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.


  1. Thank you so much, dear Dawn! What a fabulous post your created. I'm grateful for the opportunity to participate in your Birth Stories for Books series...and grateful for your friendship!

    1. The pleasure was all mine, Vivian. I'm grateful for all of the wisdom and experience you shared and for the friendship that we've developed and that is sure to grow. xo

  2. A great interview! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Belina! I'm glad you enjoyed the Q&A!

  3. Wonderful interview of my dear critique buddy and friend.

    1. You are a sweetheart, Diane! I'm lucky to have you as a critique buddy and friend!

  4. Another great interview Dawn! Thanks for getting Vivian on your blog post!
    She is so great, I love her excitment, enthusium and her
    spirit .
    Blessings to you both

    1. Thanks, Deb. I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview. I was so pleased that Vivian was able to participate in the series.

    2. Thaks for stopping by, Deb! I was honored to be a guest here...and I get my energy and inspiration from this incredible kidlit community!

  5. What a wonderful post! I do have to add how incredibly amazing it has been to work with Vivian. I am so proud of what we did together!

    1. Right back at you, Jill...what pure pleasure...the smoothest path to publication EVER!!!! You created amazing illustrations and you brought Pippa and her friends to life!

  6. Dawn: this is a terrific interview of a terrific woman - I'm so glad you found Vivian and shared her with the rest of us! Vivian I hope you submit your wise words to the SCBWI Bulletin. Perhaps you have and I missed them. Thank you both! -- Robin Koontz

    1. Hello Robin...no, I have never submitted anything to the SCBWI Bulletin...but I am grateful for the suggestion. And for your kind words...I am most appreciative. Thank you!!!!

  7. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Robin. Vivian is a terrific woman indeed, and I feel so grateful that she shared some of her wisdom and experience with our community. I hope she will consider your suggestion to submit to SCBWI Bulletin if she hasn't already.