I have something today that will spark joy in book-loving hearts—a picture book collaboration between de-clutter queen Marie Kondo and prolific author-illustrator Salina Yoon!

Introducing KIKI & JAX…

Salina, how did you feel when you were offered the co-writing and illustration gig on Marie Kondo’s first children’s book?

At first, it didn’t quite register. I’d heard of Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” because it was a bestseller for months on the NY Times list, but I had not read it. My agent was overjoyed with the idea of collaborating with her, so I knew it was something to be excited about! I started to research articles about Marie, and found that she was an international superstar—and this was BEFORE we knew anything about the upcoming series on Netflix, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo!” I happened to read about the Netflix series on the Washington Post while on vacation when our project was already in progress. My jaw dropped to the floor!

Mine would have dropped, too! (Until I realized I had to clean it up!)

How did you decide on the style of the illustrations?

I wanted to make this book extra special, so I actually tried many different styles before deciding to do the one I used. I even sketched out human girls as characters before deciding to do the animal ones in the style of Penguin and Pinecone. What ultimately made me choose this style is because I was told that Marie’s favorite book was PENGUIN AND PINECONE. If she loved that book, then I knew she also loved that art style, and my stylization of animal characters. So I reigned myself in and stayed with the Penguin art style for the Kiki and Jax book—and she loved it!

What do you hope young children (and their parents) will take away after reading this book?

I hope that both children and adults will reflect on what matters most to them in their lives-—and consider letting go of the things that get in the way of it. By letting go of the clutter that doesn’t spark joy for us, we’ll find a greater appreciation for the things we do have. Finding joy from what we already have is the best joy of all.

How adorable! The characters and colors really pop!

OK, confession time! Have you let some things go after working on this book?

You know, I’ve always been pretty tidy because my mom is EXTREMELY tidy. But it turns out I could be much tidier when I looked at my things with a different filter—the Marie Kondo filter! There was one week earlier this year that I thought Marie would be coming over to my house (this visit had to be cancelled), but the thought that Marie was going to see my home made me tidy in a hurry! I unshelved ALL of my books in my office, and filled many boxes for book donations. I kept about one third by using her method of holding each book and seeing if it sparks joy for me. Another motivation was that now, I have room to buy new books to spark even MORE joy!

I also let go of many pairs of shoes that never fit right, but felt too guilty to let go of because I hadn’t worn them enough. The KonMari method taught me that I shouldn’t hold on to things because of guilt. I should only hold on to things that spark joy! I thanked my old pairs of unfitting shoes, and donated them to Goodwill. If you’re a size 6, go look for some nearly-new pairs of shoes at Goodwill’s in San Diego! 🙂 Unfortunately, I’m a size 5.

So I do practice what I preach in this book with Marie Kondo. I wholeheartedly believe in her method of tidying!

Thank you, Salina! Happy tidying! (Will you come do my house next???)

OK, one thing I know folks will never part with is one of the 3 copies of KIKI & JAX signed by Marie Kondo and Salina Yoon that Salina is giving away!

Leave one comment below to enter. Three random winners will be chosen next Tuesday, November 20th.

And yes, all the winners of previous giveaways I haven’t yet announced will also be up next Tuesday.

So get your entry in now!

Good luck!

It’s Halloween! A perfect day to introduce you to a book for year-round fun: THE ITTY BITTY WITCH by Trisha Speed Shaskan and Xindi Yan. I interviewed both creators for a sweet blog post today!

Trisha, what inspired you to write The Itty-Bitty Witch? How did the story evolve?

When I was a child, I lived in a neighborhood full of kids. We played ditch, Sardines, and baseball at the nearby park. Halloween was magical because the kids took over the streets at night, in costumes! Because of my love for Halloween, the first picture book I chose at a RIF event was Tilly Witch by Don Freeman, a story about a witch who feels happy instead of wicked on Halloween! Drat! That story inspired me to write and read witch stories as a child. As an adult, I thought: What if I wrote a story about a witch who is the smallest witch in her class? I was always one of the smallest and/or shortest children in my class. In the early drafts of The Itty-Bitty Witch, Betty Ann Batsworth (the itty-bitty witch) tries to take part in all the activities at school–spells, phys ed, and flying, but falls short. Literally! But the story needed focus, so I centered around one event: The Halloween Dash, a race on brooms. From there, the story took shape.

Trisha, this book isn’t just a Halloween story. What can readers gain from this book any time of the year?

