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Remember when you were a kid and your parents didn’t have to force you to play outside? You just went, because that was where the fun and friends were waiting! That [fantastic] feeling is captured in Valerie Bolling and Sabrena Khadija’s new picture book:

Cover of Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun. City street scene with buildings in background and kids on street in foreground, one riding bike, one bouncing basketball, one rolling in wheelchair, and two kids running with arms uplifted.

Valerie, everyone who reads this blog loves to hear origination stories. Where did your idea for RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! come from?

The idea for RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! came from a similar place as that of my previous books, LET’S DANCE! and TOGETHER WE RIDE. I notice what children enjoy doing and write about those things. Children love to move, play, and have fun. They enjoy being with other children.

The first version of the story took place on a playground, the next was set at an amusement park; and then—at the suggestion of a friend—I decided to make it about children being able to play right in their neighborhood. They can walk outside—grabbing a ball, jump rope, or chalk—and start to have fun with their friends!

I love that—immediate fun! 

Why is it important to show kids in their own neighborhood?

It’s important to show kids in their own neighborhood because that’s where play often happens and where community is built. It can be fun to travel outside of one’s neighborhood, too, but it’s not necessary to have fun. Children can enjoy themselves right outside their home.

Yes! That’s how we did it back in the day…outside until the sun went down!

scene of basketball court and SWOOSH! A player shooting a free throw, plus kids all over the court cheering, jumping, running, rolling (in a wheelchair) and having a fun time

Besides “play-is-where-you-are,” what other messages do you hope to impart with this story?

I would add “play-is-who-you’re-with,” and “play-is-whatever-your-mind-can-imagine.” I want children to understand from an early age that they can play with anyone in their wonderful community. (Be inclusive.) I also want them to know that there are no limits to what they can play. They can make up games and the rules. (Be imaginative.) Exercising our creative minds is as important as exercising our bodies when we play.

You touched on a little of why play is so important to developing minds; care to delve further? 

I’m sure a doctor could provide a much more in-depth and research-based response, but I’ll share my thoughts. When children play with others, they have to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate. This requires children to exercise their minds and use negotiation and problem-solving skills. When students use their imaginations to play games, they expand their mind muscles.  In addition, physical play develops healthy bodies, which, in turn, leads to healthy minds.

As someone who is disabled, I was interested to see you had a character in a wheelchair on the cover of your book. Is that something you had planned or was that an editorial or illustrator choice? 

It was my goal to have the children in this book represent a variety of backgrounds, but I’m not sure I explicitly mentioned creating a character in a wheelchair. I’m so glad that character is in the book though and am not sure if the credit goes to the illustrator or editor. I can tell you that when I submitted the manuscript, I included a note that said, “The illustrator should utilize her/his/their creativity, but my goal for this book is to convey a sense of community with children from diverse backgrounds,” so perhaps that provided the inspiration. In my book, LET’S DANCE!, I made a specific request that there be a child in a wheelchair because I’d been at a wedding where a young man in a wheelchair was “getting down” on the dance floor. Out of my three currently published books, two have characters who are in wheelchairs, and they are just as active and having as much fun as their peers.

Three children (one black girl in wheelchair) in front of open fire hydrant. Text reads"Splish, splash. Drenched fast. Cold spray. Hooray!"

What’s next for you, Valerie?

In 2023 readers can look forward to the sequel to RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, the second book in this “Fun in the City” series, which is about a musical block party, titled BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!. In addition, 2023 will welcome TOGETHER WE SWIM (check out 2022’s TOGETHER WE RIDE, if you haven’t done so yet), and my Scholastic Acorn early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, about a girl and her dog who love to create art. So far, I have one title to share for 2024, I SEE COLOR, which I co-authored with Kailei Pew.

Congratulations, Valerie! Thanks for sharing your newest title with us.

Blog readers, we are giving away a copy of RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!

Leave one comment below about what you loved to play outside as a kid. (Me? Kick the can, frisbee golf and Chinese jumprope.)

A random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!

Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years. Immersed in the writing community, Valerie is on the faculty at Westport Writers’ Workshop and a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, NCTE, and ILA. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and a 2022 WNDB Mentor as well as a member of Black Creators HeadQuarters, The Brown Bookshelf and Highlights Foundation’s Amplify Black Stories, and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition, Valerie is a member of three co-marketing groups—Kid Lit in Color, Soaring 20s PBs, and PB Crew 22—and three picture book critique groups. Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut. Get all her links and connect with her here:

Today I bring to you a woman I admire—author Rachelle Burk. Among her many talents, she’s a former EMT, a professional clown, an RUCCL council member, an animal-lover, tea drinker, and all-around fantastic critique partner. Her newest book, WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD, was just released!

Cover background in yellow with title in purple lettering and four drawings of women on the cover---Jane Goodall, Frida Kahlo, Malala, and RBG.

Rachelle, there are so many women who changed the world! How did you narrow down the list of women to be featured?

The educational publisher, Rockridge Press (Callisto Media), provided me with a list of the women to be included in the book. It was important to present a group of women from around the world not only with diverse backgrounds, but also diverse accomplishments. The list of 14 women includes scientists, activists, artists, an Olympic athlete, a mathematician, a politician, and others. Rockridge Press has a chapter book biography series called THE STORY OF, which includes extraordinary men and women past and present. The women in this book were all featured in that series, but selected for what they accomplished specifically for women’s rights.

What sets this book apart from other PB biography collections of great women?

