Author Terry Pierce remains tied up, busy writing, so I asked a representative spokesbear to answer a few questions about her latest board book, EAT UP, BEAR, published last week by the Yosemite Conservancy. This spokesbear seemed to know a lot about scrumptious snacks.

Good morning, Spokesbear. I understand you’re the representative for the wild bear population of Yosemite.

That’s [chomp, gromp, mmmm] me! I’ve taken over for Yogi and Boo-Boo.

Since Terry Pierce and Nadja Sarell can’t be here today, I’d like you to answer a few questions. I realize human food is pretty tasty, Bear. Can you tell us your favorite people-only food?

Mmm-mm-yum! Bears will eat almost anything that people eat from cheese doodles to hot dogs to peanut butter. We really will eat anything humans leave out for us. But I’ll admit, one of the problems with human food is how they package it. Since us bears can’t unwrap food, we eat the packaging, too, and that’s just not good for us (oh, the tummy aches!).  And once, my cub got her head stuck in a giant cheese doodle plastic jar, trying to get to the last one. Luckily, some kind humans helped her get the jar off her head. I can’t imagine what would have happened to her if they hadn’t rescued her. It would have been un-bearable. If only those humans had stored their cheese doodle jar properly!

But you know that’s not healthy for you, Bear. What’s a good bear-food that tickles your taste buds?

You’re right, human food is tasty. And sometimes, they make it so easy for us bears! Like when they leave it out on a picnic table, or leave their ice chest out. They even leave food in their cars! A locked door won’t keep me from getting to a tasty bag of chips or nuts. Have you seen my claws and powerful arms? And speaking of nuts, that’s a good-bear-food us bears love. Nuts, seeds, grubs, ants, fresh spring grass, berries—yum! Sometimes, I’ll even catch fresh trout for a meal.

That sounds more like it! Hey, maybe you can even tell me about how Terry cooked up this book?

Yes! There’s a story here, so bear with me. In 2018, I was so “scratch-your-back-on-a-tree happy” to hear about Yosemite Conservancy’s call out for a children’s board book (you know, those chunky books meant for your littlest cubs). Well, a writer named Terry Pierce saw the call out and sent them a manuscript about how to store human food so us bears can’t get into it (and then have to eat good bear food). Terry lives not far from Yosemite National Park in the mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, California, so she knows about how to “coexist” with black bears. “Coexist” is a fancy human word that means getting along with someone, and Terry knows the best way to coexist with bears is through proper food storage.

Why is food storage important? Well, us bears are what you’d call “opportunistic eaters.” We’ll break into cars, tents, backpacks, coolers, even homes if we think food is inside. We can really make a mess of things and do a lot of damage when that happens. (My cousin once ripped the door off a car just to get to some peanuts left in sight!) But the bigger problem lands on the bears. When a bear relies on human food so much that he’ll do anything to get some (and cause the kind of damage I mentioned), humans label him as a “problem bear” and that could mean big trouble. Sadly, a “problem bear” will be put down. It’s never happened to anyone in my family, but I hear the stories. So, you can see why I was so happy to see Terry’s new book. It helps little cubs and their families see that their own actions could ultimately save the life of a bear! Proper food storage helps keep all bears eating healthy, good food that nature intended for us to eat. But I do wish that once in a while nature would make it rain hot dogs or jellybeans!

Wow, so this is really an important book, Bear! Thanks so much for letting us savor it!

Hey, I’ve got an even better way for you to get a taste! Yosemite Conservancy will give a book away!

Sweet!

Blog readers, leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected later this month!

Good luck!


With twenty-five published books, Terry Pierce has experienced the joys of being a writer in many ways. She has a B.A. degree in Early Childhood Development and an international A.M.I. teaching diploma. Terry was a pre-primary Montessori teacher for twenty-two years before deciding to follow my dream of writing for children (what she calls, “the best mid-life crisis ever!”). She’s been writing since 1999, with her work appearing in magazines and the children’s book market. She has an MFA in Writing for Children &Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, including the Picture Book Concentration certification. She also teaches online children’s writing courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Visit her at terrypiercebooks.com.

by Tracy C. Gold

Several years ago, I visited Austin, Texas while traveling for a friend’s wedding. I love animals, so number one on my list for my time in Austin was watching the bats fly out from under Congress Bridge (don’t worry, I also had tacos and barbecue and heard live music). A million bats fly out from their home in this bridge in quick succession right around sunset!

Here’s a video! It is so cool!

That was way before I was writing picture books, and way before I had a kid of my own, but somehow it snuggled its way into my brain.

Flash forward to Fall 2019. I signed with literary agent Carrie Pestritto, who fell in love with one of my picture book manuscripts about a real-life mass flamingo rescue that hasn’t found a home with a publisher (yet!). Carrie let me know that editors were looking for Halloween books, and I started brainstorming. I thought a riff on the “Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet” song would be really fun. I also thought it would be fun to write about a somewhat “undersung” spooky animal. Black cats and spiders seemed kind of obvious (and while I love black cats, I do not think I will ever be brave enough to write a book about spiders). Then, out from a dark corner—cave?—in my mind, flew the bats from Congress Bridge! I remembered that bats eat BUGS and “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” was born. From there it was lots of drafting, singing the book aloud, and revising, and many months later, a book deal with editor Kelly Barrales-Saylor from Sourcebooks eXplore!

