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: , , , , , ,


TimMcCanna_8x10_smToday I have the great pleasure of introducing someone to the How I Got My Agent series who is not only a mind-blowingly (that is totally a word) talented writer and musician, but also someone I’m fortunate to call a friend. Tim McCanna tells the story of how we first met and came to collaborate on a couple of my projects, so I won’t steal his thunder, but let’s just say that the first time you encounter Tim’s work – whether his writing, music, or blockbuster videos – the only viable response is, “Wow!” Add to that the fact that he is just about the nicest person on the planet, and Tim becomes a “quadruple threat” on his way to sure stardom in the children’s writing world. It’s been an honor in every way to work with him and to have him “in my corner” on this crazy publishing journey. Please welcome Tim! 

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

Thanks for having me, Julie! You know, I had zero strategy when I started out writing picture books in 2009. Within months I was submitting to slush piles and I have a binder full of form rejection letters to prove it. I eventually mixed in some agent submissions here and there, but I really didn’t know what I wanted or needed in an agent.

In 2010, Caryn Wiseman from Andrea Brown Literary spoke at a local SCBWI conference. I liked her right away (as everyone in the session did) and submitted to her after the event. Alas, my story didn’t resonate with her, so she kindly passed.

At some point I dialed down the submitting and focused on improving my craft and building my network. I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and 12×12, kept attending conferences, joined a critique group, and wrote lots of new stories. Three years later, I had a much more robust portfolio of polished manuscripts. Plus, I became an Assistant Regional Advisor for my local SCBWI chapter, and I even sold my picture book Teeny Tiny Trucks on my own. At that point, I felt like my work was strong enough and I understood the industry so much better that I started to think about who might be the perfect agent for me.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

In the early days, all I had was my copy of The Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. I occasionally queried agents who were spotlighted on Of course, meeting folks (or at least sitting in on their sessions) at conferences to get a sense of who they are is always a good thing. I’m a total introvert at events with lots of people. But volunteering for my SCBWI chapter created great icebreakers and gave me opportunities to just talk to editors and agents without trying to wow them in sixty seconds with an elevator pitch.

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

Oh gosh. Lots of both. In the first three years before I made my first sale, I submitted around 15 manuscripts of various length and style to twenty or thirty different publishers and at least a dozen different agents. I never once got one of those personal, magical, uplifting, hand-written rejection letters of encouragement from editors you hear about. I wonder if they’re just urban legends.

For a while there, I was completely flummoxed. What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t anyone other than my critique group partners like my stories!? Granted, 2009 to 2011 were especially tight years in the publishing world, but I began to slip into a resentful dark place. I pulled myself out of that self-inflicted slump by focusing on writing shorter, snappier, more commercial stories while getting out and volunteering and joining online communities. A positive attitude and persistence is key. We’re very lucky that the kidlit industry is so friendly and supportive.

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

Not really. That never came up. I had an early chapter reader to show a slightly longer work, and I’m currently writing a middle grade novel that I mentioned in my follow-up emails, so perhaps having a little variety helped. All I knew was I didn’t want to beg for representation. I was going to wait for an agent who loved my work and was enthusiastic about partnering with me.

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

So, nearly four years after first seeing Caryn at that regional conference, she participated in an Agent’s Day event in San Francisco in early Fall 2014. I submitted my rhyming picture book Bitty Bot! for critique and she immediately connected with it. After a couple weeks of sharing additional pieces with her and talking some more, she officially offered and I officially accepted! That just goes to show that “no thanks” doesn’t necessarily mean “not ever.”

Caryn has a great business sense—and I really kinda don’t. She also offers editorial feedback, which I knew I wanted in an agent. And she didn’t shy away from my rhymers. That was crucial. I write both rhyme and prose, but I knew if an agent said, “Gee, rhyming books are tough to sell,” that we weren’t a good match.

