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Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Patricia Storms with her newest book, SUN WISHES. I caught a glimpse of the cover online and I was immediately captivated by the bold colors. I was so drawn to the book, I had to ask her about it!

Patricia, this blog focuses on story ideas, so please tell us how you got the concept for SUN WISHES?

It’s interesting how SUN WISHES came to be.

SUN WISHES would not have happened without MOON WISHES, which came into the world in 2019.

MOON WISHES came about as a conversation with my husband Guy. The response from MOON WISHES was so kind and positive. I wasn’t sure what the response would be, because it was a different kind of picture book—soft, dreamy, poetic. I was pleased that people enjoyed MOON WISHES, but it really did not occur to me to write a sequel, or follow-up. But I was at a Christmas party in 2019 (a party full of children’s authors & illustrators, by the way), and I had brought a copy of Moon Wishes with me. One of the guests turned to me after reading Moon Wishes and said, “Well, when are you going to write SUN WISHES?” My jaw dropped. I had never considered that! So then I could not get that title out of my head, and within the next few days, the words poured out of me so easily, like a gift from the heavens.

You are an illustrator yourself, but Milan Pavlović is the illustrator for both books. How did that come about?

Yes, I did receive a lot of questions/confusion when MOON WISHES came out—why was I letting someone else illustrate my text, if I can illustrate my own books? Well, it’s like this: before MOON WISHES came out, I had illustrated a couple of books under a very tight deadline, and I was mentally exhausted. Illustrating a picture book is a lot of hard work. But the main reason why Milan illustrated MOON WISHES and SUN WISHES is that he was the perfect person to illustrate my words.

I agree! His style is perfect for this book. The colors are so rich and vivid, and I love the way certain pages have an overall color theme based on the time of day or location. You can’t stop marveling at it.

For most of my creative career I have focused on cartooning, so all the books I have illustrated have been cute and funny. But all of a sudden I was getting all these soft and gentle words coming out of me. I can draw/paint in a soft manner, but I wasn’t sure I could suddenly change styles and create gentle art under a tight deadline. Plus I was really excited at the thought of having someone else illustrate my words. I’d never had that experience, professionally.

It’s scary to try new things when you are not sure of the end result, and trust me, I was a tad nervous (giving creative control over to another artist) but the end results were way beyond my expectations (this also includes my other book, THE DOG’S GARDENER, which was illustrated by the amazing Nathalie Dion). I do want to grow as an artist, so since the beginning of the pandemic I started painting using gouache, trying to stretch my skills. My dream is to illustrate a picture book using gouache instead of coloring digitally. We will see what transpires…

The last three books you have written have a very low word count, and even your earlier picture book, NEVER LET YOU GO has just over 100 words. Is there a reason behind that?

Yes, I do seem to have a penchant for short, short fiction. I’m not exactly sure what to say other than I think that’s how my creative brain works when it comes to writing. Even when I was very young, I wrote short works. I still have my kindergarten report card and my teacher wrote, “Patricia’s stories, though brief, are very imaginative.” I loved reading all the clever one-panel gag cartoons I found within New Yorker cartoon collection—short, clever jokes really rocked my world. I wrote lots of short poems back then, and then I eventually graduated to magazine gag cartoons and greeting cards. The next logical step seemed to be picture books. It’s not easy to write a story with a limited amount of text, but I really enjoy the challenge. I have read the criticisms of my works—some folks don’t quite get my approach to writing picture books; they think there is no ‘story’ within my words. I’ve read comments like “nothing happens” in some of the book reviews (I know, I shouldn’t read the negative reviews!). Well I would argue that lots happens—it’s just beneath the surface, and the approach is very quiet. I like picture books with lots of energy and highs and lows, but there is a place for quiet stories that make you think, and get to the heart of the matter.

Thank you for sharing SUN WISHES with us, Patricia! It’s a gorgeous, captivating book!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of SUN WISHES. Just leave one comment below.

A random commenter will be selected at the end of this month.

Good luck!


Ever since Patricia Storms can remember, she has loved to draw, paint, write, read, and sing. She was 12 years old when my first cartoon was published in a Toronto newspaper. She got paid five dollars for that cartoon, so she figured that maybe she should keep drawing. She’s been writing, drawing and painting ever since, publishing dozens of books which you can find here.

Visit her online at patriciastorms.com and follow her on Twitter @stormsy.

Thank you so much, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal of THE CORGI AND THE QUEEN (January 2023, from Godwin Books/Macmillan).

