Hello, Frog Boots! Jill Esbaum interviews illustrator Joshua Heinsz + a book giveaway!

I’m celebrating a new book today, Frog Boots (Sterling Children’s Books), brightly illustrated by my talented new friend Joshua Heinsz!

One August afternoon a couple of years ago, an image popped into my head. It was a little boy, clomping to a kindergarten Circle Time in new boots, eager to show them off. Except when he sat down and stuck his feet into the middle of the circle, another kiddo said: “Teacher, that boy’s wearing girl boots!”

At the time, I thought that was kind of funny. So I started playing around with a scene. That’s when I realized that it wasn’t a funny situation at all, not for the kiddo who wanted to show off his boots. It was humiliating! But I couldn’t get that sweet little kid out of my mind, so I stumbled along.

Eventually, I had a draft. A far-from-perfect one. But I tend to get a little … uh, focused?…when I know a story has … something. Anyway, I couldn’t put it aside. So I tweaked and cut and rewrote and reshaped again and again and again, added humor, pumped up the voice, etc. Then I sent it to an editor who had told me not three months before that they (the publisher) were seeking less-fluffy stories. Is that what prompted that out-of-the-blue image? shrug Anyway, she bought Frog Boots, and the rest is history. His story. Dylan’s.

Dylan is a kiddo who’s obsessed with poison dart frogs. So when he sees rain boots covered with them, of course he has to have them. When he slips them on, he feels cool and smart. Taller, even. He loves them SO much that he wears them to bed that first night (as one of my sons used to do with every new pair of shoes he acquired). 🙂 After lights out, Dylan discovers that some of the frogs — the green ones — glow in the dark!

Please excuse my phone pics.

He wears the boots to school, is crushed and humiliated, and, back home, hides them away, out of sight, out of mind.

But… those little froggies haunt his dreams. Literally. And … well, you’ll have to read the book to discover how his head and heart find a way through.

Today, illustrator Joshua Heinsz stops by to visit about the book and his process.

JE: Welcome, Joshua! What drew you to FROG BOOTS, as an illustrator? 

JH: The story of Frog Boots immediately grabbed my attention, because it is something that strongly resonated with my own childhood. I was always drawn to toys and clothing that were traditionally considered for girls. I remember so specifically being obsessed with this one pair of pink socks I had at like 4 or 5 years old, and I would wear them constantly. Needless to say, I got a lot of grief for my “girly” interests, but it never stopped me from loving what I loved. One of my biggest goals as an illustrator is to show kids that not only is it ok for you to be exactly who you are even when the world around you tells you no, but that it is exactly those traits that make you unique and beautiful when you let them shine!

JE: Well said. How do you begin the process of illustrating a book?

JH: My process tends to vary project by project, but it usually starts with mood boards and then some REALLY rough sketching. For Frog Boots, one of the first things I actually did was a style test for some of the characters. I wanted to try approaching this book a little different than my usual work with looser pencil drawings and playful watercolor, so it was fun to try something new.

JE: Do you have stories of your own percolating?

JH: Absolutely! I’ve been working on several of my own stories for a while. My work load got a bit much for a while to spend much time with them, but it’s something I’m in the process of returning to.

JE: What/who inspires you?

JH: I feel like I am an art and design sponge, I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere, even if it’s not specifically for illustration. Some of my biggest illustration inspirations throughout my life though have been Trina Schart Hyman, whose version of Peter Pan inspired me to pursue illustration as a teen, Mary Blair, and Sheilah Beckett. In general I’m very into the aesthetics of both the mid-century and the 80s, and the retro futurism of both eras!

JE: An art sponge…love that. What can we look forward to from you next?

JH: Unfortunately I had to take a small step back from projects for a while due to the sudden loss of my brother and needing to take care of myself and my family, but I’ve just gotten back on the saddle, and I’ve actually been working on several more design-based projects which has been a fun departure from my usual work. However this doesn’t mean I am by any means done with publishing, and I am excited to be working on some new books very soon!

JE: I’m sorry to hear of your loss, Joshua. We all know how a blow like that can knock the wind out of us. I am glad to hear that you’re ready to begin creating again. Do you have any advice for emerging illustrators?

JH: Be kind to yourself and trust your voice! It’s really easy to get swept up in the noise of social media these days, but if you stay true to your authentic voice and what naturally inspires you, your work will shine and the right projects will come! Also know your limits. The hustle can be very real in this industry, but remember rest is equally as important to the creative process. 

JE: Amen. Thanks so much for visiting with me, Joshua. My fingers are crossed as our “baby” flies out into the big, wide world!

You can see more about Joshua and his work on his website, here.

For a chance to win a copy of our book, Frog Boots, simply leave a comment below by Friday, March 20th. I’ll give away THREE autographed copies to randomly selected commenters. U.S. residents only, please.

Re my last contest: WINNER of I Am Goose!, by Dorothia Rohner and Vanya Nastanlieva, is MARY WORLEY! Congrats, Mary, 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. Deborah Buschman

    Great interview Jill. Thanks for sharing your book and Joshua’s insight. This sounds like a winner.

  2. Such a darling book! Love every page!

  3. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Looks like a great book! Thanks for the post!

  4. This book tugs at my heart! Wonderful interview Jill and Joshua! Congratulations on yet, another book!

  5. This book looks wonderful; and, one kids I am sure will love! Congrats!

  6. Becky Scharnhorst

    My son’s favorite color has been purple his entire life and he has gotten a lot of grief about it over the years. So I’m especially grateful your book is in the world. I can’t wait to read it!

  7. Congratulations to you and Joshua! You are the perfect pairing for this story. I can’t wait to get my own hoppy…I mean, copy!

  8. What a great team: Jill and Joshua! I can’t wait to see this book in person. Congrats!

  9. Such a fun book! Congratulations!

  10. Sounds like an interesting story! I’ll be watching out for it.

  11. Congratulations Jill and Joshua! This book looks amazing and will resonate with many kids, I’m sure. I can’t wait to read it and see Joshua’s wonderful ilustrations!

  12. I can’t wait to read it!

  13. Danielle Hammelef

    I’m a frog fan, so I really want to read this fun book. I love the idea behind it too.

  14. Wow! Great story idea! Haven’t we all been picked on for a clothing choice? I loved hearing Joshua’s process as well! This book sounds like a winner!

  15. Congrats on Frog Boots, Joshua! This looks adorable.

  16. This story sounds like a winner… glowing frog boots for everyone!

  17. Michelle Meadows

    Congrats, Jill & Joshua! Great interview!

  18. What a great book. I’m sure every kid has felt like Dylan at one time or another and the pics are so cute. Congrats to both of you. And Joshua
    you take care of yourself, life can sure throw us curves.

  19. What a great book. I’m sure every kid has felt like Dylan at one time or another and the pics are so cute. Congrats to both of you. And Joshua
    you take care of yourself, life can sure throw us curves.

  20. Nice interview. I like the story idea. I think boys can wear frogs boots as well as an girl.

  21. Bonnie J. Lawhorn

    This book sounds so amazing. Who doesn’t love frogs? I’d love a pair of those boots myself! The illustrations are fantastic and I can picture you two doing more books together!

  22. I remember you talking about this book, so glad to see it’s finally here!

  23. Loved hearing about your inspiration for this book and hearing from the illustrator too! Can’t wait to read this one!

  24. Wonderful interview, Jill. Enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at FROG BOOTS from both you and Joshua. Can’t wait to read it! Congratulations!!

  25. Book looks great, looking forward to reading it!
    Hope I can win a copy for my twins!

  26. All of my children wore frog boots, green with a bright frog face. They also loved a frog robe. Today, as an adult, my son has a unique style and is my go-to child when I have fashion questions. Maybe encouraging him to wear hand-me-downs from his sisters contributed to his current fashion sense. I certainly hope so. Can’t wait to read your story of Frog Boots! Congratulations on its publication.

  27. Terrific interview! I look forward to seeing your collaboration.

  28. This sounds like a really important book—one that will resonate with kids as well as the little kids still inside us all. I can’t wait to read it. Love the interview too. Thanks so much.

  29. I absolutely love this! My 7 year old son loves cats and we don’t shy away from strutting cat love apparel regardless of the color or style. Yay for Frog Boots!

  30. Janet Frenck Sheets

    I love the page where the frogs talk. Poison dart frogs really are adorable, as long as they’re behind glass!

  31. I always love interviews and this is a great one! I’m looking forward to reading Frog Boots! Congrats, Jill and Joshua!

  32. Congrats on a sweet-looking book, Jill & Joshua.

    And Joshua–so sorry about your brother <3 <3.

  33. So much goodness in this interview and in your book, Frog Boots. All the best to you, Jill and Joshua, as this book reaches young (and in my case, old) readers everywhere.

  34. So so fun!!! Can’t wait to read it!!

  35. Terrific post and interview. What a fantastic book! Congratulations Jill and Joshua!

  36. Jill and Joshua,
    I enjoyed learning about both the story/idea and of the illustration process.
    What a wonderful book with a powerful and timely theme!
    Congratulations to both of you!

  37. Well, do these frog boots come in my size? This book looks like a lot of fun!

  38. Thanks for the interview, Jill and Joshua. Looking forward Frog Boots.

  39. So nice to meet Joshua and hear about Dylan and his fabulous frog boots. Congratulations to you both!

  40. Frog Boots look so fun. New shoes were always a big thing for me, too. Thanks for the I Am Goose book! Fun to get it in the mail this week.

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