AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Mary Morgan in Celebration of PIP SITS

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Author-Illustrator Mary Morgan’s newest book, PIP SITS  (I Like to Read®), released last month. Published by Holiday House as part of their I Like to Read Series, it’s the sweet story of Pip, a porcupine, and the little ducklings who think he’s their mama. PIP SITS has received some lovely reviews.  Kirkus Reviews calls it “A good read for hatching new readers” and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL compliments Mary’s illustrations as “endearing”.  I’m thrilled today to have Mary as my guest. Thank you for joining us, Mary!  I believe this is the first time I’ve had an author-illustrator here to chat about a book!  Well, let’s get started.

What is the inspiration behind PIP SITS?

 I was inspired by an antique photograph of a young girl sitting in the grass with many ducklings on her lap. The look on her face was pure joy. I tried to find an original idea that would also capture the bliss children have when relating to animals. I thought about birds imprinting on whoever they first see when they hatch. I have raised baby birds and it is very interesting to have a tiny bird imprint on you. So this was how the idea of the story was hatched.

How wonderful for your readers, Mary, that you had the creative instinct to write a story based on these bits of inspiration. 

PIP SITS is not your first book. Tell us a little bit about your journey as an author/illustrator.

I was born in Chicago and grew up in Kansas City. My summers were spent in Tulsa with my grandmother where I first took art classes at the Philbrook Art Gallery and later was an assistant art teacher. I could do what I loved there, draw! My grandmother always encouraged my art with trips to the ballet and art museums. She let me keep all kinds of animals to draw from: mice, guinea pigs, chicks and even a small bat. My father’s nightly readings of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the Wind in the Willows also inspired me. I was enthralled by these books and knew I wanted to create books too.

What a wonderful way to grow up!  And I’m so glad you listened to that inner voice that said “I want to create books too!”

Since you are my first author-illustrator, I know my readers will be extra interested in hearing what your process was like as both author and illustrator in creating this story.

I wrote the story in a rough form first. Then I made many character sketches of Pip, the porcupine. After this, I imagined the scenes in the book. I drew very rough ideas of what the images would look like on each page.

Then I rewrote the story many times working out all the details. When at last I was content with the story I did the finished drawings.

I find it interesting that you wrote the story first.  I, for some reason, imagined that you would begin with sketches. But, I can see that both are integral in your creative process.  Fascinating!

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

 My web site is www.marymorganbooks.com. On my web page there is a section called, fun page. There I show you how to make dragon pizzas, draw a dragon and help Little Mouse find another place to sleep. Here is an example…

In the book, Sleep Tight Little Mouse, Little Mouse found many places to sleep. He slept upside down with bats in a cave, inside kangaroo pouches and even in a bird’s nest. Can you think of other ways animals sleep that Little Mouse might like to try?
Make a drawing of him sleeping like these different animals.

That “Fun Page” is a treasure, Mary. I also did a little poking around, Mary, and discovered a terrific  educator’s guide for PIP SITS available at Holiday House.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books and other work for sale?

I have many projects I am working on. One is a fantasy about a young girl that migrates with the Monarchs. I hope this story will bring interest to the difficulties the Monarch Butterfly is having with its environment. I am also working on a book about a bilingual bird and another about magical tutus. My books can be bought on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mary! 

About the Author

Mary walkingAfter studying art at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Instituto de San Miguel de Allende in Mexico; Mary worked as an illustrator at Hallmark cards for ten years.

Mary illustrated her first book in 1987. In the past twenty years she has illustrated over forty books, many of which she also wrote: from Jake Baked a Cake, Sleep Tight Little Mouse to her most recent book, Pip Sits.

Mary and her husband divide their time between France, their home is in a small medieval village, Semur en Auxois, their sailboat, which is now in The Canary Islands and their families, especially their grandchildren!

 Web site: www.marymorganbooks.com

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Annie Silvestro in Celebration of the Release of her Debut Picture Book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB!

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Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Annie Silvestro, as my guest. Annie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference and I’ve enjoyed following her (and cheering her on) in her writing journey.  Her debut picture book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss and published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, releases this month. The story of a book-loving bunny who sneaks into the town library and borrows books for all his forest friends, KIRKUS REVIEWS hails BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB as a “sweet salute to reading” . And in its review, PUBLISHERS’ WEEKLY states that Annie “makes the pleasures of reading abundantly clear.”  What’s abundantly clear to me is that Annie has a gift for charming storytelling. Welcome, Annie and let’s get started.

