PUYB Virtual Book Club Q&A + Book Giveaway with Sal Barbera, Author of Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow

We welcome Sal Barbera to PUYB Virtual Book Club! Sal is here today to talk about his children’s picture book, MARY ELIZABETH THE SPOTLESS COW.

Thanks for coming today, Sal. It’s great to have you with us. In addition to your writing, you are also an animator, a sculptor and a painter. How do you channel your creativity for various projects?

Sal Barbera
Sal: I like challenging myself through as many mediums as possible, which keeps me thinking creatively. Plus the variety motivates me to create art in different forms. For me, focus and creativity go hand in hand. When I start a new sculpture, drawing or painting I generally don’t stop until it’s finished. Animation and video are different. I know those will be extended projects that may go on for days or even weeks at a time. Mentally I approach them differently from other art forms. I know they’re a long, evolutionary process that will eventually become a completed film. Or, as is the case right now, a full blown web series.

Do you feel your other creative outlets help with your writing? Why or why not?

Sal: I do feel all of the creative outlets I use help me. I might discover new characters from a painting or sculpture I’m drawing at the museum. Or, I might see something outside my window when I’m painting like a quail family chirping and bobbing and pecking the ground near a bush or a rabbit jumping straight up into the air. Both of which I’ve seen. Either one of them could inspire a new character. Characters may also arise from people I know or have met. It’s a lot of fun to create the personality for a cow or bird or another kind of animal.

In interviews, you’ve stated that you wrote Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow to cheer up your mother-in-law, who was battling cancer. Now you’ve also released Ernie The Dysfunctional Frog. Did you intend to write more books in the beginning or was this decided later?

Sal: I didn’t intentionally set out to write a book series at all. When I wrote Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow for my mother-in-law, I was so excited that I’d written and completed my first story that I didn’t want to stop. I”ll never forget the feeling of how the ideas just kept coming. New characters, new theme, new story – it just flowed. The next thing I knew, Ernie The Dysfunctional Frog had come to life and the story evolved quickly right after I completed Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow. More stories came after that one.

What common themes run through your writing?

Sal: Friendship, kindness, ‘being who you are’ and acceptance are common themes in my stories. And of course, there’s humor. It’s got to be funny. At some point, you need to laugh. This might be created through funny situations and/or humorous dialogue.

Then there are the big comprehensive themes of personal and social behavior of one character vs the behavior of society at large. In Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow, an all white cow arrives at a new farm. She hopes and expects to make friends there. But the cows on this farm are all spotted and because she’s different from them (spotless), they don’t want anything to do with her. I tend to write stories about serious subjects, like prejudice and discrimination, in a lighthearted way. I hope this helps kids understand how to deal with these type of situations (through my characters) using humor, intelligence and diplomacy.

You’re in the process of developing the Sweetles™ Web Series. How did this come about and what can you tell us about it?

Sweetles TV ShowSal: The idea for the Sweetles TV Show started out as a variety show, like the Carol Burnett Show, but focusing on skits to teach kids about good social skills and behavior. Sweetles is the host, and my story book characters mixed with puppets, toys and live talent are the guests. The original idea was to pitch a TV show. However, kids are using tablets, cell phones and electronic devices constantly now, so the internet became the logical choice and we decided to create a web series. The concept behind the show is Sesame Street meets Monty Python. That is, educational content mixed with entertainment in the form of silly, wacky and oddball skits. It’s a fun way to show kids the difference between good and bad social skills and behaviors and have a lot of fun doing it.

What is your involvement with the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation? How did you go about selecting them as the recipient of proceeds from your books?

PCH 2013 volunteersSal: My wife and I are volunteers for the the Phoenix Children’s Hospital helping out at events and fundraisers. During the holidays a huge group of us help install over 55 trees throughout the hospital to bring holiday cheer to the kids and their families. PCH holiday decoratingWe’ve been able to see first hand how the staff are with the kids, and we admire the Hospital for constantly improving their facilities and developing new ways to help children get healthy again. One of their programs we’re very enthusiastic about is The Child Life Program. It has specialists who work closely with the entire family during a child’s hospitalization to attend to a child’s “developmental, psychosocial, educational and emotional needs – which can be critical in the treatment and healing process.”child life zone at pch

It’s the perfect match of goals and values. Our goal is to help kids learn to get along with their peers and families, and community in general, and ultimately develop into valuable members of society. The Child Life Program helps children go back home and fit into society after they’ve been at the hospital. It’s the perfect recipient for a fundraiser with book sales.

Do you have more books planned in the A Sweetles Dream® series?

A Sweetles Dream® logo

Sal: Yes, I do plan to write more books on Mary Elizabeth’s adventures because she’s a delightful character and I enjoy drawing her and creating her story. I’ve also started James The Lost Homing Pigeon, Alfred the Flying Pig and Carina the Ballerina Javelina. I still have writing and illustrating left to do on all of them. Outside of this book series, I am completing a comic book about the Sweetles™ character. His motto: “Have fun, learn and play – that’s a Sweetles day!” is the driving force behind the comic books. All in all, it’s a pretty exciting time!

Thank you very much for inviting me to share my thoughts with you. I appreciate it.

More about Sal:

Sal is the author and illustrator of “A Sweetles Dream”® book series. As the Creative Director for Hartman-Barbera llc, a family media & entertainment company, he is also an animator, sculptor, painter and all around fun guy. Sal lives the phrase: “A day without laughter is a wasted day”. To that end, he uses his writing, illustrating and animation skills to create endearing characters and comedic stories.

Sal’s sense of humor and empathy for his characters explore personal and social situations in ways that makes it enjoyable for both adults and children to experience together. Born in New York City, Sal moved to North Bergen, NJ where he grew up on a steep hillside neighborhood with his four older sisters. He currently lives in sunny Arizona with his wife and artistic partner, Sheri, who he defines as his inspiration. On any given day Sal might be painting, sculpting, drawing, animating, writing or enjoying one of his favorite pastimes: cooking, television, movies and golf.

Visit Sal Barbera’s website at http://www.salbarbera.com.

y Elizabeth The Spotless CowThe story of “Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow” takes us on the journey she travels to figure out how to get the cows at a new farm to like and accept her.

While she hopes to find friendship at her new home, instead she learns what it means to be different from everyone else. (Spotless!) Mary Elizabeth uses clever ideas and a sense of humor to help her on her quest for friends at the new farm.

This inspiring tale shows how perseverance in spite of obstacles, using a sound thought process to arrive at solutions and the importance of having fun, using humor and enjoying playtime can build friendships.

PCH logoWhen you buy this book, 50% of net proceeds go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Program to make a difference in the lives of children with critical and life threatening illnesses.

Ask him a question in the comment section and we will pick one of you to win a copy of his book! The contest will begin today and end on December 8. Please use the Rafflecopter form below to enter. Only those leaving comments and an email address are eligible to win. Residents of the United States and Canada are eligible for a hardcover copy. A digital copy will be provided to an international winner.


  1. Great to have you with us today, Sal. Loved this book. I wish you great success.


  2. Thank you for inviting me Cheryl – it’s an honor to be one of the first authors invited to the PUYB virtual book club. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss Mary Elizabeth or the story or any of the characters with your readers. And to hear their thoughts on the book. That’s just great!

  3. Hi, Sal. Will you be writing any other books about Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow?


  4. Hi Susanne, funny you should ask! I was thinking that it might be time for Mary Elizabeth to start traveling. I happen to know she has a sister in Rome she’s been talking about visiting. Sister Mary Catherine, the holy cow (with a bad habit).

  5. Thanks for stopping by Susanne.

  6. Loved this book! My 1st grade son shared it with his class. They also want to read more stories about Mary Elizabeth.

  7. Hi Lynn. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so happy that your son took my book to his class to share it with them. They’ll be happy to know there are more stories in the works about Mary Elizabeth. It would be fun to know what their ideas would be for her next adventure.

  8. That’s good to hear, Lynn.

  9. My sons 1st grade class read him this book and he adored it. He cannot wait to read more books about Mary Elizabeth’s adventures. Thank you for encouraging my son to want to read!

  10. Hi Jenn, All the kudos for your son reading go to you – I’m glad my book contributed to his love of books. Keep checking my website for new Mary Elizabeth adventures – they’ll be coming out next year. Give your son my best and tell him I’m glad he enjoyed Mary Elizabeth’s story!

  11. Delightful book…the kids loved this, and we read it again and again!

  12. Thank you Maureen, I appreciate your kind words. I’m so glad your kids love Mary Elizabeth The Spotless Cow’s story. It really makes me happy to hear that they want to read it over and over again. I think you’ll find that she becomes a part of the family! We find ourselves saying: “Here’s the thing Mary Elizabeth…”

  13. are you thinking of turning Mary into a series?

  14. Thanks for asking Jennifer! I wasn’t thinking about writing her own series, just adding her new adventures to the “A Sweetles Dream”® series. She’s a very enjoyable character to look at and write about. I like her. I’d want to meet her! And it’s fun to come up with new situations to put her in.

  15. Thanks for all the comments, everyone.

  16. Thank you for the interview and the giveaway, sounds like a wonderful way to teach tolerance and acceptance.

    elewkf1 at yahoo dot com

  17. Thank you E.I. F. I think it’s so much easier for children to learn about tough subjects like discrimination and prejudice when they’re written in a fun and enjoyable way. By putting a common social situation in surprising surroundings (animals on a farm) and adding humor it makes the story more interesting for kids. And their caregivers too!

  18. What a great interview! Sounds like an adorable story and a fun one, too. Thanks for the giveaway… my grandchildren and I would love the book. Good luck everyone!

  19. Hello LadyD! I do hope your grandchildren get the book! It’s a lot of fun to read and the drawings are vibrant and wacky. It’s also a great way for kids to have a discussion with their parents and grandparents about friends, friendship and society. Thanks for your kind words!

  20. Thanks for stopping by.

  21. This book should be a big help in getting kids to accept others who are different. That should be especially helpful for children with special needs.

  22. Hello Janet Ann, We have found that Mom’s with children that have autism really love this book. It is perfect for all children who don’t exactly fit into the mold of their peers. And a good way for children to learn how to express their own concerns about school or neighbors or friends. I hope it gives them ideas on how to make it all work. Thank you for your comments Janet!