Interview with Dianne de Las Casas Founder of Picture Book Month

I’m so excited to introduce Dianne de Las Casas one of the founders of Picture Book Month. Diane is also an award-winning author and storyteller. This interview is chock-full of great ideas and insights that I’m sure you’ll find useful as a writer, teacher, or reader. So without further ado…

1. How did Picture Book Month come about? In the fall of 2010, The New York Times published an article stating that picture book were “no longer a staple for children.” Many people in the kidlit community expressed outrage. As a picture book author myself, it spurred me into action. In September 2011, I reached out to several of my friends in the children’s book industry: Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Tara Lazar, Wendy Martin, and Joyce Wan. Joyce created the incredible logo while I funded the website, and performed the major marketing and PR. Elizabeth created the PBM calendar. Katie dedicated the entire month of November of her Brain Burps About Books podcast to Picture Book Month. Tara spread the word through her initiative, PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). We all tooted horns for Picture Book Month on social media: Twitter, Facebook, etc.

2. You have quite a few published picture books. What is it about this format that appeals to you? I have 11 picture books published with my 12th picture book arriving in Spring 2014. My 2013 picture books are The Little “Read” Hen and The House That Santa Built. I love the picture book format! You can reveal so much with so little. A standard picture book runs 32 pages. That’s not a lot of space to tell a story. But the best picture book authors and illustrators use that liability as an asset. Words count. Pictures illuminate. In a good picture book, there is a seamless integration of words and art that elevate a story and transform it into a format young children really connect with. Each page turn is a breath, a pause between words and illustrations. Illustrated end papers can yield surprises the reader does not expect. Insides of dust jackets can even transform into posters! (Look at the 10th Anniversary Edition of Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Spider and The Fly.) Picture books are the building blocks for early literacy. They are worlds of wonder in the tiniest of hands.

3. Do you have any picture book author mentors, and if so who are they and what have you learned from them? I don’t have any personal mentors, per se, but I do adore several picture book authors and illustrators, whose work inspires me. I chose the following for how they inspire me.

The Wordsmith: I absolutely adore Tammi Sauer. I believe she is one of the best picture book writers of the 21st century. She truly understands the art and craft of the picture book and can break it down in terms a kindergartener would understand. She is a clever wordsmith and I love every one of her picture books.

The Connector: David Ezra Stein is a Caldecott Honor author/illustrator. His work is amazing. His work is consistently brilliant, even when the style of his art and writing changes. His books just connect with readers.

The Imagineer: Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an author I adore from afar. I don’t know her but I hope to have her as a Picture Book Month Champion some time in the future. I LOVE Wumbers and Spoons is so sweet. She is another clever wordsmith who just possesses a gift for imagination.

The Thinker: Peter Brown is amazing. His new book, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, just blew me away. Creepy Carrots (written by Aaron Reynolds) won a Caldecott Honor. He makes everything look so easy but each detail is well-thought through. His art is bold yet elegant. He inspires me to not just think outside the box, but to throw the box away.

The Comic: Jon Scieszka makes me laugh. He writes books full of outrageous humor. He really gets kids. And he is as charismatic in person as his writing is in his books.

The Creative: Peter Reynold’s The Dot is such a phenomenal book that I have a signed copy of it in my office. It’s one of my all time favorite picture books. I look at it every day to remind me to “make my mark.” Peter uses simplicity (look at his use of white space) and the art of storytelling to inspire creativity in his readers. Less is more in Peter’s world. And it makes me want more of Peter’s books.

4. How might you suggest teachers capitalize on the power of picture books in their classrooms?  Picture Book Month now has a fantastic new Teacher’s Guide written by our education consultant, Marcie Colleen. The guide correlates picture books to the U.S. Common Core and learning standards. Our website also has links to picture book activities. I encourage everyone to read the essays about the importance of picture books by our Picture Book Month champions, which list ample reasons why we should all cherish picture books.

