WILL WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
FOR WRITERS, ILLUSTRATORS, PARENTS, TEACHERS, LIBRARIANS, AND BOOK LOVERS EVERYWHERE
Isn’t it wonderful when we can peek inside the collaboration that results in a beautiful new picture book? When I saw the cover of CHILD OF THE SEA, I instantly fell in love and knew I’d want to invite talented author Maxine Rose Schur and the equally talented illustrator Milanka Reardon to share their journey with us.
Maxine Rose Schur is the author of award-winning children’s books and teaches children’s book writing at conferences and colleges nationwide. Maxine has written books for preschoolers to young adults and as a former actress, enjoys engaging her young readers in lively discussions and activities.
Her picture books include Marielle in Paris which won the 2019 Northern Lights Book Award for Best Picture Book in All Categories. the fun, wacky alphabet book, Pigs Dancing Jigs, and her latest one, Child of the Sea.
More information about Maxine Rose Schur and her critically-acclaimed books can be found at: www.maxineroseschur.com.
Milanka Reardon is the illustrator of An Old Man and His Penguin by Alayne Kay Christian (2020), Who Will? Will You? by Sarah Hoppe (2019), and Noodles’ and Albie’s Birthday Surprise (2016), which is a 2018 Mom’s Choice Gold Award Recipient. Her newest picture book, Child of the Sea written by Maxine Rose Schur, just released on January 18th, 2022. Milanka is a graduate of the Children’s Book Illustration and the Natural Science Illustration Certificate programs at the Rhode Island School of Design. She served as co-Illustrator Coordinator for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators from 2015-2021. She lives with her family in Webster, Massachusetts.
To connect with Milanka:
ME: WELCOME, WELCOME, WELCOME, dear ladies! It’s a joy to have you stop by! Picture books are always a team effort – and we are excited to hear about the creative journeys that led you both to this moment.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
MAXINE: Thank you so much for inviting us here, Vivian. It’s fun to look back and see how things started. When I was five, I fell in love with Heidi. It made me long to go to Switzerland and as an adult my dream came true and I lived for some time high in the Swiss Alps. By sixth grade, my very favorite author was Louisa May Alcott. I read everything she wrote and in particular, I read Little Women over and over again. And of course I loved The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. I enjoyed books that were realistic yet hopeful. I don’t think I would have liked to read the children’s books that today often deal with very dark stuff.
MILANKA: I can remember my excitement as I discovered books as a child, back in Yugoslavia where I was born. I would beg my single mother for books all the time. One time a traveling salesman came to my mother’s workplace in Titograd (now Podgorica), selling a series of fairytale books. I was so fascinated by the pictures that I begged her to buy them even though I knew she didn’t have the money. When she gave in, I couldn’t put them down. I made her read to me every night, and when she was too tired, I would study the beautiful illustrations and make up the stories in my mind. I still have most of them; books were the one thing, aside from some clothes, that I carried with me in my small plaid suitcase when I came to the US when I was six years old.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
MAXINE: No matter how long you’ve been writing, you still need an objective critical eye for your work. You never get it perfect the first time and even when it’s in print, it may not appear perfect to you. That’s OK. You do the best you can at any given point in time. That’s what counts. Also, you must have confidence that the story you want to tell is worth telling and if you tell it well, it will resonate with others.
MILANKA: I wish that I knew that writing and illustrating could be a career choice. Art school wasn’t considered a practical option to choose when I was younger, especially for an immigrant girl. I decided to go back to school for art when I was in my mid-forties. I thought that Natural Science Illustration would be a great fit for me since my undergraduate degree is in biology, and after taking electives in children’s book illustration, I found my real passion in art.
ME Where do you like to write/illustrate – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
MAXINE: I write in my home office. I noodle around with ideas with pen and paper and then use my desktop computer to take my ideas it further.
MILANKA: Sometimes I sketch for fun outside when the weather is nice. But when I am working on a project, I like to illustrate inside where I have all of my painting supplies handy and ready to go. I usually bring my easel and paints into the kitchen where I have the best light for painting. But lately, since I started to illustrate on my iPad, I can sit on the couch or anywhere and draw or paint on it while everyone else is relaxing. It’s also relaxing for me. My mother used to do beautiful needlepoint pictures while relaxing with everyone in the room with her. Her hands were always busy.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
MAXINE: I can only write during the day. I’m too tired at night! However, in the evening, I like to read over what I’ve written in the day and edit— I do that with a pen, relaxed in a chair or in bed.
