FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Picture Book Author-Illustrator Amy Nielander

Did you know that Sunday, September 12th was Grandparents’ Day? It’s a holiday I was unfamiliar with before my picture book LOVE IS KIND came out, but one which I quickly came to embrace, not only because LOVE IS KIND celebrates the special bond between Little Owl and his grammy, but also because I dedicated that book to my own grandmothers.

Now each year, I look forward to Grandparents’ Day as a special opportunity to foster intergenerational appreciation and am always on the lookout for new books that celebrate this special bond. With that in mind, I was delighted to discover GRAMA’S HUG, a delightful new picture book, written and illustrated by Amy Nielander and published in 2020 by Page Street Books.

Here’s the official blurb:

May and Grama are a team. They do everything together, from inventing creative projects to going birdwatching to preparing for the annual space fair. And they never, ever say goodbye without a hug. May’s love of science takes her far as her inventions win year after year, helped by Grama’s support, effort, and love. She travels to space camp and eventually beyond, earning her spot as the first kid astronaut to journey into space. As May prepares for her mission to explore the cosmos, she seems ready to go without looking back, making Grama worried that she will leave without a hug. This picture book explores the importance of treasuring even the smallest moments with people you love with heartwarming illustrations, expressive characters, and delightful touches of whimsy.

And now I have an extra special treat for you. Amy Nielander is my guest today sharing FIVE fun facts about this enchanting book. Thank you, Amy, and take it away!

FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Amy Nielander

FUN FACT #1: Grama’s Hug started off as a wordless story.

My first picture book, The Ladybug Race, is a wordless book so it felt natural for me to approach Grama’s Hug the same way. It wasn’t until I attended the Rutgers University One-on-One Conference when my mentor suggested that I add text. The story reflects a passage of time and providing more text would help a young reader understand that movement. Words continued to build as I worked with the publisher, Page Street Kids. After several revisions, May’s (and Grama’s!) voice emerged and my first picture book with text was born!   

FUN FACT #2: The book was inspired by a sentence I heard shouted out one day: “I am not leaving without a hug!” 

The idea for Grama’s Hug landed in 2013 when I was walking my daughter to school one morning. As we approached the entrance, the bell rang and kids ran in. I heard a parent yell out “I am not leaving without a hug!”. I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head and immediately wondered “Would you really just stay here if you didn’t get that hug?” The first draft took shape and I titled it I am Not Leaving Without a Hug!. It was a terrible story though and I quickly changed course after an unfortunate SCBWI round table critique. In the process of revising, a childhood memory was triggered and I began writing a more personal story. The next version was filled with every emotion that memory rattled…love, loss, sadness and joy. 

FUN FACT #3: The space shuttle in the book was inspired by a 1990s concept design called the Venture Star.

As a former product designer, one of my favorite stages in the design process was the concept phase. Imagining what the next version of a product could be always excited me! Even though concept designs have the potential to improve lives, they are often written off early because they cost too much or the technology isn’t quite there yet.  Since Grama’s Hug is a story about a 10-year-old girl going to space, it takes place in a fantastical world. I used my creative license to design a place where previous concepts in history – did not fail. This accelerated the timeline of technology. The Venture Star was built in the 1990s by Lockheed Martin. It was a re-usable spaceplane meant to replace the Space Shuttle. The design didn’t rely on rocket boosters and would reduce materials along with providing other benefits. But after a test vehicle failed, the program was canceled in 2001. As a way to express my gratitude for every designer, engineer and scientist that contributed to that project, I gave the Venture Star a welcoming world to live in (forever!) with Grama’s Hug

FUN FACT #4: May’s elementary school is named after my elementary school.

I tried to infuse the story with personal details to make it extra special for me (in hopes that readers would feel that love in the illustrations). May’s elementary school is called Winchester, which is the school I attended as a child.

FUN FACT #5: Grama’s robe resembles my late grandma’s robe. 

