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Been snowed in this week and going stir crazy?


Yowie! I think you may have fractured something there, buddy.

Speaking of fractures, all along I’ve been calling LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD a fractured fairytale, but I think I’ve been WRONG. Yes, folks, I’m admitting my mistake. Somebody turn up The Biebs!


LITTLE RED is actually a fairytale MASH-UP. (This is probably a sub-segment of a fracture, like a bone chip.)

I didn’t merely retell LITTLE RED, I inserted a flock of fairytale and nursery rhyme characters into a whole new story starring Red and The Big Bad Wolf.

During revisions, editor Heidi Kilgras asked me to create a chain reaction after the boy cried “Wolf!”. I immediately whipped this up, which Troy Cummings illustrated brilliantly:


I’m wondering if maybe I haven’t marketed this book correctly. Do people think it’s the same story as the original, just taking place on ice??? No, it’s so much more than that!

Again, self-doubt creeps into the creative’s mind. Self-doubt, which I talked about last week, happens not just when you’re writing, but through every part of the book-making process…even when the process is over! I still think self-doubt is healthy, as long as it’s not overwhelming or paralyzing. Those slices of doubt help you create a better book…and perhaps also help you market the title more effectively!

So now I’m doing the mashed potato.


Oh wait, not THAT mashed potato. I’ll leave that for an alien book.

OK, enough hijinks (which is a FABULOUS word for a picture book text)…onto the final winners of the PiBoIdMo daily prizes. I will be emailing the remaining winners (from this week) later today to arrange delivery!

Day 21: Nancy Tupper Ling Winner
LANE ARNOLD (Double Happiness)

Day 22: Anna Staniszewski Winner
CAROL GWIN NELSON (Power Down, Little Robot)

Day 23: Katy Duffield Winner

Day 24: Jesse Klausmeier Winner
ANNIE CRONIN ROMANO (Open This Little Book)

Day 25: AJ Smith Winner
ROBYN CAMPBELL (Even Monsters)

Day 26: Pat Zietlow Miller Winner
LISA CONNORS (Share the Bread)

Day 27: Kelly DiPucchio Winner
AMY BRADSHAW (Everyone Loves Bacon)

Day 28: Paula Yoo Winner
CHRISTINE RODENBOUR (Twenty-Two Cents…the book, not $0.22!)

Day 29: Arree Chung Winner

Day 30: Kim Norman Winner

Congratulations to all the winners…and that includes all those who completed the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. Remember you can honor your gumption (ooh, another great word!) with a prize at the PiBoIdMo CafePress Shop! Like this snazzy mug! Every purchase via our link makes $3.00 for RIF (all proceeds).


In 2015,  PiBoIdMo donated $230.39 to Reading is Fundamental,  helping to put new books into the hands of underprivileged children. A sincere thank you to those who snapped up PiBoIdMo goodies. You did a good thing.


Thanks to everyone for participating! That’s all, it’s OVAH!

Now I think I’ll go hibernate with this guy!








Let’s talk about text, baybee…
Let’s talk about you reading…
Let’s talk about all the word play & the rhyme schemes that could be…
Let’s talk about TEXT!


Photoshopping by Jason Kirschner

I was feelin’ very Salt-n-Pepa this morning as I salted and peppered my omelet. This little ditty would make an excellent segue into a discussion of picture book text, right?

OK, so you talked me into it! I’ll talk about text!

If you’re writing picture books, have some fun with the text, with the words you choose. Let them tumble over the tongue. Use alliteration, internal rhyme and challenging vocabulary. Yes, you can insert difficult words. Here is a list of surprising words that have appeared in my books and manuscripts:

  • formidable
  • highfalutin
  • desolation
  • flibbertigibbet
  • mayhem
  • exceptions
  • exceedingly
  • sluiced
  • schmutz (yes, schmutz!)

Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in more difficult words. There’s context to help the child (and parent/caregiver) figure it out, in the form of words and pictures.

