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Tag Archives | Mike Wohnoutka

Skinny Dip with Loni Niles

Loni Niles

Loni Niles

We inter­viewed Loni Niles, K‑12 media spe­cial­ist in the Wade­na-Deer Creek pub­lic schools in west cen­tral Min­neso­ta. She shared her thoughts about books and life.

What is your favorite late-night snack?

I love pop­corn and can eat it any time dur­ing the day, even for break­fast!

Favorite city to vis­it?

Chica­go. Even though we moved from there when I was just a baby, I still take some pride that I was born there!  Now I love to vis­it there because my step­daugh­ter and her hus­band are such won­der­ful hosts—they show us all kinds of won­der­ful things the city has to offer.  Oh yeah, and there’s that grand­son there, too! He def­i­nite­ly is a draw for me to vis­it this won­der­ful city!

First date?

My hus­band and I do not real­ly agree on when our first date was. For­tu­nate­ly, we agree on some of the more impor­tant things in life!

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

I find myself pas­sion­ate­ly rec­om­mend­ing the nov­els The Lot­tery Rose by Irene Hunt and A Wrin­kle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Miss Steim­le, my fifth grade teacher, read both of these out loud to my class in the 1970s, but today’s kids love them, too!

The Lottery Rose, A Wrinkle in Time

This is NOT a Cat!Illus­tra­tor’s work you most admire?

Mike Wohnout­ka. My favorite book of his work is writ­ten by one of my favorite authors, David LaRochelle. It’s a final­ist for the Min­neso­ta Book Awards this year and called This is NOT a Cat! Check it out! 

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Got­ta have my cof­fee in the morn­ing!

Favorite sea­son of the year?

Although I love them all, it’s win­ter! Min­neso­ta is the per­fect place for me!  We typ­i­cal­ly get a real win­ter here and we def­i­nite­ly get four sea­sons!  At age 48, I start­ed to down­hill ski.  But I love to watch high school hock­ey, go snow­mo­bil­ng and sled­ding, and when my sons were younger we used to love play­ing in the snow!

Marathon candy barFavorite can­dy as a kid?

Any­one remem­ber the Marathon can­dy bar?! A yum­my caramel braid cov­ered in choco­late.

Broth­ers and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

I’m in the mid­dle of two broth­ers. I always told my two sons that I’m the best mom for them because I know what it’s like to have that big broth­er pound­ing on you and that lit­tle broth­er pick­ing at you!  I used to lament not hav­ing sis­ters, but I have been sur­round­ed by won­der­ful women (and girls, too—I have three grand­daugh­ters) in my life—so it’s not so much an issue any­more. 

Loni Niles and her brothers

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I do live a very con­tent­ed life, but I don’t real­ly have a tip on how to do it. See­ing the good in things and peo­ple comes pret­ty nat­u­ral­ly to me.  I try to remem­ber my mom’s advice to always assume the best. This is the same woman who once told me as a teenag­er com­plain­ing about my acne that I should just be hap­py I have a face. That still makes me chuck­le! 

Hope for the world?

My hope for the world is that we begin to rec­og­nize each oth­ers’ tal­ents (and our own!) and appre­ci­ate each other—even our dif­fer­ences.


Skinny Dip with Mike Wohnoutka

Mike Wohnoutka

Mike Wohnout­ka

We inter­viewed Mike Wohnout­ka, chil­dren’s book illus­tra­tor, wide­ly known for his books Dad’s First Day, Moo!, and Lit­tle Pup­py and the Big Green Mon­ster. (Mike’s last name is pro­nounced wuh-noot-kuh.)

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

Pic­ture books in gen­er­al. I often hear par­ents say their chil­dren are too old for pic­ture books. Recent­ly a par­ent told me her first grad­er had “moved on” from pic­ture books.  This absolute­ly dri­ves me crazy. You are nev­er too old for pic­ture books.  They are sec­ond to none when it comes to art, sto­ry­telling, and lan­guage.

picture books

Favorite city to vis­it?

New York. I love the muse­ums, com­e­dy clubs, book stores, and the­aters. It’s also nice to go to lunch with my edi­tors since most of the pub­lish­ers I work with are in New York.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Play­ing Kick the Can with all the kids in our neigh­bor­hood.

Mike Wohnoutka and David ShannonIllus­tra­tor’s work you most admire?

David Shan­non. David is the rea­son I became an illus­tra­tor. After see­ing his pre­sen­ta­tion, when I was in col­lege, about how he illus­trat­ed his first children’s book, How Many Spots Does A Leop­ard Have?,  I thought “THAT is what I want to do!” His paint­ings are tech­ni­cal­ly stun­ning and his sto­ries are so fun­ny.

