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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 Nancy Churnin

We’ve all seen picture books come out on an important anniversary. These books take a lot of planning—given that a manuscript can take two or more years to be illustrated and who knows how many years before it’s acquired.

But if you can pull off a subject pegged to a key anniversary of an important date, that can provide illumination on the historic event. It may also help with inspiration, a sale and promotion of the book once it comes out.

That date can be the birth year of a famous person or event or of an invention, a law or a song—anything that you feel deserves to be remembered.

My book, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING came out in 2018, the 100th anniversary of when Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America.” Of course the flip side of pegging your book to a date is that others may notice this date, too; mine was one of three Irving Berlin books to be released in 2018!

What surprised me about the three books was that I got to know and like the other authors. I even started to think that there could be a fascinating workshop or post about how three different authors could take the same facts and weave such different stories with different narrative styles and points of emphasis.

But we’ll save that post for another date and time! (Tara’s note: yes, please come back, Nancy!)

A good source for research about important dates is Another is

One way to keep your manuscript unique is to find a different take on it. When I was searching for anniversaries that would resonate in 2019, I looked for important events and famous people who were born in 1919.

The most obvious anniversary was the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in 1919 and that right to vote being ratified in 1920. But it was too obvious. If I chose this subject, I’d be competing against a slew of authors writing about this.

I moved on to 1929. That was the year of the Great Depression, a time when people were desperate and fearful, when too many went in search of scapegoats to blame for their financial insecurity. I searched who was born that year. I found Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But there were so many books about Kr. King. What could I add to those? And then I found Anne Frank was born in 1929, too.

Most people don’t think of Dr. King and Anne Frank as contemporaries. But they were. They were of different genders, faiths, races and spoke different languages, yet both had so much in common! Both grew up during the Great Depression when African Americans faced racial discrimination in America and Jewish people faced anti-Semitism in Europe. Both met hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today.

Finding that connection impelled me to write MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. It comes out March 5 of this year, in between Dr. King’s Jan. 15 birthday and Anne Frank’s June 12 birthday, in the year when both would have turned 90.

My agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, sold the book in 2017, knowing it was a tight turnaround. I’m lucky I was able to pull off the project in two years, because I had an editor, Marissa Moss, who believed in it and found an illustrator, Yevgenia Nayberg, who could make it happen that quickly.

But you can be smarter and do a better job of planning ahead. It’s 2019. Try to think four, five or six years ahead or more—for people who were born or events that occurred in 1924 or 1925 or 1926 to give yourself time to research and write and for your publisher to find an illustrator.

Here are some inventions in those times:

  • 1924: Frozen food
  • 1925: Television
  • 1926: Pop-up toaster
  • 1927: Talkies at the movies

And here are some famous birthdays:

  • 1924: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Cicely Tyson, Lauren Bacall
  • 1925: Dick Van Dyke, Malcolm X, Barbara Bush, Paul Newman
  • 1926: Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Andy Griffith
  • 1927: Cesar Chavez, Eartha Kitt, Coretta Scott King

There’s no need to limit yourself. Go to the library or go online and look up timelines and newspapers for those years. See what and who made the news. You never know what’s going to grab your heart and impel you to write.

Make a date with history. And who knows — it may end up with the publication of your book being a history date that someone will look up some day!

MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Creston Books and distributed by Lerner Publishing Group, is Nancy Churnin’s sixth picture book biography. It’s the parallel journey of Dr. King and Anne Frank, two people of different genders, faiths, races and religions who faced hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today. Nancy’s previous books have won multiple awards and been on many state lists: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME; MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN; CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE, QUEEN CHARLOTTE’S GIFT TO ENGLAND.

You can follow Nancy on Twitter @nchurnin, on Facebook at, on Instagram @nchurnin and on

Nancy is giving away two autographed copies of MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. There will be one winner for each book.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Nancy Churnin

Don’t turn out the lights, the Storystorm party is not over!

Yes, now that your notepads and brains are bubbling like cauldrons with ideas, the question Tara has asked me to answer in this post-Storystorm post is WHAT NEXT? In the 11 months between the end of Storystorm 2018 and the start of Storystorm 2019, what should you do with your ideas? How do you know which ones to work on first and which, if any, you may want to toss?

This is an answer you can make with your heart or your head. My advice? Use both.

What does it mean to choose from the heart? There are some ideas that just grab you and won’t let you go until you put them on paper. I keep long, growing lists of ideas, but I circle and focus on the ones that haunt me. I prioritize according to the ideas that demand a chance at life.

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME sprang from a promise I made to a Deaf man, Steve Sandy, to tell the story of this Deaf hero. It was my first book and I had no idea at first how to tell the story.

At the same time, my head knew there was a classic hero’s journey here to tell if I could just break down the steps. With the help of online classes and fearless critique partners, my head was able to figure out how to turn this idea into a story about a boy who grows into a man with a goal that he achieves by learning his challenge—his deafness—is actually his gift.

Three of my other books, while driven by my heart, made equal sense to my head. CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (coming out in June) and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (coming out in September) also required a lot of writing and revising, but ultimately fit into a hero’s journey with a clear beginning, middle and end.

But MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN ran the risk of being heart over head. It defied the classic structure with the story of a young man, not a boy, whose challenge is to find an easier way to navigate across a 300-foot mountain so people in his village can get access to schools and doctors. But I loved this idea and couldn’t let go until I found the way to tell his true story. It was a deeply rewarding experience as I slowly stumbled and felt my way to a narrative with a folk tale feel.

Ultimately, all ideas require you to put your head to work, as you have to solve the problem of creating page-turning suspense that leads to a satisfying conclusion in a story of roughly 800 words or less, preferably one that kids will want to read again and again. While some ideas contain a clear journey, others will prove elusive. Some you may want to toss or postpone. But you may not necessarily want to abandon them. Whether you let them guide you into a story should be a question of how much you love them.

We often talk about books as our babies. Like human or fur babies, they’re living, breathing pieces of you – funny, passionate, silly, kind, wise, a mix of some or all of these qualities or others that you never anticipated. So as we approach Valentine’s Day, sort through your ideas for the ones you love most passionately and give them everything you’ve got. Then when they grow up and move to bookstores far away, they’ll still feel close, beating in rhythm with your heart.

Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and the author of six picture books: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman); MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books); CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR LINE IN GOLF (Albert Whitman) and the forthcoming IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books, Spring 2018); THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman, Fall 2018) and MARTIN & ANNE (Creston Books, 2019). Free Teachers Guides and projects for kids are available for all her books. You can learn more at, join her on Facebook at Nancy Churnin Children’s Books and find her on Twitter @nchurnin.

Nancy is giving away a copy of her most recent book, CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF.

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!


by Nancy Churnin

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I was going to quit my job now that my first book has been published, I’d have…a couple of dollars. Which is not enough to quit my job and write picture books full-time.

But here’s the thing. For me and for many of you who are juggling writing with other obligations, whether they are full-time jobs, part-time jobs or taking care of your family (or any combination or permutation of the above), your other life can be a source of ideas.

I’m the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News. There’s no obvious correlation between that job and writing picture books. And yet, it was in the course of doing my job that I found the first picture book idea that I sold.

williamhoyphotoNow I didn’t realize I had come up with a picture book idea when I decided to write an article about a fascinating play, “The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy,” that was being produced at a local high school in Garland. I was intrigued with the subject of a baseball player who was deaf and taught signals to major league umpires so he could play the game he loved. But once the article was written and published, I moved on to other articles. After all, I write several articles a week and I’ve learned to go go go, so I don’t fall behind.

Then I received a thank you email from a man named Steve Sandy who is a friend of the Hoy family. Steve is deaf and shared with me that his life’s dream is to get William Hoy in the National Baseball Hall of Fame where he would be the first deaf player honored there. We emailed back and forth and I found myself on board with his dream and eager to help.

Suddenly, I had my Storystorm moment: What if I write a children’s book about William Hoy and the kids help Hoy by writing letters for him to the Hall of Fame? I asked Steve if he’d help with the research and he said he would. It took me YEARS to turn that idea into a story, mainly because I had no clue about the craft of picture book writing when I started, but that did become the story that got me my agent (the wonderful Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary) and became my debut picture book in March 2016 from Albert Whitman. We’ve sold three books since.


It’s not every day that a story idea hits you while you’re working and won’t let you go until you transform it into a manuscript. And yet, consider, that those ideas may be kicking around your office or your home, waiting for you to recognize them for the great possibilities they are.

Maybe someone at the office tells you a story you can’t get out of your head or you are working on a project and your mind starts wandering on an only remotely related line of thought. Perhaps someone asks a question or is frustrated because there’s a person or a subject that should be better known or understood. Maybe you overhear a child, or your own child, with a concern or an anecdote that cradles the seed of something bigger.

In fact, I’m willing to bet you could meet your StoryStorm goal of 30 IN ONE DAY, if you weren’t on the go go go to finish all those important things you have to get done.

lennonJohn Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Yes, you’re busy, but don’t forget that life and ideas are waiting like treasures in plain sight to be discovered and savored while you’re shushing the distractions that, in the end, may turn out to be the best part of your day. Slow down and think twice—or thrice!—about all the off topic observations, off track remarks and the many moments between the boxes you check off on your to-do list. Consider that the busy job you have that steals your writing time may also be a repository of ideas!

Here’s another story I like. Atalanta, the original woman in a hurry, refused to marry anyone that couldn’t beat her in a race. Most suitors didn’t try because the penalty for losing the race meant death, which had a way of dampening the ardor. One young man wasn’t deterred. He was not as fast as Atalanta, but he had an idea. He brought three golden apples to the race and as they ran, he threw one, then two, then the third golden apple just before the finish line. Atalanta veered off the beaten track to get those apples and the young man won.

Personally, I think Atalanta won, too. She got herself a clever and determined young man, three golden apples and a break from all the running and executions. So, I guess what I’m saying, is if life throws you golden apples, chase them and turn them into stories. Or golden cider. Either way, you win.

nancychurninNancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and the author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2016).

Her next book, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN, will be published by Creston Books Sept. 1, 2017. Next up: MAKING HIS SHOT, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf and THE PRINCESS AND THE TREE, both from Albert Whitman. Visit her online at and on Twitter @nchurnin.


In lieu of golden apples, Nancy Churnin will toss one winner a signed copy of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game…and another winner a picture book critique.

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

Good luck!

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