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Resources for writers

Author Laura Purdie Salas on the Value of Patience- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a multi-talented author who spans the worlds on fiction AND nonfiction: Laura Purdie Salas. Many of her books end up on my “mentor shelf” because I LOVE the way she thinks outside the box. Check out her latest picture book, If You Want to Knit Some Mittens illustrated by Angela Matteson, published by Boyds Mills Kanes. See her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Laura is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post- contest ends Oct 1, 2021.

CapturePlease describe the journey to publication for this book.
It’s so funny that a manuscript can seem memorable and all-consuming when I’m working on it, but by the time it’s published, I have to look back in my files to see how it all actually happened! I actually wrote this manuscript back in 2014. My then-agent sent it out to five editors. Two showed some interest and had revision suggestions, but Rebecca Davis of Wordsong loved it and acquired it in early 2015. Of course, it still went through plenty of revisions, most thoroughly in 2018. That’s also when artist Angela Matteson (who also illustrated In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House) came on board (yay!). And here we are now. I seriously can’t believe it’s been 7 years!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
On April 9, 2014, on a car ride home from an author visit, I was brainstorming picture book ideas. Here’s what I wrote:
If You Need Mittens… Funny, nf approach. How to Make Mittens. 1) Buy a sheep.  Funny, but true. Back matter, basics of knitting. [xyz] could be a resource? Could I go visit her?
I was thinking that day about nonfiction topics and how different fun structures could make that information more interesting. If You Want to Knit Some Mittens ended up with a fictional element that adds heart and a factual skeleton that shows how we get from a sheep to wool yarn. I love the combo of both.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I generally start out with broad research and then spend a lot of time gnashing my teeth while I try to figure out the piece of the puzzle that’s eluding me. Often, that’s structure, but I already knew I wanted the how-to structure here. And the voice was mostly there from the beginning. The beginning of the book is “1. Get a sheep. Seriously.” So that hardly changed from my idea file. But over time, Rebecca helped me see that there needed to be more of a relationship in this book. Sheep couldn’t just be a wool-provider. Girl and Sheep had to care about each other. The revisions were tough. I wrote tons of different versions, trying different things. A lot of it is trial and error for me—even after so many years of writing. I discover what needs to change AS I write it. It kind of emerges, like a sea creature that’s hard to make out in the murk but that becomes clearer as it rises up.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from one of your books.
[When Girl and Sheep have grown marigolds to dye the yarn with…]
Pick marigolds and dry them in the sun.
Jumping rope nearby is
not recommended.
[The art of Sheep and Pig jumping rope, which sends the marigolds flying, is just too cute!]

You write stellar fiction AND nonfiction. Do you find it tricky to navigate both worlds?
Aw, thank you! I don’t find it tricky on the writing side. I love both—and poetry! I’m usually working on several manuscripts at a time in different genres. The marketing is tricky, though. It’s difficult to keep up with what’s going on in the fiction picture book world, the nonfiction picture book world, and the poetry picture book world. Connecting with people and building any name recognition is pretty tough when you jump between different genres, I think.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Speaking of jumping between genres—haha! In the next couple of years, I have the following picture books coming out:
We Belong (a rhyming concept book that celebrates our differences and our common humanity—Carolrhoda)
Oskar’s Voyage (a rhyming fiction book about a chipmunk who stows away on a huge Great Lakes freighter—another fiction book that has lots of info in it—Minnesota Historical Society Press)
Superhero Tryouts (a poetry collection about all kinds of helpers that kids use, with a fictional framework and prose backmatter–Wordsong)
Finding Family (a lyrical nonfiction prose picture book about a case of interspecies adoption—Millbrook)
Zap! Clap! Boom! (a rhyming factual story of a thunderstorm with backmatter)

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Wow, that is so tough! I have so many books that have served as mentor texts—though I didn’t have any specific books in mind for this particular title. But for Finding Family, Candace Fleming’s Giant Squid was a valuable mentor text for me. Her sense of mystery and drama and pacing is something I love in that book and tried to infuse into Finding Family.
And a few of my favorite books so far from 2021 are Dear Treefrog, by Joyce Sidman; Lady Bird Johnson, That’s Who! by Tracy Nelson Maurer (I’m lucky Joyce and Tracy are both critique partners!); Be a Tree, by Maria Gianferrari; Lubna and Pebble, by Wendy Meddour; Fourteen Monkeys, by Melissa Stewart; and So You Want to Be an Owl, by Jane Porter. Those are just a few—there are so many amazing picture books out there!

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
I think writer’s block happens when I don’t know what to try next. I keep several manuscripts in progress so that I can set aside one I’m frustrated with and pick up a different one. If I go through all my files, usually at least one manuscript pings, and I can get to work.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Today, I’m going to say a sea otter—playing and sliding and swimming sounds delightful right now (even though I hate seafood of any kind).

BIOCapture2
Laura Purdie Salas has written more than 130 books for kids, including Lion of the Sky, If You Were the Moon, Water Can Be…, and BookSpeak! Her books have earned the Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notables, starred reviews, and more. She offers resources for children’s writers at https://www.laurasalas.com/writing-for-children/ and has a Facebook Group where she connects with her Patreon supporters. She enjoys teaching and speaking at writing conferences around the country.