This book focuses on what these women did to further women’s rights and other feminist causes. For instance, people know that Harriet Tubman helped many enslaved people escape. But after the Emancipation, she became active in the fight for a woman’s right to vote! Amelia Earhart was not only the first woman to fly solo across the ocean, she also helped start a flying club just for women to encourage more of them to become pilots in this male-dominated pastime.

"Meet Harriet Tubman!"

"Meet Amelia Earhart!"

Which incredible woman in the book inspires you the most? 

That’s such a tough question. I admire them all. I suppose Malala stands out as someone who so valued education that, even as a child, she was willing to put her life on the line for her right to go to school, and paid the price. It really saddens me when I hear kids say that they hate school, not understanding what a privilege it is. They should all know about Malala.

"When Malala was growing up in Pakistan, girls were not allowed to go to school. Malala felt this wasn't fair. She loved school, so she broke the rules and went anyway."

Which incredible woman not in the book inspires you the most?

Even though my mother died when I was 10, she has never stopped inspiring me. She was a nurse, an active member of so many health and charitable organizations, and a volunteer in my elementary school (PTA president and Great Books leader). She loved animals and allowed me to collect a menagerie of pets. Even in the 60s she was advocating for (age appropriate) sex education in school. My mother, who loved to write and had a great sense of humor, was beloved by all.

A touching tribute—what a lovely woman she must have been, Rachelle. 

What do you hope young readers will take away after reading WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD?

Women have always accomplished big things, and this feminist book for little girls and boys is filled with the stories of strong women who used their unique gifts to make the world a better place.

Thank you for sharing your new book with us, Rachelle! WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD is available now from Rockridge Press!

Blog readers, post a comment telling us about a woman you admire and you’ll be entered to win a copy of WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD.

A random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!

Rachelle Burk writes fiction and nonfiction for ages 2-12, including three other Rockridge Press titles. Her works include picture books, chapter books, and an award-winning science-adventure novel. She visits schools around the country with her dynamic Author Visit programs. New Orleans born and bred, she now lives in New Jersey. When she’s not writing, Rachelle loves adventure travel and scuba diving with her husband and daughters. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @Rachelleburk.

by Maria Gianferrari

Happy Book Birthday to ICE CYCLE: POEMS ABOUT THE LIFE OF ICE, with gorgeously rendered illustrations by illustrator, animator and designer, Jieting Chen!

Did you know that our own Tara Lazar used to be a competitive ice skater? You can read about how her skating journey helped with her publishing journey here.

Or perhaps you’ve read her funny, punny fractured fairy tale, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD?

Let’s celebrate all kinds of ice! Here’s a glimpse of the visual and aural poetry that is ice!

Check out this gorgeous frost photo taken by Associate Publisher at Lerner Books, Carol Hinz.

Swirls of frost like stalks of plants growing from a center root and expanding outwards

Look at these “frost drops.”

Frozen droplets of ice with sharps lines of frost like barbs around them

Carol’s photo inspired this book. I was intrigued by these intricate and lacy patterns that looked like feathery ferns, and began researching ice and discovered so many cool things that I wanted to share with readers and our book was born.

You know icicles. Look at these beauties that formed on our roof last winter.

Long, thick, pointy icicles that you would not want to be under when they fall. Like large daggers!

But have you heard of brinicles? I hadn’t, until I began researching this book. Brinicles form when freezing seawater releases its salt, forming brine. Brine is heavier than the surrounding sea water, so it sinks, and as it sinks, water around it freezes and forms a sinking brinicle spear. When the brinicle makes contact with the sea floor, it freezes everything in its path. You can watch a brinicle forming here.

Ice also has some evocative and whimsical names.

Pancake ice, anyone?

Round-ish, flat circles of ice with water around them, like many different-sized pancakes

Credit: Kenneth Manoff

And Jieting’s rendering:

Illustration of ice pancakes sitting atop blue water

Or perhaps cat ice, so named for its delicate swirls and the idea that a light footed cat might be able to walk across it?

Different shapes of ice with clear cracks between the uneven shapes

Drawing of cat ice looks like rings of a tree, one surrounding another until the edge, which is like the edge of clouds, random and uneven

Perhaps Phoebe is as paw-dept as her mom on the ice?

Black cat with tiny tongue sticking out. Green eyes with brown dots on the left eye

Check out these fine filaments of hair ice!

Lots of fine ice filaments curving up and outwards like a wave about to crash

Credit: Christian Mätzler

Stick of wood with ice hairs growing outward from the center, curving to the left and right of the stick

You can watch a time lapse photo of hair ice growing here.

Ice talks too!

It mumbles, grumbles and growls; squeaks and creaks.

Listen to some sea ice sounds here.

Who knew that frozen lakes have a Star Wars like blaster sound effect?!

Ice is so very nice, and so is Jieting’s lovely art! You can read our book to learn more about cool ice stuff.

To celebrate our book birthday, Lerner Publishing is kindly donating a giveaway copy of the book to one lucky person who leaves a comment below (US continental addresses only—sorry)!

What’s your favorite kind of ice? Leave a comment to let us know.

Thanks for letting us feature ICE CYCLE on our book birthday today, Tara!

Maria Gianferrari is a prolific children’s book author. Visit her at

Tonight is the 16th annual Carle Honor Awards, celebrating individuals and organizations whose creative vision and long-term dedication have had a profound effect on picture books and the vital role they play in arts appreciation and early literacy.

This year they are hosting a hybrid event, both in-person in NYC and online.

You can view the event here beginning at 6:00pm Eastern.

You can bid on original art by talented kidlit illustrators here.

