Thank you so much, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal of THE CORGI AND THE QUEEN (January 2023, from Godwin Books/Macmillan).

The Queen is synonymous with the Pembroke Welsh corgi, and I’ve often wondered what sparked the monarch’s life-long devotion to the breed. It was this curiosity that led me to start work on my manuscript.

I’ve been a journalist for more than half of my life and I’ve also worked in documentary production, so I take a “full immersion” approach to research. I eat, breathe and sleep a story until I find its heart!

When I learned about Susan, the corgi puppy that Elizabeth received as an 18th birthday gift, I was utterly enchanted. Susan was the teenage princess’s constant companion, comforting her during the dark days of World War II, and accompanying Elizabeth and Prince Philip in their wedding carriage (and on their honeymoon)! Susan was also by Elizabeth’s side when she became Queen at the age of 25 after her beloved ‘Papa,’ King George VI, died suddenly.

Even though my life could not be more different from Queen Elizabeth’s, I felt very connected with this story. I went through some challenging times in my childhood, and my pets helped me in ways that people often couldn’t.

The more I found out about Elizabeth and Susan’s bond, the more it became apparent that it was a love story, and one that highlights the universal need for connection. Their special friendship resulted in a regal dog dynasty: fourteen generations of royal corgis were directly descended from Susan!

My agent took THE CORGI AND THE QUEEN out on sub in 2020, and I was lucky enough to get an offer from a dream editor who had the perfect vision for the book. When I was shown samples of illustrator Lydia Corry’s work, it took me less than thirty seconds to respond with a resounding “YES”. I adore Lydia’s art, and she has done a truly incredible job with our book. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two when I saw this cover for the first time!

The Queen is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee this year, after a remarkable (and record-breaking) 70 years on the British throne. During the course of Elizabeth’s reign she has met 13 US Presidents, and while the world has changed immensely since she was crowned in 1953, her love of corgis has endured. She was gifted two corgi puppies during the pandemic, and they now keep her company in her apartments at Windsor Castle.

It’s been more than three years since I started work on THE CORGI AND THE QUEEN and I’m still pinching myself. I cannot wait to see this book in kids’ hands, and I hope that Queen Elizabeth herself gets to read it!

What an adorable cover by Lydia Corry! Thanks for sharing it with us, Caroline!

Blog readers, Caroline is giving away a non-rhyming picture book critique (up to 700 words) in celebration.

Leave one comment below and a random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!


Caroline L. Perry is a British children’s book author, journalist and documentary producer currently residing in California. She’s been writing for a living for over twenty years, and she’s passionate about children’s literature. As an entertainment correspondent she has interviewed stars from across the celebrity spectrum, but she’s happiest when tinkering with a kids’ manuscript, whether it be a picture book biography or a whimsical rhyming text. Visit her online at Carolineperryauthor.com and follow her on Twitter @Caro_Perry.

Amalia, congratulations on your new book, MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD! 

You’re familiar with how this blog deals with story ideas, so I always want to know: what was the genesis of this book?

I was always fascinated with the story of the creation as it is told in the book of Genesis. Wow! A whole world created in 6 days! God had to work really hard to do that!

Creating a book for young children, I wondered how to explain this abstract concept. How did God do that? And what is God? I struggled with the idea for a while, until I stumbled upon the finger paint jars that I use while working with young children. They love to dip their hands in finger paints and smear them on any surface they could. In the biblical text, in the beginning the world was “Tohu va vohu” which, in Hebrew, means “Without form.” That gave me the idea of taking another approach to telling the story from children’s point of view. In MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD, the first spread starts with, “In the beginning… My left hand dabbed. My right hand doodled.”  The image shows blotches and markings of paint, similar to what children do when they start using finger paints. The creation now is not in the hand of God, but rather in the hands of the creative young child.

Yes, children need something concrete and relatable to help them understand abstract concepts. And your images are so colorful and fun—it draws a child right in.

How do you hope young readers will respond to your book?

My hope is that a child reader will respond by enjoying the colorful yet simple illustrations that are created by finger paints, a medium that is mostly used by young children as they delve into making art.

I hope that MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD will inspire readers to realize how wonderful and powerful their art is and how wonderful our World is.

I understand you traveled to Israel for your book launch!

I traveled to this place, called Beit Yanai, on the Mediterranean, where I spent my summers as a child. To me, it was the perfect place to launch this book.

Congratulations, Amalia, and thank you for stopping by!

Blog readers, a copy of MY HANDS MAKE THE WORLD will be awarded to one lucky person.

Leave a comment below and a random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!


Amalia grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. Her first drawing was black crayon smeared over the entire page. Her mom asked what it was and she said, “a chicken coop.”

“Where are the chickens?” her mother asked.

Amalia answered, “They are all asleep and it’s dark.”

Since then she has been drawing, painting, sculpting and cutting paper constructions. After graduating from Pratt Institute and NYU, she began showing my artwork in galleries and museums. Gene Moore, display director for Tiffany & Co., loved her paper constructions and invited Amalia to create displays for all his windows in New York.

Writing and illustrating children’s books is a window into a child’s fantasy and imagination. It’s also a wonderful way for Amalia to connect with her own childhood and early memories like the chicken coop drawing.

For more on her books, awards, accolades and storytelling, please visit amaliahoffman.com.

Today, TIME FLIES, the 3rd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I saga, releases from Little, Brown. You can find it here.

Private I thinks all is copacetic in Capital City, but he soon gets up to his latte in a new conundrum. (Did I just write that crazy sentence? Seems that I did.)

Happy Earth Day! Let’s talk mushrooms!

My good friends forage for mushrooms. I went to their house around Halloween one year and saw a huge skull on their dining room table…what a perfectly spooky decoration…except…it wasn’t a skull at all! It was a giant puffball mushroom, and it was good eats! They sliced it up, seasoned and pan-fried it, and we fork-and-knifed it like a steak. It tasted divine. Since then, we’ve had all kinds of foraged dishes, including pasta in a creamy chanterelle sauce. What about morels, you ask? They’ve found them, too. (And I’ve eaten them!)

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I received this beauty, MUSHROOM RAIN by Laura K. Zimmermann, illustrated by Jamie Green.

I had to ask Laura about it!

Laura, my blog is all about brainstorming ideas for writing books—so where did the idea for MUSHROOM RAIN originate?

Storystorm (technically, when it was PiBoldMo)!

Ooh, a Storystorm Success story!

I was looking for information on female scientists to add to my ideas for the month and came across a story about Beatrix Potter’s research with mushrooms. Sadly, that manuscript didn’t sell but it did help me see mushrooms in a new way. So when I came across a story about mushroom spores helping to create rain, I had to read it. And when I did, two words popped into my mind. Well, technically 6. “That is so cool…Mushroom Rain!”

That is cool! Speaking of cool, have you ever gone mushroom foraging?

So far I have only foraged for pictures. My nieces and I found a ton of different varieties in South Carolina and I have come across quite a few at the Arboretum near where I live. I joined the Mycological Association of Washington DC but haven’t had time in my schedule to drive out to the locations they have been foraging. I’m hoping to later in the summer or fall. Given that I thought a white mushroom I saw was a cute innocent thing—I later learned it was a destroying angel—I think it is best that my first true forage be with people who know more than me.

When I’m with my mushroom friends, they do all sorts of things to ID the mushrooms, like put them on a sheet of paper to check spore prints. Spores do so much (wink, wink)!

The illustrations by Jamie Green are gorgeous, and I love the unique choice of the black background, which really makes the mushrooms pop.

It’s an interesting and brilliant choice. One might expect greenery or blue sky considering the subject matter. How did you feel when you first saw the illustrations?

I was both surprised and thrilled when I saw Jamie’s art for the book. It’s not an approach I ever imagined, but now I can’t picture it any other way. The wonderland feel captures the kingdom of mushrooms perfectly!

Yes, it feels rather regal and majestic! 

You have two spreads of fascinating back matter in this book. What is your approach to back matter?

As a scientist and nonfiction picture book writer, research rabbit holes are one of my virtual homes. I deep dive into any topic of interest and collect my favorite bits. Anything that doesn’t make it into the book, tries to find a home there.

What tips do you have for other non-fiction picture book writers?

Follow topics that won’t let go wherever they may lead. Straight or winding the path will take you where you want to go—even if you don’t know where that is at the start. Then double and triple check your facts. Find everything you can and reach out to those who know more than you. Many wonderful and patient experts helped make Mushroom Rain what it is today. And I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Join SCBWI. Use Storystorm and other challenges to push your writing forward. I am the writer I am today because of them and my amazing critique partners that I met, you guessed it, through SCBWI.

Laura, thank you for stopping by on Earth Day and sharing this enchanting story of mushrooms.

Blog readers, Laura is giving away a non-fiction picture book critique (plus a signed bookplate and SWAG) to one lucky winner.

Comment once below with your favorite mushroom.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!


College professor by day and children’s writer by night, Laura K. Zimmermann has published numerous academic articles on human development as well as nonfiction stories in AppleSeeds, Ask, Muse, Odyssey, and Root & Star magazines. Her debut picture book, MUSHROOM RAIN, is here now from Sleeping Bear Press.

When she’s not writing, you’ll find her teaching classes and conducting research at Shenandoah University or wandering through nature with Junior Explorer Tivy.

Online you can find her at LauraKZimmermann.com, @LauraK_PBwriter on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest

by Chiêu Anh Urban

What better way to celebrate a book birthday than with a creative, passionate and supportive book-loving community. Thank you Tara for hosting this book launch, with 123 ZOOM zooming into the world. Hooray!

Want to hear a secret?  I’m not “into” cars and planes, like my husband, per se. My girly girls’ childhoods were dazzled with princesses, unicorns, fairies and pretty colors like purple and pink. It’s surprising to me that this is my second concept book featuring modes of transportation. Interestingly, what I do enjoy is drawing them.

The truth is, I’m very art-driven and I focus on design and format first when brainstorming ideas. My goal was to develop a playful, interactive book for exploring numbers and counting. So why planes, motorcycles, and ships? They can fly, swim and zoom at amazing speeds, make loud, interesting sounds, and be bright and colorful. That was the inspiration I needed to dive into a format where little ones can adventure into their imagination and become powerful vehicles that journey through water, land, and sky. Number characters represent the scenes, from the deep sea to the big galaxy. How I present the art is key; highlighting different perspectives of the same vehicles in aerial and front views.

Where’s the novelty—the interactive features?  This was the road maze that led to many dummies and production challenges. It’s been quite the journey, as novelty books go. I appreciate every speed bump, detour, and success along the way. My original idea consisted of cut-out vehicles on tracks that slide along the numbers, to encourage tracing and writing. This ultimately was cost prohibitive. I had to rethink the concept, and design a novelty that offered a similar experience, but was cost effective and inviting to touch. There was turbulence along the way, but also guidance and support from my amazing editor and agent. 123 ZOOM evolved with each spread featuring die-cut scooped out numerals and glossy, slick paths down the middle for tracing numbers, and discovering the many things-that-go. The dummy page pictured here was a work-in-progress, but the idea was to convey the novelty elements. There’s a seek-and-find element of surprise towards the end of the book, designed to encourage little ones to count backwards.

Its companion book, ABC ROAR, releases this July.  This hands-on novelty introduces the alphabet and animals in their habitats.  Thank you for letting me share my process and 123 ZOOM’s book birthday with you.

Enjoy a virtual no calorie treat and cheers to all ideas taking off!

Blog readers, to celebrate her book launch, Chiêu is giving away a copy of 123 ZOOM!

Comment once below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!


Chiêu Anh Urban is an author/illustrator, and format designer who specializes in developing interactive, playful books that provide fun learning and exploration for the youngest readers.

Chiêu’s novelty titles include 123 ZOOM and ABC ROAR (2022) with Little Simon/S&S, and board book series ILLUSIONS IN ART (2023) with Candlewick Press. She is the creator of Color Wonder Hooray for Spring!, Color Wonder Winter is Here!, Quiet as a Mouse: And Other Animal Idioms, Away We Go! and Raindrops. Chiêu holds a BFA in Communications Art and Design.  Visit her website at ChieuUrban.com to learn more about her children’s books, follow her on Facebook, Twitter @ChieuAnhUrban and Instagram @chieu.anh.urban.

Ahhh, relax, it’s finally Monday!

What, don’t like Mondays?

You will once you read BEING A DOG: A TAIL OF MINDFULNESS by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Pete Oswald. This pupper knows how to just BE.

Maria, I know you’re an animal lover, as your books always feature them. Tell us, why a dog for this book?

This book was inspired by my late rescue dog, Becca. We had a very special bond, and she inspired many a book, including this one.

After she died I was deeply depressed for a couple of months and unable to do much of anything. When I was finally ready to write again, I thought of the ways that dogs are present and how they live in the moment. I wanted to feel the joy and calmness I felt being with Becca, and as I wrote, the moments and memories came alive and the words flowed out. I like to think of this book as Becca’s gift to me.

Aww, Maria, that is such a sweet story! 

We have all been through a rough time lately and need some uplifting reads. What is your hope for children who read this book?

Great question, Tara! That they can find moments of joy, and try to be present as much as they can. This comes naturally to kids, but the pandemic has brought so much stress and fear and sadness and isolation to us all. When we play, experiment, do art, play or listen to music/dance and explore nature, these moments come more easily to us all—we immerse ourselves in what’s in front of us, or in the process. There’s a mindfulness breathing exercise in the book, and my hope is that kids can use this whenever they feel sad or scared or stressed to self soothe and find some calm to help them cope.

A little birdie told me there’s another book in this series. I’m as curious as a cat! What can you tell us about that?

Yes! It’s called BEING A CAT: A TAIL OF CURIOSITY and it will release next April. The final art just came in this week and Pete worked his magic again—it’s sweet, adorable and very funny. To counter the idea of “curiosity kills the cat,” let’s instead inspire curiosity and wonder in kids—they are already wowed and curious about so many things in the world, and I’m hoping this book will also encourage them to ask questions, experiment and play. It’s dedicated to our editor, cat-lover Nancy Inteli and her trio of kitties, Jerry, Lulu & Keiko.

One last question—I thought this dog might be named Becca, but I see the dog doesn’t have a name! Is there a reason why?

I intentionally left the dog unnamed—that way it leaves things more open for readers. Kids can imagine it’s their very own pooch, or it invites them to imagine one who might be their furry friend.

Excellent!

Thank you for stopping by, Maria!

Blog readers, BEING A DOG: A TAIL OF MINDFULNESS was released last week from HarperCollins.

You can win a copy here just by commenting. (Tell us about your pet if you have one!)

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming author Janna Matthies and her delightful nighttime romp, HERE WE COME!, illustrated in bluesy, moody watercolor by Christine Davenier.

A boy sets off with his flute and his stuffed bear and a rum-pum-pum. As they make their way through the town and the woods, they ask, “Wanna come?” Soon, kids and creatures join in the fun one by one, playing instruments, singing, and dancing to the catchy tune.

But will a storm bring their fun-filled musical parade to an end?

Janna, we discuss how to brainstorm story ideas on my blog. Where did the idea for HERE WE COME come from?

Believe it or not, I wrote this manuscript nearly ten years ago, and Beach Lane Books acquired it more than five years ago. So my memory is a little foggy on the story-storming process. However, I can say that marching around singing and dancing with kids is a regular part of my life (I’m a music teacher part-time). So the subject matter was a natural for me. I do remember the phrase, “Here we come with a rum-pum-pum. Wanna come?” popping into my mind. After that, the real brainstorming began as I recognized that subsequent lines would all need to end with words that rhyme with “come.” So I jotted down a long list of every word I could think of. I believe I used everything on the list except for “plum”, “crumb” and “scum”—probably best, on that last word.

Haha! Yes, that is for the best!

This is a cumulative tale. What special tips or recommendations do you have for others creating this kind of story?