Still want more reasons to include picture books in the classroom? Check out this amazing post by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.  Debbie will be a 2014 Picture Book Month Champion.

November is Picture Book Month! Read * Share * Celebrate!

Thanks you Dianne for taking the time to provide us with your thoughtful and informative insights.

About Dianne de Las Casas

Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of 22 books and the 2013 recipient of the Ann Martin Book Mark award, her children’s titles includeThe Cajun Cornbread Boy, There’s a Dragon in the Library, The House That Witchy Built, The Little “Read” Hen, and The House That Santa Built. Visit her website at Visit Picture Book Month at

The Future of Learning and The Importance of Writing Code…Even for Programmers

Three different perspectives or lenses from which to view the future of teaching and learning, including great teachers, on-line classes, and gaming.

Writing code and Writing – in this article, actually from last week, the author discusses the importance of writing cohesively even for programmers.

“Exploding with Happiness”: The Honesty in Children’s Writing and the Power it Provides

Children have an uncanny ability to experience the world with wonder and often articulate that wonder in fascinating ways. Writing allows children to channel that wonder, even build on that wonder, and share it with others. As such, a colleague and I developed Writers Experience (WE), weeklong summer writing workshops for children in grades 1-5.  At WE, writers learn to be independent, appreciate the writing process, collaborate with other writers, and receive dedicated attention from seasoned teachers. WE writers leave with a newfound appreciation and confidence in their ability to write because they know they have important things to say, as well as the tools and strategies necessary to develop and share their ideas with others.

We had our first two WE sessions of 2012 last week and what a joy it was. WE prides itself on recognizing and developing the stories within each child.  And these two sessions were no different. Within a fun, supportive, and engaging environment the writers felt safe to take risks and make sense of their thoughts and ideas.

How invigorating it was when the kids were excited about writing and expressing themselves and their imaginations.  We had many parents tell us their children had never enjoyed writing and were amazed at how often and freely their children were writing at home during the workshop.  One child brought his writers notebook to the zoo and wrote descriptions of all the animals he saw using his senses and keen observations.  Another child had his notebook at breakfast and was working on a fantasy story he began in class the previous day.  Students wrote about real life events, descriptive poems, as well as developed fantasy and adventure stories.  We never dictate the topic or genre, but rather support students’ development of ideas.  We use picture books and our own writing as inspiration and as models for students’ writing. The story I’d like to share with you in this blog stood out to me because of its honesty and voice. Ian, who had just finished first grade wrote the piece.  The first night of WE Ian’s brother fell and cut his head.  Ian was scared and confused but used writing as a way to help him makes sense of what had happened.

Will’s Hurt Head by Ian

On a boring summer afternoon, I was playing downstairs, when suddenly I heard my brother Will scream. 

I ran upstairs as fast as a fire bolt.  What I saw was as scary as a scary movie.  Mom was with Will and he had a cut over his eye that was as long as a dagger.  I was so worried.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I was shivering so much.

I could tell in my head that mom was scared too. “Is Will going to be okay?” I asked myself. 

Mom brought Will to the hospital. I had to stay at grandma and grandpa’s house.  Fortunately, the doctor gave him stitches to close up his big gash. 

When I saw Will the next morning I exploded with happiness. Will was Okay!!!

My two favorite parts in this story are, “I could tell in my head that mom was scared too.” and “When I saw Will the next morning I exploded with happiness. Will was Okay!!!”  The first, because it shows how intuitive young children are about how adults around them are feeling, and the second because of how the phrase “exploded with happiness” shows the release of the tension he had been feeling the previous night.

While there were many instances when the students in WE grew, expressed themselves, and used craft (e.g. repetition, interior monologue, show not tell, vivid verbs) in their writing to support their point I just had to share the above story because of, as I stated before, the honesty.

I also had to share this story, because of how the writing helped Ian deal with and come to grips with a scary incident.  When students know that writing can be a way to help them make sense of their world and come to terms with things they don’t yet understand they have power.  And with that power they can do wonderful things.