But please note I said SPRINKLE–like salt and pepper, use them sparingly. Let them enhance, not overpower.

Now let’s move onto more PiBoIdMo Winners!

Day 11: Joe McGee Winner
 (Peanut Butter & Brains)

Day 12: Denise Fleming Winner

Day 13: Sarvinder Naberhaus Winner
AMY HOUTS (Boom Boom)

Day 14: Julie Gribble Winner

Day 15: Carter Higgins Winner
ANNA LEVIN (picture book critique)

Day 16: Katya Szewzcuk Winner
POLLY RENNER ( “Kat” mug)

Day 17: Ryan Hipp Winner
HEIDI YATES (original sketch)

Day 18: Liza Woodruff Winner
CAROL JONES (Twelve Days of Christmas in New England)

Day 19: Ame Dyckman & Adam Lehrhaupt Winner
PATRICIA ALCARO  (books, critique and possibly lunch LOL)

Day 20: Carolyn Fisher Winner
DEBORAH ALLMAND (Skype session)

And bonus! I forgot to give away Tammi Sauer’s second prize, a picture book critique. That winner is:

I’ll be emailing y’all shortly! Congratulations!

One part busy-ness, two parts Bat Mitzvah planning, three parts illness and thirty parts procrastination has brought us to this day. Yes, I’ve FINALLY gotten around to selecting winners for the rest of the PiBoIdMo Prizes! Hallelujah! You can take down your PiBoIdMo tree now!

Before I present the winners, which I will do in three batches of 10 each to save my sanity, I want to talk a little about the webinar I presented to Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge participants this week.

Julie made this gorgeous graphic of me with NO HAIR. (Yeah, thanks, Julie.)


Someone had asked how to wipe away self-doubt and/or not be paralyzed by it. My answer was pretty simple: don’t wipe it away completely. Every creative person should have a healthy dose of self-doubt. It comes with the territory. In fact, I’d be worried if you DIDN’T have any self-doubt. I mean, we all know THOSE TYPES who think EVERYTHING they create is liquid gold (including cheesy skillet dinners). Does anyone actually BELIEVE this person when they tout their newest manuscript? No, of course not. It could not be ALL THAT and a pouch of Velveeta. It probably, most certainly, needs work. And that’s the self-doubt you need to harbor: knowing when a story needs something else. Needs a word cut. Needs a new character. Needs more motivation. Better pacing. A surprising twist. A reason to turn the page. A reason to read again! And again!

So learn to live with that self-doubt. Don’t let it overtake you, but listen to your gut instinct, the nagging sensation that your writing can be improved…because it probably can.

OK, so now onto the prizes! Once again, winners were picked with the help of I will be contacting you via email shortly!

Day 1: Joan Holub Winner
REBECCA E. GUZINSKI (The Knights Before Christmas Book and Castle)

Day 2: Josh Funk Winners
PRIYA GOPAL (both receive a Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast SWAG set)

Day 3: Grace Lin Winner
SUSAN LATTA (Ling & Ting Together in All Weather)

Day 4: Marcie Wessels Winner
TANJA BAUERLE (Pirate’s Lullaby)

Day 5: David Michael Slater Winner
ERIN O’BRIEN (Skype or PB Critique, her choice)

Day 6: Tammi Sauer Winner

Day 7: Jessixa Bagley Winner
LORI MOZDZIERZ (Boats for Papa book & 30 Boats poster)

Day 8: Samantha Berger Winner

Day 9: Meredith Mundy Winner

Day 10: Janna Matthies Winner
KELLY VAVALA (Two is Enough)

Congratulations, everyone. Next 10 winners coming soon!


Every year I promise that PiBoIdMo prize selection will not linger into January. And every year I FAIL. I get a cold or I have some deadline looming over me like the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. This year I had both problems, plus the lovely bonus of organizing a Bat Mitzvah. Do you know what this entails? They’re like mini-weddings now! I just want to shove all the kids into a pool and call it a day, but the daughter has more grandiose (and dryer) plans.

