Women Who Are Changing the World: Meredith Angelson

Reading hundreds of picture book biographies of remarkable women for The Picture Book Club's "12 Women Who Changed the World" subscription has made me want to shine a spotlight on other remarkable women who, though they don't (yet!) have biographies written about them, inspire me every day.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


meredith angelson

Q: What do you do?

I am a civil rights lawyer in Louisiana. I work through litigation and legislative advocacy to improve the criminal justice system here--to make it smaller and fairer to the people who go through it.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I used to be a public defender. I loved representing individual people but sometimes felt defeated by the idea that I could only help one person at a time (and only in small ways, if at all) work against a system that ignores the humanity of almost everyone who is caught up in it. Now I work on larger cases and can think about ways to fix the entire system. This is not to suggest that success is easy or frequent, but when it happens it feels great. And I still often get to work directly with incarcerated people—some of whom are among the best folks I have met as an adult.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

The downside of working on campaigns that by their definition are styled to help a lot of people at once is, ironically, having to tell most people that you can’t help them. Because of my background representing people directly, I have an instinct to try to fix everyone’s individual legal problems even though my work is supposed to focus on the big picture. It’s difficult to work closely with people who are suffering and whom you wish you could help more.

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

I’m proud that I moved away from New York City, where I grew up, and made a life in the wonderful and weird city of New Orleans. It was a decision I was scared to make because I loved New York and everything I knew was there. If I hadn’t fallen in love with a man who wanted to wander, and encouraged me to, I probably never would have been brave enough to leave and my life would have been far less rich. 

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

I have two tremendous sisters. One is a midwife at a hospital in the Bronx who goes on trips around the world by herself and also speaks four languages and has tons of books and cool art hanging on the walls of her apartment. She is, in addition, a deeply loving and wise person. My other sister is a brilliant actress, the funniest person I know, and the most loyal, in addition to being resilient, tender, generous, super smart and tough tough tough. Both of them have made multiple spontaneous trips across the country to help take care of their nephew, my son. I am so grateful to them for how much they love him—and me!

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

I tend to admire successful women lawyers who stand up for causes I believe in, which is probably a predictable answer. Off the top of my head: Sally Yates, Vanita Gupta, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Q: What is something you would like to change about the world? 

I wish that we would invest heavily in resources that helped people avoid committing crimes—medical and mental health treatment, job training, education—instead of pouring billions of tax dollars into locking them up once they are accused of doing something wrong. 

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

The book I remember most vividly is called Dawn of the Seasons by Michel Duchene. It’s out of print now (I’ve looked). It’s a sort of creation story told from the perspective of a “celestial troubadour” named Nan. As he strums his lyre the musical vibrations turn into planets, each representing a season, each teeming with a different representation of nature. The planets waltz around one another and eventually merge to form Earth, “the planet for poets and musicians...all the music of the seasons blended together in one beautiful song.” The illustrations are vibrant, transfixing and transporting and have stayed in my mind such that I tend to see flashes of them whenever I think of winter, spring, summer, fall…

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to The Orleans Public Defenders, the charity chosen by Meredith, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

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Want to introduce a child to more awesome women? Check out our 12 Women Who Changed the World subscription! 

Women Who Are Changing the World: Amelia Greenberg

Reading hundreds of picture book biographies of remarkable women for The Picture Book Club's "12 Women Who Changed the World" subscription has made me want to shine a spotlight on other remarkable women who, though they don't (yet!) have biographies written about them, inspire me every day.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Q: What do you do?

It is not easy to answer this question quickly. My title is Deputy Director of the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF). SPTF is a non-profit organization that works in the microfinance sector, and though we are incorporated in the U.S., we are active in countries all around the globe.

Microfinance is the provision of financial products and services (i.e., savings accounts, loans, insurance, remittances, etc.) to poor and vulnerable populations, and to other populations that are excluded from the formal financial sector. Some people are excluded because they live in such remote areas that no banks exist nearby. Some people are excluded because they are so poor that the amount of funds they might want to borrow or save do not interest banks. Some people are excluded for legal reasons, such as being refugees in a country where they do not have national identity cards or the right to work. Some people self-exclude, because they are illiterate, or embarrassed about their low social status, or disabled in some way, or for any number of other reasons. Women can be excluded, even if there is no formal prohibition on their activities, if their families or their husbands do not allow them to make financial decisions. It turns out that there are many reasons why people who could benefit from financial services do not have access to them.

Microfinance began as a social undertaking, to increase financial inclusion, with a particular focus on microcredit. The initial concept was to give tiny loans to poor people. These would be just the right size to get poor people out of the control of the loan sharks in their villages, and to buy whatever capital they needed for their micro-businesses. The goal was not for the microfinance provider to make money. The goal was to help people engage in some income-generating activity and move themselves out of poverty. But something astonishing, to the outside world at least, happened.  Poor people paid back their loans, with interest, on time. They turned out to be good clients. And they also turned out to have the same financial needs as all the rest of us, starting with needing a safe place to save their money. The sector grew enormously, and some financial service providers that sprang into being were motivated purely by the opportunity to earn a profit. These institutions, in some cases, have done a lot of harm. Clients became over-indebted. Clients had to sell productive assets, like their one cow, to repay loans, and then they ended up poorer than before.  Clients were bullied, threatened, even jailed, if they failed to repay.  Some clients committed suicide, which is a horrendous truth and I feel bad typing it, but it would be wrong to gloss over it.

