Author/Illustrator: Bethesda, MD
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jennifer oconnell

I grew up in Connecticut just outside of New York City in an energetic and artistic household. My mom was a talented folk artist and my dad was a gifted storyteller with a vivid imagination. From an early age I loved drawing and painting on any surface, including my bedroom walls. I also enjoyed looking at picture books and being in the worlds created by the illustrations and words.

Later, I became an Illustration major at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where I attended a slide lecture by Maurice Sendak. When he explained how his illustrations were designed to bring the reader along on Max’s journey in Where the Wild Things Are, I was fascinated and my interest in picture books was re-kindled. When I had kids of my own, I saw the magic that storytelling creates.

I live in Bethesda, MD, and have visited hundreds of schools to give my presentations and workshops about writing and illustrating picture books. I’ve enjoyed speaking to grades K-5, as well as preschool, middle school and college students. I also present at conferences.

Scroll down to learn more about my programs and what teachers and students have to say about my presentations. You can also visit:

My Books

The Eye of the Whale

The Eye of the Whale - A Rescue Story (written and illustrated by Jennifer O'Connell, Tilbury House Publishers, 2013, Scholastic, 2018) is the true story of a dramatic well-known whale entanglement rescue, and the extraordinary animal behavior that it revealed. Click here to see the book trailer.

  • Green Earth Book Award
  • Moonbeam Gold Award
  • Reading Is Fundamental’s STEAM Multicultural Booklist
  • The Society of School Librarians International, Honor Book
  • Maine Literary Awards Finalist

“…O’Connell expertly merges the art of storytelling with journalistic excellence in recounting this well-researched past event. …The painted illustrations are a strong complement to the gripping text.” — Kirkus

“This true story of courage and compassion is brought to life by stunning illustrations. You will be awed and humbled by the deep connections possible between humans and animals. And you will be inspired to do all you can to help protect whales.” - Jane Goodall, Founder – The Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

“…Will spark discussions about the whale’s ability to experience and demonstrate emotions.” - School Library Journal

Ten Timid GhostsTen Timid Ghosts (written and illustrated by Jennifer O'Connell, Cartwheel/ Scholastic, 2000) is a counting book about ten ghosts who make a plan to get their house back after a mean witch has scared them out, one by one.

  • New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today Bestseller

“...For young kids who crave just a little scare, this book will be a good choice and great fun for Halloween.” - Marilyn Courtot, Children’s Literature

“I chose this book to use in a math workshop for kindergarten and first grade teachers. It is a great resource to use to help students recognize numbers and work with number combinations...” - Educator,

oconnell harvest partyHarvest Party! (written by Jennifer O'Connell, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, Cartwheel/Scholastic Book Clubs, 2015) is a counting book about two young farmers who discover things missing all around the farm, only to discover that the animals have "borrowed" these items for a surprise harvest party!

Harvest Party! is a strong read-aloud and emergent reader selection with its rhythm, rhyme and repetition. It will make a fun class play and introduces young children to farm animals and the meaning of “harvest.”

It's Halloween Night

It's Halloween Night! (written by Jennifer O'Connell, illustrated by Jennifer Morris, Cartwheel/Scholastic, 2012) captures the excitement of Halloween with a costume guessing-game as five young friends get dressed for trick-or-treating.

"…In addition to a fun first-read, the rhyming and predictable text pattern makes the book a good choice for beginning readers." - Maria Lamattina, EdD., Children’s Literature

“This not-so-scary Halloween book is filled with smiles and treats." - Tanya Boudreau, Cold Lake Public Library, AB, Canada, School Library Journal

Ten Timid Ghosts on a Christmas Night

Merry Christmas: A Storybook Collection - Ten Timid Ghosts on a Christmas Night (written and illustrated by Jennifer O'Connell, Cartwheel/Scholastic, 2007) is one of three holiday stories in which readers count from one to ten as the ghosts experience the magic and spirit of Christmas.

A Garden of WhalesA Garden of Whales (written by Maggie Davis and illustrated by Jennifer O'Connell, Firefly Books,1993) is the story of a boy who dreams of the endangered whales that he loves. In this fantasy, he grows whales in a secret garden to replenish the oceans.

“The book gently delivers to children the important message that this magnificent and endangered species must be protected and preserved before it’s too late.” - Hugh Bowden, Ellsworth American

“O’Connell fully enters Davis’s dream and strikingly echoes the fluent reverie. This is a bedtime read-aloud that will set heads nodding.” – Publishers Weekly

About my Programs

I would love to visit your school or library to demonstrate the process of creating picture books. Students will learn firsthand how books are written and illustrated and will be inspired to create their own stories and books!

Fee: For the Washington, DC Metropolitan area - $700 for one presentation and $150 for each additional presentation. For visits outside the DC area, workshops, artist-in-residence programs, adult groups or Skype presentations, please call or email me to discuss your needs.

Creating The Eye of the Whale (All Ages)

In this interactive presentation, I share the many steps that went into writing and illustrating this nonfiction picture book. The process included exciting research, visiting California to interview the lead diver of the rescue, and venturing out into the Pacific Ocean on the rescue boat, Superfish. With PowerPoint slides and visual props I show the many drafts, storyboards, sketches, dummy books and final paintings that went into the book. I stress to students how revising sketches and words is an integral part of the process. I also discuss ways in which we all can act to become stewards of the natural world.

Then, playing recorded music, I sketch several whales in pastels on dark blue paper, which I leave with the group. I share fascinating facts about whales, and unfurl a life-size painting of a baby blue whale that is 23 feet long. I also display as a backdrop a 19-foot wide, life-size painting of a humpback whale's tail. A lively Q & A session follows. (45 minutes)

How Ten Timid Ghosts Came to Life (all Ages)

In this “spirited” presentation, I discuss the creation of my bestselling picture book, Ten Timid Ghosts. Using projected slides, I show my research, storyboards, sketches, dummy books, revisions and final illustrations as I explain how the characters and story came to life.

Later in the presentation, the children direct me as I draw, and together we create our own unique, (often funny) new character. After I sketch in the setting while playing spooky music, we all make up a story about our new character. The drawing remains with the class and often, more stories are created!

A lively Q & A session follows. (45 minutes)

The Magic of Making Picture Books - A Program and Drawing Exercise (K - Adult)

In this new program, I use PowerPoint slides to discuss my beginnings and how I became an illustrator, and then an author. I share my process of creating picture books and challenges that I’ve encountered with my fiction and nonfiction book projects.

I then lead the group through a simple drawing exercise in which each student creates four unique characters with different emotions and settings. This exercise organically flows into stories about the characters.

All students have had great success and fun with this activity. The only materials needed are a sheet of plain white copy paper and pencil (with an eraser) for each student. (45 – 60 minutes)

Workshop - Let's Create a Picture Book! (Grades 2 - Adult)

After reading one of my picture books to the group, I briefly discuss how I created the story and key aspects to consider when they write and illustrate their own books. With the participation of the class, I demonstrate how to use six grab-bag 'idea boxes' to spark stories. Then everyone picks ideas from the boxes and soon there are exciting new characters, stories and pictures coming alive in the room.

No one is required to use any of the grab-bag ideas for their story, but these words are fun catalysts and seem to spark everyone's creativity and imagination! Each student puts his/her own picture book together using tagboard paper for the cover, hole punched white paper for the pages and brass or decorative fasteners. (45 – 60 minutes or longer, if the class schedule permits)

Artist-in-Residence Workshop

For the last four years I have given a five-day artist-in-residence program at a local elementary school that includes the workshop described above. I would be happy to discuss a possible workshop or residency for your school or group. I can provide an outline of the program and can tailor it to fit the needs of your group.


“Your presentation was inspirational. I appreciate the multi-modalities shared and how you offered your personal story. The students couldn’t stop talking about it and many teachers remarked about the perfect timing for their goal to increase creative writing!” - Molly Ketterer, Principal, Bushy Park Elementary School, Glenwood, MD

"...The children loved your presentation. ...You have a special gift with an audience."
 - Eleanor Fall, Librarian, Loudon Country Day School

“I believe that I want to be an artist when I grow up, so I was greatly influenced by what you had to say. You taught us to never give up trying.
- Sarah, student, Bradley Hills Elementary School, Bethesda, MD

“Your presentation was the best author visit I have ever seen." - Laura Steib, 5th Grade TeacherColumbia Elementary School, Annandale, VA

"Ms. O’Connell brings great enthusiasm, passion, and knowledge to her presentations. When she visited my library, she captivated a multi-generational audience with her stunning and fascinating presentation about the creative process of writing and illustrating The Eye of the Whale. You can’t go wrong with Jennifer O’Connell - book her today, and get ready for an enlightening and enjoyable experience for all!" - Nicole Termini Germain, Branch Manager and Children's Librarian, San Francisco Public Library, Portola Branch, CA

“Thanks for bringing the baby blue whale. It was cool and big. I almost fainted. It was awesome.” - Mark, student, The Primary Day School, Bethesda, MD

"Jennifer captivated our 900+ 7th and 8th graders… Teachers and students alike raved about Jennifer's visit. She is knowledgeable, sincere, approachable and so very talented. I highly recommend her program." - Janice Killian, Reading Specialist, Herndon Middle School, Fairfax County, VA

“You know your author visit is a success when you have 600 students sitting quietly and hanging on every word the author says. Jennifer O’Connell captures students’ imaginations and draws them into the story as it unfolds. Her use of props, like a grapefruit to represent the size of a whale eyeball, and the photos of real people that later became pictures in her book kept the attention of all the students. They loved knowing that she was their age when she first started illustrating. They were able to make connections to how her book was laid out, with how they plan their writing. The awe on their faces when the life size baby whale was unfurled was priceless. Jennifer really connected with the students and they loved her. I highly recommend her to any school!” - Nicole O'Keefe, ELL Teacher, Buffalo Trail Elementary School, Aldie, VA

"…Her love for art, story-telling and children was apparent in every aspect of her visit, especially the extra care and time she put into making it special for our students." - Jennifer Stacey, NBCT, Library Media Specialist, Patrick Henry Elementary School, Arlington, VA

“…You taught me something very important. You taught me how to draw in a funny way! I drew a camel with a surprised face. It was awesome.” - Austin, 5th grade student, Laytonsville Elementary School, Gaithersburg, MD

"I highly recommend her program and, of course, the book!" - Tim Troy, Children's Librarian, Children's Center, San Francisco Public Library, CA

"Mrs. O'Connell's enthusiasm for the subject matter was notable at every turn of her intriguing presentation. …The children listened attentively and at times, with mouths gaping wide. …Mrs. O'Connell managed to add fascinating new pieces of information to build on (the children's) existing body of knowledge.” - Ingrid Wrausmann, Elementary School English Chair, The German School of Washington, DC

"You were a huge hit at the preschool. Everyone especially loved your music and drawing. I've never heard a room full of preschoolers so quiet!" - Caroline Hickey, Chevy Chase - Bethesda Community Children's Center, Washington, DC

For more information, please visit: www.JenniferOConnellArt.Com.

For questions or to schedule a visit, please email me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Author Visits

Book Trailers