Here’s the cover reveal!

I absolutely adore this cover and all of Nancy Leschnikoff’s illustrations. This bat is just SO CUTE but also just a little scary. Plus, this dark purple is my favorite color! It was a wonderful surprise to see it after just seeing black and white sketches of the illustrations for a while.

I will be mailing out free book-themed stickers, design to-be-determined, to anyone who lets me know they have preordered or requested the book at their library! More details on that and how to get signed copies from my local bookstores can be found here.

Thanks for letting me share the cover reveal, Tara!

Well, thank you for being so patient! It’s true, I’ve been slow with the blog lately. Since I postponed this post, I’m going to make it up to you, blog readers, by offering a virtual video call with me. I’ll pick a winner next week. So leave one comment below about the cover to enter. Good luck!


Tracy C. Gold loves bringing characters to life. She is a writer, freelance editor, and mom living in Baltimore, Maryland. She has two picture books forthcoming in 2021, “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby” from Familius in March and “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks in August. She also writes short stories, essays, novels, and poems. Her work has been published in several magazines and anthologies. Tracy earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore and earned her B.A. in English from Duke University. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s playing with her toddler, or hanging out with her horse and dog, both rescues. You can find out more about Tracy at tracycgold.com, by following her on Twitter and Instagram at @tracycgold, or by liking her Facebook page.

Jean Reidy and Joey Chou have created a new beauty of a book, a new classic, not only in the colorful art, but in the imaginative question. What would YOU do? It’s an existential explosion (whoa, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that phrase) with all the options Jean and Joey present, from space exploration to simply being brave and doing the right thing. A child is presented with how wide and wonderful the world can be, and most importantly, told that they are in charge of their own destiny.

Jean! What a gorgeous book! Can you tell us how it came to be?

This book was truly the collision of two sources of inspiration.

As you know, I do school, library and bookstore visits. And one of my favorite parts of any visit is the “question and answer” part. But I’ve always felt it should be renamed the “question and answer and stories” part. Because kids love telling me their stories. And even though you probably think of me as a story writer, I’m also a really great story listener.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Teachers and librarians are awesome at helping kids understand what questions are and how to ask them. And I love answering. But no matter how much they’ve prepared, kids still have stories to tell.

Some of the stories I hear can be very funny. I once heard a seemingly endless saga about … wait for it … bowling shoes! But whether funny or serious, their stories are honest and earnest and heartfelt.

In some school sessions kids have an opportunity to read me their stories or show me their art. And again, these are some of my favorite sessions. They’re a great way foor kids to give me a peek into their worlds and for me to communicate to kids how much I value them and their perspective.

I feel that as a children’s author, one of the most important parts of my job is not to talk “at” kids, but to talk “with” them and hear them. To listen to their hearts and hopes and dreams. And to honor their perspectives. What a privilege.

Okay, so where am I going with all this?

Well, one day into my inbox comes this amazing piece of art by Joey Chou—complete with a title. As a matter of fact, that original art is very similar to our final book cover.

This happens every so often, where I’m sent a single piece of art—not an entire picture book of art, just a single piece—and asked if I’d like to try to write a story to go along with it.

And usually when that happens, I don’t answer right away. I take a few days or weeks to kind of daydream about the art and listen to the story that it’s telling me. And I don’t always say “yes.” Because for me to say “yes,” that art has to take up residence in both my head and my heart. I mean it has to move right in and stay there.

Well, guess what happened when I saw that particular piece of Joey Chou art?

I just imagined all those awesome kids telling their stories and I said “yes” immediately.

So, there you have it. That’s where it all began.

Jean, you have to tell us: what would you do in a book about YOU?

My little kid self would have given you an answer that would have turned this blog post into a lengthy novel with a separate chapter for each and every dream and aspiration. My grown-up kid self says, “I would just try to be the best ‘me’ I can be.”

Thanks for having me, Tara!

Thank YOU, Jean, for sharing your delightful new book. It’s out TODAY from HarperCollins!

And blog readers, you can win a copy.

Just leave one comment answering the title’s question.

A random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!

I’ve been in an unmotivated, schlumpy mood lately. So I must thank Urania Smith of KidLit Nation once again for pulling the random winners for Storystorm. She is such an incredible help. At this rate, I only would’ve gotten my arm stuck in the jar.

Here are the winners for Storystorm daily prizes. I will be emailing you shortly! Congratulations!

Day 2, Vivienne Kirkfield 60-minute Zoom:
Mary Worley

Day 3, Ashley Franklin Non-rhyming PB Critique:
Claire Bobrow 

Day 4, Carole Lindstrom 30-minute Virtual Visit:
Cindy S.

