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 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.


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 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

Day 13: Melissa Roske
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

Day 17: Shirin Shamsi

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

Day 19: Carrie Tillotson

Day 20: Kari Lavelle
30 minute Zoom—Katie Marie

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

Day 22: Serena Gingold Allen
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

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, 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

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!

Thanks, Tara, for inviting New Books for Kids back to your blog. We were here last year at the start of our debut journey together talking about what else?—debut groups!

For this visit, Tara asked us to consider how we approach the craft of writing.  From inspiration to polished manuscript, what is our process? You wondered, “Do we start with a theme when we write? A character? A structure? How do we revise?” Here are some answers from New Books for Kids.

Adria Karlsson (MY SISTER DAISY, illustrated by Linus Curci):

Almost always my books start out as ideas jotted down in a notebook, on a sticky note, or in my phone. I love novel information and when I hear something that makes me go, “Wait. What?!” – that’s usually a good indication I’m going to have to investigate further. Sometimes the ideas come from within my own thoughts when I’m tackling a problem of my own, helping a kiddo get through a tough moment, or celebrating someone’s accomplishment. It’s a long way from there to a proper story and sometimes I never do figure out how to move it out of “concept” and into “story.” Despite that, I like my collection of dysfunctional ideas and come back to them often to see if any of them have germinated. The evolution into a story often occurs when I figure out the theme that will carry the concept.

About Adria: Once upon a time, Adria Karlsson could have been found teaching people, training cats and dogs, or tutoring dyslexic kids, but now they spend their time writing and parenting. They set off on a new adventure every day to discover fresh alchemies of words and ideas that will build a good story. Visit her online at or on Twitter: @adriakarlsson.

Alex Katona (DINNER ON DOMINGOS, illustrated by Claudia Navarro):

When I have an idea, I just start writing. I don’t think too much about an arc, but I try to have a theme in mind. My first draft is MESSY—I try not to be too critical and just get my ideas down. After the initial thoughts are on paper, I leave it for a few days to figure out where to go next. When I come back to it, I break it apart and dissect it. I think about character development and pacing and page turns, but I continue to think about the theme. I even write the word or phrase on a post-it note and stick it near my laptop so I’m constantly reminded of it.

About Alex: Alex has been writing stories since she was young. When she’s not writing, you can find her surfing, exploring the outdoors, or reading. She lives with her husband, son, and dogs in Southern California and believes in the connective power of food. Dinner on Domingos is based on her own childhood. You can visit her at or on Twitter @Alex_KatonaC.

Benjamin Giroux (I AM ODD I AM NEW, illustrated by Roz MacLean):

Our youngest member finds inspiration for writing from his everyday life. He wrote the poem that became his debut book I AM ODD I AM NEW as a school assignment in which he expressed his experience living as a person with autism in a neurotypical world. The book series he’s currently working on also channels his everyday moments and was inspired by Monty, his pet snake. What in your own life inspires you?

About Benjamin: Benjamin, whose book was given the prestigious Kirkus Reviews Star, has been featured on many websites, in the Huffington Post, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. He was named Poet Laureate of Plattsburgh, New York, and has also been the face of the National Autism Association’s antibullying campaign. His poem has been translated into several languages. He is now an award-winning songwriter. Visit him at

Katie Williams (POET, PILGRIM, REBEL: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Poet, illustrated by Tania Rex):

While the ‘craft’ of writing involves many different phases and elements, I think my favorite one is the brainstorming phase. To me, this is one of the most important parts since it determines the subject of your story. Setting, POV, main character, those all come later, but first you need your subject. There are so many ways to brainstorm ideas and none of them are wrong. Some people enjoy perusing the news looking for interesting people or events. Others might sit and meditate, seeing what comes to them naturally. For me, I love to look around and attempt to see the world with new eyes. How would my children see that clump of trees? As a hideout? A scary forest? A home to an animal? With nonfiction, it can mean looking at a historical figure with a fresh take on it. Sure, that person grew up to be famous, but what were they like as a child? What were their dreams/hopes/fears? When you look at the world in a fresh, new way, you’ll literally find story ideas everywhere!

About Katie: Katie is a Public Health Nurse, Lactation Consultant, and Author. She has always been an avid reader and was once so engrossed in reading Black Beauty that she missed her school bus home. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and two children, where they enjoy digging for sand crabs and attempting to bring the entire beach home with them in their pants. Visit her online at or on Twitter: @KatieWills79.

Leah Rose Kessler (RAT FAIR, illustrated by Cleonique Hilsaca):

What happens when you’ve tried everything, and your story still doesn’t feel right? As counterintuitive as it sounds, my craft tip for you is to let it go. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your manuscript is set it aside. Even if it’s the story of your heart, the one you’re certain you’re destined to publish, stop working on it. Drop it like a handful of lava. Put it out of your mind.

Create a folder labeled “To Come Back To Later” and plop it in. Then walk away. Have a piece of toast. Repaint your bathroom. Learn how to ski. After enough time has passed (I’m talking months, not days), one of two things is likely to happen. Either you’ll find that you’re immersed in another manuscript and don’t feel the need to visit that folder, or you’ll go back and take a peek and realize your brain has been working on it in the background all along; all the mentor texts you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, the life you’ve lived, will have added up into a big swirl of insight and inspiration while you weren’t even looking. You’ll be able to take your story forward in a direction you never would have been capable of if you’d kept on picking and poking at it all those months ago.

About Leah: Leah spent much of her childhood up a tree with a stack of books. These days, when she’s not reading or writing, she’s an on-again, off-again elementary school teacher and a lifelong biologist. She lives in Michigan with two humans and two cats and has a soft spot for scurrying creatures of all shapes and sizes. Her work has appeared in Cricket Media’s Babybug and Spider magazines. Leah is represented by Natascha Morris at The Tobias Literary Agency. Visit her online at or on Twitter: @leahrosekessler.

Morissa Rubin (DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT, forthcoming from POW! Kids Books):

As an author/illustrator my creative process is messy, intertwined, and not at all linear. Sometimes I start with words and other times it is an image or visual idea that gets me started. I am very interested in the interplay of word and image, and I usually work in one realm for a bit and then switch to the other to see if I can let both sides develop together. I want to make sure that both sides of the equation (words and art) speak to me equally, each offering a different window into the work that is emerging. As a graphic designer and long-time publication designer, I think a lot about how a concept is reflected in its visual structure. How is the sequencing, pacing, and “chunking out” of the work reflected in both the words and phrasing, and how can it also be expressed with color, texture, pattern, and composition. But at some point, I do separate passes, focusing on just the words and language one time and then doing a visual edit at another time. I keep inching along, back and forth, back and forth.

About Morissa: Morissa is a graphic designer who thinks polka dots, paisleys and plaid are better together. She received her BFA from RISD and her MS from MIT’s Visible Language Workshop. Morissa lives in Sacramento where she teaches typography and other design courses at UC Davis and Sac State. Visit her website at or on Twitter: @MorissaRubin and Instagram: @morissa.s.childrensbooks.

Rochelle Melander (MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing, illustrated by Melina Ontiveros):

The idea for MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD came from teaching writing to young people. I wanted to create a resource that would tell the stories of people who wrote to share big ideas, fight for equal rights, and heal the environment. When I researched and wrote each chapter, I started with the question: How did they use writing to change themselves and the world? These hooks guided my writing—and I used them to tell the story. When I revised, I read my words aloud, listening for juicy words and interesting twists and turns that would hook the readers. This process works well for writing and revising picture books, too. I start with the theme or question, using that to research, brainstorm, or write the story. When I revise, I listen with the imagination of a child. How will this story unfold for them? What words will appeal to them? Where will they get hooked? And where will they get lost? That helps me to find my way forward.

About Rochelle: Rochelle wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword won the 2021 Cybils Award for Middle Grade nonfiction. She’s an ADHD coach, an artist educator, and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She blogs at and Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @writenowcoach.

Stephanie Wildman (BRAVE IN THE WATER, illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar and translated into Spanish as VALIENTE EN EL AGUA by Cecilia Populus-Eudave):

Like several of my colleagues, I also find inspiration in the day to day. My forthcoming picture book Treasure Hunt combines two activities I do with my grandchildren. But how does one go from inspiration to polish? My most important craft tip (as a non-illustrator) is putting the manuscript (after rewrites and those ever so valuable critiques) into a picture book dummy format. That allows me to focus on page turns – will the reader want to turn to the next page? What can be pictured with this text? Are too many pages taking place in the same scene? I can better answer these questions once the manuscript is formatted like a book. And of course, read it out loud.


About Stephanie: Stephanie became a Professor Emerita after serving as the John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law. In that role she authored books, law review articles, and journalistic pieces. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she can sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice. Lawley Publishing will release her second children’s book Treasure Hunt (illustrated by Estefania Razo) in November 2022. Find her at or on Twitter: @SWildmanSF.

Thank you for sharing your craft tips, authors!

Blog readers, do you have a craft or process tip that works especially well for you? Please share in the comments!

Finally, here they are. The Grand Prize Winners of Storystorm!

These stormers registered, completed the challenge, and were randomly selected with the help of Urania Smith of Kidlit Nation.

Each winner has been paired with a kidlit literary agent to receive feedback on their best 5 story ideas, helping them decide which ideas to pursue as manuscripts. I also added one additional prize of an idea consult with yours truly.

If you didn’t win a Grand Prize, please hold on tight. Winners of the individual daily prizes will be announced soon!

Steve Jankousky → Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Elizabeth W Saba → Tara Gonzalez of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Jess Burbank → Sean McCarthy of Sean McCarthy Literary Agency

Alison Ferguson → Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Cristina Ergunay → Charlotte Wenger of Prospect Agency

Midge Smith → Lisa Fleissig &  Ginger Harris-Dontzin of Liza Royce Agency

Jen Anyong → Maeve MacLysaght of Copps Literary Services

Zoraida Rivera → Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary

Candace Spizzirri → Tara Lazar of This Here Blog

These winners should start polishing their ideas and fleshing them out into concise pitches. I’ll be emailing you shortly with details!

Congratulations to all!

