Monday, December 19, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Tis the season – for getting out on the ice and enjoying hockey. And MY FIRST BOOK OF HOCKEY: A Rookie Book by Sports Illustrated for Kids  is just the book to inspire and delight young hockey enthusiasts.

This new book from Time Inc. provides a solid all-around introduction to the sport that is both informative and entertaining. A cartoon character guides readers through the pages that explain the organization of teams, the use of equipment, and the structure of games. Terms highlighted in bold, colorful fonts are clearly explained within the context of the action-packed photographs that serve as illustrations and carry the reader through a simulated game from face-off to overtime.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Blobfish, Star-nosed Mole, Vampire Squid, Thorny Dragon, Ghost Octopus! Yes, these are just a few of the remarkable animals you’ll find in Animal Planet’s Strange,Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals by Charles Ghigna.

Ghigna does an outstanding job of putting fun in the “ICK” factor and sharing startling facts with readers in this spectacular collection. Playing off the title, the book is divided into four main sections with subheadings that focus on individual animals as well as related traits such as Creatures of the Deep - Mimics - Marvelous Mammals - Fabulous Feet - Squirters and Spitters - Blobby, Slimy, Stretchy Creatures - and Fantastic Frogs – to name a few.

Information is well-organized and accessible thanks to elements such as the Gallery spreads that explore specific themes, Feature Creature which provides details about individual animals, the Creature Collection which gives readers opportunities to compare and contrast, and Macrophotographs to highlight the smallest details.

Stunning color photographs fill every page in this large format, 128 page book, with the exception of the Glossary, Index, and Additional Reading.

Maps and charts offer additional perspectives on the information for animal lovers and budding scientific minds.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Writers Wednseday

Join me today for an interview with New York Times Best-selling author Lauren Belfer as she discusses her new novel -- And After The Fire.

Lauren Belfer’s passion for history shines in this well-researched story that propels readers from the elite musical world of Sara Levy’s Berlin in the 1800s through the German holocaust to Susanna Kessler’s present day New York. Fact and fiction blend seamlessly as Belfer weaves the suspenseful story of two women whose lives are linked by love, death, and a long hidden Bach cantata. 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and how did you set about realizing that goal?
I decided to become a writer when I was six years old. I spent my early writing years crayoning stories about heroic pets. By high school, I was submitting my poetry to literary journals and receiving rejection letters from all the best places. Sometimes these letters included the words “thank you,” with the initials of the person doing the rejecting. I took this as a sign of enthusiastic encouragement. The first short story I ever published was rejected 42 times before it found an editor who loved it. The second short story I published was much more successful: it was rejected only 27 times. I learned early on that persistence is the most important trait a writer can have!

What do you do when you are not writing?
Although I don’t sit at my computer all day, being a writer seems to permeate every moment. Everything I come into contact with becomes a kind of research. I get ideas as I walk down the street, and as I read the newspaper.  In the evening I might go to a concert, or meet friends for dinner, or simply stay home and watch TV, and small details of what I see and experience spark my imagination. 

Briefly, what's your book about?   
 “And After the Fire” explores almost two hundred and fifty years of history through the prism of a fictional, prejudicial artistic masterpiece.

What attracted you to Fanny Mendelssohn’s story?
To me, Fanny Mendelssohn was a tragic figure.  She was extraordinarily gifted as a musician and composer, but when she was a teenager, her father told her that music could never be more than an “ornament” to her true calling as a wife and mother.  And she did fulfill her father’s wishes, marrying and having a child.  She was also among the most gifted composers of her era. Her husband and her mother both urged her to publish her music.  Alas her world-renowned brother, composer Felix Mendelssohn, discouraged her, and his opinion was the only one that mattered for Fanny.  Felix did, however, publish six of her songs under his name. As I worked on the novel, I kept asking myself – why did Fanny accept this injustice?

What would you like readers to take from your novel?
I’d like readers to feel that they’d read a good story, with compelling characters who stayed with them after they finished the book.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on several projects, but I’m very superstitious, so I can’t reveal the details until I’m finished!

What is your writing process?
On most days, I get up early and write while the world outside my windows still seems asleep.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Each of my novels is separate, focused on completely different themes and settings.  Once I have an idea for a novel, I think about how the issues I want to explore would play out through the eyes of my characters.  Sometimes my characters surprise me, by going off in directions I couldn’t have predicted.  I make a general outline of my novels before I begin, but then I put the outline away, to allow the characters and their individual concerns and interests to lead the way.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Dozens and dozens of writers and books have influenced my work.  I’ve created several shelves on my Goodreads page, listing the books that have most influenced me at different stages of my life, and as I wrote each of my three novels. 

Books that inspired me as I worked on “And After the Fire” include: “Possession,” by A.S. Byatt, “The Lost,” by Daniel Mendelsohn, “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” by Edmund de Waal, “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan, “The Blind Assassin,” by Margaret Atwood, and
“Embers,” by Sándor Márai

What are the most important elements of good historical fiction?
I believe that historical fiction should, above all, portray people living their lives from day to day without knowledge of what the future will bring.  Instead of looking back at the past from the perspective of the present, I think writers of historical fiction need to begin in the past, and strive to put themselves into the shoes of their characters.

What suggestions about revising would you offer for upcoming writers? 
Each writer I know approaches revising differently, so upcoming writers must figure out what works best for them, through trial and error.  I tend to write my first draft quickly, straight through to the end, without stopping to revise.  This gives me a sense of the overall arc of the story.  Then I go back to the beginning and revise, revise, revise, usually for years!

What’s one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you’d like to pass on to upcoming writers?
The most important piece of advice I can give to upcoming writers is: Never give up.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


November is Picture Book Month!

To celebrate, I'm running a GOODREADS Giveaway.

The Gingerbread Cowboy was named the 2007 Arizona Governor's First Grade Book. A special edition of 100,000 copies were printed and a book was given to every first grade student in the state.
To enter, follow the link in the sidebar.
Good Luck!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Young children are noted for their many questions. In Mama, How Does the Wind Start to Blow?, Jeanne Styczinski has framed her answer in the form of a delightful counting book. Beginning with the number one and a rising moon, Mama responds to ten questions that culminate in a surprising and heartfelt answer for her youthful readers.  The colorful illustrations are charming in their simplicity and provide a perfect complement to the text which begs to be read aloud. This one's a keeper! Pair with her follow-up book, Papa, Why Does the Sun Shine?

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Looking back I think I have always been a writer. For the past thirty plus years I have kept a folder of stories and story ideas. What I didn’t realize at the time is that someday I would pursue publishing them. In 2011 I started my journey to publish my first book, Mama, How Does The Wind Start To Blow? and in 2013 my book was born. YAY!

How does your writing influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
I don’t think I can separate the two. It’s all mixed up! Thinking about writing and illustrating is just happening all the time. For example, when I’m at the grocery store I might be in the fruit and vegetable aisle and think of a gardening story or when I’m picking blueberries on my farm it might give me an idea for the book about colors I want to create. It sounds a little crazy but it’s who I am.

What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing and illustrating I love spending time with my husband and four crazy, lovable kids. I love being outdoors and doing such things as kayaking, hiking, and gardening. Another love of mine is searching for treasures at antique flea markets.

Briefly, what's your book about? 
Have you ever wondered how the wind starts to blow? In my whimsical counting story you will smile at the different creative guesses a child comes up with, but in the end
she learns her mother is just as creative.

What led you to write “Mama, How Does The Wind Start To Blow?”
Our youngest had just left for college. To be honest, it marked for me such a passage of time and a longing for my children’s younger days. Writing this story helped me remember all the things that were near and dear to them when they were small. They loved to play outside all summer long. I would be working in my gardens and they would go out and explore our woods. My children loved to chase butterflies and frogs. At night under the stars, they would watch the fireflies dance against the dark sky. Many nights we would hear the call of the great horned owl. So, these were the things I included in my story.

