May 18, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: TOGETHER WE RIDE, by Valerie Bolling

Today I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post featuring the birth story for Valerie Bolling's super cute and very clever new book, TOGETHER WE RIDE (illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, Chronicle Books, April 2022.) I interviewed Valerie for her debut book, LET'S DANCE!, back in 2020, and it's great that she's offered to share more of her perspective and experience with us here today.

Let her roll, Valerie!

by Valerie Bolling and Kaylani Juanita

BOOK JOURNEY

by Valerie Bolling

What’s interesting about how TOGETHER WE RIDE came to be is that during “The Call” with my agent, James McGowan, he asked what else I was working on. I casually shared my Zoom screen to show him what was then titled BIKE RIDE. He liked it so much that he asked me to send it to him. Even though he had chosen to represent me based on three other manuscripts, this is the one he went out on submission with first. When I later asked him why, he said, “Because there wasn’t anything that needed to be changed.”

James’ assessment was correct because the book went to auction, and I received a two-book deal. (The sequel, TOGETHER WE SWIM, which hadn’t been written at the time of acquisition, will be released next year.) The acquiring editor, Elizabeth Lazowski of Chronicle, agreed with James – she had no plans to change any of the text. When she saw the words paired with the illustrations, however, she suggested that one word be deleted. I agreed and even offered to remove additional text that I felt wasn’t needed. I’m a writer who’s willing to “kill darlings” for the greater good of the story.

TOGETHER WE RIDE was such a fun book to write because I set a challenge for myself – to write a book with fewer words than LET’S DANCE! and to use the same end rhyme throughout the text. I met both challenges. TOGETHER WE RIDE has only 30 words, half the amount of LET’S DANCE!, and all of the words (except one) rhyme with “ride.”

In my story, I knew I wanted a parent supporting and cheering on a child during this experience. I knew there would be a failed attempt and eventual success. Finally, I knew that I wanted not only to spotlight the love and connection between a child and an adult, but ultimately, an entire family. I didn’t specify the gender of the child and parent, but my editor, Elizabeth, envisioned it as a father-daughter story.

The inspiration for TOGETHER WE RIDE came from all the children I saw riding bikes when taking my daily “mental health walks” with my husband during the COVID shutdown of spring 2020. In particular, there was a five-year-old girl who had just learned how to ride a bike. When I commented about how much her bike riding skills had progressed over the weeks, her mother told me that all of the time they were spending at home provided the opportunity for her to learn. Learning to ride a bike – without training wheels – is such an exciting milestone for children that I decided to write a story about that experience.

LET’S DANCE!, which is my 2020 debut, and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, which will be released on Oct. 4, 2022 are about community – the joys of dancing together and playing with friends outdoors. TOGETHER WE RIDE, however, hones in on the joy of the parent-child relationship – specifically, the joy the father experiences while cheering on his daughter as she learns to ride a bike and the joy the daughter feels when she accomplishes her goal and experiences a sense of newfound freedom. This story depicts the importance of an adult’s love and support in propelling a child towards success and the agency that a child must have to be able to persevere to achieve victory.

What an inspiring story, Valerie. Thank you for sharing how TOGETHER WE RIDE! came to be. 

Friends, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. Valerie's books, including TOGETHER WE RIDE, are available everywhere books are loaned and sold.  

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Image Source: Valerie Bolling
Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! (March 2020). In 2022 Valerie is happy to welcome TOGETHER WE RIDE (April) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (October). Sequels to these books as well as a Scholastic early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, are slated for 2023.

A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years. She currently works as an Instructional Coach for Greenwich Public Schools and is on the faculty at Westport Writers’ Workshop. She is also a WNDB mentor and deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, and Black Creators HeadQuarters. 

Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.  

linktr.ee/ValerieBolling


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

May 11, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: HOW TO DRESS A DINOSAUR, by Robin Currie

Hello readers! It's time to pull back the layers on another path to publication story in today's edition of Birth Stories for Books. Today's guest is Robin Currie, author of HOW TO DRESS A DINOSAUR (illustrated by Alycia Pace, Familius, March, 2022.)

by Robin Currie and Alycia Pace

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Robin. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the path to publication for your darling new board book, HOW TO DRESS A DINOSAUR.  

In an earlier interview, you described this as a book for mothers with a child who resists clothes (and I see in your online bio that your family includes four grown children and five grandchildren.) I’d love to hear how the idea for this story came to be. Lived experience, by any chance? 

Image Source: Robin Currie

Robin Currie: Both my son and grandson are crazy smart about dinosaurs – able to correct my pronunciation of “Archaeopteryx” before they can say “spaghetti” clearly. They both owned dinosaur shirts, socks, underwear, hats and about 5K tiny plastic dino toys. Don’t step on the Triceratops in the dark! 

DP: Ha! 

I’d also like to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. You’ve indicated that you participate in many different online challenges including ReFoReMo, Storystorm, and 12 X 12, so I’d be especially interested in if/how one or more of these challenges played a role in the process.

RC: I came up with the idea during a Storystorm event in 2016, refined it with my amazing local critique group, got two different reviews on Rate Your Story, tested my pitch in the 12x12 forum, and celebrated my Cover Reveal on Vivian Kirkfield’s blog. I belong to a fantastic international launch group, Picture Book PALS.  

