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by Maria Gianferrari

Happy Book Birthday to ICE CYCLE: POEMS ABOUT THE LIFE OF ICE, with gorgeously rendered illustrations by illustrator, animator and designer, Jieting Chen!

Did you know that our own Tara Lazar used to be a competitive ice skater? You can read about how her skating journey helped with her publishing journey here.

Or perhaps you’ve read her funny, punny fractured fairy tale, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD?

Let’s celebrate all kinds of ice! Here’s a glimpse of the visual and aural poetry that is ice!

Check out this gorgeous frost photo taken by Associate Publisher at Lerner Books, Carol Hinz.

Swirls of frost like stalks of plants growing from a center root and expanding outwards

Look at these “frost drops.”

Frozen droplets of ice with sharps lines of frost like barbs around them

Carol’s photo inspired this book. I was intrigued by these intricate and lacy patterns that looked like feathery ferns, and began researching ice and discovered so many cool things that I wanted to share with readers and our book was born.

You know icicles. Look at these beauties that formed on our roof last winter.

Long, thick, pointy icicles that you would not want to be under when they fall. Like large daggers!

But have you heard of brinicles? I hadn’t, until I began researching this book. Brinicles form when freezing seawater releases its salt, forming brine. Brine is heavier than the surrounding sea water, so it sinks, and as it sinks, water around it freezes and forms a sinking brinicle spear. When the brinicle makes contact with the sea floor, it freezes everything in its path. You can watch a brinicle forming here.

Ice also has some evocative and whimsical names.

Pancake ice, anyone?

Round-ish, flat circles of ice with water around them, like many different-sized pancakes

Credit: Kenneth Manoff

And Jieting’s rendering:

Illustration of ice pancakes sitting atop blue water

Or perhaps cat ice, so named for its delicate swirls and the idea that a light footed cat might be able to walk across it?

Different shapes of ice with clear cracks between the uneven shapes

Drawing of cat ice looks like rings of a tree, one surrounding another until the edge, which is like the edge of clouds, random and uneven

Perhaps Phoebe is as paw-dept as her mom on the ice?

Black cat with tiny tongue sticking out. Green eyes with brown dots on the left eye

Check out these fine filaments of hair ice!

Lots of fine ice filaments curving up and outwards like a wave about to crash

Credit: Christian Mätzler

Stick of wood with ice hairs growing outward from the center, curving to the left and right of the stick

You can watch a time lapse photo of hair ice growing here.

Ice talks too!

It mumbles, grumbles and growls; squeaks and creaks.

Listen to some sea ice sounds here.

Who knew that frozen lakes have a Star Wars like blaster sound effect?!

Ice is so very nice, and so is Jieting’s lovely art! You can read our book to learn more about cool ice stuff.

To celebrate our book birthday, Lerner Publishing is kindly donating a giveaway copy of the book to one lucky person who leaves a comment below (US continental addresses only—sorry)!

What’s your favorite kind of ice? Leave a comment to let us know.

Thanks for letting us feature ICE CYCLE on our book birthday today, Tara!

Maria Gianferrari is a prolific children’s book author. Visit her at

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!

Three attempts to solve a problem—you’ve been told thirty trillion times this is the way to build a picture book plot. I even covered it in an earlier post.

It’s a tried-and-true method for telling a story. But does an editor reviewing all these similarly-structured submissions feel like she’s been there and read that? Well…….maybe.

There are other ways to frame picture books by using different story structures, as Tammi Sauer once pointed out during Storystorm.

But if those formats aren’t right for your story and you choose a more traditional arc, when is it OK to abandon the “three attempts”? When is it reasonable to break free from this rule?

First, we have to look at the why.

Why do we employ the “three attempts” structure? TO BUILD TENSION.

The main character tries to solve their problem and fails, repeatedly. This tension invests the reader in the protagonist’s struggle. It compels you to turn the page.

However, I wrote a manuscript recently where the protagonist doesn’t even realize she has a problem. The reader sees the problem, but the character is oblivious. It doesn’t make sense for her to attempt multiple solutions because she doesn’t see anything wrong in the first place!

Remember, three attempts builds tension. But that’s not the only way to achieve “what happens next?” excitement and anticipation.

In my manuscript, the humor comes from the reader knowing more than the main character (that’s a kind of “superiority humor”). The humor builds because the protagonist keeps mistaking her surroundings for something else, something that’s familiar to her. That escalating humor adds to the tension—OH NO! DOESN’T SHE GET IT YET?!

There’s also a deadline, an end goal that the reader and the main character both know. But can she get there if she’s so confused? You don’t know. More tension.

Bottom line—if you’ve built tension into your story via another means, you don’t need the three attempts. It certainly didn’t make sense for my story. Who tries to get out of a jam they don’t know they’re in?

Let’s look at picture books that build tension in different ways.

[Meta Device]
THE PANDA PROBLEM by Deborah Underwood & Hannah Marks

In this meta tale, the narrator and Panda argue about who’s the main character. The narrator wants Panda to be the protagonist with a problem to solve. But Panda thinks the narrator is the main character because uncooperative Panda is the narrator’s problem. This story mocks our “problematic” picture book rule. It keeps the tension high as both characters wrestle to control the story.

[Versus Device]
FIRE TRUCK VS. DRAGON by Chris Barton & Shanda McCloskey

A follow-up to Barton’s popular SHARK vs. TRAIN of 10 years ago (wow, time flies!), this new “battle” features a stand off between the reader and the characters. The reader understands what the two friends excel at, but the fire-starter and fire-squelcher don’t ever mention THOSE skills. That’s “superiority humor” again, with the reader knowing more than the characters. The tension arises from wondering if fire truck and dragon will ever get to what’s downright obvious to everyone else.

[Chronology Device]
THE END by David LaRochelle & Richard Egielski

This story is a fairytale told backwards. There’s a surprise each page turn as you discover what happened immediately prior to the current sticky situation. Does that create tension? You bet, as each spread also displays a new predicament.

[Parallel Structure]
OPERATION RESCUE DOG by Maria Gianferrari & Luisa Uribe

The parallel picture book tells two tales which eventually converge. The tension is kept high by a back-and-forth narrative between the two main characters. In this book, Alma misses her military mama. She and Abuela decide to adopt a rescue dog as a surprise for mama’s return. The rescue dog, Lulu, is lonely and afraid, without a family. Both characters face delays in their journey to the dog rescue rendezvous. But at the end, Alma and Lulu finally meet and it’s destiny!

Some of these stories also employ the classic “ticking clock” or deadline to achieve tension. THE END ends at the beginning. OPERATION RESCUE DOG has two ticking clocks—Alma wants to adopt a dog in time for her mother’s return…plus, the Dog Rescue Truck is only open for a limited window. Will they make it there on time?

For the “ticking clock” device, think of Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin at midnight!

So while you’re reading new picture books, pay attention to the building of tension. Did the author use three attempts to solve the problem, or a different device? Were you still riveted? Compelled to turn the page? Invested in the main character’s plight? Then take note and try to break free in your own writing!


Guess what? I’m giving away an hour-long kidlit career consultation via video chat.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

by Maria Gianferrari

Cat got your tongue? I hope not! It’s time to stick out your tongue and celebrate all things tongue with a TERRIFIC TONGUES book giveaway, and a trip off the tongue thanks to Tara for helping feature it here!

Tongues rule!! So does Jia Liu’s fun and vibrant art!

How cool are tongues? Take this quiz and find out!

Whose tongue is like a washcloth?
A) Giraffe
B) Okapi
C) Tiger

If you had a tongue like a whip, you might be a …..

A) Snake
B) Dog
C) Anteater

Your tongue cleans your eyes like a windshield wiper. Who are you?

A) A gecko
B) A snail
C) A sea turtle

Answer in the comments and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of the book (for US residents only—sorry!).

To check your answers, read TERRIFIC TONGUES!

Thanks again, Tara & hearty thanks to publisher Boyds Mills Press for generously donating copies!

by Maria Gianferrari

To know me is to know that I love dogs. LOVE them! In fact, all of my fiction picture books currently under contract contain dogs as main characters (and I have several WIPs with dog characters too ☺).

So, to celebrate the release of HELLO GOODBYE DOG, it’s time to say “hello” to some of my favorite dogs, both real and literary:

It all begins with … Becca, the best dog in the universe. She’s a rescue dog from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she’s the inspiration for many, most, OK ALL of the dog characters in my books. We adopted her when she was six months old. This photo taken by her rescuers, stole my heart.

Now she’s 11 ½, and the perfect writing companion.

Before Becca, there was quirky Elvis, our junk-yard dog, literally adopted from an auto-body shop:

And this is Mac, short for MacTavish, my parents’ dog (more accurately, my brother Michael’s dog):

Apparently, I was infatuated with dogs, even as a young baby. This was my Nonno’s beagle, Socco, and some random pup I was playing with:

Now it’s time to say “hello” to some of my favorite literary dogs…

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate: Bob. LOVE his voice—he’s hilarious!

The Penderwick “tails” by Jeanne Birdsall:
Loyal and loving, Hound.

Kate DiCamillo’s Winn Dixie from the eponymous, Because of Winn Dixie, because whose dog doesn’t smile? In our household, we call it the “happy Hund” syndrome. (Hund is German for dog).

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron:
Tried and true, HMS Beagle.

Wish by Barbara O’Connor
Sweet stray, Wishbone.

Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins:
Rontu/Rontu-Aru—I so wanted to live on an island with my dog, BFF, an introvert’s dream-come-true!

Dismay from the heartbreakingly lovely Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles.

A few other favorites:



Of course, this doggone good post would not be complete without …
Thyra Heder’s adorable, Jelly:

The Great Houndini, by Danny Chatzikonstantinou:

And last, but not least, Moose, lovingly rendered by Patrice Barton!

And, you guessed it! There’s a new dog in my next fiction book, Operation Rescue Dog, coming from Little Bee in 2018: Lulu! It will be illustrated by Luisa Uribe. Here are two dogs from her book, Un Día, to give you an idea of her style:

Now it’s your turn to say “hello.” Who are your favorite literary dogs?

Leave a comment below, and you’ll be in the running for your very own copy of HELLO GOODBYE DOG! I’m sure that you’ll love Patrice Barton’s illustrations just as much as I do!

Thanks for letting me gush about all these pawsome dogs, Tara!!


*Monday, July 24th: Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!
*Two for Tuesday, July 25th: Librarian’s Quest & Reading for Research
*Wednesday, July 26th: Homemade City
*Thursday, July 27th: Kid Lit Frenzy
*Friday, July 28th: Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
*Monday, July 31st: Picture Books Help Kids Soar
*Tuesday, August 1st: Bildebok
*Wednesday, August 2nd: The Loud Library Lady
*Thursday, August 3rd: DEBtastic Reads!
*Friday, August 4th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

EXTRA: August 25th: Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton


by Maria Gianferrari


The Katz is out of the bag!! Tomorrow’s the book birthday of my latest picture book, OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI: A TALE OF TWO TAILS, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Aladdin gets extra points for fitting two very long surnames on its spine!


Since the blog tour’s kicking off right here at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), I thought I’d celebrate its release with a sneak peek at some of my favorite images from the book.

There are two kinds of magic in the book. The first is a kind of practical magic. Officer Katz is an inventor. This is his most prized and pawsome invention, the Katzapult:


Houndini’s magic is more elusive. Like his namesake, Houdini, he’s an escape artiste, practiced in the art of disappearance. I love his exuberance as he bursts out of a box here:

Officer Katz and Houndini have sidekicks, Deputy Catbird and Squirrel.


And I absolutely adore the hilarious endpapers:


Which place would you like to visit, New Pork, or perhaps Mane?

Leave a comment, and you will be eligible for one of THREE prizes:

  1. A query pass from agent extraordinaire, Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary (either a query plus a whole PB manuscript or a query plus first five novel pages).
  2. A picture book critique from Maria—either fiction or nonfiction.
  3. Your own copy of OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI (US residents only—sorry!).

Thanks again for having me here, Tara! It was pawsitively purrfect!

The prizes will be given away in early November.


Tuesday, Oct. 18th: Librarian’s Quest
Wednesday, Oct. 19th: Bildebok
Thursday, Oct. 20th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
Friday, Oct. 21st: Pragmaticmom + THREE book giveaway
Monday, Oct. 24th: Homemade City
Tuesday, Oct. 25th: ReFoReMo THINK QUICK Interview with Carrie Charley Brown


Say hello to Maria Gianferrari & Becca! (And their bookshelves! Impressive!)

I have known Maria for years now–first as a reader of this blog, then as a jewelry customer (I make earrings and necklaces in my spare time) and now as a fellow author and agent-sister! Maria has one of these rip-roaring breakout careers where she has sold umpteen books in no time and has even landed her first picture book series, PENNY & JELLY! Wow!

