Shivers! The Pirate Who’s Afraid of EVERYTHING: An Interview with the Authors

shivers the pirate who's afraid of everything author interview

I was recently introduced to a brand new chapter book series called Shivers! The Pirate who’s Afraid of EVERYTHING (affiliate). It’s the hilarious story of young pirate Shivers who’s, as you’ve probably guessed, afraid of everything. He lives with his phobias and pet goldfish on a beached pirate ship, and is joined for epic high-seas hijinks by his very brave best friend, Margo.

My girls, ages 5 and 7, love the books and we came up with the idea to interview the authors, Annabeth Bondor-Stone and Connor White. The girls came up with 18 questions and Annabeth and Connor were kind enough to answer them ALL! It’s fun to get a peak into an author’s mind, so if you read Shivers! with your child, you’ll want to follow up by reading this interview with them. Bonus: if you’re teaching a unit to go along with the books, the Shivers! website offers awesome free teaching guides, story prompts, and activity sheets.

I love my kids’ questions (I know, I know, as their mom I’m programmed to adore them), and the real joy is reading the author’s insightful and funny answers.

Without further ado, on to the interview!

Shivers the Pirate: An Interview with the Authors

annabeth bondor-stone and connor white

How long did it take you to write each book?

The first book took us about two years to write, but that’s because we didn’t know we were writers yet. We had other jobs and we had never written a book before. Now that we’ve practiced, each book takes about a year to write. Then it takes another year for our illustrator to draw all the pictures so the whole process takes about two years.

Which of the Shivers books do you like better?

Annabeth likes the first book better because it introduced Shivers to the world for the first time. And Connor likes the second book better because it has a hot dog eating contest! But we’re both really excited about the third book, it’s got a lot of poodles in it.

Have you written any other books?

No, this is the first book we’ve ever written. Before Shivers, Annabeth had written lots of plays and a movie script. And Connor once wrote a grocery list!

Where do you live?

In Los Angeles, California between the sushi restaurant and the taco shop.

annabeth and connor school event

Annabeth and Connor at a live event.

How did you choose your illustrator? 

Our publisher found our illustrator, Anthony Holden. Anthony drew some sample sketches of Shivers and Margo and we knew immediately that he shared our sense of humor and could bring Shivers to life in a way that no one else could. Just like Shivers was the first book we’d ever written, it was the first book Anthony had ever illustrated.

shivers the pirate who's afraid of everything

How did you come up with all of the hilarious things? Like the squid ink on chapter 5 and skipping chapter 13?

In order to come up with hilarious things, you have to get pretty silly. If we’re not feeling funny one day, we’ll put a pizza on our heads like a giant floppy hat, so at least we look funny. And that’s a pretty good start.

Also, comedy is about surprise so we wanted to give you something you wouldn’t expect from the chapter numbers, which are usually a pretty unsurprising part of a book.

Do you think all the great ideas in the world are already taken?

Sometimes it feels that way. But there are always more great ideas. Just the other day, we thought about inventing Break’N’Bake Bacon Cakes, which aren’t very healthy but they sound delicious.

Did you have any arguments while writing the books? 

We never argue while we’re writing but we definitely disagree sometimes! If Annabeth likes one idea and Connor likes another, we throw out both ideas and come up with something brand new that makes us both happy. And if we really get stuck we find it useful to take our pug for a walk.

shivers the pirate who's afraid of everything

Connor and Annabeth at a school book reading event

Does Margo have a nickname?

No, but we’re taking suggestions.

Why is Margo’s dad introduced but not involved in the story?

We like that Shivers and Margo have to solve their problems on their own so we don’t usually have a lot of parental supervision in the books. But we thought it was important to give you an idea of Margo’s background, and how she has always liked going on adventures with her dad, Police Chief Clomps’n’Stomps.

Was the Shivers series fun and exciting to write? 

Shivers is so much fun to write! We love writing about his crazy adventures but we also love writing about the regular details of his life, like what normal everyday things fill him with terror. Like a toaster. That thing will pop up when you least expect it.

Connor White recording audio book for Shivers! the pirate

Connor White recording audio book for Shivers! the pirate

Do you like this interview so far?

So far… WE LOVE IT!

What’s Shiver’s favorite object in the world?

His bunny slippers. They’re soft and cuddly, plus they protect him from one of his greatest fears: his own toenails.

About how many hours a day did you spend writing these books?

We try to write for three hours every day but sometimes that includes long walks, snacking, chatting, and stuffing our faces into pillows.

hivers the pirate who's afraid of everything author interview school event

Did you ever get bored while writing?

We never get bored while writing but sometimes we get frustrated. When we’re stuck, we like to think of writing as solving a big puzzle instead of waiting for an answer.

Do you get writer’s block and how do you handle it?

Definitely! We think that writer’s block comes from a fear that your writing won’t be perfect right away. So we try to face that fear by allowing ourselves to write a “bad version” of whatever we’re working on. We also look for inspiration from the outside world by going to museums or reading great books. Also, there’s snacking. Did we mention snacking?

Can you cross your eyes?

Yes! And we can dot our T’s!

Have you ever been interviewed by a 5 and 7 year old?

Now that we’ve reached the end of this interview, we can officially say yes.

If you’d like to learn more about the authors behind Shivers!, check out this video:

Imagine Childhood: Interview with Sarah Olmsted

Imagine yourself as a child, running through a wide open meadow, making your own magic wand from a found twig, and building forts in thick woods, and you’ve caght the spirit of Sarah Olmsted’s book, Imagine Childhood: Exploring the World through Nature, Imagination, and Play.

Imagine Childhood book

I recently got my hands on Sarah’s hot-off-the-press book, which is packed with 25 magical projects that are as much inspired by the author’s own rich childhood as they are by her experience as an exhibit designer at the Field Museum of Natural History, and I have to tell you…it’s beautiful.