SPTF was founded as a way to respond to what was no longer working in the microfinance sector. We operate solely on donor funding, as a public good to the sector. We research and share the good practices of the financial service providers that really are living out their social missions. We also do a lot of work to help institutions that are not yet skilled in this area, but would like to be, to understand how to adapt and manage their operations so that they maintain their financial sustainability while also creating positive effects in clients’ lives. We educate investors who would like to invest in social sectors, because often they assume that any investment in microfinance will do some good, when in reality some institutions are making the world much better off and some are making it much worse off!  We educate regulators. We basically talk to everyone and hope we are convincing.

I love microfinance and I definitely believe in its potential. There are numerous success stories of families that can now educate their children, and drink safe water, and never again have to be hungry, and live in a warm and comfortable home, and feel hopeful about their futures and pride in their lives. But, it is also undeniable that there is such a thing as very bad, very harmful, microcredit in particular.

Phew!  Is anyone still reading this?  It would be easier if I could type, “I am a fireman.”

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

It is definitely hearing from people in the field.  My job does not involve any direct outreach to clients, and I often feel quite removed from the action. But, every once in a while, I get to interview someone who is doing something really innovative and inspiring and interesting. For example, I just heard a woman speak about how her microfinance institution is transforming education in Pakistan by making loans to schools, accompanied with a lot of technical assistance. The school facilities in many villages were so degraded as to be unusable, but now they are getting basic ventilation and electricity and generally are becoming places where children can learn. The program couples the loans for capital improvement with advice on teacher training and curricula. There is also an emphasis on sending girls to school.  It is just a great program.

A microentrepreneur in Rwanda stands in front of her store.

A microentrepreneur in Rwanda stands in front of her store.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

I get really frustrated by people who speak so convincingly about their desire to do good but then in reality will only invest in microfinance if they get a “minimum” return on their investment that actually seems quite high to me.  You have a billion dollars.  Do you really need to make at least 15 or 20% on all your investments?

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

I have been thinking about this since I got this question list a week or two ago and so many ideas popped up, but none seemed worthy!  For example, my five-year-old son told me recently that all the kids in his school and his after-school said purple was not a boy’s color, but he likes purple. I am proud that he thinks for himself!  When I was 25, I moved to France for a year and got a job doing accounts receivable in a hotel. It turned out to be a terrible experience working very long hours at minimum wage with people yelling at me all day long about errors on their bills, mixed in with some shady people ducking out on their bills and the head of the hotel yelling at me for not getting those bills paid. But I stuck it out, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that my marriage is doing well even after we added three kids to it, because the early months after baby #1 was born were pretty rough! My best friend’s father died recently of cancer and I was looking at a photo taken some years ago of me and his dad that shows the two of us laughing, and I felt mostly grateful but also proud that I do generally take the time to get to know my friends’ parents.  I once spent a year tutoring math to adults that were trying to earn their G.E.D.s, and at the end of my time tutoring – I was moving to go to graduate school – they threw me a pizza party to say thank you and the students also wrote me thank you notes. That was rare for a tutor, and I felt proud and pleased.

It turns out that this was a very fun question. It gave me a chance to appreciate the little things. Thank you!

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My mom is an obvious choice.  She works so hard to be excellent at everything she does and to be present and helpful in the lives of all of her children. Before she retired, she basically never got enough sleep and never had fun. I have my doubts about how healthy that was for her, but it was certainly an incredibly selfless way to live.  She was also the first female partner in the law firm where she worked, a fact that has always made me proud.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Martin Luther King Jr.  I have been thinking a lot lately about how challenging it is to choose to meet horrific prejudice and physical threats with non-violent resistance.  I think it is amazing, almost miraculous, and so very admirable.

Q: What is something you would like to change about the world? 

If I could instantly patch up the hole in our ozone layer and bring back the glaciers and ice bergs and home for the polar bears, and make all future carbon emissions harmless, I would! 

On a much smaller scale, I wish our local library were open on Sundays.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

Norman the Doorman, by Don Freeman.  Norman is a mouse, and I was very taken by his cozy home inside the helmet of a knight’s set of armor in a museum basement.

My father loves I Am a Bunny, by Ole Risom, and I feel I would be a bad daughter if I did not take this opportunity to mention it. It is a very simple story, but charming, with great illustrations.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to The International Rescue Committee, the charity chosen by Amelia, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

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Want to introduce a child to more awesome women? Check out our 12 Women Who Changed the World subscription! 

Women Who Are Changing the World: Bina Venkataraman

Reading hundreds of picture book biographies of remarkable women for The Picture Book Club's "12 Women Who Changed the World" subscription has made me want to shine a spotlight on other remarkable women who, though they don't (yet!) have biographies written about them, inspire me every day.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Q: What do you do?

I am a writer and a leader who draws on science and technology to forge partnerships that improve the health of people and the planet. I work on climate change policy, and I write about ideas and discoveries.  

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

Every day, I get to act on the values I hold most deeply. I am passionate about seeking the truth and about justice, and about having good evidence guide efforts to serve the most vulnerable people in the world. I am constantly learning about new ideas and areas of research, and finding ways to bring people together to change how our society works for the better. This work stokes my creative fires and demands that I pay attention. 

Q: What's something challenging about it?

