August 10, 2021

The Caregiving Part of the Writing Life

This space has been very quiet for the last several weeks, as most of my attention has been fixed on caring for my mother as she recovers from two recent hospitalizations; one due to heat exhaustion and the other due to a major surgery. 

As I reflect on the jumble of experiences at hospitals and medical offices; the myriad of interactions with nurses, doctors, physical/occupational therapists, social workers, pharmacists, etc; the growing collection of medical supplies in my home; and the thick files filled with lists of medications being managed, forms to be completed and/or already submitted, hastily scribbled notes related to questions asked and answered, instructions for wound care, and the dates and locations of upcoming follow-up appointments, I am happy to report that my mom is gradually getting healthier and stronger. 

I am exhausted! 

My sister, who lives in San Diego, actively participates in caregiving activities alongside me, focusing on elements of care that can be researched and/or coordinated remotely.  We connect by phone fairly regularly to keep each other updated and provide each other with support. 

Quite often there are events that occur related to some aspect of this journey that are humorous, frustrating, or remarkable enough that they beg to be shared; the writer in me knows that some of these moments are golden from a story perspective (such as when the home health nurse cleaned off the bottom of her DIRTY SHOE on my DINNER TABLE--hard to believe, but true.) 

I wish I could say that I had the bandwidth to get these memorable moments down on paper as they happen, but alas, talking seems to be more helpful and energizing to me during times of over-stimulation and stress than writing. 

I do text my sister with occasional pithy updates (some of which include photographs); I hope that these little snippets of our shared experience will be enough to work with if I ever decide to mine these memories for future stories. 

Visiting nurse cleaning her DIRTY SHOE on my DINNER TABLE! 

Quoting a line from a song (and play) by Jonatha Brooke that I often repeat to my sister (who is also a writer), "Are you getting this down? Boolie, it's good."

June 23, 2021

June is Potty Training Awareness Month

Fun Fact Alert: June is Potty Training Awareness Month!! (You get to learn cool things like this when you write potty humor books!) 

Given that I have college-aged kids now, it's been quite some time since my family has ventured down the potty training path, but here's another fun fact: The idea for my book WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? came to me when my son spoke those very words when he was a toddler. 

There was one day when he was being particularly silly, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?”  I knew immediately that this was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after. As you may know from my "path to publication story" for my potty books, it took many years and many revisions to get this story just right, but what I continue to love about it is that each time I read it, I am instantly transported back to that memorable moment shared with my son, when he first posed that silly question to me. 

If you are in the throes of potty training right now, (or if you know of someone who is) might I suggest that a sense of humor goes a long way to making the process bearable! Reading books like WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and the companion book WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? is one way to keep things light. I also recommend novelty items such as the toy toilet pictured in the image above that audibly flushes. I bring it to author visits and other book events, and it makes me laugh EVERY time someone flushes it. (You can find loads of other potty-themed novelty items that I’ve curated, including a downloadable flushing sound loop and a dancing poo emoji, by visiting me on Pinterest.) 

If you really want to get down to business and you’re looking for some potty training experts, and/or some support products to make the process easier, here are some of the "potty people" I follow on Instagram: @pottytrainingconsultant, @thepottyfairy, @pottyology, @pottyriderinfo, @peekaboopottysticker, and @peapodmats. (Feel free to tag other resources I/others should be aware of in the comments below.)

Happy Potty Training Awareness Month, matey's!

May 15, 2021

The "Engaging Young Readers" Part of the Writing Life

One of my favorite parts of being an author is engaging with young readers. Some of the ways I do this include participating in author visits and book readings (virtual, in-person, and through events such as World Read Aloud Day), joining special occasions such the Book Song Challenge, and collaborating with other makers to create materials and resources that support and enrich learning. 

The 2021 Book Song Challenge hosted by the team at Way Past Books has just begun. There is still time for young readers to create and share a song for their favorite book. You can read all the details on Way Past Books' Instagram Account

The song for Lucy's Blooms was featured today. 

You can listen to the full song on musician Maiah Wynne's YouTube channel (and if you visit today, you'll have a chance to enter to win a signed copy of Lucy's Blooms (U.S. Addresses only, please.)


May 5, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat), by Phaea Crede

Hello readers. Today I have the pleasure of bringing another Birth Stories for Books interview your way. 

My guest is Phaea Crede, author of the picture book, JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat) (illustrated by Terry Runyan, Barefoot Books, May 2021.) 

Phaea shares many inspiring details about her path to publication in this interview, so let's get right to it:

Dawn Prochovnic: I’m so glad to have you on the blog, Phaea, and congratulations on the release of your first picture book, JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat.)

Phaea Crede: Thank you so much for having me! 

DP: I read your recent interview on Tara Lazar’s blog, and it sounds like this story was inspired by the experience of your 3rd grade teacher leading you to believe that you couldn’t be a good writer because of your dyslexia.  

PC: Sadly true! I’d always loved making up stories, but because of my dyslexia I struggled in some key academic areas: spelling, grammar, and handwriting. I was often frustrated.

Then, in the 3rd grade, I got a report card that said something like “Phaea is very creative, but needs to try harder on her spelling and grammar.” But—twist—I was already trying really, really hard! The built-up frustration and this unfortunate report card led me conclude I wasn’t smart enough be a writer. So, I gave up.

DP: I’d love to hear how that (unfortunate!) event transformed into the idea for a book about a cat that "learns to embrace her unique brand of catness,” and 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.

PC: The idea for Jet came from my mom’s cat, Eddie, who loved water, something I thought all cats hated! I liked the idea of another cat being a jerk about it to Eddie, maybe even claiming that “REAL cat’s hate water.” Once I had that idea, I flashed back to 3rd grade when I’d internalized that “REAL writers don’t have dyslexia,” something I now knew, thanks to years of learning to love myself, was false.

I had the idea Summer of 2018 and rewrote the story about 15 times with the help of my amazing critique group, Words with Friends. They guided me to embrace a repeated structure and play up the heart along with the humor. By the time I submitted it to Barefoot Books that fall, Jet had come a long way!

DP: That's quite a back story, Phaea. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

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?

PC: In the early version of Jet the Cat, Jet was called Nat. Nat the Cat. A bad choice based on nothing by a rhyme. Happily, I moved away from that to a name that actually related to water!

DP: Jet is a great name! 

PC: Also, the story originally had more creatures Jet tries to be: a fish, an alien, and a mythical creature called a Tatzelwurm. The Tatzelwurm bit the dust early, but the fish and the alien made it all the way to submission! 

My editor, Lisa, who is a genius, gently guided me away from the alien and even the fish because it was so similar to a frog.

When I needed a new animal for the book I actually ran a poll on Twitter to decide between a goat, a horse, a squirrel, and a raccoon. Goat was the winner by far, so I added one to the book! 

DP: What a clever solution for deciding what new character to add--and what a super-cute goat!

Interior Image from JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat) by Phaea Crede and Terry Runyan

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? 

PC: Two moments for me. One, when my friend and fellow author Jessica Southwick laid out a structure that she thought would suit the story better than the one I was using. Beta readers save books. And two, the 2018 New England SCBWI Agent/Editor day. I heard Lisa Rosinski of Barefoot Books speak about her wish list and realized Jet might have a home there. I was right!

DP: Hooray for beta readers (and I love hearing and sharing SCBWI success stories!)

JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat) is illustrated by Terry Runyan, whose “how to draw cats” videos on YouTube and Instagram are wildly popular. What was it like to hear news of that match up? (Purrr-ty exciting, I’ll bet!)  

PC: One of my favorite things about being “just” the author is that you get to hand your story over to an artist who creates their own interpretation of the world. When I found out that artist was going to be Terry, who does the greatest cat-related art on the planet and probably the galaxy, I’m pretty sure I wept. Terry took Jet into a plane of existence I couldn’t have imagined. So, yeah, I was excited! 

DP: You’ve mentioned that “as a writer with dyslexia,” you’re “proud to demonstrate that disabilities don’t have to stand in the way of dreams,” and your bio indicates you’ve had a variety of writing-related jobs, including scriptwriting for the TV shows Nature Cat and Word Girl and playing and writing about video games for a living. Is there anything (i.e. resources, techniques, individuals) that you credit with being particularly helpful to you along the way as you’ve achieved some of your writing-related dreams? 

PC: The number one thing that made the difference for me was to stop beating myself up for having the brain that I had. I just accepted that I am prone to spelling and grammar mistakes, and started asking my friends to look over important things before I sent them out. Simple as that.

And now if I make a mistake, I don’t hate myself. I just say “Oh, a mistake. That tracks. Let’s fix it!” My cognitive disability is mine; I love it, I accept it, and life is much easier.

DP: That's such a healthy response, Phaea. Thank you for sharing this. 

PC: Plus, I added a free dyslexia font plugin to my Chrome browser recently called OpenDyslexic. Now my brain doesn’t haven’t to work so hard to read websites! I wish every book came in a dyslexic font.

DP: I had no idea something like that existed. Hooray for technological advances! 

You’ve said that "nothing in the world compares to writing picture books.” How is writing picture books different and/or better than the other writing-related jobs you’ve held? 

PC: Picture books were the gateway to not only reading for me, but learning about the world and the people in it. As a kid, other people were very overwhelming and hard to understand. Picture books gave me the chance to sit back and identify with others, while going on mini-adventures. 

Plus, my parents read them to me, so picture books were this warm and cuddly family experience of ultimate safety. Now I get to relive that with my kids in the same way—as do my parents. Picture books bring generations together! Picture books are for everyone.

DP: Well said. I love picture books, too! 

That said, in my experience, writing picture books is challenging enough without the added element of a disability. For those of us who might not be as familiar with the particulars of dyslexia, can you share a little bit about what unique challenges it poses to you as a writer? 

PC: Hahah I could talk about this for a while. But there are two things that really make writing hard. 

1) My handwriting! My dyslexia presents like a disconnect between my brain and my hand. If I want to jot down ideas in a notebook or write something out instead of typing, it’s very challenging. The words and letters jump out of place and I have to cross every other word off. That’s exhausting! 

2) How quickly I become overwhelmed! I can’t process many things at once, so if I have multiple drafts or multiple sets of critique notes, or multiple ideas, I get frustrated and want to quit. That can be very discouraging, too. 

DP: Those sound like very frustrating challenges, indeed. 

In addition to inspiring your book, are there specific ways in which your personal experience with dyslexia has informed your work as a writer?  

PC: The gift of dyslexia is that I’ve been forced let go of perfection. Accepting that I’m a human being that makes mistakes allows me to take bigger risks, try weirder ideas, or be willing to scrap it all and start over. And after essentially rejecting myself for so many years, getting story rejections isn’t a big deal! 

Also, not to brag, but the disabled writing community is AWESOME. Being a part of that is a joy. 

DP: Your joy is infectious, Phaea. I have no doubt you will inspire many young readers and writers as you share your work and your story. 

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?

PC: Is it a cop out to say NO REGRETS? When I started out, I was so naïve about what made a good book, but other authors took time out of their lives to give me advice and set me up for success! I wouldn't want it any other way. 

DP: That's a great answer. Not a cop out at all.

PC: Oh, wait maybe one thing: don’t call your cat Nat. That’s super bad.

DP: Ha! 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat) that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

PC: Just that Jet was rejected by so many agents before she found a home at Barefoot Books. If you believe in your story, don’t give up!

DP: That is excellent advice. Very encouraging, inspiring, and true! I always say the goal is to find the right someone who loves your story nearly as much as you do. 

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

PC: I have one super, secret project that should be announced soon, but right now I’m obsessed with giant squids and I’m trying to write a story featuring one. I’ll let you know if I pull it off!

DP: I can't wait to hear about the super, secret project, and yay for giant squid obsessions!

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat) with us, Phaea!

PC: Thank you so much! 

DP: Friends, by now you know that I'm quite partial to supporting the authors that share their experiences here with us and also your favorite indie bookstore.  JET THE CAT (Is Not a Cat) is available everywhere books are sold.  I hope you'll jet right out and get a copy for yourself or a young reader you know. 


Phaea Crede loves writing silly picture books for silly kids. Serious kids, too! Her debut picture book Jet the Cat (is Not a Cat) will be published Spring 2021 by Barefoot Books. Phaea lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kiddos, two kittens, and a slightly stinky dog named Gus.


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  

April 28, 2021

The "Setting Intentions" Part of the Writing Life

I recently shared an abbreviated version of this essay in the SCBWI-Oregon newsletter. I wanted to share it here, for those outside of the kidlit community. 


The summer of 2016, I spent a girls' weekend at the coast with my daughter, her circle of friends, and their moms, dear friends of mine. One evening, as we gathered around the fire pit, one of the moms, a psychologist, asked us to set our intentions for what we wanted more of in our lives in the coming year. She distributed notecards and markers, and we each wrote our intentions on the cards. 

I wrote "music" and "laughter" on mine. 

It was a brief exercise, and one that seemed minor in the moment. 

When I returned home, I tossed my card on one of the "to-do, later" piles on my desk (confession: there are several such piles on my desk.) I came across it a year or so later while tidying up my desk. Eventually, I tucked the card in the pages of my old-style planner, where I happen upon it every so often, "accidentally, on purpose." Each time I rediscover that notecard, I reflect on the gathering around the fire, and I reflect on how music and laughter have indeed become more a part of my life since setting those intentions. 

It's just a little scrap of paper with a couples of words scribbled on it, but I credit the act of setting those intentions with several important milestones that have occurred in my personal and creative life. Case in point, since committing those two words to paper, I have:

*Published two humorous picture books (Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?), and I’ve participated in several laughter-infused book events for those titles. To note: my favorite humorous props are a flushable toy toilet and a poo-emoji speaker. 

*Written the lyrics to a love song for my husband in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, then hired one of our favorite local bands, The Junebugs, to set the song to music and record the song. 

