Author Miranda Paul on Writing Commercial Nonfiction- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an award winning author who’s not only talented, but one of the kindest people I have ever met, and my own dream agent, Miranda Paul. Check out her new lyrical nonfiction book Beyond: Discoveries from the Outer Reaches of Space, illustrated by Sija Hong, and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing, and see her cosmic journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Miranda is generously giving away a free copy of her book (US continental only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends May 4, 2021.

CapturePlease describe the journey to publication for Beyond: Discoveries from the Outer Reaches of Space.
Sometimes I work on books for so long, the journey becomes a blur. I think it was in 2014 or 2015 when a scientist friend and I dreamed up a book for kids that captured the wonder of places in outer space—including exoplanets—that most kids’ books at the time didn’t yet cover. (Most books seemed to cover the solar system only.) We were originally going to co-author a book, but his plans changed course, and so I continued tinkering with the idea that turned into a book of interstellar space poetry. Beyond sold in 2019 and published in 2021. So many breakthroughs in astronomy came out from the day I “finished it” until it published, which was a wild ride for my editor and me in deciding when last-minute editing and additions would have to stop.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
When I was in fourth grade, we were learning about the solar system. Every model we made had Pluto as the outermost planet. But a teeny-tiny footnote in our textbook (that no one read except me) read that from February 1979 to 1999, Neptune was actually further away from the Sun because of elliptical orbits. At that time, our models were WRONG! It got me wondering what other little details about space weren’t being taught or talked about? And as a grown up, I’m flabbergasted at just how many stars—and planets orbiting those stars—there are in our cosmos. We’ve learned so much, and kids’ books didn’t seem to be catching up fast enough.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
I’ll share with you one of the most important aspects of the book—something I already knew, but the Cosmologist and Astronomers at LaunchPad Astronomy reinforced again and again—that if there are just a few things to understand about outer space, it’s the sheer size of it and the fact that so much of it is comprised of dark matter, which we know little about. We often focus on all the things (planets, stars, gases) that we can see or detect, but it’s important for kids to realize how much of space is a giant, dark, unknown. So here’s a part of the poem that’s also printed on the back of the jacketflap.




What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process often looks like thinking, dreaming, or doodling for months or years before I get a solid draft down. It really depends on the project, though. I want to let writers know not to beat themselves up if their process is messy or varied from book to book. Especially women who are writing “in the cracks of life,” as my friend Susan Manzke once told me. The real world doesn’t always embrace a steady, routine process—and if it did maybe we’d all be churning out the same book one after the other. Who wants that?

An open-ended question- what are some of the characteristics of commercial nonfiction?
I think of commercial nonfiction as having a hook that pulls in a wide range of readers. I don’t think of myself as a lover of history or social studies, but I’ll grab a book with a great premise or exceptional writing. Reaching audiences who wouldn’t normally gravitate toward a book about XYZ, or making something academic or curricular seem relevant and entertaining to kids today are some of the best “ways in” to turning true stories into compelling ones that do well in trade markets.

How do you balance writing and agenting?
To be honest, a lot of writers have full time jobs and already play a balancing game. That’s how I began as a writer—I was a teacher and a writer. So now that I’m not teaching in the classroom everyday, I play a similar balancing game between writing and agenting. But I use a lot of the same skill sets for both, so there is definitely overlap. I suppose it’s not all that different from writers or illustrate who also freelance or work other jobs. Not to mention a lot of writers I know are also parents and we’re used to wearing multiple hats.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
“Beware of being only a writer.” Sometimes, I hear from people who want publication so badly, it’s as if they’ve forgotten that it’s the living and acting upon what we care about that informs our emotions and our knowledge. Getting consumed by the business of publishing might cause a person to overlook all the other beautiful aspects of who you are and the roles you play that inform your writing.Headshot_miranda_new_hires_closer

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, which one would you be and why??
A dolphin! I love these animals. They’re both playful and intelligent. A second runner up would be any of my spoiled cats. They’re living the good life!


MIRANDA PAUL is the award-winning author of several science and nature themed books for children, including One Plastic Bag, Water Is Water, and I Am Farmer. While finishing Beyond, she was able to visit the Wyoming Infrared Observatory during nighttime data collection. Miranda lives in Wisconsin with her family. And yes, it’s true—Miranda is also the name of one of the moons of Uranus. Learn more about her books and resources for teachers at www.mirandapaul.com.

Link to Buy: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beyond-miranda-paul/1137154662

Author Kim Zachman on How to Craft Proposals- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome yet another talented nonfiction writer: Kim Zachman. Here she is, discussing her book There’s No Ham in Hamburger, a middle grade nonfiction book illustrated by Peter Donnelly and published by Running Press Kids. I was interested to hear what she said about crafting compelling nonfiction proposals, so read below for more information.

BUT first- YAY! Kim is generously giving away a free copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 30, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for There’s No Ham in Hamburger.
After twelve years of writing for magazines and newspapers, I finally gave in to my secret desire to be a children’s author. In 2010, I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and started learning everything I could about kids’ lit. The idea for this book came when I wondered why there wasn’t any ham in hamburgers. What I thought would be a quick internet search, turned into a year-long binge on food history and a proposal for a middle grade nonfiction book. I started querying agents and collected a sizable batch of rejections until John Rudolph of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret offered me representation. He gave me suggestions to revise the proposal, which I did, and then he sent it out on submission. A few months later, we got an offer from Running Press Kids. From concept to publication was a total of eight years.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
As I researched the origin stories of our favorite foods, it became clear that there was much more to tell than just who invented what and when. Societal changes had a big influence, specifically immigration, but science, technology, and religion also impacted our favorite foods. For example, the hydrogenation of peanut butter made an occasional treat into a pantry staple.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I used to work for Scholastic Book Fairs and didn’t get much writing done during the busy months when the schools were in session. So, I crammed most of my writing work into the summer break. Since the Pandemic has put me on permanent break, I try to be at my computer each afternoon for three to four hours. More than that, if I’m on a deadline. I don’t know how to quantify my research time because I’m almost always reading something that pertains to my current project or possible future project.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“We can’t talk about the history of ice cream without talking about the history of ice. About four thousand years ago, people discovered that ice helped keep foods from spoiling. However, getting ice was a problem. People knew how to build a fire and boil water, but only Mother Nature could freeze it.”

