Interview and GIVEAWAY with Jolene Gutierrez and Heather Bell about their Picture Book MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER for National New Friends Day!

Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,

I’m extra excited today because it’s National New Friends Day and we get to have a book chat about a wonderful picture book involving making new friends called MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER. And for the cherry on top, out discussion is with two of my favorite kidlit friends who I also have the honor of having on my literary team, Jolene Gutiérrez and Heather Bell! 

Kaitlyn: Hi ladies, it’s so wonderful to have you here!

Jolene: It’s so wonderful to be here! Thanks for inviting us! 🙂

Heather: Yes, thank you for having us!

Kaitlyn: First I have to tell you ladies that Mac and Cheese have taken over our house. We all LOVE the book and my husband, Rick, even put a Mac and Cheese sticker on his phone (that’s high praise, I don’t think he’s ever put a sticker on his phone before)! So, Jolene, how did you come up with the idea to use such adorable characters to help talk about personal space? And Heather, where did you get inspiration for these cuties?

Jolene: Oh, my goodness! I love hearing that the sticker made it on his phone! I knew the main character, Oliver, was a kid who loved animals and nature, and I thought he could study the class pets and try to learn social skills from them. . .and then, I needed to decide what type of animals the class pets would be. I settled on guinea pigs and named them Mac and Cheese, and Heather’s Mac and Cheese are just adorable! 

Heather: Thanks Jolene! And that’s so sweet about the sticker, Kaitlyn! I love that Jolene decided on guinea pigs. My brother had one when we were young (actually we basically had a mini zoo). Guinea pigs have such distinct personalities so I really wanted to use that to play up Mac and Cheese’s own little side story. 

Kaitlyn: You both did an amazing job with these characters and the Mac and Cheese side story goes so well with the main story! You ladies got this book deal before having an agent, can you share how it happened?

Jolene: I rough-drafted this piece in 2013. Things weren’t working with the manuscript, so I set it aside. In 2018, I was in one of Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy classes, the Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books. Through the class, I made a connection with Callie Metler-Smith at Clear Fork/Spork Publishing and purchased a critique with her. Even though I never say so in the book, my character Oliver is on the autism spectrum and is based off of some of my students and my daughter’s struggles with social skills. Callie is the mom of and an aunt to children with autism, so I felt that she’d be the perfect person to critique my manuscript. She gave me amazing feedback and said she’d like to see my edits. And when Callie saw the edits I’d made, she offered me a contract!

Heather: I was also in one of the Children’s Book Academy courses (for illustration). Shortly after finishing, I received a message from Dr. Mira Reisberg, the editor/art director at Clear Fork as well as teacher extraordinaire for CBA. She’d noticed some paintings I’d done for #folktaleweek and asked if I would be interested in drawing some character sketches for a story they had acquired. I was able to read Jolene’s manuscript to get a feel for the characters and completely fell in love. Mira asked for a couple alterations to the sketches, and then sent them on to Callie and Jolene. After they were approved, I started working out the thumbnails.

Kaitlyn: Wow you both are amazing, working on your craft and never missing an opportunity! Can you share a bit about the book process?

Jolene: After signing the contract with Callie, she and Mira began looking for an illustrator. I was so excited when I saw the character sketches Heather created! I tried really hard to not envision the characters much because I wanted to leave the images to the illustrator, but when I saw Heather’s character sketches, it’s like she reached in my mind and plucked the characters out. She is so amazingly talented. We did communicate a bit to talk about the age of Oliver and things like that, and Mira and/or Callie would host video conferences to go through the layout and make suggestions about the art and text. 

Heather: Yes, as Jolene mentioned, we spoke a bit, but mainly about what grade Oliver would be in so that I could figure out classroom décor, etc. After each step (thumbnails, black and white spreads, color spreads, etc.), Mira would create video critiques or discuss over the phone anything that needed tweaking.

Kaitlyn: That sounds amazing! Being able to pluck the characters from an author’s mind is such an amazing talent and also creating such vivid characters to be able to be plucked is it’s own talent. You ladies are such a phenomenal team! I’m sure people are curious about how you got your agent (that’s me! =D) can you each share your stories?

Heather: About 4 years ago, I jumped heart-first into children’s books and shortly after found you on Kidlit 411. I had only done a couple manuscript swaps and I believe you asked me to join your critique group. Your critiques always made me feel like you really understood my stories. When you were interning at the agency, you approached me about representation. I knew there’d be no stopping you, and no matter what, I had to at least try to get on your team. I believe you asked me to revise one of my manuscripts and after resubmitting, you offered representation. I doubt I’ve ever danced or whooped more in my life 🙂

Jolene: Well, we got to know each other from your #SpringFlingKidLit and #FallWritingFrenzy contests and you invited me to join one of your critique groups. This was all before you became an agent. Then you became an agent and asked if I’d like to submit to you, but I had submissions out with other agents and I also wanted to be sure we could remain friends and that I wasn’t taking advantage of your friendship. But I always knew that you “got” my writing and supported me and my work, and I knew that you were/are one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever known, so when you did offer representation, I was so honored and excited!

Kaitlyn: I may be tearing up a bit; you ladies are so amazing, and I’m so lucky to have you on my team and as my friends. Can you share something that has surprised you about getting a book deal and about getting an agent?

Heather: Getting either does not make any of it easier, just more interesting. Getting the book deal has definitely opened doors for me. Getting an agent has put even more fire under my bottom to get my work out into the world. But it still takes persistence…and a lot of it.

Jolene: I’ll be honest–I thought that once I received my book contract, I’d be able to find an agent. That didn’t happen. But things all worked out for the best, because me not finding an agent then meant I was able to sign with Kaitlyn later. 😉

Kaitlyn: Yes, I totally agree! It’s so much work still and things don’t always happen as we expect, we just hope they happen how they’re meant to because look at how happy your books are making kids, ladies. What advice can you offer creators aiming to get published?

Heather: Immerse yourself. Wholeheartedly. Read as much as you can get your hands on (in all genres). Study the books you love and study the ones that bug you. Experiment, expect it to go wrong, and then try again. The kidlit community is amazing and supportive. Join in. Make sure you send your best work, then start on the next. Because as Moire Rose says, we shouldn’t “count our poultry before it’s incubated.” 

Jolene: Be ready to be in it for the long haul–persevere! This may take years, and even once you reach your first goal of being published or finding an agent, you’ll set new goals for yourself.

Read lots of current work and some classics in the levels and genres that you’d like to write. Get involved in the KidLit community–on social media, in workshops, on blogs, in groups, etc. They will be the people who hold you up when things don’t go well and lift you up when things do. And be sure to pay the generosity of the KidLit community back and pay it forward to fledgling writers joining our community.

Kaitlyn: Yes yes YES to all of this!! What other projects can you ladies share about right now?

Heather: I illustrated the upcoming picture book, Why is Mommy Crying?—explaining early pregnancy loss to young children by I. Cori Baill, MD. It will be coming out in 2021 through Greenleaf Book Group.

Jolene: My nonfiction middle grade book Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks is out now through Lerner/Millbrook Press, and I have a series, Stars of Latin Pop (titles include Shakira, J Balvin, Sofia Reyes, and Ozuna) that will be coming out in 2021 through Carson Dellosa. I’ll be on a panel for the SCBWI Quarantine Book-a-Palooza on November 7 and I’ll be part of the Children’s Book Academy 21st Century Nonfiction Social Justice panel on December 5.

Kaitlyn: Whew, you ladies are on FIIIRE! Keep up the great work, thanks so much for joining us today, and thank you for being wonderful friends and team members!

Heather: Thank you! This has been a blast!

Jolene: Thank you so much for having us! This was so much fun!

Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader

Mac and Cheese are the class guinea pigs, and Oliver is their biggest fan. So he watches them to learn how he can be a good friend. But while snuggling might be fine for guinea pigs, Oliver’s classmates don’t like him getting into their personal space bubbles. With the help of his teacher and classmates, Oliver learns that being a friend means respecting personal space.

Get a copy: Indiebound Amazon

Jolene’s Bio

Jolene grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She is an award-winning teacher-librarian and has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy for the past 25 years. She holds a Master’s degree in Library Science. She’s a wife of 22 years and mama to two teenage humans, three preteen dogs, and an ever-rotating variety of other animals including a crested gecko, a hedgehog, and a rescue squirrel. She’s an active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist, a Writing with the Stars 2018 mentee, a Highlights Foundation scholarship winner, and the winner of the Cynthia Levinson nonfiction picture book biography scholarship to the Writing Barn. She’s an active member of debut author groups Perfect 2020 PBs, a member of the critique group 6 Ladies and a MANuscript, and a co-creator of #KidlitZombieWeek. She’s represented by agent Kaitlyn Sanchez of Olswanger Literary.

Website Twitter Instagram Facebook

Heather’s Bio

Heather Bell whole-heartedly believes that hidden within our everyday lives is a secret realm glimpsed through books, music, and children’s laughter. Holding a BFA in Painting from the Kansas City Art Institute, she is a member of SCBWI, a participant in the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, a Children’s Book Academy graduate, and a mommy. When not illustrating and writing, she searches out story ideas as an undercover school bus driver. Heather Bell is an author/illustrator represented by Kaitlyn Sanchez at Olswanger Literary Agency.

Website Twitter Instagram Facebook

Kaitlyn’s review of Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader is such a needed book with beautiful art and a great message! A little boy learns that the class guinea pigs are best friends so he tries to study them to learn how to be a good friend and ends up getting too close to other kids for their comfort. His teacher guides him in a very creative way and he quickly learns when it’s okay and when it’s not to get close to people. The characters, including the guinea pigs are just adorable.


Want to win a critique from these amazing ladies? There will be two winners, one will get a critique from Jolene and one from Heather.

Critique from Jolene: PB, fiction or NF under 1000 words. 🙂

Critique from Heather: PB MS or dummy crit. (rhyming also works 😉 )

You can enter in the follow ways (each earns you another entry into the random drawing)

I hope you make some wonderful new friends today on National New Friends day and that you’re still enjoying the #FallWritingFrenzy fun! We have a fun prompt right now and awesome #donortime tweets for you all. We’re on track to announce by Oct 31st, but please continue to have fun interacting and be patient with us, we want to give every piece the time and consideration it deserves. And remember, you’re all winners for participating and thanks for all your support of wonderful donors like Jolene and Heather!


Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez

93 thoughts on “Interview and GIVEAWAY with Jolene Gutierrez and Heather Bell about their Picture Book MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER for National New Friends Day!

  1. Happy National New Friends day everybody! And thank you for the excellent interview, Kaitlyn. I loved reading how Jolene and Heather created such a wonderful and adorable book. My copy is sitting on my book shelf!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As an author illustrator I found it so interesting to hear both of your accounts of your journeys to publication and agent representation – as always it seems that patience and persistence are key! I’ve added Mac and Cheese to my Amazon wishlist – looking forward to reading!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Happy National New Friends Day! Very interesting to hear Jolene’s and Heather’s path to publication. This story sounds wonderful – congratulations! And another great interview by Kaitlyn!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow! Loved the Mac and Cheese origin story and the story of how they found you, Kaitlyn.
    Added ‘Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader’ to my Goodreads wish list!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This book looks adorable! Thanks for sharing your path to publication and agent-match-maker story AND for offering a wonderful giveaway. Congrats on your book! It’s already on my Goodreads “to read” list. I’m happy to tweet & tag a few friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Happy National New Friends Day! Kudos to Jolene and Heather for such a heartwarming story. I’ve added it to my Amazon Wishlist and have made a note to request a purchase at our library. (The form has been temporarily disabled because of Covid-19.) Will be glad to share on Twitter. Wishing y’all lots of success.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I had guinea pigs when I was younger and wish I had one now. I added this adorable book to my goodreads list and will be requesting at my library. Thanks for the chance to win a valuable critique and boost to my manuscript.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Love the “stories behind the story” and I’ve put Mac and Cheese on my Goodreads want to read list. This sounds like a fun and meaningful book with adorable illustrations to boot!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh I loved this interview! I always love hearing publication journey stories and this was one of my favorites. I feel a renewed sense of inspiration and possibility! I’m definitely adding MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER to my Goodreads want to read list and will be ordering a copy as well. The story sounds wonderful and the illustrations are just soo adorable. And I love mac and cheese 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. What a great interview! I enjoyed reading about their journey. I can’t wait to read ‘Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader’! And I added it to my Amazon wish list. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Happy National New Friends Day! I worked with a student today on a story where the main character was lonely and made friends with the secondary character during the story. I wish I had seen this ahead of time. I’ll email his mom.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Congrats to Jolene and Heather on their fabulous new book! I added it to my Goodreads TBR list, but I can’t request it from the San Francisco Public Library. They have a policy requiring a book to have a professional review from places like SLJ, Booklist, Kirkus, etc. Without that, I can’t request it. I’ve tried before and my purchase request was quickly denied. Let me know if the review status changes.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. What a great interview! I love hearing the perspective from both the author and illustrator. This book sounds absolutely adorable. I can’t wait to read it. Requested the book from my local library today! 👍

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thank you so much for this wonderful interview. Reading about the process of creating this book was very interesting and enlightening. This book has found it’s way in my amazon wishlist. Just in time, as I’m already beginning my Christmas shopping.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve made a request at our wonderful local library I’m Richfield, Ohio! We can’t wait to have it in our hands and be able to share it with others! Thank you for all of your insights as well! Congratulations!👏🎊
    All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This was a great interview with Jolene and Heather. I’ll look for the book. I’ve been following Heather on Facebook and just saw this interview & giveaways. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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