Author Kaye Baillie on the Power of Revision plus a GIVEAWAY

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Kaye Baillie who released her picture book entitled Boo Loves Books, illustrated by Tracie Grimwood and published by  New Frontier Publishing (Australia)/Lerner Books (USA). Take a look at her writing journey below.

But first, YAY! Kaye is generously giving away a PB critique (fiction or nonfiction, no rhyme, under 1,000 words)-simply comment on this blog post to enter, contest ends November 30, 2020.


Please describe the journey to publication for Boo Loves Books.

In 2016 I read an online article about kids reading to cats at an animal shelter. I wrote a story based on the article and one month later sent it to an agent. Silent rejection. Did I get the story critiqued beforehand? No, I didn’t. I still had much to learn even though I had been writing for years and had one picture book contract with an Australian publisher. One month later I submitted to an Australian publisher and one more agent. Two more silent rejections.

The following month I paid for a critique with an editor at a publishing house in the US. I received encouraging feedback but no offer. Feeling discouraged, I put the story away for over one year. I decided to take another look at the editor’s comments. I decided to rework the story. I sent it to my new critique group formed through SCBWI. With their feedback I renamed the story, did more edits and prepared to submit it again. So then, two years after I wrote the story, I submitted it to four publishers – 3 Australian and 1 small US one. Almost four months later, one Australian publisher replied and said my story was delightful and asked if it was available! I replied ‘yes’! The book was released 1 May 2020 in Australia, UK and New Zealand and 6 October 2020 in the USA.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

As a children’s author, I’m always looking for inspirational true stories to write about. One day I read in the Huffington Post about a Book Buddies program where primary school students read to homeless cats at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pennsylvania. What captured my attention was the transformation of a boy who took part in the program and his loving attitude towards the cats.

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

It does vary. My process for writing picture book biographies involves lots of research. Once I have completed my research which can take months, I begin sifting through the facts and events to figure out what to put in the story. I also use mentor texts to look at page turns, language, words per spread, first and last lines etc. When writing fiction, I use mentor texts in the same way. A fictional story may require some research, but the writing isn’t restrained by telling the truth as it is when writing non-fiction. And the time to write a fictional story is usually a lot less. I do writing related tasks usually for 2-4 hours a day and I write in my studio out the back. When I have the story in good shape, I get my critique group to look at it and also send it to Rate Your Story. When I’m getting close to finished, I get a paid critique. Then, after final revisions I send it to my agent.

What differentiates your book from others with similar content currently on the market?

Boo Loves Books is about anxiety, being afraid or embarrassed about making mistakes and realizing that you can do things at your own pace in your own way. The story differs to others on the market as it has two settings: school and an animal shelter. Phoebe the main character sees that Boo also has fears and I think the way she solves the situation is heartwarming and extremely empowering for children. Plus, the story is based on a real program for reading to animals.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

“This dog is a little bit scared. But he would never hurt you.”

Scared, thought Phoebe. Of me?

“Talk about the pictures,” said Miss Spinelli. “Your voice is all he needs”.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I have had three picture books released in Australia over the last two years. Boo Loves Books was originally released by New Frontier Publishing Australia, and they also released it in the UK, New Zealand and now it has been released in the US. My fourth picture book comes out in Australia, March 2021. After I signed with literary agent Essie White of Storm Literary in 2019 after meeting her at the SCBWI conference in Sydney, Australia, she sold my first picture book biography which is due out at the end of 2021 with The Innovation Press. I’m very lucky to have an agent who is happy to represent me just for those. I write picture book biographies and also fiction. Several stories are out on submission and I have just sent Essie my latest PB biography. I intend to keep writing picture books. It’s what I love to do.

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?

Classic – ‘Goodnight Moon’ by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. I adore the mood created in the story and the gentle lyrical language. It’s also quite a mysterious book which sets it apart from others.

Contemporary – ‘Windows’ by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale. I love this simple yet gentle story of a boy walking through his neighborhood at night. It’s lyrical (I love lyrical) with minimal word count and it has a warm comforting ending.

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

Read your work out loud – OFTEN! Listen to its rhythm, voice and page turns. Rework the parts you are not happy with.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??

Licorice because it’s a bit different and I love it.


Kaye Baillie completed a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing in 2005. Her favourite subject was Writing for Children and she eventually switched from her role as an executive assistant to children’s author. Her first picture book Message in a Sock won in the History Category in the Northern Lights Book Awards USA (2019) and was shortlisted in the Western Australian Young Readers’ Book Awards and the NSW Premier’s History Awards (2019). She has a passion for telling stories about remarkable people.

In 2020 Kaye had two picture books released. The Friendly Games with MidnightSun Publishing and Boo Loves Books with New Frontier Publishing.

In 2021 Kaye has two picture books due for release. When the Waterhole Dries Up with Windy Hollow Books and her USA debut Olive Dennis, Train Engineer with The Innovation Press.

She is an active member and the Assistant Co-ordinator of SCBWI Victoria, Australia and is a member of the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Kaye lives in a Victorian coastal town with her family.


Twitter Kaye Baillie

Website Kaye Baillie



https://lernerbooks.com/shop/show/20570 for book purchase

SCBWBI Bookstop Page https://www.scbwi.org/scbwibookstop-display/?id=701277

#FallWritingFrenzy Winners!!

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Aloha #FallWritingFrenzy peeps-

So…who’s excited to hear about the winners of the second annual Fall Writing Frenzy??

There were 354 wonderful entries. It wasn’t easy but guest judge Donna, Kaitlyn, and I have some wonderful winners to share! And of course, we have more than the original 36 prizes to give…we just couldn’t help ourselves!

Thank you to everyone for your patience, but most of all, for the way you all came together as a community. In the past few weeks, Kaitlyn and I have been so happy to watch you make connections with one another, become inspired in your writing, and cheer each other on. This is what makes the kidlit community so special!

And now….the time has come to make the special announcement everyone has been waiting for…BUT- before we do, we would like to say, from the bottom of our hearts, that you are ALL winners in our eyes. Kaitlyn and I had trouble narrowing down and choosing the winners because there were so many stellar entries. You are all tremendous writers, and what’s more, you’re devoted to your craft. And that’s the most important thing. So please don’t be disappointed if you don’t see your name below, we could only pick a certain amount. So here we go…

The winners for the #FallWritingFrenzy contest for 2020 are:

Ana Gascon Ivey, Brown Princess, will receive a critique from Amparo Ortiz
Sandhya Acharya, Amma, Is Diwali here?, will receive a critique from Erin Siu (Erin made this selection!)
Danielle Sharkan, The Meadow of Spirits Unknown, will receive a critique from Vivian Kirkfield
Colleen Murphy, No Turning Back, will receive a critique from Diana Murray
Andrew Hacket, The Stars You Don’t See, will receive a critique from Wendi Gu
Lisa Stauffer, Among the Trees, will receive a critique from Josh Funk
Ashlee Hashman, Backward, will receive a critique from Joyce Sweeney
Dana Miroballi, Cinderfella the Sculptor, will receive a critique from Valerie Bolling
Janie Reinart, Cry Wolf: Poem for Two Voices, will receive a critique from Lynne Marie
Carrie Karnes-Fannin, A Red Legend, will receive a critique from Mira Reisberg
Jakki Licare, The Red Spark, will receive a critique from Harriet Low
Shannon Nelsen, The Wonders of the Leaves, will receive a critique from Alli Brydon
Janelle Harper, Big Sis, Lil Sis, will receive a critique from Charlotte Wenger
Karen Keesling, Falling Apart, will receive a critique from Nadia Salomon
Liz Kehrli, Skeleton’s Change of Heart, will receive a critique from Tammi Sauer
Kelly Jensen, Star Seed, will receive a critique from James McGowan
Laurie Carmody, No Bones About It, will receive a critique from Tara Lazar
Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson, Mama’s Sunflowers, will receive a critique from Teresa Robeson (Teresa made this selection!)
Preeti Gopalan, A song of light and dark, will receive a critique from Saadia Faruqi
Melissa Trempe, Hungry Wolf, will receive a critique from Heather Bell
Jolene Gutiérrez, Lost in the Woods, will receive a critique from Annie Lynn
Judy Sobanski, Fall-ing, will receive a critique from Alexandra Alessandri
Melissa Mwai, More Than Magic, will receive a critique from Sydnee Monday
Amber Hendricks, Fall Begins, will receive a critique from Vicky Fang
Kelly Zhang, An Autumn Daydream, will receive a critique from Megan & Jorge Lacera
Amy Flynn, Ever & Oak, will receive a critique from Ellen Leventhal
Laura Clement, The Gift, will receive a critique from Amanda Davis
Katie Grant Watson, The Autumn Parade, will receive a critique from Ana Siqueira
Bonnie Kelso, Autumn, will receive a critique from Janna Morishima
Michele Ziemke, Karma is a Witch, will receive a critique from Aya Khalil
Aixa Perez-Prado, Brujita BOO!, will receive a critique from Ernesto Cisneros
Kirsten Leestma, The Haunted House, will receive a critique from Meera Sriram
Tina Mowrey, This Halloween Night, will receive a critique from Kyle Lukoff
Brenda Whitehead, The Rainbow Tree, will receive a critique from Donna Barba Higuera (Donna made this selection!)
Dazzle Ng, Needle, the Evergreen, will receive a critique from Ishta Mercurio (Ishta made this selection!)
Brittany Pomales, The Bones, will receive a critique from Candice Conner (Candice made this selection!)
Ashley Chalmers, The Adventure of Skeeter S. Squirrel, will receive a critique from Lydia Lukidis (Lydia made this selection!)
Nicole Loos Miller, Alive, will receive a critique from Jolene Gutiérrez (Jolene made this selection!)
Ebony Mudd, If Only, will receive a critique from Jolene Gutiérrez (Jolene made this selection!)
Krista Legg, The Unthinkable Path, will receive a critique from Kaitlyn Sanchez (Kaitlyn made this selection!)
Alicia Curley, Brewing, will receive a critique from Kaitlyn Sanchez (Kaitlyn made this selection!)
Kara Sibilia, The Lonely Road, will receive a critique from Kaitlyn Sanchez (Kaitlyn made this selection!)
Karen Pickrell, I Need a Hero, will receive a critique from Kaitlyn Sanchez (Kaitlyn made this selection!)

To the winners- expect an email in the next few days, matching you with your donor.

If you would like to read the winning entries, please have a look at this page: https://lydialukidis.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/fall-writing-frenzy-entry-form/

We send you all virtual hugs – please continue to write and connect with the kidlit community! Each voice is distinct and special.

Thank you for this wild ride, we are already looking forward to next year’s edition. In the meantime, please follow Kaitlyn and I on Twitter, our Twitter handles are @KaitlynLeann17 and @LydiaLukidis to continue connecting. And feel free to follow our blogs, we both interview writers and industry professionals and regularly host giveaways. Here’s Kaitlyn’s blog: https://kaitlynleannsanchez.com/blog/ and to follow mine, please click “follow” on the top right corner.

Have a fabulous day and we look forward to keep connecting with you all!

Nonfiction Author Melissa Stewart on Digging Deep

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a nonfiction author I consider both a mentor and a friend- Melissa Stewart. She just released Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing published by the National Council of Teachers of English. This is a MUST HAVE for all nonfiction authors!

Please describe the journey to publication for Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing.

The idea for this book traces back to the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, when I was fortunate to participate in a panel titled “The Secret of Crafting Engaging Nonfiction” with two of the most talented children’s nonfiction authors of our time—Candace Fleming and Deborah Heiligman.

During our discussion, moderated by educator and children’s nonfiction enthusiast Alyson Beecher, we dove deeply into what fuels our work and why we routinely dedicate years of our lives to a single manuscript. As we compared our thoughts and experiences, we came to realize something critically important—each of our books has a piece of us at its heart. And that personal connection is what drives us to keep working despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.

Several other nonfiction authors attended our presentation, and afterward they praised our insights. That conversation helped us all understand our creative process in a new and exciting way. I wanted to bring this important discovery to teachers, students, and aspiring writers, so during the 2018-2019 school year, I invited a wide range of nonfiction writers I admire to discuss the topic on my blog.

Educators loved the essays and almost immediately started asking me to compile them, so they could be read as a group as used to inspire young writers. Eventually, my effort to fulfill their request led to this anthology.

This book is a wealth of knowledge, how long did this project take?
It took me a while to find a suitable publisher for the project and way to finance it, but since the essays were already written, once NCTE expressed interest, things moved pretty quickly.

After sorting the essays into three broad categories—choosing a topic, finding a focus, and making personal connections—I wrote an introduction to the entire book and introductions to each of the three chapters. Then I developed three sets of activities and teaching strategies to round out the presentation. This process took about 6 months. And then production took another 6 months or so.

I’m dying to know—what is the secret of engaging nonfiction? What can readers learn from this anthology?

The book’s primary audience is educators, who we hope will use it as a teaching tool to help their students become stronger nonfiction writers. But the book also has A LOT to offer aspiring children’s book writers. First of all, it can provide inspiration. But it also includes practical activities to help writers find a hook, theme, or central focus that will engage readers. And it emphasizes the importance of writers at all levels having skin in the game—that’s the secret.

I think author Laura Purdie Salas really captures what the book is all about in this quotation from her essay:

“There’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out. The reality is very different. My personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I write.”

In the end, the underlying message of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep is simple but powerful: To create nonfiction that delights as well as informs, professional writers as well as student writers have to dig deep to make the writing truly their own—something that only they could create. The goal of the anthology is to share personal stories as well as tips, tools, and activities that can help writers at all levels feel personally invested in their writing, so they can craft prose that sings.

What else should people know about this anthology?

100 percent of the proceeds from Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep will be divided among the National Council of Teachers for English (NCTE), We Need Divers Books (WNDB), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other nonfiction writers?

Enjoy the journey and celebrate successes—even the small ones!

So many things about book publishing are out of our control, and there are lots of challenges and disappointments along the way. That’s why it’s important to make a big deal out of every single bit of progress, from a “good” rejection to a starred review.

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

That’s easy. I’d be a chipmunk. I love the way they zip around during the summer, and I’d love to be able to hibernate all winter long


Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.  


Website: https://www.melissa-stewart.com/

Blog: http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @mstewartscience

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melissa.stewart.33865

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mstewartscience

Author Michelle Lord: On Never Giving Up- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Michelle Lord, who wrote the nonfiction book Patricia’s Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight published by Sterling Publishing. What a phenomenal book, check out what she has to say!

BUT first- YAY! Michelle is generously giving away an arc of the book! All you need to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends October 30, 2020.


Please describe the journey to publication for this book.

The idea for a book about Dr. Bath first came to me in the fall of 2016. My mother had just been diagnosed with cataracts and scheduled for laser surgery. Around this time, I read an article about Dr. Bath’s invention of the Laserphaco Probe and technique for laser cataract treatment. I reached out to her via email and we spoke over several phone calls in early 2017. I wrote several drafts before sending my work to my critique group. I dug into revisions, and finally sent my story to my agent. I received a contract in November 2017, completed more revisions with a series of editors, and Sterling published Patricia’s Vision in January 2020.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

In my conversations with Dr. Bath, she told me, “I was always a curious child.” I considered my own childhood. I too was an inquisitive youngster and questioned everything. I also related to Dr. Bath’s interest in science at a young age. I enjoyed assembling the spine and vital organs of my favorite toy, The Visible Woman, a model of the human body. My elementary science fair entry, The Eye, included a dissected cow eyeball.

Dr. Patricia Bath’s perseverance inspired me to share her story. A little girl in Harlem who had never heard of a female physician, grew up to become the first female African American doctor to receive a medical patent. Wow!  

She told Good Morning America, “Hater-ation, segregation, racism, that’s the noise. You have to ignore that and keep your eyes focused on the prize. It’s just like Dr. Martin Luther King said, so that’s what I did.” I found her words inspirational and hope young people will be encouraged      by her story.

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

I begin most of my projects with the research. Even with fiction, I feel that research gives a framework to my story. For me, the most difficult part of any project is writing that first draft. Once I have something to work with, I can tackle the challenge of revision. After revision. After revision.

What differentiates your book from others with similar content currently on the market?

One thing I think differentiates my book is the series of telephone interviews I conducted with Dr. Bath. I believe this gives a personal touch to Patricia’s Vision that similar books may lack. Sadly, Dr. Bath never saw the completed project. She passed away in 2019 before the book was published.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

“Walking into work that first morning, she had no idea she was the first woman on the faculty! Her eyes widened upon finding her new office…

…away from the others, in the basement, next to the lab animals…”

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I’ve written a picture book with eight-year-old NY State Chess Champion, Tanitoluwa Adewumi, that is scheduled for release from Thomas Nelson next month.

I’m writing a middle grade novel, though I find creativity hard to come by in this current climate. I recently read an article that describes these feelings as acedia. “We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. We’re bored, listless, afraid and uncertain.” I hope new daily writing goals will get me back on track.


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?

Bread and Jam for Frances and other Frances books by Russell Hoban began my obsession with books. I learned to read at five-years-old, and these humorous stories grew my love of reading.

One of my favorite picture books is Frida by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Ana Juan. This book contains the perfect combination of words and images for emotional impact. While it wasn’t a mentor text per se, I also used the childhood to adulthood model for my book. Similar to Frida Kahlo, events in Dr. Bath’s childhood greatly influenced her later life.

The Queen of Physics, written by Teresa Robeson and illustrated by Recca Huang, simplifies the complicated subject of beta decay for young readers. This is not an easy task. I love Teresa’s poetic writing style!

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

When I first shared my goal of writing a children’s book twenty years ago, a family member said, “That’s a pipe dream.” While the comment felt like a punch to the gut, it also made me think, “watch me.” My advice to other writers? Never believe in the word, “impossible!”

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??

I would choose to be my favorite flavor, Rocky Road. Chocolate boosts endorphins, improves mood, and tastes great. Almonds add interest. I’m not sure about the marshmallows, but I put up with them because the rest of it works.


Michelle Lord grew up in Carson City, Nevada, the oldest of three sisters. Ever since she could talk, she never stopped asking questions. These questions led to a passion for reading, research, and writing. To this day–to her family’s dismay–she still interrupts movies, musicals, and conversations with Who? How? What? Where? When? Why?
She is the author of Sterling’s A Girl Called Genghis Khan, as well as A Song for Cambodia, Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, and numerous science books. Michelle lives in Texas, with her family.


Author Patrician Newman: On Winning a Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Patrician Newman, one of my nonfiction mentors. She discusses her writing journey with her books EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS and SEA OTTER HEROES, published by Millbrook Press/Lerner, She’s got some super interesting things to say, enjoy!

BUT first- YAY! Patricia is generously giving away a 20-minute video chat critique with an author OR a 20-minute video chat with a classroom! All you need to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends October 20, 2020.


Where did you draw inspiration for the books EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS and SEA OTTER HEROES?

In Eavesdropping on Elephants, I featured a group of scientists from Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project. I always knew I would write about ELP because my daughter worked for them as an undergrad. She sat in the lab with headphones on her ears listening to forest sounds, picking out the elephants amidst gorillas, crocodiles, frogs, and birds. On her weekly calls home, she told me more and more about ELP’s work. All it took was an email introduction on my daughter’s part, and I was off and running. Because Eavesdropping on Elephants is a book about sounds, ELP provided several video and audio files which we turned into QR codes to give readers an insider’s look at the forest.

These books have two very different back stories. After Plastic, Ahoy! was released, one of the scientists I interviewed invited me to present an all-day session about science books for children to a group of newly-minted PhDs at an environmental fellowship retreat. At dinner that night, one of the young scientists approached me to discuss his research. That scientist was Brent Hughes, the marine biologist in Sea Otter Heroes who unlocked the key to a new food web relationship featuring sea otters in the Elkhorn Slough off Monterey Bay in California. I knew in that moment his exciting research would become my next book.



Congratulations on receiving a Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor for SEA OTTER HEROES. How did you conduct your research for this book, and how long did the process take?

Thank you! The Sibert Honor was an important milestone for my writing career because it’s the ALA’s only award for nonfiction. By validating the importance of Sea Otter Heroes, the ALA also recognized the power of STEM to help us uncover the mystery in our world and to affect change.

Whenever I research a book, I always try to travel to the source. For Eavesdropping on Elephants, I visited the scientists’ lab in Ithaca, NY. For Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I visited three zoos across the country. Because I had already met Brent at the fellowship retreat, he and I began communicating. He sent me research papers for my proposal, and I interviewed him and his mentor, Lilian Carswell, a sea otter expert with US Fish and Wildlife.

After the proposal was accepted, I scheduled a two-day on-site visit. My daughter came along as my photographer/assistant. On the first day, we were in a boat on the Elkhorn Slough. We observed otters, diving pelicans, jellies, egrets, and harbor seals. We tromped across muddy salt flats and leaned out of the boat for handfuls of seagrass. I kept up a steady stream of questions over the hum of the boat’s motor, my digital recorder capturing every word.

On the second day, we went to Brent’s lab. He explained each part of his experiment and showed us how marine biologists make mesocosms – ecosystems in buckets – that are easily testable.

I had two months from proposal acceptance to manuscript delivery to finish my research, write Sea Otter Heroes, and pull together and sort through photos from Brent, his team, and my daughter.

What attracts you to the world of nonfiction?

I write about people whose contributions are currently shaping our world, and I find that exciting and rewarding. I especially love the interconnectedness of my books with so many facets of our lives. In Sea Otter Heroes, Eavesdropping on Elephants and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, we meet endangered species and understand how we are affecting them, sometimes from thousands of miles away.

Beckett, a third grader, read several books, including Sea Otter Heroes, and was inspired to create a petition and a presentation to save sea otters along his Palos Verdes, CA coastline.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from SEA OTTER HEROES.

The Elkhorn Slough is one of the most nutrient-polluted estuaries on the planet, so Brent Hughes was trying to understand why seagrass thrived when it should be dead. But none of his knowledge could explain the mystery. In the following excerpt, one of Brent’s volunteers suggested he talk to Yohn Gideon, a tour company operator who’d gathered several years of sea otter data from the Elkhorn Slough. Brent was skeptical otters affected seagrass, but he had nothing to lose by talking to Captain Gideon.

When Brent took a look at the sea otter data, Elkhorn Slough Safaris had compiled more than twenty binders stuffed with data sheets from as far back as 1996. The huge amount of data allowed Brent to graph a trend line. He compared it to his seagrass data.

 “I overlaid Yohn’s data with the seagrass data, and it fit together like a glove,” Brent says. Otter sightings had risen and fallen in sync with seagrass abundance. “I’m like, what the heck. . . ?”

 Clearly, sea otters were somehow linked to seagrass health. But could the otters, apex predators in the protected slough, actually be responsible for the thriving seagrass? The question thrust Brent into a vigorous scientific debate that had been raging for years. Did forces at the bottom of the food chain, such as nutrient levels, control seagrass health? Or was it controlled by the presence of a predator at the top? Brent had always approached ecology from the bottom up, focusing on how nutrient levels and physical conditions such as storms, waves, and temperatures affected the health of the ocean. Accepting the idea that sea otters helped seagrass would change his entire perspective. He would have to admit that both the bottom and the top of the food chain had power over a marine ecosystem.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

Like most authors, I’m always thinking about the next book. I’ve found a niche in environmental nonfiction that excites and challenges me, and I think I’ll stay here for a while.

In March 2021, Millbrook Press/Lerner will release my new middle-grade title, Planet Ocean. Photographer Annie Crawley and I team up again after working on Plastic, Ahoy! and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. But this time, we explore three ocean ecosystems and how pollution and climate change are affecting the sustainability of our seas. We feature indigenous people and several inspiring kids and teens who are working to save our ocean.

Patricia Newman (l) and Annie Crawley team up again in a spring 2021 release titled Planet Ocean.

In the fall of 2022, Millbrook Press/Lerner will release a new nonfiction picture book currently titled The River’s Rebirth, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. The book is an uplifting conservation story about the restoration of the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington after the removal of two dams that nearly destroyed the ecosystem.

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?

I’ve always loved The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen because it makes science fun. Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen inspires me with its beauty and simplicity, something I strive for in my middle-grade nonfiction even though I often deal with complicated subjects.

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

Nonfiction is more than facts; it comes from the heart. Your book should meet an emotional need within you. And if your writing also resonates with readers, you know they’ve found the heart you’ve woven through the pages.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??

Hands down, New York Super Fudge Chunk because it has a little bit of everything in it. I grew up in Vermont and went to Ben and Jerry’s first ice cream store in downtown Burlington when it was nothing more than a storefront with several ice cream makers churning away on the polished cement floor.


Patricia Newman inspires readers to seek connections to the real world and encourages them to use their imaginations to solve real-world problems and act on behalf of their communities. Her books have received the Robert F. Sibert Honor from the American Library Association, starred reviews, Green Earth Book Awards, and numerous other awards. Find out more at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Social Media
Website: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/

Twitter: @PatriciaNewman (https://twitter.com/PatriciaNewman)

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/newmanbooks/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaNewmanBooks

LitLinks blog series highlighting the natural connection between STEM and language arts – lesson plans for grades K – high school: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/blog-4/

Author Meeg Pincus & How her Love for Monarchs Turned into a Book- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Meeg Pincus as she discusses her nonfiction book WINGED WONDERS: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, illustrated by Yas Imamura and published by Sleeping Bear Press. Check out her journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Meeg is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book!! All you need to do is comment on this blog post. US residents only, contest ends October 2, 2020.


Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
I met my editor through a workshop critique, where she liked the original version of this story, which was a picture book biography of one little-known person involved in tracking the monarch butterfly migration. She offered on that book, then I ran into a big roadblock with the subject, so made the tough choice to not sign the contract and to put the story on a shelf and rethink it for a few months. (In the meantime, thankfully, the same editor acquired a different story of mine, which became our first picture book together, Miep and the Most Famous Diary!) After months of not knowing how to retell the monarch story, one day it hit me: this was not a story about one little-known person but about how many people it took to track this great migration over three decades. Once that hit me, the story flowed out. I sent the new version to my editor and it was (again, thankfully!) acquired.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I’ve always loved butterflies, wrote about them with wonder often in my youth. As a mom of young kids, I took them one day to see an IMAX film (in San Diego’s amazing domed science museum theater) about the monarch migration and I fell in love with monarchs specifically. I took the kids back to see the film two more times (!) and started digging more into the story of how the monarch migration was tracked. I felt it was a story full of wonder that could inspire kids to be solutionaries, which I think and hope it turned out to be!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process is, honestly, kind of sporadic. I’m not a writer who sits down at the same time every day or writes for a certain number of hours each week. As a homeschooling mom managing chronic health issues, I write when I can, in nooks and crannies of my days—in the car when the kids are at a lesson, during the hour they’re with their tutor, on the weekend when the rest of the family is at the pool, etc. When I get in the writing flow or I’m on a revision deadline, my family knows it—the dishes and laundry will pile up and the kids will step up and fend for themselves more, because Writer Mom is at work!

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
For me, nonfiction feeds my passions for social justice, people’s history, emotional storytelling, constant learning, and creativity. To be able to read and write true stories about inspiring people, which may open people’s eyes to new understandings about the world, is the greatest gift and a great responsibility. I love reading nonfiction and writing it. I’m a curious researcher at heart (daughter of two professors!) and an emotional writer, so kidlit nonfiction allows me to use both to connect children to true stories that may open their minds and hearts.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
For centuries, up and down North America, every year brought a mystery. Monarch butterflies swooped in for a spell, like clockwork, from somewhere beyond—then disappeared as curiously as they came. Where do they go? People pondered from southern Canada…through the middle of the United States…and all the way to central Mexico.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
My hope is to be able to just keep writing and publishing trade nonfiction picture books as I am now. I have three more NF PBs coming out in 2021—Cougar Crossing, Ocean Soup, and Make Way for Animals! (with Simon&Schuster/Beach Lane Books, Sleeping Bear Press, and Lerner/Millbrook)—and others on sub (fingers crossed!). I also hope to keep writing educational publisher picture books and doing teaching and editing projects, which I also enjoy. And I’m working on a passion project called #DiverseKidlitNF, to launch in 2021, to continue my work promoting diverse nonfiction picture books and diverse nonfiction kidlit creators, which is very important to me and I hope helps bolster the movement for more diversity in kidlit.

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?
In the nonfiction picture book world, my first inspiration were the classic books by Jeannette Winter, like The Watcher and The Librarian of Basra. Her books showed me that I could tell the kind of “solutionary stories” I wanted to tell (with art!) in amazingly creative ways for kids. A contemporary mentor text for me is The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson—this book took my breath away in its powerful message and creative approach. I love the innovative structure of it (with sparse poetry and stunning images in the main text and rich, informative back matter) and the emotionality of it—both elements I hope to infuse into my own books.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
There’s no one right way to be a writer. Write when you can, how you can, where you can—and write the stories that you can best tell from your heart.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Oh, mint chocolate chip for sure! Refreshing, colorful, and not one thing (which definitely resonates with me).

Meeg Pincus is the author of six published and forthcoming nonfiction picture books about “solutionaries” who help people, animals, and the planet—including Kirkus starred reviewed Winged Wonders and Miep and the Most Famous Diary (which also received a School Library Journal starred review and was A Mighty Girl “Best Books of 2019” pick). A former newspaper reporter and college instructor, a humane educator and nonfiction book editor, Meeg has also authored 19 leveled readers for educational publishers and loves teaching nonfiction for SCBWI and The Writing Barn.

Social Media
Website: www.MeegPincus.com
Twitter: @MeegPincus
Book link: https://bookshop.org/books/winged-wonders-solving-the-monarch-migration-mystery/9781534110403

Author-Illustrator Jarrett Lerner on Mapping out your Career

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a super talented author-illustrator: the one and only Jarrett Lerner! The EngiNerds series is a personal favorite of mine, and now he has a new book and activity book coming out shortly. Check out his journey below:

EngiNerds is a favorite in our house. Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Thank you! That’s so great to hear. Regarding the book’s inspiration – I think it came from a number of sources, as inspiration often does. But the first spark, the thing that really lit a fire under me, was this idea to write exactly the sort of book that I would’ve been in love with as a 10 year old. So: farting robots and tests of friendship.

Your new book, Geeger the Robot: Goes to School!, comes out this September. What excites you most about this one?
I love how it looks. The text is stylized, with some words being bold, some being bigger than others, some being angled or otherwise contorted. Also, there are TONS of awesome illustrations. I got to work once again with Serge Seidlitz – the brilliant, bonkers artist who created the covers for all three of my EngiNerds books. His work in these books really shines, and I am so honored and excited to have it in there.

You also have an activity book coming out in December, what can children expect in this one?
If you’ve been to my website (www.jarrettlerner.com), you’ll find an ACTIVITIES page. There are, I think, nearly 200 activity pages on there that you can download and print for free. The activity book – Give This Book A Title – is a collection of 140 more such pages, though many of these pages contain multiple activities. There are “How to Draw” pages, “Finish This Comic” pages, and general writing and drawing prompts. I put a lot of time, energy, and thought into crafting and organizing this book, and I hope kids leave it feeling more confident artists and writers than they entered it, and that they never again sit down at a blank piece of paper and can’t figure out what to write or draw. I also hope they have TONS of fun.

What is it like being both the author and illustrator?
Well, I really don’t know any different. Ever since I was a kid, I expressed myself both visually and verbally, often together. My teachers didn’t always recognize that, or accept it, and I often had to refrain from communicating and expressing myself visually in the classroom – which is a shame. But stories, ideas – for me, the visual and verbal is always jumbled together. I always start projects on paper, in a notebook or sketchbook, because both words and images come at me at once, and I don’t want to have to jump back and forth between a pad and a computer in order to get them both down.
One thing that might surprise people about me, though, is that I LOVE working with other illustrators. There are certain projects of mine that I feel strongly about illustrating (such as my activity books, or my graphic novels – my Hunger Heroes series of graphic novels launches next summer). But there are other stories of mine that I am not attached to illustrating, and some that I actually think would benefit from having someone else illustrate them. The story comes first. The reader matters most. I work in service of those two things, primarily. If I know, deep down, that a book will be better with the inclusion of another artistic voice, I don’t hesitate to let my publisher know and hand over that part of the project.

What’s your artistic process, and does it vary depending on the project?
As I mentioned above, it always begins in a notebook or sketchbook. But from there, I really try to experiment, to PLAY, and let the story dictate as much as possible. I always encourage people to allow their process to change, evolve, shift, and I try to remember that as much as possible myself, especially when I start getting precious about any of my own routines or tendencies. In a way, I think each unique story needs a unique approach, and that it’ll ultimately only benefit from that. If I’m ever feeling stuck or uninspired, I switch things up. I’ll go from writing on lined paper to writing on construction paper. Or instead of a pen, I’ll use a crayon. I’ll write on sticky notes, or napkins – whatever. I think this sort of approach and spirit gives your creativity, imagination, and any particular idea you’re hunting down the most space to breathe and properly, fully emerge.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I am always working on four, five, sometimes six projects at any given time. Usually, some of those are contracted books that I really have to be working on, and some are in other stages of completion. I thrive off of having lots of irons in the fire – or maybe even having multiple fires to tend to. Sometimes things get out of hand, but usually the jumping around keeps me excited and inspired. I usually don’t talk publicly about projects until they are under contract, as I don’t want any reactions of feedback to influence my process, so I’ll just say that I’ve got LOTS of more stuff in the works and on its way.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book.
I love the work of Ed Emberley. His approach to creativity and creation, his spirit, his openness, his embrace and mastering of the power of simplicity – I could go on and on. I regularly reach for his work when I want or need a surge of inspiration, and I think that several of his books get just about as close to perfect as a book can be. In terms of contemporary books – Jarod Roselló’s Red Panda & Moon Bear graphic novel and Remy Lai’s Pie in the Sky both really rocked my world when I read them. Both books I’ve read multiple times. Jarod’s always reminds me of what I love most about stories and storytelling. Remy’s reminds me to, as I spoke about above, let the story dictate both process and product. And aside from that, both books are incredible in about a thousand other ways.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Dive deep into your projects, and try to get each one to a place of near-perfection (because that’s as much as we can ever hope for), but don’t forget to take also regularly step back. Think about your next project. And the one after that. Think about your career as a whole. Think about where you are headed, and where you want to be. Also: READ.

And a bonus question- If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I think I’d be snot-flavored, to prevent anyone from eating me!

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the author-illustrator of the upcoming activity book, Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author of the forthcoming Geeger the Robot early chapter book series, the forthcoming third book in the EngiNerds series (The EngiNerds Strike Back), and the author-illustrator of the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.

Social Media
Twitter and Instagram: @Jarrett_Lerner
My books can be purchased anywhere books are sold, but if they are purchased from my local indie, Porter Square Books, I’ll go in and sign/personalize them:

Author Antwan Eady on Starting Where You Are

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, I stumbled upon a very inspiring thread written by author Antwan Eady. I was so moved by it that I contacted him right away, and asked for permission to post his inspiring words on my blog. He said yes! Here’s the thread that I think many of you will relate to:

Sometimes you just have to start where you are.

As a writer, I stood in my own way for so many years. A decade really.

I wrote my first PB in ‘07. I started a novel in ‘11. I wrote poetry all of my life but stopped in ‘11 or ‘12.

I was waiting for the “perfect” environment. The “perfect” desk. A new laptop. Etc.

Last year woke me up in the best possible way. I couldn’t believe the excuses I’d used.

But instead of focusing on the excuses, I got started. Without a desk. On an ancient laptop that was given to me (one that couldn’t hold a charge and had to be plugged in to work). I…got started.

Day job hours start at 10.5 hours and can go up from there. Many days I wrote/write before work, during lunch, and after work, dedicating my weekends to writing, too. Saying “no” to other things. I sacrificed in an effort to cultivate my passion.

For me, I just had to get started. Wherever I was at…I had to start.

With the laptop that couldn’t hold a charge, the one that became too hot on my lap, I started writing.

It gave me manuscripts. Gave me agent offers. And more. No desk. No noise canceling headphones. No printer. No “perfect” place.

For reference, that laptop was so big that I was embarrassed to carry it in public after a guy approached me and asked if I was a gamer. I assume gaming laptops are massive. 😅.

And because that laptop couldn’t hold a charge, I had to sit wherever outlets were. It owned me. Now the other way around. My perfect “spot” was wherever a free outlet was.

But here’s the end. I have a new laptop now. I have a desk (not a writer’s desk…but something for 30 bucks that I found, and I’m glad I did because I immediately cancelled my order for a “writers” desk.)

And I’m creating a space in my place where I can write how I’ve wanted to write for so long. So this thread comes from a place of appreciating what I have now, but being grateful for getting started when I did…how I did.

Gratitude really does unlock the fullness of life.

I met my writing halfway. The stories were there, waiting for me. And there are stories waiting for you too.


I had to know more about the author of these wise words, so I invited him to talk about his forthcoming book, NIGEL AND THE MOON.

Where did you draw inspiration for NIGEL AND THE MOON?
NIGEL AND THE MOON was inspired by the young, Black boy that I was afraid to be. Fear drove me to write this story because, even as an adult, there’s so much unlearning we have to do, right? In my home, I was allowed to dream. My parents supported every idea, every interest. But it was sharing those dreams with the world that shook me to my core. I drew inspiration from that experience. I’m inspired by having a book out there that will tell kids early on, “Dream. And dream without limits.” I also drew inspiration from the kids around us, Black and LGBTQIA+ kids especially – those that are with us and those that no longer have the chance to live out their dreams as a result of homophobia, racism, and other injustices. NIGEL represents the kid I was once and the kid I wanted to be.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
Whew. This question makes me feel like I should sit up straight. I guess this is happening. I’m a soon to be published author now. My writing process (pre-COVID) was writing when I could – before work (5am sometimes), during lunch, and after work. I frequented my local B&N Cafe here in Savannah. I struggled with flexing my writing muscles. Again, I was stuck on the “perfect” setting, but I’m learning to just write whenever, wherever.
When writing picture books I tend to start with an opening line. This comes to me before anything else. I have a ton of picture book ideas, but there are a few that are harder to ignore than others. So I go with my heart on those. I tend to handwrite, use my Notes app, and I write on my laptop. Occasionally, there are post its around as well. I get the story out then I’ll revise. Once I’m “done” revising, I let my stories sit. I don’t have a set time on this. I just let them sit until I can approach them again with fresh eyes and without anything that feels forced. I also find value in critique partners.
Overall, my writing process does vary depending on the project. For my YA, I’ve outlined. I’m in the process of outlining an MG now as well. Outlining doesn’t come natural to me, so I’m trying it out because I’d rather finish these in a decent amount of time without losing my creativity in the process.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“At night he tells the moon his dreams.
And here his dreams are safe.”

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention? Great question. I want to receive all the good that publishing has for me. I see my career heading in a direction that will allow me to open doors for others, but in a way that affords me the opportunity to keep those doors open. Having founded #BlackCreatorsInKidLit with an amazing team of Black creators and illustrators is just the beginning. I’m from the dirt roads of South Carolina, so to have made it this far, I’ve got plenty to tell and plenty to gain. I need more southern Black, gay representation. I have Gullah Geechee stories I want to tell. Sooo much.

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?
Classic – WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. Funny enough, this one scared me as a kid. I don’t know when I overcame that fear, but when I did, I started to appreciate the illustrations and the story. This one moved me because it taught me the possibilities of our imagination. One second Max is in his bedroom, having a temper tantrum, and the next second, he’s sailing to an island filled with creatures only to be brought back home by the smell of dinner.
Contemporary – THE DAY YOU BEGIN, written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez. I was moved from the first sentence, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” It brought tears to my eyes as an adult. It was such a nurturing moment, and it was one that validates me as a reader. It’s telling me that whoever I am is okay and that I will enter rooms and that may not reflect my background but that’s okay. It’s one of my favorites of all time.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
Don’t deny your reader. Start where you are.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why? Vanilla ice cream! Easy question. It’s my favorite. If it isn’t available, I’ll go with Butter Pecan. But vanilla’s my favorite because it seems so simple, but there’s so much more to it. It’s sort of like the “still water runs deep” saying. Vanilla ice cream has depth. Haha.

Antwan Eady grew up in Garnett, SC, where he spent most of his days riding four-wheelers, fishing, and imagining a world without limitations. Eady is the founder of #BlackCreatorsInKidLit which aims to bridge the gap between publishing professionals and Black creators (authors and illustrators). When he isn’t writing, he’s searching for the best LowCountry boil in Savannah, GA where he currently resides. You can find him on Twitter @antwan_eady and on instagram @antwan.eady.
Website: www.antwaneady.com – be sure to subscribe!

Author Teresa Robeson on the Importance of One’s Culture – 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: the wonderful Teresa Robeson! Here she is, discussing her books Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, illustrated by Rebecca Huang and published by Sterling Children’s Books, as well as Two Bicycles In Beijing, illustrated by Junyi Wu, published by Albert Whitman & Company. Teresa also won a prestigious APALA Award, but I’ve been a fan of her work long before that happened. Check out her journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Teresa is generously giving away a FREE copy of either of her books!! All you need to do is comment on this blog post. US residents only, contest ends August 28, 2020.


Please describe the journey to publication for Queen of Physics.
Thanks so much for inviting me into your blog-world, Lydia! I wrote the first draft of Queen of Physics back in the early 2010s. It got me my first agent who, sadly, not only couldn’t sell it but also quit the business after a year. Two interminable years rolled by—my darkest days—but to my delight, Jane Yolen picked the story to work with when I submitted it to the We Need Diverse Books Mentorship program. When we were done revising, I sent it out to editors (via SCBWI conference opportunities) and agents. Christina Pulles, then at Sterling, expressed an interest which I took to agents with. And with that interest I got my second agent. Just short of two years after signing the contract, my book debuted.

You used to be a research associate, how does that help you as a writer?
Well, certain things don’t seem to carry over—like running statistical analyses and working with Adobe Morph to create experimental images. But other skills, like writing carefully worded scripts, did help me to learn how to phrase things properly and with precision.