What would you like readers to take from it? 
To love books! I would like young readers to learn and experience the joy of reading and just having fun interacting with books. In my book they can also practice counting and recognizing numerals. As for parents, I want them to know that they can have fun creating their own stories when their little ones come up with worldly questions like my title.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m currently working on marketing my first two books, Mama, How The Wind Start To Blow? and Papa, Why Does The Sun Shine? In the spring of 2016 I retired from teaching and that has freed me up to go to schools and talk with students about writing and illustrating, which I have really enjoyed. I’m also working on my third book about friendship and diversity between and owl and a firefly. Its title, Who Will Be My Friend? To be released in 2017.

What led you to the decision to publish your own books?
Good question! When I was finalizing on my first story, Mama, How Does The Wind Start To Blow? I decided not only to write the story but to illustrate it. I was so excited!  I learned during this process that I love, love, love illustrating! Then later while doing more research I discovered most publishers don’t let you illustrate your own work. That’s when I decided to move forward and create JeanneKay Publishing and publish it myself.

What challenges did you face in getting your first book published? 
Since I’m new to the publishing world I felt like I wanted to learn the most I could about this industry. I spent a year researching publishing companies, authors, illustrators, dummy pages, ISBN #, copyright, etc…  I joined the professional group SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Like any new adventure I had a huge learning curve, but I was up to the challenge. In many ways I thought that would be the challenging part of all of this, but it wasn’t. My biggest challenge was to put myself out there and believe in my work. I hesitated because I don’t have an art or journalism background, but in life sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and go for it! I am so happy I did.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Life! I like to keep things simple. I really enjoy writing about animals and the outdoors. My books are what I consider a list book. Something happens at the beginning of the story (a problem) and then the character goes through a list of things and then at the end there is a surprise solution.

I also like having an educational piece to my books (it must be the teacher in me). Both of my number books have a counting chart at the end for children to practice counting 1-10 and in my new book, Who Will Be My Friend? I have two pages set aside at the end of the book so children can learn facts about the different woodland birds they read about in my story.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
There are soooo many, but Lois Ehlert is the one who has influenced me the most as an author and illustrator. I meet Lois years ago at a national reading conference. I’ve meet many authors and illustrators in my teaching career but when she spoke about her work, it sang to me. I absolutely love the colors in her books and the way the shapes are put together on a page and so do children. Other authors and illustrators are: Eric Carle, Clive McFarland, Leo Lionni, Holly Berry, Todd Parr, Mo Willems, Jan Brett. The list could go on and on…

What are the most important elements of good writing and/or illustrating?
I have spent many years teaching young children to write. During the writing process I teach them that you can only write about what you know, how you feel and what you have experienced in life. I feel this is so true, even for adults. All of my stories come from my life experiences of things I have done and hold dear in my heart. I think the most important elements in writing is that you are passionate about what you are writing. If you are passionate that will come through in your writing. As for illustrations, I think color, color, color is sooo important. Young children love color. I also feel it is very important that your illustrations should tell the story, especially for young readers that are looking for clues in the illustrations to help them read.

Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers.
I love revising! I love looking at a story from different perspectives and from every angle once it is written. I call it “playing with the story”. I’m looking for the best fit for the story and what makes sense. When I think I’m done I let it sit on the shelf for a while (could be a week or two or sometimes more) and then go back to it. I don’t rush a story, I let the story evolve. When my story is resting on the shelf that doesn’t mean I have totally forgotten about it. I’m experiencing life and looking for other connections or details that I missed or could be added. Don’t be afraid to take a break from your writing, sometimes I think clearer about a story when I’m away from it.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 
Don’t wait! If you have the passion to write or illustrate just start! If you are enjoying what you do it will show!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Tadpole to Frog by Camilla de la Bedoyere introduces this subject by answering the question “What Is A Frog?” From there, the text provides an overview of the life cycle and an expanded exploration of Frog development from a basic description of mating to egg, to tadpole and the mature frog. A general look at the life of a frog includes an interesting discussion of hibernation.

