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by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I’m assuming that you’re all deep into your brainstorming about story ideas at this point and already have a meaty list after all the inspiring posts you’ve been reading during Storystorm. Good for you!

I sometimes equate this stage of story brainstorming to experimenting with a recipe for a cake. Why cake? Because cake is one of my favorite things in the world. And suppose it’s a recipe entry for a baking contest in which you can submit ONE entry.


After Storystorm, I advise you to browse your list of ideas and choose the one that appeals to you the most. Maybe you’ll be so excited about this particular idea that you won’t be able to wait. Maybe you’ve already started working on expanding the story, plotting an outline and/or doodling rough sketches. Maybe you’ve just expanded the idea a wee bit, perhaps into a paragraph or a few pages of notes.

Excellent! Now put that story away and DON’T LOOK AT IT for a while. “A while” is up to you. For me, it’s at least two weeks but sometimes several months.

In our baking analogy: it means tweaking your cake recipe and then putting that experimental cake in the oven:




Because if you take it out too soon, it’ll look pretty much the same as when you put it in. What you want: to give it enough time to settle, to bake, to reach a state where you can taste it objectively and see whether it’s really THE cake recipe you want to submit to the contest.

Sometimes when you take it out of the oven, it’ll look like this:


Though of course we all hope for this:


But back to when your cake story looks like this:


At this point, you may realize that it’s not worth salvaging, and you may want to just toss it. Sometimes your instinct will be right.


However, there may still be SOMETHING about it that you just can’t let go of:


In that case, try experimenting some more. Maybe combine it with another idea, find a different spin, rework it in a different genre or format. Turn it upside down or reverse it, add an unexpected twist. You never know what will happen. Read this Veronica Bartles Storystorm post about how she substitutes story ingredients to familiar recipes to make them uniquely delicious. (Mmm, plus her Cranberry Sage Cookies With Almonds recipe sounds yummy….)

Then put it in the oven again to let it bake:


As before, no matter how excited you are, force yourself to work on something else and NOT take your new creation out too soon. While you’re waiting, take a look at your other recipe ideas, start experimenting for another recipe.

And so on. Ok, I’ll drop the baking analogy…you get the message, right?

Sometimes I may feel SUPER excited with a new story idea and have the urge to IMMEDIATELY dive into the writing and editing and revision process. Sometimes the first draft of the story pours out onto the paper; I love when this happens. However, I have learned to let an idea or first draft sit for a while before coming back to it. If I’m still excited about it, then I go to the next stage. After another round of writing or sketching or revising, I let it sit again and then re-evaluate.


The danger of letting yourself dive into developing a story idea too soon is that you’ll get so caught up with the “ooo shiny toy” honeymoon phase that you won’t be objective. You’re going to be pouring a lot of time and effort into this project, after all, as well as inevitably getting emotionally invested. It’s in your best interest to take your time before you commit.


So stick with the rest of the Storystorm month! Keep reading Storystorm blog posts and coming up with ideas. By the end of the month, you’ll be able to look at your earlier ideas more objectively.

This is pretty much my story brainstorming process, by the way. I currently keep a notebook where I constantly jot down story ideas, fragments, bits of conversations and synopses for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I used to use a digital notebook but I currently prefer a paper notebook where I can doodle as well as scribble ideas PLUS I like being able to physically browse earlier ideas to see if they still excite me.

Whatever the method you use to keep track of your story ideas, I encourage you to GIVE THEM TIME to develop and before sending them out into the world.

Good luck!

debbieridpathohi-laugh-anniet-v-500x750Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster), a book that began as an idea generated during PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm). Her illustrations appear in books by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume, among others. Upcoming books in 2017 include Debbie’s second solo picture book, Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster), Sea Monkey & Bob (Simon & Schuster, author Aaron Reynolds), Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in The Secret Ingredient (Random House, author Lauren McLaughlin), and Ruby Rose, Big Bravos (HarperCollins, author Rob Sanders). Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Twitter: @inkyelbows.


