Love, Laughter, and Life

Adventures With a Book Lover


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Happy Book Birthday Interview with Farren Phillips, Author-Illustrator of WHEN I’M NOT LOOKING! Plus a Giveaway!

When I’m Not Looking

Written and illustrated by Farren Phillips

Yeehoo Press, 2021

Happy book birthday to When I’m Not Looking!

Hello, dear readers! Welcome to a special blog post celebrating a book birthday for Farren Phillips and her new book When I’m Not Looking!

Be sure to read to the bottom to learn how you can get your name in the hat to win a copy of When I’m Not Looking, compliments of Yeehoo Press (US only). Thank you, Yeehoo Press and Helen Wu, for this opportunity!

On with the show.

Welcome, Farren! Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a children’s author and illustrator from England, currently living in Scotland. I studied illustration and children’s media for five years at Cambridge School of Art and graduated with an MA in 2019. Since then, I’ve been establishing myself in the industry and passionately etching away at new projects. I mostly specialise in picture books, but I’ve worked on a few more comic-style books for older children, as well as some non-fiction kids’ books.
I’ve been obsessed with picture books since I was about seventeen. I’d always known I wanted to study art and do an art-centric job, and at the time I was working in a children’s library surrounded by children’s media. I quickly realised that the picture book is my favourite story telling format and since then I’ve never stopped collecting them, studying them, and making them!

I will admit to being somewhat (hugely) envious of your living and working in Scotland! And studying at Cambridge. I’m right there with you on collecting, studying, and making picture books. I just accidentally deleted a folder containing one of my nearly ready picture books. EEEK. But I was able to recover it. Whew.

Congratulations on your new book! What was your inspiration for WHEN I’M NOT LOOKING?
Thank you! I had a few inspirations with this book. I’ve always been really interested in philosophy and love to include philosophical and ethical ideas in children’s stories, because really all kids are born little philosophers and it just makes sense. I’d been reading about Schrödinger’s cat at the time, the famously known paradox of quantum superposition. The idea was that when inside a box with a deadly subatomic event which may or may not happen at any time, a hypothetical cat could be considered both alive and dead simultaneously. The idea just really interested me, and I started thinking about other paradoxical ideas, such as whether a tree falling in the forest would make a sound if no one were around to hear it. It was amusing to consider that when not seeing or hearing something, as humans we have no real proof that it exists, so in theory when you turn your back the world could fall away behind you and you’d have no idea. I loved the potential of this concept as a story, and with some thought and condensing of the larger idea, I came up with When I’m Not Looking; a story about a young philosopher who ponders the more wacky and irrational things of what could be going on behind her back. Originally the story was called Paraducks, but was changed in the early stages of editing.

Fascinating! I also love the original title. Perhaps that title will find itself on a book cover one day. Your premise is perfect for kids who love using their imaginations!

What was the writing and illustrating journey you took as you wrote this book? As both author-illustrator, how did that impact your creative process?
Believe it or not, I actually wrote this book a few years back for a project in University. The story and original illustrations picked up some interest when I brought my Portfolio to the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, and as a result I started working with a few publishers on other works. I’d worked on two books with Yeehoo Press prior to When I’m Not Looking called The Orb and The Death Book, by this point in time I had assumed my old graduate project had been long forgotten by publishers, but out of the blue they brought it up and took a renewed interest. I took to re-working the text to make the story a more interactive affair, and re-did all of the illustrations from scratch, it really became a passion project for me, and I love how it turned out.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading When I’m Not Looking. There are so many details to enjoy. Well done!

Everything is different right now with COVID-19, but how will you celebrate the book birthday of WHEN I’M NOT LOOKING on May 18?
I’ve put together a fun little interactive story time video as well as a follow-along craft teaching children how to make their own dancing duck puppet. It’s a shame that Covid restrictions make it harder to put on physical events, but we do what we can with what we have! I hope once things become a little more normal again that I could perhaps attend an event in person to celebrate too. For now, I’ll probably treat myself to a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake in celebration while staying indoors and keeping safe.

Oh, fun! I hope I can catch the video. I have a grand who LOVES ducks. He might enjoy making a puppet. Tea and cake sound perfect!

I love the detailed illustrations! There is so much going on and so many surprises for readers to discover. What strategies do you use to get into the creative zone and create such fun illustrations?

With the illustrations, I’d previously always stuck to more simplistic and minimal styles when working on books just out of preference, but since the book had originally been produced for a university project, I wanted to push out of my comfort zone and try something very different with lots of detail and colour. I’ve always been fond of books which are good at telling a second story or explaining the characters’ motives using the backgrounds, so I spent a lot of time looking into realistic family homes and drawing from observation, refusing to wash over the bits people usually leave out of nice drawings, like clutter and spills. I really enjoyed putting together busy images of Leg’s family home, adding lots of silly details into their space to really show what their lives are like beyond the story. I feel it helps the book to not only be exciting for younger children who love the search-and-find aspects, but also to be interesting for older children and parents who can notice something new in the pages on every read through.