When I vis­it schools I tell stu­dents about David being such an influ­ence on me. It’s amaz­ing how excit­ed the stu­dents get when I show the cov­er of No David! and it’s incred­i­ble that every stu­dent is famil­iar with that series. He obvi­ous­ly has struck a chord with chil­dren.

A cou­ple years ago, David and I both pre­sent­ed at the Maz­za Muse­um sum­mer con­fer­ence. It was won­der­ful to meet him. He  is the nicest guy and it was fun to let him know how much of an inspi­ra­tion he has been to me.

Go-to drink?

Cof­fee, espe­cial­ly in the morn­ing as I write or paint.

Mike Wohnoutka

Copy­right Mike Wohnout­ka

Favorite sea­son?

Fall. Leaves chang­ing col­ors, cool­er weath­er, the World Series, and Hal­loween are a few of the many things I love about fall.

Dream vaca­tion?


What gives you shiv­ers?


Strangest tourist attrac­tion?

Mike Wohnoutka's family at the Wizarding World of Harry PotterOur fam­i­ly recent­ly took a trip to Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios in Orlan­do, main­ly to vis­it The Wiz­ard­ing World of Har­ry Pot­ter. It was such a fun vaca­tion. The atten­tion to detail in cre­at­ing Diagon Alley, Hog­warts Express, and Hogsmeade was awe-inspir­ing.

My wife and I got teary-eyed when we first entered Diagon Alley. 

Also, the rides through­out Uni­ver­sal and Islands of Adven­ture were a blast. Of course our kids loved it all, but the strange thing about this tourist attrac­tion is how much my wife and I tru­ly enjoyed every­thing, too. We can’t wait to go back.

Broth­ers or sis­ters? How did they shape your life?

Ever since I can remem­ber, I’ve loved to draw. Hav­ing three old­er broth­ers who were all real­ly good at draw­ing had a big influ­ence on me. I remem­ber being so impressed with the sim­plest sketch they would do and I was deter­mined to be as good as they were.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I have found med­i­ta­tion and yoga very help­ful. I start every day with a 20 minute med­i­ta­tion (before the cof­fee).


August Shorts

Warn­ing: There’s a lot of enthu­si­asm ahead for these books!

Where Do Pants Go?Where Do Pants Go?
Writ­ten by Rebec­ca Van Slyke, illus­trat­ed by Chris Robert­son
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Well, this is just adorable … and I can already hear house­holds through­out the Eng­lish-speak­ing world chant­i­ng:

Where do pants go?

On your arms? No.

On your neck? No.

No, no, no.

Pants go on your legs, that’s where pants go.”

We all know how much kids love say­ing “NO!” This book depicts a charm­ing cast of kids in a row­dy les­son on get­ting dressed from under­wear to jack­et and hat. It’s a cumu­la­tive text so lan­guage skills are a part of the mix. The illus­tra­tions are boun­cy and full of humor. Get­ting dressed will be filled with gig­gles.

Sky Stirs Up TroubleThe Sky Stirs Up Trou­ble (Tor­na­does)
writ­ten by Belin­da Jensen, illus­trat­ed by Renee Kuril­la
Mill­brook Press, 2016

I won­der if a sci­en­tif­ic study has ever been done to deter­mine how many kids want to grow up to be the weath­er fore­cast­er on local or nation­al news. Cer­tain­ly the weath­er is just as much a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for chil­dren as it is for adults. This brand-new, six-book series about Bel the Weath­er Girl is writ­ten by a tele­vi­sion mete­o­rol­o­gist with an eye toward enter­tain­ing and edu­cat­ing the read­er. In this book, Bel and her cousin Dylan head to the base­ment with Bel’s mom when a tor­na­do siren goes off. They learn how to react to the warn­ing and Bel explains, by bak­ing a Tor­na­do Cake, how the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions must be just so in order to cook up a tor­na­do. A recipe for the cake is includ­ed as are inter­est­ing fact bub­bles. The illus­tra­tions are friend­ly and engag­ing. I know I would have read and re-read this series in ele­men­tary school.

D is for Dress-UpD is for Dress Up: The ABCs of What We Wear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Maria Car­luc­cio
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

This charm­ing alpha­bet book is just right for some­one who will grow up to col­lect fab­ric, care­ful­ly study fash­ions, and find joy in cre­at­ing “a look.” A won­der­ful­ly diverse group of chil­dren are dressed in cloth­ing and acces­sories that depict each word from apron (for a chef) to zip­pers (for two friends’ jack­ets). In between, we find leo­tards and over­alls and rain­coats. It’s the illus­tra­tions that are most invit­ing: so much for the eyes and brain and heart to notice and absorb. There’s tex­ture and pat­tern and detail (notice those galosh­es) cre­at­ed by a tex­tile and prod­uct design­er result­ing in a warm and enchant­i­ng book. You’ll know just the child to give it to.

This is NOT a Cat!This is NOT a Cat!
writ­ten by David LaRochelle, illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

LaRochelle and Wohnout­ka (Moo!) are at it again: a book that has very few words but a lot of laughs! I love these books with few words because kids are so good at telling the sto­ry them­selves. With gen­tle prompt­ing from the adult read­ing with them, kids can be encour­aged to tell the sto­ry in dif­fer­ent ways. Per­haps the most fun is say­ing the five words in the book in so many dif­fer­ent ways with vary­ing empha­sis and LOUD­ness! It’s just plain fun to read this book out loud. And because there are only five words, every child can have the sat­is­fac­tion of read­ing this book on their own. The live­ly, humor­ous pic­tures con­ceived by Mike Wohnout­ka invite study­ing close­ly as the details add to the fun. Bring your own knowl­edge to this book: do cats like cheese?

The Bot That Scott BuiltThe Bot That Scott Built
writ­ten by Kim Nor­man, illus­trat­ed by Agnese Baruzzi
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Great Scott! I love this book. For any child the least bit sci­ence-mind­ed who loves to exper­i­ment or build things or cre­ative­ly com­pile what-ifs, this is a must-have book. It’s an awe-inspir­ing feast for the eyes and the ears and the fun­ny bone. The set­ting is a Sci­ence Day, in which stu­dents show their sci­ence projects to their teacher and the rest of the class. In a House That Jack Built style, the “what can go wrong, does” sto­ry pro­gress­es with much laugh­ter thanks to the spot-on rhyming text and the col­or-infused illus­tra­tions. The end­ing is inge­nious. I won’t spoil it for you and your small­er read­ers. But Scott’s sci­ence project saves the class­room from the brink of destruc­tion. I’m inspired to make my own “bot” right now and so will you be!


Bookstorm™: Bulldozer’s Big Day


written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

writ­ten by Can­dace Flem­ing 
illus­trat­ed by Eric Rohmann 
Atheneum, 2015

It’s Bulldozer’s big day—his birth­day! But around the con­struc­tion site, it seems like every­one is too busy to remem­ber. Bull­doz­er wheels around ask­ing his truck friends if they know what day it is, but they each only say it’s a work day. They go on scoop­ing, sift­ing, stir­ring, fill­ing, and lift­ing, and lit­tle Bull­doz­er grows more and more glum. But when the whis­tle blows at the end of the busy day, Bull­doz­er dis­cov­ers a con­struc­tion site sur­prise, espe­cial­ly for him!

An ide­al book for a read-aloud to that child sit­ting by you or to a class­room full of chil­dren or to a sto­ry­time group gath­ered togeth­er, Bull­doz­er’s Big Day is fun to read because of all the ono­matopoeia and the won­der­ful sur­prise end­ing.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Bull­doz­er’s Big Day, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. The book will be com­fort­ably read to ages 3 through 7. We’ve includ­ed pic­ture books, non­fic­tion, videos, web­sites, and des­ti­na­tions that com­ple­ment the book, all encour­ag­ing ear­ly lit­er­a­cy.

Build­ing Projects. There have been many fine books pub­lished about design­ing and con­struct­ing hous­es, cities, and dreams. We share a few books to encour­age and inspire your young dream­ers.

Con­struc­tion Equip­ment. Who can resist lis­ten­ing to and watch­ing the large vari­ety of vehi­cles used on a con­struc­tion project? You’ll find both books and links to videos.

Birth­day Par­ties. This is the oth­er large theme in Bull­doz­er’s Big Day and we sug­gest books such as Xan­der’s Pan­da Par­ty that offer oth­er approach­es to talk­ing about birth­days.

Dirt, Soil, Earth. STEM dis­cus­sions can be a part of ear­ly lit­er­a­cy, too. Get ready to dish the dirt! 

Lone­li­ness. Much like Bull­doz­er, chil­dren (and adults) can feel let down, ignored, left out … and books are a good way to start the dis­cus­sion about resilien­cy and cop­ing with these feel­ings.

Sur­pris­es. If you work with chil­dren, or have chil­dren of your own, you know how tricky sur­pris­es and expec­ta­tions can be. We’ve includ­ed books such as Wait­ing by Kevin Henkes and Han­da’s Sur­prise by Eileen Browne.

Friend­ship. An ever-pop­u­lar theme in chil­dren’s books, we’ve select­ed a few of the very best, includ­ing A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by the Steads.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.



I’m not ready for school!”

Dad's First DayI minored in the­atre in col­lege, where I crossed the street from Augs­burg to attend Arthur Bal­let’s leg­endary his­to­ry of the­atre class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta.

Lessons learned in that class came rush­ing back as I savored Mike Wohnout­ka’s Dad’s First Day because it struck me how well this book would play as the­atre of the absurd.

Mike is a keen observ­er of behav­ior, know­ing what will delight kids … and their par­ents. Turn­ing that first day of school on its ear, show­ing that, truth­ful­ly, par­ents are just as wor­ried as the child is, pro­vides good fun, dis­cuss­able emo­tions, and a nat­ur­al lead-in to con­ver­sa­tions.

The dad’s behav­ior is drawn in friend­ly, real­is­ti­cal­ly com­ic style with a var­ied palette of gouache paint. His reac­tions are absurd. Kids will rec­og­nize that and whoop with acknowl­edg­ment. Dad is endear­ing and so is the lit­tle boy who non­cha­lant­ly, even dis­play­ing con­fi­dence, can’t wait to expe­ri­ence his first day at school. 

Word choic­es make this a good read-aloud while the illus­tra­tions make this a good side-by-side book. And you must find the ref­er­ences to three of Mike’s pre­vi­ous books in the illus­tra­tions. I found six … can you find more?

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for par­ents, grand­par­ents, care­givers, and preschool edu­ca­tors.


Skinny Dip with David LaRochelle

Favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?


by David LaRochelle Walk­er Books, 2013 illus. by Mike Wohnout­ka

 With­out a doubt my favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion is carv­ing pump­kins. It has become such a trade­mark of mine that peo­ple start ask­ing in Sep­tem­ber what I plan to carve for the upcom­ing Hal­loween. I’ve learned to jot down pos­si­ble pump­kin ideas in my sketch­book through­out the year, but it usu­al­ly comes down to crunch time (the week before Hal­loween) before I final­ly decid­ed on the 4–6 pump­kins I carve each year. I have a gallery of past pump­kin designs, includ­ing some I’ve carved for Good Morn­ing Amer­i­ca, on my web­site.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s chal­lenge?

Hope­ful­ly I wasn’t obnox­ious, but I was very much a teacher’s pet. I would stay after school and go from room to room ask­ing teach­ers if they need­ed help putting up bul­letin boards or cor­rect­ing papers. I usu­al­ly spent the first day or two of sum­mer vaca­tion help­ing teach­ers pack up their rooms for the year (it helped that we lived right across the street from the ele­men­tary school), and one of my favorite things to do the first week of sum­mer was to “play school” with the extra work­sheets that teach­ers had giv­en me. No won­der I became an ele­men­tary school teacher myself!

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

Mr. PudgensWe had an inde­pen­dent read­ing pro­gram when I was in third grade where instead of writ­ing book reports, we could make a dio­ra­ma, draw a poster, etc. I often enlist­ed the help of a few class­mates and put on a short play based on the book I had read (we loved get­ting out of class to rehearse on the school’s old stage!). One of the books I have vivid mem­o­ries of per­form­ing was “Mr. Pud­gins” by Ruth Christof­fer Carlsen about a mag­i­cal babysit­ter and a fly­ing bath­tub. In one scene a bush begins to make pop­corn. One of my friends brought in a huge plas­tic trash bag of pop­corn and hid behind a chair. The class went crazy when he began to throw hand­ful after hand­ful of the pop­corn out into the audi­ence. We loved it!

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Some day you will have the last laugh on all the bul­lies who are call­ing you “fag” and “homo.” You will also become a pub­lished author and illus­tra­tor and make lots of kids hap­py with your fun­ny books.

Or more sim­ply, I wish I could tell my 10-year-old self, “Every­thing is going to turn out okay.”

What 3 children’s book authors or illus­tra­tors or edi­tors would you like to invite to din­ner?

I would love to vis­it with George Selden (author of “The Crick­et in Times Square” series, Mac Bar­nett (author of “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” and many oth­er incred­i­bly cre­ative books) and famed children’s edi­tor Ursu­la Nord­strom.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

On a plane, head­ing off on vaca­tion.






Hannukah Bear

Hanukkah Bear

We cel­e­brate Christ­mas at our house, but we live in a com­mu­ni­ty in which many cel­e­brate Hanukkah. As we light our Advent can­dles and string our Christ­mas lights, our Jew­ish friends and neigh­bors light the can­dles on their Hanukkah meno­rah and fry deli­cious pota­to latkes. Dear friends invite us to join them for one of […]