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Author Jennifer Buchet on Perseverance- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who’s very active in the kidlit community; Jennifer Buchet. I’m excited to announce her latest creation, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, a picture book illustrated by Cassie Chancey and published by Clear Fork. See her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Jennifer is generously giving away a free picture book critique up to 600 words (non-rhyming) or a query critique. To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends Feb 18, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma.

Ever since I could hold a crayon, I’ve been writing. I love how the written word creates magic, wonder and adventure. About eight years ago I invested in several kidlit writing classes and began joining various organizations.

Once I had the idea for Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, the first draft came quickly yet the revisions took months! The story went through several iterations, from swapping Little Medusa’s biggest challenge to revealing how she solves the issue by herself. Not to mention that making one of the world’s best known super-villains into something kid-friendly takes hard work!

Two years and ~60 drafts later (thanks amazing critique partners!) I began subbing out my story and within a year found a home with Clear Fork Publishing.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

After watching a reptile show at my library, I was intrigued with snakes. Smitten, but not enough to purchase one, I began writing a funny snake story. A month later, my little girl skipped into the laundry room with very tangled hair and I found myself facing a real-life Little Medusa! 

Oh.

Oh!!

Little Medusa….snakes….hair…scaring things to stone with a stare… I put aside my original tale (and the socks!) and dove into the mythology of Medusa.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by my audience as a Pre-Kindergarten teacher, plus I get to see how books are being presented to the littles via the curriculum. So nearly every day, ideas are bopping around. It can be difficult to choose one or two to focus on and actually write down! I make a point to write on the weekends though, even if it’s only for a few hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I’m currently searching for the “write” agent plus I’ve several picture book manuscripts out on sub, with a few more bumping down revision lane. I’m also polishing up my first chapter book and can’t wait to find the perfect home for it!

I know you also head up a Twitter pitch contest, could you please tell us more about that?

Absolutely! Three years ago, during the first summer of the pandemic, my friend Karen Greenwald and I wanted to inspire and unite kidlit writers. And we love writing contests! So we created a virtual vacation “writerland” called #SunWriteFun.  Entrants write to a theme (such as sportsmanship in ’21 due to the summer Olympics) and have a tiny word count to create their own tale. Our judges are always impressed with the number of imaginative entries! We also raised donations for both #WeNeedDiverseBooks and ReadertoReader.org. Watch out…we’re already hatching plans for this summer’s theme!

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Wishing on stars and casting dandelion dreams is fine, as long as you have the work to back you up. Because it’s all about getting the “write” story in front of the right person at the right time.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

You might think I’d say a snake, but nope! (Snakes hibernate in the winter and I love snow!) My secret super power has always been to change into any animal; narrowing it down is hard so I’d have to choose….a timber wolf.

Or a panther.

Maybe a black cat.

Just not a snake!

BIO

Jennifer Buchet is an award-winning author, pre-kindergarten educator and self-proclaimed foodie. Her kidlit career officially started in 2011, writing for Cricket Media. Today, she is a feature contributor for Faces magazine while also creating new picture books and chapter books, many which feature mouth-watering meals and even a few cute, twisty serpents.

  • Book Info:

Title: Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma

Author: Jennifer Buchet, Illustrator: Cassie Chancy, Published By: Clear Fork Publishing, 2021, Fiction, Age Range: 4-8

Synopsis: Little Medusa is the first Gorgon who doesn’t enjoy having her best serpentine friend wriggle through her hair. She finds herself torn between following family customs and keeping herself and her best serpentine friend happy. In fact, Little Medusa begins doubting if she even wants to scare anyone to stone with a stare!

  • Social Media Links & Book Links

You can swap tales & tips with Jennifer here:

Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma is available for purchase at:

PLUS…an easy way to support an author is to leave Book Reviews and ask your Local Library to carry their books!

