Maryann Cocca-Leffler – Will Write for Cookies


Plate of Cookies






When one door closes, another opens. I left behind many wonderful kid lit friends when I moved away from Colorado Springs two years ago. But there are people who love picture books all over the world! Connecting with Maryann is proof of that. Can you believe she lives just down the road from me in the quaint little New England village of Amherst, NH hubby and I moved to?

Maryann grew up in the Boston area and attended Massachusetts College of Art and Design where she received a BFA in Illustration. Her very first book, Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’ written by Eileen Spinelli, was published in 1982 and has been re-released this Fall as a classic. (go here for my Perfect Picture Book Friday review) When not in her studio, Maryann travels to schools to share her books.

Maryann is the Author and Illustrator of over 60 books for children. Maryann’s recent book, “Janine” was inspired by her daughter, Janine. Together they have developed a corresponding website, with a mission to help change public perception of children with disabilities.

Her new book, A Homemade Together Christmas has just published for the 2015 Holiday season (look for a Perfect Picture Book Friday post from me soon). Other books include, Theo’s Mood, and Bus Route to Boston. Now a playwright, Maryann wrote a play based on her Princess KIM books. Princess K.I.M. The Musical won a National New Play Festival in 2012 and has had sold-out performances on the east and west coast. ‘Princess K.I.M. The Musical’ is now represented by, a licensing agency in LA, to bring the play National and international.



I’m excited to welcome her…take it away, Maryann!


ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?



I always loved books by Author/Illustrator Barbara Cooney. Many of her stories were inspired by her own life. Roxaboxen is a classic. Every child should own that book.






ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?



Let the illustrations “talk” and minimize the text.



ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find the time to write?



I am an Illustrator as well as the Author. When the idea strikes I write it down wherever I happen to be. If the idea is in the form of an image, I’ll quickly sketch it. Once my idea gels, I hand-write my first drafts, doodling illustrations along with the story. I sometimes jump right into a storyboard.

I then fine-tune the text on my computer.

When I’m not visiting schools, I work in my home studio every day, keeping regular hours; typically 8:30 am-5:00 pm.


.ME: Why do you write for children?




          I write for children because I’ve always loved the marriage of words and pictures in children’s books. My art style led me in that direction and I soon realized that I had stories I wanted to share. I entered the industry as an illustrator right out of college, publishing my first book at age 22. After encouragement from my editors I began writing. I sold my first story as an author/illustrator, Wednesday is Spaghetti Day in 1990. (The publishing industry was quite different in the 80’s- 90s. It was very common to act as your own agent and meet directly with editors and art directors. I continue to represent myself.)



ME: Maryann, do you have any other tips or thoughts you’d like to share with everyone?


  1. Writing: Be willing to revise. Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew took me 5 years to sell and was rejected by as many publishers. Each time it was returned, I revised it, greatly improving the story. I consider criticism and rejection to be an opportunity to learn.
  2. Illustration: Create your own style. Don’t follow trends and have thick skin. Not everyone is going love what you do. Important NOTE: If you are not a professional illustrator, do not submit art with your manuscript. You will hurt your chances of being published. A publisher will find the perfect artist for your story.
  3. Educate yourself. Understand the publishing process, your rights and contracts terms. (Joining the is advisable)
  4. Let your ideas lead you. Take a risk. You never know where an idea will take you!


WOW! Maryann…that tips section is worth a million dollars! You’ve touched on so many truly critical points that if I may, I’m going to list them with bullet point:

  • join SCBWI
  • educate yourself as far as publishing/rights/contracts go
  • don’t try to find an illustrator to work with if you are just a writer
  • NEVER EVER give up on your dreams…but definitely be willing to revise, as many times as it takes till you get it to where an editor has to grab it!

I know everyone is standing up and applauding…and they haven’t even gotten to the yummy treat recipe you shared.

By the way, if anyone would like to find out more about Maryann and her books, you can find her here:



And now, in time for holiday baking, here’s Maryann’s Italian Christmas favorite:


Anise Cookies


¼ cup (1/2 stick) softened butter

¼ cup shortening

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs

3 ½ cups flour

7 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon anise extract

2/3 cup light cream


Heat oven to 375 degrees F

Combine butter, shortening and sugar. Beat until smooth. Add eggs.

In separate bowl combine & whisk all dry ingredients. Add the butter mixture along with anise and cream. Beat just until blended. Form dough into teaspoon size balls. Place on cookie sheet. Flatten tops slightly. Bake for approx 15 minutes. Let cool before frosting.



1 tablespoon melted butter

2 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

¼ cup warm milk

1 ½ teaspoons anise extract.

Mix together in saucepan on low.

Frost cookies – add festive colored sprinkles. YUM!


Thanks to all of you for your patience…three blog posts in one week…brings back memories of when I was blogging every day.

We are having family visiting for Thanksgiving, so I will be taking a bit of a blog break. When I return, it will be December and I will be participating in The 12 Days of Non Fiction, a challenge set by my dear friend and mentor, the Duchess of Non Fiction, Kristen Fulton. If you are interested in revving up your writing for 2016, hop on board and register:

The plan? Come up with twelve killer ideas for non-fiction stories. Write a story every month in 2016. WOW!

Have a beautiful Thanksgiving, my friends. If you are traveling, please stay safe.

About viviankirkfield

Writer for children - Reader forever Mom of 3, educator, author of FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK (Pomegranate Press, 2019), PIPPA'S PASSOVER PLATE (Holiday House, 2019), FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY WE MOVE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books, 2019), picture book junkie, lover of travel, hiking, fly-fishing, cooking, and playing Monopoly with my 9-year old grandson.

Posted on November 21, 2015, in Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Uncategorized, Will Write for Cookies - Author/Illustrator interviews, Writing tips and inspiration. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the great interview, Maryann and Vivian. I always learn something. It is amazing how much the industry has changed.
    Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I’m so happy to see this recipe. My husband’s 90 year old grandma made these at our wedding and I wanted to try and recreate the authentic flavor . Will be testing these for the holidays. Also I have read some of your books and love your style, Maryann.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Vivian, thanks for the introduction to Maryann and her work. I appreciate her advice and am inspired by her persistence. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow- over 60 books as both author AND illustrator. I’m impressed! That’s a lot of work. Mary ann’s books are lovely! Great tips from this seasoned pro.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Iza…your breath and scope of work are impressive as well! And she’s never had an agent, so hats off for her determination and smarts at getting her books published by major houses. I’m sure that entailed knocking on a lot of doors. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How funny to stumble upon your blog. I’ve got Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’ in my latest post, as well. I enjoyed Maryann’s answers and the cookie recipe looks awesome—thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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