Writer and Illustrator Meeting

Why are Qin Leng and I smiling? 
Is it because we inadvertently showed up to our event wearing matching outfits? Is it because we got to talk about our book together with a lot of wonderful children and their grown-ups? Or is it because we've just learned that A Family Is a Family Is a Family is headed for its third printing? All of the above!


A Family Event in Toronto

I'm looking forward to this weekend's Bookmarker Event with Koffler Arts. It's Sunday at 1 -2:30 pm at Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street and it is FREE.
For this edition of our Bookmarkers series, we’ve invited award-winning author Sara O’Leary and award-winning illustrator Qin Leng to read from and talk about their latest children’s book, A Family is a Family is a Family. When a teacher asks the children in her class to think about what makes their families special, the answers are all different in many ways – but the same in the one way that matters most of all. Plus: cartoonist Jonathan Rotsztain will also be joining our Bookmarkers conversation, featuring an intergenerational comics project with grandparents and grandkids.
One of the things I'm most looking forward to is meeting Qin Leng for the first time. It's a very funny thing making books with people--I always say to Julie Morstad that it's like we have all these children together even though we've only meet IRL a handful of times. And this really goes to the heart of what this post is circling around which is how both books and families are made. I'll be meeting Qin for the first time that day and yet I already feel that she and I are family in a way. I hope she won't made me saying so!

Koffler Arts has allowed Qin and I to take over their Instagram account for the week. This is the post that is going up today along with a little detail from this amazing spread from the book.

Here is a lovely depiction by Qin of a child's idea of how she sees herself...this detail is so funny and joyful and full of life! The purple hair! The winning smile!  A big part of what this book is about for me is exactly that--how children see themselves. My lovely publisher Groundwood has a page on their website called Windows & Mirrors that talks about issues of representation and inclusion in children's books. Here's one little bit of that: "Groundwood is committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under represented elsewhere." And it's for just that reason that I wanted to make a book with Groundwood and with its brilliant publisher Sheila Barry. I wanted this book to be in the world for children who wouldn't necessarily see themselves or their own home situation reflected in the pages of the picture books available to them. And, just as importantly, I wanted the book to be there for children who need to see that there may be other configurations and permutations to family than what they have grown up with. Windows and mirrors. Love is love.


Bookstore Love

Events in Saskatoon and Winnipeg now just a happy memory, but I did leave signed copies behind for anyone who might be interested. Thanks to my publisher, Groundwood Books for sending me west. Big thanks to McNally Kids for being fabulous hosts!

A photo posted by McNally Robinson for Kids (@mcnallykids) on

A photo posted by McNally Robinson for Kids (@mcnallykids) on


A Family Book Tour

Did you know that November is Picture Book Month?

And, handily, today's theme is SCHOOL which makes for a convenient hook on which to hang this post about my classroom-set book, A Family Is a Family Is a Family.

I'll be doing bookstore visits in Saskatoon and Winnipeg this month. Big thanks to Groundwood Books and my fabulous publisher, Sheila Barry, for sending me and to McNally Robinson Saskatoon and McNally Robinson Winnipeg for hosting me!

Here's a post I did for Groundwood about this book.

And while we are the subject of schools...I would absolutely love to hear from any classroom teachers using this book with their students!


Second Printing!

A Family Is a Family Is a Family is going into second printing and I am so joy-filled I could be a drawing by Qin Leng!

While I'm here, could I ask a favour? We've been very lucky with reviews (stars from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly) but it would be nice to have a few more reader reviews up here if anyone has the time or inclination. Thanks!


This Is Sadie Shortlisted

A photo posted by Sara O'Leary (@123olearyo) on

This Is Sadie is shortlisted for the Quebec Writers Federation Prize for Children’s/YA Literature.

Here's the complete list:
  • Bonnie Farmer; Marie Lafrance, ill.‚ Oscar Lives Next Door(Owlkids Books)
  • Sara O’Leary; Julie Morstad, ill.‚ This Is Sadie (Tundra Books)
  • Mélanie Watt‚ Bug in a Vacuum (Tundra)


Thoughts on Family

I'm so happy to have this book out in the world. Here are a few recent looks at my new book with Qin Leng, A Family Is a Family Is a Family.

Book Dragon at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has a lovely write up.

As author Sara O’Leary configures her many delightfully diverse familial units, artist Qin Leng – with her signature style so overflowing with whimsy and charm – imbues each member with individual identity and unique personality, all brought together with enveloping warmth and unbreakable bonds. The message is powerfully simple: no one gets to define a family but the members themselves. Audacious and obvious both, Family is already a well-deserved bestseller on our northern neighbor’s various lists. That said, this Canadian import undoubtedly belongs on bookshelves everywhere.

School Library Journal has very kindly awarded the book a star. (I believe this is our third!)

In this warm, nondiscriminating narrative, O’Leary removes limiting definitions and labels like “adopted,” “fostered,” or “divorced” and instead presents a tale that is innocent and wise. Leng’s ink and digitally rendered watercolor illustrations are light and airy and complement the text by capturing the thoughts and purity of a child’s perspective. The classroom is a beautiful blend of children of different races, genders, and body types. VERDICT Parents, caregivers, and educators will appreciate the message that this story offers for one-on-one sharing and for discussion with small groups. A sweet and tender tale that shows that families are composed of love regardless of how they may be configured.

Waking Brain Cells has a lovely look at the book with bonus points for use of the word "zings."

O’Leary does not lecture about families here. Rather she shows the wide variety that there are in families and how each of those is based on love. There is no need to be didactic, as every child will see themselves in the pages of this book. It is a wise way to look at families, since each is just as special and marvelous as the one before. The emphasis here is on love itself, the care that is given to children in each of those families no matter their structure. Leng’s illustrations add so much warmth to this picture book. The illustrations are full of details and invite readers to look closely. Each page zings with energy from the mothers singing under the night sky to the child who lives with both her father and mother, just at different times. There is a playfulness on the pages too, which makes each family come to life.
The response by readers on Goodreads has also been very positive. I'm particularly heartened to see favourable notices from those who may find themselves slightly outside their own comfort zone but willing to join in with a the celebration of all kinds of families.

And finally, quite literally a look at the book, provided by Kellie Diguangco who runs thekaleidoscopeca


Books matter

Very happy to find A Family Is a Family Is a Family sitting on the Canadian bestseller list for picture books!

Also, pretty happy about this--from an article titled "It's The Most Wonderful TIme of the Year," written by JoEllen McCarthy and published by Heinemann.
There have also recently been very nice notices for A Family Is a Family Is a Family in CM Magazine and Montreal Families.


Qin Leng

One of the joys of my job is the the people I get to work with. My most recent collaboration has been with Qin Leng,  an illustrator Kirkus Reviews recently dubbed a "rising star."Bernie Goedhart, in her Montreal Gazette review of A Family Is a Family Is a Family writes: "Her art first drew my eye because it reminded me of two favourite illustrators — Britain’s Quentin Blake and Australia’s Bob Graham — in that they all share a loose line, colourful palette and distinctive detail work." High praise, indeed.So who is Qin LengLet's start with the basics:Qin Leng was born in Shanghai, China and as a child moved to Bordeaux, France. She studied film at Concordia University in Montreal and currently lives in Toronto where she works in the animation industry.  

And here's a lovely little self-portrait by Qin.


I'm very grateful to Sheila Barry at Groundwood Books for bringing Qin and I together on this book. I think the lightness of touch and sheer exuberance of the illustrations lifts what could have been quite heavy subject matter. In celebration of working together, I asked Qin if she'd answer a few questions for me to share here.

What was your favourite book as a child?

     That's a tricky question, there were so many books I loved when I was little.  More than anything, I would love to spend my days reading...I loved to read at the mall when my mom was shopping, at the library, in my bed, during the day, at night under my covers (which, I think, is partly why I've needed glasses since I was 8!). I think my all time favourite, which still remains a huge source of inspiration to this day, are the Petit Nicolas series by Jean-Jacques Sempé. The illustrations were drawn with such spontaneity and the lines kept so simple, it's always something I strive to achieve in my own work.

What do you like about making picture books?

     I love inventing worlds and characters. I grew up as a really shy kid, but I was very observant, and the best way for me to express myself was through pictures. Even now, I love people watching and taking in stories I hear around me. On beautiful days, I like to go out and sit at a café or a park and looking at passers by and imagine what kind of characters they are and what lives they lead.

What are you working on now?

     I am always working on multiple projects at once. I dislike long breaks, it makes me anxious and I feel like I am wasting my time...I constantly want to be accomplishing something! I just wrapped up a new picture book with Comme des Geants, written by Céline Claire, called "L'Abri." I am really excited about this one, because it was entirely done with ink and watercolour, no digital painting (which I normally do). So that was a challenge I really enjoyed. I am also currently illustrating the 5th chapter book in a series written by Ellen Potter called "Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Pie Girl," for Random House.Then there's a new picture book with Harper Collins about the childhood of Jane Austen. It's called "Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen" and is written by Deborah Hopkinson. Finally, I'm working on a board book of Dennis Lee's bedtime poems for HarperCollins Canada. And for the next coming year, there are a few more things in my agenda, such as the very first picture book I am going to write AND illustrate!

Qin is represented by Shannon Associates.
And you can find her online here:


Celebrating You Are Two

You Are Two is now out in the world which is a good excuse for bringing this post on my books with Karen Klassen up to date.

We received a lovely review (and a ✭) from Kirkus Review.

A big thank you to Julie Danielson for a lovely introduction to our series of baby books with Owlkids Books, illustrated by the prodigiously talented Karen Klassen. The article is here at Kirkus reviews and there is more art from the books over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

You Are One also got great write-ups from The National Reading CampaignCM Magazine, and 49th Shelf.

To celebrate the start of this series, Karen Klassen generously created portraits of the two of us in the style of the books. I was already happy to be working with Karen but now I'm really happy!

All The Wonders was good enough to debut the book trailer made by Owlkids. You can see it here and the trailer for You Are Two is here.


Happy Families

A few more notices for our little Family.

Kerry Clare is both generous and insightful over at Pickle Me This

From the child whose parents won’t stop kissing to the family with so many kids, the family with split custody, the blended family, the single parents, two dads, and the child who lives with her grandparents (“Because I live with my grandmother, people sometimes think she is my mother. She’s not. She’s my everything.”)—O’Leary’s story paints a varied and celebratory picture of the many ways there are for a family to be. Leng’s illustrations add richness and texture to the simple prose, with their action-packed and cluttered scenes that suggest a marvellous mess of abundance (which, of course, is love).
 Great perspective from teacher/librarian/parent at Front Porch Librarian.
What I love – and what sets this book apart from some of the other family books out there – is the child’s initial nervousness. Unsure what the other students will make of her family, she quickly realizes that all of her classmates have different sorts of families – there is no standard, no one kind of family. Tapping into that childlike insecurity of oh, no, what will everyone else think makes this story so real. Concluding it with the understanding that all of us are unique, as are the families in which we belong, makes this story so authentic. 

Lovely write-up by Helen Kubiw at Can Lit for Little Canadians.

Though I know, and children do too, that not all families are perfect or happy or supportive, Sara O'Leary's book celebrates families in all their forms–big, small, alike, different, blended, separated, adopting, fostering–as worthy of note, eclectic as they may be.  Her narration is a universal one of acceptance and appreciation for families of all kinds.  The sweetness of her message is matched page by page with Qin Leng's illustrations of children and parents of assorted colours and shapes, economic backgrounds and interests. The lightness of Qin Leng's lines and the whimsy of her colour and shape help portray a diversity of families that are as fluid as they are depicted. 
As always, I'm very grateful to writers like Kerry, Mary, and Helen who take the time to talk about children's books with such care and attention.


More Family

A few more links for A Family Is a Family Is a Family.

Chatting with the lovely Shari Okeke on CBC Radio's All in a Weekend here
A blogpost about teachers and how a class can also be a family here.
Included on this great list via 49th Shelf: "Picture Books You've Got To Read This Fall" by Kerry Clare. 
A really wonderful write-up by Kid Lit Reviews here.  


A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Celebrating three things in our household: the first day of September, the publication of A Family Is a Family Is a Family (out today in Canada and then September 13 in the US), and finally, an absolute peach of a review by Bernie Goedhart of The Montreal Gazette. 
Each spread shows a distinctive child (easy to find in the classroom scene) with equally distinctive parents and siblings. A little boy has two moms who “like to sing really loud,” while another has two dads who “both give good hugs” as they tuck him in at night. One girl spends one week with Mom and the next week with Dad; “Fair’s fair,” she says. One boy’s mom, who is confined to a wheelchair, told him that “before I was born I grew in her heart.”
In every case, the scenes are filled with joy. The narrator needn’t have worried about her family being different; each family in this book is unique. (Adults reading the book aloud to their offspring will likely find some comments especially touching. The little girl who lives with her grandmother, for example, says “people sometimes think she’s my mother. She’s not. She’s my everything.”)
And the narrator? It turns out she’s a foster child. By the time her turn rolls around, she knows just what to tell the class. She talks about the time someone asked her mother which of the three children with her in the park are her real children. The mother’s response is O’Leary’s writing at its best! And Leng’s triumphant final spread says it all.
It's traditional to praise the intelligence of reviewers who like your work, but I truly am consistently impressed with the calibre of Goedhart's reviews and her ability to contextualize new children's books (I've just been off googling Bob Graham, whose work I was sadly ignorant of). I am also very pleased to live in a city with a newspaper that boasts a dedicated children's book reviewer.



A Family Is a Family Is a Family launches this September but early copies (both hardcover and digital) are now available via House of Anansi. Copies will be in stores in September.

