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ literature community. Join in the conversation on Twitter #kidlitwomen or on Facebook at

When I was pregnant with my first child, it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to parent and keep up with a publishing schedule, in the way I always have. I figured I had the perfect set up; I worked at home and could plan my life around my projects with ease. If I wanted to take a month off and do a yoga training, no problem! Plan a trip around a book festival, easy! I wasn’t getting massive advances or huge royalty checks, but I was working regularly and had so much flexibility. Why couldn’t I plan parenting around my work? I imagine everyone stumbles into parenthood with some measure of delusion, and this was mine.

Then my daughter arrived. And the waves of sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, and consuming love for my child washed over me, all at once. I both couldn’t get enough of her and felt like I would collapse from the weight of her care. I kept looking for the moment when body and soul would return to a recognizable state. That didn’t happen, but at some point, when my feet started to feel some steadiness, I decided it was time to start working again.

Of course, I had immense privilege to be able to make this decision at all. So many mothers don’t get any maternity leave, even if they do it’s so very short— three months? Inhumane. As a freelancer, I didn’t get paid leave, but my partner was working steadily and I was able to get back to work slowly, which I am very grateful for.

But when the time came to write again it was an entirely new landscape. Exhaustion from nighttime wakings and longing for my daughter were constantly buzzing in my ear. I also found, strangely, that the creativity that her care demanded held a lot of space in my mind. It made the thread of creativity I needed to write harder to find. It was still there, of course, but I had to look more closely to see it. I wasn’t used to orbiting around two different worlds at the same time.

Still, the break from care-taking was a huge relief, and I treasured the hours I had to write, either while a sitter came, during naps, or after bedtime. It was a connection to my life before parenting took over, and helped me feel like me again. I chugged along, sold a couple projects, and started working around deadlines again. 

By the time my second child arrived, I had a precarious work schedule that more or less worked, thanks mainly to an incredible day care provider and a partner who gets up with the kids in the morning, so that I can work at night (both ways in which I am so very lucky). But of course, in the joy and chaos that ensued, life got turned upside down again. When my son was two months old, I found myself bouncing him in a carrier at my drafting table, trying not to wake him up as I painted illustrations that were long overdue. The months that followed were a blur of adrenaline, euphoria, and more exhaustion than I thought I could bear.

My son is nearly four now, and again my feet feel somewhat steady. Or maybe I’m better at navigating unsteadiness? But there are a few things that have become very clear to me, as a writer, an artist, and a mother:

“Having it all” isn’t a phrase that even makes sense to me anymore. I don’t know what that means. You can have many things, you can have a few things... something will always be in abundance and something will always be lacking. Right now I have healthy, beautiful children that I am deeply grateful for. I do not have personal space, time to myself, or a stack of contracts to work my way through.

The creativity required to parent should not be underestimated. It is never-ending problem solving, adapting, and learning to be flexible in ways you didn’t think you would need to be. This can be an asset to your work, it can also be a drain on your work.

The way I have to approach any goal now is in small pieces, one little bit at a time. I used to think the only way I could write or paint was in long stretches of uninterrupted time, but that’s no longer possible.

I need to constantly remind myself that all the work I do has value. We live in a culture where caring for children and a household is so invisible, and certainly not considered important. If it was, we would have lengthy paid parental leave and subsidized child care. I often wake up in a cold sweat, panicked that I’m not able to devote myself to my craft like a “real artist”. Then I repeat, slowly, until the panic passes, “The world has many books, my children only have one mother” (the last bit I borrowed from a friend). There will be time to produce more later. In the meantime I will trust that caring for them will help my craft in ways I can’t yet imagine.

I feel immensely better when I’m around other parents who are artists, and hear their stories. Parents, writers, illustrators, how are you balancing parenthood with your work? What is different than you thought it would be? What helps you stay rooted in both worlds? How has parenthood helped your work, how has work helped your parenting? If your children are grown, what did you do right in balancing it all? What would you have changed?

Visit Violet of Sprout Street Neighbors at Logan Airport!


If you find yourself at Logan Airport in Boston, come visit terminal C, where there is a wonderful art installation showcasing children's book illustrators who live in Massachusetts. I'm honored to be part of the show and the fabulous kick off event with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Susie Rich, and Jeff Kinney (at right).

Violet from Sprout Street Neighbors and George from Abigail Spells are in great company!


Order a signed copy of the Sprout Street books from Broadside!

EDIT: If you've ordered the book through Broadside and you received it without a signature or print, please email me! The store sent out some copies without them by mistake. If you let me know, I will send you your print and a book plate separately! Apologies!

If you would like a signed copy of my new book, Sprout Street Neighbors: Bon Voyage, or any of the Sprout Street titles, one of my local indies has offered to send one to you. Broadside Books has all three, just let them know whether you want hardcover or paperback and what you'd like the inscription to be. Orders can be made over the phone or online (just enter the inscription in the comments section). If you order from them this month, I would love to send you a print from one of the books- just email me after you place your order and you'll get a print in the package!

Book Birthday

If I'm being honest, working in my studio since November has been challenging. I've been thinking a lot about what kind of contribution I want to make. This winter, I worked on the first draft of the fourth Sprout Street Neighbors book. I wrote it, pulled it apart, and pieced it together again many times, looking for some way to weave in the political and social events quaking around us. But every time I tried to work in these big issues, the writing came off as preachy and the plot wouldn't come together.

Today, the third book in the series is on bookshelves. It's the book birthday for Sprout Street Neighbors: Bon Voyage, a book about traveling to a new place, both the anxiety and discovery that goes along with it. It is not a book about the complicated world we live in. But it is about a world we could create, if we wanted to. I will keep wrestling with telling stories about the struggles going on around us and maybe they will find their way into the next book. But in the meantime, I hope these stories will give kids a place to be understood and help them think of others with a generous heart. 

Come join me at the Springfield Museum this Saturday!

Come celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday at The Springfield Museum! This Saturday there will be a host of kid-friendly activities, including a PJ Dance party, art projects, story time, and much more. The Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2 will be there and so will a host of children's book artists from Western Mass. We've created an exhibit of artwork inspired by The Cat in the Hat (my piece below)! We'll be signing books, selling prints, and some will run activities. Bring your kids! I'll be there from 10:30-2:30 pm.

My image from the show is titled  Portrait of Aubergine

My image from the show is titled Portrait of Aubergine

Join me this Saturday for RISD Craft!

This weekend I'll be signing books and selling prints at RISD Craft, the school's yearly juried sales exhibition of alumni and student work. If you're in the area come join me! It's always a fun day. Sip on some cider, stroll down tree-lined Benefit Street, and see what the RISD community has been up to. It's always a fun day! I'll be signing books and selling prints at booth 71. 

Raising A Reader Dinner with an Author

Tomorrow I'll be joining a long list of wonderful authors at Raising A Reader's Dinner with an Author, a celebration of their tenth anniversary and a fundraiser for the wonderful work they do connecting underserved kids with books. Did you know that 39% of third graders don't read proficiently and for low income children the number is 60%? Raising A Reader tackles that problem by encouraging caregivers to read to children at home- working with Horizons for Homeless Children, Head Start, and public pre-schools.

If you'd like to join us for a lovely dinner at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, register here. Or you can make a donation to them anytime!

Sprout Street Neighbors Community Art Show and Raffle

Calling all kids in Western Mass who love to read and draw! Join me and The Odyssey Bookshop for a celebration of community and the Sprout Street Neighbors books. We're inviting children from all over Western Mass to make artwork inspired by their community, which we'll show at the store during Children's Book Week. One student will win a school visit from me for their classroom!

The details: Our show will be on May 7th from 2:00-4:00. All children's art will be on display, snacks will be served, and I'll be there to read and draw with the kids. Come join us to celebrate this wonderful community we're part of!

To participate: Just follow the DIRECTIONS and send in kid's artwork with the APPLICATION. The Odyssey is offering DISCOUNT COUPONS if you buy the books for the project, feel free to download those as well. Happy drawing!

