April 5, 2021

The "Inspiration" Part of the Writing Life

My new picture book, Lucy's Blooms, was inspired by an experience in my own garden, many years ago. As I diligently tended to the flowers in my carefully prepared flowerbeds, I observed two additional plants that had independently sprouted in a patch of soil that bordered my front walkway. They looked something like this:

Link to Image Credit


I didn’t know what these plants were, only that they were beautiful and thriving. Eventually, more experienced gardeners informed me that these plants were actually weeds, and I was advised to pull them. This vigorous and lively pair of weeds brought me such joy as I passed by them day after day, I couldn’t fathom the idea of discarding them. Instead, I nurtured them. I watered them, I talked to them, and I admired them as they grew and grew…and grew.


As I reflected on this experience, I considered the impact of socially constructed labels, such as beauty and worth, and how these labels impact our everyday actions. I became fascinated by dandelions, in particular, because they are widely considered to be an invasive nuisance that should be controlled/eliminated, and yet, every part of a dandelion (root, leaves, petals, etc.) is edible, they are rich in nutrients, and they are known to have healthful, curative properties. Plus, they are easy to grow, resilient, wildly familiar to (and beloved by) children, and in my view, absolutely beautiful.


And thus were planted, the seeds of Lucy’s Blooms.


Published by West Margin Press


Some years later, as the manuscript for Lucy’s Blooms was still germinating, artist and activist Mona Caron painted a fireweed on a building in Portland, Oregon, my hometown.

Link to Photo Credt

I began to research her work and found myself taken with many of the things she had to say, such as:






I also found myself drawn to this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:


I ruminated on these quotes and ideas, as I continued to revise Lucy's Blooms until it captured the essence of what I wanted to say.

And what better day to share this with you than today, National Dandelion Day (yep, that's a thing.)

And to celebrate, I'll end with a fun dandelion-related activity for all ages:




Enjoy!

March 25, 2021

The "Developing Enrichment Materials" Part of the Writing Life

Recently, I had the opportunity to write a guest post on my publisher's blog, where I shared childhood memories of gardening with my Gram, and I provided instructions for an indoor planting activity to do with kids.  


I had so much fun putting that post together, I thought it might be nice to share another indoor planting activity here. As with the first, this activity uses supplies you likely have at home, or could easily obtain from your neighborhood grocery store. 

Here is the activity:

Observe the Germination Process of a Seed, Bean or Pea

Supplies Needed

Old canning jar (or clear plastic cup) 

Paper towels 

3-5 seeds (bean and pea seeds grow quickly.) You can also try using dried, uncooked beans or peas from your kitchen pantry that have been soaked in water overnight. 

Spoon or small measuring cup

Water

Sunshine



Steps:

1. Squeeze several sections of paper towel into loose wads, then stuff the paper towel wads into the canning jar, until it is full. 




2. Add spoonfuls of water to moisten the paper towel. The paper should be very wet, but not so wet that the water pools at the bottom of the jar.


3. Place the seeds into the canning jar, positioning each seed so that it can be seen through the glass and fits snugly between the jar and the wet paper towel. Be careful that each seed rests on a wrinkle or fold in the paper towel and does not fall to the bottom of the jar. 



4. Place the jar in a warm place that gets plenty of natural light, such as a windowsill. 


5. Observe your seeds daily, adding water to the paper towels as needed to keep them moist. It will likely take three or more days for your seeds to begin to sprout. 




6. Record and discuss your observations as the seed sprouts begin to open, develop roots, and grow stems and leaves. 


7. Consider completing this activity with multiple jars, using different types of seeds in each jar.  Observe and compare which seeds sprout the fastest and which grow the tallest. 


8. For added learning and fun, fill an additional canning jar 3/4 full with potting soil, and gently press 2-3 seeds into the soil. Fully cover the seeds with 1/2 inch of additional soil, then moisten the soil with spoonfuls of water. Place the jar with the soil next to the jar(s) with the moist paper towels. Hypothesize what is happening to the seeds beneath the surface in the jar with the soil, as you observe what is happening to the seeds germinating in the jar(s) with the moist paper towels.


9. Consider pairing this activity with a storytime filled with planting-themed books, such as Lucy's Blooms and other titles from this list I've compiled.

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic and Alice Brereton

May you make many happy memories exploring the wonders of nature with a child you love!  

March 15, 2021

Have Swag Will Travel: COW SAYS MEOW and other titles by Kirsti Call

Hi friends. Today, I'm pleased to share an interview with author Kirsti Call, whose darling book, Cow Says Meow, (illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) launches into the world on March 16, 2021. 


Kirsti was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her book event plans and experiences.  This is Kirsti's second book launch during the pandemic, and third launch overall, so she has lots of experiences to share with us. 

Let's get to it!

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by the blog to share some of your event-related experiences and ideas, Kirsti. 

If I understand correctly, your first book, The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall, (illustrated by Lisa M. Griffin, Mazo Publishers) came out prior to the pandemic and your second book, Mootilda’s Bad Mood, (co-authored with Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Claudia Ranucci (Little Bee) launched during the pandemic. 

This year you’ll be launching two new books: Cow Says Meow (illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Cold Turkey (Little Brown). Reflecting on the book events you have facilitated in the past and have planned for the future, both traditional, and remote, are there any elements/activities that stand out that the kids (and/or their teachers/ parents/caregivers) have enjoyed the most? 

Kirsti Call: My in person book launch for The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall was incredibly fun.  We sang songs, read the book, ate cake and I signed books! 


The kids loved the interactive STORY IN A BOX activity. 

But for Mootilda’s Bad Mood, we had a virtual book launch where we sang songs, read the book, and offered signed books with stickers! 


My 10 year old son played the part of Mootilda the puppet--and the puppet was a big hit. 

DP: That sounds like a marvelous time. I especially love the bookplates and stickers! 

KC: I’ve got more tricks up my sleeve for my Cow Says Meow book launch where illustrator, Brandon James Scott, is joining me, on Tuesday March 16, at 7pm EST at Unlikely Story

The wonderful  thing about virtual book launches is my ability to have the illustrator with me, although he lives in Canada.  It also broadens my audience. Instead of people who live in my area coming to the launch, a virtual book launch includes my family from across the country, and people from all over the world. 

DP: Yay for silver linings! 

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

KC: COVID not only opens up who can attend a book event, but also who hosts them. You can host a virtual event from anywhere.  I’ve taken several classes from The Writing Barn, so my MOOTILDA book launch was hosted by them in Texas as I participated from my home in the Boston area. The possibilities for book events are endless! 


DP: Nice job thinking outside of the box (ahem, barn), and what a great photo. I love how you went all in on the cow theme! You've given me some great ideas for my own remote launch in April

Shifting gears a bit, you co-host a picture-book related podcast along with Kim Chaffee. What do you currently enjoy most about it? 


KC: We interview authors and illustrators and their editors. We sometimes have the privilege of talking to the book designer or art director also. Sometimes our zoom interview is the first time the author and illustrator has ever seen each other. Bringing the creative team together is a privilege--and I adore talking about how each book comes to life!

DP: That sounds as if it's as much fun to create and participate in as it is to listen to! 

In addition to your podcast, you are involved in MANY kidlit-related “extras,” including co-coordinating ReFoReMo, participating as a "12x12 elf," blogging for Writer’s Rumpus, and judging for the CYBILS award. How do you balance your time between your own creative work and these extra endeavors? 

KC: I’ve always loved being super involved and I truly believe I learned to juggle it all because I have five children. When I have an open 10 minutes here or there, I take advantage of it!  I’ve become super efficient with the time I do have to devote to writing and volunteer activities within the kidlit community.  And I always schedule time for writing, family,  and self care. Sticking to my schedule helps me balance my life in a way that works well for me.  


DP: What a beautiful family! (And folks, let Kirsti be an inspiration to us all as we balance our creative work alongside the other roles and responsibilities in our lives.)

I’ve noticed we share an interest in incorporating songs and music into our book-related activities. I’d love to hear more about how the song for Mootilda came to be, and if there are any songs in the works for Cow Says Meow and/or Cold Turkey? 

KC: My 15 year old daughter, Sydney, writes incredible music. I asked her to write me a song for MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD and I loved it so much we’re doing a song for each of my books. The song for COW SAYS MEOW will debut at our book launch.  

DP: I look forward to it! 

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? 

KC: My first board book is coming out in the summer of 2022!  And I just transitioned from being a marriage and family therapist, to coaching creatives!  I’m super excited about my GET YOURSELF UNSTUCK program! 

DP: That sounds like an exciting new venture, Kirsti. I wish you continued success. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us. 

Friends, the best way to express your thanks to Kirsti is to add one or more of her books to your collection. They are available everywhere books are sold, but you know I'm partial to indies

And, if you'd like to win a copy of COW SAYS MEOW, follow both Dawn and Kirsti on Twitter (@DawnProchovnic and @KirstiCall) and reply to one of our tweets with the blog post, tagging a friend before 11:59 ET on March 22, 2021 (US Addresses only.)

