Publishing industry

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!


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.



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 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.

“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, 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


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


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!

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

Also Susanna Leonard Hill offers a list of titles by theme on her blog 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.

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

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


Author Aya Khalil on Writing from Personal Experience

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author Aya Khalil. Her forthcoming picture book, The Arabic Quilt, will be published by Tilbury House. She explains her journey below.

But first, YAY! Aya is generously giving away a FREE copy of one of her favorite picture books, The Proudest Blue by SK Ali & Ibtihaj Muhammad. To enter the contest, follow me on Twitter (@LydiaLukidis) and leave a comment below. (US residents only, ends Dec 12, 2019)

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
I started writing this book in the fall of 2018. I queried agents and sent it directly to publishers as well and received many rejections. So I took a step back and carefully looked over my manuscript again, joined critique groups, joined SCBWI, asked authors friends for advice and was offered representation by an incredible agent, Brent Taylor, in March 2019. We signed with Tilbury House in the summer and announced it a couple of months later.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
My book is actually based on true events from my childhood. I immigrated to the US when I was one years old with my older brother and parents from Egypt. I had an incredible teacher in third grade who made me feel welcome and encouraged me to be proud of who I was. She did the exact same project I wrote about in the book. Over twenty years ago, my teacher did this one lesson in class that I still remember until this day and I made it into a book.

Please share some of your writing process.
I write and revise. I take lots of breaks because I have three children – and one of them is just an infant! It’s been hard to write consistently but I write when she naps and the older two are at school or late at night.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved writing ever since I was young. I wrote in diaries, wrote poetry and read a lot when I was in elementary school. In college I studies English literature and communication and became a journalist and then got a master’s degree in Education and taught for a while. One day a couple of years ago I said, enough is enough, I am going to write and publish a book.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I am working on a couple of manuscripts. I love writing picture books but would love to explore MG.

Please share your favourite kidlit 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?
I have so many. But definitely Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi (recent book) because it was one of the first picture books that was traditionally published by a Muslim author with Muslim characters. Classic one that I loved growing up was Corduroy because of the friendship and love theme and I have fond memories of my mom reading it to me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Write from your heart and the words will flow.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
Pistachio ice cream because it’s a little different but once you try it you will enjoy it.

Aya holds a master’s degree in education with a focus in teaching English as a second language.  She’s a freelance journalist whose work has been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Toledo Area Parent and many others. She’s been featured in Teen Vogue, Yahoo! and other publications. Her debut picture book, THE ARABIC QUILT, will be published February 4th, 2020 by Tilbury House. Besides writing and teaching, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and exercising.

Social Media:
Twitter: @ayawrites
Instagram: @ayakhalilauthor

Book links:

Author Kelly Lenihan on the Importance of Editing

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author Kelly Lenihan. Her new picture book, Adventures of Pig and Mouse: An Unusual Friendship , was published by Artisan Bookworks. She explains her journey below.

But first, YAY- Kelly is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book! To enter the contest, click HERE. (US residents only, ends Nov 27, 2019)

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
Adventures of Pig and Mouse: An Unusual Friendship is my fourth published children’s picture book (that’s not including the foreign language editions or coloring books based on the picture books). Illustrated by Anya Macleod, the artwork is colorful and playful, exactly what I envisioned. The story and illustrations came together easily, both the illustrator and I enjoyed the creative process. Published November 1, 2019 by Artisan Bookworks, the book is available on Amazon or by request from libraries and bookstores.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The inspiration for Pig and Mouse’s first adventure was my own childhood love of collecting treasures from nature: rocks, seed pods, leaf skeletons, feathers, abandoned bird nests, shells, etc. Often, these collections were started on the fly during a trip to the beach or a hike in the woods. My kids even contributed to my “science museum” throughout their own childhoods. Now that they’re grown, the collections have been condensed into a large curio cabinet in my living room. I still add the occasional rock, seed pod or feather — my eyes never stop seeking. To this day, I love to examine my collections and enjoy showing visitors my latest acquisitions — the thrill never truly goes away!

