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There’s an adorable new furbaby coming to town! It’s JET THE CAT (IS NOT A CAT), a debut picture book by Phaea Crede! Let’s take a look at that non-feline feline, illustrated by Terry Runyan…

Phaea, as you know, the Storystorm Challenge is coming soon, so I’m sure blog readers are going to want to know how the idea for JET began!

The original inspiration came from my 3rd grade teacher. Without meaning to (I hope) she made me feel like I couldn’t be a good writer because of my learning disability. That rotten feeling imprinted on me that “real writers don’t have dyslexia.”

Happily, I outgrew that idea. But I wanted to write something that called back to that sadness and frustration I’d felt as a child, but with humor! The image of a cat hearing she wasn’t a REAL cat because she liked water seemed perfect. I wanted Jet to realize by the end that she gets to define what being a cat is for herself.

I love that theme in a book—that being yourself is the only way to be.

Did you want to be a children’s writer when you were young?

No way! Writing seemed way too hard. I wanted to be a farmer—although I’m sure I got the idea that farms were fun from reading picture books…? I only started writing seriously in my late 20s, and that was mostly comedy sketches when I was performing at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre. But when you think about it, picture books aren’t that different from comedy sketches.

Speaking of sketches, tell us about the first time you saw Jet brought to life by Terry Runyan.

That was a bonkers moment. The first time I saw Jet was the same day I found out Terry would be illustrating the story. Along with that great news, my editor sent Terry’s character sketch of Jet just sitting and looking out at the reader. Jet had this open, sweet expression, pink cheeks, and these little lets that totally killed me. I screamed when I saw her and probably scared my family.

Jet’s world is so colorful and fun. It’s a bright, happy book. Is that who you are as a writer? What can we expect next from you?

Oh, thank you. And I HOPE that’s who I am as a writer. I often say that goofy enthusiasm is 80% of my brand, and I believe that translates to my stories as well! Embracing the silliness of life is my ultimate goal. This may sound cliché, but I just want to write stories that make kids laugh AND inspire them to be themselves. That’s what I needed as a kid! As for the future I’m working on a few (very silly) projects right now and I’ll have some big news to share publicly soon. But my main focus right now is introducing Jet to the world!

Thanks for showing Jet off! What a cutie!

JET THE CAT (IS NOT A CAT) will be released with Barefoot Books on May 1, 2021!

Best wishes with the book and your future projects!


Phaea Crede writes silly picture books for silly kids. She’s had lots of writing jobs in her life, like scriptwriting for the TV shows Nature Cat and Word Girl. Once, she even got to play video games and write about them for a living! But nothing in the world compares to writing picture books. Visit her online at phaeacrede.com.

 

with author-illustrator Monica Arnaldo 

I’m so excited to be on the blog today (thank you Tara!) sharing a bit about Bed—the main character from my latest picture book, TIME FOR BED’S STORY.

Bringing an inanimate object to life for a book presents a number of challenges, both from a writing and an illustration standpoint, and this fall I got the chance to explore the process all over again by building a scale-model of Bed for a window display!

Here’s an early snapshot of Bed’s cardboard frame, to give you a streamlined idea of the design:

I wanted Bed’s look to reflect the personality of the character, with the traditional angles and lines of the headboard hopefully conveying a no-nonsense, dignified air. I felt that the fussier Bed seemed to the reader, the more satisfying it would be to watch the child barge in and make a mockery of bedtime.

A few more details and a coat of paint brought Bed’s signature scowl to life:

Next came all the soft stuff: mattress, pillow, quilt. After all, Bed has a soft side of course! The quilt in particular really helps warm things up. In the book illustrations the design is based on a loose interpretation of the old “broken dishes” pattern, which dates back to the 1790s, but sewing the real thing proved much harder (I am decidedly not a quilter!).

The finishing touches were Bed’s stickers, of course! I drew all the unicorns, rainbows, pizza and dinos in marker on some label paper with a sticky backing, and then cut them out and stuck them roughly where they appear in the artwork (which is certainly one way to kill a quarantine afternoon).

And here is the final product installed in the window at the wonderful Babar Books (Montrealers, check them out!). I’m so thrilled with the result, and love this old grump so much. Hopefully you feel better after sharing your story, Bed.

Monica, I’m thankful that you’ve made your Bed, because now I can interview him!

