Meet Teeny Tiny Toady, and Say Hello to Keika Yamaguchi!

Spring is right around the corner, and I can’t wait to watch my flowerbeds unfold, leaf by leaf. The weeding that soon follows? Meh. But that dirty work is rewarded when I come upon a toad hiding in a shady spot. Good to know they’re in there, eating the slugs that chew holes in my hostas. I especially like surprising a teeny little toady baby and watching it spring away. When I was a kid, I liked capturing them and keeping them in a bucket. In a perfect world, that would only last a few hours, then I’d tip the bucket and let them go. In reality, I sometimes may have kinda sorta forgotten that part a time or two.

This lifelong toady love appreciation is obviously what led to my new rhyming picture book, Teeny Tiny Toady (Sterling). It’s illustrated by the super-talented Keika Yamaguchi, and I thought you all might appreciate an interview with her. Sterling was kind enough to provide a giveaway copy, too. And you know how we love giveaways!

Teeny cover 2

 (Embossed lettering! Wraparound art! An adorable little heroine!)

What’s the book about? Here’s Kirkus’s starred review:

“When her mom and all her brothers are trapped in a bucket, it’s time for Teeny Tiny Toady to screw her courage to the sticking place and hop to the rescue. As big of eyes, personality, and emotion as she is tiny and pink of body in Yamaguchi’s swampy ground-level scenes, Teeny is “toadally” terrific. Shoved to the rear by her seven hulking brothers after bursting through the door with the news of their mother’s plight, Teeny hops behind, “wishing she could be a bigger, stronger, / hero kind of toad.” Then, when her comically dim-bulb brothers not only fail to tip the bucket over, but manage (after ignoring or co-opting several of her savvy suggestions) to fall in themselves, it’s left up to her: ” ‘I’m too little,’ Teeny blubbered. ‘I can’t do it! Not alone!’ / But she had to, had to, had to. / Tiny Teeny, / on her own.” One unlikely but successful stratagem later, everyone is free, jubilant, and praising their diminutive rescuer. ” ‘You’re a hero!’ / ‘What a kid!’ / ‘Wanna ride home on my shoulders, Sis?’ ” No surprise—”She absolutely did!” Yamaguchi’s illustrations are every bit as adorable as Teeny, her wee pink form hilarious when juxtaposed with her brothers’, who resemble warty tennis balls with limbs. A triumphant reaffirmation of the truth that large hearts can beat in small chests, told in playful verse that gallops along with nary a stumble.”

I certainly can’t improve upon that, so let’s get to Keika!



Jill:  Hi, Keika! May we peek inside your studio or work area?

Keika:  Sure! I currently work from a co-working place in Chinatown in Los Angeles. I’ve been here now for about two years, and I love it! I used to rent a desk monthly, but at the moment, I drop in with my sketchbook, my portable watercolor set, and my laptop. When I rented a desk, the setup I had looked something like this.

Keika's desk

I would have books to read, my powerful computer and a Cintique setup. I change books and materials on my desk per project.

Teeny hurrying

(Second spread:  Teeny’s mama has been captured, and she’s rushing home for help.)

Jill:  What did you find most challenging about illustrating Teeny Tiny Toady? Which spread ended up being your favorite? (Here’s one of mine):

splash(On their third rescue attempt, Teeny’s genius brothers fall into the bucket with Mama, leaving only Teeny to save her entire family.)                                                                                                                                        

Keika:  What probably was the most challenging was some of the problem solving I had to do when coming up with the spreads. The ones that were most challenging were these two parts of the manuscript:

Teeny shivered as the wind picked up
and blew across the pond.
As she watched it flutter lily pads
and everything beyond,
an idea fluttered deep inside
her warty little head
till she chased it round and pinned it down.
“I’ve got it!” Teeny said.

So did Teeny’s plan take muscles?
No, just brains and clever feet.
By the time the sun went down,
her rescue project was complete.

