December 24, 2019

2019 Year-End Post and Holiday Greetings

As I've mentioned before, although it seems fewer and fewer people send annual holiday greetings, I treasure this tradition each year--both the receiving of cards, letters, and photos from friends and family near and far, and the preparation of my own annual update.

Dawn, Katia, Nikko, and Sam, 2019

Each year I try to provide a relevant update embedded in some creative format. In most cases, I've also published a year-end blog post that incorporates the holiday greeting for that year. Here is a link to a summary of past years' greetings.

Reports and redactions factored heavily into 2019, and so the same have been incorporated into this year’s annual missive:


As I wrote, read, re-read, and reflected on this year’s update, what struck me most is that details matter—and when key details are blocked from view, the story feels decidedly incomplete.

May the coming year bring the details that are important in our stories, our lives, and our world into clearer view.

Warm wishes
Dawn

December 11, 2019

Have Swag Will Travel: CHICKEN BREAK! A Counting Book, by Cate Berry

I'm so EGGcited about today's guest post with Cate Berry, author of two hilarious picture books. Today we'll focus on Cate's latest release CHICKEN BREAK! A Counting Book (illustrated by Charlotte Alder, Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan, 2019). Cate's post will crack you up AND bring you a dozen or so unique promotional ideas.

Take it away, Cate:

Have Swag, Will Travel
by Cate Berry

Bawk Squawk!

Thanks so much for having me, Dawn, on your fab kidlit blog! I launched my debut picture book last year, Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! [Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins] illustrated by Charles Santoso. It was a wild and crazy and packed year. I learned so much which is why I wanted to chat today about some grassroots marketing ideas I took out for a spin with my second book, Chicken Break! A Counting Book [Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan] which just released October 29, 2019.

But first! People always ask me about how I get my ideas. And Chicken Break had an especially fun backstory.

I usually make up absurd, imaginary stories but this little nugget was ripped from the headlines of my real life!

Our family ordered baby chicks from mypetchicken.com and they provided gleeful entertainment for many months— until they grew up. Our chickens wanted to live inside the house with us! They would line up and watch TV through the window on our back door! This really made me fall in love with chickens and their hilarious personalities.

Our neighbor had politely asked us not to let the chickens near her beautiful yard until one day, they escaped. I drove up and they had de-headed her freshly planted begonias and dug a three-foot hole in her mulch. Needless-to-say it looked like a Chicken Spa Day. That night a rerun of Ocean’s 11 was showing and—voila!—the whole things blended into a picture book.

Now that you know how this whole book was hatched, let’s talk about marketing. Or in my case, how to not think about marketing but rather, have fun…

I decided this time around I wanted to celebrate my book release in connection as much as possible. I spend a lot of time alone, writing. When I launched this book, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to build community, and yes, have fun!

My publisher was wonderful with getting me into events and conferences. But I don’t think that’s enough these days. I didn’t have any illusions that I, personally, could move the needle very far regarding sales, but I could widen my audience and develop deeper relationships with book sellers, schools and libraries. That’s what matters to me the most anyway: connection (See above! It’s my theme!).

So I invited several writer friends over, that lived near me, for wine and cheese. And Team Bock Bock was born. We had a lot of fun brainstorming outside-the-box, grassroots marketing ideas. For example, we came up with the idea of #CoopTroop, where I asked other authors with chicken-related books to band together and bond with our books. Another great idea that surfaced was making a Chicken Carpool Karaoke video. We had lots of ideas, some I’ll be rolling out over the next few months. Team Bock Bock was also particularly helpful in narrowing down my focus. You can’t do everything. And friends help other friends prioritize.

Now about that video…

I’m a huge James Corden fan. When we thought of Chicken Carpool Karaoke, I really worked hard to make that a reality. I hired Diem Korsgaard to film and edit the video. She mounted several cameras to our windshield for close up action shots. A Team Bock Bock member had a friend who volunteered her chickens. As the filming day approached, I’ll admit I was nervous. The reality of all that chicken poop in my van, the thought of them going crazy inside the vehicle while I was driving, the sheer mayhem of it all, had everyone on edge. I know my husband, who played ukulele in the video, was sweating it. But amazingly, they were very chill! And there was hardly any poop.

I will say, we had some hilarious out takes getting the chickens out of the car. Perhaps I’ll post those one day.

They really wanted to break out for a spin!

Another thing I did this time around was to host a Pub Day Party.

I invited friends and family over for an open house on the actual publication date, Oct. 29, 2019. It was an all-day affair from 8 AM until 6 PM. I wanted a slow steady stream of guests, so I’d have time to sit down and really talk with people. And thank them for all their support.

Sometimes your release date can come and go and it feels a little anti-climactic. But this was very special, having people drop by all day long and celebrate in a very real way.

I also set up a Review Table. Friends and family could log onto Amazon, Goodreads, Indiebound and other retailers offering customer reviews, and leave a quick review for the book, right there! As we all know, reviews are so important for a book, especially during the first week of sales. It was a fun way to connect with folks, especially those who wanted to buy but couldn’t make the official launch at Book People.








Oh! And my kids took initiative and wrote several “ready-made” reviews which we cut up and put in a jar in case anyone got stuck composing a review on the spot. Most of them were silly but it added to the fun.



Some sites did block a few reviews (they are very particular about who they verify!) but that didn’t matter. The spirit of the idea made the day a success.

And then came… #CoopTroop.

I reached out to several women authors (I love funny female authors!) who released chicken books this year (2019). Everyone was game to join forces, boost our books and shake a tail feather on social media.