Hello Bed, you’re looking comfy today. You know, it’s not every day that I get to interview a bed! What do you like to do to wind down for the night and get ready for sleep?

Hello Tara Lazar, thank you. It is not every day that Bed gets to feel heard.

Bed likes to practice some calming meditation exercises, or sometimes do some reading if there’s a book open nearby. Anything to try and get centered before the chaos of bedtime begins.

Oh, no, Bed! Chaos? Bedtime is supposed to be a quiet, soothing experience. What is going on over there?

Well, Tara Lazar, Bed’s child has no interest in a soothing bedtime experience, and quiet is not a big part of the routine. Singing? Yes. Yelling? Sometimes. But mostly there are many excuses about another book, or glass of water, or trip to the bathroom. And always there is kicking.

Can you just close your eyes and drift off? I’ve got some breathing exercises that work well. Or maybe you need a weighted blanket? I haven’t tried one but I’ve heard they’re excellent!

Bed has never heard of this “weighted blanket” before—is that like when your child takes all of their toys and several very heavy books and household items and hides them under their blanket as a game but then forgets about them for several days? Because Bed did not find that helpful. Please send Bed the breathing exercises, though.

Besides the exercises, is there anything else you want, Bed? You know, the holidays are almost here!

(Breathe in for 5, hold for 7, exhale for 8.)

Well Tara Lazar, Bed doesn’t like to complain, but the holidays can be a stressful time—all the excitement and seasonal treats Bed’s child consumes can lead to some pretty late nights. So if Bed could ask for anything, it would be a little understanding. Maybe, just once, there could be a bedtime where Bed’s feelings are considered also? …And maybe some new picture books to liven up the bedtime rotation.

Thanks, Bed. Picture books are perfect!

In fact, let’s give a lucky blog reader a copy of your book, TIME FOR BED’S STORY from Kids Can Press!

Leave a comment below and a random winner will be chosen before the holidays.

Good luck!


Monica Arnaldo is an illustrator and author living in Montreal. In addition to children’s books, her work has appeared in children’s magazines and middle grade novels. Client include HarpeCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, Kids Can Press, Owlkids Books, Penguin Random House, Editions Scholastic, and Chirp Magazine. Visit her online at monica-arnaldo.com and follow her on Instagram @monicaarnaldo.

According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 5 U.S. adults were raised in an interfaith family. While that doesn’t necessarily mean a Christian/Jewish upbringing, it is the most common mix…which makes me wonder why there aren’t more books that explore this dynamic.

Well, Janie Emaus has a sweet (and savory) picture book for those families! Introducing LATKES FOR SANTA CLAUS!

Janie, what was your inspiration for this story? 

I grew up in a Jewish family and celebrated my first Christmas after marrying my husband. When our daughter was born, we had a Christmas Tree and a Menorah. As she grew up, I wondered if it was ever confusing for her. I looked for books with characters she could relate to and not finding any that were written in a fun, entertaining way, I decided to write my own. And because there weren’t any books, I thought, this would sell in a heartbeat! Wrong. Over two decades of heartbeats passed before the book sold.

Wow, that is an epic level of perseverance! What kept you going?

I’m always writing something. I would put the story away for months at a time and concentrate on another project. I sold a YA romance, Mercury in Retro Love, to a small press, which has since gone out of business and I have the rights back. I started blogging and writing for various websites. Along the way, I won an honorary mention in the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop competition. I had several agents and am actually querying again with my women’s fiction. I’ve learned not to take rejection personally, which is difficult at times. Because as writers we pour our heart and soul onto the page.

Yes, you took your family’s experience and poured it into this book. I know many families who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. What was one of your family’s favorite holiday traditions?

Our favorite family tradition is getting together and making latkes! The women get together and chop, peel, fry, gossip, drink and laugh. We usually make them a few days before our Hanukkah dinner. Of course, this year will be a much smaller event. And yes, I’ve made latkes for Santa Claus, but he ate them with us at the dinner table and not on his sleigh!

Well, I’m known to prefer salty over sweet, so if I were Santa, I’d love to get a latke! (I mean, how many cookies could he possibly eat?)

Thanks for sharing your story of perseverance, Janie!

Blog readers, leave a comment below to enter the book giveaway.

One random commenter will win a copy of LATKES FOR SANTA CLAUS.

Good luck!


