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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5 Qs for author Sandra Nickel + #Back-To-School Friendships = Happy Book Birthday BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH!

August 30, 2022

I’m so excited to celebrate Sandra Nickel’s adorable NEW picture book,


illustrated by Il Sung Na, which launches Sept. 6th with Carolrhoda.

BONUS: KidLitTV is premiering the trailer TODAY.

Here’s the link for the BIG BEAR LITTLE FISH premiere,

which will be live at 7 am EST / August 30th.

In my opinion–BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH is a perfect read-aloud

for #Back-To-School (or any time!)

and a wonderful conversation-starter about friendship.

You may remember my interview with Sandra last year, about her nonfiction picture book,


How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

/ Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams. (see post here)

But BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH deserve their own Book Birthday celebration, don’t you think?

A delightful tale of unexpected friendship.”

Kirkus Reviews

5 Questions for Sandra Nickel

Q 1. BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH is quite a departure from your three previous nonfiction picture books: BREAKING THROUGH THE CLOUDS, THE STUFF BETWEEN THE STARS, and NACHO’S NACHOS.

What was the inspiration for this sweet story of friendship?

Sandra Nickel: Thank you so much, Erin, for celebrating Big Bear and Little Fish with me! It’s always such a delight and pleasure to answer your thoughtful questions!

I wrote Big Bear and Little Fish when I was working on a post-grad in picture books, where I read every single one of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories. I love the way his stories are filled with such heart and humor—and just the right amount of wisdom. By the time I finished reading Lobel’s books, I was in a real time crunch and worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish my required stories for my post-grad program. That’s when something magical happened.

Let the characters tell their story…

I had heard authors talk about characters showing up out of the blue and basically telling their own story. But this had never happened to me. Not until Big Bear and Little Fish.

I was sitting on my sofa, with Frog and Toad and some other friends for inspiration (see my recreated photo above), when I opened my laptop. There were Bear and Fish. Just like that, there they were, a big bear and a little fish. They told me their story, and I immediately fell in love.

Making Friends

Q 2. What insights about friendship might Bear and Fish have for young readers going back to school (or the adults in their lives)?

Sandra Nickel: I hope Bear and Fish help young readers see that we can be friends with people who are different from us—or at least, who we think are different from us. Like many children who meet a brand new person, Bear doesn’t quite know what to do when she first meets Fish. She worries and makes lots of assumptions. But with the help of Fish, Bear learns that although she and Fish are different, they are also the same. And that is a beautiful thing indeed.

Interior art by Il Sung Na, from BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH, written by Sandra Nickel / Carolrhoda.


Curriculum Guide and Activity Pages

Q 3. I see you have some wonderful activities at https://sandranickel.com/resources/ for teachers and librarians to use after sharing this book with young readers.  Which one is your favorite?

Sandra Nickel: Oh, Erin! I’m so glad you discovered the curriculum guide and activity pages. They are perfect for National Friendship Month, which lasts the whole month of September! There are lots of great discussion questions and activities—measuring your height just like Bear and Fish do and making a comic strip of new adventures for Bear and Fish.

Out of them all, I think my favorite might be the Find A Friend Scavenger Hunt. Kids investigate what they have in common by asking others if they have a pet or speak more than one language or like to draw. It’s such a great way for kids to discover what they share with their classmates!


Q 4. What surprises did illustrator Il Sung Na bring to this project?

Sandra Nickel: First off, let me say how incredibly lucky I am to have Il Sung as the illustrator for Big Bear and Little Fish. His use of color is glorious. His landscapes are works of art. Just look at the one below!

Interior art by Il Sung Na, from BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH, written by Sandra Nickel / Carolrhoda.

But the biggest surprise—and delight—about Il Sung’s illustrations is the way he completely gets Bear. Her expressions are so vivid. Worried. Confused.

And then, in the end, delighted, as we can only be when we find a true friend! When the book was getting its final touches and I saw Il Sung’s jacket flap copy, I had another wonderful surprise. I found out why he did such a spectacular job with Bear. He said he “used to be like a big bear who didn’t see the big picture, but he’s slowly finding ways to discover the bigger world around him, and he’s still eager to learn more.” Isn’t that just fabulous!?!


Q 5. For our writer friends: Can you share the journey of this book? Did you write it during the pandemic? 

Sandra Nickel: I wrote it before the pandemic, and it was first spotted by Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Carolrhoda Books, in October 2019. But most of its publishing journey happened during the pandemic—and thank goodness.

Erin Buhr (My Storytime Corner) recently said Big Bear and Little Fish “is a make your heart swell, give you all the warm feelings kind of book.” (ED note: See Buhr’s full review at Best Picture Books of 2022)

And she’s right. Every time Carol and I worked on it, I felt so comforted—a welcome feeling during those difficult days of the pandemic. There is something zen about this story that Bear and Fish gave to me. Carol always says if there is one picture book she would like to “pick up and hug,” it would be Big Bear and Little Fish. Here’s hoping that kid readers find Bear and Fish just went they need them.

Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books.

Pick up and hug this book!

Thank you, Sandra Nickel, for joining us on the blog today.

And thank you for the book hugs!

To find out more about Sandra Nickel and her books

check out sandranickel.com  and follow her on

Twitter: @senickel 

Instagram: sandranickel

No comments on this post yet.

  1. Thank you so much, Erin, for shining the spotlight on Big Bear and Little Fish! I always love chatting with you. I don’t know how you do it, but you have have a real gift for asking just the right questions. Also, a big (as in a 9 feet and 8 inches Bear big) thanks to you and Carol Hinz for the Book Hug photos. I’ve been smiling all day thanks to them!

  2. Linda W. says:

    What a delightful interview. Perfect for such a delightful book. I didn’t know September was friendship month. This book has the perfect month to launch in!