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 🙂 )

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. 12×12 has done a lot for me. At its core, 12×12 is about writing. Getting those first drafts down. I love the simple goal-setting aspect of it. But of course, there’s much more. The community, the support, the people, the networking, the knowledge you gain from the blog and forums. It’s a great resource that became a lovely part of my journey as a children’s writer.

Katie Davis’s kidlit podcast, which led to writing a song for 12×12, which led to writing a song for Julie’s A Troop is a Group of Monkeys app, which led to my selling Teeny Tiny Trucks to the same publisher. It was a 2-year domino effect that I never planned!

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 you’ve already checked off! 🙂 )

Two words: Dog Dancing. It’s totally a thing.

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

Well, after signing with Caryn, we sold Bitty Bot! a month or so later in a 2-book deal to Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster. Woo! The first book comes out Fall 2016, and I’m tossing around ideas for a sequel right now. My working title is Bitty Bot 2: Bitty Does Something Else In a New Location, Perhaps During a Holiday, Or Not.

Tim McCanna played accordion in a punk rock band and composed very silly sci-fi musicals in New York City before he finally got a real job as a children’s book author. When he’s not daydreaming about dancing with dogs, Tim serves as Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators San Francisco/South chapter. He lives in Mountain View, CA with his wife and two kids. Find Tim online at

Categories: 12 x 12, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Storybook Apps · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member L. Michelle Quraishi

Believe it or not folks, this is our last Tuesday 12 x 12 post for 2014, and what a great one to capture the spirit of our community as we roll from 2014 into 2015. Today’s author, L. Michelle Quraishi, brought tears to my eyes because I saw myself in every part of her journey. I suspect all of you will see yourselves too. Dreams deferred, crushed. Climbing out of the rubble to take hold of them again. (Side note: WHY do so many people get clobbered in college, at the very time teachers should be encouraging young writers the most – UGH!). Then of course, once free of the rubble, a community stretches out its hands. Please welcome L. Michelle Quraishi!

I always thought that what I needed in order to write was an audience. So much writing in me never makes it onto the page unless there’s someone out there waiting to read it. I write MORE when I have a deadline connected to a real person. I joined 12 x 12 because it offered readers and deadlines—a ready-made audience to stand-in for the nurturing agent and editors I have yet to meet.

As a child, finding an audience was easy. My mom typed my stories before I could write them myself, on a real old-fashioned clackety-clack.

© Jorge Royan / / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

© Jorge Royan / / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My teachers glowed and encouraged when I set pages in their hands. My great-grandmas wrote back to every letter I ever sent them, letters that survived fire and flood, still tied up in bundles in my garage. By the time I was old enough to get in trouble for speckling my dad’s typewriter with white-out (I’ve always loved revising 😉 ), Creative Writing classes and literary journals gave me an outlet and an audience.

And then came college. I loved college, but nobody cared about my writing anymore. I applied and was accepted to the Creative Writing Department, which included the remote but enticing possibility of working with Toni Morrison, an opportunity lost that I’ll never cease to regret. Nothing in my young life as a writer had prepared me to swim with the big fish, and a freshman semester with a scathing graduate student in fiction seminar sent my writing voice scuttling to hide under a rock. I dropped out of Creative Writing and instead majored in English with a focus on children’s literature, to spend three years reading and writing about the children’s books I treasured.

De grote vissen eten de kleine, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)

De grote vissen eten de kleine, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)

I never stopped writing, but my failure to connect to an audience in college put Maleficent’s enchantment on my writing ambition, cursing it to a deep sleep. Ten years of my young adulthood were dedicated to writing about education, as I struggled with the dilemmas urban teachers face in underfunded schools, and took solace in my classroom library of picture books.


Louis Sußmann-Hellborn (1828- 1908): Dornröschen - Mutter Erde

Louis Sußmann-Hellborn (1828- 1908): Dornröschen – Mutter Erde

I stopped teaching to stay home with my children, writing in scraps and corners of time stolen from each day. Then, when my youngest turned two, I could see the time looming when the financial contribution I’d been making to our family—childrearing—would have to be replaced with something else. And at that moment in 2012, I determined that the something else would be my writing. Somehow, I would learn to make my way as a writer in the world again. It was my daughter’s promise to grow up that rousted my ambition from sleep.

