anti-resolutionFour years ago I wrote a blog post that garnered quite a bit of attention. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. I skipped 2013, but got back on track in 2014 and have stuck with the tradition. Now it’s time to reveal successes from 2015, and I’ve asked participants in my 12 Days of Christmas for Writers program to do the same.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one…  Lose weight = I weigh too much…  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Write more often = I don’t write enough

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation… Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done

It is CRITICAL to reflect on what you DID accomplish in the previous year. How else can you build from the base you already have? If you don’t take the time to tally up and celebrate what you’ve already accomplished, your resolutions will crumble. You’ll be starting from scratch in every category, and starting from scratch feels scary.

Here is what GOALS (vs. resolutions) look like when crafted this way. Lose weight = What did I do last year to improve my health, and what can I do to continue that progress? Make more money = How much money did I make last year, from which sources, and how can I increase output from those sources and add new ones? Write more often = What did I write this year and how am I going to use that writing in the new year while also writing new stories/articles/books, etc.?

Because I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself, I’ve invited 12 Days of Christmas for Writers participants to post their successes on their blogs and websites too. Feel free to share links to your posts in the comments here!

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2015. 

  1. This was the year of revision. Nine out of twelve months this year were focused on MAJOR revisions to multiple manuscripts. All of those manuscripts ended up on submission.
  2. Two of my manuscripts made it all the way to acquisitions, one at two different publishing houses. Although those ended up as rejections, I got feedback about how “gorgeous” and “evocative” my writing was. I was also invited to revise and resubmit, which I am working on now.
  3. One of the manuscripts I’ve been working on all year is a picture book biography. I can honestly say it’s been the most difficult and most rewarding writing I’ve ever done.
  4. I wrote two new picture book manuscripts.
  5. I once again shepherded the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge participants through a year of writing, revising, submitting, and SUPPORTING. With almost 800 members in 2015, I take pride in the fact that the community still feels like family.
  6. Successfully launched the brand new 12 x 12 webinar series with fabulous speakers such as author/editor Emma Walton Hamilton, agent Jill Corcoran, author Jane Yolen, and editor Emma Dryden.
  7. A Jefferson County school got a grant to buy 300 copies of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, and I spent the whole day at their school presenting to each elementary grade. One of the most rewarding author experiences I’ve ever had.
  8. Speaking of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, my agent Erzsi Deak sold Korean rights. The book has been translated into Korean and will likely go on sale in Korea this coming year.
  9. Co-hosted and launched the first-ever Picture Book Summit, an online conference that boasted keynote speakers Peter Brown, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Mac Barnett. With more than 700 registrants, it was a smashing success.
  10. With my partner Emma Walton Hamilton, fully updated and re-launched The Complete Picture Book Submissions System.
  11. I managed to get my taxes done, which showed a nice increase in income from 2013 to 2014.
  12. I sought more professional help, which I desperately needed.
  13. Came up with 30+ new picture book ideas in this year’s PiBoIdMo
  14. I managed to keep up with my work despite suffering a pinched nerve due to a bulging disc in my cervical spine. The injury was quite debilitating, and while I’m much, much better, I’m still recovering. So I honestly need to give myself credit for all I accomplished in the last six months of the year, given most of it was done while in chronic pain.
  15. Attending the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference in September, seeing old friends and making new, and learning loads in the post-conference picture book intensive.
  16. Spoke at two SCBWI Connect local events – one in Boulder and one in Colorado Springs (virtually)
  17. Was a guest lecturer at a University of Colorado Children’s Literature course. Super fun!!
  18. Presented a 12 x 12 webinar on crowdfunding
  19. Spoke with an editor at Scholastic for an hour, soaking up advice on possible revisions for my picture book biography.
  20. Got 20 agents for 12 x 12 in 2016 lined up BEFORE Christmas, plus five webinar speakers, and eight professional “critique ninjas,” a new feature for 2016. For once, I feel pretty organized for the launch of 12 x 12.

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list! Share in the comments if you’d like! :-)

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Holidays, My Love For You Is The Sun, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member and Author Amy MooreI‘m so pleased to bring such a heartwarming “How I Got My Agent” story to you today. Not only are Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig from the Liza Royce agency two of the biggest and best supporters of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, but, like Amy, my own commitment to my writing career deepened after the loss of my father. It’s inspiring to see someone turn loss and sorrow into pursuing their dreams. Please give a warm welcome to Amy Moore!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I have written stories my whole life, starting with my poem “People” in first grade and my first book “The Waterproof Boots” in third grade (which included a hastily added last chapter about boots after I finished and read the whole book only to realize my masterpiece had nothing to do with boots!)

I persevered after that mishap and studied journalism in college and took my first writing for children course the fall after I graduated. I was hooked and knew this was what I wanted to do with my writing. I worked at it for many years and slowly got better at it as I got older. I started receiving personal rejections and got an honorable mention in a Writer’s Digest contest shortly before I got married. Things seemed on the upswing!

I kept working at it and then my first baby girl came along. Little did I know how much my writing would be put on the back-burner! Though my writing was on a pretty large hiatus, I spent five years reading, reading, reading every picture book my two baby girls and I could get our hands on. (It’s so much fun raising little bookworms!) This time of reading and constant inspiration from my girls really got my creative juices flowing again.