Your love of language is evident in BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB. How was that love developed?

Thank you for saying that! I have always been a reader and my love of language goes hand and hand with that. One of the many joys of reading is recognizing that perfect word, sentence, paragraph, or passage that stands out and elevates the story.

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Author Annie Silvestro as a child.

Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey. 

I have always loved children’s literature, but it took me a while to see myself as a writer. I first attempted to write down a beloved story that my father told me growing up. I failed at that, but the experience gave me the courage to keep trying and to come up with my own ideas. Once I found the SCBWI, it was a done deal.
Do you have writing advice for children? Adults? 

For children who are writing, my best advice would be to recognize that your first draft isn’t your only draft. Writing also means lots and lots of revision.

Good advice in general is to read as much as you can. Listen and observe the world around you. Ideas are everywhere. When you are lucky enough to get one, write it down! Just as quickly as ideas can appear, they tend to disappear as well.

 BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”!  What do you like best about this exciting new stage?

It is the most amazing feeling! So far the absolute best part has been photos that friends and family have sent of their kids holding or reading my book. It is surreal and wonderful and I haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. I am feeling all kinds of grateful, too, for the support I’ve received. It’s unbelievable.

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A young fan enjoying Annie’s book!

Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.  


I wish you had asked me about Picture the Books! Picture the Books is an incredible crew of debut authors and illustrators with books coming out in 2017. It is so fun to share this journey with such a talented group! You can find us all in one place and learn about our books and more here.
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Annie Silvestro is a lover of books who reads and writes as much as possible and can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup. Her picture books include BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday Books for Young Readers), MICE SKATING, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling, Fall 2017), and THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (HarperCollins, Fall 2018). Annie lives by the beach in NJ with her husband and two boys who like to read, and a cat who does not. Visit Annie online at: www.anniesilvestro.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @anniesilvestro.

GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE: Launch Party!

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There’s an ADORABLE new picture book out just in time for Valentine’s Day called GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE.  Written by Diana Murray and humorously illustrated by debut picture book illustrator, Bats Langley, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE (Sky Pony Press, 2017) is the story of an appealing young monster who wants to make his sweetheart the perfect valentine. Unfortunately, he’s also hungry! The story is funny and cute and would make a wonderful addition to your Valentine’s Day book collection.  I also find it amusing that it’s currently listed as #1 at Amazon in the category “Children’s Spine-Chilling Horror” and “Children’s Valentine’s Day Books”. That’s quite a combination – and a winning won!    

To celebrate it’s release, the AFA Gallery in SoHo hosted a monstrously delightful book launch event.  The three hour event included…

 book-themed treats…

lots of opportunity to chat with author and illustrator…img_3830

and, of course, books to be signed !

Many of Bats Langley’s preliminary sketches were also on display and for sale.  img_3832

I hope these pictures give you a sense of the magic, not only of the event, but of the book itself.  I can’t wait to share my newly signed copy with all my teacher friends as well as our children’s librarian.  Happy reading, all!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR:

Diana Murray is a poet and picture book author whose other books include City Shapes, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, and Ned the Knitting Pirate. Diana’s award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Highlights and Spider. She lives in New York City with her husband, two very messy children, and a motley crew of lizards, snails, and fish.

Bats Langley grew up in Wolcott, Connecticut and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. His art has been shown in galleries in New York City, Los Angeles, Hangzhou, China, and has even been displayed in the United States Capitol building. Mr. Langley has also been a regular contributor to Ladybug and Spider magazines. This is his first picture book. He resides in New York, New York.

Guest Post: CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD – A Glimpse into the Book’s Dedication with Author Glenys Nellist

Bestselling Zonderkidz author Glenys Nellist has a new book out called CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD. Recommended for ages 4 – 8, this delightful picture book brings the significance and wonder of Christmas to life through seven vivid Bible retellings, each gorgeously illustrated by Rachel Clowes. Today, in celebration of the book’s recent release and as part of her blog tour,  I am honored to have Glenys as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Glenys!

The only thing she ever wanted was a cottage. Instead, she got cancer.

I think about her a lot, especially since I’m the same age she was when she died. Fifty-seven. It’s no age at all.

My mum, like me, was born in a little town in northern England. How surprised she would have been to know that in 2000, I flew over the pond and emigrated to Michigan. She would have loved to visit me here. 

