The first time I heard the title FIRST GRADE DROPOUT I said (yet again), “Why didn’t I think of that? Brilliant!”


(Also, the song “Beauty School Dropout” played through my head a gazillion times.)


This new book from dream-team Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell did not disappoint. In fact, it was very different from what I imagined and I loved it because it was so unexpected and clever.

You might already know Audrey from her BUFFALO and BASEBALL books. And, if you don’t know Matthew by now, I might have to whack you upside the head with one of his delightful picture books. (Don’t worry, I’ll use a paperback so it won’t hurt.)

Is Your Buffalo ready for kindergarten  troublegum

Audrey once told me that humor often stems from inserting the absurd into the ordinary. That’s why I enjoy her BUFFALO (which, according to the title, is really MY buffalo…or YOURS…definitely NOT HERS). On one hand, it’s totally crazy to have a buffalo in school…but on the other, it seems SO VERY RIGHT.

Last time Matt (hey, we’re on nickname terms now!) visited my blog, he talked about his loosey-goosey illustration style in SPECiAL DELIVERY. Well, FiRST GRADE DROPOUT gets so loose that you’d swear Sir Quentin Blake illustrated it. Yep, it’s that amazing.

So today, I asked Audrey and Matt to interview each other. What a hoot…


Audrey: When you’re illustrating your own work, does it start with an image? How do you begin when you’re illustrating a text written by someone else?

Matt: In terms of my own books (ones where I do both the writing and illustrating) it’s been a little of both. Some have started with an image that materialized in my head or on paper that I wanted to wrap a story around. And some began as a fully formed idea that became a finished manuscript that I wove illustrations into. The ones that have come from an image in my head or on paper seem to be the most difficult to write. Wrapping a whole story around an image has not been easy for me. But when I have a full story idea and get it out and done, it’s much easier to plug the art into that scenario.

What about you, Audrey, how do you begin? Do you have an idea and just start attacking it and writing right away? Or do you plan and outline, and take a more plotted out approach to crafting your stories? Both? Neither? The art stuff always comes much more naturally to me. The writing… I’m still trying to figure this out, man!


Audrey: For this book, it began with that moment, the embarrassing one, something my sister, a second-grade teacher, told me happens every year in her classroom. But I had the idea (a PiBoIdMo idea!) for a long time before I wrote the text because for this book, that idea wasn’t enough. I needed the first-person voice, too. Ideas rarely come in images for me–usually in moments. I’m not sure that’s a distinction that makes sense to everyone–what I mean is that it’s not something I see the way a visual thinker would. Sometimes a title comes first and tells me all I need to know (So You Want to be a Rock Star). I never plan and outline, even when I’m writing novels. I am not recommending this approach.

In preparation for this interview, when thinking about embarrassing moments, I was remembering adult moments, many involving incoherence or humiliation in the face of celebrities. We’ll save that for another time. But when I hit upon one from childhood, I was surprised that the sting was still intense—tears came to my eyes!–more than 40 years later. At a seventh birthday party for a friend in another town—a party at which I knew only the birthday girl—I was mortified when her older brother kissed me in front of everyone. I called my mother to pick me up early. I waited outside for her, and when I opened the car door, I climbed onto the floor of the passenger seat, and just sat there and cried. Other kids had laughed and teased and I was mortified. Fun times. What embarrassed you the most as a kid?


Matt: Well, thank you for sharing that soul-baring moment here. The nerve of that kid! I mean, where does he get off?

Me, I was a pretty shy and awkward little guy, so I feel like I have a whole archive of cringe-inducing childhood memories. Ones that like to randomly resurface when I’m doing the dishes or taking a shower. Let me see… there was that one time that I almost won the school spelling bee. I was in the 4th grade and just figuring out how terrified I was of speaking in front of bunches of people, when our teacher made her students duke it out with a spelling bee. Unfortunately, I was not bad at spelling, so I kept standing up there spelling words right until I beat everyone in the whole classroom. (I could’ve–should’ve?–just thrown it and spelled a word wrong on purpose, but I guess my moral code wouldn’t allow for such.)

Then came time to compete against the other class winners before a packed school auditorium. Beforehand, my teacher was all excited and gave me this big book of insane words to study. Words I probably wouldn’t even be able to spell (or define) even today. And apparently if I was good enough, this spelling stuff could take me all the way to the nation’s capital to compete. NOOOOO!!