DP: Wow! What an excellent example of the wonderful village that is kidlit.

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?

RC: The first draft was a brain burble of a badly rhyming text – what rhymes with Diplodocus? (Hopped aboard a bus? Was oozing green pus? Super-flu-i-us?).  Forget Pterodactyl. Leaving lots of room for illustrations (in only 12 chewable pages) makes every word count.

DP: Sometimes all it takes is some oozing brain burbles to get the creative juices flowing! 

When you compare the path to publication for this book to the paths to publication for some of the many other children’s books you have published, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each? (I’d be especially interested in hearing about how the path to publication for HOW TO DRESS A DINOSAUR compares to the path to publication for your book, THE VERY BEST STORY EVER TOLD: THE GOSPEL WITH AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE, (published by Beaming Books), as I have a series of books (published by ABDO) that likewise reinforces key words with American Sign Language.) 

RC: Both publishers (Beaming Books and Familius) have excellent editors. For VERY BEST STORY I was able to be in the schools and bookstores, live at Christian conferences. Since DINO is still an essentially COVID-era launch, it has been much more important to build platform and be visible online. VERY BEST STORY won several awards in the Christian market. I will submit to very different groups for DINO.

DP: As you've noted, DINO launched during the middle of (a still ongoing!) pandemic. What have you found to be the most effective and meaningful way(s) to connect with young readers and book buyers during this challenging time?

Image Source: Robin Currie 

RC: I was pretty disappointed I could not be in a bookstore on March 1. I did share DINO in the preschool where I am chaplain, wear my new dino themed outfit. We were outside in 40-degree weather and all wearing coats and masks. However, I will hold a FUN LAUNCH for National Dinosaur Day, May 14, sharing the stage with a blow up dinosaur who will attempt to put on a shirt!

DP: Well that DOES sound fun! 

Speaking of which, 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. I understand you work in children’s ministries, and you have worked as a professional librarian. Based on this wealth of experience working with young learners, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) book events?

RC: Librarians and teachers are looking for what is of value to the children. They are not really interested in selling book copies but are happy to sponsor a Guest Author Reading. Come up with simple craft activity or snack to go with it. I have a Pinterest board with some ideas to get you started. 

DP: That's a great board, Robin. Although I tend to get a bit overwhelmed by Pinterest as a user, I do enjoy the process of putting together boards for some of my books (Pirate / Cowgirl / Lucy's Blooms) as a resource for my readers. 

Taking a quick stroll through your website and social media feeds, it is clear you are engaged in many different activities and experiences to boost children’s literacy, including volunteering annually to teach reading to children in developing countries. How do you balance the time between your writing life and the different aspects of the publishing business alongside an active work and home life?

Image Source: Robin Currie

RC: I have been blessed to work with preschool children in libraries and churches for my entire career, so each day is loaded with possible storylines! Children ages 1-5 are very much the same in Tanzania or Thailand. So, it is happy circle of life and writing.

DP: That's a lovely observation! 

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?

RC: Platform, platform, platform! I published my first board book in 1993! Now the writing process is only the beginning. What is most fun is engaging beyond the pages of the books with readers and kids.

DP: I couldn't agree more! 

Is there something you would like to say about HOW TO DRESS A DINOSAUR that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

RC: Alycia Pace illustrated this book. I love the hair on the dinosaurs and the way Mom becomes progressively less patient. Finally, even MOM says, “because I said so” and gets the T-rex look! The last page shows the sweet love that transcends trying children and lost patience. I hope that is encouraging to parents everywhere!

DP: The illustrations are darling! And I do think the sweet love in your book will be encouraging to parents everywhere. 

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

RC: I always have 10-12 pieces in the works in various stages of writing, review, testing and pitching. Currently I am thinking about a grandparent in hospice story for kids, a good day/bad day book on Noah, and a rhymed St Patrick’s Day lark.

DP: I look forward to following the journey on these books, too.

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for HOW TO DRESS A DINOSAUR with us, Robin!

Friends, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. HOW TO DRESS A DINOSAUR is available everywhere books are borrowed and sold.  


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Image Source: Robin Currie
Robin Currie volunteers annually to teach reading and literacy in developing countries. She is Pastor Associate at St. Luke Lutheran in Glen Ellyn, IL, Priest Associate at Trinity Episcopal in Wheaton, IL, and Children's Chaplain at St. Mark's Episcopal in Glen Ellyn, IL. She reads to Headstart children weekly and has worked as a world-wide volunteer, teaching English in far-flung places such as China, Tanzania, and India. Her family includes 4 grown children and 5 grandchildren. And she writes stories to read and read again! 





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

May 4, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: The Wish That Got Away, by Christine Evans

Hello readers! If you've been wishing that the BIRTH STORIES FOR BOOKS series would feature a creator of a chapter book series, your wish has been granted! Today's guest is Christine Evans, author of THE WISH LIBRARY series. 

by Christine Evans and Patrick Corrigan

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Christine. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the path to publication for THE WISH THAT GOT AWAY, your latest title in THE WISH LIBRARY series, (illustrated by Patrick Corrigan, Albert Whitman & Co., April 2022). 

In an earlier interview, you shared how you initially came up with the idea for this series, but I wonder if you could recap some of that again for us here?

