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Author Valerie Bolling Dances her Way to her Debut (plus giveaway!)

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Valerie Bolling. Here she is , discussing her new picture book Let’s Dance!, illustrated by Maine Diaz and published by Boyds Mills & Kane. Iread the book myself and loved it, and I admit, it made me want to get up and DANCE! Check out Valerie’s journey below.

BUT FIRST- yay, a giveaway: Valerie is generously giving away a query critique OR a  PB critique (500 words or less). Simply comment on this blog, contest ends July 13, 2020.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
Let’s Dance! was “liked” in #PBPitch in June 2018 by Jes Negrón, an editor at Boyds Mills & Kane. A couple of weeks after sending the manuscript to her, she expressed interest in publishing the book. When we had “The Call,” I shared with her my desire for the book’s illustrations to display an inclusive representation of children: gender, race, ability. Jes expanded upon my vision for diversity by recognizing that some of my words described cultural dances like Flamenco (Spain), Kathak (India), and Long Sleeve Dance (China). I am thrilled to have this added layer of cultural representation in my book!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I didn’t draw the book’s inspiration, Lydia. Maine Diaz, the amazing illustrator, did. Sorry; I couldn’t resist providing that response. 🙂
Since most children enjoy dancing (adults, too, including me!), I decided to write a fun, rhyming story celebrating the universality of dance. My goal was to showcase dance as a language we all speak, even though we have different “accents.”
I want everyone who reads Let’s Dance! to know that not only are people connected through dance, but we’re also connected simply because we’re human. Regardless of how we dance, how we look, or who we are, we are worthy, valuable members of society.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I don’t think of myself as having a particular writing process. I write when a new idea enters my mind, and I CONSTANTLY revise. I’m typically working on at least three stories at a time, sometimes more.
A critical part of my writing process is critique. That’s what helps me make significant and (usually) effective revisions. I’m so fortunate to have an amazing critique circle: critique partner, critique group, debut group that offers critique, WNDB mentor, and, most recently, an agent!

Have any books inspired you and served as mentor texts?
In addition to critique being vital to the revision process, Lydia, mentor texts are invaluable. For Let’s Dance!, Watersong by Tim McCanna served as a mentor text. Visiting Day and Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson served as mentor texts for another manuscript. Those books helped me create an emotional arc in my story with a similar plot. Saturday by Oge Mora helped me work through changes to the ending of another manuscript. I read Woodson’s books, specifically because I believed they’d provide insight into my own story … and they did. On the other hand, I was reading Mora’s book just because I’d heard it was worth reading. It came as a pleasant surprise when it inspired a new idea for an ending to a story I’d been revising.
As an educator, I emphasize the importance of revision to students, touting the inseparable connection between reading and writing. When we read as writers, we notice certain qualities of books – intentionally and unintentionally. And those observations help us improve our writing. Conversely, writers engage in a heightened reading experience because we are able to appreciate a beautiful book in multi-faceted ways.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Wiggle hips/Spin, dip, dip (Kuku, a West African dance)

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I hope my career is headed to the sky because, though it’s a cliché, the sky’s the limit. I have two manuscripts out on sub right now, and a number of others waiting in the queue, so we’ll see. I’m constantly revising and also writing new stories. I’ve written three stories during the pandemic but have spent even more time revising other stories … not to mention promoting Let’s Dance! with blogger and podcast interviews and author visits to schools, bookstores, libraries, and dance studios. My author journey has been fun and exciting. Like a roller coaster, it may twist my head and twirl my tummy, but I’m not ready to get off the ride!

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
If I can only say one thing, Lydia, it would be: Keep writing.
If I can say more, here are my five tips:

  1. Write.
  2. Revise.
  3. Read.
  4. Immerse yourself in writing opportunities and in the writing community by taking a course, joining SCBWI, going to conferences, joining a critique group, and participating in contests.
  5. Continue writing … even when you face rejection

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I’d probably pick anything with peanuts or peanut butter. I like ice cream but am allergic to peanuts (all other nuts are fine). Being an ice cream flavor that contains peanuts would ensure that I wouldn’t be tempted to eat myself!

BIO
Let’s Dance! (Boyds Mills & Kane) is Valerie Bolling’s debut picture book. In addition to being an author, Valerie has been an educator for over 25 years. When she taught elementary students, it was difficult to find diverse literature for them. Thus, she is passionate about creating stories in which all children can see themselves and feel valued and heard.
A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie currently works as an Instructional Coach with middle and high school teachers.
Besides writing picture books, Valerie writes a Monthly Memo for teachers that she publishes on Twitter, and she has been published in The National Writing Project’s Quarterly (“The Family Writing Project Builds a Learning Community in Connecticut”) and NESCBWI News (“Microaggressions Don’t Feel ‘Micro’”). Recently, she had a poem accepted for publication by Cricket Media.
Valerie is represented by James McGowan of BookEnds Literary Agency, and she is a member of NCTE, SCBWI, the NESCBWI Equity and Inclusion Committee, the Authors Guild, the WNDB Mentorship Program, #12X12PB, 2020 Diverse Debuts, 20/20 Vision Picture Books, and a picture book critique group.
Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.

Social Media
Website: http://valeriebolling.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/valerie_bolling
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/valeriebollingauthor
Books can be purchased at any of these stores.
Click on this page to see options for where to purchase Let’s Dance!

Author Vivian Kirkfield: How to Write about TWO Famous People in ONE Book

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented nonfiction author Vivian Kirkfield. You likely know her name because she’s one of the most hardworking and friendliest names in the kidlit world. She had a slew of books recently come out, with more on the way. Join us as we discuss her latest nonfiction PB, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe published by Little Bee Books.

BUT FIRST- yay, a giveaway: Vivian is generously giving away a signed copy of her book Four Otters Toboggan with the 8-page activity book that the illustrator created and a couple of Otters bookmarks. Simply comment on this blog. US only, ends June 26, 2020.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it is that each manuscript has its own journey…even if it is with the same publisher as a previous book. I haven’t had that experience yet, because each of my books is with a different house.
Making Their Voices Heard had a very interesting path to publication. I wrote the story early in 2015…and brought it to a conference where I was able to show it to an editor. Even though it was a rough draft, she loved it and asked for me to finish it and send it to her. I signed with my agent later that year and by early 2016, we sent it to the editor. She asked for revisions. I did them and she loved it…but couldn’t get her team to acquire it. They worried that it was a white savior story. That summer, had the opportunity to chat with another editor at a conference and she asked to see it. We sent it, she loved it, asked for revisions, but even though she loved the revision, she also couldn’t get her team to acquire it. Same problem. I continued to revise the story to try to bring more balance to the relationship between Ella and Marilyn. And when we sent it to Courtney Fahy at Little Bee Books, the magic happened. She loved it, asked for revisions (are you getting the picture of how this process works? Even when we think the story is singing, the editor may have a different harmony in mind 😊)…loved the revisions and acquired the manuscript.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The internet is my friend! I came across a photo of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe sitting shoulder to shoulder in a nightclub and the caption spoke of their friendship and how Marilyn had helped Ella break down some barriers. My curiosity was piqued…I grew up in the 50’s and admired the talent of these women, but had no idea there was a friendship between them. I had to find out. When I dug deeper and discovered what had happened, I knew it was a story that kids needed to hear…about friendship, inclusion, respect for others, no matter what their race, creed, or color.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I’m dedicated to this writing journey. Fortunately for me, I am retired and can write all day, all night, whenever I choose. I tend to work on various projects at the same time…and juggle these with giving feedback to my critique partners and critique clients. The best thing is that I love it so much, it is not work…it is my passion…so I always want to be writing.

