ROAR! (-ing) with illustrator Liz Starin

Attention, children, grownups, and dragons!

Liz Starin and I have a book that will be roaring onto the scene on October 6. ROAR! stars a little boy and two dragons who discover what it takes to start a friendship.


This, by the way, is what Kirkus said about our book:  “Big hearted, heart gladdening, and—best—a light-hearted approach to finding friends.”

I love that! What about you, Liz?

I love that part, too! I also like the part about my “glittering, inviting artwork.”

ROAR! is your debut as an illustrator. How did you come to illustrate this book?

Last year, I received an unsigned letter summoning me to a mysterious late-night meeting in a parking garage. When I got there, a man (I have promised not to reveal his identity) handed me a stack of pages bearing some encoded text. After writing a quick cryptanalysis program, I was able to decipher the text, which turned out to be the manuscript to ROAR!

So, you know, the usual way.

Weird. That’s exactly how I get most of my ideas.

Your dragons are unlike any dragons I have ever seen. They are so fun, fresh, and expressive. Did they start out looking this way or did they evolve over time? Also, do they have names?

I started out by drawing lots of pictures of lizards. So this is what they looked like at the beginning:


The dragons eventually became less humanoid (also less sardonic) and more animal:



And I experimented with color and pattern:



Laurent Linn, the art director, and Sylvie Frank, the editor, gently prodded me to make the characters sweeter and more relatable.


The only character in the book with a name is Stanley, which I love but didn’t come up with. I was never good at naming my stuffed animals, either. Heaven help my future children.

[Note:  Stanley is the cat.]

Tell us a little about Stanley, Liz.

Stanley is entirely my invention; he was not originally mentioned in the text. Maybe because I have two younger brothers, I saw the boy character as a sort of kid brother tag-along type who wants to be just like his elder siblings, er, dragons. I thought it would be nice to wordlessly echo that relationship with a character who wants to be just like the boy. That’s how life often works anyway: for all you admire someone, there’s someone else who feels the same way about you.

Also, I think cats are just naturally hilarious.

Did you face any challenges while illustrating ROAR!?

Of course! This is a deceptively simple book, as the text is all dialogue. It seemed pretty clear to me from the start that I was dealing with something like a piece of black box theater, with little in the way of setting or props to hang my hat on. Body language and facial expressions had to tell the entire story. So then I had to figure out how to make the book visually interesting and varied even though every page features the same three (well, four) characters and not much else.


Which artists in particular inspired your illustrations?

When I was designing the dragons, I spent some time with William Steig’s gorgeous ROTTEN ISLAND (incidentally, he considered it to be some of his finest work). I wanted to study his use of busy pattern + bright color and how he dealt with the challenge of working from pure imagination.

I also had Chris Raschka’s YO! YES? in the back of my mind when I chose to mainly use a blank white background.

Strangely enough, I also kept thinking of the Walt Disney cartoon version of Cinderella. I wanted the dragons to be obviously a set, but also clearly distinct from one another. The stepsisters, Drizella and Anastasia, were just such a set, and I remembered how satisfying it was, when I was a child, to note the differences and to have a favorite.

Please give us a tour of your studio.

First off, let me say that I am a lucky monkey. I live in New York…but look at all this space! (I am neighbors with the incomparable Colleen A.F. Venable. Our neighborhood has houses.)

My studio has a maddeningly perfect view of my neighbors’ backyard swimming pool.

Here are some flat files I bought new off eBay for an absurdly low price. Trying to get freight delivery to a New York apartment is another story, however.

Ooh. I spy a ROAR! drawer.

I got this bookcase off Craigslist from an NYU professor. Apparently it used to live in the Pan Am offices.


Having a big table to work on is the best.



Compulsive doodler.


Cool stuff on shelves.

image image imageimage

If you had one key piece of advice for illustrators, what would it be?

Read lots and lots of picture books. Then stop reading them for a while so you can create work that is truly yours.

Scoop time! What’s next for you?

Well, you’ve just made me hungry for ice cream, but I’ll try to stay on topic. Next up is my author-illustrator debut, SPLASHDANCE! It’s coming out in Summer ‘16 from FSG.


That is a great title. I suddenly have the urge to put on an off the shoulder sweatshirt and blast “What a Feeling.”

Many thanks for joining us at Picture Book Builders, Liz!



Liz Starin is a former children’s book reviewer for Junior Library Guild. Now she is a picture book writer-illustrator and a software engineer. Liz lives in a big house in Brooklyn with her musician partner and also some other musicians. And some cats.


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Important News Bulletin #1:

To celebrate our release, I am giving away a signed-by-me copy of ROAR! To enter, just leave a comment below.

I’ll announce a WINNER next month.

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Important News Bulletin #2:

The winner of a signed copy of THIS OLD VAN by Kim Norman goes to…

…Darshana! Thanks to everyone who entered. 

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Important News Bulletin #3:  

This week marks our one year anniversary at!

*throws confetti*

Thank you for being part of the mix. 🙂

Tammi Sauer

Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is a full-time children's book author who presents at schools and conferences across the country. She has more than 30 published picture books and has many others on the way. Her books have received awards, earned starred reviews, made lists, been made into musicals, and been translated into many different languages. Most importantly, kids really like her books! To learn more about Tammi and her books, please visit and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.


  1. Happy birthday Picturebookbuilders blog! You have shared so much in one year. Thank you!

    Great interview Tammi and Liz. I liked learning the reason a cat was added to the manuscript. I also enjoyed watching the dragons’ transformation from lizard. Sounds like Liz took on a lot of challenges and championed them. Congratulations you two.

