I AM GOOSE! A 2-fer interview with debut author Dorothia Rohner and illustrator Vanya Nastanlieva + a giveaway

Gifted illustrator Dorothia Rohner has been my friend for a long time, and I couldn’t be happier to showcase her debut book, I AM GOOSE! (Clarion).

From the publisher: “A simple, friendly game of Duck, Duck, Goose goes off the rails in giggle-inducing confusion when a silly goose tries to make it all about him.

That’s the story, in its nuttiest of nutshells. But it’s also detail-rich, both in story and art, and has an extra layer of observational humor–thanks to two squirrelly wise-crackers hanging out in a nearby tree. See them on the cover and on this opening spread?

Anyway, what I like about this book is that the “problem” arises from something so simple and obvious that you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. Or maybe that’s just me. But I didn’t. Dorothia DID. So let’s find out what got this one percolating for her. As an added bonus, illustrator Vanya Nastanlieva is joining us, too!

Author Dorothia Rohner

JE: Welcome, Dorothia! Okay, so what impresses me about this book is that the concept is so relatable to kids. They all know the game (or should!), so the main story — and Goose’s confusion — will engage them. But then you added the snarky squirrels, which gives adults something to chuckle about, too. (I love that they’re so very Statler and Waldorf!) Can you recall what sparked this story and tell us about any frustrations along the way, story-wise?

Dorothia: Hi Jill. Thank you so much for inviting us to talk about I Am Goose!  Picture Book Builders is one of my favorite picture book blogs! The idea for this story came from my interaction with children at Head Start. I’ve been a volunteer in the Ankeny classroom for several years now. So, it’s no surprise that I’ve engaged in countless games of Duck, Duck, Goose! 

Based on watching the children as we played, I knew there was a story hidden somewhere. Usually, each game would spin out of control due to all of the children’s different personalities. Some would follow the rules, some wouldn’t. One child would want to be It all the time. There would be hungry ones, impatient ones, and kids who would have no clue what was going on. I found the interactions really funny. The seed of the story went through many iterations including title changes and characters.  Slowly the cast of unique animals developed so that their varied personalities would help to build tension throughout the game.  I’ve always loved the wise-cracking Muppets, so I’m sure that they were an influence to help spice up the adult humor. And the idea of Duck, Duck, Goose being a spectator sport made me smile. 

The most challenging part of this manuscript was building tension and dialogue between the characters without slowing the pacing of the story. The aside comments from the squirrels had to be short and focused on the main plot to keep the story moving along. Also, the dialogue of each animal had to be unique in order to relay their distinct personalities. My critique group and my then-agent were a great help with the revisions. 

JE: Vanya, these illustrations capture the spirit of the game and each animal beautifully. Could you talk about how you began brainstorming sketches and any challenges you had envisioning this book and its characters?

Illustrator Vanya Nastanlieva

Vanya:  The moment I was reading, getting to know the text and the story of I AM GOOSE, I was working on the characters in my mind. I did some sketches (lots of them), sent them onto the publisher and waited for feedback. I needed to get as close as possible to the publisher’s original vision of the characters. After every piece of feedback I was adjusting, adding or removing things. The time when all the characters are emerging is my favorite time of the whole process. It involves lots of drawing but with freedom to imagine and create anything. With a simple sketch you can take yourself to a whole new world.  

©Vanya Nastanlieva

It took some time to reach the point where I was happy with the characters I had created. I adapted the drawings and compositions of some of the animals, changing their size several times.

One of the challenges for me was working with some of the planned compositions that I had been given because of how I imagined the game itself and how it would flow. But, through discussion with the publisher and the designer, I was able to convince them that some of the characters were not in the right place. Once they saw and realized that, they were happy for me to change some of the planned compositions to make it work better.

 The other thing that was challenging was that the book is unlike a usual picture book. With lots of action, expressions and dialogue on one spread it was similar to a comic book. On every page I had to be aware of maintaining the consistency in the look of the characters, making sure that every time they appeared they retained their identity. The ten characters that appear in the book often appear together, on almost every spread, and Goose appears 30 times in the whole book. Having worked in an animation studio in the past I was able to use some techniques I had learnt there to ensure I was able to keep the consistency in the characters. 

 I was battling to lose the speech balloons ……but in the end the decision was to keep them.  As a whole I did enjoy working on the book enormously!

JE:  Dorothia, if you feel comfortable about this … would you be willing to talk about the fact that you had planned to do the art yourself and talk about why that didn’t work out?

Dorothia:  I’d be happy to share this part of my publication journey. As an illustrator, I was initially disappointed that the art we submitted didn’t fit my editor’s vision for the manuscript. I had been trying out several different styles of art while I was revising the manuscript. So when we received two offers, but neither editor thought the art fit, it was tough. After we signed with Clarion, I asked for one more chance to redo the art. That too was declined.

©Dorothia Rohner

Even though none of the art ended up in this story, it was a great learning experience to practice character expressions, design, and different techniques. Practicing art is never a waste of time. Who knows, someday one these characters might show up in another story!

Clarion is such a wonderful publisher and, in the end, I trusted their vision. I learned from some of my illustrator friends and my agent that this happens from time to time in kidlit publishing. 

When the editor suggested Vanya as the illustrator, I immediately fell in love with her work. I am thrilled at how she brought all of the characters to life! That’s the alchemy of picture books!

JE:  Vanya, did you feel any extra pressure knowing the author was also an illustrator?

Vanya:  Oh yes, of course! When I checked Dorothia’s work I was so impressed by her art, the colors and atmosphere in her illustrations. I was puzzled as to why she was not illustrating her own story. 

How it came about was that my agent, Frances, who was presenting my work for the first time at the Bologna Book Festival in Italy, met with Dinah the publisher. Dinah liked my illustrations, particularly my animal characters, and said she had a text that would suit my style. After a while the publisher sent the story text and asked if I liked it and whether I had a vision for it. I do love to draw animals and this story was full of them so I was thrilled to start working on it.

I admire Dorothia’s art and I feel so honoured to be chosen to illustrate her story.

JE:  Readers, Dorothia was kind enough to send a photo of her new studio (see below). Gorgeous! Dorothia, the twist ending (the ducks showing up) still makes me chuckle. It’s PERFECT. Did that come to you right away, or did it show up out of the blue at some point? 

Dorothia:  The ducks were always in the back of my mind as the twist, but I wasn’t sure how it would all unfold. I wanted there to be a surprise ending without being predictable. I write intuitively by starting with a concept, connection, pattern or idea. In this case, the game of duck, duck, goose.  I use my subconscious to find connections and figure out the details of the story. At some point, I discovered how to connect the dots and have the ducks fly in at the end. 

JE:  When does your book launch? Are you planning any events? Where can we find more information about both of you? 

Dorothia: Thank you for asking. I Am Goose! will be released in a one week, on February 18, 2020. We will be having a book launch party at:

Beaverdale Books 2629 Beaver Avenue, Suite 1 Des Moines, IA Feb 18th at 6:30 PM

All future events will be posted at my website

Follow: @dorothiar IG and Twitter
See Vanya’s website here. And don’t miss the trailer for I AM GOOSE! It’s HERE.

GIVEAWAY! Dorothia will send an autographed copy of I AM GOOSE! to one lucky winner, chosen randomly from those of you who leave a comment below! Contest ends Feb. 21st. U.S. residents only, please.

WINNERS! We have winners! In my last post I introduced my new book, WE LOVE BABIES! and invited you all to comment for the chance to win one of three copies. Those randomly drawn winners are: Linda Dryfhout, Ashley Congdon, and Norene Paulson! Congrats, ladies, and THANKS for entering!

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of more than 50 children's books. Recent picture books include JACK KNIGHT'S BRAVE FLIGHT (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection), HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, WHERE'D MY JO GO?, FROG BOOTS, and WE LOVE BABIES! She is also the author of a graphic early reader series, Thunder & Cluck (another Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection). In addition, she has authored two dozen nonfiction series books for Nat Geo Kids, including several titles in the immensely popular LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF–– series. Next year brings her first humorous informational fiction pb, STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER. Lots more books are on the way! For more information about Jill and her books, visit her website at www.jillesbaum.com


  1. Congrats, Dorothia! Love this concept!

  2. So clever and cute. I look forward to reading this book. Congrats to you Dorothia and Vanya. I’m working on a PB story now that is all dialogue. How did you structure this for submission? Did it look more like a script?

    • Hi Deb,
      To answer your question, yes, it was structured like a script. I typed each of the animals names in a smaller font than the text to help keep the focus on the manuscript. We ended up placing the asides from the squirrels justified to the right. This layout helped readability.

  3. Beautiful illustrations. I want to read the book!

  4. Such a fun, clever idea. I can’t wait to read this one! Clarion publishes some good stuff. I have my own book with them coming in May. ?

  5. Thanks for this two-for-one-derful interview! I thought the same thing- WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THIS? The intricacies of development on both sides of the creation make a clear case for this being so much harder than just a good idea!
    As for the squirrels, I am such a fan of “Greek chorus” elements and wonder how it can best be indicated for someone who is NOT an illustrator (beware the art notes, right?).
    Another fave PB with this technique is NO MONKEYS NO CHOCOLATE (Melissa Stewart).
    Thanks of the terrific book, and the great insights!

  6. Congrats on delightful duck and goose game debut! Wonderful interview too!

  7. Congrats, Dorothia and Vanya!

  8. I know my three-year-old granddaughter would love this book. She just started preschool and just learned how to play Duck, Duck, Goose.

  9. The book looks great! Hope I can win a copy to read to my twins.

  10. I really enjoyed reading about the processes for the author and illustrator. I loved the story concept as soon as I read Gooses’s words, “You can’t be serious. That’s turtle. I’m Goose.” How understandably childlike!! Then… when I found out that ducks would make an appearance, I said, “I have to get this book!”

  11. Dorthia and Vanya, you win the Oscar for picture books in my humble opinion! Everything about the pages displayed here makes me want to be the first in line when my local bookstores get this book! Congratulations!!

  12. Lynne Marie Pisano

    What a fabulous book! I am excited to read it!

  13. Congrats Dorothia and Vanya – thank you for sharing your journey! p.s. The studio is beautiful Dorothia!

  14. So excited to see this book, Dorothea! Interesting to hear from both the amazing author and incredible illustrator — congratulations to both of you!

  15. Michelle Garcia Andersen

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this book! So much humor and such beautiful illustrations. Congratulations Dorothia and Vanya!

  16. A great big congrats on your first book. The first of many more to come!!!

  17. thank you for sharing such gifted talent!

  18. Brilliant idea and incredible illustrations. I cannot wait to get a copy of this book!

  19. Such a clever premise! I definitely am putting this on my “to read” list. Congratulations, Dorothia and Vanya!

  20. Dorothelia and Vanya, this is such a clever and adorable book! I can’t wait to share it with the grandkids.

  21. Dorothia. I didn’t originally misspell. I hate auto correct. 🙂

  22. Oh, what a perfect idea for a book! I love it! Can’t wait to read it. Congratulations!

  23. Oh, how I’ve played that game – over and over again – with young students, with my own children and their friends…such a classic ! I would LOVE to have a copy of this book!!!!

  24. What a fun book! Looking forward to reading it. Congratulations, Dorothia!

  25. I think we all know someone like Goose!

  26. Sending fist pumps your way…looks like an adorable read!

  27. I can’t wait to read this book! It looks adorable. Thanks for an interesting post.

  28. Thank you for the interview. I always enjoy reading about how authors and illustrators get their ideas and how they develop them into works of art (AKA picture books).

  29. This book looks adorable. Kids will love this! Congrats!

  30. This book sounds wonderful. Congratulation to you both.

  31. I love this, it sounds like such a fun book. Clever idea.

  32. Congratulations Dorothia- your book sounds like a winner!

  33. Great interview, Jill! I loved having both the author and illustrator POV’s. What a wonderful collaboration. Congratulations Dorothia and Vanya!

  34. What a great idea for a book. Older generations, who also played the game as children, will love sharing this with the young ones in their lives.

  35. Great interview, Jill! Dorothia, knowing what an amazing artist you are, I wondered why you didn’t illustrate this book. Very interesting the way that all came together.

  36. Such a fun and humorous story. I can’t wait to read it. Congratulations!

  37. Thank you, Dorothia and Vanya for sharing your collaboration of I Am Goose. Can’t wait to read it.

  38. Lol. Dorithia, this book sounds fantastic, ladies, and as a writer, I especially loved hearing the illustrator’s ideas about the characters! I’m so proud that you were able to help change perspectives in a way that really seems to benefit the story, Vanya! Thanks for sharing, Jill!

  39. I enjoyed learning more about how the text and illustrations came together.
    What a fun premise and beautiful illustrations!

  40. Great concept! This looks amazing. I must read it immediately!

  41. What a fun post! I love hearing about your book’s journey. It’s really inspiring. Can’t wait to read it!

  42. Congrats, Dorithia & Vanya. What a fun book this is. TY, too, Dorithia, for your willingness to share the experience with your illustrations. When one is not published, we always think that the other side looks so rosy. However, you both came out of the experience with an engaging book. Congrats.

  43. Congratulations, Dorothia! I can’t wait to read your book. I knew it was “just a matter of time” before you’d be published!

  44. This was such a wonderful look at the process of GOOSE, thank you Jill, Dorothia, and Vanya. I’ve often heard that author/illustrators sometimes have to let a manuscript go to another illustrator, and I’ve thought it must be a hard choice to make. But it was really great to see this in practice, and how well it all turned out…Vanya’s illustrations look like a great match for the voice of this story, and Dorothia, your work is equally gorgeous–I feel confident that we’ll see your art in another book soon! Thanks for sharing, and huge congrats on this major accomplishment!

  45. Very interesting and thank you for sharing the art process!

  46. Looking forward to seeing this book. I’m sure we have met at an Iowa SCBWI conference. (I’m just south of the Iowa border.) BIG CONGRATULATIONS!

  47. Congratulations Dorothia and Vanya on your gorgeous (and fun!) picture book! Dorothia, I think that you ‘letting go’ of the illustrations is a true testament of what a process it is to make a book. As a writer many favorite sentences and paragraphs never make it to print. Characters we think are perfectly darling are redrawn without this or that. It is truly a collaborative effort where everyone works together to make something wonderful. Which is what you did. Bravo! xo

    • Jennifer, Thank you so much! Yes, this is so true. After I read Vanya’s process, it made it sink in that a book becomes the vision of many people. A true collaboration. Looking forward to your new books talented friend!

  48. What an interesting insight into the making of your book. Dorothia, I love your illustrations too. I’m sure you will find the right story to let them shine! Vanya, your characters fit the text perfectly.

  49. Wow what a great collaboration! Congratulations. You are an inspiration Dorothea.

  50. I love watching kids play this game and how fun to have a story about it! Thanks, Dorothia and Vanya, for sharing your journey with us.

  51. Looking forward to reading this one! I like the snarky squirrels already. Congrats!

  52. Congratulations and thank you for sharing this story behind the story, Dorothia.

  53. You are welcome LeeAnn! Thank you!

  54. The classic Who’s on first type of confusion. Congratulations on your launch this week!

  55. Janet Frenck Sheets

    This story looks like a lot of fun! It’s interesting that Dorthia and Vanya both had visions for the story that the publishers rejected, but the final product turned out terrific anyway. (And Dorthia, I think you’ll do a great job illustrating your future books.)

  56. Congrats, Dorothia and Vanya! I loved reading about the route to publication for this fun title. Such a cute idea!

Leave a Reply

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