To celebrate the release of Maria’s second book in the PENNY & JELLY series, SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS, I asked editor Cynthia Platt and Maria a few questions—and they gave me three books to give away!


Cynthia, many writers dream of landing a picture book series. As an editor, what do you look for in a story that gives it series potential?

I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily on the lookout for picture book series as a general rule, but I am always pleased when something calls out for more than a single book. For me, the strength of the picture book character is everything in terms of determining whether there might be series potential. It has to be someone I want to spend a lot of time with—and about whom I think kids will feel similarly. Humor also plays a huge role. No one wants a dreary picture book series (at least I don’t). With Penny & Jelly, I was immediately drawn to Penny’s personality and also to the very warm, very loving relationship between girl and dog. I also loved—from the moment I read the first draft of the first book—the creativity Penny possesses. She’s got such a can-do attitude, and she makes things happen for herself (even if she has to work through a few lists and a lot of craft supplies to do it). So, the story hit a lot of sweet spots for me as an editor.


Was PENNY & JELLY originally pitched as a series, or was it something you decided would be made into a series?

It wasn’t pitched as a series. After reading Penny & Jelly: The School Show, we approached Maria and her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, about doing more than one book. Then Maria came up with the brilliant idea of a Slumber Under the Stars theme for the second book.

Maria, did you envision Penny & Jelly as a series when you first wrote it? 

I didn’t initially envision it as a series, but I was thrilled that Cynthia and HMH presented me with a two-book deal because they felt that Penny & Jelly were lovable characters with a special bond that they could envision as a series.

Did you imagine what Penny & Jelly looked like? Did you have a role in helping to pick Thyra Heder as the illustrator?

I had a very vague sense of what Penny & Jelly might look like. Since Penny & Jelly were characters inspired by my daughter, Anya, and her canine BFF, Becca, it was hard to picture them any other way than this, my favorite photo of the two besties.

I didn’t have a direct role in selecting Thyra, but Cynthia presented her work to me and asked for my input. Of course, I loved it. I could tell right away she was a dog lover like me when I saw these early Jellys, and I knew she was just a perfect fit to illustrate the Penny & Jelly books!


How adorable! I love her doggy design sense! (Is the middle pup available for adoption?)

Cynthia & Maria, thank you for stopping by on the PENNY & JELLY SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS blog tour. And thank you for the three-book giveaway!

Leave a comment below to enter, US residents only, please. Winners will be chosen by the end of the month.


Another sunny summer morning! I hope you’ve got a cuppa java or your favorite AM liquid mojo and you’re settling into a day of writing.

As promised, here are the two winners for debut author Maria Gianferrari’s PENNY & JELLY book and critique giveaway!

Penny and Jelly

Book Winner:


Critique Winner:


Congratulations! I’ll be emailing you shortly!

Now, onto some shenanigans…

This week I did a bookstore appearance.


Now, I debated if I should post this publicly. It doesn’t look so good for me, does it? It’s downright embarrassing!

But I wanted to let aspiring authors know that THESE THINGS HAPPEN. Sometimes, on a sunny Monday afternoon in the summer (or a crisp autumn Saturday, or a frigid winter morning, or an ordinary Wednesday evening) people just don’t show up.

Every author has had this happen to them at one time or another. You laugh it off. And you go on.

But you also remember that once you have a book published, it doesn’t mean people will come rushing to see you. Most people don’t know who you are. And they probably don’t care. You MUST have another reason, besides having a published book, for appearing at a bookstore. A book is not enough to bring people in to see you. Offer something you know your readers will want. Add value. Add other authors. Add games, activities, a writing workshop, SOMETHING.

I posted this picture on my Facebook timeline this week and received over a hundred responses, mostly from other authors and illustrators saying, “Been there, done that.” You see, IT HAPPENS. (It’s like a break-up cliché: “It’s not you; it’s them.”)

Also on Facebook this week, PiBoIdMo participants suggested adding writing prompt videos to this year’s challenge, so I’m seriously thinking about it!


If you have suggestions for this year’s PiBoIdMo, I hope you’ll share them in the comments.

In the meantime, here’s a Kidlit.TV video that I filmed on Monday, the HOTTEST day of the year. OUTSIDE. (What was I thinking?) It contains behind-the-scenes secrets about I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, which releases in 12 days, not that I’m counting or anything. LOL.

Bear Book final cover

Enjoy your summer weekend, everyone. And stay tuned because more giveaways are happening very soon!

One of the most exciting parts about signing with an agent, besides SIGNING WITH AN AGENT (!!!!), is being adopted into an instant family. Your agent-sisters-and-brothers are so supportive, kind and blow-you-away talented. I’ve known Maria for years, and I knew that when Ammi-Joan Paquette signed her, she’d skyrocket to fame.

Penny and Jelly

PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW is Maria’s debut, but she already has a half dozen more books to come! Phew! She’s got some serious talent.

And since PENNY & JELLY is about a school talent show, I thought Maria, illustrator Thyra Heder and editor Cynthia Platt might like to share their HIDDEN talents for the PENNY & JELLY blog tour.

Maria Gianferrari, Author

My hidden talent: I am the plant whisperer. Here are some of my favorite plants, and flowers:


I took this Clematis in for the winter and here it is blooming. It’s now back on our deck.


My very happy jade plant.


This is my heartleaf philodendron. It keeps growing. And growing. And growing. It just might take over our house.


But somehow I haven’t figured out how to speak orchid. A friend recently gave me this lovely specimen.


But I’m afraid it may end up looking like this.

Time will tell!

Thyra Heder, Illustrator

My hidden talent is not so hidden. I like to dance so much that once I start I usually cannot stop until the party is over and everyone is gone and I open my eyes and I’m the only one left. Here is a photo of me dancing to my walkman at age 11 in front of painted portraits of my Hungarian great grandparents.


Cynthia Platt, Editor

Maria might be a plant whisperer, but I like to think of myself as a guinea pig whisperer.

While I never thought of myself as a rodent person–and was, in fact, deeply squeamish about having one in the house–the loud, demanding, rather snuggly Flicksbee (I take no credit for her name, alas) has wormed her way into my heart. So maybe my hidden talent isn’t so much being a guinea pig whisperer as being open to new things? Regardless, my guinea pig is awesome.


So now that you know these book creators’ secret talents, it’s time to pick up PENNY & JELLY so you can discover their talent! 

And Maria will take a look at your talent, too. She’s giving away a picture book critique to one lucky random commenter. Leave a comment about YOUR hidden talent! (Seriously, I can’t wait to read these.)

Plus, there’s also a copy of PENNY & JELLY for a second winner. So comment away! Two winners will be chosen in mid-July.

Good luck!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Maria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, will be released on July 7th, 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers). A second Penny & Jelly book titled, Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars, will be released in June 2016. Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook and Boyds Mills Presses as well as Aladdin Books for Young Readers in the coming years. To learn more about Maria, visit her website: and on Facebook.

And you can visit Penny & Jelly at their website:, and on Instagram: @pennyandjelly.

Maria_Nov2013by Maria Gianferrari

Embrace Failure: A Recipe for Success

Prep Time: Indeterminable

Yield: Infinite Possibilities


  • 1 cup of Inspiration
  • 10 cups of Perspiration
  • Spread with Failure
  • Sprinkle with Hope

With the lightbulb logo as inspiration, I thought I’d quote Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So get out that deodorant and sweat away!

Now that you have a bunch of ideas, it’s time to play with them, and fail. Most of the time, we have to fail before we can succeed. Let’s face it, failure sucks. I hate failing. It’s painful. I go through cycles where I feel like a fraud and a complete loser. Some days I still want to give up. But I can’t—it’s in my blood, and yours. Writers, Artists, Scientists, Musicians, Inventors, all creators, more often get it wrong before they get it right. Failure is integral to the creative process.

Giving ourselves permission to fail is very liberating. How can we fail at writing a sh*tty first draft? The only way we can truly fail is by not writing. Not drawing that first line. Not trying. Being too afraid.

So jump right in and fail! Here are some ways to embrace failure:


  • Keep Kneading: Change genres/formats

I had my first close encounter with a coyote on a moonlit night in January 2007. I became obsessed with coyotes. I researched—I even interviewed a biologist for the nonfiction article I’d be submitting to Highlights. I subbed. I waited. I hoped…REJECTION. But the coyotes kept howling in my head. This failure was an opportunity to begin anew. I re-worked the article into a poetic nonfiction picture book manuscript. I submitted, got rejections, revised. Three years later it received a Barbara Karlin commendation, and helped me land the incredible Ammi-Joan Paquette as my agent. In May 2013, COYOTE MOON sold to canine lover Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press—six years after the early version failed.

  • Marinate: Let It Sit a Bit

I’ve love raptors, especially red-tailed hawks. In 2009, Highlights rejected “Highway Hawks” because they had too many bird stories. It sat for three years before re-surfacing as PiBoIdMo idea #21 last year: convert hawks article to a haiku picture book! It didn’t end up in haiku form, but it also sold to Emily at Roaring Brook this past summer—four years after the initial rejection. And even better—it will be illustrated by the phenomenal Brian Floca!

  • Fold in: A New Point of View

“Terrific Tongues” began as a poem in 2004 when my then 2 ½-year-old daughter became obsessed with tongues. Tongues everywhere were greeted with the German word “Zunge” since we were then living in Berlin. Inspired by her fascination, I penned a poem for Highlights, though I never submitted it because it felt incomplete. I toiled, researched creature tongues and it evolved into a nonfiction picture book. I revised, incorporating a second person interrogative refrain that gave the story an interactive feel. Though I received some nice comments from editors on its originality and kid appeal, it continued to be rejected.

In 2008, I submitted it to the PEN New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award contest. I received the form rejection letter and filed it away. A month later I received a phone call from Judge Susan Goodman explaining that my manuscript had been a contender, but for the failure of a too-technical ending. Grateful for her encouragement, I re-worked the ending and re-subbed it to the contest in 2009 when it was one of the winners! Though the award didn’t lead to acquisition, it was how I first met Joan. This manuscript sold to Rebecca Davis at Boyds Mills Press in June 2013—nine years after the initial inspiration.

  • Set Aside: Take a Break and Procrastinate!

One of my all-time favorite movies is “High Fidelity,” starring John Cusack. It’s one of those rare movies that’s actually better than the book (no offense Nick Hornby!) The main character, Rob, is a charming cad who owns a record store and confesses to the camera like he’s our friend. He and his musical snob sidekicks, Dick and Barry, make “Top 5” lists for: Mondays, memorable break-ups, death. Watching the movie inspired me to insert lists into the picture book I was then revising. PENNY AND JELLY was my first sale, acquired in a two-book deal by the lovely Cynthia Platt at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! Newcomer Thyra Heder’s humorous and warm illustrations will accompany the text.

Find inspiration in creative procrastination: watch a movie; go to a museum; explore nature; read poetry; listen to/play music; dance; garden; bake; craft. If you’re an artist, try another medium: switch sketching for sculpting; exchange knitting for painting; choose collage over clay.


Here are a few other ingredients to spice up your failing manuscripts:

  • Stir in a new setting
  • Truss with structure: lists; recipes; manuals; formulas; diary/letter formats; musical compositions
  • Beat in a dance tempo: waltz; disco; cha-cha anyone?
  • Frost with layering or a dual narrative (works especially well for nonfiction)
  • Blend poetic forms: sonnets; haikus; acrostics; ballads
  • Render your MC from human to animal; female to male; animate to inanimate object (or vice versa)
  • Mince previous PiBoIdMo ideas together to form something new

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time,” said Thomas Edison.

Give yourself the permission to fail—you never know what you might discover in the process! It will take time, but don’t give up! You will get there! If you’re completely passionate, perhaps even obsessed with your manuscript, all the better. This energy will give you the momentum to glide over bumps in the road.

So try that picture book text, those illustrations, just one more time. Embrace failure, and you will surely find success!


Maria is currently failing on 2012’s PiBoIdMo idea #29. She is a nature, creature and dog lover who grew up near a farm in New Hampshire climbing trees, smelling maple syrup clouds, and slapping cow patties. She now lives in northern Virginia with her German-scientist husband, Niko, their artist daughter, Anya, their Dixie Chick rescue dog, Becca, and two rescue rats, Lucia and Nera. She has three fiction picture books forthcoming: two PENNY AND JELLY books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) as well as OFFICER KATZ AND HOUNDINI (Aladdin); and three non-fiction books: COYOTE MOON & HIGHWAY HAWKS (Roaring Brook Press) and TERRIFIC TONGUES (Boyds Mills Press). To learn more, check out her website:


Maria is giving away a picture book critique!

One winner will be randomly selected 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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