Janie Emaus’s debut picture book, Latkes for Santa Claus, was released October 13th. She is also the author of the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. Her essays and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and websites. In 2016 she won honorary mention in the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Competition. To learn more about Janie, visit her website at janieemaus.com and follow her blog at https://medium.com/@janieemaus.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and if you’re like me, you want to dig into dessert first! So today I’m pleased as punch to highlight Hayley Barrett and Alison Jay’s newest confection—THE TINY BAKER!

Oh wow, it’s a delicious read!

Hayley, how did you get the idea for the story? Did you sing “Hold me closer, Tiny Baker…save your appetite for the pie tray…”?

THE TINY BAKER came to me as a first line, “The tiny baker bakes for ants.” That was enough to get my mind swirling with teatime treats meant for elegANT (get it?) customers. I had such fun playing with the cookies and pastries, stirring as many into the story as I possibly could. When British illustrator Alison Jay was selected to create the book’s artwork, I knew she’d whip up a fanciful fairyland, and she most certainly did.

But that first line didn’t remain your first line…

…how and why did you revise it?

The editorial process for THE TINY BAKER was straightforward and fairly easy. Barefoot Books’ Emma Parkin and I understood each other and the story right away. I was sorry to lose the mention of ants in the first line, but I trusted Alison Jay’s imagination and approach. I was confident she’d illustrate the teashop’s patrons with myrmecological and sartorial panache.

Once the first line change was made, I found I was free to describe the sweets on offer right away. That was nothing but fun.

Now let’s let everyone in on a secret…we share the same agent…and all three of us share a love of baking. What did our agent do when you sent her the manuscript?

As everyone knows, Ammi-Joan Paquette is an ace baker with a serious sweet tooth, so I knew she’d savor this story. I couldn’t wait to send it to her. Once I did, we worked together on a few small changes, then dusted the finished text with powdered sugar and sent THE TINY BAKER on submission. Waiting, whether for cookies in the oven or a book on submission, is always the hardest part, right? But patience pays off in the end.

So tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I’m betting you and your Tiny Baker have a favorite recipe to share…? (Pretty please with a cherry on top?)

Of course!!! Here’s a small batch version of my family’s recipe for sugary, spicy:

MARY ANNE COOKIES

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 c. all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
  • 1/3 c. granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling dough balls
  • 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • ½ stick of softened butter
  • ½ tsp. each of cloves, ginger, cinnamon
  • 1 large egg white
  • ¼ tsp. regular salt
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda

Prep:

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Line cookie sheet with parchment paper, if available.
  • Fill a small bowl with granulated sugar & set aside.

Recipe:

  1. Cream together butter and 1/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Blend egg white into butter and sugar mixture
  3. In another mixing bowl, whisk flour with spices, salt, and baking soda.
  4. Blend dry and wet ingredients into a stiff dough.
  5. Roll walnut-sized pieces of dough into balls.
  6. Drop balls into bowl of sugar and roll to coat completely.
  7. Place dough balls on parchment-lined or ungreased cookie sheet.
  8. Bake 10-12 minutes until cookies are set and fragrant.
  9. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

Besides an appetite, what do you want kids to take away after reading THE TINY BAKER?

The picture book process invites serendipity. Writers and illustrators often share stories about the unexpected coincidences and surprising connections that arise. Although I began writing The Tiny Baker years ago, it now strikes me as a book fitted to this particular moment. The Covid-19 pandemic has knocked many of us flat on our backsides. We’re often “bewildered, flummoxed, in distress,” just like my bumblebee baker when she loses her beetle brigade.

I hope young readers notice how the baker’s community rallies—quickly and cooperatively—to assist their overwhelmed friend. Whether each day is good or not so good, may we follow their example and be there for one another.

Wow, a book with sweets and a sweet message. You can’t ask for more.

Thank you, Hayley! And congratulations on THE TINY BAKER, which is available now from Barefoot Books!

Blog readers, you can win a copy, too!

Leave a comment below…why don’t you share your favorite dessert?!

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


Hayley Barrett loves to write picture books. She is the author of Babymoon, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, and What Miss Mitchell Saw, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. Girl Versus Squirrel, illustrated by Renée Andriani, released in June 2020, followed by The Tiny Baker from Barefoot Books in fall 2020. Hayley Barrett lives and writes outside of Boston. Learn more about Hayley and her books at HayleyBarrett.com.

I’m a sucker for a good pun. And when that pun serves a holiday that I celebrate, well, I have to celebrate the pun, too! So author Laura Gehl is here today with her new book, HAPPY LLAMAKKAH!

Laura, what sparked your idea for HAPPY LLAMAKKAH?

This was one of those books where the title came first. What’s not to love about a llama/Hanukkah combination? Usually when a great title pops into my head, I discover a book with that title already exists. I was amazed to find that wasn’t the case with this one. My Internet search found plenty of ugly Happy Llamakkah sweaters (my entire family is getting matching ones for Hanukkah this year…shhhh!), but no books. Still, figuring out the right story to go with the title was harder.

So many to choose from! Who knew?

I started off in a completely different direction from where I ended up. My first draft involved a human family encountering a llama family while backpacking over Hanukkah. That draft included, among other Hanukkah/llama connections, using llama poop to start a fire to light the Hanukkah candles (based on my research, this is completely possible, and I recommend everyone try it). A few of my critique partners gently pointed out that the jaunty tone of the title didn’t quite match with the text, which actually had a fairly serious storyline despite poop playing a key role. They suggested perhaps a rhyming story aimed at younger readers, with Happy Llamakkah as a refrain, would work better. After that, the book came together quickly, with no humans and no poop—only llamas and latkes.

What a hilarious story! Now I gotta think of a follow-up question to that!

Do Llamas celebrate Hanukkah any differently than humans?   

Short answer—no! Longer answer: the Llama family in the book enjoys all the same Hanukkah activities as my own family…including lighting candles, playing dreidel, eating gelt and sufganiyot, and exchanging gifts. The only key differences are that the llamas in the book make a snow llama instead of a snowman (one of my very favorite illustrations by Lydia Nichols!) and that the Llama family gets to have friends come over to celebrate with them, since COVID is not a part of their world. Speaking of which, when you are finished looking up “ugly Happy Llamakah sweater,” you should look up “llama antibodies COVID-19.” A truly fascinating rabbit-hole into which to descend. You’re welcome.

Now we all know coal, carrots and a scarf make good snowman decorations. Do you have any tips for building snow llamas?

Why yes, Tara, indeed I do!

  1. Invite a real llama over to be your model.
  2. Build a llama body and head out of snow.
  3. Add ears and fur with hay and grasses. Take a photo quickly before Step #4.
  4. Watch the real llama eat all the hay and grasses off of the snow llama.
  5. Snuggle with the real llama while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate and wearing your Happy Llamakah sweater.

But don’t forget the llatkes! (Did you see that clever spelling?)

Umm, sure.

And llighting the Menorah!

OK, Tara.

And spinning…wait for it…the driedellama!

Great.

Are we done here?

Yes! Thank you for stopping by and for offering a signed copy to one of our blog readers! (US only)

Please leave one comment below to enter.

A winner will be selected on December 1! Good luck!

And…if you order a copy of Happy Llamakkah by December 7 from any independent bookstore, send your receipt to Laura at AuthorLauraGehl@gmail.com to receive a personalized Hanukkah card, bookplate, and llama stickers.


Laura Gehl is the author of more than twenty picture books, board books, and early readers. Her 2020 releases included Baby Paleontologist, Judge Juliette, May Saves the Day, Cat Has a Plan, and The Ninja Club Sleepover. Laura loves to snuggle up with a llama while reading a good book. Or at least she would love to give it a try! Visit her online at lauragehl.com.

by Kira Bigwood

Thank you so much, Tara, for having me on your blog today. I’m thrilled to share my story—a Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature success story…that almost wasn’t.

It was 2018, and the third year in a row I was applying to the annual RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference. If I’m being honest, I was feeling a bit deflated. The previous two years, I submitted what I thought were my absolute-slam-dunk manuscripts…andddddd got rejected. That year, I didn’t feel I had anything that resembled even a layup. I waited until the very last day to submit, and then decided to try something different.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where George does everything opposite?

Jerry tells him, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

I decided to test this theory. Going against all my instincts, I submitted what I thought was my weakest story (writing is subjective, after all). And wouldn’t you know, I got accepted!

Now I had been given the thrilling opportunity to travel to New Jersey. Where I knew no one. To attend a conference. Where I knew no one. And go over my work, face to face, with a real live editor (who, to recap, I did not know).

Kira was terrified.

But I wasn’t Kira. I was Opposite Kira!

For one whole weekend, I forced myself to go against every introvert instinct I had (a truly, truly difficult thing to do). Every time I felt like retreating into my bagel and cream cheese, I wondered, “What would Costanza do?”

That is how I found myself walking solo into a hotel bar to meet up with other attendees. That is how I found myself striking up a conversation with the conference co-chair (the charming Tara herself, who gave me a shout-out during her closing remarks). That is how I found myself showing my mentor one last manuscript—“It’s a lullaby for little spies, but it might not be anything yet”—which is how I found myself chatting up a different editor at lunch, who just happened to love spy stories.

And that, my friends, is how I found myself with a debut picture book.

SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY (a 007-twist on the classic Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) illustrated by the talented Celia Krampien, releases this May from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. And all because I went against every instinct I had.

If you’re in a rut, why not try being your opposite self? Why not try doing everything “wrong?” It just might be the rightest thing you do.

Blog readers, Kira is giving away a PB critique!

Leave a comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Kira Bigwood is an advertising copywriter and kidlit author who lives in Chicago with her husband and three “spirited” children. Her debut picture book, SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY, is now available for pre-order.. Say “Hi!” on Instagram @kirabigwood and Twitter @KBigwood.

by Charles Ghigna, aka Father Goose

We are excited to have Tara Lazar host our cover reveal today. Thank you!

A POEM IS A FIREFLY was truly a joy to create! I wanted to introduce the magic and wonder of poetry to young readers in a new and exciting way. My mission was to show children that poetry lives all around them, especially in nature. All they have to do is stop and look around. What better way to introduce children to the marvels of poetry than to have a friendly bunch of woodland animals gather in a forest clearing to answer the question, “What is a poem?” Of course, I wanted each character to show their answer in a metaphor, along with a catchy rhyme. What an exciting challenge that was! I only hope children and their parents have nearly as much fun reading A POEM IS A FIREFLY as I did in writing it.

It was also a pleasure for me to see our story and characters come to life in Michelle Hazelwood Hyde’s lovable illustrations. She captures such joy and whimsy in every scene, in the personality of each character. Children will have fun discovering their favorites, from the the cuddly bear on the cover to the big friendly moose who playfully wanders in and out of each scene from the early morning sunrise to the early evening when the firefly comes out to play.

And now, let’s hear from the talented illustrator, Michelle Hazelwood Hyde!

My absolute favorite moment of summer is when the fireflies begin to come out. I remember as a little girl catching them with my brother, sister, and cousins. It was so pure and magical. It still is to me. So when I was invited to illustrate the manuscript A POEM IS A FIREFLY, it was a dream come true. I am so grateful to get the opportunity to recreate those innocent moments of my childhood through the eyes of a series of playful animals. I hope the cover takes you to a peaceful summer evening, with all the wonderful shades of blues and greens, and that magic moment you spot your first firefly. At that moment if feels like anything is possible. It truly is.

Thank you for sharing your beautiful cover and story behind the story, Charles and Michelle!

A POEM IS A FIREFLY releases on May 28, 2021 from Schiffer Kids and is available for pre-order now.

As a thank you for visiting the cover reveal today, Charles is giving away a paperback copy of his book ILLUSIONS: Poetry and Art for the Young at Heart.

Leave one comment to enter.

A winner will be randomly selected soon.

Good luck!

If you’ve been paying attention to the picture book scene the last few years, you’re sure to recognize this fella…

No, not that fella! He’s new!

I mean this fella…

…drawn by this fella…

…Mike Boldt!

So you’ve no doubt heard of him…he’s got several hit books under his pencil and now I can introduce that OTHER fella, because he’s the star of Mike’s brand-new book!

Say hello to Fergus!

Mike, how did Fergus first find his way into your head?

My ideas come from all sorts of places. The idea of Find Fergus literally came out of a conversation that I was having with my friend, Dan Santat. In jest, I said I was going to do a knock off of Where’s Waldo?, but where Waldo was terrible at hiding. We laughed, and then Dan told me that was a really good idea, and I should make it. I thought about it, and decided he was right! So I did!

Was Fergus always a bear? 

Yes! It was very quickly decided that Fergus was going to be a bear, since actually doing Waldo in my own story wasn’t really an option. I thought a large bear would be funny, and then I tried to give him a Waldo flair with the glasses to pay tribute to the “original”.

