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Woo-hoo!  The fab #JewishBoardBooks group is here to brainstorm some small but mighty ideas on Day 12 of Tara Lazar’s Storystorm Challenge!

PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE by Vivian Kirkfield

Small but mighty—that’s a great way to describe board books. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a board book is a book for young children with pages made of heavy laminated paper or cardboard. But honestly, a board book is so much more than that. Studies show that the greatest amount of human learning takes place between ages 0-3 and that exposing children to books well before they are ready to read could have a huge impact on literacy.

Are you thinking of writing a board book? Most board books have very low word-counts and only a few images on each page—sometimes, just one.

Why then does PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE work as a board book even though it has over 300 words, plus multiple characters and many images on each page?

  • The rollicking rhyme and repeating refrain create a fun read-aloud.
  • The animals, like cat, mouse, fish and owl are familiar to very young children.
  • The illustrations created by Jill Weber are joyful and vibrant.
  • Each page provides opportunities to seek and find Pippa and her friends.

Most board books can be divided into three main categories:

  1. Concept Book: introduce ideas such as counting or ABCs.
  2. Picture Book: usually about one subject such as animals or trucks.
  3. Story Book: has a plot and several characters and often teaches a lesson.

PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE falls into the “story book” category, with a simple plot and a holiday layer woven throughout.

So, here’s your challenge, dear friends: Make a list of the holidays or other occasions you celebrated when you were a kid – and then create a board book manuscript! And if you keep it to 50 words or less, you can enter it my #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest in March. Who knows…it might become a real board book one day.



Why did I write a board book? Because I wanted to thank and encourage little ones everywhere to realize the joy they bring with the simple gift of their presence.

COUNTING ON SHABBAT is inspired by seeing joy in my mother, a retired teacher, when little ones visit with kisses and chaos. Board books benefit from a simple structure. I built 10 spreads around counting from one to ten as we get ready for Shabbat, a weekly celebration where we light candles and prepare a feast to welcome a day of rest. My hope is that children who start by counting objects will sense that we are also counting on kindness as the arrival of a diverse family brings joy to an elderly man who might otherwise be alone.

In board books, it’s important to keep things simple. COUNTING ON SHABBAT clocks in at 48 words and features a gentle rhyme that helps kids anticipate what the ending word on each page might be. I included more illustration notes in this manuscript than I ever had because I knew that the book must be visually driven. Even so, it was a delight to see illustrator Petronela Dostalova take the concept and run with it in her own unique way.

I hope this book will give Jewish children pride in our weekly celebration of love and light, open a window to this happy holiday for non-Jewish children, and spark fresh ideas of how we can all build bridges of love among all ages, faiths, and communities.


SHEEP SAYS SHALOM  by Ann D. Koffsky 

Board Books are deceptively simple. As an author, they appear oh-so-achievable. 50 words? I can write 50 words, no problem!

But be wary, oh ye aspiring board book authors. Board books are, as I said, DECEPTIVELY simple. Every word has to be just so, and the concept has to be made of such sturdy stuff, that you can tell it with the fewest of words, and it will still connect to readers. For my book, Sheep Says Shalom, that concept was based on the three meanings of the word SHALOM: Hello, goodbye, and peace. So, I actually got extra meaning out of that one, singular word. ( It almost felt like cheating!)

For me, coming up with that idea, that concept, is the most challenging part of writing any book, but especially for board books.  And it’s at this part of the writing process that I most often can feel stuck.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Jewish legendary storyteller, Peninah Schram, along with my friend Chana Stiefel, and Chana asked Peninah: “How do you get past those moments, when you are stuck?” Peninah’s answer was also deceptively simple. She described how she has a practice of finding the time to daydream each day. She lies down in a comfortable space, puts on relaxing music, and lets her mind wander freely.

And you know what? I tried it and it works! So this is my challenge to Storystormers out there: try out Peninah’s Practice. Take 10 minutes and let you mind wander. And see what comes your way.


MAZAL BUENO by Sarah Aroeste

Board books have immense value besides simply being a baby’s first entry into the world of books. For many children—and their adults—board books can also serve as the first entry into unfamiliar cultures. It can be their very first glance into new worlds, customs, and languages.

As an activist promoting a minority culture, Sephardic Judaism, I believe board books are critical to creating understanding and empathy in families. I purposely chose this medium to convey simple, universal themes for wider audiences to learn about my culture.

MAZAL BUENO! celebrates the milestones in a child’s life—from first giggles, to first foods, first words and more. Every family can relate to these awe-filled moments! While it looks like Spanish, the refrain of mazal bueno (congratulations) is a combination of Hebrew and Spanish, also known as Ladino, which is the language of Sephardic Jews. Cheering with a mazal bueno to acknowledge wonderful occasions is a part of everyday life for Sephardic Jews, which is the point of the book. Mazal Bueno is about normalizing the Sephardic experience and exposing more families to the many ways Jews look, speak, and live!

I knew that I was writing a niche book, but I didn’t let it stop me. Providing windows into new cultures—at the earliest possible age—is vital to fostering caring kids and families. So my advice to all of you: don’t let fear get in your way. Write what you feel families need to read, keeping in mind the possibilities that a board book format offers. Even the most basic of concepts (a mazal bueno!) can open up minds and worlds.


CHALLAH! by Varda Livney

For me, writing a board book is trying to get a smile from (or get a simple idea across to) a little human who has no interest in complicated plot twists, wordy descriptions, or character development. Then it’s trying to relax as it dawns on me that that little human is probably at this moment chewing on the masterpiece that I sweated so much to create.

My board book, Challah! is coming out in October. I decided to make a book introducing Shabbat (Sabbath). I started by doodling wine, candles, a festive dinner table, challah, and a family of bunnies (of course).  I drew a word bubble coming out of the baby bunny’s mouth, saying “Challah!” Turns out it was his first word, and, in the tradition of baby bunnies everywhere, this bunny did not stop saying “Challah!” all week long. Would he ever learn a second word? (Spoiler alert: yes.) Eventually all that doodling morphed into a book!

There are many ways to come up with ideas, but here’s what worked for me with CHALLAH!:

Big cup of coffee, quiet room, butt in chair, doodle, daydream, free-associate, write, trashcan, repeat.

BTW, this little blurb is longer than my book.

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words, but she’s already checked off skydiving, walking along the ocean floor, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing stories in the picturesque village of Bedford, NH. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar, where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author of many picture books that have garnered accolades such as Junior Library Guild Selection, Eureka Honor Award, Best Science STEM Book, and Social Studies Notable Trade Book. You can connect with her on her website, social media, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

Nancy Churnin is an award-winning children’s book author who writes about people that inspire children to be kind and make the world a better place. Her Dear Mr. Dickens won the 2021 National Jewish Book Award and 2022 Sydney Taylor Honor and is a Junior Library Guild Selection, a National Federation of Press Women 1stPlace winner and on the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books list. Nancy is that author of 10 picture book biographies and will welcome six more books, including her board book debut, Counting on Shabbat, in 2023. Additional honors include: Two Sydney Taylor Notables, Social Studies Notable Trade Books for Young People; the South Asia Book Award, Children and Teen’s Choice Book Awards finalists; starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly; and multiple state book lists. Nancy lives in North Texas. Her books come with free teacher guides, resources and projects on her website, Follow her on Twitter @nchurnin.

Determined to help preserve Sephardic culture, Sarah Aroeste draws upon her ancestral roots from N. Macedonia and Greece to present traditional and original Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) songs with her unique blend of Balkan sounds, pop, and jazz. Since 2001, Aroeste has performed and given musical talks across the globe and has recorded eight albums. She also pens Sephardic-themed books for children, including Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom (Kar-Ben 2020), the first PAL board book with Ladino words, and the upcoming Mazal Bueno (Kar-Ben 2023). Bringing Ladino books and music to young and old, Aroeste has garnered wide critical acclaim for her efforts to introduce Sephardic culture to new audiences. Visit her at or on social media as @saraharoeste.

Ann D. Koffsky is the author and illustrator of more than forty books, including Under the Sea Seder, Visual Thinking (for Young Adults) with Temple Grandin, What’s In Tuli’s Box, and the Kayla & Kugel series. Several of her books have been PJ Library selections, and her book Noah’s Swimathon received a Sydney Taylor notable mention from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Sheep Says Shalom  will be out  August 1, 2023 from Green Bean Books. Find free coloring pages and see more about her work on her website You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @JewishArtbyAnn.

Varda Livney lives (and doodles) on a kibbutz with her family and 1,000 other assorted people, dogs, cats, cows, and olive trees. Visit her at and follow her on Instagram @vardaart.

**Most of these board books won’t be out until the fall, but if winners are patient, they will be sent as soon as they become available.***

  • Vivian Kirkfield: PB Critique OR Copy of PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE
  • Nancy Churnin: copy of COUNTING ON SHABBAT
  • Sarah Aroeste: copy of MAZAL BUENO!
  • Ann Koffsky: 15-minute Zoom Critique
  • Varda Livney: Copy of CHALLAH!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Salina Yoon

In the spring of 2021, my editor reached out to see if I’d be interested in writing and illustrating another Penguin book to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Penguin’s first book, PENGUIN AND PINECONE, a friendship story. It was an incredible opportunity to bring the series back to the forefront with a new book!

BUT, it was also a daunting task because in my mind, the series was complete with the 6 published books. The last Penguin book I wrote was in 2016, with PENGUIN’S CHRISTMAS WISH (Bloomsbury/2017). I had written one book after the next at the time, so I wondered if I could go back to the place of Penguin’s world and create a new story that was not only authentic to Penguin, but also something new and fresh, and deserving to be published.

Penguin’s 7th book began with thinking of a new character for Penguin to meet. I wanted this character to be different from all his previous friends—like Crab, Polar Bear, and Pinecone—while also being very different from Penguin. He has an eclectic taste in friends, and they often take him on new and surprising adventures.

I chose an elephant, and named her Penelope.

The elephant was different from a penguin in many ways; large body vs. small body, 4 feet vs. 2 feet, trunk vs. beak, rough skin vs. smooth feathers, large ears vs. no ears, tropical habitat vs. cold habitat, just to name a few contrasting elements. The goal I had was to find something unique that connects them despite their obvious differences. Once I found that piece in the story, I knew I had something to work with! The cover gives you a clue to what they share in common—they can both swim!

Penguin’s books show the importance of friendship and the value of kindness through a heartwarming journey like no other. In Penguin and Penelope, Penguin finds Penelope stuck in mud, and he helps her find her way back home through a journey of friendship, growth, and self-discovery.

Salina, what a delightful problem to have—envisioning a 7th book in an established series!

Congratulations on PENGUIN AND PENELOPE, which releases on September 6, 2022. The special anniversary edition of PENGUIN AND PINECONE will come out on November 1.

Blog readers, Salina is giving away one set of the first 6 PENGUIN BOOKS! 

Leave one comment to enter.

A random winner will be selected in June.

Good luck!

Salina Yoon is a Geisel Honor-winning author/illustrator of a dozen picture books and early readers and nearly 200 innovative novelty books, with over 5 million books sold worldwide, including KIKI AND JAX, the life-changing magic of friendship, a picture book she co-authored and illustrated with international tidying superstar and bestselling author, Marie Kondo. Visit her online at





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

by Ruth Spiro

As we head into a new week of Storystorm, you may (or may not) have a growing list of ideas. But if you’re anything like me, you’re staring at that list and thinking, “Now what?” Because stories almost never come to me fully formed. They usually start with just a glimmer. A thought. An image. A feeling. So, how do I turn an idea into a story?

I ask, “What does this make me think of?”

When someone asks me where my book ideas come from, I basically re-enact a scene from the movie Working Girl. You know, the one where Melanie Griffith is asked how she came up with the idea for investing in a radio station. She pulls out a folder with seemingly random notes and news clippings, then proceeds to connect the dots, showing how each bit of information made her think of something else that eventually led her to the Big Idea.

Here’s an example of how that might work:

Idea:  Apples

What does that make me think of?

Apple-picking with my kids

What does that make me think of?

Apple trees

What does that make me think of?

If this gets tedious, you can switch it up and ask a different question. (Especially helpful if you’re writing nonfiction.)

What does this make me wonder?

What more do I want to know?

Getting back to our apple trees, the thing I wanted to know was “How?” How do apples grow on trees?

If you’re curious too, you’ll find the answer here:

I used the same technique to come up with a story for my newest book, MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER, the sequel to MADE BY MAXINE.

For those who haven’t read the first Maxine book, she’s a girl who loves to make things, but not in the crafty sense. She’s a true Maker at heart who uses her tinkering and coding skills to build things that solve problems around the house. Her motto is, “If I can dream it, I can build it!”

As I began brainstorming ideas for MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER, I made a list of locations and things kids like to do.

Idea:  Do stuff in the backyard

What does that make me think of?

Planting a garden

What does that make me think of?

A challenge I experienced in my own garden.

A-Ha! Now I had something to work with.

Like many gardeners, I’ve had my share of frustration when critters nibbled on the fruits of my labor. If my STEM-loving Maxine had this same problem, how would she solve it in a way true to her character? I couldn’t wait to let her show me!

Without revealing too much more, MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER is about friendship, creativity, persistence, and being kind to one another. Maxine discovers there are often multiple solutions to a problem, and sometimes a problem isn’t really a problem at all, but an opportunity to grow.

I can’t sign off here without acknowledging the importance of today, Marin Luther King Jr. Day. We honor the life, work, and legacy of an important civil rights leader in our country’s history. What does this make me think of?

In 2017 I was invited to present at the LA Times Book Festival and had the opportunity to attend a talk with Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin about their recent release, MARCH: BOOK THREE. (From the front row, no less!)

What does this make me think of?

Representative Lewis said, “Find a way to get in the way.”

What does this make YOU think of?

Go write it!

Ruth Spiro is the author of the Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge. There are 21 current and forthcoming titles including Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, Baby Loves Coding and Baby Loves the Five Senses. She continues her signature style of introducing complex subjects to little listeners with Baby Loves Political Science, a new series perfect for election year and beyond. Democracy and Justice are now available, Congress and The Presidency arrive this April. The Science books are illustrated by Irene Chan and Political Science by Greg Paprocki.

Ruth’s STEM-themed picture book series, Made by Maxine (Dial), is about an inspiring young Maker who knows that with enough effort, imagination and recyclables, it’s possible to invent anything. Made by Maxine sold at auction as a three-book series, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever comes out on February 16. Maxine is illustrated by Holly Hatam.

A frequent speaker at schools and conferences, Ruth’s previous presentations include the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row LitFest, Children’s Festival of Stories, Nerd Camp Michigan, NAEYC and more. Ruth hopes her books inspire kids to observe the world, ask questions, and when it comes to their futures, DREAM BIG!

Ruth’s books are all available from your favorite bookseller. When possible, please support independent bookstores!

Visit Ruth online at Penguin Classroom,, Facebook, Twitter @RuthSpiro, and Instagram @ruthspiro.


Three separate winners will be randomly chosen.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

I have always loved novelty books—they are proof that big things come in small packages! With their brief yet powerful words, adorable pictures, and clever format, they are the book equivalent of a “fun size” candy bar. I’ve even tried to write a couple, but who knows if they’ll ever be published? I’m no Salina Yoon!

Today, author Terry Pierce tells us about her newest novelty book, illustrated by Suzy Ultman, and how it came to be.

Terry, I’ve often heard it’s extremely difficult to get a novelty book deal if you’re an author-only (and not an author-illustrator). Please tell us now that’s bunkum!

Oh, Tara, I wish I could tell you that’s bunkum, but I honestly have to say that LOVE CAN COME IN MANY WAYS (as a novelty book) was an extremely happy accident. It began as a picture book, strangely, born out of politics. After the 2016 national election, I was so saddened at the civil discourse in our country. People just weren’t being nice, in my opinion, so I found myself wanting to write about something up-lifting. Perhaps to lift my own spirits, but I wanted to create a book that would make children feel better about the world.

I decided to write a picture book about love, but wanted to make it super kid-friendly, so I used animals as the focus. For weeks, I poured over images of animals showing affection, which certainly filled my heart (and time—oh boy, what a rabbit hole it is to seek adorable animal photos online!). When I saw a photo of a mother and baby giraffe looking at each other, I had my opening line:

Nose to nose or gaze to gaze,
Love can come in many ways.

I worked on the manuscript (writing-revising-incorporating feedback from my critique group) for about three months. During that time, I realized it leaned more toward being a board book due to the sparse text and simple concept. When it was ready, I sent it to my agent, hoping she would love it as much as I did.

She held it for a few weeks before submitting it to a round of editors. Lucky for us, Chronicle Books expressed interest five days later. And it was my brilliant editor Ariel Richardson who envisioned it as a novelty book! Of course, I was thrilled! I’d always wanted to publish a novelty book, but as you wisely noted, it’s not easy for an author-only to sell one (I came close once, but ultimately it was a pass).

So was it your editor’s idea to do the felt flaps, uncovering the sweet surprises? How did that concept come together?

The initial idea was to publish it as a novelty book with various moving parts (flaps, tabs, etc.) but soon into the process, Ariel let me know they wanted to use felt flaps exclusively. She was excited about some gorgeous felt samples they’d found that were both beautifully colored and durable (to withstand the tugs and manipulations of small hands). When she emailed me the sample color palettes, I absolutely agreed!

Once we knew it would be a lift-a-flap book, it was then time for the amazing Suzy Ultman to start the rough sketches, which included possible flap placement. Suzy is such a talent for drawing “all things tiny” as I like to say, and she did a great job of incorporating the text into those sweet surprises under the flaps.

Did this concept change any of your text? Were animals brought in or moved out to make optimal use of the flaps?

We did make some slight changes to the text but not to adapt to the flap concept. Suzy was so creative in how she implemented the flap idea—some flaps were body parts (an elephant’s ear, a swan’s wing), others were part of their design (a heart-spotted giraffe has a felt heart that lifts, for example) that I didn’t need to change the text and one even became a leaf.

Where we did make some minor changes were to the types of animals. I wrote the line, “Enclosed in tender, toothy jaws” based on a photo of an alligator carrying her baby in her mouth. It was SO cool! But no matter how Suzy drew it, it looked like the mom was eating her baby! Yikes! We discussed other animals and decided pandas would work better since they have kid-appeal and do in fact, carry their babies in their mouths.

Another line I changed was, “Through soothing songs that mama sings” (originally featuring belugas) to “Through lively songs that mama sings” because Ariel thought it would work better visually to feature a full-spread pond scene with the raccoon and swan on the left, and frogs on the right.

One of my favorite flap ideas was with the final page. Originally, we were going to have speech bubble flaps, but it didn’t quite work out spatially because we really wanted to show a diverse cast of humans on the final spread. We opted for one speech bubble flap instead. Ariel had asked me to think of possible phrases and the first one that came to mind was how I always sign my first board book (Mama Loves You So), “You are loved!” The team agreed it was a great message to end the reading/snuggling/bonding experience, and with the neon pink flap over it, well, it’s perfect!

Terry, this book is sweet and adorable. Congratulations and thanks for talking about its creation!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of LOVE CAN COME IN MANY WAYS!

Just leave one (not many) comment below.

A random winner will be chosen soon!

Good luck!

With twenty-five published books, Terry Pierce has experienced the joys of being a writer in many ways. She has a B.A. degree in Early Childhood Development and an international A.M.I. teaching diploma. Terry was a pre-primary Montessori teacher for twenty-two years before deciding to follow my dream of writing for children (what she calls, “the best mid-life crisis ever!”). She’s been writing since 1999, with her work appearing in magazines and the children’s book market. She has an MFA in Writing for Children &Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, including the Picture Book Concentration certification. She also teaches online children’s writing courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Visit her at

by Joan Holub

The Goddess Girls series is up to #25 with CLOTHO THE FATE! I can hardly believe it. (Thank you, thank you, Simon and Schuster!) The Greek myth about the Three Fates, who decide, well, human fates, has been one of my faves since fifth grade.

THE GODDESS GIRLS series (ages 8-12) happened because I met Suzanne Williams at an SCBWI meeting and asked if she’d consider co-writing a series. We both pitched ideas and Goddess Girls wound up the front-runner. Book #1 Athena the Brain, in which Athena discovers she’s a goddess and is summoned by her dad Zeus to attend Mount Olympus Academy, pubbed in 2010. The GG books are each a riff on an actual Greek myth and star smart, adventurous girl goddesses. Quirky grown-ups include Mr. Cyclops teaching classes such as Hero-ology. Suzanne and I have since spun off two other series: LITTLE GODDESS GIRLS (ages 6-8) and HEROES-IN-TRAINING (ages 7-10).

Recently, I read an instagram from a favorite author, Julie Falatko, regarding the difficulties of balancing art, life, and income. I’m prolific with about 170 children’s books by now, and I realized that series writing has helped me maintain that balance Julie mentions. With a schedule of enjoyable series work on my desk, I can fit in picture books, board books, etc. as I have time and think of ideas. My creativity isn’t encumbered by angst regarding my publishing future. Still, it’s not fair (or helpful) to me or my editors if I were to have, say, two board books pub in the same season for different publishers. A bookstore might choose only to stock one of those two Joan Holub offerings. Instead, if I pub a board book, along with either a picture book or a middle grade book in the same season, I haven’t set up sales competition between two of my own books. They’ll be shelved in different areas of a store and browsed by parents and kids in different age groups.

Some of my books have become a series unexpectedly. I read every biography (starting with the girl ones) in my school library as a kid. So a few years ago, I wanted to write some simple board books bios. First came THIS LITTLE PRESIDENT (Little Simon). The format includes 10 spreads with 10 of the better-known presidents, plus a final spread mentioning numerous more and a call for kids to become part of the presidential group in future. It sold well enough to spin into a series: THIS LITTLE ARTIST, THIS LITTLE TRAILBLAZER: A Girl Power Primer, etc. Much of the series success is owed to my editor and the illustrator. I mean, who could not pick up these books after seeing Daniel Roode’s covers? I’ve also been lucky enough to also write for the Penguin Workshop’s bestselling WHO WAS series (WHO WAS BABE RUTH?). They’re the books with the big heads on the covers, and it seems like every kid has read at least one. I know I have. They’re addictive.

Thank you, Tara, so much for letting me visit today.

I’d love to give away three autographed copies of GODDESS GIRLS: CLOTHO THE FATE. They won’t arrive until 2020, but there’s always Valentine’s Day and birthday gifts! Thanks for reading!

You heard Joan!

Leave one comment below to enter the random giveaway. Three random winners will be chosen soon.

Good luck!


by Salina Yoon

Ever wonder how those cute books with moving parts, lift-flaps, pop-ups, or touchable things get sold to publishers?

With a novelty book submission, the dummy is critical. Unlike other formats that may be story- or art-driven, a novelty book is format-driven. This means that the physical format can be even more important than the text, the story, the concept, or the art, though all of these elements have to work seamlessly together at the end. Creating a novelty book is like solving a puzzle on a multi-dimensional level. But the challenge is what makes it FUN!

The format has to be unique and versatile enough to work as a series.

But how do you build a book with moving parts?!

I’ll show you.

It begins with an idea. You sketch it out. This sketch is no bigger than 2”, but it’s got a lot of info here. The tail of an animal will wag by the pull of a pull-tab.

Since I already know that it would be important for the publisher to be able to make this into a series, I created a series title.

The things that I considered while creating the series title:

  • Must highlight its most unique feature on the book
  • Must be catchy
  • Must inform reader how the book works

I came up with a WAGGING TAIL BOOK. But I revised the series title to A WAG MY TAIL BOOK for the final submission, which the acquiring publisher kept.

Then comes the tricky part. Before I do anything else, I have to figure out how to make the tail wag with a pull tab. What if you’re not a paper engineer? While I consider myself a format engineer, I’m not a paper engineer myself, so I sought one out. I happen to have a good friend who can really make paper do anything! Having some experience with novelty, though, I knew the possibilities and limitations. I explained how I wanted the tail to move with a tab on the side. She sent me various options, and this mechanic worked the best for me.

You could hire a freelance paper engineer, like Renee Jablow or carefully open up other books with a similar mechanic to the one you want, and see if you could recreate it. No need to reinvent the wheel. All paper-engineers pull apart other paper mechanics to learn from them! Don’t worry about making it perfect. This is for the purpose of submitting it to a publisher so they see how it works. If the publisher is interested, they would send this dummy to their printer, and the printer would re-engineer it (and clean it up)—and supply quotes to the publisher. Pricing is KEY in getting through the acquisition process. If it’s too pricey, it’ll be passed. Be sure to only include interactive elements that are absolutely necessary and cost effective.

Once I had the mechanic figured out, I worked on creating an art sample. But since I want to show this format as a series, I created four covers. After building the four dummies, I had to source the fabric for the touch-and-feel tail. This could be done by visiting a fabric store, or even a party store that sells costumes. All I needed was a tiny piece of fabric for my dummy. A fully designed dummy shows the publisher exactly how I am envisioning this series.

But I wanted to offer less-expensive versions of the dummy, too, so I did not put fabric on the tails of all of the animals. It’s nice to offer options.

After building the dummy, I created a video to show how the dummy works. This would allow me to share the dummy without actually sending it, unless it was requested.

The acquisition process for a novelty book typically takes far longer than a traditional picture book, even when the publisher is excited about it. Expect 7-12 months…or longer to get an offer, if one is coming! Some books have been acquired as late as 18 months after submission!

The Wag My Tail series was sold to S&S as a 3-book deal (though more are coming). Instead of going with the original concepts, the publisher asked for holiday themes, which was easy to apply to this format. The first book HALLOWEEN KITTY is available now, and the others will follow.

Don’t be afraid to tackle a novelty book idea. Take it just one step at a time—beginning with the format. It’s challenging on multiple levels, but you’ll have lots of fun and maybe less hair than what you started with. Good luck!

Thanks, Salina! What a fascinating process. You are the novelty master. How could any publisher resist?

You can visit Salina and her books online at

To celebrate the release of HALLOWEEN KITTY, Salina is giving away 5 copies of the book!

Leave one comment below to enter. Five random winners will be selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

by Lori Alexander

Last October, I headed into our pediatrician’s office with my 12-year-old who could not shake a deep, rattling cough. While we waited in a small, astronaut-themed room I wondered if my son might have pneumonia. While we waited some more, I wondered about this picture hanging on the wall.

As a seasoned Storystormer, I knew inspiration could strike just about anywhere. The image of the baby got me thinking about board books. I knew science-themed board books were selling well. But I didn’t have much interest in writing a book of facts for toddlers. What about a book that showed a baby’s current skills and how they might tie-in with a future career? I made a few notes in my phone, snapped the picture, and got back to checking my son’s temperature with the back of my hand.

One year later, I’m excited to share FUTURE ASTRONAUT (Cartwheel/Scholastic), illustrated by the amazing Allison Black. Part of the “Future Babies” board book series, upcoming titles include FUTURE ENGINEER, FUTURE CEO, and FUTURE PRESIDENT. And because I’m such a fan of Allison’s, here’s a peek inside Book #1 and a few words from the illustrator herself:

Allison, your style is so perfect for the youngest “readers.” Is this your first time illustrating board books?

Thank you! This is not my first time working on board books.  I currently have three published, but I think this series is really special and I can’t wait for them to be released! I love making board books because I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son and it’s nice to be able to read to him without worrying that he’s going to rip, eat or destroy them!

How did you get your start in children’s publishing?

I’ve always been interested in children’s publishing, but I didn’t get really involved in it until 2016. That year I was approached by a couple of publishers who had discovered my art through my stationery line and my work with Target. I enjoyed making those books so much that I decided to get an agent and leave my job to be able to focus on this type of work – and I’m so happy I did!

What else are you working on, if you’re able to share?

Right now I’m working on a few books (which is all I can say about those), as well as developing some new items for my shop. I just released my Fall line a couple weeks ago so now I’m focusing on holiday products. I’ve also started to write some children’s book manuscripts. There’s a lot more work to be done on those (authors really are amazing!), but it’s exciting to try something new!

Plan for the future and pre-order a copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT today.

Lori will give away one copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT to a lucky commenter (in the future, release date is June 2019)!

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

Good luck.

Lori Alexander is the author of picture books BACKHOE JOE (Harper, 2014) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling, 2017) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic, 2019). She also writes non-fiction for older readers. ALL IN A DROP, a chapter book biography of scientist Antony van Leuwenhoek releases in fall 2019 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, followed by A SPORTING CHANCE, a biography of Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Games, in 2020, also from HMH. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @LoriJAlexander.

Allison Black is an illustrator and designer specializing in cute and colorful creations. Originally from Upstate New York, Allison now lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, son and four pets. Allison’s career started as a designer for Target where she developed items ranging from Christmas ornaments and Easter baskets to party décor and apparel. In 2017 Allison left Target to focus on children’s book illustration and to work on her own line of products. She now has six published books and has another ten in progress! You can find Allison’s books, stationery and more in her online shop, Hip-Hip. In addition to making art around the clock, Allison has a particular love for goats, guinea pigs and gummy bears. Visit her at, shop for art at and follow her on Instagram @allisonblackillustration and @hello.hip.hip.

by Ruth Spiro

I’ve spent the past few weeks in a flurry of activity, celebrating the release of my new science-themed board books, illustrated by Irene Chan. BABY LOVES AEROSPACE ENGINEERING! and BABY LOVES QUARKS! are the first two titles in the Baby Loves Science series, published by Charlesbridge. Next year they’ll be joined by two siblings, BABY LOVES THERMODYNAMICS! and BABY LOVES QUANTUM PHYSICS!


lesterfizzWhen my first picture book, LESTER FIZZ, BUBBLE GUM ARTIST, was published in 2008, my marketing plan included the tried-and-true signings, mailings and school visits. But back then, we authors had to promote our books the old-fashioned way: Barefoot, walking uphill, in the snow.

At least that’s how it seems, looking at it in the rearview mirror.

Take a minute to consider how you’d get the word out about your new book and connect with potential readers without social media.

For me, this second time around is a whole new world.

LESTER FIZZ came out in August of 2008, and I scheduled most of my launch events for September. I ordered postcards with the book cover on one side and details like the ISBN and a few blurbs on the other. I used the postcards as event invitations by printing labels with the date, time and location, affixing them to the postcards and then addressing them by hand. This required more work, but it allowed me to order a larger quantity of generic postcards I could use for multiple purposes, such as leave-behinds at conferences.

At the last minute, I decided to spring for the 5 x 7 size, which I thought would have greater visibility. Unfortunately, when I sent my first mailing I neglected to consider two important details. First, I used regular postcard stamps, not realizing the larger size required extra postage. This problem was compounded by the fact that when I designed the postcards, it hadn’t occurred to me to include a return address.

postagedueI’m not sure where those postcards ended up, but it wasn’t in my friends’ and family’s mailboxes. Ordering a larger quantity turned out to be my only smart move, because once I learned that 90% of the postcards were never delivered, I had to re-do the entire mailing. (The others arrived at their destinations postage due!)

Later that month when my schedule slowed down, I joined Facebook. Not many people I knew were using it, as it wasn’t yet a “thing” among people my age. Still, I’d been hearing about it more and more so I decided to check it out. I had fun connecting with high school friends and former colleagues, and began posting status updates. I still had two more book signings coming up in October, so I posted the details.

Surprisingly, people I hadn’t seen in years showed up, some with friends, babies, nieces and nephews in tow. Truth be told, these folks weren’t on my invitation list and would never have known about the events if I hadn’t shared them on Facebook.

Eight years later, Facebook has become an invaluable resource. It enables authors and illustrators to leverage our social networks by publicizing events, sharing links to blog posts and reviews, and connecting with fans and potential readers. Best of all, rather than blowing my promotion budget on invitations and stamps, I purchased important stuff like rocket ship cookies, airplane tattoos and astronaut ice cream!

I recall exactly how I met Tara-–on Twitter!

I had a Google Alert set for my book title (another helpful resource) and discovered her tweet:


We began following each other, I found Tara’s blog, and made a friend with similar interests halfway across the country. (Tara’s note: I love quirky LESTER FIZZ.)

In 2008 I knew very few people who were active on Twitter. The old joke was that people used it to announce what they’d eaten for breakfast. Back then, I think Twitter was still figuring out what it wanted to be when it grew up.

Ah, but Twitter is home of the hashtag.

For those still unfamiliar, and I personally know more than a few, I’ll briefly explain. Adding a “#” to the beginning of a word or phrase makes it visible to all of the 313 million active users around the world who are searching for that word or phrase. #Authors, #illustrators, #booksellers, #librarians, #bloggers, #editors, #agents and others in the #kidlit and #SCBWI community, including those interested in #picturebooks, #graphicnovels, #reading, and #literacy use hashtags to connect and see what others are discussing. Get the picture?

(People use hashtags on Facebook and Instagram too, but it all began on Twitter.)

You can share ideas and #chat with like-minded people around the world without leaving your own comfy couch. Through the years, I’ve used Twitter to “meet” hundreds of educators, librarians and booksellers. I’ve received invitations to speak at conferences, set up Skype visits with classrooms in India, Turkey and Mexico, and kept abreast of topics trending in children’s literature. When used the right way, the power of Twitter is stunning.

So, while I may have missed the boat with #bubblegum, now I can easily find people who are interested in #boardbooks, #STEM, #quarks and #aerospace. See? It’s addictive!

But wait, there’s more…

Booksellers, librarians and parents often post photos of new or favorite books, and some popular Instagram accounts have tens of thousands of followers (or more!) How cute is this photo of a little reader?


One word: Educators! If you have Educator Guides, crafts or activities to go along with your books, create a Pinterest board and pin them there. I pinned mine for Lester Fizz five years after it was published, and they’re still being “favorited” and “repinned.”

Baby Steps
In my opinion, Facebook and Twitter are the two heavy hitters. They’ve given me the biggest return on my investment of time and effort without costing a penny. But as I made a list of all the tools that didn’t exist (or weren’t as popular) only six or eight years ago, I realized just how far we’ve come. There are some resources I haven’t mentioned (LinkedIn, SnapChat, Tumblr) simply because I haven’t found them quite as useful as the others.

Keep in mind that while these social media platforms can be used for promotion, they’re also spaces for creating community. I’ve found that the most rewarding experiences come from authentic interactions, resulting in relationships that grow over time. The best part is that once you’re an active member of a community, you don’t have to promote yourself as much because others will help do it for you. Of course, this works both ways. It’s a joy to celebrate contracts and “book birthdays” of those in your community, especially when you’ve followed each other through all the ups and downs of the journey.

Thank you, Ruth, for showing us how book marketing has changed dramatically in just a few years. I personally do not know what I would do without social media because, as you know, I like to stay home in my jammies.

Ruth is giving away a signed, two-book set of BABY LOVES SCIENCE to a random commenter. How do you use all the tools we have today to spread the word about your work?

