by Karen M. Greenwald

I’m often asked why I wrote A VOTE FOR SUSANNA, THE FIRST WOMAN MAYOR (illustrated by Sian James)? The funny thing is that I didn’t really feel like it was a choice. It needed to be told. Sometimes, you just know. But when I think about the three and half years it took to create this book, the question could easily be rephrased.

What made you go spelunking through gazillions of documents, newspapers, and articles and scale enormous barriers (there were many!) in search of the one thing that would allow this piece of history to fit the picture book format?

Whew! Yes, finding the key to unlocking her story took a lot of work. But Susanna’s election in 1887 offers so many lessons for children (and adults). While many of the challenges she faced are still relevant today, most people have never heard of her. Thrust into the center of a public prank, Susanna had to make a difficult choice that would impact her life and her family’s future. Clearly, bullying is a problem many children sadly deal with daily. I knew that learning about how this woman was bullied would make her story come to life and feel relatable to kids today.

Even winning didn’t change her treatment. Papers worldwide focused attention on her weight, dishwashing, and clothing—not on her education or other qualifications. Notice any parallels between coverage of her and women today? Despite the press, women and men around the world wrote to Susanna. They said she gave them hope that equity was possible. Wouldn’t it be amazing if her bravery and victory could inspire children to treat each other with more respect today?

Finally, Susanna’s win didn’t happen in a vacuum. Argonia was part of her journey and triumph. Yet, history has long brushed them and this important election aside. I wrote my book to continue the conversation Mayor Salter and her community began—one that touches on ending bullying, finding compromise, and building unity. I know these topics will spark important discussions in school and at home, showing children the power a vote and belief in oneself can yield.

Two weeks ago, the National Women’s History Museum held my book’s launch. I couldn’t catch most of the chat—it streamed so fast. But one post while I spoke caught my eye. It was from Susanna’s great grandson (I knew he was coming), “Susanna’s great-great granddaughter is also listening and is loving hearing more about her. She’s bringing this book to her 5th grade class next week where they are talking about gender stereotypes in class—this book will be a perfect addition to the conversation. Thank you for a new family treasure!”

So why did I write this book? What better answer could I give?

Thank you, Karen! I didn’t know about Susannah until your book! Thank you for writing it!

And as a thank you to you for reading about A VOTE FOR SUSANNA, Karen is giving away a half-hour Zoom consult to talk about writing picture books. I often chat with Karen via Zoom, so I can confirm what a delight she is!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A winner will be chosen at the end of the month.

Good luck!


Karen M. Greenwald has a wide range of government, campaign, and branding experience. She’s won international awards for STEM creative, writing, video, rebranding, and self-promotion. Bylined credits include online, print magazines, and The Washington Post. Karen belongs to SCBWI, 12×12, and co-founded #SunWriteFun—a NF/Informational fiction summer contest that raises money for kidlit charities. Her picture book, A VOTE FOR SUSANNA, THE FIRST WOMAN MAYOR, debuted in October (Albert Whitman). It has held steady since February on two of Amazon’s Hot New Releases lists for kids. A Phi Beta Kappa, she earned undergraduate and JD degrees from Georgetown University. Before turning to branding, Karen worked as an attorney and focused on international environmental compliance issues. Follow her on Twitter @karenmgreenwald.

…because they’ll change!

WHAT, TARA?

Let me explain.

For a dozen years, this post on picture book dummies has been one of this site’s most popular articles.

It presents guidance on page breaks and how many a picture book can sustain.

I first learned about the picture book format when an editor told me my 500-word PB was “too long”. I didn’t understand. She then asked me to mark natural page breaks. I took a pen and went swoop, here! Swoop, there! Swoop, swoop, ta-da swoop! Turns out I had 42 gazillion breaks!

She drew the diagrams above on the back of my manuscript and told me that I had to focus on scenes as well as words. That day, everything about my writing changed. I was embarrassed that I had been writing picture books without any idea of how they were formatted.

The point of the dummy article I wrote (the second I got home) is to inform PB writers about format, like I was informed that day. Every genre has a standard length and general format. To sell a story, you need to familiarize yourself with said format. A picture book is different than a magazine short story, a graphic novel and countless other literary forms.

Plugging your PB manuscript into this format does many things for your story, like demonstrating which scenes have too many words, which have too few, which are necessary, and which can be tossed. It’s also a telltale way to determine if you have changed the scene on a regular basis. It’s a PICTURE book, so the same scene on multiple pages can get ho-hum, hum-drum. Pacing a picture book, with page-turn surprises, is key to its readability.

OK, so you know all this.

Well, also know that it all could CHANGE.

Once an editor buys a manuscript for publication, they may have a different vision for certain spreads and page breaks. Don’t be alarmed; they’re typically genius moves.

“Case” in point: in THE UPPER CASE, the 2nd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series, I sprinkled punctuation mark characters throughout the story. My editor at the time, Tracey Keevan, suggested we instead get them all onto one spread. AHA! However, I didn’t feature enough punctuation to make that spread visually interesting. So, I added Period, Apostrophe and Comma—even the babies p and q. Then I wrote them all onto a single spread, and Ross MacDonald worked his magic. Voila!

There’s a reason why you need to be cognizant of page breaks—an editor will sense them as they read your manuscript. But there’s also a reason why I don’t recommend submitting a manuscript marked up with them (unless specifically requested)—they may change as the editor edits your story. (Plus those few words interrupt the flow of the story.)

The layout guides above are there to teach the picture book format so eventually you can internalize it. After writing many manuscripts, you’ll be able to create picture books without plugging them into a dummy at all. Those logical scene changes will appear in your story without you even realizing it.

In short—be aware of page breaks, but be flexible, too!

 


The 3rd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series, TIME FLIES, is zooming your way in April 2022!

In the colorful and letter-filled Capital City, there’s never a moment’s rest for Private I, the city’s best investigator. Trouble seems to always have a way of finding him—trouble with a capital T. On this particular day, T tells Private I that his watch is missing. And T isn’t alone—the citizens of Capital City have lost track of timepieces all over town! Can Private I catch the perp and make up for lost time before it’s too late?

Click here to pre-order!

by Sharon Giltrow

I would like to take the time to thank Tara for hosting my cover reveal for my next picture book GET READY, MAMA! I ‘met’ Tara a long time ago in 2014, when I first participated in PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm), and I appreciate the time Tara gives to support everyone in the KidLit community.

GET READY, MAMA! is a role reversal/how-to story, about a child who has to get her mama ready for the day. In particular the amount of time it takes to do this and the order of events.

Time is familiar to us all, but it is often hard to define and understand. For me it is easier to think of time as a sequence of events. What has happened (the past), what is happening (the present), and what will happen (the future).

In the past (2018) I wrote GET READY, MAMA! It took a long time to write, revise, and re-write my book. Then it took even more time to get a publishing deal (2020).

In GET READY, MAMA the mama is sleeping, which is in the past.

In the present (2021) I am doing a cover reveal for GET READY, MAMA!

In GET READY MAMA the mama is getting ready, which is in the present.

And now it is time for the cover reveal with art by Arielle Li…

GET READY, MAMA!
Written by: Sharon Giltrow
Illustrated by: Arielle Li
Published by: EK Books, April 2022

Getting Mama ready for the day can be a challenge… you’d better watch out that she doesn’t sneak back into bed, try to distract you with cuddles, get breakfast all over her top, or… wait, is Mama watching TV?! Learn how to get Mama up and ready despite her mischievous delaying tactics with this essential guide to dealing with morning mayhem!

In the future (2022) GET READY, MAMA will be released. You will have to wait for that to happen. It may feel like a long time to you! So, to make the waiting easier here is a sneaky peek from GET READY, MAMA!

Best of all, you can pre-order it now in the present, and receive it later, in the future.

Thanks, Sharon! Now, let’s get ready for a giveaway!

You can win a copy of GET READY, MAMA when it releases in the future. Take the time now, in the present, to leave a comment to enter. 

A random winner will be selected soon.

I know what you are saying, in the past you have never won anything, but today could be your lucky day. Good luck!


Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. Sharon has taught for all of her career. Previously a teacher of children who are hearing impaired and Deaf-Blind, she now teaches young children with Developmental Language Disorder. Her humorous debut PB, BEDTIME DADDY! released May 2020 through EK Books. CONNECT with Sharon on Instagram and Twitter.

The times we’ve been living through feel drained of color, don’t they? It’s similar to Pruett’s world in Nancy Viau’s latest picture book, PRUETT AND SOO.

Pruett is from Planet Monochrome, where everything is black, white, and gray, and everyone follows the rules and walks in straight lines. And they never, ever ask or answer questions.

But then Soo arrives from Planet Prismatic. She’s bursting with brilliant colors! She zigs and zags all over the place! When she asks Pruett questions, he finds he wants to reply…and his whole world starts to change.

With a palette that shifts from grayscale to full color, this engaging story reminds us that what you feel defines who you are—and sometimes a friend helps you see that best.

CHANGE THE RULES. CHANGE THE WORLD!

Nancy, can you tell us about PRUETT’s journey to print?

PRUETT AND SOO sold to Two Lions waaaay back in the spring of 2017. After the first round of initial revisions, all was quiet for about a year. Jorge Lacera was brought on board to do the illustrations, and that’s when the story went through countless, but amazing and extremely detailed, revisions—For. The. Next. Three. Years.

Since the whole color palette had to change S L O W L Y from black and white to full color, every spread had to subtly sneak in a teeny bit more color. Jorge did a terrific job with this, and I am grateful for his hard work and that of the entire editorial team at Two Lions. They perfected every bit of crazy punctuation, every line, every unique color for dialogue, and more.

Funny story: After many revisions, no one noticed that in the first line I referred to Pruett as an alien. A very savvy editor noted right before the F&G was finalized that since Pruett is from the planet where the story takes place, he is NOT an alien! Only Soo is. Good catch, right? This is why we value lots of editors looking over our work!

PRUETT AND SOO blasts into our universe on March 22, 2022.

And now for the reveal:

Congratulations, Nancy!

Blog readers, you can win an F&G of PRUETT & SOO. Just leave one comment below to enter. 

A random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!


NANCY VIAU is the author of the picture books TODAY IS A BEACH DAY!, FIRST SNOW, STORM SONG, and more. Her middle-grade novels include SOMETHING IS BUGGING SAMANTHA HANSEN, SAMANTHA HANSEN HAS ROCKS IN HER HEAD (updated for 2019), and others. A former teacher and kid-at-heart, Viau loves to visit schools, libraries, and bookstores across the U.S. to present assembly programs and writing workshops. She currently lives in New Jersey and travels around the solar system in her imagination. Connect with Nancy on Twitter or Instagram @NancyViau1 or via her site: NancyViau.com

by Patti Richards

I’m so excited to be here today to talk about my new picture book, MRS. NOAH (Little Lamb Books)! The book sets sail on October 19th but will be available for pre-sale on October 5. It’s about the unsung hero of the Ark story, Mrs. Noah, and all she does to get the ark ready AFTER Noah decides the job is done.

It seems like every idea I add to my Storystorm list each year has its own story, and MRS. NOAH’s is one of my favorites. So, here’s how it all happened:

I was packing my family for a big trip to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was our very first cruise and I was running around like a crazy woman trying to prep for the two-day drive to Florida (we thought that would be fun…yep). So along with planning for the actual cruise, I had to book hotel rooms and make sure everyone had enough clean clothes and toiletries for the two days before and the two days after. Not to mention buying up enough pet supplies and snacks for our house sitter, stopping the mail, making sure everyone had a swimsuit and shoes that fit, plus paying all the bills and getting the house cleaned before we could leave. My husband, who always helps, had to work extra hours so we could have this week away. This meant he was at the office until late every night, so I was on my own. And just six weeks earlier, my son had undergone a big surgery to remove a benign tumor from his skull base, so there were follow up appointments to get the “all clear” just a few days before we left. Needless to say, I was a shipwreck waiting to happen.

Somewhere in all of the craziness, I had this thought… “If I’m this stressed trying to get everything done before we leave for our cruise, how in the world did Mrs. Noah get everything ready for an ark full of animals and the rest of her family?” This made me laugh out loud. The idea of Mrs. Noah settled in and stayed (I call ideas like this “God whispers”) and by the time the trip was over, I had the first lines of the story in my head.

When I got home, I immediately put MRS. NOAH on my Storystorm list, and that’s where it stayed for six years (yes, you read that right)! Each year I’d sign up for Storystorm, and each year I’d add MRS. NOAH to my list at some point during the month. I wanted so much to write this story, but other projects kept bumping it out of the way. Then, in 2018, I was able to quit my full-time freelance writing job, and for the first time in more than 25 years as a writer, focus completely on my work for children. That’s when the idea finally became a first draft. After a year of sharing it with my critique group, revising, sharing and revising again (I had a total of 13 versions at this point), I saw that a Twitter event called #FaithPitch was coming up and I thought, “Why not?” and I pitched the title throughout the day but didn’t get any love.

Fast forward to February of 2019—I had completed another manuscript (also a Storystorm idea) that I thought might be a good fit for a faith-based publisher. I found three small houses that were taking unsolicited submissions and I sent in that manuscript. Months went by. It was now October and I was enjoying a writing retreat day with my critique group. We’d taken a break and I was checking email and there it was…a message from Little Lamb Books about the manuscript I had submitted called MILLIE’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE. In that email Rachel Pellegrino said they were interested in acquiring this story, but was MRS. NOAH still available? She’d seen it on #Faithpitch and if I hadn’t sold it, they’d like to have both and publish MRS. NOAH first. WHAT?!

I couldn’t believe it. After so many years in the submission trenches, I was finally getting a “Yes,” and not just for the book I’d submitted, but for MRS. NOAH too! And how sweet to get it when I was with my critique group who knew MRS. NOAH well and loved her as much as I did.

That’s the story behind the story! The real Mrs. Noah’s ark journey was 40 days and 40 nights and then some. My MRS. NOAH’s journey was 9 years. One started on an ark and the other on a cruise ship, but both have an ending full of promise and good things to come. I want to thank Tara for giving us the inspiration each year through Storystorm to always be on the lookout for new ideas. You never know what can happen when you look at an old, well-known story and see something new!

Wonderful, Patti! Congratulations on your dual picture book success!

Blog readers, Patti is giving away a PB critique to celebrate.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be chosen in October.

Good luck!


Patti Richards lives with her family in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Her first children’s story, “Fishing on the Black Volta,” was published in Boy’s Quest Magazine. She has three nonfiction books, an ebook, and is part of the award-winning poetry collection, THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE. Patti’s work has also been featured in Highlights Magazine and she’s been a Katherine Paterson Prize at Hunger Mountain honoree twice. She enjoys reading, gardening, singing, playing the piano, painting and tending to her flock, which includes Gracie the dog, Barnabas, the big black puppy, and Willow the cat. Visit her online at pattigail1.com and follow her on Twitter @pattigrichards.

Doing anything tonight?

Now you are!

It’s the annual Carle Honor Awards, virtually. Reserve your spot now!

The Carle is the international champion for picture books. They collect, preserve, and present picture books and picture-book illustrations for audiences passionate about children’s literature.

Every year before this prestigious event, I ask the Honorees a question about picture books and their influence on our lives and world. This year, the question came to me immediately:

In this challenging time, how can picture books and children’s literature provide a sense of normalcy to young readers?


Carl Lennertz, Every Child a Reader
Angel Honoree

“During these times, young people—and adults—need a place for quiet and escape, and what better place than on the pages of children’s books filled with beautiful pictures and intriguing words. What happier thing than to see kids playing together in a picture book, if they can’t otherwise, or to see a delicious strawberry and a hungry caterpillar? I do feel, however, that kids are much wiser than we give them credit for, and they know something big and scary is going on, and that they don’t always want to be treated like, what?, children. This is also a time to keep their minds open and engaged, not withdrawn. As a society, we need to keep moving forward with all forms of knowledge about history, current events, and, yes, how things need to change. We need the children to lead us, as we haven’t done a job at all about social injustices, hunger and health, the state of the planet and so much more.”

 


Justin Schiller and Dennis David
Bridge Honorees

“With picture books we experience a doorway to the imagination and the ability for children’s literature to guide the reader beyond the physicality of words where images take over to generate one’s own creative expression within the actual storyline. Maurice Sendak once told me that his artwork expands the text a hundredfold and the reader can interpret the story well beyond the actual meaning of the individual words. This also cultivates and enriches the experience beyond the physical pages of a book.”

 


Patricia Aldana
Mentor Honoree

“Picture books, especially when read aloud, talked about, reread, and available for picking up at will, and finding over and over again, are one of the greatest gifts a child can receive. [International Board on Books for Young People] IBBY’s work with children in crisis all over the world has shown us what a remarkably helpful thing it is for a child to have a caring adult sharing wonderful books with [them].”

 


Raúl Colón

Artist Honoree

“Picture books take the readers to another world. Or at least through some sort of journey. Especially wordless picture books, which make the mind enjoy the trip a little more. Now the observers have to decipher what they see in front of them. Bring some sort of coherence to all the visuals that remain in a certain order in their eyes. Once they’re lost in that visual adventure, they leave the physical space they find themselves in, and fly away to another place—the difficult times left behind, if only for a moment. However, the lingering effects of a good story may last for hours—or even a lifetime.”

 

Congratulations to the Honorees and thank you for sharing your wisdom!

Visit CarleMuseum.org for more about the museum and tonight’s event!

The Carle Honors Honorees are selected each year by a committee chaired by children’s literature historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus, who was central to the founding of the Honors. The committee recognizes four distinct awards: Artist, for lifelong innovation in the field; Angel, whose generous resources are crucial to making illustrated children’s book art exhibitions, education programs, and related projects a reality; Mentor, editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form; and Bridge, individuals or organizations who have found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields.

♬ ♪ “Our house is a very, very, very fine house…” ♬ ♪

Good thing you can’t hear me singing. It’s not as fine as the house.

And it’s certainly not as fine as the house in A HOME AGAIN, coming in November from Two Lions!

A HOME AGAIN is a beautiful story told from a unique perspective—the home’s point of view! A family once roamed its cozy, lively rooms, but then they move out. How does the house feel? What will happen next?

Colleen, this blog is all about story ideas. How did you get this one?

I got the idea for my story when my husband and I became empty-nesters. I thought maybe we should downsize to a smaller house. When I mentioned it to the kids they were upset—which I didn’t expect. One of my sons said, “I can’t imagine driving by and not being able to visit our childhood home.” So I scratched my plans and started renovating their old bedrooms. As I thought about our conversations, I wondered if a house had feelings, how would it feel about us moving. That thought was the catalyst for the story. Once I started writing the words just flowed. In fact, I wrote the first draft on a return flight from New Orleans. While writing I tried to imagine the new family who would bring love back to the house. We had been on vacation with our friends, Michael and Walter, who had recently bought a new house. They were my inspiration for the new family in my fictional house.

The illustrations by Valeria Docampo positively glow with warmth! How did you feel when you first saw them?

I was over the moon when I saw the illustrations. Being an illustrator myself, I worried someone else’s work wouldn’t capture my vision. But they were more than I could have imagined. Valeria Docampo’s work is gorgeous and the feeling she portrayed through her imagery really elevated the story. I feel so lucky that my editor found such a talented person to partner with us on this project.

This book can certainly help children who are moving to a new home. How can other children relate to this  story?

I think of the house as a child learning about the world. Children can experience all types of loss—divorce, the introduction of a step parent, or even the loss of one or both parents. The story shows that even though situations may change, love in still possible.

