Letters From the Founders of Picture Book Month

by Dianne on October 31, 2017

A Tribute to Picture Book Month Founder Dianne de Las Casas
By Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Marcie Colleen, Joyce Wan, Katie Davis and Wendy Martin

If you hadn’t yet heard, I’m sorry to begin your 2017 Picture Book Month celebration with sad news. Picture Book Month recently lost its Founder and greatest champion, Diane de Las Casas. Sadly, our friend passed away in a house fire this past August leaving an enormous hole in our kidlit universe and in the many lives she touched. As Co-Founders of Picture Book Month, we are devastated by the loss of Dianne, but we are also dedicated to keeping her legacy alive. Dianne put so much work into making Picture Book Month an event looked forward to by teachers, parents, and librarians around the world, we know that the best way to honor her is to keep her dream moving forward. So, with sad, but determined hearts, we bring you Picture Book Month 2017.

It seems appropriate that Dianne and I met many years back at the home of fellow Co-Founder, Katie Davis. I was visiting New York on the way through to the Kindling Words conference in Vermont in 2009. Dianne was also visiting. We shared the king-sized bed in Katie’s attic guest room, although, not much sleep was had. We’d only just met, but we stayed up all night talking, plotting to change the world through children’s literature—something Dianne took very seriously as a mother, storyteller, and author. I don’t think she had come up with the idea for Picture Book Month at that time, but I do remember thinking I’d want to be a part of whatever ideas Dianne came up with, she was so electric and inspiring!

Elizabeth O. Dulemba designs the annual Picture Book Month Calendar.

Dianne was the proud author of over two dozen books. Several of her picture books were tributes to the culture of her beloved New Orleans, such as The Cajun Cornbread Boy, Mama’s Bayou, and Dinosaur Mardi Gras. Dianne’s newest book was co-authored with her fiancé, John Couret, Captain Deadeye: The Bully Shark, illustrated by Stefan Jolet, from Write Hook Media, their start-up social entrepreneurial publishing company. It was to be the first of an anti-bullying, pirate chapter book series—a campaign she would have promoted widely through her highly popular and numerous school visits. Dianne had devoted fans and followers through her visits and her newsletter, with its enormous subscriber list. She was loved.

But Dianne’s pride and joy was her two daughters, her eldest Soleil, a graphic designer, and her youngest Eliana, also known as Kid Chef Eliana. Dianne had been spending most of her recent time helping to establish her 17-year-old daughter on the fun and creative path towards being named the 2016 Chopped Teen Grand Champion in the 3rd season of the competition on Food Network. Eliana used her winnings to start her company, Spice It Up! My heart is broken for Soleil and Eliana, they were so close.

Dianne was a vibrant, alive person, a force for good in this world, and I will miss her and all the good works she was doing. I’m not alone. I asked my fellow Co-Founders of Picture Book Month to share some thoughts.

Dianne de Las Casas, Marcie Colleen and Joyce Wan

Marcie Colleen: “I remember the first time Dianne and I spoke on the phone. I was having a super busy day, but squeezed in a few moments to chat about Picture Book Month business. We ended up speaking for 3 hours! We even texted several times in the hour after the phone call. 

That’s how it always was with her. Once in her presence, I had a hard time leaving. We joked that it was her “voodoo charm” (being from New Orleans.)
She definitely had a way of making everyone who came into contact with her feel special. But, in truth, she was the special one. She had a kind of “gift of sparkle” and I am so lucky to have known her as a close friend.
Dianne will be greatly missed. I’d say “rest in peace,” but she was not one to rest. Maybe “power down a bit.” So instead I will say, “sparkle in peace,” my friend.”

Katie Davis remembers Dianne and the founding of Picture Book Month.

To watch Katie Davis’ full video, follow this link.

Joyce Wan:I met Dianne at an SCBWI LA conference in 2010. It was my first time attending that conference and I went alone. I was new to SCBWI and new to publishing with just one book out at the time. I remember feeling like an outsider at the conference until I met Dianne in the hotel lobby. We connected instantly, each of us having owned our own creative businesses for some time. As I showed her an advance copy of an upcoming children’s book of mine, I could already see the wheels in her head turning. We started brainstorming ideas on how I could promote the book and it felt like I was talking to an old friend. She had this remarkable gift for making people feel welcomed, special and important. She had a generous spirit, always trying to help and boost others up. I admired her capacity to dream big not just for herself but for others too. No matter what challenges she faced, she never let them stop her from tackling big, visionary projects, and they never compromised her boundless commitment to her dreams, her colleagues, her friends, and her family. I will miss our late night text messaging sessions about her next big idea. (Can anyone tell me how she typed so fast with those incredible nails?)

Wendy Martin: I never had the pleasure of meeting Dianne in real life, but we tweeted together frequently.

In fact, it was a Twitter conversation that led to the formation of Picture Book Month. In late September 2011, we had a spirited tweet-fest about why picture books would always be important. I don’t recall which news outlet had just predicted their demise, but we had a long, long list of reason why the reporter was dead wrong. During this conversation, the idea of Picture Book Month was born. A permanent place to honor all that picture books are and all they do to encourage children and families. Dianne, being Dianne, took the ideas we were shooting out at each other and made this thing with them all. Next thing I know, she was telling me I was an important co-founder of PBM and sending me emails with contact info and press releases. Without her energy, the ideas would have never materialized into something more.

Dianne was like that in every aspect of her life. She lived to the fullest extent, and put 110% of herself into everything she did. I was greatly saddened to hear of her bright sparkle being snuffed out way too soon. The kidlit community is going to miss her exuberance. And I will miss how kind she was to all she came in contact with.

Personally, I was proud to work closely with Dianne to create the calendar for Picture Book Month each year and was waiting to hear from Dianne about doing it again this year, when I learned the sad news.

Dianne’s passing is a tragic loss to our children’s book community, as a creator, as a proponent of children’s literature, as a mother, and as a friend. Rest in peace, dear friend. I believe you are somehow watching over our endeavors, encouraging us to keep Picture Book Month going. Because we love you, and because we love our world of children’s literature, we will.

Dianne de Las Casas is the award-winning author of 28 books, a publisher, a professional storyteller, a radio show host, and the founder of Picture Book Month, an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November. She has been traveling and speaking in schools for 20 years. As a child, she was bullied because she had third-degree burns covering a large portion of her body. The character of Dee Dee is inspired by Dianne. She lives in the New Orleans area and is the proud mom of culinary superstar, Kid Chef Eliana and graphic designer, Soleil Lisette. Visit Dianne at diannedelascasas.com. John Couret is the author of the personal growth book, Breaking Barriers: How to Knock Out Adversity and Live Life as a Champion. He is also a publisher, a speaker, a radio show host, and a success coach. As a child, he was bullied because he had lazy eyes and was given the nickname “Deadeye John,” which became the inspiration for the title character. One of the challenges John currently faces is that he is legally blind. He has found that although he lost his sight, he never lost his vision. John lives in the New Orleans area and loves being a dad to Victoria and a “papa” to granddaughter, Maci.

Visit John at Write Hook Media.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robyn Campbell October 31, 2017 at 2:39 pm

I spoke with her last January about a project. She seemed so very sweet and willing to go that extra mile to help anyone. I had no idea this happened as I have been MIA due to a hiking accident. I am just so, so sorry. It makes my heart heavy, but I feel better knowing Picture Book Month will go on.

I send my condolences to all.


Kim Pfennigwerth November 2, 2017 at 10:23 pm

I only met Dianne once years ago at the SCBWI NYC conference. She was as vibrant as everyone describes. Her smile lit up the room as well as everyone’s faces around her. It couldn’t be helped. Her warmth was infectious. This summer was a tragedy for Dianne, her family, close friends, and the kidlit community. But I am beyond thrilled to know that her dedication to Picture Book Month is in such great hands. Thank you, ladies, for your dedication and hard work.


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