Can you give us some strategies on how to write a compelling MG nonfiction proposal?
I think the most important thing is that the proposal starts with a hook that is written with the same voice and style that you plan on using for the book. The second most important thing is to show the publisher why your book will be successful for them. Who is the target audience? How will it stand out? A strong market analysis with comparative titles is a must.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I plan on continuing with more nonfiction titles that are based on the social sciences. I’m researching a couple of topics right now, but I hesitate to mention them until after my agent has approved. I would also like to publish MG fiction. I have two first drafts completed, but they are NOT ready for anyone to read.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
When I read How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg and Poop Happened: A History of the World From the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee, I knew that I wanted a similar format and humorous tone for my book. They were both so much fun to read and packed with great information.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
There’s no RIGHT way to write. There are, however, lots of wrong ways. Learn to avoid the wrong ways.”

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A river otter. I love how playful and curious they are. But, I don’t like cold water, so maybe that’s not the best choice. I can be reptilian about my need for heat.

Kim Zachman is an author and freelance writer with more than a decade of experience contributing to regional and national publications. There’s No Ham in Hamburgers: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods is her debut children’s book.

Author webpage:   www.kimzachman.com
Blog:  www.nohaminhamburgers.com
Both have links to purchase.

Author Cynthia Levinson on Social Justice- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome yet another talented nonfiction writer: Cynthia Levinson. Here she is, discussing her book The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art, illustrated by Evan Turk and published by Abrams. The title alone captures the hook of the story, and I encourage you all to read it.

BUT first- YAY! Cynthia is generously giving away a free critique of of the first 1000 words of a nonfiction picture book. All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 16, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art.
As with all of my books, the journey was long and circuitous. I am deeply grateful to my critique partners in both Austin and Boston as well as to veteran picture book author Chris Barton for helping me focus the story and hone the arc. From the beginning, which was way back in 2016, the manuscript (I’m too superstitious to call anything I’m working on a “book” until a publisher buys it) concentrated on Shahn as a story-teller. This approach allowed me to show how he bucked artistic conventions of the time by displaying real life instead of the pastoral scenes his teachers advocated. However, the early drafts read too much like a magazine article rather than a picture book. They were about Shahn’s life but not through his eyes. The book is layered—merging art and politics—and it took me a while to work out how to do that without having text that was dense.COVER

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Since all of my books so far deal with social justice in some way, you would think that I would have figured out more quickly that fairness and justice, which compelled Shahn’s life work, would form the backbone of my approach! Once I realized his concerns for immigrants, working people, civil rights, voting rights, basic human rights, anti-war activism, and other causes needed to be the core, I, too, felt inspired.
In addition, I’ve known about Shahn for many years because of his installations in synagogues, his Passover Haggadah, incorporation of Hebrew lettering, and other Jewish-related themes. He stood for tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repair the world.”

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I wish my process had evolved over time! But, regardless of the project, I always do too much research. Then, I write multiple versions from different perspectives, throw them at my very patient and perceptive critique groups, slow-walk them past my agent, and, finally, after literally years and multiple drafts, hope to land with an editor who will really show me how to write the book.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
The final spread includes the line, “Ben drew until the end of his life, handing down his stories of justice from generation to generation.” But, what’s really compelling his Evan Turk’s art.

Many say the market for PB bios is saturated at the moment, do you have any tips on how to create fresh bios that capture the editor’s attention?
First, write the stories to which you feel and can show a personal connection. Secondly, consider writing historical fiction.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have no idea where my career is headed! Two books are under contract. One, which I think of as a biography of a place in free verse, is about the Highlander Folk School. The other is—surprise!—a historical fiction picture book about a Supreme Court case. Other WIPs remain manuscripts not books!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
For picture books, I strive but have so far failed to write with the economy and poetry of Patricia MacLachlan, Barb Rosenstock, Deborah Freedman, Barb Kerley, and Candace Fleming. Candy’s middle grade books, along with those of Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Steve Sheinkin, Deborah Heiligman, and Ann Bausum, whose research and story-telling skills are exemplary, guide me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
Listen to your book. Let it tell you what it needs to be.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
An elephant because they’re so empathetic.Ms favorite IMG_2810ac

Cynthia Levinson writes (mostly) nonfiction for (mostly) young readers, focusing on social justice. Her books have won a number of awards including the Jane Addams Book Award, SCBWI Golden Kite and NCTE Orbis Pictus Honors, NAACP Image Award Finalist, Junior Library Guild and Parents’ Choice selections, and the ILA Social Justice Award. She and her husband live in both Austin and Boston.

Free virtual event on April 28: https://www.bookpeople.com/event/virtual-event-cynthia-levinson-evan-turk-peoples-painter
Website: https://cynthialevinson.com/
Facebook: Cynthia Levinson
Twitter: @cylev
Instagram: cylevinson

#FallWritingFrenzy Finale!

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Hello world!

Instead of my usual Q & A with authors regarding their new books, here’s a fun post about the Fall Writing Frenzy contest I co-host with Kaitlyn Sanchez. Author Jolene Gutiérrez won with her entry, and she won a special prize: a collaboration with musical artist/writer Annie Birdd. Here’s their conversation, and don’t forget to check out the wonderful song they created together!