Christine Evans: When I present to kids I always tell them that ideas are everywhere and this is an example of that being true. One day, I texted a friend this message: “Wish library opened earlier.” And she replied: “What’s a Wish Library?”

And that grammatical misunderstanding was the seed of the idea that eventually became the series. 

DP: What a fun back story--and yes, such a great example of ideas being everywhere! 

I’d like to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this series and the first manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. 

CE: The idea percolated in the back of my brain for several months before I was ready to start writing anything. I knew it would be a chapter book as there was too much happening for it to be a picture book (which was the format I was writing at the time). So I had to spend some time reading chapter books and getting familiar with the structure of them before I could start writing my own.

It also took some time before I knew who the characters would be, where the Wish Library would be located, and what the rules of this world would be. A lot of this happened in my brain before I started writing.

I didn’t outline the first book (although I do outline them all now) so after a couple of drafts I sent the manuscript to my critique partners. After their always helpful feedback I revised again and sent it to my agent. She had a few rounds of notes too so I revised several times before we sent it off on submission to editors. 

DP: Thanks for sharing those details. I always appreciate hearing about other authors' process.  

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book/series, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for THE WISH LIBRARY series to find its way to publication? 

CE: The main moment would be when my agent (Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic) said she felt it was ready to go out on submission. It had been a long journey. I originally sent it to her in December 2018 and she sent it out to editors September 2019. Her revision notes in that period helped me make the book ready to go out into the world.

DP: Can you share with us a little bit about the process for pitching and obtaining publisher interest/commitment for your latest title in the series, and how this process has evolved over time from book 1 to book 4?


CE: For book 1, I submitted a submission packet containing a full manuscript, a series overview, and ideas for several other books.

The main difference for all the subsequent books is that I submitted outlines to my editor before I wrote a draft. 

I actually just finished drafting book 5 which I first outlined after a phone conversation with my editor, Jonathan Westmark. We talked through some ideas on what direction we could take next. Book 4, THE WISH THAT GOT AWAY, expanded the world of THE WISH LIBRARY so we were able to have some fun with that. It’s very much a collaborative process.

DP: It's interesting to hear how the process has evolved into more of a collaboration over time. 

When you compare the path to publication for your chapter book(s) to the paths to publication for your earlier picture books, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each? 

CE: It’s pretty similar in that my agent submits to editors she thinks would be a good fit for both types of book. The key difference is that for chapter books I have to think about series potential and put together a submission packet for the project. 

DP: All four titles in this series launched during the middle of the pandemic. With this in mind, what have you found to be the most effective and meaningful way(s) to connect with young readers and book buyers during this challenging time? 

CE: I have lost count how many virtual school visits I’ve completed in the last two years from single classrooms to whole schools located all over the world from Dubai and Australia to Hawaii and New York. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I actually probably wouldn’t have been able to connect with so many kids virtually.

I’ve also kept in close contact with booksellers in my local area and I’ve taken part in both virtual and, more recently, in-person events with them. 

DP: It's so encouraging and inspiring to hear about the up-sides to this unique time! I just had an author visit for World Read Aloud Day with a school community in Japan, and I have to agree that might not have happened without the expansion of virtual outreach. 

Speaking of the expansion of virtual outreach, it sounds like your book series will be adapted into a Kids TV series. VERY exciting! What can you tell us about that experience so far? 

CE: Honestly, not much! It’s early days. I will definitely shout about it when I have news to share!

DP: I'll keep my ears open to more news on this! 

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?

CE: A while back, I listened to a podcast chat between Kate Messner and literary agent Jennifer Laughran. Kate was launching 12 books in 2020 and in their chat she talked about promotion and events. She said to only do the book promotion that you enjoy. As individual creators we can only do so much to move the needle on book sales and the best way we can spend our time is to write the next book. That’s something I’ve kept in mind over the last couple of years and has eased some of the promotion stress!

DP: That's such great advice, Christine (and Kate!)

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for THE WISH THAT GOT AWAY (or THE WISH LIBRARY SERIES) that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

CE: I wish someone would ask if I had any help writing any of my books. As the answer is yes!

My daughter, Emily (aged almost-10) helped me solve a problem in the third book, TOGETHER FOREVER. I won’t share what it was in case readers haven’t read that one yet but it was a pivotal moment and her idea saved the day (in more ways than one).

DP: That's fantastic--I'll bet kids love hearing that during your author visits! 

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

CE: I have an as-yet-unannounced picture book coming out in 2023 that I can’t wait to tell everyone about! It’s a story very close to my heart.

And as I mentioned, I’m working on book 5 in THE WISH LIBRARY series which will also come out next year.

Plus I have a middle grade novel that I’m working on. Time will tell how that turns out.

DP: Wow! It sounds like your hands are full. I'll look forward to following those projects, too! 

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE WISH THAT GOT AWAY with us, Christine!

CE: Thank you for having me!

Friends, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. Christine's books, including books in THE WISH LIBRARY series are available everywhere books are loaned and sold.  

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Image Source: Christine Evans
Christine Evans is the author of two picture books, Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist illustrated by Yas Imamura (Innovation Press) and Emily’s Idea illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns (Sounds True). Her chapter book series, The Wish Library, is out now (Albert Whitman). 

Christine Evans has jumped out of a plane once, windsurfed once, and water skied once. She much prefers books and writing to adrenaline sports. She is a British expat and has lived in California for over ten years with her husband and two young daughters. 