As a child, I played nearly every sport from flag football to basketball. I was often the one girl athlete on a team of boys. Kids called me “short” and “Tommy” since I was seen as a tomboy. I didn’t like being labeled because it set me apart from other kids. Although my height and ability to play on any team was often an asset, I often didn’t see it that way. Betty is similarly given a nickname she doesn’t like (“Itty-Bitty”) but learns that being small can be a strength. Readers can learn the magic of believing in one’s self. Since Betty’s broom is shorter than the other witch’s brooms, she tries different methods to gain speed, but fails. Yet she never gives up. She uses critical thinking and demonstrates perseverance, both traits readers can fly away with!

Xindi, which aspects of Betty Ann’s personality did you want to showcase in your illustrations for The Itty-Bitty Witch? How did you accomplish that?

Betty Ann is a friendly, lovable, little witch. Her small stature is the focus of the story, so the character design process started there. Since she’s innocent and unreserved, I gave her expressive, bright eyes. I also believe she’s a confident girl, even though she experiences temporary defeat in the story. On the first day of school, she rocks her floppy hat, messy, carefree hairdo and a small broom, completely oblivious to others’ stares. Believing in herself is what pushes her to work harder and eventually win the race. The details of her outfit are different than her more “polished” classmates. I chose yellow for her top because it’s the contrasting color to the purple uniforms. Visually she pops out of any composition. Yellow also represents her warm, friendly personality and relentless energy. I was so inspired by the story, I did more than 20 variations on the initial character sketches of Betty Ann. The final design is based on bits and pieces from a lot of them.

How did you choose the illustration style of The Itty-Bitty Witch?

The style of the book was inspired by one personal piece I did of a little witch.

This is a Halloween story with witches and magic, so obviously dramatic lighting, colors and spooky elements are a must! And nighttime is the best setting to show these off.

While creating the scenes where Betty’s trying to fly faster on her broom, I was inspired by comic books and LeUyen Pham’s work. I alternated from full-spread illustrations to spot illustrations to create visual breaks and change the pacing of the story.

Thank you for taking a break from Trick-or-Treating to chat with me about THE ITTY-BITTY WITCH! 

I have a copy to give away!

Leave one comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected very soon.

GOOD LUCK!

by Michael Armstrong

When Tara agreed to host the cover reveal for my upcoming picture book, BEST DAY EVER, my initial thought was to have a writer friend do a Q&A type interview. Unfortunately, the few other writers I actually know were unavailable—all for perfectly understandable reasons (one had emergency dog neutering, one was having elective root canal, and one said, “I’ve told you before, we’re not friends, man!” That joke never gets old.)

So instead, I had to settle for my writing nemesis, Carrie Jeschelnig “CJ” Penko. And no, I have no idea what the “CJ” stands for.

MA: Hi CJ. I realize that interviewing me must be quite an honor for you, but let’s try to keep the gushing to a minimum and focus on my fascinating back story.

CJ: Ugh. Let’s just get through this. Do you have my check, old man?

MA: Questions first.

CJ: Fine. (sighs) So, I guess tell me about the cover of your book.

MA: I’m glad you asked. The illustrator is the very talented Eglantine Ceulemans. You might know her work from NO FROGS IN SCHOOL, the Marge collection and the Pug collection.

CJ: Was her cover design what you expected?

MA: Absolutely not. In fact, I was shocked at first. And maybe that’s true with every writer when they first see an illustrator’s interpretation of their story. But the more I looked at it, it became clear to me that it was perfect. Eglantine created a funny, playful cover that not only embodies the tone and content of the story, but added new elements that had never occurred to me. And that’s true of every single spread. I feel very lucky to have her as my collaborator on this book.

CJ: That was actually a good answer. Tell me more about her. She sounds interesting.

MA: I wish I could, but I’ve never actually met her. She lives in France.

CJ: Lucky lady.

MA: Because she lives in France?

CJ: That, too.

MA: Let’s get back to me, please.

CJ: Yeah, yeah. So, this is your first book. Was publishing a picture book the last item on your bucket list?

MA: That’s pretty funny. You should try being funny when you write.

CJ: Well-played.

MA: To answer your question, I first started writing after I became a stay-at-home dad. I spent an enormous amount of time reading picture books to my daughter, and eventually it occurred to me to write one. Seemed easy enough, right? When I tried it, though, I quickly realized that this is a craft that I needed to learn and develop. Five years later a book emerged.=

Also, when you’re home alone all day with a toddler, you need to find something cerebral to do. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my brain from turning to rice cereal.

CJ: Why didn’t it work?

MA: I dunno. Years of abuse and neglect?

CJ: I’m thinking decades. Moving on. How did the idea for BEST DAY EVER originate?

