Alithia’s Art Angles

12 Jul

I feel helpless when mass shootings happen. I wish I could do something—anything—to make them stop. You feel that way too, I’m sure of it.

The only skill I’ve got is making books for children. After New Zealand’s mosque shootings, I wrote and illustrated Let’s Be Friends. Perhaps the Uvalde shooting will inspire a book as well, but books take time, and I wanted to do something now. So when 19 kids and 2 teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School, I drew them, each beautiful child and teacher, and posted the images on Instagram and Facebook.

The story of Alithia Ramirez, one of the murdered students, caught my attention. I read that her house was still decorated with birthday balloons. Alithia had just turned ten when the shooting happened.

Alithia’s father, Ryan, responded to the post on Instagram. A day or two later, I heard Ryan tell Anderson Cooper that Alithia was a talented artist, always surrounded by crayons. After illustrating all of the other victims, I circled back and drew Alithia again, as her father described her.

In my family, we are all artists. My husband is a designer and an abstract painter, and our son was practically born with a Micron marker in his hand. As for me, well… art is all I can do. Alithia’s story resonated with me.

I reached out to her parents through Ryans comments on my Instagram posts. Since then, we’ve been working together to build a website that celebrates Alithia, her life and art, and the art of all children: Alithia’s Art Angels.

Alithia’s Art Angels

Alithia’s Art Angels is a free online art gallery for children’s art—because Alithia dreamed of seeing her artwork online some day.

“I just wish people could share their drawings so somehow I can make their dreams come true since I always told Alithia that I would make her dreams come true and she was so happy that I believed that she could do anything.”

~Jess Hernandez

Alithia’s mom, Jess Hernandez, was Alithia’s biggest encourager. Jess wants to encourage other young artists to follow their dreams. Toward that end, we created the Alithia’s Art Angels fundraiser, with a goal of giving away art supplies to artists who are 18 and younger. All of this can be accessed through

How You Can Help

Raisa’s Stories

6 Jul

Hey, everybody! Meet my intern, Raisa Shaheed.

I wasn’t looking for an intern at the start of last term, but Raisa was looking for an internship. And my “ship” was docked right next door.

Yep, Raisa is my next door neighbor. I made a portrait of her once, before I properly knew her. (I imagine inspirational people like Raisa are the subjects of countless unsolicited portraits, especially when those inspiring people live next door to sneaky artists).

As I got to know her, I discovered that Raisa is an artist, and a writer. She is a gifted teller of stories. So much talent. So creative. So dedicated. (She also happens to an awesome and generous baker. And no, she did not ply me with brownies when she asked me about the internship. No baked goods were necessary!)


You could say that fate had a hand in throwing us together in Malaysia—especially if you consider that Raisa is from Bangladesh, and I am from the US.

For an entire term, we met on Friday mornings at Shattuck-St Mary’s elementary school library to discuss books and writing and life. In the photo above, we’re studying the story arc of Erin Dionne’s picture book, Balletball, illustrated by Gillian Flint.

And in the above photo, Raisa is dressed as the White Rabbit for Book Week.

Read Raisa’s Stories!

Raisa is just about to begin her senior year of high school. Join her on her writing journey by reading her blog.


1 Jun


On Tuesday, May 24, a gunman killed nineteen students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The stories coming out of Uvalde are heartbreaking, sickening.

Single issue voters have recently proved their power. They play the long game, and get sh*t done. If I lived in Texas, I would make it my mission to vote certain people out of office. From now on, gun violence is my single issue.


I don’t live in Texas; in fact, I presently live about as far away from the US as possible (in Forest City, Malaysia). I’ve been wondering for days what I can do to help, and have come up with nothing but this: I will celebrate Uvalde’s victims through art. I draw kids for a living, and so I will draw the victims of America’s latest mass elementary school shooting, to celebrate their lives.

Follow along on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and/or Pinterest.


Click here to donate money to the families of the victims on gofundme.

GEMS Podcast

12 May

This morning I was interviewed by the lovely Genesis Amaris Kemp on her podcast, GEMS.

We talked about publishing, creativity, inspiration, and following your dreams… and even cures for writers block.

Click here to listen.

If you prefer to watch on YouTube, click here.

GEMS is a fun and inspiring podcast to follow. Whenever I listen, I feel like I’m having tea with friends. Make sure you subscribe!

The 500 Section Lounge Podcast

4 May

Hi, Everybody!

Yesterday, I was a guest on The 500 Section Lounge Podcast.

The 500 Section Lounge is a fun show, fresh and entertaining. The hosts—three dads who’ve been friends since high school—talk a lot of sports, so you may be thinking one of two things:

1) I want to hear three dads talk about sports and interview lots of cool sports personalities!

If that’s you, no worries, settle down. All you have to do is click here, or use your Google machine. There are many ways to listen and subscribe.

2) What’s a children’s book illustrator doing on a podcast hosted by three dads?

Well, let me tell you. The 500 Section Lounge podcast isn’t just cool, it’s super cool. There is something for everyone. Sam, Matt, and Richey talk to all kinds of people. In my favorite episode, they interview a beekeeper! Check it out, and make sure you subscribe.

The guys asked me all about what it’s like to write and illustrate books for kids. They were completely gracious, their questions were insightful, and the experience was overwhelmingly positive. The only thing missing was pizza and beer. Or White Castle. (This is an inside joke… gotta listen to get it!)

I forgot to take a screenshot, so this illustration will have to do. :o)

Click here to listen on Spotify… or just Google the show. There are tons of ways to hear it.