I also wanted the story to speak to diversity and non-traditional families. The second family has two dads, but it is not the focus of the story. Children should see all types of families in picture books and accept them as normal.

Colleen, thank you for such a heart-warming story!

Blog readers, Colleen is giving away a copy of her book, which will be released with Two Lions on November 1st.

Leave one comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!


Colleen Rowan Kosinski writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her picture books include LILLA’S SUUNFLOWERS, A HOME AGAIN, and LOVE MADE ME MORE (2022). Her middle grade novel is titled A PROMISE STITCHED IN TIME. For the last year she has been working as an editor at Reedsy.com and teaching classes on picture book writing. She is also involved in her local chapter of the SCBWI, and the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. Colleen is a graduate of Rutgers University, as are her husband and sons. Her daughter followed the bright lights to work in the film industry in LA. Colleen works from her Cherry Hill, NJ studio with her canine assistant, Sage. Visit her online at ColleenRowanKosinski.com and follow her on Twitter @ColleenKosinski.

by Shannon Stocker

Mega thanks to my mentor and friend, Tara Lazar, for hosting the cover reveal of my upcoming non-fiction picture book, LISTEN: HOW EVEYLN GLENNIE, A DEAF GIRL, CHANGED PERCUSSION (April 12, 2022, from Dial Books).

About three years ago, after listening to an SCBWI speaker talk about the importance of writing what you know and the #OwnVoices movement, I felt moved to write a book about a musician who’d overcome something huge. A musician who’d beaten the odds, defying the expectations of the world around them.

I, myself, am a pianist, a guitarist, and a vocalist. Music has fed my soul since the day I was born. But I also spent two years in a wheelchair due to a chronic illness called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. For seven years, I fought for my life. Countless physicians told me I would not survive, my condition would not improve, I would never have children, and that my husband should put me in permanent care. Countless people gave up on me, insisting I should accept my fate.

But my husband never gave up on me. And, more importantly, I never gave up on me.

Shortly after that conference, I started doing Google searches for potential subjects. The very first person who popped up was Evelyn Glennie. She is the first person to ever have a full-time career as a solo percussionist. She’s won two Grammy Awards, and been knighted by the Queen of England. And she is deaf.

I continued looking for other potential artists, thinking Evelyn would be too big, too famous, too difficult to reach, but her story kept calling me back. It felt like home. So finally, on February 9, 2019, I wrote to her team to ask if she might have an interest in speaking with me about a potential non-fiction picture book. Only two days later, they replied in the affirmative.

Within a month, Evelyn and I had our first Skype. Although she had a translator attend, Evelyn’s lip-reading abilities and speech made communication simple and clear (she lost her hearing as an older child). Not only was she talented, determined, and kind, but she was also one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. Her story poured from my fingers like the most familiar piano concerto, and within two months it was written, revised, and had its first offer for publication.

Shortly after the book sold to Dial, my editor wrote to tell me Devon Holzwarth would be illustrating. It took me all of three seconds to fall in love with Devon’s work, which I often describe as “music on the page.” I contacted Devon, who currently lives in Germany, and she told me that Evelyn was scheduled to play in the “September Special” classical music event close to her home only two days later! I wrote to Evelyn, who provided Devon with tickets and later met her during a break at the concert.

The entire process felt magical.

At this time, LISTEN will also be published by Penguin UK, and I just recently learned that it’s been selected by the Junior Library Guild as a book club pick. I’m immensely proud to have been a part of this book’s creation. I’m grateful to Evelyn for trusting me with her story. I’m grateful to my agent Allison for seeing something in me beyond this story. I’m grateful to Jess, my brilliant editor, for her insights. And I’m grateful to Devon…who gave my words life and emotion beyond anything I could’ve dreamed.

How beautiful, Shannon! I love the movement of the music depicted in florals, streaming from the drum. It’s lovely; congratulations!

LISTEN: HOW EVELYN GLENNIE, A DEAF GIRL, CHANGED PERCUSSION will be published by Dial on April 12, 2022.

Shannon is giving away a non-rhyming picture book critique in celebration. Leave one comment below and a random winner will be selected next week. Good luck!


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 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.

by Abi Cushman

Do you have a really cool idea for a novelty book but don’t know where to start? Well, the truth is, when I got the idea for ANIMALS GO VROOM!, my picture book with die-cut windows, I had lots of experience reading novelty books but absolutely no experience making them. So I’m going to share with you what I learned along the way so you can turn YOUR idea into a real novelty book just like I did.

Here’s how to get started:

1.     Evaluate the Concept

The first step is to evaluate the concept. Is your idea kid-relatable? Unfortunately, small children may not be interested in your pull-the-tab book about tax preparation. I mean, I’d be clapping in delight to pull a tab to find out if I needed Form 8606 when filling out Line 4B on my 1040, but it may be a tough sell to a 2-year-old.

Make sure your idea is marketable. You might take an evergreen topic that kids and parents always look for, such as dinosaurs, transportation, or bedtime, but present it in a unique, appealing way.

Finally, does your book really need a novelty element? Don’t just add feathers because you think they’re pretty. You should be able to justify why a novelty element is central to the story or idea. Novelty elements cost a lot to produce, and publishers want to feel confident in their investment.

For example, in ANIMALS GO VROOM!, I combined two evergreen topics in a fresh way: animal sounds + transportation. I had thought about how words like Roar, Honk, or Screech could be used for both an animal sound and a vehicle sound, and how it might be fun to make a book where the reader had to guess who or what was making the sound. Die-cut holes that peeked through to the next spread and offered clues seemed like a fun, but intentional way to use a novelty element.

2.     Look at Mentor Texts

The next step is to see what novelty books are already out there. Make sure your concept really is fresh and not just new-to-you.

When you find books with novelty elements similar to yours, examine how the novelty element was incorporated into them. Look at how they set up and designed the pages. You may have to dismantle the book to see how things like pull tabs and spinners work.

When I was making ANIMALS GO VROOM!, I studied novelty picture books like Tupera Tupera’s POLAR BEAR’S UNDERWEAR and Simms Taback’s THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY, to get a better idea of how thick the paper was and how large the die-cuts were.

The other thing I looked at was page count. Typically, novelty board books are 5-10 spreads. They often do not have a title page, so you jump right into the action. The copyright info is on the back cover, and they’re usually smaller than picture books. Novelty picture books are usually 32 pages and you end up with about 12 spreads of main story content.

3.     Make a Rough Dummy

This is the step where you get to experiment and have fun! If you’re wondering, “Do I need to make a dummy if I’m not an illustrator?”, the answer is yes, absolutely. This is an important step not only so you can see for yourself if your idea actually works, but also to show other people your idea in action. Don’t worry about being messy or making ugly drawings at the beginning. You’re just trying to work out the functionality.

For ANIMALS GO VROOM!, I started with a few thumbnail drawings.

After that, I cut some printer paper in half and folded it to make a mini book. I cut some holes in the pages to see if the die-cuts would work. And truth-be-told, they did NOT line up at first. I had to make the rectangles larger sometimes or tape in little patches to make everything line up properly.

But it was fun to play and experiment and start to see it all come together. My initial dummy was full of tape, wite-out and messy drawings, but it was good enough to show a critique group and get feedback on it. And since it was so loose and messy, it made it easier to go back and make revisions to it because I wasn’t feeling precious about the art.

4.     Polish the Dummy and Submit!

If you’re not an illustrator, you don’t have to worry about wowing anyone with the caliber of your illustrations, but you should try to make the dummy as neat and legible as possible. You want editors and agents to see how the novelty element works and why it’s integral to the book. You can use an app on your phone like Genius Scan to take photos of the pages and it will convert it into a PDF.

If you do plan to illustrate the book, you’ll need to polish up the illustrations as well. Here is a sample from my larger, 9×9” dummy with neater drawings to show my agent (and eventually my editor and art director at Viking).