MA: It was from an exercise I picked up at an SCBWI conference. I was having trouble with my word counts being too high, so the idea was to write a story with no words, just illustration notes. Mine was about a kid with a new toy who sees his neighbor having WAY more fun than him with just a stick. Over the course of the next 18 months—with the input of critique partners and friends—it evolved into BEST DAY EVER.

CJ: Is there anything you want your book to accomplish?

MA: After spending several decades in the non-profit world, I came to a conclusion: the best way to change the world is through education. And education begins with reading. So, if we can make books that kids love, it stands to reason that they will seek out more. That’s how it starts. I hope we made a book that kids will love.

Also, I want to be a famous big shot so I can burn bridges with impunity. It has always been a dream of mine.

CJ: Another item on the bucket list?

MA: (stares).

CJ: Well, it’s past three-o-clock. We should probably wrap-up since you need to get ready for dinner. Anything else you’d like to say?  And remember, keep the word count low.

MA: Fine. Then I’ll just say thanks to all the critique partners, SCBWI members, FB pages, Twitter hashtags, and the entire PB writing community. It’s an incredibly supportive and generous group of people who are very giving of their time and talent. And they do it all for free.

(MA gets up and begins to leave.)

CJ:  Free? Oh, no. Where are you going? I want my check. Don’t turn your hearing aids off on me, old man. Mama needs to get paid. I mean it! Come back here!

BEST DAY EVER releases on May 5, 2020 from Sterling.

Editor’s Note: Mike is not quite as pompous, and CJ is not nearly as snarky in real life. They are also quite good friends.


CJ Penko is a writer and a stay-at-home mom. Follow her on Twitter @cjpenko.  Visit cjpenko.com, and look for her best-selling books in the near future.

Michael Armstrong is the author of BEST DAY EVER (Sterling, May 2020). Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, he spent most of his career managing non-profit organizations. He is an active member of SCBWI. Follow him on Twitter @wrongarmstrong.

Well, hey-hey-hey, we’ve got a couple new early reader friends here today!

Say hello to FRANK AND BEAN!

I’m eager to eat…er, I mean…MEET them, so I sat down with the fellas to have a frank conversation.

So Frank, you’re quite the solitary, secret fellow. What did you first think when Bean came along?

In three words: short, round, and jarring. Frankly, he’s a loud bean. 

Frank’s got a point there, Bean. Why are you so LOUD?

WHAT’S THAT? *banging on drum* WHY AM I SO PROUD? 

BECAUSE I’M A ONE-BEAN BAND. LISTEN TO THIS! *crashes cymbals* *toots horn* *bangs gong* 

Crash! Toot! Gooooooong!

Bean! She said loud, not proud. Why are you so loud?

 Me? Loud? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am exuberant. 

Well, we’ve got one quiet and one loud here. Does your friendship prove that opposites really do attract?

We’re different, but we’re the same in one way. We’re both like to use our imagination and be creative. I make up songs, but I have a hard time coming up with their words. Frank is a writer who keeps a Secret Notebook. What do you write in there, Frank? 

Bean, shhh! We can’t give away the end of our story. These people haven’t read it yet.

Oh. Right. HEY, FRANK! 

Bean, you don’t have to shout. I’m on the same page as you.

We forgot that we have something else in common too, Frank. We both like jelly donut holes. And Frank? I like you too. 

Aw. Thanks, Bean. 

Well, your story ends on an interesting note, guys. Do you want to give us a little hint about what may come next?

Sure! Our next adventure is about creativity too. But it’s about creativity in the kitchen. Or a food truck. Bean gets a big idea to compete in the forest’s food truck contest. 

Will we win, Frank?

I don’t know. The book isn’t done yet. But I bet we’ll have fun.

Me too. Because we totally rock! *crashes cymbals* *toots horn* 

Gooooooong!

Well, now I need a couple of Tylenol…extra strength…fast acting…

Let’s take a look at the WORLD PREMIERE BOOK TRAILER!

FRANK AND BEAN is an adorable new early reader series from author Jamie Michalak and illustrator Bob Kolar, published by Candlewick. There’s full-color delight on every page, perfect for kids who are moving beyond picture books but don’t want to leave the best part—THE PICTURES!!!—behind. These pals have a tiny bit of a rough (and loud) start to their friendship, but they realize their strengths complement each other in perfect harmony.

If you’d like to win a copy of FRANK AND BEAN, leave a comment about what makes friendship so special.

One winner will be randomly selected very soon, because Tara has a lot of giveaways for which she needs to pick winners. So she’ll do it all in one fell swoop!

Good luck!

To follow this tour, you don’t even need a VW minibus! (But that would be more fun.)