Everything is challenging about it! That's part of what makes it worth doing. 

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

I'm proud of having served President Obama and the American people while working on climate and science policy in his administration. He led with dignity, grace, and intellect, and the work we did represents the true importance of the future and future generations.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My mom inspires me every day. As a woman and a physicist of her generation, she accomplished a great deal while also being a wonderful mom.  What I love most about her, perhaps, is that she's curious about everything, and she continues to learn and ask questions throughout her life, no matter how much she achieves.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

I'm inspired right now by the work of the writer Sherman Alexie. He has a bold, distinctive voice, and exudes a kind of authenticity and originality that it takes deep courage to express in our time. 

Q: What is something you would like to change about the world? 

I'd like to see the true social cost to the next generation reflected in the current price of carbon-emitting energy sources. If we actually incorporated the price we and our children will pay for carbon dioxide pollution in a changing climate in today's price tags, we'd unleash incredible creativity and find new ways to fuel our economy and design our communities and infrastructure. 

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

I loved and still love The Lorax. And right now, I enjoy reading my niece the book What Do You Do With an Idea?

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to The Southern Poverty Law Center, the charity chosen by Bina, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

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Want to introduce a child to more awesome women? Check out our 12 Women Who Changed the World subscription! Want to learn more about Bina? Check out her website.

Seven Questions For . . . Jia-Rui Cook

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Jia-Rui with her daughters

Jia-Rui with her daughters

Q: What do you do?

I ask a lot of questions for a living. I think of myself as a translator of complicated ideas — through writing, editing, helping to produce videos, and planning events. Right now, I’m the supervisor of news events and projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This means I help pull together long-term projects in the news office, like planning the media activities around the end of the Cassini mission. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and on Sept. 15, 2017, it will fly into the atmosphere of the Ringed Planet and be squeezed to death by its atmosphere.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I get to be part of exploring new worlds and imagine what it might be like at places like Saturn’s moon Enceladus or interstellar space. And then I figure out how to explain that to the wider world.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

At NASA and JPL, there are a million acronyms. When I first started working here, there were entire conversations where every other word was some abbreviation I didn’t know. This can be humbling — especially for someone who already felt like an outsider because I was an American History and Literature major among engineering, geology, planetary science, and astrophysics geniuses. But I like learning new things, so there’s a delight in figuring out what people are really talking about.

Image of Saturn taken by the Cassini mission. Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Image of Saturn taken by the Cassini mission. Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

Today, my 5-year-old was entertaining herself in the back of the car reciting witches’ lines from Macbeth — “Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire burn and cauldron bubble!” I’m just proud that I’ve been able to share something I love with her and it actually stuck. I don’t know how much she really understands of Macbeth — I can see her drifting off during the scenes that don’t have much action. She asked me whether there was a picture-book version. Do you have a recommendation, YiLing?

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My good friend Erika is a writer and a teacher and about to have twins. She’s so committed to keeping up with her reporting and writing, despite the fact that she has (and will have) an enormous amount of responsibility parenting. Sometimes I think I’m tired, but she’s still going and that makes me think I can, too.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Michelle Obama: eloquent, graceful under pressure, and not afraid to do “The Dougie” in public.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book. When I went back to it recently to read it to my daughters, I realized that some of the roles for boys and girls were … um … dated. But the drawings of animals are still pretty delightful and the story of “Pig Will” and “Pig Won’t” is still a great one.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to writegirl, the charity chosen by Jia-Rui, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

Want to introduce a child to more awesome women? Check out our 12 Women Who Changed the World subscription!

Seven Questions for . . . Colleen Giles Timms

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Colleen, co-founder of #GivingTuesday, with her kids.

Colleen, co-founder of #GivingTuesday, with her kids.

Q: What do you do?

My professional background is in corporate social responsibility, and currently most of my time is spent as mother to a 5 and 3 year old. However, 5 years ago, any spare time that I wasn’t using to catch up on sleep, I used to work with my husband and a team of influencers to launch a movement called #GivingTuesday. The idea was simple: a philanthropic response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A day of giving after two days of getting.

That first year, 2012, we had 2500 partners and it was mainly focused in the US. This year #GivingTuesday currently has tens of thousands of partners and will be active in over 70 countries around the world. 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

Watching how #GivingTuesday has grown exponentially each year has been incredibly exciting and so inspiring. This grassroots movement is built by individuals, families, organizations and communities who all want to come together and give back. It doesn’t work without the passion of every project, every act of giving. I’ve been so proud to watch the movement grow. It really showcases how generous people are and how creative the nonprofit world can be. 

Q: What's something challenging about it?

It is so easy to measure philanthropic success in monetary value alone. One of the most challenging aspects has been not thinking about success purely in terms of the money raised. Each year we hear stories of how one small organization, community or family came together to celebrate this day of giving and I never want those stories to be overlooked. One favorite example this year is groups of dads who will be coming together all over the country to help pack and deliver food to those in need. Another is an online drive to get people to sign up as organ donors. These moments of everyday generosity matter so much.    

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

It is amazing to have been a part of something that is really developing into a new national ritual. In America, there are two days that are all about getting deals - Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday is pushing its way onto the calendar too. That really gives me a lot of pride.

Colleen on a billboard in Times Square, ringing in last year's #GivingTuesday at the Nasdaq Opening Bell ceremony.