I went to the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference at Book Passage, three years in a row. There I learned about SCBWI, and have attended every local event since. Heard about Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, where I read about 12 x 12, and joined this year for the first time. All along I thought that it was audience I needed. Turns out, what I really needed was community.

I’ve been mostly quiet here in 12 x 12, and feel pretty shy about sending this little essay to Kelli. But I also get pretty choked up when I think about how 12 x 12 has transformed and enlivened my writing life since I joined. I wanted to share my gratitude for those badges, the “Well, done, Michelle,” the thoughtful feedback on 250 words, Query Corner and Pitch Perfect, and the support of my online critique group.

Long ago, I locked myself into a tower where my writing dreams withered. And I rescued myself, too. All it took was putting my hand on the doorknob, and turning it. But when I opened the door, all of you folks at 12 x 12 were right there waiting for me, and you welcomed me as if I already belonged. Thank you.

Born to a Pakistani father and American mother in California, L. Michelle Quraishi was raised in Half Moon Bay, CA, on a balanced diet of donuts and liverwurst, Madeleine L’Engle, and sitar music. She now lives in Walnut Creek, finding inspiration for her books in goddess lore, brain science, animal behavior, her children, calculus and kung fu. Inspired by Julie Hedlund’s How to Make Money as a Writer course, she’s just started work on her author website. You can also find her on Twitter or check out research for her new novel about Baba Yaga in middle school on Pinterest. When she’s not busy making up stories, Michelle blogs at, folds origami, collects rainwater in jars, pickles green beans and keeps knives in dangerous places.


Categories: 12 x 12, Childhood, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


12 X 12 Member Kaye Baillie I am delighted to bring you another installment of the “How I Got My Agent” series focused on picture book authors. It’s especially rewarding when these stories come about as a result of 12 x 12 submissions. AND, I adore Kaye Baillie’s description of Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris as having a “zesty attitude.” Truer words might never have been spoken. 🙂 Please welcome Kaye!

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

In 1998 I’d had enough of being a personal assistant. I decided that what I really wanted to do was write for children so I began a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing. My favorite subject was definitely writing for children. Towards the end of that year I got married. Then early the next year we moved house and by the end of the year had our first daughter. In 2002 our second daughter was born and I’d have to say, I struggled to get my Diploma finished which I finally did in 2005 via distance education.

I was fortunate that in 2001 and 2004 I had two educational leveled readers published which are still selling to this day. But I really wanted a trade book published. I dabbled with stories and submissions for many years and have to admit I wasn’t really putting in the effort required so had no success. In 2011 I decided to get serious. I began entering competitions, writing more and submitting to publishers more often, going to workshops and seminars and trying to immerse myself in the children’s book world. I was getting some results of highly commended or first prize in competitions and favorable feedback from some Australian publishers for my picture book submissions.

Then in 2013 I discovered a Writer’s Digest Webinar. Hmmm, access to an agent I thought. This could be a good direction as submitting directly to publishers is proving to be unsuccessful. The Webinar was on picture books and the agent running the Webinar would critique our submissions. Well I was shocked when the Agent replied how much she loved my story and would I consider reworking the ending and resubmitting to her. Absolutely! I did this and waited, and waited and waited. She kept in touch with me, each time saying that she would be discussing my story at the next staff meeting.

This went on for months with me nudging in between. In February 2014 I told the Agent that I would now like to submit to agents through Julie’s 12×12. In early April the Agent told me that she would not take on a new author but that one of the other agents in the agency would like to talk to me. I was excited again although still waited to speak to the next agent. Now we were into April. I decided to submit to Ginger Harris of Liza Royce the same story that the Agent had liked. Two things happened at once. The earlier Agent came back to me with an offer of representation AND Ginger had also made an offer.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

The information on the 12×12 site each month is terrific. I read all links about the agents and Google them also. I also look at the agents through Twitter and try to find out as much as I can about what books they have represented and sold.