The Queen is synonymous with the Pembroke Welsh corgi, and I’ve often wondered what sparked the monarch’s life-long devotion to the breed. It was this curiosity that led me to start work on my manuscript.

I’ve been a journalist for more than half of my life and I’ve also worked in documentary production, so I take a “full immersion” approach to research. I eat, breathe and sleep a story until I find its heart!

When I learned about Susan, the corgi puppy that Elizabeth received as an 18th birthday gift, I was utterly enchanted. Susan was the teenage princess’s constant companion, comforting her during the dark days of World War II, and accompanying Elizabeth and Prince Philip in their wedding carriage (and on their honeymoon)! Susan was also by Elizabeth’s side when she became Queen at the age of 25 after her beloved ‘Papa,’ King George VI, died suddenly.

Even though my life could not be more different from Queen Elizabeth’s, I felt very connected with this story. I went through some challenging times in my childhood, and my pets helped me in ways that people often couldn’t.

The more I found out about Elizabeth and Susan’s bond, the more it became apparent that it was a love story, and one that highlights the universal need for connection. Their special friendship resulted in a regal dog dynasty: fourteen generations of royal corgis were directly descended from Susan!

My agent took THE CORGI AND THE QUEEN out on sub in 2020, and I was lucky enough to get an offer from a dream editor who had the perfect vision for the book. When I was shown samples of illustrator Lydia Corry’s work, it took me less than thirty seconds to respond with a resounding “YES”. I adore Lydia’s art, and she has done a truly incredible job with our book. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two when I saw this cover for the first time!

The Queen is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee this year, after a remarkable (and record-breaking) 70 years on the British throne. During the course of Elizabeth’s reign she has met 13 US Presidents, and while the world has changed immensely since she was crowned in 1953, her love of corgis has endured. She was gifted two corgi puppies during the pandemic, and they now keep her company in her apartments at Windsor Castle.

It’s been more than three years since I started work on THE CORGI AND THE QUEEN and I’m still pinching myself. I cannot wait to see this book in kids’ hands, and I hope that Queen Elizabeth herself gets to read it!

What an adorable cover by Lydia Corry! Thanks for sharing it with us, Caroline!

Blog readers, Caroline is giving away a non-rhyming picture book critique (up to 700 words) in celebration.

Leave one comment below and a random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!


Caroline L. Perry is a British children’s book author, journalist and documentary producer currently residing in California. She’s been writing for a living for over twenty years, and she’s passionate about children’s literature. As an entertainment correspondent she has interviewed stars from across the celebrity spectrum, but she’s happiest when tinkering with a kids’ manuscript, whether it be a picture book biography or a whimsical rhyming text. Visit her online at Carolineperryauthor.com and follow her on Twitter @Caro_Perry.

Amalia, congratulations on your new book, MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD! 

You’re familiar with how this blog deals with story ideas, so I always want to know: what was the genesis of this book?

I was always fascinated with the story of the creation as it is told in the book of Genesis. Wow! A whole world created in 6 days! God had to work really hard to do that!

Creating a book for young children, I wondered how to explain this abstract concept. How did God do that? And what is God? I struggled with the idea for a while, until I stumbled upon the finger paint jars that I use while working with young children. They love to dip their hands in finger paints and smear them on any surface they could. In the biblical text, in the beginning the world was “Tohu va vohu” which, in Hebrew, means “Without form.” That gave me the idea of taking another approach to telling the story from children’s point of view. In MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD, the first spread starts with, “In the beginning… My left hand dabbed. My right hand doodled.”  The image shows blotches and markings of paint, similar to what children do when they start using finger paints. The creation now is not in the hand of God, but rather in the hands of the creative young child.

Yes, children need something concrete and relatable to help them understand abstract concepts. And your images are so colorful and fun—it draws a child right in.

How do you hope young readers will respond to your book?

My hope is that a child reader will respond by enjoying the colorful yet simple illustrations that are created by finger paints, a medium that is mostly used by young children as they delve into making art.

I hope that MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD will inspire readers to realize how wonderful and powerful their art is and how wonderful our World is.

I understand you traveled to Israel for your book launch!

I traveled to this place, called Beit Yanai, on the Mediterranean, where I spent my summers as a child. To me, it was the perfect place to launch this book.

Congratulations, Amalia, and thank you for stopping by!

Blog readers, a copy of MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD will be awarded to one lucky person.

Leave a comment below and a random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!


Amalia grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. Her first drawing was black crayon smeared over the entire page. Her mom asked what it was and she said, “a chicken coop.”

“Where are the chickens?” her mother asked.

Amalia answered, “They are all asleep and it’s dark.”

Since then she has been drawing, painting, sculpting and cutting paper constructions. After graduating from Pratt Institute and NYU, she began showing my artwork in galleries and museums. Gene Moore, display director for Tiffany & Co., loved her paper constructions and invited Amalia to create displays for all his windows in New York.

Writing and illustrating children’s books is a window into a child’s fantasy and imagination. It’s also a wonderful way for Amalia to connect with her own childhood and early memories like the chicken coop drawing.

For more on her books, awards, accolades and storytelling, please visit amaliahoffman.com.

Today, TIME FLIES, the 3rd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I saga, releases from Little, Brown. You can find it here.

Private I thinks all is copacetic in Capital City, but he soon gets up to his latte in a new conundrum. (Did I just write that crazy sentence? Seems that I did.)

Happy Earth Day! Let’s talk mushrooms!

My good friends forage for mushrooms. I went to their house around Halloween one year and saw a huge skull on their dining room table…what a perfectly spooky decoration…except…it wasn’t a skull at all! It was a giant puffball mushroom, and it was good eats! They sliced it up, seasoned and pan-fried it, and we fork-and-knifed it like a steak. It tasted divine. Since then, we’ve had all kinds of foraged dishes, including pasta in a creamy chanterelle sauce. What about morels, you ask? They’ve found them, too. (And I’ve eaten them!)

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I received this beauty, MUSHROOM RAIN by Laura K. Zimmermann, illustrated by Jamie Green.

I had to ask Laura about it!

Laura, my blog is all about brainstorming ideas for writing books—so where did the idea for MUSHROOM RAIN originate?

Storystorm (technically, when it was PiBoldMo)!

Ooh, a Storystorm Success story!

I was looking for information on female scientists to add to my ideas for the month and came across a story about Beatrix Potter’s research with mushrooms. Sadly, that manuscript didn’t sell but it did help me see mushrooms in a new way. So when I came across a story about mushroom spores helping to create rain, I had to read it. And when I did, two words popped into my mind. Well, technically 6. “That is so cool…Mushroom Rain!”

That is cool! Speaking of cool, have you ever gone mushroom foraging?

So far I have only foraged for pictures. My nieces and I found a ton of different varieties in South Carolina and I have come across quite a few at the Arboretum near where I live. I joined the Mycological Association of Washington DC but haven’t had time in my schedule to drive out to the locations they have been foraging. I’m hoping to later in the summer or fall. Given that I thought a white mushroom I saw was a cute innocent thing—I later learned it was a destroying angel—I think it is best that my first true forage be with people who know more than me.

When I’m with my mushroom friends, they do all sorts of things to ID the mushrooms, like put them on a sheet of paper to check spore prints. Spores do so much (wink, wink)!

The illustrations by Jamie Green are gorgeous, and I love the unique choice of the black background, which really makes the mushrooms pop.

It’s an interesting and brilliant choice. One might expect greenery or blue sky considering the subject matter. How did you feel when you first saw the illustrations?

I was both surprised and thrilled when I saw Jamie’s art for the book. It’s not an approach I ever imagined, but now I can’t picture it any other way. The wonderland feel captures the kingdom of mushrooms perfectly!

Yes, it feels rather regal and majestic! 

You have two spreads of fascinating back matter in this book. What is your approach to back matter?

As a scientist and nonfiction picture book writer, research rabbit holes are one of my virtual homes. I deep dive into any topic of interest and collect my favorite bits. Anything that doesn’t make it into the book, tries to find a home there.

What tips do you have for other non-fiction picture book writers?

Follow topics that won’t let go wherever they may lead. Straight or winding the path will take you where you want to go—even if you don’t know where that is at the start. Then double and triple check your facts. Find everything you can and reach out to those who know more than you. Many wonderful and patient experts helped make Mushroom Rain what it is today. And I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Join SCBWI. Use Storystorm and other challenges to push your writing forward. I am the writer I am today because of them and my amazing critique partners that I met, you guessed it, through SCBWI.

Laura, thank you for stopping by on Earth Day and sharing this enchanting story of mushrooms.

Blog readers, Laura is giving away a non-fiction picture book critique (plus a signed bookplate and SWAG) to one lucky winner.

Comment once below with your favorite mushroom.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!