Colleen on a billboard in Times Square, ringing in last year's #GivingTuesday at the Nasdaq Opening Bell ceremony.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My husband, Henry. Shortly after our son was born we starting thinking about the world he wanted for our child. He took an idea that started at our kitchen table, worked with an amazing group of people on this idea and through that first year, as our son grew, so did #GivingTuesday.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Time and again I am inspired by stories of people who see a need in their communities and take it upon themselves to serve, to give, any way they can.  I am so inspired by the people who run Giving Tuesday campaigns all over the country. The nonprofit sector doesn’t get the credit it deserves, but it is so entrepreneurial and dynamic. One great example is Dress for Success. They turned Giving Tuesday into “Giving Shoes Day” and collect shoes for women heading back into the workplace. I’m looking forward to joining that campaign this year.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. I have such wonderful memories of reading that book again and again with my mum. From such a young age reading about the value in giving of oneself was very powerful. It also made me realize the value and reward of promises kept and taking responsibility. To this day, I truly hate when I have to break a promise to anyone.

Also all the Hans Christian Anderson stories, especially The Little Mermaid. I remember understanding and being so moved by what she gave up for the Prince’s happiness - her own life. At 11 years old, I was outraged when I watched the Disney film and saw how they changed the ending!

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to Donors Choose, the charity chosen by Colleen, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

Help The Picture Book Club support other great causes: for every 12 Women Who Changed the World subscription sold, we will make a donation to Running Start.  For every Pick of the Litter Book Bundle sold, we will make a donation to Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue.

Seven Questions For . . . Emily Bowen Cohen

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Q: What do you do?

I create memoir-style comics. I’m Native-American and Jewish and I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. I write and draw my childhood memories to educate readers about my tribe, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and issues of diversity.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I love how rich in meaning childhood memories can be. Youthful experiences form identity. They also tell us how the world works. Sharing childhood stories can be a bridge to different perspectives. Everyone can relate to an awkward moment in middle school, even if our backgrounds are very different.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

Disclosing personal stories is difficult (for me anyway).  I want to make sure there is a good reason to share.  I feel a lot of pressure to tell the stories well!

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

I am proud to be raising kids who feel free to speak up about what they are passionate about.

Art from Emily's mini-comic, "An American Indian Guide to The Day of Atonement"

Art from Emily's mini-comic, "An American Indian Guide to The Day of Atonement"

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My mother inspires me. My dad died when I was nine.  From then on, she raised my two sisters and me on her own. I think of her often when I parent my own three children. It’s a tough business to do on your own. About ten years ago, she retired early from the rat race so she could pursue her dream: she travels around the country hiking and doing trail maintenance for the U.S. National Parks. It energizes me to think how she is spending her days!

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Oprah. I struggled with this for a while because I thought I should choose someone more esoteric.  But you know what?  The answer is always Oprah. She faced many challenges, starting in childhood, and overcame them to become not just successful, but to become a POP ICON. She gives really inspiring advice in an approachable way.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

My Book About ME by Me, Myself, and Dr. Seuss was a childhood favorite. You filled in the book yourself, answering questions. Early on, it got me thinking about identity. Many fill-ins, like, “there are ---- windows in my house,” and “I have ---- teeth” didn’t really explain who you were. But other questions, like where you lived, were more personal. I remember thinking carefully about how to answer some questions. Should I check-off “country?” Should I check-off “suburb?” Country-living was more accurate, but suburban-life seemed far more cosmopolitan. Even as a child, I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed by external cues to who I was.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dakota Access Pipeline Donation Fund, the charity chosen by Emily, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

Seven Questions For . . . Katherine Zoepf

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Q: What do you do?

I'm a journalist and New America fellow, and since last fall I've also been teaching journalism to masters students at New York University. I lived in the Middle East for several years, beginning in 2004, and, though I've been based in New York since 2009, I still go back to the region as often as I can. These days, I take my children with me on reporting trips, which means I work a little more slowly than I used to. My six-year-old, Alice, still talks about the weeks we spent in the United Arab Emirates during Ramadan a couple of years ago. She loved the decorations, and getting to stay up half the night.  and keeps asking when we'll go back; she was fascinated by the indoor ski slopes and the mall where it rains from the ceiling! My first book, Excellent Daughters, which is based on my reporting in the Arab world, was published by the Penguin Press in January. 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I'm pretty shy, so I like having an excuse to talk to lots of different kinds of people. It sounds corny, I know, but I so love hearing people's stories, and it's such a wonderful privilege to be able to write them down and share them with readers. 

Q: What's something challenging about it?

I can't write as quickly as some writers, and I tend to be a bit scatterbrained, so the constant deadlines are a challenge!

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

My children, Alice and William. Alice just turned six, and Bill just turned three, so they're still pretty little. But they're both kind and helpful and hilarious, and really wonderful company. 

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My dear friend Amber Scorah is, hands down, the most inspiring person I know personally. She lost her first child, Karl, last summer, when he was only three months old. He died on the first morning she'd ever left him, at a day care center she'd selected because it was close enough to her office to allow her to continue nursing. It's the kind of loss most of us can't bear even to imagine. And yet Amber has refused to let it define her or her family. She has written about her experience for the New York Times and USA Today and led a major bipartisan campaign for paid parental leave in the U.S. Karl's beautiful baby sister, Sevi, was born in June. 