  2. I loved reading about Tammi Sauer’s new book, ROAR! She’s a wonderful role model. And I loved learning about Liz Starin, a debut illustrator. This was a match made in heaven!

  3. Fun interview, watching how ROAR came to life! That’s neat you have a drawer for each book you illustrate. Thanks, Tammi and Liz!

  4. Ha! Wonderful interview. And I’m so glad we got a peek at the dragons before they became less sardonic. Can’t wait to see this new book!

  5. Happy Blog Anniversary! Thank you for all the inspiration, ideas, and information. Please keep it up.

  6. Congratulations to both! And of course I ROAR! with excitement for a chance to win a copy 🙂 (Now I have “What a Feeling” stuck in my head, too.)

  7. Can’t wait to get a hold of this book! Great interview!

  8. Fantabulous interview, you two! This book looks like a blast! 🙂

  9. Great interview, Tammi! I loved learning about the art of “ROAR!”. Looking forward to reading this, your latest and greatest masterpiece, as well as Liz’s debut “Splashdance.” Both titles are fantastic, by the way. 🙂

  10. Great interview, ladies! Such a delightful book. Love the concept of the black box theatre. Tammi really gave you space to move in, Liz. Can’t wait to read this one!

  11. This looks so cute! Thanks for sharing! And happy blog birthday Picture Book Builders!!!! Yeah!

  12. I can’t wait to read ROAR! I’m a pre-published writer and I love hearing the illustrator’s perspective on PBs. Your dragons are so fresh and inventive, Liz!

  13. Can’t wait to see the book. I love this kind of background info about a book. Terrific interview. Thanks

  14. Thanks for sharing the story behind the story. Can’t wait to read ROAR!

  15. In case anyone is wondering, I looked up “sardonic” and it has NOTHING to do with sardines. 😉 But Stanley would probably like sardines.

    ROARingly fun interview – can’t wait to read it!

  16. Great post, ROAR looks fabulous! I look forward to reading it. And happy blog birthday! =)

  17. Wonderful interview. I am jealous of all that space and I am not an illustrator! What a beautiful studio. The book looks terrific. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for a chance to win.

  18. Great interview. Looking forward to reading this one. Lovely dragons and Stanley.

  19. Thanks for sharing the journey of ROAR with us! May it have much success!

  20. I love peeking into other people’s creative space. Some are tiny, some are expansive. Size doesn’t seem to matter, commitment seems to matter most.

    Roar! sounds delightful.

  21. Everything looks so organized. I am in awe. And look forward to reading ROAR!

  22. Happy Blogaversary & thank you for celebrating with such a super post! I can’t wait to meet Stanley & the other characters of Roar! Great advice from Liz to read, read, read, but then step back & find your own style/voice.

  23. Thanks for sharing your process, Liz. I find it facinating how illustrators create just the right characters to enhance the book. Congratulations to you and Tammi. I look forward to seeing ROAR!

  24. You’re doing great work Tammy. Maybe a future gig.

  25. I look forward to reading it! Thanks for the great interview–the insight into the evolution of the illustrations is fascinating. Wish I had some artistic ability 🙂

  26. I want this book now! Also, love Laurent Linn great person for a debut illustrator to work with on such a fun project.

  27. So excited to read Roar! and see Liz’s illustrations and what sounds like an endearing story. Thanks for sharing tidbits of how this book came about. I can’t wait to read it with my son.

  28. Thank you, everyone, for such nice comments! Can’t wait for you all to see the book!

  29. What fun! Magnificent title–I adore dragons, and I’m sure I’ll love Stanley too. Look forward to reading the book.

  30. I love this blog, and I didn’t know that it was in its infancy. It’s always a treat to read it.

    Thanks Tammi and Liz for sharing interesting information about ROAR. This book will be another winner! I love the way cats and dogs sneak into picture books by way of illustrations. Illustrations add wonderful depth to wonderful picture book stories.

  31. Congratulations. Enjoyed your interesting and inspiring story!

  32. How much fun to roam through your dragon evolution timeline with you Liz! Thanks for sharing your passion and talent with us and the world.

  33. Very interesting read! I look forward to reading the book, now!

  34. ♫♪♫ Happy Birthday to you! ♫♪♫
    ♫♪♫ Happy Birthday to you! ♫♪♫
    ♫♪♫Happy Birthday, dear Picture Book Builders! ♫♪♫
    ♫♪♫ Happy Birthday to you! ♫♪♫

    And thanks for this awesome interview. I can’t wait to read this book and love this scoopy interview!

  35. Congratulations to all! And thanks for the giveaway opportunity!

  36. Thanks for this fun interview—ROAR looks awesome! I enjoyed seeing how the dinosaurs evolved from lizards to ROAR characters.

  37. What a cool article; I love to see the process of developing a new book. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it in person! I have a pen pal this year who is in first grade at a public charter school in New Orleans, and I think this will be the book I send in my December package!

  38. Great post and wonderful illustrations.

  39. I can’t wait to see the book and by the way, I LOVE your blog!

  40. I loved your review, what a lovely in dept look into how beautiful children’s book illustrations are born. I love to draw myself but not very creative and I am obsessed with children’s books for their gorgeous illustrations, so I especially enjoyed your interview because I got a little sneak peek into Liz’s awesome thought process of evolution of her dragons..p.s I have 2 tattoos and both are of dragons, because I love them so much! I would love to win this book for my son, he would immensely enjoy reading this little gem. Congrats on such a wonderful book!!

  41. What a delightful interview! I am eager to read ROAR and enjoy its delicious illustrations! The ideas and images will be fun to contemplate as I watch my 1 1/2 year old granddaughter explore the wonders of making new friends!

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