Jolene: I “met” Annie Lynn in KidLitLand a few years ago. If you’ve been a member of the KidLit community for any time at all, you know that it’s a wonderfully supportive and generous group. Annie is an important part of this community. She’s always cheering others on, sharing resources, and creating and sharing songs about books. When I heard the song that Annie, Megan Lacera, and Jorge Lacera created for the Laceras’ book Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies, I set a goal of working with Annie one day. And then my dreams came true when I was chosen as one of the Fall Writing Frenzy winners and learned that I’d won the opportunity to work with Annie!

Annie: Jolene, I was so happy we won each other in the Fall Writing Frenzy. Kaitlyn Sanchez and Lydia Lukidis matched us beautifully. We share some similar backgrounds in Elementary Education, but your work has been focused on students with learning differences and the majority of my students have been neurotypical. I’ve also worked with children with sensory issues for a few decades. I had toyed with the idea of writing an SEL song years ago, so the opportunity to do this now, with guidance and input from someone with current hands-on experience made this an attractive challenge.

Jolene: Annie, you are an amazingly talented musician and creator, and I’m so honored to work with you! I know you’ve been teaching yourself the banjolele because you felt this song called for that specific instrument. How often do you push yourself to learn new instruments, music genres, or technologies?

Annie: Thanks for those kind, enthusiastic words, Jolene, and the honor is mine as well. I feel like I won the lottery, with your education and writing credentials!

About the banjolele…..I actually bought it with my part of the Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies commission. The reason I wanted to use it was because it was a new sound. I wanted to start including it in writing and recording. Because it’s portable, it’s a great choice for when I perform. I’ve been teaching myself ukulele the last four years, and when I found out the banjolele had the same string formation as the uke, I was attracted by the fact that I could immediately play it fairly well, right out of the case. I enjoy learning new instruments, and the ones I take to right away (harmonica, pan flutes, ocarinas) seem to have ties to piano, my first instrument, and I can play them almost immediately by ear.

New technology for me is learning how our mixing program Pro Tools works, learning about loops, and learning what NOT to ask the Recording Engineers to attempt to do, lol. My husband, Walt Wilczewski, does most of the physical recording as well as mixing, and can also be found playing tasty leads on specialty guitars. Our Lead Engineer, Chris Arms is responsible for the final mix, production, and any killer guitar sounds.

I especially enjoy when our Engineers let the kids try mixing their own voices on the computer. Their looks of wonder and magic are heart swelling. Nothing like an impromptu STEAM lesson! While we’re discussing STEM and STEAM, how did you end up writing a STEM book, and then an SEL book? Did you feel confident taking on STEM writing for children’s books?

Jolene: That’s a great question, Annie! My SEL book, Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader (illustrated by the amazingly talented Heather Bell), came naturally because of my teaching background and because of neurodiversity within my own family, so writing about personal space and friendship felt like I was drawing on my own expertise, kind of like your comfort with instruments with ties to the piano. My STEM book, Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks, took more work. I can’t say I felt confident when I started, but I was writing about something I’m passionate about: helping animals. I used my librarian researching skills and immersed myself in the science and engineering–all of that was a big learning curve for me, but it was so inspiring to learn how people are using science to help animals. And since you mentioned science, can we talk about the science of music? Our classroom and parenting experience has shown us firsthand how music helps kids remember things. Can you speak about this? 

Annie: You’ve touched on one of my favorite topics, Jolene…(Annie inhaling deeply and smiling). There are now many positively documented studies showing the clear links between Music, Singing and Literacy. Obvious connections are singing and memorization of content, and development of auditory processes, which includes elements of literacy, including phoneme awareness, discrimination between siimilar auditory elements, speech signals, auditory memory and more. Here’s a little graphic I made from one of my favorite articles on the subject of Music, Art and Literacy, by LiteracyMN.org.

Music has been shown to increase social skills, so I liked the idea of coming up with a song that could teach all students who were beginning to learn social skills, not just kids on the Autism spectrum. I didn’t want it to sound naggy, and I was so happy to realize that you and I were both fans of positive reinforcement and listing action points as “To Do” more often than “Not To Do.”

So, I started the song off with positive words and chorus… and that was where I stopped. I ALWAYS get stuck after the first chorus. This was where MY dreams came true. Jolene… a real lyricist jumped in, continued in the same vein, but improved it, added a blueprint for what to do when someone invades your personal space, and did it all with humor and grace, two words that describe you, Jolene. The first time I read your soon to be famous, now whispered line in Verse 3, I spit ginger ale. I wasn’t expecting this song to be THIS much fun.

One fun experience I had with this song was envisioning dance moves for it; your descriptions inspired me. I’m looking forward to us making a music video of these moves so students can use this song for Phys. Ed. as well as music and SEL lessons.  When you were writing the lyrics, where did you get the exact suggestions for dealing with personal space, and the descriptions?

Jolene: So fun! I think this song can be used in so many ways, and I love the thought that PE teachers could use in their classes, too.

In writing Mac and Cheese, much of the literature around teaching personal space skills to students mentioned keeping about 18” between people. Some teachers and occupational therapists help kids envision this space by wearing a hula hoop (like Oliver tests out in my book) or by spreading their arms out. So I knew I wanted to mention a space bubble in the lyrics and teach kids how to create their own personal space bubble. I also knew I wanted the lyrics to show kids that they have the power to control how they interact with others, including speaking up if they feel their personal space is being invaded.

I think many of us have had experiences with people who invade our personal space. Some of these people may not even know they’re doing so–like the aunt who kisses your cheek, the friend who comes in for a hug, or the person who stands close to you when talking. And some people do it intentionally. I wanted to address all of these awkward situations in order to help kids learn to both respect others’ personal space and empower them to speak up and defend their own boundaries.