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Malala Yousafzai. I watched "He Named Me Malala" on a flight recently and, even though I'd read her book and was familiar with much of the material covered in the film, I was so amazed and moved that I kept bursting into tears and having to ask the flight attendant for more napkins.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

I loved The Church Mouse, by Graham Oakley, and Make Way For Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. It's impossible to pick just one, but I especially loved the Frog and Toad stories, by Arnold Lobel. They were the first books I ever read independently, and I read them all over and over again.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to The International Rescue Committee, the charity chosen by Katherine, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

Seven Questions For . . . Rachel Farbiarz

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Rachel in her studio.  Photo by Naiffer Romero.

Rachel in her studio.  Photo by Naiffer Romero.

Q: What do you do?

I'm an artist working in drawing and collage. I also sometimes make installations.  

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

My favorite thing about my work is how rigorously and granularly it challenges and provokes me. When I’m flowing in the studio—when I’m deeply and profoundly ensconced in a project—I feel like I’m constantly being met with choices about the work, each of which demands a reckoning with myself. Here’s a small snapshot of this chatter:

Do you have the gall to keep complicating this? 

Do you have the patience to make this beautiful? 

Are you confident enough to make this ugly? 

Are you humble enough to make this ugly? 

Are you willing to expose yourself here? 

Are you willing to expose yourself here—with the full knowledge that no one will ever notice

Are you smart enough to know when to stop? 

Do you have the discipline to stop? 

Do you have the restraint to not ruin everything? 

Are you tough enough to keep going?

Can you get over yourself already?

These are the questions that well up for me as I’m drawing, cutting, gluing, placing, looking and thinking. They feel like questions about my very self; and each tiny choice can become my accuser or champion. Walking the gauntlet of this soul chatter is my favorite thing about my work. It’s not always pretty and it’s not always fun. But it is my favorite thing.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

See above.

Rachel Farbiarz, Ticker Tape, Graphite and Collage, 43 5/8 x 51 1/2, 2016.  Currently on display at the G Fine Art Gallery.

Rachel Farbiarz, Ticker Tape, Graphite and Collage, 43 5/8 x 51 1/2, 2016.  Currently on display at the G Fine Art Gallery.

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

These are tough questions! In response to this one, I keep thinking of things that I’m not proud of, which must say a lot about me. But there is one story that I keep coming back to. 

When my grandfather was sick and in the process of dying, I flew home from where I was living in California to visit him in the hospital in New York. After spending the morning with him in his room, a nurse came to take my grandfather away for tests that had to be conducted in another part of the hospital. She told us that he’d be back in about an hour and that I could wait in his room for his return. The orderlies wheeled him away. 

It suddenly and forcefully occurred to me that I didn’t want my grandfather to be alone for an hour and that, likewise, I didn’t want to be without him for that hour. I inquired with the nurses and they directed me to where he would be during the testing. I was able to stay with him, chatting and holding his hand while his testing was completed. It was a very tender time, and I still have the piece of paper on which I scrawled the medical stats that were culled from that diagnostic hour.

I’m proud that I thought to ask if I could accompany my grandfather for that time. It was an unusual move for me to think outside the strictures of an institution like a hospital, and I’m proud that in that moment I had no thought for the discomfort of not complying with casual authority--that I truly showed up. It allowed for a precious time that I still feel lucky to have had. 

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

Ilyse Hogue, who is a close personal friend and the executive director of NARAL, is a big inspiration to me. Ilyse has had a long history and career in lefty activism. And while I support and (probably nearly always) agree with her politics, it's neither her political positions nor her activism per se that is what especially inspires me. 

Ilyse spoke at this year's Democratic National Convention about her own abortion. She has opened up publicly about about her struggles to have kids. Exposing and extending herself in these ways doesn't come easily for Ilyse; and in each instance took a tremendous amount of courage. That she did was profoundly affecting to me. I saw it as a call to action--to interrogate how the personal and political are entwined within each of us and how, in untangling those strands, we may each find something very powerful to grab onto. I am in awe of the bravery she has shown in connecting up her own personal and political lives. And I am grateful for it.

I'm also inspired by Ilyse because she is a deeply kind, warm and generous person. Ilyse has long worked in the muck of American politics. She doesn't get cynical. She doesn't get jaded. And she doesn't get mean. The tagline, for years, on her email has been a quote from Vaclav Havel: "Hope is a feeling that life and work have meaning. You either have it or you don't, regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you." When I have felt despondent about the state of the world I have, several times, actually gone into my inbox to find this quote from Ilyse. It's a marvelous quote, made only more marvelous because it comes from her. I'm not always able to maintain my hope, but the fact that I know Ilyse maintains hers makes me feel like we human beings are probably going to be ok in the end. 

Photo by Naiffer Romero.

Photo by Naiffer Romero.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

I’m going to give a grab-bag, never-complete litany-of-people answer here. It just feels so limiting to only name one person and it’s very fun to make a list of inspiring people. I'll leave it to readers to look up those names they may not recognize because I think they'll enjoy doing so. Oh, and one caveat: Some of these people I've met in a "I've-shaken-their-hand-after-a-reading-or class" kind of way. But I don't think that counts. So here’s the list of inspiring people I’ve never met: 

Harriet Tubman, Andy Goldsworthy, John Muir, Bill Cunningham, Leymah Gbowee, Masha Gessen, Kerry James Marshall, Martina Navratilova, Lucy McBath, Reverend Rob Schenck, Aviva Zornberg, Vincent and Theo Van Gogh, Rukmini Callimachi, Yehuda Amichai, Pope Francis, and Syria's White Helmets. 