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

April 13, 2022

The Seasonal Tie-Ins and Promotional Pairings Part of the Writing Life

It's hard to believe, but today marks the one year anniversary, or "book birthday" for Lucy's Blooms


On this date last year I shared a blog post entitled, "The Book Launch Part of the Writing Life," where I talked about the activities leading up to a book launch. Today's post is about creating opportunities for extending the book buzz beyond the initial launch through seasonal tie-ins and promotional pairings. 

The marketing copy on my publisher's website describes Lucy's Blooms as "a multigenerational story about a young girl who learns from her grandmother about the enduring nature of love, the strength in rejecting labels, and the wisdom of standing with those who are different." In the story, "the town's annual flower contest is coming soon, and a young girl puts her heart into growing a lively bunch of flowers she finds in a meadow. As her grandmother guides her in nurturing a garden, the girl learns that winning ins't the true reward—it's the special love found in caring for something or someone." 

These are the words that help booksellers and librarians make book buying and collection development decisions—but these words don't necessarily help a book get hand-sold, placed face out on a retail display, or incorporated into a library storytime. This is where seasonal tie-ins and promotional pairings can come in. 

I maintain a running list of potential promotional connections for each of my books. Some seasonal tie-ins (such as the spring equinox in March and Earth Day in April are easy to come up with. I broaden the list by browsing web-based resources such as the "There is a Day for That" calendar, the "Today is" calendar  and this list of national days, along with taking note of observances recognized by literacy organizations such as Every Child a Reader

There are quite a few different connections that can be drawn for most of my books, and although it's not reasonable for me to set a goal to amplify each tie-in every year, the running list of seasonal tie-ins and promotional pairings does help me maximize my promotional opportunities. 

Here is an example of my current running list for Lucy's Blooms and some examples of the promotions I developed to go along with some of the observances:






World Planting Day (March and October)







Dandelion Day (April 5)




Earth Day (April)



May Day (May 1)

Mother's Day (May)




Grandparents Day (September)







I also maintain a strong supply of book-related resources and enrichment materials here, including a robust collection of Pinterest boards with categories such as:

Grandparent’s Day

Earth Day and World Bee Day 

Kindness and Good Deeds

Fun Facts About Dandelions

Weeds: Metaphor for Resilience

Garden Tours, Virtual Visits, and Other Experiential Opportunities

Gardening with Kids

Gardening Tips and Info

Picture Book Pairings for Lucy’s Blooms

 
The past year has flown by faster than the seeds of a dandelion. Thank you to everyone who continues to read, share, and help Lucy's Blooms flourish and grow. 

April 6, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY, by Brian Russo

Hello readers! Today's edition of Birth Stories for Books is double the fun because it's from the perspective of an author/illustrator and it's about how a picture book sequel came to be. 

My guest is Brian Russo, author/illustrator of YOGA BUNNY (HarperCollins, 2016) and the sequel, A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY, (HarperCollins, February 2022.)

So let's hop right to it. 

by Brian Russo


The Story of How Yoga Bunny 2: A Friend For Yoga Bunny Came to Be
by Brian Russo

I was working a graphic design job where I had a lot of down time. It had been several years since the original Yoga Bunny had been released. And I wasn’t sure if the publisher wanted a sequel. But, I loved the characters from that book, and I had time, so I thought up a new story and drew it. It was a parody of the movie ‘Step Up’, where Yoga Bunny and his friends’ turf is overtaken by a group of big bears, and they must have a ‘yoga-off’ to see who gets the spot.

I sent it to my friends over at HarperCollins and waited. 

Eventually they got back to me and said that while they didn’t want to do the story I had written, they were interested in doing another Yoga Bunny book, which was great! Lisa Sharkey, a Senior Vice President and Director of Creative Development at HarperCollins, pitched the story that would eventually become the new book, where Yoga Bunny meets a new friend struggling with anxiety. I suggested that the friend be a bear, because I liked the size difference between the bears and Bunny in my ‘Step-Up’ parody, and Lisa agreed (you can also read a version of this story from Lisa’s perspective over at my blog.) 

I put together another Dummy, and after a few more weeks of nervous waiting, HarperCollins came back with a formal offer to do another book. 

I was a dream come true at the time, because my incredible wife was pregnant, and about to give birth. We weren’t sure if I was going to be a stay at home dad or if we needed to send the baby to daycare after her maternity leave was over. We agreed that if I sold another book, I could quit my job and stay home with the baby. And so I did! 

This is going to sound petty, but… There are few pleasures greater than listening to your boss yell at you, knowing that in two weeks you’ll never see him again.  

Anyways, this was in the fall of 2019.

By the time we were starting production in the winter of 2020, the world was shutting down from COVID.

The first Yoga Bunny was done on watercolor paper that I brought into the HarperCollins office in NYC. But since I was now living in Utah, and we weren’t yet sure if mailing paper was going to be safe during the pandemic, Jeanne Hogle (my fantastic art director who was also on the first Yoga Bunny) and I made the decision to do all of the illustrations 100 percent digitally. 

So I bought an iPad! This was the first big purchase I made with my money from the advance, and it was pretty exciting! I never thought I’d be an iPad person, but man, I love this thing. And I’ve named him. His name is Theo. 

