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by Refe & Susan Tuma

When we set out to design the cover of our new picture book, we knew we were in for a unique challenge.

For our first picture book, WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT, we worked with our designer at Little Brown to create a cover that was simple, colorful, and bold, and that put the dinosaurs and their mischievous personalities front and center. The cover of WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID AT SCHOOL uses a similar format, swapping out the blank wall and crayon scribblings for a classic green chalkboard.

We spent a lot of time going back and forth between the two of us, with Mary-Kate our editor, and with our design team at Little Brown trying to come up with a way to use that same format for the cover of WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Maybe the title is scribbled across the gift tag of a giant present, or on the surface of an ornament hanging on the tree. These options were fun and Christmas-y, but they didn’t do a very good job of conveying the scope of the story and, more importantly, they didn’t give the dinosaurs much to do.

So, we abandoned the format of the previous books and began exploring other ideas.

Our biggest source of inspiration ended up being movie posters for classic Christmas movies. Nightmare Before Christmas, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, even Ernest Saves Christmas. (Our riff on Nightmare Before Christmas was a lot of fun, with the tip of the tree bending down in front of the moon instead of the curled cliff of the original, but it a bit too abstract.)

We landed on the rooftop scene for a few reasons. First, getting the dinosaurs outside the house was a great way to highlight the magical, moonlit nighttime vibe that threads throughout the interior art. It also gave the dinosaurs the opportunity to explore somewhere they’ve never been in any of our previous books, which was fun. If you look closely, you’ll see we even got to sneak a nod to one of those classic Christmas movie posters…

With the concept set and the design sketched out, we got to work on the actual composition. And it was a lot of work!

Photographing an idyllic snowy rooftop under a moonlit sky is challenging enough under the best of circumstances. Doing it in the middle of the summer (after months of pandemic-related production delays) happens to be just about impossible. As a result, the final cover art is a composite of more than 17 individual photographs and effects, including the rooftop, lights, sky, snow, and of course the dinosaurs themselves.

This required some practical trickery. For example, to match the angle of the rooftop, we photographed the dinosaurs on piece of white posterboard tilted to roughly the same degree. We did something similar when photographing the string of lights to ensure they’d wrap naturally around the chimney.

The title treatment is our biggest link to the rest of the series, since it appears in about the same spot as on the other two covers. This time, instead of purely hand-lettered type, we pair it with something a bit fancier. We loved the way the swooshes on this font resembled dinosaur tails, as if it were created by splicing traditional Christmas type with just a hint of reptilian DNA. Better yet, the gold lettering on the dust jacket will be embossed in gold foil.

All in all, we’re thrilled with how this cover turned out and we can’t wait to share the rest of the book with the world!

WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is available for preorder now anywhere books are sold.

And blog readers! Refe and Susan are giving away a picture book critique!

Just leave one comment below to be entered.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!

Refe and Susan Tuma are a husband and wife team whose previous books include WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT, WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT: A Very Messy Adventure, and WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID AT SCHOOL. They live in Kansas City with their kids and a dog named Boris. Visit them online at, on Twitter @refeup and @sutuma and on Facebook at Dinovember.

by Jennifer Buchet and Little Medusa

A few Novembers ago, I was inspired to write a picture book story about snakes. Snakes are—

Little Medusa: Beautiful! Amazing! And very cuddly.

Actually, I was about to say that snakes rattle lots of people. They’re squeamish because…well…

The hissing. The slithering. The fork-tongues.

LM: Awww, how cute!

Not to everyone! But that’s the thing, Li’l Medusa. After attending a reptile show with my daughter at our local library, I…

LM: Best. Show. Ever!

…I wanted people to know that snakes are really fascinating. Did you know that snakes smell with their tongues?

LM: Of course! Snake are sssssuper sssmellers!

I drafted a story about pet snakes, but it needed more sparkle and less fang. Around the same time, I discovered PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) was reformatting to Storystorm, and that come January, there’d be a whole new set of inspirational writing tips and tricks. Definitely something to look forward to because the holidays were knocking impatiently at the door. Instead of drafting stories, I was juggling magazine deadlines and planning the annual holiday party menu.

LM: Yummy! Did you serve buggy burritos?