Anyways, there we were up on stage, the best spellers in the school (awesome, right?) and to make the thing worse, I had a brand new terrible haircut. My whole face and ears were burning up with awkward terror and embarrassment. Yet somehow I kept spelling words right over and over again. Until it was just me and this girl Becky. We went head to head for a while until I finally choked and spelled something wrong. (“a-n-c-o-r.”) And then Becky got it right. (“a-n-c-h-o-r”) It was a weird combo of feeling really bad and feeling really good. I felt like a real doof messing up like that in front of the whole school. But I was super glad it was over. Lucky for Becky, I don’t think she made it all the way to D.C. either.

Audrey brownie

Audrey: I dropped out of Girl Scouts the first week—Girl Scouts was no Brownies. And when a placement test somehow landed me in “double honors” math in high school, I quickly dropped out of that. What have you dropped out of?

Matt: This feels like a kismet-y moment, because I totally dropped out of the Cub Scouts! My brother and I got in with a small pack (troop?) and the whole thing seemed doomed from the start. Totally disorganized and chaotic and not right. (Fuzzy memories of kids running around screaming in button down Cub Scouts shirts.) We stuck it out for a little bit though. I remember liking all the gear–the hat, neckerchief, etc. I did my duties and was excited to earn my first badge (more gear!), the Bobcat. And then I discovered that to earn that badge I was going to have to get up in front of a room full of kids and adults and recite stuff and talk about what I learned. And I’d have to do the same for every badge that came after. You can guess what came next. I bailed fast and hard.

cub_cordellNo idea what happened to all the gear, but I still have the card that came with the Bobcat badge. You can see by the scoutmaster’s (den mother’s?) spelling of my name that there really was something…not right.

Audrey: We’ve been teamed on a second book, BOB, NOT BOB, which I wrote with the truly wonderful Liz Garton Scanlon, to be published by Disney in 2017. So two different editors decided to put my text with your art. I take this as the highest imaginable compliment, but I’m not really looking for praise here (everywhere else, just not here). I’m wondering what it is in my stories that has made two different editors think of you. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Matt: That’s a GREAT question. Let me think…I feel like in both of these books there are central characters with serious quirks. It’s possible I’m a guy folks might think of for bringing some quirk to the table. (Or does owning that make one less quirky?)

Also I think, maybe, you and I are central characters with serious quirks. Well, I don’t want to slap that label on you, but my daughter calls me a “weirdo” at least 15 times a day. I think that might be a solid endorsement on my part.

I love both of these books and feel incredibly honored to have been tapped by two different editors at two different publishers to join up with you. I was particularly intrigued when I first read BOB (sooo clever and funny) and saw BOTH of your names at the top of the page. What led you two to collaborate on a picture book? I love that you did, and I love that I get to be the third one thrown into the monkey house on this one.

When I saw you in Chicago a few weeks ago you were telling me about other collaborations in the works and it’s all really fascinating to me. Can you elaborate on why you collaborate? I wonder if I could collaborate with another illustrator on a single picture book or if we’d just end up going after each other with x-acto knives.

Audrey: I’ve collaborated with Liz on two picture books (one of the two is yet to be officially announced) and with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich on TWO NAOMIS, a middle grade. And I wrote my very first picture book, BARK AND TIM: A TRUE STORY OF FRIENDSHIP, with the second-grade-teacher sister.

I don’t know that I would always love collaborating, but I LOVED collaborating with these women. Liz and I stumbled into it. Or, quite possibly, our agent–we have the same one–tricked us into it. She sent us both a review of a picture book and said something like “if you two had a book baby, this would be it.” And all I could think was My God. I want to have a book baby with Liz.

Soon after that, I got a profoundly disgusting cold and was telling both of them how gross I sounded, congested and too sick to think and I ended an email with “Aben,” how a congested person would pronounce “amen.” And our agent wondered if there might not be a story there somewhere. What I think made my collaboration with Liz so enjoyable was the decision that we wouldn’t track changes or include comments. We’d just keep slinging the manuscript (which started as maybe five lines of story) back and forth, freely making changes and additions. If something got cut that one of us missed, we could go back for it–but I don’t think that ever happened.

