Creativity, Cleverness, and Considerable Artistry

save the cake bright owl books kane press

From Save the Cake! Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

Learning to read can be painstaking. Memorize the letters, string them together, recall the sounds, then run everything together until it makes sense. Early reader books are essential for this learning, but they can also seem a bit babyish with their simple stories and illustrations. At least, that’s what my son expressed to me as he struggled to read. And I had to agree with him.

Then I discovered Molly Coxe.

Molly has produced a terrific set of “Step Into Reading” books with Random House (Big Egg, Cat Trap and Hot Dog, are a few titles). But the series that really puts a smile on my face – and makes my creative mind go whoosh! – are with Bright Owl Books and Kane Press. With titles like Rat Attack, Blues for Unicorn, Go Home Goat, and Save the Cake, Molly presents clever, engaging stories with developed characters and perfect timing. Equally magnificent are her illustrations, which are needle felt characters photographed on live sets. Outdoor sets, to boot! With real snow, dirt, flowers, and water! Your eyes feast on the page, drinking up the colors, textures, and balance.

blues for unicorn bright owl books kane press

From Blues for Unicorn, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

With her thoughtful stories and exquisite images, Molly’s books are the perfect building block towards growing a happy, appreciative and competent young reader.


Please tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in Georgia during a simpler time. Lots of free, unsupervised hours on my hands, lots of trees to climb, streams to explore, simple materials to make things out of, post WW2, parents who were not intrusive or worried, said “Have fun! See you at dinner!”

How did you first start writing early reader books?

I was teaching preschool in New York City, after a year and a half in art school, following college. I loved making up simple impromptu stories for four year olds. They loved writing (dictating) simple, impromptu stories. (Shout out to Vivien Gussin Paley, who has written extensively on the magic of this storytelling process in a classroom.) When I worked on my first early readers, I had two kids in the demographic, a built in, very honest, test audience. That helped. Also, my brain thinks well in short sentences.

rat attack bright owl books kane press

From Rat Attack, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

Early readers are obviously limited in their length and complexity. What’s your philosophy when creating your stories?

Try to tell a fresh, surprising story with very few words. Easy words! Let the images do a lot of the work. Funny is good.

princess pig interior bright owl books kane press

From Princess Pig, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

You illustrate your books, as well as sculpt needle felt characters. Is the creative process the same? Or does it feel very different?

Yes, the media are different but the goal is the same: tell a story in words and pictures. Both are great fun. Some stories, like the Beginner Book for Random House, seem to call for a flat, graphic approach. At the moment, I’m enjoying building three dimensional worlds, like scenes from miniature epics.

go home goat bright owl books kane press

From Go Home, Goat, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019

What comes first, the story, or your photographic illustrations?

Depends. With early readers, the words come first. I have to make sure I can tell a lively story before I spend the time with illustrations. For my current picture book project, which has more text, the idea began with a rustic, antique dollhouse kitchen that my mom found in a rural village in France. What could happen there, I wondered? Whose kitchen is it? Your imagination, and your heart, take over.

work in progress courtesy of molly coxe

A work in progress, courtesy of Molly Coxe

Please tell us a little about your needle felt creations!

This is a process of discovery, beginning with a wire armature. It’s very exciting! As you apply wool to the armature, the character (always an animal, in my case) starts to speak to you, and you follow your intuition until he/she has a personality and starts to come alive. I know: that sounds weird, but it’s true. The character then influences the story, which is already at least partly written. You realize this character might do things differently. You aren’t totally in charge any more.

princess pig bright owl books kane press

From Princess Pig, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

Describe the process of building a scene and photographing it.

So much fun. Imagine being a seven year old outside in the woods with a pile of sticks, leaves, rocks, dirt. It’s just like that, but with a wider range of materials, and slightly more sophisticated tools. (Only slightly: I restrict myself to low tech solutions that I can pull off alone, for many reasons. One is that it’s hard for me to stay in a flow when I am interacting with others.) Photography is all about light–once you have a decent composition, and the characters are expressing the action and the emotion. Mostly this means getting up very early, and being very patient, hanging out in a pond with minnows nibbling your legs until the morning sun comes over the hill and just kisses the characters and the foliage, and the mule shack in a way that creates magic.

molly coxe works outdoors

Molly Coxe at work, courtesy of the artist

What’s the strangest, or most difficult thing you’ve worked with when composing a scene?

A blizzard at 6,000 feet, working on Cubs in a Tub. You have about ten minutes before your fingers freeze solid, and you can’t operate the camera any more, your characters hat gets swept off a cliff by a gust of frigid wind (I climbed down and got it, by the way. Very unwise, but exhilarating). When you are trying to create dramatic images, real life drama helps. You have to snag the moment, not worry about every little thing being “perfect”.

cubs in a tub bright owl books kane press

From Cubs in a Tub, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

How did you create the rain effects in Wet Hen? Those images are amazing, and in some cases, characters are floating on water!