Let’s talk about the color scheme. Why bright yellow?

I found the bright yellow background for Fergus right away. Originally, when I was working on the pitch, I did up a couple samples of a finished cover and a finished spread, and I used yellow in the background as a placeholder. But I instantly liked it so much it just stuck. There was one option where we tried a different color background, but it definitely was not right for this book.

Why do you think Fergus likes to hide so much? What’s going on beneath that big ball of fur?

Well, I believe Fergus is a character who has a rather childlike care-free approach to things in life. So whether he knows how to hide or not, he’s a bear who is going to have fun doing it. I really wanted to not only make sure that the theme wasn’t “Practice makes perfect” but rather “Practice makes progress”. I think with that approach we can have a lot more fun, like Fergus, even if we aren’t very good at something and enjoy the process. Besides, who doesn’t love a good game of hide and seek?!

No one doesn’t love hide and seek! 

Mike, can you give us any hints about your upcoming projects?

Funny you should ask, Tara! I actually have two books coming out next year. A wonderful and silly book called GOOD NIGHT, ALLIGATOR by Rebecca Van Slyke, and another hilarious picture book called BLOOP (by YOU!) about a hilarious space invader. That’s about it for now.

Well, it’s a good thing we have a Mike Boldt book now to tide us over!

And blog readers, you can win a copy!

I’ll count while you go hide! 10, 9, 8…

Kidding! Just leave a comment below to enter and a random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!

And follow Fergus’ Indie bookstore tour:

by Amanda Davis

Hi Tara! Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog. I’m super excited to be here and can’t wait to share my Storystorm Success Story with everyone.

In case you’re not familiar with me or my work, I’m an author, artist, and high school art educator who uses my art and writing to light up the world with kindness. After losing my father at the age of twelve, I turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became my voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell my story. Because of this, I was inspired to teach art and pursue my passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through my work, I hope to empower younger generations to tell their own stories and offer children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again.

As you can see, art and writing have been a part of my life ever since I was little, but let’s fast forward to September 2011. The new school year was upon me, and I was searching for a lesson I could do with my high school art classes to teach them about the tenth remembrance of September 11, 2001. Each year, I touch upon 9/11 in my curriculum. We learn about the events and do an art project in remembrance. This year, while browsing through some magazines, I came across a little blurb about an American flag that flew over Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. The flag became torn and tattered and was taken down and stored away. Seven years later, the flag emerged from storage and was brought down to a small town in Kansas, to be retired. But instead, the flag was patched back together and later traveled to all all fifty states to be fully restored; returning to New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of hope and unity.

“Wow! This was it!” I thought. I’d found my lesson. So, that year, students learned about the National 9/11 flag, and we created our own patchwork flag that was inspired by the story of the National 9/11/ Flag. It was a beautiful project and a beautiful story that stuck with me long after the lesson was complete.

Fast forward again to January 2018. It was a new year, and I was reflecting on my writing and illustrating goals. Was I doing enough? How can I improve? What new resources are out there? Etc., etc.,. This is when I came across Tara’s Storystorm challenge—30 ideas in 30 days. This was the perfect way to commit to my creativity at the start of the new year. I was in!

Each day I collected my ideas in my special A.A. Milner Winnie the Pooh journal. On Day 5, there was a post from Corey Rosen Schwartz titled Begs, Borrows, & Steals. The post was all about borrowing ideas from YOURSELF. She talked about re-examining past ideas, pondering over them, and picking them apart. She suggested going back into your files, notebooks, and sketchbooks to see what was lingering. AHA! How brilliant! This led me back to the flag.  The story always lingered in the back of my mind, but Corey’s suggestions brought it to the forefront again. I got to thinking, “Why not make this a kid’s book?” So, I noted this in my trusty journal, scribbled an idea for a pitch, and continued with my Storystorm journey.

Lo and behold, I ended up being a Storystorm Grand Prize Winner and now had the chance to pitch five of my Storystorm ideas to agent Jennifer March Soloway. I was blown away and super stoked! I polished up my pitches (the story of the flag being one of them… then called ONE STITCH AT A TIME) and sent them off to Jennifer. In her response, she encouraged me to focus on the flag story, calling it “a marvelous idea with great potential.” Hooray! With Jennifer’s insights in mind, I now had the confidence to forge ahead with my story idea, begin my research, and later query agents and editors with the story.