College professor by day and children’s writer by night, Laura K. Zimmermann has published numerous academic articles on human development as well as nonfiction stories in AppleSeeds, Ask, Muse, Odyssey, and Root & Star magazines. Her debut picture book, MUSHROOM RAIN, is here now from Sleeping Bear Press.

When she’s not writing, you’ll find her teaching classes and conducting research at Shenandoah University or wandering through nature with Junior Explorer Tivy.

Online you can find her at LauraKZimmermann.com, @LauraK_PBwriter on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest

Ahhh, relax, it’s finally Monday!

What, don’t like Mondays?

You will once you read BEING A DOG: A TAIL OF MINDFULNESS by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Pete Oswald. This pupper knows how to just BE.

Maria, I know you’re an animal lover, as your books always feature them. Tell us, why a dog for this book?

This book was inspired by my late rescue dog, Becca. We had a very special bond, and she inspired many a book, including this one.

After she died I was deeply depressed for a couple of months and unable to do much of anything. When I was finally ready to write again, I thought of the ways that dogs are present and how they live in the moment. I wanted to feel the joy and calmness I felt being with Becca, and as I wrote, the moments and memories came alive and the words flowed out. I like to think of this book as Becca’s gift to me.

Aww, Maria, that is such a sweet story! 

We have all been through a rough time lately and need some uplifting reads. What is your hope for children who read this book?

Great question, Tara! That they can find moments of joy, and try to be present as much as they can. This comes naturally to kids, but the pandemic has brought so much stress and fear and sadness and isolation to us all. When we play, experiment, do art, play or listen to music/dance and explore nature, these moments come more easily to us all—we immerse ourselves in what’s in front of us, or in the process. There’s a mindfulness breathing exercise in the book, and my hope is that kids can use this whenever they feel sad or scared or stressed to self soothe and find some calm to help them cope.

A little birdie told me there’s another book in this series. I’m as curious as a cat! What can you tell us about that?

Yes! It’s called BEING A CAT: A TAIL OF CURIOSITY and it will release next April. The final art just came in this week and Pete worked his magic again—it’s sweet, adorable and very funny. To counter the idea of “curiosity kills the cat,” let’s instead inspire curiosity and wonder in kids—they are already wowed and curious about so many things in the world, and I’m hoping this book will also encourage them to ask questions, experiment and play. It’s dedicated to our editor, cat-lover Nancy Inteli and her trio of kitties, Jerry, Lulu & Keiko.

One last question—I thought this dog might be named Becca, but I see the dog doesn’t have a name! Is there a reason why?

I intentionally left the dog unnamed—that way it leaves things more open for readers. Kids can imagine it’s their very own pooch, or it invites them to imagine one who might be their furry friend.

Excellent!

Thank you for stopping by, Maria!

Blog readers, BEING A DOG: A TAIL OF MINDFULNESS was released last week from HarperCollins.

You can win a copy here just by commenting. (Tell us about your pet if you have one!)

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming author Janna Matthies and her delightful nighttime romp, HERE WE COME!, illustrated in bluesy, moody watercolor by Christine Davenier.

A boy sets off with his flute and his stuffed bear and a rum-pum-pum. As they make their way through the town and the woods, they ask, “Wanna come?” Soon, kids and creatures join in the fun one by one, playing instruments, singing, and dancing to the catchy tune.

But will a storm bring their fun-filled musical parade to an end?

Janna, we discuss how to brainstorm story ideas on my blog. Where did the idea for HERE WE COME come from?

Believe it or not, I wrote this manuscript nearly ten years ago, and Beach Lane Books acquired it more than five years ago. So my memory is a little foggy on the story-storming process. However, I can say that marching around singing and dancing with kids is a regular part of my life (I’m a music teacher part-time). So the subject matter was a natural for me. I do remember the phrase, “Here we come with a rum-pum-pum. Wanna come?” popping into my mind. After that, the real brainstorming began as I recognized that subsequent lines would all need to end with words that rhyme with “come.” So I jotted down a long list of every word I could think of. I believe I used everything on the list except for “plum”, “crumb” and “scum”—probably best, on that last word.

Haha! Yes, that is for the best!

This is a cumulative tale. What special tips or recommendations do you have for others creating this kind of story?