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
As a kid, I read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover…I absolutely love to find out about people, places, events…especially hidden gems about ordinary people who did extraordinary things…but who didn’t get the recognition they deserve…and whose lives and accomplishments kids need to know about – I’m hoping that if they engage in the story, it might spark their curiosity and lead them down a path of new knowledge and interest.

 Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside they were alike—full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m not sure where my career is headed…but I do know that I am definitely enjoying this wild adventure! I feel blessed to be living my dream. Upcoming books in the pipeline are FROM HERE TO THERE: Invention That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 19, 2021, illustrated by Gilbert Ford) and PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around the World (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills & Kane, Spring 2023, illustrated by Jana Christy). We also have four stories (all nonfiction pb bios) out on submission right now, so fingers crossed that one or more of them finds the right home. Because that’s the thing about this business…you can write the best story, but if it doesn’t get to the right editor, it’s a no go. And by the way…last year when I did the guest post here, I mentioned that an editor had asked for a particular story and I told you all that I had written it and we were hoping she would like it. Well, it wasn’t what she was looking for…and so my agent submitted it elsewhere…and that is the Pedal, Balance, Steer story that will be coming out in Spring 2023. Word to the wise…Never Give Up!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
This is definitely the hardest question of all…asking a lover of books which are her favorite ones. I’ve always loved The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton…I loved the story of a house that felt out of place…where change was happening all around her…and then finally, she is rescued and brought to a new surroundings where she can start a new life all over again. Newer picture books are mostly nonfiction: Laurie Wallmark’s Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine; Nancy Churnin’s Irving Berlin: The Boy Who Made America Sing; Hannah Holt’s The Diamond and the Boy. The writing in all is so lyrical…and the characters make a hero’s journey. I love them because they are inspiring stories for children and adults.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
The only failure is the failure to keep trying.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Moosetracks…chocolate with nuts and caramel!!!! And you ask why? Because I LOVE chocolate and the nuts and caramel only make it better!

BIO
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, parasailing, banana-boat riding, 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 picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. 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 many picture books including Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and the upcoming From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 19, 2021) and Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around the World (Calkins Creek, Spring 2023).

Social Media
You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

Author Julie Falatko on Creating Chapter Books

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented writer Julie Falatko. I consider her one of my favorite fiction authors, so this is exciting! I first fell in love with her work when she created the Snappsy the Alligator series, and now she’s out with a new chapter book series, Two Dogs and a Trench Coat, published by Scholastic. Let’s support her by buying her books and/or reviewing them!

Please describe the journey to publication for this book series.
I had written picture books but nothing longer yet. I knew I wanted to – I overwrite my picture books to get the story down, and have to cut away 75% of what I write. I liked the idea of trying to write a story that would let me keep a few more of those jokes in.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
At the time, I had two dogs (I’m down to one now, alas), and spent a lot of time narrating what I thought the dogs would be saying to each other. I think all pet owners probably do this. But it became a bit of a competition in my family, to try to do it in the best, funniest, most pun-filled way. A lot of it was the dogs trying to get the idiot humans to give them large piles of meat.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process is the same for every project. I do a mix of writing longhand and typing into the computer. I write some and then go for a walk and think about the problems I’ve run into with what I’m working on (and write possible solutions or good sentences on an index card I keep in my pocket). And I do my best work early in the morning. It has gotten really bad, my ability to work past a certain time of day. It keeps getting earlier and earlier. At this point, my best work is done before 9 am. I can’t do any creative idea generation at all after 2 pm.

We’re always hearing about how chapter books are a difficult market. How did you manage to break into this genre?
It was a combination of hard work, luck, and being in the right place at the right time. I’d written a chapter book collaboratively with two other authors, which was honestly the funniest thing. And no one wanted it. But I kept working on picture books, and various other longer things. I read all the time. I did what I think is probably technically called “making connections” or “networking” but was really just me wanting to talk kids books with other people who were happy to have a long discussion about books with me. I met my Scholastic editor because of all of those things. We’d known each other as industry acquaintances for a few years before we talked about working together on Two Dogs in a Trench Coat.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
My favorite scene in Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Enter Stage Left is when the acting teacher is trying to lead the students in a relaxing breathing exercise and the kids and dogs have absolutely no idea what’s happening:
“Everyone, take a deep breath,” said Mr. Rollins.
“Why?” said Bax.
“We are going to practice being in a play where we are breathers,” said Waldo.
“I took a breath in, and then I breathed out,” said Piper. “Is that okay? Or do you want me to hold my breath?”
“You should definitely breathe out,” said Becky. “I did, at least. Wait, can we breathe in again?”
“Listen to Mr. Rollins,” said Charlie. “He’s teaching us a special way to breathe. If you breathe in, and out, then in again, you’re just breathing like you always do.”
“Salty is breathing in and out very fast now,” said Bax. Waldo was, in fact, panting. “I’m going to do that. That seems more fun.”
Susan made a squeaking noise. Her face was very red. She exhaled noisily. “Why did you have us hold our breath?”
“I’m just trying to get you to relax,” said Mr. Rollins.
“Try harder,” said Bax, nearly out of breath.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I want to keep making books, especially books that I would have liked to read when I was a kid. I have a few projects in progress that I can’t talk about yet, but I can tell you that my next picture book will be Dear Sirs, out next year from Cameron Kids, which will be illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo.

Please share your favourite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
What I love in classic books is the way the format allowed them to take their time with the story. You look at a book like One Morning in Maine that takes a full 45 minutes to read aloud. And it’s perfect. It would never fly today, and that’s fine, but I do love reading a book that talks for pages about a spark plug, or books like Bread and Jam for Frances with that whole long exalted description of Albert unpacking his lunch box. It’s so delightful to encounter those picture books that slow down so much.
That said, I always name Amos & Boris by William Steig as my favorite classic picture book. The characters are perfectly set up, the language is beautiful and lyrical, and the plot is done in such a way that you have a real moment of despair wondering how it’s all going to be fixed and that allows you to feel joy at the absurd and somehow completely right way it’s all resolved.
Now, a contemporary book. The coronavirus pandemic has really taken a number on my knowledge of the most recent picture books. Or, I know about a lot of them, but haven’t read them yet, since I often got them from the New Releases shelf in my local library. I know there are many incredible picture books that were published in the past three months. The children’s book industry is an incredibly kind business to work in, and it’s one where you make a lot of genuine friends, so this question feels a bit like a bizarre award acceptance speech, where I want to name all my friends and the brilliant books they’ve written. Given that, I’ll throw that all out the window and name a book by an author I don’t know: Sweety by Andrea Zuill. It was the last book I read that really wowed me as far as the plot and the characters and also instilled a deep annoyed jealousy in me that she made a book so hilarious and perfect.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
The hardest part of being a writer, and the thing that will ensure your success, is doing the work. 100% of people with books out in the world did the work. They faced rejection and failed manuscripts and being stuck, and still they kept at it, and did the work.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I am probably a weird, potentially terrible, flavor, like gummy bear or salted grapefruit, where you try it because it’s so ridiculous and think, “I think I actually love this?”