My mum lived a quiet, ordinary, hard-working life, managing to raise eight children, support her husband as he went to college to get his degree, and take care of a big old house. Hence her desire to live in a little cottage. But it wasn’t to be. She deserved so much—my mum. 

And so when my editor asked for my dedication for Christmas Love Letters from God, it was an easy choice. How could I dedicate it to anyone else but her—when she was the one who made every Christmas magical and memorable for me? 

Every Christmas morning, all eight of us would line up, according to age, outside the living room door. It was shut tight. My little brother, the youngest, was always the first to go in. I was fourth in line. It was an agonizing wait as we shifted from foot-to-foot, anxious to be able to peep around the door to see if ‘Father Christmas’ had been….and of course, he always had. The tell-tale bite in Rudolph’s carrot on the hearth gave it away, along with the few crumbs that remained of the mince pie we’d left for Father Christmas.

As we eight children peered expectantly around the door, the lights on our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree were always lit, the eight red socks dangling over the fireplace were always stuffed, and the room was completely bulging with toys, and tinsel, and presents piled high on every chair. It was a room full of love. That was my mum. And that was my Christmas morning. 

She never knew that I became a teacher, married a pastor and had four children of my own, or that we continued that fun tradition of lining up outside the living room door every Christmas morning. She never knew I became an author. But I hope she somehow knows that her name is on the very first page in Christmas Love Letters from God, where it so richly deserves to be.

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When you pick up that book, any book, turn to the author’s dedication and read it. You can be sure that whoever is mentioned there is a rich part of the author’s story, just like my wonderful mum was, and is, so much a part of mine.

Now for the GIVEAWAY!!!!! Zonderkidz is offering a free copy of CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD to one lucky winner. Thank you, Zonderkidz! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of this beautiful book, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Rachel Clowes, simply post a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box ) and be at least 18 years old to enter.) The contest ends Thursday, 11/24/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced next Friday. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  To see the winner, press here.

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Bio: Coordinator of Children’s Ministry for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. Zondervan children’s book author of two popular series: Love Letters from God and Snuggle Time. Glenys is a writer with a passion for God, her family, and children’s ministry. Check out her blog tour here.  Enjoy the book trailer here.  

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

 

GUEST POST: On Revising and Never Giving Up with Tami Charles

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Today I am delighted to have children’s author Tami Charles as my guest.  Tami and I first met at a NJSCBWI gathering at a local tea shop.  She was in the midst of revising her first novel,  LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge 2018).  This summer, again, we organized our own little writers’ retreat and  spent a lovely day on my porch (and inside, too ,because it was dreadfully hot) revising our current works-in-progess.  Disciplined, smart and funny- she knows her stuff.  Take it away, Tami!

So, you wrote a picture book. You received feedback from your critique partners. Your agent has given it her stamp of approval. She submits it to editors and you sit back and wait for the offers pour in. New York Times Bestseller list here you come!

But then, the unthinkable happens…

(Cue horror film music.) 

Radio.

Silence.

Several months pass, your hair turns grayer, and the rejections start rolling in—nice ones, albeit. The feedback from the editors is pretty much the same, and you just know what you have to do…revise.

Revisions can sometimes be painful, especially when you’ve already revised your manuscript many times over. But there’s no time for wallowing. It’s time to put a new spin on your story and here’s how to get ‘er done:

Step 1: Take your old manuscript, ball it up, and throw it in the trash. Follow this cathartic moment with a beverage of your choice.  (Iced, skinny caramel latte, anyone?)

Step 2: Go back to the trash and take out your manuscript, silly goose! (Then wash your hands, please!)

Step 3: Strap on your big kid boots and get ready to freshen up your manuscript. Clearly, it was good enough to be subbed out in the first place. It just needs more work. So here are a few tricks to get the ball rolling:

  • Gobble up those mentor texts. Read as many books as possible that fit the theme of your story. Sure, you probably read comp titles when you first wrote your story, but that was a long time ago.  There are new books on the shelves waiting to be explored. Read them. Study them.
  • Rewrite your story in a different verb tense. Is your original manuscript written in past tense? Try writing it in the present. Or take a risk and write it in future tense. Don’t be afraid to experiment with verb tense until your story feels shiny and new.
  • Change the point of view. Did you write your story in third person POV? Consider switching to first person. This will give your reader insight into how all the characters are feeling—not just one.  You could also try second person POV, which if done right, can be an enjoyable reading experience. There are several books that do this well. Some of my favorites are: “Warning: Do Not Open This Book” by Adam Lehrhaupt and “How to Raise a Dinosaur” by Natasha Wing.
  • Rethink your setting. I speak from experience on this one. A few years ago, I shopped around a picture book that had only one setting. Agent feedback was basically the same. Can the characters go somewhere else besides the kitchen, so that the story doesn’t feel stagnant? Challenge accepted. After many revisions (and several lattes), I created additional settings to help move the story along. And guess what? I got an offer! Hooray! Try this tip and thank me later.