Now, ten years since I first conducted my high school art lesson on the National 9/11 Flag, two years after Storystorm’s inspiration, and many, many, many drafts later, 30,000 STITCHES is the story that landed me my first agent and is set to be published with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group on May 4, 2021.

It will enter the world twenty years after the tragic events of 9/11. The beautiful spread that is pictured here, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, shows the flag coming to its last stop in Joplin, Missouri before returning to New York. The image showcases the people and places the flag touched throughout its 120,000 mile journey across the United States—criss-crossing borders and cross stitching lives. With today being Election Day, I think this image perfectly captures the power of the people when we come out and come together.  At the core of this story, are seeds of hope, seeds of unity, and seeds of strength. It’s about the power of working together to overcome hard things. It’s about kindness, compassion, and service to others. I hope that anyone who reads 30,000 STITCHES will be reminded that we are connected through our shared stories. Our stories are stitched together. Our stories are the fabric of America.

Thanks so much to Storystorm and to you, Tara, for giving writer’s opportunities to get inspired and share their work. Storystorm comes around again in January 2021!

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of ten signed copies of 30,000 STITCHES! Sign up here!

Oh yes, one more thing, GO VOTE!

You can check out some of the 9/11 remembrance projects I’ve done with students here: 9/11 Remembrance Projects and stay tuned on my website for classroom activity guides for 30,000 STITCHES.


Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora. Visit her online at amandadavisart.com, on Twitter @amandadavisart, Instagram @amandadavis_art and Facebook.

Not every damsel needs saving! Introducing…LILLYBELLE!

This new picture book by Joana Pastro turns the troubled damsel theme on its head. It’s exactly what editors want, to take a common subject and twist it around so it becomes fresh and new. I invited Joana on the blog today to ask her about her debut book and how she got the idea for it…

Thanks for having me, Tara! I got the idea from a call for submissions from Cricket Magazine. The prompt was “Knights and Castles.” So, I began researching and expanding on that prompt, until I came upon the phrase “damsel in distress,” I immediately added the word “not” and BOOM! I had my idea and a title! Once I had that, the story of a girl who saves herself poured out of me pretty easily.

Beyond being a great message for young girls, what else do you hope kids will take away from the story?

I hope it’ll reinforce in boys that girls are equals. That stories with girl main characters can be just as interesting, compelling and important as the ones with boy characters.That girls’ stories matter too! I hope children learn to stand up for themselves, and see that problems can be solved by using their smarts and by being friendly. That life is much easier without crying, yelling and violence. And last, but not least, that they learn to accept and celebrate the differences between people, and that these differences make life more colorful and interesting.

LILLYYBELLE is your debut picture book–congratulations! What have you learned about the process that you want to pass along to other aspiring authors?

Thank you, Tara! First of all, be patient. There’s a lot of waiting in publishing! If you’re serious about being an author, invest your time in learning the craft and reading as many books as possible in the genre you want to write. Also, join SCBWI—it’s chockfull of resources—and a critique group. Listen to feedback, be humble and keep writing. It’ll be worth it!

What’s the most surprising thing that happened to this book along the way to publication?

Since I’m a debut author, everything along the way to publication was a bit of a surprise. The biggest surprise happened when I saw Jhon’s character studies and LillyBelle looked just like my daughter, with dark, curly hair and expressive eyes. I was thrilled! That was a happy surprise.

A not-so-happy surprise was learning about the book’s publication being changed less than a month before the original date, due to Covid-19 printing delays. It was a big bummer, but now I see it as a blessing in disguise. I was able to focus on my kids’s back to school experience and it also gave me a chance to recharge—I had been working non-stop—and really enjoy my book’s release.

Thanks for stopping by, Joana, and congrats again!

Blog readers, LILLYBELLE is out now!

And you could also win a copy here.

Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be chosen in a few weeks.

Good luck!


Much like LillyBelle, Joana loves a good tea party…or any party, really! When not writing, you can find Joana baking (and eating) delicious desserts, singing as loud as she can, or twirling around the house. Also, like LillyBelle, Joana thinks good manners are of the utmost importance – just ask her kids! LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS is her first book. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL comes out in Fall/2021. Born and raised in Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three kids and one rambunctious Morkie. Visit her at joanapastro.com, on Twitter @jopastro and on Instagram @joanapastro.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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