January 19, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: Just Like Flowers, by Jenny Jiang

Hello readers! It's time for our first Birth Stories for Books interview of the new year. Today's guest, Jenny Jiang, shares her experience self-publishing her debut picture book, JUST LIKE FLOWERS, which came out in September of 2021.

Image Credit: Jenny Jiang

Dawn Prochovnic: I’m so glad to have you on the blog, Jenny, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about your debut picture book, JUST LIKE FLOWERS. 

Jenny Jiang: Thank you so much for having me! I’m really excited to share the Birth Story for "Just Like Flowers."

DP: I’d love to hear how the idea for this story came to be. Reading your bio on Amazon, I understand that you noticed the lack of representation in children’s literature and wanted to embark on a book-making project as a way to do something about it. Can you share more details about what motivated you to move the idea forward to fruition?

JJ: Of course! I embarked on this project my junior year of high school in December 2020, when I organized a winter-themed Zoom event with elementary schoolers in the Portland area. Before the event, I explored a LOT of children’s books for the storytelling station. When I flipped through the pages, my artist’s eye noticed the lack of diversity in the characters. After the event, I went to the School Library Journal, which confirmed the invisibility of children of color in children's literature: only 25% of picture books include children of color. 


Infographic Source: School Library Journal

This realization triggered my favorite picture books as a child: Pinkalicious, Fancy Nancy, Knuffle Bunny. As an Asian American, my younger self didn’t feel a connection to any of the white-illustrated characters in these books. When children of color view literature without characters that look like them, they internalize this omission as a devaluation of their importance. The underlying cause of the underrepresentation is the lack of authors of color.

When I saw the smiles of the children of color I read to, my heart urged me to step in and make my own children’s book with children of color. This is how “Just Like Flowers” started. This picture book features an Asian American girl as the main character with different races as side characters. The book is perfect for children of color to read to see themselves in a picture book and also helps white children embrace multiculturalism.

Image Credit: Jenny Jiang

DP: What an inspiring back story! How impressive that you took such deliberate and prompt action to address a problem in the world! (As I mentioned in one of our email conversations, for folks who are likewise interested in working to address the lack of representation in children's literature, We Need Diverse Books is a great place to get started: Web, IG, and Twitter.)

I’m curious how you came to the idea of exploring "the value of human differences through the unique metaphor of flowers.” I’ve written in previous blog posts about how this metaphor likewise played a role in the inspiration for my picture book, LUCY’S BLOOMS. Was there a distinct interaction or experience that inspired you in the direction of this particular metaphor for human diversity?

JJ: Lucy’s Blooms is such an adorable picture book! 

DP: Thank you!

JJ: For "Just Like Flowers," I heard a really beautiful quote in a movie: “the next time that you see a flower, just remember that part of what makes it beautiful is how long it took to grow.”

I wanted to center my picture book around appreciating human differences, ranging from race, height, and body shape. My goal for the book was to combat beauty standards and spread the message that every feature is beautiful.

I knew that books teaching this already existed out there, so I wanted my book to teach this message in a unique way. As I looked at picture books online, I figured the best way to uniquely teach this lesson is to develop a metaphor that I create. I remembered the quote in the movie, and my mind started making root connections.

I connected the beauty in flowers, a concept kids intuitively understand, to the beauty in humans. I looked at all the types of flowers as if they were people. Flowers have different colored petals and take on different shapes and heights, just like humans. As I started the brainstorming process, the metaphor kept blossoming.


Image Credit: Jenny Jiang

The metaphor took a long time to grow, but I think it blossomed perfectly as it approaches appreciating human diversity in a new way.

DP: Wow, Jenny! That's a fantastic example of how the seed of an idea can germinate and take root! Thank you so much for sharing that. 

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?

JJ: In “Just Like Flowers,” Julia paints herself in her art class, and when she discovers no one has purple paint, she becomes upset about her unusual purple hair. When I first conducted character study on Julia, she actually had brown hair, like most Asian American girls!


Image Credit: Jenny Jiang

After peer feedback, I implemented an amazing idea to give her an unusual yet memorable feature: purple hair. This unnatural color for her hair helps draw attention to kids.

After Julia becomes frustrated with the lack of purple paint, her teacher explains the flower metaphor. Originally, I planned for the narrative to end after the metaphor, but then I wanted to tie the story back to the original painting scene. I developed the idea of mixing her friends’ paint bottles together to make purple paint.


Image Credit: Jenny Jiang

This end scene helped tie the entire book together. When I asked one kid her favorite part of the book, she said it was when Julia got purple paint to paint her hair. When I do storytimes, I ask the kids to guess how Julia finishes her painting, and I get super excited when they guess it correctly!

DP: What a great example of how peer feedback and incremental revision can really bring out the heart of a story.

Were there any specific resources you utilized (for example, software, reference books, online classes or tools, etc.) that were most helpful to you along the way?

JJ: I looked at many examples of published children’s books to understand their plot structure, sentence phrasing, and illustrations. This process helped immensely. I learned that there’s no right way to make a picture book after I saw a lot of the books varied in text and story complexity. This experience was transformative because I approached all these children’s books with a more mature, nuanced, and artistic perspective than when I was younger, and I found that whenever I go to bookstores now, I look at picture books differently than before I became a children’s book author.

As for the actual creation process, I used Procreate on my iPad with my Apple Pencil to illustrate. Procreate is really intuitive to use, and it helped me produce amazing artwork! I used Adobe inDesign to add the book’s typography.

Image Provided by Jenny Jiang (taken April, 2021)

DP: Thanks for sharing these helping details.  

Your bio indicates that one of the things you enjoy is working with kids. Based on what you've said above, it sounds like you've had the opportunity to share your book directly with young readers. Can you share more about what that experience has been like for you?

JJ: Of course! I have done author visits to pre-school and elementary school classrooms, and I discovered that doing read-alouds is my favorite part of this entire process. I can feel the contagiousness of the kids’ excitement as their eyes glue to the pages and raise their hands. When I visited my own first grade teacher’s classroom (after 10+ years!), I felt so happy to educate the future generation of society this important message while illuminating children of color. I am eager to continue reading my book to young kids and directly see my book’s impact to foster enthusiasm.



Images Provided by Jenny Jiang

DP: That's great, Jenny. I'll bet your first grade teacher was delighted to welcome you back to their classroom! And I couldn't agree more--reading your own book directly to kids is one of the most fantastic aspects of being an author. 

It’s my understanding that you are currently a senior in high school. Do your future plans include writing/illustrating more children’s books and/or further pursuing your general interests in digital art, creative writing, storytelling, and/or working with kids?

JJ: Yes, I’m a senior in high school! In the future, I would love to continue creating children’s books! I’m more invested in the illustration process, so I’d love to illustrate future children’s books, possibly with traditional publishers.

When I’m in college, I plan to continue volunteering with kids because I love their energy and vitality. After each read aloud session, I always step out of the room happier than how I came in. One child who read my book was super star-struck to learn that the picture book was published by a high schooler. It’s fulfilling how I’m able to serve as a role model to young kids.

Image provided by Jenny Jiang

DP: You are an excellent role model, indeed! 

If you're not already a member of SCBWI, and/or Willamette Writers/Young Willamette Writers, I encourage you to give these organizations a look as you seek to further your goals related to traditional publication (both have networks targeted directly to students.) 

JJ: That's so cool! I'll definitely check those organizations out."

DP: In your Amazon listing you indicate that those who purchase JUST LIKE FLOWERS are "taking one small step to promote diversity in children’s books!” Have you engaged in any book promotion and/or marketing activities that have been especially effective in terms of growing book sales?

JJ: As a self-published children’s book author and illustrator, I’ve handled a lot of the marketing. So far, I’ve sold 150+ copies of the book. I find that marketing on community sites helps a lot, as many members of the community love to support local authors, especially high schoolers. I’ve also reached out to elementary schools, where I read aloud my book to educate multiple kids at once. My book is also in local community libraries for kids to check out. My goal is to make my book well-familiarized with the Portland community, and then I will continue sharing my book to those outside my local area.

DP: Sounds like an excellent strategy!  

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 and/or are there any lessons you've learned along the way that could help others who would likewise like to write, illustrate and self-publish a children’s book?