Yes, it’s cumulative and told in rhyming verse. Making the rhythm and rhyme as clean as possible is key to a rolicking read-aloud. As for the plot, each accumulated line needs to up the ante in some way. In the case of HERE WE COME!, each new line introduces a different character making a musical sound—“a pick and a strum” (dog), “Little Lu on her thumb with a swish-swish bum” (toddler in a diaper—a real crowd-pleaser, by the way), “fiddle-dee-fiddle-dum” (enormous, jaunty bear), etc.. The characters and their sounds are increasingly unexpected or funny or joyful. And then comes the line that changes everything—“a drip on a drum”. UH-OH! Something climactic is about to happen! Of course, this building excitement or tension is accomplished through the synergy of words and illustrations. I was thrilled with how illustrator Christine Davenier staged this musical parade at night and included kids as well as woodland animals. The two adorable hedgehogs paired with the words “Clap-clap with a chum” nearly steal the show!

Did you include any illustration notes for Christine, or were the characters and setting all from her imagination?

In this case, I provided no illustration notes at all. I was between agents at the time and submitted the manuscript exclusively to Allyn Johnston at Beach Lane, who I’d received a personal note from before. I knew from an interview that Allyn doesn’t like art notes—she’s since told me my wide-open text was part of the appeal for her. So yes, the setting and characters are entirely Christine’s invention.

I’m so curious—did you have anything different in mind and you just didn’t say so?

Yes. In my mind a couple of human siblings or friends were heading outdoors on a sunny day, maybe banging pots like drums, or maybe real drums. And as they moved through the neighborhood, they ran across other kids and invited them along. Some played real instruments, others made up rhythms on everyday items or played “air-instruments” (My husband likes to think he’s very good at air guitar and air drums, for instance.). Funny enough, Christine says that when she read the text and imagined the scene, it was “obviously at night”. Because she used a whimsical, dream-like mix of animal and human characters, it’s perfectly fine for them to be parading alone through the woods at night. I was completely delighted when I saw her sketches and thought, “Brilliant!”

That sincerely demonstrates the trust that author and illustrator must have with each other. Brava to you both!

Finally, what is your message to kids who pick up this book?

I hope kids feel invited into making music—any way, anyhow, anywhere. Sing! Drum on a box! Imitate the hum of a fan or the rhythm of a woodpecker. Say “yes” if the chance comes to learn an instrument. The joy of music is for all, and is especially wonderful when shared. I hope kids’ internally reply, “Yes! I wanna come!”

Blog readers, do you wanna come, too? Janna is giving away a signed copy of HERE WE COME! Just leave a comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck…and thank you, Janna!


Janna Matthies is a picture book author and early-elementary music teacher in Indianapolis. Her books include two soon-to-be-announced titles as well as HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/S&S); GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU (WorthyKids); TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids), THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman) and others. When she’s not reading, writing or making music, Janna enjoys gardening, walking her husky, and hanging out with her husband and three mostly-grown kids. Visit her at jannamatthies.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @JannaMatthies.

I’m pleased to welcome Katie Mazeika to the blog today––she’s a long-time Storystormer and now she’s here to reveal the cover of her debut as an author-illustrator: ANNETTE FEELS FREE: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-life Mermaid. Take it away, Katie!

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal of ANNETTE FEELS FREE: THE TRUE STORY OF ANNETTE KELLERMAN, WORLD-CLASS SWIMMER, FASHION PIONEER, AND REAL-LIFE MERMAID (September 13, 2022, from S&S/Beach Lane Books).

I first came across Annette Kellerman’s story in the summer of 2017.  At the time, I was looking at interesting women from history for a series of illustrations––her resolute determination captured my attention, as did the swim records she broke, her grace and showmanship in and out of the water, and her steadfast belief in women being able to compete fairly against men. I did my piece on Annette and moved on to the next image. Well, that was the plan anyway. But Annette’s story stuck with me and begged for a longer exploration.

When Annette was very young, she was diagnosed with a childhood disability and had to wear leg braces. When I was a toddler, I lost my right eye to cancer. I understood all too well how having a disability (especially at such a young age) can change the trajectory of one’s life. Yet it wasn’t just that connection that drew me to her. The more I researched, the more there was to love about Annette! She was a champion swimmer who set world records when she was a teen (some of which remain unbroken today), fashion pioneer, fierce feminist, spunky heroine, and one of America’s first movie stars. What’s not to love? I admire her tenacity and refusal to conform to the expectations of her time. Brave women are often underestimated.