It was a completely different construct with Gbemi on TWO NAOMIS. We are each writing from the point of view of a nine-year-old girl named Naomi whose divorced parents are dating each other, alternating chapters. We tried to keep it fun, “free and easy” is our mantra. For the first three-quarters of the book, we wrote without an outline or real plan, other than the overall sense of what would happen in the book. Then we talked to figure out how to bring it all home.

I can tell you that on all collaborated-on the books, it felt like way less than half than the work. It is quite possible, however, that you might interview Liz and Gbemi and they may say, oh man, it felt like twice as much work. And then we’ll all know for sure that I’m a slacker.

Back to Tara again: Ha, you are no slacker, Audrey. Not with the slew of books you have coming out!


Thanks to you both for the dynamic-duo interview. I also heard you BOTH SIGNED A COPY of FIRST GRADE DROPOUT.

FGD_1And you’re letting ME give it away!

So blog readers, comment below about YOUR most embarrassing childhood moment and you’ll be entered to win FIRST GRADE DROPOUT signed by Audrey and Matt.

One comment  per person, please.

A winner will be selected in a couple weeks!

Good luck!

When I was a debut author in 2013, I joined a group of other debuts called The Lucky 13s. But the group consisted mostly of MG and YA authors; the picture bookish among us were only Pat Zietlow Miller, Jessica Young and me. I thought there should be a debut group for picture book authors only…and now there finally is!

Let me introduce Wendy BooydeGraaff, who is pulling this all together…and recruiting members.

wendybThere is a community for everything, and now there’s also one for picture book authors and/or illustrators who will debut in 2016. With the encouragement and online group expertise of the gracious Tara Lazar and the noble Sylvia Liu, 2016 Picture Book Debut Authors and/or Illustrators was born. It’s open for anyone who has a picture book coming out in 2016, and it’s meant to be a space for us to share our debut journey, to support, market, discuss, share new ideas and enable each other. It will be a space to connect with and promote each other, to celebrate this achievement, and to find out about the great new books that are coming into the world.

So far we have members whose books are coming out with a variety of publishers, including Lee and LowLittle Bee Books, Sky Pony Press, Peachtree Publishers, Bloomsbury, Harper Collins, Ripple Grove Press, and more.

Join us, and help shape our brand new community of 2016 Picture Book Debut Authors and/or Illustrators.

Wendy BooydeGraaff’s picture book debut, SALAD PIE, illustrated by Bryan Langdo, is coming out with Ripple Grove Press in late summer/early fall of 2016.

Thank you, Wendy! There’s so much to do and learn and experience with your debut, and it’s great to have others to share the wild ride!

Congratulations to you all, and we’ll see you in the bookstores!

Another sunny summer morning! I hope you’ve got a cuppa java or your favorite AM liquid mojo and you’re settling into a day of writing.

As promised, here are the two winners for debut author Maria Gianferrari’s PENNY & JELLY book and critique giveaway!

Penny and Jelly

Book Winner:


Critique Winner:


Congratulations! I’ll be emailing you shortly!

Now, onto some shenanigans…

This week I did a bookstore appearance.


Now, I debated if I should post this publicly. It doesn’t look so good for me, does it? It’s downright embarrassing!

But I wanted to let aspiring authors know that THESE THINGS HAPPEN. Sometimes, on a sunny Monday afternoon in the summer (or a crisp autumn Saturday, or a frigid winter morning, or an ordinary Wednesday evening) people just don’t show up.

Every author has had this happen to them at one time or another. You laugh it off. And you go on.

But you also remember that once you have a book published, it doesn’t mean people will come rushing to see you. Most people don’t know who you are. And they probably don’t care. You MUST have another reason, besides having a published book, for appearing at a bookstore. A book is not enough to bring people in to see you. Offer something you know your readers will want. Add value. Add other authors. Add games, activities, a writing workshop, SOMETHING.

I posted this picture on my Facebook timeline this week and received over a hundred responses, mostly from other authors and illustrators saying, “Been there, done that.” You see, IT HAPPENS. (It’s like a break-up cliché: “It’s not you; it’s them.”)

Also on Facebook this week, PiBoIdMo participants suggested adding writing prompt videos to this year’s challenge, so I’m seriously thinking about it!


If you have suggestions for this year’s PiBoIdMo, I hope you’ll share them in the comments.