Author Dianna Wilson Sirkovsky on Publishing her First PB- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this last Q & A of 2021, please welcome a good friend of mine, Dianna Wilson Sirkovsky. We actually met an SCBWI conference (live!!) a few years back, and she did something not many writers do- she published the FIRST picture book she ever wrote! Now, James’ Reading Rescue published by Clavis has landed. See her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Dianna is generously giving away a free copy (US Or Canada)! All you have to do is comment on this blog post- contest ends Feb 4, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for James’ Reading Rescue.

Thanks so much for this opportunity, Lydia.

This was my first PB so everything was a challenge. I was completely untutored in all the rules of writing.  I had no idea if my story was any good, a total disaster or somewhere in between! Gradually along the way, I reached out and received help from some generous writers and structured critiques.

Then came submissions. As a debut writer, I was groping in the dark. I researched publishers to see who was accepting unsolicited submissions and reviewed their books. I also read everything I could find on upcoming books. Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf was extremely helpful in providing publishers who were unknown to me.

Happily, I submitted to Clavis and I will never forget the day I received their email offering publication. I had to read it three times before it sank in!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

JRR is based on a true story I read on the internet several years ago about a cat rescue shelter that ran a reading program for their cats. It all began with the young son of a volunteer. He struggled with reading and his mom suggested he read to the cats. It offered a safe, non-judgmental environment for him to practice and had the added value of helping to socialize the cats for adoption. A win/win! It spoke to me on several levels – my own son needed help with reading and I’ve been involved with cat rescue for many years. My children grew up with nine rescue cats! I felt this was a story I just had to write.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

The process does change somewhat depending upon the type of story – fiction, non-fiction or something inspired by a true story.  Is research required or is it just some fun idea that I need to grab and run with? I often find that I feel like a beginner each time I start a new story!  I don’t write for the sake of writing, even though I know that’s good practice – I need a specific idea/story to focus on. When the first sentences start formulating themselves in my mind, then I know it’s time to sit down and start applying myself!

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

‘James told his class about reading to Ghost and the shelter cats. Other children wanted to read to the cats too. They practiced their reading, patiently listened to by cats who didn’t judge. And the children loved the cats and helped them not to be afraid.’

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I have a couple of stories currently on submission and several others on which I’m doing final revisions. I don’t have an agent so submissions take quite a lot of time.

I also have an opening sentence that keeps popping up, so I have to sit down and get to writing that story soon!

I’m thrilled to say that Sara Casilda and I have another book, Just One Pebble, coming out this fall with Clavis. I’m so happy to be working with her again.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.

Where to begin? So many wonderful books but here are some that have helped with some of my stories: Sweet Dreams, Sarah and Making Their Voices Heard by Vivien Kirkfield; This Book is Spineless by Lindsay Leslie; Bess The Barn Stands Strong by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia; Great Joy, Kate DiCamillo’s first PB; The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern; The Rough Patch by Brian Lies; The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach is my favorite story within a story.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Don’t give up. Write your story and prepare to be patient. Time doesn’t move at the usual pace in the publishing world!

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

How to choose? I’m an animal lover through and through. I am particularly concerned with the plight of wolves at the moment, though. These remarkably intelligent, family-oriented animals have been maligned throughout history and are still persecuted and hunted mercilessly, particularly in North America. More of us need to stand in defense of these spectacular animals and their rightful place in our ecosystem. Thanks for asking this, Lydia!

BIO
Dianna Wilson Sirkovsky’s life has always been filled with books and cats. She renewed her love for picture books reading to her children, inspiring her to write and share stories of her own later in life. 

Her family is deeply committed to animal rescue and the ethical treatment of all animals. They had nine beloved rescue cats that shared their lives for many years. Her children now have rescue cats of their own! She works as a senior administrator at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where she lives with her husband. She takes great pleasure in writing children’s stories inspired by true events, imagination, and the joy of adventure and discovery.

Dianna’s debut picture book, James’ Reading Rescue, illustrated by Sara Casilda, released in Oct. 2021 with Clavis has received some great reviews. JRR can be found on Amazon.ca or at Babar Books at https://www.livresbabarbooks.com/.