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

I ducked across to my Excel spreadsheet and would say that over a four year period, I submitted 9 different manuscripts to publishers in Australia, which totaled about 70 queries. Each of the 9 stories would usually be sent to the same list of publishers. Most of the rejections were standard form letters with only several offering encouraging feedback. After receiving encouragement from the Agent through Writer’s Digest, this is when I really focused on finding an Agent instead of the submission process I had been taking.

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

Not really. I have had discussions with three agents in the last few weeks and two of them wanted to see more of my picture books. There was no mention of other genres.

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

Well, to continue on from what I said above, I had the unexpected dilemma about what to do with two offers at the same time. My gut was telling me to go with Ginger and Liza. I was impressed with their swift offer of representation, their friendly style and zesty attitude. We discussed who might be a good publishing fit for my story and I straight away felt like I would be in good hands. I also felt that Liza Royce Agency would be accessible and that we would have regular communications.

If 12×12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

12×12 gives incredible background information on top agents, who we are fortunate to have an opportunity to submit to. I think this is a golden opportunity for authors. Being able to choose between agents each month is not only a privilege, but also is a great learning device that made me think about the differences within agencies and between agents. It is so important to find the right fit and to understand what an agent is looking for. Being able to read discussions and posts from other members leads to wonderful opportunities where we can follow links on craft development. 12×12 really showed me what is possible and then it was up to me to follow those leads.

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

As I have only just signed it is hard to say, but I am thinking about my story which the Agent chose to represent and am now using that as a benchmark for future work. I definitely feel that I have to work more solidly and regularly and that ‘Children’s author’ is my actual profession. I will also be preparing to meet deadlines and to put my writing first rather than allowing ‘daily grind’ duties to take over my day.

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

I would say that 12×12 is a glowing opportunity. There is support, shared knowledge and opportunity for authors. Through 12×12 you will learn about agents that you may not have known about (which is what happened to me.) I would also say to learn about pitches and queries. I don’t think they are as complicated as I had thought and once you have them under control, they are easier to send out.

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

Not really. I think it’s in the query and the manuscript. I have used Twitter for a few years and still like it but it did not play a part in me finding an agent. I have a website which I think is a good thing to showcase what you’ve done. Facebook is a nice way to communicate with peers but I don’t think it’s helpful to find an agent. I don’t blog.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish.

Probably finding the right hairstyle is something I’ve been trying to achieve my whole life and have failed. Something that I have dreamed of doing for many years though is taking a long long train trip across beautiful country-sides and having my own private compartment and I get to dine in the old style dining carriage. I would gaze and write and sip fine wines.

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

I am working on a picture book about one aspect of World War I and I have just come up with a cute idea for another picture book. I seem to have two stories on the go lately as I want to keep up with the 12×12 challenge. I also will be fine tuning my manuscript for Liza Royce agency so they can start submitting – gosh, can hardly believe I’m saying that.

I’m also off to the SCBWI conference in Sydney in July. One of the master-classes I’m taking is run by Connie Hsu of Roaring Brooks.




Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12  Member Erik AmmonI love hearing stories like the one shared by this week’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Erik Ammon, where 12 x 12 not only helps a writer overcome fear and inertia but also helps improve his or her writing. It’s amazing what being part of a supportive community can do for your confidence and your craft. For someone who needed to overcome a great deal of doubt to get where he is today (at a minimum, a near shoo-in for winning this year’s challenge), Erik has shown exceptional bravery. It takes courage to share your work with others, but it takes even more courage to recognize that you can get better and put in the hard work to do just that. I hope you’re as inspired by Erik’s story as I am. Welcome, Erik!