You won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Queen of Physics, can you please comment on how important it is for you to represent your culture?
My parents never wanted me and my sister to forget where we came from after immigrating, so they taught us Chinese reading/writing and history when we were growing up. But as a kid, I never fully appreciated my culture. It’s not until I aged that my cultural background began to become more meaningful. In a country where being a person of color is considered something less-than, educating others about my culture is an obligation I want to fulfill. So, being recognized by the APALA for my work in which I honor someone of my heritage is truly the best award I could possibly win.

Where did you draw the inspiration for Two Bicycles In Beijing?
Several things came together to birth this book: my growing interest in my cultural background in the past couple of decades and also a trip to China that my family took with my dad back in 2013. I was thinking about all the bicycles in Beijing one day, a few years after the trip, and the idea was born.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from either of your books.
And, oh, physics!
Physics, the study of the very matter
and energy around her,
the study of things that could be seen or felt
–heat, sounds, light, electricity, and motion–
and of things too minuscule to be seen or felt
–atoms and even tinier parts of atoms.
Physics captured her heart.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I would like to continue to write picture books about science and my culture, but I also really want to finish a few novels, both MG and YA. They’re both own-voices though one is contemporary and the other is alternate history. The YA idea won the Pitchapalooza contest at the 2017 NESCBWI conference, and I’m still working on it.

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?
Classic would have to be SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats. The language is spare and yet you sense Peter’s joy and wonder and the unconditional love from the mom when he gets home. A contemporary book that I’ve used as my mentor text for QUEEN OF PHYSICS is SWAN by Laurel Snyder. Laurel has a magical way with words—so lyrical and lovely. She is one of my favorite authors!

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
Read voraciously, write fiercely, and trust that your voice will emerge.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I would go for a fruity gelato or a Kohr Bros frozen custard any day! As for ice cream, I really adore cherry/black cherry, but I’m also partial to vanilla. People think of vanilla as “plain and boring” but they don’t realize that vanilla (at least the real stuff) comes from orchids and was once exotic and hard to get. But if I could have only one frozen treat for the rest of my life, I’d choose orange creamsicle. I’m addicted to the stuff, and am drooling now just thinking of it

Teresa Robeson draws upon her Chinese heritage, Canadian-American sensibilities, as well as her background in science and love of nature when she writes. Teresa’s picture book biography, Queen Of Physics (Sterling Publishing) won the 2020 APALA Picture Book Award, in addition to being named a 2019 NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Book. Her second book, Two Bicycles In Beijing (Albert Whitman), released in April 2020. A 28-year member of SCBWI with many magazine bylines, Teresa served as the Illustrator Coordinator and now as the Co-Regional Advisor for the Indiana SCBWI chapter.

Social Media
Website: tereasrobeson.com
Twitter: @teresarobeson
Instagram: @tmrobeson

Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow on the Power of Names

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow. Here she is , discussing her new picture book Your Name is a Song, illustrated by Luisa Uribe and published by The Innovation Press. Kane. Interestingly, she found a publisher and a book contract first, and got an agent after! Check out Jamilah’s journey below.

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
Your Name is a Song was a manuscript I wrote in early 2017 for the 12×12 picture book challenge. It was very long. Because the book explores the ways people demean names and because there are numerous ways that people can do that demeaning, I had a text that was almost 2000 words at one point. Then, there was the issue of researching the names and then writing out their pronunciations. This book took dozens of revisions and many hours of research before I felt it was ready for submission. I got an offer for it from The Innovation Press in late 2018 after several months of trying agents and then editors. I started hearing back from interested agents around this time and my editor, Asia Citro, at The Innovation Press also referred me to agents. Her referral is how I connected with Essie White, and I am forever grateful. It has been such an amazing partnership!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
A name inspired it. I was a teacher at the time and a student shared that his middle name was Olumide. I remember thinking his name was musical like a song. And then I thought “Your Name is a Song” would be a great title for a book. I worked backward to figure out what a book with that title should be about. “Olumide is a melody” became a line in the book.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
Once I have a spark of an idea, I like to gather things. I create a file on the computer or a section of a notebook to write scattered ideas. I’ll write down random sentences or lines of dialogue, titles, names, concepts, and themes. I’ll add free-writes of all sorts of things: scenes I’m picturing, character descriptions, logistics of the plot, etc. Once I have a lot of this material and I feel like I have a solid sense of the story, I start writing.

What differentiates your book from others with similar content currently on the market?
Well, I think mine is the only book about names that tries to include so many of them! I also think that it is probably the first book to explicitly celebrate Black American names. When we talk about appreciating names of diverse cultures, most people think about names from other countries but not necessarily American names like Latoya, Shauntaya, and Daquan. I make space for these kinds of names in my book.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“What about the kids at recess who said my name sounds made up?”
Momma pointed up. “Tell them that made-up names come from there.”
“From the sky?” the girl asked.
“Made-up names come from dreamers. Their real names were stolen long ago so they dream up new ones. They make a way out of no way, make names out of no names—pull them from the sky!”

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
 I want to continue writing more picture books and other kinds of kidlit. While this time during quarantine hasn’t been ideal for many reasons, it has given me additional time to focus on producing more writing. I have a couple new picture books coming soon. One that has been announced is Abdul’s Story, which will be out in 2021.

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?
One classic I love to study is The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton and Leo and Diane Dillon. I love that one because I feel like it translates the feel of oral storytelling into an actual picture book. It infuses that African artform into a picture book and I want to learn how to do that more. I don’t have a favorite contemporary children’s book because there are so many that I love and study. However, one picture book I have been looking at a lot lately as a mentor text is Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story by Zeena Pliska and Fiona Halliday. I think this book is good for learning a lot of things, including lyrical writing, creating a sense of wonder in a picture book, and how to write about difficult topics for children delicately and yet honestly.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Write the thing you’re scared to write—you know exactly what that is.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I would be vanilla with hot fudge slung on top because it’s messy, but the messiness is good.

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, M.S.Ed  is a Philadelphia-based children’s book author and educator. Her books, which feature young Black Muslim protagonists, have been recognized and critically-praised by many trusted voices in literature, including the American Library Association, School Library Journal, and NPR. A curriculum writer, community educator, and former English teacher, she’s educated youth in traditional and alternative learning settings for 15 years.

Social Media
Webpage: https://jamilahthewriter.com/
Follow on twitter: https://twitter.com/jtbigelow
Follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorjamilah/

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