by Mike Allegra

Please forgive me for what I’m about to do. I am going reference a Christmas cartoon while we’re all still trying to recover from the lunacy of the holiday season.

I can’t help it, though. Sometimes inspiration comes from odd places.

My muse is the stop-motion holiday staple Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer—specifically the Island of Misfit Toys. From a narrative standpoint, the Misfit Toys part of the story is a lull in an already overlong cartoon, yet the Charlie-in-the-Box, the square wheeled train, and the doll whose misfitishness is never fully explained, have all aided my creative process.

Behold the Journal of Misfit Ideas! It’s never far from my side. It patiently sits there ready to record any and all of my brainstorms. Much more often, it records my brain drizzles.

Nothing is too stupid for the Journal. Nothing.

Will I ever write a picture book with the title The Sluttiest Mennonite? Nope, but it’s in the Journal.

Will I ever find a home for my parody lyrics of “The Candy Man?” Nuh-uh. (My version, by the way, is called “The Pickle Man” and it’s terrible. First line: “Who can make the sun shiiiine with cucumbers and briiiine.”)

Will any of my characters live in a 1/16th-wide trailer, a home designed only for people who weigh 130 lbs or less? Not likely, no.

And will I ever write a story about a Robo-Dragon Pie, a character who’s part robot, part dragon, and part pirate? No, sir-ee Bob! Never!

Oh, wait. I mean YES! I will write about a Robo-Dragon Pie! Because I did write about a Robo-Dragon Pie! A Robo-Dragon Pie is featured in my new picture book, EVERYBODY’S FAVORITE BOOK!

And that right there is why The Journal of Misfit Ideas is worthwhile.

The Robo-Dragon Pie isn’t the only idea I cribbed from my Journal. It’s not even the only dragon idea I cribbed from my Journal. My PRINCE NOT-SO CHARMING chapter book series features a dragon who knits. The Journal was the genesis of that idea, too.

Sometimes the Journal records things people say. I once overheard my grandmother describe a fretful mother: “She takes those kids to the doctor if they fart crooked.” And here’s how she described Grandpa: “He talks out of his butt so much, he ChapSticks his crack.”

Grandma’s comments are not picture book ready, of course, but they deserve to be remembered, so into the Journal they go. (And you can bet your bottom dollar that both of these quotes will end up in my writing somewhere someday.)

My Journal entries vary in length. Sometimes an entire entry is a single (made-up) word like “underqualidate.” Other Journal entries go on for pages, not only offering a basic book premise or title, but also a detailed synopsis with character details, swatches of dialogue, and cartoons in the margins. It all depends on my mood and, of course, the scope of the Misfit Idea.

I peruse my Journal often. I’ll thumb the pages when I’m looking for an idea or when I’m too tired to write, but still want to be in a writerly frame of mind. Doing so is always good for a chuckle and the Journal never fails to shove my brain in weird and unexpected directions.

The Journal of Misfit Ideas is always there for me. More importantly, The Journal of Misfit Ideas is there for only me. The Journal is a private document that allows me to get a little crazy without fear—and Fearless Crazy is sometimes where the best ideas come from.

I don’t pre-edit my thoughts. I don’t let the Journal decide what’s a bad idea or an inappropriate idea. The goodness and the badness will be sorted out at another time, after I’ve written it all down. The Journal’s only goal is to safely take in every stray without judgment—much like The Island of Misfit Toys does.

And, with a little luck, those ideas might someday find a proper home that will fully appreciate their unique, misfitty charms.

Mike Allegra is the author of the picture books Everybody’s Favorite Book (the home of Corky, the Robo-Dragon Pie), Sarah Gives Thanks, and Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist. He also writes the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series under the pen name Roy L. Hinuss.

Stop by his blog at and say hi! He’s friendly!

princeprank  everybodysfavoritebook

Mike is giving away copies of two of his books! There will be one winner for each title.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Tammi Sauer (from 2012)

In past PiBoIdMo posts, I’ve encouraged you to…

This time around, I want to focus on structure.

Just like houses and dinosaurs, every story needs an underlying framework.


