The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matter

An immersive children's book course for those who want to create powerful books for kids while simultaneously coming more fully into your own power as storyteller and artist.

The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books that MatterThe Heart of It:
Creating Children's Books that Matter

The Way of the Book

Fostering a Publishing Revolution from Within

e-course with Maya Gonzalez
Children’s books hold the potential to be one of the most POWERFUL tools we have as activists, educators, caregivers, parents and everyone who cares about children and EQUITY in the world we live in.

How do we effectively and beautifully craft children's books knowing full well their power in shaping a new world for our children?

The Way of the BookThis course offers writing exercises, hands-on art projects, in-depth book reviews, community interviews, and more all designed to offer a holistic approach to creating children's books. This is a journey of self as much as a practical guide to learn how to create your children's book from a mentor with over 20 years of experience creating award-winning multicultural children’s books in traditional publishing as well as alternative routes.

Access this course and more with Classroom RegistrationThe Heart of It offers a 6 week/session format focusing on

Skills & ActionSkills & Action
Beliefs & IntentionBeliefs & Intention
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Books by Community Spotlights
Strong Books, Strong ChildrenWhether you are new to creating children's books or want to reconnect with the magic of storytelling and art; valuing your voice, your stories, your art-- your creative power and expression--
are key to each of us and to all of us as a people.

As Audre Lorde said, the personal is political.

I know I have a children's books inside meInvesting in your own strength through the book making process supports you in creating strong children’s books which in turn supports our children’s strength, resilience, sense of belonging and creative power.

This is a children’s book revolution straight from the heart. For writers and non-writers, for artists and non-artists, for those who want to create powerful children’s books and believe that we can change the world not only by what we do, but by how  we do it!

in-depth book reviews

More about the course and what it offers:

Art & Illustration

Everyone is an artist. Hands-on projects directly related to book making are designed to not only support you honing your craft but also serve to support your own natural style and unique way of expressing through art.


Everyone is a storyteller. Learn to listen to your inner stories, strengthen the power of your own voice and use your body as your instrument to allow the stories you tell and write for children to rise and flow through you with greater ease and strength.

Centering & Reclaiming
This course centers POC, queer, and indigenous books, art, and perspectives. It offers the opportunity to feel reflected in ways not currently available in mainstream children's books, allowing a supportive container to reclaim and free the power of personal and communal storytelling.
Support Materials
Art materials and book lists, numerous handouts and worksheets, as well as course materials outlines help support you navigating the materials. Also provided are optional email reminders that can be setup (and easily repeated) to help you stay on track.
Videos & Audio
Hours of videos and audio content including interviews with guests (read more about them below), art demos, book readings and reviews, recorded webinars and talks, book process & behind-the-scenes demos and so much more.
Holistic Approach Holistic Approach
A holistic approach to children's books is a mindset that takes into account the heart, the body, the mind, the spirit and the unknown as well as your community and societal experience to support the whole self. With the whole self on board the creative process deepens and so does your ability to create children’s books that speak to the whole child.
Intention INside & OUTside Intention INside & OUTside
The journey always begins within, but not without taking into account the larger context we live in. Freeing ourselves and creating work from this place changes everyone. This is about full empowerment, not just about making books.

in-depth book reviews

Special Guests

Community SpotlightsLearn from these successful artists, authors, editors, designers, publishers, researchers, librarians, and others in the children's book field. Powerful individuals who are changing the face of children's publishing, advocating for equity, and many who are creating their own uniquely alternative publishing paths often outside of traditional routes. Read more about the guests featured in the course:

Francisco X. Alarcón Francisco X. Alarcón
Author and Poet: A prolific writer for adults and children, Francisco was born in California, although he grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. Latino and gay identity, mythology, the Nahuatl language, Mesoamerican history, and American culture are all portrayed in his writing. Francisco directed the Spanish for Native Speakers Program at the University of CA, Davis and passed away in January of 2016. Maya has illustrated 5 of Francisco’s books for children and is currently working on their 6th. Read more about Francisco as well as Maya’s tribute to him.

Janine Macbeth Janine Macbeth
Author/Artist of Oh, Oh, Baby Boy and founder of Blood Orange Press: After successfully raising over $11,000 to fund her book on Kickstarter, Janine also founded her own press, Blood Orange Press. She is currently working with three of our other past Community Spotlights, Laurin Mayeno, Robert Liu-Trujillo, & Indira Allegra to publish their work along with other titles.

Debbie Reese Debbie Reese
Scholar and founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL): Debbie is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Previously an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, she has also taught elementary school. Her research interests include the representations of Native Americans in children’s and young adult literature, textbooks, curricular materials, and other forms of media used in the classroom. Her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL), provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books.