A winner will be selected soon. (I have stopped saying a particular date because I never get to it in time. Yes, I have lots of things I have to pick winners for…I PROMISE SOON.)

RuthSpiroRuth Spiro is a children’s book author and freelance writer. Her Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge, includes Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! and Baby Loves Quarks!. The next two titles, Baby Loves Thermodynamics! and Baby Loves Quantum Physics! will be published in 2017. Also forthcoming from Dial is a new picture book series, Made by Maxine, which sold at auction in a 3-book deal. The first book is scheduled for 2018.

Ruth’s debut picture book, Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist won awards from Writer’s Digest and Willamette Writers, and was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year. Her articles and stories have appeared in FamilyFun, CHILD, and The Writer, and also in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time (Vol. II), edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. She lives in suburban Chicago.

Twitter: @ruthspiro
Instagram: @ruthspiro

dtdparty1guest post by Megan E. Bryant

DUMP TRUCK DUCK, my first picture book, is about a crew of construction ducks who build a park. But what most people don’t know is that it’s also the book that built a bridge for me to become the kind of writer I’ve always aspired to be.

When I started writing DUMP TRUCK DUCK, I’d already been fortunate to publish several board books. Conventional wisdom says that it’s hard to sell board books without illustrations attached, but for me, brainstorming and writing board books was fun, it was easy, it was safe. The secret to selling a board book without art is to have a fantastic idea that is tailored to the format—something that can’t just as easily be a picture book; something that a publisher simply can’t resist. It also helps to have series potential or an angle for table placement—seasonal and holiday can be a tough sell for high-priced picture books due to their shorter selling seasons, but lower-cost, eye-catching board books are a natural fit.


Board books came easily to me, but what about the pages of ideas I had—for picture books, middle-grade series, and YA novels? There were so many other stories I wanted to tell. What was keeping me from pursuing them?

One word: myself.

To make these book dreams a reality would involve several things that scared me: taking big risks with my writing, surviving setbacks, and ultimately facing failure (and lots of it!). When my longing to tell these stories grew even louder than my fear, I realized that it was time to try. I started writing and writing and writing—writing my heart out—and revising until the drafts of various manuscripts numbered into the hundreds. I started querying agents, too, which led to several months of rejection. During this process, I had the idea for DUMP TRUCK DUCK; when I asked my then-three-year-old daughter what she thought about it, she laughed with enthusiasm and replied, “Write that book, Mommy. Write it right now!”

How could I resist?

It took about three months to have a strong, polished draft of DUMP TRUCK DUCK. Since I was compelled to write it in rhyme, I knew that every syllable had to be perfect. Nothing will torpedo a rhyming manuscript faster than uneven rhythm or forced rhymes. All that work paid off; Dump Truck Duck was the manuscript that brought in several offers from agents, including one from Jamie Weiss Chilton, who has been an amazing agent and even better friend for five years now. Jamie loved Dump Truck Duck and couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about it. When we went on submission, I was giddy with excitement.

Then the rejections started rolling in—for four long years.

It sounds egocentric, but I have to admit I was surprised. Weren’t trucks an evergreen topic, beloved by boys and girls? Didn’t the ducks add a unique angle? Wasn’t the rhyme just right? Jamie wasn’t ready to give up, but in my heart I wondered if it was time to face the sad truth that maybe some manuscripts, no matter how hard you’ve worked or how much you’ve believed in them, are not meant to become books.

Then, it happened: The editorial director at Albert Whitman loved DUMP TRUCK DUCK as much as Jamie did; as much as my daughter did. After the offer came in, I walked around in a state of disbelief for weeks. Astonishingly, that was just the start of a period of extraordinarily good news. In four months, we received offers on seven other books, including a chapter book series, a board book series, and my YA debut. Of course, the only reason we were able to sell so many books in such a short period of time is because I never stopped writing. Even during the darkest times, when I was so discouraged it was hard to walk into bookstores; even when I wondered if I’d ever sell another book again. The gift of all those rejections was learning a fundamental truth about myself: I would always write, no matter what. And that is one reason why I didn’t give up, even when common sense would dictate it was time to move on.


To watch my manuscript for DUMP TRUCK DUCK transform into a book with adorable illustrations by Jo de Ruiter was a joy that defies description. I’m so grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make this book, from Jamie and Jo to the talented team at Albert Whitman. I’ve tried to do my part to promote it by setting up readings and events for children, along with my very first blog tour. This has been a book truly worth celebrating—and celebrate we did, with a fabulous construction-themed launch party!

Children grow faster than books; I was never able to present my preschool-aged daughter with the copy of DUMP TRUCK DUCK she so eagerly anticipated. She’s a big girl now—eight years old and reading independently—and there’s a new preschooler in our lives: my son, who loves nothing more than when his sister reads DUMP TRUCK DUCK to him. Hearing my words spoken in her sweet voice truly makes it worth the wait.

Thank you, Megan! What an inspiring story. And so many more books to come. Congratulations!

Megan is generously giving away a copy of DUMP TRUCK DUCK. A winner will be selected by random at the conclusion of her blog tour. Just leave a comment below to enter and good luck!

DTD blog tour graphic (1)



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