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