Picture Book Idea Month: Just Say Yes!

Picture Book Idea Month is fast approaching, and I’m not doing much of anything to prepare.

Oh sure, I’ll check that I have a notebook in my bag. I’ll toss in a couple of pens. And on November 1, I will ceremoniously create a Word document called ‘PiBoIdMo 2014’ that will squeeze into a folder with its brethren, PiBoIdMo 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Then I’ll be ready. Because, for me, PiBoIdMo is about a mindset—a mindset that can be summed up in one simple word: Yes.

piboidmo2014journalWe writers hear No so often, and in so many ways.

Your story just doesn’t work.

I like the story, but it’s not a good fit for my list.

Good idea, but the writing is not there yet.

Or—the worst kind of No—utter silence.

What a relief to be able to say Yes to ourselves for an entire month.

– Alien robots come to Earth and take over an all-night pancake diner? YES!

– A screech owl and a boulder—a story of unlikely friends? YES!

– A boy is rude to his mother and, dressed in a wolf suit, takes a journey to a monstrous land to find the place where he’s loved best of all? Well, that one has been done…but what if the boy is a girl, and what if she’s dressed as an alien robot, and what if she journeys to an all-night pancake diner? Then—YES!

Getting into the habit of Yes during PiBoIdMo is important because once I am in the habit, I don’t stop come December 1. I find myself saying Yes all year long.

My PiBoIdMo 2014 document will become the place where I keep all my ideas. December ideas, January ideas, February, March, and April ideas—they’ll pile up until next November. And let me tell you, some of those ideas are downright pushy. Once they’ve heard Yes once, they won’t take No for an answer.

I said Yes to an idea on December 18, 2013, and now it’s my current work in progress.

An idea that got a Yes from me on November 17, 2011, also got a Yes from an agent last year.

My idea from November 5, 2011, is now out on submission, holding its breath for a Yes.

And my idea from September 1, 2013, won the Barbara Karlin grant from SCBWI this year. It was so pleased to get a Yes from someone besides me.

Getting to Yes with an agent or editor has to start with saying Yes to ourselves, and to our own ideas. I’m ready to just say Yes!


* If you have no idea what Picture Book Idea Month is or what the heck I am talking about, you can find out more on Tara Lazar’s blog.

Small Victories…and Big Ones

As a writer, I’ve learned to celebrate small victories—

the revision that came together more easily than I thought,

the story my critique group loves,

a kind rejection from an editor,

finding the perfect word.

But it’s especially nice to celebrate a BIG victory, one that I can share with family, friends, and my critique groups – they hold me to a high standard and I appreciate it!


Thank you so much to the Barbara Karlin grant committee. I am truly honored.

And the Winner Is…

Wee Lassie coverThank you to everyone who stopped by to comment on my interview with Rebecca Colby about her new picture book, THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE. Rebecca so kindly offered to give a copy of the book to one lucky commenter, and the winner is…

Michelle Heindenrich Barnes!!

Congratulations, Michelle! I hope you enjoy the book and the sweet illustrations as much as I did. And thank you so much, Rebecca, for being such a lovely interviewee. I’ll be watching for the release of your second book in 2015!


Interview with debut picture book author Rebecca Colby…plus a GIVEAWAY!

I received a surprise package a few weeks ago — my copy of Rebecca Colby’s picture book debut THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE. It was a surprise because I had preordered the book so long ago, I had completely forgotten about it. I don’t often preorder books, but I did order this one because in addition to being a milestone for Rebecca, it’s also a milestone for me — the first picture book I have critiqued that has made it into publication! And doesn’t it look sweet?

Rebecca has very kindly offered to do a GIVEAWAY – just leave a comment at the end of this post to enter. And now, please welcome Rebecca!

Wee Lassie coverRebecca, your book is a charming twist on “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” What gave you the idea to do a Scottish version?

I’ve always enjoyed this traditional rhyme—and even more so, the various twists on it that have been written like Jennifer Ward’s There was a Coyote who Swallowed a Flea. It was after I read P. Crumble’s Australian version, There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Mozzie that I got the idea to write a Scottish version. I considered writing a generic UK version, but as I listed ideas, I found myself drawn over and over to all things Scottish. Let’s be honest, swallowing the Loch Ness monster was always going to be funnier than swallowing a fox or a plate of fish and chips.

Yes, and I love the spread with Nessie! You’ve said that you submitted this book on your own, before you signed with your agent. How did you find your publisher?

Finding my publisher was fairly straightforward. I researched Scottish children’s book publishers and found all of two. I submitted to the first one on my list, Floris Books. Floris has a strong picture book list and a reputation for nurturing new talent through their annual Kelpies Prize. Their submission response time is three months, and it was nearly three months to the day when they came back to me with an acceptance.