BIO
Julie Falatko is the author of eight funny books for kids, including Snappsy the Alligator and The Great Indoors. She lives in Maine with her family.

Social Media
Website: http://juliefalatko.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulieFalatko
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/julie_falatko/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JulieFalatkoAuthor/
Local indie where you can order signed books: https://www.printbookstore.com/falatko

Author Jennifer Swanson and her love of STEM

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented nonfiction author Jennifer Swanson. I absolutely love her book Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. And, she just recently released a few gem, Beastly Bionics published National Geographic Kids. Check out her book journey below:

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
I have always been fascinated by engineering and technology. For me, the excitement of this topic is what work is being done NOW. I felt very strongly that this book should not just include technology that has been proven, but also technology that is still in the creative process. I want to show young readers what is possible and how they can imagine something and work to make it a reality. The idea is a bit revolutionary in terms of children’s books, because most books cover information that has already been proven. But I had worked closely with my National Geographic Kids editor on several books and she was really intrigued by my idea and excited to have it at her imprint.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
This book is about animals, which are cool, and robots, which are also cool. So, why not? I loved the idea of writing about bionics and biomimicry. Nature is a wonderful way to be inspired to create objects that can help humans. I started reading about all of these amazing inventions, and knew kids would find them fascinating.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
Since I write about a lot of very technical topics, I tend to do my research as I write. I will have multiple tabs open on the computer, stacks of books next to me, as I read, digest, and write my manuscript. If  possible, I try to visit the places that I’m writing about. For me research trips are the BEST! I’ve been lucky enough and honored to be invited to many amazing science venues.

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
My whole life I’ve been curious. Mostly I wanted to know how things work. How is that made? Why does it work that way? What are those coils and cords that provide the electricity? Most of all, I love learning. For me, learning is best when it is FUN! Which means that in my books I always look for a unique way to convey information. A different take on something. I want my readers to constantly say, “WOW. I didn’t know that.” Because that is how I feel when I do my research.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Sticky feet that climb anything. Trunk-like robotic arms.  Super-senstive hearing. What is this? Some kind of new superhero? Nope. These are examples of robots that are engineered with bionics, or nature-inspired technology. It is innovation in action! Animal-style.
Packed with cutting-edge robotics, this book gives readers a peek inside creations that may have only been previously seen in a rainforest, ocean, or even just flying right outside your window.  Perfect for makerspaces, or kids who love robotics but not necessarily just coding.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I will continue to write books for kids about science and STEM. It is my passion and if they are able to inspire even one child to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or math, I would be extremely happy. As a way to further my reach, I have also just started a new STEM podcast called Solve It! for Kids. https://solveitforkids.com/

Solve It! for Kids
The science podcast for curious & creative kids and their families.
Peek into the world of real-life scientists, engineers, and experts as they solve problems in their every day jobs. Kids and families are then invited to take on a challenge and solve a problem themselves! Join Jennifer and Jed as they ask questions, solve problems, and offer challenges that take curiosity and creativity to a whole new level.
Don’t forget to participate in our weekly challenges! If you do, you can be entered to win a free book. (Different book every month!)

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
Classic books that inspired me: The Nancy Drew Mystery series. While it’s a fiction book, this series got me hooked on investigation and inquiry, something every good nonfiction author needs in their search for knowledge.
Contemporary book: A Black Hole is NOT a Hole by Carolyn DeCristofano (Charlesbridge Publishing). This is an awesome book is  a fun and exciting look an extremely challenging topic. Well done and a great mentor text for me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? (I will make an ecard with your quote and circulate it)
Write what you are passionate about! That is the key to everything. If you love your topic, that passion will show through to all of your readers.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I love chocolate chip cookie dough. It’s a bunch of different things all mixed together and  yet it all works as a great flavor.

BIO
Now, Jennifer Swanson is the award winning author of over 40+ nonfiction books for children, mostly about science and technology. Jennifer’s love of STEM began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science and technology resonates in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge), Astronaut-Aquanaut, and Save the Crash-test Dummies. Her books have received many accolades including the starred reviews, Booklist Best Tech books list, Green Earth Book Honor Award, a Florida Book Award, and multiple California Reading Association awards, and National Science Teaching BEST STEM awards. her BRAIN GAMES book was even #13 on the The Planets.org 50 Best Science books Ever Written.
An accomplished and exciting speaker, Jennifer has presented at National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the Atlanta Science Festival, the World Science Festival in NYC and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival. Jennifer encourages kids (of all ages) to engage their curiosity and DISCOVER the Science all around them!

Social Media
www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com
Starred review from School Library Journal: https://www.slj.com/?reviewDetail=beastly-bionics-rad-robots-brilliant-biomimicry-and-incredible-inventions-inspired-by-nature&fbclid=IwAR2igmNpfaI4gqRfT69q6e5IdqIOUAY3pK5cHksLwifCUMxuBZpyliE1Fwg
Twitter: @JenSwanBooks

Megan and Jorge Lacera Create Bilingual Zombies, plus Giveaway!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the awesome and talented husband-wife team, Megan and Jorge Lacera. Their picture book Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies! published by Lee and Low Books has gone through numerous printings. One of the reasons I admire them is for their ability to market their book so well and get tangible results.

But first, Megan and Jorge are generously giving away a FREE PB critique! To be eligible, please leave a comment on this blog. It’s that easy! Deadline April 18.

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
Phew, that could be a book in and of itself! Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies took quite a while from inception to being out in the world. We spent a lot of time (years) in our little bubble with the book, revising and revising and then tearing it all apart and revising again. We both simultaneously worked other full-time jobs, collaborating in the early mornings, late at night, or during any slivers of time that we could find.
We received great insight on our story development from Mira Reisberg through The Children’s Book Academy…she was an early supporter of the book, never turning up her nose at our quirky zombie humor. She gave us hope that the story would find its audience. And there were days we definitely needed those tiny sprigs of hope…
There were people along the way who tried to persuade us to take out the Spanish. They suggested that it made the book too “niche.” But while we were very willing to keep working to make the project better, we also knew in our hearts there were elements that were absolutely integral. We weren’t going to let go of the bilingual reality of the family, nor did we think non-Spanish speakers would be turned away. And so we were patient. That patience paid off when we signed with John Cusick and Folio Jr…and when we signed a two book deal with Lee and Low Books.
We are very grateful to have partners who understand our work and believe in it. Finding those partners is so key to your publishing career. It’s often not easy or straightforward, but it really is true…your books are your heart and business, so treat them as such.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Our son and our family are the main sources of inspiration—our kiddo has always loved spooky characters and stories since he was very young. He called them “the scaries” and we were constantly on the lookout for them. It’s pretty tough to find “scaries” that are appropriate for a pre-schooler! So we really wanted to create a book that kids like him would delight in.
Our family is also multicultural—Jorge was born in Colombia, grew up in Miami, and speaks both Spanish and English fluently. I was born in the Washington DC, grew up in the Cleveland suburbs, and after being married to Jorge for over ten years, can understand more Spanish that I can speak. Kai’s abuelos (Jorge’s parents) speak mostly Spanish. So there is a lot of mixing of language in our house—and we are certainly not the only family with this experience. We felt really strongly that we had to create a book that centered a multicultural, bilingual family—and we knew they had to be spooky zombies!

Your husband Jorge Lacera illustrated the book, what is it like to work with your partner professionally? What is your artistic process?
We love working together! Our relationship began as a working one when we were both employed at American Greetings in Ohio. We collaborated quite a bit at our jobs before we began dating…so it was a comfortable dynamic for us.
It’s difficult to define our artistic process because we’ve been doing it for so long and it because it is so natural for us to work together. We can tell you that it’s very collaborative—there is a ton of back and forth, a ton of conversation, a ton of feedback on our respective contributions. We might talk about a project over coffee first thing in the morning, or we might stay up past midnight working through a story problem.
Sometimes Jorge will sketch a character design, or storyboard out a scene and that will get sparks flying for a project. Other times I’ll write a page or two and that will be our basis for moving forward. It all depends. We’re very lucky that we can respect each other’s work and can push each other to be our best without totally ticking the other off (okay, that does happen once in a while. But we’re pretty good about putting our egos aside and focusing on the best outcomes we can create).

There are many zombie books out there as it’s a popular topic. What differentiates your book from the others?
Great question! Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies! centers a multicultural, bilingual zombie family. Unless we missed it, we’ve never seen that before. The Romero parents want their son Mo to enjoy traditional zombie cuisine—which in their world means Latin-inspired dishes like arm-panadas, chili con ojos, and brain and bean tortillas. We’ve never seen this kind of zombie fare either.
Mo is a zombie who is struggling to fit in with his zombie parents, and really, his entire zombie culture. He’s different. He loves vegetables, which are off limits in the zombie world. Mo has to find a way to accept himself and his differences, while realizing he can still be a part of his family and his culture. It’s a pretty pun-filled, funny, emotional journey packed into a picture book.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Mo’s parents did not like vegetables. Not. One. Bit.
Veggies were yucky. Disgusting. Que asco!
They were not allowed at the Romero’s dinner table.
Zombies were supposed to eat zombie cuisine, like brain cakes, brain stew, and brain and bean tortillas.
Mo’s Mom and Dad insisted that their niño eat only zombie cuisine.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
We are very interested in all aspects of entertainment and media. Our backgrounds are in video games, toys, animation—IP development and strategy. We’d love to see our stories become films, tv series, toys, games and more. We think the world is ready for a bilingual zombie family—and more!
We’ve been working on several picture books, and are also collaborating on a few middle-grade projects. Every project is in a different stage—variety keeps things fun and exciting for us.

Please share your favourite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
While we definitely read everything we can get our hands on, we don’t use mentor texts as they’re traditionally discussed. It just isn’t part of our process.
Here are two books that we love and read often in our house:
(Classic): WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, Maurice Sendak. Everything about this book is imaginative and evocative—the sparse word choices, the art, Max’s costume. It captures a child’s (and sometimes adults) wild, irrational, and totally normal emotions so clearly and expertly. We all have our wild moments; it’s helpful to know that even when we have to sail off to an unknown island, we can return home to a still-hot dinner.
(Contemporary): ARE YOU SCARED DARTH VADER? By Adam Rex. We love Adam’s work—all of it! He’s so funny and irreverent with a definitive, clearly unique voice. VADER is hilarious and it’s such a great read aloud, which is so important with picture books. And the message—everyone is scared of something—resonates without ever being patronizing or heavy-handed.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? (I will make an ecard with your quote and circulate it)
Always evolve! Reward yourself for growing and becoming the best creator you can be. Push your work while being kind to yourself!

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Peanut butter and chocolate. Our whole family is obsessed with this combo!

BIO

Megan Lacera grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands. She became a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies like American Greetings, Hasbro, and Goldieblox and later formed her own creative company where she creates original content and consults on marketing, social media, and strategic direction for start-ups and large corporations.

After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that very few books reflected a family like theirs–multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories.

Jorge Lacera was born in Colombia, and grew up in Miami, Florida drawing in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him.

After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist for major gaming studios and entertainment companies.

As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and zombie movies, Jorge rarely saw Latinx kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that, especially now that he has a son.

Jorge is currently helping to create the next chapter in the Bioshock franchise as the Associate Art Director at Cloud Chamber Studios.

Megan and Jorge currently live in Montréal, Quebec. They are represented by John Cusick at Folio Jr.

Social Media

Web: http://www.studiolacera.com
Twitter: @meganlacera @jlacera
Instagram: @authormeganlacera @jlacera
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MeganAndJorgeLacera
Purchase the book here: http://www.studiolacera.com/books.html
Snag the FREE Teacher’s Guide Here: https://www.leeandlow.com/books/zombies-don-t-eat-veggies/teachers_guide

Winners announced from SLUSH PILE Pass Contest from Blue Whale Press!

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Hello world!

I was amazed by the response we got for the slush pile pass contest with my publisher, Blue Whale Press. So many quality pitches rolled in, and Alayne went through every single one. The winners are posted below, along with a message from Alayne herself. Congrats to all! (Ps you should read them all to learn about strong pitches and get a sneak peek into the mind of an editor.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow! What a response. We received so many fantastic pitches. Thank you all for joining in the fun.

Just like with the manuscripts that capture me as acquisitions editor, the first reason these pitches grabbed me is because they struck something in me personally. I mention this because I think it is so important to understand, as writers and illustrators, that the publishing business is subjective. When I say, “struck something in me personally” it might be something as simple as some sort of twinge that makes me feel connected to the story or idea. So, if I get a sense of, for example: curiosity, excitement, funny bone tickling or heartwarming tugs–I will dig deeper. Another reason a pitch might grab me on a personal level is simply my personal interests. But no matter how personal a pitch or manuscript feels to me, when I read on, if there isn’t something more compelling, it will be a pass. So, what does all this mean? It means a pitch has a huge job to do. And this means your manuscript/story has an enormous job to do. It must live up to your pitch! So when your pitch knocks it out of the park, make sure your manuscript can bring the story home 😉

This contest was a true challenge for me because all the pitches offered something. And the ones that ended up being contenders made it almost impossible to choose just one winner. But in the end, I found a clear winner. However, I found a close second, so I am offering a prize for second place. The second-place winner will receive free access to all of my webinars. https://alaynekaychristianauthor.com/webinars I will contact the winners after the holidays with information regarding how to claim your prizes.

I thought it might be helpful to all those who entered the contest to get an idea of why I chose the pitches I chose. So, below is a list of winners, strong contenders, and honorable mentions. Each pitch has a short blurb that explains why the pitch caught my interest.

Congratulations to the winners and to all who entered the contest. You are all winners because you are working to hone your craft. You can never go wrong doing that.

WINNERS

First Place goes to Carrie Karnes-Fannin (yay, you win the free pass with a guaranteed response)

SEEN: THROUGH THE LENS OF MARGARET BOURKE WHITE. (660 word NF PB) Camera-melting heat, dust storms, torpedoes—nothing kept Maggie from capturing a shot, her daring deeds breaking barriers for women as her photos taught us to see the world in a new light.

The title grabbed my attention on this one, but because I didn’t know who Margaret Bourke White is (or was), the real hook was the actual pitch. A picture is painted! Tension is built! A story is told! All in one little 32-word pitch. In addition, once I looked up Margaret Bourke White, I was even more intrigued.

Second place goes to Laurie Carmody (yay, you win free access to Alayne’s webinars)

When the GLOOP GAMES begin, slime molds from around the world blob together to face off in a series of challenges that test single-celled brain and brawn.

This title and simple 27-word pitch offered enough to entice me. It sounds like a great mix of fact and fiction all stirred in with action, possible humor, and fun!

STRONG CONTENDERS

Listed in no particular order.

Brittany Pomales

Mila’s box of memory jars is missing! She must recapture her memories and make a few new ones for her new house to feel like home in MILA’S MEMORY JARS.

I like the idea of a missing memory jar. What a great story problem. And I’m curious how Mila will recapture her memories, but even more, I want to know about her new memories. This one appeals to me not only for the reasons above, but because I imagine it will tug at the heart.

Susie Sawer

After years of being angry about a particular wolf blowing down his house, a MAD LITTLE PIG decides to give the wolf a piece of his mind, but when the truth comes out the pig gets a whole new perspective.

This grabbed my attention because I imagine it might be funny. I’m also very curious about the truth and new perspective. It sounds like a creative spin! And the title is good, too.

Jocelyn Watkinson

Meet Daisy; a very lazy English Bulldog. Lazy Daisy (198 words) chronicles the life of a staunch and sturdy English Bulldog from pup to doggy afterlife, while managing the delicate topic of the passing of a loved family pet. Targeting children from age 2-8, Lazy Daisy warms the heart while pulling on the heartstrings of doggy lovers who too often have to say goodbye to fur babies before they are ready to.

This pitch had me at “pulling on the heartstrings.” I’m curious about how the author turns Daisy’s life into a story that will appeal to children. I imagine it might be an excellent segue to conversation and expressions of feelings or concerns about aging or ill pets, or even loved ones—as well as those who have passed.

Jessica Whipple

ENOUGH- Somewhere between a little and a lot, there is Enough. You have to squint to see it past New and Better, but Enough is always there. Do you know it when you see it? Text is metaphor, proposed imagery is narrative.

This pitch makes me curious. The idea seems unique, and I would like to see what the author has done with the idea and metaphors. And I am curious about the proposed imagery. I believe it is different from most everything we have seen via submissions. I like the title as well.

Carolyn Bennet Fraiser

Ava loves to dance, but Grandma is busy. As Ava explores the old gray house, she discovers a closet full of color and the magic of her own imagination. THE COSTUME CLOSET includes back matter on the history of flowers in ballet.

I like the mix of story and the history of flowers in ballet. And I love the possibilities with a costume closet and the magic of a child’s imagination. I am curious! I also like the title.

Andrew Fairchild

MUSIC OF THE HEART- Oliver, deaf to the music his family makes, fears he’ll never fit in. When Oliver discovers a joyous piano player who nurtures his musical curiosity, Oliver wonders if he’ll learn to play the music he hears in his heart.

I want to know if Oliver learns to play the music he hears in his heart! And I want to know if he ever fits in. I want to know if he learns to play music, how? I imagine this will be a touching story.

Stacey Miller

Punkerella hopes for a Hip, Hop and Happening Ever when Fairy Gig-Mother turns her into a Rock Goddess but her musical dream is smashed to smithereens by the Screeching Stepsisters and she ends up singing the blues.

I love the play on words and the idea. I am curious about this story. I imagine it will be very funny and active, and it may even have a nice darkest-moment heart tug. And if Punkerella ends up singing the blues, I want to know how she turns it around. The title is good as well.

Jenna Aery

On a seemingly routine evening walk, a child unexpectedly befriends the moon, and invites her to tag along on the journey to her Dad’s house. Follow Me, Miss Moon is a 470 word story about a girl, the moon, and their playful adventure up, down, around and through town.

Having watched the moon follow me as both a child and an adult, this story grabbed me on a personal level because it made me feel something. But it also grabbed me on a creative level. I am curious about this (what I imagine to be) very special friendship and adventure. I also suspect it might inspire some wonderful illustrations.

Abbi Lee

These honeybees have an unprecedented and possibly impossible mission: to build honeycomb on the 1984 Space Shuttle Challenger in only seven days… all while relearning to fly in outer space.

This pitch intrigues me. I’m curious how the story is told. Is it from the bees’ perspective? What age group will it appeal to? Is there a protagonist? Or are all the bees the star of the story. I love the tension of “only seven days.” I feel like this may be a unique, informative, and hopefully fun story for kids.

HONORABLE MENTION

Listed in no particular order.

Paulette Sharkey

Parker’s Piano Recital (480 words)- When a ringing cell phone derails Parker during his piano recital, he uses a tip from Mozart, a sparrow’s warble, and a bit of outside-the-box thinking to save his performance.

I’m curious about the “outside-the-box” thinking. And I’m curious about the sparrow’s warble. I’m curious about how this story is told.

Sharon Giltrow

Shopping with Grandma, a story for any child who has ever tried to take a grown-up shopping.

This pitch makes me curious with very few words—17 to be exact. However, I’d like a little taste of what makes this story really magical or unique. Why will it stand out? If it is a “How To” or an “If” book, maybe a few lines from the story. For example, “If you take a grown-up shopping (enter what comes next). I get that some pitch parties don’t give you room to do this. And I understand we need to keep our pitches short, but for a cover letter, just a little bit more might be what hooks.

Lindsey Hobson

OWL BLUES: Hooty the owl feels blue when he thinks about what he is missing during the day, but a feathered friend helps him learn to love his nocturnal roots.

This one sounds like a fiction story with facts built in, so it might be an interesting mix. The title also caught my eye.

Aileen Stewart

The Stray Dog – All through the day Billy thinks he sees his dog, Buster, only to find Buster is actually nearby in each instance; so the next morning, Billy rises early the to catch the mystery creature and ends up being the one surprised.

I’m curious about the mystery creature and the approach the writer takes to present the mystery and the surprise. I feel the title might use some reconsideration, and I’m concerned it may giveaway the surprise ending. But then again, one never knows.

Roxanne Troup

COUNTDOWN TO SPACE, a “faction” PB inspired by NASA’s commitment to put the first woman on the moon.

The idea of this story attracted me because of my interest in the space program, and because I am a woman. But it is not clear who will struggle in this story—the woman or NASA, or both? I feel like I need a little more info.

Megan Lukas

DINO WEEK! 385 wc- As the week goes on, Lizzy sees the city in a whole new Jurassic way, as cranes turn to apatosauruses, her pigtails turn to horns…. and is that a bald gentleman or a pachycephalasaurus reading the paper on the subway?

This seems like an illustrator’s dream and visual candy for children, not to mention expanding their imagination. My imagination is taking off just from reading the pitch. I’m curious if the author is able to make this great idea a purposeful story vs being an episodic story. I think given the excellent idea, it might be worthwhile to brainstorm a title that is just as powerful.

TeacherWriterAcker

Quick to shell out kind words to others but slow to believe in himself, Boxford, an eastern box turtle, mistakenly befriends kindness rocks and discovers the encouragement he needs to take his tiny legs on a big adventure.