Step 4: Submit and MOVE ON! Once you’ve done the necessary revisions, go out on another round of submissions. It may take a while, but trust me, your “yes” is waiting. Use the down time to work on your next manuscript.

Here’s the hard truth: The kidlit universe is a tough industry to crack. Whatever you do, do not give up. You are full of stories and the world needs to hear them. I wish you productivity, creativity, and lots of luck as you revise.

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BIO: Recovering teacher. Amateur gardener. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and enjoys the occasional work-for-hire project. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts with Charlesbridge in spring, 2018. She also recently sold two picture books, but can’t spill the beans just yet! For 14 years, Tami served as a public school educator but now writes full time. She is represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, son, and a family of deer who take pleasure in annihilating her garden.

Connect with Tami on Facebook,  Twitter and at her website: http://www.tamiwrites.com

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: “A Handful of Books” – Miranda Paul and her picture book 10 LITTLE NINJAS

 

Miranda Paul has a new picture book out with Knopf Books for Young Readers.  It’s called  10 LITTLE NINJAS and, today, in celebration of its recent release,  I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Miranda!

It’s unusual to have five books release within 18 months, especially when they’re your first five, and picture books. 19 months ago, no one could walk in a store and pick up one of my titles. With the recent release of 10 Little Ninjas, there are now five—a whole handful—on the shelf. Phrased that way, I can understand why some people might try and lump me into the “overnight success” category. People mean well, and I know their intentions are good. But when I reflect on the journey to publishing children’s books—decades since working on my first literary journal—it’d be hard to phrase it such a way. Even my latest book, 10 Little Ninjas, had a meandering path.

10 Little Ninjas began as an idea when my youngest child was in his high chair (he’s now going into second grade). I finished the first solid draft of it in 2012 or 2013, and my agent promptly advised me to “hold off” on it. Big bummer. But instead of getting upset or mad (for more than a day, anyway), I went to work. I revised it over the next 18 months—with critique help from veterans such as Linda Skeers and Kelly DiPucchio—and decided to send it back to my agent. This time, it was a go.

After several rejections, we had a bite. An editor loved it. But the marketing/sales team wanted some revisions. I ended up rewriting it three times—I always, always take a stab at a revision request—and then watched it get dropped after acquisitions. In a Hail Mary pass, it went to an editor at Knopf who was so new there, she hadn’t yet acquired a single manuscript.

The manuscript (which now had three distinctly different versions) was revised a few more times, including going back to the original manuscript’s ending, which turned out to be best of all. It took a couple of months to find a great illustrator—Disney Pixar animator Nate Wragg—and then the process of developing the book began.

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It’s very easy for me to tell stories like these to kids, showing them my file folder with more than 30 drafts of a single work, or the pile of rejection slips. They understand what it’s like every single day to not get what they want, to struggle and work at something, or to have ideas turned down. They want to feel included, to be praised, and most importantly, to feel loved.

10 Little Ninjas is a fun bedtime book at its core. It’s a romp, a rhyme, and a celebration of kids’ imagination and the chaos of parenting. Nate Wragg’s illustrations capture a multi-racial family, which I am excited to see in part because it parallels my own immediate family (kids don’t always look like their parents or their siblings, and it’s nice to see more books reflect that). As writers, our career and work is so public, and yet…so personal.

Each time you publish a book, an editor will ask you for the book’s dedication. Dedications are special, so for 10 Little Ninjas I chose to include my Grandma D. She passed away eight years ago, after battling cancer on and off for a decade. If there was ever a soul who knew how to wrangle toddlers into bed (and how to love them without question), it was she—who gave birth to seven of her own kids plus took in fourteen foster babies over the years. The book is also dedicated to my parents-in-law, who raised ten of their own children—without running water or TV—and now have more than thirty five grand and great-grandchildren.

