November 15, 2021

World Toilet Day Resource Roundup

When my potty-humor books (Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? ) first rolled onto the scene, I found myself wondering aloud about the appropriateness of creating silly books during such a serious time in our world. I confessed about my worry that maybe I should use my gifts for more serious subjects. 

Photo Credit: West Margin Press

In the end, I came to the conclusion that it is not an either-or situation. That there is in fact value in light-hearted books, and also, that there are ways to connect silly topics to more serious issues. So, although I do try to laugh and have fun, I also do my best to use my platform to raise awareness about topics of import, for example, the importance of clean water and sanitation.

One way to connect this topic to my silly books is to raise awareness about World Toilet Day, a serious observance that takes place on November 19th each year 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 theme of World Toilet Day 2021 is, "Valuing Toilets." 

Source: World Toilet Day website

Visit the World Toilet Day website where you will find fact sheets to help better understand the issue, along with social media resources to help draw attention to the issue and opportunities to join the conversation and take action

For those looking for even more resources, such as learning extensions and enrichment materials for young readers, here is a solid rundown:  

*Water1st International supports 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.

*Northeast Ohio Sewer District offers a seven-part educational series that can be accessed via YouTube.

*The state of New Jersey has educational program called Clean Water Raingers, with interactive activities that can be accessed on their website. 

*Marshall Mitchell, the artist behind the song that accompanies the book trailer for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?wrote an entire CD of watershed songs for the Illinois River Watershed Partnership

*Annie Lynn, of AnnieBirdd Music, LLC is a vocal advocate for our planet, and she writes and produces a variety of music for use in educational settings, and she regularly shares a variety of educational resources via Twitter. Here is one example of a song that Annie has developed with interactive elements to engage students in conversations and advocacy around climate issues. (Incidentally, Annie Lynn / AnnieBirdd Music, LLC is the artist behind the song that accompanies the book trailer for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?)

*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.  

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 silly books) will bring laughter into lap time and snickers into story time, setting a joyful foundation for a lifetime of reading. (And, if you ever need a little toilet flushing sound loop to flood you with laughter, you'll find one here. Enjoy!)

Photo Credit: Dawn Prochovnic

November 10, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: Who Is a Scientist? by Laura Gehl

Hello readers! Up next is another Birth Stories for Books interview. Today's guest, Laura Gehl, shares some unique insights about her path to publication for one of her latest books, WHO IS A SCIENTIST?, so let's get right to it. 


Dawn Prochovnic: I’m so glad to have you on the blog, Laura, and I’m excited to learn more about your latest book, WHO IS A SCIENTIST? (Millbrook Press, October 2021.) 

Laura Gehl: Thanks so much for having me, Dawn! 

DP: In recent interviews on Mr. Schu Reads and the Lerner Books websites, you’ve talked about what inspired you to write this book. I’d love to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. For example, the book features a very diverse range of scientists. How did you connect with these individuals, and how did you arrange for the excellent collection of photographs in the book that features snapshots of the scientists’ professional lives and personal hobbies?

LG: Great question! I had a few scientists in mind when I started working on the project. To find more, I posted on social media, talking about my vision and goals for the book. Some scientists volunteered themselves after reading my post, while others were referred to me by friends who thought they would be a great fit. Then I needed to find photographers…in many different locations…to take the photos! One of the photographers was someone I knew personally, and one was a referral from an old friend. The others I found through online searches for photographers in each of the cities where the scientists lived. It was actually a LOT of work to find all the photographers, connect them with the scientists, arrange for permission forms and payments, etc…not to mention that we were dealing with COVID. And one scientist moved to Australia before we got her photos taken! But the hard work paid off. The photos of each scientist at work and at play are the heart of the book, and I am thrilled with how they turned out. 

DP: The photos are an excellent aspect of the book! It's fun to hear how they came to be. 

When you compare one of your earliest manuscript drafts to 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?

LG: The biggest thing that stayed the same was the primary text (Who is a scientist? This is a scientist. Isha is a meteorologist.) And on the flip side, the biggest change was the addition of the secondary text, giving more information about each scientist’s work. 



DP: In addition to the primary and secondary text, I love the many “extras” in this book. The "Meet the scientists” QR code that takes you to a video where the scientists introduce themselves. The name pronunciation guide in the back of the book. The flow chart that helps a reader decide what branches of science they might most enjoy exploring. 

Image from Who Is a Scientist? by Laura Gehl

DP: How did those extras come to be? Were these elements included in your initial vision for the project, or did they develop in collaboration with your publisher’s editorial team? 