MILANKA: I draw any time of day that I find the chance unless I am working on a deadline: then it can be all day and well into the night until my project is completed! I like that I have my iPad handy for quick sketches or to jot down notes of inspiration when I don’t have time to dedicate to painting. With traditional medium like oil paints or watercolor, I have to set aside time during the day to devote to my painting project. Sometimes I get so involved in the project that I can’t put it down until I am almost finished. Then I’ll spend days working on those tiny final details and finishing touches.
ME: Why do you write/illustrate for children?
MAXINE: I write for children because I can write big emotions—- go to the heart of important things. Children have big emotions and they too are interested in big, important questions. I love creating characters and then watching these characters take on a life of their own— one that almost seems they directed themselves. Also, when I write children, I have the wonderful opportunity to learn new things in my research. For example, in my past books for kids, I’ve learned so much about newly-discovered animals including how a grain mill works, why tropical fish are so brightly colored, the history of the Māori, Renaissance mazes, Afghanistan in the 14th century, Ethiopian Jews, New Zealand birds and Persian carpets!
MILANKA: I illustrate for children because I have loved to draw and paint since I was a child and I think that it is that inner child in me that still has stories to tell with pictures. Communicating to children with art in books is so much fun and it is so freeing to use your imagination in creating worlds for children that don’t always make sense to adults. Also, children don’t always have a complete grasp on language, so the pictures are so important and work together with the words to tell the story. And it is so satisfying when a story resonates with a child and that child reacts to an image you have created with laughter, happiness and even sometimes tears. It makes it all worth it.
ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
MAXINE: If you want to write for children, it’s beneficial to take a writing class geared to writing for children. Also, don’t for a moment, think it’s easy! Writing a good picture book includes understanding rhythm, suspense, the sound of the words, the art of selection, the arc of a good story and perhaps above all, the emotional world of the young child. If you work hard, stay humble, and honor the child-reader, you’ll succeed.
MILANKA: I learn so much from children and from reading children’s books, before to my children and now to my little grandchildren. It is so much fun to see what sparks their curiosity and to follow their lead. Books are so important to them; they learn about the world through them and they explore their feelings by seeing others that mirror them and their lives. My only advice would be to keep writing and illustrating your stories. They will be important to some child one day. Keep writing your stories, find a critique group that will help you hone your craft, and join SCBWI. They are wonderful resource for both writers and illustrators.
Thank you, Vivian, for having me on your blog. I wanted to add that working with Maxine on Child of the Sea was wonderful. I remember reading Maxine’s American Girl book, Samantha’s Surprise with my daughter when she was younger. It was one of our favorites. And my little granddaughter loved Marielle in Paris by Maxine. I was so honored to illustrate one of her books
ME Oh, it was my pleasure, Milanka – and I agree…Maxine’s words are amazing! And so was her treat recipe that she shared the last time she was on my blog. But today, the tables are turned a bit and you are sharing a special recipe of your own.
MILANKA: My recipe for kolache, a favorite of our family. I usually make them at Christmas or Easter. This recipe is based off the one from page 449 of Treasury of Christmas (Publications International Ltd, 1995), which itself is based off a traditional Eastern European recipes for small jam-filled cookies that vary slightly from country to country.
1/2 cup of butter, softened
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup of all-purpose flour
Fruit jam, (my favorite is strawberry-rhubarb or apricot jam. I order them from Kitchen Kettle Village in Pennsylvania. It’s so delicious and it doesn’t leak out of the cookies like some jams do).
- Combine butter and cream cheese in a large bowl.
- Beat until smooth and creamy.
- Gradually add the flour, blending to make a soft dough.
- Divide dough in half, cover and refrigerate until firm.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Roll out dough on floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. This is more fun if you have a little helper!
- Cut into 3 inch squares.
- Spoon in one teaspoon of fruit jam in each square.
- Bring two opposite corners to center, pinch together to lightly seal. Fold sealed tip to one side and pinch to seal.
- Place one inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake 10 – 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Remove to cooling racks.
- Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
HURRAY! I love these cookies. Mainly, I love raspberry jam and apricot jam – anything made with either of those is a sure-fire winner in my house!
A huge THANK YOU to both Maxine and Milanka for sharing their insights and their journey with us. And, dear readers, you know the drill. The best way to show that you love a book is to:
1. Buy it, if you can.
2. Review it.
3. Tell friends about it on social media and in person.
4. Ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection.
If everyone who loves a book does even ONE of these things, that would be of enormous help to authors and illustrators – and publishers will be able to keep making beautiful books like CHILD OF THE SEA.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I just flew to Chicago to spend a week with my sister. She’s always a fabulous beta reader for my manuscripts…so, I’ll share a few with her and see what she thinks.