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

There were so many good ones, but I'll single out two: "Oh Were They Ever Happy!" by Peter Spier; and "Sunday Morning" by Judith Viorst with pictures by Hilary Knight.

"Oh Were They Ever Happy" was my hands-down favorite book as a child. Taking it out from the library, which I did probably upwards of 30 times, was like striking the motherlode each and every time. I am sure I made my parents experience a level of deep, soul-fatigue by my obsessive need to have it read to me. It's a delightful story of children left alone for the day. (The babysitter never shows up! The 1970s parents leave before the sitter arrives! There are no cell phones!) The three kids, one dog and one cat decide to paint the outside of the house. It's marvelous. It's wild. It's beautiful. The story is simple and the pictures are riotously joyful. I still love this book so very much.

"Sunday Morning" is more of a dark horse. It was not at the top of my favorites list as a child, but it was in the canon. Another story of kids left alone--this time they are instructed not to wake up their parents until late Sunday morning. Havoc ensues as the brothers cavort and try to keep quiet. 

The pictures in this book gnawed themselves deep into my aesthetic sub-conscious. They are nearly all in black silhouette with some splashes of blue. Wide white eyes peer out from bodies contorted in hyperbolic expressions of childhood--and sibling-hood. I thought about these pictures for years and years-- well into adulthood, despite the fact that I could not remember which book they were from. They haunted me and mesmerized me. I looked and looked for them and wanted them back.

Then I saw the artist Kara Walker's work in 1998 for the first time in a solo show at Harvard University's Carpenter Center, whose title I have re-learned from the internet: "Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage Through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May Be Found, By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored." Her work punched me in the stomach. It was revelatory. I felt like I was seeing a miracle unfold before me. And it is not a stretch to see a direct line between Hilary Knight's illustrations and Kara Walker's brilliant work. I knew then and now that having the DNA of those illustrations stamped into me in childhood made me open to Walker's work, which has been very important to me artistically. 

Picture books are important for so many reasons, not least of which because they contain pictures.

[Post-script: I solved the mystery of "Sunday Morning" while looking for "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" at the local library for my own daughter. The books share an author in Judith Viorst. You can imagine the elation in the children's stacks when I discovered this.]

 

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to The International Rescue Committee, the charity chosen by Rachel, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

Rachel's solo show, "A Different Country" will be up at G Fine Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. from October 29 - December 10, 2016.  

 

Seven Questions For . . . Marina Halpern

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Marina Halpern

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What do you do?

I run Padoca Bakery, a year-old Brazilian-inspired bakery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Our chef, Rachel Binder, and I came together almost 3 years ago to start to develop our menu and test recipes. I can't believe we have already been open for a full year! 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

Connecting with people is definitely my favorite thing about what I do. A lot of our customers are at the bakery every day and we get to be a big part of their lives. We have seen couples bring their babies in their "kangaroo carriers" last year and those babies are now kids running around the bakery with their favorite Padoca muffin.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

Padoca is at 359 East 68th Street in Manhattan. Make sure to stop by if you're in the neighborhood; they make the world's best chocolate chip cookies!

Padoca is at 359 East 68th Street in Manhattan. Make sure to stop by if you're in the neighborhood; they make the world's best chocolate chip cookies!

Building something from zero away from "home." I grew up in Brazil and, as much as NY has become my home, sometimes I still think I am crazy for doing this in a language other than Portuguese and without having my family around all the time.  

Marina once explained to an interviewer that, in Sao Paolo, "a padoca is a corner bakery, where the owner knows your name. I wanted to recreate that but also with something new." 

Marina once explained to an interviewer that, in Sao Paolo, "a padoca is a corner bakery, where the owner knows your name. I wanted to recreate that but also with something new." 

Sometimes I still face cultural differences at work that remind me of how big this world is, and it forces me to approach the situation from a different angle, which is always challenging.

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

Resilience! It took me 5 visas to finally get a permanent residence in the US and I think it's safe to say that you need a lot of resilience to run your own business in NYC!

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My father. He finds inspiration in everything, which inspires me to do the same.

He is a big believer in the "blue ocean" strategy, where instead of competing against companies that are creating similar products or services, you should create something completely new and even create a demand if necessary/possible. Just to give an idea, the two startups he is involved with right now have nothing to do with each other or anything he has ever worked with before.

One is an Israeli company named Gauzy in the privacy glass industry. They make windows that allow you to change their opacity at any time and project videos/pictures onto the glass, transforming them into a TV or display.

The other startup is Tonisity, which makes the first isotonic protein drink for pigs. You read it right: he is helping create this sort of Gatorade for pigs that makes them healthier and gives them a much better chance of surviving when they are little.

How can you not get inspired by someone whose mind gets interested in such different topics?

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Alice Waters. I love to see how one person can empower such great change in restaurants all over the country and abroad when it comes to being sustainable, seasonal, and buying local. 

In one of her interviews she reminds us of how we should go back to "dealing with people and relationships on a human scale." In big cities like NY, it is especially easy to forget about nurturing relationships with the people in our communities, and with everyone who helps keep our businesses alive, so it's a great reminder!