After losing my Dad suddenly a year before, I had a long, hard cry on New Year’s Eve of 2013. It was one of the saddest, most gut-wrenching nights of my life. I was determined to put the most horrible year of my life behind me and make all of my dreams come true in his honor, even if he would never be able to share in my joys and success.

I decided to “make something happen” with my writing my New Year’s Resolution. I wasn’t even sure what that something would be, I just knew it was time to get really serious about it. A few weeks later I found 12×12 and went for Gold right away. What a decision! I can’t tell you how therapeutic it was to sit and work on my writing every night and to connect with other writers in this amazing 12×12 community. Needless to say, this is when I decided I should be targeting agents rather than publishers. The opportunity was in front of me!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I read everything I could find on the internet about the agents I submitted to. Some had more information available than others but I did my best to read any articles I could find and look up authors and books that each agent represented if possible. Twitter also proved helpful in seeing what kind of rapport they had with their authors.

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
I submitted to three agents through 12×12 in 2014 (two of them at the same agency) and got one rejection…after I had already been offered a contract from the other agency. (Though oddly enough that rejection still stung a bit.) Mind you, this does not include many rejections from my early years submitting to publishers before I was truly ready.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
Thanks to 12×12, no! I had a whole group of picture book agents ready and waiting to read my manuscripts.

How did you know your agent was “the one? Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig
When I was researching which agents to submit to, I kept coming back to a photograph of Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency just beaming. Something about the smiles they had in every photograph I could find made me hope their agency was the one for me.

After submitting separate manuscripts to both Liza and Ginger, I heard from Ginger that they’d like to represent me for both books. Obviously I was going to jump at the chance. But I truly knew Ginger was “the one” the first time she sent me a list of revision requests. I can’t even explain how spot-on her requests were and how she clued me in to the things I didn’t even realize were missing from my story. She turned out to be the critique partner I have been looking for all my life!

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )
12×12 has honestly been the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career. The level of talent and support in the community is unmatched and the opportunity to submit to agents directly was well worth the enrollment fee.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Not too much, although I have become of fan of major revisions. I think prior to this I would write a story, fine-tune it as much as I thought it needed and move on to the next story. Now, as I’m moving toward the submission process with my agent, I’m learning how amazing the revision process can be. I’m also inspired to write a lot more frequently.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Read, read, read! Then write, write, write!

Also, write what is inside of you. We all know we are not supposed to write in rhyme, not supposed to do this, not supposed to do that…but I am here to say I was signed based on two rhyming picture books. Because that is how I naturally write best. Write what YOU do well and the rest will hopefully fall into place.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
It did not since I currently only use social media on a personal level with family and friends and to promote my dance business.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point :-) )
I really want to see Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person at least once in my life. I love New York City (living there is also a dream!) and would love to experience the thrill of the parade I’ve watched on TV all my life up close. I’m just not sure how I’d handle missing Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

And I really, REALLY want to be one of Santa’s elves. A girl can dream.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
I’m currently working on revisions of my first accepted manuscript with my agent. I’m also working on a few new picture book manuscripts and a revision of one I wrote a few years ago that I LOVE but just can’t seem to get “just right”.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , ,


Andrea Mack author picI must admit, Andrea Mack’s How I Got My Agent story is my favorite kind: one where a 12 x 12 member signed with a 12 x 12 Featured Agent with a manuscript written in the challenge. They do say good things come in threes! Andrea doesn’t know this (until now), but I got a lovely email from her agent, Janine Le at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, the other day telling me how excited she was to be representing Andrea. It’s all a result of Andrea’s hard work and dedication to craft. Please welcome Andrea!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. My earliest works are mostly about mice, cats and painting elephants (apparently, they look better in pink). I think it’s always been my dream to write for children, but I didn’t take myself seriously and start taking steps towards achieving my dream until my father passed away. That’s when I realized life is too short to wait for my dream to find me.

I started writing children’s stories for educational publishers. I had many books published in Korea, for children learning English. I’m proud of the work I did and I learned a lot, but I also found I didn’t have much time for my own stories to grow. So about six years ago, I created a work schedule for myself where I’d also have time to work on my own writing. I wrote some not-so-good picture books and submitted them to publishers and agents. As the rejections started piling up and I learned more about how hard it was to publish a picture book, I switched to writing middle grade novels. I submitted them to agents and got a few encouraging, personalized comments, but also more rejections. Some of the rejections left me feeling quite discouraged, to the point where I almost quit writing.

Luckily, I had the encouragement of my family and my wonderful critique partners. I decided what I needed was to bring back the fun. Since I teach kindergarten and spend so much time with 4- and 5-year-olds, it seemed natural to return to writing picture books. And it really is so much fun! In 2014, I ignored all the negative thoughts in my mind about picture books being hard to sell, joined the 12 x 12 challenge, and started to submit picture book manuscripts to agents.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I wanted to find an agent who would represent my middle grade novels as well as my picture book texts, so I compiled a list using online resources (e.g., like Literary Rambles, Kathy Temean’s blog, #MSWL). Basically, whatever I could find to learn about agents and the kinds of books they were interested in representing.

The dreaded questions: How many queries?  How many rejections?

It varies, depending on the manuscript. All together, maybe 30 submissions and rejections for picture books. For the manuscript that first captured the attention of my new agent, I only sent 5 queries.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

I thought what would happen was I’d find an agent who liked my middle grade novel and then later, we might work on my picture books. But the reverse happened! Janine first got interested in a picture book manuscript, and then I sent her two more manuscripts, as well as part of one of my novels.

