Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic, part 3: 10 Qs for Lauren Kerstein and 10+ excellent tips on craft!

Happy September pandemic Book Birthday to Lauren Kerstein and ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT (Two Lions/ Illus. Nate Wragg) We first talked to Lauren Kerstein last year about her debut picture book, ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES, so I’m very curious to see how this pandemic book birthday compares.

But FIRST, let’s celebrate this adorable new bedtime Rosie & Charlie title and ask Lauren a few questions about craft:

Rosie the dragon’s bedtime routine has been a little bumpy lately. But not to worry! Charlie is prepared with everything he needs to help guide his pet dragon (and best friend) to a peaceful night’s sleep… How hard could tucking your pet dragon into bed be…?

Q 1. Hooray for your second Rosie the Dragon and Charlie title! Writing the sequel often adds more pressure than writing the first book. Did you lose any SLEEP over this manuscript? (See what I did there?)

Lauren Kerstein: HAHA! You are a punny, punny woman and I LOVE it!

I didn’t actually lose sleep over this one because in a strange, round-about way, it was already written. The Good Night book was actually the first book I wrote in this series. I had to SIGNIFICANTLY revise it, which was a tad daunting, but I really felt like Rosie and Charlie’s voices and reactions were so much a part of me by the time I revised it, that it went pretty smoothly overall (as far as revisions go).

What would Rosie do?

Lauren Kerstein: Creating bedtime-vocabulary word banks, and lists of expressions that Charlie might use really helped. I also kept asking myself, “What would Rosie really do in this situation?” Finally, I dug into my memories of bedtime with my children, and with children with whom I’d worked (I’m a child and family psychotherapist). And let me tell you, those memories were gold!

Q 2. What was the inspiration for ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT?

Lauren Kerstein: In 2016, I read a fabulous post about structure by Tammi Sauer during ReFoReMo. Then, during NAPIBOWRIWEE, I challenged myself to write books in different structures. So… Good Night began as a “how to” book and was about putting your mommy to bed. I thought it would be hilarious if the tables were turned and a child had to tackle the bedtime bumps we tackle as parents. With fabulous feedback from critique partners, Rate Your Story, my agent, and my editor, this book evolved into the character-focused series it is today. I let my Jersey-girl humor fly free, included actual tips and skills, and named my beloved characters. Through it all, the heart and voice remained the same.

Check out the book trailer here! 

Q 3. When do you know a manuscript is ready to submit? How do you know when to say, “Good night”? ; )

Lauren Kerstein: What a dreamy question, Erin! I don’t have a clear-cut answer because this varies from manuscript to manuscript. In general, I use the following criteria to determine whether or not a manuscript is ready to submit:

  1. Have three or more of my trusted and amazing critique partners given it a yay?
  2. Does it flow smoothly when I read it outloud?
  3. Have I let it “rest” for at least 24-36 hours (and usually longer) so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes one last time?
  4. Did I comb through every single word? Did each word earn its right to remain in the manuscript? Did I choose the BEST words possible?
  5. Did I have someone (usually one of my daughters) read it out loud to me? As Jane Yolen says, “The eye and the ear are different listeners.”

       If all of those questions receive a resounding, “yes,” then it is ready!

Q 4. Since you’re in the middle of #RevisionWeek, are there some tips you might share with those in revisions right now?

Lauren Kerstein: Ooooh, I am bursting with tips right now.

You can check them out at:

Here are a few of Lauren Kerstein’s

current favorite

revision strategies:

  1. Print out the manuscript, find fun colored pens, and write all over it. What’s working? What’s not? Circle verbs that can be stronger. Underline lines that can be funnier or more emotionally resonant.
  2. Save a new draft each time you revise. That will give you the freedom to “kill more darlings” since you know the old words are still there.
  3. If you are second-guessing something in your manuscript, then an agent or editor will too. Revisit and revise those moments that leave you wondering.
  4. Create a “juicy word wheel” with synonyms that might come in handy for your manuscript.
  5. Check each spread to be sure you left LOTS of “white space” for the illustrator.

Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic:

Q 5. Congrats on your successful virtual book launch with Second Star to the Right! Any tips for other authors who are launching books this year? 

Lauren Kerstein: I highly recommend partnering with a local bookstore for your launch. I reached out to one of my local Indies, Second Star to the Right Books, and I loved working with them. They were terrific behind the scenes as Nate Wragg (my illustrator) and I prepared for Rosie and Charlie’s Big Bedtime Birthday Bash.

ED: Note the catchy book release name, friends…

Lauren Kerstein: There are definitely pros and cons for each virtual platform. A secure platform is MOST important. Second Star uses Google Meet and I loved the fact that I could see some of my audience. This helped me gauge interest and engagement, which was really helpful. I think it also enabled me to more effectively interact with everyone.

No matter the platform you use, I suggest sending out tech tips specific to your platform in case people have trouble and need something to reference.

Q 6. How does launching a book in the Pandemic compare to the debut of your first book in June 2019?

Lauren Kerstein: In June 2019, Nate and I launched Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Make Waves in-person at a local bookstore. While that was INCREDIBLE, I must admit that in some ways, I liked launching virtually better than launching in person. I mean, nothing can take the place of face-to-face interactions, but the fact that people were able to join from all over was really wonderful. I was also thrilled Nate and I could launch together again despite the pandemic.

I planned activities and ways to interact, just like I did for the in-person launch. I also tried to use the virtual platform to my advantage and share slides and graphics that I may not have been able to as effectively share in person. I suppose the biggest missing piece—besides hugs—was face painting… (OH, and candy). I’ll have to ponder that for my February launch. Perhaps the first 20 people to register will receive a swag bag (with treats) before the big launch party.



Q 7. How can readers and fans help spread the book love during these crazy times?

Lauren Kerstein: What a wonderful question! There are so many ways to spread book love during this time (without spending money).

  • Goodreads: If you have a Goodreads account, you can mark books as “want to read.”
  • You can also “vote” to add books to lists in Listopia on Goodreads. I happened to notice there’s a list called “Picture Books About Dragons.”

Hmmm… I might know a book for that list!

And, here’s another great list: I might know a few books for that list! (Hint: One of them might have the word EARTH in the title!)

  • Reviews: Leaving reviews for books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc is SUPER helpful!
  • Social Media/Build Buzz: Sharing book love on social media is always a wonderful thing! Include pictures and #hashtags. Pictures can help your post break through social media noise. For example: I might tweet about DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5. OH wait! I did! Yay! Check it out here:
  • Library: Check books out of your library (and pick them up curbside). You can also fill out the online form at your local library requesting they purchase books.

There are so many ways to help without spending money. And of course, if you want to buy the books (ALL THE BOOKS), that’s excellent too.

Q 8. Tell us a bit about your next book, HOME FOR AWHILE.

I am so excited to talk about HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press). This book is straight from my therapist’s heart. I can’t wait for you to meet Calvin!

Calvin wants to trust, but is afraid to open his heart. HOME FOR A WHILE is a book about a little boy in foster care who wants to find a place he can call home, for a while. It’s a book about seeing your strengths, increasing self esteem, and building emotion regulation skills.

Calvin will move into bookshelves on February 2, 2021. It is available for preorder at your local Indie bookstores or on Amazon.

Dear pre-published Lauren…

Q 9. Now that you have THREE titles in the queue—and more on the way—what advice would you give to pre-published Lauren that you didn’t know before?

Lauren Kerstein: I’d say:

“Hey you– yes, YOU, the one typing out words without receiving critiques and thinking they are surely going to grab an editor and… Go! Go! Go! Straight to bookshelves.


Writing is NOT a solo journey! You cannot write in a vacuum!”

(“P.S. If you want to continue writing in rhyme, you better study how to do it well. This stinks!”)