True to the series concept, the text is readily accessible for children and accented with illustrations featuring crisp, up-close photographs, and clearly labeled diagrams. Notes for parents and teachers provide related activities for further exploration. A glossary and index complete the 24 page paperback book.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


October is National Pit Bull Awareness month.
To celebrate, I'm holding a GOODREADS Giveaway for my book. The giveaway ends October 22, National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

Meet Monty 

A remarkable rescue dog with an international following. From his guardians to his doctors, Monty's loving spirit captures hearts with an I-can-do-it grin and a wagging tail.

See the sidebar to enter now.

GoodReads Giveaway

October is National Pit Bull Awareness month.
To celebrate, I'm holding a GOODREADS Giveaway for my book. The giveaway ends October 22, National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

Meet Monty 

A remarkable rescue dog with an international following. From his guardians to his doctors, Monty's loving spirit captures hearts with an I-can-do-it grin and a wagging tail.

See the sidebar to enter now.

Monday, October 10, 2016


Explore Light and Optics! by Anita Yasuda is chock full of information for young minds. A timeline tracing the history of optical science from the 130 CE book, Optics, by Claudius Ptolemy to the anticipated 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope opens the book and along with an introductory discussion to answer the question “What are light and optics?”  

Written for ages 7-10, the “STEM” friendly text is easy to read, with thoughtfully structured chapters, links to primary sources, and questions to prompt further investigations. Colorful illustrations provide informative visuals. Sidebars highlight “Words to Know” and give thumbnail biographies of scientists such as Kepler, Galileo, Ritter, and Kao. Twenty-five projects engage budding scientists with plenty of hands-on activities. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Welcome to my interview with Rosalie Laureman.

Lauerman’s passion for discovering little-known stories from history is clearly on display as she relates the extraordinary tale of courage and determination shown by the Continental soldiers through the winter of 1779-1780. Valley Forge is a familiar name, but Jockey Hollow defined an even greater depth of suffering for the men who answered the call to fight for American independence.
Jockey Hollow: Where A Forgotten Army Persevered To Win American Freedom is well illustrated with photographs, drawings and maps. A Gallery of Heroes provides thumbnail biographies of the main characters. There’s a brief discussion of the Morristown National Historical Park followed by a timeline, Places to Explore for additional information, Additional Reading, and Credits and Bibliography.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
As a preschooler, I treasured my The Pokey Little Puppy book.  I daydreamed about writing stories of cuddly little puppies—until life got more serious.  After I retired from a career in banking and municipal government, plus successfully raising two boys (whew), I returned to my childhood daydream and wrote articles for Highlights and Cricket magazines.But wanting to choose the subjects I wrote about, I dived into writing my first book, Jockey Hollow

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing?
When I started working on Jockey Hollow, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed researching and learning more about history. As a teenager, I thought that history was just a boatload of names and dates to be memorized. But now I think of history, especially the history of the American Revolution, as a series of amazing events, enormous sacrifices, and heroic acts. Digging deep into resources and finding remarkable, little-known but true stories became my passion.

What do you do when you are not writing?
My husband and I enjoy road trips to museums, galleries, and National Parks. The best trips include visits to our kids and grandkids in Pennsylvania and Texas, where a Yahtzee tournament might erupt. An avid reader, Alexander Hamilton is currently on my bedside table.In addition, I enjoy theater, tennis, and hockey—more watching than doing. And I’m constantly on the lookout for new crafts to introduce to my grandkids.  Fortunately, there seems to be an endless assortment of origami patterns.

Briefly, what's your book about?
Jockey Hollow spotlights how the tenacious Continental soldiers persevered to win America’s freedom during the Revolutionary War despite supply shortages, cruel winters, treason, mutiny, worthless Continental dollars, and more.

What led you to write the book?
When we lived in New Jersey, we were neighbors with Jockey Hollow Park, a unit of Morristown National Historical Park.  During visits to the park, I frequently heard visitors say that they didn’t know anything about this Revolutionary encampment. I wanted to change that so I wrote Jockey Hollow’s story.  I’m passionate about sharing this under-told story with all readers, especially today’s young readers.