Questions? Feel free to email me or Niki Marion at the Odyssey.

A special offer

To celebrate the release of my new book, Sprout Street Neighbors: A New Arrival, I've teamed up with my local indie to make a special offer. If you order the first two Sprout Street books in hardcover from The Odyssey Bookshop during the month of January, I'll sign and personalize them for you AND you'll get a FREE signed, archival giclée print of one of my illustrations. That and the satisfaction of having supported a wonderful local bookstore that provides a host of great services to the Western Mass community! You don't have to live locally to participate, they can ship anyplace. Click here for more details!

A New Arrival

This week brings the second book in the Sprout Street series to bookshelves at last! Sprout Street Neighbors: A New Arrival is in booksstores now, along with the paperback version of book one, Five Stories. I am super excited about both these books and can't wait to introduce them to little readers!

To celebrate, here is a trailer we put together for book one. Big thanks to my husband Bruno for being a computer genius, and for my daughter Tilly, for trying her very hardest to pronounce "Knomph".

I'll post the trailer for book two soon!



Book birthday and a review

Sprout Street Neighbors: Five Stories is out today- happy birthday little book! To celebrate I am posting my favorite review so far. The Winnie the Pooh comparison really made my day. Thanks Booklist!

"The five stories here present a tribute to the ups and downs of friendship. Differences are the central focus of each story as characters display their very diverse personalities. Poetry-loving Henry fancies peace and quiet; vivacious Emma is always ready to party; creative Violet wants to practice her flute and knit; gardener Wilbur prefers to work with plants and dig in the dirt; and shy Fernando’s secret desire is to dance. These animal friends reside in the same apartment building, but sometimes their different lifestyles make being neighbors hard! Episodic chapters reveal how problems, such as a noisy acorn collection, leaky ceilings, and a birthday cake disaster, find resolution in a fashion reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh’s misadventures in the Hundred Acre Woods. Soft, expressive pen-and-ink illustrations provide assistance for the transitional reader. Demonstrating tolerance, politeness, and teamwork, these gentle stories help show how the world can work when challenges are approached with kindness and understanding."

— Martha Edmundson, Booklist

ps. If you would like to purchase a personalized copy of the book, my lovely local indie The Odyssey Bookshop would be happy to help! Just order the book here and note who you would like it inscribed to in the comments when checking out. I'll go in and sign it, then they'll ship it directly to you.

First book!

It is hard to describe the feeling of holding your book for the first time, after all the many weeks, months, and years spent bringing it into being. When a little package arrived on my doorstep last week, I was excited to open it, but also nervous that it might not live up to my expectations. Would all the pieces that we had labored over for so long come together and create a solid little vessel for the story inside? When I opened up Sprout Street and flipped through the pages my heart leapt up. All the details blended seamlessly together to form one little book, five little stories, one hundred and four little pages. 

My favorite details, both surprises, are the sweet little embossed sprouts on the cover and the marvelous full color printed endpapers.

I am so excited to share this book with the world!

Hello again!

Much has changed since my last post here. 2014 was a whirlwind, so I took some time off from blogging to get my bearings. I am happy to be back with updates on on my adventures, both bunny painting and otherwise!

Shortly after my last post, this little guy arrived:

He has brought much joy and much busyness! We are totally, utterly in love with our tiny fellow. And also we are very busy. Did I mention that?

Shortly before his arrival, my husband and I closed on a house and began converting it from a two family to a single. With no experience and a lot of excitement we put our home renovation dreams into action. Much of the year was spent wandering around mess that looked like this:

Surely enough the space was transformed, and we moved into our house at the end of the year:

We've been painting, organizing, and unpacking ever since. I'm excited to post some before and after pictures when the transformation is complete.

When not house painting, I've been hard at work with a different kind of paint brush. The illustrations for Sprout Street Neighbors (book 1) are now complete and I am so excited that it's book birthday is almost here! In one month's time it can be found in bookstores at last.

Til then I'll be posting more of the artwork, peeks inside the making of the book, and details about ways to celebrate with me (mark your calendars for a launch party on June 6th at the Odyssey). Stay tuned!