My dad immigrated to the U.S. before I was born and we didn’t really know my grandparents (they lived in Europe). My grandpa visited once when I was too young to remember but my grandmother visited a handful of times. She did not speak English nor did we, grandkids, speak her language. This resulted in an amplified awareness of her reactions in order to interpret dialogue. I’m not sure if it was this heightened sensitivity to all things physical, but I remember a robe she made during one of her visits and wore often. When it came time to design Grama’s outfits for the book, I knew my late grandma’s robe would be a part of her collection. It was my way of honoring a hardworking woman whose heart probably ached often, with family living so far away.

AUTHOR BIO:

Amy Nielander loves making joyful and creative picture books for children. Her first wordless book, The Ladybug Race, exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as a Silent Book Contest finalist. Her second picture book, Grama’s Hug, received a starred review from Booklist and was included on Grand Rapids Magazine’s “Summer Fav” book list. Her third book, My Name Is Not Ed Tug! will release in 2022 by West Margin Press. Kids can create new characters with Amy every month on her CREATE A CHARACTER blog. You can also find Amy on Twitter (@nielanderamy) and Instagram (@amynielander).

5 Tips for Faith-Filled Bedtime Routines with Author Nancy I. Sanders

Today I’m delighted to host return guest Nancy I. Sanders for a special post on establishing bedtime routines that also foster faith in our little ones. And how did I get so blessed as to have this best-selling author on my blog? Easy. She has a new board book out called BEDTIME WITH MOMMY (End Game Press, August 2021) – a perfect pick for this mama who has fond memories of bedtime routines with her own little ones.

Here’s a description: It’s bedtime all around the world! From Mommy panda in the bamboo forest to Mommy sea otter in the ocean, Mommies are putting their little ones to bed. Get ready for prayers, reading a favorite Psalm, singing hymns and lots of cuddles and snuggles! This adorable rhyming board book is perfect for babies and toddlers to hold. BEDTIME WITH MOMMY is sure to be a cherished part of bedtime routine!

Doesn’t that sound sweet? And now for Nancy’s five tips for faith-filled bedtime routines. Take it away, Nancy!

5 Tips for Faith-Filled Bedtime Routines

by Nancy I. Sanders

Tip #1 Start Tonight

It’s never too early and it’s definitely never too late to start making bedtime into a faith-filled routine! If you’ve never before been intentional about incorporating a faith-filled routine into your child’s bedtime, the perfect time to start is tonight. And this isn’t about feeling guilt or inadequacy as a parent, either. God’s mercies are new every morning! So if you don’t have time or forget to implement a faith-filled routine one night (or even a few nights in a row!) every day is a brand new day in God’s kingdom, and every night is another great opportunity to make a difference in your children’s hearts.

Tip #2 Target Your Children’s Ages

Gear bedtime routines to the ages of your children. Playing soft Christian music in the background ten to twenty minutes before your infant settles down to sleep helps calm her down. Two of my favorite CDs include I LOVE YOU: SONGS OF LOVE AND BLESSING FROM A MOTHER’S HEART by Rita Baloche and COME TO THE CRADLE by Michael Card. Read Christian books or Bible stories to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers at bedtime such as my newest board book, BEDTIME WITH MOMMY, that features animal mommies all over the world tucking their little ones into bed with prayers, hymns, and reading a Psalm. With older children, read the Bible together on a one-year plan to help plant the Word in their growing hearts. 

Tip #3 Pray

Pray with your children and pray for your children. Take time to pray aloud together. Give them time to pray aloud, too. If you struggle with taking time to pray, remember: It’s okay to be short and sweet. Effective prayers aren’t measured by their length. A simple heartfelt prayer always reaches the Father’s heavenly throne room.

Tip #4 Fit Your Schedule

A faith-filled bedtime routine doesn’t have to take tons of time. If you’re a family whose bedtime routine already lasts an hour, hip hip hooray! It’s a snap to start including Bible time, worship time, and prayer. But if your bedtime routine only lasts as long as it takes to brush teeth, tug on jammies, and jump into bed, no problem! Tape a sticky note to the bathroom mirror with a Scripture verse to memorize while they brush. Encourage them to meditate on it while they fall asleep. Rotate in a new verse every week or so. Or listen to a favorite worship song or hymn together—just one!—while they’re getting dressed, then sit at their bedside for a simple good-night prayer. 

