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What a flibbertigibbet I am. I randomly selected the remaining Storystorm winners and announced them on the Facebook group (are you a member yet?), but it took me forever and a day to post them here.

Apologies. I am knee-deep in writing my WHIZBANG WORDBOOK for Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. It’s an alternate reality, selling a book on proposal and THEN having to write it. Not the picture book author’s bailiwick. But I am cock-a-hoop over the whole thing, all atingle.

There comes a moment in my school presentations when the kids want me to stop being a blatherskite and read the book already. This is that moment…

Winner of Chana Stiefel’s DADDY DEPOT
Hélène Sabourin

Winner of Julie McGann’s WALL CALENDAR
Vivian LB

Winner of Colby Sharp’s Prize, Deborah Freedman’s SHY
Sheri Jones Rivers

Winner of Marcie Colleen’s SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS
Christine Irvin

Winner of Jason Kirschner’s MR. PARTICULAR
Vivian Kirkfield

Winners of Brenda Reeves Sturgis’s STILL A FAMILY
Mavis Penney
Carrie Pearson
Shanah Salter

Winner of Laurie Ann Thompson’s BE A CHANGEMAKER
Kathy Halsey

Winner of Veronica Bartles’s THE PRINCESS & THE FROGS Prize Pack
Joana Pastro

Winner of Ross MacDonald and Tara Lazar’s 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY
Sylvia Mary Grech

Winner of Corey Rosen Schwartz’s HENSEL & GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS
Nancy Rimar

Winner of S.britt and Tara Lazar’s NORMAL NORMAN
Kerrie Turcic

Winner of Adam Grant’s ORIGINALS
Helen Latos

Winner of Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Found Object Art
Donna L Martin

Winner of Jill Esbaum’s Critique
Megan E. McDonald

Winner of Rebecca E. Hirsch’s BIRDS VS. BLADES or PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL
Dow Phumiruk

Winner of Ruth Spiro’s BABY LOVES SCIENCE Books
Joan Swanson

Winner of Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick’s BOB, NOT BOB
Celeste’s Book Blog

Winner of Dr. Carrie Barron’s THE CREATIVITY CURE
Deb Beauchamp

Congratulations to everyone!

I hope you are busily transforming your best ideas into fabulous stories.

Why don’t you let everyone know how you’re doing in the comments?


Wow, was that a hilarious and exciting Oscars last night OR WHAT?

My only complaint is that with Jeff Bezos in the audience, they should have delivered the Junior Mints via drone. Maybe they thought the egos would be filling up the airspace. (“They” were wrong.)

Andrew Garfield wins for best catch.


But Gary from Chicago…? Congrats on the nuptials, but please put the phone down!

Mahershala Ali, right, hands his award for best actor in a supporting role for "Moonlight" to a tourist named Gary during the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Mahershala Ali, right, hands his award for best actor in a supporting role for “Moonlight” to a tourist named Gary during the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

I’ll not dwell on the epic mix-up because I hope it does not overshadow Moonlight’s win. Let’s remember the victor and not how it was announced.


Let’s get to announcing more Storystorm winners here, shall we? While I cannot promise delivery via drone either, I will promise to get the prizes right.


Here are the winners for Storystorm Days 1-10. More winners to follow later this week.

Coaching session: Kathy the Picture Lady
Coaching session: Marcie Rinka Wessels
Fiction Magic cards: Cindy E. Owens

Sharon Putnam

Jacqueline Adams
Corey Rosen Schwartz
Kara Cargill

Kaye Baillie

Artsy Andi

Lucky Jo Boscarino (how apropos)

Rachelle (through_the_waters)

Lynn A. Davidson

Kassy Kepol

Donna Rossman

Congratulations to everyone. You will be contacted via email to arrange delivery of your prizes.

More prize announcements to come soon…

It’s that time of year again!


No, I’m not talking about Snowpocalypse City Snowboarding.


Not the Grammys, either.


OK, Cookie wants me to get on with it already.

Sorry, my assistants were a little slow to arrive…


Let’s take it from the top…

It’s that time of year again!


That’s right, click your heels together three times and repeat: There’s No Prize Like Storystorm…There’s No Prize Like Storystorm…

These eight participants completed the challenge and now will have the opportunity to have their best five ideas reviewed by literary agents and editors. Congratulate them!


You may be asking: How were the Storystorm 2017 GRAND PRIZE WINNERS selected?

Every participant who signed the Storystorm Winner’s Pledge was assigned a number based upon the order in which they commented. I then used to generate 8 random numbers from 1 to 676 (the total number of pledge comments). The numbers were matched to their corresponding name, then I ensured that name was on the Storystorm registration post. If the name had been registered, then I double checked to make sure they had not commented on the winner’s pledge multiple times (thus giving them extra chances to win). If all checked out, the winner was verified. (And they all checked out!)

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

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

Thank you all for participating this year!

Remember there are PLENTY more prizes to come. Through the end of this month, I will be giving away all the prizes you saw during Storystorm. Who knows what you may win! (You get a car! You get a car! YOU ALL GET A CAR!)*


*You will not get a car.

You made it through!

It doesn’t matter if your journey was like this…


Because you have emerged victorious!


OK, so maybe your journey wasn’t that difficult.


Whatever the path was like…


You’ve arrived!


If you have 30 ideas, you can qualify for one of our AMAZING Storysttorm prizes just by taking the following pledge. Put your right hand on a picture book and repeat after me:

I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed
the Storystorm 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

Now I’m not saying all 30 ideas have to be good. Some may just be titles, some may be character quirks. Some may be problems and some may create problems when you sit down to write. Some may be high-concept and some barely a concept. But…they’re yours, all yours! Give them a big, fat, juicy smacker! SMOOCH!


You have until February 4th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post. PLEASE COMMENT ONLY ONCE.

The name you left on the registration post and the name you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH.

Again, please COMMENT ONLY ONCE. If you made a mistake, contact me instead of leaving a second comment.

Remember, this is an honor system pledge. You don’t have to send in your ideas to prove you’ve got 30 of them. If you say so, I’ll believe you! Honestly, it’s that simple. (Wouldn’t it be nice if real life were that straightforward.)

If your name appears on both the registration post AND this winner’s pledge, you’ll be entered into the grand prize drawing: feedback on your best 5 ideas from an editor or literary agent:

So what should you do now? Start fleshing out your best ideas! Write them as elevator pitches. Get ready because YOU might be a CHOSEN ONE.

Other prizes include picture books, manuscript critiques, art prints—all the stuff you saw during the month. All winners will be randomly selected by and announced next week.

So, sign away and pick up your winner’s badge here:





by Dr. Carrie Barron

Here is a wonderful quote I just found by psychologist and creator of the Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, Abraham Maslow: “A first rate soup is more creative than a second rate painting.”

I think I can stop right here, as to me that says it all. When you follow an impulse, pour your heart, engage your hands and play around with the elements or ingredients, you are being creative. Make a soup and do it your own way.


Inspiration? It’s great if it comes but not necessary. Just pick up the pot, spoon, chopping knife and throw your fresh, multicolored carrots on a cutting board. Sometimes, the feeling comes after the activity begins. If you wait for the muse, you might become anxious if she doesn’t show up. You might procrastinate, become inhibited, feel abandoned and twiddle your thumbs while fretting about your shortcomings. Take care of yourself and conjure your creativity at the same time, by starting something, anything, no matter what your mood. Because it can change your mood. And that is reason enough. Your soup doesn’t have to be that good. If you are practiced, maybe your soup will be stupendous. If it is less than you hoped, there are more opportunities to learn. The best thing is that you engaged your hands in a meaningful way, immersed in a process and tried to master something new, which is good for mental health. Meaningful hand use elevates mood and mind, according to researcher Dr. Kelly Lambert.

creativitycureThere are other forms of meaningful hand use. What about writing by hand versus typing? Writing by hand though not efficient, can fill a need. Putting the inner self on the page is an act of creativity. Holding a pen and handling paper is visceral. I think about the artist Louise Bourgeois and her Drawings for Sleep. Drawing helped her manage her insomnia. By creating absorbing problems to solve via hand to paper, she was transported to a different place. Many, many people tell me that handwritten lists are a way to deal with anxiety.

So whether it is a soup, a drawing, a list or a poem, bringing your true self fully to the task to is a creative act. I get really inspired when I find great quotes like the one above. If a first rate soup is more creative than a second rate painting, think of all the creative people out there who might be inspired, motivated and assured if they only knew who they really were and what they could do!

carrieheadshot-200x300Carrie Barron, M.D., (Grace Caroline Barron, M.D) is the Director of the Creativity for Resilience Program at Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas and a board-certified psychiatrist/psychoanalyst. She served on the faculty of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and maintained a private practice in New York City for almost two decades. Carrie has published in peer-reviewed journals, won several academic awards and presented original works on creativity and self-expression at national meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Via articles, interviews and quotes, she contributes to many podcasts, radio shows, magazines and newspapers. Carrie maintains a blog on Psychology Today, has taught at en*theos Academy for Optimal Living, the Hudson Valley Writers Center and Columbia and is on the Honorary Board of RiverArts. Visit her at


Dr. Barron is giving away a copy of her book, THE CREATIVITY CURE.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Kirsten Hess, Bookseller

14440841_1348278475191245_8005145897934685266_n-1It has been wonderful to read the posts in Storystorm this month, to get a peek into the creative processes that go into the many wonderful books that we carry in our shop, Let’s Play Books! Bookstore. We opened our doors three years ago in Emmaus, PA, in a one-room shop. This past September, we relocated down the street to a three-level building that more than triples our space.

Just as a number of writers and illustrators have been inspired by their own children, I became involved in children’s books through our daughter. Let’s Play Books! began as a non-profit in Delaware, Ohio, in 2010. I wanted to instill a love of stories in young children through books and theatre. As our daughter grew older and our family moved, Let’s Play Books! adapted and changed, culminating in the opening of the Emmaus shop in 2013.


We try to set a fun and creative mood in the store—the kind of place children might perhaps find themselves in one of the books from our shelves. Because that’s what it’s all about—the story. Whether through pictures or words or the two combined. Stories of bugs or bunnies. Stories of discovery and mystery. Stories that make us laugh or cry. But in some way they all encourage a young reader to engage with herself and the world around her. We work to find books that stir the imagination and touch the soul.

This year's Newbery Medalist visiting the shop, pictured with Let's Play Books patron Annette.

This year’s Newbery Medalist Kelly Barnhill visiting the shop, pictured with book club participant Annette.

When a child visits our shop, we try to learn what type of story excites and interests him. Of course, tales of fantasy and adventure often rank high, as well as mystery and suspense, with young characters that kids can identify with on some level. We are also seeing an ever-increasing demand for titles, from picture and board books through young adult, that introduce children to issues our society is dealing with. Many parents want to introduce their children to subjects such as racial and cultural diversity, bullying, and getting along with others quite early. In the middle-grade years, LGBTQ and gender identity are topics not widely discussed until recent years, but are now accepted and sought out by young readers and their parents. At Let’s Play Books!, we strive to contribute to a culture of acceptance and inclusion through the books we stock and the authors that visit our shop. For us, a bookstore is a place of exploration and preparation as young readers grow into roles in the local community, as well as national and global society.


Book clubs have become a big part of the Let’s Play Books! community. We have four levels of ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) Clubs, in which children read, review, share and discuss books prior to their publication. We also have middle-grade Sci-fi/Fantasy, YA Grab-Bag, and four adult book clubs. The move to our new location enabled us to expand our adult offerings, now a growing share of our business.


The new shop includes a Community Room, places to sit and read, play chess, build a puzzle or color and draw. The third-floor “Cattic” has become a popular space for events or to hang out with bookshop cats Garfield and Bernie. We also encourage writers and illustrators to settle in and work in the shop!

Thanks for including us in Storystorm!

Kirsten Hess
Founder and Owner, Let’s Play Books!
Facebook & Twitter @letsplaybooks

by Audrey Vernick & Liz Garton Scanlon

Audrey: Like all picture book origin stories, this one starts years ago. Liz and I knew each other but not well at this point, if I remember correctly.

kittenLiz: I was clinging to you like a kitten because I was trying to learn to write my first novel and I’d chosen you (lucky you!) to teach me!

And one day out of the blue, we received an email from our mutual agent, Erin Murphy, that included a book review of a forthcoming title with a brief description. And Erin wrote that if Liz and I ever had a book baby, it would be something like this particular book. And all I could think, right at that instant was, “I want to have a book baby with Liz!” It was all-consuming.

And I was like, “Squirrel!” Meaning, “We don’t have to write our novels today?!?!”

I believe that at this very time, I had a terrible cold. And sometimes I write like I talk, and I remember writing “aben,” instead of “amen,” in an email to the two of them about our some-day collaboration.

And then we talked about having stuffed up noses and how when you say “Mom” it sounds like Bob and before we’d exhausted the email thread, we were part-way there.


One of the ground rules Liz and I set up at the outset might be responsible for some of the magic of our process. Because there IS magic. It’s so much more fun writing a book with Liz than by myself—and this was the rule: NO “TRACK CHANGES”. We emailed each other updated versions of the file.

We freely cut what we wanted, regardless of which person wrote it. We added stuff. We re-arranged. I never found myself reading for the parts I wrote or the parts she wrote—it was really just about the story. The rules also dictate that if you miss something desperately, you can try make a case for bringing it back. I can only think of one example when I did that. And I don’t remember Liz ever trying it, on account of only one of us being a baby.

Oh, I’m a baby too but I think everything Audrey cut deserved it.

One thing I remember was that Liz started us off with the character Little Louie, and we had about maybe half a page written, and one of the lines I added was “Little Louie wasn’t all that little” and Liz knew, instantly, to move that line to the top. Which is where I NOW understand it belongs, but I didn’t know that then.

And that’s always true—not just for this story, or for our next collaboration (DEAR SUBSTITUTE, illustrated by Chris Raschka, due in 2018) but for all stories—you need to pay attention to what belongs where and to what the story needs. For whatever reason, we found it easier to really listen to the story during this practice of listening to each other. Even though it was all stuffed up. Ta-da! More magic. And more fun.

Speaking of fun, guess what we’re debuting today, right here and now with you all? Our BOB, NOT BOB book trailer! Designed and produced by the boy genius Jacob Vernick. Enjoy.

And then email a friend and write something together. Seriously. Take a load off.

AudreyAP  LizPortait2013_0001-(ZF-0850-58463-1-006)

For more fun from these quirky collaborators, visit Audrey at and view Liz’s website at



Audrey and Liz are giving away a copy of BOB, NOT BOB.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Ruth Spiro

Two weeks ago, I posted the following question on the Storystorm Facebook group:


I had been brainstorming my own list of ideas to write about, but I think it’s important to do some market research, too. Would my ideas be interesting and helpful to Storystorm readers? I figured that posing this question was a good way of taking their pulse.

Within a day, several members had replied with questions on topics they wanted to read about. Each of these questions also had “Likes,” indicating that others were interested in them, as well. As a result, in addition to my own list I now had nine more possible topics, fresh for the picking.

Looking for inspiration?

Ask for it!

Sometimes we see, hear or read something and BAM, inspiration lands right in our lap. The perfect topic, character or story we can’t wait to explore and write about. Other times, we have to take a more active role in seeking it out. One way I’ve discovered, as I demonstrated above, is to engage with my potential audience and ask them what they want. It’s as simple as that.

Here are a few to try:

Kids (Of course!)
When my daughters were young, it felt like I had idea-machines living in my home providing a never-ending stream of inspiration. If you speak with kids, you can’t help but be amazed by the funny, creative and often surprisingly perceptive things they say. If you’re lucky enough to spend all or part of your day with kids (whether they’re your own or someone else’s!), here’s my advice: Write. Everything. Down.

Get to know the youth services librarians at your public library and the media specialists at your local schools. Sign up to volunteer if the opportunity exists. Ask if there are any requested topics they wish they could find more books about.

When is the best time to get to know your local booksellers? If you’re pre-published, that time is NOW. Pay attention to the books they’re hand-selling, attend author events, and support the store by purchasing a book or two when you visit. As with librarians, ask about the books their customers are requesting. Or, would they like to see companion titles for books they currently stock? Develop (an authentic) relationship now, well before it’s time to ask them to stock your book or host a launch event.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, but I think I’ve made my point. Sometimes, the best way to find new ideas is simply to ask for them.


Now, back to my Facebook query. While I posted the call for topics to demonstrate my point, I also know that group members left their questions in earnest and I don’t want this to feel like a bait-and-switch. So, here are those questions with what I hope are brief, but helpful answers.


“Sometimes I think of a cool character, but then have trouble turning it into a premise. Any tricks on sort of taking an idea and expanding on it?” –Kerrie T. & Angie I.
If you love your character, set her free! Story is what happens when something changes. A door opens. She meets someone new. She loses something. Wants something. Gets into trouble. Give your character a new experience or problem to navigate and capture her unique, but inevitable, reaction.

“Tips for self-editing”–Michele S.
Here’s a technique I share in my school visits and writing workshops: Don’t try to do it all at once. Much like the job of cleaning your room, if you focus on one specific task at a time it won’t seem so overwhelming. Some items to consider for your editing checklist: Does your story have a natural arc, with a beginning, middle and end? Does your main character also have an arc, growing or changing in some way? Is your language as fun, rhythmic and specific as it can be? If you’ve written a picture book, have you provided varied illustration opportunities? Once you’ve taken your story as far as you can on your own, it’s time for a critique group or writing partner to have a look with fresh eyes.

“I feel like many of my great ideas are more of a short story and less of a picture book – can you help writers identify some differences?” –Melanie K. & Nadine P.
There are a few main differences, but I think the best test is to imagine your story with page turns. Do the scenes change? Is there movement? Are there a variety of scenes to illustrate? If so, you probably have a picture book. On the other hand, if your story is longer and contains more description within the text (that would otherwise be illustrated in a picture book) it may be a better fit as a magazine story. There are other differences between the two, but I think the “page turn test” is an excellent indicator.

“Any thoughts to share on endings?”–Jennifer V.
Rob Sanders gives an overview on his blog that’s head and shoulders above anything I could come up with on my own. He describes different kids of endings and gives a few examples of each here.

“Self pub or traditional?”–Matt R.
Matt, I’m just not the right person to answer this for you because I’ve only worked with traditional publishers. I’ve been pleased with this process and have never considered self-publishing. However, I know there are many authors who feel the same way about self-publishing, so I encourage you to fully research both sides.


“How did you get the ideas for your Baby Loves books? (I love them!)–Claire N.
Lovely of you to ask, Claire! Some may recall an article that appeared in the New York Times back in 2010. Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children was a controversial article about parents who were bypassing picture books for their very young children in favor of more sophisticated reading material, such as chapter books. While discussing this with some writer friends I commented, “What do these parents want, quantum physics for babies?” As soon as I said it, I knew I had an idea with potential.

“Suggestions for judging which ideas have most merit.”–Marty B.
An idea on it’s own is just that – an idea. It’s what you do with it that determines its merit. I’m not sure you can adequately judge an idea until you develop it into something and see where it goes. If I had thought too long about the idea of writing science books for babies, I probably would have eventually talked myself out of it! But once I started playing around with the idea, researching and writing and revising, I realized it did have merit and was worth pursuing. I’m glad I did!

RuthSpiroRuth Spiro is the author of Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering and Baby Loves Quarks, published by Charlesbridge. Baby Loves Thermodynamics and Baby Loves Quantum Physics are forthcoming this fall. These adorably illustrated books contain expert-reviewed science, yet are simple enough for little ones! Ruth is also pleased to share that another new picture book series, Made by Maxine, will be published by Dial beginning in 2018. Inspired by her trusty companion and muse, a pet goldfish, Maxine is determined to make the world a better place, one crazy contraption at a time. Visit her online at and Twitter @RuthSpiro. (Ruth wrote this blog while recovering from pneumonia, and apologizes for the grammar and punctuation mistakes she’s sure she missed!) 


Ruth is giving away two BABY LOVES SCIENCE books.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Rebecca E. Hirsch

Congrats, Storystormers, you are almost done! Tara asked me talk to you about how to get nonfiction ideas.

In fiction, anything is possible. But nonfiction shows the world as it really is, even when reality seems too surprising to be true. Here are some ways to inspire ideas for nonfiction stories.

  • Do some self-reflection. Think about your personal history, your areas of expertise, and what subjects capture your fancy. You don’t have to be an authority on your topic, but you should choose something that will hold your attention. You could be living with your manuscript for months, or even years.
  • Notice your unique perspective on the world. Pay attention to gaps: places where your views differ from the views of most people. Great ideas lurk in the gaps. For example, I am fascinated by plants and all they do, yet I’m aware that many people—including children—see plants as inert and uninteresting, like green statuary. My desire to share my perspective was the driving force behind PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL, a picture book about the surprising ways plants move.


  • Read about your subject. As a science writer, I read science news religiously, and I’m always on the lookout for intriguing stories. My current work-in-progress is the story of people trying to save a beloved, struggling species. I noticed the story popping up in the news for years. I also noticed that no one was writing about it for children. Last summer, I pitched the story to my editor and landed a book contract.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you’ll stumble across an interesting story idea. A few years ago, I was writing a magazine article about Arctic terns, tiny birds that migrate from the Arctic to Antartica every year. I called up a seabird biologist who had studied these birds. We talked at length about them, then we kept talking. He told me about other work he was involved with, like a big research project to track seabirds in advance of offshore wind farm development off the East Coast. That conversation launched me my book BIRDS VS. BLADES?—Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Protect Seabirds.


Finally, read plenty of children’s nonfiction. Today’s nonfiction writers are telling true stories to children in wonderfully inventive ways. Read a hundred books or articles, then a hundred more. You’ll get exposed to an exciting range of possibilities for how to tell your own nonfiction stories.

Rebecca HirschRebecca Hirsch grew up climbing trees and splashing in streams in western Pennsylvania. She worked as a plant biologist before becoming a writer. Her many nonfiction books for children include BIRDS VS. BLADES?—Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Save Seabirds, a Junior Library Guild selection, and PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL, a Kirkus best picture book of 2016. Her newest book is DE-EXTINCTION: The Science of Bringing Lost Species Back to Life. When she’s not writing, you might find her baking bread, playing backyard badminton (badly) with her family, hiking with her dog, or growing plants in her garden.

You can learn more about Rebecca’s books at her website You can follow her on Twitter @RebeccaEHirsch.


Rebecca is giving away one of her books, your choice, either BIRDS VS. BLADES or PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Jill Esbaum

Ever had a story idea pop into your head while reading someone else’s published book?

chickenofthefamilyI still remember, back in 2008, stumbling onto Mary Amato’s quirky CHICKEN OF THE FAMILY. I was instantly smitten. Boy, did she nail the sibling dynamic. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a little girl whose two older sisters put into motion a fiendish plot to convince her she’s a chicken. It made me laugh out loud then, and it makes me laugh out loud now. Because those sisters—their actions, their dialogue, their emotions—feel REAL to me. Nobody knows how to push a kid’s buttons like a sibling.

Because I loved Mary’s story so much, I was inspired to write something with a similar starting point—older kids carrying out a fiendish plot against their younger, more innocent sibling. Here’s my synopsis: Spencer bunny knows perfectly well that monsters aren’t real, but when his older brothers begin tormenting him with spooky tales of the dreaded Frankenbunny, the little bunny is soon questioning everything he thought he knew.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS FRANKENBUNNY was first submitted in 2008. And rejected by four editors, including two with whom I’d already worked. Ouch. On the advice of my then-agent (who was right), we stopped submitting, knowing it was lacking…something. But, what? Ugh. I am sorry to admit that this close-but-no-cigar part of story creation is often a regular part of my process. Sorry, Spencer. Into the metaphorical drawer you go.


One editor did say she just hadn’t connected emotionally, which told me that the story needed more of that elusive quality, heart…

Every six months or so, I clicked back into the story and, after a careful read, rewrote it in a different POV or tense. I rearranged scenes. Discovered and brought forward connections. Pumped up the characterization. Worked on the voice, the heart. Cut mercilessly. Started from scratch repeatedly. In this project’s file folder are no less than 28 drafts with labels like:

  • 1st person Feb rewrite
  • 2nd person Feb rewrite
  • 3rd person, Feb rewrite
  • FINAL DRAFT – 1st person
  • FINAL DRAFT – 3rd person
  • Frankenbunny 2
  • Nov Frankenbunny
  • not this one
  • Nov Frankenbunny, past tense
  • Nov Frankenbunny, 3rd person
  • Frankenbunny, present tense

Looks like I didn’t know my own story, right? But I did. Or…you know, I thought I did. I was pretty sure… What I wasn’t sure of, obviously, was how to present it in its best possible light. Gak. I got to the point where almost wished these characters would let me go already. But they wouldn’t.

I shared the story more than once with my brilliant online critique group (shout out to Andrea Donohoe, Pat Zietlow Miller, Lisa Morlock, and Norene Paulson) and also with author Katy Duffield, who all had insightful comments. And finally this story, originally “finished” at 770 words, was sitting at 550. It had taken SEVEN YEARS of revision, but the entire thing was quicker, leaner. It had more heart (even though I remember whining to my office walls at one point, “Oh, c’mon! How can I add emotion and cut the word count?” Wah, wah, wah.).

Flash forward to late 2015. I had a new agent, Tricia Lawrence, and new hope for some of my old manuscripts. Tricia sent the overhauled FRANKENBUNNY to a few editors and—*cue thud as Jill falls off chair*—it sold to Sterling.

I’ve seen the sketches by illustrator Alice Brereton, and every time I look through them, my pulse flutters—in the best way. I can’t wait to see it finished.

Remember this: Have faith in yourself. Keep learning. Keep practicing. Keep submitting. That’s how you get better at…well, everything.

And when a dear-to-your-heart story gathers too many rejections, put it away for awhile. That isn’t necessarily a failure; it may simply be part of the process for that story. If the characters won’t let you go, start exploring other ways to tell their tale. Revise endlessly. Even if it takes seven years to get it right.

Meanwhile, please watch for FRANKENBUNNY, coming this fall from Sterling Children’s.

Version 4Jill Esbaum’s recent titles include IF A T.REX CRASHES YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY, TEENY TINY TOADY (starred review, Kirkus), and ELWOOD BIGFOOT—Wanted: Birdie Friends. Several of her books have been nominated for state awards, and her I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite award.

She has authored more than twenty titles in numerous series for National Geographic Kids, as well as a picture book, ANIMAL GROUPS.

Jill created a group blog of fellow picture book writers and illustrators called Picture Book Builders, teaches writing at conferences around the country, and co-hosts the Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop each summer. Find more information at her website


Jill is giving away a picture book critique.

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