LG: The back matter was very much a collaboration with my publisher. Millbrook is amazing with back matter, and I’m so grateful I got to work with Carol Hinz and Jordyn Taylor, among others, on the special back matter for this book. 

DP: Sounds like you had a great team to work with! 

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 book to find its way to publication? 

LG: I think including photos in my proposal was probably key to the book being acquired. The photos in the proposal were just photos I took from the Internet—not the photos that we ended up using in the book. But they gave my editor a sense of what I wanted to do with the book in a way that would have been very difficult to accomplish using only words. 

DP: It appears like your approach was really effective.

Shifting gears a bit, one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. Your bio indicates you are a former reading teacher, and your website indicates you do author visits, so you have experience on both sides of the table. Based on this experience, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or virtual) events? 

LG: I think understanding the age group that you will be presenting to is key. If you haven’t spent time around 3-year-olds and you want to present to preschoolers, try to sit in on a library storytime or a preschool class before you put together your presentation. Same with 1st graders or 5th graders. What will work best for each age group is different. With 2-year-olds, for example, you really can’t ask a question and then have kids raise their hands to answer. If you call on a 2-year-old to answer a question, they will probably tell you that their cat’s name is Pluto or that they are wearing blue underwear. For the youngest kids, props, puppets, and songs work great (I like adapting a song they will already know, like Old McDonald or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, to fit the book I am reading to them). For older kids, you can keep the same amount of interaction and humor but target it differently…with quizzes and games and group brainstorming exercises, for example.    

DP: Excellent tips, Laura.

I know from your social media accounts (and from our being in a book launch group together!) that you've had quite a year in terms of new releases, plus you offer freelance editing services, and you maintain an active schedule of virtual book events. How do you balance the time between your different book projects and the different aspects of the publishing business?

LG: I like doing lots of different things, because I never get bored, and if I am having trouble with one project, I can work on a different one. That said, I’ve learned that I sometimes need to say no even when I wish I could say yes. This fall, I’ve just been too busy to take on freelance editing projects, and I’ve had to turn down quite a few. My local SCBWI is doing a mentorship program right now that I would have loved to be a part of…but I knew I just didn’t have the bandwidth at the moment. It’s really hard for me to say no to anything writing-related, but sometimes it’s necessary, both in order to preserve my mental health and to preserve time to write! 

DP: 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?

LG: I would tell myself to find a great critique group (or two) much sooner!  

DP: Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for WHO IS A SCIENTIST?  that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

LG: I don’t think anyone has asked if I sold this book as a proposal or as a completed manuscript. The answer is that I sold it as a proposal… but I did include the basic text for the manuscript in the proposal. I didn’t recruit the actual scientists or the photographers until after I sold the book, but I had “placeholder” scientists and placeholder photos in my proposal to show how the finished book would look.   

DP: It sounds like that approach really helped the publishing team envision what you had in mind.

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

LG: Right now I’m working on another project with the fabulous team at Millbrook, a book about climate change, which will release in 2023 in time for Earth Day. I am learning so much every day I work on this book! (And for your readers who are considering how to sell a NF book idea, I sold this new book on proposal with sample text included, similar to Who Is a Scientist?)

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for WHO IS A SCIENTIST? with us, Laura. I've learned so much!

LG: Thanks again for hosting me, Dawn! 

Friends, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or intriguing to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others.   

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Laura Gehl is the award-winning author of more than two dozen picture books, board books, and early readers including One Big Pair of Underwear; My Pillow Keeps Moving; Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer; Except When They Don’t; and Odd Beasts. Laura lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.lauragehl.com and follow her @AuthorLauraGehl on Twitter and Instagram





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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, Lucy's Blooms, 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 the award-winning book, 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 3, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: MOONSONG, by Denise Gallagher

Hello, readers! I'm delighted to bring you another Birth Stories for Books interview--this time from an author/illustrator's perspective! Today's guest, Denise Gallagher, stops by to share her path to publication experience for her latest book, MOONSONG (Little Press Publishing.)

Book Cover by Denise Gallagher

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Denise. Turning the pages in your book, I feel transported to a magical place and time. Even children who are not yet independent readers will enjoy the vivid images and the imaginative journey. I’d love to hear how the idea for this story came to be.