Anyways, I downloaded Procreate onto Theo, and spent a lot of time figuring out how to recreate the watercolor look of the first book with digital brushes. Jeanne and her assistant Chrisila Maida were really helpful during this process, and eventually I got it! The trick was layering, and then writing down the specifics of every layer so that I could recreate the process from page to page. 

Image from A Friend for Yoga Bunny, by Brian Russo

On the text side of things, I had a new editor on the sequel, Luana Horry, who was a total delight and rockstar. She suggested that the Bear character be female, which was really smart. She also helped a great deal in finding the right words when Bunny wants her to try yoga with him. We wanted Yoga Bunny to be a more proactive character here than he was in the last book, but we didn't want him to be pushy, or come off like a guru.

I’m really happy with what was eventually printed. 

Then, once we got going, it was just a lot of nights working on the illustrations after my son went to bed. One of the shows I enjoyed having on while illustrating was Earth to Ned on Disney Plus. It’s a talk show produced by the Jim Henson company, with very impressive alien puppets doing the interviews. And because of the format, there wasn’t a plot to follow, so it wasn’t too distracting. Highly recommended to all the Muppet fans out there.  

Really, my only complaint about the process of making a book like A Friend for Yoga Bunny is that I wish I could do it all the time. I love working with a small creative team, and I think the people I worked with are amongst the best in the world at what they do. And they’re very cool. I never minded getting notes or criticism, because everyone was so consistently level headed and professional about everything. 

Now that it’s over, I really miss it. There’s something so great about being part of a group and working towards a big creative goal. I’ll admit that I’m a little lonely without it.  

But, my wonderful agent, Sera Rivers, has sent a manuscript for Yoga Bunny 3 over to HarperCollins. And in a couple months, if this one sells enough, I may just get to do it again. 

Bunny ears crossed!   

Everything in children’s book publishing just takes a very long time. 

The funny thing about starting this book just as my son was born is how much I felt the time passage between when we finished, to when the book was released. As I was finishing up the art, my son was just starting to crawl. Now, as the book is being released, he’s running around, saying full sentences, and making sound arguments as to why it’s okay for him to eat dog food. 

Things have changed for my wife too. When I finished the art she was working as a teaching coach at a public elementary school. And now she’s been promoted to assistant principal, practically running the place! She also helped me design a Yoga Bunny educational poster, available as a free download on my website for all the teachers out there. Hearing from her what life has been like for teachers during the pandemic, they deserve a lot more than a free poster!

So yeah, that’s about all I have to say about the making of A Friend for Yoga Bunny. I’m so thrilled with how this book came out, and all the positive reviews it’s been getting. I hope you and your kids will be thrilled by it too, and also relaxed by the illustrations of Bunny and Bear doing yoga together :)

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Thanks for sharing so many behind-the-scenes, details for A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY, Brian. What an inspiration! (And readers, if you haven't yet followed the link that leads to the backstory for Brian's first book, YOGA BUNNY, it's a must-read, too!)

And as a reminder to all, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. I hope you'll consider heading on over to Bookshop or your favorite local indie and getting yourself a copy of one of Brian's beautiful books. Can't add another book to your own collection? Ask your local library (and/or your local yoga studio!) to include A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY in their offerings and/or share this post with a friend.

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Image Source: Brian Russo
Brian Russo has been drawing since he can remember. He grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, then moved to New York, where he earned a degree from NYU. Afterwards, he discovered something he loves just as much as drawing: doing yoga. He earned a teaching certificate from Yoga to the People in 2010, during which time he developed the Yoga Bunny illustrations. He now lives in Lehi, Utah (the setting of the film Footloose) with his beautiful wife, Emily, adorable son, Quill, and loyal dog, Spike. His favorite film is Spirited Away, and the celebrity he'd most like to meet is 'Weird Al' Yankovic. 




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

March 30, 2022

The Reader Engagement Part of the Writing Life

Back in February, I had the pleasure of participating in World Read Aloud Day, aka, WRAD. As I've said before, one of my favorite parts of author life is connecting directly with young readers. 

One of the most fantastic things about connecting with young readers is sometimes they send written cards, letters, and pictures. Given the digital nature of book events these days, for the first time ever I received digital postcards from a classroom of readers I visited from a school in Japan. Here are some examples:





Artwork from Ms. Venn's Second Grade Class

Whenever students write to me after an author visit, I do my best to write back to them, and WRAD is no exception. Here is the letter I recently wrote to the students in Ms. Venn's second grade class at John O. Arnn Elementary School in Camp Zama, Japan:

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Dear Ms. Venn’s Class, 

Thank you for taking the time to write and illustrate beautiful digital postcards for me to enjoy. 

Each of you, including Ayce, Bobby, Kathryn, (and one additional student who did not sign their name :) thanked me for reading Lucy’s Blooms to you. You are very welcome. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. In case you’d like to read the story again, many of my books, including Lucy’s Blooms, should be available at your local library. And, if you’d like to watch a video of me reading Lucy’s Blooms (maybe with your family at home), you can find it here.

Some of you had additional questions.  My responses are below: 

Zoey: You asked what inspired me to write books, and what made me like being an author and love writing? One reason is I like words. They are powerful. They get things done. They help people understand one another. Words give people a voice. I like when my voice is heard. I have written an entire blog post with some of the other reasons I like to write. You can find it here.

Addison: You asked how many books I have made. I have written 20 stories that have been published into books. You can learn about all of my different books here. You also asked how many books I have read to people. I haven’t kept count of that—I’ll have to start doing that! (You also shared a cute picture of a cat! I showed the picture to Pickle the Cat! Pickle says, “Meow!”)

Kalib: You asked if I enjoy reading to students. I do! It’s one of my favorite parts of being an author. You also shared a picture of a rainbow baby turtle. I hope you will write a story about that some day! 

Alek: You asked how to publish a book. There are a lot of steps in that process. It all begins with writing (and/or illustrating) a story, and then revising it until it is exactly how you want it to be. Then, you research publishers that might like your story. You send your story to publishers until you find one that likes your story enough to turn it into a book. One of my author-friends, Josh Funk, has a great website with information about how to write picture books. You might enjoy reading what he has to share. You can find it here.

Aurora: You asked what was the first book I ever made. The first book I ever made was a poetry book that I hand-wrote as a Mother’s Day gift for my mom back when I was in middle school. You also asked why I became an author. I became an author because I had stories and important ideas in my head that I wanted to share with other people. You asked what year my books came out. The first book I had published, See the Colors, came out in 2009. The most recent book I had published was Lucy’s Blooms, which came out in 2021. I also had two humorous books that were published in 2019: Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? You should be able to find all (or most) of my books in your local library. If you can’t find my books in your library, you can find videos of me reading them (and songs to go along with my most recent books) on the internet, here. You also asked if I ever write fairy tale books. I haven’t yet, but I have a friend who does. Lastly, you asked why I like books. I like books for many different reasons, but one reason is because reading books is one of the best ways to become a better writer. I have also written some blog posts about why I like reading. You can read about that here and here.

Eliana: You asked what is my favorite flower? I like LOTS of different kinds of flowers. I of course like dandelions, and I also especially like tulips, daffodils and nasturtiums. You can find an article I wrote that includes a photograph of some of the nasturtiums in my yard and some stories about my favorite gardening memories with my own Gram on my publisher’s website.

Holden: You asked why I like the weed. I like it because it is cheerful and beautiful and makes me smile. I wrote more about this in a blog post, here.

Thank you again for all of your notes and pictures, and thank you to Ms. Carter for inviting me to visit your school.  I hope I get to visit your school again in the future. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about my life as a writer, you can visit this section of my blog where I talk about my writing life.

Write On!

Sincerely, 

Dawn Babb Prochovnic (and Pickle) 

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If you missed World Read Aloud Day, but would still like to connect, I offer Virtual Author Visits year round anywhere in the world. I've also compiled a comprehensive collection of free remote resources for Self-Guided Virtual Author Visits here. It's not quite the same as a personalized virtual visit (or an in-person visit), but these resources do allow young readers to connect with an author in some fashion. And here's a fun fact: I also write back to classrooms of students who visit me virtually via a Self-Guided Virtual Author visit. 

Write On!  

March 23, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT, by June Smalls

Hello readers! I'm delighted to share another insightful and informative Birth Stories for Books interview. Today's guest is June Smalls, author of HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT (illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara, Familius, March, 2022). 

by June Smalls and Yumi Shimokawara

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, June. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming release of your latest picture book, HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT.

In a recent article on the Familius blog you shared the inspiration behind your earlier book, SHE LEADS: The Elephant Matriarch. I’d love to hear how the idea for this new book, HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT, came to be. 

June Smalls: After writing SHE LEADS, it was easy to start thinking of he, she, and they. It took me a while to land on just the right animal to focus on. I wanted this to be more than just a series of animal facts. I wanted this to be a series about leadership and what that means. These natural leaders in the animal kingdom that are successful are smart, strong, protective of those that are younger and weaker, and they are selfless.

When looking up how silverbacks could be shy, gentle, and patient in addition to their awesome power and athleticism, I knew I’d found a great feature.

THEY LEAD will be the third in the series and focuses on the teamwork of the gray wolf breeding pair (what most people know as the alpha pair).

DP: What a compelling description of this new book (and the series). 

I’d also like to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this new book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to your editor. For SHE LEADS, it sounds like you had conducted so much prior research on elephants, that the actual writing process for the book was fairly smooth once you formulated a book structure. How did the process compare with this new book, given there was a completely new animal to research and write about?

JS: This timeframe will seem unbelievable, but I pitched the idea in March of 2020. Familius said they’d be open to seeing it. I sent the manuscript in April and had a contract in May.

DP. Youza! Yes, that timeframe DOES seem unbelievable! 

JS: You don’t want to put too much into a sequel if the publisher may have zero interest. Though again, I did a good amount of research and had a very loose draft before even pitching the idea to see if it was feasible. So, I had a rough idea of what I’d pull from and where to find it.

It went very quickly since I already had a framework that I’d follow to keep it in line with SHE LEADS in tone, style, and pacing. This was the hardest of the series to write. I had to find the balance of staying with the framework without it just being a cut and paste, swapping out elephants for gorillas.

Interior Image: HE LEADS

Don’t think they all come this easy though. They did reject a separate pitch for this series.

DP: You win some, you lose some, as they say, right? Thick skin is definitely a big part of this business. 

Back to HE LEADS, 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?

JS: Not a ton changed. Interestingly enough, we changed a number of things and then changed them back to the original text. Most changes were to add more information about the females of the troop rather than solely focusing on the male.

DP: 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? At what point did the idea for a series (SHE LEADS, HE LEADS, and next up, THEY LEAD: The Wolf Pack) materialize?

JS: This series started because of a fun fact about elephants shared on International Woman’s Day on twitter and it grew from there.

I’d done elephant research for another manuscript, so I was ready when that inspiration hit. Everything after that was organic growth. I don’t know that there was any one “ah ha” moment for the series. Just a hopeful, “Hey since SHE LEADS seems to be coming together so well, I have this idea about a silverback...”

DP: Way to take the LEAD on the new idea and turn it into another book deal!

When you compare the path to publication for this book to one of your other books outside this series (i.e. ODD ANIMAL ABC’s or THIS CAT LOVES THAT), what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each? 

JS: HE LEADS was easier. For ODD ANIMAL ABC’S many folks wouldn’t even read the manuscript. ABC and other concept books can be a hard sell. I think I subbed that for a year or more before I received serious interest.

THIS CAT LOVES THAT was a work for hire book. It was difficult, not in the sales, since they sought me out, but in the guidelines that I had follow. Since they wanted it to be a book to help learning readers it needed certain sight words, I couldn’t use large vocabulary words, and we had to make sure that photos could be found that went with the text.

It was wonderful and fun challenge and looking at cat photos is never a hardship. Though I couldn’t have all the fun I may have with words and imagery if it had been my own idea.

DP: What a great recap of these different experiences. Thanks for that.

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?

JS: I always say I wish I knew how slow publishing is, but I’m also glad I didn’t really understand since it can be disheartening to know you have a great idea that you won’t be able to share with the world for YEARS even if it is already sold.

Patience is a must in the industry.

DP: Indeed!

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

JS: I know some wonder about selling a series. The LEADS series was not a series from the initial idea, but a wonderful addition after the first book was created.

Many fun facts that I couldn’t use in the book are still stored for when I get to do school visits. Like how gassy the great beasts are from their diet of dense vegetation. 

DP: Speaking from the perspective of an official potty-humorist, I assure you, fun facts of that nature will be a big hit! 

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

JS: I am working on a fourth book in the series, though the series is evolving a bit. This book is about the honeybee and how hard they work as individuals rather than focusing on the queen.

There is a novelty sound book coming out in 2023 with Familius Publishing, HEAR THEM ROAR. Readers will get to learn about endangered animals from around the world and actually hear their calls, cries, songs, and roars.

DP: Those sound like very fun projects. I look forward to seeing them.

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT  with us, June!

Dear readers, I hope you will consider heading on over to Bookshop or your favorite local indie and getting yourself a copy of this beautiful book. Can't add another book to your own collection? Ask your local library (and/or your local Zoo) to include HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT in their collection and/or share this post with a friend. 

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June Smalls is a children’s author of fiction and nonfiction including Odd Animal ABC’s and She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and a lover of literature. She resides in Northern Virginia with her hubby, The Kid, and an ever-growing assortment of animals. 








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

March 16, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: EMET'S BOX, by Jeni Chen

Hello readers! Settle in for an encouraging and inspiring path to publication story in today's edition of Birth Stories for Books. My guest is Jeni Chen, author and illustrator of EMET'S BOX (Little Press, April, 2022). 

Written and Illustrated by Jeni Chen

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Jeni. I’ve enjoyed reading about your publishing journey for your debut picture book, EMET’S BOX, on your blog, and I’m delighted to be able ask some specific questions about your experience here. 

You’ve mentioned that you wrote EMET’S BOX because as a mom and school visitor you’ve witnessed that kids are naturally creative but sometimes they “try to hide themselves to conform to what the adults want.” Can you share more details about any specific interactions with / observations of kids and/or experiences in your own life that sparked the idea for EMET’S BOX and motivated you to move the idea forward to fruition?

Jeni Chen: I love working with children because they always surprise and delight me with their awesome creations. In my workshops, I try to give them some directions but not too much so they can find their own creative expressions. It is so much fun to see kids making art that were totally outside of my expectations. But sometimes, I see parents telling their kids how to draw something “correctly.” I once saw a lively boy just clammed up when his artwork was being compared to that of his older sibling’s. I am not saying that I am a perfect parent. Maybe Emet’s Box is a reminder to myself that kids are so brilliant that if we encourage them to be themselves, to try different things and not afraid of making mistakes, that there are more possibilities than what we could’ve imagined for them.

DP: That's a really beautiful perspective. 

Can you share with us the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the manuscript and/or picture book dummy that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor?  

JC: I first had the idea for Emet’s Box in 2016 when my son was 5-year-old. It started out as a little message to my son when I realized that kids have this magical light radiating from them and if I allow this creative curiosity in my son to grow without smothering it, it is going to become something amazing. A few months later, I woke up around 4am in the morning with this story in my head and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I wrote down the idea in the dark on pieces of scrap papers and kept it in my bedside table. Two years later, in 2018, I took a picture book illustration class and decided to work on the story. I joined SCBWI and went to my first SCBWI conference in 2019, found my publisher through #PBPitch in 2020 and finished the illustrations in 2021. The book will be released on April 1st, 2022.

DP:  Wow! That's quite a journey! 

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?

JC: In my mind, I consider the notes that I scribbled at 4am in the morning my first draft. But I had a version zero that was more like notes to myself and a message to my son. The first draft went through many critique groups and I had many versions after that but in the end, I came back to this original flash of inspiration at the break of dawn. There’s a quote by Rumi that says, “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep!” It made me believe that there’s something greater out there guiding us and that children instinctively know how to listen to it (if the adults were not trying to shout over this voice). I just realized that the story of Emet’s Box came from the breezes at dawn and that the main message of Emet’s Box is to listen to this breeze at dawn and your name is Dawn!

DP: And this Dawn loves Rumi's work, too! (and I absolutely agree with the sentiment of that quote.) 

You are the author and the illustrator of this book. Do you have an equal affinity for both aspects of the picture book making process, or is there one side of the equation that you prefer/lean into more naturally? 

JC: Sometimes I ask myself this question: Am I an artist or a writer?

I think I am more of an artist because I’ve always love to draw since I was a little girl. When I got older, I started writing and making up stories to entertain my friends. English is my second language so I know I have to work on it. On the other hand, I thought illustrating would be easy. I thought I could make the dummy book for Emet’s Box in a few weeks but it took me half a year. And I learned that it is A LOT OF WORK to illustrate a picture book!

Interior Image from Emet's Box by Jeni Chen

DP: 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? 

JC: Can I list a few? 

DP: Absolutely! 

JC: I would have to say taking a picture book illustrating class helped me understand the basics and that led me to joining SCBWI and meeting all the wonderful kid lit creators who helped me and encouraged me along the way. One of my kidlit critique groups suggested #PBPitch where I connected with my publisher. 

DP: Another #PBPitch success story. Whoo-hoo! 

EMET’S BOX portrays Asian characters and customs while taking readers on Emet’s journey of self-exploration. Can you share some of what it means to you (as an artist, as a parent, as a human being), to be able to bring an authentic, #OwnVoices story into the marketplace? 

JC: I have to thank my publisher Michele McAvoy of The Little Press for bringing up the topic of representation. At first, I just wanted to use all sorts of colors for my characters’ hair (and clothes) but incorporating elements of my culture into the illustrations has made the story even more meaningful to me. Actually, when I was working on my draft, Emet was wearing shoes inside the house. When my son saw that he told me no shoes were allowed inside the house and asked me to change it. I think kids do pick up on the details like that and I appreciate the opportunity to bring forth a story with Asian characters that were not just about Asian cultures.

DP: I suspect you will be telling that story about your son at author visits for many years to come! 

In addition to writing and illustrating picture books, you engage in a practice called Art Journaling (a term I’d not heard before), and you have a webcomic series about family life with your school-aged son. Are there ways in which these different creative practices/outlets contribute to your work as a picture book author/illustrator? 

JC: Art journaling combines drawing and writing, kind of like a picture book. It also reminds me of what Michael Crichton mentioned in his biography Travels that if you usually write, try drawing; if you usually draw, try writing. I think it’s a way to stimulate our brains and to try different things. Emet’s Box is also about encouraging kids to try different things and to find what makes you feel alive. I used to draw comics when I was a kid but stopped for a long time. Drawing comics again about my son makes me feel happy and alive. I hope kids can remember what made them happy when they were young. Even if they forgot (like me) that’s ok, as long as we look for it again. 

DP: That's an encouraging reminder.  

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?

JC: I would not tell my pre-published self anything. I think making this #OwnVoice picture book made me look back at my life. I may have wondered what if I had made different choices at different points in my life. But I realized that whatever happened, they happened for a reason and all those choices made me who I am today. I would not tell my pre-published self anything because she can learn and forge her own way. I love what Joseph Campbell said about the Knights in search of the Holy Grail that “Each entered the forest at a point that he himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path. If there is a path it is someone else's path and you are not on the adventure.”

DP: That's such a freeing perspective, Jeni. Thanks. 

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

JC: I want to share that just before Emet’s Box was picked up for publication, it was the beginning of the pandemic and we were in lock down. I remember very clearly that I was sitting on the sofa, reading a book, with my son and my husband sitting nearby. Somehow, at that moment, I felt this genuine contentment and that there was nothing more I could ask for. Somehow, I think this feeling of contentment has something to do with me getting the publishing contract. So I try to remind myself to appreciate whatever I have in my life right now.

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

JC: I am working on some public art projects, visiting schools to teach the kids about the immune system through art. I am looking forward to doing school visits for Emet’s Box. I do have an idea for my next picture book but it is still in the marinating-in-my-brain stage. I am listening to my breezes at dawn for that flash of inspiration.

Image Source: Jeni Chen

DP: May the breezes be seasoned with sweet inspiration, indeed!

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for EMET’S BOX with us, Jeni!

Friends, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or intriguing to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others.  EMET'S BOX is available everywhere books are sold. Here are some pre-order links:


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Jeni Chen was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada with her family when she was a teenager. As a kid, Jeni loved to draw but stopped when she decided to pursue a more “practical” career in science. After the birth of her son, Jeni started drawing comics about the funny things her son said or did. Jeni returned to school and obtained a Fine Art Certificate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Since then, Jeni has been selected for numerous public art projects and has been invited to lead various art workshops in her community. 





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