Not quite (this party is rather swanky). I desperately wanted to vamp up the menu. Yes, tempura shrimp is delish, but having it at every special occasion “because it’s a tradition!” was constricting my appetite. With editors to please and taste buds to appease, I turned to mundane housework to alleviate the stress. Whilst sorting socks and sweaters, a real live mini-Medusa skipped into the laundry room.

LM: She didn’t turn you to stone, did she?

No, but she did scare me! This mini-Medusa was actually my daughter with a headful of tangled, knotted, serpentine-looking hair.

LM: Mama said I’d get used to traditional Gorgon hair but I don’t like Addie on my head.

Well in that moment, several events converged at once and I knew I had a tale about a Gorgon girl challenged by eons of family tradition.

LM: Oh, that’s me!! Just like you didn’t want shrimp, I didn’t want snakes in my hair!

Exactly. But I wasn’t sure how to morph this meatball of an idea into a grand bolognaise sauce. How would I make one of the most villainous figures in Greek mythology kid-friendly? I turned to Storystorm for tips on humorous writing and how to find the funny.

LM: My great-times-eight Granny Medusa is not funny. She was scary and mean. I don’t want to turn things to stone with a stare.

Nor do you like having Addie slither through your hair.

LM: Nope! Stony stares and slithering hair are not my kind of tradition. They’re more like pythonic problems!

Every day, I read the guest post and partook in the Storystorm exercise; you never know what new idea might happen, from a jazzy sentence or title, to a brand new story  idea! By the end of January, not only did I have a bunch of new ideas, I also knew exactly where I was taking Little Medusa’s tale. I’m not sure where I’d be without Storystorm!

LM: Not having Storystorm? Now that’s a pythonic problem for you!

Absolutely! And the rest they say is hissss-story! Thanks to this wonderful, supportive and wise kidlit community, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA is now on shelves, and in the hands and hearts of littles.

LM: Can we play Snakes ‘n Ladders now?


LM: Hissy kissies, everyone!

P.S. The menu did include Tempura Shrimp—with Blood Orange Sauce!

Some days Jennifer Buchet rocks her own tangled Gorgon ‘do, but hopefully you won’t find a snake sliding through her hair! She’s an award-winning author, pre-kindergarten educator and self-proclaimed foodie. Her kidlit career officially started in 2011, writing for Cricket Media. Today, she’s a feature contributor for Faces magazine while also creating new picture books, chapter books and yummy recipes.

Her debut picture book, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA (Clear Fork Publishing, May 2021) illustrated by Cassie Chancy, is on shelves now.

You can swap tales & recipes with Jennifer at or on Twitter @Yangmommy.

You can easily support authors by leaving book reviews, asking libraries to carry their books and of course, purchasing their stories.

by Alli Brydon

Tara, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog (one of my favorites, btw) to celebrate World Ocean Day coming up on June 8th!

World Ocean Day has been designated by the United Nations as a day “for humanity to celebrate the ocean.” On June 8th every year, the global community comes together to recognize how essential our oceans are to our worldwide ecosystem and how important it is that we protect them. There are over a hundred virtual and in-person events planned all across the globe and for all ages, from Coralpalooza to a Smithsonian Museum Shark Talk to tons of beach clean-ups. Check the World Ocean Day event page to see about joining in the celebration!

How does this tie in to children’s books, you ask? My picture book LOBSTAH GAHDEN, which published this spring, contains themes of ocean conservation, collective action, and pollution solutions. I’m also excited to be hosting an Instagram Live reading on June 8th at 4pm ET to celebrate our world’s oceans.

Follow me on Instagram @allibrydon and come along! I might have a special guest or two.

LOBSTAH GAHDEN is a delightfully punny story about ocean life, conservation, and cooperation. Walter is a proud lobstah whose greatest dream is winning the annual Swell Gahdens contest. But, year after year, that honor always goes to his chowdah-head neighbor Milton. One day, when heaps of gahbage show up in their yahds, the rival lobstahs must join forces to find out how to prevent the trash from floating down from above. With wicked ah-some Boston accents, these lobstahs work together to save their gahdens from being ruined by heaps of gahbage.

Our oceans are beautiful, colorful, diverse ecosystems that are home to over a million species of underwater creatures. Unfortunately, humans are putting our friends under the sea at risk by polluting Earth’s oceans daily. Lobstah Gahden helps kids understand the importance of conservation, and additional backmatter about sea life and pollution shows readers practical ways they can help preserve our oceans.

The ocean has always been important to me, having grown up in a beach town on Long Island, in New York. And now my kids are beach babies, too. We all care about ocean conservation, and are trying our best to stop contributing to the problem and be part of the pollution solution.

My co-author, EG Keller, and I hope that young readers will learn about the importance of ocean conservation, especially through the story’s humor and the bonus backmatter pages about sea life and pollution. And we really hope the book will inspire kids to follow Walter and Milton’s lead and help save our world’s oceans.

In addition to celebrating World Ocean Day along with the lobstahs and me, you can check out some other organizations that are doing great work to protect Earth’s oceans:

And here is an IGTV video that I posted in April to celebrate Earth Day. It offers 5 tips to being less “shellfish” and more caring about our Earth.

You can buy LOBSTAH GAHDEN—for ocean activists young and old—at your local indie bookstore, through, and from any brick-and-mortar bookstore or internet retailer.

Take care, chowdah heads…and don’t forget to reduce, reuse, and recycle!

In honor of World Ocean Day, Alli is giving away a copy of LOBSTAH GAHDEN!

Follow her on Instagram and leave a comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!

Alli Brydon is a writer, kidlit editor, and New Yorker, and when she is not writing or editing, she loves to visit art museums, discover new music, chill at the beach, race her family down ski slopes, explore forests, and read books written for children and not-children. She is the co-author of Lobstah Gahden (Sourcebooks, April 2021) and author of Myths & Legends of the World (Lonely Planet Kids, October 2019). She has fiction and nonfiction children’s books forthcoming with National Geographic Kids, Disney, Odd Dot/Macmillan, and Amazon/Two Lions, and is constantly tuned to the world for new ideas. She is also a children’s book editor with 15 years of experience helping authors and illustrators create outstanding children’s books. Alli now lives with her family in the rolling hills just outside of London.

Learn more about Alli’s work at (author site) and (editor site), and follow her on Twitter at @AlliBrydon and on Instagram at @allibrydon.  

with author Charlotte Offsay

Hi Tara! Thank you for having me on your blog today and for hosting the cover reveal of my upcoming picture book HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER!

Charlotte, please tell us about the book!

If your grown-ups bring home a small monster, er, baby, don’t panic. Just send it back!

HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER is a humorous how to story about a child who can’t believe it when her parents bring home a fussy, stinky, parent-stealing monster. She hatches a plan to send it back to where it came from… and along the way, she learns that maybe siblings aren’t so bad after all.

Do you have a fun behind-the-scenes story about creating the book that you’d like to share?

I tend to get my story ideas from the things in my life that are taking up the most room in my heart. When I first began writing what would eventually become HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER, I was consumed with second-time mom guilt about no longer being able to give my daughter the same amount of attention. She was just starting pre-school and I felt terrible separating from her for the first time and spending that time with her baby brother.

I had also heard countless stories from friends of how older siblings were reacting to having a new baby at home. I heard everything from ignoring to harming, and while it was clear these children loved their new siblings, one overarching theme prevailed—it was a hard adjustment for the older sibling to no longer be the sole focus of their parents’ attention.

My worries about my daughter made their way to the written page and I began writing a story about an older sibling feeling replaced by a new baby. ​I first wrote a traditional narrative arc story about a train feeling replaced by a shiny new train, but the story felt too much like a sad twist on Toy Story. ​

I wanted to capture and normalize the emotions around feeling replaced, but I also wanted to write a fun and entertaining story that kids would be able to connect to in a positive way. After one long brainstorming (venting) session with my husband, I realized that in order for the story to work it needed humor. I kept re-envisioning characters and story structure and eventually arrived at a humorous how-to story about a child who tries to return her sibling in the mail. This is the manuscript that is being illustrated by the talented Rea Zhai and will be published this September by Beaming Books.

How did you find your publisher?

I first connected with Beaming Books during #PBPITCH on Twitter.

I was querying at the time and had just been asked for more work by my now agent, the wonderful Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary. I signed with Nicole and we accepted the offer from Beaming Books!

Any words of advice for aspiring PB authors?

Don’t be scared to take the core concept/heart of your manuscript and start over. Play with structure, try an entirely different narrator, change the setting – you may just discover the key to unlocking that stubborn work-in-progress! Happy writing!