R. Gregory Christie R. Gregory Christie
Artist of over 50 kids books: A three time winner of the Coretta Scott King Honor Award, Greg also runs his own children’s bookstore, GAS-ART Gifts. Inviting kids (of all ages!) to Drop in & Draw whenever inspiration strikes!

Gayle Pitman Gayle Pitman
Author of This Day in June: Gayle is a Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at Sacramento City College. Her book, This Day in June, a whimsical, exuberant children’s story about an LGBT Pride parade, won the ALA’s Stonewall Book Award. She has written extensively on topics pertaining to sexuality, gender, and intersectionality.

Laurin Mayeno Laurin Mayeno
Author of One of a Kind, Like Me and Founder of Out Proud Families: Co-founder of Somos Familia and founder of Out Proud Families, Laurin published her first children’s book in 2016 through Janine’s Blood Orange Press. A bilingual book, illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo, Unique Like Me lifts up children who don’t fit gender stereotypes, and reflects the power of a loving and supportive community.

Robert Liu-Trujillo Robert Liu-Trujillo
Author and Artist of Furqan’s First Flat Top: Robert raised over $12,000 through Kickstarter to publish his children’s book. An amazing illustrator and muralist, he also illustrated I am Sausal Creek written by Melissa Reyes and One of a Kind, Like Me written by Laurin Mayeno.

Kara Stewart Kara Stewart
Writer & Artist: Kara is a recipient of Lee&Low’s 2014 New Voices Honor Award for her picture book manuscript, Talent. A member of the Sappony tribe, she currently works in the North Carolina public schools as a Reading Teacher and is a long time advocate for children’s books that are accurate and authentic about Indian people instead of those that promote stereotypes.

Harriet Rohmer Harriet Rohmer
Original Founder of Children’s Book Press: one of the first multicultural publishers in the US, now an imprint of Lee&Low Books. Harriet’s commitment to multicultural and bilingual children’s literature, and to fostering emerging authors and artists, forever changed the children’s publishing landscape.

S. Bear Bergman S. Bear Bergman
Author and Founder of Flamingo Rampant Book Club: S. Bear Bergman is an author, poet, playwright, and theater artist whose gender identity is a main focus of his artwork. He recently raised over $56,000 to fund his Flamingo Rampant Book Club, an alternative publishing model bringing feminist, racially-diverse, celebratory LGBTQ2S-themed kids’ picture books for 4-8 year olds right to subscribers doors.

Laura Atkins Laura Atkins
Editor and Author: Laura is a freelance children’s book editor who has worked in the children’s book field for almost twenty years. She has worked in several editorial departments in the US where she helped to produce winners of the Coretta Scott King Award and American Library Association Notable Book selections, amongst others. She has also made her debut as an author in 2016.
Zetta Elliott Zetta Elliott
Author of Bird and founder of Rosetta Press: Zetta is recipient of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award Honor for her first children’s book, Bird. A black feminist writer of poetry, plays, essays, novels, and stories for children, Zetta also started her own press, Rosetta Press and has published over 15 books with plenty more on the way!

Carl Angel Carl Angel
Illustrator and Book Designer: Carl is an artist, illustrator and graphic designer whose work has been exhibited in galleries througout the San Francisco Bay Area and Hawaii. As an artist, the focus of his work is storytelling, symbolism and its relationship to the human condition. Carl was also the designer for my book, Call Me Tree.

Cory Silverberg Cory Silverberg
Author of What Makes a Baby: After raising over $65,000 on Kickstarter to create his children’s book, (690% more than he had even intended!), Cory’s book is now published with Seven Stories Press and has since released his next book in the series, Sex is a Funny Word. His series, illustrated by Fiona Smyth, is sex education for the 21st century: inclusive, scientifically up-to-date, and most importantly a lot of fun to read.

Carole Lindstrom Carole Lindstrom
Author of Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle: Carole was born and raised in Nebraska, moved to South Africa and has since returned to the US. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and is of Metis heritage. Her picture book, Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, was inspired by the fiddle and its importance to the Metis culture.

Indira Allegra Indira Allegra
Poet and Artist: Indira is an award-winning poet, interdisciplinary artist and former Lambda Literary fellow. She is currently working with Blood Orange Press on her first children’s book. Her work appears in numerous anthologies and magazines and she recently participated in a literary salon featuring Two-Spirit authors making critical contributions to the fields of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction.

Innosanto Nagara Innosanto Nagara
Author/Artist of A is for Activist: Innosanto’s self-published ABC book for progressive families was so overwhelmingly popular that he was picked up by Seven Stories Press and a Spanish edition has also now been released! His next book Counting on Community was released in 2015 and word is he’s got even more books on the way.