#CoopTroup consists of Tammi Sauer (Tammi Bawk Bawk), Martha Brockenbrough (Party Fowl) and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Her Egg-cellency) and myself (Hen Solo).



Watch for giveaways, chicken boost and general fowl play on social media. I’m hoping we’re all at a conference soon so the whole coop can peck and play together—in costume!

So how has all this been received?

So far, so good! I’m getting quite a few requests for school visits already, as well as speaking engagements, and I’m on several panels at Texas Library Association conference in March. I also just found out that Chicken Break is listed on the NBC (Today Show) Today.com Holiday Gift Guide website!

I guess this second book really did feel different release than my debut book, Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! that pubbed in 2018.



Debut years are crazy. I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks otherwise. You don’t know anything, you’re worried, you’re excited, you’re a mess.

I made a point to do as much as I could to promote my debut. I didn’t want to feel any regrets the following year. I can honestly say I’m very proud of my accomplishments. I did in-store signings locally, statewide and in bigger cities out of state. I rocked a lot of school visits. I made a promo video with Harper Collins. I presented at the Texas Book Festival and other conferences. I was on faculty for the Austin SCBWI annual conference.

I also think I ran the risk of burnout and overspending (I confess to both of these). I think the thing I’d love to share with other debuts is that mistakes are unavoidable. How can you know what you don’t know? Don’t try and be perfect, try and connect.

Books come and go but the people you meet: booksellers, authors, librarians, teachers are a delight. Don’t forget to enjoy your book with others. Let others help and thank them for their support.

Also keep an open mind. I never dreamed I’d find a deep love for teaching, both online and privately. My book gave me this opportunity, along with finishing my MFA in Children’s Writing, and I’m forever grateful for this unexpected love affair with my students and their work.

Writing, marketing, teaching and promoting is challenging. But the small moments, especially sharing your book with kids, is worth everything.

Just keep going.


**********
There are so many EGGcellent ideas in this post, Cate (and I can't believe how scrumptious those launch coop-cakes look!) Congratulations on your latest book, and thank you for sharing your "bag of chicks" with us! I especially love the idea of hosting an all-day open house on Pub Day, including a Review Table. I will definitely incorporate something similar for my next launch, which is about 18 months out. I also agree that the best part of this business is the people you meet along the way. I'm so grateful we've had the opportunity to connect through our mutual affection for humorous kids books. Thanks again for stopping by!

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Cate Berry is the author of Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! (Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins) illustrated by Charles Santoso. It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, "A buoyantly subversive anti-bedtime book.” Her second book, Chicken Break! A Counting Book (Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan) illustrated by Charlotte Adler was praised by School Library Journal as, “Full of wordplay and an extra dose of cuteness, this is a definite first purchase for all children’s collections.” Cate holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches private students as well as classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. She was a featured author at the Texas Book Festival, West Texas Book Fest, Austin SCBWI Conference (faculty) and the Literacy Library Round-up (Victoria). She speaks at schools, libraries, book stores and conferences year-round. Visit her at www.cateberry.com to learn more.

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Have Swag Will Travel is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.

November 25, 2019

The Blog Tour Part of the Writing Life

Photo by Dawn Prochovnic
Yard Sculpture in Delft, NL, Artist Unknown
One of the many enjoyable aspects of being an author is getting to know other authors and illustrators. I've made many new friends at conferences and online, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to feature the work of other authors/illustrators on the Birth Stories for Books series on my blog.

Likewise, over the years I've had the opportunity to connect with several members of the KidLit community who have been kind enough to invite me for a guest post or interview on their blogs.

With the recent launch of my new books, the past few months have been a flurry of guest posts and interviews on others' blogs. Although I've shared those posts and interviews on social media, I thought it would be nice to have them linked from one spot on my own blog. I'll keep this space updated as new guest posts and interviews are added.

Here goes:

10/8/2019: Interview by author, Carol Gordon Ekster, on the Writers' Rumpus blog (where I share what excites me most (and scares me most) about being a children's author).

10/2019: Interview in SCBWI Insight (where I share my thoughts on "boy books" and "girl books" and my general advice for SCBWI members).

10/2019: Brief video introduction of my two latest books (where I share the best way to find out where DOES a Cowgirl go potty?).

9/28/2019: Interview for the "Will Write for Cookies" feature on author, Vivian Kirkfield's, blog (where I share some of my favorite childhood books and a favorite cookie recipe).

9/22/2019: Interview with Annie Lynn on author Michele McAvoy's My Messy Muse Podcast (where Annie shares some insider info about our recent collaboration on the song for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?)

9/8/2019: Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? book trailer featured on KidLit TV.

8/27/2019: Joint interview with musician, Annie Lynn, on author Tara Lazar's blog (where we share the story of our collaboration for the song that backs up the book trailer for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?)

8/20/2019: Guest Post on author Kathy Macmillan's Stories by Hand blog (where I share the story of collaborating with singer/song writer and performing musician Marshall Mitchell, and I share "Sign Language Sing-Along Resources" for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?).

8/19/2019: Interview on author Aimee Reid's blog (where I share my thoughts on and tips for sharing good books with kids).

8/14/2019: Guest Post for the "Five Fun Facts" feature on author Laura Sassi's blog (where I share the origins of my Pirate and Cowgirl books and my affinity for sticky notes).

5/31/2019: Guest Post for Rain City Librarian's blog (where I share a sign language lesson plan called "Cowgirls Don't Wear Diapers").

11/6/2018: Guest post on author Tara Lazar's blog (where I share how one key revision resulted in two new books).