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Some people will gloss over or miss entirely a book’s dedication page. But I love reading them, along with the acknowledgements and author’s notes. These small parts of a book are a window into how much time, how many people, and how much perseverance goes into making a great book—even one that’s only a couple hundred words. Books with layers, the ones that you can read again and again and get something new each time, are my favorite. I hope others will find that layered love within books, and cherish them. Happy reading!

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Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s book author who visits schools and libraries frequently. Her June release, Trainbots (little bee books), received national buys from multiple chains, including the organic grocery giant Whole Foods. Her newest release, 10 Little Ninjas, is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August. View the book trailer, made by her own daughter, on YouTube and be sure to visit her online at www.mirandapaul.com.

 

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!  If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of 10 LITTLE NINJAS (Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 2016) leave a comment below.  (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Sunday, 8/21/16 at 11:59 pm EST. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  Press here to see the winner.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Interview with Jody Jensen Shaffer

Today I am delighted to have my talented friend and critique partner Jody Jensen Shaffer as my guest.  Jody and I have known each other for quite a few years now, and it’s been exciting for me to follow her writerly journey. Jody has written 27 children’s books. She’s here today in celebration of her newest release THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED with illustrations by Kelly Kennedy (Simon Spotlight, July 2016). Forthcoming titles include PRUDENCE, THE PART-TIME COW which will be published by Laura Godwin at Holt Children’s in 2017 and A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK which will be available in 2018 from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. Well, let’s get started. 
Thanks so much for joining us today, Jody. Now that re-introductions have been made, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer? 
Thanks for having me, Laura! Like many authors, I liked to write and read when I was young. When I finished high school, I went to college and got a degree in English. (I also got my first paying magazine job. But it was for adults, not kids.) Lots of folks thought I might be a lawyer. But I had other plans. I knew I wanted to teach college students how to write, so I got a master’s in English and taught for a few years, while I was working in the corporate world. When I had kids, I wanted to stay home with them, and that’s when I got hooked on children’s literature. Oh my goodness! I loved those books! I began writing seriously for children then.
THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED has been out now for just over a week.  What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I had such a good time researching the history of cookies! I hope readers will enjoy learning about it as much as I did. The history of cookies is a fascinating story of cultures and ingredients and technology and pluck. (You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean about that last part!)
This seems like a delicious topic to research.  Was a lot of cookie nibbling involved?  But, seriously, I know readers of all ages will be interested in your process for first researching and then writing the book. Can you share a few tasty tidbits with us? 
Cookie nibbling is always a part of my research, Laura, whether my topic is cookies or not! I began my research by scouring the internet and my local libraries. I dug up all the information I could about baking and cookies and spices. I actually thought I’d discover when, where, and what the Very First Cookie was. But guess what? It wasn’t even a cookie! (Again, you’ll understand once you read the book.) After I was comfortable that I had a handle on the history of cookies, I had to decide what information to put in the book and what to leave out. Since this is a book for 6-8 year olds, I wanted to be sure I was adding the right amount of sugar and not overloading them with too much salt, if you know what I mean. I’m happy with the way it turned out, and I think readers will be, too.
Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
Great question! There are all kinds of possible curriculum-extenders for this book, including studying the geography of the history of cookies, the math that recipes use, the technology of ovens, refrigeration, and factories, maybe even a little chemistry for what heat does to specific ingredients. If that’s not enough, how about how cookies are used in various cultures, including ours? The tie-ins are endlessly delicious!
Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?
Yes, there are more picture books in the pipeline! PRUDENCE, THE PART-TIME COW (Holt) releases in 2017, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin) releases in 2018, with more to follow! Readers can find my books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster, WalMart and Target. They can find me at my blog at Just Kidding and on Twitter @jodywrites4kids.
Thanks so much for having me, Laura!
Thank YOU for coming!
AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!  If you’d like a chance to win a FREE, SIGNED copy of THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED (Simon Spotlight, July 2016) simply name your favorite cookie in the comment space below.  (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 7/14/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday!  The giveaway is now over. Press here to see the winner.

INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Rebecca J. Gomez (and a Giveaway!)

Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Rebecca J. Gomez, whose brand new picture book, HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (Putnam May 2017), co-authored with Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat, just released! HENSEL AND GRETEL has received lovely reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews for its top-notch rhyme and expressive illustrations. To give you a sense of the book, please take a look at the delightful book trailer.  Then, enjoy my chat with Becky below!

1. Thanks so much for joining us today, Becky.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?
      I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember being able to write. Every now and then the thought of “I should publish a book of poems someday” would enter my mind as a teen and young adult, but actually becoming an author wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. That changed in my mid-twenties after I started writing my own Bible study curriculum for the youth group my husband and I were leading. Writing curriculum led to writing stories for the youth group newsletter, which took me in directions I never thought my writing would go. With three young children at home at the time, I had plenty of inspiration, and there was no stopping me!
 2. HENSEL and GRETEL NINJA CHICKS is a fractured fairy tale. What inspired you and Corey to create this new version? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
      After the success of THE THREE NINJA PIGS and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD, Corey’s publisher asked her to write a third ninja book, but she wasn’t sure which fairy tale to ninja-fy. So, since we had been writing together for years and years, she asked me to write one with her. I had always wanted to write a new version of Hansel and Gretel, and I thought the idea of Hansel and Gretel as ninjas was ideal! I was right. And Corey was right about them being chickens. 
      Most of all, I want readers to enjoy HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS as a fun, kick-butt story. But there is also that element of working hard to reach your goal, and not giving up when things get hard or scary. 
3. I’m intrigued that you and Corey collaborated on this story.  What was it like to co-author this and your first book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?  Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?
      Corey and I first met when she joined an online critique group I was part of back in…2005, I think. She had co-written her first book, HOP! PLOP!, and she thought that she and I would make a great team. I was hesitant to collaborate at first, but I figured it was worth a shot, especially since she already had one book deal. 
      Writing with Corey has been an incredible experience that has helped sharpen my skills as an author, especially as it comes to writing rhyming stories. She and I always begin a manuscript with a brainstorming session, and then we open up a document in Google drive and begin writing, usually from the beginning. I’ve heard that, with some collaborations, one author will write a draft, then the other author will revise it and send it back, and that continues until they have a finished manuscript. Not so with me and Corey. We generally collaborate on each line from beginning to end, draft to draft. Occasionally we will work separately if we get stuck, or if one of us feels particularly inspired, but in general we move through a manuscript together. And, in case you’re wondering, we do argue now and then. 
4. Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
      The publisher created a story time kit with some fun ninja-themed stuff that kids will enjoy. I’ve also created my own activity pack, including a maze, a word search, and a finger puppet craft that can be used to act out the story.  
5. What’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?
      No official news yet, but there are some things brewing, both for my collaborative work with Corey and my own work. Stay tuned!
      I always like to send people to the local independent book store, but HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS is available wherever books are sold. You should also be able to find it at your local library. If they don’t have it, you can request it!

IMG_1314Bio: Rebecca J. Gomez is a picture book author whose only ninja training involved a few Karate lessons when she was in third grade and a few self-defense moves she learned from her son, a real live ninja. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and three kids. Connect with Becky on Twitter and Facebook.  You can also visit her website

Don’t forget to enter  the GIVEAWAY!!!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (Putnam May 2017), co-authored with Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat, simply post a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 6/2/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday!  THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  Thank you to all who entered.

HELLO, MY NAME IS… A Fun and FREE Educational Resource!

Author Pronunciation Guide picI recently discovered a fun FREE resource for educators and parents of young readers.  Compiled by TeachingBooks.net, the Author Name Pronunciation Guide is a collection of over 2 ,000 (and growing) one-minute audio recordings of children’s authors and illustrators pronouncing and telling stories about their names. I spent a good thirty minutes just sitting and taking turns listening to some of my kids’ favorite authors sharing a little bit about themselves and their names in these short recorded snippets.

Brief as they are, these recordings are a FABULOUS way to enrich a reading and/or writing lesson because they bring the author’s voice into the classroom in a conversational way that can spark discussion not only about the books they’ve written, but about the meaningfulness of names.  Indeed, I was so enchanted that I added my name and recording to the collection.

To access the collection, visit TeachingBooks.net.  Scroll down the Author and Book Resources tab and select Audio Name Pronunciations.  You will now see the whole collection alphabetized.  Enjoy exploring and listening!

If you are an educator, you might also enjoy exploring the other resources this site offers. For full access, schools must pay a modest licensing fee, but given the richness of resources, I think it would be a delightful investment.  The resources include exclusive Meet-the-Author Movies and Meet-the-Author Book Readings and much, much more!  Samples of various resources are viewable on their website.  Enjoy!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Zonderkidz picture book author Glenys Nellist (PLUS a CRAFT and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today, in celebration of the release of the board book LITTLE LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD (Zonderkidz, 2015) I am delighted to be interviewing author Glenys Nellist.  She’s here as part of her blog tour. And since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, Glenys has also brought along a printable Valentine’s Day craft which she will share after the interview. One lucky reader will also receive a free copy of this terrific new rhyming Bible storybook for littlest readers.  Well, let’s get started.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Glenys.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What was your journey to becoming a writer?
I have loved reading, writing and anything to do with words ever since I can remember. It all began at primary school in England, where one day a week, I was one of the lucky few withdrawn from the classroom to sit in big, comfy armchairs in the teachers’ lounge. There, with pencil and paper at the ready, I would write. When I became a primary school teacher myself, I used to write poems and stories to use in my classroom, but it wasn’t until my husband and I came to pastor a small church in the United States, fifteen years ago, that the publishing world opened up for me. It was at that little church that I began to write my own curriculum, to be used in children’s ministry, and pretty soon had this crazy dream of writing a children’s storybook Bible. It was a dream that would take me ten years to fulfill, but it was worth pursuing!
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What inspired you to write LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD and then LITTLE LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD? 
When my four sons were young, a wonderful little book called The Jolly Postman was published in England. It was their favorite book, written in rhythm and rhyme, that told the story of a postman who delivers letters to nursery rhyme characters. The innovative feature of the book (which is still in print today) is that the pages are actual envelopes containing real letters. I can still remember the joy on my youngest son’s face as he reached inside the envelopes with his chubby little fingers to take the letters out. It was this book that became the inspiration for Love Letters from God. 
 
It was my editor’s idea to produce a toddler, board book version of the original, and Zonderkidz had already started work on condensing some of the stories. However, since I know the literacy value and the sheer fun of rhyming words for little ones, I thought it would be great to write Little Love Letters from God in rhyme. I took just eight of the original eighteen stories, and rewrote them as simple poems, while trying to retain some of the same language used in the original book. It was a challenging, but fun, exercise that I think turned out really well!
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The Bible is full of stories.  How did you select which stories would be included in the original and now the board book version of LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD?
 I knew from the outset that the original book wasn’t going to be just a retelling of Bible stories. Each story had to include its own love letter from God, and a simple Bible verse…a first person promise that God might speak directly to the child’s heart, called God’s Wonderful Words to You. Since it was quite a complex project, I drew up a chart outlining each story, what the love letter might include, and what might be an appropriate Bible verse. It was working on this chart and needing to find balance without overlap that helped me see what stories, apart from the iconic, obvious choices, should be included.
When it came to choosing stories for the toddler version, I simply chose the iconic ones, that every children’s storybook Bible should include.
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Tell us about the illustrations. How long did they take Sophie Allsopp to complete?  Was the process of bringing your words to life through pictures at all collaborative?
 I think it took Sophie about eighteen months to complete the illustrations. My editor asked me what sort of illustrations I had envisioned, and since Sophie had done some work for Zondervan in the past, they approached her. Really, I must credit my wonderful editor, Barbara Herndon for the whimsical illustrations, and for the ‘scrapbook’ feel of the finished product…that was totally her idea! From time to time, Barbara would let me have a peek at what Sophie was doing, and of course, I was delighted. I wouldn’t have changed a thing!
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Let’s take a quick peek at the book trailer for the original LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD.  It really shows how beautifully the scrapbook style illustrations enhance the text. 

What’s next?  Are there more LOVE LETTERS in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?
 I’m delighted to say….YES! You can be on the lookout for CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS which will appear on the shelves later this year, and in 2017, one written especially for girls. I also have a new SNUGGLE TIME series coming out soon! Readers can find out more at the links below. Thanks so much for having me Laura!
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It’s been my pleasure!  And now for the craft! 

Enjoy this free, downloadable Valentine Craft which features the Good Shepherd from Little Love Letters. With special thanks to Glenys’s creative friend, Debi Weaver for her cute design.

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

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Don’t forget to enter  the GIVEAWAY!!!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of LITTLE LOVE LETTER FROM GOD, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sophie Allsopp, simply post a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box at least 18 years old to enter.) The contest ends Thursday, 2/18/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday! This giveaway is now over.  Winner has been announced.