February 24, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: EVERYONE'S SLEEPY BUT THE BABY, by Tracy C. Gold

Hello readers! Get yourself a cuppa, and settle in for a bit, because it's time for another Birth Stories for Books post, and today's interview with fellow author, Tracy C. Gold, is loaded with helpful info.

Let's get right to it:

Dawn Prochovnic: I’m so glad to have you on the blog, Tracy, and I’m really looking forward to your forthcoming book, EVERYONE’S SLEEPY BUT THE BABY (illustrated by Adèle Dafflon Familius, April, 2021). The cover art is absolutely adorable. 


I’d love to hear how the idea for this story came to be. Reading the title, and knowing that you have a daughter, I’m guessing this story draws on personal experience. True?

Tracy C. Gold: Absolutely! I first had the idea for this book when my daughter was a few months old. Everyone in my household—including the dog—was completely exhausted, but my baby would just not fall asleep. My daughter is almost three now and we still have the same problem! One day I know she’ll be an adult who loves a good afternoon nap but has to work and she’ll regret not napping all those times she had a chance as a child!

DP: My kids (both now in college) were not sleepers when they were little, either. They DEFINITELY know how to nap, now! 

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

TG: Looking back, I actually wrote the complete draft of this book on my phone! (The book is very short.) I’m not actually sure on the timeframe because my memory is telling me it took a few months, but all the dates on my computer/phone notes are from one day, June 25th, 2019. In my first note, I wrote this one stanza: 

“Sleepy mommy 

Sleepy daddy

Sleepy little dog 

Everyone’s sleepy 

Except for baby

Yawn yawn yawn.”

For my next version, I wrote five more stanzas and used “but the baby” instead of “except,” because it sounds better. From there, I created a word doc and did something I would never advise other writers to do…sent it out to a few publishers! I then immediately panicked and thought I’d completely embarrassed myself, so I reached out to a few freelance editors. This was one of the first picture books I’d ever written and I hadn’t gotten many (any?) critiques on my picture books. One of the freelance editors told me not to pay her to work on the book because it would never sell. She didn’t think a book marketed for parents rather than babies would work. My heart sank. I had made a fool of myself after all! Then…another editor wrote back and said not to pay her to work on the book because it was perfect as is! What?! I am so glad that my publisher, Familius, agreed with the second editor! Literally days after I heard from her, they wrote me and said they were interested in publishing the book. It was only 7 days from my submission to my initial offer from them. I was floored! Familius has a line of board books just right for something short and sweet like this. Of course it wasn’t “perfect” as is—I did make changes before publication—but that whole story just goes to show how subjective the publishing world is. I wrote more about the journey to publication here.

DP: That's a great (enviable!) path to publication story! And yes, this business is very subjective. I'm so glad you submitted to just the right publisher for this book!

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

TG: Considering that the draft I sent to Familius was only 89 words, not including the title, a lot about the book changed as I worked with my editor from Familius, Laurie Duersch. I just counted and was shocked to find I only changed 7 words, but those seven words added more rhyme to the book, so it’s almost fully rhyming. With just those few words, I also added a whole “zoo theme” to the nursery setting, which looks so cute in the illustrations! I also reordered many of the different stanzas. Laurie and I went back and forth a bit on whether rhymes were close enough, but it was an extremely smooth process!

DP: In my experience, even seemingly small changes that a skilled editor brings to a book makes such a significant difference--even when a manuscript has been critiqued a multitude of times! I think the editorial process is somewhat cosmic in that way. 

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? 

TG: I have to go back to before I even had this idea and thank Kathy MacMillan, the co-Regional Advisor of my region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Back in probably 2017 or 2018, when in-person conferences were still a thing, Kathy chatted with me about how much she loved her picture book publisher, Familius. She’s published 3 books with them and has more on the way. I didn’t mention Kathy’s name when I wrote to Familius, because I sent the book on such a whim. However, I never would have even known about Familius if it weren’t for Kathy.

DP: And now we enter the "It's a small (kidlit) world" part of our interview: Kathy is one of my favorite people that I've not yet met! She and I both teach sign language workshops, we both have books that incorporate American Sign Language, we both love libraries, and we've each contributed guest posts/interviews for each other's blogs. How great that Kathy's casual, positive mention of her publisher planted a seed that came to fruition for you!