Blog readers, Beaming Books is giving away a copy of HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER when it’s released! Just leave one comment to enter.

A random winner will be selected.

Good luck!

Credit: NataliaL Photography

CHARLOTTE OFFSAY was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again. She is the author of, The Big Beach Cleanup, (Albert Whitman 2021). How to Return a Monster is publishing this September from Beaming Books, followed by A Grandma’s Magic, publishing in March 2022 from Doubleday Books for Young Readers. 

Learn more about Charlotte’s work at and follow her on Twitter at @COffsay and on  Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations.

May is Celiac Awareness Month and I’m thankful to have author Michal Babay here to talk about her new book, I’M A GLUTEN-SNIFFING SERVICE DOG (Albert Whitman) which just released in April. It’s narrated by service dog and poodle-extraordinaire Chewie, and is based on the true story of his partnership with Michal’s daughter who has celiac disease.  

Michal, blog readers always enjoy learning how an author gets an idea for a story. This one comes from personal experience. Can you tell us a little about that?

Yes. 2019 was unfortunately a terrible year for my family because my daughter had been in and out of hospitals. Once she was finally healthy and we had recovered emotionally, I really wanted to write a book about her celiac journey. (I knew it would be therapeutic for both of us to share her story.) However, every writing attempt came out too heavy and serious. Since I normally write humorous stories, I struggled to find the right way to tell her story and stay true to my real writing voice. Luckily, I have AMAZING writing partners! Shannon Stocker suggested flipping things around and writing this story from our service dog’s point of view—and that was my door into the manuscript! As soon as Chewie began narrating his own story, the entire thing finally fell into place. Anytime I got stuck on a scene, I just looked over at the poodle racing around my house and I knew exactly what he’d say or do in that situation.

There’s a lot to learn about Celiac—how did you write it in such a way that’s digestible for young readers? (See what I did there?)

HA! Nicely done! And actually, that’s very similar to how I wrote about celiac. I used humor and a goofy dog as the narrator to keep the story interesting. By having Chewie sniff items like salad dressing, vitamins, and shampoo, I was able to show that gluten hides in unexpected places in a very kid-friendly way. It was my way of writing about celiac (and how it affects everything that we use) without saying it outright. After all, if Chewie needs to check things like medicine or lotion for gluten, then the reader automatically realizes those products could be unsafe for Alice or anyone with celiac disease. Additionally, there’s one spread in the book where Alice is too sick to do almost anything – she can’t even go to school anymore. All she wants is to feel healthy and normal again. I wanted this spread to be a window into the physical and emotional realities of celiac disease in a kid-relatable way. Luckily, my editor Andrea Hall also wanted us to include informational backmatter for parents and caregivers. So I was lucky enough to create a story that kids can enjoy, and still have a page for adults with celiac facts.

Chewie is so adorable that this book will appeal to kids who don’t have celiac, too. How can I’M A GLUTEN-SNIFFING SERVICE DOG help these children understand the disease?

This book helps create empathy and understanding of how invisible diseases can affect the day-to-day lives of people. After all, even though Alice “looks” healthy, kids learn how sick she actually is. I hope readers use this book to show children how to look beyond surface appearances and listen with their hearts.

Chewie’s story also answers questions kids may have about the training and use of service dogs. Learning about Chewie’s training takes away the mystery of a working dog. I wanted to give readers a window into the amazing world of service dog training, and to demonstrate how important these dogs are for maintaining the physical and emotional well-being of their handlers.

Michal, thanks for sharing your personal story and Chewie with the world! This book is a wonderful way to spread awareness of this invisible disease.

Blog readers, you can win a copy of I’M A GLUTEN-SNIFFING SERVICE DOG! Just leave one comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!

Michal Babay is a former elementary school teacher and current picture book author. She lives on the west coast with her human family and an ever-increasing amount of animals, including three dogs, one cat, a fish, a snail, and a rescue bearded dragon named Gus Pirate Potato. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @MicBabay.

by Annie Bailey

This is me on June 24, 2019, in the Tetons, mountain biking with my husband. Afterwards, we had lunch at a charming café situated next to the runway of the town’s small airport where we could watch the propeller planes land and take off.

It was a perfect day, and our ride on the mountain trails had given me a lot of time to think. On the drive home, I turned to my husband and said something I never thought I’d say.