Tip #5 Every Effort Counts 

The best thing about being intentional about adding faith-filled moments to your bedtime routine is that your efforts, no matter how small, count for eternal blessings. And remember—you’re not alone! You have the heavenly Father to sustain you, Jesus Christ to empower you, and the Holy Spirit to equip you along your journey. If you feel weak in this area, just ask God for His strength. And every prayer you say, every Bible verse you read, every worship song you sing, and every Christian book you share will be used by the Holy Spirit in powerful ways!

Thanks, Laura, for featuring my newest book here on your blog! It’s a joy to join a fellow author of a faith-filled bedtime book. Your Goodnight, Ark! is one of my grandchildren’s favorites and is here on our bookshelves for when they come to visit.

Aw, thank you, Nancy! I’m glad it’s a bedtime hit at grandma’s house!

About the Author

Nancy I. Sanders loves to have her grandbabies over for sleepovers with lots of snuggles, bedtime stories, and prayers! Her newest padded board book, Bedtime With Mommy makes a great baby shower gift or sweet Christmas present to gift to your favorite littles and their Mommies. Order your copies today online or at your favorite local bookstore. Nancy is the bestselling and award-winning children’s author of over 100 books. Visit her website to find out more at www.nancyisanders.com.

GUEST POST: Five MORE Tips to Foster a Love of Reading in Little Ones with Picture Book Author MINDY BAKER

On Monday I shared 10 Tips to Foster a Love of Reading in Little Ones. At the end of the post, I invited readers to share other ideas. Picture book author Mindy Baker responded on Instagram with such thoughtful additions that I asked her if she’d be willing to share them with you all today. She said yes! Mindy Baker is an educator (who really knows her stuff!) as well as the author of one of my favorite Christmas picture books, MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT (Zonderkidz, 2018) about a mouse whose small act of faith on Christmas Eve sparks a chain reaction of hope and love, demonstrating that even the smallest creature can make a big difference. Now, without further fuss, enjoy FIVE more tips to foster a love of reading in little ones. And afterwards be sure to check out and sign up for Mindy’s new mini-magazine. (See link at end.)

FIVE MORE TIPS TO FOSTER A LOVE OF READING IN LITTLE ONES

by Mindy Baker

  1. Make sure to have a kid-sized bookshelf or reading area where books are in reach and accessible. 
  2. Change the themes of the books kept in your reading area periodically to keep it interesting.
  3. As you read, ask questions to engage your little one.
    • I wonder what will happen next in the story? 
    • I wonder what the main character is thinking?
    • How do you think the main character feels? 
    • Can you find the _____?  (Ask about something in the illustrations)
    • Point to the ______? (Name something that the child could point to)
    • What color is the ______? (Name an item in the illustrations)
  4. Don’t force your child to sit through a long book they don’t have the attention span for…remember, you don’t have to finish every page of every book!
  5. Use a silly character voice and make sound effects as your read…the sillier the better! 

Author Bio

Mindy Baker, author of Mouse’s Christmas Gift, Zonderkidz 2018, resides in Indiana with her family where she is a high school Spanish teacher. She is a contributor for the new Read, Discuss, Do! website www.readdiscussdo.com as well as the website www.christianchildrensauthors.com. Through her writing, she hopes to plant seeds of truth in the hearts of her readers. Her goal is to help you connect with the kids in your life through books and quality time. You can connect with Mindy at www.mindybakerbooks.com.

Instagram: @mindybakerbooks https://www.instagram.com/mindybakerbooks/

Facebook: @mindybakerbooks  https://www.facebook.com/mindybakerbooks

Twitter: @mindybakerbooks https://twitter.com/MindyBakerBooks

Pinterest: @mindybakerbooks https://www.pinterest.com/mindybakerbooks/_saved/

Special offer!

Mindy has a new mini-magazine that offers book reviews, book activities, and links to play ideas. Opt in by going to the homepage of her website and signing up or by clicking on this link.

Where was LITTLE EWE this week?

Little Ewe and I leaped into spring with great joy this week. After what seemed like a long winter, how wonderful it has been these past few days to hear the birds chirping at dawn, to see daffodils and crocuses, and to have four wonderful book sharing opportunities! Here’s a round up and I hope you grab a cup of tea and doing a little jumping from meadow to meadow, er, I mean blog to blog, with me and enjoy what each stop has to offer.