I’ve always loved writing. For a while, in the early to mid 90’s, I wrote some poetry and started the next great epic fantasy novel. Then I stopped. I’m not sure why I did, I just did. Honestly, it may have been the thought of actually writing 150,000 to 200,000 words.

Fast forward twenty years…

I started writing again while recovering from hip and knee surgery in 2013. It gave me something to do since I couldn’t run. I started with a running novella about my life in running that, in an ultimate world, would have ended with me getting back to ultra-marathons, qualifying for and racing in The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Trail Run. But, life isn’t perfect, and neither is my knee. I’m hoping to still finish that story, but it’s going to be a long time.

With a pause in the running novella, I turned to writing short stories, which I put up on a writing site. Someone on the site liked my writing and asked me to write a children’s story with a moral for a possible site published anthology to benefit multiple sclerosis (if I remember correctly- the site is now defunct, so I can’t check in to be sure). The story was quickly reviewed by many and received several 5 star reviews. With this confidence, I hired an illustrator and self-published The Rabbit Who Wished He Could Fly on February 14th, 2014. a writing blog! All things I never would have done without 12×12. If you’ve heard of 12×12 and are not sure if you should join next year, put those fears aside and sign-up!

My name is Erik Ammon. I’m a 2nd grade teacher in my 15th year of teaching. I’m also a running coach and a pre-published writer. I have a wonderful photographer wife, a trumpet playing 10 year old son and a 9 year old soccer star daughter. Oh, and a cat, Kona, that runs the house.

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Publishing, Self Publishing, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member Johnell DeWittToday’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Johnell Dewitt, is one who can see the forest through the trees. In just a few short years she’s become an active member of the children’s writing community and most definitely part of its support system. I have a great deal of admiration for how much ambition and passion she’s brought, not just to her own writing, but also to helping other writers as she goes. As a fellow nomadic soul, I appreciate how challenging that can be when you’re always moving around, but perhaps too it is what grounds us most. Please welcome Johnell!

Every two to three years, I pick up my roots and replant them somewhere else, usually in another country. It’s a great lifestyle most of the time, but when I chose to pursue writing for children, I realized that in-person networking would be difficult. Fortunately, online forums like 12×12 provide connections vital to my growth as a writer.

There is power in community. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. They are able to reach colossal heights and withstand amazing environmental stresses because they intertwine their roots. Despite their towering heights, the roots of the redwood are relatively shallow, sort of like my experience in writing for children.

I started seriously pursuing a childhood dream of writing picture books just three years ago, shortly after returning to the States. Fortunately, I had a writer friend who helped me get started. First thing she told me was to get on the Verla Kay (now SCBWI) blueboards.

With our nomadic lifestyle, an online forum was a perfect way to ease in. I spread my tiny roots out into the blueboards and was immediately grasped and strengthened by more experienced writers. I grew from their support.

From there, I learned about Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo. I jumped on board, and loved meeting other writers through the Facebook forum. In fact, I realized that many of the people on the PiBoIdMo Facebook page lived near to my former home in Northern Virginia.

Long story short (see here for the long story), we set up a regional Facebook page and were able to arrange our own local events. Those in-person meetings were like Miracle-Gro for my budding root system. In fact, one of the writers I met through our regional get-togethers turned me on to 12×12 and that’s how I got here.

It’s easy to feel lost in a forest of towering authors and writers, but being part of a community like 12×12 jump starts the growing process. As we interlock our various life-experiences, we strengthen the entire system, making it possible for each of us to reach impossible heights.

So jump in. Reach out and extend your roots, no matter how shallow you think they are. As the redwoods attest, it doesn’t take a deep root system to thrive, just one that’s willing to give and receive nourishment from the forest of writers around them.