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

One of the greatest memories of my childhood is my grandmother reading me Sitio do Picapau Amarelo (translated as The Yellow Woodpecker Farm), a series of books written in the 1920s by Brazilian author Monteiro Lobato. These were books that she read when she was a kid!! Pretty amazing how they are still popular.

The books are often compared to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  They're fantasy stories that describe the adventures of 2 cousins while they explore their grandmother's ranch every summer vacation. I still remember playing games inspired by their endless imagination!

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to Food Policy Action, the charity chosen by Marina, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.  

 

Seven Questions For . . . Virginia Heffernan

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Q: What do you do?

I'm an author, journalist and critic. For my sins (I've always wanted to say that! Next up: "whilst!") I am also a consultant to tech startups and VCs.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

Ooh everything. Working out ideas over time; testing my convictions and revising them in a wide range of sometimes-bruising arenas. Also supporting my family. 

Q: What's something you find challenging about what you do?

Same thing I like about it -- really taking in (as a reporter and reader) new evidence and opposing ideas and trying to let challenges to my thinking give me "grit" and resilience instead of...pain. 

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

Amazing harmony in my family life, after considerable upheaval a few years ago. 

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

Kevin Kelly, the writer, philosopher and co-founder of Wired, whose exuberant and kaleidoscopic prose, venturesome projects and technospiritual life are straight-to-the-veins inspiration for me.

And Ginia Bellafante, in a different key, who has a wonderfully sly style that, in her Times column "Big City," closes her subtle cases about urban life and conflicts before you know you're being persuaded.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

George Eliot.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

Look Out for Pirates!

 

 

 

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to Equality Now, the charity chosen by Virginia, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A. 

Seven Questions for . . . Kate Solomon

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Kate solomon, founder & ceo of babo botanicals

Q: What do you do?

I create hair, skin and suncare products for the entire family.  I try to instill values in my products and marketing that I feel are important to families.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I love the creative process. Having an idea and seeing it come to fruition. I like that subtle color changes or wordsmithing can change a product or message completely. It is all in the detail.

Q: What's something you find challenging about what you do?

There isn’t one part of the business that is not challenging. But if it weren’t challenging, it wouldn’t be as gratifying. If you have ever made something from scratch – even a meal – you know there are a lot of moving parts. 

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

I am most proud that I was able to secure a World Bank Grant to plant a field of strawberries in Paraguay. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and applied for funding to create an agricultural project for women. We had such fun growing these strawberries - a fruit they had never tried before! It was a gratifying two years.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My father definitely inspires me.  He is one of the most hard-working, caring people I know. He is the most loyal and trustworthy person. He lives life with incredible positivity and vigor.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Since you focus on books, I will focus on my favorite author, Anne Frank. Her story is so powerful because she wrote with enormous strength, beauty and maturity. She had a wonderful soul which is articulated through her prose. 

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse was a book I was mesmerized by as a child.  It’s a story about a boy and his best friend, a bright red balloon. He follows the balloon throughout Paris which leads to many adventures and experiences with different people.

  
You can win Babo Botanicals' Moisturizing Oatmilk Calendula Collection (sorry -- scrumptious baby not included)!  See below for details.

You can win Babo Botanicals' Moisturizing Oatmilk Calendula Collection (sorry -- scrumptious baby not included)!  See below for details.

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Want to win Babo Botanicals' Moisturizing Oatmilk Calendula Collection?  Of course you do; it's perfect for newborns or anyone with sensitive skin looking for winter skin care solutions!  Signing up for our mailing list (below) will get you one entry. Hop on over to our Facebook page or Instagram feed (@thepicturebookclub) for more chances. Giveaway ends Monday, October 3.

Seven Questions for . . . Talia Milgrom-Elcott

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Q: What do you do?

I lead 100kin10, a national network committed to solving one of our country’s most pressing challenges: giving kids a great STEM (or science, tech, engineering, and math) education– by adding 100,000 more, excellent STEM teachers to America’s classrooms by 2021. More than just a coalition, we work to enlist a mix of diverse and powerful organizations to make strong commitments; we then amplify their impact through collaboration, learning, and funding; and then we catalyze solutions to large-scale problems by leveraging the strength of the network and its resources.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I get to work with amazing organizations across all different sectors, from non-profits to schools to universities, corporations, government agencies and foundations, every one of whom wants to help make sure that all students get great STEM teachers. They’re doing that because almost all the world's most pressing problems require STEM-based solutions, yet only a tiny fraction of our population has the STEM knowledge to even be at the table solving them. So it's no surprise we haven't solved these challenges yet. To solve them, we need all of tomorrow’s problem-solvers to be equipped with STEM skills and inspiration. And tomorrow’s problem-solvers need excellent STEM teachers today to guide them. And that’s where 100Kin10 and its 280 partners come in.

Q: What's something you find challenging about what you do?