Last but not least, although not a guest post or an interview, SCBWI Oregon does put together a nice flyer of newly released books from member authors and illustrators that gets updated once or twice a year. It was nice to be included in the 2019 Edition of this resource. The most recent version of this resource can always be accessed here:  https://oregon.scbwi.org/pal-new-release-flyer/. Likewise, SCBWI International also puts together an annual reading list, and it was nice to be included in the 2019 Edition. The most recent version of this resource can always be accessed here: https://www.scbwi.org/recommended-reading-list/.

November 14, 2019

Have Swag Will Travel: untitled, by Timothy Young

One of my favorite aspects of hosting a blog is hearing from other members of the kidlit community about their experiences and processes. Today's guest is author/illustrator, Timothy Young, who has written and illustrated multiple books for kids, including his latest titled, untitled (Schiffer Publishing, 2019).

Timothy has visited hundreds of schools and libraries, and he has found unique ways to create lasting mementos and memories for the kids he's visited.

So let's hear from Timothy:


Have Swag, Will Travel
by Timothy Young

This is the 10th year that I’ve been doing school visits. My first book came out in 2008 and I had no idea about school visits. I did a few events like the Baltimore Book Festival and I met some school teachers. They asked if I visited schools and I said sure, why not? My first few visits were simple. My first book was a pop-up book called I’m Looking For A Monster!, and it only took about 2 minutes to read. I spent a lot of time drawing for the students those first couple of visits. A number of students asked about how pop-ups are done so for future visits I created a blank pop-up mechanism that the kids could decorate and put together with tape. I had the 3 pieces die-cut by a local printer. So the pop-up cards and bookmarks were my first swag.


The nice thing about being an author/illustrator is being able to easily create Swag. In my other job I’m a graphic designer and so I have the resources to create all kinds of promotional and display stuff. Whenever I have new books come out I update everything. I get new bookmarks printed with all of my book covers. I’ve handed out thousands of bookmarks over the years.

When my book The Angry Little Puffin came out I had an idea. One of my other skills is sculpting. I’ve sculpted animation models for shows like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, created 3-D illustrations for magazines like Popular Science and made toy prototypes including the very first Simpsons toys. I sculpted my Puffin character and made a mold so I could make multiple copies. I ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise some funds so that I could give each school I visited that year their very own Puffin. At the beginning of the year I figured I would make about 10 of them (That was how many visits I had done the prior year.) I ended up making 23 of them which was a lot of casting and painting.



Since that was so successful I thought I should continue to give each school a gift when I visit. I needed something unique for each school but something I could do more easily than casting and painting sculptures. I created a poster with all of my characters reading each other’s books. Do Not Open The Box! had just come out and so I drew Benny and some of the animals from the book along with the Puffin, Max from I Hate Picture Books! and a monster from I’m Looking For a Monster!


I have a large-scale printer so I individualize each poster thanking the school I am visiting. I frame them and present them to the school at the end of my assembly. Many schools have them hanging in their library so the students can remember my visit. Since I had the poster designed I also printed a few thousand generic ones that I gave out at events. Every child that buys a book at a school visit had one tucked into their book.



I have also drawn coloring pages from my books. I sometimes print them out for book festivals and bring crayons. They are also on my website where anyone can download them and print out as many as they want: https://creaturesandcharacters.com/ColoringPages.html

Last year I was running low on posters. I decided to update the poster illustration. Since the first one was printed I had a number of new books come out. I expanded the image and moved the original characters back. I put Luis and some of his alien friends from I’m Going To Outer Space! into the picture. The Puffin was already there so I didn’t add anyone from If You Give the Puffin a Muffin. I did decide to add Carlos and Ignatz from untitled even though the book would not come out for another 8 months.

So now all of the schools I’ll be visiting will get the updated poster thanking them for my visit, kids who order books get a smaller version of the new poster but I give out signed copies of the bigger poster at events. I also still do bookmarks and postcards to give away. I’m looking into having a plush toy of the Puffin made so stay tuned. I still have available dates for visits through the fall and spring of this year, so if you’d like a framed poster for your school, get in touch!

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Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Timothy! How wonderful that each school you have visited has received a unique and personalized gift of artwork that features the characters in your books and creates a lasting memory for the children at the school. It sounds like the casting and painting was a lot of work, but gosh those little puffins sure are cute! The posters of your book characters reading each others' stories is priceless. So. Much. Fun!

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Timothy Young always wondered as a child who made the toys he played with, who wrote and illustrated the books he read and who made the cartoons he watched. He grew up to be one of the people who got to do all of them.

Aside from being the author/illustrator of 11 books including I Hate Picture Books!, If You Give the Puffin a Muffin, Do Not Open The Box! and I’m Going To Outer Space!, (a winner of the Family Choice Award) he has worked in animation, toy design and other creative jobs. Among his career highlights include being the Head Model-Maker for the Penny cartoons on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, designing and building Muppets for Jim Henson Productions and sculpting the very first Simpsons character toys. He was design director for two toy companies and worked under contract with dozens of others.

He has also illustrated books for other authors and has written and illustrated two creative drawing books. His newest picture book is the unusually titled “untitled.”Tim has visited hundreds of schools and libraries and finds that doing presentations with students is one of the most fun and rewarding things he now gets to do. He loves passing on what he’s learned to kids like himself.

You can find more about Tim and his books at https://creaturesandcharacters.com or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Have Swag Will Travel is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.