You certainly did a wonderful job. I know I will find something new on each read through! Love that it’s not all neat and tidy like you said, but real life messy.

What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a short series of history books for children called Second in the World, hopefully due to come out some time next year. It’s quite a huge change from the normal projects I work on, but it has been a lot of fun doing extensive research and creating fun and informative illustrations. I’m currently finishing up editing the first book and producing the roughs and text for the second.

Wow! That sounds interesting! You have your hands full!

Surprise us! What else would you like to share?
I’ve got a number of other projects on the go that I’ll keep sneaking peaks of on social media. My favourite at the moment being a funny and feminist story about a very naughty monkey and a very irritated little girl who doesn’t take nonsense sitting down. I can’t wait to share it with you all!

That’s sounds fun! What a combination-a naughty monkey and an irritated girl (and very determined it sounds like)! I look forward to reading more! Or getting more sneak peaks…

Thanks again for letting me visit! Farren

Congratulations, Farren, and best wishes on When I’m Not Looking and all of your other projects!

Readers, you can purchase your own copy of When I’m Not Looking by clicking the following links:

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-im-not-looking-farren-phillips/1137974864?ean=9781953458070

Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/when-i-m-not-looking/9781953458070

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/When-Not-Looking-Farren-Phillips/dp/1953458076/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=when+I%27m+not+looking&qid=1621302615&sr=8-3

Farren’s social links: 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/farrenphillipsillustration/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/FarrenPhillips

Website: https://www.farrenphillipsillustration.co.uk/

Here are 3 ways to get your name in the hat to win a copy of When I’m Not Looking (US only). A winner will be randomly chosen in this Friday, May 21.

1. Like and comment on this blog post. Please make sure I have your email address so I can notify you if you win.

2. Follow this blog and tell me how you follow. Please make sure I have your email address so I can notify you if you win.

3. Visit my Twitter page @AngieQuantrell for more chances to win a copy of When I’m Not Looking.


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Book Review: Nibbles, A Green Tale (RE: A Green Way to Get Rid of Dandelions)

Nibbles, A Green Tale

Written and illustrated by Charlotte Middleton

Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009

I have so many wonderful memories of the guinea pigs we loved during my years of teaching preschool. Our mama gave us hours of delight as we watched her lead her trail of babies around the room. Rustling plastic bags brought squeals demanding whichever “greens” we had brought. Both preschoolers and my family members loved snuggling and playing with these cuties.

Imagine my delight when I saw Nibbles, A Green Tale at the library! Nibbles is obviously a guinea pig, one who loves dandelions. With our current pasture-wide crop of dandelions, I couldn’t wait to read this picture book. If only I could borrow a city of dandelion-loving guinea pigs and let them camp out in the pasture for a week or two. That would take care of the clouds of white seeds.

Why I LOVE this book:

~ guinea pigs! Wheet, wheet!

~ guinea pigs who eat dandelions

~ guinea pigs wearing clothes!

~ a fun story of how one guinea pig rescued dandelions from becoming extinct

~ a green strategy to solve dandelion problems (though the sheer number of them needed to clear a pasture…)

~ adorable illustrations

~ wonderful story and characters

There is a sequel to this book, Nibbles: Another Green Tale. I can’t wait to track down a copy.


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Haiku Moment: letters

a b c . . . y z

combine letters, spell words, give –

love letters to me

letters by Angie Quantrell

letters from Gage (5 1/2, kindergarten)


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Haiku Moment: bunnies for sale

bunnies for sale, free

hopping, leaping, eating all;

please, take some bunnies

bunnies for sale by Angie Quantrell

Rabbits for Food (the book cover I want to make into a large poster and display in the pasture for the bunnies to read so they will decide to nibble elsewhere)


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RV Cooking Hack Plus Recipe: Garlic Rosemary Potatoes and Meatballs

What some of you might not know is that RV ovens have one rack.

At least our RV oven has one rack. And it’s not a large one either. A half-pan cookie sheet fits inside, with just barely enough room around it for air flow. A Dutch oven does not fit (it’s too heavy, and I fear it would bend/break the rack). A low casserole dish fits, but some lids might bump the top. And once you turn off the oven, you have to let it cool completely before restarting it. The gas pilot light is under the bottom tray at the back of the oven, right where you will burn your arm if you try lighting it while it’s hot. Personal experience speaking here.

And something to watch out for, a lesson I learned just this week with the future scars to match my experience, is the spring loaded oven door is very spring loaded. Very. Using a similar trick as shown in the above photo, a foil wrapped pan, I attempted to put the pan in the oven, the foil stuck, I somehow lost control of the door, and it swung shut on my arm. Did I mention the oven was preheated? I threw the pan in as I jerked my arm out, bouncing the hot stove door edge along my arm. Yikes! I am thankful for fast reflexes. Yes, yes I am.