A hose propped up on ladders. That was such a good time. Midsummer. Hot! But you had to get the image in the first couple of trys. Otherwise, the characters were too soaked, had to dry out for rest of day, try again next, when the light was nice again. The floating scenes were very dicey. Lots of fishing line holding things up from above. I asked my daughter, with whom I have a fair degree of mind meld, to help create the giant wave with a paddle, while I took the photo. We got it on first try.

wet hen water photos bright owl books kane press

From Wet Hen, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018

I absolutely love the Story Starters at the end of each book. Do you, or the publisher, come up with the prompts?

I come up with them, with the help of wonderful editors. Great editors make all of the text so much better. Shout out to my editors!!!

wet hen story starter bright owl books kane press

From Wet Hen, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2018


Molly also does creative work with kids, and was kind enough to send me one of her fabulous “Make-A-Mouse” kits. It arrived in an adorable stitched burlap bag and included all the materials to make 2 sock mice (and did you notice the little socks came with pre-stitched felt ears?). Not pictured below was the polyester fill stuffing. Molly thought of everything!

make a mouse kit courtesy of molly coxeI won’t be able to match Molly’ magnificent sets, but I was inspired to snap a photo of my two completed mice at a local farmers market:

molly coxe's finished mouse kitMany thanks to the folks at Sprouts, who were kind enough to let me photograph their wares. And check out Isabel the farm truck. Doesn’t she look like a piece of one of Molly’s sets? I’m half-expecting a needle felt pig to appear in the driver’s seat and give a wave!

isabel the sprouts farm truck


Many thanks to Molly for the kit, and for just being so darn awesome. Both as a caring writer and an artist to look up to. May your days be full of inspiration and perfect lighting!

greedy beetle bright owl books kane press

From Greedy Beetle, Bright Owl Books, Kane Press: 2019


All images used with permission of Bright Owl Books, Kane Press, and Molly Coxe.

So Happy Together

so happy together

What could be cuter then a mama and baby bunny? A cozy log house with a fold-out flower garden, of course! And did we mention the house has a “working” LED votive fireplace? Such. Cuteness.

log homeThis project was designed for a story time with author Amanda Rowe, who visited our library, fuzzy bunny ears at the ready. Scroll to the end of the post for an interview with Amanda, as well as a fabulous book giveaway!

amanda rowe with bunny ear crowdWe read If There Never Was a You, written by Amanda Rowe, and illustrated by Olga Skomorokhova (Familius, 2019). A mother bunny lovingly asks what she would do without baby bunny in her life. This book is adorable, heartfelt, and beautifully illustrated. The perfect bedtime snuggle book, hands down!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9”, a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 strip of poster board (ours was 1.75″ x 8.5″)
  • 1 bunny house frames template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • A selection of construction paper
  • 2 small boxes
  • 1 wooden spool
  • 1 LED votive
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 4 mini pom-poms
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating

We used a 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” brown craft box for our project, but you can also modify a large tissue box. Just cut the top of the tissue box on a hinge, like so:

tissue log home alternativeUse a box cutter to add a window and door to the ends of the box, then tape (or hot glue) a poster board handle to the top. Then decorate the interior and exterior of the log house! You can just use construction paper and markers to decorate. Or, dig around the supply closet for items with interesting textures.

log home interior Our flower garden was a bit of outdoor carpet (reused from our Seuss mini golf event). We added fabric flowers, cardboard mosaic square stepping stones, and a blue embossed foil paper pond. For the interior, we offered both construction and patterned paper (and don’t forget to add some farmed art work from the template!). Here are the furnishings:

log home furnitureThe armchair is a modified tape roll box, and the table is a circle of poster board with a wooden spool base. The fireplace is also a tape roll box. The “fire” is an an LED votive with poster board sticks attached to the front. Cut a toilet paper tube in half to create your 2 bunnies, then add ears and pom-pom tails and noses. Light the fire, get your bunnies cozy, and revel in the cuteness!

bunnies by the fireplaceBest of all, everything tucks inside the log box for easy transportation!

log home exteriorAfter the project was finished, out came fuzzy bunny ears for kids to wear home, and we also gave away 3 signed copies of Amanda’s book! Here’s a lucky (and clearly very excited) winner!

book winner with amanda roweIf There Never Was a You is Amanda’s first book! After story time, I caught up with her to chat about her process…


Tell us a little about yourself!

I’ve always been a creative person. When I was a child, I used to spend hours dressing my dolls with matching accessories and coordinating tiny ensembles. I made cards to give to people for birthdays and holidays, and I even learned calligraphy to make them look special! As a young adult, I made wedding and baby shower favors, and decorative wreaths. I scrapbooked and painted all sorts of wall decor for my children’s rooms when they were little. Creating is something I’ve always done, and writing is one of my favorite avenues of expression for my creativity. But I can’t draw, so I’m very thankful for gifted illustrators like Olga!

This is your very first book, tell us your inspiration for it!