November 4, 2019

Silly Books in a Serious World

In a recent interview on another blog, I was asked what scares me the most about being a children's author. I replied, "There isn't anything that scares me about the work that I do, but I do have a worry."
Cowgirl Dawn at PNBA, 2019

I worry that maybe it's not "right" to create silly books during such serious times in our world. I worry that maybe I should use my gifts for more serious subjects.

When I'm troubled with this concern, I remind myself that light-heartedness may, in fact, be "just right" for this serious world. I'm bolstered by my firm belief that igniting a child's desire to read is serious business, and I'm hopeful that my silly books (and the many fun resources I've developed and curated to support these books) will bring laughter into lap time and snickers into story time, setting a joyful foundation for a lifetime of reading.

I can't think of a better time to celebrate books and reading than the 100th anniversary of Children's Book Week, which is November 4 - 10, 2019. This year's theme, Read Now - Read Forever, couldn't be better.

I also think that silly books can set a foundation for deeper learning when paired with meaningful learning extensions. Case in point, the Educators' Guides for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? go well beyond the silly potty humor portrayed in the books. The guides provide pre and post-reading discussion questions along with learning extensions that support science, math, and language arts, as well as interactive activities such as word searches and Reader's Theatre scripts.

Silly books can also provide an opening to educate young readers about more serious issues that tie into the books' themes. For example, a book about a Pirate (or a Cowgirl) in search of a place to go potty provides an excellent opportunity to bring attention to World Toilet Day, coming up on November 19th. The intent of World Toilet Day is to inspire "action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which promises sanitation for all by 2030. Established by the World Toilet Organization in 2001, World Toilet Day was made an official UN day in 2013." (Source: World Toilet Day Website).

The 2019 theme of World Toilet Day is, "Leaving no one behind," with the idea being that no one should be left behind without sanitation. The World Toilet Day website has great resources to support those who want to take action to bring about positive change. There are links to fact sheets to help you learn more, social media resources to help draw attention to the issue, info about events being planned around the globe, and even a toilet privilege game.

One organization that works to address the global water sanitation issue is Water1st International. They support sustainable clean water projects and toilets for the world's poorest communities. They also provide helpful curriculum guides and information about clubs and other youth leadership opportunities related to this issue on their website.

Other organizations that support clean water initiatives may also offer curriculum support (or in some cases, program offerings in your local area). One such example is the Northeast Ohio Sewer District, which offers in-person programming and has made their programming available in a seven-part series that can be accessed via YouTube.

Similarly, The Illinois River Watershed Partnership in Arkansas has detailed lesson plans for educators on their website, including a comprehensive program called Clean Water Raingers, complete with downloadable resources including a Watershed Adventure Workbook, Watershed Songs, and Watershed Videos. (Incidentally, the Watershed Songs and Videos are written and performed by Marshall Mitchell, the same artist who co-wrote and performed the song that accompanies the book trailer for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and who regularly performs for children and families (quite often in libraries) in Arkansas and surrounding areas).

In an effort to bring attention to Children's Book Week and World Toilet Day, and in an effort to get more books into the hands of young readers, I will match YOUR positive actions with donations of my books to the Children's Book Bank, while supplies last. Here are the details:

Photo Credit: Stephanie Shaw

It's not required that you choose my books to participate (though I won't object if you do). It's also not required that you participate in my Call to Action in order to bring some positive attention to the issues of concern surrounding World Toilet Day.

If you're a librarian, you could host a potty-themed story time that's all fun and games (you'll find loads of support resources, including book lists and lesson plans here--just follow this link and search on "potty-themed"), and wrap up the event with a brief mention of the issues surrounding World Toilet Day.

If you're a teacher, you could read Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and/or Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, and use the related Educators' Guides to incorporate curriculum-aligned discussion questions and activities (you'll find the guides here/Pirate and here/Cowgirl), and wrap up the lesson with an exploration of / discussion about the issues addressed on the World Toilet Day and/or Water1st International website(s).

If you're a parent, you could view the humorous book trailers for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and/or Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? with your child, sing (and sign) the theme songs that go along with the book trailers (you'll find support resources here/Pirate and here/Cowgirl), and then shift the conversation to the more serious issue of water sanitation by playing this game.

If you plan to support my Call to Action by purchasing a book, I hope you will consider supporting your local independent book store. If you plan to support my Call to Action by suggesting a book be added to your public library's collection, most libraries have a book request process on their website. You can locate your nearest library by visiting this link.  If you plan to support my Call to Action by donating to an organization that supports water sanitation and/or literacy and need some suggested organizations, here goes:

-Water 1st International
-The many organizations listed at the bottom of the World Toilet Organization home page
-Children's Book Bank
-SMART Reading (Start Making a Reader Today)
-Your local library

I'd love to hear about your World Toilet Day plans and/or experiences. Comment below, or connect with me on social media (TwitterFacebookInstagram).

And last but not least, if you need a toilet flushing sound loop to brighten your day, you'll find one here.

October 29, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: PIPPA'S PASSOVER PLATE, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (and more!) by Vivian Kirkfield

I'm so pleased to be able to share a new Birth Stories for Books interview with you. My guest is Vivian Kirkfield, who has recently authored several new picture books, including PIPPA'S PASSOVER PLATE (Holiday House, 2019); SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books, 2019); and FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN (PomegranateKids, 2019).


This is one of those posts that you're going to want to bookmark and read over and over again, because there is so much great information and inspiration packed into it. So let's get right to it!

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Vivian. If I remember correctly, you are one of the very first authors I started following on Twitter (back before I even understood how it worked!). It’s been a delight to watch your career flourish, and it’s a pleasure to be able to snag some time to connect with you, given that you have THREE new releases just out, and more on the way. Wow!

Vivian Kirkfield: Wow right back to you, Dawn. How lovely to know that I was one of your first peeps! I’m so happy to be here, chatting with you. I know I had promised to do a Q&A with you way back in February – but with my trip and the launch of all three books, things got a bit crazy. So, thank you for your patience and I am finally here – ready to answer your questions.

DP: It’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start by talking about PIPPA’s PASSOVER PLATE (illustrated by Jill WeberHoliday House, 2019). I’ve read PIPPA several times, and I’ve enjoyed it more each time. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this particular story? For example, I’d love to hear a little bit about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this story and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.


By Vivian Kirkfield and Jill Weber

VK: One of the first things I did when I started this writing journey was to participate in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm (which used to be called PiBoIdMo – Picture Book Idea Month). In 2013, one of the industry professionals who contributed a blog post for that challenge was Joni Sussman, editor at Kar Ben. She said she was looking for Jewish holiday books and she invited all of the people doing Tara’s challenge to submit a story to her. An invitation to submit a story to an editor? Oh my gosh, I was so excited. I sat down and thought about what to write. And an image of a little mouse, hurrying and scurrying to get ready for Passover just popped into my head. I sat down and a bunch of rhyming verses flowed from my pen. Believe me, this is NOT how stories usually come to me. I polished it and sent it to the editor.

Unfortunately, she passed on it and I put the story away. Far away.

DP: Well, this book DID eventually find a publishing home, so now you've got us dialed in and ready to hear more about this journey. Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

VK: At the end of 2017, one of my FB buddies messaged me to say she thought I should enter that Passover story in a PJ Library contest. I took it out of the drawer to polish it up and I showed it to a local critique buddy of mine who happens to be an illustrator. She fell in love with it and asked if she could show it to an editor she had worked with. Jill Weber took it to the editor - who bought it on the spot and signed Jill to illustrate. And that’s like a happily ever after ending, right?

DP: Happily ever after, indeed! And Jill's illustrations are so perfect for the book. What a great turn of events!

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

VK: The original version had more information about the holiday – I even rhymed all the foods on the Seder plate. But I felt it was clunky and so I took that part out. The meter and tempo of the story stayed the same and the refrain: Quiver Quaver Shiver Shake – Cats make Pippa cringe and quake…that was part of the story from the very beginning.

DP: I love that part of the story! I'm so glad you kept that in. 

You also have two other new books, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (illustrated by Chris EwaldCreston Books, 2019) and FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN (illustrated by Mirka HokkanenPomegranateKids, 2019). What were some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each of these books?


By Vivian Kirkfield and Chris Ewald

By Vivian Kirkfield and Mirka Hokkanen

VK
: If I have learned anything on this path to publication it is that every single manuscript is going to have its own journey. What will be the same? There will be a contract of some sort…but each publisher has their own clauses and terms. There will be an illustrator who is signed on to do the pictures…but each editor determines how the team of author/illustrator/editor/art director/etc. will interact. Some editors may encourage collaboration and others may prefer to keep author and illustrator apart. I feel fortunate to have experienced both ends of that spectrum with OTTERS and SARAH…although at the time, it was very difficult and I didn’t feel fortunate at all.

With OTTERS, the illustrator was one of my Storm Literary Agency sisters. I saw early sketches and we shared our research – it was a joyful process which unfolded without a hitch. For SARAH, there was no collaboration. When I finally saw art, changes needed to be made for historical accuracy and a huge amount of time was lost.

This is a topic I addressed in several conference presentations this year. I believe that collaboration results in a more positive process and a better book. I encourage authors to advocate for their books – not in a willful way to demand that the main character wears a pink dress instead of a blue one. But to ensure that an accurate and authentic story is being told – in both the text and the illustrations.

DP: That sounds like quite a range of experiences and emotions, Vivian. Thank you so much for sharing. 

I’ve noticed that all three of your most recent books are published by different publishers. Are you able to share how you came to connect with these different publishing houses, and also, if there were notable differences in the publication processes for each of the different books/publishers beyond what you've already shared?

VK: My wonderful incredible agent, Essie White of Storm Literary Agency, is the reason each of my books is with a different publisher. She makes wonderful connections with editors and they respect her. When she sends a manuscript – they read it. And it just happens that each of my stories was right for different editors. The three books that launched this year are all totally different. A rhyming holiday book about a little mouse and a Seder plate. A lyrical counting book about endangered animals. And a nonfiction picture book biography about one of the first African American women to own a U.S. patent. I guess it’s not surprising that each was acquired by a different house.

Next year, I have another nonfiction picture book bio, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, which is coming out with yet another publisher (Little Bee, January 14, 2020).

by Vivian Kirkfield and Alleanna Harris 
AND a big compilation book, From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves, that includes NINE full-length fully illustrated picture book bios from…YES…a fifth publishing house (Houghton Mifflin, Fall 2020).

And YES…each publishing house has their own process and procedures – there are similarities, kind of like we all live in a house, eat food, wear clothing, and like to relax…but what type of house, what kind of food, what type of clothing, and what we do for fun – that is where the differences crop up.

DP: That's such a great way to explain those intricate differences, Vivian. And, Youza! You are prolific! It sounds like you are keeping Essie in business! 

You also have a book, SHOW ME HOW, that was self-published. Can you share some of the key differences of the experience of self-publishing a book as compared to publishing with a traditional publisher? 

VK: SHOW ME HOW was a labor of love. It was the book I had wanted to have when I was a kindergarten teacher. I would have also loved to have it when I was a young mother. It is chock full of picture book recommendations, craft projects, and cooking activities, and I believed it belonged on every teacher’s and parent’s bookshelf. I wrote the book in 2008, before I knew anything about writing, the kid-lit community, or the publishing business.

The key differences: you decide what it will look like and when it will get published. Those are the positive differences. But there are negatives. It costs money…and unless you are a powerhouse self-promoter and you have a vibrant platform and distribution system, you will probably wind up with books in boxes. Most traditional publishers have distribution channels and connections with major reviewers – although honestly, these days, the authors are very much responsible for spreading the word about their books, even if they are traditionally published.

DP: You speak truth, sister! But I will say, one of my favorite parts of this business is all of the many wonderful kidlit folks, such as yourself, I've become acquainted with in the process of spreading the word about books!

Another one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at schools, libraries, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. You have participated in a whirlwind of book events lately (and it doesn’t sound like your schedule is going to let up anytime soon). What advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful events?

VK: If I am going somewhere for a family event, I try to work in something book related. If I am scheduling a book event, I try to piggyback a family trip or a meet and greet with friends. I think BALANCE is so important…and HAVING FUN!

My pro tips:
1. Practice your presentation and be prepared.
2. Network…and then cherish those connections.
3. HAVE FUN! I think you have to find joy in what you are doing – otherwise, find something else to do. 😉




DP: These are great tips, Vivian! (And look at all those rapt listeners!)

Chatting with you (and living vicariously through your social media posts!), it definitely seems like you are taking your own advice to heart and having a grand old time traveling and meeting up with writing friends and readers from around the world. 

What advice do you have for fellow authors/illustrators who are likewise interested in arranging opportunities for book events outside of their immediate locale?

VK: I am blessed to be retired…my time is my own…I don’t have to answer to anyone at this point in my life. I can stay up till 3am…and I do (chatting on FB PM with friends in NZ or Singapore or S. Korea). Therefore, it is difficult to give advice to people who are juggling family responsibilities/jobs/health issues. But the best advice I can give:

1. Decide what you enjoy doing and how far out of your comfort zone you are willing to venture.
2. Reach out to friends/family/acquaintances who have contacts/connections that might be helpful to you.
3. Interact with the publicity person from your publisher (if there is one) – they should be able to arrange bookstore events, school visits – let them know where you are willing to travel and what you are willing to do.
4. Check out SCBWI and other conferences where your book/program/presentation might be needed.
5. Combine business with pleasure – if you have family in a certain city, see if you can schedule a bookstore event or school visits there. You’ll have a ready-made support system…and a place to stay!

DP. This is great advice, Vivian. Thanks so much! 

You coordinate at least two web-based writing challenges (#50PreciousWords and #50PreciousWordForKids). What have been the most positive (and not-so-positive) aspects of facilitating these events? Based on your experiences with these events, what advice or suggestions do you have for fellow authors/illustrators who have an interest in setting up some type of a web-based, community “event” or challenge?

VK: I LOVE #50PreciousWords.

The positives: I get to read hundreds of beautiful manuscripts. The challenge has inspired writers to create stories – and some of those stories are now published books. It is a platform where the kid lit community feels safe – last year there were over 3000 comments – ALL OF THEM POSITIVE. And it is a place where all writers, beginners or experienced, are surrounded by others who understand how they feel…and that validation is so important.

The negatives: The only negative is that I have to pick winners. And that is such a hard decision because all the writers pour their hearts onto the page. My thanks to dear friends, Maria MarshallJulie Abery, and Diane Tulloch – this year, all four of us read and commented on every story.

I also love #50PreciousWordsforKids.

The positives: We are encouraging young children to become the storytellers they are meant to be. We are validating their thoughts and hopes and dreams. And there are no negatives about that. 😉 This challenge is a wonderful school activity but unfortunately, many teachers are overburdened with testing and aren’t able to have their classes participate…but parents are welcome to submit their children’s stories.

DP: There are so many lost opportunities due to the burdens of a test-centric educational system...here's hoping that more and more kids will find their way to this positive enrichment activity you coordinate, annually.  

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

VK: I wish I would have known that I have the right to advocate for my own story…if something during the publishing process doesn’t feel right or look right, I must gather my courage and speak up. But the problem, when you are a pre-publisher author, is that you don’t know what is right. And because there is not a lot of transparency in this business, people who are new are kind of in the dark. That’s why I try to be open and honest – if someone asks me a question, I’m going to give them a truthful answer.

DP: This is a really important message to hear, Vivian. I'm so glad you've said it. 

You've been so generous with your time and your answers, Vivian. Is there something you wish someone would ask you about PIPPA’s PASSOVER PLATE, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN, SHOW ME HOW, and/or your path to publication that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet?

VK: Hmmm…to be honest (as in open and honest 😊), I think I’ve had many opportunities to speak since the start of this banner year. But I’ll try. 😊

Regarding PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE: I wish someone would ask if there will be a sequel. And I would say, I wrote one and it is in the hands of the editor, so my fingers are crossed that she will acquire Pippa’s Hanukkah Hunt. 😊

DP: Fingers crossed with you! 

VK: Regarding SWEET DREAMS, SARAH: I wish someone would ask what I think about the DVD that Dreamscape Media created. And I would say that I absolutely LOVE it and I think that every school library media specialist definitely needs to have a copy because it will engage every grade level from 1-5 or even older. They did a fabulous job with the animation and with the music and sound effects and they chose the perfect person to narrate, an African American actress named Lisa Renee Pitts.

DP: I'm so glad I asked this question, because I was not aware there was a DVD for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH! It's officially on my watch list, now!

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on?

VK: Right now, I am working on a revise and resubmit (R&R) of another picture book biography for an editor on a manuscript and I am hoping to send it to her next week. The editor said she loved the first part, but the second part not so much. I wondered how I could figure out exactly what she was looking for. I googled the editor and found several interviews she gave over the years. In those interviews, she mentioned books she was working on. I found those books at the library and read them, using them as mentor texts to help me revise my story. You can be sure I will shout out on social media if I succeeded and she acquires the manuscript.

DP: I can't wait to hear the good news! 

One more question: Last month I had the sincere pleasure of contributing to the Will Write For Cookies series on your blog. How did Will Write for Cookies become a thing?

VK: That’s a great question, Dawn! The name of the author/illustrator series came about because I’m a fan of cookies and treats. And as most of us are aware, there aren’t many authors who are getting rich, even if they have lots of picture books published. So, I thought, if we aren’t writing for money. I guess we will write for cookies.

DP: Ha! I love cookies, too ... and yes, it's a good thing we love what we do, because in my experience, when you calculate all the many, many hours that go into each book, the hourly wage calculation translates to working for crumbs ; ) 

VK: The idea for the series came about because I was such a fan of picture books and their authors and illustrators. I wanted to lift them up and turn a spotlight on them and introduce them to the world. But also, I wanted to share their tips and expertise with new writers. I’ve been so fortunate to have wonderful authors…my post, back in 2013, was with author/illustrator Iza TrapaniHere is what I wrote:

"Can you hear my heart beating quickly?

I remember this feeling – kind of scared – very excited – a little anxious.

When I was in 7th grade, we made an apron in home ec (short for home economics – the class all the GIRLS took so they would know how to cook and sew…BOYS took woodworking so they would know how to…build a log cabin?).

Each student received a piece of material and a pattern and instructions on how to proceed. It took a great deal of courage to make that first cut, knowing that if you did it incorrectly, your finished apron would look ridiculous.

I’m sure artists feel the same way when their hand hovers over a clean blank canvas.

As I hover over this new project and lay out the template for future posts in the ‘WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES’ series, I experience those same feelings. My vision is to provide insights and information from experienced authors and illustrators – my hope is that you will find these posts educational and entertaining."

This October, the WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES series will be six-years old! That’s a lot of cookie recipes, for sure! But more importantly, there have been a lot of wonderful tips, tools, and techniques shared by my incredible guests. And I am SOOO excited that you wrote for cookies on my blog, dear Dawn.

Thank you so much for having me here today!


DP: THANK YOU so much for being here, Vivian. You've shared so much wisdom and experience with us. You are such a positive contributor to the KidLit Community. And, I'd say your vision for the WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES series has definitely come to fruition. As I said at the onset, readers, this is one of those posts you'll want to bookmark and read again and again. 

Want to know the best way to say, "Thanks!" to Vivian for all of the helpful information she's shared and the inspiration she's offered? Get your hands on one or more of her books. They are available everywhere books are sold. If you can't buy a book, next best thing is to reach out to your local library and request that they add one or more of her books to their collection, if they haven't already. And, once you've had a chance to read Vivian's books, take the time to leave a review on Amazon or GoodReads. 

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Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, January 14, 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.

October 22, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: CROW SPIRIT, by Debra Bartsch

I’m delighted to swoop in with another Birth Stories for Books interview. Today's guest is Debra Bartsch, author of CROW SPIRIT (illustrated by Gael Abary, Clear Fork Publishing/Spork, 2019).

Deb is a fellow SCBWI-Oregon member and we both recently participated as guest authors at the Benton County Fair. This experience gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better and the opportunity discover that we have some surprising points of intersection in our lives!

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Deb. After chatting with you at the recent book event and learning that we went to the same elementary school, just at different times, I'm really excited to get to know you and your work a little bit better.

Debra Bartsch: Thank you Dawn for inviting me on your terrific blog! You have interviewed so many authors and illustrators, I feel blessed to be included in the group. The fact that we grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same grade school with some of the same teachers is …...an amazing coincidence that we will continue to explore! Writing children’s books was a given, we grew up in Beverly Cleary’s neighborhood after all!

DP: Thank you for the kind words, Deb. I enjoy this blog series quite a bit... and our shared Beverly Cleary neighborhood and elementary school history is an amazing coincidence for sure! 

CROW SPIRIT is your first book, and I’ve heard you mention that it is inspired by a true story. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this story? For example, I’d love to hear a little bit about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this story and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

DB: Crow Spirit is indeed inspired by true events! I wrote the first draft in 2016, it was acquired in 2017, and published 2019! Here is the backdrop:

At first look it is a sweet simple story, ahhh, little girl and a crow, ahhh, but there are many deep layers intertwined together making this book a fit for several categories. Intergenerational with family ties and traditions, learning about our spirit and the interconnectedness of all, the intelligence of crows, plus love, loss, and ultimately healing, all from the view of six -year old Cecily Jane!

I write a lot of stories intuitively, they actually come to me like a knowing idea, slowly brewing, or rapidly appearing in my mind, and I have to get them out on paper. Same with drawing. I also illustrate, seeing the pictures on paper.

I had come back to my childhood home to help care for both of my loving parents as they aged.  After my parents had passed away, I had a friendly encounter with a friendly crow while I was on a walk.  Memories came back to me in an instant with Mom talking about, “crows being family birds, watching out for each other”…... this story was written in a matter of hours in the backyard of my childhood home.

During that time at night I was writing a lot of manuscripts while taking children’s writing and illustrating courses online through The Children’s Book Academy, with Mira Reisberg. Mira loved the story, immediately connected with it. She presented it to Callie Metler-Smith at Clear Fork Publishing/Spork, who acquired the manuscript in December 2017 and found fabulous illustrator, Gael Abary. I am so thrilled to say, CROW SPIRIT is now published!

DP: Thanks for sharing this backstory, Deb. As you reflect on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

Yes, Mira Reisberg at the CBA for her connecting to CROW SPIRIT and her knowledge of guiding writers and illustrators along their journey to publication, believing in CROW SPIRIT, and Callie at Clear Fork Publishing/ Spork for seeing the uniqueness of this story. The manuscript also benefitted from my participation in Mark Mitchell's online course and taking it to many SCBWI workshops and critique group meetings.

Plus my family and friends for encouraging me to keep at this unusual, heartfelt story that connected all of us in healing, humor, learning about the intelligence of crows, and listening over and over to, “CAWW, CAWW CAWW!” and, “Don’t forget Gram’s SNICKERDOODLES!”

I had several other manuscripts written and this one kept saying, “Show this one, show this one!”

DP: I find the creative process so fascinating, and in particular, that there are some stories that simply insist on being attended to.  

Let's shift gears a little bit. One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at schools, libraries, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. I’ve listened to you share your story with children and adults, and you have a distinct warmth about you that is comforting and inviting. You also have some fabulous activities that you incorporate into your events. What advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful book readings/ book events? 

DB: Thanks, Dawn.That makes me so happy to hear!  I love sharing the joy of reading picture books with kids. Writing from a kids-eye view of the world, looking at life through the eyes of a child, connecting with children comes naturally for me.


Since picture books are meant to be told….with pictures, pointing out the fabulous illustrations is what makes it so fun! The colors, style and characters are what makes a picture book….. A great picture book! Gael Abary’s illustrations created the unique softness of this story by using her special color pallet with limited colors. Plenty of white space gives air and breathing room to the flow of the text. Her illustrations are comforting, drawing the kids in, creating a connection to friendly Mr. Crow, Cecily Jane, Grandma, Grandpop and Mama to their loved ones instantly! Beautiful is all I can say, and thanks Gael!

Interior images, illustrated by Gael Abary

Interior images, illustrated by Gael Abary

DP: I couldn't agree, more. Gael's illustrations are very soothing and engaging. I felt immediately drawn into the book the first time I attended one of your readings.

DB: Movement and motion are second nature to kids, I like to add music with song and hand motions. These elements, plus crafts that can be easily made from found materials are a bonus for teachers and librarians for use in the classroom and can be found on my website, giving the reading a tangible element, natural feel and connection for each child.

Advice: visit and support your local author and illustrator events. You can pick up tips and advice for creating your own special book read.

DP: Yes! Yes! Yes! I learn so much for other authors at their events ... plus it just feels good to be an active participant in the local KidLit community.

Let me ask another question: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

DB: Hmmm…follow your heart and your dreams, they really can come true. I had always known that someday I would write and draw for children, just didn’t know it would take me this long.

DP: Yes, this creative business is definitely not for folks who are in a hurry! 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about CROW SPIRIT, and/or your path to publication that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet?

DB: How important libraries have always been and will be for me. As a kid, on Saturday’s my sister and brothers would pile into the car with my Dad and go to the library. Hollywood Library in Portland, Oregon. I loved it immediately! A lil’ library card holder from age 5 and lifelong lover of children’s books. Raising my own family, my sons had their library card at ages 3 and 4 carrying on the tradition of story and early reading. I also have a lovely aunt who was a librarian.

Well, guess which library was the first to carry Crow Spirit?  Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. Yes, Hollywood Branch is one of the first.

Full circle with CROW SPIRIT, and so many more to go.

DP: That's so great, Deb! It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of libraries, and as you know, the Hollywood Branch of the Multnomah County Library is also the library I grew up in. 

Before we wrap up, do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on?

DB: Yes! Writing ideas are everywhere! I have numerous picture book dummies and manuscripts out on submission, fiction and creative nonfiction both. I love learning every aspect of this journey, learning from seasoned writers and illustrators like you Dawn, and bringing the love and joy of reading to every child, everywhere. It is a privilege to write and draw for children.

DP: Thanks for kind words, Deb. In my experience, we are all teachers and learners. 

I do have one more quick question for you: You include a family cookie recipe at the end of CROW SPIRIT. What’s the story behind that recipe?

DB: SNICKERDOODLES! My Grandma always had a cookie jar filled with every kind of cookie and this was one of our family favorites. Cinnamon and sugar, ummm…...simply spending time together sharing thoughts with a plate of fresh fruit and cookies, is indeed priceless.

Make a batch and spread the love today. Enjoy!

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for Books, Debra!

DB: Thank you, Dawn

Readers, if YOU would like Deb's marvelous snickerdoodle recipe, you'll have to get your hands on a copy of CROW SPIRIT. It's available directly from the publisher and everywhere books are sold, plus in a growing number of libraries.  

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Debra Bartsch Debra is the author of CROW SPIRIT. She writes and draws from a kid's-eye view of the world. With daily inspiration from laughing grandkids, life is full of sunshine and rain, plus a few mud puddles!

Debra is the SCBWI-Oregon Book Sales/Write Direction Coordinator and SMART Reading Site Coordinator Volunteer Reader for Pre-k’s. Learn more at ww.debbartschillustration.com and
www.clearforkpublishing.com.

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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.