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by Karen Henry Clark

No one is more surprised than I am to be a second-time guest for this month of inspiration.

I appeared in 2014 for PiBoIdMo. When Tara scheduled me back then, my debut SWEET MOON BABY: An Adoption Tale was soaring. By the time my blog turn arrived, things had changed.

It was out of print.

My agent was gone.

I faced an avalanche of rejections.

Panicked, I asked writing friends about my PiBoIdMo assignment. “Be positive,” they urged. I wrote a peppy post about the power of SCBWI and critique groups. The easy boosterism made me feel guilty.

Then I remembered an education professor who explained inspiration was not magic dust to sprinkle around the classroom. He said, “Share what you know and show who you are. Some kids won’t care, but for some it will ignite the sparks to inspire themselves.”

I deleted my 2014 draft post and started over, referring to The Little Engine That Could, the story my mother read to me repeatedly. Having reached the mountaintop, I wrote:

My engine flew over the edge, crashed at the bottom of the canyon, and someone spray-painted LOSER on my caboose. But you can write down there, too. I am.

500+ followers commented. They appreciated my honesty and felt encouraged for themselves and for me.

Success. I inspired folks.

But I quit, instead of following my own advice.

Eventually, though, I re-read those kind comments and decided they might be right. I started revising a manuscript about Nancy Pearl, respected as a librarian’s librarian. In the 1980s we’d worked in a Tulsa bookstore and become friends. After moving to Seattle, Nancy’s career blossomed as a library sensation, author, critic, and TV host.

Successful though she was, we both knew her childhood had been shaken by challenges. The story had universal appeal for any child who felt different.

On a self-imposed dare, I applied to Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp, certain I wouldn’t be accepted.

Shoot; I was.

In 2015, our group gathered in Jane’s living room. I chatted with the day’s speaker, a librarian, and asked if she knew my friend Nancy Pearl. She did. “I’m writing a picture book about her,” I said.

Suddenly Jane, who had overheard me, asked, “Why don’t I know about this? That will sell.”

No one, absolutely no one, wants to disappoint Jane Yolen. I returned home and interviewed Nancy repeatedly. Years of drafts flew by like time-lapsed calendar pages. I could not make it work. I wasn’t writing a story; I was building a word wall and banging my head against it.

But I couldn’t quit this time.

Nancy was waiting.

Jane was waiting.

500+ followers were waiting.

Down in that canyon, instead of quitting, I realized I needed a sabbatical from words.

Because the 1950s are the setting for Nancy’s childhood, I went to a fabric store and pretended to design her bedroom and clothes.

Assorted retro fabrics, like a horse print, beige/rust plaid, blue with daisies, ditsy flowers in pink, and a pink raised-dot chenille. Notions like white pom-poms, green ric rac, white daisies, gold tassels, and old buttons.

Horse-print throw pillow.

Chenille bedspread.

Plaid and floral shirtwaist dresses.

Trims and buttons.

The story unfolded in my heart like yards of gingham. I saw it. I felt it. I tried again.


Library Girl cover: young girl with dark hair, pigtails and glasses, sitting cross-legged reading a book, piles of books and horse figurines surrounding her.

Back cover text: "Books saved me. Frances Whitehead at Detroit's Parkman Branch Library showed me, a miserably unhappy child, that books are places where you can find yourself and lose yourself. I became a librarian, so I could help other children then way she helped me. LIBRARY GIRL is more than my story. It's the story of how librarians change lives with the magic inside books." ~Nancy Pearl. Image of young Nancy riding her bike with glowing outlines of three horses and one bird racing along with her.

Never quit. Go on sabbatical from feeling stuck in your manuscript. Maybe a fabric store won’t work, but discover a place to wander, without the frustration of words, beside your characters.

The story, seemingly out of nowhere, will unroll itself before your eyes.

Karen and Nancy sharing a look and a signature on LIBRARY GIRL.


Karen Henry Clark decided to become a writer when she was aged four years, quickly learning the living room wall was not the best medium for an author. She worked as a bookstore clerk, teacher, college administrator, and copywriter but never forgot her childhood ambition. Her first book, Sweet Moon Baby, was about adopting her daughter from China. Library Girl, her second, was inspired by her friend and legendary librarian Nancy Pearl. In “Margin Notes,” Karen blogs about the magic in everyday life’s small moments at or Facebook.

Karen is giving away a copy of LIBRARY GIRL plus a Nancy Pearl librarian action figure to one winner.

Nancy Pearl action figure with red shirt and cape!

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.

Karenby Karen Henry Clark

PiBoIdMo readers arrived today with packed suitcases, believing I had the inspirational ticket for guaranteed passage on the gleaming picture book express.

This is not that train.

Once upon a time I thought I had the golden ticket, but it turned out to be a day pass. Here’s the story.

By the time I was four, I wanted three things: a husband, a daughter, and a book that I wrote myself. I was sketchy about how to accomplish the first two, so I tackled the book. In purple crayon, a popcorn ball rolled through perilous adventures across our living room walls. My mother patiently explained that books belonged on paper, and my father wrote my story on a notepad as I recited it.

I kept writing (on paper) and eventually received a master’s degree in English. I had official jobs, but secretly I wrote picture books.

Then I found my husband, an elementary teacher who believed my stories were wonderful. He read them to his classes and asked students to draw their favorite part. He believed I had promise.

In a twist of fate, I met Florence Parry Heide, a successful children’s author who told me to join SCBW, long before they had added the I to their name. Early newsletters had pages of editors and addresses. I submitted manuscripts for almost seven years. When I complained about my rejections, Florence said, “Do you want to see mine? I have boxes of them.” So I kept trying. An editor finally called because she loved my story, but the project ended when a new publisher was hired. The editor told me not to stop writing, but I did. It seemed pointless.

Then we adopted our daughter Maggie from China. Her government document said: Baby found forsaking. I realized eleven months of her life would always be a blank page. When her first English word was moon, I imagined it had been the magic in her orphanage nights. Perhaps her favorite toys represented animals she had seen in China. I invented nap time tales about her adventures with them.

M's Toys

When Maggie was five, she asked what I had wanted to be when I grew up. I read her the manuscript that had come close to publication. She liked it and said, “You should write more, Mama.” How could I expect her to believe in dreams if I gave up on mine? So I put her on my lap and began to type a story called Sweet Moon Baby.

Rejections arrived, but Maggie’s faith in me never wavered. In second grade, she wrote to me as Editor at Clark House Printing and Loving Company. Not only did she love Sweet Moon Baby, she asked if I had others as “wonderful and enchanting.”


Then one day I received the long-awaited yes I had waited for almost my entire life. Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale, illustrated by Patrice Barton, was published by Knopf in 2010.

Karen & Maggie

The three-point dream of my four-year-old self came true. Entering the Random House Lobby to visit my editor was my Homecoming Queen moment. At author events when parents announced: “This is our Sweet Moon Baby,” I was proud to have given a lovely name to adopted Chinese children.

But things change. Now my book is out of print. None of my other manuscripts have worked for an editor. My agent search is unsuccessful. I’ve derailed at the station. My engine flew over the edge, crashed at the bottom of the canyon, and someone spray-painted loser on my caboose.

Still, I can’t quit. And for that I thank my mother and the picture books she read to me constantly. Because she grew up on a farm with no electricity or running water, she favored stories about hard work. Wispy princesses and their vain wishes did not interest her. The Little Engine that Could was her favorite. Through chores, we chanted: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

My mother (and Watty Piper) gave me the metaphor for my life.

Determined little engine that I was, my first story was about a journey.

Sweet Moon Baby was about a journey.

What I’ve come to understand is that success requires more than writing a great story. You have to understand your writing journey. Whether you’re published or not, your writing can derail. Sometimes you land in the canyon, but you can write down there, too. I am.

My adventure is mine, stop by stop. And that’s not failure. It’s just my track.


Karen Henry Clark has been a high school teacher, college administrator, advertising copywriter, newspaper essayist, and book reviewer. Earning ISBN 978-0-375-95709-3 for Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale was her proudest professional achievement. She chugs on, hoping to earn another one. Meanwhile, she blogs erratically (but with good intentions) on “For All I Can Tell” at


Karen is generously giving away a signed copy of SWEET MOON BABY.


This prize  will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!


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