Recently a film by Pixar called “Bao” received the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at the 91st Academy Awards. The short featured a Canadian-Chinese mother whose son grew up and moved away, so she was feeling lonely. Enter a perfect, plump bao to give her a second chance at motherhood.

Since then, I’ve been a tad obsessed with the yummy bao. I enjoy one every time I shop at the Asian grocery. So I was excited to learn of a new picture book coming out on October 1: AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO.

What a cover! Not only is there a perfect bao, but Amy and her kitty are pretty darn adorable, too.

I asked the author, Kat Zhang, and the illustrator, Charlene Chua, a few questions. I also had them interview one another. They discussed the story and the delicious ideas behind it.

Kat, what inspired you to write Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao?

Making bao and mantou (another kind of Chinese steamed bread bun) with my parents is such a treasured childhood memory for me. As I grew older, and the whole family got busier, we made them less. It wasn’t until I was in late high school or early college that the bao-making bug struck me again, and I became obsessed with making bao that were as good as the ones I had in restaurants. Many, many rounds of lumpy, leaky, over-and-underfilled bao later, I not only had a darn good bao recipe, but an idea for a new book!

What was your reaction to Charlene’s illustrations?

AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO is my debut picture book, and seeing Charlene’s illustrations has honestly been one of the most thrilling parts of the whole process! I had a general idea of how I pictured the characters and illustrations, but I was eager to see how an illustrator interpreted the text and the characters as well. Charlene did such an amazing job giving Amy’s family dimension and character through the illustrations, and I especially loved the addition of the little kitty, who wasn’t mentioned at all in the original text. Now I can’t imagine the book without it!

What do you hope young Asian-American/Canadian readers will get from this book?

The opportunity to see people like yourself in media is such a big deal, and honestly, something I don’t think I fully grasped until I was older. As a kid, I don’t remember specifically thinking that I wished there were more Asian-American characters in media. But not seeing myself reflected in the books and movies I consumed definitely contributed to my internalizing a lot of things as a kid about what sort of things I “fit” into. I was perpetually on the outside looking in. I hope that AMY WU is just one more opportunity for a kid to recognize themselves in Amy’s family. And of course, on the other side of things, I hope it lets non-Asian American kids explore a culture different from their own.

What is your favorite detail from the book that reminds you of your own homes/households?

I absolutely loved all the details Charlene snuck into Amy’s house! My mother has a total green thumb, so when I was growing up, we definitely had the bamboo plants, and the big leafy plants all over the house. Our steamer was metal, but I totally wish we had a cool woven one like Amy’s family!

What is your favorite bao?

I have a sweet tooth, and I love red bean paste bao and lotus paste bao!

Charlene asks Kat: Did the story change a lot from 1st draft till the version I got to illustrate? If so, what were the big changes?

Amazingly (at least for me, since my stories often undergo big changes from my first idea to the final draft!), AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO didn’t change much from the very first draft I wrote. The biggest tweak was probably having Amy herself come up with the solution of cutting the bao dough into smaller pieces so that they fit her hands better. In the first draft, it was Grandma who came up with the idea!

Kat, which is your favorite page/s in the book?

This is so hard to choose! I love, love the page with the phoenix and dragon surrounding Amy’s vision of a perfect bao, but I also laughed out loud when I first saw the page of her and Kitty with the three “messed up” bao. The “Perfect Bao Plan” page is also amazing. Really, I just love them all!

Did Amy and her family turn out looking like what you originally imagined them to be?

They did! I hadn’t originally imagined Grandma with pink hair, but I think it adds something great to her character. Amy is every bit the spunky, vivacious kid I wanted her to be!

Charlene, what was your inspiration for Amy Wu’s look—her hair, her clothes, her body language, etc.?

When I first read Kat’s manuscript, I thought that Amy was a very cheerful, enthusiastic girl, with a good amount of confidence in whatever she set her mind to doing. It was great to have a story with a young Chinese girl who isn’t afraid of expressing what she wants or how she feels. Amy is also character that sort of needs to be All-Amy, all the time, and I tried to match her design to those qualities. Amy’s actions are depicted with bigger gestures, because she’s not shy at showing how she feels. Her clothes allow her freedom of movement, and feature bold and eclectic colors.

What inspired you to create Amy Wu’s cat friend?

I had attended a kidlit conference shortly before starting work on the book. At one of the talks, the speaker mentioned that animals were a way to add more visual interest to a story, without altering the narrative. The thought stuck with me, and I’ve been trying to incorporate it ever since. With Amy’s story, I also really like Amy’s personality, it’s very strong – but to really show that, sometimes you need to contrast it with a softer character, such as a younger sibling that can look up to or copy the ‘stronger’ character’s actions. Since Amy doesn’t have any younger siblings, I thought that maybe her having an animal companion would be able to achieve the same effect. I also just like cats, and will take any opportunity to stick one into a story!

