The Styling Librarian

In my opinion, books are the best accessory.

Styling Librarian Author Interview with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Work in progress!

Work in progress!

. I absolutely adore watching the talent that is Debbie Ridpath Ohi. She is a generous sharing author and illustrator who has the most creative way of looking at the world. Such a fantastic person to get to know. I first heard about Debbie a few years ago and enjoyed following her multiple Facebook pages in addition to Twitter and her blog. I adored the book she illustrated with Michael Ian Black and am so excited that Naked! is being released soon! I’ve been anticipating the book for around a year now, can’t wait! I contacted Debbie to see if I could be part of the book release celebration for Naked! and was quite honored when she said “yes”… Thrilled and honored to be a part of celebrations and ALSO get to know Debbie through this interview quite a bit more!

Without further ado, here’s the interview with the fantastically talented Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

Naked at Buckingham Palace

Naked at Buckingham Palace

What was your favorite childhood book memory?

One of my favourite childhood book memories: When one of my grade school teachers read an entire book aloud to our class, a chapter at a time. The book was CALICO CAPTIVE by Elizabeth George Speare. I remember being skeptical and somewhat impatient at the idea of having a book read aloud to me. I was too old to be read to, after all! But then I got totally caught up in the story, as did the rest of the class. I was so eager to find out what happened next that I ended up going to the library and borrowing the book to finish it.

Are there any authors or books that you liked as a child that you still read now?

Yes, most of them. I love seeking out books I loved as a child and rereading them. One of my favourite rereads: DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury. Now that I’m illustrating children’s books as well as writing them, I’ve also been going to the library and seeking out childhood favourites like SWIMMY by Leo Lionni and SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE by William Steig to not only enjoy the story again but also to appreciate the art from a new perspective.

Have you read any children’s literature books recently?

Atheneum/Simon & Schuster is reissuing Judy Blume classics in chapter book, middle grade and YA formats, and I was picked to do cover illustrations for the middle grade and chapter books, as well as interior illustrations for three of the chapter books.
I’ve always loved Judy Blume, so it just gave me an excuse to reread my favourites. How cool is it that I get to read Judy Blume books and say it’s part of my work? I’ve also been reading other Judy Blume books that I missed reading when I was younger. What I’m finding: Judy Blume books are just as relevant to young people now as they were years ago.
Judy Blume books I’ve read and reread recently: Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Blubber, Deenie, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Iggie’s House, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, It’s Not The End Of The World, Freckle Juice, The One In the Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, and The Pain And The Great One. 
Judy Blume Book Covers

Judy Blume Book Covers

What was a favorite genre you read as a child?  How have your tastes changed as an adult?

As a child, my favourite genre was science fiction, fantasy and horror. I still lean toward those, but also enjoy contemporary settings as well. What’s important, regardless genre, is a story that pulls me in right away.

Do you still have any of your books from when you were a child?

I still have my copy of DANDELION WINE, which was a birthday gift from my sister. Most of my childhood reading was with library books, so I didn’t get to keep them. Our dad used to take us to the library every week, and we’d all come home with stacks of books.

Are you in a writers group? If so, has it helped you?

I’m in a critique group called the MiG Writers (, a group of six middle grade and YA authors who critique each other’s work as well as post about the craft and business of writing for young people. It was fun to actually meet in person at the SCBWI Winter Conference in 2013. Each of us brings something different to the group, and we learn a lot from each other as well as encourage and support one other throughout the year. The members are Andrea Mack, Susan Laidlaw, Kate Fall, Carmella Van Vleet, Christina Farley and me. Photo:


I’m also a member of the Toronto Area Middle Grade and YA Author Group (, which meets once a month for drinks and dinner. I love these casual get-togethers…fun and inspiring!

Do you have a key writing tips for kids?

I'm Bored Cover

I’m Bored Cover

Don’t talk down to them. Kids are smart and savvy.

If you think that writing for young people is easier than writing for adults, you’re wrong.
Before you start writing for young people, read recently published books for young people to see what’s out there. I’ve seen so many manuscripts by aspiring children’s book writers that sound like old-fashioned classics, making it clear that they aren’t familiar with the current children’s book industry.
And advice for aspiring picture book writers: Leave room for the illustrator! New picture book writers sometimes assume that the illustrator’s role is just to draw what it’s in the text, and they feel the need to describe everything (“so the illustrator knows what to draw”.) An experienced picture book writer trusts the illustrator.

Do you have a new book being released in the next year?🙂

Why, thank you for asking!🙂
Naked! book cover

Naked! book cover

In 2014, I’ll have eleven (!!) books coming out with my illustrations. One is NAKED!, a fun picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). I illustrated the covers of seven Judy Blume classics being reissued in middle grade format by Atheneum/S&S: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Deenie, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Blubber, Iggie’s House, Starring Sally J. Freeman As Herself and It’s Not The End Of The World.

I also did the covers AND interior illustrations for three chapter books: Freckle Juice, The One In The Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, and The Pain And The Great One.

Frecklejuice Mix Sample

Frecklejuice Mix Sample

How do you feel about the development and growth of the e-Book industry?

I know others will disagree, but I like ebooks. Yes, there is the tactile pleasure of handling a print book, the rustle of pages, the feel of the paper etc. that can’t be matched by ebooks. Lending print books is far easier than lending ebooks. From a practical standpoint, though, I like ebooks because they don’t take up physical space and I can therefore get more of them without having to face the reality that I have way more books than I can possibly read in a lifetime.🙂

Mimis Dilemma

Naked early sketches

Naked early sketches

I also love the idea of being able to easily carry my personal library with me, wherever I go. Whenever I was going away on a trip, I used to spend an embarrassing amount of time agonizing about which book(s) to take with me. With ebooks, I don’t have to make a decision — I just take them all!

However, it’s different with picture books. I still strongly prefer print picture books over electronic. I’ve tried the latter, but it just isn’t the same experience. The screens are too small. The colours are different. Also, the picture book read-aloud experience is different. The interaction between the child and adult and images/text on the printed page is far more intertwined and intimate than is currently possible on an e-reader.
A print picture book can be owned and loved by a child in a way an e-reader could never be (“this is MY book”), the pages growing dog-eared and sometimes chewed on.
Also, not everyone can afford an ebook reader. Print books in libraries remain a vital resource for communities, and I can also see how the role of librarians may gradually change as technology advances.
In the end, though, the format isn’t nearly as important as the content. A good story trumps all, whether electronic or on paper.
I could go on waaaaay too long on this topic, so I’d better stop now else I’ll never finish the interview.🙂

Did you always plan on a writing/illustrating career or if not…?

Evolution-Naked-TopOfStairs-1000I’ve always wanted to write books for young people, but assumed that I would need to do it on the side. I graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.Sc. and worked as a computer programmer/analyst for the head office of Toronto-Dominion Bank for a couple of years before realizing that this wasn’t the right career for me. It was a tough decision, but my husband Jeff (then my boyfriend) convinced me to quit and said he’d help support me so that I could pursue my creative dreams.
Fast forward to 2010, when my friend Beckett Gladney ( convinced me to enter the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase….and I got my first children’s book contract! ( It’s been a crazy and wonderful journey.

What truly influences you as a writer/illustrator?

Everything around me (the people, the places I go, the books I read and things I see) goes into the melting pot.
Naked Color Proofs

Naked Color Proofs

If you weren’t a writer/illustrator, what occupation would you be working in?

I used to do some songwriting and performing with my music group for fun (, and I do miss making music for and with people. I’ve played flute on some of my friends’ albums years ago and in an alternate life, I could see myself pursuing a career of writing music (songs and soundtracks) or being a studio musician. Not the lead singer/musician type, but more background-ish. You can hear my flute on my friend Chris Conway’s Alien Jellyfish song:
The Pain and the Great One

The Pain and the Great One

Did any teacher or mentor specifically influence you in your career?

My eighth grade teacher, David Smallwood. Mr. Smallwood was the first teacher to really encourage me in my creative writing, and I was so motivated that I used to write many short stories (some illustrated!) just for him to read. At the launch of I’M BORED, he not only made a surprise appearance but also presented me with a folder full of my old stories, which he had kept all these years (!). I was deeply moved.
The first children’s book industry professional who showed interest in my work was Lee Wardlaw ( I met Lee through my father-in-law, and she was kind enough to critique one of my first attempts at a middle grade novel. I learned so much from Lee! She recommended me to her agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown, and now Ginger is my agent.
In 2010, I was honored to be chosen for the SCBWI Mentorship Program, and had a chance to learn from Cecilia Yung (art director at Penguin), David Diaz, Rubin Pfeffer, Priscilla Burris, Pat Cummings and Bridget Strevens-Marzo. I still keep in touch with some of them, especially David.
Naked Ceiling Sketches

Naked Ceiling Sketches

*Do you have any favorite topping you like on your pizza? 

Pear. My brother-in-law Rick McKay (a chef at Broadway Farms Market likes experimenting with different toppings, and I fell in love with one of his experiments, which was pear and some unusual cheese. Nomnomnom.

Sentences to finish if you don’t mind:

The best advice I’ve received for my profession was….

…to start attending SCBWI conventions. I did, and look what happened (

The habit I never break for my writing/illustrating practice is…

…nonexistent, since my habits tend to change over time.
Kangaroo Jump Time!

Kangaroo Jump Time!

If someone had told me…

…when I was younger that I’d be illustrating Judy Blume books someday, I would have laughed hysterically.

Why do people always assume…

Naked early sketches

Naked early sketches

…that networking and using social media came easy to me? I’ve had so many writers and illustrators say to me, “Oooh, you’re so lucky that you’re so good at social media and talking to people at conventions and so on. I’m way too shy / quiet / insecure.” To be clear: I am an introvert. It was *very scary* for me to leave my cozy and safe office cave to start attending writer/illustrator conventions and meet people in person at first. What I found: that it wasn’t nearly as horrible as I expected, and I even had FUN. I so wish I had started going to conventions and trying to meet others in the industry earlier in my career.

Using social media was another learning experience. I’m sure I’ve made almost every kind of social media gaffe and mistake possible. I put together my Twitter Guide for Writers and Illustrators ( in hopes of helping others avoid making my mistakes.

Bottom line: Don’t let fear hold you back from reaching your goals. Keep trying new things, pushing beyond your comfort zone on a regular basis.

Debbie, you forgot to ask me…  What am I working on this coming year?

I’m finishing up writing and illustrating WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, my very first own picture book! It’s coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2015.
I’m illustrating SEA MONKEY AND BOB, a picture written by Aaron Reynolds, which comes out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in late 2015.
I’m illustrating RUBY ROSE ON HER TOES, a picture book written by Rob Sanders and coming out from HarperCollins Children’s in 2016.
And I’m also illustrating MITZI TULANE: PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE, a picture book written by Lauren McLaughlin, published by Random House Children’s Books in 2016.
It’s going to be a very busy but fun year!!
For connect with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, visit these places:

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3 comments on “Styling Librarian Author Interview with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

  1. Debbie Ridpath Ohi
    April 22, 2014

    Thanks so much for letting me visit your blog, Debbie!

  2. Pingback: Styling Librarian #WhateverWednesday #foundart @inkyelbows | The Styling Librarian

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