Social media links:
site: https://laurasalas.com/
blog: https://www.laurasalas.com/blog/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraPSalas
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LauraPSalas/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/laurapsalas/
Newsletter for educators: https://tinyurl.com/5a9ycnta
Patreon community for kidlit writers: https://www.patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas

 

Author Susan Hughes on Writing Across Genres- 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 from my neck of the woods; Canada! I feel fortunate to know Susan Hughes, whose massive body of work has always amazed me. From fiction to nonfiction to graphic novels, she does it all. Check out her latest book, LIGHTS DAY AND NIGHT: THE SCIENCE OF HOW LIGHT WORKS published by Kids Can Press. See her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Susan is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US or Canada). All you have to do is comment on this blog post- contest ends Sept 17, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for this book, LIGHTS DAY AND NIGHT: THE SCIENCE OF HOW LIGHT WORKS.lights day and night cover updated
LIGHTS DAY AND NIGHT: THE SCIENCE OF HOW LIGHT WORKS is my newest book: a 32-page non-fiction picture book which was published September 7!
Because it’s the second in a series, this book’s journey to publication was fairly straightforward.
After I wrote Sounds All Around: The Science of How Sound Works, I was keen to explore and explain another science concept to young readers—a companion book to the “sound” book. When I proposed the idea to my editor, Jennifer Stokes, who was then at Kids Can Press, and specifically suggested I write a book about “light,” she liked the idea. Yay!
Next, step? Writing an outline.
I didn’t know much at all about the physics of light at the time, so I had lots of learning to do. I was fortunate in that I had the Sounds All Around story to use as a template. It helped guide my thinking about how much of the content I’d gathered I could include in this next book, and to get a handle on the level of complexity. Using frequent peeks at both the US Next Generation Science Standards and the science curricula of many Canadian provinces/territories, I enjoyed figuring out which concepts about light would best be included and how to share them with readers in an accessible and accurate way.
After I created a fairly comprehensive outline—more of a draft manuscript than an outline actually—I sent it off to Jennifer. She took it to an acquisition meeting with the Kids Can team and it got the thumbs up!
After lots of editing and the manuscript being passed back and forth between us, it was finalized—to a point.  I was fortunate to have Ellen Rooney as the illustrator of the story. She came up with unique ways to present the information visually, and occasionally this meant revising some of the text. When the manuscript was truly final, it was sent off to be read and reviewed by physicist James Rabeau, University of Melbourne.

Lights day and night - cat day and nightWhat is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It really does vary from project to project, but I do spend time every week working on my own projects. I fit these in around and between my editing work (I provide freelance editing, critiquing, and story coaching services for clients) and writing commissioned pieces for various publishers. It’s a super combination! The editing and coaching I do often fires me up creatively so when I return to my writing, I’m raring to go. And vice versa: after I spend time working on my own writing, I’m inspired to shift that same passion to my editing and coaching!
As for tackling the individual project, when writing fiction, I often just sit down and write, without having any sense of what my story might be. I play with images or dialogue or a phrase or the idea for a character. As I write, sometimes the story evolves! Non-fiction is different. Assuming I have a basic concept, I’ll begin playing with possibilities for how best to deliver the information. Sometimes, the project will end up being purely non-fiction; sometimes it will become informational non-fiction. The tone and flavor of the narrative evolve almost simultaneously with the form.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Summer, a cloudy night, no moon or stars.
The sky is so dark, then …
Blink, blink!
A firefly.
Such a tiny insect, but its light glows brightly in the darkness!
Then, a breeze picks up. The treetops bend and sway, and the sky begins to clear.
Oh, look!
The sky is full of stars. They are millions of miles away, but their light travels all the way from there … to here.
<Sidebar>A star is a spinning ball of gases — made of matter that isn’t liquid or solid. The center of a star is incredibly hot. This heat creates an enormous amount of energy, making the star glow!

You have published a slew of books without an agent, how do you do it?
I was fortunate to have my first few manuscripts accepted after submitting them myself directly to editors at Canadian publishers. Now, I continue to send my manuscripts, both fiction and non-fiction, to these publishing houses and their editors remain willing to consider them. Lights Day and Night spread

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I plan to continue writing children’s books for all ages—picture books, of course, but also stories and non-fiction for older children. Oh, and as well as being excited about the publication of Lights Day and Night, I’m looking forward to two more picture books coming out next year, both with Owl Kids: Same Here: The Differences We Share (spring, 2022) and Hooray for Trucks! (fall, 2022)!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Reading has always been one of my favorite things to do—and it still is! I read widely—adult, YA, middle-grade novels, and picture books, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, verse novels, and poetry. Sometimes I’ll be reading a book that I’m loving so much it’ll simply fill me with a need to write. I’ll have to set it aside in the middle of a chapter, in the middle of a paragraph, turn to my own project, and begin work.
Every book I’ve ever read has been a mentor text for me. Together, over and over, these books have given me instruction in good writing, not-so-good writing and spectacular writing—in character development, dialogue, setting, plot …
Before I begin a specific project, I may read in a genre or for the particular audience I’ll be aiming at, but mostly I’ll read a wide variety of texts simply to re-enter into the spirit of the written world, to remind me to be open to possibilities, to free up my narrative voice, to explore beyond the boundaries.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Sit down and do it. Write. A page, a paragraph, a sentence, a phrase, a word. Write. A word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a page … Give the magic an opportunity to happen!

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Well, my favorite animals are dogs—but I wouldn’t want to be one. I think I’d choose to be a …. hawk so I could soar high above the ground and survey the world from above.

BIOSusan Hughes - head and shoulders

Susan has written more than 30 traditionally published award-winning children’s books, including picture books, chapter books, MG novels, young adult novels, both fiction and non-fiction for all ages. Some of her titles are WALKING FOR WATER: HOW ONE BOY STOOD UP FOR GENDER EQUALITY, illus by Nicole Miles (Kids Can, 2021); CARMEN AND THE HOUSE THAT GAUDI BUILT, illus by Marianne Ferrer (Owl Kids, 2021); the TIME TO series (Annick Press, 2017); THE PUPPY COLLECTION series, illus by Leanne Franson (Scholastic Canada, 2016-2013); OFF TO CLASS: INCREDIBLE AND UNUSUAL SCHOOLS AROUND THE WORLD (Owl Kids, 2011), the WILD PAWS series, illus by Heather Graham (Scholastic Canada, 2009), and EARTH TO AUDREY, illus by Stéphane Poulin (Kids Can, 2005).
Susan is an experienced freelance story coach and editor who works with writers, both novice and experienced, providing critiques and developmental edits, and guiding them in their writing practice. She also works with educational publishers to develop student books on topics from geography and history to science and Aboriginal studies for a wide range of grade levels. She writes commissioned stories and articles for many clients.
She has been delighted to serve as juror for many book awards and volunteer her expertise with CODE, the CNIB, and other non-profit organizations. She’s an active member of SCBWI, CANSCAIP, and the Writer’s Union.

Social media links:
– webpage: http://www.susanhughes.ca
– twitter: @childbkauthor
– instagram: https://www.instagram.com/susanhughes2518/
– Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susan.hughes.9465/
– link to purchase:
Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/lights-day-and-night-the-science-of-how-light-works/9781525303197
Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Lights-Day-Night-Science-Light/dp/1525303198
Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/Lights-Day-Night-Science-Light/dp/1525303198/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Author Nancy Churnin on Primary Sources for 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 also happens to be very kind, Nancy Churnin. Check out her latest books, Dear Mr. Dickens and A Queen to the Rescue: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah, published by Albert Whitman and Creston Books/Lerner Books. See her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Nancy is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post and tell us why you love nonfiction. Contest ends Sept 3, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Dear Mr. Dickens.
It was a long and winding journey! I wrote the first draft in 2013, three years before my first book would come out, but the spark – or rather, the need — for the book sprang from when I was a child. I had always loved Charles Dickens, but my mom, who had lost a grandmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins in the Holocaust questioned how I could admire a writer who created Fagin in Oliver Twist, a portrait of a greedy, selfish, criminal Jewish man that inflamed anti-Semitism in Dickens’ readers. I didn’t know how to answer.
It was a hurtful puzzle, really, because Dickens had such a big heart for the poor, for children, for the vulnerable – why had he made his one Jewish character so nasty and referred to him again and again as “the Jew”? Then, one day, when I was doing research on various subjects in my local library, I started reading a page about Dickens (because I love to read about Dickens) and came across a mention of Eliza Davis. It was just a brief sentence or two, but I read it over and over.
Eliza Davis was a Jewish woman who had written to Charles Dickens to confront him over his creation of Fagin and how hurtful it was to her and her people. He responded – at first reproaching her. But then, over the course of their correspondence, she changed his heart. He created his first kindly Jewish character, Mr. Riah, in his last published work, Our Mutual Friend, for her. I couldn’t wait to share this story about the power of speaking up and the possibility of changing for the better with my mother – and the world!
I couldn’t find a publisher at first. While my then new agent, Karen Grencik, loved it from the start, the first few editors she tried didn’t see how a story about exchanged letters could be made active and exciting enough for young readers. We put it away for a long while. In the meantime, I published my first eight books, with a ninth on the way. In 2019, one of my editors, Wendy McClure, who was then at Albert Whitman, wanted to know if I had anything new for her – something a little different than I had done before, something that might be about an action that had impacted history. I felt Dear Mr. Dickens call to me, wanting to be heard.
Like Eliza, I summoned up my courage, sent it to Wendy directly, and was delighted when she and her editorial team fell in love with Eliza and Charles just as I had. Also wonderful, she and illustrator Bethany Stancliffe had no trouble at all making the art thrilling and lyrical. I consulted and worked with three outstanding Dickens scholars to make sure that everything was correct. J. Don Vann, Emeritus Professor at University of North Texas; Professor Murray Baumgarten, Distinguished Emeritus Professor at UC Santa Cruz and Founding director of The Dickens Project; and Professor David Paroissien, Professorial Research Fellow, the University of Buckingham, UK, Emeritus Professor of English, UMass Amherst, and retired longtime editor of Dickens Quarterly, are all acknowledged and thanked in the book.
Ever since the book was underway, my mother has been asking for it. It has been a dream come true to hold the soft-cover F&G in my hands and to share it with my mother. When I finally got to visit her after we were both vaccinated, she held it in her hands and read it every day that I was there. She would read it, put it down, smile, and pat the book as if it were a dear child. It is a book of hope – of courage to challenge those in positions in influence and the nobility of those great enough to admit mistakes and change. It has been healing for my mother and me. I hope it will prove healing and hopeful to young readers, too.        