You have another book that also launches in 2021: TRICK OR TREAT BUGS TO EAT (illustrated by Nancy LeschnikoffSourcebooks). What a FUN title! When you compare the path to publication for these two books,  what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

TG: It's so different! Jennifer Rees, the same freelance editor who loved SLEEPY, suggested that I look into getting an agent for my picture books. I had been querying agents with my YA novels for years with no success so Jennifer’s comment gave me some much needed confidence to try again with picture books. In the past, I had interned for Carrie Pestritto, so I wrote to her to let her know about my book deal and sent her a few of my other book ideas. I knew she didn’t represent a lot of picture books, so I was mostly writing to ask if she had any agents to recommend or refer me to. But she offered to represent me herself! I was thrilled to accept. We sent a few books on submission without success. Then, she suggested that I write a Halloween book, because editors were asking for them. I adore bats, so I came up with the idea for Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat, and revised the book, along with some others, while at an “unworkshop” at Highlights Foundation in October. Carrie sent the book on submission after that, but it didn’t sell until March 2020, right as the world was shutting down due to Covid. It was definitely a whirlwind! I would say “Trick or Treat” was a more collaborative process, as I worked on revising it with Carrie and critique partners before we sent it to editors. Sourcebooks is a much larger publisher than Familius and publishes more books with non-fiction angles, so it was great for a fun book with bat facts. I expect I’ll see more similarities and differences along the way. One similarity is that it has been amazing to see illustrations for both of these books! 

DP: Yes! Seeing an illustrator's interpretation of my words is one of my favorite aspects of writing picture books! (And how wonderful that a past internship opened the door for your agent to represent you.)

In addition to authoring books, raising your daughter, walking your rescue dog, and riding your former race horse, (!) you taught an online course this past fall, and you also have a freelance editing service. How do you balance the time between your different book projects and the different aspects of the publishing business alongside an active personal life?

TG: Well, my house is an absolute disaster on the best of days . . . I’m really not kidding. For me the only way to keep all of those balls in the air is to forget about anything that’s not important and/or urgent. Laundry, picking up toys, and vacuuming often fall into the “not important and/or urgent” category and I’m not afraid to admit that! I am lucky to have a lot of help—my husband is very engaged, we had a wonderful au pair for almost two years, my daughter is now at an outdoor preschool, and my mother helps out a lot too. With Covid that has all been up in the air a bit. My daughter’s preschool recently had to close to wait for one of her classmates to get Covid test results, so I am writing this Q and A thanks to Daniel Tiger. 

DP: Hooray for Daniel Tiger...but Ugh! Yes, Covid has impacted so many things. I will say I've definitely vacuumed less since March, given that we've not done any indoor entertaining. Maybe I'll need to maintain my dust bunny indifference post Covid!

Your bio indicates that in addition to your forthcoming board book and picture book, you have also published in magazines and anthologies. I have always wondered how it is that someone’s work gets selected for an anthology, and I’d love if you could shed some light on that experience.

TG: Three out of the four anthologies I’m in were simply “word of mouth”—writer friends posted or emailed about the opportunities, I submitted, and I was lucky enough to be accepted! Covid or not, we’re really lucky to live in a world where it’s so easy to connect to other writers via Twitter and Facebook. I made great friends via the #pitchwars and https://writingchallenge.org hashtags! For the fourth, and most of the magazines, I found out about that opportunity via a website called Duotrope which keeps a database of publication opportunities. If you write and submit a lot of short stories, poems, or essays, I’d definitely recommend subscribing to Duotrope.

DP: Great tips and resources, Tracy! Thank you so much! 

I know from your social media accounts that you have a robust pre-order campaign for your book, and you publish an occasional newsletter for your readers, both of which I’m sure also takes a fair amount of time to keep up with. For those of us who might be pondering if it’s worthwhile to engage in this type of outreach, what are the pluses and minuses of these types of reader outreach, from your perspective? 

TG: Ask me again after both books are published! My goal is to get to about 300 preorders, and I’m only at 40 so far, but I have a lot more planned to spread the word. My newsletter is about 100 subscribers so far and I generally use it for updates and news only. I round up whatever I’ve already put out in the world and send it in my newsletter, so I’m not creating much original content for the newsletter, which makes it take less time. I’m planning on offering coloring pages and other newsletter exclusives to build my audience there soon.

DP: That's super helpful info, Tracy. 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?

TG: I would have told my pre-published self to start writing picture books earlier! Of course, I don’t think I would have been able to write them as well if I hadn’t read ten million with my daughter first. I think in general writers shouldn’t say “I don’t write XYZ genre” because you never know until you try! I also would have told myself to hang in there—after all the rejections, good news was on the way! It is really hard to keep going after getting literally hundreds of rejections, spread out over many different writing projects, and I’m so glad I did.

DP: I'm so glad you hung in there, too, Tracy! And, it's my hope that fellow creatives in the midst of rejection will be inspired to hang in there, too, after reading this! 

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

TG: My long-term career goal is to write books for every age of kid, from picture books to middle grade to young adult. Right now I’m working on a few more “fun twist on non-fiction” picture books. Mainly, though, I’m working on a young adult historical novel about a ship of Jewish refugees turned away from the US, Cuba, and Canada in 1939. This book feels very relevant amidst ongoing refugee crises and ties into my own Jewish heritage. I’ve been working on this book for years, so if it eventually gets published, it will have a very different birth story than my “accepted in a week” first picture book!

DP: Wow! That's an ambitious goal! I look forward to hearing more about your YA historical novel. It sounds very timely, indeed. (My late father-in-law was a Holocaust survivor and a Jewish immigrant. I recently had the amazing opportunity to share his life story with a local musical duo, who turned his story into a song.)

Thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for EVERYONE’S SLEEPY BUT THE BABY  with us, Tracy. I've learned so much from you--and I've really enjoyed getting to know you!

Friends: Let's help Tracy reach her preorder goal. Her books are available everywhere books are sold (and you can get the details about her preorder promotion, here.)

And, if you'd like to WIN a copy of EVERYONE'S SLEEPY BUT THE BABY (or a picture book critique), follow both Dawn and Tracy on Twitter (@TracyCGold and @dawnprochovnic) and reply to one of our tweets with the blog post tagging a friend before 11:59pm EST on March 1st (U.S. addresses only.) 

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Tracy C. Gold loves bringing characters to life. She is a writer, freelance editor, and mom living in Baltimore, Maryland. She has two picture books forthcoming in 2021, “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby” from Familius in April and “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks in August. She also writes short stories, essays, novels, and poems. Her work has been published in several magazines and anthologies. Tracy earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore and earned her B.A. in English from Duke University. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s playing with her toddler, or hanging out with her horse and dog, both rescues. You can find out more about Tracy at tracycgold.com or by following her on Twitter or Instagram @tracycgold.

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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

February 10, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED, by Rebecca Kraft Rector

It's time for another behind-the-scenes look at a path to publication story. Today's guest is Rebecca Kraft Rector, and we'll be talking about her forthcoming picture book, SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED (illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Nancy Paulson Books, February 2021). 


Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by the blog, Rebecca. I’ve been excited to talk with you ever since I read the title and saw the cover art for SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED. I’m guessing there is a personal experience behind this book, and I can’t wait to hear all about it! 

Rebecca Kraft Rector: Nope, no personal experience at all. The four of us kids were always perfectly behaved during our car trips. None of that “I want the window” or “I don’t have enough room!” Nope, none at all.

Rebecca (2nd from left) and her perfectly-behaved siblings 

DP: Well that is a shocker ... on many levels! (Though me thinks I detect a tad bit of sarcasm here!)

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

RR: I first wrote SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED 20 years ago. My critique group helped me polish it and refine the structure over several months. I submitted the story and many rejections followed. The story that was finally accepted is the same version I submitted many years ago.

DP: Well that definitely provides some solid evidence that some manuscripts are just waiting for the right editor at the right time. Good for you for sticking with it! 

When you compare some 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?

RR: SQUISHED actually grew out of another story I was working on. The characters and the overall concept were different and the earliest drafts had no word play. The idea of being squashed, repetition, and a circular structure survive in the final story.  

DP. I love hearing the backstory! 

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? 

RR: I put the story away until 2017, when I took it to a Highlights Foundation workshop. Cecilia Yung, Art Director at Penguin Random House, saw the story (text only since I can’t draw), loved it, and took it to editor/publisher Nancy Paulsen. And Nancy offered to publish it!

DP: Wow! That's a great endorsement for the program offerings at the Highlights Foundation (and for your manuscript!)

You have another picture book that comes out next year (LITTLE RED, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster) and also several fiction and nonfiction titles from a variety of other publishers. When you compare the path to publication for SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED to one or more of your other books,  what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

RR: SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED and my middle grade novel TRIA AND THE GREAT STAR RESCUE were in the right place at the right time. SQUISHED was discovered at a workshop and TRIA was plucked from the slush pile. 


Many of my other books were written to exact specifications for educational publishers. They were written and published relatively quickly. I revised LITTLE RED for about a year before my agent submitted it. Aladdin made an offer a few weeks later.

DP: Sounds like those revisions for LITTLE RED were well worth the effort! 

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 have worked as a librarian (and maybe you still do!) 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 remote) events? 

RR: My library system hosted authors for special events and summer reading programs. We couldn’t book someone we knew nothing about. Contact the libraries and schools and let them know what you offer. Put all the info on your website, too. Make sure your programs are interactive and appropriate for many age levels or offer different programs for different ages.

DP: That's great advice. Thanks! Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

RR: I’m currently working on companion stories to SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED and LITTLE RED. I’m also revising a middle grade fantasy.

DP: I wish you much success with these other projects ... AND with the launch of SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED, Rebecca! Thanks so much for sharing your Path to Publication with us!

Friends, you know the drill: Rebecca's books are available everywhere books are sold!

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I’m a twin and the oldest of four children. Our many car trips did not inspire me to write SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED because we were always absolute angels. Absolute. Angels. 

For as long as I can remember, I loved reading and writing stories and poems. So, it’s no surprise that I became a librarian and writer. But I’ve also worked as a cleaner, babysitter, shampoo girl, filer, typist, reading and study skills teacher, and elementary school network manager.

My cats Ollie and Opal keep me company while I write. I don’t care for coffee, so my writing is fueled by dark chocolate chips, often eaten on graham crackers.