The Carle Honors is a key fundraiser for The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and all proceeds support the Museum’s mission to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books.

The 2022 Carle Honors honorees are:

Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold is a painter, mixed media sculptor, teacher, lecturer, and author of numerous award-winning children’s books. Known for her oil paintings and her narrative painted storquilts, her first children’s book, the renowned TAR BEACH, won over 20 awards including the1991 Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King award. A creative and cultural force whose work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums in the US and abroad, Ms. Ringgold is a role model for artists and scholars and continues to influence and inspire others.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, represented by President Jeff Conyers

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library inspires a lifelong love of books and learning by mailing specially selected books to the homes of registered children, from birth to age 5, each month. Inspired by her father, who could not read or write, Dolly Parton founded and launched the program in East Tennessee in 1995. The Imagination Library now gifts over1.8 million books each month internationally and has gifted over 180 million books since inception.

Aija (阿甲)

Ajia is one of China’s foremost translators of Western children’s books and an influential storyteller, author, and educator. In addition to authoring his own picture books and books about children’s literature, he has translated several reference books and more than 200 picture books from English to Chinese, including such classics as GOODNIGHT MOON, the PETER RABBIT series, and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Ajia brings the joys and scholarship of picture books to a broad and eager audience.

Wade and Cheryl Hudson

Wade and Cheryl Hudson are authors, publishers, and leading advocates for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the children’s book industry. In 1988, they founded Just Us Books to publish children’s literature that centers and celebrates Black people, history, and culture. They have dedicated their careers to creating good books and more opportunities for talented creators—mentoring and giving numerous authors, illustrators, and other professionals their start in publishing.

Congratulations to the Honorees and best wishes to the Carle Museum on a successful art auction!

by Jill Esbaum

Thanks, Tara, for hosting my cover reveal for STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER!

Cover of ANGRY BIRDS PLAYGROUND: A cheetah on the prowl, surrounded by foliage, with the red angry bird at the top left and the yellow at the bottom right, with angry faces, looking on.This book idea was sparked by a work-for-hire project for National Geographic Kids, Angry Birds Playground: Rain Forest. There I was, cramming my days with Amazon animal research, and … yeesh. Life in the Amazon is a big-time, bloody example of eat-or-be-eaten. And it was starting to get me down. (Maybe watching all those gobbledy-grisly videos wasn’t such a hot idea.)

But then a breath of fresh air blew in. The hoatzin. A leaf eater. A bird that bothers nobody, and nobody bothers it. Why? Because it smells to high heaven—like cow poop, thanks to its four-chambered, slow-mo digestive system. Golly, that cheered me up. Further research showed it to be a great singer (not), a great flyer (not), and a great nest-builder (um…). Best of all, their chicks have what might be called (if you’re me) a SUPERPOWER unlike any other bird in the whole entire world!

Well, how could I not play around with THAT idea? So I wrote an informational fiction manuscript from Papa Hoatzin’s POV.

A hoatzin standing on the top of a tree. He has spiky orange feathers at the top of his head, a turquoise patch around his eye area, and long grey-brown feathers around his body. Ugly thing.

And no editor got it.

In my 25 years of submitting, this manuscript actually holds the record for most rejections (so far *knock wood*). Hmm, maybe it was a little long. And, okay, a little over-written. But I’m stubborn, so, all along the way, I kept going back and tweaking. More rejections. Finally, I hit upon the idea of adding one of Papa’s chicks to the mix, making it funny, and WHEW, everything clicked.

A dream editor at Putnam snapped up my manuscript, had me tweak again, got the hilarious BOB SHEA to illustrate (I KNOW!), and ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, here’s the cover:

Cover of STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER. Lettering in bold bubble letters with "Stinkbird" turquoiise, "has a" small and in pink, and "superpoower" in a neon-ish green. The stinkbird is stinkin' cute, a little birdie with purple body and large cartoon eyes with the turquoise patch around them. There are cuteness "stars" surrounding him as he prances on a white and grey branch, surrounded by large cartoon leaves and foliage.

STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER will release May 16th, 2023, to be followed in 2024 by the second book in the series, the equally amazing PARROTFISH HAS A SUPERPOWER. I am so proud of these books. Kiddos will love ’em and boy, will adults have fun reading them aloud.

Get your dibs in now, because this baby is available for PRE-ORDER!

Thanks, Jill! It looks SUPER!

And blog readers, the amazing Jill Esbaum is giving away a picture book critique!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in October.

Good luck!

Jill Esbaum is a widely published author of books for young readers. She is a frequent school visitor and conference speaker. She teaches writing for children at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter at @JEsbaum

by Jennifer Raudenbush

Thanks to Tara for allowing me to share the cover reveal for my debut picture book!

In 2017, Tara drove two hours to my critique group’s very first writing retreat to give a craft talk and critique picture book manuscripts. She took a chance on us, shared her knowledge with us, and helped us believe in our writer-selves. We are forever grateful!

IN THE PALM OF MY HAND (Running Press Kids, Hachette) is a lyrical concept book about a child who takes a walk in nature and discovers great possibilities are contained in tiny treasures—an acorn, a wild flower—and even himself.

Although I’m a big Storystorm fan, this book’s inspiration was sparked by a humorous picture book called FEAR THE BUNNY, written by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2019). I’m a poet at heart and was smitten at how Morris used William Blake’s famous poem “The Tyger” in his picture book. I told my Writing with the Stars (shout-out to Tara Luebbe) mentor—the amazing, incomparable Cate Berry—how genius I thought this book was. How I wish I’d thought of the idea. How I’d love to do something somewhat similar. And she encouraged me to pick up my pencil and go for it.