Dianna and Sara have another book, Just One Pebble, scheduled for release in Fall 2022, also with Clavis.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

To find out more about Dianna Wilson Sirkovsky, or get in touch with her:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/diannawilson99?lang=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dianna.wilson.98

Website: still in construction

Author Annette Whipple on Expository Nonfiction- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this last Q & A of 2021, please welcome a nonfiction author who does very well with expository literature: Annette Whipple. Check out her new book, Scurry! The Truth about Spiders, published by Reycraft Books. See her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Annette is generously giving away a free signed copy of either Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls or Scurry! The Truth About Spiders (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post- contest ends Nov 25, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
As the third book in The Truth About series, this book’s journey was much easier than others since I knew the structure of the book and even knew some of the facts I wanted to research.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
For this series, I knew I wanted to include animals that are often misunderstood. Spiders definitely qualify! Plus, they’re beautiful!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process is different, yet similar, for each book. I began by learning some general information about spiders. From there, I brainstormed what I might want to include. I shared my brainstorming method here. https://www.annettewhipple.com/2021/07/how-to-brainstorm-nonfiction-writing.html After brainstorming, I created a list of possible questions I might address in the book since it’s a question-and-answer picture book. Then, it was time to research! My research included lots of books, websites, and consulting with a couple of experts. I even held a tarantula during my research.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

“The spider controls what kinds of silk it makes. Thick or thin. Dry or sticky. The threads can stretch, but they’re strong—stronger than steel.”

What would you say are some of the ways in which to make nonfiction, especially expository, more commercial and engaging for children?

I love this question because it took years for me to figure out how to make my first book in this series, Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, just right for the trade market. I actually put that manuscript aside for a couple of years while I was working on another book (The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide). When I returned to it, I had read hundreds more kidlit nonfiction titles. I knew my manuscript was too old for the topic, too long, and unfun. It was just too teacher-y. (I was a classroom teacher. This is not surprising.) Owls are fascinating, and I wanted everyone to know every fact I did. But that didn’t work.
So, I used all the same research. I completely changed the format to a question-and-answer picture book (or chapter book—I wasn’t certain when I began drafting). I rewrote the text to be much shorter and less detailed. I added humorous sidebars. I chose to make those sidebars from the owls’ perspectives. That means Whooo Knew (and all the books in this series) is officially informational fiction, despite the main text being expository.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Next year Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs and Meow! The Truth About Cats will be out with Reycraft books to make it a five-book series. I’m actively seeking an agent with some other manuscripts, too.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Ooo! I love this question. I have so many. How about I mention a few informational authors who I learn a ton from? Heather Montgomery, Sarah Albee, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Melissa Stewart, Steve Sheinkin, Jennifer Swanson, and so many more!

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
The publishing world is hard. Don’t do it for the credits or money. Write for the joy of it.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I’m not going to choose a spider because too many people want to squash them. How about an owl? Or a firefly?

BIO
Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder while exciting readers about science and history. She’s the author of ten fact-filled children’s books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press), The Story of the Wright Brothers (Rockridge Press), and Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls (Reycraft Books). The Truth About series also includes books about dogs, spiders, frogs, and cats. When Annette’s not reading or writing, you might find her baking for her family in Pennsylvania. Get to know her and explore her resources for teachers and writers at www.AnnetteWhipple.com.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

https://www.annettewhipple.com/

https://www.instagram.com/annettewhipplebooks/

https://www.facebook.com/AnnetteWhippleBooks

Twitter: @AnnetteWhipple

To buy: https://www.amazon.com/Scurry-Truth-Spiders-Annette-Whipple/dp/1478870230/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=scurry+the+truth+about+spiders&qid=1630337666&sr=8-1

Author Lynne Marie on STEM Fractured Fairy Tales

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a talented author who does much more than just write and edit; the one and only Lynne Marie! Seriously, I’ve never met someone who hustles so much, and puts so much time and effort into everything she does, it’s truly remarkable. Check out her new picture book, The Three Little Pigs and the Rocket Project, published by Mac and Cheese Press/CAW Publishing. See her journey below…