“It’s okay if I never get published.”

I’d been pouring my heart into my writing for years—starting just after my first son was born in 2003. In 2016, I signed with my agent. Since then, we’d worked together for THREE YEARS and hadn’t sold a thing. Two weeks before that day in the mountains, my agent and I had a very honest conversation about how things were going. We were both frustrated. But at the end of the discussion, I told her, “If you’re still all in, I am too.” And we both were.

But as I told my husband on the car ride home, it was time to let go of things I couldn’t control. Getting published was one of those things. I could write a story to the best of my ability, but I couldn’t control if an editor would want to publish it. I couldn’t control the state of the economy and how it influenced acquisitions, or the political climate, or if an editor had too much of this or that on her list. I would still write, of course. But I was no longer going to put pressure on myself to achieve results that I had no say in. I felt a lot of relief and peace when I came to that conclusion.

We had only been home a short while when my phone rang.

“You have an offer,” my agent said. For not just one book, but two. A series.

I’m so pleased to share the cover of my very first book in that series, an idea from my 2013 PiBoIdMo (now Storystorm) list.

10 LITTLE TRACTORS releases November 2nd, 2021 from Doubleday Books for Young Readers and is now available for pre-order.

The second title, 10 LITTLE EXCAVATORS, releases February 2nd, 2022.

Boy has it been a crazy year. But I’m still all in, doing my best to focus on what I can control in my writing journey. I hope you are still all in, too.

Thanks for sharing your success story, Annie! What incredible timing!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of 10 LITTLE TRACTORS, which you’ll receive after publication in November.

Comment once to enter. A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!

Annie Bailey is a children’s author, songwriter, and mom to four boys. She loves laughing, reading, playing the piano, soccer, biking and baking. Doubleday Books for Young Readers will release Annie’s first board books, 10 LITTLE TRACTORS and 10 LITTLE EXCAVATORS, in Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. Abrams Appleseed will release her first picture book, MUD!, in Spring 2022. She has also released a children’s album titled THERE IS JOY. Annie served on the 2015 and 2016 Best in Rhyme Award committee and currently enjoys serving as the Regional Advisor for the SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho region. Annie lives in rural Idaho in a renovated farmhouse complete with her very own train car. (Which, of course, has time traveling capabilities.) Visit Annie at or on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @byanniebailey.

by Stephanie Wildman

Thank you, Tara, for having me on your blog. You asked me how I found my amazing debut group Unlike the conventional “author-only” assemblage, we are a group of children’s book creators, including authors, illustrators, and even a Spanish-language translator.

I first heard the term “debut group” from my friend and Writers Grotto colleague A.H. Kim, whose debut novel A GOOD FAMILY came out in July during the pandemic. “What’s a debut group?” I wondered. My friend Ann patiently explained that she and a group of other writers with debut books had banded together “to navigate the uncharted seas of debuting during a pandemic. We were able to share triumphs and disappointments, tips and tricks, questions and answers, all in a safe and confidential forum.” That forum was on a Facebook page (you would think I would get that hint, but I’m not a big FB user).

“But how did you find them?” I wanted to know. It turns out Ann had attended a book festival (pre-pandemic) and met another Korean-American debut author who introduced the concept to her.

Well, I would be attending no live events in a pandemic, so I turned to the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge which has a great resources page for published authors on their website (thanks to Julie Hedland and Kelli Panique). I posted a question there, but it was December and it went nowhere.

Time was running out; my picture book BRAVE IN THE WATER would debut in April. I wrote to some existing debut groups, which told me they were already full. (Good I had had all that practice in accepting rejection through the querying process.)

I was emailing with Sylvia Liu about something else, and I asked her how these groups that were already full had gotten formed. She was kind enough to explain to me that people met through the Kidlit411 Facebook group (lightbulb & FB again).

I saw a posting in the Kidlit411 Facebook group from Rochelle Melander (MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing) who was looking for a debut group. The post had a few responses so I started an email thread with Rochelle and some others. But it went nowhere, too, and I decided I just needed to move on without a group.

Then weeks later, Rochelle wrote me and said she was starting a group with Adria Karlsson (MY SISTER DAISY). They had met—you guessed it—on Facebook, on the 12×12 Facebook page, which I rarely visited, not on the 12×12 Forum where I had started. “Do you want to attend a Zoom meeting?” Rochelle asked. I did!

I met Sonny Giroux, father of Benjamin Giroux, the teen author of I AM ODD, I AM NEW (who shared an agent with Adria); Morissa Rubin author/illustrator of DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT; Katie Munday Williams, who wrote POET, PILGRIM, REBEL: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Published Poet, (who shared a publisher with Rochelle), and Adria.

We discussed size of the group and decided to invite our illustrators (and my translator) to join, and so we added Cecilia Populus-Eudave (VALIENTE EN EL AQUA); Melina Ontiveros (MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD); Tania Rex (POET, PILGRIM, REBEL); and Linus Curci (MY SISTER DAISY).

Even though we were large enough to be a “group,” Adria wasn’t done. She reached out to Alexandra Katona (DINNER ON DOMINGOS) and Leah Rose Kessler (RAT FAIR). And now the group was complete—twelve creators and eight books to launch. We even have a pending “maybe” who would cap our group at “lucky thirteen.”

So, yes, our group has a Facebook page, which I do visit, and I’m learning to like Mark Zuckerberg after all. Mostly, I’m excited to read the books by these fantastic creators.

Here’s what some of them have to say about debut groups:

Leah Rose Kessler (RAT FAIR):
“I never would have gotten where I am without the advice, encouragement, and support of countless people in the book community. It was important to me to find a debut group not only to help me through the mystifying process of releasing my first book but also as a way for me to help lift up and celebrate my fellow book creators in the same way I’ve been lifted so many times before.”

Rochelle Melander (MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing):
“Being part of a group like New Books for Kids has so many benefits. Of course, getting support during a book launch is invaluable. It’s so much work—and having a few more people touting your book, requesting it from their libraries and reviewing it helps so much! But most of all, it’s great to have new creative friends, people I can ask about the writing, publishing and marketing process.”

Katie Munday Williams (POET, PILGRIM, REBEL The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Published Poet):
“Knowing what a wonderful community of writers we have, I jumped at the chance to expand my network. Groups like this not only provide support and feedback, but they allow exponential promotional opportunities for an upcoming book.”

Adria Karlsson (MY SISTER DAISY):
“I didn’t know until recently that such things as debut author groups existed… probably because I’m a debut author. But once I heard about them, I wanted in. A group that could share the year, cross-promote books, and exchange information and tips with sounded amazing. I couldn’t be happier about the group we formed — it has already been such a resource.”

Benjamin Giroux (I AM ODD, I AM NEW):
“I found this group of debut authors through my agent. She thought since I am so young and have no clue what I’m doing in regards to launching a book, I could benefit from being in such a group. It has been really good support, and I am really thankful for all the advice I’ve gotten.”

Morissa Rubin (DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT):
“To be a part of a debut group is not only a practical way to share needed information, but because it is new for all of us, it adds to the thrill of seeing our books published.”

Alexandra Katona (DINNER ON DOMINGOS) (cover not yet revealed!):
“Having a group like this is helping me navigate the difficult task of book promotion, but with other like-minded authors; collaboration is key. We’re able to lift each other up and provide much-needed support and guidance.”

Thanks for telling us about your debut group, Stephanie! 

Blog readers, visit them at, follow them on Twitter @NewBooksForKid1 and Instagram @newbooksforkids

by Jackie Azúa Kramer


…is a story about a little girl Estrella and her classmates that explores divided families, homelessness and food insecurity, plus the importance of meaningful connections at school.

In the story, illustrated by Magdalena Mora, a little girl’s father is deported. She wishes people knew how much she misses him and how it affects her at home and school.

I wish you knew…

…I’m a big fan of Ted Talks, like the one with an educator who felt she was making little progress with her students, so she decided to ask them a question. They were to complete this statement on a piece of paper: “I wish my teacher knew…”

She was astonished by their answers. She realized she couldn’t teach kids who felt sad, hungry, scared and angry. It reminded me of my time working as a school counselor in Queens. Creating a community of meaningful classroom relationships based on compassion, respect and kindness needs to be established before students are open to learn.

The heart of Estrella’s story in I WISH YOU KNEW was inspired by my father’s immigrant journey from Ecuador—the emotional cost he paid, and the courage it took, to leave his family and country to come to a new world with the hope of making a better life for himself, just like Estrella’s father.