Cynthia Majinau, School Librarian

13 Apr

Hey, everybody! Meet my friend Cynthia Majinau. Cynthia is the librarian at Shattuck-St. Mary’s Forest City International School in Johor, Malaysia—an American international boarding school, where we both happen to live. (My husband works SSM-FC.)

SSM-FC’s facilities include two amazing libraries, one for the lower school (ages 3-11) and the other for the upper school (ages 11-18). In the photo above, Cynthia is standing near her desk in the lower school library.

Empty slots on the display = kids reading books!

Besides managing SSM-FC’s two extensive libraries, Cynthia also teaches Malay language courses. Since there is only one of her and there are two library spaces, books are often signed out with pen, paper, and the honor system. Cynthia’s favorite task is re-shelving, because that’s when she sees what everyone is reading. Her least favorite moments involve missing books. (The honor system has its drawbacks.)

SSM-FC’s student body is incredibly diverse. For most, English is a second (or third!) language. The school’s libraries are curated by faculty wish lists. Cynthia acquires the books through Follette, and keeps the libraries looking like posh bookstores. Both are inviting, gorgeous spaces filled with contemporary titles as well as beloved classics, and plenty of comfy reading and study areas.

Shattuck-St.Mary’s Forest City is a marvelous school with terrific libraries, and we are fortunate to have Cynthia watching over them!

The Plight of School Librarians

In a recent Zoom interview with Children’s Book Insider’s Laura Backes Bard, author J. T. Fox advocated for school librarians. If, like me, you weren’t aware that school librarians’ jobs in the United States are in jeopardy, buckle up and click here to watch the interview.

This image is from J. T. Fox’s presentation; click here to watch the interview.

Book-Fest Award!

6 Apr

I’m excited to announce that my latest book, Let’s Be Friends, has won Book-Fest’s first place award for
multicultural children’s books that celebrate diversity. Thank you, Book-Fest!

Let’s Be Friends Art Activity

My cousin Tom helped me film a thirty-minute Let’s Be Friends author event for Missouri’s Boone Regional Library, which includes a craft activity. The video was originally posted on the library’s website, but is now available on my YouTube channel. Click here to watch the video, or click here to download the activity. It’s free! :o)

Let’s Be Friends

Let’s Be Friends, a fun lift-the-flap book by Violet Lemay, was published by HarperFestival in December, 2021. Click here to order your copy today!

Sallie Lowenstein

16 Mar

Sallie Lowenstein recently featured Isabella’s Shoe Studio in her newsletter, Old Books, Young Readers. Click here to read the newsletter!

An early version of the spine + front cover/French flap.

Isabella’s Shoe Studio was my first author/illustrator credit. This Doodle Storybook is an interactive design primer for little artists. Huzzah!

Isabella is out of print now and can be difficult to find. Luckily, one of my favorite bookstores on earth, Page 158 in Wake Forest, NC, has copies in stock… and they deliver. (Thank you, Page 158!)

To order Isabella’s Shoe Studio from Page 158 Books, click here.

Continue reading

The Boys from Ukraine

28 Feb

My husband and I relocated to Malaysia just as I was finishing the art for Let’s Be Friends. We moved into the residence hall of the boarding school where he works, and got settled in.

During this transition, my friends at HarperCollins and I were discussing front cover ideas for Let’s Be Friends. We settled on an option that featured tons of children. Luckily, inspiration was all around me. It’s like the UN around here! I drew many of my new little neighbors into the cover art.

Yarema and Oleksa, highlighted above, are from Ukraine. Here they are with their parents, Oksana and Andriy.

In light of recent events, showcasing this Oleksa, Yarema, Oksana and Andriy seems not only appropriate, but vital.

Over the weekend, this lovely family hosted a StandWithUkraine open house.

Homemade flags adorned homemade brownies, and traditional Ukrainian “cushion” cookies filled out the table.

We hugged, we listened to Ukrainian music, we wrote well wishes on yellow and blue paper hearts and stuck them on the wall.

Let’s Be Friends asks, “Can friends come from anywhere?”

Of course they can.

Ukrainian friends, we stand with you.

Want to help?

CLICK HERE to be directed to Andriy’s blog, STAYWITHUKRAINE, which includes links to trusted donation sites.

The Apartment Girl, Yurts, and “Let’s Be Friends”

9 Feb

I grew up in a little ranch house in a midwestern suburb. My classmates were similarly situated. We were all ranch house kids—except for one girl, who lived with her mom in an apartment. Let’s call her Valerie.

Valerie was a tough cookie, let me tell you. Feathered hair, oversized plastic comb, jean jacket. Fierce.

Mousey Me would have feared her even if she lived in a ranch house like the rest of us, but her apartment-dwelling mystique made her all the more terrifying.

Decades later, when gathering ideas for Let’s Be Friends, I found myself categorizing various potential barriers to friendship—and I remembered my bias against Valerie. A “dwellings” category was added. Can friends live in any kind of house? Of course they can!

Originally, I drew a yurt under the flap. I thought a yurt would be a funny surprise.

About the Yurt

For a while, right around the time that I was writing Let’s Be Friends, my husband was fantasizing about retiring in a yurt. With me. We even spent a few nights in a very lovely New Zealand yurt AirBNB, as research—both for retirement, and for the book.

The yurt in Let’s Be Friends was eventually replaced by a treehouse. And unless fate takes an absurd twist, I very much doubt that my husband and I will live out our days in a yurt.

Incidentally, the couple who own the NZ yurt AirBNB also rent out a ship that they converted into a treehouse. Please, nobody tell my husband. We live in an apartment now, and I’d really like to keep it that way! :o)

Let’s Be Friends is the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. Order your copy today!