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
My journey for this book is a bit different. I was inspired by one of my Mentees, who I worked on a wonderful story with — BLAKE’S BIG DAY. When the book was ready to go, she decided that she didn’t want to wait out the publishing timeline and she decided to publish it herself with the help of a friend, Wendy Fedan. I got in touch with Wendy and we are partnering on THE THREE LITTLE PIGS AND THE ROCKET PROJECT, with her CAW PUBLISHING and my MAC AND CHEESE PRESS. Normally, I am not someone who is a great fan of self-publishing, but it was the right time to give this avenue a try, and the book turned out fabulous!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
My former Agent passed along an opportunity to write a stem fairy tale series, even after I had gotten a new Agent, saying she thought I was the best person for the job. I wrote a few stories and proposals.
For this one, I wanted to nod to the three little pigs and their differences in choice of building materials, so I brainstormed ways that they could use straw, twigs and bricks. Then I remembered my daughter’s science class rocket project and everything connected.
Of course, the Big Bad Wolf needed a role, so I reimagined him as Bibi Wolfe, the school bully. 
And of course, Bibi needed to blow down the other’s rockets so she could win the competition. 
Everything really just fell into place. I was able to keep the important details from the original story and at the same time, make a story feel fresh and new. 
Unfortunately, by the time we sent the story in, we found they had chosen someone else for the series. But I believed in this story and thought it had strong hooks:
Fractured Fairy Tale
Science (STEM)
Bullying
and facilitated themes of resourcefulness and girl power, so I knew it was a project worth sharing.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process definitely differs with each book. In this case, I was very driven to create a project by a certain deadline for submission by my agent. Without deadlines, I seem to flit and meander much more. 
I am pretty prolific and jump from project to project without really focusing on submission. By that I mean I will get it where I think it needs to be after several revision rounds and then will let it ferment.  That way has worked for me in some aspects. When I see a call or a wishlist, or my editor or agent is seeking something specific, then I dig through and dig out a related manuscript and focus on it wholeheartedly. I guess I am better with deadlines and incentives 🙂 

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“This week,” said Mr. Halliwell, “students will create and launch toss rockets! Grades will be based on materials and distance.”
The Three Little Pigs oinked delight — 
they loved building things! 
The class cheered, 
everyone but, Bibi Wolfe. 
She didn’t like projects. Or losing. She still steamed over her brick house fail. 

You recently took over the Rate your Story website, and are heading up your own imprint, Dancing Flamingo Press. Please tell us more about this!
Yes, I was happy to take the Rate Your Story torch from Sophia Gholz. It’s a concept that I have loved and supported for many years. First, as a Member, then as a Judge and now as Owner. Rate Your Story is a Membership based Rating and Feedback Service (with opportunities for Non-Members as well). However, Members get 18 submissions for Rating and Feedback (valued at $25 each), a free entry in our annual Summer Contest (valued at $15), weekly help desk sessions, free webinars, newsletters, lots of giveaways, Baker’s Dozen Monthly Challenge and a weekly “Mentor Text Talk” Book Chat. I’ve planned even more fun and fundamentals for 2022! More information can be found at www.rateyourstory.org/become-a-member for 2022 opens November 1, 2021. Usually we are open to new Members until January 31st, however, last year we filled up all of our membership spots by November 29th!  At press time, we are currently about half-way filled, which is ahead of that schedule. 
BTW thank you for being one of our talented and helpful Judges! 
As to Dancing Flamingo Press, that is an exciting new adventure, with our first book slated to come out in Spring, 2022. I’m thankful to have been able to recruit Dea Lenihan (a Rate Your Story Member) as the artist to collaborate with on American Pie. Here’s a little sneak peek of our little wombat, Watson. 

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I am actually grateful to have two other pending projects, however as we all know, it’s not official until the contracts are signed, so I will have to wait on those. And I am crossing my fingers for a Moldilocks and the Three Scares [https://amzn.to/38d0zA4] Sequel which I believe is even more fun than the first book. It features fun and intriguing locations like The Muenster Cheese Fest in Alsace, France; the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt; Bran’s Castle in Transylvania, Romania — which incidentally I am visiting during my trip there over Halloween; and the Dead Sea, Israel.  

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Oh, I have so many favorites, so hard to choose! But I do invite writers to check out my Tinker and Talk Book Chat to watch and see the books I recommend. It’s currently open to all, but next year, it will be FREE to Rate Your Story Members and a small fee for Non-Members. 
Still, off the top of my head I will share these. 
Crankenstein by Samanatha Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat [https://amzn.to/3jeWpxT]
Lilybelle, A Damsel in Distress by Joanna Pastro, illustrated by Jhon Ortize [https://amzn.to/38coVKm]
Mootilda by Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Claudia Ranucci [https://amzn.to/3yjiIHc]
Unicorn and Horse by David Miles, illustrated by Hollie Mengert [https://amzn.to/3gCc2h7]
Zombie in Love by Kelly DePucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell  [https://amzn.to/3jhSrEE]

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
The writing process is not a linear one. It has twists and turns, and sometimes even circles back around. You may take one step forward, and two steps back. It’s par for the course, the nature of the beast. Embrace the process and stay on the path. And lastly, maintain an good attitude, conducive to learning, and keep your objectivity in check. 

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
LOL I love so many animals that it’s hard to choose, but inspired by my little love, I would say a Schipperke. They are like mythological creatures, part leprechaun, part wolf, part bat, part wombat. They are so elegant and regal.

BIO
Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten — art by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic 2011), Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School — art by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play — art by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books 2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares — art by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling 2019 and Scholastic 2019) and Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World — art by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books 2019), The Three Little Pigs and the Rocket Project — art by Wendy Fedan (Mac and Cheese Press / CAW Publishing, November 2021) and American Pie — art by Dea Lenihan (Dancing Flamingo Press, 2022).

She’s also the Owner and Administrator of both RateYourStory.org and ThePictureBookMechanic.com, as well as a long-time Travel Agent with PixieVacations.com (www.pixievacationsbylynnemarie.com)! She’s been a Cybil’s Judge in the Fiction Picture Books and Board Books category since 2016. Recently, she’s been handed the ReFoReMo torch from Kirsti Call and Carrie Charley Brown, which will return under its new name March On With Mentor Texts in March, 2022 (www.rateyourstory.org/march-on). You can join her at her weekly Tinker and Talk Book Chat here: Tinker and Talk Book Chat by The Picture Book Mechanic | Facebook

When she’s not searching for story ideas all over the globe, she lives on a lake in South Florida with her family, a Schipperke named Anakin and several resident water birds. Visit her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com. Lynne Marie is represented by Marisa Cleveland of www.theseymouragency.com

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

LiterallyLynneMarie@Gmail.com
www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com
www.rateyourstory.org
www.thepicturebookmechanic.com 
Twitter: 
Rate Your Story (@RateYourStory) / Twitter
Lynne Marie – The Star in the Christmas Play (@Literally_Lynne) / Twitter
Dancing Flamingo Press (@OurTweetCorner) / Twitter
Instagram:
Lynne Marie (@literally.lynne.marie) • Instagram photos and videos
On Amazon:
https://amzn.to/38fowGV
On my Website:
Books | LiterallyLynneMarie

Author Kirsten W. Larson on the Importance of Research

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome one of the hardest working authors I know; Kirsten W. Larson. She’s been researching the field of nonfiction for years, and it definitely shows in her work. Check out her new picture book, A TRUE WONDER, illustrated by Katy Wu, and published by Clarion (HMH). See her journey below…