I wish all interactions with publishers were that fast! I remember seeing a version of this in our critique group (Poets’ Garage) that was a bit different. What changes were made between acceptance and the published book? What was it like to work with an editor?

Working with an editor was a new experience for me and it was great to get a different perspective on my work. And yes, the original manuscript was very different from the published book. In the original, the Wee Lassie swallowed anything and everything Scottish that she could get her hands on—or rather, her mouth on! She swallowed a thistle, a haggis, and even a bagpipe player. However, my editor at Floris decided it would be best if Wee Lassie swallowed mostly real creatures. And having her swallow a bagpipe player was thought to be too disturbing for young children. Good thing I didn’t send my editor the first draft which had Wee Lassie swallowing the Queen!

You signed with an agent last year, and you have another picture book coming out in 2015. How has the experience of working with an agent and with editors and seeing a book through to publication changed you as a writer?

Having an agent is awesome! Or maybe that’s just my agent. She’s happy to provide feedback on anything I send to her, and she always keeps me in the loop with any communication she receives from my editors. As to how I’ve changed as a writer, after seeing my work so heavily edited in my first book, I’m not as precious about my writing as I used to be. I’ve realized that having a strong idea, can be just as important as strong lines—if not more so, as those beloved lines may be changed several times over before publication.

That’s a great thing for writers to remember — starting with a strong idea is so important. What have you done to promote this book, and do you have any takeaways for your next book?

I started by doing the usual things like booking visits with any library, school or bookstore that would have me. I also purchased a truckload of bookmarks to give away.

Beyond that, I’ve done a couple other things. When I had no success in getting the local paper to interview me, I wrote an article about myself and submitted it to them. The newspaper published an edited version of this article in their very next edition.

The other thing I did was to write a teacher’s guide to Wee Lassie. However, I soon realized writing the guide and making it available from my website wasn’t enough—I needed to get it into the hands of teachers. I did this by uploading the guide to elementary teachers’ resource websites.

So the big takeaways for my next book are 1) make things as easy as possible for the press by offering to write up interviews for them and 2) make things as easy as possible for teachers. They are some of the busiest people I know. They don’t have time to make resources or search websites for information. Create resources for them and put the information where it is easily accessible. Don’t make them search for it!

Those are great tips, Rebecca! What’s your favorite part about being a published author?

My favorite part of being a published author is sharing my stories with children, and inspiring them to explore their own creative talents. I’ve worked as a teacher myself and from my experience, there is no greater feeling than knowing you’ve made a positive impact on a child’s life.

rebecca photoAlthough I started conducting author visits the day after my book launched, I didn’t appreciate that I was making any kind of impact on children’s lives beyond the enjoyment and novelty of having an author in their classroom. Then a mother at my daughters’ school came up to me and thanked me. “My son hates writing,” she said, “but he became so enthused about writing after your visit. He came home that very day and immediately wrote a story.” I’m not sure which of us walked away from that conversation happier—that mother or myself. To me, that’s what makes being an author worthwhile—knowing you’ve inspired a child and positively influenced their attitude towards reading and writing.

What a sweet story. Thank you so much for sharing, Rebecca!

Rebecca Colby writes picture books and poetry and is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Her debut picture book, There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie, is published by Floris Picture Kelpies. A further picture book, It’s Raining Bats and Frogs, will be published by Feiwel and Friends in 2015. You can learn more about Rebecca at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com

LEAVE A COMMENT for Rebecca and you’ll be entered to win a copy of There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie. I will do the drawing on Friday, June 6.

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Watch Your Tongue, Cecily Beasley

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

watch_your_tongue_cecily_beasleyTitle: Watch Your Tongue, Cecily Beasley

Author: Lane Fredrickson

Illustrator: Jon Davis

Publisher: Sterling

Year: 2012

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 4-7

Themes: Manners; Kindness/empathy

Opening: Cecily Beasley was never polite/she never said ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ or ‘goodnight.’

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website)

Cecily Beasley is never polite–she won’t say thank you, please, or goodnight. She slurps her food, refuses to share, and sticks her tongue out everywhere. But this rude little girl gets her comeuppance in this rambunctious, rhyming picture book that makes its point with irresistible humor.

Every child has heard the words, “Don’t make that face. It might freeze that way!” Well, that’s exactly what happens to Cecily–and to make things worse, a bird builds a nest on her outstretched tongue! But only when the chicks hatch will Cecily finally learn a lesson she’ll never forget.

What makes it great: Fantastic rhyme and a very engaging story with unexpected twists.

