Anika Denise talks Monster Trucks (plus Giveaway!)

We’ve had all sorts of good news around PBB lately, and I’m thrilled to keep it going. Today, author Anika Denise is here to chat about her new book, Monster Trucks (HarperCollins), illustrated by Nate Wragg (who we all know, of course, from the wonderful Elwood Bigfoot written by our own Jill Esbaum).


Publishers Weekly gave Monster Trucks a starred review, calling it “a mash-up made in heaven (or maybe hell).” For a sample, check out this fabulous trailer created by 4th grader (!) Sarah Bennett. And for a chance to win a copy, just leave a note below.

And, now, here’s some backstory from Anika . . .

Monsters + Trucks + Bang ’em up Racing Action = Irresistible for a certain truck-and-monster-loving demographic. Where’d the idea come from?

I’m big on giving books to kids for birthdays and holidays. And so I asked my cousin what her son (who was five at the time) had been enjoying reading lately. Her answer: “Any books with monsters or trucks in them.” I thought, hmmm, why not both? The next day I began making notes on a story about trucks who are actual monsters.

MonsterTrucks cvr approved

You’ve also got a female empowerment theme going on, with Little Blue Bus taking on the big (male) monster truck bullies. Tell us about that.

I’m really glad you mentioned it, because I often hear folks referring to Monster Trucks as a book boys will enjoy. And I think (hope) they will. But it’s not strictly a book for boys, by any stretch. I have three daughters who loved playing with trucks, trains and erector sets. So I made a conscious choice to make Little Blue Bus female, to ramp up the girl power. She’s no “diesel in distress.” She’s confident she can take on the other monsters from the words ready, set, go!


On the last page, there’s a “wink” ending when it’s revealed that Little Blue Bus is a bit of a monster herself. Did you always intend to show this through the illustrations only?

Yes. I use art notes sparingly, but in this case, I made a note that the final illustration should reveal Little Blue Bus is a monster. Then we let the illustrator, Nate Wragg (who’s brilliant!), interpret it visually.

Tell us about your critique group. How did you meet? Any advice for those who are looking to join one, or to make their own more effective?

I have the best critique group ever. In fact, I dedicated Monster Trucks to them. (Although you’ll notice I used their monster names.) Jamie Michalak and I live in the same small Rhode Island town. She introduced me to Kara LaReau, and things fell into place from there. We meet one Sunday a month for brunch, and to review one another’s work, brainstorm marketing ideas, and discuss features for a blog we write together called The Little Crooked Cottage.


In addition to being successful authors, Kara and Jamie are both former children’s book editors, so they each have a keen editorial eye, as well as a writer’s perspective. They’re also genuinely fun, cool ladies with whom I enjoy spending time.

Honestly, I think the liking each other is key. And it’s helpful that we all write for children. I know some critique groups mix it up with adult and children’s writers, but I find the children’s book market has its own unique quirks and challenges, and it helps that we’re all working within that sphere.

You’re married to illustrator Christopher Denise, with whom you’ve collaborated on several books. Do you talk shop regularly? 

Yes, we’ve done three picture books together: Pigs Love Potatoes, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Baking Day at Grandma’s (check them out here); and we just signed a contract for The Best Part of Middle, a story about a middle bunny in a family with three children.

We do talk shop quite a bit. Our only rule is, we don’t discuss work at the dinner table, because it’s family time. But walks on the beach, vacation road trips, even date nights have a tendency to include some shop talk. And we’re both okay with that. We enjoy what we do, and it’s fun to brainstorm when our minds our open and we’re feeling relaxed. Chris occasionally asks for my input on illustrations, and I do the same with picture book manuscripts. We trust each others’ opinion—even if we don’t always follow every note.

What’s up next?

Next for me is the first in a new picture book series illustrated by Lorena Alvarez called Starring Carmen, which is due out from Abrams in fall 2017. I’m excited for the world to meet Carmen, a bilingual character with a flair for the dramatic. I also have a picture book biography and middle grade novel in various stages of disarray—but I’m working on putting them to order. So stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting, Anika! 

* * *   B O O K    G I V E A W A Y ! ! !   * * *

MonsterTrucks cvr approvedFor a chance to win a copy of Monster Trucks, just leave a comment below by September 1st. I’ll announce the winner in my next post.

“Sure to get cheering children on the edges of their seats.” —Kirkus

“A mash-up made in heaven (or maybe hell).” —PW (starred review)

Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 45 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a how-to guide for picture book writers. Her books have been included on the ‘best of the year’ lists of The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, the American Library Association, the Children’s Book Council, and The New York Public Library, among others, and have been translated into many languages.


  1. Nice interview. I like the way Anika and her husband “help” each other.

    Can’t wait to read the book. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great post! I love how this book is aimed towards girls, too. Also, I’m excited to check out you blog, Anika. Good luck with all your upcoming books 🙂

  3. Very cute premise! Love it!

  4. Becky Scharnhorst

    What a fun idea! I’m excited to read this one. Thanks for a great post and for giving me one more book to add to my reading list.

  5. Can’t wait!

  6. Such a funny, clever text with illos that will make your wheels spin! Kids will be racing toward the shelves to read this one. Bravo Anika and Nate!

  7. Unique concept – this will be a hit with children at the Rodman Public Library!

  8. Wonderful picture book! I have a grandson who would be all over this one!

  9. Looks like such a fun book…thanks for sharing!

  10. So fun! My kids would LOVE this book! Thanks for the interview.

  11. I love books with a wink at the end – literally and figuratively!!
    Thanks for sharing

  12. Congrats, Anika!! I love how the little blue bus is both a girl and a monster with a nod to VW buses!!

  13. Looks super cute…can’t wait to get from my library…

  14. Looks amazing–I love a good truck book! Congrats, Anika!

  15. Stacy Digianantonio

    Why hasn’t this been done before? I can’t wait to read this book!

  16. Kim Pfennigwerth

    I love where this idea developed from and with 2 grandsons and a granddaughter it will be a hit with all three of them!

  17. Thank you Anika for the interview. I drive a truck and love picture books and I really must read this!

  18. Wow! Great post! Love the idea of Monster Trucks!

  19. Great character combination, Anika! Can’t wait to see it.

  20. My son & daughter loved monster trucks when they were little! Wish I had this book then, but it’s perfect for my grandson.

  21. Can’t wait to add this one to my shelf!

  22. My girls would love a copy of this book. So fun.

  23. This book looks fantastic. I love the idea of the twist ending only seen in the illustration.

  24. Great interview, Anika! Looks like another very cute book! 🙂 Would love to win a signed copy!

  25. Congratulations, Anika. It looks like Monster Trucks is going to be a big winner. I know a boy who will love it!

  26. My grandson who’s 5 will love this book! I’ll read it first.

  27. Sounds De-frightful! I’ll be watching for it.

  28. THanks so much, Linda and Anika! What a brilliant story idea, and I loved the behind-the-scenes interview.

  29. She’s no “diesel in distress.” too cute. This will be a great book. I can’t wait.

  30. Sounds great – my nephew would love this book!

  31. How fun are trucks AND monsters?!?!? Love when the illustrations tell the story as well! Plus, if it has the Terry Shay stamp of approval, I am all about it!! Can’t wait to share it with my 800ish babies in the Library!!

  32. A great story combo for any child (or adult!). Best of luck with it all – cannot wait to read and house the book in our school library!

  33. Sounds like a great book for my little ones!

  34. LOVE the idea and the final project. One of those that I wish that I had thought of! Good luck with it!

  35. Beyond the beyonds darling!

  36. Fun interview. Thanks! I can’t wait to get this book. I know two kids who are going to love it (and me–LOVE the little blue bus).

  37. Lovely interview! Thank you for sharing!

  38. Kathy Mazurowski

    Sounds like so much fun!

  39. Verycool. Would love to review.

  40. Loved the interview! Can’t wait to vroooom over and get the book.

  41. Congratulations, Anika! Thanks for making a pit stop at Picture Book Builders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *