April 17, 2019

Birth Stories for Books, H IS FOR HAIKU, by Sydell Rosenberg's Daughter, Amy Losak

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you'll know that in addition to my two humorous picture books coming out later this year, I also have a love story that has been acquired for publication. LUCY'S BLOOMS is picture book about the magic of childhood firmly rooted in unconditional love.

Sydell "Syd" Rosenberg and Amy Losak,
Photo Likely Taken by Sam Rosenberg
Today's Birth Story for Books post about H IS FOR HAIKU (written by Sydell Rosenberg, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi, Penny Candy Books, 2018) is also a love story. It's about the late Sydell "Syd" Rosenberg's love for poetry, and it's about Amy Losak's love for her mother. Please join me in welcoming Amy Losak to the blog today:

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with me about your mother’s book of haiku poetry, Amy. It’s a lovely book, and I’d welcome the opportunity to hear from you about how it came to be. I’ve read in other interviews that your mother, Sydell “Syd” Rosenberg, had long wanted to publish a children’s alphabet book of her haiku poems, but that she was unable to accomplish this goal before her sudden passing in 1996. When did you decide that you would work to fulfill this goal of your mother's on her behalf?

Amy Losak: The idea itself – to try and publish mom’s poetry for children – was first voiced at her funeral in October of 1996. If I remember correctly, it was my sister-in-law, Debbie Rosenberg (my younger brother’s name is Nathan), who brought this up, as we were leaving the cemetery in Queens, NY. But nothing happened for a long time, for many reasons – some valid, others due to procrastination based on fear, grief, and my lack of confidence in my abilities to undertake such a serious task. It wasn’t until roughly 2011 that I started making some headway to “revive” some of mom’s creative writings, most notably her haiku. I moved forward with baby steps.

DP: I'm so glad you took those baby steps, Amy. The end result is a very special book on so many levels. Can you tell us a little bit about the haiku poetry form, and why it was of particular interest to your mother?

AL: As a latecomer to this form myself, I consider myself an eternal beginner, one eager to learn and improve over time. Haiku is the briefest form of poetry, but arguably the most expansive. Much is conveyed with few words, and yet room should be left for the reader to “complete” the poem, as well. As I say in my introduction in H Is For Haiku, haiku poetry helps make (so-called) small moments in our daily lives “big.” Mom’s own intro in H Is For Haiku, first published in a journal called Wind Chimes in 1981, is more expressive. I think she says it better: “Haiku is that fledgling moment, when the wing strokes become sure – when the bird has staying power in the air.”

DP: Oh, that is beautiful. 

AL: There are some excellent online resources to learn about this rich and layered form: the Haiku Society of America and The Haiku Foundation are two, among many. And there are a number of fine Facebook groups, as well.

I don’t know how mom found haiku in the early 1960s. It may be more accurate to say that haiku “found” her. Mom had a restless intellectual and creative sensibility. She “saw” into things with all her senses, in a way which is difficult for me to describe -- and which I truly appreciate today. I think haiku – because of its brevity – paradoxically gave her both the structure and freedom she needed to explore and “explain” her views about the world around her. She called haiku “unfussy” but “demanding” in the 1974 anthology, The Haiku Anthology (edited by Cor van den Heuvel; Doubleday Anchor). In 1968, she became a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in New York City. In the early 1970s, for a term, she served as the organization’s secretary.

DP: Thank you for all of those resources, Amy. That's really helpful. I hope folks who are interested in learning more about haiku will check them out. 

Am I correct in my understanding that your mother had written and organized a collection of her haiku poems into an alphabet book manuscript that she had started submitting to publishers before she passed?

AL: Yes, correct. Long ago, Syd prepared at least one haiku manuscript for kids, and submitted it to a few publishers (I have some of her rejection letters). She also had other kids’ poetry manuscripts, and I believe she submitted at least one of these to publishers, as well. Mom also wanted children to illustrate her book for a time, if I remember correctly.

DP: I think it's wonderful that you've kept some of the rejection letters Syd received related to this work. The thread of persistence that started with your mom and continues with you is really empowering, and the existence of those earlier rejection letters really punctuates that! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Is there anything special that you’d like to share with us about how you came upon the unpublished manuscript(s)?

AL: I knew that these manuscripts existed among her papers and other materials I "inherited." About two years before she died, I asked her what she wanted done with her work when she was gone. I asked her to organize her materials for me – I needed her help, so I could help her (if this is what she wanted). I didn’t realize it then, but I was planning to be, in a sense, her literary executor. But mom didn’t answer me, and I dropped the issue. She was overwhelmed with caring for my father, Sam, who was much older and suffered from dementia and other ills. She couldn’t focus on this matter. Maybe she thought she would have more time to determine how she wanted her writing legacy to be handled … or maybe it wasn’t that important to her, in the scheme of things. I don’t know what she thought or ultimately wanted, really.

After her death, most of her “stuff” was deposited into bins, bags, and baskets, and brought over to our tiny apartment in Queens. Her stuff then made the trip with my husband, Cliff, and me when we moved into a small house in New Jersey. Shortly after her death, I sorted through and got rid of some materials I thought were duplicative or not worth saving. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake. I was so gripped by grief – not to mention overwhelmed with caring for dad and other issues – I probably disposed of materials I should have kept. But there is no going back, and it doesn’t help to have regrets over past decisions. She had so much stuff packed into their apartment. I used the best judgment I could muster at the time.

Then, for many years, I could barely look through her things. The pain I felt was almost physical. My continuing grief and fear held me back. But over time, these feelings became their own burden. It’s thanks to the encouragement and support of many people in my life that I was finally able to shake off this weight and start to sort through and review some of her writings, as well as take decisive measures to revive some of them– especially her haiku.

DP: I really appreciated the book the first few times I read it, Amy, but it's even more meaningful now that I've learned more about the emotional journey that accompanied you on your path to publication. I'm so glad there were people who provided encouragement and support to help you bring Syd's collection of poems to the pages of a children's book. Thank you so much for sharing this powerful backstory.

I am curious if you edited or revised Syd's poems before sending her manuscript out on submission? When you compare your mother’s original manuscript(s) to the finished book, how similar or different are they?

AL: Yes, I edited a few poems in the manuscript, and if I remember correctly, I also swapped out a couple of haiku for others she had written that I preferred. I also changed the title. But most of the poems in the book are intact as she had written them – and in some cases, published in journals – decades ago.

DP: So, putting it all together, can you recap the timeframe between the initial idea to publish your mother’s work, and the finalized collection of poems that you submitted to publishers and that eventually made their way into the book?

AL: As I mentioned above, the idea to fulfill her old dream of publishing a children’s book was broached around the time of her sudden death in 1996. But nothing moved forward for a long time. My own inertia eventually weighed on me terribly. I finally started to mobilize in 2011, but it wasn’t until April of 2015 (which I only realized later is National Poetry Month!) that I finally started to submit H Is For Haiku to publishers.

DP: I think it's fabulous that you started submitting this project to publishers during National Poetry Month without even knowing it at the time! I also think it's incredibly inspiring that you found a path through the inertia and were able to bring this longstanding idea to fruition.  

How did you go about finding a publisher for this project?

AL: I took some time to research publishers that are open to unsolicited manuscripts. The KidLit community is generous, gracious, and knowledgeable, and I learned a great deal from it. And it was a poetry teacher and editor, Aubrie Cox Warner, who told me about Penny Candy Books. I checked into Penny Candy Books in 2016. I was delighted by the passionate dedication of the principals, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera, and their willingness to take risks with their titles, as well as present opportunities to new and various talents.

DP: I couldn't agree more about the KidLit community being generous, gracious, and knowledgeable. I don't know what I'd do without my writing community.

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 collection of poems to find its way to publication?

AL: There really have been many moments. I wish to repeat that I’ve been fortunate indeed to have the unfailing support and encouragement of just about everyone around me. This has made all the difference! Aubrie’s suggestion about Penny Candy Books was certainly key, however.

DP: It definitely sounds like Aubrie's suggestion led you to the perfect match publisher for this project, Amy. That's so great. 

Let's shift gears just a bit. What was it like to see your mother’s poems paired with illustrations for the first time?

AL: It’s hard to express the magic of that special moment. But I was overjoyed! Sawsan Chalabi is an extraordinary illustrator. The book’s vivid interplay of mom’s poetic text and Sawsan’s art is a decades-old dream come true.

DP: The artwork and poems really are a delightful pairing. I'm so happy for you. 

H is For Haiku
by Sydell Rosenberg and Sawsan Chalabi
If you were to use haiku to express the experience of holding your mother’s book in your hands, fulfilling her longtime dream, how might that go?

AL: This is rough, but here you are:

old dream fulfilled …
a child turns the pages
of mom’s haiku book


lost in the pages
of my mom’s haiku book …
a young child

DP: Those are gorgeous, Amy. I find myself reflecting back on Syd's description of haiku from the introduction that you mentioned before: “Haiku is that fledgling moment, when the wing strokes become sure – when the bird has staying power in the air.” How beautiful that you could be the wing strokes that gave your mom's poems staying power in the air. 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself before embarking on this project? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

AL: I would tell myself that it’s OK to be nervous and even to have doubts about embarking on a creative project that’s challenging, novel, and perhaps even strange. This is normal, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. These feelings need not overwhelm to the point of paralysis and panic. I wish I had known sooner to make these feelings work for me, as motivators – rather than against me, as deterrents or barriers. I wish I could go back in time and give myself a pep talk, and maybe a dose of tough love!

DP: I think we could all use a little pep talk now and then! 

What do you think your mother would most like about the finished book?

AL: I think Syd would be thrilled about the way her words are interwoven with the art and lettering. This was such an ideal and terrific design choice! Her laughs of joy would reach the moon!

DP: That's a beautiful image, Amy. 

They say a mother’s work is never done…is there anything you learned from your mother, or about your mother, as a result of taking on this project and seeing it through that you’d like to share with us?

AP: Thanks to this project, I’ve learned to “see” more deeply and clearly into things. That’s a hallmark of haiku – or any creative endeavor that calls both for focus and flow, of course. I’m a New Yorker, so I’m always in a rush, it seems. Reading my mom’s haiku, other poets’ haiku, and writing my own short poems impel me to slow down and pay attention. It’s a rewarding way to be. And I feel more connected to Syd, as a result. She was a seeker of small adventures …mindful, curious, off-beat. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more captivated by her engagement with little slices of life.

DP: Thank you for such heartfelt responses throughout this interview, Amy. I've found myself reflecting deeply on what you've shared--as a writer, but also as a daughter, and a mother.  

Before we wrap up, do you have any new projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

AP: I have a second haiku picture book manuscript in the works. I’m still “playing” with it, but this one may feature both our haiku! I am daunted (in a good way, this time), but excited. Let’s see where this muse leads!

DP: That's great news. I'll be excited to hear more about that project as it develops!

Readers, H IS FOR HAIKU is a 2019 Notable Poetry Book (selected by the National Council for Teachers of English), and it was also a 2018 Cybils finalist for a poetry award.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your hands on a copy of H IS FOR HAIKU. I can't think of a better way to celebrate National Poetry Month (April), International Haiku Poetry Day (April 17), and/or Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 18)! And, if you feel inspired, maybe leave a haiku (or any little poem) of your own for all to enjoy in the comments section below!

Photo of Sydell "Syd" Rosenberg,
Likely taken by Jean Niles
Sydell Rosenberg (1929-1996) lived, wrote and taught in New York City. Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 and served as HSA’s Secretary in 1975. Her short poems – notably haiku and senryu – as well as other poetry, were published in various magazines and anthologies. Syd received her M.A. in English as a Second Language from Hunter College in 1972. It was Syd’s dream to publish a book of haiku for children.

Amy Losak, Syd's daughter, is a New Yorker (Queens) who now lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. A seasoned public relations professional (healthcare, corporate, nonprofit, arts/education, etc.), Amy spent several years on a mission to revive some of her late mother's literary works--especially her poetry, and most especially, her haiku for kids. Inspired by Syd, Amy now writes short-form poetry, too. Some of her work has been published in print and online journals.

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

April 15, 2019

Start to Finish Story Time (Expanded), Summary Post

One of my most popular series of blog posts is the "Start to Finish Story Time” series that provides ”start to finish" lesson plans for sign language story time programs incorporating themes from my "Story Time with Signs & Rhymes" books.

With new books coming out, I decided to create a new, expanded version of this series to provide links to lesson plans and resources for cowgirl, pirate, and potty-themed story time/event plans, and to provide links to story time/event plans written by other authors who have contributed guest posts to my blog.

Over time, I will develop a variety of themed story time lesson plans and resources that tie into my latest books and interests.

You’ll want to bookmark this post, as new lesson plans and resources will be added regularly.

Now Available for Pre-Order
Cowgirl-Themed Lesson Plans/Event Plans/Resources:

Dawn's Cowgirl-Themed Pinterest Page

Giddy-up Cowboy! Story Time Lesson Plan from Sunflower Storytime Blog

Now Available for Pre-Order
Pirate-Themed Lesson Plans/Event Plans/Resources:

Dawn's Pirate-Themed Pinterest Page (includes pirate-themed novelty items, games, and activity ideas)

Jane McManus's Pirate-Themed Story Time Pinterest Page (includes pirate-themed flannel boards, songs, rhymes, and craft ideas)

Pirate-Themed Story Time Lesson Plan, from the Biblio Files Blog

Pirate-Themed Story Time Lesson Plan, from Lady Librarian Life Blog (includes book ideas, songs, rhymes, and flannelboards)

Shiver Me Timbers Story Time Resources, from the Monroe County Library System's Wiki (includes many songs, fingerplays, jokes, activities and craft ideas compiled by Amber Creger)

Talk Like a Pirate Day Story Time Event Plan, by Danielle Gowen, Library Assistant, Haverford Township Free Library

Potty-Themed Lesson Plans/Event Plans/Resources:

Dawn's Potty-Themed Book List (Brief)

Dawn's Potty/Underwear Themed Book List (Expanded)

Dawn's Potty-Themed Pinterest Page

"Potty Power" Story Time Event Plan Interview with Ivy Coleman, Youth Librarian, Tippecanoe County Public Library

Potty Storytime, by Keren Joshi, Youth Librarian

Potty-Training "Parenting Pack/Book Bundle" Resources, from Storytime Katie's Blog

Underwear-Themed Story Time Lesson Plan, from the Storytime Station Blog

Start to Finish Story Time Guest Posts:

Rice From Heaven, by Tina Cho (Illustrated by Keum Jin Song, little bee books, 2018)

If you like this series, you might also like the Ideas for Incorporating Alphabet Signs into Your Story Time series, and the original Start to Finish Story Time series (an oldie, but a goodie).

And, if you’d like to contribute a post to this series, or a link to a cowgirl, pirate, or potty-themed post from another blog, please get in touch via the comments or the contact form.

April 10, 2019

Potty Talk: Potty-Themed Storytime and Event Plans, "Potty Power," by Ivy Coleman

Link to Image Source
If you follow this blog, you know I have two new books coming out later this year: "Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?" and "Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?" (West Margin Press, October, 2019). This means I'm currently in the planning stages for future storytimes and themed book events for these new books.

Most of my prior books incorporate sign language, and as such, I have a deep supply of reader resources related to early literacy/ASL that I share here on my blog as a way to support my current readers (and the adults who support those readers, i.e. teachers, librarians, parents, professional caregivers, etc). I would like to begin to develop a similar depth of resources for readers of my new books, and the adults that support them.

To this end, a few months ago I put out a call for guest contributors for a new blog series featuring story time event/activity ideas for three themes: "Cowgirls" (including "Western" and/or "Cowboys") "Pirates," and "Potty" (Potty Humor, Potty Training, Potty Science...)

Today's post, the first in the "Potty-Talk: Potty-Themed Storytime and Event Plans" series, features an interview with Ivy Coleman, a youth librarian at the Tippecanoe County Public Library in Lafayette, Indiana.

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome, Ivy! Thanks so much for your willingness to share your time and expertise. I came upon your name while searching for Potty-Themed Storytime and Event ideas in the Storytime Underground Facebook group.You mentioned that you have facilitated a potty-themed storytime that you call “Potty Power.” Can you share the highlights of this program with us, or any elements/activities that stand out that the kids (and/or their caregivers) seemed to enjoy the most? 

Ivy Coleman: They liked the "no diaper" chant, and throwing the diaper into the garbage.

Photos provided by Ivy Coleman

IC: The parents also enjoyed sharing their potty training concerns with the group. The kids liked decorating their "underpants" (link here for paper cutout/template).

Photos provided by Ivy Coleman

IC: We also danced the "Potty Dance available on the internet."

DP: This sounds like it was loads of fun! Do you have any event mishaps or cautionary tales that other storytime/event planners might benefit from knowing about (or simply get a kick out of)?

IC: The only thing I remember is that our communications dept. put a naked baby on a potty on the poster. I felt uncomfortable with that graphic, so I had them change it.

DP: Good call on that one! Any suggestions for novelty items / swag that would be a good fit for potty-themed storytimes or events?  

IC: I borrowed potty dolls - dolls that came with their own potties. I set them on the tables.

Photo provided by Ivy Coleman

DP: I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to potty-related items, and I'd not yet seen the potty dolls. Thanks for this idea--I've updated my board!

Thanks so much for sharing your "Potty Power" event experience with us, Ivy!

Readers: Do YOU have a favorite activity or idea related to this post, or an interest in being a guest contributor for a future post about your experience facilitating a Cowgirl / Pirate / or Potty - themed story time program? Your post could be original, slightly revised from a prior post you've done for another purpose, or a Q and A interview format. I would also welcome links to an existing blog post you might have written (and/or other web-based resources you have compiled that you are willing to share) summarizing past events related to one or more of these themes. Please get in touch via the contact form on the left side of this page, via social media, or by commenting below.


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

April 3, 2019

Start to Finish Story Time: RICE FROM HEAVEN, by Tina Cho

One of the most popular features on my blog is the Start to Finish Story Time series, where I share lesson plans for story time programs related to my sign language books. I also have a series of lesson plans for alphabet-related story time programs, and I'm in the process of developing and gathering story time lesson plans related to pirates, cowgirls, and potty-humor to align with my forthcoming humorous picture books, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? (NOTE: I'm still seeking contributors for this series, so please reach out to me via email, social media or the contact form at the left if you are interested in participating as a contributor).

Rice from Heaven, by Tina Cho and Keum Jin Song
This week's post expands on the Start to Finish Story Time series, providing a story time lesson plan by guest author, Tina Cho, for her book, RICE FROM HEAVEN: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (illustrated by Keum Jin Song, little bee books, 2018).

RICE FROM HEAVEN is a beautiful book about compassion and kindness. If you are a classroom teacher, youth librarian, after school activities coordinator, parent that home schools, or a parent or caregiver looking for opportunities to extend and enrich learning experiences through books, then this post is for you. This would be an ideal book to share in observance of "Good Deeds Day," which falls on April 7th this year.

Start to Finish Story Time: Rice From Heaven
by Tina Cho

Thank you, Dawn, for inviting me to your blog. You have some interesting series here.

My picture book Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans came out last August 2018 published by little bee books/Bonnier Publishing. Since then, I’ve been able to do some school visits and Skype/Google Hangout visits with classes around the world. My picture book is based on a true event which I helped with; however, I fictionalized the story to protect North Korean refugees involved and to adapt it more for kids. Rice from Heaven can be used with many age levels. One mom told me she read it to her two-year-old son who loved the unique balloons. Middle school teachers have told me they have read it to their classes. And of course, elementary aged children have read and interacted with the book. Throughout this post, I’ll share how you can differentiate the book and activities for different age groups.


-map of North and South Korea
-large clear plastic bags (NOT Ziploc)
-yarn precut, about 18 inches long for each child
-note cards with a hole punched in the corner for each child
-an item that weighs 6 pounds, preferably rice
-black construction paper, one for each child
-photo of a rice field


Before reading the book, it’s helpful to share the book’s back story plus information on North Korea. I like to begin by showing the kids a close-up photo of a rice field. You can google one. I’m lucky as we have rice fields right across the street from my school. Many kids don’t know what this rice plant is and will more likely say wheat. Then I tell them that in South Korea and other countries of Asia, the main crop or staple food is rice. Share the map of North and South Korea. Have them locate each. Depending on the age level, I briefly state that long ago there was a war that separated the two countries. North Korea is communist with a mean leader, and South Korea is a free country like the U.S. and has a president. Again, depending on the age group, you can go into more detail of some atrocities of North Korea. It might be suffice to say that people, children, in North Korea are starving because of famine, their poor living conditions, and a communist state of government. I show them the river that separates North Korea from China. I tell them some North Koreans hear about freedom in the rest of the world. They want food. They want freedom and cross the river into China and then on to safe places. If they are caught, they are returned to North Korea where they will be put into a prison camp/concentration camp.

In the city of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a church for North Korean refugees. The pastor is North Korean and escaped many years ago. These refugees still have family living in North Korea. They save money and buy rice to send up in huge hydrogen balloons. They wait for a rainy day because a stormy day brings winds to carry the balloons over the mountains to North Korea. They hope families will find the rice and eat it. If soldiers shoot the balloons down, they will most likely keep the rice for themselves.

On May 2, 2016, I participated in this rice balloon event. A week later I wrote the first draft of Rice from Heaven. Two years later, it was published.

Read the book Rice from Heaven:

Author, Tina Cho
At the end or throughout the book, you can take questions and answers from the kids.
I also like to demonstrate how heavy six pounds of rice feels. I tell them it’s equivalent to a six-pound bowling ball. I bring a six-pound bag of rice and let them feel it. If you have an Asian grocery store, you might be able to do the same or just find something that weighs six pounds.


The following craft was developed by my good friend Laura Baker Moon. Children can make a little model of the balloon and write their wish or prayer for North Korean children.

I pass out the bags, yarn, and paper to each child. Then I show them how to “swish” the bag in the air and close it tightly real fast to “catch the air.” We twist the end and tie it with the yarn. (I feel this is safer to do than having them blow into the bag.) Kindergartners through 5th graders have done this activity with me.

Next you can have them write a wish or prayer for North Korean children. After reading the book, children usually feel compassion as they learn some North Korean children eat once a day, have eaten grass and bark, or nothing at all. For those who can’t write, they can draw and color a picture of something they wish to send to North Korean children. I also give a prompt on the board like “I wish … or I pray…” Then using the same yarn, tie the card onto the balloon. If you want to be creative, you can prepare heart-shaped note cards or pretty stationery/cutouts.

Two schools I spoke at hung these balloons from the hallway ceiling. It’s an awesome reminder to think about North Korean children and others less fortunate.

Author, Tina Cho

If you don’t want to hang them from the ceiling, you can tape the balloons to a black piece of construction paper. Have the kids draw white clouds and rain to show the rainy night. At the bottom of the paper, they can write the title of the book, or you can print labels and attach. You can hang these up in the room or send them home to share with parents.


If you want a snack to go with the book, how about something made from rice? Rice Krispy bars, rice cakes, Korean kimbap (looks like sushi rolls but no fish), or simply steamed rice?


Students and parents have told me they loved my book and couldn’t stop talking about what they learned about North Korea. Teachers said it really opened their students’ eyes. I tell students that they, too, can write about their experiences of being kind and caring for others. If I can do it, so can they. I also have two different teacher guides on my website. If you’d like me to do a Google Hangout with your class, please email me. I show slides and a short clip of the real event and tell real stories from North Korean refugees I’ve met.

Thank you, Tina! This is a such a helpful resource for parents, teachers, librarians and other community educators who want to enrich the learning experience when they share your meaningful book with the children in their lives.

Readers, you can find more Start to Finish Story Time lesson plans at this link. 

Author, Tina Cho
Tina Cho is the author of four picture books-- Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (little bee books/Bonnier Publishing August 2018), Korean Celebrations (forthcoming Tuttle August 2019), Breakfast with Jesus (forthcoming Harvest House 2020), and The Ocean Calls: A Mermaid Haenyeo Story (forthcoming from Kokila summer 2020). Although she grew up and taught in the United States, she currently lives in South Korea with her husband and two children while teaching at an international school.

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

March 22, 2019

The Reading Part of the Writing Life, Part 2

A few months ago I blogged about my reading pile. I ended that post by mentioning that I would soon write about books that incorporate empathy, tolerance and/or resilience. That's still to come...but not quite yet. Why? Because I still have my nose in potty-themed books. Although my forthcoming "potty books" (as I affectionately refer to them) are indeed written and are in the process of being illustrated, there is still plenty of potty research to be done before these books are ready to launch into the world in October.

Some of this research is a continuation of the process of finding comps, which is what I wrote about in the earlier post. Comp titles help me provide meaningful connections for teachers, librarians and booksellers when I'm talking about my own books. For example, recently I was chatting with a classroom teacher who was excited for my new potty books, but bummed because her kindergartners would be too old for them since they don't have any "potty problems." I quickly clarified that my books would actually be perfect for her kids, because they are for readers who have a penchant for potty humor, not necessarily kids with potty problems. I said my books are more along the lines of  The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of WhoDunit

Image Source: Indie Bound

crossed with  How I Became a Pirate.

Image Source: Indie Bound

I could have also said they are similar to Oh No, Gotta Go!

Image Source: Indie Bound

...crossed with the silliness of  Walter the Farting Dog...

Image Source: Indie Bound

...because any reader who likes Oh No, Gotta Go! or Walter the Farting Dog will probably get a kick out of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?

Written by Dawn Babb Prochovnic and Illustrated by Jacob Souva

and/or  Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?

Written by Dawn Babb Prochovnic and Illustrated by Jacob Souva

Being familiar with comp titles helps me give potential readers a better sense of what my books are like.

Being familiar with comp titles also helps me be a resource to teachers and librarians who are planning themed story times that align with my books. For example, the books referenced throughout this post (and this earlier post) would be good additions to a humorous potty-themed (or underwear themed) story time plan. Eventually, I will build a list of suggested titles for pirate-themed story times and cowgirl themed story times.

Other aspects of my current research is aimed at helping me gather ideas for my own story times and book events. For example, recently I read the songs in Alan Katz and David Catrow's On Top of the Potty

and listened to Bruce Lansky's Tinkle, Tinkle Little Pot CD

Image Source: Amazon

(yes, my family was thrilled) in hopes of getting some ideas for songs and dances that would be fun to introduce at potty-themed book events. This particular book and CD are definitely more focused on potty training, but listening to the songs inspired some ideas of my own that will be suitable for a more general potty humor themed event. A few weeks back, I happily discovered The Poop Song by (the typically more serious) singer/songwriter Lori Henriques. It's a fabulous song.

I do also make a point to read potty training books, because there will of course be some reader overlap, especially with fun books like Super Pooper and Whizz Kid: Potty Power!

Image Source: Indie Bound

Poop or Get Off the Potty

Image Source: Indie Bound

and The Saddest Toilet in the World.

Image Source: Indie Bound

This research cracks me up (pardon the pun). There is one especially hilarious spread in The Saddest Toilet in the World where the toilet, that has run away, is pictured in all kinds of adventuresome scenes, like posing for a photograph with some new friends, playing chess, watching a movie... These are ridiculous ideas, which is why I love them so much. Readers that get a kick out of these humorous potty training books will likewise enjoy humorous potty-themed books, including my own.

I also suspect that adults who are drawn to the humor in the title of Oh Crap! Potty Training, by Jamie Glowacki, the self-proclaimed "Pied Piper of Poop,"

Image Source: Indie Bound

...or folks drawn to humorous titles/book covers like the bestseller, Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down (written by none other than Dave Barry himself, who you might be interested in knowing was instrumental bringing International Talk Like a Pirate Day into the mainstream)...

Image Source: Indie Bound
... may well find my potty books amusing.

Some of the books in my research pile are simply about poop. In an earlier post I talked about Jane Kurtz and Allison Black's What Do They Do With All That Poo?

What Do They Do With All That Poo?

Along the same lines there is the more science-y Whose Poop Is That?

and the sillier Poo in the Zoo.

Image Source: Indie Bound

And, of course, you can't talk about these sorts of books without mentioning the classic book, Everyone Poops:
Image Credit: Indie Bound

Some of the books in my research pile simply align with a closely related theme: Underwear. I figure that the readers that are into humorous books about underwear will also be into humorous books about finding the right place to go potty. Some highlights: Creepy Pair of Underwear!

Image Source: Indie Bound

Polar Bear's Underwear:
Image Source: Indie Bound

And my personal favorite underwear book: Vegetables in Underwear (for which I've recently discovered there is even a holiday version called Veggies in Holiday Underwear, due to come out this coming October when my books come out!).

Image Source: Indie Bound

Lastly (for this post, at least), in addition to reading a bunch of books, I've also been doing a ton of internet research about themed games, activities and novelties in preparation for my eventual book launch. I've been collecting all of these fun ideas on my Pinterest page. Although there are sections dedicated to pirates and cowgirls (and of course, sign language), my favorite section is the potty humor section, which is bursting at the seams! I'm also on the lookout for potty jokes and puns and funny pictures and signs, like this one posted on fellow author, Angela Diterlizzi's, Instagram page.

So there you have it. The sophisticated reading list from an author who can hardly wait until her own two potty books are ready to go!

March 15, 2019

Birth Stories for Books, BUG, by Robin Koontz

from BUG by Robin Koontz and Amy Proud
I am so pleased to share author, Robin Koontz's, birth story for her forthcoming picture book, BUG (illustrated by Amy Proud, Sterling Publishing, April, 2019).

Robin is one of the first people I met in the local writing community when I started on my path to publication journey about 15 years ago. I attended my first writing conference (the Pacific Northwest Children's Writing and Illustrating Conference, facilitated by Linda Zuckerman) in the summer of 2004. One of the most valuable take-aways from that conference was the advice to join SCBWI, which I immediately did. Soon after, I received a welcoming email from Robin, who was the Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Oregon at that time. Robin let me know how to get connected with a critique group, she sent me info about local events that SCBWI-Oregon was hosting, and she sent me a sample of the local chapter's newsletter, as well as a link to the online chat group.

Soon after reaching out to Robin, I started attending SCBWI-Oregon events and volunteering to help with events and other logistical aspects of the chapter. It was through these experiences, and the people I met through these experiences, that I found my writing community, and found my way to writing and revising manuscripts that would eventually become my body of work. Thank you Robin, for helping me learn how to navigate this crazy world of publishing, and thank you for taking the time to share your path to publication story for your latest book, BUG.

Planting the Seeds for Publication
by Robin Koontz   

Thanks, Dawn, for the invitation to share the birth story of Bug, my new picture book being released on April 2, 2019.

The seed for Bug was planted when I was about five years old. I loved bugs and I loved to draw, while school, including math, was not on my list of loved things. I grew up to pursue a career in art, and first began illustrating children’s books in 1985. My fascination with bugs and all other animals continued, and they played major roles in my various projects.

Up All Night Counting and Creepy Crawly Colors, pop-up books written and illustrated by Robin Koontz 

In those good old days, children’s books were much easier to get published. Editors would take on a diamond in the rough and work with a writer to get it polished. And once published, nobody seemed to mind if a book wasn’t a big-seller. Back then, quality and variety mattered more than sales numbers.

During that period, I published seven picture books and six early-readers, almost all of which I illustrated. I also worked long hours illustrating activity books and other educational products for School Zone Publishing Company. I made good money doing what I loved. Life was sweet.

Then, long story short, the children’s book market took a dive during the 1990s, leaving hundreds of authors and illustrators behind. I had been so swamped that I hadn’t pursued other illustration jobs, and wouldn’t have had time to take them on anyway. When School Zone switched to using licensed characters, my career went from feast to famine. And after 10+ years of successful self-employment, where I was free to play during the mornings and work into the wee hours if need be, a 9 to 5 gig didn’t look very appealing. My partner of 42 years, Marvin, was self-employed as a designer and builder and doing okay in spite of the recession. We had learned to live practically and had socked away a few royalties for a rainy day. I decided to keep traveling on my chosen path and joined the tougher new world of getting and staying published.

I established new contacts and nurtured the old, continued to create new manuscripts, and kept all of my projects circulating. I also began to try something new: writing non-fiction books for kids. I honed my skills, learned from friends in the industry, and started landing projects. To note, nobody wanted me as an illustrator in this market; they only needed writers. While I missed writing and illustrating picture books and early readers, it was a fun new world. It was especially enjoyable because as a kid, I was pretty bored by the books offered to us. As a nature nerd, I probably missed out on pursuing a career in science because of the lack of inspiration/connection in school. Now I had the chance to write the books I would have loved. I could hopefully help kids get excited about things they’d never considered before, maybe even help set them on a career path that they’d never heard of or thought about.

As of yet, I haven’t turned down a job that sounded interesting no matter what the challenge or the deadline, and I’ve sold a few series of my own design. Marvin and I self-published two books: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge and Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt. And as always, there are a variety of projects simmering that I hope to sell someday.

So, back to the birth of Bug. In winter of 2015 I had time to pursue an evasive idea that had been simmering for a while. All I knew was that it was about a little girl who loved bugs. At that point I didn’t know if it would be a biography of someone like Edith Patch or a fictional story. Meanwhile, there was also a quest to learn a different style of illustration. I wanted to try a scratchboard effect using the computer. It was a backwards way to draw: pulling white out of black rather than drawing black on white. It felt good to dabble with illustration again and to try on a new style.

Image Source: Robin Koontz

But hey! What was Bug’s story? It was time to get to work. When it was all said and done, Bug was brainstormed, researched, written, rewritten, trashed, started over, rewritten, revised, revised again, tweaked, submitted, revised again with editorial direction, and after not that many months, sold to Meredith Mundy at Sterling Publishing. After a bit more tweaking, Meredith and the art director included me in the search for the illustrator. When we chose the talented Amy Proud, we had to wait for Amy to finish up committed projects before she could start. The publication date moved from spring 2018 to this spring.

Wait. What? A story that began with an illustration would not be completed by its original illustrator?? Nope. Once I wrote Bug’s story, I knew my style was wrong for it. I pictured illustrations much like those that Amy ultimately produced. In fact, I’ve written other stories in recent years that are not suitable for my style (little animals with dots for eyes). It allows me to broaden the field of what I write about when I know another illustrator might take on the challenge. So, when I submit a story, I include sample illustrations if I feel that I could be the right illustrator, otherwise I just submit the story as a writer. That’s what I did when I submitted Bug. I’m not recommending that others do the same; it’s just what works for me. And I think that Amy Proud did Bug proud!

BUG by Robin Koontz and Amy Proud

Here’s the teaser on Amazon and Indiebound for Bug:

“Bug is the nickname-that-stuck for a quirky little girl who‘s mad about insects and drawing . . . and hates arithmetic. But when her teacher promises the class they can go on a field trip to the science museum only if everyone does well on their math test, Bug knows she HAS to pass. This humorous, character-driven story shows kids who struggle with math (or any subject) that there are many ways to find the correct answer—if you use your imagination and count on the things you love.”

Bug is already getting positive reviews. Kirkus wrote, “A respectful boost of encouragement for young minds that may be struggling with school.” That line made me smile. Thanks again, Dawn, for sharing the birth story of Bug!

Robin, this is such an encouraging and inspiring birth story. You've taught us to keep working at the stories we love AND open our minds to different paths and possibilities than we might have originally imagined for ourselves. I have no doubt that the books you have written for children have inspired a new generation of scientists, and I have no doubt that this post has inspired many authors and illustrators. Thank you so much!

Robin Koontz loves to learn and write about everything from aardvarks to ziggurats. Raised in Maryland and Alabama, Robin now lives with her partner Marvin in the Coast Range of western Oregon. In her spare time Robin likes to grow plants, lurk on Facebook, yell at the TV, and walk in the woods. You can learn more on Robin's blog, and you can see her complete list of books on Wikipedia.com. Robin is Regional Advisor Emeritus for the SCBWI Oregon.

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

March 8, 2019

Birth Stories for Books, PIECE BY PIECE, by Stephanie Shaw

by Stephanie Shaw & Sylvie Daigneault
Today's post is a return to the Birth Stories for Books series. Our guest today is Stephanie Shaw, someone I'm pleased to consider a friend and a colleague. She's the author of many delightful picture books including, PIECE BY PIECE (illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault and published by Sleeping Bear Press, 2017), which we'll talk about today. Let's jump right in:

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Stephanie. If I remember correctly, you and I first met at a “first pages” session at a SCBWI-Oregon conference many years ago. I recall hearing you read one of your stories aloud and thinking to myself, “This will be a book someday.” Boy was I ever right! Now you have a heap of delightful picture books to your credit. Today we’re going to talk about PIECE BY PIECE. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this particular story? 

Stephanie Shaw: Hi, Dawn!  It’s so good to be with you.  I remember that SCBWI conference where we met. It was my first and you were so kind! I didn’t know a soul and you sat with me at lunch and you were so encouraging!  None of us get to publication without tremendous support, and I certainly credit you with holding my hand along the way.

DP: I'd forgotten that it was your first conference when we met. I’m so glad I made you feel welcome! I just remember that I enjoyed meeting you and enjoyed our chats and really thought highly of the work that you shared during open mic/first pages, year after year when we would see each other. I'm so glad we have the opportunity to chat about your publishing journey. Speaking of which, 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?

SS: So, writing PIECE BY PIECE was one of the sweetest journeys ever.  And, it started with doing something I really did not want to do.  While attending a Highlights Writing Summer Camp in 2013, attendees were invited to go on a ‘sensory walk’ in the woods with author Jillian Sullivan.  I thought that sounded silly. But, I did like walking and the area was beautiful, so I went along. Jillian asked us to close our eyes and just listen. She asked us to feel plants and stones. She asked us to smell grasses and sap. She taught us to use our senses to evoke words in our writing. That lesson would be ‘the moment’ in terms of PIECE BY PIECE being conceived. I just didn’t know it yet.

The following summer I developed the first draft of PIECE BY PIECE inspired by daily walks near my home.  The start of the story has the line, “All day she gathered them up: the crunch of leaves, the springiness of moss, the leap and splash of a fish.”  I knew I wanted the story to draw on all I had learned from Jillian Sullivan. I knew I wanted a quilt in it. So, the main character became a weaver and seamstress ---which is funny because I can barely sew on a button!

In the fall of 2014, I attended an Oregon SCBWI Retreat. I read that first draft at a roundtable. A visiting editor had tears in her eyes at the end. I remember she said, “That is just so sad.” So, her suggestion was to soften it a bit.  A short while later, she contacted me and asked that I send it to her once I had made some changes. I was elated.

But, in the bi-polar world of publishing, it was not meant to be. She sent the most beautiful rejection ever when she compared it to work by Isabelle Allende, but her editorial team felt it was ‘too adult.’

I did some revision work (adding the main character’s children as the ones who save the day).  By that time, I was in conversation with the Senior Editor Barb McNally at Sleeping Bear Press regarding SCHNITZEL: A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR LAZY LOUTS (my third book with SBP).  I asked if Barb would mind taking a look at PIECE BY PIECE. But I honestly wasn’t thinking of it as a submission. I just wanted some free professional advice. She wanted to pitch it to the editorial committee and within a short time it was acquired.