Johnell DeWitt is a former public relations executive and aspiring children’s book writer. Johnell blogs with her writing group at

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member Kirsten Bock

I love that today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Kirsten Bock, recognizes that if we want our children to follow their dreams, we must first follow our own. Perhaps that realization is the greatest gift that comes from being a parent. And as someone who also kept a diary for each year (the equivalent of the “school journal”), I can now say the contents make great material for school visits and provides a mainline right back into the heart of of childhood. I think you’ll agree with me that Kirsten’s dreams are anything but “loony.” Please help me give her a warm welcome!

When I was in elementary school my mom started a “school journal” with me. Each year, we glued a school photo onto the page and then dutifully filled out important information: hobbies/interests, current friends and future career. Although my friends and hobbies changed from year to year, my aspirations for the future never did. The answer to the last question was always “an author and a teacher” (well, there was a brief stint where “racecar driver” made it into the mix, but who has time for three careers?).

I was made to be a teacher. I love to boss people around…er, I mean “lead and inspire.” My idea of a fantastic day is a trip to the container store and then, wielding my very own label maker, spending hours organizing a room. And I absolutely must have a job that includes dressing up for Halloween and acting like a complete loon.

Writing is also perfect for me. In my stories, I can boss my characters around all the live long day. My idea of an even more fabulous day is spending hours reading picture books in the teeny seats of Barnes and Noble’s children’s section. I also get to play dress up with all of my characters, acting like a complete loon through the eyes of each and every one of them.

After elementary school, though, the answer to that “future career” question grew shorter. A teacher sounded like a reasonable goal. Something that would help me earn a living (or at least rent in a shoebox apartment). An author? Not so much.

So, I went on to teach. And I loved it. But there was always that nagging voice in the back of my head. It motivated me to write occasionally and it definitely gave me a strong passion for teaching writing. It wasn’t until my twins were born that I realized what I wanted…no needed to do.

I needed my sweet little babies to believe wholeheartedly that they could be anything they wanted to be. What kind of role model would I be if I didn’t at least give my dream a decent kick in the behind? So, in between nighttime feedings and chasing two giggling monsters, I picked up my pencil and began to write again.

My twins are four years old now and my youngest is two. A lot has changed in my life and I am proud to say that my writing is definitely one of those changes. With 12X12, PiBoIdMo, SCBWI, Susannah Leonard Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic and the fantastic support of my critique groups, I have come such a long way towards my goal of being an author. Although I don’t keep a school journal anymore, the answer to that last question would definitely be “an author.”

Kirsten Bock is a writer and stay at home mom of three, living in North Carolina. In between changing diapers and pulling children off of the drapes, she finds a moment or two to write picture books. Most of the stories and dialogue are taken from her children, so she fully expects to give them the royalties when she becomes rich and famous.

Categories: 12 x 12, Childhood, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member Laura GehlI realize our October featured author post for 12 x 12 is a little late, but boy is it worth the wait! I’m so happy to introduce you to our OWN Laura Gehl. Laura is a 12 x 12 member who found her agent (who is also my agent and our featured author from last month!) through her membership in 12 x 12. If that wasn’t enough to already have in common, our most recent picture books released on the SAME DAY this year – September 9th. I bought Laura’s book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, right away (did you know I try to buy all books published by 12 x 12 members?). Anyway, I didn’t have a chance to read it until after I returned from my own book launch, but once I did, I realized how brilliant it was and I asked her to be the featured author for October so she could ‘splain to me us how she did it. One lucky winner this month will win a picture book critique from her too. Please welcome Laura!

When Julie asked me to write a post about “having multiple hooks in a picture book,” I realized I should start out with a related question: what the heck is a “hook” anyway?

Sometimes, the term “hook” is used to mean anything that gets a potential buyer to pick up a book. For example, I grabbed “No Fits, Nilson” off the shelf because my 4-year-old spends about half of her time having fits (and the other half asking for ice cream). I’m pretty sure I am not the only one in this situation. The word “fits” alone is enough to draw parents to a book. That’s a hook. When a parent or teacher searches for a book about sharing, bullying, sibling rivalry, positive self-image, gratitude, creativity, or tolerance, those are hooks too. (I call these hooks “emotional hooks”—more on that later!)What is a picture book hook?

