Q & A with author Vivian Kirkfield

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Vivian Kirkfield. Her engaging nonfiction book SWEET DREAMS, SARAH is one of her many new releases. I was grateful she took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
The manuscript was written the month after I took a class in writing nonfiction. I was excited to tell the story of one of the first African American women to secure a U.S. patent…I turned to librarians to help with the research and I turned to critique buddies to help with polishing what I had written. As soon as I signed with my agent, she sent out the story to about a dozen editors…and one of them bought it. The editor asked for a few revisions/changes here and there…nothing major. Unfortunately, the illustration process took quite a long time…over three years…but that is how it happens sometimes. However, the finished product is beautiful and SWEET DREAMS, SARAH has been receiving glowing reviews!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I love to write nonfiction stories about people who have struggled, people whom history has sometimes forgotten. When I discovered that Sarah E. Goode had been a trailblazer, but that she hadn’t been properly recognized in her own time, I knew I wanted to tell her story.

Please share some of your writing process.
When I am writing nonfiction, I find a topic (watch TV or listen to people or surf the internet in order to find ideas) and then I research it. Then I decide what is the focus of the story…what do I want young kids to take away from the book. I fashion a pitch…that helps me to find the thread/heart of the story. And then I write the first line. For me, the first line is really important. It is the way into the story and sets the tone for the rest.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always loved writing…but never considered writing a book until my children were grown and I wrote a parent/teacher book…the book I wished I’d had when I was younger. And then I discovered a world of writers who wanted to write picture books and I realized that was what I wanted to do also…it was right after I went skydiving at the age of 64.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I just turned 72…and I tell people that I need to live to be at least 100 because I have another 30 years of stories to write. I’ve got three debut picture books that just launched this year…with two more in the pipeline for 2020: Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020) and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin, Fall 2020). My agent has two or three other manuscripts out on submission and I have many more stories ready to go. We also just sent a nonfiction picture book manuscript to one of my editors who requested a specific book…fingers crossed that I have written the book she is looking for.

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

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it!

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


Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found

Q & A with author Hannah Holt

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Hannah Holt. Her engaging nonfiction book The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & The Life of H. Tracy Halls blew me away with its lyricism. I was grateful she took the time to answer some of my questions about her writing experience.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book? And in your case, the journey to finding the right agent?
From the beginning, I knew wanted an agent. Agents can submit work more widely and also keep better tabs on what editors want. In theory, my agent would watch the market for me, so I could spend more time focused on writing. In practice, it was a little more complicated.
My first agent was Danielle Smith. She is no longer working in the industry.
My second agent was Laura Biagi. She is no longer working in the industry, but before she left, she sold my first two books.
My third agent was another agent at the same agency as Laura and took over my work after she left. I liked her a lot; however, I wanted to be at an agency focused more exclusively on children’s literature.
I’m now with Jennifer March Soloway at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Jennifer has been great to work with. While this business if full of twists and turns, I plan to stay where I’m at for a long, long time. Publication has been a long and winding road for me. Over the years, I’ve accumulated well over 100 rejections.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The Diamond and the Boy is a biography of inventor Tracy Hall—my grandfather. He built a machine that turns graphite into diamond. The idea to write his biography was simple enough, but how to tell the story eluded me for years. I took the story in a dozen different directions before landing on the dual narrative with graphite.

Please share some of your writing process.
I wrote over eighty drafts of this story before it sold. I’m someone who write and rewrites over and over again. In fact, I wrote another post sharing thirteen different openings I tried for The Diamond and the Boy.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first complete novel in fourth grade (forty handwritten pages). My early journals are also filled with poetry. I’ve always enjoyed writing, although it wasn’t until my thirties that I decided to pursue it as a career.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m working on a middle grade novel and have several picture books close to completion. I’m hopeful for upcoming submissions and looking forward to drafting several new stories this year.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day: I vividly remember sitting on the carpet during library time while hearing this book for the first time. I was six or seven years-old and remember thinking, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what a bad day feels like.’ That sense of connection lingered long after storytime finished.
The Remember Balloons: This book beautifully captures the frustrations and longings family members experience as an older family member goes through Alzheimer’s. My grandfather—Tracy Hall—suffered from Alzheimer’s, and The Remember Balloons treated the subject in a unique and child-friendly way. I’ll rave about it to anyone who will listen.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
There is no deadline for success. Take your time, learn your craft, and find the right publishing path for YOU!