I was lucky; although her swimming career started more than one hundred years ago, I found dozens of photos, newspaper articles, and even videos of Annette swimming and performing. I even found stills from a film where she appeared nude, (she was the first movie star to do so, although that didn’t make it into the book!). ANNETTE FEELS FREE is about determination, disability, girl power, and the birth of a sport!

I am thrilled to share with readers this story that I fell in love with and have so enjoyed researching! Thank you again, Tara, for helping me share Annette.

Blog readers, Katie will be giving away a copy of ANNETTE FEELS FREE when it is released. 

Dive in with a comment to enter.

A winner will be randomly selected in September.

Good luck!


Katie Mazeika is an Ohio girl, born and raised! She grew up in Cincinnati, went to The Columbus College of Art and Design, and now lives in the Cleveland area with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.

Katie quickly fell in love with children’s books and can’t imagine a better job than making books for young readers. ANNETTE FEELS FREE is her author/illustrator debut. She has a second picture book biography about Beulah Henry (a.k.a. “Lady Edison”) coming out with S&S/Beach Lane Books in 2023. Katie illustrated books for the Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES series: EVERYONE SHARES (EXCEPT CAT) by Jamie Michalak (Charlesbridge 2022) and EVERYONE SAYS PLEASE (EXCEPT CAT) by Jamie Michalak (Charlesbridge 2022), and is at work illustrating a third book in the series.

When she’s not drawing, Katie likes to spend her time gardening or reading other people’s books. You can find her at katiemazeika.com, on Twitter @kdmaz, or on Instagram @kdmazart.

Ahh, spring! Can I go outside now?

Well, I live in New Jersey where spring weather is a bit iffy—75 and sunny one day, a blizzard the next. Best to keep my nose buried in the books a while longer.

Thankfully, a gorgeous book just arrived! Meet APPLE AND MAGNOLIA by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Patricia Metola.

What a sweet cover! And it earned THREE starred reviews! Thankfully, Laura Gehl agreed to an interview!

Laura, you know this blog is all about story ideas…so how did this idea germinate?

The seed for this idea came from research I read several years ago about how trees communicate with one another. That research is more widely known now, but at the time it was completely new to me. The fact that trees can send one another nutrients, and can warn one another of danger, struck me as something extraordinary and amazing. APPLE AND MAGNOLIA grew out of my desire to write about this real, special relationship between trees.

But this story isn’t just about trees, is it? Tell us how Nana’s character came into play.

You’re right, the story isn’t just about trees. The story is also about Britta’s unwavering belief in the face of doubters. Britta is convinced Apple can help when Magnolia falls ill, and she doesn’t let Dad and her older sister Bronwyn dissuade her. But I wanted Britta to have a supporter in addition to the doubters…because I hope all kids can find a supportive adult in their lives, whether a relative or a teacher or a coach. That’s where Nana comes in.

How did the story grow from early drafts to the final?

Britta’s attempts to help the two trees feel closer to one another (the scarf, the string telephone, the lights) changed over time…I remember my critique partners helping brainstorm ideas for that! As I got closer to the final draft, I added in tree language, like “Britta felt a seed of hope start to grow” and “Britta’s hope blossomed too.” Also, my initial title was TWO TREES, which of course grew into APPLE AND MAGNOLIA.

Why did you choose those two trees, an apple and a magnolia?

Choosing two trees was hard. I wanted trees with beautiful spring blossoms, I wanted one to be a fruit tree, and I wanted trees with names that sounded somewhat like human names (sorry, Brazil nut tree!). I liked that apple trees and magnolia trees can both have pink flowers but that the two types of blossoms don’t look similar in shape or size. Also, I have a magnolia tree in my yard, which I love!

What do you hope readers will take away after reading APPLE AND MAGNOLIA?

I hope kids take away from this book that trees are connected to one another, that we are connected to trees, and really that all living things in our world are connected. I also hope young readers leave this story with the realization that when they face doubters in their lives…even bigger, older doubters…they don’t have to listen. When kids disagree with adults, sometimes kids are the ones who know what they’re talking about!

Amen to that! Kids can be so much more intuitive than adults.

Laura, thank you for sharing this beautiful book with us. I understand there’s also a discussion guide and activity resource at flyawaybooks.com/book/apple-and-magnolia

And blog readers, you can win a signed copy of APPLE AND MAGNOLIA! Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

Thanks, Tara, for inviting New Books for Kids back to your blog. We were here last year at the start of our debut journey together talking about what else?—debut groups!

For this visit, Tara asked us to consider how we approach the craft of writing.  From inspiration to polished manuscript, what is our process? You wondered, “Do we start with a theme when we write? A character? A structure? How do we revise?” Here are some answers from New Books for Kids.

Adria Karlsson (MY SISTER DAISY, illustrated by Linus Curci):

Almost always my books start out as ideas jotted down in a notebook, on a sticky note, or in my phone. I love novel information and when I hear something that makes me go, “Wait. What?!” – that’s usually a good indication I’m going to have to investigate further. Sometimes the ideas come from within my own thoughts when I’m tackling a problem of my own, helping a kiddo get through a tough moment, or celebrating someone’s accomplishment. It’s a long way from there to a proper story and sometimes I never do figure out how to move it out of “concept” and into “story.” Despite that, I like my collection of dysfunctional ideas and come back to them often to see if any of them have germinated. The evolution into a story often occurs when I figure out the theme that will carry the concept.

About Adria: Once upon a time, Adria Karlsson could have been found teaching people, training cats and dogs, or tutoring dyslexic kids, but now they spend their time writing and parenting. They set off on a new adventure every day to discover fresh alchemies of words and ideas that will build a good story. Visit her online at adriakarlsson.com or on Twitter: @adriakarlsson.

Alex Katona (DINNER ON DOMINGOS, illustrated by Claudia Navarro):

When I have an idea, I just start writing. I don’t think too much about an arc, but I try to have a theme in mind. My first draft is MESSY—I try not to be too critical and just get my ideas down. After the initial thoughts are on paper, I leave it for a few days to figure out where to go next. When I come back to it, I break it apart and dissect it. I think about character development and pacing and page turns, but I continue to think about the theme. I even write the word or phrase on a post-it note and stick it near my laptop so I’m constantly reminded of it.

About Alex: Alex has been writing stories since she was young. When she’s not writing, you can find her surfing, exploring the outdoors, or reading. She lives with her husband, son, and dogs in Southern California and believes in the connective power of food. Dinner on Domingos is based on her own childhood. You can visit her at alexandrakatona.com or on Twitter @Alex_KatonaC.

Benjamin Giroux (I AM ODD I AM NEW, illustrated by Roz MacLean):

Our youngest member finds inspiration for writing from his everyday life. He wrote the poem that became his debut book I AM ODD I AM NEW as a school assignment in which he expressed his experience living as a person with autism in a neurotypical world. The book series he’s currently working on also channels his everyday moments and was inspired by Monty, his pet snake. What in your own life inspires you?

About Benjamin: Benjamin, whose book was given the prestigious Kirkus Reviews Star, has been featured on many websites, in the Huffington Post, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. He was named Poet Laureate of Plattsburgh, New York, and has also been the face of the National Autism Association’s antibullying campaign. His poem has been translated into several languages. He is now an award-winning songwriter. Visit him at benjamingiroux.com.

Katie Williams (POET, PILGRIM, REBEL: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Poet, illustrated by Tania Rex):

While the ‘craft’ of writing involves many different phases and elements, I think my favorite one is the brainstorming phase. To me, this is one of the most important parts since it determines the subject of your story. Setting, POV, main character, those all come later, but first you need your subject. There are so many ways to brainstorm ideas and none of them are wrong. Some people enjoy perusing the news looking for interesting people or events. Others might sit and meditate, seeing what comes to them naturally. For me, I love to look around and attempt to see the world with new eyes. How would my children see that clump of trees? As a hideout? A scary forest? A home to an animal? With nonfiction, it can mean looking at a historical figure with a fresh take on it. Sure, that person grew up to be famous, but what were they like as a child? What were their dreams/hopes/fears? When you look at the world in a fresh, new way, you’ll literally find story ideas everywhere!

About Katie: Katie is a Public Health Nurse, Lactation Consultant, and Author. She has always been an avid reader and was once so engrossed in reading Black Beauty that she missed her school bus home. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and two children, where they enjoy digging for sand crabs and attempting to bring the entire beach home with them in their pants. Visit her online at katiemundaywilliams.com or on Twitter: @KatieWills79.

Leah Rose Kessler (RAT FAIR, illustrated by Cleonique Hilsaca):

What happens when you’ve tried everything, and your story still doesn’t feel right? As counterintuitive as it sounds, my craft tip for you is to let it go. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your manuscript is set it aside. Even if it’s the story of your heart, the one you’re certain you’re destined to publish, stop working on it. Drop it like a handful of lava. Put it out of your mind.