Debbie is giving away one of her original found object doodles, using a crumpled Lindor wrapper and drawn with a fountain pen. It’s about 5.7″ x 7″, and will be mailed in a protective cellophane wrapper with a cardboard backing.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Keith Allen

As a kid, I loved building things out of cardboard, whether it was a spaceship for the very first mission to Saturn or a fortified castle to keep out the fire-breathing dragons. That love stayed with me into adulthood and today I find that same sense of wonder when I’m creating new worlds from a flat sheet of paper.

I work as a Senior Designer, Illustrator and Paper-Engineer at a large greeting card company and also own an independent publishing company that specializes in pop-up books. You may ask, “What exactly is a paper-engineer?” Sounds fancy, right? Well, a paper-engineer is simply a title for someone who loves to build things out of paper. And that’s me!


When I first graduated from Art School, I got a job designing party supplies and was immediately drawn to creating paper centerpieces. I loved the challenge of building something very complex, but simple enough for a consumer to assemble. Wanting to branch out, I began making paper toys and sculptures on my own. An art director noticed my work and asked if I would like to work on pop-ups for an upcoming greeting card line. With a very enthusiastic YES!, I took the job and the rest is history.



I’m not going to lie, building pop-ups can be time-consuming and challenging at times, but when it all come together perfectly, it is exhilarating! My pop-up development process looks like this:

1. Quickly sketch out your ideas on paper first to find a great layout. This does not need to be pretty.


2. Build a rough concept by experimenting with a variety of folds. This step can take a while, but it’s important to get it right in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, some of my best folds can from my mis-measurements.


3. When your rough spread is finished, rebuild it over and over and over again. Do this until all the mistakes are corrected and it opens and closes neatly without catching or hanging out of the page.

4. Once it looks good, tear the whole thing apart, but gently. Scan all your pieces into the computer and build your dielines. I like to use Adobe Illustrator for this, but there are many programs that can be used.


5. Illustrate your artwork onto your refined dielines. When your pencil lines are complete, assemble it again and make sure your art is lining up correctly with your folds and attachments.


6. Once your pencil lines are corrected and complete, you can color and finalize your Illustrations. Now you have a finished Pop-Up spread!


If you are interested in learning more about paper-engineering, there are so many great resources out there for beginners and experts. My favorite reference book is THE ELEMENTS OF POP-UP by David Carter, which I refer to almost daily. YouTube has so many wonderful tutorials and videos that go into great detail about particular fold types. I have created a few as well on my YouTube Channel.

Keep on Poppin’!

keithallenKeith Allen is a Senior Product Designer for American Greetings in Cleveland Ohio. He is the co-founder of By the Bay Books and owner of the independent publishing company, 5am Press, LLC.

Keith’s most recent pop-up book, “What a Mess! A Pop-Up Misadventure” was successfully funded on and will be available for sale in the Spring 2017.

Visit him online at, Twitter @5ambook and Instagram @5am_popup.

by Jason Kirschner

If you can stick with this post all the way to the end, you’ll find my little bio where it is clearly states that “author/illustrator” is not my day job. Most days I get up a little too early for my taste, and head into Manhattan where I work as a set designer for television. Mostly, I work in talk shows, having spent the bulk of my career doing late night shows like Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman. When the taping wraps, I go home, kiss my wife, pat my kids on the head and head up to my attic studio where I make books for kids.


Sometimes (almost never) I’m asked how the day job informs the night one. What have I learned working in TV that applies to making books?

cheeriosSense of humor is one answer. I think I’m irrevocably scarred … sorry skewed—(either works actually) from years of designing weird sets and goofy props. Late night humor and the way the writers craft their comedy has had a big influence on me.

On the illustration side, I’m heavily influenced by the way the camera is used to shoot a scene. I try to set up scenes in my books using time-honored camera shots like using wide establishing shots to set a scene or close-ups for comedic moments.

mrphimselfI think the biggest takeaway has to do with pace. I’ve got one book out on the shelves (go get yourself a copy) and more to come but I still can’t get over the difference in pace between writing/illustrating a picture book and making a daily television show. It really messes with me.