The first was the scene where Toady has an epiphany. All I knew was that she ends up coming up with a kite, she thought hard, and there was a breeze and a pond. How will I illustrate this spread as a powerful scene? And how will I illustrate the second scene, how she comes up with her solution? It was not specified in the manuscript. I felt that it was also important to show that she had to be brave while being clever. It took lots of trial and error. It was frustrating, because I know that this is the climax, it has to be one of the strongest spreads. I decided that she takes clues from her environment. I illustrated her being extra brave by facing all the fears she had in the beginning of the story such as spider, cobwebs, slugs, and big bugs. I’m happy with what I came up with in the end.

Another challenge was designing the mother toad. I knew I wanted the baby toad and the young toads to look small and round. The mother toad had to look like a full grown toad, which meant to me very sturdy, slimy, and bumpy. The first few designs of the mother toad were blobby, and she did not look anything like Teeny and her siblings.

Teeny ending

(The toady fam)

As for my favorite spread, it’s tough to choose just one but I really enjoyed coming up with spreads that illustrate Teeny’s fears and doubts. I had a lot of fun painting and designing the pages to exaggerate her feelings.

Jill:  This answer made me smile, because I hadn’t intended for Teeny to be afraid of those creatures she encountered at the beginning! But I love that you included bravery in the equation. And I thought she’d make the kite all by herself, so what a fun surprise that she had help. Cool the way that worked out. Next question:  Each of the books you’ve illustrated has a different overall look. You’re very versatile! What kind of questions do you ask yourself as you go about considering the style you’ll use for each new project?

Keika:  I have a vision right away when reading a manuscript. I time travel to my 5 years old self and ask these questions:

-Would I picked that book off of a shelf?
-Would it [the art] make me want to flip through the book?
-If English was my second language or I was struggling to read, would I still get a sense of what’s happening in the story when flipping through the pages? Or most importantly, will I be compelled to read the words?

Jill:  Your next book is…?

Keika:  I’m working on a Chilseok and Qix story for a publishing company in Korea.

THANKS, Keika!

Keika Yamaguchi lives in Los Angeles with her dog, Ellie. She is also the illustrator of Puddle Pug by Kim Norman and What About Moose? by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez.

Readers, if you’d like to win a copy of Teeny Tiny Toady, just leave a comment below ON OR BEFORE MARCH 12th. I’ll choose one winner at random and let him or her know on March 13th, then announce it to the rest of you in my next post (March 29th).

ALSO, there’s still time (until March 10th) to win a copy of Linda Ashman’s Henry Wants More! Enter here.

Good luck, and happy reading.


Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2024: Parrotfish Has a Superpower and Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World. She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at


  1. Cute book, Jill and Keika! I love the themes of bravery and being big when you’re small!

  2. Barbara Thompson

    Looking forward to this one, Jill. Keika’s perspective on her artwork is so interesting. Congratualations to you both on your new creation!

    • It is, Barb. You really feel like you’re up close and personal with these toads. I love the way the brothers are huge throughout. Then, at the end, you can see that, compared to Mama, they’re twerps. 🙂

  3. Wonderful illustrations. I especially liked hearing how Keika worked through the plot and came up with the “how-to” to show. This helps me in writing picture books to leave much for the imagination of the illustrator.

    Thank you.

    • I enjoyed that too, Jane. Reminds me, yet again, that we have to keep the illustrator in mind while writing – or at least while revising. 😉

  4. The story sounds adorable and the art is wonderful. I can’t wait to share it with my granddaughter. Congrats all around!

  5. I can’t wait to get this book!! I love the idea of the littlest frog finding the fortitude to solve the problem and it looks like the illustrations will endear this book to anyone who opens it!

  6. Oh, man, this looks terrific! Must see!

  7. Rosemary Basham

    This book looks wonderful!

  8. This looks INCREDIBLY darling. THANK you,for sharing!!

  9. Oh, I am going to keep my eye out for this one! Looks wonderful!

  10. I can’t wait to read it! I’ve long held believed that great art lures a child into a book before the text captures his heart. I love Keika’s description of her 5 year old self picking up a book from the shelf.

    • That’s what I thought, esp the first time I saw the entire jacket with its wraparound art. Thanks for reading, Michael.

  11. I can’t wait to read this! Teeny Tiny Toady is adorable!!

  12. Can’t wait to see the book. Teeny Tiny Toady is TOTALLY fun to say (couldn’t resist …!) Really interesting interview with Keika. Thanks, Jill!

  13. Stacy Digianantonio

    Lovely illustrations and a cute story. I can’t wait to read this one!

  14. The title alone pulls me in! But now I want to get it to see for myself how she solved the illustration dilemmas she describes here. 🙂 I loved playing with frogs as a kid. Or toads–I’m not sure of the difference? But I so hope kids still do so for years to come!

    • I didn’t know about her art dilemmas until her interview answers rolled in. I LOVE it when an illustration adds depth I hadn’t imagined.

  15. This looks fun! Thanks for sharing your secret of going back to your five-year-old self and those questions, Keika – brilliant!

  16. Wow, so adorable. Your art is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing so much, Keika. And thanks to you Jill for pointing me to another fun, delightful PB. If I don’t win it, I’ll have to buy it. For sure. So it’s a win-win situation for me. 🙂

  17. I came across the cover of this book the other day , and immediately added it to my list. You both hooked me! The title + tiny toad = big smile. Thanks for the sneak peek!

  18. Looks like a perfect pairing of beautiful illustrations and superb writing. Can’t wait to read it!

  19. I want to hop into this story and see more of this adorable toady fam!

    • When submitting, I worried whether or not an artist could make toads look appealing. Keika did exactly that, though.

  20. What an adorable story & gorgeous illustrations. Thanks for the look behind the curtain!

  21. What a great message for everyone, young and old alike!

  22. This looks adorable! And I was already a fan of Puddle Pugs, dog lover that I am. Congrats to you, Keika!

  23. The illustrations are adorable and I love hearing about the process that you took to get to this wonderful final product! Thanks for sharing this.

    • I’m getting more and more addicted to story-behind-the-story tales, Karla. I think this blog is spoiling me. 🙂

  24. Congratulations to both of you on a beautiful book! Welcome Teeny!!!!!!!! xo

  25. Hilarious and perfectly rhymed and metered, Jill. Congrats! I love that Tina is smarter than her brothers. A feminist toad?! Keika, you have “toadily” brought this story to life. The illustrations are fantastic. I can’t wait to read the book in its “toad-tality.”

  26. Teeny Tiny Toady has been on my “to read” list for awhile. Can’t wait, especially now that I’ve gotten a peek inside!

  27. Oh, my, this book sounds adorable! I really can’t wait to read it. Thanks for telling me about it and about Keika’s illustrating process and for a chance to win a copy.

  28. So happy there’s a new Jill Esbaum book in the world! And the illustrations are just stunning!

  29. What a wonderful Q&A. Especially interesting to hear how Keika puzzled through the most challenging part, and how her solution added new dimensions to your text. I love when that happens. Congrats to you both–it looks like a gem (and I love the title, Jill–so much fun to say)!

  30. It’s so much fun to say “teeny, tiny, toady.” What a darling book about one smart little toad. And such lovely illustrations!

  31. This looks like a “toadally” fun book. There’s nothing teeny about Teeny!

  32. congratulations. I saw this posted in a Facebook group and the illustration drew me in because the expression on Teeny’s face reminded me of my baby. Beautiful work!

  33. Wendy Engelmann

    Thank you for this wonderful post. Great story and artwork. I can’t wait to read it.

  34. This sounds like a really cute book. Like you, I love frogs. The illustrations are so fun!

  35. It’s such a nice book. Story and artwork.

  36. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book!

  37. I am definitely going to look for this one. I have a frog chapter book project in the works and this will keep me inspired. I love the art and how it helps layer the story in new ways. Well done!

  38. Can’t wait to read this book – it looks absolutely amazing!

  39. What a lovely book. I will definitely watch out for it.

  40. The name alone is enticing! I’m looking forward to reading this book and sharing it with my Little Free Library Walnut.

  41. I’m looking forward to reading this book. It looks beautiful!

  42. Thanks for sharing! It’s so interesting to find out how a PB comes together.

  43. I can’t wait to read this! If looks like so much fun!

  44. Great story, Jill! I love the idea of small but mighty. And clever in this case.

  45. WANT!

    Congratulations on such a delightful book.

  46. Congratulations, Jill and Keika. This book looks like so much fun. I’ve yet to read it but it’s on my want list! Soon!

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