Other times, the term “hook” is used to mean a premise that is out of the ordinary or takes a risk. Not just another book about counting, sharing, blah blah blah. Some premises that immediately hook the reader with their originality: A bunch of crayons airing their complaints. A baby with a mustache. A boy who eats books.

In yet another meaning of the word, “hook” can be used to mean a popular theme or character type that all children love. Any book about princesses, dinosaurs, or trains will sell, right? (Right! Except when editor after editor looks at your story and says “Sorry, we have too many princess/dinosaur/train books on our list already.”)

And then we have the “commercial hook,” also known as the “sales hook” or “marketing hook.” Can a bookstore feature your book prominently in December because it is about a snowstorm? Or in late August because the story takes place at school? Those are commercial hooks. Excuses for a bookseller to trot your book out to the front of the store.

Okay…I’m now going to move on to multiple hooks, which is, after all, what Julie asked me to write about. In order to address this topic, I have created a simple rule.

Laura’s Simple Rule of Multiple Hooks:

Your Picture Book Needs (at least) One Emotional Hook and (at least) One “Other” Hook.

Julie pointed out that my debut picture book, “One Big Pair of Underwear,” has both sharing (hook #1) and counting (hook #2). Here, sharing is the emotional hook. The animals learn that they can have more fun by sharing. Note the word “learn.” The emotional hook should involve characters learning or growing or changing in some way (which in turn means the child might possibly learn/grow/change by reading the book). But of course, this learning/growing/changing needs to happen in a subtle…usually humorous…way, and not be shoved down the child’s throat.

In “One Big Pair of Underwear,” counting is the “other” hook (although, lucky for me, having the word “Underwear” in the title of a book turns out to be a hook in and of itself). In your picture book manuscript, the “other” hook could be any of the types of hooks I mentioned above. It could be a basic concept such as alphabet, shapes, or colors. It could be a popular character type or theme such as princesses, dinosaurs, or trains. Or it could be an unusual premise, such as a baby with a mustache (sadly, that one is already taken).
How many hooks should a book have?

Okay, now I’m going to pick a few books at random and see whether they follow my rule. Since I just made up the rule five minutes ago, it has not yet been fully tested.

1. Uni the Unicorn. Hook #1 (emotional): believing in the impossible; Hook #2 (popular character type): unicorns
2. Z is for Moose. Hook #1 (emotional): wanting to be special; Hook #2 (concept): alphabet
3. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. Hook #1 (emotional): bedtime*; Hook #2 (popular theme): construction vehicles

*I count bedtime as an emotional hook because bedtime is a hard time for kids (and parents!). Good bedtime books soothe the anxiety/fear/grumpiness associated with bedtime, both for the books’ main characters, and for the children reading the books.

Wow, those three books follow my rule beautifully, don’t they? No wonder they are bestsellers and award winners! And, I swear, those really were the first three books that popped into my head.

Of course, I am sure there are gazillions of wonderful books that don’t follow my rule. But if you go through your favorite picture books, I bet most of them will. So when you are revising your own picture book drafts, ask yourself, “Does my book have only one hook?” If the answer is yes…throw in a few princesses (preferably sleepy princesses who are heading to bed wearing dinosaur pajamas), the Easter Bunny (preferably teaming up with Santa Claus and eating latkes), or a subtle-and-humorous lesson about standing up to bullies (while counting to 10 and singing the alphabet song). Maybe all of the above.

Laura Gehl is the author of One Big Pair of Underwear, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, which released last month. Laura is also the author of several upcoming picture books: Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching, and Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick or Treating. Laura has not checked to see whether her upcoming picture books follow Laura’s Simple Rule of Multiple Hooks, because she is afraid they might not, and it is a little bit late to do anything about that now! You can visit Laura at and

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Family, Friendship, Giveaway, Guest Blogging, Parenting, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software