What would you like readers to take from it?
Enjoy history! I hope that readers feel renewed pride in America when they read about the heroic Revolutionary Soldiers who fought and sometimes died to win America’s independence. Maybe they’ll empathize with Sergeant Joseph Plumb Martin’s feelings after winning the Battle of Yorktown, “I felt a secret pride swell my heart when I saw the ‘star-spangled banner’ waving majestically in the very faces of our enemies.”

What are your current/future projects?
Right now I’m working on a collection of little-known stories from World War I.  I’m also looking ahead to a biography of a colorful, imperfect, Revolutionary War officer whose courage was legendary.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I find that maintaining a regular writing routine is impossible if you live outside a monastery.  When I have a block of time I dive in and don’t stop until I’m interrupted. First I write new material—while my mind is clearest—then I revise yesterday’s work, and next I research for tomorrow’s work.  Meanwhile I’m always looking for quotes, images, relevant websites, sidebar material, and other trimmings.

Soldiers huts and the Wick house in Jockey Hollow National park.

What challenges did you face in researching and writing Jockey Hollow? 
Tracking down accurate details of rare stories and quotes was a major challenge.For example, I came across a brief mention of a 10-year-old Continental soldier while researching.  A 10-year-old soldier, WOW! I wondered if I could include his story in a sidebar. I talked the staff at Morristown National Historical Park about where I might find more information about this child.They referred me to St. Nicholasan Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, a monthly newsletter published in 1884. I was able to find a volume of reprinted copies of St. Nicholas in a nearby university library. The four-page article, “The Youngest Soldier of the Revolution,” was a goldmine of material. It gave me all the facts I needed for the sidebar in Chapter 2. It’s hard to top the thrill a nonfiction writer gets from uncovering a great story like this.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Authors and historians, Ron Chernow, David McCullough, John Ferling, and Thomas Fleming inspired me to use primary source quotes to create lively characters.Children’s writers, Russell Freedman, Dennis Brindell Fradin, and Gregg Mierka influenced my word choices, sentence structure, and what to leave out when talking about battles.Their work reminds me, too, that authors shouldn’t skimp on back matter just because they’re writing for children.

What advice would you offer aspiring nonfiction writers who have an interest in historical topics?
Let your heart choose your subject. If you’re passionate about your subject and want to learn more about it, writing will be easy. Let the characters speak for themselves with primary source quotes. Take time to search for the best images to bring the narrative to life. Be prepared to revise;the reward will be a better manuscript. Use heaps of sticky notes when you’re researching.  My research books have sticky notes fluttering all around the outer edges.

Talk about the importance of providing additional material such as the timeline, websites, teacher resources, additional/advanced reading, and bibliography.
The additional material at the end of the book is intended to give readers opportunities to expand on what they read. For instance, the “Timeline” section in Jockey Hollow helps readers understand the order of events during the war. The“Additional Reading” section offers more in-depth information and insights into people and events that are talked about in the book. “Websites to Explore” enhances the book’s content through videos, photos, virtual tours, maps, and interactive games. Some of the websites are also physical museums or parks where readers can walk in the soldiers’ footsteps. Also, I’ve been told that teachers appreciate “Resources for Teachers” because these sources offer unique classroom materials and programs related to the American Revolution. The“Credits and Bibliography” section lists sources that were used while writing Jockey Hollow. This section works as a road map for readers and writers to find additional material related to the Revolution.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
I imagine the Jockey Hollow Soldiers would say that if you persevere, you will succeed.  Sounds like good advice to me; I spent years researching and writing Jockey Hollow.

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book?

When you have time, I invite you to visit my website at While you’re there, click Books+ and learn how a hilly forest in New Jersey became known as Jockey Hollow.

Jockey Hollow awards:
·         2016 IPPY Bronze Medal for Best Mid-Atlantic Region Nonfiction
·         2016 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in the category of United States History.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Acorn to Oak Tree by Camilla de la Bedoyere is a lovely introduction to the basic concepts of botany and terms such as leaves, stem, roots, trunk, branches, and bark. Plant development is explained through a step-by-step look from the autumn germination of an acorn, to seedling, sapling, and ultimately to a mature tree. Discussions include tree rings, growth rates, male and female flower parts, acorns, seasonal changes and ways in which oak trees provide resources for animal life and timber consumers.