Day 5, Erin Dealey PB Critique or a copy of DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5:
Amelia Shearer

Day 6, Samantha Berger’s THE GREAT BIG POOP PARTY:
Karen L. Ledbetter

Day 7, Ken Lamug’s THE WHOLE STORY:
Janie Reinart 

(note: original Grand Prize winner Kari Lavelle gave away that prize because she already has an agent and chose Ken’s other book MISCHIEF AND MAYHEM as her replacement prize)

Day 8, Ashley Belote Virtual Visit:
Tanya Konerman

Day 9, Winsome Bingham Prizes:
Artelle Lenthall:
PB critique from agent Hannah Mann
Anita Banks, Melissa H. Mwai: two picture books from editor Emma Ledbetter
Mary Wolpin, Emily Stewart, Jenny Harp, Roxanne Troup: ROU AND THE GREAT RACE, ReyCraft Books
Sara Trofa: PB critique from Winsome Bingham

Day 10, Kirsten Pendreigh PB Critiques:
Heather Kinser

Day 11, Carrie Finison PB Critique:
Becky Ross Michael 

Day 12, Christine Van Zandt First-1000-Words Critique:
Brinton Culp 

Day 13, Joana Pastro’s LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS:
Jennifer Broedel

Day 14, Lauren Kerstein Prizes:
Roxanne Troup:
PB Critique

Day 15, Mike Ciccotello Inked BEACH TOYS VS. SCHOOL SUPPLIES Character Art
Kathy Berman 

Day 16, Diana Murray Signed Book
Carole Calladine 

Day 17, Katey Howes’s RISSY NO KISSIES and Enamel Rissy Pin
McCourt Thomas 

Day 18, Ruth Spiro’s MAXINE and BABY LOVES POLITICAL SCIENCE Books
Laura Hartman (writeknit), Elizabeth Saba, Dedra Davis

Day 19, Katie Frawley’s TABITHA AND FRITZ TRADE PLACES and critique
Megan McNamara, Doreen Robinson

Day 20, Margaret Greanias’ MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS and critique
Mitchell Linda, Mark Bentz

Day 21, Chana Stiefel’s LET LIBERTY RISE
Louann Brown

Day 22, Kjersten Hayes’ ELEPHANT’S GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK
Tonnye W. Fletcher

Day 23, Rosie J. Pova’s SUNDAY RAIN
Aly Kenna

Day 24, Cindy Derby’s TWO MANY BIRDS
Chaunceyelephant, Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Day 25, Angela Burke Kunkel picture book critique
Shirley Ng-Benitez

Day 26, Ellen Tarlow’s LOOKING FOR SMILE
Bethan

Day 27, Vicky Fang’s INVENT-A-PET and LAYLA & THE BOTS: HAPPY PAWS
Aimee Haburjak, Bonnie Kelso

Day 28, Sita Singh’s BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Sue Macartney (suumac)

Day 29, Amanda Davis Zoom Chat
Claudia Sloan

Day 30, Jackie Azua Kramer’s THE BOY & THE GORILLA and I WISH YOU KNEW
Marla Yablo, Thelia Hutchinson

by Laura K. Zimmermann

First I want to thank Tara for inviting me to share my story, which begins with a new writer staring at her computer trying to decide whether or not to sign up for Storystorm (PiBoldMo at the time). I very nearly didn’t. I remember thinking that there was no way I could come up with 30 ideas in thirty days—that was more picture books ideas than I’d had all year. But there was nothing to lose, so I decided to try.

I began my hunt for ideas. I’m a nonfiction writer so I created a private list on Twitter where I collected organizations and people who tweeted about topics that interest me. Each day I poured over my list. I would also look through science report emails, conduct google searches, and started to look, really look, at the things around me. One day I came across a tweet about a graveyard. On the list of people buried there was someone called “The Blind Traveler” who was in no way associated with mushrooms, but did pull me into the world of picture book biographies.

Jump forward to the next Storystorm. With my new focus on picture book biographies I was searching for female scientists. I had uncovered several for my idea list, when I stumbled across a story about Beatrix Potter’s research with mushrooms. I had to learn more so I researched everything I could find. I read her journal and looked at pictures of her paintings, some of which I had seen in a museum many years earlier. The idea could work. So, I wrote the biography, and revised and revised and revised. But no one at the time seemed to be interested.

image by Beatrix Potter

I should probably mention at this point, that prior to the Beatrix Potter biography I had never seen mushrooms as anything other than things you buy in a grocery store to put in soups, spaghetti sauce, and on pizza. But to Beatrix they were beautiful and challenging—from their curving caps and bladelike gills, to their varied textures and colors that ranged from the reddest reds to the softest creams and everything in between. She spent years scrutinizing and painting them again and again, training her brush strokes to capture every detail. Over time she developed questions for which she could find no answers and so began her own research. And as I worked to understand her mycological studies and read about masses of crisp yellow cups nestled in moss and troops with foxy-brown caps surrounded by black firs, I began to see mushrooms in a new way.