Create a folder labeled “To Come Back To Later” and plop it in. Then walk away. Have a piece of toast. Repaint your bathroom. Learn how to ski. After enough time has passed (I’m talking months, not days), one of two things is likely to happen. Either you’ll find that you’re immersed in another manuscript and don’t feel the need to visit that folder, or you’ll go back and take a peek and realize your brain has been working on it in the background all along; all the mentor texts you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, the life you’ve lived, will have added up into a big swirl of insight and inspiration while you weren’t even looking. You’ll be able to take your story forward in a direction you never would have been capable of if you’d kept on picking and poking at it all those months ago.

About Leah: Leah spent much of her childhood up a tree with a stack of books. These days, when she’s not reading or writing, she’s an on-again, off-again elementary school teacher and a lifelong biologist. She lives in Michigan with two humans and two cats and has a soft spot for scurrying creatures of all shapes and sizes. Her work has appeared in Cricket Media’s Babybug and Spider magazines. Leah is represented by Natascha Morris at The Tobias Literary Agency. Visit her online at leahrosekessler.com or on Twitter: @leahrosekessler.

Morissa Rubin (DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT, forthcoming from POW! Kids Books):

As an author/illustrator my creative process is messy, intertwined, and not at all linear. Sometimes I start with words and other times it is an image or visual idea that gets me started. I am very interested in the interplay of word and image, and I usually work in one realm for a bit and then switch to the other to see if I can let both sides develop together. I want to make sure that both sides of the equation (words and art) speak to me equally, each offering a different window into the work that is emerging. As a graphic designer and long-time publication designer, I think a lot about how a concept is reflected in its visual structure. How is the sequencing, pacing, and “chunking out” of the work reflected in both the words and phrasing, and how can it also be expressed with color, texture, pattern, and composition. But at some point, I do separate passes, focusing on just the words and language one time and then doing a visual edit at another time. I keep inching along, back and forth, back and forth.

About Morissa: Morissa is a graphic designer who thinks polka dots, paisleys and plaid are better together. She received her BFA from RISD and her MS from MIT’s Visible Language Workshop. Morissa lives in Sacramento where she teaches typography and other design courses at UC Davis and Sac State. Visit her website at morissarubindesign.com/books or on Twitter: @MorissaRubin and Instagram: @morissa.s.childrensbooks.

Rochelle Melander (MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing, illustrated by Melina Ontiveros):

The idea for MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD came from teaching writing to young people. I wanted to create a resource that would tell the stories of people who wrote to share big ideas, fight for equal rights, and heal the environment. When I researched and wrote each chapter, I started with the question: How did they use writing to change themselves and the world? These hooks guided my writing—and I used them to tell the story. When I revised, I read my words aloud, listening for juicy words and interesting twists and turns that would hook the readers. This process works well for writing and revising picture books, too. I start with the theme or question, using that to research, brainstorm, or write the story. When I revise, I listen with the imagination of a child. How will this story unfold for them? What words will appeal to them? Where will they get hooked? And where will they get lost? That helps me to find my way forward.

About Rochelle: Rochelle wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword won the 2021 Cybils Award for Middle Grade nonfiction. She’s an ADHD coach, an artist educator, and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She blogs at writenowcoach.com and rochellemelander.com. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @writenowcoach.

Stephanie Wildman (BRAVE IN THE WATER, illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar and translated into Spanish as VALIENTE EN EL AGUA by Cecilia Populus-Eudave):

Like several of my colleagues, I also find inspiration in the day to day. My forthcoming picture book Treasure Hunt combines two activities I do with my grandchildren. But how does one go from inspiration to polish? My most important craft tip (as a non-illustrator) is putting the manuscript (after rewrites and those ever so valuable critiques) into a picture book dummy format. That allows me to focus on page turns – will the reader want to turn to the next page? What can be pictured with this text? Are too many pages taking place in the same scene? I can better answer these questions once the manuscript is formatted like a book. And of course, read it out loud.

 

About Stephanie: Stephanie became a Professor Emerita after serving as the John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law. In that role she authored books, law review articles, and journalistic pieces. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she can sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice. Lawley Publishing will release her second children’s book Treasure Hunt (illustrated by Estefania Razo) in November 2022. Find her at stephaniewildman.com or on Twitter: @SWildmanSF.

Thank you for sharing your craft tips, authors!

Blog readers, do you have a craft or process tip that works especially well for you? Please share in the comments!

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TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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