I wish you knew…

…that young readers can be activists for good. Like Estrella, and her classmates in IWYK, one can be agents of change. Together with kindness, respect and hope one can help to be the change you want to see.

I wish you knew…

…as a writer, I’m interested in stories and characters that reflect our common humanity. Stories which allow readers to interact with it, feel something and ask questions. To write picture books with a more inclusive representation of families in this country. I’m thrilled that there’s a Spanish edition of I WISH YOU KNEW, Ojalá Supieras.

I wish you knew…

…if there’s one concrete craft tip I can share is to apply your five senses when writing. Sight, smell, sound, touch and taste can add much dimension to your writing and leaves room for illustrative narration. We are writing picture books!

In addition, I tend to write in stanzas between 4-6 lines of text. When it comes to editing, nothing beats cutting and pasting your text into stanzas to trim the fat and get to the meat of the story. In addition, like a haiku, one can begin to play with unique and perfect word choices.

I wish you knew…

…This fall I’m looking forward to readers discovering DOROTHY AND HERBERT: ORDINARY PEOPLE AND THEIR EXTRAORDINARY COLLECTION OF ART. It’s my first non-fiction picture book about a librarian and postal clerk who collected modern art in a one-bedroom NY apartment, and then gave it all away to the National Gallery.

And MILES WON’T SMILE—a funny picture book about a little girl who can’t get her new baby brother to smile for her.

I WISH YOU KNEW will be released by Roaring Brook Press on May 25, 2021.

The first 50 people to preorder IWYK from Word Up Community Bookshop will win this giveaway of 11×19 color print and signed bookplate! Visit Word Up Books here.

Jackie is an award-winning and internationally translated children’s author. She earned her MA in Counseling in Education, Queens College. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab. Her picture books include, THE GREEN UMBRELLA, “2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year,” IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP and her newest THE BOY AND THE GORILLA which received three starred reviews described by Kirkus as “Luminous.”

Her upcoming picture books releasing between 2021-2022 are: I WISH YOU KNEW/OJALÁ SUPIERAS; DOROTHY AND HERBERT: An Ordinary Couple and their Extraordinary Collection of Art; WE ARE ONE; MANOLO AND THE UNICORN and MILES WON’T SMILE.

She lives with her family in Long Island, NY. When not writing, you’ll find her reading, watching old movies and traveling to her family’s roots in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Spain. Visit her online at, on Twitter @jackiekramer422 and Instagram @jackie_azua_kramer.

by Corey Finkle

Last month, I became a published author, a little over 20 years after I wrote my first manuscript. Now while I’d be lying if I said that I had been writing children’s books consistently throughout that time (my first manuscript was a college project; my second was for my then one-year-old son), it has still been undeniably long journey to this point, and amongst the congratulations and well-wishes I’ve received, there has also been a small but steady chorus of people thanking me for giving them hope as they “trudge” or “slog” away themselves.

These specific sentiments—equating writing and querying with drudgery—are very familiar to me, since I spent years feeling the exact same way, and brought to mind the best advice I ever got about my (and so many others’) publishing dream.

Like so many other writers, I spent years on the querying carousel, trying to convince myself that even negative responses deserved “champagne,” and being both happy and jealous of my friends as they found success. Even more maddening was that I kept seeming to get closer and closer to good news, before the other shoe dropped (one summer, I had six agents and a publisher interested in my work, only to have them all pass by Thanksgiving). Once I finally signed with an agent, the first book we subbed got no bites, the second one was taken to the “next round” by an editor before it fizzled, and the third one got a fabulous response from a publisher who wanted only a few tweaks before it would be taken to acquisitions. Six months and two rewrites later, they passed.

For my next book, my agent had me start completely over from scratch, with a brand new concept.  I found this extremely difficult, and my frustration boiled over in a notes session we had after I’d submitted a draft. He asked me why I was so upset, and I answered that, after getting so close to having my dream come true, I was just having trouble going all the way back to square one.

My agent set me straight. With every book we’d submitted, even though we hadn’t gotten a sale, we’d compiled a growing list of editors who’d expressed enthusiasm for seeing my next manuscript. And with every book I’d written, my skills had improved, so that he was seeing me more and more as a finished product, rather than a work in progress (my words, not his). I wasn’t starting over; instead, I was continuing along a path I’d started down the first time I set my sights on this goal.

