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It’s here, it’s here! Every writer’s favorite gifting list!

Thanks to illustrator Susie Ghahremani at for creating the typewriter-tree for our post. And the first item I’ll recommend is straight from her site! I bought a bunch of her adorable enamel pins, plus a typewriter pin! They now proudly adorn my denim jacket. (Psst, all the gifts on this list can be for YOU! Treat yourself; it’s been another rough year!)

The first gift I love for writers keeps your mind sharp and hones your creative connections with all those tricky clues.

$40 annually

You’ll receive the daily NY Times crossword, mini crossword games, and my current obsession, Spelling Bee. And if you’re truly up for a challenge, NYT fan Sarah Sinclair offers a Spelling Bee knit hat pattern on

BOOK DARTS @ The Grommet

I always say to classes I visit, “To be a good writer, you must be a good READER.” Book darts are thin metal line markers that hug a page, pointing to a specific line, without marking up the page. Each tin contains 125 book darts, more than enough for multiple books, magazines, journals… Now you can easily refer to your favorite lines.


If you’re like me and a box of your books goes KA-THUNK on the front porch, you scramble to grab any old dojigger to open it—a key, a ballpoint pen, even a fingernail. But that’s so wrong! You risk ruining your writing tool, your manicure, and you’ll mangle your lock trying to jimmy it open with a misshapen key. So get a Gerber Shard. It’s even airline-approved!


You’re a writer, not an illustrator…so here’s a nifty gadget for you. Put it next to any drawing and it will reflect lines to trace. If there’s an image in a picture book you love, you can recreate it for yourself.


Don’t worry, it won’t tell you to drink more Ovaltine. However, if you’re a kidlit writer, I know you’re gonna love this! Who doesn’t want to pass secret notes? (Hey, why not write an entire manuscript in code and challenge your critique partners? On second thought, never mind. They’ll kick you outta the group.)

GRIDS & GUIDES NOTEBOOK from Princeton Architectural Press

If you’re a visual thinker, this notebook offers varying lined pages for ideas, lists, paragraphs, doodles, anything you can imagine. It’s been a bestseller for a decade.

$39.99 for 24-pack of 4×4

It doesn’t matter if you’re a plotter or a pantser, every writer can find a use for these. And another use. And another. They’re erasable, re-stickable, and each one should last about 2 years stuck and unstuck to your wall, your manuscript, your bedside table, or your partner’s forehead.

starts at $27 per month

Scribbler says it’s “like a writing conference in a box.” There’s lessons, chats, other writerly gifts and a new novel to enjoy. All you need is a cuppa tea, a cat, and a roaring fire. (In the fireplace. Don’t set your manuscript alight.)

RUSTIC BOOKSTORE CANDLE by Mirus Candles on Etsy
$8.95 and up

Writers love books. But we adore old books, especially the aroma of a used bookstore! I’ve searched high and higher for that scent, and this may be the closest with its combination of old books, worn leather, and fireplaces.


Published in late 2020 from Skyhorse, this delish little tome may have escaped your notice. “From Christmas and Thanksgiving to Halloween and New Year’s, this seasonal cookbook offers 17 full four-course holiday meals from 25 classic books—each including an appetizer, entrée, side dish, and dessert.” Don’t forget to invite me to dinner!


This game is especially perfect for picture book creators, as it’s based on creating words to describe the illustrated cards and telling stories based on the images. Both children and adults can play together!


I have bookshelves all over my house, but I could always use another one. That’s probably you, too. This bookcase is narrow, meaning anyone can find a place for it. Besides, it’s a nice excuse to buy more books—to fill it up!

NOVEL TEA BOOK TINS from Uncommon Goods
$35.00 – $39.00

I admit, I don’t like coffee, so you’ll never see that bitter brew on this list. However, I adore a good cuppa tea. I should’ve been born British.


Maybe the pandemic has renewed your love of old-fashioned letter-writing. Here’s a treasure trove of 100 book jacket postcards for short communiques that are more meaningful (and more fun) than text messages.


And for those longer hand-written sentiments, there’s this gorgeous notecard set of 12 iconic female writers, with original portraits by Etsy seller CustardApple. They’re lovely, printed on recycled linen, with Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, plus 8 others.


EX LIBRIS STAMP by Etsy Seller ExLibrisStudio

Personalized gifts are so special and this shop has every “ex libris” design you could ever want, from children’s choices to animals, science, and mystery. Choose a stamp or a sticker for your favorite bookworm.


For keeping you writing friends close, and your writing enemies closer. (The pen is a double-edged sword, is it not?)


Speaking of sharp writing implements, I asked my friend, illustrator Kirk Reedstrom, to tell me a little about this curious pen I saw him using last week. He says:

“For the calligraphy lover or illustrator in your life, I cannot recommend Dan Berry’s Blade Pen highly enough! Hand-made by UK-based cartoonist and illustrator, Dan Berry, this pen is a lot of fun! This dip pen’s unpredictable nature helps me loosen up and get a delectably wonky line quality I haven’t found with any other tool.”

Here are a few adorable drawings Kirk made with his new pen:

LAP DESK by Lap Gear

During the pandemic, I gave up sitting at a desk. I balance my laptop precariously on a living room pillow. NOT the best set-up. Enter this lap desk. There are tons of designs to choose from if you choose a couch for comfort. There’s even a slot for your phone (so you don’t sit on it, like I do).

MOFT Invisible Laptop Stand

Speaking of comfort while writing, this “invisible” laptop stand won a design award for its slim profile that attaches directly to your laptop for go-anywhere convenience. You’ll get a perfect tilt when you need it and a sturdy, flat base when you don’t.



“Each round begins with a rotating judge drawing a Story card and reading the first sentence aloud. The other players then write down a word or phrase that fills in the first blank. After every player has submitted their word or phrase, the judge chooses their favorite and places it on the story card upside down. This continues for every line. At the end of the story, the judge reads the completed story, revealing the winning submissions!”


Shameless plug. If you’re a fan of my List of 500+ Fun, Cool & Interesting Words, you’ll enjoy how I turned it into a book, with 750+ words arranged by category for ease-of-use and fun facts behind entries. Available wherever you purchase books, starting January 2.


And finally, thanks to my friends at, we have the Narwhal Fountain Pen, one of the owner’s, Kiran Mehra’s, favorite pens. I asked her what makes it so special. She says, “Narwhal pens write amazingly!  Fountain pens have been around a long time, but the Narwhal fountain pen takes what’s good about classic fountain pens (for example, the Piston-Fill system) and removes the headaches that used to come with them. Narwhal pens are the same quality and often-times materials as expensive luxury fountain pens (which can go upwards of $200 – $2000, believe it or not), but for an affordable intermediate price of $50. There is no better first fountain pen to have!”

And lucky blog readers, thanks to, you can WIN A NARWHAL FOUNTAIN PEN!

Simply add one gift-for-writers suggestion of your own to this post in the comments below.

One random winner will be selected at the end of 2021.



by Shannon Stocker

You know how you have to make a total mess before you can really begin cleaning? Like how you have to pull all the books off a bookshelf to alphabetize them, or empty all your drawers before reorganizing?

Well, that’s going to be this blog.

So bear with me. I’ll get there, I promise.

Those who know me know that I also write outside of the picture book genre. I write for Chicken Soup, my memoir is currently circulating somewhere in the publishing house abyss, and I’m working on my first middle grade novel. Because of that, one of the most common questions I’ve gotten from other writers is, “How do you organize your time between genres?”

The short answer is this: I don’t.

Inspired yet?

But seriously, one of the most difficult aspects of writing in different genres is switching gears. For example, my memoir voice and my picture voice are two very different things. It’s not like I can drop F bombs in my picture books. If for no other reason, then, I often worked on only one genre in any given day while I was writing my memoir. Sometimes I’d actually take the whole week, only changing genres when I felt thoroughly able to compartmentalize. But once I made that decision, I’d use my first few hours to make a big ol’ mess, reading scattered notes and writing crappy first drafts, and then I’d slowly tidy the room…revising over and over again until my work sparkled. And that worked well for me.

Until it didn’t.

On Friday, October 2, 2020, I brought my daughter Cassidy to the hospital for an MRI. We suspected migraines.

But they found a tumor.

Cassidy was immediately admitted; a biopsy, done first thing Monday morning, confirmed the doctors’ suspicions.

Cassidy had brain cancer.

Through tears during that first night in the hospital, I started a Caring Bridge site to keep friends and family apprised of Cassidy’s journey. The move felt a little like self-preservation, if I’m being honest. I didn’t have the bandwidth to answer all the texts and emails flooding in.

The next month trudged by in a slow, vomitous haze as doctors tried to figure out what kind of cancer was growing in her brain…and what kind of mutations were growing in the tumor. As soon as we thought we had an answer, another hospital would disagree. Her biopsy sample got lost. We had to consult with multiple facilities to determine the best course of chemo. Every ounce of energy, every second of time disappeared into the tornado that surrounded my family. Each time we thought we had enough strength to stand, reality shoved us back to the ground. The mess just kept getting messier.

October 2020 was easily the worst month of my life. And for perspective, I’m a coma survivor.

Once Cassidy’s port was implanted, chemo began the next day. Then again, the week after that. Then again. And again…until one day, we realized we’d found a rhythm. For six, seven, eight weeks, the writer in me pined for an escape. Some way to shelve reality, even if only for thirty minutes. But it was in that moment, when I felt my creative spirit drowning in sadness and fear, that I realized I had actually been nurturing it all along. Even during the worst month of my life, I’d somehow found a way to keep breathing.

Because Caring Bridge posts had been my creative soul’s lifeline.

In that messiest of messy moments, when darkness siphoned all hope, that is when Habit opened the door and ushered herself in. Habit helped me reorganize. Habit opened my laptop. Habit tidied my thoughts.

I didn’t even see it coming. And when it did, I didn’t immediately recognize it for what it was. I was just hurting.

So…I wrote. And I cried.

A lot.

In early January, I wrote my first picture book manuscript since the fall. Yes, Storystorm and 12×12 both nudged me in that direction…but Habit carried me through. Then, Cassidy created a YouTube series called “Candid with Cassidy: Fireside Cancer Chats.” Again, Habit helped me write summaries for each weekly episode.

We cannot expect to be creative when tragedy strikes. Sometimes, life sucks. And in those moments, we must allow ourselves freedom from expectations. We must allow ourselves to flounder. To feel lost.

To grieve.

But, if we have nurtured good habits, then eventually those habits will become guiding lights.

And if our habits included nurturing our creativity, then, when it matters most…creativity will nurture us.

Shannon Stocker is an award-winning author and proud word nerd who lives in Louisville, KY, with her husband, Greg, and their children, Cassidy and Tye. Her debut picture book, CAN U SAVE THE DAY (Sleeping Bear Press), released in 2019, her nonfiction PB bio about Evelyn Glennie entitled LISTEN: HOW ONE DEAF GIRL CHANGED PERCUSSION comes out with Dial (Penguin/Random House) in 2022, and several of Shannon’s nonfiction essays have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Shannon currently serves as SCBWI social co-director for Louisville, a judge for Rate Your Story, and she created the blog series, Pivotal Moments: inHERview, highlighting transitional life stories of female picture book authors. Cool facts: Currently writing her memoir, Shannon is a medical school graduate, a coma survivor, an RSD/CRPS patient and advocate, and a singer/songwriter who once performed two songs, including one original, as part of an opening act for Blake Shelton. Shannon is represented by Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio.

Visit Shannon at shannonstocker.comFacebook, or follow her on Twitter @iwriteforkidz and Instagram @iwriteforkidz.

Our first gift this year is the adorable “Snow Bear” mascot by the generous and talented Tatjana Mai-Wyss. Give her a follow on Instagram @tatjanamaiwyss for a daily dose of happy! You can also find her art on Etsy.

Speaking of Etsy, that’s where our initial group of gifts can be found. Etsy offers a variety of unique treasures for a superstar scribe. Here are a few examples…

Leather iPhone “Book” Case

This is a handsome, protective and useful phone case. There are several Etsy artisans offering similar ones—you can pick a favorite—although I’m sold on the vintage book design.


Literary Cookie Cutters

If you like to bake, then these are for you! Fahgettaboud gingerbread men! Your favorite writer wants to bite into Emily Dickinson!

Alternatively, give these to your writer-baker friend and they’ll gift you right back with a set of Shakespeare sugar cookies. (I see two sprinkles making a fine mustache.)


Book Shelf Scarf

Bonus: this scarf goes with any sweater hue!


Book Spine Stair Decals

Genius! Decals! You don’t need to hire a painter!


Sari-Covered Journals

Beautiful keepsake journals in every jewel color of the rainbow.


Vintage “Game of Authors”

I had never seen this before, but serendipity had me stumble over these games of yore. The first is from thee 1920’s and the second is the 1943 “Salem Edition.”


I love games of all kinds. Maybe your friend the children’s writer does, too. After all, we’re just overgrown kids.

MoMA “Writer’s Block” Jumping Game

Based on the perennial waiting-for-our-food-at-the-diner game, this version features colorful pencils to lighten the writer’s blocked mood.


The Storymatic Card Game

Invented by a writing professor, this card game offers character traits, situations and motivations even your most daringly creative friend never thought of shoving into one story.


Once Upon a Time Game

Pick some cards and then steer the story your way!


Modcloth is one of my favorite places to shop for quirky clothes. They are equally offbeat with their accessories!

Colored Pencil Wallet

It looks like it carries pencils, but it carries stuff to buy pencils.

What the @’&#*? Earring Set

How I needed these when writing THE UPPER CASE! (Not because I was cursing while creating it, but because these characters make cameos!)


OK, so maybe your writer friend wants to do some actual writing!

Vivid Gel Pen Set

Bright and smooth for fanciful journaling.


Delde Sliding, Standing Pen Pouch

I stole this idea from Heidi Stemple! This case is amazing…you unzip, pull down on the side handles, and all your writing implements are there for the grabbing! Indispensable for book signings!


ReMarkable Tablet

Writes like paper, saves like a computer!


Scapple Mind-Mapping Software

Watch the demo of this simple, straightforward method of connecting ideas visually. Scapple is helpful writer’s tool from the folks at Literature & Latte who brought you Scrivener.


While your writerly pal is doing their thing, they could use a thing to ensure their comfort. (If they’re cozy, they will keep that B.I.C.!)

Happy Heat Foot Warmer

Happy heat for happy feet!


Ember Heated Smart Mug

Hot tea! Hot coffee! Hot cocoa! YES, PLEASE!


Secret Garden Sherpa Fleece Blanket

Other blankets available; I just loved the birdie!


Out of Print Sweatshirt

I know some fashionistas say that adults should not wear cartoon merch. You know what I say to that? See this gift.


Panda Fleece-Lined Slipper Socks

Cute AND cozy—the perfect combination!


Your writer, while feeling cozy, will also get hungry. To stop hangry from spilling onto the page, consider these snacks.

Ma-Ka-Rohn Macarons

I ordered these for my daughter’s birthday and I can say MMMMRFFFFUMMFF!

(That’s “yummy” while my mouth is full.)


Amma’s Kitchen Kerala Mixture

Based on popular street food from India, this is a bag of spice and crunch. I usually opt for the mild, but the hot variety isn’t too hot!


BookBrews Subscription Box

Each month they ship a book, coffee/tea and chocolate. The gift that keeps you eating and reading!


As I often tell students, to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.

Women of Letters Scratch-Off Chart

As you read, scratch off the title to reveal the woman behind it all!


Heroine Book Shelf

Here’s how it works…you nail it into your wall and place your books atop! Voila!

“Here I come to save the page!”


Literary Insults Chart

Have a clever burn within reach.


Once your writer has a book published, they need a way to display it!


I first discovered these hand-made, sturdy stands at my local indie, The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ. I ordered a set of 6 for myself and they are the hit of every book festival! They hold about 5-6 picture books, titled upward for optimal viewing as crowds stroll by. There’s even a space on the front of the stand to place a small sign.

The wooden dowels are removable, which makes packing them up and transporting them easy. They have different sizes for various kinds of books. Best career purchase I ever made!


One last gift, this one for writers to give the non-writers in their life.

StoryWorth Subscription

With StoryWorth, you encourage family and close friends to share stories you haven’t heard before, then they’re collected and bound into a book. That’s a monumental memento! I wish this was around when my grandparents were still here!


I hope you enjoyed these gift suggestions!

Share the love and share your own picks in the comments!

Happy Holidays!

Three attempts to solve a problem—you’ve been told thirty trillion times this is the way to build a picture book plot. I even covered it in an earlier post.

It’s a tried-and-true method for telling a story. But does an editor reviewing all these similarly-structured submissions feel like she’s been there and read that? Well…….maybe.

There are other ways to frame picture books by using different story structures, as Tammi Sauer once pointed out during Storystorm.

But if those formats aren’t right for your story and you choose a more traditional arc, when is it OK to abandon the “three attempts”? When is it reasonable to break free from this rule?

First, we have to look at the why.

Why do we employ the “three attempts” structure? TO BUILD TENSION.

The main character tries to solve their problem and fails, repeatedly. This tension invests the reader in the protagonist’s struggle. It compels you to turn the page.

However, I wrote a manuscript recently where the protagonist doesn’t even realize she has a problem. The reader sees the problem, but the character is oblivious. It doesn’t make sense for her to attempt multiple solutions because she doesn’t see anything wrong in the first place!

Remember, three attempts builds tension. But that’s not the only way to achieve “what happens next?” excitement and anticipation.

In my manuscript, the humor comes from the reader knowing more than the main character (that’s a kind of “superiority humor”). The humor builds because the protagonist keeps mistaking her surroundings for something else, something that’s familiar to her. That escalating humor adds to the tension—OH NO! DOESN’T SHE GET IT YET?!

There’s also a deadline, an end goal that the reader and the main character both know. But can she get there if she’s so confused? You don’t know. More tension.

Bottom line—if you’ve built tension into your story via another means, you don’t need the three attempts. It certainly didn’t make sense for my story. Who tries to get out of a jam they don’t know they’re in?

Let’s look at picture books that build tension in different ways.

[Meta Device]
THE PANDA PROBLEM by Deborah Underwood & Hannah Marks

In this meta tale, the narrator and Panda argue about who’s the main character. The narrator wants Panda to be the protagonist with a problem to solve. But Panda thinks the narrator is the main character because uncooperative Panda is the narrator’s problem. This story mocks our “problematic” picture book rule. It keeps the tension high as both characters wrestle to control the story.

[Versus Device]
FIRE TRUCK VS. DRAGON by Chris Barton & Shanda McCloskey

A follow-up to Barton’s popular SHARK vs. TRAIN of 10 years ago (wow, time flies!), this new “battle” features a stand off between the reader and the characters. The reader understands what the two friends excel at, but the fire-starter and fire-squelcher don’t ever mention THOSE skills. That’s “superiority humor” again, with the reader knowing more than the characters. The tension arises from wondering if fire truck and dragon will ever get to what’s downright obvious to everyone else.

[Chronology Device]
THE END by David LaRochelle & Richard Egielski

This story is a fairytale told backwards. There’s a surprise each page turn as you discover what happened immediately prior to the current sticky situation. Does that create tension? You bet, as each spread also displays a new predicament.

[Parallel Structure]
OPERATION RESCUE DOG by Maria Gianferrari & Luisa Uribe

The parallel picture book tells two tales which eventually converge. The tension is kept high by a back-and-forth narrative between the two main characters. In this book, Alma misses her military mama. She and Abuela decide to adopt a rescue dog as a surprise for mama’s return. The rescue dog, Lulu, is lonely and afraid, without a family. Both characters face delays in their journey to the dog rescue rendezvous. But at the end, Alma and Lulu finally meet and it’s destiny!

Some of these stories also employ the classic “ticking clock” or deadline to achieve tension. THE END ends at the beginning. OPERATION RESCUE DOG has two ticking clocks—Alma wants to adopt a dog in time for her mother’s return…plus, the Dog Rescue Truck is only open for a limited window. Will they make it there on time?

For the “ticking clock” device, think of Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin at midnight!

So while you’re reading new picture books, pay attention to the building of tension. Did the author use three attempts to solve the problem, or a different device? Were you still riveted? Compelled to turn the page? Invested in the main character’s plight? Then take note and try to break free in your own writing!


Guess what? I’m giving away an hour-long kidlit career consultation via video chat.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) is offering a new award that honors the wonderful spirit and work of late children’s book author Kate Pohl Dopirak. The Kate Dopirak Craft and Community Award will offer one picture book writer:

  • Full tuition to the SCBWI International Conference in L.A. in 2020
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary (Kate’s agent)
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Andrea Welch of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster (one of Kate’s editors)

The #KDCCAward will alternate yearly between picture book and middle grade/YA. Submissions will be accepted for this inaugural award from September 1 to October 31. 

Please consider applying…and please help spread the word.

Thank you.  ️ ️ ️


I’ve spent the last several months with my head deep in a dictionary, editing THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK, so excuse me if I’m a little definition-sensitive these days. But hear me out. This is important stuff.

How many of you have done this—set arbitrary goals that signal, in your mind, that you’ve become a success?

If I get a literary agent, then I’m a success.
If I get one book deal, then I’m a success.

And then you hit those goals, and suddenly, that definition of success gets tossed out the window.

No, one book deal isn’t successful! Two book deals would be!

And then you get those two deals. But again, it’s not enough to be deemed a success in your eyes.

So you compile an entire list of criteria for success.

A lead title!
A starred review!
Two starred reviews! Three! Four!
An Indies NEXT selection!

A Junior Library Guild selection!
A New York Times bestseller!
A Caldecott!!!!

The bar of success keeps inching higher. You are forever chasing it, feeling like a failure for not being successful!

But I’m here to tell you, YOU ARE A SUCCESS.

OK, I’m not telling you this just because *I* think you’re a success and I want to be all warm and fuzzy.

Let’s look at the WORD.

Notice that “success” is part of “succession”:

And that the meaning of succession is someone or something that follows another.

The Latin root of both words is succedere, which means to “come after or follow after.”

So all those goals you’ve lined up? And the ones you’ve already hit? They follow one after another after another and they’re the original definition of success—to continue to reach those goals and thus, form new ones.

You cannot say you’re not successful if you have conquered at least one goal on your list. You are.

The real meaning of being successful is forming goals, reaching them, and ascending to a new level, with loftier goals. As long as you are striving, you are succeeding.

Success is not stagnant. Success is always moving forward.


Here’s to being a SUCCESS—many times over!

Yeah, I may receive a “cease and desist” letter from the Peanuts people any minute for using that image as my header, so let me get right to my first “write” gift…the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

What kidlit writer doesn’t love Schultz’s merry misfit, his pilot puppy, and a girl named after candy?

You get the sensation, right?

Oh geez, those York folks may be after me now, too.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree With Blanket Tree Skirt

Available from Vermont Country Store. (And you may be reminded of Christmases past when I say “some items sold separately” and “some assembly required”.)

Now, time for booties.

No, not baby booties. Book booties…


Available from Groove Bags.


I’m not the most organized writer, but this looks like it can help. It features an area for notes plus numbered pockets for keeping mind memos and snippets—maybe to represent each chapter?

Industrial-Inspired 12-pocket Wall Memo Board

Available from Overstock.


You’ve probably heard the writing advice “B.I.C.”: BUTT IN CHAIR. But your butt may hurt after sitting a while. This funky stool by ErgoErgo “encourages you to make small movements that help circulation, breathing, and keeping your mind more alert. And unlike a stability ball, ErgoErgo looks cool and won’t roll away.”

Adult Active Sitting Stool

Available from The Grommet.


A good game during the holidays brings family together…so you can show off your word superiority and crush them all in a pile of defeat!

Anagram, The Ingenious Game of Juggling Words


Available from The Literary Gift Company.


I know, we writers have high shelf esteem.

Available from LookHuman.


Perhaps the writer you know is seeking a little R&R (wRiting and Relaxation). What better place to get away than the Highlights Foundation? Your own private cabin, three scrumptious meals a day, hikes through the countryside, a poetry garden…it is a marvelous retreat. When Highlights isn’t hosting a workshop, anyone can visit and create their own private UNworkshop. Genius idea for genius ideas to flourish.

Highlights Unworkshop

Available from Highlights Foundation.


Now, lemme ask some writer friends what they recommend.

How’s about Katey Howes, author of the upcoming BE A MAKER?

“For the writer with published books to promote, these tabletop chalkboard signs are a godsend. They pack up easily for travel to book festivals, conferences, and anywhere else you find authors and illustrators tucked behind tables of books and swag. Add a pack of brightly colored chalk markers and even the most introverted writers can get shoppers’ attention and communicate prices and details—without having to make eye contact or speak above a whisper. Not published yet? Use these chalkboards to post a motivational message on your desk or a Do Not Disturb: Writer At Work sign for your children to completely ignore.”

Mini Chalkboards

Available from Factory Direct Craft.

“Also essential for the writer on the go—this folding dolly can haul boxes of books to school visits, fairs and festivals. The removable bag is great for storing the posters, promo items, snacks and cardigan sweaters essential for author events.”

The Trolley Dolly

Available from dbest products.


‘Scuzi, Tara here again…Katey’s suggestions reminded me about these sturdy and portable book display stands. displays are invaluable at book festivals and events. Your book gets displayed face-out and tilted slightly upward for passers-by to notice, plus there’s space on the front of the wood base to put a little sign. You can stack a few books on the stand so if one person picks up a book to read, there’s still another book on display. The dowels are removable so everything can be packed away flat and neat. These wood stands are far better than flimsy plastic photo holders (that keep falling over). My local indie uses them throughout their store, too. They come in various sizes and configurations for books big and small.

The Bookstand

Available from


Next up, Laurie Wallmark, who will release HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE in February

A woman of few words (well, she is a picture book author), Laurie simply told me her husband received a several-month iPenBox subscription and loved it.

Good enough for me.

From the website: iPenBox is a curated subscription box for the pen, paper and ink enthusiast, delivering a monthly box of products to your door. Each month this mystery box will be filled with new, innovative, and sometimes unusual items from the pen, paper and ink world. We hand pick 4-10 items around a fun monthly theme! This way you’ll be able to discover and sample new items that you might not have heard of or tried before.

iPenBox Monthly Subscription Box

Available from iPen Store.


If you have any vegetarian writing friends, please shield their eyes. (Look away, Josh Funk, LOOK AWAY!) Paul Czajak, author of MONSTER NEEDS A CHRISTMAS TREE, is a real weisenheimer. And a hungry one, too. He sent me this gift suggestion with a short testimonial: “Because cooking with duck fat makes everything taste better. And yes, I mean everything.”

OK, so maybe your writer friend is looking a little under-nourished. Paul’s got your solution.

Antibiotic-Free Duck Fat

Available from Good Vittles LLC.


Then Jarrett Lerner, author of ENGINERDS, chimed in and said he would like ANYTHING from Montague Workshop. From duck fat to the whole kit and caboodle. Only here, folks.

“Brad and Kristi Montague are the brilliant individuals behind Kid President, and since then, they haven’t stopped creating more brilliant things. Whether it’s T-shirts, prints, cards, pins, stickers, or stationery, everything they make is warm, joyful, and inspirational. Their stuff is like the material equivalent of a good hug and an encouraging pat on the back. It makes me happy, and I just love it so much.”

I love it too, Jarrett. So I picked out this little goody…

Don’t Hide Your Magic Enamel Pin

Available from Montague Workshop.


We all need to be reminded of that, don’t ya think?

What would be a great gift for a writer? (OK, I mean, what do YOU want for the holidays?) Please share your selection below in the comments!


Skipping around the interwebs, I stumbled upon a magical discovery. Kate DePalma, Senior Editor at Barefoot Books, tweeted about their new Build-A-Story-Cards, and I gasped at the adorableness.

Always on the lookout for tools to create better stories, I immediately seized the opportunity to investigate.

I’m a fan of Rory’s Story Cubes and Storybird, as both improve literacy skills without children even realizing BECAUSE THEY’RE SO MUCH FUN. Barefoot’s Build-a-Story Cards snap right into this category, too.

Aimed at kids aged 3-10 (or, obviously, 48), Build-a-Story Cards help create an engaging story with all the essential elements—character, emotion, setting—and a little sprinkle of magic.

Kate put me in touch with the product team: Lisa Rosinsky, Senior Editor, and Stefanie Wieder, Senior Director of Product and in-house early childhood development expert.

Stefanie and Lisa, on my blog I talk a lot about how ideas originate. What was the genesis of the Build-a-Story-Cards?

Stef: Before we developed our own deck of story cards, we tested the existing cards on the market with kids of various ages, and we discovered something interesting. Whether they were 3 years old or 7, kids had trouble creating stories that made sense. This left kids frustrated and limited their attention span. We thought, how can we improve on this?

With our story cards, we wanted kids to have fun with storytelling, while also learning about the structure of stories because this was going to help them create stories that make sense and become better writers. So we asked the illustrator, Miriam Latimer, to create these adorable pictures of a magical world filled with unicorns, dragons, castles and potions. We divided the images into three categories: characters on red cards, objects on blue cards, and settings on yellow cards. We also created a robust instructions booklet full of activities for learning about and playing with these three key story elements.

Lisa: We knew we wanted to work with beloved Barefoot illustrator Miriam Latimer for this deck, so we could tie it in with two popular series Miriam also illustrated: our Ruby series (Ruby’s School Walk, Ruby’s Baby Brother, Ruby’s Sleepover) and the Prince books (The Prince’s Bedtime, The Prince’s Breakfast). We asked her to start with those characters, and then we added in lots of classic fantasy/fairy tale elements—witches, dragons, and unicorns, oh my—for extra storytelling potential!


Stef: At Barefoot Books we always like to have multiple layers of learning in our products, and so we also included a social-emotional element as well. Our Magical Castle Build-a-Story Cards includes character pairs. Each pair shows different emotions for kids to identify and build stories around. In the instructions we encourage kids to create stories about friendship and conflict resolution. So, in a nutshell, this product was born of us wanting to improve on existing story cards out there by creating a product that teaches early writing skills while also reinforcing social emotional learning. And, by the way, this is only the first in a series of these Build-a-Story Cards. Future decks will feature different imaginative themes and other key early learning skills.

That’s smart to include emotions—every writer knows it’s a required element for successful stories. Your audience must feel the character’s struggle and develop empathy for them.

What else (besides these cards) do children need to become successful storytellers?

Lisa: Story time! Reading to children helps them build early literacy skills, and when kids listen to stories, that helps them learn how to tell their own stories. Stefanie has created a series of story time videos for us that model engaging storytelling by asking questions, modeling predictions, and noticing elements of the artwork. You can check out a few of our most popular story time videos on our Facebook page.

Do you have any sneak peeks at images from future decks?

Lisa: Yes! We are working on two more decks right now, due out Spring 2019. Both will feature artwork by classic Barefoot illustrators, and both will follow the same basic setup as the first deck: 36 wordless story cards, including 12 characters, 12 objects, and 12 settings. One has an “Ocean Adventure” theme and includes ideas for lots of different math games, ranging from early counting and sorting skills to more advanced word problems. The oceans deck is illustrated by Debbie Harter.

Well, being that it’s Shark Week…let’s debut this guy’s sketches…


The other is titled “Community Helpers” and is illustrated by Sophie Fatus. The Community Helpers deck includes all sorts of community heroes, from service dogs and firefighters to teachers and janitors, plus games that help kids learn about people and places in a city.


I know these cards are aimed at kids, but how do you think they will be valuable for adults, too? 

Lisa: The cards are quite versatile! They’re great for engaging kids in solo play, whether at home, in a classroom, or traveling on a family trip. They’re also helpful tools for educators and curriculum creators, from preschool to upper elementary. Writers of any age, at any stage of their career, can use them as story starter prompts. And finally, in our experience, adults have a lot of fun with these cards, too. We even used them as an icebreaker at a company event recently, and everyone really got into it!

Ha, I’m going to try that at my next barbeque! “Pass the ketchup—and the message-in-a-bottle card.”

Plus, I can easily create additional cards using your red/blue/yellow model. (Did I say “I”? I meant “kids”.)

Thank you Kate, Lisa & Stefanie for introducing me to Barefoot’s Build-a-Story Cards. Learn more about them here.

And now let’s introduce my blog readers to them. Comment below to enter a giveaway for a pack of Magical Castle Cards. (One comment per person, please.)

A winner will be drawn at random next week.

Good luck!

by Tracy Marchini

I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once.

Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.

But I’ve also been a newspaper correspondent, a children’s book reviewer, a freelance copywriter, a literary agents assistant, a freelance editor and a communications manager. (Well, and a pharmacy tech—which has nothing to do with this post—and very, very briefly an assistant at a wedding dress preservationist’s—which is the only job I’ve ever been let go from. I was relieved.)

Anyway, so many of these hats forced me to learn to write in a different way. Feature pieces vs. event wrap ups, editorial letters vs. pitch letters, book reviews vs. press releases—everything had a different format or tone, but there was also a lot of overlap. Ultimately, I think all of the above experience helped me with my writing and agenting career, and I hope that some of the below helps you too!

I would get my newspaper assignments on Friday, do interviews and write the story over the weekend, and submit on Sunday so it’d be in my editor’s inbox by the Monday deadline. (Monday I’d be commuting to work as a literary assistant.)

My favorite pieces to write were feature pieces that honored another person’s life. People were generally so happy to talk about this person that they loved or admired, even though we’re all flawed, and I usually left the interviews feeling pretty inspired. I also felt like there was a little more room for creativity in a feature piece. A good features makes the reader feel like they’ve met the person, too.

Looking back on feature writing makes me think about a character exercise that I was once assigned in undergrad. The exercise says to pick a person you know and write about them as they would write about themselves. Then write about them through the eyes of someone that hated them. Then again through the eyes of someone that loved them. You have three different people on the page—or four, right? Because the primary subject is actually probably closer to a culmination of those three pieces than any one particular view—and I think that’s why the exercise can be so helpful when you’re struggling with rounding out your characters. Remember, even antagonists think they’re the hero of the story.

Book reviews, newspaper pieces, pitch letters, press releases, copywriting—all of it relied on being able to find a hook that was going to grab a reader and make them want to read more, attend the event, buy the book, click a link, etc.

As an author, particularly as a picture book author, you have to be thinking about what is going to make your story stand out on the shelves or in the submissions pile.

That said, your hook is not the plot summary. For example, I’ve pitched CHICKEN WANTS A NAP as “Remy Charlip’s Fortunately set in the barnyard,” but that’s not the summary.

One exercise I’ve done with friends when they’re having trouble with finding a strong concept for their own WIPs is to go through the bookstore or their own shelves, pull out and read a picture book, then find a hook. For example, DUCKS’S VACATION is THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK set on the beach. NUT JOB is “Ocean’s 11” with squirrels. Or, if I were to pitch a book without a comparison, I might say something like HOORAY FOR FISH is a fun and heartwarming celebration of a fish’s love for their mom.

Once you’ve had practice with some books on the shelves, tell your friend the hook for your WIP. If it’s a plot summary, your friend should make you try again. And if you can’t find the hook for your WIP—that thing that’s going to make it stand out from all the other queries/manuscripts in an agent or editor’s inbox—then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your WIP’s concept.

In truth, you might not use this hook in your query letter at all, but if you find that a common theme in your rejection letters is “not sure it can compete in the marketplace,” this is an excellent exercise to help punch up your concept!

Word Choice
Almost everything I wrote had a standard structure and/or expected word count, be it a press release, feature story, book review, pitch letter or pieces for a social media campaign. Just like in a picture book text, EVERY WORD COUNTED. I had to be concise—looking for that one perfect word instead of two to four less precise words.

So take out your picture book WIP. Are you in the sweet spot (300 – 500 words for fiction*)? Does every word convey the exact meaning you intend? If you’re using repetition, is it done in a way that builds tension, humor or otherwise adds to the story? If you’re not sure about a word or line, delete it and then read the story aloud (or bring it to somebody else). Does the story lose anything? If not, then permanently delete that line, phrase or word.

*CHICKEN WANTS A NAP is 165 words, and my current WIP is 600. CHICKEN is a read-aloud for younger picture book readers and the story just did not need another 140 words. My WIP is for older picture book readers who are starting to read by themselves. So I guess I’m saying to use the words you need and not one word more!

Speaking of one word more, I had started a different draft of this post where I went through each job individually and it quickly became a novel. And as I’m hitting that point again, I think it’s best to close here. I hope that these tricks help you in your own writing, and if you have the time or opportunity to do some freelance writing in another format—I say, why not! You’ll exercise a different writing muscle, and I’ll bet it’ll improve your current children’s writing as well!

Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, where she represents fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. She’s thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning authors and illustrators, and is currently open to submissions. To get a sense of what she’s looking for, you can follow her Twitter #MSWL, see her announced client books, and read her submission guidelines.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, was called “A surprising gem” in a starred review from Kirkus. She’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric.

Tracey is giving away a signed copy of CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.

Leave one comment below to enter and a winner will be chosen next week.

Good luck!

***STORYSTORM Registration is closed for 2018. You can still participate in the challenge by reading the inspirational daily posts, but you will not be eligible for prizes. Thank you.***


What a glorious feeling!

It’s that time of the year again, when you will be showered with inspiration!

Story ideas are gonna rain down like cats and dogs! (And maybe some will be about cats and dogs!)

Last year I changed the name and month of my annual writing challenge, from Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) to Storystorm. Why? Answer’s here.

Any writer interested in brainstorming new story ideas in January is invited to join. Any genre, any style; student, amateur, hobbyist, aspiring author or professional.

How does STORYSTORM work? It’s simple…

  • Register here by signing your name ONCE in the comments below. Teachers participating with a class can register under the teacher’s name.
  • Registering makes you eligible for prizes.
  • Visit this blog daily (right here at in January for inspirational essays by guest bloggers—professional authors, illustrators and experts in creativity.

  • Instead of visiting the blog directly, you can receive the daily posts via email by clicking the “Follow Tara’s Blog” button in the left column—look under my photo for it.
  • After you have read the daily inspiration, jot down a daily story idea in a journal (the annual CafePress journal will be linked here when ready), computer, anywhere you like to write. Some days you might have no ideas, but some days you might have five or more.
  • At the end of January, if you have at least 30 ideas, sign the STORYSTORM pledge I will post and qualify for prizes.
  • Prizes include professional consults, signed books, original art, writerly gadgets and gizmos.

Remember, do not share your ideas publicly in January. They are YOURS. No need to  prove that you have them at the end of the month. The pledge you will sign is on the honor system.

Are you in? Awesome. Pick up your Official Participant badge below and affix it to any social media account you wish. (Right click to save to your computer, then upload it anywhere.)

The final piece? Join the STORYSTORM Facebook discussion group. You need friends for the journey!

The group is completely optional, but it remains a year-round source of writing information and support, mostly focused on picture books, I admit, because that is where this all began.

Registration will remain open through JANUARY 9TH.

What are you waiting for? Register and go celebrate! I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day.

*Storstorm 2018 logo courtesy of Ross MacDonald, illustrator of 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY.

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