So I did.

I challenged myself to start with a snippet of poetry and somehow turn it into a picture book. As a springboard, I used the famous opening lines of Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

I wrote Blake’s lines at the top of my notebook as an epigraph, then played around on the page and allowed my creativity to take over. The first iteration was similar to the published version, but focused more on the water cycle. An editor’s critique at the NJSCBWI conference encouraged me to revise & resubmit (R&R) by removing both the focus on the water cycle and the epigraph. That editor ultimately passed on the manuscript, but it found a home at Running Press Kids! Now, the book’s focus leans more into the connectivity of nature.

Illustrator Isabella Conti made the story come alive with her exquisite art. I love her details, such as a repeating sea gull and butterfly that little ones can hunt for. And I’m thrilled with the finished product.

My goal with this book was to make people fall in love with both the beauty of words and the beauty of nature. I hope its readers will do just that!

IN THE PALM OF MY HAND is now available for preorder where most books are sold, for a March 14, 2023 release.

And now, the cover reveal!

Boy with curly hair standing in a field, waist-high green grass dotted with dandelions in varying states, yellow to fluffy white seed. He is bringing a flower closer to his face to look at it. Bush/tree in back right and the rest is light blue sky. Title "IN THE PALM OF MY HAND" in dark orange hand-lettering at top.

To celebrate her debut cover reveal, Jen is offering a giveaway of one fiction (non-rhyming) picture book critique.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month!

Good luck!

Jennifer with dark brown hair a little past shoulders, kneeling down with a hand on her chin, dark glasses, glowing peach sky in the backgroundJennifer Raudenbush feels most alive when she’s creating stories, especially picture books and middle grade novels. Jen lives with her husband and teenage son in eastern Pennsylvania, where its natural beauty provides endless inspiration. She also loves to cuddle with her pup, adventure with family, and escape with books. Connect with her at or on Twitter @jenraudenbush.


Yellow background, RICK in 3D orange letters with a paper airplane zooming by, with Rick himself below, a rock with google-y eyes and a line smile, a little green-blue paint and a gold star on his right side

Just look at that rock face! Cuter than Mount Rushmore!

When I saw that funny lady Julie Falatko had a new picture book, you can bet I sent her an email right away booking her on the blog! We then had some banter before beginning…

“Hi Tara, in the interest of neither of us having any sense of time, I’m checking in to see if you have questions for me for the RICK THE ROCK blog post.”

“Oh no, I have about six blog posts before yours! I am slow and full of procrastination mojo. If that can be called mojo.”

“Procrastination mojo is its own special brand of mojo, but it’s definitely something that gathers steam and pushes me right straight into the giant room of procrastination, where all sorts of interesting things that are not on my to-do list live.”

I told Julie to write that book! It’s like the complete opposite of an Escape Room.

Then we finally got down to the rock of the matter.

A classroom scene with perspective from above, a small cubby room in the left rear and then kids at their desks writing and drawing, a girl laying on a yellow beanbag chair reading, a girl singing, a girl dancing, a boy showing off his painting of a yellow bear, then the Nature Finds shelf hovering above them all, with Rick, an acorn, a piece of moss and a piece of bark

Julie, those of us working in picture books know that a story set at school is almost always welcomed by editors. Of all the things school is known for—why did you choose a ROCK who lives on the “Nature Finds” shelf in Room 214?

That’s a good question. It was the other way around, though: the rock came first, and he was outside, and in a house, and in a shed, until finally the story made its way to school.

So he was a rolling stone? *ba-dum-tsss*

HA. A rolling stone and a rock star.

If the rock came first, what is it about an anthropomorphic rock (different than a metamorphic rock) that you were excited to share?

OK, so the interesting thing to me about an anthropomorphic rock is that it’s still a rock. I like the idea of a character who is weighty and immobile. What would a character like that think? What would a rock think that a human could relate to? That’s where a lot of my stories start, by thinking, ok, here’s this fragment from my day that interests me—is there depth to this rock, this paper clip, this tiny bird?

My older son got frustrated with me once when I was thinking out loud about what some wild animal might be thinking. “Do you have to anthropomorphize everything?” he said to me, annoyed. And I told him yes, I do. It’s my job.

Of course it’s your job! We can’t leave anthropomorphizing to the amateurs! What kind of world would that be?! (One I wouldn’t want to live in!)

I don’t even want to think of what would happen during an amateur anthropomorphication. Someone could get hurt. You can’t just initiate a tea party with a chipmunk out of the blue, you know. (You have to send a formal invitation first.)

How did Rick become so lively and interesting? Let me guess…are you saying that school makes him so?

It was school that made Rick lively! He was a real grump in earlier drafts. He spent a lot of time complaining about the indignities of the Nature Finds shelf. I still wish I could have kept the sentence “I’m young for a rock, but I’m too old for this” when Rick was getting smeared with glitter glue, but it was too much the old, grumpy Rick. Being in Room 214 with all the fun students made him (through many drafts) appreciate things a bit more.

Rick looking proud at the top of a cliff and then a dotted line showing him tumbling off the side and splashing down into water, juxtaposed with the static Nature Finds shelf and his friends beside him talking...acorn, moss, and bark

So does Rick—the non-grumpy, delightful version—have a part of school that he likes best?

Flinstones phone from the cartoon, a rock base with an animal's horn as the receiverWhat he likes, and likes best, about school is the arc of the story! In the beginning, he’s OK on the “Nature Finds” shelf, but he’s a little bored. He’s phoning it in, as much as a rock can phone something in (he’d have to use that Flinstones phone) (or he’d have to BE that Flinstones phone??). But by the end, he’s so happy to be in the classroom. The lessons are cool. The students are fun. And his favorite part is his friends on the shelf with him.

kids in the classroom doing various things like writing on the board, flying paper airplanes, setting up vials and beakers for science tests, shooting a basketball, building with blocks, reading a Geology book, looking though a microscope, all smiling and having a good time while the Nature Finds shelf looks on from above

Aww, that’s so sweet.

So Julie, what’s next for you? A sequel about Moss?

Wouldn’t that be AMAZING? (Amossing?) I love the way Ruth drew all of the Nature Finds. Acorn’s eyes! Bark’s concerned face! Moss’s shaggy demeanor! She is so top-notch at creating personalities for everything in her illustrations.

She captured ROCK and friends in all their anthropomorphic friendliness! And you can tell each child in Room 214 has their own quirky personality as well.

What advice do you have for picture book writers who want to anthropomorphize something not usually anthropomorphized?

Well, first (to draw on acting class), try to be the thing. Be the sneaker. Be the grain of sand. Be the rock. How does the world look from where you are? How does it feel to have a foot shoved into you, to be tiny and blown by the wind, to be heavy and immobile? Then I think: if this thing is the weird kid at school, what’s that kid like? (A story is more interesting to me if it’s about the weird kid.)

So if it’s a grain of sand, maybe that kid is pretty small and gets unwittingly pushed around in crowds, but also can make something huge and beautiful, like a sand castle. The story might be in the surprise that something so small can be part of something so big. Or it might be the grain of sand’s surprise at that. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, and the sand gets blown off the beach and down to the ice cream stand, and tries soft serve vanilla for the first time, and it’s everything that grain of sand thought it would be.

Julie, this interview was everything I thought it would be…and more! You have something more for the blog audience!

Yes, a picture book critique!

WOW! Thanks, Julie! I’m sure everyone is going to go crazy over that!

RICK THE ROCK OF ROOM 214 is available now from Simon & Schuster.

Blog readers, please leave one comment below and you’ll be entered to win a PB critique from the hilariously talented Julie Falatko!

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

Good luck!

Julie Falatko writes books for children. She is the author of many books, including Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book), which was named one of the ABA’s best books for young readers for 2016, was featured in People magazine, and was read online by David Harbour of “Stranger Things,” and the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat chapter book series, illustrated by Colin Jack (Scholastic), for which she received the Denise McCoy Literacy Award. Julie lives with her family in Maine, where she maintains the Little Free Library in front of their house. Visit her at

Today is a treat for rhyming writers! We’re flies on the wall as author Anne Marie Pace talks about her newest book MOUSE CALLS with Cassandra Whetstone, an educational consultant and writing mentor. Anne Marie reveals her process, her picture book philosophy, and some special devices, like the visual refrain.

Mouse Calls cover. Mouse holding telescope which eyes an approaching storm.

Anne Marie Pace is an author whose eleven published picture books include three rhymers. With Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, she has co-taught workshops in rhyming picture books for the Highlights Foundation. Her newest rhyming picture book is MOUSE CALLS, illustrated by Erin Kraan, from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster.

Cassandra Whetstone is a former classroom teacher and is the co-founder of Sequoia Gifted & Creative, where she is an educational consultant and writing mentor. She has published poetry in Cricket, Ladybug, and other children’s magazines.

Cassandra: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, Anne Marie. You know I’m a huge fan of your writing, and I’m excited to have this time to explore your expertise with rhyme. Are you ready to dive in?

Anne Marie: Let’s do it!

Tell me about how you got into writing in rhyme? What were your early influences?

As a child, some of my favorites included Mother Goose, MADELINE, and Dr. Seuss books, so I suppose my immersion into rhythm and rhyme began early. However, writing rhyming picture books isn’t something I set out to do. It just happened as I experimented in my writing. Like many writers, I composed my share of angsty free verse as a teenager, but I don’t consider myself a poet. However, I do love the sounds of words, playing with words, reorganizing words, and the rhythm of language, so writing in verse has become something I really enjoy.

I am a long-time choral singer and I think my musical skills have definitely helped me understand rhythm and meter in a way that can escape some new writers with less musical training. Of course, I always try to make it clear that you can’t write picture books in verse the same way you’d write a song. In music, the songwriter uses time signatures and rests and note values to help the singer know exactly how to create the desired meter. In picture books, we really have only words (with their various lengths and stresses), punctuation, and page breaks. Also, a lot of songwriters use near rhyme at least some of the time, and it doesn’t matter as much because the singer sustains the tone on the vowel; the ending consonant is enunciated, but less obvious, far briefer in length. In a picture book, near rhyme is much more jarring.

You seem like such a natural at it. When you start with a new idea, do you hear the rhyme right away? How do you decide if this idea is going to be in rhyme or not? 

I’ve published three rhyming books, BUSY-EYED DAY (which was originally titled BIG-EYED BUG), SUNNY’S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY, and my brand-new title, MOUSE CALLS. For two of the three, the title came first in conjunction with a rhyming couplet, so the story developed from the rhyme.

For example, in BUSY-EYED DAY, the couplet “Big-eyed bug/Stalk-eyed slug” came to me first. What did that give me to work with? It’s a rhyming couplet, with alliteration of the first and third words. That said Verse to me, so I began creating similar couplets. The story of kids spending the day at the park came later, as I looked at the couplets I’d written and figured out what they had in common (things kids could see at a big city park).

Animals waiting the storm out in cave, sitting around a fire and doing happy activities, like painting and playing instruments.

With MOUSE CALLS, I had the title for several years before I knew what to do with it. I liked the play on “house calls” but a doctor mouse didn’t spark anything for me. When I remembered the classic game of Telephone, I started playing with rhyming animals, and developed the structure, which has plenty of alliteration and both end rhyme and internal rhyme: “Mouse calls Moose/Moose calls Goose/Goose calls Dog and Hog and Hare. Hare calls Bat/Bat calls Cat/Cat calls Frog and then calls Mare.” Even after I was satisfied with the text, which I believe is a great read-aloud, we were still missing a story. My Beach Lane editor Andrea Welch and I hashed out a few ideas and settled on the premise of Mouse helping his friends take shelter from a storm. That story is completely in the illustrations, not the text.

Mouse, in red beanie and yellow sweater, approaches Moose in the forest. Moose has a small basket of branches.

What do you love about writing in rhyme? What are the unique challenges of the form? 

I love it because it is both easy and hard–sort of a perfect balance of fun and challenge. As I said before, I love the sounds of words. I love the rhythm of a well-constructed sentence. Sometimes, even when writing prose, I hear the rhythm of a sentence before I find the words that fit that rhythm. So using sounds and beats to create something that children will enjoy is simply a good time. But rhyme and meter really need to be close to perfect. If you set your reader up to expect a rhyme or a particular beat, you need to keep that promise. Perfect may not be possible, but you can aim for it. For most writers, that means the easy way should not be the final way.

In writing longer forms, like novels, it can be a huge overhaul to change the point of view of the writing, but the outcome is often a fresh look at the story. Picture books are, of course, a shorter work to craft, but have you ever done a total overhaul of the meter or rhyme scheme and what was that like? 

I have done a total overhaul of the story, but once I’ve developed the structure, I stick with it–or at least, I can’t think of any examples where I’ve really changed the structure. SUNNY’S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY began as a story about a family running late for school, but it didn’t seem fresh. It ended up as a story about a family on their way to a picnic. They get a flat tire and have to wait for a tow truck. Because they are waiting, the concept of the passage of time (9:00, 10:00, etc.) found its way in, along with lots of food and trucks. But it was always a story in rhyming couplets.

Can you talk a bit about how you turn a story in rhyme into an actual picture book with line breaks and page turns? 

My published rhymers are for the youngest listeners, so usually the complete couplets or stanzas stay on the same spread. However, in BUSY-EYED DAY, the climax of the story occurs when a spider startles a little girl, who runs to her mother for a hug. That couplet takes place over three pages, which shines a spotlight on the importance of the moment and gives it some oomph. My friend Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen has a new book coming out this fall called ROXIE LOVES ADVENTURE. There’s a spot where the rhyme scheme leads you to believe a certain word is next and there’s a page break before the word–and then the actual word is something completely unexpected. It’s brilliant.

Something I’ve included in two of my books (BUSY-EYED DAY and MOUSE CALLS) is a refrain. My editor Andrea Welch encouraged me to add a refrain to each book as sort of a pause, or grounding. A refrain becomes familiar to the reader, and it relieves what might be an otherwise monotonous structure. In BUSY-EYED DAY, the refrain is text which appears after each three couplets: “Busy-eyed day at the park.” But in MOUSE CALLS, I never found a refrain I was happy with, but Andrea still asked for a pause. So we ended up with a sort of visual refrain. The illustrator Erin Kraan included several wordless double-paged spreads, all set in a cave, with a growing number of animals as the book progresses. It works well, and with no words on the page, it forces the reader to stop and examine the wonderful details Erin included in the illustrations.

This is so interesting. Your writing is so lovely to read and to listen to. When I share your books with my students, I appreciate that you are meeting them at the page in such a gentle and respectful way. What is your advice to new writers? 

I try not to talk down to readers. Just because they are young and have less experience with life and a smaller vocabulary doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be respected. New writers who are just learning to write picture books are still finding their voices, and that includes their willingness and their ability to meet kids where they are. Hopefully, they’re studying mentor texts, especially new and outstanding books that manage to feel comfortable, yet fresh. The more they write, the more they’ll develop their craft.

How have rhyming picture books evolved over the years and why is it important for writers to study new works as well as old classics? 

Of course, it’s most important to write from the heart and our heart is often full of the books we loved as children, or the books we read to our children.. But some people embark on writing picture books without knowing the wonderful creators of today.

I mentioned before that as a child I loved Dr. Seuss. He certainly earned his place in the canon. His books were published as many as eighty-five years ago, with his best-known books coming in the 1950s and 1960s. Honestly, we don’t need another Dr. Seuss because most of his books are still in print.

When writers try to emulate his style now, their work tends to seem dated. As a technical point related to writing rhyming picture books, Dr. Seuss had a unique, clever voice, but one of the reasons he was able to write so seamlessly in anapestic tetrameter (aside from sheer talent!) is that he invented words. If he needed a three-syllable noun that rhymed with some other word, and an English word didn’t exist, he would just create one. In his time, that was exciting and fun; today, it just isn’t often done.

But we can still learn lessons from his work. The mastery of anapestic tetrameter and creation of crazy vocabulary aren’t what’s necessary. Meeting kids where they are intellectually and emotionally, making them laugh, making them think–those are the things a modern writer can take away from Dr. Seuss.

My younger students are usually quite willing to jump in with their creativity, but often those inner critics start to get really invasive by the time they are in upper elementary grades. What’s your advice to kids and adults who want to tap into their creative ideas but the editors on their shoulders get in the way? 

All of us have editors on our shoulders. The only real advice I have, and something I should take to heart more than I do, is to keep writing. Write through the block, even if it’s painful. The more words you produce, the more likely you’ll be able to pull gems from your output.

I sometimes work with learners in grades 3-5 who are still developing their phonemic awareness and need to play with rhyme and manipulating sounds, but often when I pull out a rhyming picture book they are resistant because it looks like it’s for younger kids. Once I crack the book open and begin reading, they relax and enjoy the rhythmic ride, but what are the rhyming books that you might recommend for older readers? 

Some of my favorite authors are Julia Donaldson and Mary Ann Hoberman. They’re just so skilled in telling lengthier stories with rhyme. I can see why a student of that age might feel that way. Verse allows for a lot of white space on the page and kids alternately embrace it, fear it, or hate it, depending on their mood.

To prepare for this interview I reviewed your booklist on your gorgeous website and wow! You’ve written some wonderful books and the adorable MOUSE CALLS was just released. I’ve ordered my copy of MOUSE CALLS and can’t wait until I get to share it with the kids in my life! One last question, what’s on the horizon for you? What are you working on next? 

Right now, I’m doing weekly MOUSE CALLS events, including some book signings and school visits. I wrote a biography of Anne Hutchinson for the Core Knowledge Foundation and I’m excited to see that when it comes out. As far as new writing goes, I am mostly revising some manuscripts I wrote in the spring. Hopefully, I’ll take some big steps forward in the next few months with those.

That sounds busy. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I’ve learned so much from you and I’m looking forward to reading what you do next! 

Thank you Cassandra and Anne Marie for this inspiring and informative talk!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of MOUSE CALLS by Anne Marie and Erin Kraan, released by Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster just a couple weeks ago! 

Leave one comment below answering this question: do you write in rhyme? Why or why not?

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

When I began writing for children, I joined SCBWI and found a welcoming group in the NJ chapter. That’s where I met author Rosanne L. Kurstedt, who joins me today to talk about revision techniques for her newest [adorable] picture book with illustrator Ya-Ling Huang, AND I THINK ABOUT YOU.

Rosanne, what are some things you do when revising and how did that change (or not change) AND I THINK ABOUT YOU?

That’s a great question, Tara. I do a lot of things when I’m revising—but I’d like to talk about two today—playing with verb tense and using onomatopoeia.

I find that changing the tense of my manuscripts helps me see holes and helps me to craft more layered stories. I’m always amazed at how the tense changes the mood. Here’s the journey of AND I THINK ABOUT YOU.

The original drafts of AND I THINK ABOUT YOU were written in past tense—and the title was AND I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU. The premise of course was the same. In both, mother and child think about each other throughout the day.

But when the publisher, Kids Can Press, purchased the book, they wanted me to try it in the present tense. So, of course, I did. Instead of a welcome home routine and a recounting of the mother’s day, where she told the child what she had done throughout her day and then said “I thought about you,” the present tense brought immediacy to the story and provided space to add another layer.

In the present tense we see the mother throughout her day reminded of the child, thinking about something they had done together in the past or imagining what the child might doing in school. And then, at the page turn, the reader gets to see what the child is actually doing.

This allows little ones to engage with the text by guessing what the child might be doing. It also enriches the depiction of the mother and child’s relationship because of the different activities the mother remembered doing with the child.

Another thing I like to do is add onomatopoeia. Besides being so much fun to say, adding sound words fosters children’s engagement. Kids love repeating and shouting out the sound words. In And I Think About You sound words are used on each of the pages that show what the child is doing in school. I also peppered some sound words on the pages that show what the mother is doing.

Both of these revision strategies don’t always work. Sometimes I change the tense and the manuscript works better in the original tense. I find though, that even when that is the case, I’ve learned something about the story that requires me to rethink something in the manuscript.

I’ve also tried adding onomatopoeia to stories and it just didn’t fit. It sounded forced or broke the rhythm of the story.

In other words, try these revision strategies to learn as much as you can about the best way to tell your story. I can’t guarantee that you’ll wind up using the tense you revised to or the sound words, but I can guarantee you’ll be closer the story and what you want to say.

Did you imagine specific actions when you added onomatopoeia or did you leave the action up to the illustrator?

I imagined specific actions and put those ideas in for the illustrator—it was the editor who actually told me to do that. Ya-ling followed my suggestions and embellished. Like I didn’t have the pinwheel in the manuscript but Ya-ling put it in and I just love that detail. Young readers can look for the pinwheel on different pages. The pinwheel is what the bear cub shares with the class. I know we’re often told not “direct” the illustrator. But in this case, the editor wanted me too. Maybe because it was supposed to be connected to what the mother was doing at work.

I love that pinwheel detail!

Do you read your manuscripts aloud to hear what they sound like?

I always read my manuscripts aloud and have other people read them too. I even read only the onomatopoeia to see how they sound. Trying to find the right sound word or words can be difficult. I wanted them to be fun to say—so sometimes I used rhyme, sometimes alliteration and sometimes I used both.  Glub. Grrr. Ribbit. Purrr.  and Chit. Chat. Splat.

Thanks for sharing your tips, Rosanne!

I hope this is helpful. I would love to hear about everyone’s experiences with changing tenses or working with onomatopoeia.

Blog readers, let her know! Leave one comment below!

Rosanne is giving away TWO prizes:

  • a copy of AND I THINK ABOUT YOU and
  • a picture book critique!