Most of my books follow the Classic Picture Book Structure:

  • MC has a problem
  • MC faces obstacles that escalate
  • MC encounters a dark moment in which things can’t possibly get any worse
  • MC figures out how to solve the problem
  • MC grows/changes by the book’s end

My book PRINCESS IN TRAINING is an example of this.


Princess Viola is great at skateboarding and karate-chopping, but she’s lousy at the royal wave, walk, and waltz. The king and queen are not pleased. What’s a princess to do? Attend the skill-polishing Camp Princess, of course. In the end, it’s a good thing Viola is made of tougher stuff. Who else will save the day when a hungry dragon shows up?

This is how the Classic Picture Book Structure works with PRINCESS IN TRAINING:

  • Princess Viola Louise Hassenfeffer has a royal problem. She is not an ordinary princess and the kingdom is unhappy about it.
  • Princess Viola faces three obstacles at Camp Princess (she is unable to properly master the royal wave, royal fashions, and royal dancing).
  • A hungry dragon shows up at Camp Princess.
  • Princess Viola uses her unique skill set to save the day.
  • Princess Viola may not be an ordinary princess, but she is deemed the darling of her kingdom anyway.

Although the Classic Picture Book Structure is my super-favorite way to frame a story, there are a variety of other options. Below are many of them along with some examples.

The story’s ending leads back to the beginning
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; When a Dragon Moves In

The story focuses on a single topic or category
All the World; Kindergarten Rocks; Hello Baby!; The Quiet Book

Each time a new event occurs, the previous events in the story are repeated
My Little Sister Ate One Hare; I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

The second half of a story echoes what occurred in the first half of the story
Old Bear and His Cub; Boy + Bot; A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Two storylines are taking place at the same time
The Dog Who Belonged to No One; Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Character and/or plot is portrayed in a way that is opposite from the norm
Bedtime for Mommy; Children Make Terrible Pets; Little Hoot

This month, I’m challenging myself to come up with at least one story idea for each of those frameworks. C’mon, groovy Storystorm people. Who’s with me?

Tammi Sauer has been a guest blogger for every year of Storystorm, even when it was called that thing no two people pronounced the same, PiBoIdMo. Learn more about Tammi at her super-snazzy new website

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


by Tammi Sauer

Back in 2009, Tara first prompted us to join her on her challenge to generate 30 ideas in one month’s time. That year, I wrote a blog post about an idea-getting strategy that worked for me, and I have written about a different approach every year since.

In the spirit of Posts of Storystorm Past, however, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite strategies for brainstorming ideas. It’s something I share at writing conferences and school visits. It’s simple.

Celebrate the weird stuff in life—it’s good material for stories.

Many of my books got their start by some weird thing that happened to me.

One day, for example, I was hard at work and under a deadline. Everything was going well until, in the course of less than 30 minutes, the FedEx guy knocked on my door, the phone rang, the doorbell rang, the dog barked, and someone added me to a group text which included approximately 827 people who suddenly had lots to say.

All of these distractions made it hard for me to concentrate, and I just wanted Calgon circa 1980 to take me away.


That evening, I got to thinking I needed to write a book about a character who grew more and more frustrated by distractions. After all, frustration was a relatable experience.

This led to KNOCK KNOCK (Scholastic Press), illustrated by Guy Francis. The story is told almost entirely through knock-knock jokes and the art. It stars a bear named Harry who is all set to hibernate. Then, just after he tucks himself into bed, a friend unexpectedly shows up at his door. Then another. And another. Soon Harry’s house is filled with friends, and, just when he is about to flip his over-exhausted lid, Harry realizes his pals are there for a very good reason. They’re throwing a surprise happy hibernation party for you-know-who.

Another example of a weird thing in my life that led to a book involved the fine art of procrastination. One morning, while I should have been writing but I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed instead, I clicked on the link to Jama Rattigan’s latest blog post. On that particular day, Jama was featuring the wonderful work of artist James Ward.

See for yourself:

Well! The second I saw that big, hairy bear in those giant red underpants standing in a pile of cake crumbs, inspiration hit. I had to write a story about a character who loved cake as much as this guy did.

The result? That bear became Moose in I LOVE CAKE! (HarperCollins), illustrated by Angie Rozelaar.

So yay for procrastination!

Think about the weird stuff in your life. These things can be big or small. Jot down a few examples.




Later, choose one for a story starting point. Keep in mind that this idea should just serve as the seed for a story rather than a factual recount of every little detail about a particular weird thing.

I say we celebrate annoying times, sightings of big, hairy bears in giant red underpants, and everything else in between. You never know where those weird moments might take you.

Tammi Sauer is a full-time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. Her 25th picture book was recently released. She has many more books on the way as weird stuff seems to happen to her all the time.

Tammi is happy to report that, at long last, she has a real-deal, fancy website courtesy of her very first writing friend, Flora Doone of

Please check out Tammi’s new site at and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.


Tammi is giving away copies of two of her upcoming books! There will be one winner for each title.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Katie Davis (from 2013)

KD 30 days FINAL3 (1)

Parsons, Pratt, Rhode Island School of Design.

Katie Davis has walked by all these schools of fine art. She has attended none of them. Katie has always been creative but never thought she could earn a living as an artist. She could write though, so after graduating from college she went into PR and advertising. After getting fired six or seven times, she figured she should work for herself. Besides, she hated wearing panty hose. As an author/illustrator she’s had a stack of picture books published (like Kindergarten Rocks), a middle grade novel, The Curse of Addy McMahon, and a young adult novel, Dancing With the Devil.

Learn more about Katie at

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


We’ve all heard the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

It’s true!

One picture can spark an idea that can lead to an entire picture book manuscript. Don’t believe me? Try it!

I often get ideas for stories by looking at pictures.

Pictures serve as inspiration. And lucky for picture book writers, pictures are everywhere. But there are some places I peruse regularly to get inspiration.

Have you heard of Storybird? Here you will find art samples from talented illustrators worldwide. In other words, there is a goldmine of art at this site. Anyone wanting to delve into storytelling can use the images for inspiration for a story. It’s a great writing tool for kids and adults.

Where else can you find images?

How about clipart? Free clipart sites are another treasure trove for writers. Just select a category. Science. School. People. Pets. Surely an image or two will spark a story idea in your brain.

Are you doing any shopping today? Make a pit stop in the greeting card aisle at the grocery store and look at the pictures on the covers of the cards. Do you see animals singing in the snow? A hedgehog holding a balloon? A crocodile on a skateboard? Any ideas jumping out at you?

While you’re at the store, take a glance at the magazines. Kid magazines and family-centered magazines are chock-full of kid-friendly images.

Maybe you’re driving or riding in a car. Pay extra attention to street signs. I once saw a street sign with a stick figure and a circle around its waist. Say what? Hula hoop crossing? Why? Is there a story nugget there? What if instead of a person, it was a bear? Or an armadillo? And why is it crossing the road with a hula hoop?

There is a board game called Awkward Family Photos. For the game, players are presented with a picture and a thought-provoking question about the photo. For example, players may have to think of the last thing the person said before the picture was taken. Or, they may have to write a caption for the picture. This game is a perfect example of using pictures to dig a bit deeper and see what story lies beyond it.

Wherever you are right now—at home, at work, in your car, at a store—at least one of these sources of images is available at your fingertips. You can even use Google to search for images.

Pictures will speak to you, but you need to do three things for that to happen:

Stop, look, and listen.

  1. Stop:
    Take a few minutes each day during this month-long challenge to find a source of pictures. Use the ones I listed above or find another source. The few minutes you spend will be worth it.
  2. Look:
    Take a close look at the picture. Take it all in: the character(s), the expressions, the details, the background, etc.
  3. Listen:
    Are there questions popping up in your brain? If not, you want to train your brain to ask questions, such as:
  • What is the character in the picture doing?
  • What does he/she want?
  • Look at that mischievous grin. What is behind it?
  • Why is the dragon sitting alone on a rock?  Is he scared, embarrassed, sad, sleepy?
  • Why is the dog wearing roller skates? Where is he going?
  • What are those strange footprints in the sand? Who do they belong to? Where do they lead?

If you follow these three steps, I guarantee ideas will start flowing in no time at all.

So, a picture is worth a thousand words. Better yet, in the case of picture book writers, maybe a picture leads to a 500 word story, or even one that is only 250 words. Whatever the final word count, a picture can be the starting point. Just like what happened in 2014, when I saw a picture of a caveboy and a cavegirl on a clipart image during the Storystorm Challenge (which was then called PiBoIdMo). That ultimately led to CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, which launches in March 2019. And, my fingers are crossed that a picture you look at today will be the inspiration for a book that will be in kids’ hands in a few years.

Good luck!

CAVEKID BIRTHDAY was Cathy Breisacher’s 2014 PiBoIdMo idea for Day 10 and it will be a book in March 2019! CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, illustrated by Roland Garrigue, is a prehistoric twist on the Gift of the Magi. Cathy’s second book, CHIP AND CURLY: THE GREAT POTATO RACE, illustrated by Joshua Heinsz, will hop into stores in May 2019. Cathy looked at loads of potato pictures for inspiration, and she whipped a ton of puns into this tale.

You can follow her on Twitter @CathyBreisacher, Facebook, YouTube or


Cathy is giving away autographed copies of CAVEKID BIRTHDAY and CHIP AND CURLY: THE GREAT POTATO RACE when they are published. There will be one winner for each book.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


Storystorm 2019 registration is now closed.

You may still participate in the challenge by reading the daily posts and jotting down an idea a day, but you will not be eligible for prizes. However, participants typically say 30+ ideas is a prize in itself!


It’s that time of year again!

It’s time to STORYSTORM!

Prepare to be BLOWN AWAY!

Two years ago 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 the STORYSTORM challenge of 30 ideas in 31 days. Any genre, any style; student, amateur, hobbyist, aspiring author or professional.

How does STORYSTORM work? It’s simple…

  1. Register.
  2. Read daily posts.
  3. Write down story ideas.

That’s pretty much it.

At the end of January if you have at least 30 new ideas, you can sign the STORYSTORM PLEDGE and be eligible for PRIZES.

So are you ready? Follow these steps:

  • Register ON THIS BLOG POST by signing your name ONCE in the comments below. Full name, nickname, whatever name you want.
  • Teachers participating with a class can register under the teacher’s name.

Please leave ONE comment ONLY. Do not reply to say “hi” to a friend. Do not comment to fix a mistake. ONE COMMENT. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.

  • Registering makes you eligible for prizes.
  • Visit this blog daily ( 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.

This year there is a special theme…



I’ll be alternating between new posts and the best posts from 10 years of STORYSTORM!

  • After you have read the daily inspiration, jot down a daily story idea in a journal, computer file, 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 (to be posted on January 31) 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.)

This adorable badge was designed by Melissa Crowton, the illustrator of my next book, YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL, which is available for pre-order. (Shameless plug.)

The final piece? Join the STORYSTORM Facebook discussion group. You might need friends to pick you up!

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 7TH.

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

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!


Welcome to picture book cover reveal headquarters! TA-DA!

Today I’m welcoming writer Laura Gehl and illustrator Joshua Heinsz, the team behind EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, a light-hearted look at gender stereotypes. Coming in May 2019, the book celebrates the idea that children should feel free to be exactly who they are.

I asked Laura and Joshua to interview each other, so without further achoo…

Joshua: Laura, when did you first get the idea to write EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, and what inspired you?

I always pictured myself as the kind of parent who would support and encourage my kids in all directions, no matter what. The kind of parent who wouldn’t push my kids to conform to gender norms. But that turned out to be harder than I thought (just like every single other aspect of parenting). Yes, I’ve done countless art projects with my sons, and played football with my daughter. And yet…I also discouraged my oldest son from buying the pink boots he liked, thinking other kids might tease him. And I gave away most of our toy vehicles when my three sons outgrew them, assuming my daughter wouldn’t have an interest (wrong—it turned out she loved playing with cars and trucks). So I was re-examining my own assumptions. And I was thinking about all the kids out there who might feel like they didn’t fit in the roles they were assigned by society—or even by well-meaning parents.

Joshua: Were there any particular challenges you faced as your worked on the manuscript?

Writing in rhyme is always challenging. After Charlie, our editor at Little Bee, acquired EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, he wanted me to write a new section transitioning between the first part of the book (which highlights gender stereotypes) and the end of the book (which encourages kids to be exactly who they are). I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write a brand new section in rhyme that worked as a smooth transition. But I was really happy with how that section turned out, and so was Charlie! Phew!

Joshua: What was your favorite part of the writing process for this one?

I like to share my work with my own kids, and I read this book out loud to my daughter. As you know, the first few lines all put children in gender stereotypical roles. So I read those first verses…

Boys play monster trucks with glee.
Girls bake cakes and serve hot tea.
Girls like pompoms, pink, and jewels.
Boys like fighting pirate duels.

And my daughter looked at me, wrinkled up her nose, and demanded, “SAYS WHO?!”

“That’s the whole point,” I told her. “Just wait a few more lines.”

In the end, she loved the book and its message. I hope every kid who reads it feels the same way.

Laura: Joshua, what were your thoughts when Charlie first approached you about illustrating this book?

I was so thrilled! The topic of gender stereotyping is one I’ve been passionate about for a very long time, and is one I had been specifically looking to address in my published work. I was the boy growing up playing with tea sets and dolls, and it’s really great to illustrate a book that would have been so exciting for me to have as a kid myself.

Laura: What was your first step in terms of thinking about how you wanted to do the art?

The biggest thing for me was to showcase as much diversity as possible and to make all of the characters in the book feel relatable to anyone. I knew I wanted the art to be particularly colorful as well so that whatever colors kids may not usually associate with would still feel very inviting and inspiring. Lastly I really love playing with shape language, so I knew I wanted to play around with simplifying the design in some ways I hadn’t tried before.

Laura: What was your process for designing the cover? Did you sketch out a bunch of different possibilities before hitting on a winner?

Truthfully, the cover was the toughest nut to crack for me on this project. I went through several rounds of sketches to find the best way to showcase the message of the book without crafting any sort of narrative or scene. There was a lot of playing around with which characters to include on the cover, and for a while I really had it in my head that I wanted a plane on the cover, although I couldn’t really say why–haha. I’m really happy with where we landed in the end, though.

Thank you, Laura and Joshua!

You can enter to win an F&G (folded and gathered advance copy) of EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T by making a comment below. One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected before the end of December.

Good luck!

Laura Gehl is the author of picture books including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, and My Pillow Keeps Moving. In addition to Except When They Don’t, spring 2019 releases include Baby Oceanographer and Baby Astronaut, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman; and Dibs!, illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski. Laura lives in Maryland with her family and a large stash of dark chocolate. Visit her online at and follow her on Twitter @AuthorLauraGehl.

Joshua Heinsz is the illustrator of A Paintbrush for Paco. He has a love for bright and whimsical imagery with a flair for the fantastical and an air of nostalgia. When not drawing or painting, Joshua can be found working as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. See more of his work at and follow him on Twitter @JCHeinsz.

An agent I follow online posted about a squirrelly situation last month.

Umm, not that situation.

A querying writer had told other agents that she had offered representation–BUT SHE HAD NOT.

Why did the writer do that? Supposedly to elicit offers from the agents, or perhaps just to hurry them along.


But the publishing world is a very small place, so the agent found out…and without naming names, warned fellow agents about the situation.

That writer put the kibosh on their career.

Now, I understand why the writer resorted to such a tactic. Writing is like being that squirrel—you are so close to the prize, but you feel like you are being whipped around. You want that golden nut but you can barely hold on. Impatience and frustration set in. Then, perhaps, desperation.

However, nothing will shut you out of the publishing business—really, any business—faster than lying and being unprofessional.