Although I’ve had more than 30 books published, SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED is my first picture book. My second picture book LITTLE RED is coming from Aladdin in Spring 2022. You can find me online at RebeccaKraftRector.wordpress.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 (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

January 25, 2021

The Book Trailer Reveal Part of the Writing Life

Hello friends! Just a brief post today to share my excitement of the BIG REVEAL for the book trailer of my next book, Lucy's Blooms (illustrated by Alice Brereton, published by West Margin Press.)


The book is beautiful. I can't wait until it launches in April, but in the meantime, you can watch this lovely video (that I designed and produced!) using illustrations from the book by Alice Brereton, and backed up by gorgeous, original music by Maiah Wynne (more on our collaboration later!) 

(Update: Here is the direct link if the embedded video won't show: https://youtu.be/csoF_xhUTuI )

And, since today marks the start of The Great Kindness Challenge, we're doing a giveaway of an advanced reader copy of Lucy's Blooms. Enter to win by commenting below (or on Instagram) about an act of kindness you’ve received or witnessed (enter before noon, PST 1/29.) Bonus kindness points if you share this post, and/or tag a friend! 

Love the song? Go out and give some love to Maiah Wynne. Love the illustrations? Go out and give some love to Pickled Alice Art

Love the book? It's available for pre-order everywhere books are sold (though I’m highly partial to supporting your local indie bookstore directly, or by shopping online at Bookshop.org

December 29, 2020

Have Swag Will Travel: WAY PAST WORRIED and Other Titles, by Hallee Adelman

As the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future. One of the things I'm most looking forward to in the coming year is launching a new book into the world, and that means BOOK EVENTS!

Today's guest, Hallee Adelman, has launched several books into the world (two during the middle of a pandemic!), and she was kind enough to allow me to interview her about some of her book-event-related experiences and ideas. I am also excited that she's giving our readers a shot at her New Year’s Giveaway: A Year with Less Worries and More Books, which comes with a signed copy of her latest title, Way Past Worried, book swag, a recipe sheet and whisk to make Worry Whip, and a gift certificate for free copies of her next two books!!! 


So let's get right to it! 

Dawn Prochovnic: It’s so nice to have you back to the blog, Hallee. I’ve enjoyed following your social media campaigns for your latest book as well as for your earlier projects. It’s evident that you put a lot of thought into your outreach to readers. 

You visited the blog last year to share enrichment activities and learning extensions related to your first book, My Quiet Ship. Since that time, you’ve launched two additional books, Way Past Mad that came out in March, (Albert Whitman & Co, illustrated by Sandra de La Prada)

and most recently, Way Past Worried (Albert Whitman & Co, illustrated by Sandra de La Prada.) 

I can’t think of two more appropriate themes and titles for the historic times we are currently navigating! In addition to hosting a variety of traditional book launch events prior to the pandemic, I’ve noticed that you’ve also coordinated many innovative outreach efforts. Reflecting on the programs you have facilitated, both traditional, and remote, are there any elements/activities that stand out that the kids (and/or their parents/ caregivers) seemed to enjoy the most? 

Hallee Adelman: With every book I write, my goal is to help kids feel loved. I want kids to feel seen and cared about as they learn to manage big feelings. Of course, I also want readers to connect and have fun, and I love creating interactive experiences. Some stand-out moments during this “time of zoom” have been dancing with classes to the Way Past Mad song, 


sharing Power Poses (or stances to feel empowered), using visuals to play “Guess My Mood,” and swapping ideas on how to deal with big emotions.

DP: What a beautiful, heartfelt goal, and the activities you've described sound (and look!) marvelous. I suspect that kids do indeed feel very loved and seen and cared about when they read your books. 

Do you have any fun anecdotes and/or pictures to share from your past events?  

HA: Yes! Way Past Worried was launching at a time when frankly, the world was worried. The headlines were grim, families were struggling, adults were drained from zoom calls, and most kids were learning from home. As I wrote in Way Past Mad, people’s feelings continued to “swell and spread like a rash.” Everyone suggested that I postpone the launch party. But I didn’t want to. I knew that kids and families needed to connect and remember that they were part of a large and loving community.

Children’s Book World was closed due to the pandemic, but as always, their team was up for anything. So I reached out to my local library in Belmont Hills to see if we could host a drive-through launch party in their parking lot. Amazing children’s librarian, Gwen Gatto, was thrilled and started spreading the word to families. 

We set their parking lot up as a track. Guests came in and were greeted by our team dressed in purple hoodies with the book cover on the back, so it could feel like the illustrator, Sandra de La Prada, was right there with us. I had planned out stations so that cars could make multiple stops to get treats by No Nuts Nikki, clip boards with activities and swag, superhero masks, signed books, and lots of photos (taken by my sister and niece). Socially-distanced stations were run by my kids, Jade and Sage Adelman, along with Children’s Book World, book ambassadors like Avery Haron, colleague Lyndsey McCormick, and fellow authors, like Goodbye Mr. Spalding’s Jenifer Robin Barr. At the very last stop, each car got a “BOOX” car magnet and entered a raffle to win a bundle that included swag, recent Albert Whitman titles and other books by local authors and friends.  



Besides friend and family guests, kids and teachers from schools like the Little Learners Literacy Academy and Conshohocken Elementary rolled in with love. I was so excited to see big smiles and to create a “worry-free zone” where everyone could recharge and feel Way Past Happy!





DP: Oh my goodness, Hallee. This event looks like so much fun! What an excellent example of working with and around current obstacles to create community and connect with readers. It makes me wish we lived closer so I could have been there to participate and support you in person!  

I do have to ask if you have any event mishaps or cautionary tales that other storytime/book event planners might benefit from knowing about--or simply get a kick out of?

HA: In the zoom universe, it might help to ask teachers in advance if the kids know how to mute and unmute their microphones. Alternately, you can suggest at the beginning of the zoom that parents of kids with unmuted microphones find a different time to vacuum.  

DP: Ha! Very good tips! I'm writing this into my planning notes right now!

I’ve noticed that you’ve incorporated novelty items/swag into your book promotions, for example branded feelings charts and a Way Past Worried puzzle. I’d love to learn more about how you went about creating/obtaining these items and if you have advice for others who might like to create similar items for their own books. 

HA: My biggest piece of advice is to ask yourself: Why you are creating these items and activities to go with your books? I write small books about big feelings and want readers to feel great love. I also want the book’s impact to extend beyond the time that a child spends reading the story. As a former teacher, I can’t help but think of extension activities, music and swag that can go along with the books. I want to strengthen students’ learning, create usable resources for librarians and teachers, and bring smiles to families. I think deeply about everything that I create and invest a lot of time, money and effort into making the book extension pieces just right. 

Another piece of advice would be to bring fun, talent and community into the work. I’ve engaged a talented local artist, Darcy Marcantonio, designed websites with super-techie, Derek Little, and written my own music that I brought to life with exceptional local musicians, Alfred Goodrich, Chuck Treece, Jeff Smith, and singers, Leo Gade and Elizabeth Christman from the Philadelphia Boys and Girls Choirs. This past year spring I launched the Book Song Challenge with “Poppy” a local celebrity also called “76ers Sixth Man” 


and have worked with the uber-special team at the Franklin Institute to connect with students about the science of emotions. 

My favorite activities are the ones I have created with my daughter, Sage Adelman. She is a wonderful baker and enjoyed cooking from a very young age. Together, we have made videos, recipes, and cooking activities like Mad Cakes and Worry Whip-so kids can mash out their mad and whip their worries! 



When reading the books, I hope kids consider the characters on the page and how the stories make them feel. In the long term, I want the kids to become successful in managing feelings, navigating relationships, and feeling confident and empowered. I’ve made Power Stickers, “Way Past Fun” card games, stamps, Stuck-at-Home videos, Emotion-Building writing lessons, “I Found My Way Past Mad” medals, etc. 

All these resources allow me to use different mediums to help cement the power of the book’s messaging in a way that feels authentic and natural to me. So my last piece of advice would be to make sure that whatever you create, large or small, will reflect a true piece of yourself and feels “just right” for your readers. 

DP: This is such excellent advice, Hallee. And I'm very moved by how much consideration and care you put into each resource and extension activity and tool that you create for your readers and their grown-ups. I feel so grateful that our mutual affection for picture books and education provided an opportunity for us to get to know each other. 

Are there any other resources you relied upon to plan your event(s) that might help others plan their own book launch events, particularly during these unique times?  

HA: There are many resources! I love learning and sharing wacky event ideas with my writing group. New writers looking to learn more about events can always turn to other authors through SCBWI, Highlights, and #pbchat. I personally always loved Alexis O’Neill’s author visit packet on her website! It helped me communicate with schools when I was first getting started. There are often great conference sessions about planning school events and launch parties. Many authors also post launch pictures and share descriptions of their events. I’ve found it helpful to ask my local bookseller, librarians, teachers, kids, parents, and fellow authors about successful visits and launches. As you can probably tell by now, two of the greatest resources I always turn to are community and creativity. 

DP: Thank you for being so generous with these ideas, Hallee! I was familiar with Alexis O'Neill's articles for the SCBWI Bulletin, and her School Visit Experts site, but I had not yet visited her author visit packet on her website. That's a great resource to add to the toolkit. 

Do you have any new projects coming up that you’d like to put on the radar? and/or is there something you wished I would have asked you that you haven’t had the opportunity to share? 

HA: Yes! Way Past Sad and Way Past Jealous are due out this Spring 2021! And…thanks to my amazing agent, Moe Ferarra of Bookends Literary, there are more books to come after that! Way past grateful for this opportunity to chat with you, Dawn. 

DP: It's been absolutely delightful chatting with you, Hallee. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us. I've learned so much! 

Friends, the very best way to thank Hallee is to support her work. Hallee's books are available everywhere books are sold.

And, if you'd like to WIN Hallee's latest book, Way Past Worried, along with book swag, a recipe sheet and whisk to make Worry Whip, and a gift certificate for free copies of her next two books, simply comment below before 11:59pm EST on January 3rd. If you'd like another chance to win, visit @WayPastBooks on Instagram and follow the instructions on the giveaway posts. The contest starts today and will run through 11:59pm EST on January 3rd. Winners will be announced on January 4th.


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Hallee Adelman is the author of My Quiet Ship (2018), and The Great Big Feelings Series with titles including: Way Past Mad (2020) and Way Past Worried (2020). With a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies, Adelman has taught university through elementary students, having been nominated for the Disney Teacher of the Year Award on multiple occasions. She loves sharing writing tips with educators, children, teens and writers. Adelman has also served various organizations related to children and/or education such as Franklin Institute, Please Touch Museum, Wissahickson Charter School, and Simon’s Heart. She is married with two children and two dogs.  Random fact: Adelman also produces documentary films and theater projects.  Learn more at https://halleeadelman.com/

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Have Swag Will Travel is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, 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.

December 23, 2020

2020 Year-End Post and Holiday Greeting

As I've mentioned in years past, I still participate in 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 the task as an opportunity for creative expression, aiming to convey our family news in a way that is also reflective of the trends and/or events in our world...and OH what a year it has been. 

Beings that this year was an election year like no other, and the first year our two kids were eligible to vote in a presidential election, I felt the obvious choice was to express our family news in the form of a ballot: 


As I wrote, re-read, and reflected on this year's update, what struck me most was how full our "family ballot" was despite spending so much of the year at home. Yes, we have each missed out on favorite events and activities as well as several special occasions and milestones. Yes, we are going a bit stir crazy. And YES, we are looking forward to the world opening up again, (hopefully very, very SOON!), but we have found ways to connect, engage, create and learn, and we have made memories that will not soon be forgotten. 

Make no mistake, we are ready for a new year and a new normal that is reminiscent of our pre-COVID lives, but we have done our fool best to be open to and present in the offerings of 2020. As a result, our characters (and our relationships with each other) have grown and developed in ways we couldn't have anticipated or imagined this time last year; and that it what good stories are made of. 

Sam, Dawn, Katia and Nikko, 2020

December 1, 2020

The "Story-Telling" Part of the Writing Life

Over the past few weeks I've had the amazing experience of having a custom song written and recorded by one of my favorite bands, Fox and Bones

Image Source: Fox and Bones Website

It all started when I won a contest. I typically don't enter contests, so it's a major big deal that I entered and then WON such a cool opportunity. Fox and Bones recently started a new enterprise called Our Custom Song, and the contest was one of their launch "events." The band posted the contest info to their Instagram account, indicating that interested followers could enter by commenting on the post. Just before the contest closed, the band posted a reminder on their Instagram story, and I decided to add my name. The next day I received a message that I HAD WON! 

Soon after, Sarah and Scott (aka Fox and Bones) got in touch with me to share how the process would work: First, I was to select a topic or person of my choice that I wanted the song to be about. Next, I would complete a brief questionnaire about the subject, then we would set up a Zoom meeting so I could be interviewed about the subject. 

My first thought was to ask Fox and Bones to arrange and record their version of Travel in This Life with Me, the song I wrote the lyrics for and gifted to my husband, Sam, for our 30th wedding anniversary. I also thought it would be grand for them set one of my yet-to-be-published picture book manuscripts to music. I have collaborated with different musicians to create songs for three of my published picture books (Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?and the forthcoming Lucy's Blooms), and I thought it might be fun to change things up and create a song first. I sent an email with these ideas, and Sarah got right back to me indicating that they would love to put their own spin on Travel in This Life with Me

Then, I went on a long walk. Sam and I were in Sunriver, in Central Oregon, at the time, and the fresh air was all I needed for another idea to rush in. It was so obvious when it hit me, I was almost embarrassed that I didn't immediately think of it before: what I most wanted was a song about my late father-in-law, Henry Prochovnic, aka "Pop." His life story is tragic and beautiful and full of everything good stories are made of, and I could not imagine a better subject for a custom song. I wrote an updated email to Sarah and Scott, including a link to a blog post I had written about Henry a few years back, shortly after his memorial service. The post included a link to his obituary and the remarks I made at his service, to give them a sense of this wonderful man and his life story.  

Scott and Sarah agreed, and they sent me their "getting started" questionnaire and coordinated a time to meet by Zoom. We covered a lot of ground during the recorded Zoom meeting, which lasted just over an hour. Sarah took the lead in interviewing me, using the questions in the questionnaire to guide our conversation...and I told family stories. I found myself wondering what elements of Pop's story would make it into the song. Scott, who was the primary note-taker during our conversation, offered some hint of which of the morsels I shared were particularly "song-worthy," as he periodically and enthusiastically scribbled in his notebook. Throughout the conversation, I found myself both participating as an interviewee, and also taking mental notes as a fellow story-teller.