Then one day, I came across an article about mushrooms creating rain—a mushroom rain. There was a book there I just knew it. So I did more research, wrote and revised, and revised, and revised. But again, no one seemed interested. Enter my agent, Kaitlyn Sanchez. I sent her Mushroom Rain hoping she might see what my critique partners and I saw. I didn’t have to wait long. Later that day I had a list of suggested revision in my inbox. She loved it too and with a bit more revision she started to shop it. There were still a lot of no’s, of course, but you only need one yes, which we got from Barb McNally at Sleeping Bear, who loved it exactly as it was. It is now in the hands of an amazing, mushroom-loving artist, Jamie Green, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Beatrix Potter once said, “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” For me they led to a weird and wonderful world that, like an idea, springs up without warning and must be gathered before it disappears.


Although Laura has seen and eaten many mushrooms, she knew very little about them until she discovered them in Beatrix Potter’s paintings and journal. A mushroom hunter, artist, and researcher, it was Beatrix’s passion that led Laura to learn more about their weird and wonderful world. Laura K. Zimmermann is a college professor by day and children’s writer by night. She has published numerous academic articles as well as nonfiction stories in children’s magazines. Mushroom Rain is her first picture book. When she’s not writing, Laura can be found teaching and conducting research at Shenandoah University or wandering through nature with her Goldendoodle, Tivy. You can find Laura online at laurakzimmermann.com and on Twitter @LauraK_PBwriter and Instagram @LauraK_PBwriter.

by Winsome Bingham

“Abrams sets the table for SOUL FOOD SUNDAY by Winsome Bingham,
illus. by Charles G. Esperanza, which finds a boy helping Granny
prepare the dishes for a family feast.”
~ Publishers Weekly

You are all invited. To sit with us. And share with us. And eat with us. And CHEER with us. We will be in the same place, at the same time—sitting, sharing, eating, cheering. Every SUNDAY, Our virtual table welcomes you for SOUL FOOD.

I grew up in a family where on Sundays, everyone gathers at my aunt’s house for dinner and dominoes, wrestling and conversations, and fun. It was like a weekly family reunion where you get to see everybody you didn’t see through the week. Those were my childhood summer Sundays. My Brooklyn Sundays. My Bed-Stuy Sundays.

SOUL FOOD SUNDAY was written in 2013 and sold in 2018. This book went to auction and I’m so grateful to all the wonderful editors who saw the importance of showcasing #BlackBoyJoy. My attempt to show families getting together celebrating every day. Black folks living and passing on traditions and recipes. Cooking. Talking. Playing. FUNNING!

Here you have a beautiful Granny teaching her grandson what she knows. She knows how to cook. My Granny always said, “Everybody—boy or girl—should know how to cook. ‘Cause everybody have to eat. Learning to cook and wash your own clothes is independence.” I couldn’t agree more.

On September 14, 2021, this book will be ready to be on your book table. It will be paired with other side-dished booky meals. RIBS! CHICKEN! MAC-N-CHEESE! COLLARD GREENS! TURNIP GREENS! MUSTARD GREENS! HOT & SPICY SAUSAGE LINKS! They are all part of the main course and a delicious delight on this SOUL FOOD SUNDAY.

You can place a pre-order today to reserve your seat at the table.

Without further ado, THE. COVER. REVEAL:

Granny teaches her grandson to cook the family meal in this loving celebration of food, traditions, and gathering together at the table.

On Sundays, everyone gathers at Granny’s for Soul Food.
But today, I don’t go to the backyard or the great room.
I follow Granny instead.
“You’re a big boy now,” Granny says.
“Time for you to learn.”

At Granny’s, Sunday isn’t Sunday without a big family gathering over a lovingly prepared meal. Old enough now, our narrator is finally invited to help cook the dishes for the first time: He joins Granny in grating the cheese, cleaning the greens, and priming the meat for Roscoe Ray’s grill. But just when Granny says they’re finished, her grandson makes his own contribution, sweetening this Sunday gathering—and the many more to come.

Evocatively written and vividly illustrated, this mouthwatering story is a warm celebration of tradition and coming together at a table filled with love and delicious food.

Thank you, Winsome! This is a gorgeous book!

Blog readers, you can win a signed copy of SOUL FOOD SUNDAY! Winsome has three copies to give away!

Leave one comment below to enter.

Winners will be randomly selected later this month.

Good luck!


Winsome Bingham is a soul food connoisseur, master cook, and a US Army war and disabled veteran. She received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and has more than 15 years of teaching experience. You can find her writing on a deck while waiting patiently with a camera to capture a submarine shooting out of the water. She lives in Groton, Connecticut. 