In the meantime, here’s a Kidlit.TV video that I filmed on Monday, the HOTTEST day of the year. OUTSIDE. (What was I thinking?) It contains behind-the-scenes secrets about I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, which releases in 12 days, not that I’m counting or anything. LOL.

Bear Book final cover

Enjoy your summer weekend, everyone. And stay tuned because more giveaways are happening very soon!

If you read this blog earlier this week, you know I recently embarked upon a happiness project. What you maybe didn’t know is that making other people happy is something that delights me as well. My good friend, illustrator Steve Barr, feels the same. A few months ago he launched a project to teach hospitalized children how to draw cartoons, and it’s already been a phenomenal success, putting smiles on the faces of hundreds of kids. 


Steve at Duke Children’s Hospital

Steve plans to expand the program to include other authors and illustrators nation-wide. Plus he wants to continue giving free art supplies to the children he visits. I am wholeheartedly behind him!

I’ll let Steve take the mic now.

Teachers cringe when I tell their students about my first artistic endeavor. In fourth grade, I basically “carved” a crude drawing of Mickey Mouse onto the the top of my wooden desk. I used a pencil, but back then the desks were actually made of wood!

My classmates loved it! My teacher, not so much.

Apparently, she was not a big fan of art. She made me stay after school to scrub and scrub that desk until it was almost new again. But she did give me a pencil and a stack of blank paper when I was done, and suggested that from now on I try drawing with that, instead of decorating furniture.

I took her advice. In the fifth and sixth grades, I started writing and drawing my own comic books and selling them to my classmates for their lunch money. Which could explain why I am a bit chubby these days and most of my former classmates remain rather thin.

In seventh grade, I sold my first cartoons to newspapers and magazines. I figured at that point, I could just kick back…draw funny pictures…let the money roll in, then retire in a few years.

Well, that didn’t exactly happen! But it did launch me on a pursuit that I have loved for the rest of my life. By the time I was in high school, my work was being featured on a monthly basis in a few magazines and I had done illustrations for books.


In my sophomore year, one of the magazines I worked for called and asked me if I would like to move to Chicago and become their Art Director. I guess they were a bit startled when I told them I’d have to ask my mother first.

Needless to say, she insisted that I had to stay in school. At the time I wasn’t really thrilled about that, but at this point in my life it does seem like it was a pretty good idea.

Years later, with some wonderful successes and a file cabinet full of rejection slips, I finally landed my dream job. As a child, I dreamed of two things. One was becoming a syndicated cartoonist and the other was writing and illustrating my own books. I ended up getting to do both!

Several years ago, after searching the world for a publisher, I stumbled across Peel Productions. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were located in the same tiny town I live in, here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Within days of contacting them, we were sitting in my kitchen signing a contract for the first three books in my “1-2-3 Draw” series. Eventually, we did eleven titles.


That eventually led Impact Books to ask me to create “Draw Crazy Creatures” and “Draw Awesome Animals”. Which led to invitations to do library and school presentations. That helped me hone my public speaking skills, and also became a great way to find out what the kids really wanted to draw.


I was able to break my lessons down into really easy to follow step-by-step instructions that anyone could follow. And that came in really handy for what was about to happen…

Several months ago, after losing family members and friends that I adored to cancer, I realized the tremendous healing impact creating art could have on patients in hospitals. I decided to concentrate my efforts on teaching pediatric patients how to draw cartoons of their very own. Each child also gets a free package of art supplies that they can keep. Pencils, crayons, colored pencils, and a pad of drawing paper!


Everything in my life has come full cycle. Now I’m teaching kids how to draw on paper instead of furniture! And when I walk into a young child’s hospital room, plop down next to their bed and share the story of how I got started, they instantly bond with me and grin.


(Plus, the fact that I bear a striking resemblance to Santa Claus probably doesn’t hurt!)

If you’d like to learn more about my hospital cartooning programs, click on this link to my “Cartoon Fun for Kids In Hospitals” Indie Go Go campaign. Learn how you can become a part of this incredible endeavor, and if nothing the video at the top to learn how to draw a cartoon fish. You never know when a skill like that might come in handy!

Thanks, Steve. As I said in the blog title, you are a hero! 

Just for visiting and commenting on this post today, Steve will be graciously giving away 3 signed copies of one of his drawing books. I also hope you’ll take the time to visit his campaign and donate if you can. Thank you!