What do you hope young Asian-American/Canadian readers will get from this book?

I hope that readers who identify with Amy and her family will be excited to see a family like their own in this book. But I also hope that readers from all backgrounds will enjoy it too. You don’t have to be from an Asian family or know about Chinese food to enjoy the book—it’s very accessible so I hope that people will check it out just because it’s a neat story.

What is your favorite detail from the book that reminds you of your own homes/households?

The kitchen stove in the story is more or less based on my actual stove. It’s a gas stove, because I’ve cooked with gas all my life. My mum cooked with gas, and my grandmothers did too (one grandmother liked using charcoal as well, but that’s another story). The rice cooker also looks similar to the cooker I grew up with, although the one I use now looks different.

What is your favorite bao?

Char siu bao! (Chinese barbeque pork.)

Kat asks Charlene: I loved getting multiple versions of the illustration for each page during the initial stages of book coming together. How do you brainstorm various ideas for an illustration? What factors do you take into consideration?

I like trying out different layouts to see what works best – usually the first idea I come up with isn’t the one I end up going with. Most of the art for Amy Wu was done digitally, but the thumbnails were done with pencil on paper. I like to sit in a comfy chair and doodle out thumbnails—it works better for me that way as it’s just me and the paper, no fancy screens or Undo buttons to concern me. When working on thumbnails, I consider the text for a particular page or spread, and how best to bring that to life. I also think about what I could possibly add to make it more fun or impactful. When all the thumbnails are done, I try to look at them as a whole to see which ones connect the best. Sometimes there’s a thumbnail for a page that looks great on its own, but when it’s strung together with the rest, it doesn’t work as well.

Artists often have a very unique signature style. What would you say are the elements of yours? Do you feel like it’s still evolving a lot, or something that’s remained stable? 

It’s kind of hard for me to pin down my own style (I think many artists have that problem!). I guess my art tends to be quite energetic, usually with pretty strong colors. I think it’s evolved over the years, especially now that I’m working with more non-digital art for some other projects. But at the same time, I think if you looked at the older and newer work, it’s still possible to see the same artist behind it.

Thank you, Kat and Charlene, for sharing the stories behind the story!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO when it is released.

Just add one comment below and a random winner will be selected soon! (Tara has many winners of recent contests to select!)

Good luck!

You can visit Kat Zhang at KatZhangwriter.com and Charlene Chua at CharleneChua.com

by Laura Renauld

Online writing challenges have been key to my career as a children’s author. I’m the kind of writer who needs external goals and deadlines to jumpstart my internal motivation. Challenges have helped me develop my craft, given me strategies for revision, and connected me with a vibrant writing community. Some of my favorites include NaPiBoWriWee, ReFoReMo, Susanna Leonard Hill’s writing contests, and, of course, Storystorm.

I’ve been participating in Storystorm since 2011. Back then, it was called Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). That same year I joined SCBWI and found a local critique group. I was finally taking myself seriously as a writer!

Fast forward three years. PiBoIdMo 2014 was in full swing and I was filling my notebook with ideas. After reading Tammi Sauer’s guest post about attempting ‘How-To’ books, I jotted an idea in my notebook that involved a pie and a porcupine. Little did I know that this alliterative idea was going to propel my writing career forward! Almost one year ago, in October 2018, my debut picture book, Porcupine’s Pie, was published.

Happy first birthday, Porcupine!

As I reflected on my journey to publication, the amazing connections I’ve made in-person and online in the Kidlit community, and the writing challenges that have motivated me along the way, I became aware of three things. First, I have benefited greatly from the generosity and support of other children’s authors and illustrators. Second, a debut author has an uphill climb when it comes to connecting with readers. Third, I wanted to find a way to give back. What better way to do that than to start my own challenge?

Introducing the DEBUT REVIEW CHALLENGE!

We’ve all heard about the importance of customer reviews. They act as a proxy for word-of-mouth recommendations. While there is some debate over how many reviews are “enough”, I think we can all agree: the more reviews, the better. Reviews lead to exposure and book buzz, which allows our books to get into the hands of more children. What could be better than that?

Anyone with a book can benefit from a review, but this challenge is designed to give a boost to first-time authors and illustrators. The Debut Review Challenge will encourage kidlit creators, teachers, librarians, and parents to write book reviews, specifically for debut books.