Charles G. Esperanza is the second of six cool kids. The South Bronx is where he first opened his eyelids. A dope land shrouded in bright-colored decay, the home of graffiti and hip-hop DJs! He paints funky elephants! Bodegas, too! Mixed with this wonder is some whimsical truth. Esperanza has a voice that is seldom heard. A fusion of jazz, distorted guitars, and chirping birds. Esperanza is also the author-illustrator of Red, Yellow, Blue (and a Dash of White, Too!). He lives in the Bronx.

by Shannon Stocker

You know how you have to make a total mess before you can really begin cleaning? Like how you have to pull all the books off a bookshelf to alphabetize them, or empty all your drawers before reorganizing?

Well, that’s going to be this blog.

So bear with me. I’ll get there, I promise.

Those who know me know that I also write outside of the picture book genre. I write for Chicken Soup, my memoir is currently circulating somewhere in the publishing house abyss, and I’m working on my first middle grade novel. Because of that, one of the most common questions I’ve gotten from other writers is, “How do you organize your time between genres?”

The short answer is this: I don’t.

Inspired yet?

But seriously, one of the most difficult aspects of writing in different genres is switching gears. For example, my memoir voice and my picture voice are two very different things. It’s not like I can drop F bombs in my picture books. If for no other reason, then, I often worked on only one genre in any given day while I was writing my memoir. Sometimes I’d actually take the whole week, only changing genres when I felt thoroughly able to compartmentalize. But once I made that decision, I’d use my first few hours to make a big ol’ mess, reading scattered notes and writing crappy first drafts, and then I’d slowly tidy the room…revising over and over again until my work sparkled. And that worked well for me.

Until it didn’t.

On Friday, October 2, 2020, I brought my daughter Cassidy to the hospital for an MRI. We suspected migraines.

But they found a tumor.

Cassidy was immediately admitted; a biopsy, done first thing Monday morning, confirmed the doctors’ suspicions.

Cassidy had brain cancer.

Through tears during that first night in the hospital, I started a Caring Bridge site to keep friends and family apprised of Cassidy’s journey. The move felt a little like self-preservation, if I’m being honest. I didn’t have the bandwidth to answer all the texts and emails flooding in.

The next month trudged by in a slow, vomitous haze as doctors tried to figure out what kind of cancer was growing in her brain…and what kind of mutations were growing in the tumor. As soon as we thought we had an answer, another hospital would disagree. Her biopsy sample got lost. We had to consult with multiple facilities to determine the best course of chemo. Every ounce of energy, every second of time disappeared into the tornado that surrounded my family. Each time we thought we had enough strength to stand, reality shoved us back to the ground. The mess just kept getting messier.

October 2020 was easily the worst month of my life. And for perspective, I’m a coma survivor.

Once Cassidy’s port was implanted, chemo began the next day. Then again, the week after that. Then again. And again…until one day, we realized we’d found a rhythm. For six, seven, eight weeks, the writer in me pined for an escape. Some way to shelve reality, even if only for thirty minutes. But it was in that moment, when I felt my creative spirit drowning in sadness and fear, that I realized I had actually been nurturing it all along. Even during the worst month of my life, I’d somehow found a way to keep breathing.

Because Caring Bridge posts had been my creative soul’s lifeline.

In that messiest of messy moments, when darkness siphoned all hope, that is when Habit opened the door and ushered herself in. Habit helped me reorganize. Habit opened my laptop. Habit tidied my thoughts.

I didn’t even see it coming. And when it did, I didn’t immediately recognize it for what it was. I was just hurting.

So…I wrote. And I cried.

A lot.

In early January, I wrote my first picture book manuscript since the fall. Yes, Storystorm and 12×12 both nudged me in that direction…but Habit carried me through. Then, Cassidy created a YouTube series called “Candid with Cassidy: Fireside Cancer Chats.” Again, Habit helped me write summaries for each weekly episode.

We cannot expect to be creative when tragedy strikes. Sometimes, life sucks. And in those moments, we must allow ourselves freedom from expectations. We must allow ourselves to flounder. To feel lost.

To grieve.

But, if we have nurtured good habits, then eventually those habits will become guiding lights.

And if our habits included nurturing our creativity, then, when it matters most…creativity will nurture us.


Shannon Stocker is an award-winning author and proud word nerd who lives in Louisville, KY, with her husband, Greg, and their children, Cassidy and Tye. Her debut picture book, CAN U SAVE THE DAY (Sleeping Bear Press), released in 2019, her nonfiction PB bio about Evelyn Glennie entitled LISTEN: HOW ONE DEAF GIRL CHANGED PERCUSSION comes out with Dial (Penguin/Random House) in 2022, and several of Shannon’s nonfiction essays have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Shannon currently serves as SCBWI social co-director for Louisville, a judge for Rate Your Story, and she created the blog series, Pivotal Moments: inHERview, highlighting transitional life stories of female picture book authors. Cool facts: Currently writing her memoir, Shannon is a medical school graduate, a coma survivor, an RSD/CRPS patient and advocate, and a singer/songwriter who once performed two songs, including one original, as part of an opening act for Blake Shelton. Shannon is represented by Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio.

Visit Shannon at shannonstocker.comFacebook, or follow her on Twitter @iwriteforkidz and Instagram @iwriteforkidz.

STEM and STEAM—whichever term you prefer to call Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math—is a hot area for picture books that can be incorporated into classroom learning. (Well, of course “steam” is hot!) Author Karla Valenti joins us today to talk about her unique path to publication with her “My Super Science Heroes” series.

Karla, I love learning about how authors form their story ideas. How did this book come to be?

This book is part of the “My Super Science Heroes” series. It actually came about in a really unique way.

Back in 2016, a friend alerted me to a call for proposals from the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA), a global research group with over 4,000 scientists worldwide. They wanted to partner with an author to write a picture book about Marie Curie. The profits would go to support their various research projects. The MCAA group was looking for books that would portray science in a unique and engaging way for young readers.

I am not a non-fiction or historical writer (I do fiction and mostly magical realism); however, I saw this as a way to flex my creative writing skills so I decided to give a try. I began doing research on Marie Curie and the more I read, I realized that she had led a very challenging life, constantly faced with opposition (both personally and professionally). It astounded me that she had achieved what she did in light of all that opposition. It was almost as if her persistence were a super power.

Ding!

A light went off and I began to explore the idea of writing a book where Marie Curie was a super science hero whose super power was persistence. Leveraging super hero tropes, I knew I needed a bad guy and of course, she had one—Mr. Opposition. And so the story came together—a book designed as a super hero concept, focusing on the person more than their accomplishment, focusing on how difficult it actually is to follow our dreams and celebrating the persistence that made it possible for her to reach them.

I submitted the proposal and, to my delight, won! I began working with MCAA to identify an illustrator who could bring a unique angle to this story – something different and unconventional. Annalisa Beghelli is the talented Italian illustrator who was brought in for the project, and she has been a wonderful collaborator.

We launched the Indiegogo campaign in 2017 and before the month was even over we had exceeded our fundraising goal and Sourcebooks had found out about the project. They made us an offer for world rights to the series, and so we began working with them directly.

MARIE CURIE AND THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE was published in April 2020, and we’re so excited for ALAN TURING AND THE POWER OF CURIOSITY, which includes all sorts of visual riddles and easter eggs in the artwork but also has loads of back-matter featuring various codes and ciphers.

MCAA, Annalisa, and I continue to collaborate on the series and a portion of all sales go to support the science initiatives of the MCAA folks.

Wow, going from a crowd-sourced book to a Sourcebooks-published one is a rare path to publication. How did you attract Sourcebooks’ attention?

It was a very rare opportunity and a very fortuitous one. Basically, the month we launched the crowd-funding campaign, someone forwarded a tweet about our project to Kelly Barrales-Saylor at Sourcebooks. Kelly immediately reached out to us and, after learning more about the project, expressed an interest in taking the project in-house. Of course, we were delighted and happily joined efforts with Sourcebooks to bring this project to life. I never found out who sent Kelly the tweet, but they will forever have a special place in my heart.

I love the concept behind these books—that there are forces like the “Nemesis” trying to thwart the scientists, but their super powers win out in the end! It shows kids that real traits like tenacity and wonder can lead to amazing things!

How were you able to step outside your usual writing comfort zone—you said you’re typically a fiction writer…? 

To be fair, this really wasn’t outside of my comfort zone (the series is actually fiction inspired by real-life heroines and heroes). That said, I did embrace the MCAA call as a challenge, a way to flex my creative muscles in a different way, almost like solving a riddle (which by the way, is what ALAN TURING AND THE POWER OF CURIOSITY is all about!).

As for what inspired me to do that—it was something my critique partner Tara Luebbe once said. To paraphrase: you never know what the next opportunity will bring, so take all the opportunities you can. And wow, was she ever right!

I love that advice and I often share that, too. There are many opportunities for writers online. Social media, like Twitter, is a great place for pitch parties and making connections with others in publishing.

When you write picture book biographies, you have to choose the parts of the person’s life that support the story you’re telling. There’s not room for everything. What facts about your science hero did you learn that did not make it into the book?

This is a good question and especially relevant in a series like ours that is not intended to be a comprehensive biography of the science super heroes, since we are only looking at certain events in their lives that pertain to the specific super power we are studying.

In the case of Alan’s story, I think everyone should be aware of one of the defining facts of his life; namely, the tragic criminalization of his homosexuality, which led to a horrendous punishment. Acknowledging their error, in 2009 UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology to Alan Turing, announcing, “on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.” He did.

It is our hope that people will read Alan’s story and be inspired by him and his unfailing curiosity, honoring his achievements as a real life super hero.

What are you working on next?

My debut novel, LOTERIA, comes out in September with Knopf. Set in Oaxaca Mexico, the book is a magical realist adventure that features a high-stakes game of Loteria played by Life and Death in which an 11 year-old girl (Clara) is the pawn. Every card reveals a new twist in Clara’s fate: a tree, a scorpion, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path

I also have a picture book coming out with Chronicle in 2023 (MARIA MARIPOSA), and I recently sold two new picture books at auction (details to be revealed soon!)

Wow, Karla, this all sounds like a rip-roaring start to your writing career. Congratulations!

Blog readers, Karla is giving away a copy of ALAN TURING AND THE POWER OF CURIOSITY.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!


Karla Valenti writes stories for and about kids, taking readers on journeys seeped in magical realism and deep philosophical questions. Her storytelling is heavily influenced by her Mexican heritage and layered with ideas and concepts she’s picked up in her many travels around the world. She currently resides in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three kids, two cats, and thousands of books. Connect with Karla at her website karlavalenti.com, on Facebook and Twitter @KV_Writes.

Welcome to the book world, BIRDS OF A FEATHER!

This gorgeous debut brought along its author, Sita Singh, to talk about its journey to publication. Congratulations, Sita!

Thank you, Tara, for having me here to celebrate the Book Birthday of BIRDS OF A FEATHER!

Sita, you know I’m fascinated by book origin stories. How did the idea for BIRDS OF A FEATHER come about?

BIRDS OF A FEATHER is a story of a colorless peacock who learns to love himself in a jungle full of color. Several things sparked this story idea. First, I wanted to write a story with peacocks at the front and center as they are a part of my childhood memories, and also because I’d realized early on that while there are many picture books featuring variety of birds and animals, there are next to none featuring peacocks. Second, I was inspired to tell this story from my daughter’s experience of being the only child of color in her classroom for almost four years of elementary school. Having watched firsthand how important self-acceptance is, in order for children to know and love themselves for who they are, is what inspired me to write BIRDS OF A FEATHER!

Could you share your fondest childhood memory of peacocks?

Although I often saw peacocks on our farm in India, my earliest and fondest memory  is from a visit to the zoo. As kids, my brother and I had gone to the zoo and I remember feeding a peacock and getting my palm tickled. Later, that peacock went on to flaunt his feathers and for the longest time the child in me thought he’d not only put on the show for me, but there was magic in the seeds I’d fed him. I think that fascination probably stayed with me.

In the story, Mo is a leucistic (colorless) peacock who is well-loved, but he still thinks he is not as beautiful as his brothers and sisters. How did this internal conflict come to be the focus of your tale?

Sometimes children struggle with self-acceptance issues arising from identity, or fitting in, or self-doubts, maybe not due to external biases or bullying but just because of feeling different, like Mo. As an immigrant and a mother to three first-generation Indian-American children, I wanted to write a story that would empower children to know their strengths and understand their uniqueness, and become confident individuals. Through the colorless peacock’s journey to self-discovery, and finally to self-acceptance, my hope is to help every child realize that there is no one else like them, and that it’s great to be unique.

What was your initial reaction to seeing Mo brought to life in illustration?

My heart skipped a beat when I first saw the colorless peacock that only lived in my head come alive, and dance and celebrate on the pages. I was blown away by the vibrancy of colors and textures Stephanie had used all around Mo to make him stand out. At the same time, I was moved by how she let the white peacock glow and shine bright through his entire journey to self-discovery! The way Mo was brought to life was beyond my imagination!

With this being your debut picture book, what about the publishing process was surprising to you?

After my manuscript was acquired by Liza Kaplan at Philomel Books and Stephanie Fizer Coleman came on board to make the art, I kept wondering on how everyone’s vision would come together. I had no clue at all! Every stage of the book making process came to me as a pleasant surprise. But what surprised me the most was how the collective vision of so many people involved in the publishing process not only came together to match mine, but it went above and beyond that. I’m still in awe of the trust, creativity, and teamwork that goes into publishing of a picture book.

If you were to imagine Mo today, what do you think he’s doing?

Well, that’s a fun question, Tara! I think Mo must be enjoying playing hide-and-seek with his friends. And every now and then, I’m sure he must be standing tall, screeching aloud, and flaunting his feathers to attract the peahens.

Thank you for visiting, Sita and Mo, and congratulations on your picture book debut!

Blog readers, Sita is giving away a copy of BIRDS OF A FEATHER.

Leave one comment to enter the giveaway.

A random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!


Sita Singh was born and raised in India, and moved to the United States in 1999. She currently lives in South Florida with her husband, three children, and an immensely cute and curious dog. An architect in the past, Sita now enjoys writing heartwarming picture books with a South Asian backdrop. When Sita isn’t reading or writing, she can be found trying new recipes in the kitchen, experimenting with food photography, walking with the dog, or movie marathoning with the family. Find out more about Sita on singhsita.com and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @sitawrites

 

♫ ♬ You’re a code breaker, spy hunter, heartbreaker don’t you mess around with me… ♫ ♬

Today I have a very special guest on the blog. No, not Pat Benatar…it’s the queen of picture book STEM biographies, Laurie Wallmark! Cool tidbit—I have known Laurie longer than anyone else in kidlit because we were in our first critique group together…aaaaand, we’re in the same critique group (albeit a different on) once again.