My children are the inspiration for everything good that I’ve done, including this book. A few years ago, I was divorced, with only fifty percent custody, and my kids were approaching teenagerhood, so even when they were with me, they were often busy with friends or sports practices, and I missed them. As a mother, especially a working one, it is unusual to have free time, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. But I wanted to channel that time and emotion into something positive, and I started thinking about how much I enjoy spending time with my kids, and all of the wonderful experiences I would have missed out on if they had not been born. I wrote it down, and that became If There Never Was a You.

What was the process to publication like?

It was a long road that led me here. I first began trying to get published when my children were little. I was a stay at home mother at the time, and I cherished my time with my kids, but I needed an intellectual outlet. So, at night, after they were asleep, I would go to our home office and write. I wrote everything and submitted most of it – personal essays, greeting cards, slogans, poems, non-fiction articles and eventually novels.

I sold a few poems, a greeting card and a slogan, and lots of non-fiction articles. But my novels were terrible, and my essays did not get picked up. I think that there are a lot of different types of writing, and not every writer is good at all of them. So, in the beginning, you try many different things to see what fits.

I took a break from writing when I got divorced because I returned to work full-time and I needed to focus on creating stability and a new normal for my kids. When I resumed writing a few years later, I tried my hand at children’s books, and this one got picked up almost immediately. I kept writing personal essays, too, because I enjoy reading them, and those eventually became my blog posts. So, it is an interesting situation I find myself in now, writing for children and adults at the same time. But it works. I read the book to the kids, and I point their parents to the blog. Hopefully, I have something of value to offer to both groups.

The illustrations by Olga Skomorokhova are gorgeous. At your story time, you asked the kids what their favorite illustration was…what’s yours?

That’s a hard question – it’s like trying to pick my favorite child! There is so much I like about all of them. I love the bunnies playing soccer because my son is a soccer player so that page is a nod to him (and it’s adorable – bunnies playing soccer!). I also really like the picture of the mom serving carrot cake to the child, because my daughter and I like to bake together and carrot cake is a favorite treat in our house. But I’m also a big fan of the carrot rocket ship (so creative!), and that page has one of my favorite lines, “Who would do your greatest things, and who would dream your dreams?” I like the idea that each child makes a unique contribution to the world, and if they had never been born, we would be missing something important.

if there never was a you illustrated by olgaskomorokhova

If There Never Was a You illustration by Olga Skomorokhova, used with permission of Familius, 2019

What’s the most unexpected thing about holding your first book in your hands?

The places and the life that this book has led me to. I imagined an author’s life as being a solitary existence, and it is anything but. It is true that I do most of the writing alone in my home office. But even at home, I’m not alone anymore – I’m interacting with people all over the world thanks to social media. There is so much networking and promotion involved when a book is published.

I’ve been everywhere lately – schools, libraries, bookstores – and I’m meeting so many people of various ages, from different walks of life, and it’s fascinating. I’ve been humbled and surprised by the warmth and the kindness of the people that I’ve met, and I’m so appreciative of all of the support that I’ve received from libraries, schools, bookstores, and parents.

And the kids are the best! They’re so sweet, curious, and openhearted. I’ve gotten some fantastic cards, pictures, and letters from kids that are so beautiful they made me cry. It’s a privilege, writing for and visiting with children, and they’ve inspired me to write more children’s books, so I have an excuse to hang out with them again!


Would you like to win a copy of the book? We have 3 copies of If There Never Was a You (Familius, 2019) to give away, signed by Amanda! Just send a mental hug to someone who means a lot to you, then e-mail cotsenevents@princeton.edu with your name. We’ll randomly draw 3 winners on Tuesday,  April 9th. Good luck!

The BiblioFiles Presents: Kat Yeh

kat yehJust posted! A webcast and podcast with Kat Yeh, author of The Truth About Twinkie Pie, and The Way to Bea.

In The Truth About Twinkie Pie we meet GiGi, a middle school student who, thanks for the efforts of her big sister DiDi, has moved to a new town and is entering a fancy new prep school. GiGi and DiDi are orphans. However, as the story unfolds, we learn that nothing is quite what it seems, both in GiGi’s family, and in the lives of the friends she makes in school.

Yeh’s most recent chapter book, The Way to Bea, introduces us to Beatrix Lee. After a painful falling out with her best friends, Bea has decided to remain silent and invisible at school. But her mind and fingers can’t be quiet as she composes poetry and hides it in a special place in the woods. When someone begins leaving messages in response, Bea begins to understand that friendship, like life, can be complicated.

Yeh has a tremendous talent for characters, emotion, and capturing the tender, awkward, difficult and uplifting parts of discovering who you are. Her stories fold you in immediately, bringing you into a circle of friends, a fight between sisters, the rush of realizing someone likes you. There is such strength and authenticity to her prose. Yeh’s books are meant to be discovered, shared, thought about, and loved.

In addition to her chapter book, Yeh has also written picture books The Friend Ship, You’re Loveable to Me, and The Magic Brush: A Story of Love, Family, and Chinese Characters.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles interview