Who is your new agent? Tell us about getting the news.

In the fall of 2014, I submitted one of my manuscripts to Janine Le at Sheldon Fogelman Agency through the agent submission opportunity in the Gold level of 12 x 12. Janine liked that one and requested more of my work. I didn’t hear back for several months. In the meantime, I’d been working on another picture book manuscript that I was really excited about. So I sent her an e-mail inquiring about the status of my original manuscript and mentioned that I’d written a new one. She asked me to send it to her.

A few weeks later, Janine e-mailed and asked if we could talk on the phone. I was both nervous and excited! A couple of days later, after consulting with her colleagues, she told me she wanted to represent me! I still break out into a big smile when I remember that I now have an agent!

 How did you know your agent was “the one”?

Janine really seemed to understand my work and I got the feeling that she really respected my writing process. She also didn’t seem to mind that I was rambling excitedly, probably incoherently, on the phone! I liked that the agents in her agency work together as a team and are so experienced.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )

Joining 12 x 12 has played a key part in getting me this far, and I’m so grateful. Just being part of the 12 x 12 community helped me rekindle my interest in writing picture books, and being part of the challenge motivated me to write new drafts and to revise. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to submit to agents and tried to send only send my very best work. I really believe that the challenge to write more has made my manuscripts stronger and helped me continue to develop my writing voice.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Since I only signed with Janine recently, it’s hard to say. One of the things that Janine emphasized was to keep writing and working on my projects. I usually work on either a picture book or my novel revisions every day, sometimes both! It really helps to have her notes to know what areas to focus on when I’m revising.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

Be patient and don’t rush the process. Now that I have an agent, I realize that I probably wasn’t ready for this step before now, even though I thought I was. The more writing I do, the stronger my writing gets.  And because I keep producing more work, now I have more than one project to work on with my agent.

Also, take some risks in your writing. Read recently published picture books and study them. Try writing in a different style or a different type of story. Stretch your writing muscles. You might surprise yourself!

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?

I feature picture books on my blog, and I’m positive that studying other published books helped me with writing my own. I love how social media connects me to the wider community of writers, and I’ve learned so much from them. So I think it indirectly helped by making me a bit more savvy about the process, and about my own writing.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point :-) )

I want to do more traveling.  My husband and I went to France on a school trip in high school (before we were even dating) and I’d like to go back. I’d also like to revisit Hawaii, where we went on our honeymoon. I’d like to attend the big SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles or go on a writing retreat. And I have a secret dream to get back to the drawing and painting that I used to do when I was a teen.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

I’m revising a middle grade novel, working on new a picture book manuscript and revising a couple of picture books for submission to publishers. I’m on track to write 12 picture books in 12 months and I’d like to achieve that goal.


Andrea L. Mack grew up in Northern Ontario, exploring the woods and craggy shoreline of Lake Superior in the summers and retreating to the warmer, imaginary worlds of books during the long cold winters. She now lives near Toronto, where she enjoys sharing her love of nature with her kindergarten students and in her stories. She is the author of over twenty books for children learning English, published in Korea. In rare moments when she isn’t writing or reading, she enjoys blogging, gardening, playing board games, and walking one of her family’s three dogs. 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , ,


Picture-Book-MonthI have a confession to make.

Ever since Picture Book Month began four years ago, I dreamed of being a Champion. Not for the fame or fortune (if you write picture books you know how likely THAT is… not!).

No, it was because I wanted to be worthy of championing this form of books I love so much, that brings so much joy and possibility to the lives of children, and which I never thought I would write.

You see, I always dreamed of becoming the Great American Novelist. After my first child was born, however, I developed a love of picture books so ferocious I couldn’t STOP myself from writing them. That first child is will become a teenager in January, but the love of writing and reading picture books hasn’t waned even one little bit.

Appropriate that the theme for my champion post is Love. Picture books are love. Pure and simple. For me, for kids, for everyone.

Many, MANY thanks to Dianne de Las Casas, mother of Picture Book Month, for making this one particular dream come true.

Categories: Picture Book Month, Picture Books, Writing


12 x 12 Member Heather PreusserI can’t even begin to say how excited I am to share my friend Heather Preusser’s “How I Got My Agent” story with you. You see, Heather is a real-life friend who lives right here in Colorado, and we’ve been in a critique group together for four years. I’ve loved Heather’s writing since Day 1, and trust me when I tell you she is going to be a SUPER star. Not only does she write heartfelt and hilarious picture books, but she’s also on submission with a middle grade novel. She does both high-concept and humor, and quiet and meaningful, equally well. Please welcome… Heather!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I started writing children’s picture books in the spring of 2011 when I enrolled in a class with Linda Ashman at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver. (If you ever have the opportunity to work with Linda, I HIGHLY recommend it.) Of course, that summer I made the rookie mistake of sending out manuscripts too soon. Crickets. I attended my first SCBWI Rocky Mountain conference that fall and realized just how much I had left to learn.