All excuses aside, here are your winners from Post-PiBoIdMo! Then I will get to regular PiBoIdMo winners. There’s so much great stuff to give away, I have to thank everyone who donated a prize!

Post-PiBo Day 1 Carrie Charlie Brown Winner:
KYLIE BURNS (picture book critique)

Post-PiBo Day 2 Margo Sorenson Winners:
CHRISTIE ALLRED (Aloha for Carol Ann)

Post-PiBo Day 3 Josh Alves Winners:
GABI SNYDER (all winners receive Surprise! by Josh)

Post-PiBo Day 4 Heidi Kilgras Winner:
ANN KELLEY (Little Red Gliding Hood)

Congratulations! I will be emailing you shortly to arrange delivery of your prizes.

More winners to be announced soon, I promise! In the meantime, does anyone know where to get glow-in-the-dark wide fabric headbands? This seems to be a 13-year-old thing.


I wrote something funny to kick off this post, but then I realized it wasn’t that funny. I must have used up all my comedy on my latest manuscript. However, my friend said she thought it was hilarious that I still had pumpkins on the front porch. So there’s that. Pumpkin seeds roasting on an open fire…

Thank you for being patient while I draw the daily PiBoIdMo prize-winners. Here are the winners of the prizes given away during Pre-PiBoIdMo:

Pre-PiBo Day 1 Mary Uhles Winners:
DAYNE SISLEN (portfolio critique)
ANN MAGEE (The Little Kids’ Table)

Pre-PiBo Day 2 Laurie Wallmark Winner:
RACHEL SMOKA-RICHARDSON (Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine)

Pre-PiBo Day 3 Diana Murray Winner:
VIVIAN KIRKFIELD (Ned The Knitting Pirate Tote and Grimelda F&G)

Pre-PiBo Day 5 Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Winner:
DEBRA KATZ (online course from

Pre-PiBo Day 6 Mike Ciccotello Winner:
PAULINE TSO (original art)

Pre-PiBo Day 7 Dianne De Las Casas Winner:
SHERI RADOVICH (The House that Santa Built)

Let me clarify that Sheri did not win an actual house, but the book by Dianne.

Congratulations to all! I will be emailing you shortly to arrange delivery of your prize.

How were these lucky folks selected? I totaled the number of comments for each post and used to pick a number within that range. The number corresponded to a comment based upon its order in the post. I matched the chosen number to the comment, then I checked that the commenter had both registered and completed the challenge. Lastly, I made sure they commented only once on the prize post. (I’ve rewritten this a dozen times to ensure it makes sense. I hope it does. My head is loopy…because NUMBERS.)

More prizes to come, of course, so stay tuned!

Did you know that PiBoIdMo is one of Oprah’s favorite things?


Totally. Even Amy Poehler’s head is exploding.


And lawyers are sending cease and desist letters. Whoa. Those Oprah folks work fast.


(This is obviously her kidlit practice lawyer. I hear he also works for Aflac.)

Okay, while PiBoIdMo might NOT be one of Oprah’s favorite things, or something Oprah has even heard of…I know it is one of YOUR favorite things.

And so, without further ado (or flying feathers), here are the 13 GRAND PRIZE WINNERS for PIBOIDMO 2015! Please congratulate them!


You may be asking: How were the PiBoIdMo 2015 GRAND PRIZE WINNERS selected?

Every participant who signed the PiBoIdMo Winner’s Pledge was assigned a number based upon the order in which they commented. I then used to generate 13 random numbers from 1 to 888 (the total number of pledge comments). The numbers were matched to their corresponding name, then I ensured that name was on the PiBoIdMo registration post. If the name had been registered, then I double checked to make sure they had not commented on the winner’s pledge multiple times (thus giving them extra chances to win). If all checked out, the winner was verified. (And they all checked out!)


In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that one of the winners is related to me by marriage. It just worked out that way. This is no way influenced the winner selection. It was all done by random selection.

If you are a grand prize winner, please read the following carefully:

I will pair each one of you with a participating agent and contact you via email. You will have until the end of this calendar year to contact your agent with your FIVE best ideas. I suggest you flesh them out into a paragraph each, like an elevator pitch. Something short and snappy. The agent will then provide feedback on which idea(s) may be the best to pursue as manuscripts. The agent may provide short and sweet feedback like a simple “Go for it!” or more lengthy feedback providing suggestions. I don’t know what’s in store for you–but there’s one thing for certain–their feedback will help you determine what to begin writing!

Thank you all for participating this year!

Remember there are PLENTY more prizes to come. I will be giving away all the prizes you saw during PiBoIdMo, nearly 50 of them, through the end of the year. Who knows what you may win! (You get a car! You get a car! YOU GET A CAR!)*


*You will not get a car.


Ooh, tantalizing title for a blog post!

Picture book writers eager to be represented scour the web for info about the tastes and preferences of kidlit agents. Well, stop searching and look no further.

I asked the picture book agents participating in PiBoIdMo as grand prizes to talk about a client’s new or upcoming release that they’re excited about.

And if you’re wondering about PiBoIdMo GRAND PRIZES, they will be announced on Monday, December 14th!


Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management

HANNAH AND SUGAR - Kate Berube - CoverI began representing my own clients 2.5 years ago and, as publishing has a long cycle from sale to publication, have only had two (EARLY BIRD and NIGHT OWL by Toni Yuly!) publish to date. Next calendar year will see 14 of “my” books publish. It’s hard to pick just one but HANNAH AND SUGAR (Abrams, 3/16) is author/illustrator Kate Berube’s debut, sold in a 2-book deal, at auction. I first read about Kate on the blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.” She and husband Mark live in Portland with their beloved one-eyed wonder-dog, Sugar, the book character’s namesake.

Every day after school, Hannah’s school bus is greeted by her classmate’s dog, Sugar. All the other kids love Sugar but Hannah just can’t conquer her fear of dogs. Then, one day, Sugar goes missing, so Hannah joins the search with her classmates. Will Hannah find a way to be brave, and make a new friend in the process?

Kate worked at Portland’s famous Indie bookstore Powell’s—please consider pre-ordering from your favorite Indie!


Deborah Warren, East/West Literary Agency

onewordfromsophiaSome of East/West Literary’s clients have excelled in all three PB creator roles, as an illustrator, as an author, and as an author/illustrator. To that end—and in honor of PiBoIdMo—we are proud to highlight award-winning Jim Averbeck and his latest book ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA (Atheneum/S & S), a Kirkus Best Book of 2015, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail.

Averbeck’s 2015 “must read” IndyNext Top 10 ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA, is about a girl who uses very creative means to ask for a pet giraffe–from her mother (a judge), father (a businessman), Uncle Conrad (a politician) and Grand-mama (who is very strict!). Yasmine’s illustrations brilliantly add another layer to the story. And Jim created a text that engages the audience with well-placed page turns, pacing and performance possibilities, creating a book that has been embraced for its celebration of words.

And it’s been embraced in more than one way! We’re more than thrilled that SOPHIA has just been extended to a 3-book series by his publisher (Margaret K. McElderry/S & S). Look for TWO PROBLEMS FOR SOPHIA and the third SOPHIA sequel, soon! Oh; and how incredibly cool is it that the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Alliance selected ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA as one of two titles to be included in their national, inaugural #Diversity, hand-selling initiative, #MirrorsAndWindows. [Thank you, indies—diverse books DO sell!]


Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency

TheStoryIllTellCoveHow do you pick just one of your authors’ projects to spotlight? I’m going to circumvent that decision by going with the book that’s been most recently released, Nancy Tupper Ling’s THE STORY I’LL TELL, which is exquisitely illustrated by Jessica Lanan. This book is really a love letter from parent to child, a poetic telling of how that child came to be part of their family.