Yes, it’s cumulative and told in rhyming verse. Making the rhythm and rhyme as clean as possible is key to a rolicking read-aloud. As for the plot, each accumulated line needs to up the ante in some way. In the case of HERE WE COME!, each new line introduces a different character making a musical sound—“a pick and a strum” (dog), “Little Lu on her thumb with a swish-swish bum” (toddler in a diaper—a real crowd-pleaser, by the way), “fiddle-dee-fiddle-dum” (enormous, jaunty bear), etc.. The characters and their sounds are increasingly unexpected or funny or joyful. And then comes the line that changes everything—“a drip on a drum”. UH-OH! Something climactic is about to happen! Of course, this building excitement or tension is accomplished through the synergy of words and illustrations. I was thrilled with how illustrator Christine Davenier staged this musical parade at night and included kids as well as woodland animals. The two adorable hedgehogs paired with the words “Clap-clap with a chum” nearly steal the show!

Did you include any illustration notes for Christine, or were the characters and setting all from her imagination?

In this case, I provided no illustration notes at all. I was between agents at the time and submitted the manuscript exclusively to Allyn Johnston at Beach Lane, who I’d received a personal note from before. I knew from an interview that Allyn doesn’t like art notes—she’s since told me my wide-open text was part of the appeal for her. So yes, the setting and characters are entirely Christine’s invention.

I’m so curious—did you have anything different in mind and you just didn’t say so?

Yes. In my mind a couple of human siblings or friends were heading outdoors on a sunny day, maybe banging pots like drums, or maybe real drums. And as they moved through the neighborhood, they ran across other kids and invited them along. Some played real instruments, others made up rhythms on everyday items or played “air-instruments” (My husband likes to think he’s very good at air guitar and air drums, for instance.). Funny enough, Christine says that when she read the text and imagined the scene, it was “obviously at night”. Because she used a whimsical, dream-like mix of animal and human characters, it’s perfectly fine for them to be parading alone through the woods at night. I was completely delighted when I saw her sketches and thought, “Brilliant!”

That sincerely demonstrates the trust that author and illustrator must have with each other. Brava to you both!

Finally, what is your message to kids who pick up this book?

I hope kids feel invited into making music—any way, anyhow, anywhere. Sing! Drum on a box! Imitate the hum of a fan or the rhythm of a woodpecker. Say “yes” if the chance comes to learn an instrument. The joy of music is for all, and is especially wonderful when shared. I hope kids’ internally reply, “Yes! I wanna come!”

Blog readers, do you wanna come, too? Janna is giving away a signed copy of HERE WE COME! Just leave a comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck…and thank you, Janna!


Janna Matthies is a picture book author and early-elementary music teacher in Indianapolis. Her books include two soon-to-be-announced titles as well as HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/S&S); GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU (WorthyKids); TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids), THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman) and others. When she’s not reading, writing or making music, Janna enjoys gardening, walking her husky, and hanging out with her husband and three mostly-grown kids. Visit her at jannamatthies.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @JannaMatthies.

Every year rolls around and I promise myself that I will get the Storystorm winners post out right away…and yet it always lingers until March or April! Thank you again to Urania Smith for helping when I need it most…and thank you, everyone, for waiting patiently!

Here are all the daily winners! If you’re a winner, expect an email from me this week with details!

Congratulations! Storystorm 2022 is now officially over!

Day 1: Tammi Sauer
Book and PB critique—Jane Baskwill, Leah Moser, and Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Day 2: Tara Lazar
Zoom call—Angie Quantell

Day 3: Lynne Marie
Book and Zoom Consultation—David Filmore

Day 4: Carter Higgins
CIRCLE UNDER BERRY—Genevieve Gorback and Terri Epstein

[Day 5: Benson Shum prize was given to a Grand Prize Winner who relinquished her prize because she was already agented. She was given the option to choose any other prize.]

Day 6: Dawn DeVries
THE POST CARD PROJECT—Annette Bay Pimentel

Day 7: Donna Cangelosi
PB critique—Angie Baker

Day 8: Josh Funk
PB critique or signed copy of any books—Andrea Mack, Rosanna Montanaro, and David McMullin

Day 9: Kirsten Larson
Zoom call—Christine M. Irvin

Day 10: Katie Howes
Marty Bellis

Day 11: Kelly Mangan & Adrea Theodore
PB critique—Aileen Polly Renner
A HISTORY OF ME—Megan McNamara and Karen Lawler

Day 12: Heidi Tyline King
SAVING AMERICAN BEACH—Susan Cabael

Day 13: Melissa Roske
KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN—Gabriella Aldeman
COMING OF AGE: B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES—Sue Heavenrich
Middle grade critique—Aly Kenna

Day 14: Julia Mills
30 minute Zoom chat or art critique—Michelle Dragalin

Day 15: Laura Lavoie
Picture book critique + follow up Zoom chat—Mary Ann Blair

Day 16: Danielle Joseph
30 minute consultation—Jany Campana
I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP—Alexis Ennis

Day 17: Shirin Shamsi
PLANTING FRIENDSHIP—Amie Valore-Caplan

Day 18: Amalia Hoffman
30 minute Zoom—Paul Brassard
Book prize—Rachelle Burk

Day 19: Carrie Tillotson
COUNTING TO BANANAS: A MOSTLY RHYMING FRUIT BOOK—Joanne Roberts

Day 20: Kari Lavelle
30 minute Zoom—Katie Marie
WE MOVE THE WORLD—Kathy Doherty

Day 21: Valerie Bolling
Query critique, goal-setting meeting, or 20-minute phone chat—Laurel Neme

Day 22: Serena Gingold Allen
MOONLIGHT PRANCE—Morgan Lau
SUNRISE DANCE—Dianne Borowski

Day 23: Chana Stiefel
LET LIBERTY RISE! How Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty—Diana Marie Linton

Day 24: Kimberly Wilson
A PENNY’S WORTH—Debbie Austin

Day 25: Alison Marcote
SEEKING BEST FRIEND—Alison McGaule

Day 26: PB Crew 22
Dianne White’s GREEN ON GREEN—Rebecca McMurdie
Dianne White’s WINTER LULLABY—Alia Khaled
PB critique from Brittany Thurman—Elizabeth Muster
PB critique Ellie Peterson—Ally Enz
PB critique Viviane Elbee—Charlene Avery
PB critique Megan Lacera—JoLynne Ricker Whalen
PB critique Jyoti Rajan Gopal—Lucy Staugler
PB critique Lori Alexander—Nancy Rubin Fahmy
PB critique Lisa Tolin—Nadia Salomon

Day 27: Mike Allegra
Zoom call—Gayle Krause

Day 28: Vivian Kirkland
Signed copy of FROM HERE TO THERE, a PB critique, or 30-minute Zoom—Tim McGlen

Day 29: Susie Ghahremani
GROWTH JOURNAL—Ashley Bankhead

Day 30: Dev Petty
Zoom call—Laura N. Clement
DON’T EAT THE BEES—Denise A. Engle, Shaunda Wenger, and Melissa Rotert

I’m pleased to welcome Katie Mazeika to the blog today––she’s a long-time Storystormer and now she’s here to reveal the cover of her debut as an author-illustrator: ANNETTE FEELS FREE: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-life Mermaid. Take it away, Katie!

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal of ANNETTE FEELS FREE: THE TRUE STORY OF ANNETTE KELLERMAN, WORLD-CLASS SWIMMER, FASHION PIONEER, AND REAL-LIFE MERMAID (September 13, 2022, from S&S/Beach Lane Books).

I first came across Annette Kellerman’s story in the summer of 2017.  At the time, I was looking at interesting women from history for a series of illustrations––her resolute determination captured my attention, as did the swim records she broke, her grace and showmanship in and out of the water, and her steadfast belief in women being able to compete fairly against men. I did my piece on Annette and moved on to the next image. Well, that was the plan anyway. But Annette’s story stuck with me and begged for a longer exploration.

When Annette was very young, she was diagnosed with a childhood disability and had to wear leg braces. When I was a toddler, I lost my right eye to cancer. I understood all too well how having a disability (especially at such a young age) can change the trajectory of one’s life. Yet it wasn’t just that connection that drew me to her. The more I researched, the more there was to love about Annette! She was a champion swimmer who set world records when she was a teen (some of which remain unbroken today), fashion pioneer, fierce feminist, spunky heroine, and one of America’s first movie stars. What’s not to love? I admire her tenacity and refusal to conform to the expectations of her time. Brave women are often underestimated.

I was lucky; although her swimming career started more than one hundred years ago, I found dozens of photos, newspaper articles, and even videos of Annette swimming and performing. I even found stills from a film where she appeared nude, (she was the first movie star to do so, although that didn’t make it into the book!). ANNETTE FEELS FREE is about determination, disability, girl power, and the birth of a sport!

I am thrilled to share with readers this story that I fell in love with and have so enjoyed researching! Thank you again, Tara, for helping me share Annette.

Blog readers, Katie will be giving away a copy of ANNETTE FEELS FREE when it is released. 

Dive in with a comment to enter.

A winner will be randomly selected in September.

Good luck!


Katie Mazeika is an Ohio girl, born and raised! She grew up in Cincinnati, went to The Columbus College of Art and Design, and now lives in the Cleveland area with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.

Katie quickly fell in love with children’s books and can’t imagine a better job than making books for young readers. ANNETTE FEELS FREE is her author/illustrator debut. She has a second picture book biography about Beulah Henry (a.k.a. “Lady Edison”) coming out with S&S/Beach Lane Books in 2023. Katie illustrated books for the Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES series: EVERYONE SHARES (EXCEPT CAT) by Jamie Michalak (Charlesbridge 2022) and EVERYONE SAYS PLEASE (EXCEPT CAT) by Jamie Michalak (Charlesbridge 2022), and is at work illustrating a third book in the series.

When she’s not drawing, Katie likes to spend her time gardening or reading other people’s books. You can find her at katiemazeika.com, on Twitter @kdmaz, or on Instagram @kdmazart.

Ahh, spring! Can I go outside now?

Well, I live in New Jersey where spring weather is a bit iffy—75 and sunny one day, a blizzard the next. Best to keep my nose buried in the books a while longer.

Thankfully, a gorgeous book just arrived! Meet APPLE AND MAGNOLIA by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Patricia Metola.

What a sweet cover! And it earned THREE starred reviews! Thankfully, Laura Gehl agreed to an interview!

Laura, you know this blog is all about story ideas…so how did this idea germinate?

The seed for this idea came from research I read several years ago about how trees communicate with one another. That research is more widely known now, but at the time it was completely new to me. The fact that trees can send one another nutrients, and can warn one another of danger, struck me as something extraordinary and amazing. APPLE AND MAGNOLIA grew out of my desire to write about this real, special relationship between trees.

But this story isn’t just about trees, is it? Tell us how Nana’s character came into play.

You’re right, the story isn’t just about trees. The story is also about Britta’s unwavering belief in the face of doubters. Britta is convinced Apple can help when Magnolia falls ill, and she doesn’t let Dad and her older sister Bronwyn dissuade her. But I wanted Britta to have a supporter in addition to the doubters…because I hope all kids can find a supportive adult in their lives, whether a relative or a teacher or a coach. That’s where Nana comes in.

How did the story grow from early drafts to the final?

Britta’s attempts to help the two trees feel closer to one another (the scarf, the string telephone, the lights) changed over time…I remember my critique partners helping brainstorm ideas for that! As I got closer to the final draft, I added in tree language, like “Britta felt a seed of hope start to grow” and “Britta’s hope blossomed too.” Also, my initial title was TWO TREES, which of course grew into APPLE AND MAGNOLIA.

Why did you choose those two trees, an apple and a magnolia?

Choosing two trees was hard. I wanted trees with beautiful spring blossoms, I wanted one to be a fruit tree, and I wanted trees with names that sounded somewhat like human names (sorry, Brazil nut tree!). I liked that apple trees and magnolia trees can both have pink flowers but that the two types of blossoms don’t look similar in shape or size. Also, I have a magnolia tree in my yard, which I love!

What do you hope readers will take away after reading APPLE AND MAGNOLIA?

I hope kids take away from this book that trees are connected to one another, that we are connected to trees, and really that all living things in our world are connected. I also hope young readers leave this story with the realization that when they face doubters in their lives…even bigger, older doubters…they don’t have to listen. When kids disagree with adults, sometimes kids are the ones who know what they’re talking about!

Amen to that! Kids can be so much more intuitive than adults.

Laura, thank you for sharing this beautiful book with us. I understand there’s also a discussion guide and activity resource at flyawaybooks.com/book/apple-and-magnolia

And blog readers, you can win a signed copy of APPLE AND MAGNOLIA! Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

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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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