Meadow #1: GARDEN AUTHOR VISIT! On Tuesday I had my first in-person school visit in over a year at Calvary Nursery School and Child Care. The visit took place outdoors at a good social distance and everyone was wearing masks. The children were great listeners and empathized greatly with Little Ewe during her time of being lost. Everyone was relieved when Shepherd found her and it sparked great discussion over times they have been lost and how wonderful it felt to be found. It was the highlight of my week. Here’s a collage that captures the morning:

Meadow #2: INTERVIEW! On Wednesday, Little Ewe and were invited to Pastor Noelle Kirchner’s blog. Noelle is a TV host, pastor, writer, and mother of three boys. She’s also the author of an amazing bible study which I featured on my blog last fall. In my interview with Noelle this week, I answered questions such as “What inspired me to write LITTLE EWE?” and “Do I have a favorite tradition for celebrating Easter with my family?” I also shared several picture books have I found that successfully point children to God. I hope you hop on over to find the answers. Here’s the link. =)

Meadow #3: GUEST POST: FIVE SIMPLE STEPS FOR USING PICTURE BOOKS TO POINT LITTLE ONES TO GOD. A big thank you to blogger, writer, and speaker Sally Matheny for hosting me on her blog this week as I shared a topic close to my heart: using picture books to spark meaningful faith conversations with our little ones. Earlier this month she also reviewed LITTLE EWE. You can find the review here and the guest post here.

Meadow #4: REVIEW! 12 Things to Love About Laura Sassi’s LITTLE EWE Last, but not least, leap on over to picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez’s blog for her thoughts on LITTLE EWE. Thank you, Rebecca!

LITTLE EWE: Book Journey and Giveaway

One of the fun parts of having a new book release is visiting other blogs to celebrate! And today I’m delighted to kick things off with a visit to Kathy Temean’s blog to share the LITTLE EWE’S book journey from inspiration to publication. I met Kathy several years ago at a NJ SCBWI June Conference and she’s a wonderful champion of all things kid lit. She posts daily on her blog and I’m honored to be featured today. There’s also a giveaway, so hop on over! Thank you for having me, Kathy!

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST: Five Book-Themed Conversation Topics with Author Rebecca J. Gomez

Today I’m delighted to have talented picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez here in celebration of her newest release TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST, co-written with Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Hilary Leung and published by Scholastic. In addition to possessing delightful story telling skills, Rebecca has a knack for creating extension activities and discussion ideas to enhance any storytime. Today she’s sharing some ideas for fostering book-themed conversation with little ones after reading her book. The extra neat thing is that these ideas can be applied to almost any book. Take it away, Rebecca!

When I was a little girl, just about to start Kindergarten, my mother walked the short route to school with me so that, when the first day of school came, I could walk there on my own with confidence. I remember walking together down our street, making a left turn, and cresting a hill. From the top of that hill, I could see my school. It was simple.

So, on the first day of Kindergarten, with both parents at work and my babysitter tending my younger siblings, I set out to school on my own with confidence! But that confidence vanished when I reached the top of the hill and there was no school in sight! Fortunately, I was able to retrace my steps and make it back home, where I cried on the front stoop until my mother returned from work.

Rebecca as a child.

It was a frightening experience that I have never repeated since, though I have had plenty of scary moments in my life. That is something we can all relate to; being lost and/or scared is a universal human experience. That’s what makes TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST such a relatable book. And that relatability opens the door for lots of good discussions.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five discussion topics to help you get the conversation going with your kiddos after reading TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST!

FIVE BOOK-THEMED CONVERSATION STARTERS


1. Start with something simple. What was your favorite party of the book? Why? 

2. Make a life connection. Talk about a time when you were lost and/or scared. How did the situation get resolved?

3. Discuss illustration choices. Why do you think the illustrator included images of spooky shadows and glowing eyes in the pictures?

4. Talk about the story’s resolution. Mack and Rig were able to find their way once they were together again. Why do you think being together made a difference?

5. Life application! What might Mack and Rig have done differently in order to avoid getting separated? What should you do if you ever get lost? 

BONUS!!!

Here are a few activity ideas to try after reading TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST:

1. Set up a track and have a race with your own toy trucks or cars Even better, set up your own version of Rugged Ride Park!

2. Draw a map of your neighborhood or a favorite playground.

3. Print and color this coloring page.

Have fun with your TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST story time!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rebecca J. Gomez has been writing stories and poems for kids since she was five years old. She also loves to hike, draw, and play games with her husband and their three children. She also coauthored What About Moose? and Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks with Corey Rosen Schwartz. She is also the author of Federico and the Wolf. She lives in Nebraska, but you can visit her at rebeccajgomez.com.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS with Carrie Finison (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have rhyming picture book author Carrie Finison here to share five fun facts about her debut picture book release, DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS. Illustrated by Brianne Farley and published by Putnam, it’s about a generous but increasingly put-upon bear who makes batch after batch of doughnuts for her woodland friends without saving any for herself.  Take a peek at the lovely reviews Carries’s book has received from Publishers Weekly and Youth Services Book Review, then grab a doughnut and enjoy as she shares five behind-the-scenes facts about the book’s creation.  My favorite?  Fact #1. It’s a good reminder that good writing takes time.  Happy reading, all!

Five Fun Facts about

DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS

by Carrie Finison

Fun Fact #1: Draft 89 is the one that was published.

I save a new file every day that I work on a story. That doesn’t mean every one of those drafts was significantly different – sometimes I may have only changed a line or two. But it does mean 89 separate days of work on the story – plus lots of thinking time in between. Since the book is written in rhyme, it can take a LOT of revision to change even a few words. That’s because when you revise, you have to find a way to say what you want to say in rhyme – and make sure you’re not repeating a rhyme from earlier in the story. So even a small change can involve alterations to many stanzas. It’s a fun challenge, but not easy!

Fun Fact #2: MANY doughnuts were harmed in the writing of this book.

My kids were quick to point out that every important publication milestone – acceptance, completion of the manuscript, the cover reveal, and now publication, be celebrated with doughnuts. In addition to all those doughnuts, I worked to develop a doughnut recipe that would be easy enough to make with kids (with adult stove supervision). I had hoped this would be in the back of the book but, alas, we ran out of pages! However, I’ve posted the recipe on my website and also wrote about developing the recipe on the Soaring ’20’s blog.

Fun Fact #3: All the animals in the book are hibernators – except one!

In some of the earlier versions of the story, the book ended with all the animal friends going to sleep for the winter together. I went down an Internet rabbit hole (or maybe a chipmunk den?) researching hibernators and learned a lot about the different ways animals cope with winter. The only animal in the story that does not hibernate in some way is Topsy, the opossum. Poor opossums have a hard time dealing with the cold and often get frostbitten on their bare feet and tails. I’m glad that Topsy found a warm spot in her friend LouAnn’s house!

Fun Fact #4: The characters didn’t always have names.

The animals in the book didn’t have names at first, they were just called “Bear” “Raccoon” and so on. When I decided to name the main character, LouAnn, I realized all the other characters would need names, too. It was a fun afternoon dreaming up those names! My favorite is “Mouffette” which is the French word for “skunk.” Isn’t that a pretty name?

Fun Fact #5: The cast-iron pan that LouAnn uses to cook doughnuts is verrry familiar.

When I saw Brianne Farley’s illustrations for LouAnn’s kitchen, I was thrilled to see the cast-iron pan that LouAnn cooks her doughnuts in. I have the exact same pan, which once belonged to my grandmother! So now, when I read the book, I’m reminded of my grandmother. I love that LouAnn is a bit old-fashioned at heart.

Author Bio:

Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. She has been writing off and on ever since, though she has (somewhat regretfully) traded in the typewriter for a laptop. Her debut picture book is DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (July, 2020), and a second picture book, DON’T HUG DOUG, will follow in January, 2021. She also writes for children’s magazines including Babybug, Ladybug, High Five, and Highlights. When she’s not writing, Carrie enjoys reading mystery novels, trying new recipes, and curling up on the couch for family movie nights. She lives outside Boston with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats who permit her to write in their cozy attic office. Find her online at www.carriefinison.com or on Twitter @CarrieFinison.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a SIGNED copy of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (Putnam, July 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Carrie, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 7/30/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! NOTE: This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.