Words and art alike are unforgettable, and mark my words—this is a book that’s going to be around a long, long time. Don’t miss it!



Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

pinkisforblobfishI’m really looking forward to seeing Jess Keating’s PINK IS FOR BLOBLISH hit shelves this February 2nd, 2016 from Knopf Book for Young Readers. Jess’s voice and vision for this project had me excited about it from day one.

In this debut nonfiction picture book, Jess highlights all manner of unusual pink creatures that readers never knew existed. It’s fascinating and funny, but what also makes it so special is that it goes deep. Yes, PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH is full of incredible animal facts, but it also carries a subtle sociological message that pink is not just for girls—it’s for everyone and anyone.

Pink is often associated with princesses, and Jess’s book lets readers know that pink is also the color of monster slugs and poisonous insects. I don’t know about you, but I love that expanded world view!

I admire how Jess manages to engage readers with her humor and fresh voice, provide little-known animal facts, AND deconstruct outdated gender stereotypes—with a clear passion for the material and a wit all her own. And with the talented David DeGrand adding his dynamic, hilarious illustrations, what’s not to love?


Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency

babylovesaerospaceI’m very excited about an upcoming project BABY LOVES SCIENCE by Ruth Spiro, with illustrations by Irene Chan. In the first two books of this picture book series, Ruth explains some complex ideas—Quarks and Aerospace Engineering—in terms so clear that even the very youngest listener can understand.

This is the first project that I sold for Ruth, and the one that she sent me with her initial query. I was very taken with the books, of course, but also with the savvy way Ruth approaches the picture book business; she’s continued to wow me ever since! These books are sweet, gentle and smart, and I can’t wait for them to be out in bookstores and libraries.

The first two are coming in fall 2016—keep your eyes out for them.


Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency

therewasanolddragonWell, I have to go with Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT which just won The 2015 Best in Rhyme Award in NYC at the RPB Revolution Conference.

Why I think DRAGON is so special? It’s been a long road to publication for Penny. She’s been working tirelessly the past few years to really learn the picture book craft and to hone her skill. Adding to that, DRAGON is in rhyme, so Penny’s not only had to figure out picture book plot, she’s had to learn poetry and rhyme (not easy) and I think there’s been more days of no big success than there have been days with success.

DRAGON exists because Penny didn’t give up. And now DRAGON has a life of his own. I’m still a bit terrified of him, so here’s hoping he steers clear of me. 😉


Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties

twospeckledeggsOne of our new-ish releases is Jennifer K. Mann’s TWO SPECKLED EGGS, winner of the Washington State Book Award this year; it’s the story of an unlikely friendship that’s sparked when two girls find they have more in common than they thought at first.

Jennifer K. Mann came to Pippin through the slush pile (it really happens!) and this is her second picture book. When her query came in, her artwork immediately caught our attention, and then her letter was so exquisitely written and charming and she had clearly done her research . . . it was a no brainer. Here’s to more well crafted slush-pile treasures!


Lisa Fleissig & Ginger Harris, Liza Royce Agency

Ada cover 72dpiWe are both mothers of 1st graders; so, as much as they are moving onto chapter books, picture books are still alive and kicking in our homes. One particular recent publication that stands out is ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015). It’s a biography of the world’s first computer programmer—and she’s a GIRL!

Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. Especially now with schools incorporating “STEM” in the classroom and empowering girls to develop into strong women, this book hits all the right notes. It is written by Laurie Wallmark and stunningly illustrated by April Chu. Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is not only a remarkable story of triumph, but marks a turning point in our agency—it is our first book to receive THREE STARRED REVIEWS (Kirkus, PW & Booklist) along with NYT praise.


Jodell Sadler, Sadler Children’s Literary

Sketch by Phil Gosier

Sketch by Phil Gosier

A recent picture book publication would have to be a newer contract, a two-book deal, for Phil Gosier as an author-illustrator package: SNOW BEAST (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).

