Sydney Taylor Honor Awards Book Blog Tour: BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH Plus Giveaway

When the Sydney Taylor Honor Awards committee comes looking for a spot on my blog schedule, my answer is always going to be YES! Last year I had the joy of interviewing one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators, Peter Sís, for his winning book, NICKY AND VERA. When they approached me this year, I didn’t hesitate.
And then they revealed the person I’d be interviewing and I was even more honored.

Paul Martin is the husband of the late Paula Cohen Martin, author and illustrator of BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH which launched last March from Levine Querido, just weeks after she died unexpectedly. The entire kidlit community mourned her passing – Paula was always looking to give back and share her talent…with other creators, and especially with children.

If you haven’t read the book, I hope you will. It’s wonderful – and Paula’s art is perfect! I’m giving away a copy – please leave a comment on this blog post for a chance to win.
Here’s a little bit about the story from the Amazon sales page:

In the new country, Shirley and her family all have big dreams. Take the family store: Shirley has great ideas about how to make it more modern! Prettier! More profitable! She even thinks she can sell the one specialty no one seems to want to try: Mama’s homemade gefilte fish.

But her parents think she’s too young to help. And anyway they didn’t come to America for their little girl to work. “Go play with the cat!” they urge.

This doesn’t stop Shirley’s ideas, of course. And one day, when the rest of the family has to rush out leaving her in the store with sleepy Mrs. Gottlieb…Shirley seizes her chance!

I feel blessed to have interviewed Paula for a blog post with her beloved KitLitCaravan mates just a couple of weeks before she died. And when I had the chance to speak with her husband. I thought it might be lovely to weave those two interviews together. After talking with Paul, it was obvious how supportive he was of her career and her dream – and for those of us who love writing and/or illustrating, we know it’s not easy to be married to a person who has a passion for making picture books!

Paul told me that when Paula started writing, he had no idea what went into making a picture book – and that he discovered from watching Paula, that it was harder to do things succinctly. I think we can all relate to that! And when she received feedback from her editor and had to revise, he would say, “You have to do that again?” But Paula never complained. She loved the process. It was not a struggle…it was a pleasure for her.

In my interview with Paula last year, she told me a little bit about how this book came to be:
I’ve been an editorial illustrator for years, and writing children’s stories was my “hobby.” About 6 years ago I decided to learn more about writing for children. I took classes and webinars, joined SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge.  During that time, my mother passed away and I regretted that I’d never asked her about her childhood, much of which was spent in her family’s grocery store. When an opportunity to apply for a weeklong workshop at PJLibrary Publishing came up, I realized that I had the chance to create the story of little Shirley, who worked in her family’s tiny store in an immigrant neighborhood in upstate NY.

Just a month after “workshopping” my story in June of 2019, I met Christy Ewers from the CAT Agency at an SCBWI conference. She liked my work and we stayed in touch throughout the year.  In the meantime, I did some illustration work, including Honey on the Page (NYU Press), an anthology of translated Yiddish stories written for children.  When I’d completed the dummy of Big Dreams, I sent it to Christy.  I fully expected to have to send it to 50 other agents, but Surprise! She loved it, and offered to send it to Arthur Levine at Levine Querido.  I waited for his polite No, but Surprise! He loved it.  When I sent yet another story to Christy she offered me full representation and, of course, I agreed.   I couldn’t wish for a better Agent or a better first Editor!

Paul knew that this was her life’s work – she loved the illustration which came easier to her than the writing. But she was always looking for ways to improve herself and her craft and she loved being able to have ownership of the story. She had confidence in herself and in her work, but when the Sydney Taylor Honor Awards were announced in 2022 and her sister-in-law mentioned that maybe this would be in store for her…Paula answered, “In my wildest dreams!”
But some dreams do come true…and this year, BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH has received that honor! I asked Paul what receiving the Sydney Taylor Honor Award would have meant to Paula. He told me she would have been so honored and filled with a sense of accomplishment.

Paul mentioned that Paula volunteered for many years, giving art classes for children through her local parks department. And her own critique partners were also a very important part of her life as they helped her grow her craft and as she shared her talents with them. She also loved her promotional debut group, KidLitCaravan and she told me:
I love the camaraderie of being with other first-time authors. We learn so much from each other. I didn’t realize how much of being an author is promoting your own work, and it’s wonderful to do it with a group of people who each bring their own ideas and skillsets to everything we do.”

I asked Paul what advice he would give to other writers and illustrators, based on his experience of watching Paula pursue her dream:
1. GET INVOLVED: Join author/illustrator groups where you can share ideas
2. BE OPEN TO CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: Put a positive spin on even negative advice but be willing to stick to your guns.”
3. BE TENACIOUS: Don’t give up – use the feedback of others to improve.
4. BE A DREAMER: If you have a dream, go for it!

In Paul’s words, “Paula came to her dream of being a children’s author later in life. She was a beautiful person, a magnet for others, and the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Paula was also one of the best things that ever happened to the world of children literature. She leaves a lasting legacy of kindness for others, passion for her art, and many friends and family who will never forget her. And a Sydney Taylor Honor Award book!
I am exceedingly grateful to Paul for his lovely conversation and willingness to speak at length about what Paula meant to him.

To learn more about the Sydney Taylor Honor Awards:
And to check out the other posts on the Sydney Taylor Honor Awards book blog tour:

Thank you all for spending your precious time here…in addition to the Paula Cohen Martin Mentorship that I created last year to celebrate Paula’s life and that will again be a prize for #50PreciousWords in March, I’d like to offer a copy of BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH as a giveaway today. Please leave a comment – perhaps you can tell us about your BIG DREAMS.

29 thoughts on “Sydney Taylor Honor Awards Book Blog Tour: BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH Plus Giveaway

  1. I just read Big Dreams, Small Fish to my Early Childhood Center class of 4 year olds and they loved it. They learned some new Yiddish words and also that young people can help out in big ways! The illustrations were great and successfully portrayed the character of the store and the characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful post. She sounds like a wonderful woman, and I’m glad she took the opportunity to put her work out there. As for me, I’m dreaming of publishing 10+ inspiring, impactful and fun children’s books.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Vivian this is such a wonderful post. You merged Paula’s and Paul’s words so beautifully. It is obvious that they had a special relationship. The world has lost a wonderful story teller and illustrator, but her books and legacy will live on.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post is lovely. Thank you for sharing Paula’s story and Paul’s wise advice. I read Big Dreams, Small Fish to my little ones, and we all enjoyed it. I agree with earlier comments that Paula’s legacy will live on. Thanks, Vivian!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Vivian, thank you for sharing this post! Paula’s book is very special to me because it’s one of the few books I bought 2 copies of so I can have one here to read over FaceTime and one in Brooklyn to read in person. Big Dreams and a beautiful legacy that will be remembered for generations to come. Her memory will always be a blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a BEAUTIFUL legacy Paula has left to live on in the world of picture books–and our hearts! THANK YOU to Paul and Vivian for sharing her AMAZING story with us! She TRULY DESERVES the Sydney Taylor Honor Award for going after her dreams–and showing us how to, TOO! THANK YOU!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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