At my day job, I get multiple scripts a day that I need to break down, sketch out, draw up, and then source any necessary props or create them from scratch. Every day. We produce a show, sometimes two, every day. And then we come in the next day and do it again. What this all means is that there’s very little time to plan and strategize. When I’m handed a project, I make a plan and I go. It really trains you to problem solve and think on your feet. There’s no rehashing. There’s no switching direction midstream. There’s just a steady march towards getting the set or prop to stage for rehearsal and, later that day, the show. That same afternoon we tape a show and it’s over. My set or prop gets used on air and then…Done. Whole new show tomorrow. You move on.

Having worked this way for so many years might explain why the open-ended, no time-limit, move-at-your-own-pace process of creating a book is difficult for me sometimes. So much time to rethink and revise. Don’t get me wrong. I see the benefit of it all but I sometimes think too much time is… well… too much time.

So, when I find myself going in circles on a manuscript or illustration, or endlessly staring at a blank page, I implement day-job rule:


Do it in one day. Get it done TODAY. Pick a path and move forward. Whether it be an outline, a picture book manuscript, or a chapter of your novel — see it through to it’s conclusion. Get it to stage before showtime.

Ultimately, you might choose incorrectly. You might not love every sentence you write that day and I’m certain there will be details you’d like to change. If you picked the wrong story path, you’ve at least narrowed down the possibilities of where your story goes. You certainly wont be staring at a blank page. That’s progress.

The beauty of this is, unlike my day job, the show is not over and done at the end of the day. You do have tomorrow to edit and revise. For me, the best making-a-book timeline is a mix of the two. Hurry up and get it done and then slow down and take your time to make sure it’s perfect.

If you find yourself stuck on your latest project, give it a try. Set yourself an end-of-day deadline and pretend there’s a national tv audience and a grouchy host waiting for your work. I can almost guarantee some progress by day’s end.

jk-headshot-small-bwHere’s the bio I told you about at the beginning. I knew you’d make it.

By day, Jason is a set designer for television, with credits that include Harry, The Meredith Vieira Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Late Show with David Letterman. By night, Jason is an author and illustrator of children’s books. You can find his debut picture book, MR. PARTICULAR: The World’s Choosiest Champion on shelves in bookstores everywhere. See Jason’s work, both illustrations and set designs, at Follow him on twitter @jason_kirschner. You can also read more of his blogs and some of his friends’ at


Jason is giving away a copy of his debut picture book, MR. PARTICULAR.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Salina Yoon & Christopher Polentz

People often ask me if my characters come first, or the story. Which inspires the other? Each book is different, but it’s an interesting question, and fun to reflect on. In my case, envisioning a character helps me to tell his or her story with authenticity. But they are often not fully fleshed out until my story is complete. My husband, however, fleshes his characters out with extravagant detail before the story is ever conceived.

I’d like to introduce you to my husband, artist Christopher Polentz, an aspiring writer and illustrator. He paints portraits with stunning realism inspired by actual vintage photographs he finds at antique shops. These portraits inspire stories!

I never simply copy the photograph. Over the hours of painting we spend together, developing a tangible painting, a thought process is at work. Beyond this picture; who is this person? Who were their friends? What was their position in life? Jotting down notes, organizing thoughts in my head, a real person emerges from this simple inspiration found in an antique store for $3.00.


My mental notes encourage more imagery, a background environment, she should appear emaciated-why? She’s wearing a necklace, what should be hanging from that necklace I ask myself. And so the conversation goes. And from this single photograph an imagined world of complexity evolves. None of which was planned, yet happened, spontaneously. Over the years I have found my paintings feeling incomplete in some way. My viewers had questions. A natural human curiosity wanted answers. I found myself retelling, and embellishing on my own original thoughts. And listening to my audience-they have some of the most compelling thoughts about my characters, and I take it-it’s great! Then, tying one character to another, it all slowly came together and made sense. They all belonged together, as they all came from me. I realized the need to put these stories, previously confined to my mind, on paper.