Phil marked the quickest pull from my submission bin so far. He’s a huge talent and his cover letter sported part unreliable narrator (sending only to you and will not send out until polished more) and part personality punch (I cry at most Tom Hank movies). But what really called me to his project and what is true of every submission: it’s all about the work, and in this case, his work stood on its own merits: breathtaking, amazing, and professional. SNOW BEAST will be published by Roaring Brook Press in 2017.


Remember, come back on Monday for the GRAND PRIZE announcements. There will be 13 PiBoIdMo Winners to be paired with one PB literary agent each for an email consult about their five best story ideas.

Good luck, everyone!

by Tara Lazar

When I first began writing picture books, I’d get hit with an idea—BAM! KAPOW!—and then immediately sit down and start banging it out.


NO. Just NO.

I didn’t stop to think—is this a good idea? Will it make a worthwhile story? I thought the idea would be my only flash and I had to grab it while it was glowing.

Now, I write the idea down. And then I PAUSE.

I let the idea sit in my brain for a while. I might not be actively thinking about it, but I know it’s in there, jiggling around. Bouncing off brain cells, colliding with other unused ideas.


Competition on the shelf.

After the initial incubation period, the first thing I consciously imagine is what might go on the cover. Will that cover stand out in the book store? Will a child make a beeline to my book? I think about the OTHER covers that are also calling to that kid—with race cars and ballerinas and pandas and monsters. Is what I’ve chosen strong enough to compete? If the images that come to mind aren’t appealing enough, I let the idea jiggle ‘round some more. I know I need to add something else.

Eventually, something tells me it’s time to sit down to write. It may be a few days, weeks or even months after the initial strike of lightning. But there’s a gut instinct that kicks in—you can do it now. You’re ready.

I know I already have one piece of the ginormous puzzle that is a picture book.

And what I do is put that puzzle together. Where do I start? Not necessarily at the beginning.

When you’re putting a jigsaw puzzle together, you start where you recognize the image. You find a couple pieces that together make up the balloon in the puzzle. Or the elephant’s trunk. Or the birthday cake. You see something you know is SOMETHING and you work outwards from there.


I do this with my story idea. I begin writing where I recognize that I have SOMETHING SPECIAL.

I may begin jotting down a repetitive refrain that I want to be after certain page turns. I may go straight to the climactic scene. Sometimes, I even begin at the end. I don’t necessarily write chronologically, from opening line to “the end”.

For instance, with LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, the primary puzzle piece was the title. The next piece? I wanted the story to include multiple fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I envisioned the mashiest of mash-ups.

Then a scene came to mind. I imagined RED uttering the wolf’s line from The Three Little Pigs: “Little pigs, little pigs, let me in!” Then I saw the wolf tapping her on the shoulder with, “Excuse me, I think that’s my line.” I thought that was hilarious.


So I worked from there.

I had to get RED to the pigs’ brick house. But how? And why? These were the puzzle pieces I had yet to find.

But as the few pieces I did have clicked together, the full vision of the story began taking shape.

This is just something that often works for me. My real advice is not everything you read above but rather this: find what works for you. You can only discover it by seeking out ideas, examining them and, finally, writing. It may take months and years to find what grooves for you. It’s not going to be what necessarily works for me or for anyone else. Your voice is uniquely you and so is the method you employ to get that voice out there.

So you’ve sought your ideas. Now it’s time to examine. And then, write. Like a bottle of shampoo, rinse and repeat (even though you don’t know anyone who washes their hair twice in one shower).

Hopefully the idea-generating will continue beyond this month to become a regular habit. You need the ideas to flow like a bottomless shampoo bottle in order to have something to write, in order to discover who you are as a writer.

Thank you for participating in PiBoIdMo 2015!

The PiBo-Pledge is now closed and next week I will begin picking winners. In the meantime, we’ll have a post from the participating agents and a writer’s holiday gift guide as well. Stay tuned!