*Written the lyrics for songs to accompany the book trailers for my Pirate and Cowgirl books, collaborating with two different musicians (Annie Lynn/AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, and Marshall Mitchell, respectively) who wrote the music and recorded the songs.

*Written the lyrics for a companion song for my picture book, Lucy’s Blooms, collaborating with musician, Maiah Wynne, who wrote the music and produced the song. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve participated in making. You can view the animated book trailer and listen to the song here:

*I also had the remarkable bonus experience of sharing stories about my late father-in-law with the modern folk duo Fox and Bones, and they created a beautiful song about his life story as part of the launch for their new Custom Song offering. 

Some might argue that a little notecard with a couple of words scribbled upon it didn’t influence the art I’ve created over the past several years, but I know otherwise. I’ve always enjoyed laughter, but never before written or published humorous books; now I have two humorous picture books published and several more written. I’ve long wanted to be more involved in music-making, but never before acted on that interest; now I have four lyric-writing credits, with more planned for the future. These creative happenings didn’t occur by chance; they occurred largely because I set my intentions for them to do so.  

So, get yourself notecard or two. Start a fire if you must. Write down what you want more of in your life. Then get to work bringing forth those intentions.

April 13, 2021

The "Virtual Book Launch" Part of the Writing Life

Today marks the book birthday for my 20th picture book! 

I'm so grateful to everyone who has had a hand in the making of this book, from my family members who inspire, encourage and support my writing life, to my critique group and fellow SCBWI members who helped me shape and polish the manuscript, to the wonderful team at West Margin Press that acquired the manuscript, paired me with a fantastic illustrator, and provided TLC and immense talent throughout the editorial, art direction, and book design process. I'm also grateful to my friends and colleagues who have helped shine a light on this book, and now to the parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers who will help get this book into the hands of young readers. Thank you all. 

Lucy's Blooms was written and revised over a period of several years. West Margin Press acquired the manuscript long before the pandemic hit, and the editorial process wrapped up pre-pandemic as well. Alice Brereton's beautiful illustrations were created and shared with me during (what I now realize were) the early months of the pandemic. Seeing the thumbnails, sketches, and final art emerge during months and months of quarantine (and amidst pandemic-related disappointments) helped me focus on the future and focus on the positive. 

During this time, another positive experience was working with the incredibly talented musician, Maiah Wynne, to create Lucy's Song. I wrote the lyrics in collaboration with Maiah, then she composed the music and performed and recorded the song. After the book illustrations and song were completed, I created the animated video for Lucy's Blooms:

Lucy's Blooms created happy places and spaces for me to retreat into, and these creative tasks kept me grounded and focused during an otherwise uncertain time. 

I've launched many books into the world, and I've long created and curated enrichment materials for young readers, teachers, and librarians who utilize my website as a resource, but this is my first virtual book launch experience. The situation we find ourselves in caused me to push myself outside of my comfort zone and learn and do new things, such as: 

Conducting a Goodreads giveaway (with 1810 entrants and 1651 readers adding Lucy's Blooms to their "Want to Read" shelf.) I've not done a giveaway on this platform before, so I don't know how it compares with others' experiences, but I feel pretty good about it!

Collaborating with author friends and colleagues to create enrichment materials for my books. For example, my friend and colleague, Lora Heller, and her team at Baby Fingers LLC created video clips of sign language interpretation of Lucy's Song. You can find those on the Lucy's Blooms playlist on my YouTube channel.  (Lora and her team offer a wide range of classes for Deaf and hearing students of all ages--and their classes are now available on virtual platforms from anywhere in the world. I encourage you to check them out!) Likewise, my friend and colleague, Kathy MacMillan recorded a wonderful flannelboard rhyme activity that teaches several ASL signs and is a great pairing for a story time featuring Lucy's Blooms. (Kathy has heaps of other story time resources on her StoriesByHand website!)

Writing press releases (that resulted in at least a couple of local newspaper articles.) 

Sending postcards to friends, family, and "book people" in my network.

Recording a virtual story time hosted by Green Bean Books--you can view it at 11 AM, Tuesday, April 20 (Pacific Time), or afterwards via Green Bean Books' YouTube channel.

Preparing Grab-n-Go activity bags for Portland-area readers who participate in the virtual book launch event at Green Bean Books.

Creating GIFs, videos, and images for social media posts, such as:

Much of what I learned in this process required patience, perserverence and love, similar to what Lucy and her Gram cultivated in Lucy's Blooms, and much of what I've learned will be incorporated into future book launches. Thank you for walking with me through this journey. May your seeds of love take root and grow, Lucy's Blooms! Happy Birthday to you!

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:


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




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.)


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. 


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

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


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. 


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

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'!  


(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.


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