True to the series concept, the text is readily accessible for children and accented with illustrations featuring crisp, up-close photographs, and clearly labeled diagrams. Notes for parents and teachers provide related activities for further exploration. A glossary and index complete the 24 page paperback book.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Egg to Chicken by Camilla de la Bedoyere opens with a discussion of birds and their characteristics through contrasting looks at chickens, gulls, and ostriches. Double-page spreads cover the topics of nest building, egg laying, brooding, and the development of the baby chick.  The final pages discuss how chicks mature into adults.

True to the series concept, the text is readily accessible for children and accented with illustrations featuring crisp, up-close photographs, and clearly labeled diagrams. Notes for parents and teachers provide related activities for further exploration. Bold-faced terms scattered through the content are clearly defined in the glossary. An index completes the 24 page paperback book.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Writers Wednesday

I’m delighted to introduce Lynn Plourde and her newest picture book, Bella’s Fall Coat. You may be familiar with some of Lynn’s 30 other titles which include:  You're Doing That in the Talent Show?!, You're Wearing That to School?!, Wild Child, and Pigs in the Mud in the Middle of the Rud.

Bella’s Fall Coat is charming look at one of childhood’s dilemmas -- the desire to have the joys of our youth remain unchanged. This is a perfect time for this heart-warming story that celebrates the marvels of fall and invites us to experience this special time of year through the eyes of an adorable little girl.

The language is as crisp and bright as a fall morning. The illustrations by Susan Gal are rich with autumn’s colors and fill the pages with warmth and movement.

Sure to become a read-aloud favorite.

You describe yourself as a "teaching author." What's your favorite school visit anecdote?
Two, one heart-warming, one funny. After doing a whole-school assembly, I was presenting writing workshops to smaller groups in an amphitheater with a hallway along one side. I was between groups and one boy kept walking back and forth in the hall, so I finally asked if I could help him. He shyly tripped over his words as he answered, “I just, well, I needed you to know that I don’t, well, I don’t like to read. But when I heard you today, I decided I’m going to give reading another chance.” My heart burst.  As for the funny one, I was at a school that had pods and the only bathrooms were for students. So I used it and when I came out of my stall and was washing my hands alongside a girl, she kept looking at me, and finally said, “I’ve just gotta ask. Can I have a piece of your hair for a souvenir?” I laughed and offered her an autograph instead—after we left the bathroom!

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
It just all feels like “my life”—all mixed together. As a writer, it seems I’m always working (like answering these interview questions at 11:00 pm) and at my desk at all hours. But even when I read, I’m “working” by watching how other authors do their craft. When I’m out and about running errands or getting away with family, I’m an idea detective or character detective or dialogue detective. Sometimes it might be nice to turn off the author switch, but then again I’m not sure I could or should since I love what I do and it’s such a big part of who I am. I can’t turn off my woman switch or my Mainer switch or my wife or mother switches—so it makes sense I can’t turn off my writer switch.

What do you do when you are not writing or visiting schools?
Reading, going for walks, playing with plants, kayaking, snowshoeing, and I have my first grandbaby. He’s one year old and the joy of my heart so I’m playing on the floor and reading board books and rocking him and talk, talk, talking to him as his Memsy (grandmother) who also happened to be a speech therapist for her first career.

Briefly, what's your book about?   
Bella’s Fall Coat is a love story—love between a grandmother and granddaughter, love for favorite things, love for a season, love for the here-and-now.

What led you to write the book? 
As a Mainer and one whose birthday is in October, I have always loved, loved, loved fall. It’s like Mother Earth is throwing leaf confetti on us. The colors are gorgeous, the air is invigorating, the foods are nurturing. I feel most alive in fall. One of my very first picture books was Wild Child, a mother-child fall story dedicated to my daughter when she was little and our “wild child.”  Fast forward 18 years and now I have Bella’s Fall Coat, a grandmother-grandchild book dedicated to my first grandchild. I love the patterns and happenstances of life.