But these lyrics came from various meetings we had and lots of research. You created an amazing framework for the song, Annie, and then we discussed other important topics we wanted to include. Do you remember one of the first facts we uncovered when we were looking for how to approach writing songs that would consider the needs of both neurotypical and non-NT students? Also, how did you settle on a call-and-repeat-song?

Annie: One thing I think surprised us was learning about kids on the spectrum… almost thirty three percent of non-verbal children enjoy singing. Language is accessed by the left part of the brain, but music is accessed by the right brain, so this may explain the increased participation.

Call and Repeat (a.k.a. Echo Song) is one of my favorite kinds of songs to write, because the students can participate immediately, by repeating back what the leader sings. It’s a useful teaching tool in that students have an opportunity to listen and imitate, and gain confidence in their singing. Singing promotes language acquisition, listening skills, memory and motor skills.

The video you’re about to watch at the end of this post is a typical Lyrics Video that I use to teach a new song to students. They learn at home, and come in ready to sing.

Jolene: Oh, I can’t wait for the unveiling of the video!! And it sounds like music should be utilized in every home and classroom! One thing I noticed about our Space Creator song is that while it touches on personal space, boundaries, and consent just like my book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader does, Space Creator is general enough that it could be used with any book that ties in to personal space and body autonomy. Is there a way that publishers or authors could get permission to use Space Creator?

Annie: We wrote this song as generally as possible, addressing several body autonomy preferences in order to accurately accommodate the largest amount of users. We know there have been a number of personal space SEL books published recently–click here for the list of the titles we’re currently aware of. Reach out to Annie or Jolene through social media or their websites if you have a book you’d like included on the list (contact info is at the bottom of this post). If you have interest in using this song, please contact Annie Lynn at anniebirdd@aol.com . This song is also available for school licensing.

Jolene: Wow, music sounds like the ultimate way for publishers and authors to advertise their books and help students have fun and learn new content!

Annie: I love that Kidlit songs have so many applications: for Teacher Guides, Book Trailers, School Visits, radio broadcast, podcast…and the best reason of all….to remember the book and its song, for many years to come. I love leaving songs behind for students to continue using, enjoying and learning.

A quick thank you to Lydia Lukidis for having us on her blog today and sharing the release of “Space Creator” as well as teaming up with Kaitlyn Sanchez to unite a Kidlit Author with a Children’s Songwriter. We appreciate the time you took to make this match. Also we’d like to thank Tara Lazar, for creating and leading the magical Kidlit event, Storystorm. It was both helpful and exciting to read her blog as well as other guest posts, as we worked on this song, throughout January. We’re grateful and feel very supported and encouraged from both the Kidlit and Educational communities.

And now, the SEL song you didn’t know you needed (but now you do!)

**Before enjoying your first “song tasting,” please grab your 🎧 headphones so you can experience both treble and bass.**

“SPACE CREATOR (Not a Space Invader)”

To connect with Annie: www.annielynn.net 




To connect with Jolene:      jolenegutierrez.com                              




Author Lisa Amstutz on Connecting Kids with Nature- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a talented NF writer who’s a mentor to me, and who also just became an agent at Storm Literary, Lisa Amstutz. After writing over 150 books, she still had time to release another: Mammal Mania, middle grade nonfiction, published by Chicago Review Press. Check out her book journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Lisa is generously giving away a free critique of a PB or up to 10 pages of a longer ms (double-spaced). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 6, 2021.


Please describe the journey to publication for Mammal Mania.
I had previously written a book for Chicago Review Press’s Young Naturalists series called Amazing Amphibians. CRP was wonderful to work with, so my agent and I pitched some more ideas and this was the one my editor chose. My background is in ecology, so both of these books were right up my alley and fun to research and write.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Connecting kids with nature has always been one of my passions. Like the others in this series, this book is aimed at helping kids discover nature through engaging text, photos, and hands-on activities.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It definitely varies by the project. The two books I wrote for this series were very research-heavy, so I would take one topic at a time, research it, and then figure out a good way to share that information in a kid-friendly way. Some of my others, like Applesauce Day and Finding a Dove for Gramps, were more like writing poetry – a spark of inspiration that flowed out onto the page—followed, of course, by lots of revisions.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Imagine that you took a beaver and a duck and mixed them together—you might come out with something like a platypus. In fact, when European scientists first saw a platy­pus specimen, they thought it had to be a fake! But they were eventually convinced that this odd-looking mammal was real.”

You’re skilled at writing nonfiction, what are some effective strategies to engage young readers while disseminating information?
Writing nonfiction is really no different from writing fiction, except that you can’t make stuff up. The same rules of good writing apply – use strong nouns, active verbs, metaphors/similes, wordplay, a compelling story arc (if writing narrative NF) – in other words, general good writing techniques.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Because this was part of a series, I used previous books in the series as mentor texts. Others that have inspired me in terms of engaging middle grade nonfiction include Some Writer by Melissa Sweet, All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat, Something Rotten by Heather Montgomery, Astronaut-Aquanaut by Jen Swanson, and many more.

You recently became an agent at Storm Literary, how do you balance writing and agenting?
Well, my pace has slowed a bit, but I’ve always had to fit my own writing in around freelance client work (writing, editing, etc.), so this doesn’t feel much different. Like anyone else with a day job or other full-time responsibilities, I write in my spare time – evenings, weekends, etc.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
When an opportunity presents itself, don’t let fear and ‘what if’s’ stop you. Say yes—then go figure out how to do it. My writing mentor gave me this piece of advice early on, and it has served me well, even though it often stretches me out of my comfort zone.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Hmm. Maybe a cat—judging by my own three, it’s a pretty luxurious life!

Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 science and history books for kids. She spent eight years as a freelance editor, working with individual authors as well as corporate publishers. She also served as Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Ohio North and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. Lisa recently joined Storm Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent.
Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. A former outdoor educator, she specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture. She lives on a small farm with her family.

Website: www.LisaAmstutz.com
Twitter: @LJAmstutz
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LJAmstutz
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lisaamstutz.author/
Mammal Mania is available anywhere books are sold.
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mammal-Mania-Activities-Observations-Naturalists/dp/1641604360/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mammal-mania-lisa-j-amstutz/1137370629?ean=9781641604369
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781641604369

Author Barb Rosenstock on How to Craft NF Bios- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who needs no introduction, and who landed a Caldecott Honor in 2015 among many other awards: Barb Rosenstock. Read below to see her journey creating Mornings with Monet, a nonfiction picture book, illustrated by Mary Grandpré and published by Knopf / Penguin Random House. It’s fascinating how she sifted through various facts during her research phase, and focused on what she felt a personal connection to, and what had kid-appeal.

BUT first- YAY! Barb is generously giving away a free copy of Mornings with Monet (U.S. shipping only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 29, 2021.


Please describe the journey to publication for Mornings with Monet.
I grew up in Chicago and have loved the Monet and his artist friends since first seeing their work in the Impressionist Wing at The Art Institute as a child. It’s easy art to love, colorful and for the most part gentle subject matter. Mary Grandpré and I have done 3 art books together: The Noisy Paint Box, Vincent Can’t Sleep and Through the Window. I kind of wanted to round it to an even number of four books. I first started looking into female Impressionist, Mary Cassatt. After a bit of research, I just wasn’t drawn to the subject. I decided to try to tackle the most famous Impressionist, the first Impressionist, Claude Monet.  I thought I’d be writing about Monet and his garden, or Monet and the first Impressionist exhibition, or his Haystack series paintings, which were all big topics. But books do what they need to do, and this one needed to be a very small story.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I would typically attempt to start a book in a subject’s childhood, but Monet’s young years were not all that compelling. Also, as I began researching, there was a lot about Monet the man that I found unappealing. In spite of his many character flaws, his glorious art kept calling me. I decided to look into specifically how he created his art, his process. I wasn’t originally aware that at times Monet actually painted from a boat. I liked that boat more than anything else in his whole life, and so I thought I’d set myself the challenge of building an entire picture book biography that takes place in about a roughly 4-hour painting session on the boat. It worked, thanks to Mary Grandpré’s stunning art!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I’m never sure enough of myself as a writer that I’m at all clear on what my “writing process” is anyhow. I sit down and write, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it does not, that is the process.  Every book takes the time and energy it needs and each time I sit down to do a book, I’m not sure how (or if) it’s going to work out. Basically, I just keep asking questions, first of the research and later of my own words. Questions like:  So what? What does that mean? Is that what you’re trying to say really? Is that logical? What does it feel like? Will kids find this interesting? For me the process is answering my own questions. After a decade at it, it’s just a process of trusting that my curiosity will eventually shape itself onto the page.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Wow, maybe you should tell ME which parts are compelling. But here goes, at least this is my favorite part, drawn from my own life (as well as Monet’s):
“Anyone who creates understands—that art is not magic. It is work…and work…and work, and then…it is magic.”

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
I have always liked true stories ever since my maternal grandfather told me “true” (or mostly true J) family stories. I liked historical fiction and history-based nonfiction the most as a child and read a ton of it at my public and school libraries. I still like true or “based on truth” movies better than anything fictional. I think the idea that a story is real makes is MUCH more compelling than anything made up.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have a book on citizen science and monarch butterflies coming out next year with illustrator Erika Meza from Knopf. And I’m excited to be working with Katherine Roy again on a book about the Sargasso Sea from Norton.  It was great to take a step away from history for a bit, but I’ll get back to it I’m sure. There’s a few more titles in the works, but no use talking about them so early, you know how long picture books take!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
The picture books that started me writing are still mentors: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and my all-time favorite, Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. Favorite picture book authors include: Jen Bryant, Carole Weatherford, and Candace Fleming. I have been obsessed with every single thing Cynthia Rylant ever put down on paper for almost 30 years. I have favorite illustrators too other than the ones I’ve worked with: Elisha Cooper, Kadir Nelson, Emily Sutton, Floyd Cooper, Eliza Wheeler, The Fan Brothers, Jason Chin, Brendan Wenzel, Frank Morrison, Hadley Hooper, and the late Mordicai Gerstein.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Get the actions right and the feelings right, and the rest will follow.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A dog, because…DOGS! They are curious, loyal, loving, understanding, people feed them and they can take naps virtually any time they want.


Barb Rosenstock likes true stories best. She is the author of eighteen nonfiction and historical fiction picture books that combine deep research with playful language. Her book, The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary Grandpré, received a Caldecott Honor in 2015. Other awards include the SCBWI Golden Kite, an Orbis Pictus Honor, a Sydney Taylor Honor, and the South Asia Book Award, as well as numerous national and state recognitions. Barb loves sharing stories and inspiring students in schools and libraries across the country. She lives with her family north of Chicago.

Twitter: @barbrosenstock
Instagram: @brosenstock
Mornings with Monet can be purchased from:

Author Patricia Newman on Getting Through Rough Drafts- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author an award winning author I admire greatly for her skilled NF writing, Patrician Newman. Read below to see her journey creating Planet Ocean, middle grade NF, with the lovely photographs of Annie Crawley, published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing.

BUT first- YAY! Patricia is generously giving away a free manuscript critique (max. 10 pages) or a 20-minute virtual school visit. All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 19, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Planet Ocean.
I first met Annie via telephone in 2010 or 2011. I had cold-called her to see if she’d like to be the photographer for a book I was proposing called Plastic, Ahoy! Annnie had been on the ship with the scientists and had the only photos available. She was thrilled someone else wanted to “talk trash” and jumped at the opportunity. We became friends and looked for other opportunities to work together.
In 2016, Annie and I were driving through a Colorado blizzard to visit a black-footed ferret conservation center that we featured in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. During the long drive, we began discussing our next book – because well, I guess we’re over achievers. Annie’s underwater photography and her advocacy for the ocean seemed a natural fit for an ocean book.
While the ocean book idea percolated, I researched and wrote Eavesdropping on Elephants. And finally, in 2018 the timing was right to begin working together again. In November 2018, we submitted a proposal to Carol Hinz at Millbrook Press who had published our Plastic, Ahoy! and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue collaborations. By February 2019, we had an offer.
Then the fun began. I traveled to Annie’s hometown in Seattle where we interviewed several people for our Salish Sea chapter. Annie traveled to Indonesia and Utquiaġvik, Alaska for the Coral Triangle and Arctic chapters. In between trips, I interviewed Annie. We shared information via email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook, text message, and phone.
In the meantime, I wrote. Fast and furiously. Our contract stipulated a September 2019 manuscript delivery deadline. While Carol and I revised the text, Annie and I began work on the videos for the QR codes. I wrote drafts of the scripts and Annie narrated and produced the videos.
When COVID-19 pushed our fall 2020 release date to spring 2021, we took the extra time to meticulously select photos for every page of Planet Ocean – even the QR code icons. Millbrook Press finalized the layout and sent the book to the printer in late 2020.
Throughout every step, Annie and I worked as a team, sharing ideas and more than a few laughs. Planet Ocean is our heart book.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Our ocean itself. The ocean makes me happy and I have several ocean memories that helped fuel this project. Scientists are just beginning to understand that the ocean soothes us and boosts our creativity.
Annie Crawley was another inspiration. She feels at home underwater and has gathered a staggering amount of ocean knowledge on her expeditions with scientists and explorers.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I wouldn’t wish my process on anyone. It’s messy, especially at the beginning. I agonize throughout the first draft but find my stride during revision. Usually, I stop tinkering when Carol says the book must go to the printer.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
For the Salish Sea chapter of Planet Ocean, Annie and I interviewed Dana Wilson, a Lummi elder fisherman. I love this passage because it shows Dana’s deep connection to the sea.

While science marches on, members of the Lummi Nation mourn the lack of salmon. For centuries these Coast Salish people have called themselves the Salmon People because of their dependence on salmon fishing.

“We lived our lives around salmon,” says Dana. “We migrated with them. Salmon are who we are—our economy, our trade, our songs and dances. It’s how we always sustained ourselves.” According to Lummi culture, the salmon’s migration symbolizes the struggle that makes life worthwhile. The annual Lummi salmon ceremony used to give thanks for the abundance of salmon.

“At the ceremony I attended,” Annie says, “the Lummi prayed for the salmon’s return. For the first time in his life, Dana is not fishing for salmon because not enough of them are returning.”

How can aspiring NF writers make their writing more trade oriented and engage writers on a universal level?
Nonfiction writing is more than just the facts. Successful nonfiction authors start every project with a personal connection that comes from the heart. For narrative nonfiction, we tell stories that connect readers to their world in ways that resonate with them. You have only to read Planet Ocean to discover how invested Annie and I are with the ocean’s story as our story.
In expository nonfiction, we organize facts according to some unifying focus unique to us. For an example, Melissa Stewart’s Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs morphed into an anti-bullying book. In a blog post Melissa says, “I’d have to revisit some painful parts of my childhood” to write this book.
I suggest budding nonfiction authors read Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep for inspiration. The book, edited by Melissa, features craft essays from fifty award-winning nonfiction authors.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Plastic, Ahoy! was my first foray into environmental nonfiction for children, and I think I’m going to say here. There are so many stories left to tell.
My next book releases in the fall of 2022. Illustrated by the talented Natasha Donovan, it tells a happy conservation story about a river.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I always have trouble with this question because I love so many books. Most recently, I used Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon and Ashley Spire’s The Most Magnificent Thing as mentor texts for two different projects I’m working on.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find a personal connection to your writing project. Your prose will be richer, and ideas will flow from your heart.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
An elephant. Who wouldn’t want to have a trunk?


Patricia Newman’s books show young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, Patricia’s books have received starred reviews, ALA Notable recognition, Green Earth Book Awards, an Outstanding Science Trade Book Award, a Parents’ Choice Award; been honored as Junior Library Guild selections; and been included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.
One Texas librarian recently wrote, “Patricia is one of THE BEST nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our MUST HAVE AUTHORS for every collection.”
Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Her presentations are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.”


Link to a 4-min video Patricia and Annie made about why your library needs Planet Ocean: https://youtu.be/OWMoEcABvL0
Support independent booksellers and buy Planet Ocean at Bookshop.org.
Website: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/
LitLinks – a blog series that highlights connections between STEM and language arts
Twitter: @PatriciaNewman
Facebook: Patricia Newman, Author & Literacy Advocate
Pinterest: Patricia Newman, Children’s Book Author

Author Andrea Wang on Using Mentor Texts- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author and EMLA agency sister Andrea Wang, here to chat about her newest picture book, Watercress, illustrated by none other than Jason Chin, published by Holiday House/Neal Porter Books. Check out her author journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Andrea is generously giving away a copy of her book (signed by her and Jason Chin)! All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 8, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Watercress?.
When I wrote down my memory of picking watercress for the first time, it was in the form of a personal essay. I had taken a course in writing personal essays during my MFA program and thought it would be a good form to use. But I didn’t know how to end the essay, so after some time, I rewrote it as a fictional picture book. That worked better, but the ending still wasn’t right. I shoved it into the proverbial drawer and didn’t look at it again for about seven or eight years. I was inspired to take it out after reading A Different Pond (written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui) and rewrote it again, entirely from scratch. It was a long journey just to revise the manuscript, but I needed those years to find the heart of the story.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I was inspired by a childhood memory of being forced to pick watercress by the side of the road. It was a memory that haunted me. I had to write the book in order to understand why I couldn’t let this memory go and what it really meant to me. I also wanted to honor my parents and their experience as immigrants from China.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
Mom and Dad press me to try some.
“It is fresh,” Dad says.
“It is free,” Mom says.
I shake my head.