Special note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog or “liking” me on my Facebook Author page, Twitter, or Instagram. I’d love the support and connection.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY with Darlene Beck Jacobson

Today I am delighted to kickoff Darlene Beck Jacobson’s blog tour celebrating her charming new middle grade novel in verse WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY. Releasing with Creston Books on April 7th, 2020, it tells the story of Jack, who is worried about his father, who missing in action in Vietnam. His family, new best friend, and a bully unexpectedly all help Jack find the courage to do the right thing, not the easy thing. I was given an advance copy for review and was immediately engaged by Darlene’s voice in verse. It’s a great story and one that would be a nice addition to any library, class room, or middle-grader’s book collection. Now, in celebration of good writing and good stories, I’d like to introduce the author herself as she shares FIVE FUN FACTS about the book. Take it away, Darlene!

FIVE FUN FACTS ABOUT WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog Laura. I’m really excited to be here to share my new middle grade book WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY  (Creston 2020). Today I’m going to share FIVE FUN FACTS about the story.

FACT #1: In the original title FISH, WISH, AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS, every poem had a four-letter word for a title. This didn’t happen by chance. The main character – JACK – spoke to me one morning in May of 2018 as I was waking up. He introduced himself and was insistent that I listen to what he had to say. He shouted four letter words like FEAR, HOPE, WISH, GONE, etc and I pulled out a notepad and began to write them down. He gave me that tile, and the premise that he missed his DAD who was MIA.  I wrote down four pages of notes based on this early morning “wake up call”, and filled another page with four letter words. These words became the chapters – poems –  of the story written in verse.

FACT #2: I was around the same age as Jack and Jill in 1964, and all the things they had fun doing – kite flying, scavenger hunts, reading comic books, riding bikes, going to the beach and drive-in movies – are the things my sister and I enjoyed as kids.

FACT 3#: The space program was a new and exciting thing in the 1960’s. Jack remembers watching in school as astronaut John Glenn orbited the moon in a rocket called Friendship Seven. Our entire fifth grade class did the same thing. We crammed into the Kindergarten room – the largest room in the school before the all purpose room was built – and stared up at a small black and white television, counting down to “Blast Off!” and cheering when he reached orbit around the moon.

FACT #4: In order to stop himself from making a terrible wish, Jack needed a “cautionary tale” about what happens when wishes go terribly wrong. “THE MONKEY’S PAW”, a horror story by W.W Jacobs is that tale. To learn more check here.

FACT #5: “The Song That Doesn’t End” – featured in the poem titled SING (pages 198-199) was a popular song from a kiddie show called THE SHARI LEWIS SHOW, featuring a puppet named LAMBCHOP singing the song. We loved singing it as kids because it drove our parents crazy.  Some things never change. You can check it out on this You Tube link:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Darlene Beck Jacobson is a former teacher and speech therapist who has loved writing since she was a girl.  She is also a lover of history and can often be found mining dusty closets and drawers in search of skeletons from her past. She enjoys adding these bits of her ancestry to stories such as her award-winning middle grade historical novel WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston 2014) and WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020). 

Darlene lives and writes her stories in New Jersey with her family and a house full of dust bunnies. She’s caught many fish, but has never asked one to grant her a wish. She’s a firm believer in wishes coming true, so she tries to be careful what she wishes for.

Her blog features recipes, activities, crafts, articles on nature, book reviews, and interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators.

Find her on the web at www.darlenebeckjacobson.com or on Twitter at @DBeckJacobson

Preorder her book now at Barnes and Noble or Amazon or your favorite indie bookseller.

TEACHERS: Learn more about the book and download the curriculum guide at the Creston Books website. Here’s the link: https://www.crestonbooks.co/wishesdares

And don’t miss the NEXT stop on her blog tour on Thursday, March 12, 2020 at https://joshuadavidbellin.blogspot.com/p/my-blog.html

GUEST PODCAST: When We Were Very Young- A Book-Loving Interview!

Do you have a favorite childhood book? I have several, but my earliest favorite book memory is of sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me from A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. I loved the rhythmic rhyming sound of Milne’s poems and memorized several, quite by accident, because I asked my mother to read them to me so often. I’ve carried the rhyming beat of those poems with me ever since. And I think they are partially to blame for my growing up to be a writer!

That’s why, when I was asked by podcaster Jody Lee Mott to take part in his Dream Garden interview series in which he interviews authors sharing their favorite books, I couldn’t resist choosing When We Were Very Young. Jody was not familiar with the poetry collection, but enjoyed reading it and coming up with thought-provoking questions. The result is fresh and fun interview. Not only will you get a taste for A. A. Milne’s poetry and why it was so foundational to my love for the written word, you’ll also get an inside peek at what makes me tick as a writer.

I hope you can find a quiet time to listen, perhaps while making supper, as I did last night. I think you’ll enjoy the podcast. And afterwards, you may just decide you want to listen to his other podcasts as well!

Curious? I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? with Dawn Prochovnic

Today I am delighted to be hosting children’s author Dawn Babb Prochovnic as we celebrate the release of her darling companion picture books WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? both illustrated by Jacob Souva and both published by West Margin Press. Congratulations! Now, without further fuss, here are FIVE, not just FUN, but truly INSPIRING FACTS about the books from the author herself.

FIVE Fun Facts About Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? & Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?

By Dawn Prochovnic

FUN FACT #1 Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? was inspired by the antics of my son, then a toddler, now a senior in high school. 

There was a day when my son was being particularly silly, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?”  I knew immediately that was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after. It took many years and many revisions to get this story just right, but what I continue to love about it is that each time I read it, I am instantly transported back to that memorable moment shared with my son, when he first posed that silly question to me. 

FUN FACT #2 Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? emerged out of a writing exercise.

My pirate manuscript was a crowd-pleaser at open mics at writing conferences, and it received several close looks from different editors and publishers, but it had yet to sell. Eventually, I decided to completely reimagine the story with another main character. In 2015, I was invited to contribute a story to a beautiful picture book anthology called Oregon Reads Aloud. The primary submission guideline was that every story in the book needed to relate to Oregon in some fashion. I took a close look at my work-in-progress file, and after some encouragement from one of my critique partners, I decided to “Oregon-ize” a “first-day-of-school” story that had gotten a few editorial nibbles, but that also hadn’t sold. I LOVED the experience of revising within a structured framework. Ideas for clever revisions that fit within the Oregon theme and within my overall plot structure and rhyme pattern came relatively easily. Happily, the story was accepted for inclusion in the anthology, and I had a refreshed publication credit under my belt and a renewed sense of confidence in my writing ability.   


A couple of years later, as a writing exercise, I challenged myself to experiment with westernizing my pirate story. Unfortunately, my attempts fell flat. I eventually came to realize that I was essentially inserting a random cowboy into my pirate’s story. I needed to do some deeper work on character development. Then I had a new idea: What about a cowgirl

I found myself immediately transported back to a time when my college-aged daughter was in grade school, and her wardrobe included a bright pink pair of cowgirl boots. I paged through old photos and found the one I was looking for: A photo of my daughter dressed-up for her western-themed grade school carnival. I finally had the kernel of a new character in my mind’s eye. This character was unique and separate from the pirate character that I couldn’t let go of, and she had her own story to tell. Yee-Haw!

FUN FACT #3 I went from having no contract offers on the table for my “potty books” to having two simultaneous contract offers on the table–one for the pirate story and the other for the cowgirl story. 

Once I finished my cowgirl story, I identified a list of publishers that would be a good fit and started the process of submitting this new story. I had not submitted my pirate story in quite some time, and unbeknownst to me, it was going through the acquisition channels at a New York publishing house. Seemingly suddenly, I had publishing offers from two different publishers on the table, each primarily interested in one of the two books. Soon, both publishers indicated they would like to acquire both books and publish them as companion pieces, so I needed to decide which of the two publishing houses I wanted to work with and begin negotiating a contract. I reached out to a handful of agents on my agent prospect list to see if anyone would help me navigate this opportunity. I only heard back from one, and she graciously declined. I then reached out to a handful of authors, booksellers, and librarians in my personal and professional networks to seek input and advice. Once I decided that West Margin Press (then called Graphic Arts Books) was the best fit for my vision for the books, I turned to the Authors Guild to help me identify the contract terms that were most important to me. 