Please share some of your writing process.
I keep a running list of picture book ideas—currently it’s at 75—which can come from something I’ve seen or heard, a picture, just about anything can trigger an idea for a story. When I’m ready to start writing a new story, I scroll through my idea list to see what jumps out at me and start writing. For fiction, I can usually write a rough draft in one sitting, but the editing, polishing and fine-tuning takes a heck of a lot longer. Once I’ve been through a few rounds of self-edits, I share my manuscript with a critique partner and several beta readers for feedback. And of course, if it’s nonfiction, who knows how long it can take? I’ve been working off and on on a children’s birding field guide for almost nine months—there is a lot of research involved and then parsing it down into child-friendly bites.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Hmm, I guess I’ve always been a writer. From childhood through my college years, I was forever making up stories, often writing them down. I can remember sitting on the curb during school recess, writing stories and sketching while the other kids played. After completing an Associates Degree in Business and a B.A. in General Arts from the University of Washington, I entered the workforce. Throughout my life, this passion to write and to create has been the impetus for my career choices, including stints in editorial positions at magazines—both print and online—which eventually segued into the digital design world as I began overseeing corporate websites. Never losing my penchant for writing; I’ve been published in various magazines and enjoyed my own newspaper column for several years. When I became a parent. I delighted in sharing my love of the magical world of books by reading aloud to my two boys. Many nights, my younger son would place his tiny hand on mine while looking up with big, brown hope-filled eyes, (most likely as a stalling tactic) and plead for “one more story”—how could any parent refuse? So in the moment, I began making up stories. Fortunately, the ones my son had me tell over and over, I was smart enough to write down. Two of those stories were my first picture books to be published, The Skipping Stone, and Goober and Muffin, now available in five languages.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
The pull of creative writing has remained a common thread through everything I do—it is a wonderful outlet for all the information and ideas swirling around in my head. As a former teacher of multicultural arts and horticulture, I’ve been moving towards writing nonfiction picture books drawing from my own interests and passions. Currently, I am working two books that share my love of birds. The first one is a children’s field guide, Backyard Birds of Puget Sound, which I am really excited about. There are 70 birds included in the book and the illustrations are gorgeous. The second book evolved after two years of observing and photographing a family of bald eagles, from hatching to first flight. I loved watching the eaglets grow and the family dynamics were fascinating—compelling me to share what I learned and observed in my forthcoming children’s picture book, The Majestic Bald Eagle, which will be illustrated with my photography. I started out by selecting the photos to be used and then did my research to cull information to complement the series of photos. The book covers everything from habitat, behavior, diet and more. And after that will be a children’s gardening book, and then a children’s book featuring lore, crafts and recipes from around the world—I have a lot to draw from, from the curriculum I created back when I was teaching.

Please share your favourite kidlit 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?
My goal with my picture books is to always have extra special little details in the illustrations so the reader will spy something new with each reading. I really enjoy Animal Cafe by John Stadler. The story is a lot of fun and the illustrations are adorable. You can’t help but want to read the book over and over, laughing out loud at some of the predicaments. The illustrations complement the story really well. A recent picture book I love is What Would You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. The illustrations start out as black and white drawings, and with each page turn, more color is added, until by the end of the story, the little boy figures out what to do in glorious full color. The exquisite illustrations are compelling, drawing you in to really study the details to see what changes with each page turn.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Don’t skip the editing process! Having your manuscript professionally edited is one of the most critical steps in the publishing process. As the author, you are so familiar with your book, your mind will convince you that what you expect to see is what you are seeing. And, unfortunately, Microsoft Word’s spell checker and grammar checker are unreliable — they don’t know your intentions and often correct things that are already correct or ignore things that are wrong. Choose your editor wisely—not your mom, not your best friend—not even your ninth-grade English teacher! Hire someone specifically trained in book-editing skills in your genre. It makes all the difference.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
That’s a tough one—probably mochi ice cream— ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of chewy mochi dough, for a refined yet playfully delicious dessert experience. You bite into a chewy, almost flavorless rice cake and are surprised with a cold burst of bright flavor. Imagination in every bite! My favorite right now is sweet, tangy mango, which reminds me of me—a somewhat shy person on the outside, with a surprise quirky playful inside.