When I worked on the final art with Jim Hoover, the art director at Viking, we played around with different shapes for the die-cuts. I added a little wiggle room around the sound words and animal faces in the die-cut shapes to allow for any discrepancies in the cutting process. Once we got proofs back from the printer, we only needed to adjust the spacing and measurements on a couple of die-cuts. Here are the final tiger spreads:

So if you feel passionate about a novelty book idea, go for it! I can’t wait to see all your fun, inventive book concepts come to life. Even that Tax Prep for Toddlers book.

Thanks for the novel novelty tips, Abi! (I couldn’t resist.)

Blog readers, Penguin Random House is giving away a copy of ANIMALS GO VROOM!

Leave one comment to enter. A random winner will be selected in one week.

Good luck!


Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of ANIMALS GO VROOM! and SOAKED!, which was a Kids’ Indie Next Top Ten Pick for Summer 2020. She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, and runs two popular websites of her own: MyHouseRabbit.com, a pet rabbit care resource, and AnimalFactGuide.com, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.

To learn more about Abi and her books, visit her website at AbiCushman.com. If you like secrets, exclusive sneak peeks, wombats, and special giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter.

I remember when I was 8 years old and I learned there was a children’s author who was just 12 (Ally Sheedy). That meant I could be a kid-author, too! Unfortunately, I didn’t make it. But look who did: Sammie Vance!

Sammie Vance is a 12-year-old dynamo who saw both a need and a solution, to not one issue, but a few. She’s the wunderkind behind recycled Buddy Benches, installed in schools, parks, and wherever anyone might need a friend.

You see, to make Buddy Benches, Sammie found a recycling company who could mold them out of plastic bottle caps and tops. When Sammie realized she needed help collecting enough caps, she asked for it. It became not only a school project, but a community one…but it didn’t stop there…

Sammie’s kindness, generosity and innovation has made an impact around the world. Her new book, releasing this Tuesday, is both the story of her journey and an illustrated how-to guide for kids who want to inspire social action in their own schools and communities…and even on the global stage.

Sammie, what’s the most surprising result to come from the Sammie’s Buddy Benches project?

In all honesty, how much my Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project had spread throughout the world, was and still is unexpected. I never expected it to get as big as it is today. Another surprising factor is the fact that I have gotten to meet so many amazing people through my project. I have been inspired by so many people, and I hope I am doing the same to them.

But, another surprise element is the other projects that have sprouted from my main project, Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project. I have started my own podcast and other small projects as well such as Sending Smiles and Cap Art Murals.

Can you tell us a little about those two projects?

I started Sending Smiles during quarantine, seeing that everyone needed a smile. So I would send an encouraging letter to someone everyday in hopes to make them smile. I also included a laminated smile. Sammie Smiles podcast is similar to Sending Smiles. It is basically where I interview people who make me smile, in hopes to make others smile as well.

For The Cap Murals, I helped the parks department lead a class on making art murals out of recycled caps. We created the art and then they were turned into murals with help of recycling and the community. A major help to this local project was when I was on the TV show Operation Awesome and they helped me create multiple Murals.

Wow, “Operation Awesome” sounds like it could be your middle name! You’ve already accomplished so much, so what do you see ahead in your future? Do you have any long-term plans for yourself?

Since I am only 12 I am not sure what I see for my future. Right now I am focusing on school and getting to do some neat things with spreading kindness.  I do know whatever I choose it will involve helping people. I have gotten to have an inside look at a lot of neat professions over the past few years and there are some really neat aspects to lots of jobs.  An astronaut once gave me the call sign “Prez” saying I should run for President someday. Who knows?!

Indeed, who knows?! You have enthusiastic support from your mom, who helped coordinate this interview. With family guidance and love, plus your gusto and determination, the world is your Buddy Bench!

Thanks for the interview, Sammie!

Blog readers! I’ve got a copy of INSPIRE THE WORLD for you! Just leave one comment below to enter. I’ll pick a winner on the book’s release date, August 24th!

Good luck!

Now go INSPIRE!

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

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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