What would you like readers to take from it? 

Joy! I hope they find joy in the glorious illustrations by Susan Gal. Susan’s art is so alive and vibrant and spontaneous just like the main character Bella. I hope readers are so inspired by the book that they will PUT IT DOWN—truly, and go play in the fall leaves, pick apples, make a leaf collage, make an apple pie, celebrate fall!

What are your current/future projects?
This year, 2016, has been a book bonanza year for me with four new books. Besides Bella’s Fall Coat, I also have You’re Doing THAT in the Talent Show?!  with best friends Penelope the hippo and Tiny the mouse performing in the school talent show together. And another picture book is Baby Bear’s NOT Hibernating that tells about a baby black bear who doesn’t want to go to bed (hibernate) and tries to stay awake all winter long, plus there are black bears facts in the back of the book. I’ve also had my first middle grade novel published this year—Maxi’s Secrets (or, What You Can Learn from a Dog) which is about “fitting in” and tells the story of a giant deaf dog and her very small boy. Also, I’m starting work on another middle grade novel and am trying out several new picture book ideas.

The Process
What motivates you?
JOY! I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which is about decluttering your life and asking the simple question, “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is ‘no,” then let it go. If the answer is “yes,” then it’s a keeper. But I ask this “joy” question not just about the objects in my life, but about how I spend my time, who I spend time with, writing projects I commit to, all aspects of my life. It’s a simple question that has made a profound difference in my life. I turned 60 and I want the time I have left on this earth to be filled with joy.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
My writing process is messy and so is my desk and my routine. One of my strengths as an author is being creative. And creativity is not a straight-line journey. So I scribble on paper for a picture book with arrows going every which way as I think of idea after idea for a book. I have sticky notes all over my desk with ideas. But I also read-aloud when I write—sentence after sentence—and my ear tells me what works and what doesn’t (I may not know how to fix it, but at least, I know it needs to change.) I wish I were more organized, but I’m learning to embrace my messy, creative self.

With thirty picture books published, have you found there are certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Yes—Maine, nature, family, and school.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Jane Yolen—she’s had over 300 books published. She shows up to do the hard work of writing day after day plus she’s written poetry, picture books, fantasy, history and more, oh my! Eve Bunting also shows up to do the hard work day after day, year after year. And William Steig—I love Doctor Desoto and so admire Steig who received Caldecott and Newbery recognitions. To be the best in art and in words is truly awe-inspiring. All three of these put their passion down on paper!

Advice for Writers
What have you found to be the most important elements of good writing when creating your picture books?
I’m still learning that less is more. I always write too long and have to cut about a third of what I write. It’s not just about trying to be less wordy, but also learning to trust the illustrations to tell the story and to trust readers to “get” the story. Also as a reader and as a writer, I crave voice. I think “voice” is the hardest thing to teach and to learn—it’s just somehow there . . . or not. I know it when I see it, but there’s no formula for writing with voice. I think voice comes from trusting yourself, deep inside, and that can be hard.

Please talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers. 
Read your writing aloud. Or better yet, have someone else read your picture book manuscript aloud to you and listen for the places that sound “off.” You don’t have to worry about knowing how to fix the “off” places—first, you have to find them. Also, take your time. I have such a hard time following this advice myself. I get excited about doing a revision and getting it back to my agent or editor; but when I rush, my revisions are more surface revisions, not deeper revisions that the story deserves and that come with mulling and stepping away from the story for a time.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 
Write what you read. What kind of books do you most enjoy reading? Mysteries? Fantasy? Poetry? Nonfiction? Whatever kind of books you most enjoy reading, that’s the kind of writing you’re likely to be best at.

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 
In Bella’s Fall Coat, Bella talks about her favorites and wanting things to last forever. I hope readers young and old think about and talk about their favorites and what they wish would last forever. Our favorites and forever things say lots about who we are and bring us JOY!

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer