by Marzieh Abbas

Before I jump into my guest blog post, I want to thank you for having me, Tara! It’s such a pleasure to be here talking about my debut picture book for the traditional US market. Your blog has been a favorite ever since I began writing in 2019.

Now, let’s talk about how A DUPATTA IS… came to be:

Long before I began writing for children, I came across a photograph when my mom was cleaning out her drawers. It was one of us sisters wrapped in a dupatta, an oversized South-Asian scarf, that had been tied like a sari. It was from the time we were visiting Karachi to see my Dadi, my grandma. She always wore saris and loved to dress us girls up in pseudo-saris, using fancy dupattas.

A few years later, she passed away. My father, the youngest of three sons, along with us, moved back to Pakistan to be with her in her last years. A few weeks after she passed, we noticed my dad had been sleeping with her dupatta tucked beside his pillow. He had asked my mother never to wash it, as it held her scent and helped hold her memory close.

Not only did this stay with me for a long time, it was the spark of an idea for my debut picture book, A DUPATTA IS… (illustrated by Anu Chouhan) which releases today, April 11, 2023!

Once Anu started sharing her illustrations, I was moved to tears. Her detailed settings, inspired by her own childhood with her grandma, resembled my Dadi’s home, right down to the bangle stand and wooden cupboard.

The story came full circle when my mom cleared out a cupboard of my Dadi’s dupattas and saris and sent over one of her favourites for me. It was almost exactly the same as the dupatta Anu had illustrated in her first spread. Have a look! I used it as a backdrop for this shot:

Thank you, Marzieh! What a beautiful story behind your story!

Blog readers, Marzieh would love if you could join her for virtual book launch tomorrow, April 12, 2023 at 10 a.m. EST. You can register here.

Marzieh is also giving away a 30-minute AMA session! 

Leave one comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected in two weeks!

Good luck!

Marzieh Abbas is a baker-turned-award-winning author. She loves adding magic to her creations- whether that’s a seven- layered rainbow cake or the books she writes for children all over the world. She enjoys learning new skills, jumping rope, sipping chai, and observing nature. A DUPATTA IS… is her debut picture book in the traditional American market. She has several upcoming children’s books including AWE-SAMOSAS (Clarion, 2024), HENNA IS…(Feiwel and Friends, 2024) and YASMEEN LARI, GREEN ARCHITECT (Clarion, 2024). Marzieh is a member of SCBWI and a graduate of the Lyrical Language Lab and Children’s Book Academy. Marzieh dreams of owning a talking parrot someday. But, until then, she lives in Pakistan with her husband and children who inspire her every day. She is represented by Lynnette Novak at The Seymour Agency. Visit her on the web at, Instagram @marziehabbas_author and Twitter @MarziehAbbas.

Thank you for patience! Every year after Storystorm, I vow that I will get to the prizes right away, but every year I take a loooong break.

Many thanks to Urania Smith for helping me with this. She got her part done long ago but I’ve been dragging my feet. And away we go…

Two of the Grand Prize Winners, Melissa Koch and R.G. Spaulding, already have agents, so they are passing on their prizes to two others. I allowed them to choose any daily prize they wanted instead, and they chose a signed ABSURD WORDS and a critique from me, so those daily prizes are now off the table. (Can I use any more clichés in this post???)

The two alternate Grand Prize Winners are:

Dawn Prochovnic: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
Stephanie D. Jones: Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency

Congratulations! Be on the lookout for an email from me!

And here are the rest of the daily winners!