This pitch and idea make me curious, and sometimes that’s all it takes. The idea of a turtle accidentally befriending kindness rocks, makes me think this will be a touching and thought provoking story. And then I wonder about the big adventure and where it leads.

Sharon J Wilson

It is just after WW2 and some children in Berlin have never tasted candy. Enter The Chocolate Bomber from the USAF. Parachutes made from handkerchiefs float the airmen’s sweets ration into eager hands. I am in touch with Gail Halverson and he has checked my ms for accuracy. Nonfiction.

This is a pitch that struck me personally—the reason will be revealed in a moment. The only reason I couldn’t fully consider this pitch and ended up placing it under “honorable mention” is because I’m working on a story from the perspective of a German child recipient of the drops. I felt to read the manuscript would be a conflict of interest. My German-born-and-raised friend who says, “Hunger hurts” and can’t stand to see food wasted shared his story at Thanksgiving dinner last year. I was so touched by it. But back to the pitch. . . . I love that the author of this pitch has been in touch with the “Berlin Candy Bomber” himself and that he checked it for accuracy. You go! I may never get my story out there. But I believe this author will get hers out there. I encourage you, Sharon, to continue submitting and pitching this story.

Happy holidays to all!

 

Win a Free SLUSH PILE Pass from Blue Whale Press!

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Hello world!

You’re in for a treat! I interviewed my most recent publisher, Blue Whale Press and got to chatting with Alayne Christian, content development and acquisitions editor, as well as co-owner. Here’s what her publishing house is up to, what they’ve published, and what projects are in the pipeline.

But here’s the best part: You can WIN A FREE SLUSH PILE pass! That’s right, one lucky winner will avoid the slush pile and get a VIP directly-to-the-front of line invitation to submit to Blue Whale Press. All you have to do is comment on this blog with a ONE line pitch detailing your story. Contest ends December 20, 2019. Good luck!

****Contest ended now****

 

Lydia: Please tell us about your recent, current and forthcoming books.

Alayne: Oh my goodness, that’s a lot of ground to cover! I’m so excited about our 2019 books, and we have a lot of top-notch books coming in 2020 as well. I hope my answer doesn’t overwhelm readers. But before I move on, I want to thank you, Lydia, for inviting me to be interviewed for your blog.

BOOKS RELEASED IN 2019

NO BEARS ALLOWED

By Lydia Lukidis (Congratulations, Lydia!) and illustrated by Tara J. Hannon is a multifaceted story. Please see Amazon reviews to read about the various messages that people have found in this very special book. It has so many layers and beautiful messages—all hidden inside a seemingly simple and classic story about a rabbit and a bear.

Rabbit is afraid of many things, but most of all he’s afraid of gigantic, monstery, BEARS! The very nervous Rabbit is soon confronted by his worst fear who appears to be far more interested in making new friends than causing Rabbit any real harm. Despite his apprehension, Rabbit agrees to join his jovial new acquaintance for dinner, but wait a minute . . . is Bear planning to “have” Rabbit for dinner? In this tender story about a very nervous rabbit and a lovable bear, Rabbit discovers that things aren’t always as scary as they seem, and sometimes you may just have more in common with others than you think.

“As Rabbit gets to know one real Bear, he discovers the roots of prejudice and changes his mind about generalizations. . . These excellent revelations encourage kids to face their fears and think about not just the reality of danger, but different personalities and choices involved in interacting with the world with notions that don’t stem from personal experience” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

PORCUPETTE AND MOPPET

Porcupette and Moppet by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Alicia Young is an educational and funny story about a baby porcupine and a fisher.

Porcupette loves to spend days alone in the quiet forest reading. But when Moppet, a bumbling predator, comes along with his silly antics and non-stop rambling, Porcupette’s sanctuary is turned topsy-turvy. When Moppet finally makes his move, they both get a big surprise that suggests Moppet should read more, and Porcupette should listen more carefully. Alicia Young’s delightful art brings even more life and humor to Nadine Poper’s fun and educational story about a porcupine, a fisher, and their natural relationship in the wild.

Porcupette and Moppet was featured in the November 2019 issue of Kirkus Reviews magazine. Here is the link for the full Kirkus review. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/nadine-poper/porcupette-and-moppet/

“A fine lesson in differences, predators and prey, and the value of information. . . . Highly recommended both for its leisure value and its pointed insights about different personalities and creatures, Porcupette and Moppet is a lovely picture book that promises lasting attraction and interest to parents and library collections alike.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

RANDALL AND RANDALL

Randall and Randall, also by Nadine Poper, is also funny and educational, but it has heart as well. Polina Gortaman’s art is a feast for eyes—young and old.

Randall, the pistol shrimp, is a master at excavation. Randall, the goby fish, is his skittish, yet happy-go-lucky watchman. The problem is that both have quirks that drive each other bananas until one day their relationship is driven to the breaking point. This very funny informational-fiction story about one of the sea’s naturally-existent odd couples illustrates how certain species depend upon their symbiotic relationship for survival. It also shows children how two very different beings can embrace each other’s peculiarities and become best of friends.

With a foreword written by Dr. John E. Randall, senior ichthyologist emeritus, Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, Randall and Randall received the prestigious Kirkus Review Blue Star. It has been featured in Kirkus Reveiws magazine twice and was one of their books of the month in November. Here is the link for the full Kirkus review https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/nadine-poper/randall-and-randall/

WHO WILL? WILL YOU?

Who Will? Will You? by Sarah Hoppe, and illustrated by Milanka Reardon, is another picture book that educates.

Lottie makes an unusual discovery while beachcombing one day. She’s found a pup, but it’s not your ordinary pup. Lottie quickly decides that she needs help. “Who will care for this little lost pup?” she asks along the beach. “Will you care for this little lost pup?” But no one wants her pup. Just when she is ready to give up, Lottie finds the perfect person to take care of her very special find. Children are kept guessing throughout this beautifully illustrated story what kind of creature Lottie has found while they learn about nature’s different kinds of pups along the way. This title was also featured in the Kirkus Reviews Magazine.

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions.” —Kirkus Reviews

BOOKS COMING IN 2020

A HORN IS BORN by Bill Borders, and illustrated by Melizza Chernov

Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of musicians in a backstage room, Shoehorn has nothing to do but slide stocking feet into shoes, and life is dull. But he knows he is destined for something greater—something that will rival the group’s trio of bullies: Trumpet, Trombone, and Flute. Shoehorn takes their bullying in stride and refuses to let those blowhards dent his pride. He waits patiently for his big break until one day, with a twist of fate, Shoehorn saves the day and shines brighter than the best-in-the-band.

MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, written and illustrated by Laurie Smollett Kutscera

Twelve-year-old Alex was taught illusion by the best. Misadventures of a Magician’s Son tells the story of Alexander Finn’s personal journey dealing with the death of his father, a celebrated magician, and the extraordinary gift he left behind. Uprooted from his childhood home for the seemingly hokey town of Orchard, Maine, Alex refuses to unpack and wants nothing to do with his new surroundings. But when he discovers an unusual deck of animated cards tucked in the back of his father’s old desk, things begin to unravel and Alex’s true adventure begins.

OLD MAN and HIS PENGUIN: How Joao Pereira de Souza Became an Honorary Penguin by Alayne Kay Christian and illustrated by Milanka Reardon

Based on a true story, Joao and Dindim make an odd pair—an old man and a young Magellanic penguin. But Joao loves Dindim, and Dindim loves Joao. They are family. When Joao rescues a lifeless, oil-covered penguin and nurses him back to health, the penguin adopts Joao as an honorary penguin. The steadfast friends do everything together. But there are real penguins somewhere across the sea. So Dindim leaves Joao. Village people tell Joao the penguin will never come back. Joao cannot say if he will or will not until . . . he does, again and again.

A TRAIN A MOOSE AND A MESS by Joan Sloane and illustrated by Mary Beth Benton

ALL ABOARD! A ringmaster is anxious to find his next great act. But when his circus train is forced to make an emergency stop for a moose asleep on the tracks, he must use his whistle to wake it. The moose doesn’t flinch, but the travel-weary animals on board mistake the familiar sound for their cue to leave. A rollicking chain of events follow in their path and an unexpected star is born.

SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: COWBOY TROUBLE by Alayne Kay Christian, and illustrated by Blake Marsee

Aunt Rose is getting married, and guess who she’s asked to be her flower girl. Sienna’s sadder than a coyote without a howl. “I’d look mighty silly in a dress. I’d trip over my own feet in them fancy shoes. And I ain’t much good at manners neither.” Ma signs Sienna up for cowgirl charm school where Sienna discovers she’s even worse at being elegant than she thought she’d be. To make matters worse, Billy Bob and his band of bullies see Sienna in her charm school clothes and raise a ruckus. Maybe Sienna can teach those cowboys a thing or two about manners and poise. But can she learn enough at charm school to walk down the aisle without embarrassing herself and Aunt Rose?

UNTIL WATER MAKES MUD by Janie Reinart and illustrated by Morgan Taylor

When war forces two sisters to flee their home in South Sudan with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, Big Sister strives to help Little Sister smile again at the refugee settlement. But as quickly as Little Sister’s smile appears, it disappears: that is until water makes mud. In the end, Big Sister’s artistry and kindness brings hope to their situation. This title is a tribute to the resourcefulness of children who have no toys, but continue to play and is dedicated to the 200,000 refugee children living at the Bidibidi settlement in Uganda.

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: The Mostly True Story of the Toledo Christmas Weed by Alayne Kay Christian and illustrated by Polina Gortman

The story of a small gesture that turned into a phenomenon that was seen around the world. Partly truth and partly fiction, based on the inspiring true story of how the Toledo Christmas Weed helped spread the giving spirit far beyond its traffic-island home. All Weed wants is to be seen, but people are in too much of a hurry to notice each other, let alone Weed. Weed watches, wishes, and waits until finally someone does see it. But Weed discovers that there is something far bigger and more important than a little weed being noticed.

YOUR NURSERY IS AN EVERYWHERE by Carol Bullman and illustrated by Maureen McAfee

Having a baby opens up the world in so many ways, but it also closes it off in the sweetest of ways. “It seems, inside this little room, the walls are fading clear, and all the beauty in the world, is shining on us here.” In this beautifully written and illustrated book, a mother and baby savor the coziness of “now” in the nursery while the mother has expansive dreams for her baby’s future. The wall fades away, and the magical dreams come alive before readers’ eyes!

Lydia: You’re a published writer yourself, so what made you create your own publishing house?

Alayne: I’m sorry, but this is another long story 😉 Early in my writing career, I had written a picture book titled Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa, and my husband Steve, who is experienced in starting businesses and operating them, decided that he would start a publishing company and publish it himself. After finding an illustrator, he contracted a designer, multiple editors and an intellectual property rights lawyer, and Blue Whale Press was born. Unfortunately or fortunately, his career took a sudden upturn combined with a corporate relocation, and he decided to put Blue Whale Press on hold for a while. My decision to find a new home for Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain just happened to coincide with his retirement from the corporate world, and he invited Sienna to Blue Whale Press. That’s when his old passion and dream reignited. He suggested that we would make a fantastic team in restarting Blue Whale Press. I thought about it, and he was right. Everything that my career path has resulted in has led me straight to Blue Whale Press. Our family enterprise combines Steve’s business savvy with my knowledge of children’s book writing, critiquing, and editing—and my desire to help aspiring writers and illustrators. We opened our doors to submissions and discovered some spectacular stories and talent. Our catalog is growing, and Sienna now has lots of good company.

Lydia: What are the challenges of running a small press?

Alayne: There are many challenges, but there are also many rewards. I believe we have published some outstanding, and what really should be award-winning, books. So, for me, the hardest pill to swallow as a small publisher is not being able to get seen and recognized. We are like the tiniest fish in a very large pond. Places that support larger publishing houses won’t give us the time of day. For example, it seems getting a review from some of the top reviewers isn’t possible, regardless how much a book stands out or how good it is. Small independent publishers seem to be lumped in with self-publishing. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a good place for publishers like us. I really wish good small publishers could be recognized as “real” publishing houses. Thank goodness, SCBWI has recognized us and Kirkus Reviews and Midwest reviews have both provided honest reviews that recognize many Blue Whale Press books for the exceptional works they are.

Lydia: What do you love the most about your work at Blue Whale Press?

Alayne: I love discovering the gems in the submission process. I really enjoy being creative director. But more than anything, I love making authors’ and illustrators’ dreams come true. To see their story come to life and make their way out into the world can bring tears for me. And then when we get some sort of recognition, such as the Kirkus Reviews Blue Star for Randall and Randall, it’s icing on the cake for authors and illustrators. So, I’m tickled to death when I get to share that kind of news.

Lydia: What is on your current manuscript wish list?

Alayne: Bill Borders, author of our 2020 picture book A Horn is Born, recently came up with a fun way to describe, some of our books. Randall and Randall, Porcupette and Moppet, and Who Will? Will You? all fit his word for it. He calls them “Functional” books. “Fictional, yes, but full of fun facts,” he says. We’ve been calling them informational fiction. I think someone once coined the term faction. Nevertheless, we seem to like these fictional stories that also educate. But they still need to have great arcs along with humor or heart, and unique characters never hurt.

We want unique stories that stand out from all the rest. Believe it or not, this is hard to find. We seem to gravitate toward humor, but we would love some stories that tug at the heartstrings, but again, in a unique standout way. We like stories that make us smile, laugh, or cry. The writing and character voices in all of our stories stand out. And they each have an arc that provides tension and lots of page-turners that make me absolutely have to know what is going to happen next. Now, having said all of that, we do have a few books that have subtle arcs, but they are so lovely and touching a subtle arc is all that these stories require. I also enjoy books that paint pictures with their words.

The best thing I can suggest is to read the Blue Whale Press books, and you will get a feel for what we are attracted to. We’ve learned that people who want to read our books have good luck getting them in their library by asking the librarian for them.

Lydia: What are the DOs and DON’Ts of query letters?

Alayne: I personally don’t concern myself with the query letter that much in our submission process. I don’t read the query letter before the manuscript because I believe it influences my experience of reading the manuscript for the first time. I want the story to speak for itself. If I like what I see in the story, I will read the query to learn more about the person who wrote the story. I will also sometimes refer to the query letter if I’m not “getting” the story or if I am confused about something in the story. This is usually not a good sign because it’s often an indication that the story needs more work. But once in a great while, gaining a little more understanding of what the author’s intention is sheds new light that pays off.