We’ve been working toward this goal since the President issued a call for adding 100,000 excellent STEM teachers to our nation’s schools over the coming decade in his State of the Union in 2011.  By mid-2013, we realized that our approach — getting strong organizations to make strong commitments and supporting them with a suite of innovative opportunities to collaborate, learn, and access resources — was insufficient. Major challenges remained unaddressed, many simply too big for any one organization to solve on its own. To tackle those system-level challenges, we began to experiment with models to catalyze collective action to address large-scale shared challenges. At the same time, we realized that we needed to identify and map these big, systemic challenges in order to deliberately and strategically address them. Working with partners, teachers, and other sector leaders, we’ve been "mapping the waterfront" to identify these grand challenges. The hope is that we – and our 280 partners -- can be more deliberate and strategic about how to overcome the barriers that stand in the way of meeting our ten year goal, so that when we reach it, we won't have to start the clock all over again.  But shifting our work from the critical efforts to enlist, prepare, and support STEM teachers to getting underneath the big, system-level challenges that have made something as basic as getting great teachers into all classrooms so hard in this country is really hard.  It’s like asking ER doctors to move from the critical, life-saving work of treating the patients in front of them, to going up not just one level (diagnosing the underlying issues) but two levels (understanding why so many patients are coming in with the same underlying affliction).

Talia Milgrom-Elcott of 100kin10
 
 
 
 

 

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

Launching and leading a high-performing social-change effort while giving birth to and raising three little kids and nourishing a strong relationship with my husband (i.e. mostly having a sense of equanimity and balance; underscore mostly).

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

I’m inspired by my grandmother.  She is 95.  She and my grandfather have been married for 73 years.  They’ve lived in the same house since the early 1950s.  She came to this country as a refugee from Germany just before World War II broke out, having saved her family from the Nazis.  She met my grandfather at a USO dance, she a recent escapee from Nazi Germany; my grandfather working on radar, classified.  In quick succession, they danced, fell in love, my grandfather got his deployment papers, my grandmother followed him to his base in CA, they got married, she got pregnant, and he shipped out on a boat to the Pacific. She is whip smart but worked in a hair and nail salon to support her family, raised three children, became an amazing educator and artist, and eventually traveled the world with my grandfather, bringing us dolls, toy hats, and instruments from far-flung countries.  In the last year, she’s begun to lose her memory to dementia, but much of what is left is love.  I call her every Friday with my husband and three daughters and we sing to her, a song we sang to her mother, my great-grandmother, when I was growing up.  We sing that she is a woman of valor.  And she sings along.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

I am one of those people who is inspired and moved by all kinds of people, so this is a hard question for me.  I’m inspired by the Pope, who has put justice and generosity at the center of an international conversation.  I am inspired by the courage and fundamental optimism of the Black Lives Matter movement – that if we protest and take action, our country can get better.  I am inspired by the glass-ceiling shattering of Hillary Clinton.  There are more, but I’ll stop here.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

There was this series called Barba’Abba (in Hebrew) that my parents read to us that I adored.  It turns out it’s French originally and has been translated into dozens of languages.  They’re about this happy family of shape-shifting creatures, each one of whom has a special love (music, art, books, sports, science, etc.).  They’re amazing.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to Luria Academy, the charity chosen by Talia, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.

Seven Questions For . . . Danielle Davis

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club


Q: What do you do?

I’m a children’s book blogger and writer. My blog is This Picture Book Life. My debut novel for young readers is called Zinnia and the Bees and will be published in the fall of 2017 by Capstone. (Yay!!) And I also help other kidlit writers with their manuscripts by offering critique services

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

Process. The process of creating something is mysterious and hands down pretty great. I love having a story question and then going on a walk to think about it, recording brainstorms as voice memos. With process, you trust that if you wait and think and scribble and wait some more, the answers will emerge. And my very best moments are sitting down writing when in the flow of things. Process can be really fun.  

Q: What's something you find challenging about what you do?

Also process! The process of writing can be challenging in that you don’t know how long it will take or what the outcome will be. My debut book is a manuscript I worked on for eight years in many different forms. I’ve also thrown a lot of projects away. Sometimes, you don’t know when or how or if you’ll come up with story solutions. It’s like shuffling around in the dark and you just want it to be morning already. Process can be really tough. 

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

I’m proud of my persistence. 

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

I don’t know her anymore, but I did know my English teacher my senior year of high school. She wore oversized red glasses. And she inspired me to study literature.  She made me feel seen and encouraged and like maybe I had some potential. And she was inspiring in other ways too: she was sort of a nonconformist and she found a profession that she loved while helping others. I will forever be grateful to her and I’m confident I’m not the only student she inspired in her career, not by a long shot.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

The writer Aimee Bender was an early and big influence on me. I love the way her stories combine magical realism with everyday life. She is super smart and has an outrageous imagination. Her work is remarkably intelligent but still accessible.  What’s funny is that my favorite picture book writer could easily be described the same way. Shaun Tan, too, is outrageously imaginative and combines magic and strangeness with the real world. They’re both huge inspirations to me and my work. 

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

This is an easy one! Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel by Jolly Roger Bradfield. Benjamin Dilley taught me that imagination is important and can (if you trust it to be powerful), bring about change in the world. Your imagination is your companion. And it might even create something that entertains, that helps, that drinks up a flood in the basement perhaps (a la that camel from the title)! 

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I love the picture book-inspired crafts that Danielle includes on her blog!

I love the picture book-inspired crafts that Danielle includes on her blog!

For the next week, The Picture Book Club will make a donation for every purchase made through our site to Reading to Kids, the charity chosen by Danielle.  

Danielle says, "I love the work Reading to Kids does and have volunteered several Saturday mornings to experience the magic of reading and crafting with kids myself.  Plus, each child who attends a reading club receives a book to take home. Hooray!"