October 29, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: PIPPA'S PASSOVER PLATE, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (and more!) by Vivian Kirkfield

I'm so pleased to be able to share a new Birth Stories for Books interview with you. My guest is Vivian Kirkfield, who has recently authored several new picture books, including PIPPA'S PASSOVER PLATE (Holiday House, 2019); SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books, 2019); and FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN (PomegranateKids, 2019).

This is one of those posts that you're going to want to bookmark and read over and over again, because there is so much great information and inspiration packed into it. So let's get right to it!

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Vivian. If I remember correctly, you are one of the very first authors I started following on Twitter (back before I even understood how it worked!). It’s been a delight to watch your career flourish, and it’s a pleasure to be able to snag some time to connect with you, given that you have THREE new releases just out, and more on the way. Wow!

Vivian Kirkfield: Wow right back to you, Dawn. How lovely to know that I was one of your first peeps! I’m so happy to be here, chatting with you. I know I had promised to do a Q&A with you way back in February – but with my trip and the launch of all three books, things got a bit crazy. So, thank you for your patience and I am finally here – ready to answer your questions.

DP: It’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start by talking about PIPPA’s PASSOVER PLATE (illustrated by Jill WeberHoliday House, 2019). I’ve read PIPPA several times, and I’ve enjoyed it more each time. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this particular story? For example, I’d love to hear a little bit about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this story and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

By Vivian Kirkfield and Jill Weber

VK: One of the first things I did when I started this writing journey was to participate in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm (which used to be called PiBoIdMo – Picture Book Idea Month). In 2013, one of the industry professionals who contributed a blog post for that challenge was Joni Sussman, editor at Kar Ben. She said she was looking for Jewish holiday books and she invited all of the people doing Tara’s challenge to submit a story to her. An invitation to submit a story to an editor? Oh my gosh, I was so excited. I sat down and thought about what to write. And an image of a little mouse, hurrying and scurrying to get ready for Passover just popped into my head. I sat down and a bunch of rhyming verses flowed from my pen. Believe me, this is NOT how stories usually come to me. I polished it and sent it to the editor.

Unfortunately, she passed on it and I put the story away. Far away.

DP: Well, this book DID eventually find a publishing home, so now you've got us dialed in and ready to hear more about this journey. 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? 

VK: At the end of 2017, one of my FB buddies messaged me to say she thought I should enter that Passover story in a PJ Library contest. I took it out of the drawer to polish it up and I showed it to a local critique buddy of mine who happens to be an illustrator. She fell in love with it and asked if she could show it to an editor she had worked with. Jill Weber took it to the editor - who bought it on the spot and signed Jill to illustrate. And that’s like a happily ever after ending, right?

DP: Happily ever after, indeed! And Jill's illustrations are so perfect for the book. What a great turn of events!

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?

VK: The original version had more information about the holiday – I even rhymed all the foods on the Seder plate. But I felt it was clunky and so I took that part out. The meter and tempo of the story stayed the same and the refrain: Quiver Quaver Shiver Shake – Cats make Pippa cringe and quake…that was part of the story from the very beginning.

DP: I love that part of the story! I'm so glad you kept that in. 

You also have two other new books, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (illustrated by Chris EwaldCreston Books, 2019) and FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN (illustrated by Mirka HokkanenPomegranateKids, 2019). What were some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each of these books?

By Vivian Kirkfield and Chris Ewald

By Vivian Kirkfield and Mirka Hokkanen

: If I have learned anything on this path to publication it is that every single manuscript is going to have its own journey. What will be the same? There will be a contract of some sort…but each publisher has their own clauses and terms. There will be an illustrator who is signed on to do the pictures…but each editor determines how the team of author/illustrator/editor/art director/etc. will interact. Some editors may encourage collaboration and others may prefer to keep author and illustrator apart. I feel fortunate to have experienced both ends of that spectrum with OTTERS and SARAH…although at the time, it was very difficult and I didn’t feel fortunate at all.

With OTTERS, the illustrator was one of my Storm Literary Agency sisters. I saw early sketches and we shared our research – it was a joyful process which unfolded without a hitch. For SARAH, there was no collaboration. When I finally saw art, changes needed to be made for historical accuracy and a huge amount of time was lost.

This is a topic I addressed in several conference presentations this year. I believe that collaboration results in a more positive process and a better book. I encourage authors to advocate for their books – not in a willful way to demand that the main character wears a pink dress instead of a blue one. But to ensure that an accurate and authentic story is being told – in both the text and the illustrations.

DP: That sounds like quite a range of experiences and emotions, Vivian. Thank you so much for sharing. 

I’ve noticed that all three of your most recent books are published by different publishers. Are you able to share how you came to connect with these different publishing houses, and also, if there were notable differences in the publication processes for each of the different books/publishers beyond what you've already shared?

VK: My wonderful incredible agent, Essie White of Storm Literary Agency, is the reason each of my books is with a different publisher. She makes wonderful connections with editors and they respect her. When she sends a manuscript – they read it. And it just happens that each of my stories was right for different editors. The three books that launched this year are all totally different. A rhyming holiday book about a little mouse and a Seder plate. A lyrical counting book about endangered animals. And a nonfiction picture book biography about one of the first African American women to own a U.S. patent. I guess it’s not surprising that each was acquired by a different house.

Next year, I have another nonfiction picture book bio, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, which is coming out with yet another publisher (Little Bee, January 14, 2020).

by Vivian Kirkfield and Alleanna Harris 
AND a big compilation book, From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves, that includes NINE full-length fully illustrated picture book bios from…YES…a fifth publishing house (Houghton Mifflin, Fall 2020).

And YES…each publishing house has their own process and procedures – there are similarities, kind of like we all live in a house, eat food, wear clothing, and like to relax…but what type of house, what kind of food, what type of clothing, and what we do for fun – that is where the differences crop up.

DP: That's such a great way to explain those intricate differences, Vivian. And, Youza! You are prolific! It sounds like you are keeping Essie in business! 

You also have a book, SHOW ME HOW, that was self-published. Can you share some of the key differences of the experience of self-publishing a book as compared to publishing with a traditional publisher? 

VK: SHOW ME HOW was a labor of love. It was the book I had wanted to have when I was a kindergarten teacher. I would have also loved to have it when I was a young mother. It is chock full of picture book recommendations, craft projects, and cooking activities, and I believed it belonged on every teacher’s and parent’s bookshelf. I wrote the book in 2008, before I knew anything about writing, the kid-lit community, or the publishing business.

The key differences: you decide what it will look like and when it will get published. Those are the positive differences. But there are negatives. It costs money…and unless you are a powerhouse self-promoter and you have a vibrant platform and distribution system, you will probably wind up with books in boxes. Most traditional publishers have distribution channels and connections with major reviewers – although honestly, these days, the authors are very much responsible for spreading the word about their books, even if they are traditionally published.

DP: You speak truth, sister! But I will say, one of my favorite parts of this business is all of the many wonderful kidlit folks, such as yourself, I've become acquainted with in the process of spreading the word about books!

Another one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at schools, libraries, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. You have participated in a whirlwind of book events lately (and it doesn’t sound like your schedule is going to let up anytime soon). What advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful events?

VK: If I am going somewhere for a family event, I try to work in something book related. If I am scheduling a book event, I try to piggyback a family trip or a meet and greet with friends. I think BALANCE is so important…and HAVING FUN!

My pro tips:
1. Practice your presentation and be prepared.
2. Network…and then cherish those connections.
3. HAVE FUN! I think you have to find joy in what you are doing – otherwise, find something else to do. 😉

DP: These are great tips, Vivian! (And look at all those rapt listeners!)

Chatting with you (and living vicariously through your social media posts!), it definitely seems like you are taking your own advice to heart and having a grand old time traveling and meeting up with writing friends and readers from around the world. 

What advice do you have for fellow authors/illustrators who are likewise interested in arranging opportunities for book events outside of their immediate locale?

VK: I am blessed to be retired…my time is my own…I don’t have to answer to anyone at this point in my life. I can stay up till 3am…and I do (chatting on FB PM with friends in NZ or Singapore or S. Korea). Therefore, it is difficult to give advice to people who are juggling family responsibilities/jobs/health issues. But the best advice I can give:

1. Decide what you enjoy doing and how far out of your comfort zone you are willing to venture.
2. Reach out to friends/family/acquaintances who have contacts/connections that might be helpful to you.
3. Interact with the publicity person from your publisher (if there is one) – they should be able to arrange bookstore events, school visits – let them know where you are willing to travel and what you are willing to do.
4. Check out SCBWI and other conferences where your book/program/presentation might be needed.
5. Combine business with pleasure – if you have family in a certain city, see if you can schedule a bookstore event or school visits there. You’ll have a ready-made support system…and a place to stay!

DP. This is great advice, Vivian. Thanks so much! 

You coordinate at least two web-based writing challenges (#50PreciousWords and #50PreciousWordForKids). What have been the most positive (and not-so-positive) aspects of facilitating these events? Based on your experiences with these events, what advice or suggestions do you have for fellow authors/illustrators who have an interest in setting up some type of a web-based, community “event” or challenge?

VK: I LOVE #50PreciousWords.

The positives: I get to read hundreds of beautiful manuscripts. The challenge has inspired writers to create stories – and some of those stories are now published books. It is a platform where the kid lit community feels safe – last year there were over 3000 comments – ALL OF THEM POSITIVE. And it is a place where all writers, beginners or experienced, are surrounded by others who understand how they feel…and that validation is so important.

The negatives: The only negative is that I have to pick winners. And that is such a hard decision because all the writers pour their hearts onto the page. My thanks to dear friends, Maria MarshallJulie Abery, and Diane Tulloch – this year, all four of us read and commented on every story.

I also love #50PreciousWordsforKids.

The positives: We are encouraging young children to become the storytellers they are meant to be. We are validating their thoughts and hopes and dreams. And there are no negatives about that. 😉 This challenge is a wonderful school activity but unfortunately, many teachers are overburdened with testing and aren’t able to have their classes participate…but parents are welcome to submit their children’s stories.

DP: There are so many lost opportunities due to the burdens of a test-centric educational system...here's hoping that more and more kids will find their way to this positive enrichment activity you coordinate, annually.  

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?

VK: I wish I would have known that I have the right to advocate for my own story…if something during the publishing process doesn’t feel right or look right, I must gather my courage and speak up. But the problem, when you are a pre-publisher author, is that you don’t know what is right. And because there is not a lot of transparency in this business, people who are new are kind of in the dark. That’s why I try to be open and honest – if someone asks me a question, I’m going to give them a truthful answer.

DP: This is a really important message to hear, Vivian. I'm so glad you've said it. 

You've been so generous with your time and your answers, Vivian. Is there something you wish someone would ask you about PIPPA’s PASSOVER PLATE, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN, SHOW ME HOW, and/or your path to publication that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet?

VK: Hmmm…to be honest (as in open and honest 😊), I think I’ve had many opportunities to speak since the start of this banner year. But I’ll try. 😊

Regarding PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE: I wish someone would ask if there will be a sequel. And I would say, I wrote one and it is in the hands of the editor, so my fingers are crossed that she will acquire Pippa’s Hanukkah Hunt. 😊

DP: Fingers crossed with you! 

VK: Regarding SWEET DREAMS, SARAH: I wish someone would ask what I think about the DVD that Dreamscape Media created. And I would say that I absolutely LOVE it and I think that every school library media specialist definitely needs to have a copy because it will engage every grade level from 1-5 or even older. They did a fabulous job with the animation and with the music and sound effects and they chose the perfect person to narrate, an African American actress named Lisa Renee Pitts.

DP: I'm so glad I asked this question, because I was not aware there was a DVD for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH! It's officially on my watch list, now!

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

VK: Right now, I am working on a revise and resubmit (R&R) of another picture book biography for an editor on a manuscript and I am hoping to send it to her next week. The editor said she loved the first part, but the second part not so much. I wondered how I could figure out exactly what she was looking for. I googled the editor and found several interviews she gave over the years. In those interviews, she mentioned books she was working on. I found those books at the library and read them, using them as mentor texts to help me revise my story. You can be sure I will shout out on social media if I succeeded and she acquires the manuscript.

DP: I can't wait to hear the good news! 

One more question: Last month I had the sincere pleasure of contributing to the Will Write For Cookies series on your blog. How did Will Write for Cookies become a thing?

VK: That’s a great question, Dawn! The name of the author/illustrator series came about because I’m a fan of cookies and treats. And as most of us are aware, there aren’t many authors who are getting rich, even if they have lots of picture books published. So, I thought, if we aren’t writing for money. I guess we will write for cookies.

DP: Ha! I love cookies, too ... and yes, it's a good thing we love what we do, because in my experience, when you calculate all the many, many hours that go into each book, the hourly wage calculation translates to working for crumbs ; ) 

VK: The idea for the series came about because I was such a fan of picture books and their authors and illustrators. I wanted to lift them up and turn a spotlight on them and introduce them to the world. But also, I wanted to share their tips and expertise with new writers. I’ve been so fortunate to have wonderful authors…my post, back in 2013, was with author/illustrator Iza TrapaniHere is what I wrote:

"Can you hear my heart beating quickly?

I remember this feeling – kind of scared – very excited – a little anxious.

When I was in 7th grade, we made an apron in home ec (short for home economics – the class all the GIRLS took so they would know how to cook and sew…BOYS took woodworking so they would know how to…build a log cabin?).

Each student received a piece of material and a pattern and instructions on how to proceed. It took a great deal of courage to make that first cut, knowing that if you did it incorrectly, your finished apron would look ridiculous.

I’m sure artists feel the same way when their hand hovers over a clean blank canvas.

As I hover over this new project and lay out the template for future posts in the ‘WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES’ series, I experience those same feelings. My vision is to provide insights and information from experienced authors and illustrators – my hope is that you will find these posts educational and entertaining."

This October, the WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES series will be six-years old! That’s a lot of cookie recipes, for sure! But more importantly, there have been a lot of wonderful tips, tools, and techniques shared by my incredible guests. And I am SOOO excited that you wrote for cookies on my blog, dear Dawn.

Thank you so much for having me here today!

DP: THANK YOU so much for being here, Vivian. You've shared so much wisdom and experience with us. You are such a positive contributor to the KidLit Community. And, I'd say your vision for the WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES series has definitely come to fruition. As I said at the onset, readers, this is one of those posts you'll want to bookmark and read again and again. 

Want to know the best way to say, "Thanks!" to Vivian for all of the helpful information she's shared and the inspiration she's offered? Get your hands on one or more of her books. They are available everywhere books are sold. If you can't buy a book, next best thing is to reach out to your local library and request that they add one or more of her books to their collection, if they haven't already. And, once you've had a chance to read Vivian's books, take the time to leave a review on Amazon or GoodReads. 


Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, January 14, 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

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

October 22, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: CROW SPIRIT, by Debra Bartsch

I’m delighted to swoop in with another Birth Stories for Books interview. Today's guest is Debra Bartsch, author of CROW SPIRIT (illustrated by Gael Abary, Clear Fork Publishing/Spork, 2019).

Deb is a fellow SCBWI-Oregon member and we both recently participated as guest authors at the Benton County Fair. This experience gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better and the opportunity discover that we have some surprising points of intersection in our lives!

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Deb. After chatting with you at the recent book event and learning that we went to the same elementary school, just at different times, I'm really excited to get to know you and your work a little bit better.

Debra Bartsch: Thank you Dawn for inviting me on your terrific blog! You have interviewed so many authors and illustrators, I feel blessed to be included in the group. The fact that we grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same grade school with some of the same teachers is …...an amazing coincidence that we will continue to explore! Writing children’s books was a given, we grew up in Beverly Cleary’s neighborhood after all!

DP: Thank you for the kind words, Deb. I enjoy this blog series quite a bit... and our shared Beverly Cleary neighborhood and elementary school history is an amazing coincidence for sure! 

CROW SPIRIT is your first book, and I’ve heard you mention that it is inspired by a true story. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this story? For example, I’d love to hear a little bit about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this story and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

DB: Crow Spirit is indeed inspired by true events! I wrote the first draft in 2016, it was acquired in 2017, and published 2019! Here is the backdrop:

At first look it is a sweet simple story, ahhh, little girl and a crow, ahhh, but there are many deep layers intertwined together making this book a fit for several categories. Intergenerational with family ties and traditions, learning about our spirit and the interconnectedness of all, the intelligence of crows, plus love, loss, and ultimately healing, all from the view of six -year old Cecily Jane!

I write a lot of stories intuitively, they actually come to me like a knowing idea, slowly brewing, or rapidly appearing in my mind, and I have to get them out on paper. Same with drawing. I also illustrate, seeing the pictures on paper.

I had come back to my childhood home to help care for both of my loving parents as they aged.  After my parents had passed away, I had a friendly encounter with a friendly crow while I was on a walk.  Memories came back to me in an instant with Mom talking about, “crows being family birds, watching out for each other”…... this story was written in a matter of hours in the backyard of my childhood home.

During that time at night I was writing a lot of manuscripts while taking children’s writing and illustrating courses online through The Children’s Book Academy, with Mira Reisberg. Mira loved the story, immediately connected with it. She presented it to Callie Metler-Smith at Clear Fork Publishing/Spork, who acquired the manuscript in December 2017 and found fabulous illustrator, Gael Abary. I am so thrilled to say, CROW SPIRIT is now published!

DP: Thanks for sharing this backstory, Deb. As you reflect 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? 

Yes, Mira Reisberg at the CBA for her connecting to CROW SPIRIT and her knowledge of guiding writers and illustrators along their journey to publication, believing in CROW SPIRIT, and Callie at Clear Fork Publishing/ Spork for seeing the uniqueness of this story. The manuscript also benefitted from my participation in Mark Mitchell's online course and taking it to many SCBWI workshops and critique group meetings.

Plus my family and friends for encouraging me to keep at this unusual, heartfelt story that connected all of us in healing, humor, learning about the intelligence of crows, and listening over and over to, “CAWW, CAWW CAWW!” and, “Don’t forget Gram’s SNICKERDOODLES!”

I had several other manuscripts written and this one kept saying, “Show this one, show this one!”

DP: I find the creative process so fascinating, and in particular, that there are some stories that simply insist on being attended to.  

Let's shift gears a little bit. One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at schools, libraries, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. I’ve listened to you share your story with children and adults, and you have a distinct warmth about you that is comforting and inviting. You also have some fabulous activities that you incorporate into your events. What advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful book readings/ book events? 

DB: Thanks, Dawn.That makes me so happy to hear!  I love sharing the joy of reading picture books with kids. Writing from a kids-eye view of the world, looking at life through the eyes of a child, connecting with children comes naturally for me.

Since picture books are meant to be told….with pictures, pointing out the fabulous illustrations is what makes it so fun! The colors, style and characters are what makes a picture book….. A great picture book! Gael Abary’s illustrations created the unique softness of this story by using her special color pallet with limited colors. Plenty of white space gives air and breathing room to the flow of the text. Her illustrations are comforting, drawing the kids in, creating a connection to friendly Mr. Crow, Cecily Jane, Grandma, Grandpop and Mama to their loved ones instantly! Beautiful is all I can say, and thanks Gael!

Interior images, illustrated by Gael Abary

Interior images, illustrated by Gael Abary

DP: I couldn't agree, more. Gael's illustrations are very soothing and engaging. I felt immediately drawn into the book the first time I attended one of your readings.

DB: Movement and motion are second nature to kids, I like to add music with song and hand motions. These elements, plus crafts that can be easily made from found materials are a bonus for teachers and librarians for use in the classroom and can be found on my website, giving the reading a tangible element, natural feel and connection for each child.

Advice: visit and support your local author and illustrator events. You can pick up tips and advice for creating your own special book read.

DP: Yes! Yes! Yes! I learn so much for other authors at their events ... plus it just feels good to be an active participant in the local KidLit community.

Let me ask another question: 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?

DB: Hmmm…follow your heart and your dreams, they really can come true. I had always known that someday I would write and draw for children, just didn’t know it would take me this long.

DP: Yes, this creative business is definitely not for folks who are in a hurry! 

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

DB: How important libraries have always been and will be for me. As a kid, on Saturday’s my sister and brothers would pile into the car with my Dad and go to the library. Hollywood Library in Portland, Oregon. I loved it immediately! A lil’ library card holder from age 5 and lifelong lover of children’s books. Raising my own family, my sons had their library card at ages 3 and 4 carrying on the tradition of story and early reading. I also have a lovely aunt who was a librarian.

Well, guess which library was the first to carry Crow Spirit?  Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. Yes, Hollywood Branch is one of the first.

Full circle with CROW SPIRIT, and so many more to go.

DP: That's so great, Deb! It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of libraries, and as you know, the Hollywood Branch of the Multnomah County Library is also the library I grew up in. 

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

DB: Yes! Writing ideas are everywhere! I have numerous picture book dummies and manuscripts out on submission, fiction and creative nonfiction both. I love learning every aspect of this journey, learning from seasoned writers and illustrators like you Dawn, and bringing the love and joy of reading to every child, everywhere. It is a privilege to write and draw for children.

DP: Thanks for kind words, Deb. In my experience, we are all teachers and learners. 

I do have one more quick question for you: You include a family cookie recipe at the end of CROW SPIRIT. What’s the story behind that recipe?

DB: SNICKERDOODLES! My Grandma always had a cookie jar filled with every kind of cookie and this was one of our family favorites. Cinnamon and sugar, ummm…...simply spending time together sharing thoughts with a plate of fresh fruit and cookies, is indeed priceless.

Make a batch and spread the love today. Enjoy!

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for Books, Debra!

DB: Thank you, Dawn

Readers, if YOU would like Deb's marvelous snickerdoodle recipe, you'll have to get your hands on a copy of CROW SPIRIT. It's available directly from the publisher and everywhere books are sold, plus in a growing number of libraries.  

Debra Bartsch Debra is the author of CROW SPIRIT. She writes and draws from a kid's-eye view of the world. With daily inspiration from laughing grandkids, life is full of sunshine and rain, plus a few mud puddles!

Debra is the SCBWI-Oregon Book Sales/Write Direction Coordinator and SMART Reading Site Coordinator Volunteer Reader for Pre-k’s. Learn more at ww.debbartschillustration.com and

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

October 18, 2019

Cowgirl-Themed Sign Language Story Time Lesson Plan

At long last, it’s time to share a lesson plan for a cowgirl-themed sign language story time.

I’ve written many books and many blog posts that incorporate sign language, but thus far, none of these posts have channeled my inner cowgirl.

That changes today! Yee-Haw!

My picture book, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? galloped into the world earlier this month, and earlier this week, I had the pleasure of sharing some fun cowgirl-themed activities with folks who came out to the WEST Slope Library to help me celebrate.

This post is a mash-up of many different activities you could incorporate into your own cowgirl-themed story time or event. It’s unlikely you will be able to fit all of these activities into any one event, but this way you’ll have lots of ideas to choose from in one handy place!

So saddle up, and let’s get this show on the road.

Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? Sign Language Story Time Lesson Plan:

Welcome, Icebreaker, and Introductions

Supplies/Preparation: Put several copies of Cowgirl/Cowboy Name Generator for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? (see below) into protective plastic covers. As participants arrive, encourage them to create their Cowgirl/Cowboy Name.  If you typically use name tags in your programming, you could add Cowgirl/Cowboy names to the name tag.

NOTE: Definitely allow participants the freedom to create a different name they prefer if they don't like the name created by the Cowgirl/Cowboy Name Generator.

NOTE: If you have difficulty accessing the image file for the Cowgirl/Cowboy Name Generator, you can access a printable document here. You are welcome to re-print this resource for use in your programs, but I do request that you retain the credits, as listed.

Introduce the Signs You Plan to Incorporate Into the First Story

Where: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/WHERE/478/1 (Pointer finger looks/searches)
Cowboy (Can use in place of cowgirl): https://www.handspeak.com/word/search/index.php?id=502 (Think of a gunslinger)
Potty/Toilet: https://www.signingsavvy.com/search/toilet (The “T” handshape wiggles)

Fun fact: The sign for potty/toilet (the noun) and the sign for to use the potty/toilet (the verb) are the same.

Howdy, Pardner! Let’s Read: Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? 

by Dawn Prochovnic and Jacob Souva

Invite all participants to sign where, potty, and cowgirl/cowboy each time these words appear in the story, OR break the group into thirds, and assign one section of the room to sign where, potty, and cowgirl/cowboy respectively, each time these words appear in the story.

Invite all participants to make the sounds that appear on every other page of the book.

Introduce/Review Signs in Preparation for Song #1:

Dog: https://www.signingtime.com/dictionary/dog/ (Like you are calling a dog)
Pony (Use Horse): https://www.signingtime.com/dictionary/horse-4/ (Like the horse’s ears twitching)
Snake: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/SNAKE/4531/1 (Like snake’s fangs)
Bison: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/BISON/1015/1 (Like bison horns)

Yee-Ha! Let’s Sing!

Sing and sign to the tune of “Have you Ever Seen a Lassie?” Incorporate some of the animal words from the book:

Should you potty with a ranch dog, a ranch dog, a ranch dog? Should you potty with a ranch dog? NO! That is not the right spot.

Should you potty with a pony? (use sign for horse)
Should you potty with a bull snake? (use sign for snake)
Should you potty with a bison?

*Don’t feel compelled to introduce every possible theme-related word/sign you can think of. Start with a handful of words that fit with the theme and are relevant for your group. Here are some options to choose from:

Yip-Yip-Yahoo! Let’s Read another Cowgirl-themed book!

Some options include:

The Princess and the Pony (Kate Beaton, Arthur A. Levine Books). A humorous story that also includes a tad bit of potty humor.

I Wanna Be A Cowgirl (Angela DiTerLizzi and Elizabet Vukovic, Beach Lane Books, 2017). A cowgirl’s imaginary adventure.

Lexie the Word Wrangler (Rebecca Van Slyke and Jessie Hartland, Nancy Paulson Books, 2017). Lots of wordplay and cowgirl lingo.

Are You a Horse? (Andy Rash, Arthur Levine Books, 2009) A humorous cowboy quest.

I Want to Be a Cowgirl, (Jeanne Willis, and Tony Ross, Holt, 2009) About a city girl who wants to be a cowgirl.

Invite all participants to sign cowgirl/cowboy, horse, (and any other themed words you choose to incorporate) as appropriate throughout the story, OR break the group into sub-groups, and assign one section of the room to sign particular words as they appear in the story (in words or in pictures).

Introduce/Review Signs in Preparation for Song #2:

Ride: https://www.handspeak.com/word/search/index.php?id=1832 (Two fingers “ride” on hand)
Hat: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/HAT/181/1
Thank you: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/THANK%20YOU/426/1

Whoo-eee! Let’s sing another song!

Sing and sign to the tune of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.” Incorporate some of the settings and animal sounds from Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?

She’ll be riding in the pasture when she comes. Neigh! Neigh!
She’ll be riding in the pasture when she comes. Neigh! Neigh!
She’ll be riding in the pasture, she’ll be riding in the pasture. She’ll be riding in the pasture when she comes. Neigh! Neigh!

She’ll be riding through the canyon when she comes. Yip-yip-yow-oooo!
She’ll be riding up the hill when she comes. Baaa-aaaah!
She’ll be riding through the sagebrush when she comes. Hissss-sssss!
She’ll be riding cross the range when she comes. Sno-ooort!
She’ll be riding to the lookout when she comes. Big Splaat!
She’ll be riding to the ranch house when she comes. Yee-ha!
She’ll return to get her hat when she comes. Thank-you!

Let ‘er Loose with a Short Shindig (or a Western Wingding, or a Horsey Hoedown)

Turn on some music and dance. Here are some hoot’ hollerin’ tunes to consider:

-Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? Animated Book Trailer and Theme Song (co-written by Dawn Babb Prochovnic, co-written, composed and performed by singer/songwriter/performing muscian, Marshall Mitchell, animated by Jacob Souva).

-Cowboy Music for Kids, from Marshall Mitchell.

-I’m a Cowgirl, from Little Kids Rock.

-Born to be a Cowboy/Cowgirl, from Kidsongs.

-Rodeo Rider, from Kidsongs.

-Cowboy Bob, by Munchkin Music.

-The Cowboy Song, by John Jacobson. Kids Sing version with cowgirl lyrics and some cute dance moves.

-Carlton Moody’s Cowboy Songs for Children.

-Kids Country Song & Dance CD, samples and downloads available from The Learning Station.

-Leah’s Farm, (by Two Little Hands Productions, the makers of Signing Time). This is more “farm-y” than western-y, but it is lively and has some overlap with the western theme, particularly with the animals, and incorporates related sign language.

Extension Activities (Some of Which Can Be Self-Directed/Open-Ended)

Learn to Fingerspell Some Cowgirl Lingo!

Supplies/Preparation: Paper, scissors, tape, index cards, list of cowgirl words and illustrated ASL handshapes for the letters of the alphabet. For cowgirl words: You can find a variety of cowgirl expressions/exclamations in Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, or you can find more words on these lists.

For illustrated ASL alphabet handshapes: You can find free downloads from the Story Time with Signs and Rhymes series at this link, and you can find online ASL dictionaries linked from the desktop version of this blog,  (under “helpful extras” on the right-side column of the blog).

Option #1: Instruct participants to use list of cowgirl words and illustrated ASL handshapes along with other supplies to create “ASL Alphabet flashcards” and then use those flashcards to create “cowgirl words” with ASL handshapes.

Option #2: Instruct participants to use the available resources to practice fingerspelling “cowgirl words” with ASL handshapes.

Sing and Sign Along with the "Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?" animated book trailer and theme song.  Find a detailed lesson plan and links here.

Pin the Tail on the Pony

Supplies: Draw a pony’s back side on white poster board. Make or buy “pony tails.” Use bandanas for blindfolds.

Activity: Participants take turns being blind-folded and pinning (actually taping or sticking) the tail on the pony.

Cowgirl Says (Played like Simon Says)

Activity: One person is chosen to be the leader, or, Cowgirl. Cowgirl stands facing other participants,, but apart from group. Cowgirl gives commands such as “Cowgirl says, hop.” “Cowgirl says, stop.” “Cowgirl says sit.” “Cowgirl says stand up.” If cowgirl gives a command that is not preceded by the word, “Cowgirl,” and if a participant does that command, they are out. (i.e. if leader says “Put your hand on your head” and a player puts their hand on their head, the player is out, re: the valid command would be, “Cowgirl says put your hand on your head.”) Play continues until there is only one player remaining. Be sure to incorporate cowgirl kids of words such as gallop, skip, whinny/say “neigh,” etc.

Variation #1: To incorporate sign language into this activity, use signs for “Cowgirl/Cowboy” and the action words instead of or in addition to speaking them.

Variation #2: If you’d like to incorporate sign language into this activity and add challenge, incorporate commands that require participants to sign (i.e. “Cowgirl says sign horse.”) A player is out if they cannot make the sign.

Giddy-Up, Whoa! (Played like Red Light, Green Light)

Activity: One person is chosen as the leader. The leader stands at a “finish line,” some distance away from other participants (15+ feet). Other players stand across the “starting line,” facing the leader. When the leader calls “Giddy-Up,” the players move toward the leader until the leader turns around, calling “Whoa!” Sometimes the leader calls “Whoa,” when participants are expecting to hear “Giddy-Up.” If a player moves when “Whoa!” is called, they must return to the starting line. Play continues until someone reaches the finish line.

Have some real ponies visit! (this definitely changes the event from simple to complex, but it would be hoot hollerin' fun!)

Image by JacLou DL from Pixaby 

Need More Ideas? Explore the Educators' Guide for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?. It includes discussion questions, resources for Readers' Theatre, a printable cowgirl-themed word search, and more!

Need the Signs for More Words That Relate To This Theme? Here goes:

Ranch: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/RANCH/4271/1 (Like rancher wiping sweat from jaw)
Pony: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/PONY/2158/1
Coyote: Fingerspell C-O-Y-O-T-E
Hawk: Fingerspell H-A-W-K or sign Bird: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/BIRD/47/1
Animal Horns: https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/HORNS%20ANIMAL/1505/1 (shape of horns)
Cowgirl (fingerspelled): https://www.zazzle.com/cowgirl_asl_fingerspelled_sign_t_shirt-235509914240383706
Cow: https://www.signingtime.com/dictionary/cow/ (Like cow’s horns)
Girl: https://www.handspeak.com/word/search/index.php?id=908 (Rub thumb on jawbone)

*Don’t feel compelled to introduce every possible cowgirl-related word/sign you can think of. Start with a few general words that fit with the theme and are relevant for your group.

*If you plan to introduce several signs at once, it’s more fun (and easier to learn) if you introduce the signs by singing vs. simply showing the signs and asking participants to sign along/practice with you. You can sing a song such as “This is the way we sign for ranch/pony/cow/girl” to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush,” or any other familiar tune that allows for plenty of repetition.

You can find more cowgirl-themed (and potty and pirate-themed) lesson plans and resources here.

Fun fact: Dawn loves to travel, so get in touch if you’d like her to personally present a story time program of this nature (pardon the pun) in your learning community.

Now giddy-up and have yourself a real good time!

..oh, one more thing.. if you share photos of and/or blog about your story time / event, be sure to tag me so I can share in the fun. Even better if it’s something I can link to in my round-up of resources for my readers!

Instagram: @DawnProchovnic
Twitter: @DawnProchovnic
Facebook: @DawnProchovnicAuthor

October 7, 2019

The Publication Date Part of the Writing Life

I can't hold it in any longer... the publication day for these two fun books is tomorrow!

Photo Credit: West Margin Press on Instagram 

The path to publication can be long and winding.

Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? has been in my "Works-in-Progress" file since this kiddo of mine (now a senior in high school) was a toddler:

And Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? emerged from a writing exercise inspired by this image of my other kiddo, now a junior in college:

Yesterday, I got to hug Jennifer Newens, the person who said, "Yes," to my books. She leads the amazing team at West Margin Press that made them so beautiful.

I also got to hug Angela Zbornik, the creative wizard, clever wordsmith, and fellow punster (aka Marketing Manager) at West Margin Press. She heads up the team that will help my books find their readers. Angie introduced me to Rob Pine, with Ingram, who shares my sense of humor and said so many nice things about my books. I left my conversation with him feeling certain that booksellers (and through them, readers) will have every opportunity to join the potty humor party!

Earlier in the day I was able to attend a series of educational sessions, meet some wonderful booksellers, and celebrate other authors who are welcoming their new books into the world alongside mine:

Author, Elizabeth Rusch

Author, Cindy Baldwin

Author/Illustrator, Kevan Atteberry

Author, Jane Kirkpatrick

Author, Kate Messner

Today I find myself reflecting on all the people behind the scenes of every book that is made. For example: editor Michelle McCann (who is bringing one of her own books into the world this week); editor, Olivia Ngai; designer, Rachel Lopez Metzger; and illustrator, Jacob Souva. My books simply would not "be" without them. Likewise, my books were helped along the way by my critique group (thanks, Sara and Claire!), and the SCBWI InternationalSCBWI-Oregon, and Portland KidLit communities. And my husband, who is my biggest fan, and who works in a traditional career job that pays the bills and provides the health insurance.

I'm also reflecting on the many folks who have helped me get the word out about the books: Family members, friends in my local neighborhood, indie booksellers, school and public librarians, teachers who have taught my kids (and invited me to teach theirs), and so many kind and enthusiastic fellow authors and book bloggers who have visited my blog to share their stories and hosted me on my blog to share mine (more on this in a future post). And the musicians ...  the wonderful musicians ... Annie Lynn/AnnieBirdd Music, LLC and Marshall Mitchell who brought the music to these wonderful book trailers that Jacob Souva designed and animated:

Cowgirl Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/VCC90qkNk7I

Pirate Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/ADvqDGvMDds

Today, I get to return to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Trade Show event, where this evening I will get to share my books (and my silly props) with booksellers and other trade show attendees.

I'm dressed and ready for a day of celebration.

Over the next few weeks and months, I will have several launch events and activities at various locations. Thank you in advance to all who have attended past events, and to those who will attend upcoming events. I appreciate you beyond what words can convey.

Later this month,  I will begin working on the editorial process for my next book (that comes out in Spring, 2021 ... refer to my earlier sentence above: "The path to publication can be long and winding." )

But today, I'll be plunging into the fun that is potty humor. Yee-Haw!