He was proven right almost immediately. The book we’d been discussing eventually got finished and submitted, and while it didn’t sell, one editor liked my writing enough to ask if I’d be willing to take a stab at a concept he DID want to publish, and THAT was the book that was published last month.

Before that pep talk, I too saw the writing journey as a trudge. Countless rejections (when you get any response at all), a glimmer of positivity getting your hopes up, only to have them come crashing down again. And so on. But here’s the thing: while each of these events feels like separate episodes, they are in fact all parts of the same journey. Every book you write helps you grow your skills when you put pen to paper for the next one. Every person you meet or write to is another person you might make an impression on, or will remember you the next time. As long as you’re progressing, and open to feedback (both on your writing and otherwise), then nothing you do during this process will be a failure. I’m living proof.

So please, when you consider your own path, instead of focusing on the downturns, think instead about how far you’ve come, how much your skills have improved, and the great people you’ve met along the way. I think you’ll find a great deal of success there.

Blog readers, Corey has agreed to give a short coaching session to an aspiring author! Yes, your future is bright!

Leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Corey Finkle is a children’s book author and a copywriter. A member of SCBWI, his goal is to create books that kids will love to read and that adults won’t mind re-reading again and again. Born and raised in Gloversville, New York, he now lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife and kids. YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT is his first picture book. Find out more at and follow him on Twitter @cefinkle.


by Susan Macartney

Tara, thank you! I’m so happy to share my success story. Spoiler alert: It’s never too late to embark on this journey!

“Winding” doesn’t quite do justice to my meandering, zigg-zagging road to publication as an author-illustrator. I’ve always been drawn to both the arts and the sciences. So maybe I could have saved some time if I’d made a beeline for narrative nonfiction! Didn’t happen… First I studied zoology and anthropology and then ended up working in graphic design for 20 years. No question—a convoluted, interesting path, and along the way I continued to tinker with writing and illustrating children’s stories.

I joined SCBWI in 2012, was full of enthusiam about joining a writing “community”… and then my partner and I moved overseas. Temporary hold on my writing while all of “life’s dust” settled… Fast-forward to 2015, my desire to write and illustrate was still strong and I reached out again to the wide world of kidlit.

To give you an idea of how far I had to reach: I’m Canadian. I was living in Sweden. And Tara’s picture book webinar was being hosted by SCBWI… out of France! The host gave us the link to Tara’s blog and told us we should really try the November PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) challenge—and the rest is Storystorm history.

Well, not quite… I moved again! But now the Storystorm challenge with all its amazing writing and illustrating advice was waiting for me wherever I landed. On January 5, 2018, I looked at my blank Storystorm entry page, armed only with the goal of gently exploring the theme of self-awareness. And oh yes, I knew I wanted an animal main character and for envirornmental issues to figure in the subplot. I first learned about the Galapagos Islands when I was seven. And it wasn’t long before the engaging Blue-footed booby waddled into my mind as a potential candidate—what’s not to love?

Two years later after many drafts, CP reviews and edits my debut picture book, BENJAMIN’S BLUE FEET: Pajama Press, was published.

Yay Storystorm! The discipline of a defined daily challenge enhanced by professional advice for ONE creative month, worked for me on so many levels.  I’m goal-oriented and an early riser and embraced the habit of piggybacking my Storystorm entry with my morning coffee. Take note! Having that pen and dedicated notebook within easy reach also helped to minimize all the usual self-inflicted roadblocks to being creative.

Now my story ideas weren’t loose bits of inspiration scrawled on scraps of paper anymore, or worse, those “best” ideas that never even got recorded.  They’re all there in black and white – no excuses, no delusions (about how great that idea actually was) – just lots of ideas to return to, mull over and mine!

It is never too late to set forth on this journey. Remember that there is a WIDE world of like-minded people out there – learn to reach out, relish the small joys along the way and PERSEVERE!

Blog readers, Sue is giving away a signed copy of BENJAMIN’S BLUE FEET!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!

Sue has taught art to children around the world and currently works as a nature sketch artist at The Bateman Foundation in Victoria, BC. You can find Sue online at and on Twitter @suesumac and Instagram @suemacartney.

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My Picture Books


illus by Mike Boldt
July 2021

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown

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