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I drew it from the actual correspondence between Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens – every word they say in the book comes from those letters and also from Dickens’ published works. But more deeply, I drew it from my own belief in the power of words. Eliza, who was no one that anyone reading this interview has probably heard of, had the same three things that Charles Dickens and all of us do – pen, paper, and something to say, plus the courage to say what she thought.
Charles Dickens, whose mastery of words influenced the way people of all walks of life, from chimney sweeps to the Queen herself thought about things, was changed by Eliza’s words. Because of Eliza, in addition to creating the kindly Mr. Riah, he became a champion for the Jewish community, speaking up for them in magazines he published and edited. England had once been a hostile country for the Jewish community, but it changed greatly in the 19th century to become more inclusive and welcoming. As I share in the back matter, many people deserve credit for that change, but among those people, most certainly is Charles Dickens, and there’s no question that Charles Dickens wouldn’t have been one of those champions if he hadn’t at first been moved by the words of Eliza Davis.
Eliza is a reminder that we can all make a difference if we, too, have the courage to speak truth to power.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project? You are a “writing machine,” so we’re all curious how you manage your time?
I feel very blessed by my lack of talents and hobbies. My idea of a wonderful day is a day I get up and create, revise, and post about stories. Writing is breathing to me – it’s how I talk and listen to the world. It is a key part of my daily conversation with the world, helping me to better understand what’s around me and find my place and purpose in it. Every year my garden is a disaster, save for one peach tree that grows despite me, no doubt because it takes pity on me. The meals I cook – lots of soups and bread with my bread machine — are the height of simplicity which, thankfully, is how my husband and children like them.
I don’t shop, I don’t do “lunch,” I don’t venture out much at all unless it is for a presentation (which I have loved doing virtually). My major outing of the day is walking my dog or taking her to the dog park. One of my favorite poets is Emily Dickinson. I had a magical visit to her house in Amherst. I could feel her presence in her room and the peace she found in the quiet life she created for herself. I, too, am grateful for my quiet life. There’s no greater gift than the time to reflect, to write, to share words with those that value them as you do.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Eliza stared at the page. The most famous author of her day, a man known to use his powerful pen for good, didn’t like what she had to say! She’d tried and failed. She could cry or… She sat at her desk. She tapped her foot. Dickens’s words moved countless readers to compassion. If only she could find the words to move one particular reader.”

Please tell us about your other book, A Queen to the Rescue, the Story of Henrietta Szold.
I am drawn to stories of people who inspire me, people that kids might not know about otherwise, people who persevered to make the world a better place. It’s actually a lovely coincidence that these two books are coming out in the same month, because they have more in common than both being Jewish women and overlapping in years where they spoke up at a time most people were not interested in what women had to say.
Henrietta, who lived from 1860-1945 (Eliza lived from 1816-1903), was determined to make the world a better place. She founded the first night school in America to help new immigrants learn the language and customs of their new country. She founded the first charity run by women, Hadassah. In her 70s, she saved 11,000 children from the Holocaust. The book is called A Queen to the Rescue because Henrietta’s role model was the Biblical Queen Esther who spoke up to her king to save her people. Hadassah, by the way, is the Hebrew name for Esther. In a way, both books are Queen Esther stories because both women took great risks to speak up for their people. Funny thing, long before I wrote A Queen to the Rescue, an early version of the Dear Mr. Dickens manuscript refers to Eliza identifying with Queen Esther (that reference is gone now).
Henrietta worked hard all her life to help others, making the services of Hadassah available to all, not just to Jewish people. I am so excited for everyone to see the the moving illustrations by award-winning illustrator Yevgenia Nayberg.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I hope to keep growing as a writer, bringing new stories to light and trying different formats, from board books to chapter books and beyond. I can’t give you details on my next book, but it looks as if it will be my first historical fiction picture book. My editor is trying to secure an illustrator now as I write this. I enjoy experimenting with different ways of making history and societal changes come alive in a way that inspires kids to change the world for the better. All it takes, really, is to see something that is not as it should be and to have the courage to speak up, to take action, to try new and better ways of doing things.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
In one of my writer groups, the Nonfiction Ninjas, we meet and talk about mentor texts, which are contemporary picture books. I learn a lot from all my fellow writers and I am hesitant to name a few because it would leave so many wonderful ones out! But – longtime English major here — my very favorites are classics and poetry, myths and riffs on the hero quest. I have learned so much and been so inspired by Charles Dickens, which is why it has been such an honor to write Dear Mr. Dickens. C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia render spiritual yearnings and insights visible (I often reread The Last Battle in my mind) as does J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is genius in the way it shows why books are so threatening to authoritarians and so necessary to maintain and grow our humanity. Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain is a model as I consider the world of historical fiction. Louis Sachar’s Holes is brilliant in the way it interweaves and shows the interconnection of the past and present. When I need a jolt of courage, I turn to the words of great thinkers – Dr. King, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou— and my many favorite poets, including Alfred Tennyson and, in particular, the final lines of one of my dad’s favorite poems, “Ulysses”:

Tho much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Never forget that you are a gift to the world with the ability to understand and express things in a way no one has before. It may take a while for you to find a way to express your perspective. It may take a while for others to hear your music. But know you are music. Protect your song like a growing flower. When your stories bloom, it will be a beautiful day with much rejoicing.

And a bonus question! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I am beyond grateful to be a human animal because that gives me the ability to write. If I could be anything else, I would say a cat or dog because they know better than many humans what love is. Plus, cats and dogs inspire writers and get to read stories before they’re published.

BIO
Nancy Churnin writes true stories about people who persevered to achieve their dreams and make the world a better place. She provides free teacher guides and a project for each book with a dedicated page on her website, nancychurnin.com, to encourage and celebrate kids to be heroes and heroines, too. She’s the author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME, on multiple America state reading lists, and available in translation in Japanese and Korean. MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN is a 2021 Sakura Medal finalist, the 2018 winner of the South Asia Book Award, a 2019 Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award winner, among many awards and is available in Braille through the National Braille Press and multiple languages through Room to Read. CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF is the winner of the Silver Eureka Honor Award. IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING is a 2019 Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book and a 2019 Social Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. She has three books on A Mighty Girl list: THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE, QUEEN CHARLOTTE’S GIFT TO ENGLAND; BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN, THE ART OF LAURA WHEELER WARING (also an NCTE Notable, Silver Eureka, and Towner Award finalist); and FOR SPACIOUS SKIES, KATHARINE LEE BATES AND THE INSPIRATION FOR “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL.”  MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK is a Notable Books for a Global Society 2020 winner list among other honors.  Two more true stories, DEAR MR. DICKENS and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE, THE STORY OF HENRIETTA SZOLD, FOUNDER OF HADASSAH, will be out in October 2021. A native New Yorker and former theater critic, Nancy is a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s from Columbia University School of Journalism. She lives in North Texas with her husband, a dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats.

Social media links:
Website: https://www.nancychurnin.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nancy.churnin
https://www.facebook.com/NancyChurninBooks
Twitter: @nchurnin
Instagram: @nchurnin, https://www.instagram.com/nchurnin/?hl=en
Books can be purchased at your local independent bookstore, at Barnes & Noble, at Amazon, and at Express Booksellers (for non-profits buying wholesale only). You can request autographed copies from my local independent bookstore, Interabang Books, and from Express Booksellers (again, available to non-profits only):
Interabang Books: https://www.interabangbooks.com/search/site/nancy%20churnin
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Nancy%20Churnin
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Nancy-Churnin/e/B01CR5K762?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3&qid=1622491651&sr=8-3
Express Booksellers: https://expressbooksellers.com/kids-books/

Author Jennifer Swanson on promoting STEM- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author I respect and admire, Jennifer Swanson. I especially for her stellar expository nonfiction, as well as the podcast Solve It! for Kids she co-hosts with the awesome Jed Doherty. Check out her latest, The Secret Science of Sports, a middle grade STEM book, published by Black Dog & Leventhal. See her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Jennifer is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post and tell us why you love nonfiction. Contest ends August 9, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for The Secret Science of Sports.51-I-J4jtEL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_
I grew up with 3 brothers and a father who love sports. It was natural that I would as well. After all, I spent most of my days playing baseball in the backyard with my brothers, shooting hoops in the driveway, swimming laps in the pool for swim practice, running, hiking, biking, etc. You name it, I’ve played the sport. It only seemed natural that I write a book about something I know and love.
The cool thing about this, is that I had just created this book proposal (it had a different title), when I received an email through my website from an editor at Black Dog and Leventhal who was looking for a book just like this! I felt like I’d won the lottery, which in a sense I had. Since it rarely happens that an editor is looking for a book at the same moment you have just created a nonfiction proposal of said book. WOOT! Anyway, she loved my proposal and bought the book right away. Working with the Black Dog and Leventhal team has been a dream. They are fabulous and this book turned out really well. Aren’t Laurène Boglio’s illustrations fabulous?

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
That was easy. I’ve loved sports my whole life. I should, I mean I’ve been playing them that long. I grew up in a family with 3 brothers and a father who loved sports. When we weren’t playing wiffleball in the backyard, we were shooting hoops in the driveway, playing croquet, swimming, biking, well, you name it. We pretty much did all the sports. So, it only seemed natural for me to combine my love of STEM and sports.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process varies, based on the project I’m working on. Typically, though, I find a topic I love, then work on figuring out the HOOK, or best angle to approach the topic. I need one that will be intriguing and unique. Then I do the research for the book, hopefully going to visit places I need to, if necessary. Finally, I sit down and write the book. I will do research as I write, too.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
If you picked up this book, it’s probably because you like sports. Maybe you want to see if it has tips for how to improve your game (it does), or how to become more fit (it has that, too), or just because you want to learn more about different types of sports (also there). But wait, the title says, the Science of Sports. That means that this book also teaches you about science. What does a sports book have science in it? Those two subjects seem so different. It’s not as if sitting in a science class can teach you more about your sport than practicing it. Actually, it can.       
©Jennifer Swanson, Secret Science of Sports 

What draws you to nonfiction?
I was— and still am— that kid who always asked questions. My favorite ones were- how does that work? Why does it work that way? Can we take it apart? For me, writing and reading nonfiction helps to feed my curiosity and allows me to understand how our world works. If any one book I write can help kids to be curious and inspire them to learn more, my life is complete.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’d love to encourage people to check out my science podcast for kids. This was born out of my 12 years of research working with amazing scientists and engineers. I wanted kids (of all ages) to experience the passion and joy that these scientists and engineers have for their jobs. To understand that doing STEM and STEAM is just as much fun as learning about it. We’ve had some pretty amazing guests—from Fabien Cousteau to a NASA JPL engineer who “drives” the Mars Rover, to an astrophysicist who listens to black holes colliding.  https://solveitforkids.com/
Solve It! for Kids
The science podcast for curious & creative kids and their families.
Peek into the world of real-life scientists, engineers, and experts as they solve problems in their every day jobs. Kids and families are then invited to take on a challenge and solve a problem themselves! Join Jennifer and Jeff Gonyea as they ask questions, solve problems, and offer challenges that take curiosity and creativity to a whole new level.
Don’t forget to participate in our weekly challenges! If you do, you can be entered to win a free book. (Different book every month!)

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Black Hole is NOT a Hole by Carolyn DeCristofano  This is my all-time favorite STEM nonfiction book. It was the first trade STEM nonfiction that I was introduced to as a new writer, and it has hooked me every since.
Pretty much any of the Scientist in the Field books by HMH 
How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
As Ted Lasso says: be a goldfish. They have the shortest memories. This is a tough business, and it can get you down sometimes, but this way you won’t dwell on it, you’ll forget it. 😊

Photo 0139--JenAnd a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A goldfish – see above.

BIO

Science Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 45 nonfiction books for children. Using her background in science and history that she received from the U.S. Naval Academy, and her M.S. in Education, Jennifer excels at taking complex facts and making them accessible, compelling, and humorous for young readers, Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact and BEASTLY BIONICS which both received Florida Book Awards and  NSTA BEST STEM book awards.  Her Save the Crash-test Dummies book received an NSTA BEST STEM Award and a Parent’s Choice GOLD Award.  Jennifer has been a featured speaker at the Tucson Book Festival, National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the World Science Festival (twice), the Atlanta Science Festival (twice) and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival in 2019. You can find Jennifer through her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.

Social media links:
https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=jennifer%20swanson%20books
https://twitter.com/JenSwanBooks
https://twitter.com/KidsSolve
https://www.instagram.com/jenswanbooks/
where to buy the book: https://www.blackdogandleventhal.com/titles/jennifer-swanson/the-secret-science-of-sports/9780762473038/

Author Melissa Stewart on Researching Nonfiction

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, I’m SUPER excited to welcome one of my mentors and pioneer of nonfiction, Melissa Stewart. Check out her new book Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme, illustrated by Steve Jenkins and published by Beach Lane Books. See her journey below…

What inspired you to write Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme?14 Monkeys cover
This book was inspired by a single paragraph in The Life of Mammals by David Attenborough. It explained how a half dozen species of guenon monkeys can all live together in the forests of Africa because they have different lifestyles and habits. As I was reading this passage, I immediately thought of the fun poem “10 Little Monkeys” and wondered if I could create a nonfiction version with facts about this group of monkeys.

Please describe the book’s journey to publication.
My initial idea didn’t work out, but researching those guenons rekindled the fascination I first felt for monkeys in 2005 when I visited Tortuguero National Park, a rain forest in Coast Rica. I became obsessed with monkeys and talked about them every chance I got.

In 2017, I had the good fortune to meet children’s book illustrator Katy Tanis, who is on a quest to see every monkey species in the world in its natural environment. She suggested that I read High Moon over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night by Patricia Wright. That book led me to the very special community of monkeys that inhabit Manú National Park in Peru. The more I learned about them, the more convinced I became that they were the perfect fit for the book I wanted to write.

Because I knew curious kids would want to know more about the monkeys than I could possibly incorporate into the poetic main text, I added secondary text full of additional details as well as rich backmatter bursting with even more information.

I was lucky that my editor, Andrea Welch, loves monkeys as much as I do. Her feedback really helped me revise the book to make it more of what I wanted it to be.

When Steve Jenkins agreed to illustrate the book, I was elated. I loved the art he created for our first book together, Can an Aardvark Bark? and was excited to work with him again. His monkeys are amazing (One reviewer said their “fur appears palpably plush”)! I’m especially happy with the little infographic trees he created to show the rain forest layer where each monkey lives, and the backmatter design packed with infographics is fantastic.  

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
Yes, it does vary. For Fourteen Monkeys, I was initially having trouble keeping the fourteen monkey species in the book straight. I kept having to doublecheck their characteristics:
Which one was it that eats tree sap?
writingWhich species sleeps with their tails twisted together?
Which one is nocturnal?
To solve this problem, I decided to make monkey flashcards. I printed out photos of each monkey, cut them out, and glued them to index cards. Then I wrote out a quick list of the monkey’s notable characteristics on each card.
These mini cheat sheets worked great, but then I realize I could also place them on a large table and move them around to experiment with different ways of organizing the text. Trust me, it’s SO much more fun than cutting and pasting text in a computer file.
Because Fourteen Monkeys has four key categories of information—diet, body size, height in the rain forest, and characteristic behaviors, it was easy to bogged down in all the details I was trying to include. Luckily, the index cards helped me stay focused by providing physical representations of the book’s big-picture components. And the act of sorting them helped me with pacing and text structure.
I may never end up using this index-card strategy again, but it’s a good tool to have at my disposal.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Here’s a spread that I just love.

spread

Read the rest of this entry »

Author Brandon Marie Miller on Crafting YA Biographies- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome Brandon Marie Miller, an author who writes extraordinary YA. Check out her new YA biography Robert E. Lee, The Man, The Soldier, The Myth, published by Calkins Creek/Boyds Mill & Kane, and see her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Brandon is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends June 18, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Robert E. Lee, The Man, The Soldier, The Myth.
I had written for editor Carolyn Yoder years ago, and through another author, I heard she was interested in a bio of Lee. I spent a few months working up a proposal (book overview, annotated outline, market analysis, competing titles, author bio, proposed bibliography, and sample chapter) and they offered a contract based on the proposal. Then the real work started! A note here: Lee did not follow the project described in my book proposal. The finished book went from MG 40,000 words, 8 chapters to YA 70,000 plus words, 20 chapters. It truly is a journey!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Robert E. Lee is one of the most mythologized men in American history. I hoped this book might help young people question what myths we are taught as history. For instance, some people today believe firmly that Lee did not own slaves, he did not believe in white supremacy, and that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. But all of these things are true. Having Lee in the news as I researched and wrote the book put extra pressure on me. I needed to give my readers context for Lee’s time that helps us understand our own. I needed to use Lee’s own words to help readers discover the real man, and not just the symbol that was too-good-to-be-true. That was my inspiration.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My books are MG or YA history and biography, so I pretty much follow the same process for each. I start with research because you cannot write what you don’t know! I put together a list of books and articles (tip: scour the bibliographies in other books to find great resources) and search for documents, images, and other sources online. I begin with general books and articles on the subject and then narrow my focus onto different aspects of my topic. Most importantly, as well as secondary sources, I use primary sources like period letters, diaries, newspapers, photographs, etc. If possible, I visit places and soak up details. And I talk to experts. But before you travel or talk to someone have enough research under your belt to make it meaningful. When I feel I have a firm grasp on my subject, I start writing.

I break things down into “scenes”. I love incorporating quotes from my primary sources—these add intimacy, immediacy, and sensory details to the story. My favorite part of the process is revision where I take my first drafts and make a mess of things. A large part of this is done not on the computer, but old-fashioned brain, to hand, to paper, with a row of sharpened pencils and a pink eraser. Also, keep careful track of your sources. It’s miserable when you need to find where a quote came from, and you don’t have it written down.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Set up: Lee has just surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865
“Lee left the house and mounted Traveller. Union officers in the yard raised their hats as a show of respect as he rode by. Word of his surrender spread like an electric current through the ranks on both sides. When he reached his camp, hundreds of ragged, loyal men broke their lines and engulfed Traveller, reaching out to touch Lee, touch his horse. Tears streamed down Lee’s cheeks and men cried at this, the end, the loss. But there was also a numb sense of relief that the blood and carnage was over. Lee tried to speak but failed, so overcome with emotion.”

How long does it take you to research and craft YA nonfiction?
It takes me at least a year once the contract is signed and a few times I’ve had to ask for more time. I also do the photo research for my books which is time consuming finding images and applying for permissions. After I’ve turned in my manuscript there are still months of work ahead with editorial and copy editor notes and questions. And there are also source notes, the bibliography, index, timeline and other back matter to create.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Right now I am switching things up working on a couple YA historical novels based on previous research. Will these manuscripts ever find a publishing home? I have no idea, but for a nonfiction writer it is fun and freeing to MAKE STUFF UP!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
There are so many wonderful writers tackling history and biography for young people. Some of my favorites include MG and YA books by Deborah Heiligman, Candace Fleming, Gail Jarrow, Steve Sheinkin, and PB by Carole Boston Weatherford, Don Tate, and Lesa-Cline Ransome.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find the little gems in your primary sources for insights, details, and the emotion to carry you and your reader through to the end.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Long ago I had a horse and I’d love to experience the power of running free with your ears flat, the wind tossing your mane, and the rhythmic tattoo of your hooves on the ground!

BIO

Brandon Marie Miller writes award-winning history and biography for young people. She writes about famous people and common folk, about great events and everday life. Her newest book, ROBERT E. LEE, THE MAN, THE SOLDIER, THE MYTH earned a starred review from Booklist and was named a National Council for the Social Studies/Children’s Book Council Notable Book, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, and an Illinois Reads Title. Her books have also been honored by the International Reading Association, the New York and Chicago Public Libraries, and YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association/American Library Association), among others. A long time ago she earned her degree in American History at Purdue University and lives in Cincinnati OH where she drinks tea and eats dark chocolate.

Social media links:

www.brandonmariemiller.com
www.hands-on-books.blogspot.com
Twitter: @brandonmariemil

Author Tara Lazar on Finding your Strengths as a Writer

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who writes stellar fiction and manages to make me (and pretty much everyone else, kids and adults alike), laugh out loud. Check out her new book BLOOP, illustrated by Mike Boldt, and published by HarperCollins, and see her journey below…

Please describe the journey to publication for BLOOP. Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I’m not great at parties. I’m the one in a separate room, petting the family dogs. I think dogs are lucky—they can sleep all day, people feed them, walk them, pet them, even pick up their poop. Dogs have no worries in life.
“If an alien visited earth,” I told a friend at a party, “they’d think the dogs were in charge.”
“Tara,” she replied, “that should be your next book!”

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
There’s a lot of thinking involved. My ideas usually come in the form of titles (ha, except this one), so I have to discover the story to fit that title. Who is the main character? What is their problem? And above all—WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? I have to be firm with all those details before I begin to write a single word. Weeks or months will pass between forming an idea and sitting down to write it.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
The emperor summoned Bloop.
“Mission accomplished, Bloop. Return to Planet XYZ ASAP. Your kingdom awaits.”

You write hilarious books, and you seem like a naturally funny person. For the writers who struggle with infusing their stories with humor, do you have any bits of advice?
Much humor comes from surprise, the unexpected. Misdirection, incongruity. Fitting things together in a unique way is key.
Then again, I don’t necessarily think that humor can be taught. Go with your strengths. I can’t write sweet and lyrical. It just comes out sappy, syrupy and laden with purple prose. Therefore, I don’t write sweet and lyrical books. I write humor instead.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Oh wow, I have a bunch of things under submission, but of course, this year has been slow in publishing. I remain hopeful that I’ll get some of my silliest stories out there. A third book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series called TIME FLIES: DOWN TO THE LAST MINUTE will release next year, of course with Ross MacDonald illustrating again.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I don’t believe in using mentor texts. Perhaps it’s great as you’re learning how to construct a story, but I don’t want someone else’s voice or ideas to inadvertently seep into my writing.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Keep writing new stories to discover your own process and what works best for you. Lots of people will give you advice, but you shouldn’t necessarily take it as gospel. Find who you are as a writer.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Well, that’s easy! A dog, of course!

taraflowerscircleStreet magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been.

Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books where anything is possible.

My Twitter is @taralazar and my Instagram is @taralaser

Her picture books available now are:

Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Her last name rhymes with “bazaar”—you can listen to Tara pronounce her name on TeachingBooks.net. She’s not Tara Laser-beam (although that would be awesome).

Author Debra Shumaker on how to Publish Expository Nonfiction- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who defines perseverance, Debra Shumaker. Check out her new nonfiction book Freaky, Funky Fish, illustrated by Claire Powell, and published by Running Press Kids, and see her cosmic journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Debra is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends May 21, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Freaky, Funky Fish.
Surprisingly, this book came about quite quickly! I wrote the first draft for FREAKY, FUNKY FISH during Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee the first week of May, 2018. By July, I had started sending it out to my various critique groups. After revisions, I sent it to my then-agent in September. She asked for some tweaks to the ending and we went out on submission at the end of October. In December, one editor emailed that she was taking it to acquisitions and we had an offer on January 15th! Eight months from conception to book offer floored me—usually it takes me years from idea to submission-ready.FreakyFunky-jkt_3P.indd

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The funny thing is that this book is inspired by one of those older, unsold books that I wrote. Back in 2013, I wrote a humorous fiction picture book called NOT A GOLDFISH. I had several close calls with it but it never sold.
In April 2018, I had been focusing much of my time on writing picture book biographies. My agent encouraged me to try something different and after reading a stack of rhyming picture books about bugs, squirrels, water, etc. I decided I wanted to try writing a rhyming nonfiction picture book. As I brainstormed a topic to tackle, I remembered all the fish I discovered while researching for NOT A GOLDFISH. So the old became new!

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
“Fish have fins and gills and tails. All fish swim and most have scales. But. . .”
You have to turn the page to discover what comes next—but. . . not all fish look or act alike! Some fish dance, some “sing”, and some coat themselves with snot! Fish have adapted to live in their environments in so many unique and cool ways. I hope kids who read this book realize our natural world is AMAZING!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
As varied as my projects are, my writing process is pretty much the same. After an idea strikes, if it needs research, I start gathering information from websites and books—both kid and adult. When I’m ready to start writing, I handwrite my first draft—my thought process is more “freeing” with pen on paper. That first draft is awful—a bunch of incomplete sentences and scribbles that I can barely read. After letting it sit for a few days, I type up the rough draft. From then on, I work on my computer. . .though when I’m digging in deep with my revisions, I do print it out and scribble and scratch all over it. After several rounds of revision, I bring it to my various critique groups—I’m in four. When it’s as far as I can take it, I send it to my agent.

I’ve been following your career for a while now, and I’ve seen how hard you worked to get to where you are. What were some of the elements that helped you secure an agent?
Being open—being open to joining writing challenges for motivation, being open to studying craft, being open to feedback on my work, and being open to revising. But probably most importantly, being open to setting a book aside and starting something new. As I shared in my previous blog posts with you, it was my 11th polished PB that landed an agent, but that book never sold. The 5th project that we subbed together finally sold—a year and a half after I signed with that agent. Will any of those first 10 or 15 other PBs become published? While one is, the others likely not. But they were not a waste of time. I learned something about writing from every single one of them. (Patience and perseverance are VERY important elements, too.)

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m thrilled to say I have more picture books coming!
TELL SOMEONE—a picture book that encourages kids to talk about things, both the easy stuff and the hard stuff–comes out in October with Albert Whitman. It is illustrated by the amazing Tristan Yuvienco.
A companion book to FREAKY, FUNKY FISH is in the works with Running Press Kids—PECULIAR PRIMATES will be hitting bookshelves Fall 2022. Thankfully Claire Powell signed on to illustrate it. I’ve recently seen the cover and it is adorable!
A fourth, unannounced picture book is slated for Fall of 2024—a lyrical, nature one. I am so excited and grateful to be in the place I am in my career. I’m savoring every moment.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
For the classics, when my boys were young, we checked out a series of seasonal, alphabet acrostic picture books by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans. They were gorgeous. The simple and lyrical acrostic poems with linoleum-cut illustrations made me FEEL each season. Those books inspired me to become a picture book writer.
For contemporary, Miranda Paul’s WATER IS WATER. I love how that book’s gorgeous text explains the water cycle in such a unique and fun way. And it rhymes! Perfection.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find a critique group in your genre. By having other writers read your stories and provide feedback, your stories will improve. You don’t have to make every change suggested, but be open to making revisions. And by critiquing other writers, you’re writing will also improve. I would not be a published author without my critique groups.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, which one would you be and why??
I have to go with the barreleye fish. Not that I want to BE one, but it is probably my favorite fish from my book. A see-through head?! How cool is that? How can you not want to know more about that fish! I realize it’s probably terrible of me to have a favorite from my book, but when I stumbled on the video of the barreleye fish, I KNEW I had to have it in my book. Thankfully I found a rhyming word for head that worked!

DebraShumaker5157_YankaPhotogrpahyBIO

My bio: Debra Kempf Shumaker loves weird and fascinating facts. When she isn’t reading or writing, Debra enjoys cooking, gardening, and watching Jeopardy. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband, three sons, and two cats who miss the days the youngest son owned an aquarium full of fish. FREAKY, FUNKY FISH is her debut picture book. She is also the author of the upcoming TELL SOMEONE (October 1, 2021), and PECULIAR PRIMATES (Fall 2022).

Social media links:

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.

THE FARTHER YOU GO, THE CLOSER SOMETHING BECOMES:

DARKNESS.

THE VAST DISTANCES AND POWERFUL EMPTINESS ARE SO COMMON OUT HERE,
EVERY OTHER ACTUAL THING
BECOMES RARE.

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!

 

BIO
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.

BIO
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.

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

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