Away: The Seeds of Inspiration

Written by Emil Sher, author of Away

The seeds of a story are scattered everywhere. Which ones do I cultivate? is the question I carry in my back pocket. I am drawn to stories wrapped around the core of simple but enduring truths. One such truth was laid bare in “A Final Message From My Mother,” an essay I read in the New York Times Magazine. Josiah Howard described the unadorned, life-affirming messages he exchanged with his mother when he was a child. He was black, she was unwed and white, and the notes they left for each other — in the fridge, under lamps, stuffed in a shoe — were “a lifeline — a communication with each other that no one else shared.”

It wasn’t long after reading Howard’s moving essay that I began picturing a picture book, a story told entirely through sticky notes. Skip, the biracial daughter of a single mother, dreads her first trip to an overnight camp. A grandmother and a family cat were added to the mix. Qin Leng’s wonderful illustrations reveal how a deep-rooted love between a mother and daughter sprouts in the most unlikely places: on an empty milk carton, on a fish bowl, beside a plate of biscuits. Sometimes, a few scribbled words carry the soothing weight of a sonnet.


AWAY Written by Emil Sher Illustrated by Qin LengLove shines through in the sticky notes shared between a mother and daughter in this picture book about making time for family in the midst of our busy lives.

Between work and school, homework and housework, a mother and daughter don’t always get to spend as much time together as they’d like. Add to that a little girl’s fears about leaving home for the first time, and the need to stay close through handwritten notes becomes even more important. As the camp departure date gets closer, Mom does her best to soothe her daughter’s nerves. A visit from her grandmother helps to calm her fears and convince her that she’ll have a good time, even away from her mother and beloved cat. Camp ends up being a wonderful adventure – but nothing is sweeter than a back-at-home reunion.

Qin Leng’s watercolor illustrations are the perfect complement to Emil Sher’s simple text. This nuanced story about a parent and child’s unconventional way of connecting is full of humor and affection. Young readers will enjoy spotting Lester the cat as he paws his way into the story.

Fall in Love with The King of the Birds

Love is in the air! It’s Valentine’s Day and we’re celebrating with The King of the Birds.

In The King of the Birds, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

Then she finally stumbles on the perfect solution. When she introduces the queen of the birds — a peahen — to her collection, the peacock immediately displays his glorious shimmering tail. This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

The King of the Birds

Natalie Nelson, illustrator behind The King of the Books and forthcoming Uncle Holland, made The King of the Birds colouring sheets that’ll make you swoon. Download both sheets below and colour to your heart’s content!

Click here to download the colouring sheets.


The King of the BirdsIn The King of the Birds, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail. The girl goes to great lengths to encourage the peacock to display his plumage — she throws him a party, lets him play in the fig tree, feeds him flowers and stages a parade — all to no avail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

Includes an author’s note about Flannery O’Connor.

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