Here’s how the challenge will work:

  1. Read a debut book by a Kidlit creator.
  2. Write an honest review. Post it on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites
  3. Repeat! Once you complete 10 reviews, fill out this ENTRY FORM. You could win a signed book, a free Skype visit, or a manuscript critique, to name a few of the fabulous prizes donated by participating debut authors and illustrators. And you can enter every time you complete 10 reviews!

Be sure to follow #DebutReviewChallenge on Twitter and Instagram for debut creator interviews and chances for bonus entries. You can also find more info at my website, including a downloadable Review Record sheet. Go to LauraRenauld.com.

(And if you are a traditionally published debut kidlit creator who would like to shine in the challenge spotlight, click HERE!)

The first challenge begins in October. Won’t you join the fun?

Thanks, Laura! And congratulations!

To celebrate the first birthday of her debut picture book, Laura is giving away a signed copy of Porcupine’s Pie.

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

Good luck!


Laura Renauld is the author of Porcupine’s Pie and Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers, which will be available January 14, 2020. (Just one of the many fabulous new releases from the 2020 Comeback Crew: @2020comebkcrew.)

Find out more about the Debut Review Challenge at laurarenauld.com, where you can also subscribe to her newsletter and blog.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @laura_renauld, Instagram: @laurarenauld, and Facebook: @kidlitlaura.

by Colleen Paeff

The year or two leading up to the publication of an author or illustrator’s debut book is a rollercoaster ride of exciting milestones (“I signed my contract!”), new experiences (“Hello, Copy Editor.”), and sheer terror (“You expect me to read my book aloud in front of how many children?”). And, like a rollercoaster, it’s best experienced with friends. That’s where debut groups come in.*

The Soaring ‘20s Picture Book Debuts is a collective of picture book authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators with debut picture books being released in 2020** and beyond. We’ve pooled our resources, talents, and sympathetic ears so none of us has to experience this ride solo—and that’s fitting because we certainly didn’t get this far on our own. We’re all in the happy position of awaiting the release of our books thanks to the authors, illustrators, teachers, editors, or agents who looked at our work and offered targeted feedback to help improve it.

And now we’d like to do the same for you!

To celebrate the launch our new website Soaring20spb.com, we’re giving away 20+6 free manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critiques in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY!

If you’ve been in the picture book game for a while, you probably already know the value of a thorough, thoughtful critique. But if you’re new to writing or illustrating for kids or you’re on the fence about whether or not to hand your baby over to a set of critical eyes, allow some of our members us give you a nudge:

“Critiques have been an essential step (many steps! multiple flights of stairs!) on my path to publication.”

Angela Burke Kunkel, author
DIGGING FOR WORDS: JOSÉ ALBERTO GUTIÉRREZ AND THE LIBRARY HE BUILT (Random House/Schwartz & Wade, Fall 2020)

“If you’ve put your all into your work-in-progress and are ready to see it with fresh eyes, a critique is a fun way to open new pathways in your brain and to rekindle your enthusiasm for your work.”

Shelley Johannes, author/illustrator
MORE THAN SUNNY (Abrams, Spring 2021)

“The more we embrace the journey of improving and collaboration, the more we learn and the better we become as authors, illustrators and artists.”

Sam Wedelich, author/illustrator
CHICKEN LITTLE: THE REAL AND TOTALLY TRUE* TALE (Scholastic Press, Spring 2020)

“I’ll always remember how Jo Whittemore, author of FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF, critiqued me years ago. She called problems in my manuscript ‘opportunities.’”

NoNieqa Ramos, author
BEAUTY WOKE (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, spring 2021)

“The more you have your work critiqued, the less personal it becomes. You learn to listen for the gems of advice, questions, concerns, and ideas that other readers/writers have for you. Then when you take those gems and apply them to your work, the proof is in how much your writing is improved and how much your skill grows as a storyteller. And while this process sometimes has you feeling vulnerable and exposed, ultimately when you send your writing out into the world, you will feel so proud of it!”

Anna Crowley Redding, author
RESCUING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (HarperCollins, spring 2020)

Convinced? Go to our website to enter to win a free picture book manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critique in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY by midnight on September 15 and you could be one of 20+6 lucky winners!

*We’re not the only game in town! Check out KidLit411’s list of Debut Year Groups (scroll all the way down to the bottom).

**One of us got bumped up to 2019! Look for Author Saira Mir’s MUSLIM GIRLS RISE: INSPIRATIONAL CHAMPIONS OF OUR TIME (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster) on October 29.

Big thanks to Tara for letting us share the news about our giveaway on her blog!

(And Tara says thanks right back!)