Aliona Gibson Aliona Gibson
Author of Justice pon di Road: Aliona raised over $8,000 on Kickstarter to fund her book about her son’s trip to Jamaica. Justice Pon di Road is Aliona’s first children’s book, but not her first creative endeavor. Her first novel was Nappy: Growing up Black & Female in America and her follow up book, For Black Writers…A Personal Account of How to Write, Publish & Market Your First Book shares how she made that first book happen!

Jamie Campbell Naidoo Jamie Campbell Naidoo
Author and Researcher: Jamie is the author of Rainbow Family Collections: Selecting and Using Children’s Books with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Content, one of the only highly praised resources on this important topic. He teaches and researches at the University of Alabama in the areas of diversity, public libraries, and children’s and youth services. A former public library youth services coordinator and elementary school librarian, he has served on various national and international children’s book award committees. Read more about Jamie

Kwame Alexander Kwame Alexander
Author of Acoustic Rooster, The Crossover & more: A poet, publisher, and author of 18 books, Kwame also created the Book-in-a-Day program. He won the Newbery Award for his YA book written in verse, The Crossover.

Catherine Hernandez Catherine Hernandez
Author of M is for Mustache: Catherine is the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre Company and is dedicated to the development of the Filipino-Canadian artistic community. A twice-published playwright, proud queer woman of colour and single mama, she is also one of the fabulous authors and artists working with S. Bear Bergman to create books for the Flamingo Rampant book club.

Dana Goldberg Dana Goldberg
Editor: Dana is the former Executive Editor of Children’s Book Press and brings eleven years of experience as editor of this seminal, award-winning, multicultural press. She now offers editing and publishing consultation through her own business, Whirligig Editorial.

The Heart of It Book Reviews

Session Overview

OverviewThe course is divided into 6 sessions or weeks. Community Spotlights and Book Reviews can follow different tracks depending on whether you’d like to focus on a particular community.
You can read more about the 5 different sections (Community, Heart, Book, Hand, and Book Process) on the "Course Areas" tab.

The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books that Matter - Course Syllabus

Course Areas

Heart Hand Book - The Heart of ItEach session/week we take a holistic approach and look at 5 different areas that inform and help us embody the process of creating children's books, constantly challenging ourselves to source our knowing, our story, and our art from within.

Since this is a very FULL and immersive course, you may find that you want to focus on developing specific areas and so can make a point of paying attention, first and foremost, to the sections each session/week that most serve that area.

Community Spotlights Community Spotlights
wisdom, experience, courage from others in the children’s book field
For community sharing I’ve invited people who I have been inspired by to share their book stories. I know that you’ll learn a lot from all of these folks. Feel free to learn more about the ones who inspire you the most by looking up their websites, reviews about their books, interviews and more!

Heart Heart
beliefs, emotions, finding voice and transforming ourselves
For the Heart section, not only will this be a place to work on sourcing your story from within, but here we’ll also have the opportunity to look at our thoughts and beliefs and begin to transform any limiting thinking about ourselves, our work and the world to fall more into line with what we want to create. I include this portion because learning technical skill is fine and wonderful, but without beliefs that support us to get our work up and out into the world, our work often goes unshared because we don’t believe in ourselves or in our belonging.

Book Book
in-depth exploration of many different kinds of books
The Heart of It Book Reviews! As I began creating materials for the course, I began here. I adore books and was more excited than I first knew at the thought of sharing these with you. I’m going to introduce you to a small group of books. What excites me even more than sharing these particular books with you, is how we’re going to approach and fully receive these books. You will never look at children’s books the same after our time together.

Hand Hand
a place to play, learn, explore, express, discover, create
Here you can experiment with learning to trust your hands through playing with various materials and exploring projects designed for success. Whether or not you engage in all of the mediums, watch all the videos. Just watching them will have an effect on your creativity and even help you express more freely in other mediums. During Session/Week 2 we also explore the Tradition of Storytelling in this section.

Book Process: "The Art of It" Book Process: "The Art of It"
practical process of the physical creation of a book
Here I will share with you the physical process of producing the art for a children’s book in two ways, one through the detailed outline of the overall process and two through following the actual production of my book, Call Me Tree. The process is divided up into 6 stages making it easy to return to the areas where you may need more support. By the end of the course you will have a full e-book of the process.


Learned so much and felt much less isolated in navigating this journeyThis course has been magical, amazing and super helpful. I appreciate the generosity with which you offered to share all of your wisdom and experience with us. As a queer woman of color I appreciate your focus on including experiences that are not reflected in dominant culture and your commitment to manifesting first voice work. The community spotlight interviews and webinars were such an added bonus. I learned so much and felt much less isolated in navigating this journey by being able to connect with people who are interested in and are doing this work! Thank you thank you thank you.Spring 2014 graduate

Felt my own wisdom and deeper knowing about my story being called forth…Watching Maya draw and paint with such assurance and yet at the same time, without too much attachment to rules or to the outcome, has set me on the path to developing my own trusting hands as an artist…I’m amazed by what I’ve discovered about my natural ability to make art in just six weeks…
I’ve paid to have professional critiques of my manuscripts before, but Maya’s feedback resonates so strongly with me because I felt my own wisdom and deeper knowing about my story being called forth by the mirror she held up to help me see it more clearly. It’s really humbling to have an experience of strong intuitive guidance like that…
There is so much more that happened during this course that I could share, but some things are beyond description. Best left tucked away in a heart full of gratitude.Summer Edward

Changed how I make art and my commitment to getting my children’s book(s) out into the world!One of the most profound take-aways I have from Maya’s course is her saying, “maybe it’s not so much about taking risks, as it is about trusting that things will be okay.” I grew up feeling that it was not safe to be seen. Making art and putting it out there in the world required me to be seen in a way that terrified me. It was not enough for me to be encouraged to take a risk, I needed to know that it would be okay if I was really seen and heard. Maya gave me that in her gentle and encouraging words, her fun and inspirational art, and her willingness to be honest, vulnerable, and fiercely powerful. Through how-to videos, in-depth interviews, demonstrations, reflections, exercises, and loads of other resources, I have learned a lot in this course!Maya’s generous sharing of her journey and many talents has changed how I make art and my commitment to getting my children’s book(s) out into the world!Spring 2014 Heart of It Graduate

Giving our children the voices that need to be heard in the books they readI grew artistically with this course. I dared to experiment with media I would never have used prior to the course….It was a blessing to discover that there are many of us pursuing this literary dream of providing children with diverse experiences and to experience that community. All of the participants showed me the importance of giving a voice to the diversity that makes our world the magical place it is and of giving our children the voices that need to be heard in the books they read. So I want to formally thank Maya for her dedication to such an important cause.Carmen Milagros Torres

Maya has a special gift for guiding students to an inner place from which we could both write and illustrate The Heart of It was an amazing experience! It was so much more than about making children’s books. Maya has a special gift for guiding students to an inner place from which we could both write and illustrate based upon heart centered inspiration. She modeled countless creative techniques and exposed us to a wide variety of children’s literature, but even more importantly, she taught by being her authentic self and sharing her own journey with us. It is very rare to come across a teacher who is both impeccably organized and wildly intuitive and creative. Maya’s ability to hold and balance both of these energies was impressive. I was also very grateful for the volume of information that was offered. I’ve taken other classes and never was given anywhere near this amount of content for the amount of money spent on the class. It is obvious that Maya not only put her heart and soul into this, but also an incredible amount of time. Being given the opportunity to actually publish as part of the class was an immense plus as well. Maya is at the forefront of a revolution in children’s books and having the opportunity to work with her as a mentor was a blessing.Jim Cartwright

What really sets this class apart, is the attention paid to one’s own voice and expressionThe Heart of It is an amazing course. The instruction hits on many levels, with technique lessons in both illustration and writing, interviews with authors and illustrators, as well as weekly webinars to delve further and have any and all questions answered. But what really sets this class apart, is the attention paid to one’s own voice and expression. Maya guides each student to find their voice and discover what they want to say and how to get it out in the work. It’s difficult to describe just how life transforming this class has been. Not only has my art advanced to a higher level, but I experienced many personal revelations that have deepened both my life and my work. I cannot recommend this class highly enough.Laurie Young

Come Learn the Way of the Book

Access this course and more with classroom registration.

About Maya

Call Me Tree Best Picture Books of 2014 that Celebrate Diversity

Maya Gonzalez is largely self-taught and has been making children's book since 1995. She has illustrated over 20 award-winning multicultural children’s books, several of which she also wrote, with not an end in sight! Her book My Colors, My World won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award Honor from the American Library Association. Her most recent picture book, Call Me Tree  was listed in Kirkus’ Best Picture Books of 2014 that Celebrate Diversity. You'll even get a behind-the-scenes look at Call Me Tree in the course. Her fine art has shown internationally and appears in numerous books about the contemporary Chicano Art Movement including on the cover of Living Chicana Theory and Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture and Education considered to be "the Bible of Chicano/a art." Ridiculously creative, she’s probably making art or writing stories as you read this or thinking about art & stories if she’s driving a car or using the stove. And one of her ultimate passions is inspiring others to create books, because she believes that creating children's books has the potential to be one of the most radical things you can do!