Apologies for going off the picture book rails with this post. But living with a chronic disease like MS means I have to focus on the positive. And I strongly believe that being happy in life relies upon being happy in the present…and not hanging happiness on “if only.” Happiness is not a contingency plan. Happiness is right here, right now, in your everyday life. As mundane or stressful as some days can be, glimmers of giddiness can be discovered and celebrated. Don’t miss those moments, as fleeting as they may be.

So I have vowed to jot down one happy thing daily. What made me smile, what made me appreciate my life. Some will certainly be silly, and others may be cloyingly sentimental. Some will mean nothing to anyone but me. A LOT will have to do with FOOD. But for a full year, 366 days (2016 is a leap year), I will create a list of HAPPY.

I have already begun. So here’s my list of 10 happy things. I will add to this list throughout the year and I invite (no, encourage!) you to compile your own list of happiness.

  1. A morning cuppa Earl Grey tea
  2. Braiding my daughter’s hair
  3. Reading in the sun (without getting overheated, an MS issue)
  4. Finding fresh apricots at the store
  5. My daughter making breakfast all on her own (cheesy eggs)
  6. Delicious lunch with a good friend
  7. Getting into bed with freshly-washed sheets
  8. Receiving the first hard copy of my new book
  9. Baking peach-blueberry cobbler for dinner with friends
  10. The smell of water from the garden hose (reminds me of childhood summers)

Aha! So you stumbled upon the reason for this blog post title. Plus, to use a cliché faucet metaphor, little droplets of happiness can soon become a flood! (Oh boy, that was baaaaad. That’s not going on my happiness list.)

What made you happy today?

Oh, how I adore how patient you’ve all been!

Juggling summer vacation, booking and blogging is mind-boggling. (Say that 10 times fast.)

We have a lot of winners to announce…but first…I’d like to tell you about I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK ’cause it’s my sophomore outing, and, like sophomore year in high school, I’m really nervous about it! (And I might have a teeny crush on the boy with the locker next to mine.)


I slaved over this Facebook cover image. Seriously, it took me two hours because I kept putting stuff where the portrait photo and menus appear. I got smart and downloaded a template…but then I had to rejigger it all…as I was searching for my lost jigger of salt. (Yes, margaritas were necessary fuel.)

For anyone who doesn’t have a photo app on their computer, you can do all this online for free at

If you’d like to use this image as your Facebook cover photo, I’d appreciate the support! Let me know if you do in the comments. I’ll be giving away three signed copies of BEAR to anyone who shares news of this book. Pre-order info is on Simon & Schuster’s site here. It releases August 4th! AHHHHHhhhhhhhh!

And now, without further ado, the winners of all the recent giveaways! Margaritas all around!


Winner of DRESS ME! by Sarah Frances Hardy:


Fiction Magic Title screenshot

Winner of FICTION MAGIC card set by Deb Lund:



Winner of WHOSE TOOLS? by Toni Buzzeo:

GLORIA! (from Austin)




Book Giveaway

Winner of WHEREVER YOU GO by Pat Zietlow Miller:


Winner of art print by Eliza Wheeler:


Cat Nap cover TARA

Winners of CAT NAP art prints by Toni Yuly:


Congratulations! I’ll be emailing y’all soon!

If you didn’t win, don’t worry, I’ve yet to pick lucky folks for Maria Gianferrari’s book and critique giveaway. That’s coming next week, so there’s still time to enter!

Thanks again for visiting my blog. Stay tuned for more summer giveaways! (Sorry, margaritas sold separately. Some assembly required.)

One of the most exciting parts about signing with an agent, besides SIGNING WITH AN AGENT (!!!!), is being adopted into an instant family. Your agent-sisters-and-brothers are so supportive, kind and blow-you-away talented. I’ve known Maria for years, and I knew that when Ammi-Joan Paquette signed her, she’d skyrocket to fame.

Penny and Jelly

PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW is Maria’s debut, but she already has a half dozen more books to come! Phew! She’s got some serious talent.

And since PENNY & JELLY is about a school talent show, I thought Maria, illustrator Thyra Heder and editor Cynthia Platt might like to share their HIDDEN talents for the PENNY & JELLY blog tour.

Maria Gianferrari, Author

My hidden talent: I am the plant whisperer. Here are some of my favorite plants, and flowers:


I took this Clematis in for the winter and here it is blooming. It’s now back on our deck.