DP: That IS a sweet journey...almost like a fully developed story arc in and of itself! Knowing the backstory makes this lovely book even more beautiful.

Here is another curious question: 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?

SS: From the first draft to the final manuscript, not terribly much changed with the exception of the children becoming more integral to the resolution. I was able to keep all the sensory language.  I was able to keep the arc of the story in terms of the seamstress beginning with a beautiful gown and then ‘piece by piece’  reducing it to scraps of cloth.

Illustrations by Sylvie Daigneault

DP: It's very inspiring that a creative exercise that you weren't even keen on doing eventually led to such a lovely story, with such beautiful illustrations! Good for you for saying "yes," to participating in the creative exercise when you could have just as easily skipped it.

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

SS: When people ask my husband (who is not a writer) what PIECE BY PIECE is about, he always says, “It’s about a quilt.”  When people ask my writer friends what PIECE BY PIECE is about they say, “It’s about rejection and revision.”  And, of course, both are right.  As writers, we work so hard to craft something wonderful. Then we end up tearing it apart and refashioning it --- sometimes to the point where we don’t recognize it as the story we wanted to tell. It takes hard work to seamlessly put all the revisions together.

DP: Oh, so well said! 

Some of your earlier books, for example, THE LEGEND OF THE BEAVER’S TAIL (2015) and A COOKIE FOR SANTA (2014), were also published by Sleeping Bear Press. Were there notable differences in the path to publication for your earlier books as compared to PIECE BY PIECE?

SS: This would become my fourth book with Sleeping Bear Press. And each one had a bit of a different path to publication.  The first two were represented by the fabulous agent Kirsten Hall (now owner of Catbird Agency).  Kirsten was originally with an agency in London and represented illustrator Laura Watkins from my very first book BEDTIME IN THE MEADOW, Tiger Tales, 2013.  It was Kirsten who approached me about developing a Christmas story for Sleeping Bear and then later a legend, because SBP had done a call out to agents when they were looking for these types of stories. I was so fortunate that Kirsten liked what I had done with Laura and suggested that I develop these manuscripts.  But, I submitted SCHNITZEL, PIECE BY PIECE and my next book, TAILS FROM THE SHELER (2020), on my own.

That must sound like once I was ‘in’ I just got a green light on everything, but far from it.  I have pestered Sleeping Bear with many projects that have been rejected. They are a relatively small publisher and either they don’t have room for the stories, or the stories are not right for them.

So a huge difference is transitioning to submitting on my own. When Kirsten started her own agency, she was unable to take clients she had formerly represented. I now spend a great deal of time researching publishers that will take unagented authors.

DP: Glad to hear I'm not the only one in that boat! My upcoming books are also with a (wonderful!) relatively small publisher (West Margin Press). I love working with them, but I have more stories in my backlog of inventory than they could reasonably publish, and not all of my stories are a good fit for their regionally focused list. Since I, too, am unagented, I'm grateful there are publishers that will consider unagented submissions (but, the research entailed...oy!)   

One of my favorite parts of being an author is visiting schools and libraries and reading my books to children, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. I know you were a professional educator for many years. Wearing the hats of both educator and author, I suspect you’ve read to many children over the years, too. What advice or suggestions do you have for picture book authors and/or fellow story time presenters? 

SS: Regarding presentations, one thing I learned from Sleeping Bear Press is the importance of tying activities to books.  This makes the book very appealing to families, teachers and librarians. And, once that is done, I also have a ready made classroom presentations or talking points for families.

DP: That's a great tip. Thanks! 

How about 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?

SS: There are a lot of things I would tell my pre-published self.  But, more than anything, I wish I would have joined SCBWI when I first became interested in writing. That one step would have saved me from making so many mistakes!   And, given the sloth-paced progression of the publishing world, I wish I started writing earlier.

DP: Ditto to both points! 

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

SS: I’m excited to find out who the illustrator will be for the next picture book TAILS FROM THE ANIMAL SHELTER.  It has several introductions from various fictional animals seeking adoption as well as nonfiction information about the formation of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

As for unpublished works in progress? Well, today I am channeling my eight year old self and making up humorous conversation between bats. What’s a bat’s favorite dessert you ask?  Upside down cake.

DP: That work-in-progress sounds like a VERY fun book, Stephanie. I can't wait! 

Speaking of fun books, Stephanie has offered to gift a signed copy of PIECE BY PIECE to one lucky reader. To be eligible to win, simply write one comment below. The winner will be selected at random sometime after 12:00PM PST, March 15, 2019. 

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Stephanie. It was sincerely a pleasure to learn more about you and your work! 

Stephanie Shaw is a native Oregonian verified by her refusal to use an umbrella.  She is a graduate of Oregon State University (Go, Beavers!) and Lewis and Clark College and had the honor of working in Oregon’s public education system as a teacher, counselor and administrator. Things she loves includes: mustard, chocolate (but not together), her very tolerant husband and very soft dog Milo.  She uses the word ‘hate’ sparingly but she really, really does not like stickers on fruit and vegetables.

Her work includes numerous stories in Highlights for Kids, High Five and Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids as well as books: Little Tiger UK: Bedtime In The Meadow, 2013, Under The Sleepy Stars, 2014, By The Light Of The Moon, 2015, Lullaby Farm, 2016.  Sleeping Bear Press: A Cookie For Santa, 2014, The Legend Of The Beaver’s Tail, 2015, Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale For Lazy Louts, 2016, Piece By Piece, 2017, Tails From The Animal Shelter, 2020. Simon And Schuster, UK: Moo La La! Cow Goes Shopping, 2016, Read Your Story: What Would You Like For Tea?, 2018, My Shapes, 2019,  Sweet Sounds, 2020

Stephanie loves to hear from kids and fellow authors! You can contact her via her website at www.stephanieshawauthor.com.

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