Until then, if you enjoyed PiBoIdMo, would you please consider nominating this blog for’s annual list of the best blogs for writers? Please be aware that you must nominate an actual blog POST written this year for the nomination to count. Go to for instructions on how to nominate. And THANK YOU!

by Sophie Chawluck

by Sophie Chawluck

by Heidi Kilgras

Congratulations, PiBoIdMo participants. You made it! Give yourselves a round of applause before reflecting on your endeavor—to generate a bunch of new ideas for picture books, the greatest medium ever! Okay, I’m biased; I’m a children’s book editor! But, honestly…writing children’s books. Could there BE a greater privilege? I don’t think so. Knowing that your words and ideas are entertaining children, sparking their curiosity, creating lasting memories, impressions, and possibly a love of words/ideas/reading, or maybe even stimulating an interest in a subject that will influence their lives? Priceless. You are contributing to the literacy of the planet. You are reinforcing a loving bond between parent and child. And, in the simplest of terms, and no less important, you are delighting a child.

There is something I have to get off my chest. Sometimes children have terrible taste! There are some books that I never would have published in a million years. Bad writing, rotten plot, poor rhyme and meter, hideous illustrations.…And yet, for some reason the book is amusing enough for a child to want to hear it over and over. (“Who published this book and how did it get in my house?”) Even if a book doesn’t pass muster with me, at least I get to witness the joy it gives my son. Who am I to judge? Actually, I am one to judge whether books get published or not. And as such, I have a few tips to offer up.

specialsauceYou’ve heard this one before: be “original.” I know…it’s really, really hard to be entirely original. So throw in a twist or two or three to surprise the editor and, we hope, the eventual reader. The importance of originality extends to your “voice.” An original voice can make an editor see beyond a story’s flaws, envisioning the rewrites that you most certainly will have to do that could bring you closer to a contract! Think of your “voice” as your “special sauce.”

Have more than just a good idea—respect the craft. Publishers don’t publish good ideas; they publish great stories, wonderfully written (for the most part—see above. Let’s aim high, shall we?). Show your fascination with language. Ignite this fascination in others. Make the words sing. Aim to make the grown-up reading your book aloud seem like the most talented storyteller ever! The writing’s the thing.

On the other hand, don’t forget to leave some stuff out! You can, initially, fill your manuscript with every idea you had to reflect the story in your brain. Then either you (or the editor) will likely need to take some words out. Consider that the art will show things that are mentioned in the text, and even some things that aren’t. Both text and art need breathing room. Sometimes my favorite part of a picture book is the text that isn’t there, but there is a suggestion of what could be there that the reader’s mind fills in. Here is an apt quote (attributed to both Claude Debussy and Miles Davis): “Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.”


Where the Wild Things Are and Olivia are two great examples of picture books that have subtext flowing beneath the (minimalist) words. Give the reader moments of discovery, moments of participation. Great art considers the collaborator. Your collaborators are the editor, the illustrator, and, ultimately, the eyes and the mind of the reader.

Lastly, have fun! If you aren’t having fun, what’s the point? I hope you have as much fun generating your own ideas as you do when you are reading the picture books that inspire you. The more inspired you are, the greater chance that your inspiration and delight will reach across the space between book and reader and fill him or her right up.

Good luck!

Heidi Kilgras is an Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books. She also has experience managing a Scholastic Book Club, running a children’s-only bookstore, and being a book-buyer for a chain of stores. Heidi also writes picture books and beginning readers, and lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.

PrizeDetails (2)

Heidi is giving away a copy of LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, the book written by Tara and illustrated by Troy Cummings that she acquired and edited.


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

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

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

joshalvesby Josh Alves

I LOVE PiBoIdMo (Thank you, Tara)! I’ve always considered myself an idea person. I’ve got lots of them. I love coming up with ideas, thinking about how they’re formed, what sparks them, what’s behind them.