My very happy jade plant.


This is my heartleaf philodendron. It keeps growing. And growing. And growing. It just might take over our house.


But somehow I haven’t figured out how to speak orchid. A friend recently gave me this lovely specimen.


But I’m afraid it may end up looking like this.

Time will tell!

Thyra Heder, Illustrator

My hidden talent is not so hidden. I like to dance so much that once I start I usually cannot stop until the party is over and everyone is gone and I open my eyes and I’m the only one left. Here is a photo of me dancing to my walkman at age 11 in front of painted portraits of my Hungarian great grandparents.


Cynthia Platt, Editor

Maria might be a plant whisperer, but I like to think of myself as a guinea pig whisperer.

While I never thought of myself as a rodent person–and was, in fact, deeply squeamish about having one in the house–the loud, demanding, rather snuggly Flicksbee (I take no credit for her name, alas) has wormed her way into my heart. So maybe my hidden talent isn’t so much being a guinea pig whisperer as being open to new things? Regardless, my guinea pig is awesome.


So now that you know these book creators’ secret talents, it’s time to pick up PENNY & JELLY so you can discover their talent! 

And Maria will take a look at your talent, too. She’s giving away a picture book critique to one lucky random commenter. Leave a comment about YOUR hidden talent! (Seriously, I can’t wait to read these.)

Plus, there’s also a copy of PENNY & JELLY for a second winner. So comment away! Two winners will be chosen in mid-July.

Good luck!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Maria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, will be released on July 7th, 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers). A second Penny & Jelly book titled, Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars, will be released in June 2016. Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook and Boyds Mills Presses as well as Aladdin Books for Young Readers in the coming years. To learn more about Maria, visit her website: and on Facebook.

And you can visit Penny & Jelly at their website:, and on Instagram: @pennyandjelly.

Cat Nap cover TARA

Ha, ha! Don’t you just glance at this cover and laugh?! With bold strokes and subtle humor, author-illustrator Toni Yuly draws you into her world.

The brand-spanking-new cover of CAT NAP is so expressive with earnest simplicity. We see wide-eyed Cat in his bed with energetic Kitten climbing on his back. It’s a fun romp with sleepy Cat and exuberant Kitten playing hide-and-seek. Small children will especially enjoy looking for the curious mouse who follows the two. (Heck, big children will, too! I know I do!)

CAT NAP is the third in a series of companion books for the very young published by Feiwel and Friends. EARLY BIRD (2014) and NIGHT OWL (2015) complete the adorable trio.



Although the books stand alone, they are a perfect threesome for morning, noon and nighttime reading. EARLY BIRD loves to wake up early, NIGHT OWL loves to stay up late (just like Tara), and CAT just wants to take a nap (again, just like Tara). All three books are the same size, (8″ x 8 1/2″) and style, using simple, colorful illustrations.


Toni, how did you first get the idea for this trio of books?

The idea for the threesome was not hatched from the beginning. It was a kind of spontaneous happening of sorts and I ended up selling all three books in the same year! Since the books are all based on idioms it was almost impossible not to think of NIGHT OWL and CAT NAP after EARLY BIRD. Although the character and story for EARLY BIRD came first, it was the opposite for NIGHT OWL and CAT NAP. For those two the titles came first, and then the story.


I see Mousie! Yes, I do! Hooray!

OK, I know it’s difficult to choose…but do you have a favorite of the three?

My favorite will always be EARLY BIRD because it was my debut book as an author-illustrator. But, I have learned so much since then, and grown in so many ways that I am really, really happy with CAT NAP! Of the three books it is the funniest and I like the color scheme the best too.

What did you learn through the process of creating this series?

I learned SO much!  After getting over the tremendous panic of not knowing what I was doing, I relaxed and learned to trust my fabulous editor Liz Szabla and the creative team at Feiwel and Friends. I enjoy the collaborative process and working with others to make the best possible book. I also gained confidence and learned to trust myself.


Why do you think picture books for the wee ones are so important?

I think that picture books for the youngest readers are important for so many reasons! To begin with, the physical book is such a magical thing…a small child can carry it around or bring it to you…just having books around feels a certain way which is hard to explain, but they become like friends…

When you open up a picture book you immediately begin to interact with that book together, but also individually. It isn’t a passive thing, like watching a movie, your mind is engaged differently I think maybe because the pacing etc. is slower…

So to me, a picture book is magical on so many levels!  It stimulates, engages and inspires a young child’s mind and imagination!  And it can be a wonderful shared experience for the adult and the child and lead in all kinds of creative directions.