Even though, this is my process, I feel a query letter should still be well written.

I don’t get overly sensitive about things, such as whom the letter is addressed to. I have received letters addressed to agents or editors that have nothing to do with Blue Whale Press. Even that doesn’t bother me. However, there are plenty of agents and editors who might reject the submission for that.

This isn’t really “query letter” related, but I will say that one thing that bothers me more than anything is when it is very clear that the person has not read the submission guidelines or did not read them carefully. When we receive submissions outside of our submission window, it seems to me that the person didn’t bother to read our submissions page. When we get attachments instead of stories pasted in the body of the email, it is clear to me that the person either didn’t read the guidelines at all or did not pay close enough attention. It is super hard for me to ignore submissions with attachments or submissions sent outside of the submission window. But I have started doing so because I believe it is unfair to those who have taken the time to read the guidelines and respect what we have worked so hard to provide to anyone who would like to submit.

Again, this isn’t really about the query “letter” but don’t submit every story you have ever written in one submission.  Our guidelines clearly state “However, there are many reasons for rejections, so feel free to submit other manuscripts during open submission periods only, but no sooner than one month following your previous submission.” Still, I have received as many as forty (yes, you read that right: forty!) stories in one submission. That is worst case, of course. But it is not uncommon to receive more than one story from an author within the same one-month submission window.

So, my number one advice isn’t as much about query letters as it is about READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES CAREFULLY (no matter who you are submitting to) and then follow them carefully.

When it comes to query letters, I wouldn’t do it nearly the same justice by giving my two cents as I would by providing the following KidLit411 link. The “all about query letters” resource list is excellent!

http://www.kidlit411.com/2014/01/query-letters.html

Lydia: What are your favorite kidlit books that have inspired and mentored you as a writer?

Alayne: This is a question that I always find impossible to answer. And I really don’t like answering it when there is a possibility that authors will be reading this interview. It’s like giving a speech at an award show and forgetting to mention your spouse 😉 I admire so many authors for such huge variety of reasons. I mean, when you consider there are over fifteen picture book story structures, and then you throw in fiction vs nonfiction and rhyme vs prose and on and on, the world is our oyster when it comes to mentor texts and inspiration. Of course, I have my favorite authors, and I have some books that I admire more than others. I started to list some of my favorite authors and books, and I found myself going down that rabbit hole of “wait” but then there is this book or this author. I would have to write a whole book to cover them all. And then I would still feel like I left someone out.

I will say that early in my kid lit writing career, Tammi Sauer’s books were responsible for my long sought out understanding of story and character arcs. And I use her books to teach other writers about arc.

I will never miss an opportunity to suggest that any of our Blue Whale Press books would make excellent mentor texts. If they weren’t good examples to study, they would not have made their way through our acquisitions process.

I won’t leave people hanging though, when it comes to finding good mentor texts. For those looking for mentor texts, I recommend following Reading for Research and join their Reading for Research month here is a link to their site http://www.reforemo.com/.

Also Susanna Leonard Hill offers a list of titles by theme on her blog https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/. In addition, if you go to her website you can follow Perfect Picture Book Friday entries all year long.

Here is a good article on the Reading for Research site that leads to some nice lists by category.

http://www.reforemo.com/2019/07/using-reforemo-lists-to-find-comp-titles.html?fbclid=IwAR0ZSjKcx1LhfazIdZiiVXgMBXeDFI247EDjFlNgpE4uR4srkLZyLIZtKsI

Bio for Blue Whale Press

Blue Whale Press is an independent publisher of children’s books who focuses on stories involving themes of friendship and/or personal challenge. Most often, stories are selected for publishing due to their inherent educational or moral value. But as a general rule, a good dose of humor or heartstring tugging doesn’t hurt their chances of being published either. While the vast majority of Blue Whale Press’s current and upcoming titles are picture books, there are a couple of chapter books thrown in the mix. As a boutique publisher who doesn’t mind taking risks, Blue Whale Press considers itself to be a launch pad for authors and illustrators hoping to establish themselves. To learn more about Blue Whale Press please visit www.bluewhalepress.com.

A Picture Book Giveaway!

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Dear world:

With the holidays right around the corner, I’m happy to do a giveaway of my latest picture book No Bears Allowed! The book, published by Blue Whale Press, was officially released on July 1 and has been on a whirlwind of a blog tour ever since. Please see links below. No Bears Allowed also received a 5 star rating from Reader’s Favorite, which was an honor.

Please click HERE to access the Rafflecopter giveaway link.

It only takes a few minutes to enter! Contest ends December 17, 2019, US residents only please.

April 29, 2019 – Melissa Stoller

May 29, 2019 – GROG

May 30, 2019 – Kirsti Call review on Goodreads

June 4, 2019 – Jedlie’s Reading with your Kids podcast

June 6, 2019 – Tara Lazar 

June 7, 2019 – Alayne Christian

June 10, 2019 – Genesis Potentia 

June 10. 2019 – Medium

June 15, 2019 – Helen Ishmurzin

June 18, 2019 – The Story Behind the Story by Lynne Marie

June 20, 2019 – Writing and Illustrating 

June 21, 2019 – Perfect Picture Book Friday by Vivian Kirkfield

July 12, 2019 – Perfect Picture Book Friday by Jilanne Hoffman 

July 22, 2019 – Five Fun Facts

August 13, 2019 – ReFoReMo

August 19, 2019 – Books & the Bear

August 23, 2019 – Picture Book Spotlight

September 23, 2019 – Beth Stillborn

September 26, 2019 – Two BookWorms review

September 27, 2019 – Readers’ Favorite 5 star review

October 1, 2019 – Let’s Write! 

October 7, 2019 – Two BookWorms interview

October 14, 2019 – Pick a Good Book 

October 18, 2019 – Author Spotlight on Kidlit 411

 

The Face of Perseverance

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The path of the author is notoriously difficult. It’s filled with heaps of rejection letters and long hours of constant editing, not to mention the “snail pace” rhythm of the publishing industry.

So how does one survive these challenges and still retain an earnest love for writing? I sat down with author Debra Shumaker to get her perspective. After submitting 187 submissions to both agents and editors with 11 different manuscripts since September of 2009, she achieved one of her dreams and landed a literary agent. Here is our Q & A:

How did you remain so perseverant throughout the process?

Sometimes I wonder, myself, why I persevered in all the rejection. But that is the name of the game in Children’s Lit. And I should clarify, though I started subbing in 2009, I probably started subbing too early. I was a beginner. I had three little kids at the time so I just wrote and submitted when I “had time.” My manuscripts probably weren’t ready and my querying was a bit undirected. But, as I worked on my craft, participating in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (now StoryStorm) and joining Julie Hedlund’s 12×12, my manuscripts grew stronger and my queries more directed. Then in 2014, I started to get some nibbles: some personal rejections and one agent asked for a revise/resubmit. Though that one didn’t pan out, it gave me a confidence booster. In 2015, I received an R&R from an editor and three agents asking for more of my work. Again, those didn’t lead to offers, but I knew I was getting close. I just kept plugging away at learning craft, studying mentor texts, writing new stuff, and submitting. I am so grateful for having signed with Natascha Morris from BookEnds Literary in July. Read the rest of this entry »