Although I certainly would have welcomed representation during this process, I learned so much along the way, and I don’t regret how it all turned out. I’m very comfortable with the decisions I made, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience of working with West Margin Press. That said, I continue to have deep admiration for the publisher I didn’t get to work with–and I continue to hold hope that we will land on another project that is a good fit. 

FUN FACT #4 I used a HEAP of sticky notes to help me organize my thoughts and ideas during the editorial process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? 

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a big fan of sticky notes. I use sticky notes to help me prioritize competing to-do’s and organize larger projects, and I’ve taught many others to do the same in the workshops I teach. I have them plastered near my front door to remind me to bring a particular something with me when I leave the house. I have them in my car to remind me of errands I need to run. I leave them on the kitchen table to let my kids know where I’ve gone and when I’ll be back, and I have them in wild disarray all over my desk with scribbles of story ideas, to-do’s, and phone numbers. Every so often (truthfully, not often enough), I consolidate the notes scattered on my desk to one or two notes, and start anew. 

I heavily leaned on sticky notes during the revision process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? to help me organize my thoughts and the characters’ dialogue. After the editing process was completed for Cowgirl, I wrote out the text of the story on sticky notes. The story is told in dialogue bubbles, so I used different colors to indicate main character, supporting character, etc. I then did the same for the (yet to be edited) Pirate story, leaving blank sticky notes for dialogue that had not yet been written or that needed to be revised to align with the structure and tone of the Cowgirl story. I find that sticky notes makes it easier to revise/move text, and it creates a visual point of reference to assess the pacing of the story. 

FUN FACT #5 Helping create songs for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does A Cowgirl Go Potty? may just be the most fun I’ve had yet! 

Last year, as a gift to my husband for our 30th wedding anniversary, I wrote the lyrics for a song and worked with a singer/songwriter who wrote the music and recorded the song  (You can listen to the song and read a blog post that tells the story behind the song here. The process reminded me how much I love being a part of “music.” Whenever I see live music, mostly in small, local venues, not only do I enjoy the experience of listening, but I find myself wishing I were on the stage performing with the artists. I’ve long joked with friends that I’d like to be part of a “girl band” (whatever that means), saying I play a mean tambourine and could sing back-up (I played the drums in middle school and can still keep a pretty decent beat… and I regularly lead songs in my parent/child “sing and sign” classes). 

This past January, as I was making goals for the coming year, I realized that I was making this “joke” more and more often, and that I really wasn’t joking–I DID want to be part of something musical.

So …. I started reaching out to my personal and professional networks, (and in some cases perfect strangers), and eventually was introduced to two different singer/songwriter/performers. They each have completely different work styles and musical styles, but what they have in common is that they are both wonderful musicians and sincerely good people, that I now call friends. I collaborated with these musicians to create a companion children’s song for each book. In one case I wrote all the lyrics, in the other I co-wrote the lyrics. In both cases, the musicians wrote the music and performed and recorded the songs, which are works of art in their own right. I couldn’t be any more proud about how the songs turned out. 

The music for the Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? song was written and performed by AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, with Annie Lynn, Walt Wilczewski, and Chris Arms, and starring Red Beard The Pirate, a.k.a. Alexander Wilczewski. 

You can listen to our song by viewing the animated book trailer that illustrator Jacob Souva created for our book:

The song for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? was written and performed by Singer/Songwriter/Performing Musician, Marshall Mitchell.

You can listen to our song by viewing the Cowgirl book trailer here: https://youtu.be/VCC90qkNk7I

The song-writing process was SO. MUCH. FUN! … I can’t wait to do it again!

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Laura! I really enjoyed thinking about and writing about Five Fun Facts related to my new books. 

About the Author: Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist, and she is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com

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