Design: From A to Z

As a design journalist and a children’s writer I was very excited to see the graphics for the upcoming Salone del Mobile fair in Milan, one of the biggest design events of the year. The 2023 graphic campaign for the fair, designed by Milan-based Leftloft studio and Gio Pastori​, ​playfully illustrate this through a series of twenty-six brightly colored posters, one for each letter of the alphabet​. Pastori is known for his collages and paper-cutting and has been featured in international magazines and newspapers. Pastori got his B.A. in Product Design at Milan’s Polytechnic University and a Postgraduate Certificate in Editorial Illustration at CFP Bauer Milan.

Here are a few of my favorites. Wouldn’t these make a great board book in Italian and English?

All images courtesy of Salone Del Mobile.Milano

2022 Maplewood/South Orange Book Festival

The Woodland in Maplewood, New Jersey once again hosted the MAPSO Book Festival on Sunday October 2nd. I volunteered at the festival and got to meet with many local authors, illustrators, and young readers. Here are some photos from the event.

Author Katey Howes with her recent picture books on display.

All photos by R.C. Orrell

The Real ZomBee Hunters 

By R. C. Orrell

When John Hafernik was six years old he became fascinated by insects like the Monarch butterflies that passed through his backyard in central Texas on the way to their winter migration in Mexico.

Today, Hafernik is a Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University where he studies the evolution, behavior, and conservation of insects, including honey bees. “Honey bees are a European species that have been introduced to the U.S., but they are very important to us now,” he says. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about one out of every three mouthfuls in our diet comes directly or indirectly from honey bee pollination. So when Hafernik saw some honey bees acting strangely, he collected samples. What he didn’t know at the time was that he had discovered ZomBees

It all began in 2008, when the scientist noticed something odd while walking in the front of the biology building on campus. “I saw some honey bees on the ground and they were kind of looping around in circles, disoriented, and acting strangely.” He scooped up a few of the bees to feed to some praying mantises he had collected in the field. But one day he forgot the vial with the honey bees on his desk and a week or so passed until he noticed it again. When he finally picked it up, there was a surprise waiting inside. “I noticed these little brown pellet-like things in the vial and these were the pupaeof flies. These bees had been parasitized [infested with parasites] by some kind of fly.” 

How did the bees get infected in the first place? Well, the answer is kind of gross. A tiny fly lands on healthy bee and uses a stinger-like appendage to lay eggs inside the bee’s abdomen. The bees leave their hives when the maggots are still very small and die shortly afterwards. After the bee dies, the larvae continue feeding for five to seven days and then emerge from the dead bees and form pupae. 

Back in the lab, Hafernik let the pupae complete their lifecycle for another four weeks and recognized them as phorid flies. “Phorid flies are a group of flies that most people haven’t heard of, but there are actually 4,000 species of these flies worldwide,” he explains. He reached out to specialist Dr. Brian Brown at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who confirmed the flies were of the Apocephalus borealis species native to the U.S. Also known as “zombie flies”, these insects typically infect bumble bees and yellow jacket wasps, but as far as Brown knew this was the first timethey were infecting honey bees. 

Wondering what might be going on, Hafernik checked with honey bee expert Dr. Eric Mussen at UC Davis who told him there were reports from folks about honey bees coming to porch lights at night and acting strangely. Hafernik went back to where he originally found his bees, and sure enough, the spot was under some lights! But what was making the bees act so strangely? “The pupae could be exuding chemicals that affect the bees nervous system and behavior,” says Hafernik. “We don’t know for sure.”

Hafernik enlisted some students to help track the location of infected bees. Together they created a web site called ZomBee Watch where “citizen scientists” could observe and report back their findings from around the country. Even young kids can become “ZomBee Hunters” says Hafernik. “If they are really young, like five or six, they need supervision by parents to make sure they are handling the bees carefully so they don’t get stung. I know of kindergarten classes that have been involved with the supervision of their instructors.” 

For more information on how you can become a ZomBee Hunter and citizen scientist, ask your parents or guardians to visit

How to Spot a ZomBee

  • Honey bees that leave their hives at night.
  • Attracted to nearby lights. 
  • Sometimes found wandering around on the ground in a disoriented fashion. 
  • Not all honey bees that come to light at night produce parasites.  

Dangers to Honey Bee Hives

Varroa mites (the biggest threat)

Other types of mites  


Fungal infections

Exposure to pesticides

Zombie flies 

#FallWritingFrenzy Honorable Mention!

I’m excited to share that my entry for the #FallWritingFrenzy contest received an Honorable Mention! The contest was run by Kaitlyn Sanchez (Fall Writing Frenzy creator), Ameerah Holliday (2021 Fall Writing Frenzy Guest Judge), and Lydia Lukidis, (Fall Writing Frenzy Co-host) as a way to encourage writers to start their own blogs, make new connections, and get inspired to start a new story or poem based on a photo prompt. Here is a link to my entry.

264 writers entered the contest and 24 winners were selected to receive a critique by industry professionals as a prize. In addition, 8 more Honorable Mentions were selected, and I was one of them. The competition was TOUGH so I’m really honored to get a mention.

Wishing you a warm, cozy, and productive fall season!

Victory Celebrate GIF by Awkwafina - Find & Share on GIPHY

Fall Writing Frenzy Entry

Happy Fall everyone! The Fall Writing Frenzy is a writing contest created by agent/author Kaitlyn Sanchez, and co-hosted by children’s author Lydia Lukidis. This year is the third edition of the contest and I decided to throw my scarecrow hat into the ring to try to win one of the great prizes.

Writers needed to pick one of 13 images to inspire their writing piece, which has to be 200 words maximum. Here is the image I selected and my story follows. For the list of all the stories, make sure to visit Lydia’s website. Thanks for reading!

Credit: Ehud Neuhaus / Unsplash

The Scariest Student

Penelope quickly learned it wasn’t easy being the only living girl at Brantwood Hall School for Young Ghosts. She couldn’t fly. She couldn’t walk through the walls. She couldn’t even make things float around the room. In fact, the only thing Penelope could do was follow the Brantwood Hall school motto: Cura, Non Terrent.

Care, Don’t Scare.  

No one at Brantwood Hall used the front door the right way except for Penelope. So, when the doorbell rang one afternoon, everyone turned to her. As she opened the door, a tall woman wearing a bright red blazer walked right past her into the front hall, closely followed by a group of people in suits.

“Oh, no! Not again,” said Headmaster Higgins.

“You see, like I said it needs a lick of paint, but it would make a fine building for your new school.”

“Excuse me, who are you?” asked Penelope.

“Oh! You scared me to death!” said Red Blazer Lady, noticing Penelope for the first time.

Me? Scary? Penelope burst out into laughter. Then everyone in school joined her. Terrified, the Red Blazer Lady and her friends ran away.

“Hooray for Penelope!” shouted Headmaster Higgins. “The scariest student at Brantwood Hall!”


Maplewood/South Orange Book Festival 2021


I enjoyed volunteering again at the Maplewood/South Orange Book Festival this year. The event was last held in June 2019, and it was great to catch up with so many local authors and illustrators including Lee Bacon, Ariel Bernstein, Kristin Mahoney, Mike Ciccotello, Jay Cooper, Robin Newman, Diana Murray, and so many more. Below are a few snapshots from the day.


Top image courtesy Maplewood/South Orange Book Festival. Slideshow images by R.C. Orrell.

I’m a Lucky Duck!

Last week I got one of those emails that just makes your entire day. It was from my local Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illlustators (SCBWI) chapter notifying me that I won a full Lucky Duck Scholarship for the upcoming New Jersey SCBWI conference in June, a prize worth $450. As someone who rarely wins things, this was a great surprise on a gloomy March day.

If you are planning on going to the conference, I hope to see you there!


Maplewood/South Orange Book Festival

It was a nice surprise to see this photo of me and my daughters meeting with kid lit authors Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies) and Bridget Hodder (The Rat Prince) last June, on the homepage of the Maplewood/South Orange Book Festival. Two thousand people attended last year’s festival, which included booths, panels, and guest authors like Rosemary Wells, David Baldacci, and Keith Hernandez. The third annual festival will be held on June 7 and 8 2019 at the Woodland in Maplewood, N.J.



Storystorm Time

Award-winning picture book author Tara Lazar (The Monstore, 7 Ate 9, Little Red Gliding Hood) is once again running her annual idea generating competition called Storystorm. During the month of January, writers are challenged to come up with 30 ideas in 31 days. Once you register you are signed up to get daily inspirations and win prizes like professional consults, signed books, original art, and more.