JJ: This is a really great question! I would tell my past self to continue working, despite the amount of work that the book may seem like it requires at times. Frequently, I had late night sessions where I spent hours illustrating but felt like I didn’t get any work done. My brain also filled with doubt that if some adults weren’t able to self-publish a children’s book, what can a high schooler do? There were many times when I was close to giving up, but I remembered my original mission and the smiles of the children of color, so I kept on illustrating. The work at the end is really worth it, as I get to see all the children enjoying your book! Another lesson I would tell myself and to all potential children’s book authors is to not let anyone get in the way. When I first expressed interest in this project, a few family members weren’t supportive, hesitant that the book would fail to get sales. While their discouragement did make me hesitate for a couple of days, I still decided to embark on the project to help children of color see themselves in books. Now that I’m in the marketing phase of my book, I feel proud that my book proved my original discouragement wrong and has surpassed over 150 sales.

DP: This is such excellent advice, Jenny, for creative folks in all ages and stages of their careers. I'm sure your experience is going to inspire many other prospective authors and illustrators to keep working on their creative projects to bring their goals to fruition. 

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

JJ: A fun thing to learn about my book is that some of the illustrations were implicitly illustrated based on REAL elements of my life.

Here is an example of one page where Julia and her friend hug, which is eerily similar to one of my favorite photos of me and my friend hugging. This was unintentional, and I immediately showed my friend after I made this connection.


Images provided by Jenny Jiang

The flower box, which appears in many of the pages’ backgrounds, is inspired by a planter box in my neighborhood!


Images Provided by Jenny Jiang

I love how I was able to integrate little snippets of my life into my children’s book.

DP: I love all the little behind-the-scenes details you've shared! 

And thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for JUST LIKE FLOWERS with us, Jenny. I wish you much success with this project!

JJ: Thank you so much for giving me this platform to share my story! I hope I was able to inspire future children’s book authors and illustrators!

DP: I have no doubt that you have, indeed! 

Dear readers, if you have been inspired by Jenny's story, please consider adding her book, JUST LIKE FLOWERS to your personal collection. You can find it here. 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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Jenny Jiang is a senior at Sunset High School in Portland, Oregon and she loves creative writing, illustrating, storytelling, and spending time with kids! Jenny is passionate about Asian American representation in literature, and her debut children’s book JUST LIKE FLOWERS takes one step to promote diversity in children’s literature. Jenny is looking to study Business Administration during undergrad, specifically concentrating in marketing. Outside of school, Jenny loves to perform in Speech and Debate, where she continues to spread stories advocating for Asian American social issues. 




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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.  

December 30, 2021

2021 Year-End Post and Holiday Greeting

It's that time of year when we reflect on the past, intentionally connect with others, and make plans for the future. One of the ways I reflect and connect is through the tradition of preparing and mailing holiday greeting cards.

Each year I page through my (old-style) calendar and make note of the highlights and ordinary happenings in our household. I approach this task as an opportunity for creative expression, aiming to convey our family news in a way that also reflects the current trends, events, and/or themes in our world. 

This year I chose a word search format to share our family updates, using a tool available at https://worksheets.theteacherscorner.net/make-your-own/word-search/# (which, incidentally, is a great resource for educators): 

Although the word search format is not as clearly indicative of the year's theme as the past few have been (2020, 2019, and 2018), I do think that words have been a key aspect of the past year: the words we use to communicate with each other; the words that have newly entered our casual conversations (i.e. vaccines, masks, Moderna); the words we pay attention to; the words we ignore; the words we welcome; the words we shun; and the importance of discerning words that are true and words that are untrue in an era when words are deliberately weaponized for self gain.  

Words are powerful. They can be used to love. They can be used to hate. They can be used to help. They can be used to hurt. They can be amplified. They can be silenced. They can inform, and they can misinform.  

Words are the raw material that I work with as an author, and as a picture book author in particular, I spend my writing time searching for just-right words for each and every sentence in each and every story I write. 

This year's annual greeting captures some of the words that are reflective of my family's 2021 story. I look forward to experiencing, writing, and sharing new stories with the people I love in the coming year.  May you do the same. And may words such as Peace, Joy, and Love find their way into our lives and into our world in the New Year. 

Katia, Sam, Dawn, and Nikko, 2021


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.