If you have a positive attitude toward writing and your place in it, you will eventually succeed. I once heard Jarrett J. Krosoczka say that if someone hires you to do a $50 job, but you really want a $500 job, do that $50 job like it was paying $500. Deliver beyond expectations. Be kind to everyone. Be grateful. Soon word will spread that you’re awesome…and you’ll attract those bigger gigs. The good guy & girl really do finish first.

And here’s who else finishes first in all the recent giveaways!

(Thanks, Pam.)

Kelly Rice Schmitt

Linda Mitchell

Liz Bedia

Barbara Bockman

Katie Engen

Lynne Marie

Megan Walvoord
Susie Sawyer
Lora Wendling
Diane Roberts
Amber Webb
Heather Stigall

Jennifer Phillips

Congratulations! Watch out for an email from me.

And watch out for another giveaway tomorrow.



by Lisa Robinson & Eda Kaban

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN (Two Lions/Amazon), which hits the shelves in August 2019. We’d like to share a few stories about the book.

Pirate Emma is about to start kindergarten. But Emma’s not so sure she’s ready for a new captain and crew. Especially since her beloved Cap’n Chu is right down the hall. So Emma decides to sail back to preschool and stir up a mutiny against kindergarten. Is that what she really wants? Or does she just miss her beloved Cap’n Chu? Batten down the hatches, mateys, because the first day of school is going to be stormy!

Lisa, what was your inspiration for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN?

My daughters loved their preschool teachers and had a hard time saying goodbye to them. When I want to process something with my kids, I look for a book to use for discussion. Although there were many books about the first day of school, I couldn’t find any about preschool children who were sad to leave their preschool teachers behind. So I decided to write one.

What did you think when you saw how Eda Kaban brought your story to life? 

I was so impressed with her vision for the book. I love how she made Emma such an expressive, lively, assertive character. What also amazed me was how Eda handled the interplay of fantasy and reality. Every time Emma leaves her kindergarten classroom and runs back to the preschool classroom, Eda portrays Emma as swimming through the ocean. This creates a delightful visual refrain.

What was your journey to publication? 

It was a long haul. I was writing for almost ten years, which included getting an MFA, before Marilyn Brigham, my Two Lions editor, offered me a contract for PIPPA’S NIGHT PARADE (which comes out soon after PIRATES). I made contact with Marilyn through the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature Conference, which I highly recommend (so does Tara–she is the co-chair). Soon after that, I signed with my agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin. I couldn’t have done it without the thoughtful feedback from my two critique groups, one online called Crumpled Paper, and my local SCBWI group.

Eda, what was your approach to the cover design?

I was picturing her doing a Tarzan swing while I was illustrating the interiors. She has such a big and strong character that I thought she should be doing something big and dynamic on the cover as well. I originally had her swinging on a rope in a pirate scene rather than kindergarten but our art director and editor had the input to have her in a classroom setting to tie up the concept more strongly. And with that feedback, the cover sketch came together.

What was your process for developing this distinctive and spunky pirate girl? 

I fell in love with Emma the moment I read the manuscript. I could visualize her spunky attitude and I started sketching her out right away. I could see myself as a kid in her so it was easy to get into character and animate her in different poses. I created a lot of rough sketches. I edited the ones that didn’t relate to her as closely and cleaned up and colored the rest. Luckily everyone loved the designs when I presented her.

Can you say a little about your journey to becoming an illustrator for children’s books?

I’m originally from Turkey and I moved to the U.S. around 13 years ago to study art and become an illustrator. I spent 4 hard working years at art school. It’s a challenging restless marathon of drawing and painting everyday to build up your skills. Next big challenge was breaking into the industry. There are so many ‘no’s before you get one ‘yes.’ It can be really tough. About a year after art school, I signed with my current agent and only a week after that, I was offered my first book deal. I’ve been illustrating children’s books professionally since then for over 5 years now.

Thank you, Lisa & Eda, for revealing your cover! And now let’s reveal that Lisa is giving away an F&G to one lucky commenter.

Leave a comment below for a chance to enter–one entry per person, please. A winner will be chosen soon!

Good luck!


Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
October 1, 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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