What readers notice: My 5-year-old loves this story and wants to read it over and over again. She tends to latch onto fun-to-say words and phrases from the books she likes, and for weeks she walked around the house shouting, “Watch your tongue!” That kept us all on our toes.

What a writer notices: The wonderful rhyme is what attracts me to this story, but I also love the funny, over-the-top twist. We’ve all hear the warning that ‘your face might stick that way’ when children make faces or stick out their tongue. In this story the author took that situation to the extreme when she allows a Mockingbeak Tonguesnatcher bird to build a nest on her main character’s tongue. It’s a good reminder that in picture books, taking things to extremes can make for a very engaging story.

Activities/Links to Resources: 

For writers, Lane has built a fantastic website about writing in rhyme, one of the best resources out there.


Site with lessons about teaching empathy at all grade levels:


My son’s school uses a curriculum called Open Circle to explicitly teach empathy and getting along with others. I have found the recommended literature tie-ins to be wonderful, and you can access the book lists for free (organized by grade level).


This site is geared toward parents, lots of tips on fostering empathy in children:



Perfect Picture Book Friday – Bear Snores On

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

bear_snores_onTitle: Bear Snores On

Author: Karma Wilson

Illustrator: Jane Chapman

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster

Year: 2002

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 3-7

Themes: Frienship; animals


In a cave in the woods,

in his deep, dark, lair,

through the long cold winter

sleeps a great brown bear.

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) One by one, a whole host of different animals and birds find their way out of the cold and into Bear’s cave to warm up. But even after the tea has been brewed and the corn has been popped, Bear just snores on! See what happens when he finally wakes up and finds his cave full of uninvited guests — all of them having a party without him!

What makes it great: The storyline and cast of characters are adorable and appealing to young children. Who wouldn’t want to see what is finally going to wake this bear up?

What readers notice: When we first read this story when my daughter was about 3, she loved the repetition of the phrase, “But the bear snores on!” This is the first in Karma Wilson’s bear series and every book includes a wonderful repetitive phrase that children can latch onto.

What a writer notices: 

There’s so much to like about this story, but what I’ll talk about here is the language. The language is simple and easy for a young child to understand, while at the same time using inventive phrases that add so much fun to the storytelling, for example in this stanza:

An itty-bitty mouse,

pitter-pat, tip-toe,

creep-crawls in the cave

from the fluff-cold snow.

The rhythm and rhyme are impeccable, and I love how the stanzas are punctuated with a phrase that breaks the rhythm, and then repetitive phrase that is fun to say:

The coals pip-pop and the wind doesn’t stop. But the bear snores on.

In the book, the phrase ‘but the bear snores on’ is printed in a larger typeface and offset so that it is given even more emphasis.

The drama is heightened even further at the climax of the story when the forest creatures make a stew and sprinkle it with pepper.

He blows and he sneezes, and the whole crowd freezes…and the bear wakes up!


Activities/Links to Resources: 

Preschool lesson plans about bears:


A music lesson to be used with Bear Snores On:


Many lessons and ideas about hibernation:


Lesson plan about rhyming:


2014 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem

2014kidlitprogpoemHappy Poetry Month! Today is my turn to add a line to the 2014 Progressive Poem, organized by Irene Latham. The poem started April 1 at Charles Waters’ blog.

Charles started us out with a very definite character, and I wanted to continue that character’s voice. Anastasia added a bit of mystery – a rune which may tell something of the future. But I don’t think this character is going to lie down and accept that the future is already mapped out…


Sitting on a rock, airing out my feelings to the universe

Acting like a peacock, only making matters that much worse;

Should I trumpet like an elephant emoting to the moon,

Or just ignore the warnings written in the rune?

Those stars can’t seal my future; it’s not inscribed in stone.


And I hope ending with ‘stone’ gives enough flexibility for Sheila to find a rhyme tomorrow! Follow along all month:

1 Charles at Poetry Time

2 Joy at Joy Acey

3 Donna at Mainely Write

4 Anastasia at Poet! Poet!

5 Carrie at Story Patch

6 Sheila at Sheila Renfro

7 Pat at Writer on a Horse

8 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

9 Diane at Random Noodling

10 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference

11 Linda at Write Time

12 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

13 Janet at Live Your Poem

14 Deborah at Show–Not Tell

15 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy

16 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge

17 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche

18 Irene at Live Your Poem

19 Julie at The Drift Record

20 Buffy at Buffy Silverman

21 Renee at No Water River

22 Laura at Author Amok

23 Amy at The Poem Farm

24 Linda at TeacherDance

25 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty

26 Lisa at Lisa Schroeder Books

27 Kate at Live Your Poem

28 Caroline at Caroline Starr Rose

29 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town

30 Tara at A Teaching Life