Day 2: Mirka Hokkanen–MOSSY AND TWEED plus a picture book critique
Winner: Cait Darfler

Day 3: Monica Acker–Non-rhyming picture book critique under 600 words
Winner: Ashley Chance

Winner: Abby Mumford

Winner: Maria Bostian

Day 6: Picture Book Junction

David McMullin–PB critique
Winner: Colleen Owen Murphy

Lisa Varchol Perron–Poetry bundle (3 children’s poetry anthologies: Things We Eat, Things We Feel, Imperfect II: Poems About Perspective)
Winner: Pat Haap

Ana Siqueira–PB critique (fiction and non-rhyming) or Zoom “Ask Me Anything”
Winner: Sharon Langley

Suzy Levinson–Children’s Poem critique (rhyming)
Winner: Sandy Belford

Aimee Isaac–picture book critique
Winner: Amanda Zeigler

Marie Boyd–PB critique
Winner: Teresa Robeson

A.J. Irving–Fiction PB critique in prose
Winner: Sarah Skolfield

Carrie Kruck–”Ask Me Anything” Storystorm edition! 30-minute Zoom
Winner: Kelly Vavala

Gabriela Orozco Belt–PB critique
Winner: Srividhya Venkat

Astrid Kamalyan–30-minute Zoom “Ask Me Anything” focusing on the process of creating PBs
Winner: Delia Ruiz

Sarah Hovorka–“Anything Goes!” 30-minute Zoom talk and/or critique of PB, query, first five pages of CB or MG, or outlines/prep work
Winner: Charles Trevino

Jack Wong–Publisher/agent query critique
Winner: René Bartos

Winner: Diane Mittler

Day 8: Kathleen Doherty picture book critique, fiction, up to 650 words
Winner: Colleen Owen Murphy 

Winner: Linda Kulp Trout

Day 10: Justin Colon–The Kidlit Hive webinars, as well as a 30-minute AMA session to discuss querying, submission, ideas, etc.
Winner: Rosemary Basham (Supermario6) 

Day 11: Lydia Lukidis–DEEP, DEEP DOWN
Winner: Joy Wieder 

Day 12: Jewish Board Books Group

Vivian Kirkfield–PB Critique OR Copy of PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE
Winner: Mona861 

Nancy Churnin–copy of COUNTING ON SHABBAT
Winner: Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Sarah Aroeste–MAZAL BUENO
Winner: Sara Ackerman

Ann Koffsky–15-minute Zoom Critique
Winner: Jennifer Vose

Varda Livney–CHALLAH!
Winner: Jilanne Hoffmann

Day 13: Dianna Murray–PB critique
Winner: Sophie Furman

Day 14: Hillary Homzie–IF YOU WERE A PRINCESS
Winner: Claire Bobrow

30-minute Zoom critique of your picture book manuscript or the first five pages of your novel
Winner:  Sue Macartney

Day 15: Rebecca Gardyn Levington–BRAINSTORM! (US)
Winner: Reed Hilton-Eddy

Winner: Bethanny Parker

30-minute Ask-Me-Anything Zoom Session!
Winner: Jennifer Jahn

Day 16: Karen Henry Clark–LIBRARY GIRL and Nancy Pearl librarian action figure
Winner: Rozanark Rozana Rajkumari

Day 17: Patricia Tanumihardja–RAMEN FOR EVERYONE
Winner: Suzanne Lewis

Winners: Lauren Barbieri and Amanda Backof

Day 19: Kidlit in Color Group

Valerie Bolling–15-minute AMA
Winner: Jennifer Blanck

Kaitlyn Wells–15-minute AMA or picture book manuscript critique
Winner: Janie Reinart

Alyssa Reynoso-Morris–30-minute AMA or a picture book manuscript critique
Winner: Bonnie Lambourn

Natasha Khan Kazi–15-minute AMA or a PB non-rhyming fiction manuscript critique
Winner: Johanna Peyton

Aya Khalil–15-minute AMA or a PB non-rhyming fiction manuscript critique
Winner: Ana Kelly

Alliah L. Agostini–15-minute AMA or a copy of Big Tune or The Juneteenth Story
Winner: Rebecca Gardyn Levington

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow–15-minute AMA
Winner: Kirsten Bock

Day 20: Jill Davis–signed ABSURD WORDS
Winner: (Kidlitgail) Gail Handler

Day 21: M.O. Yuksel–ONE WISH: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University
Winner: Judy Abelove Shemtob

Day 22: Jackie Azúa Kramer and Jonah Kramer–MANOLO AND THE UNICORN
Winners: Deb Adamson and Kathleen Clark

Day 23: Lauren H. Kerstein–30-minute video-call consultation
Winner: David McMullin

Day 24: Louise M. Aamodt–picture book critique
Winner: Shyrelle

Agent, Emily S. Keyes of Keyes Agency LLC–feedback on a picture book manuscript plus its accompanying query
Winner: Jennifer Cowan

Day 25: Marzieh Abbas–picture book critique (under 650-word fiction and non-rhyming manuscript)
Winner: Beth Pollock

Day 26: CK Malone
Ask Me Anything Session with myself and my agent Dan, founder of Page Turner Literary (30 minutes)
Winner: Carlisle Malon

Critique of a Fiction PB up to 2,000 words with multiple revisions (just me)
Winners: Sylvia Mary Grech and Melissa Kay Valente

CHARLY Signed Prize bundle of book and LGBTQ+ Items + A surprise book not by me: 3 winners
Winners: Carol Gwin Nelson, brennajeanneret, and Natalie Lynn Tanner

Day 27: Ebony Lynn Mudd–scholarship to her upcoming course: How to Find the Right Picture Book Structure to Save Your Story
Winner: Pamela Harrison

Day 28: Kirsten Pendreigh–picture book critique, or a virtual classroom visit to read LUNA’S GREEN PET Winner: Stacey Gustafson

Day 29: Laura Lavoie–30-minute Ask-Me-Anything Zoom chat
Winner: Karin Larson

Day 30: Corey Finkle–YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Winner: Hilary Mankovsky

Manuscript review and/or Zoom career consultation
Winner: Danya Vasquez David

Phew! That’s alotta prizes!

Please be on the lookout for an email from me within the next week!

Congratulations to all AND SEE YOU for STORYSTORM 2024!

by Molly Ruttan

Hi Tara! Before I begin, I want to take a moment to thank you for having me on your incredible blog! I am a big fan of yours—it’s such a pleasure to be here!

The roots for my new picture book SOMETHING WILD (Feb 28, 2023, Nancy Paulsen Books), which is about overcoming stage fright, go back to my childhood. When I was in second grade, my mother signed me up for violin lessons. I loved playing, but the stress of performing was too much for me—I ended up quitting the orchestra and sadly giving up the instrument altogether.

Fortunately, stage fright didn’t stop me from loving music and performing, and I’ve enjoyed being the drummer, back-up singer or both in many rock bands over the years. But the days leading up to performances were always (and still are) full of anxiety for me. What finally helped me manage was when I realized that I could rely on my muscle memory and my discipline to pull me through, in spite of my mind, which was busy panicking. This awareness has given me a great sense of comfort. It especially has helped once I am on stage—even to the extent that I actually can enjoy being there!

Here I am with The BumbleBeez, a kids rock band, circa mid 90s. Even though we performed for kids, I would still have anxiety on the days leading up to performances. I was the drummer and backup singer, (but not the original one; I recorded some singles, but I’m not on the albums) with Leanne Sterling (l) & David Scheffler (m). You can find the music on Apple Music & Spotify.


When it was time to create the final art for Something Wild, I began listening to a lot of violin music to get into the flow. I became totally inspired to pick up where I left off as a kid, and start playing again! I had a viola that had belonged to my mother, so I started taking lessons. I’ve been learning for about two months now. Here I am, playing the violin as a kid, and playing the viola now.

The book itself started to take form when I was pre-published and taking a class with Marla Frazee. She had given us the task of illustrating a sequence, and since I was performing a lot at that time, I was inspired to try and illustrate how stage fright felt for me. I painted a short narrative about a girl who was afraid to perform, but when she took the stage and remembered how much she loved to play, the world around her transformed into something wild and beautiful. It felt like the beginning of a book, but I couldn’t figure out what came next.

Several years later when I was working on my author/illustrator debut THE STRAY (2020, Nancy Paulsen Books), an SCBWI regional mingle coordinator asked me if I would present my “Path to Publication”. I said yes, but I was terrified. My stage fright kicked in, and I had many sleepless nights leading up to the event. To calm myself, I decided to use the strong emotion I was feeling to try to generate a new book. I started writing down how I was feeling, and all of a sudden I remembered my illustrations. The sequence I had drawn was the end of a story, not the beginning! I feel forever grateful for that presentation experience, which caused me so much anxiety—without it I would not have discovered the beginning of this book.

Presenting my “Path to Publication” at the SCBWI Regional mingle, 2018.


Some of the members in my Illustration Collective The Mullberries at a book-signing for Marla Frazee’s book Little Brown (2018, Beach Lane Books). Left to right: Helen Yoon, Judy Faulkner, Gail Buschman, myself, Annelouise Mahoney, Joy Dabby and April Zufelt. Not pictured: Jackie Huang, Danielle Heitmuller, Heidi Aubrey and Tricia Candemeres.

I spent the next several months working out the details with the help of a group of fantastic, talented friends. (We are now an Artist’s Collective called The Mulberries.) I am so grateful for them, and for my agent, Rachel Orr, for supporting me all along the way. And of course I am deeply thankful to Nancy Paulsen, for publishing it! Her wonderful expertise along with my brilliant art director Cecilia Yung—and the whole amazing team at Penguin—brought it to life! I hope that Hannah’s story will provide a comforting and entertaining journey for other anxious kids (and adults) to embrace, and an inspiration for them to try allowing something wild happen for them, too!

Interior spreads from SOMETHING WILD written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House ©2023.

Thank you for sharing your wild journey with us, Molly!

I think many introverted writers can relate to the SOMETHING WILD story.

Blog readers, Molly is giving away a delightful prize pack: a book, a sticker sheet, a round sticker & a bookmark. Just leave one comment below to enter and a random winner will be selected next month. (How about telling us if you get stage fright?)

Good luck!

Molly Ruttan grew up making art and music in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and earned a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art. Molly now lives in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles. She played violin as a child, plays drums, sings in a community choir and has just started learning the viola. She loves exploring all kinds of fine art and illustration mediums, including making her own animated book trailers. Her life is full of art, music, family, friends and all kinds of pets and urban animals.

Molly’s titles include her author/illustrator debut, THE STRAY, (Nancy Paulsen Books); I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner, (North South Books); and VIOLET AND THE CRUMBS: A Gluten-Free Adventure by Abigail Rayner (North South Books). SOMETHING WILD is Molly’s second author/illustrated book and has received a starred Kirkus review. She has two additional books forthcoming.

Molly is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency. To contact Molly, purchase books & view her book trailers, go to

by Ann D. Kofsky

Back in the day when my kids were all shorter than me, they kept me on my toes. I recall vividly not having time to sit down. A nice meal sitting at a table? Nuh-uh. Not happening. We were lucky if there were plates at all!

The exception to this was Shabbat and holiday meals. We’d pull out a tablecloth, set the table, and start singing the traditional songs…

And swoop!

One by one, when they each had had enough, they would slide down under the table.

They’d still participate: Songs would float up from the floor. They’d pop up to eat, and then slip back down.

It made me wonder: what was so fun under that table? What adventures were they having down there?

Fast forward many years, when I’m trying to brainstorm a Passover book, the phrase that started circling around my head was a classic variation of a key Passover seder refrain, “What makes this night different from all other nights?” Except in my head, it was swirling around as, “How can my Passover book be different from all other Passover Books?”

The answer came when I recalled those many under-the table celebrations.  Perhaps other kids do that too? And of course, as I looked into it, and spoke with other parents—there were quite a lot of kids out there who found sitting at the table for the entire seder meal nearly impossible. Kids who think differently, who are neurodiverse, just don’t have the capacity to sit and sit while the rituals wander by. They can’t focus-so swoop!- under the table they go.

That’s what Miri, my main character is like. She’s having trouble focusing, so she spins in her chair, plays drums with the silverware, and finally slips under the table. There, her imagination leads her to host her own under the sea seder, complete with 3 matzahas, and three colorful seamonsters, too. She creates her own meaning of the holiday, and when she pops back up again, is able to bring that joy with her, and celebrate with her family on dry land, too.

I was inspired by some other adventurous characters who took similar journey’s through their imagination; WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, the classic  by Maurice Sendak and JOURNEY by Aaron Becker both displayed the beautiful landscapes and fertile ground of kid’s imaginations, and I tried to bring that same sense of wonder to UNDER THE SEA SEDER as well.

Thanks for sharing your behind-the-scenes story of UNDER THE SEA SEDER, Ann.

Blog readers, UNDER THE SEA SEDER will be released by Apples & Honey Press later this month, on March 27. Happy Book Birthday, Ann!

Ann D. Koffsky is the award-winning author and illustrator of more than 35 books, including What’s in Tuli’s Box?, Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor, Noah’s Swimathon (a Sydney Taylor Notable book), and the Kayla & Kugel series. She lives in West Hempstead, New York, but you can visit her online at


It’s that time, finally!

Here are the Grand Prize winners and the agents with whom they’ve been paired:

  • Anne C. Bromley: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Debbie Meyer: Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency
  • R.G. Spaulding: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
  • Melissa Koch: Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency
  • Mikadventures (Mikki): Jennifer March Soloway, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • Nicole Loos Miller: Stacey Glick, Vice President, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC


I will be emailing to connect you with your agent, to whom you’ll be able to send five of your best ideas. You’ll receive feedback in return so you know which ideas are the best to pursue (and which may need tweaking). This is a fabulous opportunity to put your best page forward!

Thank you to Urania Smith for assisting with prize distribution.

Next up, the daily prizes! Stay tuned!

JENA BENTON has won the Grand Prize “Ask Me Anything” Session with agent Miranda Paul of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Congratulations, Jena! Expect an email from me shortly.

More Grand Prizes to come soon!


First, gather ’round your ideas.

Once you have ideas that you like, start fleshing them out. If you’re a Grand Prize winner, you’ll have the opportunity to share your BEST FIVE IDEAS with a kidlit agent. They’ll respond with feedback recommending which ideas may be best to pursue as manuscripts. (Saves time writing stories that won’t be marketable!) To present your ideas in the best light, I recommend writing them out like jacket flap…you know, that marketing copy on the inside cover of a picture book. Here’s jacket flap for my September 2023 release, FLAT CAT:


Flat Cat was born flat. He wasn’t squashed by an out-of-control ice cream truck, or smushed in a waffle iron. He was just flat. This slick, sly cat could stray and roam anywhere he pleased, keen and unseen. And wouldn’t you know it, Flat Cat liked it just like that.

That is until one day, when Flat Cat accidentally fell splish-splosh right in the wash. And when he emerged from the dryer, Flat Cat wasn’t flat at all. He was adorably puffy and downright fluffy!

From Tara Lazar and brought to life by New York Times bestselling illustrator Pete Oswald, this is a hilariously quirky and irreverent story that is sure to appeal to fans of Pete the Cat!


Go to your local library and read as many jacket flaps as you can to get a feel for them. Then start writing your own for your upcoming masterpieces!

Grand Prize Winners will be chosen next week, to be paired with these amazing kidlit agents:

Plus there’s one more special prize from Miranda Paul of Erin Murphy Literary Agency: an “Ask Me Anything” video call to occur before the end of February.

So spend this weekend getting ready! Prize distribution will begin next week!

And remember…

by Jen Fier Jasinski

Thanks, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for MY PIANO, my debut picture book. You’ve been a steady source of insight, support, and comic relief on my writing journey.

These are the pedals, pressed down to the ground,
under the soundboard where bridges are bound
fixed to the frame enclosed in the case
that lies on the legs with wheels at their base,
to pillar and prop my piano.

I don’t play the piano. I don’t even know how to read music. Honestly, I can’t tell you whether a piece is by Beethoven or Chopin.

So how is it my debut picture book explores the workings of a grand piano through the eyes of a young musician as she prepares for and performs her first recital? Fabulous question.

My husband is a pianist, composer, and piano teacher. Our grand piano replaced our couch and is often called our “fifth family member”. It fills our home with music and joy, occupying a full room and many hours.

Despite the time and space the instrument takes up, years passed before I did more than listen. Then one day I had a friendly chat with our piano tuner. She opened our piano and I glanced inside. Whoa! What was all that? I was quickly fascinated by her tools, her skill, and how the parts interconnect and together create resounding music. I wondered to myself, “If I can spend so much time around a piano without ever exploring its parts, maybe others are missing out, too?”

I had read manuscript wishlist after wishlist searching for stories with a STEAM connection. I had also experienced plenty of second-hand anxiety for my husband’s students at their recitals (Hello, social-emotional layer). And my critique group happened to be completing a challenge to write in cumulative structure.  I put the three together and just like that (Kidding… 20+ drafts and four versions later,) MY PIANO hit just the right note!

I am thrilled this story found a home with Gnome Road Publishing and I am blown away by the spirit and artistry Anita Bagdi brought to it. Our hope is it will be a musical treat for kids and adults and help at least one child through their first piano recital.

MY PIANO is now available for preorder where most books are sold, for a September 19, 2023 release.

To celebrate her debut cover reveal, Jen is offering a giveaway of one fiction (non-rhyming) picture book critique.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month!

Good luck!

Jen Fier Jasinski grew up outside of Washington, D.C. and spent most of her childhood exploring creeks and reading books. Jen taught special education for more than ten years, where her favorite part of the school day was always Story Time. She enjoys spending time with her spouse and kids, reading, and playing outside. Jen’s favorite days are when she gets to do all three. Her extra-favorite days include cake.

Connect with Jen at and on Twitter and Instagram @jenfierjasinski.

The STORYSTORM PLEDGE is now closed.


If you’ve been participating in Storystorm all month, you’ve been generating oodles of ideas!

Luckily you don’t need oodles to “win” the Storystorm challenge. You just need 30 of them!

I wanted this GIF to be “oodles of Doodles” but I could only find oodles of Corgis.

When you have 30 ideas, you can qualify to win one of the AMAZING Storystorm Grand Prizes—feedback on your best 5 picture book ideas from a kidlit agent! (List to be announced.) This year there will be at least 5 grand prizes, and hopefully more!

In order to qualify for a Grand Prize, your name must be on the registration post AND the pledge below.

If you have 30 ideas, put your right hand on a picture book and repeat after me:

I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed
the Storystorm 30-ideas-in-January challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

Now I’m not saying all 30 ideas have to be good. Some may just be titles, some may be character quirks. Some may be problems and some may create problems when you sit down to write. Some may be high-concept and some barely a concept. But…they’re yours, all yours!

You have until February 7th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post.


The name you left on the registration post and the name you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. However, when you comment, WordPress also logs info that allows me to recognize you, so don’t worry if they’re not exact.

Again, please COMMENT ONLY ONCE. If you make a mistake, contact me instead of leaving a second comment.

Remember, this is an honor system pledge. You don’t have to send in your ideas to prove you’ve got 30 of them. If you say so, I’ll believe you! Honestly, it’s that simple. (Wouldn’t it be nice if real life were that straightforward.)

Before you sign, you can also pick up your Winner’s Badge!

There are winner’s mugs, T-shirts and tote bags you can purchase at (always visit via this link/URL…if you search the main site instead, we don’t receive the full proceeds). All proceeds ($4 per item) go to Save the Children Ukraine Fund. If there’s other SWAG you want, I can add it to the shop…just ask!

Now…are you ready to sign?

Then GO FOR IT! Let’s see your name below!


The Storystorm Pledge will posted later today for you to sign!

Use this time to ensure that you have your 30 ideas!

Like this site? Please order one of my books! It supports me & my work!

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