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything (Clarion) is the third picture book my agent and I sold together, but the second to be published. My editor, the amazing Jennifer Greene, had few edits, and got illustrator Katy Wu on board very quickly. It was less than two and a half years from contract to holding the book in my hands. That’s a record for me!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
A big inspiration was the 2017 Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Godot and directed by Patty Jenkins. It was such an event for so many of us, and I loved the conversations it started about how much the character means to so many people. Because the movie was such a big deal, there was lots of press surrounding it, including a Smithsonian Magazine article by Harvard historian Dr. Jill Lepore, who wrote THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN (2014). Dr. Lepore’s book started me down the research rabbit hole that led to this book.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process is pretty messy, and sometimes I feel I have to relearn how to write a book each and every time. In terms of research, I normally start with secondary sources if I can, and read widely about the subject I’m tackling. Secondary sources provide context and point the way to primary sources through endnotes and bibliographies. I always write a “kitchen sink draft,” which has all the names, dates, and details that probably won’t appear in the final draft. Then I can let all specifics go and be more creative with my structure, storytelling, and voice. And I almost always thumbnail my books, thinking carefully about what text and images will appear on each spread, where the key plot points fall, and what will drive the page turns.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
America, 1941
The comic book industry is dominated by white men.
When Wonder Woman arrived in America, she wasn’t the superhero most people had in mind. After all, she was a woman.
But that was the point. She had an important mission: To change minds about what women could do. And to change the world.
Her tale begins in towns across America…”

What would you say are some of the ways in which to make nonfiction, especially expository, more commercial and engaging for children?
That’s a big question! I think one key is to focus on topics kids care about, like airplanes, superheroes, or animals, for example. And then you have to deliver some kind of compelling takeaway that goes beyond the educational learning of the book. Add to that compelling voice, captivating page turns, and interesting structures, and you have something magical.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
In August 2022, I have THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books), which is a parallel story of Cecilia Payne’s formation as a scientist told alongside the process of star formation. And then I have another lyrical STEM picture book on the way plus my first historical fiction graphic novel.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I think anything you read can inform your writing. For A TRUE WONDER, I studied picture books focused on important objects like PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, as well as his book STONEWALL, and HER RIGHT FOOT by Dave Eggars about the Statue of Liberty.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Write down your original inspiration, what excites you about the story, and why you feel it’s important to share it with young readers. That’s your touchstone. In revision, you can come back to that story spark to make sure you’re telling the story you wanted to tell.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I’m a huge fan of sloths because most people get them so wrong. Rather than being lazy, they are perfectly adapted to their environment. By moving so little, they conserve energy and avoid predators. Not to mention, they basically are their own ecosystem.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kirstenwlarson.jpeg

BIO
Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything (Clarion, Fall 2021), illustrated by Katy Wu, and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2022), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
Website: Kirsten-w-larson.com
Social media: @kirstenwlarson
A TRUE WONDER is available wherever books are sold, but autographed copies can be purchased from Once Upon a Time. https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/autographed-books-kirsten-w-larson

Author Heather L. Montgomery on the Importance of Curiosity

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who’s a nonfiction giant I’ve admired for many years; Heather L. Montgomery. Her books serve as mentor texts, and this new one will be no different. Here she is discussing the book journey for What’s in Your Pocket: Collecting Nature’s Treasures, a nonfiction picture book illustrated by Maribel Lechuga and published by Charlesbridge.

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
In August of 2013, I wrote my first research note about this idea. My first draft is dated April, 2014. I didn’t have anything submission-worthy March 2018. Even then I wasn’t convinced it was ready, but an editor (and her enthusiasm for the premise) egged me on. The offer came that June. Publication was scheduled for 2020, but was pushed to 2021. Thanks COVID.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
This project started as a little wiggle and wormed its way into to something larger. Editors were asking for picture book biographies. I thought: I don’t do history. There’s nothing in that for me. But eventually, I found myself reading biographies of scientists. When I spotted anecdotes that reminded me of kids I know, kids who drive their parents crazy with crud crammed in their pockets, kids like grown-up me who have mounds of bones and stones cluttering up the house, I thought: maybe there’s something here. . .

