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Dear Picture Book Writers, you may know that I serve on the Rutgers University Council of Children’s Literature and help organize our annual conference. Back in 2017, we selected a newly-published author, Kate Dopirak, to be our “Success Story Speaker,” as she had been a mentee at our conference. We also knew her to be a warm, enthusiastic and engaging presenter.

Sadly, Kate passed away the following year. But several of her closest writing friends got together with SCBWI to offer a scholarship in her name. I asked author Trisha Speed Shaskan to tell us about SCBWI’s Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award.

Trisha, tell us, who was Kate Dopirak?

Kate Dopirak was the author of several picture books. The last book she wrote, HURRY UP! A BOOK ABOUT SLOWING DOWN, which is an ode to being present, illustrates one of Kate’s best qualities: She was ever-present as a wife, mom, friend, author, and community member.

Ten years ago, when I met Kate at the SCBWI annual conference in L.A., her smile radiated warmth and welcoming. Each year afterwards, I looked forward to seeing Kate at that conference where we discussed writing, or as fellow educators shared stories, such as the wonder of witnessing a child string together letters into a word for the first time. Inevitably, Kate lit up while discussing her husband Josh and sons Joey and Bobby who often inspired her stories. She used her role as an assistant R.A. to connect people to each other. In Kate’s presence, a party of three quickly became a party of ten.

Although she lived in Pennsylvania and I live in Minnesota, Kate and I kept in touch. Knowing the ups and downs of the children’s book business, Kate was an UP. When the picture book I wrote PUNK SKUNKS was published, Kate bought it, posted about it, and congratulated me—always the cheerleader.

In 2018, Kate passed away too soon from sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Kate is greatly missed by her family, friends, and the children’s book community who have created the Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award in her honor.

What kind of manuscripts does the Award committee hope to receive?

The committee is hoping to receive a picture book manuscript that stands out for the writing, idea, concept, subject or a combination or those qualities. The committee is also looking for a writer who creates and builds a sense of community.

How can picture book writers apply?

SCBWI members can apply for the award. The winner will receive tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference and 20-minute consultations with a picture book editor and a literary agent. The deadline is February 18, 2022. (That’s soon! Hurry up!)

For more information, go to

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) is offering a new award that honors the wonderful spirit and work of late children’s book author Kate Pohl Dopirak. The Kate Dopirak Craft and Community Award will offer one picture book writer:

  • Full tuition to the SCBWI International Conference in L.A. in 2020
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary (Kate’s agent)
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Andrea Welch of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster (one of Kate’s editors)

The #KDCCAward will alternate yearly between picture book and middle grade/YA. Submissions will be accepted for this inaugural award from September 1 to October 31. 

Please consider applying…and please help spread the word.

Thank you.  ️ ️ ️


by Kate Dopirak

My husband and I were at dinner when I revved right out of my seat: “TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR!” I blurted, never so confident about a new book idea. The problem was . . . I didn’t actually have a new book idea. I just had a title that made everyone from my husband to my crit group to my agent to my editor race to read the manuscript. Too bad I stalled out on the promise of the premise!

My first draft of TWINKLE was about a boy looking for his lost toy car. Both of my sons take endless laps around the house in search of missing things, so I thought I was really zooming along. But I failed to focus enough on one of their favorite things: cars. Wouldn’t my sons, and every other car-loving kid, be disappointed to page through the entire book before finally—FINALLY!—seeing only one car on the very last page? And what about the cover? Shouldn’t the cover showcase the title? Would there even be a car on it?!? I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t thought enough about the visual story.

My original draft didn’t work because it only offered scenes of a kid walking around looking for a toy car. That’s no way to fill an illustrator’s tank! The story needed to be about a car. The car needed to be seen on every spread in the book. It felt like miles of drafts before I realized the car should be fun, adventurous, and high-energy. Even better if s/he has four-wheeled friends!

At last, I had hope of attracting the attention of an illustrator as talented and skilled as Mary Peterson.
I didn’t find success with TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR until I found the story. I didn’t find the story until I considered the art.

by Mary Peterson

I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and wildlife, rain and snow, and sprouting, growing, blooming things. This is what inspires my art. 18 months ago, if you told me I would fall for a story about a car (one with many four wheeled–not four footed–friends!) I would have laughed. But I did fall for Little Car. S/he has every attribute that attracts me to stories about furry feathery creatures: the toddler energy, curiosity, mischievousness…most of all, the sweetness.

The warmth in Kate’s story inspired both the character and setting. An adorable butter yellow Nash Metropolitan lives at the top of my street. It makes me smile when it goes zipping down the hill. There goes Little Car!

I knew Kate lived in Pittsburgh, so I figured Little Car must live there too. I looked at pictures of Pittsburgh. What an inspiration that was! So much green space and running paths. So many bridges! No wonder Little Car takes the ferry home.

I always thought my inspiration came from animals and landscapes but it turns out they are just tools to tell a particular kind of story. A sleepy little car and a sleepy little rabbit have much in common.

by Kate and Mary

Does your manuscript—especially your main character—have qualities worth illustrating?

Have you thought enough about your visual story?

Give it a try! We’re here, rooting for you to cruise toward success.

Kate loves walking her puppy, watching her sons play sports, and convincing her husband to share a cheese plate instead of wings. She also loves to write for kids. Kate is a certified teacher, a reading specialist, and the Assistant Regional Advisor for Western Pennsylvania SCBWI.

Her books include You’re My Boo (Simon & Schuster, 2016), Snuggle Bunny (Scholastic, 2016), Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car (Simon & Schuster, 2018), and Hurry Up! (Simon & Schuster, 2020).

Learn more at and follow her on Twitter @katedopirak.

Mary has illustrated many picture books, including DIG IN! and her own SNAIL HAS LUNCH, an easy-to-read chapter book.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband; their cat, Lucy; and their parakeets, Peety and Pierre. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @mary_peterson.

Kate and Mary are gearing up to give away a copy of our book, TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster). Beep-beep vroom!

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

I steal from my kids. That’s right. All day. Every day. I have been blessed with two feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniacs for sons. Their shenanigans spark writing ideas constantly. My picture book, YOU’RE MY BOO, which is under contract at Beach Lane Books, was inspired by my second son.

More examples? Sure. I spied on my boys taking turns in a laundry basket:

“This is my racecar, okay?”

“No! It’s my spaceship.”

I wrote Jump In!, which sold to Highlights High Five.

I gave each of my boys a penny to toss into a fountain, but my older son kept the coin instead. I wrote The Collector, which sold to Highlights. Even my publications for adult—essays for newspapers, magazines, and—are almost always about or inspired by my sons. And all three of my picture book manuscripts out on submission now are thanks to my boys.

A critique group partner said, “You have a way of being present with your boys that gives you endless writing ideas.” Thanks and wow! That’s exactly why I love PiBoIdMo: It will make you more present, too. How do I know? Because I pulled out of our garage before opening the door.

I know. I know. That doesn’t sound exactly present. But I was all about my boys in the back seat. My garage door mishap just helps me explain how needing something can make you focus on it.

Never in my life have I cared about garage doors. But because we needed new ones, my antenna was up. I couldn’t even get the mail without noticing the neighbors’ garage doors. Since you’ll need 30 new picture book ideas, your antenna will be up, too. You’ll notice things in ways you haven’t before. Ta-dah! You’ll have more to write about.

Here’s how the writing process usually works for me*:

  • One or both of my boys does or says something that grabs my attention.
  • Does the idea make me so excited that I have a hard time focusing on anything else?
  • Okay. Fine. Does the idea make me dance?
  • I bang out a rough draft.
  • I critique the manuscript.
  • I read the manuscript out loud. I beg my husband to read it out loud. I bribe my son to read it out loud. I record myself reading it using an app called Recorder Plus on my iPad.
  • Do the characters ring true? (When I make one of my boys say sorry, it’s the worst excuse for an apology. It’s the same for my characters so I try not to force them to say or do anything. Characters are strongest when they act and react naturally.)
  • Does the story have enough heart? (I should feel something so strongly that I am connected to and routing for the character(s).)
  • Is there enough tension? (The main character should want something so badly that I want it for him/her, too, but something HUGE must stand in the way of success.)
  • Is the ending a satisfying surprise even though it’s the only resolution that makes sense while serving the story?
  • I share it with critique partners. Based on their suggestions, I revise and revise and revise.
  • Just like my boys, the manuscript needs a ‘time out’. I don’t let myself read it for at least two days (two weeks would be great, but I can’t ever wait that long).
  • I allow myself to go back to the manuscript. If it still makes me dance, then I send it to my agent.

(*This whole shebang might take weeks, months or even years.)

If something I’m writing doesn’t make me dance, then I don’t waste time on it. I have too many ideas to stress over a manuscript that’s not clicking. If I don’t love it, I leave it. Sure, I might come back to it later. But I’m also fine with coming back to it never. I’m confident that I’ll uncover something better—something dance-worthy—to work on. How? Because I live with my feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniacs.

While this stealing-from-my-kids gig has proven great for my writing, it doesn’t always translate into being a good mom. I’m pretty sure cheering, “Keep it up! You’re giving me lots to write about” when they fight isn’t recommended in any How-to-Parent guide. But lucky for me, this is a place to celebrate writing, not parenting, so I suggest you go steal from your kids, too. Or someone else’s kids. Plop down at your library’s story hour, grab lunch at a fast food playground, hang out at your Children’s Museum and you’ll have 30 new ideas in no time. Fortunately, kids, and writing ideas inspired by them, are everywhere. Good luck and have FUN!

Kate Dopirak lives with her husband and two feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniac sons in Pittsburgh, PA. She will be donating a picture book critique to a PiBoIdMo participant who completes the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. A winner will be selected in early December.

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