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Kirsti Call co-hosts the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She's a critique ninja and elf for 12x12, a blogger for Writers' Rumpus, and a Rate Your Story judge. She's judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti is a therapist trained life coach for creatives. Her picture book, MOOTILDA'S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) released last fall. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. 







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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

March 10, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: THE STAR FESTIVAL, by Moni Ritchie Hadley

I'm so pleased to bring you another Birth Stories for Books post. Today's guest is Moni Ritchie Hadley, author of THE STAR FESTIVAL (illustrated by Mizuho FujisawaAlbert Whitman & Company, April 2021). Moni's forthcoming book is beautiful, and I'm so glad to share how it came to be with you.

So let's get right to it!



Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by the blog, Moni. I’m very intrigued by your forthcoming book, THE STAR FESTIVAL The cover art and the description are very compelling. 

Moni Ritchie Hadley: Thank you for having me, Dawn. What a year it has been, kicking off my writing career during the pandemic. Focusing on this book has been a real blessing during this time. 

DP: I couldn't agree more! Focusing on book-related work has been a big help to me during this time, too!

Speaking of book-related work, I see that you moderated a panel entitled “Fiction from Life” on Picture Book Palooza this past December, so I’m betting that this story draws on personal experience. I’d love to hear more about that.

MRH: Yes! The story stems from my experiences in more ways than one. The initial idea took hold when my elderly mother came to live with me; an intergenerational story was born. My daughter is a teen now but caring for a toddler, and my mother in her 80s aired similarities, preparations before leaving the house, doctor appointments, rules, naps, etc. The story took on a deeper meaning when I changed the setting to the Japanese Tanabata Festival (The Star Festival). I celebrated many festivals in Japan as a child, but it wasn’t until I wrote this story that I asked myself questions about its origins and meanings. The research opened up a whole new world of ideas, and that is when the story blossomed.

DP: Thank you for sharing this. I love hearing these kinds of background details of how a story came to be. 

I’d also 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.

MRH: From the first draft to submission took five months. I was stuck in a concept book format for a good portion of those five months. I took a class at the Children’s Book Academy that focused on character-driven stories and characters driving plot. This helped me to see my manuscript in a new light. Critiques helped me a great deal, and when I allowed myself the freedom to try something new, it grew from a 150-word manuscript to 500 plus and became the story it is today.

DP: It's great that you tapped into outside resources and allowed yourself the creative freedom to try new approaches! 

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?

MRH: Aside from changing the story's setting, I focused on the main character’s POV. Because the initial idea was based on a mother’s introspection, I had to shake that off and make sure that I was writing this story for kids and not moms! 😉

Oba (grandma) getting lost, the main plot point, survived the revision. Also, a detail, Oba and Keiko sharing a toothless giggle. The rest of the story changed quite a bit. 

DP: You've officially hooked me with this idea of a shared toothless giggle! 

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? 

MRH: Yes. The pitch caught the editor's attention through the course I took, The Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books, offered by The Children’s Book Academy

DP: It's great that you had a compelling pitch ready to go! Nicely done! 

One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. Your bio indicates you are a longtime educator, and you also do author visits, so you have experience on both sides of the equation! 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? 

MRH: As a teacher, getting to know my students and sharing a bit about me were always my first goals when meeting students. This strategy sets up trust, and kids usually open up when they feel safe. My book debuts April 1, 2021, so I have not done any author visits yet. But I will employ the same ideas digitally. I am gearing up to be actively involved with schools, so I have a plan on my website. Kids are at the heart of why I write books, and I know I can teach and get kids excited to learn. Therefore my visits will include three parts, reading/discussion/questions, a mini writing lesson, and a book-related craft/art activity. Schools will be able to choose their topics and activities of interest from my site. My biggest challenge will be learning the nuances and the prep involved via the digital formats.

DP: It sounds like you have all the right foundational elements in place for excellent school visits, Moni. (And I think we're all trying learn and re-learn the various nuances and preparations involved with the digital formats!) 

Looking at your website, you have a lot of projects competing for your attention (i.e. a tutoring service, a short film, articles in magazines for kids and adults). How do you balance the time between your different projects and the different aspects of the publishing business?

