Love is in the air!–interview with illlustrator Stephanie Laberis (+giveaway)

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day and la-la-la-la-love is in the air!


Lovebird Lou, illustrated by Steph Laberis–and written by yours truly–stars a little lovebird who is learning to embrace who he is.

This is what Kirkus had to say about our book:

“This entertaining picture book would be a wonderful read-aloud and discussion starter for early grade schoolers. The bright and colorful illustrations sparkle with humor, and many young readers will readily identify with Lou’s identity crisis. A funny but touching story about learning to accept who you are.”

Nice, huh?

I invited Steph to join us to celebrate Lou and the rest of his crew.

TS: Steph, welcome to Picture Book Builders! You have illustrated many, many wonderful picture books. What was it about this manuscript that made you say YES?

SL: Thank you so much for having me! Lovebird Lou was an easy decision for me; Lou’s charming, determined little spirit leapt right off the page, & I could envision his character almost right away. I also adored Lou’s flock, with their unwavering support & unconditional love. I wanted to take part in a story like this, that could reach kids that are maybe feeling a little lost or discouraged in figuring out who they are. And on a more technical level, I haven’t illustrated any books that focus on birds, so I also thought this would be a great set of new challenges for me.

TS: Please give us a tour of your studio. (You get bonus points if you include a bird somewhere in the scene.)

SL: Sure! My studio is a little room in the back of my house, with a window right by my desk in which I can watch our daily backyard visitors & get a little up close & personal with some of the more “assertive” regulars! I keep things pretty simple in here otherwise: I’m mainly found at my computer workstation, where I do all of my illustration digitally on the Cintiq. I have an at-home print setup here as well since I sell prints of my artwork online. I’ve got a desk for working with traditional paints & clay, but, unfortunately, I haven’t had much time in recent years to use that particular space. I’ve got a big bookshelf packed with reference art books, ranging from other kid-lit illustrators, animation art books, anatomy books & video game art books. Finally, I have a little easy chair where I can take breaks & decompress at the end of a work day…when it’s not occupied by my cat.

TS: While Lovebird Lou is a book about important things like community, family, and self-discovery, it is also funny. You brought an extra layer of humor to the book through your art. Do you have any tips or suggestions on creating just the right expression or body language for a character?

SL: I think when it comes to expression & body language, it’s best to take to heart what I learned from working in animation: act it out! Get up, stretch, ground yourself in your body & strike those big poses in front of a mirror or better yet, a camera! The same goes for facial expressions. Capturing an expression is about feeling it on both an emotional & somatic level. And once you think you have it down, push it up a notch. When Lou is happy, he’s REALLY happy – he levitates, his mouth stretched all the way down to his belly. He’s a little bird with big emotions & his poses needed to reflect that!

TS: Lovebirds aren’t the only birds in this book. Pelicans, flamingos, and nightingales also make an appearance. How did you go about bringing these various birds to life? Did you dig out the “B” volume of the 1987 Encyclopedia Britannica? Did you become the local bird-watcher? Did you travel to a tropical island?

SL: Haha! Oh my gosh, Encyclopedia Britannica, that takes me back – I can just smell the public library & the Xerox machine now! You are on the right track though, I used a LOT of reference, though it was all through the internet. Any time I take on a new project, I spend a day just gathering photo reference from online. I compile what I think I can use into a layered PSD file & will refer to it throughout the book, more often than not adding to it with more photos as I work through the book spreads. I am so lucky to live in this day & age where so much reference is available in an instant! Of course, I need to make sure that I don’t precisely copy any photo I find – just because I found something on the internet doesn’t mean there’s no copyright! I let my reference inform my decisions & then I figure out how to personify & exaggerate the various species I am looking at. That said, I wouldn’t have minded traveling to a tropical island to gather my own first-hand reference. Maybe someday!

TS: Please share some of the early sketches.

(early character sketches of Lou and his parents)
(early character sketches of the other birds)

TS: At one point in the book, Lou gets so discouraged with the business of being a bird, he decides to just be a rock. He looks funny and endearing next to that #1 Rock sign. It’s my favorite image from the book. What’s one of your favorites?

SL: Oh thank you! The rock illustration was one of my favorites, too. I wanted it to be sort of a deadpan humor moment in the story. I’m partial to the first & last spreads actually; seeing his whole flock together, doing what they do best (la-la-la-love!) was how I wanted to both open & close the story. These are the sort of spreads I think would make nice prints or posters!

TS: If you had one key piece of advice for illustrators, what would it be?

SL: Hmm, good question. One of my favorite sayings is “Luck favors the prepared.” So many of the opportunities I’ve been given had an element of luck to them. It wasn’t so much a case of being in the right place at the right time (though that’s still a factor), but being the right artist at the right time. I had to work for years to hone my skill set to become the artist a particular publisher was looking for, if that makes sense, but I also had no foresight over exactly who would want to work with me or when. So if you find yourself working hard but still aren’t getting the results you hope for, remember that luck is a factor, but that you can also influence your luck by building a skill set that helps your work to stand out.

TS: Scoop time! What’s next for you?

SL: Oh, I wish I could spill all the beans, but some things fall under NDA. I can say that I have a few more animal-centric picture books that are coming out in 2022 (one of which revolves around…poo!–Poo-Dunit? A Forest Floor Mystery by Katelyn Aronson) & that I am currently illustrating 3 more books for 2023. I am also back to working full time at an animation studio as a character designer on something very exciting – but also very secret! I know it’s no fun to leave out the details, but all will be revealed when the time is right!