My portrait has not inspired just one idea, but several, because they are all inner-connected like a family tree. I now have a story of pictures supported by the movie of my mind that is always different and ever changing-one photograph, object, or maybe a past experience all play a role. So this is what I do. I shop, hunt, and think, never knowing where or what that next thing is adding to another piece of my puzzle, a new chapter in MY Twilight Zone.

My finished portraits are not finished at all. It’s just the beginning. A character is born with a story to tell, and we, the creator, are the ones to tell it.

Try this.

Go to an antique or thrift store. Scan through photographs of real life people or things people have owned. There are games, tools, dishes, toys, jewelry, and all kinds of unexpected treasures! Each one has a story to tell, and only you can tell it because it’s from your own imagination. Let an object or photograph trigger a story. Don’t simply interpret it. Make it your own! Elaborate and invent. Even inanimate objects can come to life if you’re using your imagination. What is their story?

Have fun browsing and imagining. Find something ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Pictured: Portraits by Christopher Polentz that have inspired stories. Feel free to let them trigger stories of your own!




chris1Christopher Polentz graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in 1985 earning his BFA degree. After a long career as a freelance artist working with clients such as; Atlantic Records, MGM/UA Entertainment, Mattel Toys and Reebok, Chris returned to college earning his MA degree from Syracuse University in 2001. Chris now pursues gallery work and has exhibited with galleries including; CoproNason Gallery-Santa Monica, La Luz de Jesus Gallery-Culver City, Sparks Gallery- San Diego and Cannon Gallery-Carlsbad. He continues to teach, and likes to think of himself as more technician than artist, working traditionally in his preferred medium of graphite and acrylic. Chris has been teaching art for over thirty years, including twenty years at both Art Center College of Design and Palomar Community College.

You can learn more about Christopher Polentz and his art at

salinayoonmedSalina Yoon is an award winning author and illustrator of over 160 books for young children, including the popular Penguin picture book series and the new Duck Duck Porcupine beginning reader series. She was the featured author for the 2016 Kohl’s Cares Summer Campaign, and her awards include the 2015 Award for Excellence in a Picture Book for FOUND, by the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California, the 2015 International Literacy Association’s Children’s Choice Reading List for FOUND, and much more.

You can learn more about Salina Yoon and her books at or follow Salina on Twitter at @salinayoon.

Chris and Salina have two boys, one more artistically inclined than the other (but they won’t name names) and they share one agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.


Christopher is giving away a print of one of his portraits (that you can use to inspire a new character).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


Excuse me while I go all fangirl for a moment…


I’ve admired Elisa Kleven’s work for years, beginning when I discovered the gorgeous delight THE PAPER PRINCESS…and then the sweet APPLE DOLL. My daughters and I had both books on our regular #bedtimereads rotation. In fact, for months the books never made it back to the bookshelf. They took up permanent nightstand residence.

So when Elisa contacted me about hosting her for THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY: A San Francisco Story, I babbled high-pitched incoherent excitement like a Minion. Let me see if I can pull my overalls together to conduct an enlightening interview…

Elisa, in your new book’s backmatter, you mention that THE GINGERBREAD MAN was one of your favorite tales as a child. What made you want to rewrite it with your city AND a different ending?

When I was a kid, it seemed to me that almost everything had a life of its own. As in a fairy tale world, or in the eyes of Native American peoples, everything from stones to trees… to paper dolls, piñatas and gingerbread people seemed to have feelings and a spirit. And while I wasn’t too sensitive to eat my share of gingerbread people, I always had some qualms when it came to nibbling their smiling heads (I’d start with the feet, which seemed less “alive” and work upwards.)

I remember being simultaneously fascinated and upset by the original tale of THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Of course it was exciting to see the cookie-boy come to life and race out into the world with pluck and glee, daring everyone to catch him. But when he finally did get caught, in the jaws of the fox who had promised to take him across the river to safety, I felt his tragic sense of betrayal.

In my version of the story, THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY, the cookie is just as energetic and confident as his forbear, but even more defiant: determined not to get eaten, but also to eat—everything in sight! He starts out with petty thefts: his makers’ school lunch (of which he was meant to be part), fruit and candy, noodles and milkshakes. But as he gets bigger, his fantasies grow more grandiose, and he threatens to chomp on the Golden Gate Bridge, gulp down San Francisco Bay, and even “swallow the sun, like a butterscotch drop.”

When the hungry gingerbread boy finally realizes that his creator, a little girl, would rather play with him than eat him, his anger disappears and he becomes both loved and lovable.

As for the story’s setting, San Francisco is such a beautiful city that on certain days and in certain lights it looks delicious. Of course there are many un-pretty aspects to it: homelessness and poverty, but there is also a wealth of exquisite details, including its famous “Gingerbread” architecture, the whimsically colored and decorated Victorian houses and buildings. And the city is also home to lots of amazing and diverse cuisine, So it was fun to let an imaginary cookie-child loose in the city and watch him eat his fill!

sanfranhousesSpeaking of the San Francisco architecture, when I was visiting the city years ago, I was fascinated to learn that there are “color consultants” who help people choose the hues for their Victorian houses—the shingles, the shutters, the trim—every little swirling detail. Likewise, your new book is a feast for the eyes—so colorful and detailed. How would you describe your unique style—and how did it evolve?

Wow, Tara, I didn’t know that there are color consultants for the Victorian houses! And yes, they are amazing in every confection-like detail.

As for my art style, it grows right out of my childhood—or, more accurately—I never outgrew my childlike love for bright colors, tiny details, and enchantment. I used to spend hours making miniature dollhouse worlds, gingerbread houses and people, toy merry-go-rounds, and detailed paper characters and settings. When I grew up, this urge did not go away, but evolved into a passion for the magical worlds inside of picture books.

Well, I’m staring at your illustrations in wonder because there are so many teeny-tiny details. How do you plan your illustrations out? What is your medium and method? How long does it take to complete an illustration?

I make a book dummy, with pencil sketches of the illustrations and type pasted in. I often use photo references at this stage, especially if I’m depicting real locations (as opposed to fantasy or dream landscapes, which I pull out of my imagination). Once the publisher approves the sketches, I go on to the finished art. I combine watercolor, ink, collage, pastels and whatever else works to create the finished picture. I create everything in my pictures by hand, gluing, snipping, painting. And while I admire a lot of digital illustration and the technical wonders it can accomplish, I’m pretty tech-averse when it comes to creating my own images. I love the feel and textures of materials in my hands.

It takes me an average of two or three weeks to complete an illustration. Creating the rough sketch is actually the most difficult part, because I’m using a pencil and blank piece of paper to create a new little scene. Once the sketch is finished, it takes a week or two to create the finish.






The Gingerbread Boy in progress:




Thinking about your other books, I think I see a theme in your work. In THE PAPER PRINCESS, a handmade gift blows away but returns to the person it was intended for. In THE APPLE DOLL, a girl makes a friend she cherishes. In SUN BREAD, a warm sun is baked on a cold winter’s day. The Gingerbread Boy comes home to the girl who created him. You write about creative pursuits mixed with thoughts of love at home—and speaking of home, this book is not your only one that features San Francisco. Do you think there is a common thread woven through your books?

thepaperprincess theappledoll sunbread

What a thoughtful and interesting question, Tara. The theme of creativity is definitely woven through all of my stories (as is the theme of flying). As a child I spent many happy hours creating all sorts of things, from paper dolls to decorative breads and bread sculptures, to apple dolls, and yes, gingerbread people and houses. (My mother and grandmother were both accomplished artists, but neither of them made particularly cheerful or colorful art). I suppose I created the art I wanted to see as a child, and the worlds that I wanted to live [and fly around!] in.

As for the theme of homecoming, who doesn’t want to return to a home, experienced or imagined, full of love, warmth and reassurance? Through my characters and stories I’m able to go to places I long for, and that I think many children long for, too. My favorite childhood memories are of playing in a dollhouse I made myself, while my mother worked on her own art in her studio in our backyard. I’m able to access that feeling of creativity and security when I write my stories and create my illustrations.

The beautiful San Francisco Bay Area has been my home since I started college at U.C. Berkeley (with the exception of a year spent in Boston). I never stop being moved by its beauty, both geographical and architectural. Its hills and waters, bridges and buildings, cultural diversity and creative food culture inspire me, and I enjoy sharing that inspiration with others, especially children, through my books.

Thank you, Elisa, for your gorgeous books and for stopping by on THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY blog tour.

horriblyhungrygingerbreadboyElisa’s publisher is giving away a copy of the book—just leave a comment to enter. One comment per person, US addresses only please. You have until December 13 to enter so the winner can get their book in time for the holidays. GOOD LUCK!


shawna-tenney-author-photo-smallby Shawna J.C. Tenney

Any good film director uses a storyboard. So why not every picture book writer? After all, a picture book is a full story experience almost like a movie, just a little shorter.

A storyboard can help you pace your story, even if you are an author only. It can help you think about what you can leave out of the text and show in the illustrations. It can help you think of where to pause in the words and let the pictures do their magic…

A storyboard is different from a dummy book in that you can see the whole story at once. The dummy book simulates the real book with page turns. A storyboard will help you visualize your entire manuscript all at once.

Here are some ideas to help you start thinking visually!

Pacing Book:

Start by making a pacing book. To make a pacing book, fold 8 pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 copy paper in half. and staple them down the folded side. Now you have 32 pages! The front page will be your title page. Either the second page or the back page will be your copyright page.

Now cut up your manuscript. Tape your story in your book. Move sentences and paragraphs around. Imagine what could be in the pictures. Figure out where your page turns could be. You will soon find out if your story is long enough.

Note that the illustrator will figure out the final pacing of the book, so if you are only the author, you won’t have a say in how the book will be laid out. But this will help you have a good idea if the pacing is working. I will help you see if there are too many words in a certain section of the book.


Here is the storyboard I made for my new book, BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY…plus the final images from the book.


(Click for larger version)


Final Title Page


Final Page 8-9 Spread


Final Page 13


Final Page 18


Final Page 28-29 Spread

Now, it’s time for you to make a storyboard! Here are some ideas to make your own storyboard:

You can use my template below (also refer to Tara’s picture book layout post). Remember the first empty square will be the title page, and the next square will be the copyright page- unless you want to put it on the last page.


(Click for larger version)

Some other ways to make your story board are to use sticky notes, index cards pinned up on a board, or even dry erase board. Remember, most picture books have 32 pages.

Now start drawing your action! Don’t worry if you don’t think you can draw. Just draw stick figures. If you aren’t the illustrator, you don’t need to be worried about the composition. This storyboard is for you only.

Ask these questions once you’ve drawn out your storyboard:

  • Is there enough action and visual interest happening in the story?
  • Is there a change of a scenery, or does everything happen in one location?
  • Is each part of the storyboard moving the story forward?

Remember to leave room in the text for illustrations. Take out visual descriptions that can be shown in the pictures. See where the pictures can carry the story!

If you are the author and not the illustration and there is something you want to show in the illustrations, you can write illustration notes. Illustration notes should only have the basics in them. Don’t include descriptions unless they are absolutely necessary to move the story along. Give the illustrator room to use his/her imagination and creative genius!

Drawing your picture book out in storyboard form can help you think of more ideas for a truly delightful picture book. Drawing out your story can even help you think of a subplot or unspoken characters that can only be shown in the pictures. Think of all the possibilities for your story when you start thinking visually!


Thank you, Shawna! Your debut picture book as both author and illustrator is chock-full of visual candy, even the cover with its reflective background—which is SO COOL. (I like shiny things. I played with the cover for at least a half hour, LOL.)

And blog readers, you can win a copy of BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY just by commenting below. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in a few weeks. Good luck!

Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Her work can be found in many children’s books, magazines and games. BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY, Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator, was published by Sky Pony Press. Shawna is also the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, where she loves helping other authors and illustrators. Shawna lives in the beautiful state of Utah with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @shawnajctenney. Find more fun with Brunhilda and The Cat at


Tonight the Eric Carle Museum will present four winners of its prestigious Carle Honors. I will be there to capture it all and report back to you, picture book devotees. In the meantime, I asked the honorees to answer one important question about the state of our craft and business:

Six years ago, The New York Times published an article about the demise of the picture book. Fast forward to this past January, and a picture book won the Newbery Medal. Plus, the current market has been heralded as “the golden age of picture books.”

Why have picture books defied the Times’ portent of doom–and why do they continue to remain a strong and important art form? Why are picture books more loved now than ever?

stevenheller“Is there any better medium for bringing together such varied artists and writers and stories and styles? The book has not died after 500 years and the picture book continues to be the most accessible of media. It’s not a fad. It’s not obsolete technology. It is an intimate tactile entity for making ideas come alive. As long as there is paper, what better way to use it?”
~Steven Heller, Bridge Honoree

allensay“A lot of American mothers today have become what the Japanese call “Education Mamas.” They want their offspring to start college at 12 and retire at 30, and book merchants are hell-bent on accommodating them. They have forgotten the Alice who asked for all children: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” Thanks to the conversation of Lewis Carroll and pictures by Sir John Tenniel, Alice is very much alive today. Would anybody remember Alice without Sir John?”
~Allen Say, Artist Honoree

jasonlow“The demise of picture books is connected to other mistaken predictions like the death of the print book when e-books came on the scene years ago. There is a general backlash against electronic books because of the amount of time people are spending on their phones, online, and binge-watching TV. People need a break from screen time. Also, the e-book experience, when compared to the tactile experience of a print picture book is not significantly better. The time spent reading an actual book is still a great past time that relies on the power of imagination, and the close relationship of words and pictures.”
~Jason Low, Angel Honoree

reginahayes“I never believed in the demise of the picture book! Picture books will always remain a vibrant art form. They are constantly evolving, constantly being reinvented as new authors and illustrator enter the field. Styles change; a new style surprises and delights, then there are imitators, and eventually something different will turn it all around again. I’ve seen a style dismissed as outdated, then a few years go by and it is fashionable again, maybe even considered classic.

“The rise of e-books have, ironically, made publishers and the public more aware of the importance of the book as a physical object, an object that should be beautiful. I notice more and more care being lavished on paper and binding and innovative jacket treatments.

“I don’t think children should ever be urged to give up picture books when they are ready for chapter books. In my experience, children constantly go back and forth. They return to old favorite picture books even when they reach double digits, perhaps because the books provide a feeling of security, of coming home, perhaps recapturing the warmth and closeness of being read to by a beloved adult. And for that, a real book is essential!”
~Regina Hayes, Mentor Honoree



Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Honorees, and congratulations on being recognized.

To learn more about the Carle Honors and this year’s Honorees, please visit The Carle Honors website where you can also bid on the charity art auction.

Follow me on Twitter @taralazar, as I will try to live tweet from the event. A recap of the evening will be published here later this week.


by Colleen Rowan Kosinski

Not long ago I had the book launch for my debut picture book, LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS. It was an exciting, invigorating, and tiring day.

Now I am deep into the marketing phase—not a hat I was prepared to wear. My degree is in visual art, not marketing, but with the help of my husband we are making some progress.

Lilla's Sunflowers_cover_colleen_rowan_kosinski

Here is a synopsis of my story: Lilla and Papa enjoy spending magical times in Lilla’s sunflower patch. Before Papa leaves for a trip that will take him far away from home for a long time, Lilla gives him a sunflower seed. “To remember me, Papa,” Lilla whispers.

Seasons pass, and Lilla’s mood falls like autumn leaves.


Finally, news comes that her papa is coming home! The following summer, to her surprise, she receives letters from families with photos of their loved ones pictured with sunflowers. She learns that her gift to her father brightened the dark days for many people, and that her one small seed continued spreading sunshine across the country.


Through the illustrations, the reader learns Lilla’s father has left for military deployment. The story was inspired by videos of children and pets being reunited with their loved ones who’d been deployed to serve our country.

As I wrote my story I knew I wanted it to be heartwarming. Funny stories are great, but not really me. Even as a small child my favorite book was a touching book called THE SHEEP OF THE LAL BAGH. It was about a sheep that was replaced by a lawnmower and is brought back when the townspeople realize what a unique contribution he made to their town.

So I wrote in my quiet style and hoped it would sell. And it did—within months. But I was not prepared for the impact the words and images that once only existed in my mind would have on others.

It didn’t hit me until after the book launch when I received a touching email from a reader who said my book was just what her family needed—her husband was being deployed in 2017 for a year.

Another surprise I received was from a veteran who read my book and bought it to read to his grandchildren. He planned to read to them as a way to open a discussion about how their mom handled his deployment during the Korean War.


Like the flowers in Lilla’s garden, I hope my little book of hope can continue to reach many readers and bring a little sunshine far and wide.

Colleen Rowan Kosinskibio_pic_colleen_rowan_kosinski is an author-illustrator of children’s books. As a lover of nature and animals, in the spring you can usually find her nursing a sick rabbit or robin back to health. Colleen resides in Cherry Hill, NJ with her husband, three sons, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, and Miniature Dachshund. Follow her journey @writergirlrowan.

Thank you, Colleen, for such a touching story behind the story. Colleen is giving away a copy of LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS to a random commenter. Leave a comment below, one comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in two weeks.


by Carolyn Fisher


As you can see from the above, making a book is simple. I NEVER get stuck, beat-up or depressed!

But if I DID happen to get off track, I would switch hats. Draw for a while instead of writing. Write for a while instead of drawing. Change locations from my studio to a coffeeshop.

Just in case you’re having an off day, I have 3.5 suggestions:

1. Keep a sketchbook or notebook stuffed with people, places, or things.
Just for fun, pick a page at random to use as a story starter. Or pick two pages.


2. Use thumbnail sketches
Draw quick, small sketches to generate ideas when you’re brainstorming. Test variations of your ideas. Ask: what if?


3.0 Throw away your eraser.
The eraser makes you uptight. You don’t need the negative energy emanating from its pink pearly heart.

3.5 Draw or write in drafts.
Often I will start a drawing with a light color for a first draft. For the second draft, I draw in a darker color right on top, fixing problems and testing variations along the way. I’ll repeat this with successively darker pencils or pens…and I won’t erase any of the mess. I like the story that my quavery searching lines tell about how my idea took shape.

My writing heroes are relentless revisers…they will rework their stories fifty seven times, just to try them out in different ways! No exaggeration. So don’t be afraid to draw or write something twice. Or more!


fisherselfportraitArtist-author Carolyn Fisher switches hats in Calgary, Canada, where she lives with her husband and son. She has illustrated six books, two of which she also wrote. Her most recent book, Weeds Find a Way, earned a Notable title from the American Library Association, as well as garnering notice from the Society of Illustrators LA, Bank Street College, the California Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers for English and more. In addition to teaching at the Alberta College of Art and Design for seven years, Carolyn has talked to thousands of kids in scores of libraries and schools about writing and art.

Visit Carolyn Fisher online:
Blog at or follow her on Twitter: @carolynnfisher.


PrizeDetails (2)

Carolyn is giving away a free 15-minute Skype session for a classroom or group. She is happy to talk to adults or kids. The prize can be regifted to your favorite school, library or class.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

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


Steve at Duke Children’s Hospital

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

I’ll let Steve take the mic now.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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January 7, 2020

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August 2020

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