True story: While my query letter was being critiqued in one of the conference sessions, I actually put my coat on in an attempt to cover up my nametag; I didn’t want anyone connecting me with that awful query letter, the one where I sounded like a high school English teacher applying for a teaching job rather than a writer trying to capture the tone and style of a picture book manuscript. That humbling learning experience helped me see that I had no idea what I was doing; I wasn’t ready to submit my manuscripts. I spent a few years focusing on craft, going back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing, joining critique groups, and participating in both online and in-person workshops. Almost three years later, some of my stories were placing in little contests, and the critiques I was receiving from agents participating the Writer’s Digest webinars I’d signed up for encouraged me to submit to them through traditional means. I was getting closer.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
While focusing on craft, I started following blogs, like Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating: Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children and Chuck Sambuchino’s New Agency Alerts. Every time they mentioned a new agent who fit my criteria, I added the information to my Excel spreadsheet, which I cleverly titled “Dream Agents.”

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
In the winter of 2014, I queried eleven agents. Three responded asking for additional manuscripts (My soon-to-be agent Janine Le at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency got back to me in one week!). I received a form rejection from one agent and never heard from the others.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
I wasn’t looking for an agent who focused solely on picture books. As part of my MFA, I wrote a middle grade novel, so, ideally, I wanted an agent who represented picture books through young adult; however, I didn’t think my novel was submission-ready, so I didn’t mention it to Janine initially.

How did you know your agent was “the one?
In addition to Janine’s patience and understanding (a family emergency came up shortly after I contacted her, which meant we had to postpone our first phone conversation), I appreciated every piece of editorial feedback she gave me. Every comment rang true. When she told me she was also a wordsmith, I knew we’d be a perfect fit.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )
Although I didn’t find my agent through 12×12, the community most definitely helped me, particularly when I was living in Germany with my new husband and his family. I felt isolated and uninspired; because of the language barrier, I couldn’t glean story ideas by eavesdropping on conversations or checking out books from the local library. (My husband, however, did translate and read picture books aloud to me whenever we went in bookstores.) That year my husband and I rented an apartment in Berlin, and after throwing our own Thanksgiving feast, I sat down determined to make the 12×12 Winner’s Wall. I entered what Donald Graves calls “a state of constant composition” and managed to write eight first drafts between Thanksgiving and Christmas, eight new stories I wouldn’t have birthed then and there without that Julie-imposed deadline. They were far from elegant, but at least I had something down on paper, something to work with. Sadly, I have yet to make the Wall; that year I was one manuscript short.

There’s also a wealth of knowledge that’s shared in the 12×12 community, which was instrumental as I researched agents, how to write query letters, etc. It was through 12×12 that I learned of other wondrous kidlit resources, such as Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story, and Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic” class.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
I’m still exploring what it means to have an agent and how that affects my writing process. Janine has encouraged me to run ideas by her in any genre, and – more importantly, I think – she’s encouraged me to work on projects I’m passionate about.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Take your time. Learn your craft. Of the four picture book manuscripts I submitted to Janine, two were the 18th draft, while the other two were drafts 12 and 20. And we’re still revising!

In the process of revising, you’ll need to kill some of your proverbial darlings, but you’ll also need to stay true to the story and yourself as a writer. In her first email response, Janine said I caught her attention with a particular line that many people told me to cut (either they didn’t understand my humor or they didn’t understand cow anatomy or both), but I liked it so I kept it in draft after draft after draft. I’m learning over time to trust myself as a writer.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Although I wrote and recorded reviews for Katie Davis’s podcast Brain Burps About Books, and Katie recommended that I create an author website, I didn’t have much of a web presence when I contacted Janine, and I only dabbled in the Twitterverse; however, in our first conversation Janine referenced my query letter, asking if I was still reviewing MG and YA novels for Katie’s podcast. It made a difference that I was involved in the industry, that I was actively participating in the online kidlit community (blogs, webinars, podcasts, etc.).

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point :-) )
I’ve always wanted to learn another language. Despite living in Germany for almost two years, right now my German only consists of useful, fun-to-remember words, like Formfleischvorderschinken (ham), Eisenbahnbetriebsordnung (railroad rules) and Taschenfederkernmatratze (mattress with springs in it). Like David Sedaris, I hope that I too will “talk pretty one day.”

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
After finishing another round of revisions on my middle grade novel, we sent it out to editors. I’m also currently revising a handful of picture book manuscripts.

Heather teaches high school English in Colorado. When she’s not teaching, reading or writing, she enjoys telemark skiing, rock climbing and learning ridiculously long German words. You can find her on Twitter at @HeatherPreusser.

P.S. Are you looking for an agent who represents picture books? Four of them are participating in the Picture Book Summit online conference October 3rd, and will be accepting submissions from attendees! Registration closes Friday at midnight though, so act fast if you’re interested!

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


There’s a Twitter hashtag today, #pb10for10, where folks are sharing 10 of their favorite picture books in different themes and categories to provide inspiration for teachers getting ready for a new school year.

I couldn’t resist jumping on this and featuring a few books published within the past year (or coming soon!) by some of the many talented participants of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. (NOTE: I edited this post to include a BRAND NEW picture book by one of our members that releases tomorrow!!). So now there are 11 books on the list. :-) In no particular order:

1. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Cheesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia, by Miranda Paul

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred. The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change.


2. What About Moose? by Corey Rosen Schwartz

When Fox, Toad, Bear, Porcupine, and Skunk set out to build a tree house, they know just what to do: they’ll follow a plan and they’ll work as a team. But when bossy Moose barges in and upends their plans with some of his own, his friends become more and more frustrated…until things go hilariously awry!


3. I Thought This Was a Bear Book, by Tara Lazar

After an unfortunate bookcase collapse, Alien suddenly finds himself jolted out of his story and into a very strange world, complete with talking bears. Desperate to return to his book, Alien asks the Bear family for help so he can get back to his story and save his beloved Planet Zero from total destruction before it’s too late.


4. When A Dragon Moves In Again, by Jodi Moore

Preparations are in full swing to welcome a new family member in this sequel to the award-winningWhen a Dragon Moves In. A young boy has become a big brother and he and his beloved dragon dedicate themselves to entertaining the little baby. But when the drooling, crying baby somehow charms the dragon and his attention, the boy decides he’s had enough of this baby business.

dragon moves in

5. Buster, The Little Garbage Truck, by Marcia Berneger

Buster is a sweet little garbage truck. He can’t wait to grow up to be a big truck, just like his father. Buster practices driving and lifting and beeping with his friend, Kitty. There’s one small problem. Loud noises frighten Buster. When his father takes him to the truck yard to meet the other vehicles, their air-horn blasts and roaring engines send Buster skidding away to hide. He wants to be big and brave, but how can he work with Daddy and his friends when their loud sounds scare him?


6. Circus Train, by Jennifer Cole Judd

As the circus train rolls into town, excited children and their parents get in line for their chance to experience the Big Top. Clowns paint faces and people scurry to their seats. Then the show begins, wrapping readers in all the wonders of the circus. Dancing elephants, flipping trapeze artists, and pie-throwing clowns captivate both young and old.

Circus train

7. King Cake Baby, by Keila Dawson

When an old Creole woman bakes dessert on King’s Day, she has no idea what shenanigans will ensue. In this New Orleans adaptation of The Gingerbread Man, a mischievous king cake baby escapes his cake! He outruns a praline lady and a waiter at Café du Monde, but can he outsmart the clever baker?

king cake baby

8. Missing Nimama, by Melanie Florence

Kateri is a young girl, growing up in the care of her grandmother. We see her reaching important milestones her first day of school, first dance, first date, wedding, first child along with her mother, who is always there, watching her child growing up without her. Told in alternating voices, Missing Nimama is a story of love, loss, and acceptance, showing the human side of a national tragedy.


9. Albie’s First Word, by Jacqueline Tourville

Three-year-old Albie has never said a single word. When his worried mother and father consult a doctor, he advises them to expose little Albie to new things: a trip to the orchestra, an astronomy lecture, a toy boat race in the park. But though Albie dances with excitement at each new experience, he remains silent. Finally, the thoughtful, quiet child witnesses something so incredible, he utters his very first word: “Why?”

albies word

10. My Love For You Is The Sun, by Julie Hedlund

My Love for You is the Sun is a love letter from parent to child, expressing that timeless and unconditional love through soothing verses evoking the beauty and wonder of the natural world. My Love for You is the Sun, a Tree, the Rain, a River… but more than just familial or parental love, it captures the universal, infinite nature of love itself.


11. If An Elephant Went to School, by Ellen Fischer

Would an elephant learn the ABCs if she went to school? No way! She would learn to use her trunk as a nose, a straw, a hand, and a hose! Through a series of questions and answers, readers learn about animals and their unique behaviors. And in the end, you might find yourself asking just what would you learn.


Have you read any of these books? Have favorites? Found ones you want to check out? Let us know in the comments!

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Books, Children's Books, My Love For You Is The Sun, Picture Books · Tags: , , ,


RIP, Cecil the Lion 2

I, like hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people am sickened, saddened, and outraged over the tragic death Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe

Much has been said and written in plenty of forums about Cecil’s death at the hand of a trophy hunter. I myself have said much and felt far more. I don’t want to use this post, however, to continue that discussion. Instead, I want to DO something.

For several days, I’ve just felt helpless. Too often, these tragedies occur and then fall out of consciousness so quickly we’re left to wonder if anything will ever change. I’ve handled my own desire to take action in the past by donating money to causes as they’ve arisen. I wanted to do more this time.

TROOP CoverAs an author, one of the reasons I write is to make a difference in the world with my books. My first published book, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS, makes an appeal at the end to protect wild animals and their habitats. It also, I suddenly remembered, features a “pride of lions.”

This book is now technically out of print, but I still have a healthy amount of stock right here in my house. So here is what I am going to do.

The retail price of TROOP is $16.95, but in support of World Lion Day on August 10, I am offering copies for $15 for the next 10 days. For every book sold, I will donate $5 to WildCru, the organization that had placed a collar on Cecil and had been studying him since 2008 as part of their mission to promote lion conservation. I will take a video recording of my donation so that you all will see how much I’m able to contribute. Here is the link if you’d like to take advantage of the opportunity to buy a book AND support a great cause.

A few points before I provide more info on WildCru and on TROOP.

  • ALL purchasers will be ALSO entered into a drawing to win a print of the gorgeous lion spread from TROOP by
    A "Pride of Lions" print from illustrator Pamela Baron

    A “Pride of Lions” print from illustrator Pamela Baron

    illustrator Pamela Baron. The winner will be announced on August 11.

  • I regret that this offer is only for folks living in the U.S., due to shipping costs.
  • Speaking of shipping, there is a flat rate of $5, regardless of how many books you purchase.
  • If you want your book signed or personalized, there is a space under “instructions to seller” where you can leave this information.
  • If you can’t or don’t want to buy the book, shares of any kind to those who might be are equally appreciated! Some samples are provided below.
  • Likewise, if you are not interested in the book, I encourage you to learn more about WildCru and it’s mission, and consider making a direct donation.
  • I welcome and appreciate comments on my blog posts. However, I do ask you to refrain from comments pertaining to all of the other suffering that is going on in the world among both humans and animals and asking why Cecil’s death is more important than those. It isn’t. There is enough misery and tragedy to go around, and believe me, I contribute both time and money to many other worthy causes. In this case, I was moved to respond in this way. Thank you!

More about WildCru and their work with lions

At the WildCRU, in the Recanati-Kaplan Centre at Oxford, we are studying lions in various parts of Africa to uncover the science that will inform and underpin their conservation. This is urgent, because lion numbers are precariously low, estimated at fewer than 30,000 across the continent and we have evidence that there are actually fewer. We have worked on the lions of Hwange National Park, with the support and collaboration of the excellent Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Our goal is to understand the threats that lions face, and to use cutting-edge science to develop solutions to those threats. Our work is scientific, we have satellite-tracked the movements of over a hundred lions and monitored every detail of the lives of more than 500 individuals, but WildCRU’s work is also highly practical – we run a courageous anti-poaching team, a local conservation theatre group, and education campaign that gets information into every school in the district, and we work with local farmers to help them live alongside lions and improve their livelihoods.


First published as a storybook app for the iPad and named as a Top 50 “Best Apps for Kids” by The Guardian (now available, along with it’s companion A SHIVER OF SHARKS on iTunes via the Demibooks Storytime app), TROOP is an award-winning book featuring collective nouns for animal groups told in romping, read-aloud rhyme.

A “surfeit” of skunks, a “caravan” of camels, and a “flamboyance” of flamingoes are just a few of the animal groups both kids and grown-ups will learn about, all of them accompanied by stunning watercolor illustrations from artist Pamela Baron.

Once again, here is the link if you’d like a to receive copy of A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS and donate $5 to WildCru as part of your purchase, PLUS be entered for the drawing for the beautiful Pride of Lions print.

Swipe copy for sharing

Shares appreciated too! Hopefully these pre-written posts for FB and Twitter will make it easier for you.


Get a AND support + in memory of  (Click to Tweet this)

Get A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS and support too.  (Click to Tweet this)

I just bought A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS + supported #lionconservation #WildCRU #cecilthelion (Click to Tweet this)


One of my Facebook children’s author friends is donating $5 to WildCru and lion conservation for each of these books, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS purchased now through August 10 (World Lion Day). In memory of Cecil the Lion. There’s a special on the book itself, plus a chance to win a gorgeous print from the book featuring a Pride of Lions. Here’s the link with all of the details.

Image for Instagram and other social media sites

Honoring Cecil (2)

Last, but not least, I owe thanks to Jimmy Kimmel, whose monologue about Cecil was not only courageous and inspiring, but it also brought my attention to the worthy work that WildCru is doing in support of wildlife conservation. Here is the link if you haven’t seen it yet. WildCru reports that more than $150,000 has been donated as a direct result of Jimmy’s plea to take action in support of lions. So nice to see celebrities using their platforms in efforts to make the world a better place instead of to share selfies of boobs and backsides in support of their own fame. Just sayin’! Thanks, Jimmy!

Categories: A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Books, Children's Books, Giveaway, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cracking the code - scene from The Imitation Game

Cracking the code – scene from The Imitation Game

A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I watched the movie, The Imitation Game. It took us four hours to watch it from start to finish. Why?

Because I had to pause the movie often in order to answer questions they were asking about events in the movie (based on a true story that takes place in the UK during WWII), such as:

  • Why were children wearing gas masks in the street?
  • Why didn’t the parents go with their children when they were evacuated to the country?
  • Why did Joan’s parents think it was inappropriate for her to go work with a group of men?
  • How could someone (the character of John Cairncross) think that spying for the Soviet Union would help the UK win the war?
  • Why did they have to keep their work on ENIGMA secret even after the war ended?
  • How could they send people to jail for being homosexual?

That’s when it hit me like a bolt of lightning–the way to get kids interested in history is to make them care about the people involved. The way to make them care is to tell them a story.

I don’t know why this revelation came as a surprise to me. As you may know, I’ve been a huge supporter of a friend and colleague’s Kickstarter campaign to bring history to life (and to relevance) for children. I suppose seeing a story create a thirst within my own children to learn more brought home the importance of teaching through story.

First TTT&T story will feature Michelangelo and Renaissance Italy. Stone Giant, Illustration copyright © 2014 by John Shelley, Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc., 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472, (617) 926-0329, All rights reserved.

First TTT&T story will feature Michelangelo and Renaissance Italy. Stone Giant, Illustration copyright © 2014 by John Shelley, Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc., 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472, (617) 926-0329, All rights reserved.

I used to be embarrassed to admit that I hated history in school because it was presented as a long string of facts, statistics, and explanations of political motivations. That information is important, but we won’t retain it without context. Knowing how many people died in WWII is just a number, but learning about the life of one family living in London during the Blitz–the scarcity of food, the constant smell of fire, the sight of crushed buildings, the rattle of bombs while sheltering–builds empathy toward all of the dead.

Much of what I have learned about history since school has come from reading historical fiction. When I read historical fiction, I become fascinated by the events of the time and place, and I am inspired then to read MORE on the subject, including nonfiction.

The Kickstarter campaign Time Traveler Tours & Tales is running aims to tell hiSTORY using both narrative nonfiction and historical fiction. What’s even more exciting (if not a little ironic), is that this storytelling will take advantage of the most modern of technologies – mobile devices and apps. In other words, the intent is to reach children where they are (on devices) and excite them into a love of history by helping them not only relate to the past, but to interact with it and make it their own.

BUT, and you knew there had to be a ‘but’, they’re running out of time. The TTT&T campaign has been endorsed by The Guardian, Neil Gaiman, and WorldReader. Authors such as Cornelia Funke (and yours truly) are backers. They’ve reached 90% of their funding goal. But all of that disappears if they don’t reach their goal within the next three days. Kickstarter is all or nothing.

I have no skin in this game, other than I would like to write a story for this imprint someday. I have written about and promoted the campaign because I’m passionate about the cause. So if you, too, want to help make history personal, relevant, real, and most importantly, FUN for kids, please consider a pledge. No amount is too small, and there are terrific rewards on offer at all levels.

Let’s Turn History On.

Screenshot 2015-06-23 12.03.14

Categories: Apps, Children's Books, Crowdfunding, Digital Publishing, Friendship, Publishing · Tags: , , , , , ,

Sarah and I getting ready to present about apps at the Bologna Children's Book Fair

Sarah and I getting ready to present about apps at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

If you have been following my blog for any period of time, you know I am passionate about all of the following:

  • Writing stories for children
  • Sharing stories with children
  • Using ALL avenues of publishing great books for children (including apps, ebooks, transmedia, etc.)
  • Italy (especially Florence!)
  • Historical fiction (especially books written by Mary Hoffman)
  • Entrepreneurial authors paving their own paths to success
  • Supporting fellow authors

For all of these reasons, it gives me great pleasure to share an outstanding project from my friend Sarah Towle that will not only bring fabulous historical tales to children in multiple formats, but will also create brand new opportunities for authors writing narrative historical nonfiction and historical fiction. Talk about a win-win!

Introducing … Time Traveler Tours & Tales (TTT&T) – a brand new way of imagining and delivering stories to children that will bring history to life for them.

I first met Sarah at the Bologna Book Fair in 2011, when she was launching the first-ever StoryApp Tour and Tale – the critically acclaimed Beware Madame la Guillotine. I was so impressed with what she was doing, I glommed onto her continued to follow her progress and learn from her as I went on to publish my own two storybook apps. Along the way, we became great friends.

TTT&T aims to be the first publishing imprint of its kind–publishing their story-based tours and tales of history in all available formats.

  • Mobile StoryApp Tours narrated by the very people who walked the streets in that place in that time of history.
  • Interactive ebooks that bring the historical period to life.
  • Print and audio versions of each tale.
  • Free curriculum guides for each tour and tale to bring history to life inside the classroom.
Authors Mary Hoffman and Sarah Towle cooking up plans for TTT&T at Writer's Renaissance 2014

Authors Mary Hoffman and Sarah Towle cooking up plans for TTT&T at Writer’s Renaissance 2014

For their official debut, TTT&T have chosen to bring to life one of the world’s greatest artistic and genius giants – Michelangelo and his David. In the Footsteps of Giants is a story woven by one of the best historical fiction writers for children of our time, Mary Hoffman. In it, we get to walk the streets of Renaissance Florence alongside the fictional model for the statue of David (P.S. We all know what that guy looks like – wouldn’t you like to meet him??).

I know first-hand that nobody knows more about Michelangelo than Mary Hoffman. She was on faculty for both of my Writer’s Renaissance retreats, and I’ve had the amazing good fortune of standing before the David in her company. Life will never be the same for me, and now you can have the same treat by reading her book.

Many of you also know I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of one of my picture books. So I do have a special place in my heart for the power of crowdfunding. It’s the layperson’s way to support the arts and opportunities they want to see in the world. Here is your chance to do the same.

  • If you are a reader, you will enjoy a gripping story of Renaissance Florence with In the Footsteps of Giants and a whole series of historical stories that bring the locations and the events of that time period to life right before your eyes (and feet).
  • If you are a writer, TTT&T will provide opportunities for you to publish your own historical adventures for children.
  • If you are a teacher, you will have brand new ways to bring history alive for your students, using the stories themselves and the comprehensive curriculum guides.

I urge you to consider supporting TTT&T’s campaign to become one of the most exciting publishing imprints of our time. The number of backers is just as important as the total amount raised, so TRULY, no amount donated is too small. Rewards begin at $1.

If you are unable to donate, you can still help by sharing the project in your social media circles. In fact, here’s an easy tweet you can use.

New publisher plans to #turnhistoryon for kids. #writers, #teachers, check it out here: #kidlit (Click to Tweet this)

Me being one to put my money where my mouth is, I not only backed this project, I’m also offering a reward for others to do. Look for one of the CREATIVE COLLABORATOR rewards and you’ll see a one-hour strategy session with me on any aspect of your career as a writer, plus the first three Modules of my course, How to Make Money as a Writer. There’s only one of those, though, so if you want it, snag it soon.

There are fabulous rewards at all levels, however. Check out their campaign page to see for yourself.

As writers in the 21st Century, we have to create opportunities for ourselves whenever and however we can. What I love about what Sarah is doing with TTT&T is that she’s not only creating opportunity for herself, but extending that to children’s authors across the globe. I don’t know about you, but that turns me on. :-)

Footsteps of Giants

Stone Giant Illustration copyright © 2014 by John Shelley Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc. 85 Main Street Watertown, MA 02472 (617) 926-0329 All rights reserved.

Categories: Apps, Bologna Children's Book Fair, Children's Books, Creativity, Crowdfunding, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Florence, Friendship, Italy, Publishing, Storybook Apps, Travel, Writer's Renaissance · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My beautiful Mom

My beautiful Mom

“I embrace you with all my heart.” — Albert Camus, in a letter of gratitude to a childhood teacher.

“I believe that there is a love that moves the sun and the other stars.” — Margaret Wertheim

“…this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart   i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)” — ee cummings


This is going to be a different kind of Gratitude Sunday post. Instead of sharing the weekly list of what I am grateful for, I’m feeling the need to ruminate on gratitude’s relationship to love.

Love my kiddos!

Today, Mother’s Day, I am thinking about love. The love of a child for a mother or a mother for a child, of course. But also other, and all, kinds of love.

As I have gotten older (and yes, I do have a birthday coming up so perhaps that is where the philosophizing is coming from), I’ve come to understand that the more I let go of expectations about what love in any of its forms should look like, the more love grows and deepens, and the more I can actually feel and savor the experience of it.

The more love I experience, the more I can give. The more I give, the more that is returned to me.

What I am most grateful for today is my awareness of this simple truth.

Many times in my past, I have thought, ‘This person didn’t love me in this way, so therefore I am deprived of love and/or I love him/her more than he/she loves me.’  If the scales didn’t balance, whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or with family members, pain and resentment would often follow.

Now I realize it is entirely possible, in any relationship, to take the love and leave the disappointment.

Take the love. Leave the disappointment. (Or, for Godfather fans, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”)

Dogs love unconditionally

I believe most people are trying as hard as they can to be good and kind and loving. However, they may not present those qualities to us the way we expect or want them to. But instead of feeling shortchanged, I’ve found appreciating what they are offering is far more rewarding than being resentful about what they’re not. I do not mean we should allow ourselves to be stepped on or treated poorly by those we love – not at all. But when someone is in earnest and doing the best he or she can, accept that goodness and keep it with you.

I’ve also been sloooowly building toward another realization. Love will seldom, if ever, grow as much as you want it to if you don’t first love yourself. Now before you run away screaming, I am NOT saying I truly love myself all the time. Not by a long shot. But I am trying to, and as I try, I realize that when I deprive myself of my own love, I have less available for others.

The reason why the stakes are so high with loving others, I think, is because we’re always looking for love as it is reflected back to us from them. But what if we just gave it to ourselves, regardless of what others were doing?

So, here is a mission for you, should you choose to accept it. Although the full lyrics of this song (Bruno Mars) clearly indicate it is a man expressing his love for a woman, you can take this verse, go in front of a mirror and belt it out to yourself. To you from yourself. I’m not gonna lie, it feels strange at first. But it also feels good and powerful.

When I see your face,

There’s not a thing that I would change.

‘Cause you’re amazing

Just the way you are.

Looping back around to loving and being loved by others, this week I’m sharing a list of people who shared love and gifts with me this week and lifted my heart in the process.

  1. My Mom – she is, without fail, my best friend, the person I rely on most, and the one whose love for me is always pure, even when she’s mad. :-)
  2. Em – my sweet, gorgeous, talented, artistic girl. She sneaks up on me to give me hugs and kisses and never lets me forget she loves me.
  3. Jay – my bubbly, smart, funny, sensitive boy. His favorite place in the world is (still) cuddled up next to me, and he

    Overflowing Fountain of Joy

    expresses himself so deeply it can move me to tears.

  4. Kellie Johnson – one of my How to Make Money as a Writer students, wrote to say she had been feeling down, watched one of my course videos, and, “…within a handful of minutes, Julie’s joy for both her own writing and her overflowing fountain of joy for helping other writers had me feeling warm and fuzzy once again.” Kellie went on to send me a photo of an overflowing fountain. The beauty of this experience is that I, too, had been coming out of a recent funk, so her comment helped lift my spirit out of its own dark spot.
  5. David – company and companionship, laughter, tears, friendship, food, deep discussions, silly jokes, music, movies – all in the face of sickness.
  6. A seventh grade boy named Colby, who took his guitar onstage at the middle school music concert and belted out The House of the Rising Sun like I’ve never experienced before. Brought me to tears, the whole audience to their feet, and made me want to go home and immediately create something. Perfection in this unexpected package.
  7. Double Emmas – Emma Dryden who gave me important, insightful, and encouraging feedback on one of my manuscripts, and Emma Walton Hamilton who dropped everything on a busy night to answer some burning questions.
  8. Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple – talked about the art and craft of writing picture books for a 12 x 12 webinar. I walked with a golden glow of inspiration all day afterward.
  9. Erzsi Deak – my agent, friend, cheerleader, therapist. She always makes me feel better about my writing and more motivated to continue. Plus, this week she gave me a contract for Korean rights to My Love For You is the Sun! :-)
  10. Rocky – not human in body but definitely in heart – and a constant warm presence.

So, I guess this week I will ask you WHO you are grateful for?

Categories: Family, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, My Love For You Is The Sun · Tags: , , , ,

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