Two separate winners will be randomly chosen next month.

Good luck!

Rosanne L. Kurstedt, Ph.D., has been an educator for over 20 years, supporting learners of all ages. She is the author of several books for teachers, including Teaching Writing with Picture Books as Models and a series entitled 100+ Growth Mindset Comments. Rosanne loves picture books and anything kid-lit so she volunteers as the Assistant Regional Advisor for the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. Her first book Karate Kid (Running Press Kids) was released in 2019 and her second book And I Think About You (Kids Can Press) was released in 2022. She loves sharing her books and expertise with readers of all ages at various author events.

Rosanne is the founder of The Author Experience, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to the transformative power of sharing stories. In collaboration with students, families, and educators, TAE provides sustainable literacy-based experiences that build a culture of literacy—one that elevates connections and delivers lasting impact.

Rosanne lives in New Jersey with her family. Visit her onliine at, Twitter @rlkurstedt, Instagram @rlkurstedt, and Facebook RLKurstedtAuthor.

Behold a summer escape in a picture book!

Releasing on August 1st from Flashlight Press, GIANT ISLAND reveals an astonishing secret as a grandfather and his two grandchildren embark upon a common, everyday fishing trip…or so they think…

Jane, this blog emphasizes the importance of brainstorming story ideas often to get to the book-worthy ones. Where did you get the idea for GIANT ISLAND?

Not in the usual way.

I was contacted by an editor I didn’t know, Shari Dash Greenspan, at a publishing company I hadn’t yet worked with, to help rewrite/edit the text of a book by an amazing illustrator, Doug Keith. Doug had the idea for a book about an island that is actually a giant, and what happens when a family visits it. The publisher already had the book dummy and about half of the paintings were done, but there wasn’t a working text because the story was all told visually by the illustrator. The pictures were fantastic, but they needed some assist with an actual story.

In other words, they needed a writer. And that’s where I came in.

I studied the pictures until I knew them by heart. I knew I had to give the book a text/story that matched its lyrical and yet humorous visual telling. The characters were a given—a grandfather, a grandson and granddaughter, a dog…and a giant…  I couldn’t change them, I had to make them live.

I wrote, rewrote, invented, re-invented. Editor Shari edited and illustrator Doug occasionally re-drew, and the book became what you see now. So, NOT your usual way of creating a picture book.

Shari has become a dear friend and I am still trying to sell her something else!!! Or maybe I can convince her to do a RETURN TO GIANT ISLAND where the kids help save the island from becoming someone’s home. Doug could have a grand time with that.

Aha! It was the illustrator’s idea! There are many wordless PBs, though. Why did Shari want to add words?

The book had been meant to be a wordless book, but while the pictures were beautiful, the story’s subtleties were not clear enough without words. And the marvelous Doug was more artist than wordsmith. So we each brought our A games to make the book—artist, editor/art director, and author in that order. Not the usual order, but this time it worked. Whew!!!

Click on spreads to enlarge

What were your concerns as you were writing and wanting to stay true to Doug’s story? Did you communicate with him during the process?

I tried to stay close to what Doug had already done, at least as close as possible. I had my fierce (and funny) editor to keep me on track. We all wanted it to seem seamless. And I think (hope) that is true.

Was it harder than just writing the piece from the start and letting an illustrator go at it?

A bit.

But isn’t that just a reversal of roles? Because that is what artists do all the time—take the words and turn them into pictures!

Also, I have done this before, once with a picture book retelling of Sleeping Beauty with artist Ruth Sanderson. And in about twelve books of poetry in which I wrote poems to go with my son Jason’s photographs of animals on sea, land, and in the sky.

What do you hope readers will take away after reading GIANT ISLAND?

GIANT ISLAND is a book about magic and imagination that spans a family’s generations and ages, from children to grandfather. And it is also about storytelling, though that is subtext. And for me, it had another meaning because I got to meet and befriend both editor Shari and illustrator Doug.

What is it about magic and secrets that children love so much?

I am not sure. I know that from childhood, magic stories sustained me.

But I also remember a young Scottish boy, son of a friend, to whom I gave a witch book I had written, and he handed it back solemnly saying, “Boys like books about real things.” (Of course I know a computer scientist who creates fantasy board games. Go figure!)

This story involves a grandfather and his grandchildren—do you have any secret family stories?

As a grandmother, I often tell the story of MY grandmother and grandfather their eight children living in “the old country” (Ukraine). When the Russian Cossacks came to raid Jewish villages and set houses on fire, my five-foot-nothing, red-headed grandmother would gather her children and her neighbors’ children, put them into a large horse-drawn cart, and cover them with hey and grains. She would drive them out of the village and into the safety of the forest, waving at the Cossacks who thought, with her red hair, that she was probably Polish (and not Jewish). So they left her alone.

I hope I have inherited some of her tough magic, her courage. The family left their big house in the early 1900s and migrated to America. Last month the Russians bombed the house, but we lucky Yolens are safe here. It’s a story that my children and their children will be able to tell forever.

What a beautiful story, Jane! Or I should say, two beautiful stories!

GIANT ISLAND is a gorgeous book, and Jane brings GIANT ISLAND to life with subtlety, to let the majestic illustrations by Doug Keith speak with their wonder. Jane tells the reader only what they need to know—and the rest can be left up to the imagination. Who is this giant? How did he get here? What other adventures await the children?

GIANT ISLAND releases next week from Flashlight Press!

Blog readers, I am giving away a copy of GIANT ISLAND.

Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

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