Behind the Scenes w/HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR + a giveaway!

Mike Boldt and I have a new book entering the world TODAY.

The flap copy sums it up beautifully…

GOOD NEWS! Your mom’s hatching a baby!
BAD NEWS! Babies take their sweet time.
And when they finally do hatch?
They don’t even know how to be a dinosaur.
That’s where you come in.
You can teach the baby everything.

Silly humor and sincere moments make this hilarious and useful “guide” a must for every big brother and big sister to-be.
Great fun for family reading too!

We’ve enjoyed a couple of nice reviews. Publishers Weekly calls the book “Fresh . . . Adorable . . . Funny.” And, according to Kirkus: “Esbaum and Boldt [hit] the serious, the horrific, and the hysterical—and tenderly portray the growing bond between the two children.”

Whew. Mike and I thought it might be fun to have a chat and give you a glimpse of the interior.

Writers who cannot illustrate have no choice but to hope their works end up with an illustrator (and editor and art director) who “get” them, who will nurture our babies all along the way, making sure they get a great cover and interior art that feels exactly right. Sometimes the final result leaves us a little disappointed. Other times, we are happy-dance stunned. Your art for HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR not only feels exactly right, but will likely have readers thinking we collaborated all along the way. (Readers, we did not.)

So when you got this manuscript and started imagining the characters and their world…could you talk about that?

Thank you, Jill. So far I’ve not had to experience that side of the creative process where you trust someone with creating the visual side of your story, but it’s definitely something I try to imagine. After I accept a MS to illustrate, I feel a great responsibility to not only do the best work I can, but to do so in a way that complements the story without trying to take it over. The other thing, which is even more important to me before I take on a job, is that I hope to connect with the story. My favourite projects have been the ones where as I’m reading it for the first time, I’m smiling at all the potential images popping into my imagination. HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR was definitely one of those stories. I immediately replied to my agent with a “YES! I’d love to do this one.”

Speaking of creative mergers, I’d love to know, Jill, while this is a story about siblings, what made you decide to make this about humanized dinosaurs rather than humans?

Actually, my original vision was to use humans. But that seemed so…mundane. There wasn’t much zip to the story. Then I thought about using dinosaurs, writing a nonfiction manuscript set in a realistic prehistoric world. But there are so many unknowns . . . . Anyway, all that messing around led me to an idea to combine the two in a playful, “good news, bad news” presentation.

Was it ever a problem that my dino world also had realistic human elements?

It wasn’t a problem for me! Maybe I watched The Muppets too much as a kid, but I love those worlds and playing with the elements in them to make them relatable to humans, and yet still trying to add the Dinosaur elements to them – such as the action figures and sports teams that might exist there. Even though many of those things aren’t explained in the story, or even that important, I feel they can really help build the world that you created in this book and hopefully add to the reader’s experience.

Those unexpected elements are delightful. Some of my favorites…

–The main character’s tee shirt, if you can’t quite make it out, readers, is emblazoned with his favorite team’s logo: A great big A superimposed over an asteroid. Hahaha.

–Throughout the book are scattered picture books with titles that play on books of Mike’s or mine. Watch for I AM REX, HEAR ME ROAR!, I HATCHED!, and I DON’T WANT TO  BE A STEGOSAURUS!

–The end papers! The front ones show the big brother trying in vain to engage in various kinds of play with … a stationary spotted egg. The back papers show him actually playing with that long-awaited sibling.

And man, how I love that back cover. You’ve told me that wasn’t your idea, Mike. Could you explain how it came about?

Well, one of the most understated elements in the creation process is the editor/art director team that we work with. In our case, we had the privilege of working with a really incredible team of Jessica Garrison and Jennifer Kelly. I didn’t really have much going for sketches for the back cover, and then one day, Jennifer sent me this layout with the spot illustrations that acted like directions – truly a great idea that I knew complemented the title perfectly. I just rearranged them a bit and added the hand letters, but the credit definitely goes to our great team at Dial.

Was there a part of the story that Jessica came along side with a suggestion that gave you that feeling that she just “got” the story you were trying to tell?

Yes. I originally planned for every dino spread to be followed by a wordless and parallel human spread. For instance, on the “BAD NEWS. Babies don’t know what’s dangerous. STOP, BABY, STOP!” spread, we’d see a dino kiddo hurrying to stop his baby sibling as it toddles cluelessly toward a cliff, and the next spread would show a human kiddo hurrying to stop his baby sibling from toddling off the top of a staircase. Editor Jessica suggested dropping the human element. That was the right move. Readers didn’t need me hitting them over the head to understand that the book’s a metaphor. I love the end result, a cool combination of dino and human. Outdoors, smoking volcanoes. Indoors, a comfy and recognizable human world.