Denise Gallagher: Before I was an author and illustrator, I was a graphic designer with an itch to do more. Illustrating picture books was vastly different from anything I’d done before. I had a lot to learn! I felt that one way to do this was to write a picture book myself in order to practice illustrating one. I was drawn to folk tales and fairy tales and read them voraciously. I studied works from the Brothers Grimm to Aesop’s Fables. I loved the magic elements and vivid worlds contained in the stories. I then sat down with a sketchbook and a pencil and sketched and scribbled. 

Sketch by Denise Gallagher

My own magic spilled out onto the pages. What emerged was a very wordy book called “Claire de Loup” about a girl and a wolf in a forest. That was eleven years ago. That initial manuscript and the illustrations that accompanied it went through many iterations to eventually become what is now “Moonsong.” 

DP: Wow, that is quite a journey! What an inspiration you are for sticking with this story idea and seeing it through to fruition! 

I’d like to hear more about the process between your initial idea and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

DG: Over those eleven years, the manuscript that eventually became “Moonsong” changed many times. During that time, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators (a big first step to becoming an author) and attended conferences and critique groups. I took every critique and piece of constructive advice seriously. I listened and I revised. (First revision? It was WAY too long!) But I was always true to myself and to my story. 

My illustration style also changed during that time and I did a scary thing — I scrapped the entire book and illustrations and started over. 


Art Credit: Denise Gallagher

Art Credit: Denise Gallagher

I worked with an agent and got feedback on the new art and manuscript, but never an offer to publish. There were times when I was dejected and set the story aside. Then, in 2019 I attended a workshop where I got this bit of advice: “If something is not working with your story, try changing an aspect of it. Maybe the character, the voice, the setting?”  I took that advice to heart. I decided that my story might work better as a girl with a TIGER in the JUNGLE. I revised the manuscript and worked on a third round of illustrations. 

Early Sketch of Fulki a character in Moonsong, by Denise Gallagher

Illustration from Moonsong, by Denise Gallagher

Illustration from Moonsong, by Denise Gallagher

I changed the name to “Moonsong” and was excited about my story once more. It was then that I met my editor who loved the story and the art. It took nine months to complete the illustration and layout of the book and now it is in the hands of readers and I am ready to celebrate!


DP: Congratulations! It's time to celebrate, indeed.

It sounds like you definitely made some major revisions to your story along the way to the path of publication. 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?

DG: The original story did not include the missing moon! Looking back now, I realize that including the problem of the missing moon in the plot helped Fulki and the Tiger grow together as friends and added another layer to the tale.

I love playing with language. I’m happy to say that a lot of the initial phrases that I loved survived to the end, even as the manuscript was whittled down. The song lyrics changed, the setting changed, but in the end, Fulki and the Tiger still “tumbled and danced and shared stories and cakes.” 

DP: Thanks for sharing those details, Denise. 

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? 

DG: I have to say, sometimes it helps to set something aside for a bit and return to it later with fresh eyes. With “Moonsong” it took hearing that bit of advice about shaking the story up for me to really dig in and come up with a fresh, modern story that maintained the vivid, magic folk tale feel that I loved.

DP: Well said, and an important reminder. 

In addition to authoring and illustrating books, you also have a passion for design. How do you balance the demands of these different elements of your creative life? 

DG: I received my degree in graphic design and I still really enjoy it. It’s a different skill set — designing projects from logos to packaging. Happily, these graphic design skills also come in handy when working on books. I’ve been fortunate to assist with designing each of them. I truly love great type and compelling page layouts, eye-catching color palettes and unique details. Using these elements along with my writing and illustrations to create a book that I am proud of is truly a joy. So, I consider myself lucky to be able to have these skills. Writing, illustration, graphic design — they are all ways that I can share my stories and express myself creatively.   

DP: Are there ways these different elements of your creative life work in concert with one another? For example, the lettering on the cover of MOONSONG draws the reader in and sets the tone for the book. I’m guessing that’s no accident.

DG: Book design is an art all on its own. I approach each of my book projects as a whole – from the art and words to the design, color and type. So yes! I designed the cover of “Moonsong” as an invitation to the reader. I wanted to create a sense of wonder and draw them in before they even began to read.

DP: I definitely feel the sense of invitation when I look at the cover!

DG: I also believe that books are a child’s first introduction to art and literature. So I try my best to create art and stories that will delight and engage them — helping them to see the beauty that exists in the world all around them. 

DP: It really shows that you approach your books in this way. 

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?

DG: I’d definitely tell my younger self that it is true, “Patience is a virtue!” There is a lot of waiting in publishing. Often that’s a good thing. I know now that I was not quite ready to be published when I had just graduated from college, or even when I started to focus on publishing again many years later. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of learning, a lot of starting over and a lot of patience. But now? Now comes the fun part. After all of my time preparing, I can now share my work with children and families, teachers and librarians. Now I can talk about my progress and my love of art and literature and I can sing the Moonsong. Even though my singing is a little off-key!

DP: Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for MOONSONG that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

DG: I’ve only shared this little tidbit with one other group but I’ll share it with you, too. I’ve included a secret “Easter egg” in “Moonsong.” If you look carefully at the illustration where the children are being fussed at for singing, Fulki is holding a book. Hidden on the spine of the book are the initials W.B. and on the cover is the face of a tiger. W.B. stands for William Blake, an artist and poet from the 1800s who wrote one of my favorite poems “The Tyger.” In that scene, Fulki is reading William Blake’s poem and smiling. I like to believe that she is thinking of the Tiger who is waiting to sing the Moonsong with her in the jungle. 

DP: I love learning and discovering little secrets like this! 

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

DG: I am excited to report that I have written a middle school novel. I’m still working on revising and editing, but it’s in its final stages. And when it is complete, it will contain illustrations throughout.


DP: That sounds fantastic!

DG: When I started this literary journey, I dared to believe that I’d even be able to write and publish a picture book. When the idea for my novel started nagging at the edges of my brain, I was not sure I could do it. But here we are, 40,000 words and a dancing bear later, ready for my next chapter.

DP: That's fabulous, Denise. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights with us. 

Friends, I hope you will head on over to Bookshop or your favorite local indie and get yourself a copy of this beautiful book. It's available everywhere books are sold. You can also ask your local library to include it in their collection and/or share this post with a friend. 

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Denise Gallagher is an author and illustrator for children. As a child, she drew constantly. Now, she can usually be found deep in thought with a sketchbook and a cup of tea. She loves folklore, music and nature and draws inspiration from her lush, green Louisiana home. The combination of her lyrical writing and her whimsical artwork has charmed children of all ages. She has written and illustrated picture books, is currently working on a middle grade novel and has also illustrated folk tales from both Louisiana and Canada. Denise is devoted to promoting a love of arts and literature in both children and adults and nothing pleases her more than to share her stories with you. Learn more at denisegallagher.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, Lucy's Blooms, 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 the award-winning book, 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 20, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR!, by Shaunda Wenger

Howdy, friends. I have a great interview in store for you today! S.K. Wenger, author of CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR!  (illustrated by Jojo EnsslinAlbert Whitman & Company, Oct, 2021), joins us to share how this fun book came to be. Read on! 

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Shaunda! I’m excited to learn more about how your debut picture book, CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR!  came to be. 

I read a little bit about your writing process on Good Reads with Ronna. It’s my understanding that the idea for this book came from a classroom discussion with your students, and that it took about a year for the story to develop from an idea to a submission-ready-manuscript. I’d love to hear more about your process from that initial spark to a story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

S.K. Wenger: Thanks so much for having me here, Dawn! It’s hard to believe that Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! is finally finding its way into the hands of young readers. 

Many of my stories start with an initial spark of inspiration in the form of an image or feeling. Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! started with a joke shared by paleontologist Jack Horner in his Ted Talk video about scientists not needing to retro-engineer dinosaurs from dormant genes and bring them back to life because they already existed… as chickens! As the students and I chuckled together at that idea, I was struck by image of a character (Chicken Frank) who believed the same thing. I thought about Chicken Frank a lot over the next couple months—who he was, what he wanted, and what others thought of him—until I finally felt I knew enough about him to sit down and write his story. Of course, I was wrong. I only got half of the story written before I set it aside. Mainly, I needed to learn more about chicken behavior so that I could round out my character. I also took the time to read more about the scientific evidence that linked dinosaurs to birds so that I could zero in on the traits that Frank would be excited about. After sharing the completed draft with my critique groups, it took at least another six months before I felt the story was submission-ready and found agents/editors to share it with. 

DP: It sounds like the editors at Albert Whitman responded to your submission with an opportunity to revise and resubmit, and that after six months of work, your revision was promptly rejected. Ouch! But alas, it sounds like that rejection led to some structural changes that ultimately led to the manuscript being acquired for publication. Yay! I’d love to hear more about those structural changes and how they came to be.  

SW: In the initial Revise and Resubmit letter from the editor, the team at AW indicated that they wanted the story to include more snappy dialogue with the scientific topics explained within the text. They wanted to avoid backmatter. Using The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach as an inspirational mentor text, I tried to deliver that. But what I came up with was still framed within traditional narrative prose, and it didn’t fly. While the editor liked what I had created, it didn’t fit with the team’s vision. However, as soon as my story was turned down, an image of the manuscript they wanted rolled through my mind—like a script, with straight dialogue and no narrative prose. That night, I woke up, grabbed a notebook, and rewrote Chicken Frank in that format. Because I had worked on the story for so long and knew the characters so well, the writing was easy. The polishing, straight-forward. The hardest part was finding the courage to resubmit, because the story had already been rejected. But I strongly believed the new version of Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! was what the team at AW had envisioned, and because the editor and I had worked so closely through the R&R, I decided I would feel badly if I submitted the new manuscript elsewhere without giving AW a chance to look at it again. 

DP: Yay you for sticking with it! 

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?

SW: For main character and supporting cast, the story remained the same as far as personalities went. For structure, it is completely different. The original manuscript began with an introduction to Frank with his over-the-top chicken traits before he learns he is a modern-day dinosaur. 


Now, the story begins by showing this desire in a different way—with another chicken at the barnyard named Addie pointing at a cotton swab in Frank’s hand and asking, “What’s that?” 

    Frank responds: “A DNA test. To find another dinosaur, like me!” 

    In the original manuscript, the DNA test came in the middle of the book as part of Frank’s last resort to find someone like him who would appreciate his dinosaur traits.

    Thus, the structure changed a lot, but the concepts and humor remained the same.

Interior images from Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! 
by S.K. Wenger and Jojo Ensslin


DP: How great that you found just the right structure (and the courage you needed to resubmit! ) 

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? 

SW: The door to publication opened through a submission opportunity I found by participating in a critique event hosted by the Utah/Southern Idaho chapter of SCBWI. Christina Pulles was one of the faculty. However, even though I felt Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! would be of interest to her, I did not choose Christina to be one the initial readers for feedback. I didn’t want her to see a lower-quality manuscript that wasn’t ready. So I got feedback from two other faculty members, revised, and then submitted it to Christina. The rest fell into place. 

DP: Smart cookie you are you! 

Shifting gears a bit, one of the other hats you wear is that of classroom teacher. In addition to helping you come up with ideas for stories, how does your work as an educator influence your writing?

SW: I love teaching and I enjoy interacting with students. I’m lucky to feel that way about something I spend half of my day doing. Finding joy in the classroom fuels the energy I then carry into my writing space.

DP: Nicely said.

In the bio on your website, you indicate that you have moved through three careers. How have those other careers contributed to your success as an author? 

SW: My other careers involved environmental consulting, research and motherhood. The motherhood speaks for itself, right? 

DP: Indeed! 

SW: Consulting and research involved a lot of time spent outdoors in different habitats in all seasons, both on my own and working with others. Those experiences often contribute to my ability to set a scene or emotion, as well as tap into unusual details. I know what it’s like to hold a bat in my hands, walk across a bright snowfield alone, get caught in a thunderstorm on a 13,000-foot peak, be nearly stampeded by a herd of territorial bulls (don’t wear red), and have the earth open up beneath my feet at a hidden (and thankfully, small) sinkhole. So far, these experiences have fed my fiction, which I think pivots well on surprise. Many of my most memorable experiences have been ones I wasn’t expecting. In turn, I think I look forward to being surprised in my writing and by my characters. 

DP: Well that was an exciting response! Thanks for that. 

You have links to several other writing-related websites from your homepage, (e.g. PBParty, Storystorm, SCBWI.) I’d love to hear more about SteamTeam Books, which I’m not as familiar with.   

SW: STEAMTeamBooks is a group of authors that come together to celebrate and promote science-related books that are published within a given year. The books include fiction and nonfiction for both the trade and educational market. I found the group online one day, and asked to join. This group of authors is fantastic and so talented. I’m thankful to be a part of it.

DP: What a great, educational resource! 

Speaking of education, one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. Based on your experience as both author and classroom teacher, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) events for young readers? 

SW: My advice would be to just remember that the audience – no matter how young or how old – are rooting for you to do well. Kids love learning new things or seeing something that is presented in a different way. They also like sharing their own learned facts and opinions. So if you are nervous, just be yourself, smile, and when in doubt, ask unusual questions. Like, Does water flow uphill? Is a seed alive, if it’s sitting in a packet at the store? Do squirrels have feelings?

DP: That's great advice. Thanks! 

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?

SW: If you don’t know the ending to a story you want to write, don’t worry about it. Just sit down and start. And then keep going. Give permission to “the ending” to find its own way into being. 

DP: Also excellent advice. 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

SW: Did I believe publication would happen? Yes. I had to. Every story needs its author to believe in it first. And while I couldn’t control when or with whom publication would happen, I could control whether I could create a publishable manuscript. That is what I set out to do with every story I begin. Create a publishable manuscript.

DP: You are just full of great tips! Thank you for that.

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

SW: I’m continuing to create new stories and enjoying the path into the unknown with each one, because I never know how they will end when I first start writing them. 

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! with us, Shaunda!

SW: : Thank you so much for having me, Dawn! Best wishes with your books and your writing, too! 

DP: Thanks a bunch, Shaunda! 

Friends, you know what to do...head on over to Bookshop or your favorite local indie and get yourself a copy of this fun book. Can't add another book to your own collection? Ask your local library to include it in their collection and/or share this post with a friend. 

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BIO: Shaunda Wenger, writing as S.K. Wenger, grew up among the mountains and lakes of New Hampshire and then found another beautiful backdrop in Utah to raise three children with her husband. Holding a master’s degree in science and numerous adventures in the outdoors, Shaunda loves weaving STEM and humor into her stories and classroom. She strives to create stories that leave readers wanting to step out into the world knowing who they are and what they like, with a renewed interest in going where their curiosities lead them. She is the winner of the 2020 Fellowship Grant from the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference for a middle grade manuscript, A SONG BY ANY MEASURE, and is excited for the publication of her debut children’s picture book, Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! (Albert Whitman). Illustrated by Jojo Ensslin. This children’s book hits the shelves on Oct 1, 2021. 


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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, Lucy's Blooms (Spring '21), 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 the award-winning book, 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 6, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: TRICK OR TREAT BUGS TO EAT, by Tracy C. Gold

Today I have the pleasure of bringing Tracy C. Gold back to the blog for another interview. Her latest book TRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT (illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff, Sourcebooks Explore, August 2021) is super fun--and informative! So let's get right to it. 



Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome back to the blog, Tracy. TRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT is such an awesome title! 

In our earlier interview, you shared a bit about how the idea for this story came to be. Can you recap that a bit here? I’d especially like to hear about the process and timeframe between your initial idea and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. 

Tracy C. Gold: My agent Carrie Pestritto suggested that I write a Halloween book, because editors were asking for them. While I was brainstorming, I remembered seeing millions of bats fly out from under Congress Bridge when I was in Austin, Texas for a friend's wedding years ago. 


Images Courtesy Tracy C. Gold

TG: The book took shape as I played with the rhyme and researched bats. I sent the book to Carrie without much revision because I wanted to see if the idea was viable. I just found that early draft, and some of the stanzas were...questionable, haha, so I am glad Carrie didn't say no on principle. Some really bad rhymes were in there, but she liked the idea. I cut probably half of those early stanzas and wrote others, including one I was a little sad about, because Carrie (rightfully) didn't think kids would quite get it...here it is: "Flying ants! Do a dance! I'll have to wear my stretchy pants!" 

DP: Ha!

TG: I sent the book to critique partners, and then worked on it while at an “unworkshop” at Highlights Foundation in October. I find with rhyming picture books I really have to turn off my internal editor and let myself write stanzas that might be "bad" because sometimes if you see them through they turn out to be brilliant, or can be combined with other stanzas, or lead you to even more ideas. In the second draft I sent to Carrie, I actually included two different versions of most of the stanzas, and for one stanza, I included four different versions. Then it's easy not to get emotional about saving one stanza because you have lots of good options. Carrie and I had a lot of back and forth with the book in Google Docs, because sending Word Documents back and forth when you're lasering in on punctuation and a word here and there can be annoying! After oodles of changes, we finally decided it was ready to send out. 

DP: It's so interesting how each manuscript takes shape and evolves over time. That really sounds like a collaborative process. 

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?

TG: Well, for one thing, I added the back matter, which is a few paragraphs about bats, after Carrie and I felt pretty secure that this book would be worth sending out. I think sometimes people spend a lot of time writing back matter when it might be better to completely drop a book and move on to the next one. I also wrote probably 30-40 stanzas before narrowing down the final 11 stanzas that are in the book. Interesting enough, the first and last stanza have stayed the same the whole way through. That is pretty typical for my writing process; I have a good vision for the beginning and the end and figure out the rest later. 

DP: That's interesting to hear. I tackle rhyming stories in much the same way--I would agree that it's the beginnings and endings that anchor my vision for a story and the middle that goes through quite a few renditions.

This book is described as "An adorable rhyming Halloween book with educational nonfiction elements woven in, perfect for classrooms and libraries!” Can you tell us about your research process, and how you decided what nonfiction elements to put into this book and what you decided to leave out?

TG: Sure! I did a lot of research as I wrote and revised, looking at a lot of information widely available online as well as write ups of bat fecal studies (which were paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic at some point during my research). I also reached out to Liz Mering, a friend of mine who had studied bats in her career as an environmentalist. She helped me with fact checking the text and illustrations. The book does take creative license; the bat in the main part of the book is not exactly realistic, while the bats in the back matter are more scientifically accurate (but still altered for cuteness). I spent hours poring over which types of bugs bats ate, and found out that scientists have observed bats eating many types of bugs for sure (like moths), but otherwise gave their best guesses for what bugs bats might eat. Because bats fly at night, it is hard for scientists to observe their diets, thus the fecal studies that are hopefully back underway. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos of bats to give me a sense of how they moved and hunted. 

DP: I love all of the new things we authors learn when we undertake book projects! 

Another of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips.  This is the second book you’ve launched during COVID-related restrictions, and I know from our chats that we share a preference for connecting with readers via more interactive formats. Now that you have plenty of pandemic-era book-launch experience under your belt, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) events? 

TG: Personally, I have found that in-person events involving gatherings of children have not been popular. I actually had a reading set up for my neighborhood pool and thought some kids were coming to hear me read, but when I asked them if they wanted to hear a book about bugs, they ran away! After dying of embarrassment, I did end up selling quite a few books that day; the kids were just too preoccupied with the pool to want to sit and hear a book. I am waiting until kids are vaccinated to proactively schedule more in-person events. I've had great luck with more of a "signing" format where I camp out at a bookstore and sign books for kids, parents, and grandparents that happen by. Shout out to The Ivy Bookshop and Bethany Beach Books for hosting me! When I am doing something virtual that is available to the public, I like to try to keep it short and "on demand." I've had a lot of fun teaming up with book reviewers, fellow authors, and even a baby sleep expert to record short videos for Instagram. Those videos can then be reshared and watched indefinitely! 

DP: Love those ideas. Thanks!

Switching gears a bit, I suspect that you have also developed some good insights into the book promotion aspect of children’s book publishing. As you compare and contrast your marketing plans for this new book, what aspects are you intentionally replicating from your first launch, and what aspects are distinctly (and maybe intentionally?) different for this new book? 

TG: "Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat" is so different from "Everyone's Sleepy but the Baby" in so many ways! It is for 4-8 year-olds rather than babies and toddlers, and it is a holiday book, but came out months before the holiday itself. That is actually kind of nice, as I am still setting up promotions and events for October. I am sure there will be a big rush starting soon but for right now it still feels like I have a little time. And because it's a holiday book, I'll be able to circle back and do events for it every year with perhaps a little more timeliness and relevance than for a book without a holiday connection, where the "launch" feels a bit more important. I always try to keep in mind that the royalties I receive per book are very very small, so all of the marketing work I do should be fun, because I may never get that money back or get compensated for my time. 

I know we've chatted a lot about multimedia; I've actually hired Instagrammer @baristart to make and post a video of coffee art based on the cover, and I've hired Instagram celebrity baker @sugarcoatesbakery to make a beautiful cake based on the book. Luckily @sugarcoatesbakery is local to me so I will be able to enjoy eating the cake with my family on Halloween! 

DP: Oh my goodness. What fun, fun, fun! 

TG: I also get a real thrill whenever promotions come through from my publisher that I've had nothing to do with. It's always a fun surprise and they often know about resources that go directly to teachers and libraries, so it is fun to see reviews come through from outlets like "Youth Services Book Review." 

DP: Congrats on the great review!

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

TG: I'm really excited about my 2023 book with Familius, "Call Your Mother." I just worked with editor Stephen Wunderli who is also an author himself on the book and he had some great ideas...we will see how it turns out once an illustrator gets their hands on the book! This book is about all the times a child might need their mother, from the time they are a baby to when they are a parent themselves. In this case I'd had a draft of something about how your relationship with your mom changes once you become a parent yourself sitting on my computer, not shared with anyone, for a long time. Then, Christopher Robbins, the founder and CEO of Familius (yes, that is really his name and he does not live in Pooh's Corner), mentioned they were looking for Mother's Day books. I actually sat down and wrote "Call Your Mother" from scratch and only realized later that I had a very similar book sitting on my computer. I think I had to write that old draft, which wasn't as good, to be ready to write this one. 

DP: What an awesome concept for a book. I can't wait! (And it will be a great companion to my 2024 book with Familius, MAMA'S HOME, about a child's joy welcoming mama and a new sibling home.)

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for TRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT  with us, Tracy! 

And now, dear readers, you know the drill. The best way to thank Tracy for sharing her time and expertise with us is to support her work. TRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT is available everywhere books are sold (but you know by now, I'm partial to the indies!) 

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Tracy C. Gold loves bringing characters to life. She is a writer, freelance editor, and mom living in Baltimore, Maryland. She has published two picture books, “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby” from Familius and “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks, with more to come. She also writes short stories, essays, novels, and poems. Her work has been published in several magazines and anthologies. Tracy earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore and earned her B.A. in English from Duke University. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s playing with her toddler, or hanging out with her horse and dog, both rescues. You can find out more about Tracy at tracycgold.com, by following her on Twitter and Instagram at @tracycgold, or by liking her Facebook page


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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, Lucy's Blooms, 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 the award-winning book, 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.  



August 10, 2021

The Caregiving Part of the Writing Life

This space has been very quiet for the last several weeks, as most of my attention has been fixed on caring for my mother as she recovers from two recent hospitalizations; one due to heat exhaustion and the other due to a major surgery. 

As I reflect on the jumble of experiences at hospitals and medical offices; the myriad of interactions with nurses, doctors, physical/occupational therapists, social workers, pharmacists, etc; the growing collection of medical supplies in my home; and the thick files filled with lists of medications being managed, forms to be completed and/or already submitted, hastily scribbled notes related to questions asked and answered, instructions for wound care, and the dates and locations of upcoming follow-up appointments, I am happy to report that my mom is gradually getting healthier and stronger. 

I am exhausted! 

My sister, who lives in San Diego, actively participates in caregiving activities alongside me, focusing on elements of care that can be researched and/or coordinated remotely.  We connect by phone fairly regularly to keep each other updated and provide each other with support. 

Quite often there are events that occur related to some aspect of this journey that are humorous, frustrating, or remarkable enough that they beg to be shared; the writer in me knows that some of these moments are golden from a story perspective (such as when the home health nurse cleaned off the bottom of her DIRTY SHOE on my DINNER TABLE--hard to believe, but true.) 

I wish I could say that I had the bandwidth to get these memorable moments down on paper as they happen, but alas, talking seems to be more helpful and energizing to me during times of over-stimulation and stress than writing. 

I do text my sister with occasional pithy updates (some of which include photographs); I hope that these little snippets of our shared experience will be enough to work with if I ever decide to mine these memories for future stories. 


Visiting nurse cleaning her DIRTY SHOE on my DINNER TABLE! 

Quoting a line from a song (and play) by Jonatha Brooke that I often repeat to my sister (who is also a writer), "Are you getting this down? Boolie, it's good."

June 23, 2021

June is Potty Training Awareness Month

Fun Fact Alert: June is Potty Training Awareness Month!! (You get to learn cool things like this when you write potty humor books!) 


Given that I have college-aged kids now, it's been quite some time since my family has ventured down the potty training path, but here's another fun fact: The idea for my book WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? came to me when my son spoke those very words when he was a toddler. 

There was one day when he was being particularly silly, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?”  I knew immediately that this was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after. As you may know from my "path to publication story" for my potty books, it took many years and many revisions to get this story just right, but what I continue to love about it is that each time I read it, I am instantly transported back to that memorable moment shared with my son, when he first posed that silly question to me. 

If you are in the throes of potty training right now, (or if you know of someone who is) might I suggest that a sense of humor goes a long way to making the process bearable! Reading books like WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and the companion book WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? is one way to keep things light. I also recommend novelty items such as the toy toilet pictured in the image above that audibly flushes. I bring it to author visits and other book events, and it makes me laugh EVERY time someone flushes it. (You can find loads of other potty-themed novelty items that I’ve curated, including a downloadable flushing sound loop and a dancing poo emoji, by visiting me on Pinterest.) 

If you really want to get down to business and you’re looking for some potty training experts, and/or some support products to make the process easier, here are some of the "potty people" I follow on Instagram: @pottytrainingconsultant, @thepottyfairy, @pottyology, @pottyriderinfo, @peekaboopottysticker, and @peapodmats. (Feel free to tag other resources I/others should be aware of in the comments below.)

Happy Potty Training Awareness Month, matey's!