TS: Ooh. The drama! The intrigue!


Steph Laberis is a character designer & illustrator specializing in animation & children’s publishing. Her work is known for its sense of whimsy, humor & expressive (usually animal!) characters.


For a chance to win a copy of Lovebird Lou, leave a comment on this post and/or share a link to the post on Twitter. Please be sure to tag @stephlaberis and @SauerTammi.

Tammi Sauer

Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is a full-time children's book author who presents at schools and conferences across the country. She has more than 30 published picture books and has many others on the way. Her books have received awards, earned starred reviews, made lists, been made into musicals, and been translated into many different languages. Most importantly, kids really like her books! To learn more about Tammi and her books, please visit and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.


  1. Lou sounds like a delightful character and I cannot wait pour over his story and the art! Thanks for such a fun blog post!

  2. This looks like another must-add for my collection. I can’t wait!

  3. What a fun book with such bright and engaging art! Yes, a must-add! Can’t wait to read!

  4. Danielle Hammelef

    I love the fun and bright illustrations! Thank you for showing us your studio and work buddy.

  5. These illustrations are so lively and they make you fall in love with Lou right from page one.

  6. This looks and sounds great! And we could sure use more delight and uplifting these days.

  7. Looks like a fun read with bright, engaging illutrations!

  8. What a sweet book concept! I love Lou and his accepting family.

  9. A perfect book to add to any library! The colorful and playful illustrations invite the reader into the story. Thanks for sharing.

  10. What a great interview! Your illustrations are wonderful and adorable! I can’t wait to read all about cute Lou! Thanks so much!

  11. Congrats, Tammi and Stephanie! This looks adorable, and I’d love to win a copy of this book.

  12. Tammi and Steph, thank you for a very fun interview and sneak peeks into Lou. It looks so adorable. Congratulations!!! I had to laugh over acting things out–I do that too just to be able to get the physicality right. And I look forward to hearing more about your secret projects when you can spill!

  13. Lovebird Lou sounds like a great book.

  14. Can’t wait to read this! It looks so charming and delightful.

  15. I think I la-la-la love Lou too! Congrats!

  16. How fun! Thanks for sharing!

  17. I’m a huge bird nerd, so I’m looking forward to this one. I also love the story-behind-the-visual-story bits and pieces. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Same! MANY of my books star birds–Chicken Dance, Bawk & Roll, Wordy Birdy, Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants, Mr. Duck Means Business, A Little Chicken, Truck, Truck, Goose!, Go Fish!

      I have a problem! 🙂

  18. Ohh! Irresistible character and brilliant art. I can’t wait to read this book!

  19. I’ve had my eyes on this lovely book since your Day One post for Storystorm 2022! Can’t wait!

  20. Congratulations to both of you! This book looks adorable!

  21. I’m a big fan of all of your books and can’t wait to meet Lovebird Lou!

  22. Congratulations, Tammi and Steph! The book looks and sounds adorable. I look forward to reading it!

  23. Thanks Steph for the look into your process! Fabulous characters!

  24. Yup, I enjoyed the interview. Lovebird Lou looks like another winner!

  25. Great interview! Tammi’s text and Stephanie’s art always guarantees a smile! I can’t wait to read Lovebird Lou!

  26. I look forward to meeting and reading about Lou!

  27. Great interview! Love the action and expression in the characters! Can’t wait to read!

  28. Tammi, I’m SUCH a fan of your books! And Stephanie’s art looks AMAZING! What a pair! Can’t wait to read this one. Thanks for the sneak peak!

  29. My son received a magazine and it has a page to match the bird with its shadow. One of the birds is a lovebird. I can’t wait to read it with him.

  30. This looks adorable! Can’t wait to get it and share with my students! ???

  31. I loved seeing the early sketches, the description of Steph’s studio, and how she researches before she begins a new book. Congratulations Tammi and Step on your sweet and adorable book!

  32. Janet Frenck Sheets

    Absolutely adorable!

  33. This looks like such a wonderful picture book! Funny and with a good message! Love the illustrations!

  34. Looks like a book to love!

  35. Lovebird Lou is such a cutie. I’m in love with him already!

  36. The text and illustrations look absolutely LOVEly! I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations!

  37. This looks like a winning picturebook! Kuddos to the author and illustrator. Well done!

  38. LOVEBIRD LOU has all the feels…. Funny, cute , sweet etc!!
    Illustrations are so spot on??

  39. Loved getting a behind-the-scenes look at Lovebird Lou! Congratulations, Tammi and Stephanie ~ I can’t wait to get my copy!!

  40. Oh, that is too adorable! I love Lou as a rock. Cracks me up. Thanks for sharing! Best wishes!

  41. This looks adorable! I’m so glad I just found this blog. I have a lot of reading to do 🙂

  42. Natalie Lynn Tanner

    STEPH: I am SO IN LOVE with LOVEBIRD LOU!!! I CAN’T WAIT to read this one! My niece is not PB age (but aren’t we ALL PB age!!!?!!!), but I would LOVE to get this one for her. She’s at that age where it seems like all her friends know EXACTLY what they want to do with their lives, but she still isn’t sure. Plus, she is a HUGE bird LOVER. THE PERFECT INSPIRATIONAL GIFT!!! THANK YOU!!!

  43. I laughed out loud at the illustrations and text! I can’t wait to get this book. Great interview.

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