The book is a celebration of all the different kinds of family told from a child's perspective and the classroom setting makes it fvery itting for this time of the year!

Here's a lovely review (and a star!) from Publishers Weekly and another from Kirkus Reviews.

I am so in love with the beautiful work Qin Leng did on this book and grateful to our editor, Sheila Barry, for seeing it into print. I'm very happy to be joining the Groundwood family as I value the work they do and their mandate to "celebrate a diverse world through children's books."

Julie Danielson wrote about A Family Is a Family Is a Family for Kirkus Reviews and she then shared art from the book over at her blog, Seven Important Things Before Breakfast.

The book received a mention in the Quill & Quire Books For Young People Fall Preview

And here's the Groundwood fall catalogue.

A Family Is a Family Is a Family is now available for pre-order at the following:

Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble


When When You Were Small Was Small

Is it possible that When You Were Small was published a decade ago? Sometimes it feels like it was just last week. Sometimes it feels like it was a century ago.

In the time since the book was published some very lovely things have happened. It has won a few prizes and gone a few places. It still makes me happy to think of the time the Mexican Ministry of Education printed 60,000 copies to give away to primary students. There have been two more Henry books since that first one and I've got a site that rounds up reviews and such if anyone's interested.

Part of the success of this book (and its fellows) is due to the brilliant book designer, Robin Mitchell Cranfield. Along with Dimiter Savoff, publisher of Simply Read Books, she came up with such a beautiful, stripped-down, timeless aesthetic for the book. I couldn't love it any more than I do.

photo: Summer Hall/Appyreading

My great hope is to go on making books with Julie Morstad. There are many, many reasons for this but the best one, for me, is that we find the same things funny. And in that vein, is this wonderful photo I came across on Instagram a little while ago. It was posted by Summer Hall of Appyreading and she's given me permission to share it here.

When You Were Small is being released in paperback soon and is available for pre-order now.

Here are a few places you can find the book. I'll be adding in more and if you have suggestions please feel free to comment. I'm always happy to learn about independent booksellers that are new to me.

Indigo  Indiebound  Amazon.com   Amazon.ca  Amazon.uk   WH Smith  Powell's  Barnes & Noble


Publication Anniversary

 Celebrating a year of This Is Sadie. I do have a little site for the book over here. And I'm always happy to hear from anyone with a Sadie or Sadie-ish child of their own. Going to make myself a collage of pictures for my office wall!

It's been a great year. Love and gratitude to Julie Morstad & our genius of an editor, Tara Walker, and everyone else at Tundra Books & to my brilliant agent, Jackie Kaiser of Westwood Creative, who I think of as Sadie's literary godmother.


Sadie is NYC-bound

This Is Sadie is to be staged by the New York City Children's Theatre, as announced by Quill and Quire this week. 
This is Sadie is coming to the stage. The New York City Children’s Theater will produce a stage version of Sara O’Leary’s story of a little girl with a big imagination, set to premiere in 2018. The book has garnered universal praise for the gorgeous illustrations by Julie Morstad, its lovely text, and spirited protagonist.
It's thrilling news, particularly as NYCCT has such an excellent mandate. 
Our mission is to promote children’s literacy and social development through professional theater productions and arts-in-education programs. We reach children and their communities with a wide range of programming, including full-scale productions, small touring shows, interactive workshops and in-school residencies, and engage with them in traditional theater spaces, school auditoriums, classrooms and cultural venues in their neighborhoods.
There have been lots of lovely surprises since This Is Sadie was published last spring, but this may be one of my favourites so far.  Really looking forward to seeing the production.


Picture Book Club

This Is Sadie is the first pick for Magpie & Mabel's Picture Book Club. Visit their page for more information on the event and online participation in their Once Upon a Time Project.


Owls Are Very Good At Keeping Secrets

Owls are very good at keeping secrets is a sentence that is very fun to say. It's also a secret that was kind of hard to keep. 

Check out Jacob Grant's fine work here. I am very happy to be working with Maria and Tara--both of whom I'm convinced are among the most brilliant children's editors out there. (Full disclosure: I am slightly partial to editors who sign my work.)


You Are One

You Are One is now out in the world--it is in stores, in libraries, and in (here's hoping) some sweet little baby's hands! I'd be very happy to see pictures of this book out in the wild should anyone feel inclined to share.

You can see art from the book--along with a sneak preview of the next book--over at Seven Imp.

Here's one of my favourite spreads by the brilliant Karen Klassen.

And here are some places you can find the book:
Owlkids Books IndieBound Indie Canadian Bookstores  Amazon  Amazon.ca Amazon.uk
Indigo Barnes & Noble  Powell's  McNally Robinson Your Library

Who have I missed?