But beyond aesthetics, Sarah says, “these projects are not about what is produced in the end (although that part is fun too); they are about the process of getting there.” Ahhh, this makes me happy.

Guess what? Today is the Tinkerlab stop on the IMAGINE CHILDHOOD: Exploring the World Through Nature, Imagination, and Play book-blog tour, and I’m thrilled to welcome Sarah into our little corner of the web for a cozy little interview.

Here are the other stops if you’d like to soak up more Imagine Childhood inspiration while tapping into some other great blogs:

Readers will have the opportunity to win one a copy of Sarah’s book at the end of this interview.

Rachelle: Welcome, Sarah! I’m so glad that you’re here. You describe the journey your book takes as “chasing the magic of childhood.” Can you tell us about your childhood, and a little bit about the magic you remember from it?

Imagine childhood book

Sarah: That’s a hard question to answer succinctly because so many of those magical moments existed outside of the world of words.  They were feelings and experiences, milliseconds of expansion in the midst of the beauty and chaos of everyday family life.  My childhood was a typical one.  I come from a big family, so we were wild, rambunctious, loud, and loving like any house full of people, dogs, cats, birds and rabbits would be.  There was always something going on at any given moment, and while we didn’t have many “big” adventures, at the end of every day there was definitely a story to tell.

I don’t think I “remember” the magic of my childhood as much as I feel it.  I feel it when I’m wandering in the woods by myself and I can hear the sound of leaves shifting over my head.  I feel it when I learn something new that completely changes the way I understand the world.  I feel it when I let go and drift totally and completely into the moment.  I feel it when I allow myself to play.

Rachelle: You write in your book about the close relationship you have with your family. I’m always interested in hearing how parents can help shape their child’s experiences. Will you share a story about how your mom encouraged your creativity to flourish?

Imagine childhood book

Sarah: Growing up, my mother trusted me to figure things out in my own time.  She had a way of always being there without having to be right there.  I can’t imagine how many hours she spent watching all of us kids from a distance, close enough to comfort or help if that was what the situation required, but far enough away so that we felt empowered by the freedom of exploration.  Whether I was running around in the woods making forts, digging up the backyard to make a giant mud pit with my brother, or just reading stories in my room, I felt like an adventurer.

Even though she was always there the moment I needed her, my mom stood back just enough to let me feel like no one was watching.  In that bubble of my own little world, I could test things out, I could make mistakes, and I could make discoveries.  Those are the experiences that cultivated my creative spirit.  They taught me to trust in my intuition and to never fear failure, because that’s where you learn all of the really good stuff.

Rachelle: Ah, that makes me feel like I’m on the right track! Fostering independence and seeing failure as an opportunity for growth frame my own parenting philosophy. Can you tell us about a favorite project from your book and how it exemplifies your point of view?

Imagine childhood book

Sarah: It’s difficult to choose a favorite because each project comes from a different place and sparks a different emotion in me. But I guess if I had to pick one for today I would choose the Rube Goldberg activity.  I’m a school nerd at heart so the physics component of putting one of these chain reactions together appeals to that side of me, but I also love how they put emphasis on the process rather than the result.  Since the “success” of one of these types of activities requires a lot of trial and error, the fun often comes from figuring things out and laughing (a lot) when they don’t work as planned.  I think this activity lends particularly well to the spirit of IMAGINE CHILDHOOD for that exact reason.

While there are many projects and tutorials throughout its pages, this book is more about experience than outcome.  It’s about the conversations that happen while making things together. It’s about getting to know the world inch by inch. It’s about exploring imaginary universes and running through real forests. It’s about living in childhood . . . regardless of your actual age. This book is about being a kid.

Rachelle: What’s your next big project?

Sarah: Right now, apart from sharing the IMAGINE CHILDHDOOD book, I’m also working hard in the Imagine Childhood shop.  As we move into our 5th holiday season, we’re putting the final touches on our new gift guide (packed with our favorite children’s goods as well as lots of free seasonal recipes and crafts)  and preparing everything for the busy days ahead.  We have some great new things this year that I can’t wait to share 🙂

Rachelle: I’m so glad that you mentioned your shop! I got absolutely lost poking around over there and would highly recommend it to all of my readers. I would feel lucky to call any of the materials and kits on your site mine — they are just beautifully curated. Thanks for talking with me today, Sarah!

Sarah: Thanks so much for having me over to your beautiful space!

Sarah Olmsted grew up in Colorado and spent much of her time exploring art, science, and the nearby foothills and mountains. After receiving a bachelor of fine arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, she spent some time as a freelance children’s furniture designer/fabricator, which eventually led her to the Field Museum of Natural History. There she worked in exhibit design, developing interactive educational activities for permanent and traveling exhibitions before moving on to cofound in 2008.



One copy of Sarah’s book, Imagine Childhood, will be given away to a lucky reader. To enter for your chance to win, click on the Rafflecopter giveaway. This is open to U.S. addresses only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Why Our High Schools Need the Arts

“A must-read for anyone who cares about dropout prevention, Dr. Hoffmann Davis’ latest book is laid out like a map of the developing teenage psyche, leading the reader to a clear understanding of why learning in the arts is critical to adolescent development and engagement in school.”

Kristen Paglia, Executive Director, Education and Programs at P.S. ARTS


It’s my great pleasure to be joined today by my graduate school mentor and founder of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jessica Hoffmann Davis. For anyone lucky enough to know Jessica in person, she’s a dynamic individual with a talent for breathing life into difficult topics through her easy manner and accessible conversation points.