Oh, but our RV DOES have an oven. We love using it in the winter to heat the RV. We avoid it in the summer, preferring to cook on the BBQ and keep the heat outside.

I’ve often been frustrated by meal plans that need two dishes to be in the tiny oven. And then I started experimenting. See the above photo.

As with all experiments, you figure out new things to try or ways to improve an idea. Now, with the above meatballs and garlic rosemary potatoes, I wouldn’t bother with the foil dam in the middle. Just let the juices mix. Yum! But some things I might not want to touch while baking, like juicy salmon and sweet potato fries. Or something like that.

Either way, combining a main dish and side or two is the perfect way to utilize a small RV oven. I always try to cook too much, because leftovers make perfect lunches for the next day or two.

Garlic Rosemary Potatoes

5-6 small red potatoes, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces

5-6 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 6-8″ sprig of rosemary, washed, dried, and chopped (leaves only, not stem)

olive oil

sea salt

fresh ground pepper

Optional: fresh grated Parmesan cheese, Tabasco sauce

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix potatoes, garlic, rosemary, and enough olive oil to coat it all. Spread on one half of a foil-covered cookie sheet (I like to spray my foil with vegetable spray to keep food from sticking). Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Fill the other half with meatballs. No recipe here for these. I love the Costco frozen meatballs.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. We like crispy sides, so we cook them longer. If you want to cook yours until just done, aim for 25-30 minutes. Stir halfway through cooking and test potatoes along the way.

Serve potatoes and meatballs with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and a few splashes of Tabasco. We always add broccoli, salad, or green beans. Gotta have those veg!


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Sunday Inspiration

Photo by Angie Quantrell

Yakima Valley


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Throwback Thursday: Can You Name the Year of the Carpet? #TBT

Can you name the year of this good old days photo?

At the bottom of the heap, we see Taylor (4), our oldest, who is happily ensconced on the shag carpet, ready to suck his thumb while perusing the pages of the ever-popular Sears Yard and Lawn catalog. We had a collection of Sears catalogs: lawn mowers, chain saws, yard equipment, vacuums, ceiling fans-actually any and all types of mechanized machines. Every trip to the mall required a stop at Sears so we could pick up the latest and greatest catalog.

On top, ready to torment her brother (nothing much has changed), Chelsie (2), our baby, gathers her energy for playing King of the Mountain. Or tickling her brother. Or just sitting on him because he was there. That’s what 2s do, right? There was no interest in the catalog, mowers, or engines of any sort. There was a brother on the floor, perfect for perching.

Taylor is not unhappy. In fact, he appears to be pleased with his piggy back sister. Chelsie looks gleeful and somewhat loving (I might point out that her arms are nearly around his neck, so this is debatable) while spending quality torment time with her big brother. You’ll notice the pile of ignored wooden blocks, a mainstay for any family with preschoolers. We still have the blocks, which have been loved and abused by many grands, nieces, nephews, preschool and kindergarten students, and a variety of Sunday school classes filled with sweeties.

Ahh. The good old days.

Did you figure out the year? I’ll give you credit for the correct decade. Go ahead, play along. Make a guess, then scroll down to the first comment to see the year this photo was taken.

(She laughs to herself. Ugh. The carpet . . . it’s embarrassing.)


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Rubber Stamping Requires Assistants

Many of you know I love stamping. For those who are not familiar with the term “stamping,” stamping = making rubber stamped cards using (but not limited to) rubber stamps, ink pads, decorative paper, fancy tapes, cardstock, and bits and bobs of fascinating leftover craft supplies.

Pip has decided it is time he helped make cards. You will notice the excellent placement of his body right in the center of my work pad. This of course is very helpful and what is expected of a good assistant.

One of my college roommates (waves at Alyson) and I have been getting together for decades. Yes, I guess I can say at least decades. We are a bit fuzzy on exactly when the rubber stamping bug caught us, but it has been around for a long time.

Spring break is usually one of the times we get together to stamp. We missed out on many of our usual stamping retreats last year (and we all know why). So this spring break was extra special because it had been sooooo long since we really stamped.

Pip is not moving, and is quite unhappy about sharing the limelight with his cat-mom, Alyson. I think he might be giving her the subliminal brush off, or at least the “talk to my back” posture.

The assistants were unusually helpful this year.

Daisy did not help as much this year at the rubber stamping table. She was however, an excellent neck and face warmer. Early morning wake-up calls required much purring, loving, and fur up my nostrils. Barely room to squeeze the phone between my chin and her face, but we managed. As far as bed warmers, Daisy is quite a wonderful assistant, always up for good lap snuggles or sleeping on top of me.
How long can one cat be? Notice the helpful tail, which is used to swish items off the table or capture different open ink pads for a “painted cat” look.
A ribbon! MY ribbon…

So. My spring break was fun, entertaining, and productive. How about you? Did you do anything different this spring break? Do you have special assistants for those fun projects?


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Sunday Inspiration

Photo by Angie Quantrell

Yakima Valley