Kelly Lenihan has always approached life from a unique vantage. Often inspired by nature; her discoveries in nature, food, and art fuel her creativity. Through her writing and art, she delights both in sharing her knowledge and helping others perceive the world with new eyes. Passionate about sharing her love of curiosity, creativity and exploration, Kelly started writing books for children in 2012 (two are in five languages). She writes fiction and nonfiction for ages 2-10. Kelly is an active food blogger, avid birder and hobbyist photographer. Following her lifelong penchant for writing and the power of stories, Kelly is working on more children’s picture books, as well, she has a couple cookbooks in the works. In addition to authoring her own books, Kelly enjoys assisting indie writers on their publishing journeys.

Social Media:
Author website:
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Book links:
Adventures of Pig and Mouse: An Unusual Friendship is available on Amazon:
Her new book The Majestic Bald Eagle is available for pre-order. It will ship Spring, 2020.

Author Kelly Garrett on Creating Suspense in YA

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author Kelly Garrett. Her YA thriller, The Last To Die, was published by Sourcebooks Fire. She explains her journey below.

But first, YAY- Kelly is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book! To enter the contest, follow me on Twitter (@LydiaLukidis) and leave a comment below. (US residents only, ends Nov 14, 2019)

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
The Last To Die has a bit of a windy journey. It originally came out as a Poisoned Pen Press title in 2017 and was a 2018 Oregon Book Awards finalist. Then, Sourcebooks Fire republished the novel in November 2019 with an absolutely gorgeous new cover.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I wanted to write a book with an anti-hero (or “unlikeable female narrator”) and decided the POV of a teen who’s playing a “game” with her friends that involves breaking into each other’s houses worked as a starting point.

Please share some of your writing process.
When I’m drafting a novel, I set a word count goal of 1k/day, although I frequently write more. But I like 1k, ’cause on slow writing days, it’s still manageable (and exceeding my goal is always energizing). On the spectrum of plotter and pantser, I fall in the middle. I know where the novel starts, and how it ends, but figure out the middle of the story, and character development, as I draft the project.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even before I could read. As a small child, I had elaborate stories behind my (prolific) drawings. I started writing stories in elementary school and studied creative writing and political science in college.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m writing new projects, both for teens and adults, although I don’t have any news I can share.

Please share your favourite kidlit 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?
For my contemporary book, please let me blather on about Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin (which, I should note, is a crime novel intended for an adult audience). It has ingredients I love: a strong female heroine with a complicated past. Well-developed secondary characters who could be the leads in their own novels. A mystery, in this case, a murder in a women’s shelter, but the women involved, while victims of domestic violence, are a fascinating bunch with all sorts of secrets hidden under their skin.
A classic example is pretty much anything by Agatha Christie, who (for good reason) is one of the best-selling mystery writers of all time. While called the queen of cozy, Christie’s work is subtly darker than today’s cozy mysteries (which I also read and love). Her unexpected twists in novels like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder On the Orient Express are masterful. Sleeping Murder has always been one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Figure out your process, and don’t worry about what works for other people. Everyone’s process—and path—is different, and just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
Rocky Road! You have the depth of chocolate, the savory note from nuts, with a bit of marshmallow. Fun fact: rocky road got its name “to give folks something to smile about in the midst of the Great Depression.”

Kelly Garrett’s debut novel, The Last To Die, was a 2018 Oregon Book Awards finalist. When not writing, Kelly spends her time hiking with her Great Pyrenees mix and seeking out new coffee shops. After growing up in a small, rainy town on the Oregon Coast, Kelly now calls Portland home, where she organizes several literary-related lecture series.