In her most recent book, Why Our High Schools Need the Arts (Teachers College Press, 2011), Jessica argues that the arts “can give high school students a reason to attend and to stay in school.” If you know anything about the growing number of high school dropouts, this is a solution worth considering.

This book is a must-read for school administrators and education policy makers, but it’s also a call-to-action for concerned parents who hold the direction of a child’s future in their hands.


Why our high schools need the arts

Thanks for joining me today! Your book is full of descriptive narratives that capture the importance an arts-rich high school education. Can you share a favorite story from the book that exemplifies this point?

The story of a student coming out in a visual arts class is a great example of how the arts enable students to give shape to emotions and ideas that may be otherwise difficult to express. A fledgling visual art teacher had a student who was hiding her drawing all through the class. It was the drawing of two young women kissing. Finally, the student “meekly asked” if the teacher would allow her to continue the drawing. He was completely taken aback and replied, “I’m really not sure why you’re asking this question. It’s two people making out. They’re kissing. It’s a beautiful moment. So you want to know what I think? You need to punch up your shading around the jawlines if you want more drama. Those shadows should be directing the viewer’s eyes to the areas of the picture YOU want them to go to. Does that answer your question?” And with a big toothy grin, she just said, “Yes.”

As the parent of two small children who will one day become teenagers (eek!), I got a lot out of this book, particularly how to frame my passion for arts education for school administrators who have the power to make change. How do you hope parents, teachers, administrators, or policy makers will use this book?

I have been working the last several years on putting into words the things that make the arts essential to our children’s education AND (and this is important) what makes arts learning different from what students learn in their other classes. In this new book, as I did in an earlier one called Why Our Schools Need the Arts (2008), I delineate concrete aspects of the arts that give way to particular learning outcomes.. I hope this framework will help arts education advocates launch focussed and effective arguments. The arts are not frills. They are necessary in our children’s development and learning. For adolescents who are struggling with the difficult passage from childhood to adulthood, this is poignantly true. The arts give these students a reason to come to school and therefore, as I say in the book, can help reduce the drop out rate in our struggling high schools.

jessica hoffman davis and her grandson

Jessica watches her grandson paint

You’re the parent of THREE creative kids (now grown up). Can you tell us a little bit about how you raised your own children and what their high school art experiences were like?

I started early and introduced my sons to many hands on arts experiences and trips to art museums before they entered first grade. Although only one of them, my youngest, grew up to be a working artist, I do believe all three have a comfort with and love for art and a strong sense of the aesthetic. They also all had meaningful (if not extensive) arts encounters in high school. My oldest son, Josh eagerly performed in high school theatrical productions and I believe those experiences informed his love for public speaking—his debating in college and law school, and the presentations he does now as a lawyer, teacher, and talk radio guy. My middle son Alex, now an investment advisor, was very engaged in high school sports, but he loved the ceramics he got to do and he shows his little boy the pieces we have around the house with affection and I think still some real pride. My youngest, Benjamin, has always adored the arts and especially theater. He went to a high school where he had the chance to engage deeply in the visual arts and in theater and I think his role as Tevya (Fiddler on the Roof) senior year helped launch his career as an actor and master class teacher in L.A.

What books or websites are inspiring you right now?

One of the things that interests me at this stage of life is getting to know better the young person that I was. Perhaps by more than coincidence, since I’ve been studying high school aged students, I’ve been revisiting some of the books that I loved as a teen ager. I’ve been reading the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night, and the Far Side of Paradise) which I adored at that age and it’s been a very dear experience. As much as I enjoy these works in a different way now, I vividly remember falling in love with the writer, feeling I was the person for whom Fitzgerald wrote these books. I’ve also been excited and inspired by the work of some of my former graduate students. For example, Deb Putnoi has a great new book that’s just out called The Drawing Mind: Silence Your Inner Critic and Release Your Creative Spirit and Caleb Neelon’s The History of American Graffiti is wonderful as is Jim Daichendt’s Artist-Teacher: A Philosophy for Creating and Teaching

High School Jessica plays guitar with friends

You conclude the book with the idea that if you ask any high school graduate what they remember from high school they will “tell you of the time they played Captain Hook in the school musical or the day their poem was read aloud in assembly…” A couple of my own strongest memories are of playing flute for the musical Guys and Dolls and painting in the art studio long after class was over…so this definitely rings true for me. When you think back to your own high school memories, what has stuck with you?

I remember profoundly the production of a play that I’d written in high school through which I learned a great deal about a friend of mine whose role (which of course I played) was at the center of the story. It was thrilling to hear the words I’d written spoken by the other students who acted in my play and exciting to have created an artistic whole with so many parts. I haven’t done anything like it since except that two summers ago here in New Hampshire where I live, I wrote and directed a play about a group of women going back for their fiftieth high school reunion and the excitement I felt as the audience laughed at the lines I’d written brought me back to that moment of theatrical excitement so many years ago.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Tinkerlab is wonderful. Congratulations. I’m delighted to be featured here. Thank you Rachelle. Also, if anyone would like to be in touch with me around my writing and/or any of the issues I address, please contact me via my website:

Thank you so much, Jessica! It’s such an honor to share you and your work with my readers and I hope you’ll come back and talk with us again soon.


One lucky reader will be randomly chosen to receive a copy of Why Our High Schools Need the Arts. To enter, please leave a comment with your own fondest High School memory/ies by Sunday, May 6 at 9 pm PST. Prize recipient must have a U.S. address. Good luck! A winner has been selected. Thanks to everyone who entered.

What MaryAnn F. Kohl Can Teach Us About Fostering Literacy Through Art

Today I’m excited to be joined by the ever-inspiring children’s art book author, MaryAnn F. Kohl. MaryAnn’s books helped me prepare lessons in my teaching days and have since become dog-eared favorites in my life as a parent. I now own eight of her books and constantly turn to them for ideas. Because MaryAnn is so prolific (full list here, on Amazon), we thought it might be fun to spotlight one of her books as an introduction to her work.

And…it happens to be MaryAnn’s birthday today! Happy Birthday, MaryAnn!

RACHELLE: Welcome, MaryAnn! As you know, I’m a huge fan and your book, First Art for Toddlers and Twos: Open-ended Art Experiences, was the first place I looked for inspiration when my older daughter was old enough to draw. We’ve been having fun trying different activities from your book, Storybook Art. A lot of the books are traditional favorites, while some are new to me. How did you choose the books that are included in this book?

MARYANN: Storybook Art was a joy for me to research and write. Choosing books was at the same time both easy and challenging, because I knew which books would have great art connections for kids, but how to choose 100 or less? As I sorted and chose, I was looking for a wide mix of art styles created by the illustrators, as well as a variety of art experiences for the children. I wanted to be sure I had a good mix of paint, crayon, sculpture, photography, and so on. And of course I had my favorites that I simply could not leave out, like Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day and Leo Lionni’s Fish is Fish. Everyone who knew I was working on the book had a favorite and begged me to include each one! Definitely challenging.  When all was said and done, I arrived at 100 books and their illustrators selected in four categories (the four chapters): Paint, Draw, Cut & Collage, and Craft & Construction. I was pleased with the balance and only had to omit a few of my very favorites, but perhaps another book one day? I spent hours and hours in our public children’s library so I could see the real books up close. One of my favorite parts of writing the book was interviewing illustrators and getting quotes from them about why art is important.

RACHELLE: It’s evident that a lot of time and research went into gathering biographies and details about the illustrators’ artistic processes. How do you hope parents or teachers will use this book?

MARYANN: I offer the details in Storybook Art to parents so they may choose how much their children may be interested in knowing, and how much to share with them. Some children will be fascinated by the quotes and lives of various illustrators, and others will be more interested in just getting on with the art. Parents often introduce a little tidbit of information at one reading, and maybe a few more details at another reading. Whatever is comfortable each parent and child is what works best. I hope that parents will find picture books that their children enjoy, then explore the art project that relates to that book, and then, most important of all, re-read the book again (and again). Parents will find that after their children explore the art projects, they will be more interested and more finely tuned to the details of the illustrations and the story when read a second and third and fourth and however many times.

RACHELLE: How can the process of following up a story with an art project contribute to a child’s language skills? (Sharing some photos of our experience with Watercolor Snow Collage: Ezra Jack Keats).

MARYANN: Picture books rely heavily on their illustrations, their art, if you will. Connecting picture book art with children’s own art connects children to their books. When a child has a personal connection (in this case, through hands-on art experiences) to a book, that book becomes more deeply appreciated, the story more deeply comprehended, the language more readily remembered, the illustrations more finely noticed. So much of learning to read is hearing a story and finding a personal connection. If art is a connection, it’s just one more way for children to become attached to their books in a personal way, with all the benefits that go with it.

A few are:

  • When we surround our children with books, and therefore with words and language, we are giving them meaningful vocabulary they will add to their use and understanding.
  • The conversations we have with out kids about books increase their listening and communication skills.
  • Including body language like facial expressions and clapping or other movements, helps get the words into the children’s bodies, and therefore will be remembered.
  • Children will often retell stories, or make up new stories inspired by their favorite books.
  • We’ve all seen kids who memorize a book word for word, or at the very least know which words are next in the sentence before you read the words … all this long before they can actually read. This is a sign of a budding great reader!
All these are amazing language skills that will launch a child into reading when he is ready.

A little story: I remember at one point in my teaching career, I was talking to my kindergarten class about all the details of forest animals, just talking and talking, and this little boy raised his hand as he threw up his hands in the air with an exasperated look on his face, “….and rain makes applesauce!” He was referring to the chant from the book “Rain Makes Applesauce” that we had read in class, and letting me know I was just going on far too long with far too many details about forest animals. That one made me laugh! Kids will transfer phrases and words from their books into their lives, a connection transfer that makes those brain synapses just snap and sparkle! When this happens, you know that language has taken root in your child’s mind and heart, and will expand his creative thinking as he grows.

RACHELLE: What are your favorite illustrators and activities from the book?

MARYANN: My favorites vary from day to day, and from child to child. Whenever a child is inspired and excited about a project, then I become equally excited, so my favorites change often! There are some projects in Storybook Art that are sure winners for just about every child. For example, most kids really enjoy “Cat & Mouse Prints” that go with Wanda Gag’s classic “Millions of Cats”. They enjoy making “millions of prints”! another one young children love is Robert McCloskey’s “Blueberries for Sal” followed up with “Blue Fingerdots, which is simply making a painting with a finger dipped in blue paint, or better yet, blue dots art made with actual blueberries.

One of the biggest surprises to me was a book that I added at the very end of the writing process because my daughter, Megan, requested it: Dare Wright’s “The Lonely Doll” with the project “Portraiture”. In this activity, children set up toys in various poses and scenes, and then photograph them, just as Ms. Wright did with her doll Edith and Edith’s companion Mr. Bear. Kids tell me this is one of their most favorite projects of all, and it’s fascinating to see the stories they put together through their photographs and scenes. I had no idea until I started doing portraiture with kids of all ages of the depth of creativity and concentration that would unfold. What a joyful discovery!

RACHELLE: I’d love to hear about your writing path. Can you tell us what influenced you to begin writing books and what you’re working on now?

MARYANN: When I was a little girl, my dad owned a bookstore and brought home a Little Golden Book or other storybook for me weekly. My parents read to me every night, and during the day I read and re-red those books, often incorporating the stories into my make-believe and pretend play with my dolls or into my crayon drawings.

When I was a little older, my dad managed a huge printing and book bindery, and I would spend a Saturday morning with him at his “office”. He would send me off to wander the shelves in the warehouse and find any books that interested me to bring home. His bindery did library bindings for every publisher in the USA, so the choices were magnificent! Little House on the Prairie was one of my best discoveries. It was pure luck that I found the series because no one had ever shared these books with me — not my teachers or the town librarian — and I loved the stories. Books were one of my most important activities as a child, along with my crayons and scissors, and my bike. Books remain important to me, and were clearly important in how I raised my children.

I mention this, because growing up with books the way I did made me want to be an author. I always knew I would be one some day. I was in no hurry. I knew it would come about at some point. And here I am, 20 books later, with plans to write fiction for children who love “chapter books”. Right now I’m working on another activity book called “Great Composers for Kids” with my musical theatre writing daughter, Hannah. We’re coming up with some wonderful projects to help kids connect to the classical composers and their lives and music. It’s very exciting!

When my kids started school, I decided to use the time when they were in school to write a book of art activities. I’d noticed that at the time no books existed, so I gathered my favorite “independent art ideas for kids” in a book called “Scribble Cookies”, now called “Scribble Art”. I self-published it with no clear idea of how to really do that, 27 years later, here I am! Scribble Art became an immediate best seller, and it’s still my favorite book of all the ones I have written.

RACHELLE: You shared that your own girls are all grown up and have turned out to be amazing grown-ups. I’m so curious to know what your own home was like when you raised your children. 

MARYANN: My home was not unlike the ways yours looks and what you do with your children, though perhaps mine was not quite as magnificent in scope. I wanted my kids to have an imaginative childhood, so we always had art projects going on in our kitchen, lots of make-believe and storytelling, acting and pretending galore, costumes, dance, and singing. Making up songs was a big part of what we did together — just something that we enjoyed. My two daughters loved“Little House on the Prairie” on television and rarely missed an episode. They loved Broadway musicals like Annie and Fiddler on the Roof and great classic fairy tales to listen to like The Little Mermaid (not Disney) and Snow White and Rose Red. Much of their creative play was based on these stories and shows.

And now, my oldest daughter, Hannah Kohl, is living in New York and working on Broadway as a musical theatre writer and producer. Her first professional children’s musical opens in January at the The Chicago Children’s Theatre based on Brian Selznick’s book, The Houdini Box. (Yes, I’ll be there for opening night!) Selznick is the author of the Caldecott Award winning book, Hugo Cabret, now an amazing beautiful movie called Hugo. I’m sure our love of books and fairy tales, etc. paved the way for her to seek theatre as a career.

My younger daughter, Megan Kohl, does serious theatre performance in Chicago, and to our delight, was recently seen as the K-Mart witch in their national Halloween commercial. The most fun she’s had commercially was taping a travel DVD for Disney Resorts where she walks through the parks giving hints to parents about how best to enjoy the various Disney experiences. You can order the DVDs for free from Disney Resorts. Sing up here:   Watch for Megan!

RACHELLE: What books and blogs inspire you?

MARYANN: I follow many amazing blogs, and of course TinkerLab is one of tip top favorites! If I were to list several, they would not surprise anyone because I’m sure your readers follow them too: The Imagination Tree, NurtureStore, Chocolate Muffin Tree, Pink and Green Mama, Crafty Crow, Childhood 101, and The Artful Parent are some of the best that come immediately to mind. I am inspired and amazed at what young mothers are doing with their blogs and their fabulous photographs of kids in action and their wonderful artworks and adorable crafts. I am sure I would have been a mommy blogger if that technology had been available to me when I was raising my kids.As far as books that inspire me, I have shelves full of activity books and love them all for different reasons. I continue to especially enjoy Kim Solga’s“Paint!” and “Draw!”, books filled with open-ended art ideas and great illustrations and photos. I also like the more focused books put out by Chicago Review Press, like “Monet and the Impressionists for Kids”. All the DK books are beautiful! A little series I like for young children in board book format is called “Mini Masters” by Chronicle books. If you look for these, check out “Quiet Time With Cassatt” by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober.

RACHELLE: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

MARYANN: I invite your readers to join my mailing list at I’ll send out a short newsletter, the ArtsyKidsNEWS, once a month with a great art activity and other bits of news. Also, I encourage your readers to visit the Barnes and Noble website where 15 national experts have been selected to write articles about various parenting and child related issues from infancy on up. My current articles there are all about art and child development, and perhaps will be of interest. My specific articles are here: My blog might be of interest too, at:

Lastly, I’d like to remind everyone that art for kids doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive or fabulous every day. If you give kids blank paper and crayons, you have given them the best possible. Did you know kids who draw frequently uninterrupted by adults do better in academic subjects? It’s true! The important thing is to allow kids to create in their own ways. Relax and enjoy art with kids. The benefits are tenfold.

RACHELLE: Thank you for joining me today, MaryAnn! Talking with you is always such a pleasure!

What are your favorite storybooks? How have you been inspired to spin books into art project?



MaryAnn has graciously offered to share a copy of Storybook Art with one lucky readerReaders who leave a comment by Monday, January 30, 2012 at 9 pm PST will be entered to win. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. Only open to U.S. addresses. The winner has been selected. Thank you to everyone who entered!!


What The Guilty Crafter Can Teach You About Crafting Without Guilt

An Interview with Angela Daniels, The Guilty Crafter and Lead Fiskateer

Angela Daniels has got to have one of the funnest jobs in the world! A mom of two, Angela left the corporate world and turned her DIY craftines into a job with Fiskars — the scissor company — as a Lead Fiskateer. Cool, right? Well, actually, the title that follows her emails is: Aspiring Domestic Goddess & Lead Brand Ambassador for Fiskars (gasp!), but whatever her title is, she’s rad!! I met Angela at Maker Faire this past summer, and was drawn in by her cheery “turn your t-shirts into flowers” tutorial. Angela is funny and adorable, and I hope you’ll enjoy hearing all about her work while getting inspired to follow your bliss and turn your recyclables into something fabulous.

{Read through for details on how you can enter to win a fabulous craft package.}

First of all, you’re a Fiskateer! Whaaaa?! What exactly does a Fiskateer do (and how did you land such a cool job)?

It is THE coolest job. Basically, I was hired to blog for Fiskars after being a member of their community at, and then applied to become a “Lead Fiskateer.” I co-lead a community of over 8,000 enthusiastic crafters. I had already demonstrated that I love Fiskars tools and that I have an almost endless supply of energy for blogging and traveling and meeting other crafters. Our whole Fiskateer community is founded on one simple philosophy- share your passion for crafting. That is something that comes naturally to me.

I love how you refer to yourself as a domestic goddess wannabe! Can you tell us more about your background and how you found yourself on this journey?

I was raised by a feminist and I married a man whose mother and grandmother are also excellent role models of feminism. They are smart, funny and find most of their self-satisfaction through the work they’ve done outside the home. I always thought I would follow suit. I had a corporate job for several years but 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to stay home with my 2 kids and, I wish I could say I have never looked back. I DO! I loved my full-time job quite a bit. I got lots of enjoyment out of being good at what I did and working long hours (I was a corporate trainer). It took me a full 8 years at least to settle down and realize I have a pretty good gig at home. Why not have fun with it? Instead of balking at traditional 50’s stereotypes of stay-at-home moms, why not throw on a vintage apron, some pearls while I burn Kraft Macaroni and Cheese? The more I have decided to try and let go of the idea of perfection and not take it so seriously, the more fun I’ve had with it. I can even make homemade macaroni and cheese now. Of course every mom reading this will completely understand when I tell you that my kids much prefer Kraft no matter how truly delicious mine is. Kids. Sigh.

When I met you, you were making these super-cool, simple upcycled fabric flowers at the Make Faire. You have a knack for mixing style with recycling…how do you do it?

Thank you so much. I love showing very short, simple and inexpensive projects to people as a gateway to encouraging them to explore more complicated, larger projects (much in the same way I work with simple, short ingredient list recipes as a fledgling cook). I find my recycling ideas through guilt. Really. My kids attended a Montessori school when they were little and a big emphasis was put on recycling. The idea stuck and I always feel a little guilty about throwing out good basic materials. I’ll keep them (much to my husband’s chagrin) and eventually the materials will inspire some kind of craft or another. One of my favorite materials is the netting you get when you buy fruits or vegetables in bulk. It usually comes in bright colors (orange around oranges, yellow around lemons, etc.) and adds such a fun texture to papercrafting. Being a Fiskateer means Fiskars sends me a lot of tools to try- good creative tools are always a wonderful way to inspire upcycled craft projects.

In all your pictures and videos, you sport some fabulous 1950’s-ish wigs and accessories, and you seem to be brimming with creative ideas. Where do you get your ideas from and how do you feed your creativity?

My energy and creativity can be traced directly back to my dislike for basic housework. The higher the piles of laundry, the more compelled I feel to dive into a craft project and ignore the pile. I suppose a childhood filled with artistic and crafty relatives didn’t hurt either. It was a rare day as a kid that we didn’t have to clear off a pile of art supplies off the dining room table every night for dinner. My dining room table is following in that same family tradition.

Can you tell us more about your new webseries “The Guilty Crafter.” How do guilt and crafting go together?

I have spent so many years doing videos sponsored by various crafting companies and, as much as I have enjoyed that, I know my videos sometimes came across as a little to “corporate.” If you have met me in person and crafted with me, I am much less serious when it comes to my love of crafting. I realized that a lot of times, I was feeling guilty if I spent too much of my time crafting but I also felt guilty if I wasn’t crafting things for my kids. I also feel guilty if I buy supplies and never follow through with using them OR if I follow through but my projects didn’t look they belonged in a magazine. After spending time with Kent Nichols (producer and co-writer of, he found my conflicting feelings humorous and suggested that we collaborate on a video series that shows crafting from a real crafter’s point of view. My projects are quick, easy and cheap and guilt goes, I really can’t win so I decided to embrace those feelings and see if other crafters out there feel the same way.

Here’s an example…

I read that you take the statement, “I’m not creative at all,” as a personal challenge. What would you want someone who feels lacking in creativity to know or think about?

I come from a long line of women who simply do not cook. Almost at all. We’re not foodies and I think all of us, if we lived alone, would survive on olives, cheese and wine. I spent the first few years of my marriage telling people, “I can’t cook at ALL” and couldn’t ever understand why people would insist that cooking is EASY. Until I opened my mind to really giving it a try a year ago. To my surprise, cooking (which can be a creative outlet) can be fun. Sometimes I mess everything up (okay, a lot of times) but quite often, I make something almost tasty and my family loves that. I had to kind of go through that process to understand why people balk at crafting. It’s the same thing. You have to be willing to let go of perfection, enjoy the process and allow yourself those moments when you can think- hey, that’s not too bad! Good for me! And you have to laugh at the burnt dishes and the ones with missing ingredients and be okay with scrapping the whole thing and opting for fast food some nights.

Where can we find more of you?

You can find me at all these places under both “AngelaDaniels” and “GuiltyCrafter.” I continue to share random ideas on achieving my goal of domestic goddess status on my personal blog at I am clearly obsessed by all the inspiration there is to find and share on the internet!

Exciting Opportunity!!: If anyone is interested in becoming a Fiskateer, email Angela directly at

More of Angela Daniels online:

WebsitesFiskateer WebsiteAngela’s personal blog
Twitter: GuiltyCrafterAngelaDaniels, Fiskateers
Facebook: Angela’s Facebook page, The Guilty Crafter


Angela has generously offered to give away one fabulous prize package that includes her number one favorite tool- the Fiskars Hand Drill, a pair of Fiskars scissors, Angela’s favorite self-stick stamp set, and a few surprises. Oh, how I wish I could win this fun prize!

To enter: Just leave a comment and share something that you feel guilty about (if you’re guilt-free, pat yourself on the back and leave a nice comment instead). The winner will be chosen by random number generator. The giveaway is only open to US addresses. Deadline to enter: Monday, November 28 at 9 pm PST.   Thank you to everyone for your funny, heartfelt, and entertaining comments! Lucy has been selected as the winner and the giveaway is closed

Interview with Lisa Chouinard from Feto Soap

lisa chouinardI’m excited to be joined today by soap artisan Lisa Chouinard who hand makes small batches of soap from her shop, Feto Soap, in Austin, Texas. We made soap last month for Mother’s Day, so when I recently learned about Feto Soap at the Maker Faire, I thought it would be fun to glean some tips from a soap master on making soap with kids!


::Three TinkerLab followers will have the chance to win Feto Soap gift certificates at the end of this interview.::

feto soap offerings

Can you tell us about your background and what led you to start Feto Soap?

I started making soap in the summer of 2003 as a hobby while I was working at a tech support job and was posting pictures and instructions of my projects to online craft forums. Many of the people weren’t interested in making their own soap, but they liked my soap and asked if they could buy what I was making. A few months later I started Feto Soap. In the beginning my goal was to make enough money to keep in supplies (so I could keep making new things). I met and exceeded that goal a few years ago and am in the process of making new goals, defining myself and my company.

Can you talk about your experimentation process and how you come up with your recipes?

In the beginning I would just make soap with whatever I had on hand (I bought many different materials to work with) to see what I could come up with. When I started out what I envisioned didn’t always translate to what I was making. Here’s an example: I was trying to make a soap light purple to match the fragrance called “relaxing” and it came out blue-veined instead when I added heat and clay to it. It came out beautifully even though it was not what I had planned. I had a naming contest for the soap and the winner received the bar they named. (Avocado Clay Spa) Now most of my ideas come out closer or exactly how I visualize them, but only because I’ve done a TON of experimentation at this point.

oakmoss sandalwood handmade soap

Have there been any experiment disasters?

Yes. The first few times I attempted to made soap from scratch I was impatient and inexperienced, so I didn’t get my temperatures right, resulting big caustic mess! (and no soap) Thankfully I didn’t let that stop me and I tried again and again until I got it right. Here’s a picture of soap I mistakenly added honey too while it was cooking (resulting in “burned” soap).

honey hot process

Where do you get your inspiration?

Some of my inspirations are food and candy. I saw lemon bars in the case at the local cafe, and the gears in my head started whirring… I have a square mold, lemon fragrance & powdered sugar… I can make Lemon Bar Soap! Another time this happened chocolate mints arrived at the end of a meal. I went home and made Chocolate Mint Soap with peppermint essential oil and added cocoa powder to my chocolate soap.

You run soap-making workshops that attract a lot of kids and families. What do people seem to enjoy about soapmaking?

People like making things. Melt and pour soapmaking is an easy and accessible medium. There’s no one who can’t do it, and it’s quick! You don’t have to have a practiced skill (like to be able to draw) and you can create a little piece of usable art in under an hour!

What tips do you have for those of us interested in setting up our own soap-making experiments at home or school?

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on molds for soap. My first loaf mold was plastic packaging that was either going to be thrown away or recycled. When you repurpose something that wasn’t a soap mold and turn it into a soap mold, it’s called a “found mold” You can use yogurt and other plastic food containers, jello molds, candy molds – they just need to be plastic, silicone and flexible. (not metal) You can also use milk cartons. You might have to cut them away to get the soap out. After you figure out what can be a soap mold, EVERYTHING starts looking like a potential soap mold.

honey bear soap

Will you share some of your soapmaking tips?

  • Not sure how much soap will fit into your mold? Fill it up with water and pour into a graduated measuring cup.
  • Want to get rid those pesky bubbles that came up after you poured your soap into the mold? Fill a small spray bottle up full of rubbing alcohol. Immediately after pouring the soap into the mold, spray the top once or twice to break the surface tension of the bubbles.

More tips and resources here:

Making soap at #makerfaire!

How was your creativity encouraged in childhood?

I was always surrounded by books and musical instruments, so my creativity was encouraged by reading and playing music. I day dreamt a lot and I think that was influenced by all the books I had access to read.

What are you stumbling on that feels important or exciting?

Soapmaking suppliers are beginning to acknowledge the need and desire for more natural products and making something called natural fragrance oils. Before, if you wanted to scent a product with something like Dreamsicle, your only choice was a fragrance oil, which was usually synthetic and not natural. I’m glad natural choices are available and am working on replacing my fragrance oils with natural alternatives when they are available.

Anything else you would like to add?

I can’t wait for the next Maker Faire to make soap with you all! I have applied to World Maker Faire and will announce it on my blog as soon as I know!

Thank you Lisa! It was fun talking with you today.



Lisa is giving away $6 gift certificates (enough to buy a soap-making kit or bar of hand made soap) to three lucky readers. To enter, leave a comment by Wednesday, June 29 at 8 pm PST. Winners will be notified by email or Facebook.

Extra Entries:

  • Like TinkerLab on Facebook and leave a comment on the TinkerLab Facebook wall.
  • Share this giveaway in your Facebook status and leave the link to your profile.
  • Blog about this post with a direct link pointing to this giveaway. Leave me a link so I can check it out!

Interview with Matt Jervis of MacGyverClass!

Matt Jervis runs MacGyverClass!, a Berkeley, CA after school program that teaches creative problem solving to kids in K-5th grades. Their mission is to get kids to think creatively and see challenges as an opportunity, not a threat. Special thanks to Matt for being my first interviewee! Interviews with more exciting thinkers on creativity are in the hopper, and I hope you’ll come back for more.

::Two TinkerLab followers will have the chance to win a Challenge Box at the end of this interview.::

I love the name, MacGyverClass! Can you tell me about your program?

Yes! First of all… Thank you so much for seeing value in what we are attempting to do!! Let me begin by addressing the name… MacGyverClass! Now all of us parents know who MacGyver was… which made explaining the crux of the class a bit easier, but the connection to the TV show ends there. The funny thing is, we have brought the word MacGyver to whole new generation! Without them knowing anything about the 80’s TV show, they walk out of my class knowing “MacGyver” as a verb! The MC! program is essentially built to encourage kids to indulge their natural creative abilities through a specialized hands-on activity. And we do that by offering our students an open forum to explore their own ideas through fun random challenges and random materials! The random aspect is very important to the class… We like to say that, “You don’t get to pick your challenges…your challenges pick you!”  and from there we begin!

What led you to start MacGyverClass!?

I’m an artist and a veteran punk rock musician… in other words I’m a creative guy with a penchant for performing…that coupled with a family of artists and teachers… MacGyverClass! evolved very naturally… The first MC! class came to be when my son, Jasper was in Kindergarten and I wanted to get more involved with his class… as a new parent and an artist I decided to offer his teacher an “art” class for one afternoon…  I based it on the crazy creative projects my Dad used to task my brother and I with growing up… making forts and other crazy stuff with just what we had around. As a painter, my Dad was fond of quoting Picasso, and often said  “When Picasso ran out of red paint he would use what he had…blue.” I took much of that to sentiment to heart …and it was from there the idea for MacGyverClass! popped.  I love MacGyverClass! because it’s simple and it can be done at home and it’s lessons are portable.

What age group do you work with?

As for the classes…I like the k-5th grade group… and I require them all to be in one class. This really helps to break down age barriers and form a real community in the class and beyond. As for my afterschool groups, I’ve seen this approach help to create bonds in the halls and on the playground! It’s magical to see a 1st grader and a 4th grader working together…then a kindergartner comes over with a cool idea…boom! That’s when MacGyverClass! really shines!! Separating the kids by grade just doesn’t work well for this program!

What does a typical class look like?

A typical class begins when school ends.  We gather together and we pick our challenge out of a hat.  The kids love being able to pick the challenge… Once the challenge has been picked, with a drum roll of course, I introduce the day’s materials. Every class is different and the materials are chosen with no regard to what the challenge could be.

For those of us interested in replicating a MC!-style class at home or school, could you share a couple of the questions that might get pulled from the hat?

Hmm. This is where MacGyverClass! really gets fun.

Challenges are off the wall but we take them very seriously! 😉 In fact we try and link all sorts of vocabulary words to each challenge and keep a conversation going the whole time. That really gets the wheels crankin’… My latest favorite challenges are:

  • With today’s materials make a house for your foot! or…
  • With today’s materials make shoes for time travel!

“With today’s materials create your very own action figure!”

This sounds like a lot of fun! What kind of materials do you use?

I approach each class like a head chef of a restaurant. Like a chef that goes daily to the Farmers Market and picks the latest offerings…I go to various places on my route and find wacky new materials and bring them fresh to each class.  They may range from rolls of aluminum foil… to wine caps or sponges. My favorite materials are the simplest…like egg cartons and VHS tape! The most popular material by far is the duct tape…but we use it in every class and because of that, the kids have developed a pretty savvy appreciation for the “good” stuff.

Why do you think it’s important to get kids to “think creatively and see challenges as opportunities?”

First of all…why not?  I mean, that’s the crux of life right? … to be prepared? I want our kids to be ready and able to deal with the ebbs and flows of life… Change and challenge… If we can start to show kids that to innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat….  Getting acquainted with your creative side is to equip yourself with a real survival skill. Simply I see MacGyverClass! as a metaphor for life; We don’t choose our challenges, our challenges choose us! I hope our kids walk away feeling a little less anxiety when approaching a new challenge and see it more as an opportunity to be creative then a potential for failure. I hope they begin to see an egg carton as compressed paper fibers and not as an egg carton. By that I mean, see the material thru the form. I also hope they have fun ultimately… I feel kids learn best sometimes when they don’t know they’re learning… 😉

Can you tell me more about those intriguing Random Challenges boxes?

The boxes are great for anyone! k- adult… They tap into something we all do and gives enough structure without being too structured. Get a dozen and have them at a party… keep a couple in the trunk for long car rides…take them on the plane! Work as a team or just let your mind wander! It’s like a spa for your creative side.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Matt!



Giveaway is CLOSED. Matt is giving away two sets of his Random Challenges boxes to two lucky readers. To enter, leave a comment by Monday, June 6 at 8 pm PST, and mention your favorite upcycled found material. Winners will be notified by email or Facebook.

Extra Entries:

  • Like TinkerLab on Facebook and leave a comment on the TinkerLab Facebook wall.
  • Share this giveaway in your Facebook status and leave the link to your profile.
  • Blog about this post with a direct link pointing to this giveaway. Leave me a link so I can check it out!

If you’d like to connect with MacGyverClass!, you can find them on Facebook: