by Jennifer Raudenbush

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

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

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

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

So I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, the cover reveal!

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

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

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month!

Good luck!


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA. A rolling stone and a rock star.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aww, that’s so sweet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, a picture book critique!

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

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

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

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

Good luck!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne Marie: Let’s do it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love that pinwheel detail!

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

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

Thanks for sharing your tips, Rosanne!

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

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

Rosanne is giving away TWO prizes:

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

Two separate winners will be randomly chosen next month.

Good luck!


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

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

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

Behold a summer escape in a picture book!

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

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

Not in the usual way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on spreads to enlarge

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

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

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

A bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIANT ISLAND releases next week from Flashlight Press!

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

Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for a BLOOP plush by MerryMakers!

The three winners are:

  • Donna Rossman
  • Janelle Stigall
  • Ashley Sierra

Congratulations! I will be in touch to get your shipping details!

FYI, there is a coupon on the MerryMakers website, plus BLOOP the book is on sale at HarperCollins.com.

Happy reading and happy writing!

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen this last week:

So today’s the day! I’m going to give away 3 adorable BLOOP plush dolls by Merrymakers! I’ll choose the 3 winners randomly in two weeks on Monday, July 11 (because we all need something good on a Monday).

Here’s how to enter:

  • Review the picture book BLOOP anywhere online
  • Post anything about #BLOOP on social media (← using hashtag)

You receive one giveaway entry for each social media post or review. Just leave ONE COMMENT PER ENTRY METHOD below. All you have to do is say, “Shared BLOOP on Facebook” or “Reviewed BLOOP on Goodreads”. Remember, make one comment below per entry method. So if you did two things, that’s two comments and thus two entries.

You can share anything you’d like about the book. Post the cover, a brief endorsement, the premise, your favorite doggo from the story, a photo of your doggo reading the book—anything.

(This is Kendall, Jyn Hall’s sweet pupper.)

Make sense? Fabulous!

Bloop is wagging his tail just for you!

(Look at how curlicue cute it is!)

Also, the Bloop plush is SAFE FOR ALL AGES—there are no small buttons or anything that a young child could remove and choke on. All details are sewn.

Good luck!

Thanks to Merrymakers, Inc. for the plushies!

Ahh, don’t you just love cover reveals? There’s nothing better as an author, to finally see your creation in all its beautiful bookshelf glory. The story that began as a little seed and grew into a manuscript has finally taken root and it’s ready to soar.

Speaking of soar, I’ve got Annie Silvestro here today to welcome her newest picture book to the world.

BRAVO, LITTLE BIRD!

(That’s the title of the book, not my nickname for Annie.)

Since I’m fascinated by ideas and how they leap into our minds, I asked Annie to share a backstory of the story.

For years my son took piano lessons at his teacher’s home. She had a beautiful front lawn and the piano sat in her living room with windows facing out to the yard. As I would listen to the lesson, occasionally a deer or a rabbit would pop up in the grass and I imagined they were listening to and enjoying the music, too.

Sitting there, I also had plenty of time to think! Of course birds also came to the piano teacher’s window, and being that many birds are musical creatures, a bird seemed like a good match for the story I wanted to tell.

At some point as the idea percolated, I scribbled down the first line into my nightstand notebook and the story began to take shape in my mind.

At heart, BRAVO, LITTLE BIRD!, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki, is a friendship story between an old man and a bird, and about how the power of music affects us and unites us in ways we don’t even realize. I look forward to sharing it with you!

For now, I am grateful to Tara for revealing the truly beautiful cover illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki. Thank you, Tara!

It’s gorgeous, Annie! I can feel both the music and the bird taking flight!

BRAVO, LITTLE BIRD! will be published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books on February 21, 2023. Watch for it to flutter into your bookstore window!


Annie Silvestro is a lover of books who can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup. She is the author of the forthcoming BRAVO, LITTLE BIRD as well as DYLAN’S DRAGON, SUGAR AND SPICE AND EVERYTHING MICE, BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB GOES TO SCHOOL, BUTTERFLIES ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS, MICE SKATING, and BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, named a Kids’ Indie Next List Pick, an Amazon best book of the year for 2017, and a 2018 pick for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Annie lives with her sons by the beach in New Jersey where she laughs loudly and often. Visit her at AnnieSilvestro.com and follow her on Twitter @AnnieSilvestro.

Some of you may already be familiar with my crazy cat, Phoebe.

She meowed at my back door one night, I opened the sliders, and she sashayed in, looked around and said, “Isn’t this great?”, just like Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High—anywhere you are, that’s the place to be! (Especially if it has a fireplace and tuna.)

So when Maria Gianferarri asked if I’d do a cover reveal for her companion book to BEING A DOG, Phoebe stepped up to ask the questions about BEING A CAT: A TAIL OF CURIOSITY.

(For ease of reading, I’ve translated from Phoebe’s native Feline tongue.)

Maria,  I’m curious, where is Cat’s favorite place to nap?

Cat’s favorite place to nap is dog’s bed.

Surely that can’t be the ONLY place to take a snooze?

Atop a radiator, or in a slice of sun.

Ahh, I know all about sun slices.

Anything else Cat wants to impart to the readers? 

Yes. Curiosity did NOT kill the cat.

Thanks, Maria! Now without further meow, the BEING A CAT cover by illustrator Pete Oswald!

Sittin’ pretty!

Blog readers, the prolific Maria is giving away a PB critique with this reveal.

Just leave one comment below.

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

Good luck!


Maria Gianferrari wonders and is in awe of the natural world and its inhabitants, domestic and wild cats included. She lives in Massachusetts with her inquisitive scientist husband and Maple the dog, a watcher who’s curious about anything that moves, especially if she can chase it! Curiously, though an unabashed dog lover, this is Maria’s third book featuring cats as main characters, most recently Bobcat Prowling, as well as Officer Katz and Houndini. You can learn more about Maria at her website, MariaGianferrari.com.


Pete Oswald is a #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator and an Annie Award-nominated animation production designer best known for The Angry Birds Movie film franchise and Oscar® Nominated ParaNorman, in addition to multiple animated studio films. He is also known for his work as a children’s book author and illustrator, and painter. Pete lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife and three sons.

by Judy Bradbury

Thanks, Tara, for inviting me to your blog space to offer a few tips on writing chapter books! I’m honored to be here.

A bit of background: THE CAYUGA ISLAND KIDS is chapter books series is contemporary fiction featuring five diverse friends who embark on backyard adventures, solve mysteries, and grow as a result of their experiences. The kids are resourceful, kind-hearted “fact detectives” who use their varied interests, their smarts, kindness, and humor to overcome hurdles and solve problems. Above all, these are kids who value friendship and community. The stories feature history, community service, respect for the environment, brainstorming, teamwork, misinformation, disinformation, and the importance of gathering all the facts—from more than one source—when tackling a problem, seeking a solution, and before landing on an opinion or drawing a conclusion.

The first book in the series, THE MYSTERY OF THE BARKING BRANCHES AND THE SUNKEN SHIP, is based on real events involving a found cannonball believed to be from the Griffon, a treasure ship that sank somewhere in the Great Lakes in 1679 on the return from its maiden voyage. The ship has never been recovered, though over a million dollars has been spent trying. There’s even a Discovery Channel episode about it. When I first read a newspaper story about a cannonball found in a backyard on Cayuga Island, I was immediately intrigued. After all, the ship was built on the residential island a few miles upstream from Niagara Falls where I grew up. Heck, the street I lived on was Griffon Avenue. It was named after the ship!

I knew I wanted to write a children’s book centered on the found cannonball. But it took months to land on the genre and the format.

  • Nonfiction or fiction?
  • Historical or contemporary?
  • Which format: picture book, chapter book, or middle grade?

Eventually, I formed the idea for a contemporary fiction story based on the true events. I chose to write a chapter book because the topic and the level of detail I wanted to include seemed best suited for the age and interest level of the chapter book audience, and the characteristics of the chapter book format.

Chapter books are vital stepping stones for newly independent readers. Smaller in cover size than picture books, they look and feel more grown up. But they are slimmer than middle grade novels so as not to intimidate or overwhelm the young reader. Building confidence in growing readers is a critical aspect of a successful chapter book.

Targeting 6-10 year-olds, chapter books span from easy first readers that are generally 48-64 pages with a couple of words per page, to more involved stories (80-130 pages) that naturally lead growing readers to middle grade novels. THE CAYUGA ISLAND KIDS chapter books intended for 7-10 year-olds fall into this upper range. For the purposes of our discussion, those are the level of chapter books I’ll offer writing tips for here.

Key elements form the bedrock to writing a winning chapter book—one that will cement an interest in reading and lead to a lifelong love of books:

  • Short sentences and brief chapters—less text density than middle grade books. More white space keeps the reader turning pages, which reinforces a feeling of success in reading.
  • Limited cast of characters; introduce few sub-plots and minor characters
  • Fast-paced plots with minimal narration and plenty of action keep readers engaged
  • Appropriate grade level reading vocabulary
  • Age-level interests and experiences
  • Well-placed and well-spaced illustrations aid comprehension and keep interest high

If you are interested in trying your hand at writing a chapter book, begin by reading widely in the format, particularly in the genre of your intended book. Read new releases as well as classics. Become familiar with grade-level reading vocabulary for the age range your book targets. Check reading level using a readability measure, such as Lexile levels. Is it within range? Young readers’ listening, speaking, and reading vocabularies vary, with their reading vocabulary being the least developed, and thus the biggest challenge—to the reader and the writer. Introduce new vocabulary or tougher, multisyllabic words by using the word in context, or providing a definition within the text, either within the sentence, or immediately before or after. Repeat new and unfamiliar words to foster recognition. The more often a word is encountered in print, the more comfortable the reader becomes with it. Reinforce unfamiliar words with illustrations details.

Illustrations in the best of picture books expand and enrich the text—and often offer a parallel story line. However, this isn’t the goal of illustrations in chapter books. Here, pictures are meant to support comprehension. Usually chapter books feature partial page or spot illustrations with occasional full-page art; black-and-white pen and ink drawings are common.

Engaging, high-interest topics, accessible language, and visual appeal are essential. Chapter book plots center on experiential knowledge and curiosity about the world around us. Friendships, family, school, and growing independence are common themes for chapter books. Humor is always appreciated, from gentle wittiness to raucous roll-on-the-floor hijinks. Children in this age group are curious, accepting, eager, and willing to be engaged. As they explore and embark on adventures in their own corner of the world, they are eager to broaden understanding of the larger world and acquire knowledge, tools, and skills. Book 2 in the Cayuga Island Kids series, THE ADVENTURE OF THE BIG FISH BY THE SMALL CREEK, focuses on a community project for recycling. The kids come to realize that though we are each just one person, together we can make a big difference. It recently was awarded the Ben Franklin Silver Award for Young Reader Fiction, 8-12.

Don’t underestimate the 7-10 year-old reader. In Book 3 of the Cayuga Island Kids series, released just a couple of weeks ago, misinformation and disinformation are introduced through events that take place in the story. These are big words, big concepts. But they are also a big part of our world today. THE CASE OF THE MESSY MESSAGE AND THE MISSING FACTS centers on the importance of getting all the facts and not just a fraction of the truth before forming on an opinion or drawing a conclusion. Readers encounter flour bugs, missing glitter pens, wonky websites, a Little Free Library, chocolate chip cookies, and more.

Finding meaningful, accessible, and entertaining ways to approach important concepts and mindsets is both a challenge and a reward for the chapter book author hoping to provide a sturdy bridge for the young independent reader’s journey to becoming a lifelong reader.

Thank you for the tips, Judy! I know plenty of PB writers who would like to try the challenge of writing Chapter Books.

And blog readers, you can win a copy of Book 3 in the Cayuga Island Kids collection, THE CASE OF THE MESSY MESSAGE AND THE MISSING FACTS!

Just leave a comment below about what you’ve learned about writing CBs. A random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!


Photo by Peter Scumaci

Judy Bradbury is an award-winning author and literacy educator who has taught students from preschool through college. Judy’s children’s books include the Cayuga Island Kids chapter book series and the Christopher Counts! picture book series. Judy is also the author of a number of resources for educators and host of the popular Children’s Book Corner blog featuring interviews with authors and illustrators and suggestions for using their books to enhance curriculum while boosting social-emotional learning. For more information, visit Judy’s website. Connect with Judy on Instagram @judy_bradbury; Twitter @JudyBWrites; and LinkedIn.

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

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