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
Tillamook Mudslide Ice Cream because it’s twisting veins of fudgey goodness are like a treasure hunt in a bowl.


Hannah is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer & Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

Twitter: @HannahWHolt

Q & A with nonfiction author Melissa Stewart

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For my first Q & A, please welcome the talented author Melissa Stewart, whose engaging nonfiction books serve as mentor texts for me (and countless others). Check out what she has to say about her new book Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs:

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book? Did you have an agent and how did that come about?
No, I didn’t have an agent when Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs was acquired in 2015. I’ve been working with Peachtree Publishing Company since 2001, and I’m grateful that my editor saw the potential in the Pipsqueaks manuscript. I’m now working with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I was referred to EMLA by author and friend Cynthia Levinson.

Where did you first draw inspiration for the “animal underdog” theme?
I’ve been fascinated by animal superlatives for as long as I can remember. After all, who doesn’t admire the world’s biggest, fastest, strongest creatures? But in early 2013, I began thinking about anti-superlatives—the smallest, slowest, weakest animals. Maybe I could write a book about them.
One morning, I woke up with the beginning of the book in my head:
“Everyone loves elephants. They’re so big and strong.
Everyone respects cheetahs. They’re so fast and fierce.
But this book isn’t about animals we admire. It’s about the unsung underdogs of the animal world. Don’t you think it’s time someone paid attention to them?”
It was a gift—but it came with a price. I realized that this wasn’t going to be just an anti-superlative book. It was going to be an anti-bullying book, too. And to write it, I’d have to revisit the bullying that I endured as a child.
I wasn’t ready for that, so I shut the file, and I didn’t come back to it for months and months. But eventually, I felt prepared to face my past. I was a clumsy, uncoordinated, unathletic kid, so the western fence lizard in the book represents me.
In the end, Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs is a book about animal adaptations and celebrating the traits that make us different and unique. I think pretty much every child has felt like an underdog at some point, so I hope the book will resonate with readers.

How do you go about researching your books?
No two books are the same, but I generally begin by drawing information from the nature journals I’ve been keeping since 1989. Additional information comes from books and articles and conversations with scientists and naturalists. I often use the internet to track down the experts I interview.

When did you first realize you were drawn to the world of nonfiction, and what is the appeal for you?
Many writers gravitate toward fiction because they love to invent characters and create made up worlds, but for me, the real world is so amazing, so fascinating that I just want to learn as much as I can about it and share it with other people. That’s why I write nonfiction.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
In 2014, uber-talented illustrator Sarah S. Brannen and I published a book called Feathers: Not Just for Flying. The minute I saw the sketches for the last page of that book, I envisioned another similar book about seashells and dove into the research. We are so pleased that Seashells: More than a Home will be published on April 2.

Please share your favorite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Oh my, there are too many to name. Some of my favorite authors include Steve Jenkins, April Pulley Sayre, Jess Keating, Cynthia Jensen-Elliott, Diana Hutts Aston, Lita Judge, Nicola Davies, Owen Dewey, Joyce Sidman, Jennifer Ward, Heather Montgomery, Candace Fleming, Deborah Heiligman, Elizabeth Partridge, Gail Jarrow, Patricia Newman, Sandra Markle, Loree Griffin Burns, Sarah Albee, and Barb Rosenstock.
This is really a golden age for nonfiction. Authors are experimenting in all kinds of ways and stretching in new directions. It’s so exciting! I can’t wait to see what my colleagues come up with next.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
It’s pretty simple: Keep on writing! Being a writer is full of challenges and frustrations and so many things we can’t control. But we can control how much time and energy we devote to honing our craft.

Bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Chunky Chocolate Pudding ice cream from Bedford Farms in Bedford, MA. It’s my favorite.

Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 nonfiction books for children, including Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, Can an Aardvark Bark?, and No Monkeys, No Chocolate. She is the co-author, with Nancy Chesley, of Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science. Melissa’s highly-regarded website features a rich array of educational resources for teaching nonfiction reading and writing.

Twitter: @mstewartscience

Multicultural Children’s Book

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Hello all!

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day. I feel honoured to participate, and review a book from a talented Greek author, especially since I myself am Greek! And it fosters diversity, which is crucial.

Here goes:

Review of The Wounded Swallow  By Vaggelio Kondaki-Karametou

I had the pleasure of reading this short children’s book and I was immediately drawn in. It started off in a very sweet yet mysterious way that left me wanting to know more. I could feel the love between the mother and her daughter in the opening sequence and I was curious about the swallow they kept mentioning.

Then the story traveled to another place and time, morphing into a story narrated by the mother. It was unusual and gripping. The act of war was personified, which I found to be very original. Read the rest of this entry »

What Does it Take to Publish a Book- Part 2

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Following my last post about what it takes to publish a book, here’s a real life example:

In 2014, I had a great idea for a book. It was about a Rabbit who is afraid of everything and then comes face to face with a gigantic bear. So I started writing it. A month in, I realized I didn’t know how to end the story. SoI decided to put the book away for a while.

I circled back to it a few months later and managed to finish it. Then I spent a few months editing it (though I don’t love the editing process!). I also sent it to a few of my critique partners to get their honest opinions. In total, I spent 11 months writing and editing the book.

When I finally had a polished version, I started to query editors. To my dismay, it was one rejection letter after the next.
After a while, I decided to give up seeking out editors and instead focus on finding an agent.

After spending months crafting the perfect query letter and researching every agent and their areas of specialty, I went to work. I queried agent after agent, with a different book. And then…again…it was a few years of more rejection letters.
But I knew it was part of the process and I never gave up.

In 2016, I finally got an agent! I was ecstatic! She started submitting my books to publishers. But my excitement was a bit deflated by the rejection letters that came in one after the other.

But, I kept believing.

Unfortunately, things were not going that well with that agent. I began to have my doubts. But I was too afraid to make a big move, for fear of once again being agentless and feeling “lost at sea.”

In 2017, I decided to take the plunge. I let the agent go. I was upset for a few weeks and felt lost, but then I picked myself up and went back to the drawing board. Read the rest of this entry »

How I Got an Agent, Lost that Agent, and Found a New One (Without Losing my Mind)

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(This post originally appeared on the WriteForKids Blog)

Like many of you, I’ve been knee deep in the querying trenches, desperately trying to make my submission stand out in the staggering slush pile. And as we all know, this process is time consuming. It goes on and on, peppered with rejection letters, until we finally get a bite.

I signed with my first agent a few weeks after I got my first bite. In my mind, my problems were now over. Yahoo! No more submissions! No more Twitter pitch parties! No more querying! I was already visualizing a book contract with the Big Five.

But that’s not how the cookie crumbled.

Here are 3 truths nobody tells you about landing an agent:

  1. It can be anti-climactic: Don’t expect a book deal the next day, week or month.
  2. You will still need patience: The submission process is laborious, no matter who’s doing the submitting.
  3. You will still get rejected: The difference is that now, the rejections get sent to your agent.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where Young Authors can Submit their Work

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I work with children giving writing and literacy workshops, and I love to encourage their own writing process. Many students are interested in getting their work published or entering competitions, so I compiled a list of useful resources. Good luck to all you aspiring writers!!

Magazines & Online

Stone Soup is a creative magazine for children written and illustrated by children, aged 8-13.

Skipping Stones is a multicultural children’s magazine that encourages children aged 7-17 to submit their writing.

Amazing Children eZine – young writers ages 5-17 may submit poetry, stories, book reviews, movie reviews, music reviews, essays, articles, etc.

Bazoof! Accepts youth submissions, comics, puzzles, games, crafts, jokes, sports, girl stuff, pet fun, movie previews, stories, recipes, interviews, true stories, posters & more for ages 8-12.

Read the rest of this entry »