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Breakout national children's book author cut her teeth at UB

Lori Richmond has been a children's book author and illustrator for only about three years, but the job always intrigued her.

"My parents say I was drawing pictures before I could even speak," the Long Island native said this week during a telephone interview. "Through high school and middle school, I was always the one that people would commission to make posters for their Student Council elections and school events."

The University at Buffalo helped her take those talents to a higher level. She pursued a graphic design degree, spending her last semester in the spring of 1998 as an intern in a New York City. That led to jobs during the mid-2000s at The Knot, a wedding planning website, and its family-related sister sites, The Nest and The Bump.

"It was super fun and we got to sample a lot of the baby products," said Richmond, 41, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Matthew, product leader for Adobe digital imaging applications, and their two sons, both named for typefaces, Cooper, 11, and Holden, 7½.

Cooper was a newborn when his mother started with The Bump brand. Holden was on the "Today" show when Kate Middleton was pregnant with her first child and the producers needed "a tiny Prince William" to stand in for a segment on royal baby-inspired products.

Simon & Shuster two years ago published Richmond's first children's book, "Pax and Blue." Scholastic this week published her third, "Bunny's Staycation." It is available in bookstores across the nation, as well as amazon.com.

Q. Talk about "Pax and Blue." What's it about?

It's a friendship story about a boy who befriends a pigeon he sees in the park on his way to school every day. They have a routine in the morning where they always say hi to each other. Then, something happens one morning and they get separated, and the pigeon decides to follow the boy onto the subway train and gets lost.

Through their friendship, Pax is able to help the pigeon out in the end. It's a good discussion book for kids. The adults are not really helpful in the story. … The book shows how those little moments of somebody taking care of someone who's smaller or different than you, even when you're in a rush, the little moments of kindness, are really important and make a big difference.

It's based on a true story of something that happened to my younger son, Holden.

Q. Why write "Bunny's Staycation"? What was the inspiration?

Scholastic published "Bunny's Staycation" this week. Author and illustrator Lori Richmond used elements of her family life to help construct the work.

My husband travels a lot. When I was in my corporate job, I did a lot of business travel, as well. It's very disruptive to the family environment and I wondered, "Why haven't I seen any picture books for kids who are going through this?"

Bunny's mommy is traveling away on a business trip and Bunny is not happy about her leaving – and has to figure out, "How do I deal with her absence?" Bunny and Papa wind up having their own little adventures, using their own creativity and imagination. Then, when Mama comes home at the end, they have a little surprise waiting for her.

I wanted to be fun and upbeat, and help kids with this situation, show kids that whatever challenging situation you're in, you can use your imagination and creativity to find your way through it...

The whole idea of the at-home adventures – some of the fun things and thematic activities I do with my boys – is in the book.

Q. What do you remember about your UB years, when your maiden name was Lori Mozzone?

My in-laws (Ken and Lyne Richmond) now live in Buffalo, in University Heights, and our family was up for Thanksgiving. We were near Main Street. We went back to The Steer, because I wanted to show my kids where all the college kids used to go. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is beautiful, and I remember going there when I was in school. I got to see a little bit behind the scenes. Niagara Falls, of course, is something I remember. Nick Tahou's garbage plate (in Rochester) was always great. The Talking Leaves Bookstore. And, of course, Wegmans was a huge deal for us. Now we're getting Wegmans in Brooklyn, which everyone is excited about.

Q. Why children's books?

As a parent, I was around a lot of children's books. What I was finding is that because I'm an artist and I love to draw, picture books were my kid's first exposure to different types of art. We could talk about how an illustrator chose to draw a book a certain way but another book had a completely different style. It was magical. We live in New York City. Any museum is at our fingertips but there are so many places in the country where kids don't have access to museums like my kids do. Picture books, to me, were almost like a gallery of art that kids could experience from their own room, on the laps of their parents.

Q. It can't be easy to land a first book contract with a major publisher. You say attending a workshop at The Highlights magazine foundation in eastern Pennsylvania helped, as did putting your work in front of other child book authors?

The industry is very tiny and the barrier to entry is very high. The fact that I was going out there and sharing my work and asking for advice and asking for critique helped so much. The only way to do it is practice, work on your craft and share your work. When those things merge, luck happens.

Q. What have been the greatest challenges and rewards to being a children's book author and illustrator?

The No. 1 reward is when I get to share my work with kids. I get to go into schools, bookstores and libraries and read with kids, show them my process and talk about how I make mistakes, how I revise. It's really special because a lot of times, kids that age don't have that connection that the things that exist in the world were made by human beings. The chair you're sitting on was designed by someone. The book on the shelf was made by someone. Many times, I'm the first author in that pre-K to second-grade age group they've ever met before – and they didn't even know that was a job someone could do. To be able to open their imaginations to that, and show they can be creative, wonderful artists, and giving them a couple of fun things to take their ideas and turn them into something, is really, really exciting. It makes all the solitary part of the work worth it in the end.

The biggest challenge is waiting. It's a very, very slow-moving industry. Where I was coming from previously – where we were working on websites and technology, and everything was moving at a rapid pace – publishing is the exact opposite. It can take several years from the time you sell a book to a publisher to when it's available on a shelf.

We sold Bunny in 2015 and it's just coming out. There's a lot of editing and revision ... so you have to grow patience. I'm very bad at that but I'm getting better. It's very rewarding when you hold the printed pages in your hand.

Q. What are you working on now?

I have more coming down the pike. I have three already in market: "Bunny's Staycation," "Pax and Blue," and I illustrated a book called, "A Hop is Up."

This year, I have two more coming out. One is called "Oopsie-Do." I illustrated that for an author. And there's a Halloween book coming out in the summer. I illustrated that, too. I have a few more in the pipeline for the next couple of years.

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