Editor Jessica ALWAYS gets my humor, but this particular suggestion told me that she saw more in this story’s possibilities than even I did.

Since we’re already talking about editors and edits, was there any part to this story that you really needed to roll your sleeves up for, to work and re-work it until it felt right?

As you know, the baby was originally a brother. Just before the book reached the too-late-to-change-anything stage, the Dial team wondered if readers might better relate if the baby were simply referred to as “Baby.” That way, families could imagine it as a boy OR a girl. Gulp. But those suggestions are always worth a try, because you never know…they might make it better, right? So yeah, that took a lot of working and reworking before it flowed to my satisfaction. Happily, that no-sex Baby eventually grew on me.

Which spread did you have the most trouble feeling satisfied with?

I’ll be honest. There weren’t too many spreads that were giving me trouble on this book, Jill. Generally that’s another sign of how much I’m enjoying illustrating the story! I’d say the BAD NEWS page where baby doesn’t know what’s dangerous, had me struggle a bit more than the rest. Initially I had an idea for baby walking into a giant dinosaur’s mouth, but it felt a bit too scary. Then when I thought a bit more about the “Stop, baby, stop!”, I figured a cliff or edge would be better suited to that text. Then the tricky part became figuring out the layout to make sure the text was read in the right order still. I just hope the final works haha!

JILL:                                                                                                                                                                                                            This process looks SO daunting! But the final product gives me the best kind of goosebumps. Thanks, Mike! And thanks, readers, for sticking with this long post!

GOOD NEWS! Dial has generously allowed us three copies to give away. To be eligible, simply comment below. I’ll draw three names on Friday, February 9th, and I’ll contact you personally if I can find your contact info online. Winners will be announced here in my next post on Tuesday, February 13th. 


Meanwhile, winners of Leslie Helakoski’s HOOT & HONK Just Can’t Sleep are: Quinette Cook, Shutta Crum, and Sondra Soderberg. Sondra, I’m having trouble finding an email address for you. Please contact me through my website to claim your prize.

And you can still enter to win a copy of Pat’s new book, BE KIND.
Buy Zovirax online

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: Bird Girl - Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature With the World, Parrotfish Has a Superpower, Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Sea Turtle Swims, Kangaroo Hops, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, We Love Babies!, 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 2025: Polecat Has a Superpower!, It's Corn-Picking Time!, Giraffe Runs. 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. WHAT a fun premise for a story!! And I loved getting a peek at the creative process for both author and illustrator. Thank you!

  2. Becky Scharnhorst

    Oh, my! This book looks hilarious! The clever text and fun illustrations work perfectly together. I’m so excited to read this. 🙂

  3. How cool to get a sneak peek of the whole process! Thanks for sharing your success and your struggles with us!

  4. This looks adorable! I can’t wait to share this with my little dinos 🙂

  5. Congratulations on your new book. This looks super fun and I love hearing the back story of how it came together from both the writer and illustrator side of things. Can’t wait to read the whole story! Thanks.

  6. Love learning about process, and the book looks wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for sharing your process! I love how Jill’s words inspired Mike’s entertaining illustrations.

  8. I’ve been waiting for this one! What a fantastic duo you two make! Congrats! Can’t wait to read it!

  9. Sounds like such a fun read! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

  10. Jennifer Lane Wilson

    Thanks for giving us a peak behind the scenes at the interplay between writing and illustrating!

  11. Enjoyed hearing from an illustrator. That sounds so intimidating. You did a fabulous job!

  12. I LOVE this interview!! And the book looks fantastic! Thanks, guys, and congratulations!!!!

  13. Jill, your books are so clever. I love your humor. And nice to hear from the collaboration between author illustrator. Looks like this will be a good one!

  14. Yay, Yay, YAYYYYY! What a great interview by a terrific team! Congratulations to both of you, can’t wait to read/see it!!!!!!!

  15. Jill and Mike,
    What a great post about your process in what looks to be an adorable book! I can already think of 3 families expecting to add a sibling

  16. Thanks for this insightful interview and reveal about how a picture book really gets “built!”

  17. Such fun to learn about the process — Can’t wait to read this one!

  18. Fascinating to get a glimpse into your process, from the early, rough drawings to the final book. Wow! I love this book. What a fun way to present to kids a monumental shift in their life! Thank you!

  19. This book looks so funny . . . and with great illustrations to boot! I can’t wait to read this!

  20. Pretty sure there is no such thing as watching the Muppets too much!

    The kitty’s expression made me chortle! Fun peek into the book and its fab creators’ process!

  21. This looks delightful! Can’t wait to read it.

  22. This behind the scenes post is so interesting! It’s fun to see how each creator had his and her own concerns and joyful moments. Thanks for sharing!

  23. LOVED reading about How To Grow A Dinosaur was created. Can’t wait to read it! Congratulations Jill and Mike!!!

  24. I lov d seeing how you “worked together” to bring this book to life. I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Congratulations!

  25. You know I’m a sucker for a dinosaur book 🙂

  26. It’s always interesting to hear about the process. Thanks for including the editor/art director. We don’t often hear much about their part in getting a picture book out. Looks like a wonderful book. Love the humor and the art.

  27. Jennifer Rumberger

    This looks so fun! And I enjoyed hearing from all the wonderful creators who put the book together!

  28. What a delightful book! Very clever! I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  29. I love this, Jill! Thanks for your perspective, Mike!

    P.S. I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at the Wild, Wild Midwest conference in 2016, Jill :-).

  30. How adorable, Jill and Mike! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Wonderful interview!

  31. Love this conversation with Jill and Mike. So fun to see how authors and illustrators do their separate jobs to produce a joint effort. And it’s always great to give a few kudos to the team behind the scenes who make it all possible.

  32. You certainly can’t go wrong with a book about both babies AND dinosaurs! Can’t wait to have this for our patrons.

  33. It’s reassuring to know even well-published writers run through many variations before coming upon the right one. Thanks for the backstory.

    • ALWAYS, Susan. At least that’s how it usually works for me. Sometimes I never find the right presentation. Struggling with one right now that just. isn’t. working. But it’s one I won’t give up on. Sooner or later….

  34. Jill and Mike, this looks like such a fun book. Congratulations to both of you!

  35. Congrats on the book. It looks adorable. I think it would be perfect for two little boys I just happen to know. 😉

    • Ooh, I hope they like it, Q! I shared it with my almost 2-year-old grandson, who has become very picky with books lately. He doesn’t understand that Grammy had anything to do with this one, of course, so it was enormously gratifying that he wanted it read repeatedly. The fact that the little dino had TOOLS exactly like his own had nothing to do with it. “Wook! He have hammah! He have wench!” Haha.

  36. This sounds like a great one. I just requested it from my library. Thanks for sharing a little of what went into the making of your book!

  37. What a cute book! Love the illustrations!

  38. I love how the words tell half the story, and the illustrations, the other half. So delightful and well-done! Bravo!

  39. What a delightful read today!

  40. Great backstory, it makes me want to read and share the book even more! Kudos, Jill and Mike!

  41. What a great match of text and illustration! Love this story and look forward to reading it with my own not-so-little dinos. Thanks for sharing some of the creative process.

  42. I really appreciate the sneak peak behind the makings of this book. It looks so fun!

  43. Loved hearing the process. Thanks for including super rough dummy sketches!

  44. Fun interview! I look forward to reading the book.

  45. Thanks for sharing the process.

  46. Jill and Mike,
    I laughed out loud when I saw your illustrations and text on the page.
    I can’t wait to get a copy!

  47. Oh my gosh, Jill. This looks adorably funny. Congratulations on another terrific picture book 🙂

  48. Happy book birthday, Jill & congrats! It looks adorable. Can’t wait to read it 🙂

  49. Thank you for sharing your author and illustrator perspectives, Fascinating!

  50. Love this concept! Congrats, you two!

  51. This back and forth between writer and illustrator is really interesting. Thanks for sharing, both of you!

  52. I love having this peek at your collaboration, Jill and Mike. Picture books are a true collaboration that works magic. Can’t wait to get my own copy of HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR.

  53. Great insight and what a fun twist!

  54. It’s great to see the creative process and collaboration efforts involved in a successful (and delightful) picture book. Thanks so much for the insights!

  55. Jill! This is wonderful. What day does it come out? I’d like to highlight it on my site for you. And I LOVE this back and forth between you and the illustrator. Congrats.

  56. Such fun to hear about the process for both the author and illustrator. This book looks fabulous!

  57. Love this post, and I really want to read this book!

  58. This book looks wonderful! Thanks for sharing the process of what it takes to bring the words and pictures together!

  59. I love behind-the-scenes skinny! Great interview. ?

  60. Thank you for this insight into the book’s process!

  61. I love when interviews include both the author and the illustrator. And in this case it sounds like a perfect match. Congrats to both of you on the new book. I can’t wait to read it.

  62. Thanks for sharing your collaboration, Jill and Mike. Can’t wait to track down a copy.

  63. Congratulations, what a great book and thanks so much for sharing the process (and for the giveaway)!

  64. What a clever book – perfect combination of text and illustrations. I can’t wait to gift this to little ones waiting for a new sibling.

  65. That’s the perfect audience for it, Claire. Thanks for entering!

  66. Thanks for letting us in “behind the scenes.” Can’t wait to see this book! Your book often have such a delightful sense of humor running through them that makes me smile.

  67. Obviously, I meant “books” in the third sentence, not “book.” : )

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