After our meeting ended, I sent Sarah and Scott an album of photos of Henry and Teena, and of our family, including these gems: 










as well as a copy of the handout from Pop's memorial service that included some of his well-known quotes and his full obituary. I also sent the responses I had jotted down for the questionnaire, in preparation for our meeting. The questions, and some excerpts of my responses included:

Q. Why did you want to do a custom song for this person?

A. Because Henry (aka "Pop" and "Grandpa") was such an important role model...the example he set for what pure, unequivocal love looks like and what it means to be a family will continue to live on in our family...and the families we grow.

Q. What occasion is the custom song for?

A. I plan to gift this to my husband, our kids, and my mother-in-law for the holidays--most likely around the time of Thanksgiving.

Q. What emotional impact do you hope to have on the recipient? 

A. I want this song to simultaneously break their hearts and fill them up.

Q. In one sentence, what do you want the song to be about? 

A. The cosmic nature of the circle of life. 

More than one sentence: The life we know and share exists because Henry/Pop/Grandpa somehow endured and survived the atrocities he witnessed and was subjected to AND because he fell in love with Tatiana/Teena... Reflecting on the Holocaust he often said: "On one shoulder I could hear a little voice saying, 'I want to die.' On the other shoulder I could hear a little voice saying, 'I want to live.'" He often followed that by saying he didn't know how or why he survived. I always replied, "so that I could have this beautiful life with your son and your grandchildren."

Q. What genre or musical artist would you like this song to resemble?

A. Acoustic folk. 

Q. What do you want the feel or the essence of the song to be? (ex. ballad, funny, romantic, upbeat and fun, thoughtful...)

A. Thoughtful. 

Q. Tell us about your subject: 

What were your favorite things about them? 

A. That he told me to call him “Pop” the first time we met. That he lived and survived so that I could be so lucky to live the life that I do with his son and our two children.  

Q. What words would you use to describe them?

A. Hard-working. Strong. Stubborn. Enduring adoration for his wife, Teena and the family they created and nurtured. 

Q. What do they love to do? What is their life purpose?

A. Henry was most proud of providing for his family. He worked at a cannery all of his career. 

Q. Do you have any anecdotes our stories about this person that help explain who they are and what your relationship is like? 

A. He asked his citizenship teacher if there were any pretty girls in town, and he was told where Tatiana/Teena lived. He knocked on the door and asked to meet her...he got a glimpse of her, and he was determined. He loved to say, "I had a nice car, a full head of hair, some money in my pocket..." Henry and Teena dated briefly and were married soon after. They had their first child before they spoke the same language and before they even knew they were different religions. 

*****

The next steps would be that Fox and Bones would compose a song and share draft recordings with me for a couple of rounds of feedback before they professionally recorded the song. I anticipated that weeks might pass before I heard back from them. Two days later, I had a draft song in my inbox. It was beautiful and moving and took my breath away. I did not know how I would keep it a secret from Sam and the kids until Thanksgiving. True confession: I shared the song with my sister, because I simply could not keep it to myself. She, too, was in disbelief that a song written by strangers could so perfectly capture Henry's story. 

After receiving the first recording and lyrics, I had to get busy and do some fact checking with Sam, and my mother-in-law, Teena. There were a few stories that I had shared during the interview that I needed to double check were completely accurate. That fact-checking led to my needing to make a few clarifications with Sarah and Scott. Once again, they quickly turned around a second draft recording. That version was even better than the first. There were just a few small, outstanding details that needed to be fine-tuned. I noted those requests, made a few suggestions, and in a matter of another few short days, I had a beautiful studio recorded version in hand. Then I had to wait to share it. 

Turns out I did not have the self-discipline to wait. I shared the song with Sam while we were still in Sunriver. He was speechless and deeply moved. Together, we shared the song with our two kids during our Thanksgiving dinner. We printed out the lyrics and rolled them into a scroll and wrapped a ribbon around them. It made for curious questions leading up to the song share--and soon the meal was seasoned with tears. A few days later, Sam and I shared the song with Teena and were met with more tears. 

As the tender memories of this man who is so dear to me are nudged so specifically, the feelings of grief and loss resurface. I suspect we will each cry a little bit each time we listen. But even though it indeed hurts to listen, it also feels good to hear this man's life conveyed through music, played back with truth and authenticity. The tears are in large part because Fox and Bones wrote and recorded a song that so beautifully and eloquently captures the life and times of Henry Prochovnic. 

I think one of the greatest compliments that could be given to Fox and Bones is that family members and friends who have now heard this song have asked if I wrote the lyrics. I did not. But I did learn quite a bit about story-telling by participating in this custom song writing experience. 

Henry and Teena have rich and compelling life stories, and Sam and I have been diligent about asking them to share their stories with us and with the wider community. As a result, Henry's story has been recorded through formal projects with organizations such as the Shoah Foundation, and through informal projects of our own, such as long ago setting up a video camera over many shared meals, and thus recording their answers to the questions we asked about their lives. 

On several occasions I've dabbled at writing down some of these stories, but I've never gotten past the dabbling stage. I've had difficulty sorting out the details and finding the through-lines. What I realized through this experience with Fox and Bones is that there are many, many stories about Henry and Teena (and others in my family tree) floating around in my head. The raw matter is there. I just need to commit to working with it. I was also reminded of the importance of narrowing in on significant details. I shared a variety of family stories with Sarah and Scott during their hour-long interview, and they created something magical and true by asking good questions, listening carefully to the answers, and by having good instincts for choosing the details to amplify and the details to resist getting distracted by. Going forward, I will seek to replicate that skillful crafting of story in my own work--be that stories that chronicle my family's rich history, or stories that I invent from my rich imagination.   

And now I imagine, dear readers, that you would like to hear this song. It is entitled, The Love Your Life Begins

You can find it on YouTube and SoundCloud (and maybe someday, on one of Fox and Bones' albums.) I've shared the beautiful lyrics below. And if you would like the opportunity for Fox and Bones to create your very own custom song, I encourage you to get in touch with them directly. You can find out more here

*****

The Love Your Life Begins

Lyrics and music by Sarah Vitort and Scott Gilmore. Recorded and mixed by Matt Greco at The Rye Room in Portland, Oregon. (c) 2020 Our Custom Song, a subsidiary of Fox and Bones LLC Lyrics Poland 1925, the beginning of a life Memories are few and far between pulled from this time Had 2 brothers and a sister, life was simple looking back Only 14 years of youth, before adulthood took all that Just 14 years, your youth went by so fast 1939 a prisoner, separated from your blood Transported in cattle cars and ground into the mud potato peels as sustenance, crushed stones with your bare hands One step out of line, and there your life would end A hallowed voice asks why continue on? With so much pain and suffering, just take that step and all this will be gone A second voice chimes in Your life’s more than your own, it belongs to the love your life begins The love your life begins 1952 in Portland, a 26year ride, you catch a glimpse of pure beauty, you’re convinced that she’d one day be your bride one look, is all it takes, it’s all you’d ever need, you married Teena shortly after for 65 years of harmony still the prettiest you’ve ever seen Working hard and saving up, providing for your family To insure they never wanted, you spent overtime at the cannery In 62, a joyful call came by surprise Your sister, who’d been presumed dead, was very much alive The first voice asks, how could you live on? I had you marching straight towards death, you were defeated I thought that I had won The voice responds within Your life’s more than your own it belongs to the love your life begins Fatherhood comes naturally to strong and steady types The nightmares of your youth became the dreams you made for your children’s lives They flourished, free from persecution in the states Henry, your family called you Pop and burned for you each one of your steaks It was the only way to make them safe You passed more peacefully than any could have guessed Upon the day that heaven opens up its gates to each and every guest You worked relentlessly to keep your family fed you lived your life to honor all the souls who would come next The first voice asked how do I become So strong a man, with so much love, is there still time for me to turn to one? The next voice draws you in Your life’s more than your own it belongs to the love your life begins

*****

Thank you, Sarah and Scott, aka Fox and Bones, for knowing just the right questions to ask, and just the right details to capture from my answers, and for creating something so tender and true. It is quite possible I will never be able to fully convey my gratitude for this special tribute to Henry Prochovnic that our family will treasure for the rest of our lives. 

November 18, 2020

The "Raising Awareness" Part of the Writing Life

This time last year I was awash with excitement about book-launch activities and events related to my (then) newly released books, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? 

Cowgirl Dawn at PNBA, 2019

Given the humorous nature of these books, laughter and potty-puns were flowing freely. However, despite my active sense of humor, I did find 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.

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, I do try to laugh and have fun, but I also do my best to use my platform to raise awareness about topics of import. 

One of those topics is the importance of clean water and sanitation, and one way to connect that topic to my silly books, is to raise awareness about World Toilet Day, a serious observance that occurs each year on November 19th. The intent of World Toilet Day is to inspire "action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which promises sanitation for all by 2030. Established by the World Toilet Organization in 2001, World Toilet Day was made an official UN day in 2013." (Source: World Toilet Day Website).

The 2020 theme of World Toilet Day is, "Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change," with the idea being that everyone should have access to sustainable sanitation systems "that can withstand climate change and keep communities healthy and functioning." The World Toilet Day website has great resources to support those who want to take action to bring about positive change. There are toolkits with resources to help you learn moresocial media resources to help draw attention to the issue, and calls to action that can be undertaken even during times of restrictions due to COVID-19. 

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

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

Similarly, The Illinois River Watershed Partnership in Arkansas has detailed lesson plans for educators on their website, including a comprehensive program called Clean Water Raingers, complete with downloadable resources including a Watershed Adventure WorkbookWatershed Songs, and Watershed Videos. (Incidentally, the Watershed Songs and Videos are written and performed by Marshall Mitchell, the same artist who co-wrote and performed the song that accompanies the book trailer for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and who regularly performs for children and families (quite often in libraries) in Arkansas and surrounding areas--and I'm sure Marshall can't wait to return to live performance venues sometime soon).

Another great resource for climate-related music and curriculum support is Annie Lynn, of AnnieBirdd Music, LLC. Annie 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?)

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

Lastly, 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!)