MRH: Thank you for noticing! 😆 Being creative fuels me, so I stay busy. When I worked full time, creative projects gave me the balance I needed to feel whole. Now that I write full time, the challenge is to learn the business end of being a published author. I write every day for a few hours in the morning (and whenever else I get the urge). Then I usually decide what I want to work on for the second half of the day, art, website, book promo, agent submissions, reading, critiquing, exercise, or some new project that has piqued my interest. Deadlines definitely influence my decisions. But almost everything is written in my calendar. And that is what I reference when I make a plan. 

DP: Hooray for calendars!   

You have great resources for parents, students, educators, and writers on your website, 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 create these types of supplementary materials for our readers, what are the pluses and minuses of creating and maintaining these types of resources, from your perspective? 

MRH: The resources do take some time to create, but in doing so, I learn new skills. So, I feel it’s a win-win. Many of the resources, especially the Monster Sheetz I created, came from painting experimentations. So no time was wasted there! I created monsters from paint splotches, similar to finding shapes in the clouds, and I thought they would make great character and story starters, so I created worksheets for teachers and parents. They are free to print or download in a digital format. The worksheets are meant to get kids to tap into their creative side and write without fear of getting it wrong. Children need the time to be creative, even in a structured school day. The process of combining traditional and digital elements has also challenged me technologically! But, I am studying illustration, so learning the skills has been frustrating but useful as well! From a business perspective, I feel that by offering teachers and parents services, I am connecting as not only an author but also an educator. 

DP: Your Monster Sheetz seem like an excellent tool for giving kids the opportunity to be creative without judgement, and I agree that it's really helpful to connect with teachers and parents as a fellow educator.  

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?

MRH: Picture book writing is difficult no matter where you are in the process. It doesn’t get easier once you get a contract or get published. Trying to unlock the pieces to make my stories work consumes me night and day. I don’t think that will ever change!

DP: I couldn't have said that better myself. It is hard work, but I'm so glad we have the opportunity to do this kind of work and that the work we do makes a genuine difference in children's lives.

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

MRH: I want to credit Mizuho Fujisawa for an amazing job on the illustrations. It’s an incredible feeling to see your characters realized. And her depictions of Japan fill me with a sense of nostalgia and comfort.

I’d also like to credit my editor, Christina Pulles. She has a really gentle way of pulling ideas out of me, suggesting ideas, and communicating in general. And—she found Mizuho! 

DP: How wonderful that your editor found the just-right illustrator for your story, and how lovely that the illustrations fill you with a sense of nostalgia and comfort.  

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

MRH: I am writing a picture book about a boy who hopes to see his Papa’s spirit during the Japanese Obon Festival (similar to the day of the Dead celebration).

I also have a PB about a girl who wears a samurai persona on her first day at a new school inspired by the dread I felt as a child, always being uprooted and starting anew due to my dad’s job in the military.

DP: Those sound like excellent books, Moni. I look forward to hearing news about those, too. 

And thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE STAR FESTIVAL with us! 

MRH: I appreciate your personalized and thoughtful questions. Thank you for this opportunity, Dawn! 

DP: It was absolutely my pleasure. 

Friends, if you enjoyed this time learning about Moni and her new book as I did, please consider adding her book to your collection. THE STAR FESTIVAL is available everywhere books are sold

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Moni Ritchie Hadley grew up in a military family and bounced back and forth from the USA to Japan. Daydreaming was a favorite pastime. She received a BA in Psychology at UCLA and later became a home/hospital teacher for the LAUSD, where she taught students with medical needs. Today she lives in Los Angeles, where she turns her sky-gazing daydreams into stories for children. Also published in Highlights Magazine, THE STAR FESTIVAL is her picture book debut. 





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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

March 3, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, by Christine Van Zandt

Hello readers, it's time for another Birth Stories for Books interview. Today's guest is Christine Van Zandt, and we'll be talking about her forthcoming book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS (illustrated by Harry Briggs, published by Quarto Kids, April, 2021). 

So if you've been itching to talk about unmentionables, today is your day! 

(Book Cover and interior images courtesy of becker&mayer! kids)

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by the blog, Christine. Being a self-proclaimed potty-humorist, I was immediately intrigued by the topic and (clever!) title of your forthcoming book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS. It’s described as “one part humor, one part history” that "explores the evolution of fashion’s most unmentionable garment.” Ha! If that description doesn’t get a young reader’s attention, I don’t know what will!

You mentioned that you had an interesting story about how this book came about. I’d love to hear it! (I’d especially like to hear what prompted the idea for this book, as well as the process and timeframe between your initial idea and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.)

Christine Van Zandt: It all began at our elementary school where I had been a “book volunteer” since kindergarten. One of the jobs this included was working at our school’s annual week-long Book Fair, helping kids, parents, and teachers select books. In June 2018, nonfiction books were prominently featured in displays. Adults excitedly pointed them out, but one kid after another stated “nonfiction books are boring” even though many wonderful nonfiction books were offered. The kids’ complaints stuck with me. What would make more kids want to read nonfiction?

Humor was already a part of my writing, so writing a funny book was a natural choice, but I needed a great topic. When my third-grader suggested underwear, I loved it and I checked out what had been published on that topic. The most popular 32-page nonfiction picture book was ~2,700 words. It was amazing, but seemed far too long for this age group. Taking a new angle, I condensed the world history of underpants into short, fast scenes. (The final version of my 48-page book came in at ~1,500 words.)

I wrote the first draft January 2019, revised for a few months, workshopped it with my critique group in July, then revised some more.

In September 2019, I pitched this story on the #PitMad Twitter pitch event. A children’s book editor from Quarto Kids liked my pitch, so I sent her the full manuscript which led to the book contract and the book’s upcoming April 2021 publication date.

DP: What a fun backstory! And thanks for sharing these interior spreads! They are fabulous! 




(From A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS by Christine Van Zandt and Harry Briggs) 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this book to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? 

CVZ: The size of my book ballooned. I’d written the book as a 32-page picture book but the publisher envisioned a longer book. To take the book to 150% of its original length, I needed additional research but it was the early stages of the pandemic. I couldn’t even borrow books online from the library and pick them up via appointment as we can now (January 2021).

While there are some great online resources (such as encyclopedic, historical, and archaeological sites), I wasn’t finding enough facts, so I ended up buying at least 20 reference books to get the research done.

DP: Way to be nimble! (And I, too, have purchased more books than usual to support my research during the pandemic.) 

It’s my understanding that in addition to writing for young readers, you are also a freelance editor, so you have experience on both sides of the table. Based on this experience, what is one piece of professional advice that you have for fellow authors (or illustrators) who are seeking to transform a great idea for a book into a manuscript suitable for submission and eventual publication? 

CVZ: Workshop your story with critique partners. I wouldn’t have gotten this book or my other manuscripts from drafts to polished pieces without critique groups. I run a group that used to meet in person, but now meets via Zoom—we’ve been together for years. A steady group holds me to deadlines (need something to workshop each month!). These writers see various versions of the same story, and will point out when something in an earlier draft worked better.

For additional perspectives, I also workshop with other critique groups that include writers from across the US and in other countries. 

DP: Excellent advice! Thanks! 

Looking at your website, you have a lot of different projects competing for your attention (i.e. the freelance editing service; picture book critique giveaways; book reviews for Good Reads with Ronna; a quarterly “Ask an Editor” column for SCBWI's Kite Tales; and freelance articles in various magazines). Whew! I’m exhausted just writing all of this down. How do you balance the time between your different projects and the different aspects of the publishing business?

CVZ: I’m a multitasker, relying on calendars and lists to keep me on track. When at-home school started in early March 2020, my scheduled working hours disappeared but the jobs still need to be finished so I find time. For me, this usually means getting up first to have uninterrupted hours—well, there is the cat on my desk who likes to help me type, but that’s a story for another day!

DP: I admire your tenacity! (And calendar-keepers unite!) 

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

CVZ: While I will continue devoting time to promoting A Brief History of Underpants, I’m always reading, writing, revising, and looking to get my next picture book published.

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for Books with us, Christine!

And friends, here's the skinny: If you want to thank Christine for sharing this behind-the-scenes view into the path to publication, please consider supporting her work by buying her book. It's available everywhere books are sold (but as you well know, I'm partial to indies.)

But wait, there's more! Christine is giving away a picture book critique and YOU can get in on the action! Head over to her Twitter account, and take a look at the pinned tweet for all the details. This giveaway will expire on Sunday, March 7, 2021, so get your booty movin'!  

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(photo credit: Marlena Van Zandt)
Christine Van Zandt is a freelance editor, writer, and owner of Write for Success Editing Services. To uncover underwear facts, take a peek at her nonfiction picture book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS (April 2021, becker&mayer! kids). She’s the editor behind the SCBWI’s “Ask an Editor” column (Kite Tales blog) and contributes interviews. She also reviews children’s books for Good Reads with Ronna.

To find or follow Christine: website, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.




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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms (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 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