This is a sketch drawn by my friend Paula Cohen during a virtual critique group meeting.

Paula’s top left and then there’s (clockwise) Karen Rostoker-Gruber (with an animal mask on the wall behind her), Margery Cuyler, me (with tea), Laurie Wallmark, and Rachelle Burk. It was a lovely meeting full of laughter and sharp writing feedback, plus it was the highlight of everyone’s month since we’ve not been together during the pandemic. In the “before times” we would gather for breakfast at Panera and inevitably stay for lunch, too! But since March 2020, it’s been Zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom.

We were all eagerly anticipating Paula’s debut picture book as author-illustrator (originally titled SHIRLEY’S STORE, then SHIRLEY’S BIG IDEA) because we had been together through the many revisions she made, through agent queries, through publisher submissions, and finally through the offer with Levine Querido. We all rode that rollercoaster with Paula (screaming, laughing, crying and holding tight with sweaty palms).

Finally, TODAY IS THE DAY! Happy book birthday, Shirley and BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH!

Let me tell you about Shirley 1.0! Shirley is really Paula’s mom, “working” at the family grocery store in Albany, NY. I remember we joked with Paula about how the first Shirley looked a little too matronly to be a young kid.

One of Paula’s original Shirley sketches.

And Uncle Morris appeared a little too senior for his wife to be having a baby in the story.

Oh, how we laughed with Paula! She took the criticism well, with humor. Of course, Shirley and Uncle Morris went through some transitions…they both got more hair…

I remember Paula being particularly proud of this spread in BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH—where the neighborhood customers are trying Shirley’s store delicacy from the comfort of their homes.

The original page didn’t show the true depth of Shirley’s effect on the neighborhood (but we loved it all the same).

The change was her art director’s suggestion, and it was brilliant. The new scene shows the diverse immigrant community. There’s the glow of the lights from within the apartments and plenty of smiles. It radiates warmth—just like Paula’s original sketch, but on a neighborhood scale.

And just like the real Shirley, who embodied warmth and shared the importance of family in her community, too. BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH is Paula’s homage to her mother.

And this blog post is my homage to Paula. She passed away suddenly on Thursday.

Visiting Paula’s summer camp on “Fractured Fairy Tale Day”. She made that Goldilocks wig!

I’m in a state of shock and disbelief. Paula was one of those vibrant, upbeat, joyous people you loved to be around because she made you feel good. She gave great big hugs in a tiny 4’10” frame. Her art was always a delight. In fact, I met Paula at a NJ-SCBWI conference because of her art. She had displayed a playful image of a polar bear and a girl swimming underwater. I sought her out to compliment her.

Here’s a sketch of that polar bear and girl, who became characters in a friendship story that she hoped to sell soon.

And Paula’s polar bear even got to be a star with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club!

Well, this was supposed to be a post about BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH but it’s about Paula instead. You can see the joy she brought to others through her art, and my own dream is that Paula’s work will have a ripple effect, touching everyone who comes across it. It was her dream to be an author, and she did it. Mazel Tov, Paula!

So please, check out Paula’s book. Share it, request it at your library, do what you can to spread the warmth.

Thank you!

Paula and her beloved pooch, Joxter the Schnauzer.

Author Janet Sumner Johnson is here today with a cover reveal of her new picture book, BRAVER THAN BRAVE!

Before the big reveal, I asked Janet about the genesis of the story.

Once upon a time, my son wanted to ride the big roller coaster at the amusement park. Though he was scared, we waited in line as he built up his courage. When we got to the front, he still wasn’t sure he could do it, but there was a big sign over the way out: CHICKEN EXIT.

He didn’t want to go through that exit, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for the roller coaster. He had a tough choice to make!

Fast forward many years. My daughter was complaining that all the kids at school wanted her to do a thing that she didn’t want to do. She said, “I’m just tired of everyone telling me to be brave!”

I remembered my son’s experience, and those two ideas collided. They had me questioning the concept of Brave. What does it really mean to be Brave? How do kids show their Brave? What if Brave is different than we think?

From the thrilling roller coaster ride in the background, to the determination on Wanda’s face, Eunji Jung’s art really captures the heart of the story. I can’t wait until BRAVER THAN BRAVE hits the bookshelves! 

Thanks, Janet. And here’s the cover with art by Eunji Jung…

Wanda desperately wants to be brave like her big brother, Zane, but it’s not easy. When the Coaster of Doom opens at the amusement park, Wanda is determined to conquer it. But up close, it’s scarier than she thought! With all eyes on her, she must find the confidence to be her own kind of brave.  

Janet is giving away a copy of BRAVER THAN BRAVE once it’s released on August 1, 2022 from Capstone.

Comment once below with your brave moment!

A random winner will be selected this summer.

Good luck!

Janet Sumner Johnson lives in northern Utah with her husband, three kids, and a dog. As a kid, she loved riding roller coasters, but refused to enter Haunted Houses (she still won’t!). When she’s not writing or planning her next book, Janet loves eating cookies, laughing, and going on long walks. Sometimes she even does all three at once! She is the author of the middle grade novel The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, and the picture book Help Wanted: Must Love Books. You can learn more about her at

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illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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