Social Media:
Twitter: @garrett_kelly (
Instagram: @writerkellygarrett  (
Facebook: @writerkellygarrett  (

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Author-Illustrator Rachel Dougherty on Building Engaging Nonfiction

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author-illustrator Rachel Dougherty. Her picture book Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge was published by Roaring Brook Press. She explains her journey below.

But first, YAY- Rachel is generously giving away a FREE PB critique! To enter the contest, follow me on Twitter (@LydiaLukidis) and leave a comment below. (ends Nov 9, 2019)

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
First I worked on the manuscript with my agent, and after several rounds of edits, we settled on something that seemed strong enough for pitching. When she sent it out to 14 publishing houses for consideration, we had some strong interest early on from Roaring Brook Press, as long I was open to some revision. I was thrilled at the prospect, and even happier once I got to talk about the project with my soon-to-be editor. She was so excited about Emily’s story, and I could tell from our first call that her edits would make the story smarter and sharper. We went back and forth on several rounds of revisions before Roaring Brook Press officially offered me a contract. I feel very lucky to have been paired with an editor whose guidance made my book stronger at every turn.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I first learned about Emily’s story while reading David McCullough’s wonderful book The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a fantastic work— he’s so dedicated with his research and so nimble with his storytelling. I’d certainly heard about John Roebling before, and about his son Washington, but it struck me as so strange that no one had ever mentioned Emily to me. After reading The Great Bridge, I wanted to know more. The more I read about Emily, the more I felt like her story should be told to as many little girls as possible.

Also, and maybe lots of writers say this, but I think we all can’t help but create books for the readers that we were most like as kids. As a kid, I always wanted to know how things worked and why they worked that way. So I knew in writing Emily’s story, I wanted the bridge mechanics to be part of it. I was really excited by the chance to let readers learn how the bridge works just as Emily’s figuring it out on her own in the story.

Please share some of your writing process.
Since I came to writing later than I came to illustrating, I think the manuscript starts to come alive for me once I can envision the art. So I sort of write and draw in tandem in the early stages, with tiny scribbled thumbnails and captions scattered all around the text. It usually takes me four or five rounds of this thumbnail/book-map mess before a proper dummy comes to life.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It’s funny, because I don’t think I ever really had a dream to become a writer, or the realization that I wanted to become one. Someone once asked me, “where did you find the courage to start writing?” and I sort of just laughed. It didn’t seem courageous to me at all at the time. I started writing because I was so impatient. I had illustrated a few picture books with historical topics and I was so excited about them that I didn’t want to wait for another project like that to come around. I was so impatient that I figured I’d have to make the project myself, and that’s how I got the idea for the first book I wrote.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Honestly, I hope I can make something as great as Secret Engineer over and over again. I am in the early stages of a project right now that I have high hopes for. It’s really out of my comfort zone. I think it’s still too primordial to talk about, but I hope I’ll have more news soon!

Please share your favorite kidlit 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?
From an illustration perspective, I always return to Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. It’s one of the most beautifully illustrated books I’ve ever seen. I just want to live inside those pages—particularly the illustrations of Miss Rumphius’s house. From a writing perspective, I’m floored by Amy Novesky’s Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois. The illustrations are also stunning, but Novesky tells Louise Bourgeois’ story so tenderly and poetically. Right from the opening, the words just wrap around you: “Louise was raised by a river. Her family lived in a big house on the water that wove like a wool thread through everything.”

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find your team. Writing can be isolating, and self-doubt gets louder and louder in a quiet room. You need other writers to critique your work, to vent to when you’re stressed, and to high-five when you succeed.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
Coconut ice cream – it tastes like summer at the beach, and that makes me happy.

Rachel Dougherty is a Philadelphia-based author/illustrator driven by a love of nonfiction for young readers. She is the illustrator of several educational picture books, the author of one nonfiction early reader, and the author/illustrator of Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge.

Social Media:
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Author Jenna Grodzicki on How to Create Unique Hooks

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome Jenna Grodzicki. Her debut nonfiction picture book I See Sea Food published by Millbrook Press (a division of Lerner) has a unique hook. She explains her journey below.