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It does vary, especially between picture books and middle grade projects. For Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, it started with a question—who uses roadkill—and turned into a quest that took over my life. I became so immersed in the research that I didn’t write anything until I could not stop it from spilling out on paper (sometimes a 4 AM). For picture books, though, I tend to draft earlier in the process and end up going back to search for a structure that works.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from one of your books.
“Throughout history, kids have found all kinds of strange and wonderful things.
They’ve created collections.
They’ve made discoveries.
They’ve changed the world of science.
Every discovery started with just one thing.
One little thing that could fit in a pocket.
What’s in your pocket?”
What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures

You write a lot of stellar nonfiction, what do you think is the key in making science interesting and engaging for children?
For me, curiosity is the key. If the subject is not interesting to you, find a way to get curious! I’m serious. It is critical that we model for kids just how exciting science is. Ask lots of questions—like 100 questions—until you find the ones you care the most about. Then let those questions lose and just try to keep up!

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Nothing that I can talk freely about yet, but I will say it is chock full of pus and snot and awesome animals!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I study mentor texts constantly and analytically, but I don’t stick to kidlit. Movies, ad copy, even video games teach me what works with kids these days. An adult book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach showed me how compelling a first-person, author-as-investigator approach could be. I adapted that for my middle grade books. For inspiration/solace about the writing process I turn to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Listen for the little wiggle in the back of your brain. Be brave. Follow it.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Dragonfly! Because dragonfly “kids” are the coolest!

BIO

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-legged Parents and Their Kids, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
Website: www.HeatherLMontgomery.com 
Twitter: @HeatherLMont
Purchase Link: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/search/site/Heather%20L.%20Montgomery

Author Laurie Wallmark on Writing in Rhyme

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who writes amazing nonfiction, and as I just discovered, also writes amazing fiction and rhyme! Laurie Wallmark drops by to chat about her latest picture book, Dino Pajama Party, illustrated by Michael Robertson and published by Running Press Kids. See her journey below…

You have written many STEM nonfiction books that focus on female pioneers- does fiction excite you as much?
I actually started by writing fiction first. I wrote two novels before switching to picture books. One of the novels sold, but the publisher went out of business. I continued to write fiction, but then had an idea for a nonfiction project. This became ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, a picture book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Although I continued to write fiction, I was definitely hooked on nonfiction, also.

Is your process different when writing nonfiction and fiction?
My process for both starts in a similar manner—with an idea. It’s that niggling something in the back of your mind that you can’t get rid of. From there, though, the process splits for quite a while. For nonfiction (and occasionally fiction), you have to research, research, and research more. After that, the writing process is the same. You need to figure out a structure for your story. It often takes several drafts before I get to the correct structure. Then it’s revise, revise, and revise again.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from one of your books.
Dinos rock and dinos roll.
Dinos stomp and dinos stroll.
All the dinos on the street,
Boogie to that funky beat.

Writing in rhyme can be challenging, do you have any tips for aspiring poets?
My best tip is to read a lot of poetry, but more importantly, listen to poetry read aloud. Become comfortable with the rhythm of the words. Hear what rhythm works, and when the reader stumbles or has to put an odd emphasis on a syllable. Make poetry part of you.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Learn to be patient. The writer’s journey is long, but if you continue to work on improving your craft, you’ll get there.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I’d definitely be a cat. I could sleep or lounge in the sunlight most of the day, and someone else would feed me.

BIO


Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as well as fiction. Her books have earned multiple starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Best STEM Book, Cook Prize Honor Book, Crystal Kite Award, Mathical Honor Book, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Her titles include ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE, NUMBERS IN MOTIONCODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER, and her debut fiction picture book, DINO PAJAMA PARTY. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is a former software engineer and computer science professor.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
Website:              https://www.lauriewallmark.com/ 
Facebook:           https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor/ 
Twitter:                @lauriewallmark
Instagram            https://www.instagram.com/lauriewallmark/ 
Linked In              https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurie-wallmark-4a815711/ 

BUY LINK
https://bookshop.org/books/dino-pajama-party-a-bedtime-book/9780762497751?aid=3613

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 an author who writes stellar nonfiction AND fiction, Laura Purdie Salas. Also, she’s one of the kindest, most generous authors out there! Check out her new book, If You Want to Knit Some Mittens, illustrated by Angela Matteson, and published by Boyds Mills Kane. 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.

Please 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…]
13. 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 Flemin’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 (one) 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).

BIO
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. laurasalas.com

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/