And what I love about CAT NAP for the youngin’s is that the faces are so expressive! You hear more and more about how tweens, teens and even young adults are having trouble communicating through gesture just because of technology. Books like CAT NAP teach and reinforce the subtle cues of non-verbal communication.

toniyulyThank you for joining me today, Toni!

CAT NAP releases on January 26, 2016 and is available for pre-order. You can visit Toni’s studio at

Toni is giving away three signed art prints from CAT NAP, plus a greeting card from all three books, EARLY BIRD, NIGHT OWL and CAT NAP, just for visiting her cover reveal today!

Leave a comment below; one comment per person, please. Three random winners will  be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

(And now, Tara will go take a nap!)

Book Giveaway

patzmillerA few years ago, my sister in agent-hood Pat Zietlow Miller asked if I would take a peek at her manuscript. That manuscript turned out to be the newly-released WHEREVER YOU GO. I immediately knew it would be a beloved hit because of its lyrical text and universal theme, but once Eliza Wheeler signed on to illustrate, I became certain her art would exponentially elevate WHEREVER YOU GO into the stratosphere. (Don’t you wish we had flying cars to take on that trip?)

Since this blog loves to talk about how ideas originate, I asked Pat and Eliza a few questions about the path to this book’s publication. (Get it? THE PATH???)

Pat, what was the genesis of WHEREVER YOU GO?

This book started when I was at work and a few lines of random poetry popped into my head:

Over a hill, under a bridge, deep in a dale, high on a ridge …

I liked the way the words sounded, so I emailed them to myself at home and started working with them to see where they could go. (Ha! See what I did there?) I realized that the words described places roads could go, which got me thinking about other places roads could go, which led to a first draft of the book.

But, I felt it needed something more. Some heart. So, I set it aside and proceeded to do something I do really well. Worry about my children. This time, it was my oldest daughter. She was growing up so fast! In a few years she wouldn’t even be living with us! Was she ready to be on her own? Would she make good choices?

After some time, I realized that could be the heart my book needed. All the places roads could go also could represent life and its many choices. So I revised my draft keeping all the things I wanted my oldest daughter to know in mind, and that became the book that sold.

And it came out this spring, right before her high school graduation. I could not have planned that, but it was perfect timing.


Eliza, as the illustrator, how were you approached for this project and what attracted you to it?

Connie Hsu, the book’s editor at Little Brown at the time, sent the manuscript to my agent with the loveliest email introducing the project. When I read it, I could see the pictures flowing in my imagination. This is a dream text for an illustrator; no frivolous details or lengthy descriptions—a blank canvas for the art to tell its own part of the story. But I didn’t say ‘yes’ right away, because I could see two directions this story could take: 1) The story of life’s roads, or 2) A cars and trucks book. I wanted to make sure that my vision of it as the first direction was also what the publishing team envisioned, and I was happy to hear that we were all on the same page about staying true to the deeper meaning under Pat’s text. I found out later from Pat that this was a deciding factor for her in choosing Little Brown as the publisher, so it seems it was all meant to be!


Any creature could be the lead character traveling these roads. What made you select a bunny on a bike?

I did try a few different animal choices while doing character development, and it came down to a cat, owl, and bunny. These animals in particular are all pretty cute, but in the end the bunny felt the most age-less and gender neutral. The editor and art director also loved the idea of the bunny’s ears flying behind him/her to help emphasize the motion of the bike. That’s how we landed on the bunny!

Oh, so it really had nothing to do with your last name being WHEELER? 

Hahaha! Maybe that was the whole subconscious reason! You can change my answer to that. ;)

Pat, what do you hope the child (and adult) reading this book will take away?

The message I’d like people to take away is this:

Life isn’t a straight line.

It’s good to have goals in life. It’s good to pursue them and to celebrate when you reach them. But, there will be unexpected detours along the way. Those detours may take you somewhere greater than you ever expected, or they may lead you somewhere you never wanted to be. But, either way, you can chose how to react to where you end up and to take a different path if you’re not happy with your current location.

A long time ago, I read that the most mentally healthy people are the people who see the most options in their life because they can get unstuck from the nasty places more easily than people who can’t envision a different future. So I hope readers will internalize the message that they’re in charge of their own lives and that they always have choices about where they want to be.


That’s a beautiful message, Pat. And it’s one that’s true for writing as well as life. No career is a straight line. It’s rather bumpy. But hold on and you will indeed get the ride of your life!

Thank you, Pat and Eliza, for sharing your journey (GET IT AGAIN???) and for offering the book and an art print from Eliza as prizes to our blog readers!

To win a copy of WHEREVER YOU GO, just leave a comment below. One comment per person and a random winner will be chosen at the end of June.

To win Eliza’s print, take a photo of you with WHEREVER YOU GO and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #whereveryougo. A random winner will be selected at the end of June.

Good luck!

tammiforsiteby Tammi Sauer

Psst. Hey, you there. Yes, you. Do you want to wow an editor with your next picture book manuscript? Great!

It only takes one thing. Come up with the next Fancy Nancy, Olivia, or Skippyjon Jones. Editors are wading through their slush and/or agented submissions in the hopes of finding an irresistible, can’t-put-down, character-driven manuscript. They want manuscripts that make them feel something and a great character can do just that.

Examples of strong characters in picture books:

OLIVIA by Ian Falconer
Olivia is a feisty little piglet who has too much energy for her own good.

FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor
Nancy is very into fanciness whereas her family is not.

SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner
Skippyjon Jones is a little kitty with a big imagination.

A PET FOR PETUNIA by Paul Schmid
An exuberant Petunia wants, wants, wants a pet she really shouldn’t have.

The seemingly unstoppable Dinosaur is very much into his own bad self.

Clark has super-sized enthusiasm which leads to all kinds of mayhem.

Developing a unique and engaging character like the ones listed above, however, is a huge challenge.
When I’m working on a new picture book manuscript, I remind myself that if people don’t care about my main character, they won’t care about my story.

I always keep A.R.F. in mind.

A stands for Active.
I want my main character to be doing something. No one wants to read about a kid who just sits on the couch all day with a bag of Doritos.

R stands for Relatable.
I want my main character to connect with readers. I want readers to think, “Yeah, I know what that feels like.”

F stands for Flawed.
I want my main character to have some sort of flaw. Nobody longs to read about little miss perfect. Yawn. Perfect is boring. A flawed character is much more interesting. A bonus? A flaw often increases the story’s tension and makes the character more endearing and root-worthy to readers.

In my latest book, GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN (Disney*Hyperion), illustrated by Lynn Munsinger(!!!), Ginny Louise is the new kid at school.


But Truman Elementary is no ordinary school. This is made clear at the very beginning of the book:

The Truman Elementary Troublemakers were a bad bunch.

Especially these three: Cap’n Catastrophe, Destructo Dude, and Make-My-Day May.

Day after day, these scoundrels made waves.

They dodged danger.

And in the classroom?

You don’t even want to know what went on.


Ginny Louise is Active. She happily goes about her school day. She paints, she sings, she learns things. All the while, she is oblivious to the fact that everything she does drives the Truman Elementary Troublemakers bonkers.

Ginny Louise is Relatable. She doesn’t fit in with her classmates in the classroom or out on the playground. (Readers can empathize with her because everyone has experienced the feeling of not fitting in at one time or another.)

Ginny Louise is Flawed. She only hears what she wants to hear. This results in all kinds of miscommunication.

By the book’s end, this active, relatable, flawed character turns things around at Truman Elementary. Well. For the most part. :)

GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN debuts TODAY! Next summer, Ginny Louise and the rest of the gang return for more mayhem in GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL FIELD DAY.


And now it’s a great giveaway for GINNY LOUISE!

Leave a comment naming your favorite PB character and you will be entered to win a signed, first-edition copy of GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN!

One comment per person, please. 

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Tammi Sauer is a former teacher and library media specialist. She has sold 23 picture books to major publishing houses. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. Mostly Monsterly was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. Me Want Pet! was recently released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. And Nugget and Fang, along with Tammi herself, appeared on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which was seen by millions of kids across the nation. Tammi’s books Ginny Louise and the School Showdown (Disney*Hyperion), Your Alien (Sterling), and Roar! (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman) debut in 2015.

You can visit Tammi online at and at

Follow Me on Pinterest As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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