But first, YAY- Jenna is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book! To enter the contest, follow me on Twitter (@LydiaLukidis) and leave a comment below. (US residents only, ends Oct 25, 2019)

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
I See Sea Food went through MANY rounds of revisions before it was submission ready. I can look back and see that clearly now. However, I submitted it to a lot of agents before it was at that point. Needless to say, I racked up lots of rejections. The one comment I heard over and again was that they loved the topic but not the execution. It wasn’t until early 2018 that I found the right format and voice. Then, Lerner editor Carol Hinz posted an open call for nonfiction manuscripts that would best be illustrated with photographs. I had always envisioned this story with photographs, so I submitted it right away. Less than a month later, I received an offer. It was a dream come true.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The inspiration for this book came from a website I just happened to click on while researching lemon sharks (for what would later become Finn Finds a Friend (Clear Fork Publishing)). It was an article about marine animals that looked like foods we eat. It was a total OMG moment for me. I knew that kids would be as fascinated by these creatures as I was. I never planned to write nonfiction, though, so I didn’t do anything with this idea for a few months. But I couldn’t stop thinking about these sea creatures that really did look like food. So, I decided to go for it and began the research process. And I’m so happy I did.

Please share some of your writing process.
I write both fiction and nonfiction. I See Sea Food was my first attempt at nonfiction, and now I’m hooked. I love finding a new and interesting topic. I tend to be drawn to weird animals, so that’s what I’ve been researching and writing about. But I also really enjoy writing fiction.
My writing process is similar for both. I have the hardest time with the first draft. I have an unfortunate habit of agonizing over EVERY SINGLE WORD. I constantly have to remind myself that I just need to get a bunch of words down on paper, and they don’t have to be perfect. That’s what revising is for.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I first started dreaming about writing picture books when I was teaching first grade. My favorite part of the day was when I read to my students. I loved talking about and sharing amazing books with them. Slowly, I came to the realization that I wanted to try writing picture books. It remained only a dream for several years, something I would do “some day.” Finally, I took the leap and haven’t looked back since.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I hope to continue to create picture books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m a full-time writer now with no plans to stop. I have two books coming out in 2020. HARMONY HUMBOLT – PERFECT PETS QUEEN (Clear Fork Publishing) is about a girl named Harmony who learns that her special Perfect Pets collection is even more special when shared with friends. The second book is nonfiction. It hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t say much more about it. I also have several WIPs, and my agent is getting ready to send a couple more manuscripts out on submission. Lots of exciting things happening, and I’m thankful every day that I get to do what I love.

Please share your favourite kidlit 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?
Wow, this is a difficult question. So many books have served as mentor texts for me. I’d have to say one of my absolute favorite picture books is Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. This was one I read to my first graders every year. It certainly influenced my dream to become a writer.
When I was working on I See Sea Food, I used many of Melissa Stewart’s books as mentor texts. Two of the most helpful ones were Feathers: Not Just for Flying and No Monkeys, No Chocolate. I’m a huge fan of all of her work.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Immerse yourself in the Kidlit community. No one understands this crazy journey like other writers. And join a critique group. These will be your people. They’ll be there for you every step of the way, and their support is invaluable.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
I’d be the rainbow sprinkles on top of the ice cream. Rainbow sprinkles make a dish of ice cream more cheerful looking. I’m naturally a very happy person, and I try to spread that positivity to everyone around me.

Jenna Grodzicki has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Boston College, and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of New England. After spending 15 years as an educator, Jenna is now a full-time writer. She is the author of Pixie’s Adventure (eTreasures Publishing, 2017), Finn Finds A Friend (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017), I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures that Look Like Food (Millbrook Press, 2019), and HARMONY HUMBOLT – PERFECT PETS QUEEN (Clear Fork Publishing, 2020). Jenna lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children. She is represented by Victoria Selvaggio of Storm Literary Agency.

Social Media:
Facebook: @jennawritesPB
Twitter: @jennawritesPB
Instagram: @jennawritespb

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