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) is offering a new award that honors the wonderful spirit and work of late children’s book author Kate Pohl Dopirak. The Kate Dopirak Craft and Community Award will offer one picture book writer:

  • Full tuition to the SCBWI International Conference in L.A. in 2020
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary (Kate’s agent)
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Andrea Welch of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster (one of Kate’s editors)

The #KDCCAward will alternate yearly between picture book and middle grade/YA. Submissions will be accepted for this inaugural award from September 1 to October 31. 

Please consider applying…and please help spread the word.

Thank you.  ️ ️ ️

#KDCCAward20
#katedopirakaward
katedopirakaward.com

by Salina Yoon

Ever wonder how those cute books with moving parts, lift-flaps, pop-ups, or touchable things get sold to publishers?

With a novelty book submission, the dummy is critical. Unlike other formats that may be story- or art-driven, a novelty book is format-driven. This means that the physical format can be even more important than the text, the story, the concept, or the art, though all of these elements have to work seamlessly together at the end. Creating a novelty book is like solving a puzzle on a multi-dimensional level. But the challenge is what makes it FUN!

The format has to be unique and versatile enough to work as a series.

But how do you build a book with moving parts?!

I’ll show you.

It begins with an idea. You sketch it out. This sketch is no bigger than 2”, but it’s got a lot of info here. The tail of an animal will wag by the pull of a pull-tab.

Since I already know that it would be important for the publisher to be able to make this into a series, I created a series title.

The things that I considered while creating the series title:

  • Must highlight its most unique feature on the book
  • Must be catchy
  • Must inform reader how the book works

I came up with a WAGGING TAIL BOOK. But I revised the series title to A WAG MY TAIL BOOK for the final submission, which the acquiring publisher kept.

Then comes the tricky part. Before I do anything else, I have to figure out how to make the tail wag with a pull tab. What if you’re not a paper engineer? While I consider myself a format engineer, I’m not a paper engineer myself, so I sought one out. I happen to have a good friend who can really make paper do anything! Having some experience with novelty, though, I knew the possibilities and limitations. I explained how I wanted the tail to move with a tab on the side. She sent me various options, and this mechanic worked the best for me.

You could hire a freelance paper engineer, like Renee Jablow or carefully open up other books with a similar mechanic to the one you want, and see if you could recreate it. No need to reinvent the wheel. All paper-engineers pull apart other paper mechanics to learn from them! Don’t worry about making it perfect. This is for the purpose of submitting it to a publisher so they see how it works. If the publisher is interested, they would send this dummy to their printer, and the printer would re-engineer it (and clean it up)—and supply quotes to the publisher. Pricing is KEY in getting through the acquisition process. If it’s too pricey, it’ll be passed. Be sure to only include interactive elements that are absolutely necessary and cost effective.

Once I had the mechanic figured out, I worked on creating an art sample. But since I want to show this format as a series, I created four covers. After building the four dummies, I had to source the fabric for the touch-and-feel tail. This could be done by visiting a fabric store, or even a party store that sells costumes. All I needed was a tiny piece of fabric for my dummy. A fully designed dummy shows the publisher exactly how I am envisioning this series.

But I wanted to offer less-expensive versions of the dummy, too, so I did not put fabric on the tails of all of the animals. It’s nice to offer options.

After building the dummy, I created a video to show how the dummy works. This would allow me to share the dummy without actually sending it, unless it was requested.

The acquisition process for a novelty book typically takes far longer than a traditional picture book, even when the publisher is excited about it. Expect 7-12 months…or longer to get an offer, if one is coming! Some books have been acquired as late as 18 months after submission!

The Wag My Tail series was sold to S&S as a 3-book deal (though more are coming). Instead of going with the original concepts, the publisher asked for holiday themes, which was easy to apply to this format. The first book HALLOWEEN KITTY is available now, and the others will follow.

Don’t be afraid to tackle a novelty book idea. Take it just one step at a time—beginning with the format. It’s challenging on multiple levels, but you’ll have lots of fun and maybe less hair than what you started with. Good luck!

Thanks, Salina! What a fascinating process. You are the novelty master. How could any publisher resist?

You can visit Salina and her books online at SalinaYoon.com.

To celebrate the release of HALLOWEEN KITTY, Salina is giving away 5 copies of the book!

Leave one comment below to enter. Five random winners will be selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

by Rosanne L. Kurstedt

I could not be more excited to celebrate my brand-new picture book KARATE KID on Tara’s blog. We all know she loves a good celebration.

KARATE KID introduces readers to karate in a fun and engaging way with an emphasis on how karate can increase confidence. The simple, measured, and meditative text is complemented by playful yet instructive illustrations by Mark Chambers.

I’ve learned a lot in the last few months about launching a book in the age of social media…and about myself. So, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my experience.

My good friend Eva Natiello and I discuss writing and book promotion often. She is a self-published, New York Times best-selling author, so she knows a thing or two about reviews, pre-sales, and also finding angles to market a project.

Beginning in January, she started asking me what my thoughts were for promoting KARATE KID. I said I was going to reach out to some local bookstores, schools, and probably do a blog tour. She asked, “but what are you doing before the book comes out—on social media?” I said I hadn’t thought about it much yet. She then told me about an idea she had—find some karate students who are willing to dress up as Karate Kid and film them doing some of the techniques featured in the book. Then promote the book by using the videos on social media. I loved the idea. BUT. I dismissed it. I didn’t have the time. Where would I find kids who did Karate, would agree to dress up, and whose parents would be okay with me sharing all the videos?

I was talking to another friend of mine, the award-winning author, Laura Sassi, and she told me about her neighbor, James, who loves karate. Laura said she’d ask James’ mom if she’d let him be the star of the videos. Turns out James and his mom loved the idea. I was still skeptical. How would we dress him up? How would we film? I don’t have time. Laura and Eva persisted.

When Laura confirmed a date with James and his mom to film, I really had no more excuses. This was happening. I needed to get moving. One night, I went to Michaels and AC Moore with another friend. I had no idea how we would dress James to look like Karate Kid so I bought a lot of items. After much trial and error, for the horns we used a head band, model magic, and pipe cleaners. For the hooves, we used old socks cut and re-sewn, and for the arms and legs, we used fuax fur. Finally, we McGyvered a goatee by cutting and taping and reconfiguring a few stick-on mustaches.

While planning for the video Eva and Laura reminded me that I needed specific hashtags. I decided on #KarateConfidence and #KarateKidTheBook. The day of the shoot the weather was beautiful. With just an iPhone, the help of friends, and a patient and talented young Karate student, James, the filming went off without a hitch.

Next, I had to edit the footage with iMovie, which I hadn’t used in years. After a few mis-starts, slowly but surely the clips came together. I asked James to do some additional audio recordings since the audio from the filming wasn’t loud enough. I was able to layer that in seamlessly (well probably not seamlessly).

Two of the videos are below, so you can see (hear) for yourself.

With the videos at the core of the social media campaign, I also searched for goat jokes, karate quotes, and articles to post throughout the weeks leading up to the book birthday. I even made myself a calendar and designed some posts on Canva.

I’m not sure how effective the campaign has been in how many books were sold because of the social media, but I’m really glad I did it. I stepped way out of my comfort zone. (I’m really uncomfortable promoting myself and my work.) I realized I actually enjoy creating videos and images for posts. In addition, connecting with teachers and parents from across the country has been a real highlight. Below are the four main lessons I learned (or was reminded of) from this process:

  • Lesson 1: Ask for help.
  • Lesson 2: Try the uncomfortable.
  • Lesson 3: Make the time. It might be fun.
  • Lesson 4: I have awesome friends.

To celebrate KARATE KID’s birthday and all that I’ve learned, I’m extending the social media campaign with a new focus. Starting today, I’m beginning the #IAmAKarateKid campaign—kids and adults can send in pictures or words describing how they are a Karate Kid—someone with confidence and focus—someone who embodies the discipline and respect which is at the heart of karate.

So, if you are, or know of someone who is a Karate Kid, tweet, post to Instagram, or to my author Facebook page. Remember to use #KarateConfidence and #IAmAKarateKid. One person will receive a signed book and some awesome swag. If the winner is a teacher or a student, I will also do a free SKYPE visit. Kiya!!!


Rosanne L. Kurstedt, Ph.D. has been an educator for over 20 years. She’s been an elementary school teacher, staff developer, administrator, adjunct professor, literacy coach, curriculum writer, and most importantly an advocate for children and teachers. She is a co-author of Teaching Writing with Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000) and author of the 100+ Growth Mindset Comments series (Newmark Learning, 2019) for grades K-6. She is currently the Associate Director of READ East Harlem/Hunter College and is so excited about the launch of her new picture book KARATE KID (Running Press Kids)—on sale September 3, 2019.

Finally, she is the founder and president of The Author Experience, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to the transformative power of sharing stories. In collaboration with students, families and educators, The Author Experience provides sustainable experiences that build a culture of literacy—one that elevates connections and delivers lasting impact. Please check us out at http://www.theauthorexperience.org and become a part of the story!

Rosanne can be found on Twitter and Instagram @rlkurstedt and on Facebook @rlkurstedtauthor.

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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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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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