Laurie’s here today to celebrate the release of her newest book: CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER: How Elizabeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, releasing March 2 from Abrams, with illustrator Brooke Smart.

This is a special book, as Laurie discovered new ways to enhance the story with fun approaches not typically seen in picture book biographies.

Laurie, kids love secret codes and messages. Is that why you decided to make this your next STEM biography? 

What do you mean kids love secret codes and messages? How about me? I love secret codes and messages, too, and have ever since I was a kid. Remember, I was a computer programmer for many years. And what are programs, but coded messages to communicate to and from computers? They can also be like secret messages for those who don’t understand the computer language.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to both delve into Elizebeth Friedman’s life and learn more about codes and ciphers. In fact, writing the section in the back matter about “Cryptography Today,” gave me an excuse to further research the subject. I have the best job.

Oh, will you be writing your next book in codes and ciphers, then?

Ooh, wouldn’t that be fun? But I did something close to that in this book. If you look at the cover and some of the interior pages, you’ll see ribbons with letters on them. Originally, the illustrator was going to fill these ribbons with random letters. I made her and my life more difficult by suggesting that these ribbons actually contain real coded messages. I had to figure out the codes, then Brooke had to carefully hand-write each letter. (I can’t imagine how much work that was for her.) Even though we double- and triple-checked the ribbons, I’m convinced some eagle-eyed ten-year-old out there will find a mistake I made.

I hope the secret message isn’t “be sure to drink your Ovaltine” like in “A Christmas Story”!

When you’re working on a PB biography, how do you distill a person’s life into just the most salient points? How do you decide what’s most important in a life full of importance?

Before I answer your question, I want to mention a secret message that has nothing to do with books. This was hidden in the parachute of the Mars Perseverance. The white and red triangles represented binary code for the secret message, “Dare mighty things,” which is the motto of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In addition, the outside ring of the parachute holds the code for the GPS coordinates of JPL.

Anyway, on to your question. Finding a focus for a picture book biography isn’t easy. This is not only because of the limited word count, but also because I’m writing a story. And just like when I write fiction, sometimes I have to “kill my darlings.”

Because I write about people who are not well known, I tend to write what are called cradle-to-grave stories. I cover from the person’s childhood until after she has made her major accomplishment(s). Obviously, I can’t touch on every event in her life.

It’s hard, though. I try to make sure I cover the basics of the person’s life and accomplishments. After all, I want children to know why my subject is important. Once I do that, it’s all about writing a story that flows—a story that will draw a child in.

I noticed in the book illustrator Brooke Smart wrote some of Elizabeth’s quotes in handwriting instead of leaving them within the book’s text. Was there a significant reason for this treatment? 

Unlike “nonfiction” biographies from years gone by, these days everything in biographies must be completely factual. Some authors get around this by including a note in the back matter that explains what is true and what isn’t. I personally don’t like this method, because a child might not read the note and be mislead by the text.

I chose a different approach. I identified a series of Elizebeth’s quotations I thought would help illustrate her thoughts and personality. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an easy way to include them within the text without making up the surrounding dialogue. Or, as discussed above, interrupting the narrative flow. Instead, I matched the quotations to events happening in a specific spread. Then, Brooke was able to artistically include the quotations in her illustration.

That method works beautifully! 

Is there anything about Elizabeth you wanted to share but you couldn’t fit into the book? 

There are always aspects of a person’s life that you need to leave out because, as mentioned above, word count limitations or story flow. I would have liked to include the fact that her father didn’t want her to go to college. In spite of that, she sent applications to multiple schools, determined to figure out a way to pay the tuition herself. Her father ended up loaning, not giving, her the money for school. The anecdote says so much about her determination, but it just wouldn’t fit. As it is, the book is jam-packed with scenes, so this is one that had to be left behind.

Speaking of scenes from the book, which is your favorite?

I love the scene with Velvalee Dickson, the “Doll Lady.” First, Velvalee is such an unusual name that it seems fake, even though it was her real name. Second, I can’t imagine how she cracked this code. How could she possibly realize that in a letter about dolls, “little boy” referred to warships or that “fisherman with net” meant minesweeper?

I can understand how decoding ciphers, where one letter or symbol is substituted for another, works. I might not be able to do it myself, but it makes sense to me that other people have the knowledge of math and the tools to do so.

But what an amazing brain Elizebeth must have had. She read letters that were supposed to be about dolls and not only realized they contained secret messages but figured out the code. There’s a reason Elizebeth Friedman is known as one of the world’s greatest cryptanalysts.

And you’re one of the world’s greatest picture book biography authors! Congratulations on CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER!

Blog readers, Laurie is giving away a copy of her book.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in early March.

Good luck!


Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as well as fiction. Her books have earned multiple starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Best STEM Book, Crystal Kite Award, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Her titles include ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE, NUMBERS IN MOTION, and CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and frequently presents at schools as well as national professional conferences (NSTA, NCTE, ALA, TLA, etc.). She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. You can find Laurie on the Web at lauriewallmark.com and Twitter @lauriewallmark

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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