I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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Happiest #BookBirthday to HAPPY BIRTHDAY BELLY BUTTON! = 12 Qs with illustrator Luciana Navarro Powell & author/poet Kalli Dakos

March 21, 2023

We’re celebrating the #BookBirthday of this adorable book HAPPY BIRTHDAY BELLY BUTTON! by Kalli Dakos & Luciana Navarro Powell, which released last week from Amicus.

It’s always so much fun–and informative!–to interview an author/illustrator team, and you’re going to love their insights and answers.

But first…

Meet the team:

Kalli Dakos is the best-selling author of 18+ picture books & 3,000+ poems about elementary school life.

You might recognize Luciana Navarro Powell‘s wonderful art from illustrations in magazines like Highlights, Cricket, and Spider, or books from Chronicle, Lerner/ Millbrook, Kane Miller, and more!

Click image to view the book trailer created by Luciana Navarro Powell.

Let’s ask some questions!

Q 1. Kalli: What was the inspiration for this fun story?

KD: I was visiting a school one day and it happened to be a child’s birthday.  She was thrilled and excited and said:

My eyes are six!

My nose is six!

My tummy is six!

My heart is six!

My legs are six!


And I had a great idea for a new book!

Q. 2 Kalli: Did you always know this would be a picture book or did it start as a poem?

KD: It definitely started as a poem and went through many revisions of poetry before I decided that this was a great idea for a picture book.

Picture Book Tips

Q 3. Kalli: Are there any tips you might share for poets who would like to write picture books?

I am a reading specialist and I know that books in rhyme like Happy Birthday, Belly Button! help children to become literate on so many levels.  The rhyme itself helps children to fall in love with words and language, but it also helps them to decode the text as beginning readers.  The story and illustrations are so much FUN that children will be inspired to want more books in their lives. 

I would encourage poets to place great value on their poetry and to create books like this one that inspire children on so many levels.

Illustration Qs

Q 4. Luciana: What is your process when you first receive a picture book manuscript to illustrate? How did you begin with H B Belly Button?

LNP: I usually read the manuscript, let it percolate through my visual brain for a few days. Only then do I start sketching. If the story has a main character like this one, then I work on character studies for a few days before starting to tackle the whole story as thumbnails. I prepared an image with some behind-the-scenes sketches and character development

Sketches by Luciana Navarro Powell for HAPPY BIRTHDAY BELLY BUTTON, written by Kalli Dakos (Amicus)

Q 5. Luciana: What medium/ technique did you use with this project?

LNP: I used pastels, color pencils, watercolor… and real-life cake sprinkles, because a good book about birthdays has to have some real sprinkles in it! It was all scanned and finished digitally in Photoshop.

Q 6. Luciana: What is your favorite spread?

My favorite spread is the one that shows the child running away from the poor parent who is trying to brush their hair – with brush entangled in hair and bright pink underwear! This scene was very much inspired by my rambunctious 3 year-old niece Emilia.

Interior art by Luciana Navarro Powell from HAPPY BIRTHDAY BELLY BUTTON! by Kalli Dakos (Amicus)

Q 7. Luciana: When and how do you find time to illustrate with two growing boys in the house?

LNP: When my boys were younger and less independent it was very challenging and physically exhausting. Now they are teenagers and more independent, but need me in different ways than when they were younger. Being very productive when they are at school is my recipe. I work from 8am to 3pm in my books, and after that I dedicate myself to whatever they need with their after school activities, sports and classes.

Q 8. Kalli: What surprises did Luciana bring to the project?

KD: I am totally amazed by her illustrations. She took this manuscript to heights I had never imagined, and I love every single page.

Q 9. Luciana: How much research did you do for this project?

LNP: Because this book does not have a non-fiction approach to the different body parts and how they grow, it was not research-heavy. A challenge was how to create a narrative that weaved together Kalli’s delightful stanzas.

With the illustrations I created a “second layer” that runs parallel to the text. The reader sees the child getting ready for their birthday party throughout the story, as the body parts are shown and celebrated, until the satisfying end of the book: “Happy Birthday” with friends, presents, cake and candles (and real sprinkles).

Speaking of Birthdays

Q 10. When is your birthday?  Do you have a favorite childhood memory of a birthday party?

LNP: My birthday is June 6th – D-day in 1944 which expedited the end of WW2. I always joke that they celebrate my birthday every year in Europe. My birthday parties growing up in Brazil were always small and at home. In Brazil one will always find delicious home-made treats at the party table: brigadeiros (chocolate truffle balls) quindins (sweet glossy cakes made of egg yolk and coconut) cajuzinhos (made with peanut paste and condensed milk).

KD: My birthday is on June 16th.  I don’t have a specific memory, but I loved celebrating birthdays as a child.  It was all so much fun – the presents, the games, the birthday cake, the hats, all of it.  I especially loved creating unique birthday parties for my daughter, Alicia.

Q 11. Kalli: I see that you were a teacher and also you wrote plays as a child that you and your sisters performed. Have either of these experiences influenced your writing process as a picture book author?

KD: Yes, the creativity behind all this inspired not only my writing, but my school author visits.  When I visit a school, we celebrate books through play and drama.  Everyone participates and the stories and books come to life for even the most reluctant child.  I am going to have so much FUN sharing Happy Birthday, Belly Button!

Interior art by Luciana Navarro Powell from HAPPY BIRTHDAY BELLY BUTTON! by Kalli Dakos (Amicus)

Q 12. What are your upcoming projects? Please share.

KD: I have so many projects on the go.  There is a poetry collection for beginning readers about life in school.  I’m working on a manuscript about a garbage truck that says, “I take away the old so there is room for the new.”  I’ve collected stories over the years from my author visits to schools and am creating a book of the funniest stories of all (I think a school is the funniest place in the world).  I have a Valentine’s collection of poems and another one about PENCILS.  Children have a passion for their pencils and there are so many stories here. 

LNP: I am currently working on illustrations for a series of textbooks and waiting to finalize a deal on a PB that hasn’t been announced yet.  I am also illustrating some of my own stories and other writer’s stories to get them ready for my agent to submit to publishers soon. Keep your writing fingers crossed for me.

Thank you for interviewing Kalli and me,  and for helping to promote so many kids books creators with your blog, Erin!

My pleasure!

To learn more about these creatives, check out their websites:

kallidakos.com lucianaillustration

And follow Luciana on Instagram : lucianaillustration

& Twitter: @LucianaIllustra

Next on the blog:

Three #GreenPB23 authors and four amazing books!

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