Free is bad.
Free is
hand-me-down clothes and
roadside trash-heap furniture and
dinner from a ditch.

This excerpt shows the depth of misunderstanding and miscommunication between the main character and her immigrant parents. The gap feels insurmountable, until the mom shares a story from her past.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My process does vary depending on the project and whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Most of the time I start by writing down ideas and notes in a notebook and then progress to doing a lot of research and making more notes. I’ll jot down phrases or sentences that might work for the story, and once I feel ready, I’ll write a very rough draft on the computer. I’ll revise it numerous times, often based on feedback from critique partners, and then I’ll either share it with my agent and editor if it feels submittable, or shelve it until I find my way into the story and can rewrite it again, as I did with Watercress. I find that I need to let most of my stories marinate in the back of my mind for a while before I can move forward with writing them.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m super excited to have my debut middle grade novel releasing this August from Kokila. It’s a contemporary coming-of-age story called The Many Meanings of Meilan, about a Chinese American girl whose sense of self fragments after her extended family has a falling-out. I have another picture book coming out next year, also from Neal Porter Books, that is called Luli and the Language of Tea. It’s about a young girl who bridges a language gap through a shared love for tea. I’m also working on another contemporary MG as well as two nonfiction picture books. As for my career, I’d love to keep writing books that explore identity or have to do with food – preferably both at the same time.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
As I mentioned above, A Different Pond was a huge inspiration for me and also served as a mentor text for Watercress. There are so many brilliant PBs that it’s impossible to pick favorites, but I rely on the works of Chris Barton, Hayley Barrett, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Maria Gianferrari, Minh Le, Theresa Robeson, Lisa Robinson, Barb Rosenstock, and Carole Boston Weatherford. For MG, I’m especially inspired by J. Anderson Coats, Debbi Michiko Florence, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Lisa Yee.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Don’t be afraid to write from a place of vulnerability. Embrace what you don’t know and write until you understand it. Readers deserve complete emotional honesty.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Can I be a plant instead? I’m borderline obsessed with ginkgo trees and would love to be one. They’re long-lived, scrub pollution out of the air, are possibly fire-retardant, have medicinal seeds, and are graceful (something I am not!).

Andrea Wang is the award-winning author of The Nian Monster (APALA Honor, PW starred review) and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (Freeman Book Award Honor, Sakura Medal, JLG Selection, SLJ starred review). She has two books releasing in 2021: Watercress (JLG Gold Standard Selection, multiple starred reviews); and The Many Meanings of Meilan, her debut middle grade novel. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. She is also the author of seven nonfiction titles for the library and school market. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in the Denver area with her family.

Website: https://andreaywang.com
Twitter: @AndreaYWang
Instagram: @AndreaWhyWang
Linktree (including buy links): https://linktr.ee/AndreaYWang

Author Baptiste Paul on Slowing Down and Connecting- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the acclaimed author Baptiste Paul, here to chat about his newest picture book, Peace (Paz/Frieden), co-written by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Estelí Meza and published by NorthSouth Books/Nord-Sud. Check out his author journey below. I absolutely love the message about slowing down and re-connecting with nature, and also with one another. I think we could all benefit from this motto in life.

BUT first- YAY! Baptiste is generously giving away a signed copy of his book Peace! All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends Feb 19, 2021.


Please describe the journey to publication for Peace.
My memory is a little cloudy about the journey for Peace simply because we wrote the story many years ago. My wife and I sometimes have very late night writing sessions—like most working parents, it can be tricky to coordinate schedules. But my wife and I work together on projects we feel deeply, and on projects that embody the kind of world we want to live in and leave for our children. Working toward peace is one of those goals, and we don’t think anyone is too young to start thinking about that word and all the things it means. We wrote the text years ago, then fine tuned it again after an editor was interested. The process, as most people probably know, is always years in the making.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
As we are more and more plugged in with our devices, I feel that we are becoming more disconnected to the people around us. If we want to make peace a priority, we have to take time to slow down and connect. And we must show care not just just for people and animals but for the entire planet.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
Peace can begin with a laugh and a wave
And grow into actions remarkably brave.
Because peace is linked to justice, peace is more than calm or friendship. These lines, and Estelí’s remarkable art show young readers that peace requires both thoughts and action, and those actions require courage.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My process varies because I write both fiction and non fiction. I always start with pen and paper because it’s reliable and does not crash. Some days, I’m knee deep in research, literally. Other days I let my imagination run wild.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Knowing that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, it’s really hard to gauge a career path. However, I would be completely content if all I do is write books that inspire children to dream.  I just finished a fiction picture book called To Carnival!  – A celebration in St. Lucia which is coming out on April 1st. Also, I have another book called Climb On that’s coming out in 2023 —the process takes time.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I have a long list of books that have served me well. These are just a few that I think of on a regular basis, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman and A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
All the stories you want to write are inside of you. I’m always at peace when I’m mining my own memories. Your peace awaits—keep mining and keep writing.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
That’s an interesting question. I’d be a cockroach, not because I’m a pest although to my kids I can be, but for its ability to survive almost anywhere.

Baptiste Paul grew up in St. Lucia, where at age seven he propagated a root cutting that still produces breadfruit for his community. He holds an Environmental Science degree and is the author of The Field which received multiple starred reviews. He is also the co-author of I Am Farmer, Adventures To School, and Peace, with Miranda Paul. His forthcoming book, To Carnival! A Celebration in St. Lucia will give readers a small taste of his homeland.  Learn more at baptistepaul.net.

Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/baptiste.paul.5
Instagram @baptistepaul77  



Author Jolene Gutiérrez: Writing about STEM- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world, and Happy New Year!!

After a rough start to the year thanks to my computer crashing (remember to backup your files, people!), I’m back. Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Jolene Gutiérrez, author of the nonfiction book Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks published by Millbrook/Lerner Publishing. Check out her author journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Jolene is generously giving away a critique for a non-rhyming PB (750 words or less). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends Jan 29, 2021.


Please describe the journey to publication for Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks.
My Bionic Beasts book journey started in 2018 when Millbrook/Lerner Publishing editor Carol Hinz put out a call for STEM picture books. I’d never written a nonfiction picture book, but I’m fascinated by many STEM topics, so I decided to give it a try! I wrote a 1,000 word picture book titled Bionic Beasts and explored ways humans are helping animals through science, technology, and engineering.
Within a few months, I heard back from Carol. She asked if I’d be willing to expand the book from a picture book to a middle grade book with five chapters, each about a different animal. Of course, I said yes!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I chose to write about animals with prosthetic limbs/body parts because I grew up on a farm where injured animals were oftentimes “put down.” This broke my heart, then and now, and I wanted to help animals in some way. After shadowing a veterinarian as a teenager, I realized that wasn’t my path, and now I know that writing one of the ways I can help animals. My hope is that this book will inspire children to become people who think about how they might help animals.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Not long ago, a bird without a beak might have starved to death. An elephant without a foot would have hobbled painfully, permanently damaging her spine and remaining legs. Now animals like these are becoming bionic beasts, animals who have artificial body parts that help them move or function.
Using innovative designs and technology such as 3-D printing, humans can help animals in need. People around the globe—including students like you—are making custom prostheses, replacement bionic body parts that allow animals to move, eat, and live their best lives.”

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process changes depends on the project. I teach full time, so I’ve learned to use every spare bit of time and postpone bigger projects until I have breaks from school if possible. Because I’m a mom and my kids have always been active in extracurriculars, I’ve also learned how to write while sitting on the sidelines at soccer practice, in the school cafeteria, or in my car. I also try to approach different parts of a project at times when I’m mentally able to handle them. That means I might be organizing research and reading through notes after work and then doing some of my social media promoting and connecting at night after dinner. I might save my actual writing for the weekends when my brain is energized and better able to function. While I believe that the practice of writing every day is important and can be beneficial for writers, I’m not always able to do that, so I offer myself grace around that and just find time when I can.

Please tell us a bit about your book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader.
Oliver wants nothing more than to be a good friend. As he’s studying class guinea pigs Mac and Cheese, Oliver hears his teacher mention how Mac and Cheese are the best of friends. Oliver thinks, “Oh, NOW I know how to be a good friend!” But when he tries nuzzling and snuggling his classmates like guinea pigs do, Oliver’s classmates quickly show him that they don’t like when he invades their personal space bubbles. With the help of his teacher and classmates, Oliver learns that being a friend means respecting personal space.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
This past July, I signed with agent Kaitlyn Sanchez! Kaitlyn is amazing and has helped me get some of my manuscripts ready for submission. I’m so excited for what the future holds because, as you know, Kaitlyn is a powerhouse in so many ways. I also just released the series Stars of Latin Pop with Rourke Educational, and I learned that a poem of mine will be included in a poetry anthology from Charlesbridge.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Oh, goodness! I’m a librarian and write for basically all ages, so that’s a tough question. I love stories that will make a difference in children’s lives and lyrically written books. Some of my favorites include Elena K. Arnold’s An Ordinary Day, Francisco Jiménez’s The Christmas Gift: El regalo de Navidad, Yuyi Morales’s Dreamers, Patricia MacLachlan’s The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse, and Laurel Snyder’s Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova. At the middle grade/young adult levels, some of my favorites are Jerry Craft’s New Kid, Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch, Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Under the Mesquite, Leslie Connor’s The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, Paul Mosier’s The Train I Ride, and Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
If writing is your calling and publication is one of your goals, keep writing! Your journey may be long and arduous, but take comfort in the thought that you are on the right path and growing as a writer and person. Every day, know that you’re one day closer to achieving your goals. If you don’t give up, you will eventually make your own dreams come true!

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
This one’s easy—a horse! I think they’re the most beautiful animals. I love speed, so the fact that horses can gallop is an added bonus. I used to ride when I was younger, and there was nothing better than sitting on a horse’s back and feeling like I was flying.

Jolene grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She is an award-winning teacher-librarian and has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy for the past 25 years. She holds a Master’s degree in Library Science. She’s a wife of 22 years and mama to two teenage humans, three preteen dogs, a kitten who plays fetch, and an ever-rotating variety of other animals including a crested gecko, a ferret, and a rescue squirrel. She’s an active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist, a Writing with the Stars mentee, a Highlights Foundation scholarship winner, and the winner of the Cynthia Levinson nonfiction picture book biography scholarship to the Writing Barn. She’s an active member of the Perfect 2020 PBs group, a member of the critique group 6 Ladies and a MANuscript, and a co-creator of #KidlitZombieWeek.
Jolene is the author of a picture book, MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER (Spork, 8/20), a nonfiction middle grade book, BIONIC BEASTS: SAVING ANIMAL LIVES WITH ARTIFICIAL FLIPPERS, LEGS, AND BEAKS (Lerner, 10/20), and the biographical 4-book series STARS OF LATIN POP: SHAKIRA, OZUNA, J BALVIN, and SOFÍA REYES (Carson Dellosa, 01/21). She is represented by Kaitlyn Sanchez of Olswanger Literary.

Website: www.jolenegutierrez.com
Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene
Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene
Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/writerjolene
Pinterest: pinterest.com/writerjolene
My books can be purchased here: https://bookshop.org/shop/writerjolene