But taking them and making something out of them? That was another story (figuratively). How do you take an idea from concept to completion?

What I’ve learned over time is that my stories are a product of the process and constraint can cultivate creativity.

It’s great to think of ideas that are outside of the box, but those ideas eventually need a box to hold them. So, setup your sides. Build your box. Craft your story!

One of the most scariest constraints you can establish, and possibly the most beneficial, is “time”.

Give yourself time limits.

Give yourself a “lifeline”. (“Deadline” sounds SO foreboding and intimidating… instead, think about when you want your story to have life?)

Try this. Go through your ideas.Take one that jumps out at you first (ideas who are excited are the most fun to work with) or the one that you have the most questions about. Now set a timer for 7 minutes, press start, and brainstorm.


Write notes. Ask questions. Answer them.

What words come to mind? What feelings? What’s the story? Jot these down during the 7 focused minutes.

The first time you do this, your brain might go blank, distracted by the time. Being crushed by the pressure of the clock.

That’s OK.

If (or when) that happens, set the time for 3 minutes (What?!?!) and for 3 minutes write about the feelings the pressure is causing. Get those thoughts out of the way to make room for more productive ones. It will get easier to use the time limit to instigate inspiration.

You might want to give yourself a few 7 minute sessions to explore the story your idea is forming. Then bounce and share these thoughts with someone else (collaboration is another important key to creativity). You never know what might spark!

Now start giving yourself milestones. When do you want your story to have life? When do you want your outline done? When will the first draft be written? When will you show your critique partners?

Then, as the wise “swoosh” says, just do it.

One of my favorite personal projects was completed in a month (it doesn’t often happen that quickly – but I do work better with a fire lit under me).

Last year, I was preparing to present a workshop on creating interactive books at the NESCBWI conference. While researching the tools that creators can use to make their own (without coding), I came across TigerCreate. The tool looked AMAZING (it is) and they were hosting an international competition.

The prize was a trip to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I figured, “Why not?”. (My favorite two-word question!)

I just needed an idea to start with.


Going through my “Jar of Ideas”, one caught my attention.

“Surprise party.”

That could be fun (and interactive)!

Beginning my brain dump, I jotted the thoughts that came to mind. One thought was about people I know who DON’T like surprises. That sparked thoughts about types of animals you wouldn’t want to throw a surprise party for. Then I started thinking about what might happen if you DID throw a party for those animals. I ran thoughts by other people, each spark sparking more sparks.


From those notes, “SURPRISE!” was born. A story about what happens when a group of forest animals throw a surprise party for their special friend, Skunk. What you think will happen happens, but that’s not the surprise!


This was the best book I’ve ever created in 30 days (easy to be the “best” when it’s also the “only”). The time constraint helped spur the story development and dictated the art style (it had to be simple to meet the deadline). The story was submitted just in time. To my pleasant surprise, it won!

In every category (Innovation, Interactivity, and Kid’s Favorite).

You are sitting on a treasure trove of ideas (I get excited just thinking about the potential). One of them could be someone’s favorite book. Another might be the catalyst that inspires a future creator.

These are stories that are waiting to be unfolded. Make it happen!

One of my ideas took me to Italy. Where will your ideas take you?

Josh Alves is a puzzle-loving, pictorial problem-solver with a penchant for propagating parables. He loves alliteration (a lot) and anything that leads to laughter. He’s the illustrator of D.L. Green’s 14 hilarious ZEKE MEEKS chapter books. He’s also the author/illustrator of other comics and picture books including LILLY BRISTOL, DINOSAUR WRANGLER, AND THE TOWN A TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS. His latest interactive book, SURPRISE, is available for iPads/iPhones in the iTunes app store.

You’ll find sketches and project updates by following him on Facebook and Twitter @joshalves. Visit his site at and if you have any questions, drop him a note!

PrizeDetails (2)

Josh is giving away 5 copies of SURPRISE. (iProduct download)

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

These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for these prizes if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

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