Then I’d say:

“Okay, now join SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12x12PB Challenge, and a critique group immediately! Hone your craft with writing classes, read TONS of recent books in your genre, and put manuscripts away for a while before you send them out.

Patience and persistence will propel you forward, NOT nearly-ready submissions.

And finally, I’d say:

“Not every manuscript will make it out of your computer and onto bookshelves. But every book will make you a better writer!”

(This one is tough to accept, but SO true!)

You can learn more about Lauren and her books on 

and follow her on Twitter: @LaurenKerstein and Instagram: laurenkerstein

Lauren Kerstein: Thank you! And thank you for having me on your blog! I absolutely cannot wait for your latest book, Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5, to come out in December!

ED: Aw, Thank YOU Lauren! And since you mentioned it…

Q 10.  If Rosie and Charlie could write a letter to the Earth, what would they say?

Dear Earth,

Rosie and I are so sad people haven’t been more careful. I’ve written a list of all of the ways we can help you, and Rosie and I are up for the challenge! Rosie’s even promised to use less water in her baths, and to recycle all of her gummy skunk wrappers.

We want to help you heal!

We love you.


Rosie and Charlie


They can join the Earth Heroes club any time!

Stay safe, friends.

Next week we’ll talk to Ann Marie Stephens about picture books + Math and publishing #kidlit in a pandemic. part 4. 

4 Qs + 4 Happy Book Birthday(s) = Diana Murray: Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic, part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic!

Wooo-hoooo! It’s the Book Birthday of DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS, a Math Reader/ Step-into-Reading #STEM book by Diana Murray (Illus. Mette Engel /  Random House Books for Young Readers).

This is Diana’s FOURTH book released in 2020. 

2, 4, 6, 8, math with dinos is so GREAT! This Step 1 early reader will introduce the fundamentals of addition and the concept of “doubling.”

In part 1 last week, we helped celebrate three nonfiction picture books (+ one more) that released during these #shelterinplace crazy times.

In this post, we have FOUR questions for bestselling author Diana Murray about writing tips and launching her FOUR 2020 #kidlit titles.

Let’s get this pandemic Book Party started!

Happy Belated Book birthdays to… 


by Diana Murray, illustrated by Zachariah OHora/ HMH Books / March 2020

A Junior Library Guild Selection

“[S]nuggled-in vegetables and sweet, lilting text offer an effectively snoozy bedtime rhyme.”

Publishers Weekly

★ “In OHora’s sweet and funny acrylic art…. The childlike approach, appealing art, and relatable worm character…connect story and audience.”

The Horn Book, STARRED review


by Diana Murray, Illus. by Sydney Hansen/ Imprint/ February 2020

An Amazon Book of the Month (Feb 2020)

“Murray and Hanson have created what feels like an old classic that’s simultaneously fresh and sweet… A bedtime countdown rhyme for every little farmer.” ―Kirkus 


by Diana Murray, Illus. by Amber Alvarez / Imprint / May 2020

A fascinating look at dads in the animal world.—Kirkus

This heartwarming story depicts dads in the animal kingdom…Suitable for read-alouds and a solid choice for Father’s Day. —School Library Journal


4 Qs with Diana Murray

Q 1. What surprises did the illustrators bring to these books?

Diana Murray: One big surprise in DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS was the way Mette illustrated “double the RUMBLE!” She used a secondary meaning of this word, which added some fun tension. And I love that she used so many varieties of dinos! This was a very hard one to illustrate because of the sheer number of dinos that needed to be visible. I can’t believe she made it work so well.

In WILD ABOUT DADS, I was surprised (or maybe “impressed” is a better word) by how much emotion and warmth Amber brought out in the animals and by how lush the backgrounds were. She balanced factual accuracy with cuteness and love.

As for GOODNIGHT VEGGIES, when my editor asked me if I had any thoughts on an illustration style for the text, I said “something hip and modern, similar to the style of Zach OHora.” So first of all, I was surprised that Zach himself ended up being the illustrator! He created the main character (a worm) and the whole tunneling concept, not to mention the urban rooftop setting. None of that was in the text and it was all a pleasant surprise.

With FIVE FUZZY CHICKS, I could not believe how incredibly fuzzy and adorable the illustrations were. And I loved that Sydney made the chicks all different shades. It was such a thoughtful touch. I just assumed they’d all be yellow.


Q 2. You say that working in graphic design has made you a more visual writer. Can you explain this approach?  

Diana Murray: By visual writer I mean that I always have the illustrations and page turns at the forefront of my mind when I’m writing. Even when you’re not the illustrator, it helps to be very mindful of what the illustrations might end up being. Here are three important things to consider:

  1. Make sure there is variety from page to page. Think about how you can change the scene, the action, and/or the layout. Creating a dummy sometimes helps (although I often just picture it in my head). You don’t need to be an illustrator to make a dummy. It’s not something that will be final, but just something that will help you visualize as you write. For Double the Dinosaurs, I made a varied list of activities that might happen at the beach and a varied list of general dino activities. I thought about how to incorporate an interesting mix into the text, which could lead to varied illustrations.
  2. Create anticipation/excitement/tension with page turns. This is related to the variety I mention above. You can sometimes create an exciting page turn with an ellipsis. Throughout my new early reader, I repeat the phrase “Double the dinosaurs…” and then, on the next page, I reveal the outcome: “…double the STOMP!”, “…double the CRUNCH!”, “…double the SPLASH!”, etc. This builds anticipation, plus reader participation. Using rhyming text supports that even further, because the rhyme offers a clue about what comes next. 
  3. Let the illustrations tell part of the story. This is another good reason to visualize what the art will show, as you are writing. For example, in WILD ABOUT DADS, the text describes ordinary dads. They like to “go fishing”, “carry you on piggyback”, “dance”, and “(bring you) dinner”. Without the art, the reader might imagine their own dad. But the illustrations show an eagle, a dart frog, a crane, and a fox doing these things. That creates another layer of interest. Another example I often use is from my earlier book DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS. There is a couplet that reads: “They find a treasure to behold./A pile of loot worth more than gold!” The illustration shows a treasure chest full of books. Not using the word “books” in the text but then showing books in the art is more engaging than simply spelling it out. It lets the reader connect the dots.

Publishing in a pandemic…

Q 3. What has it been like, launching a book –or four–during the Pandemic? 

Diana Murray:  I don’t usually do launch parties, but I had planned to go to a bunch of festivals: Hudson, Montclair, Millbrook, Poughkeepsie, Warwick, Princeton, Maplewood, Chappaqua and Chesapeake. Those all got cancelled or moved online. I think Maplewood and Chappaqua are the only ones that got rescheduled to this fall. So hopefully, those are still on.

Making it happen…

Diana Murray: I did do a WILD ABOUT DADS reading and craft for the Montclair Book Festival via ZOOM, together with the illustrator, Amber Alvarez.

I also did an online reading of GOODNIGHT VEGGIES for Wellesley Books, MA. I incorporated some actual veggies (with googly eyes) into the reading, which was pretty funny.

I was supposed to do a reading and craft for FIVE FUZZY CHICKS at “Picture Book Palooza” in NJ but that also had to be rescheduled (tba). PB Palooza is a fun event held at the Cranford Public Library (all arranged by author Laura Sassi) where a bunch of authors and illustrators get together to read and do activities with kids. We had a great turn out last year. I had some other library readings scheduled, too, but basically, everything got cancelled. A handful of things happened online, but the turnout was much smaller. It continues to be a strange year!

Q 4. What can book friends do to support new releases in these crazy times?

Leave an Amazon review, please! It makes such a difference. Also, adding forthcoming books to your Goodreads list (or rating them there) is great. Both are FREE, and even a super short rating with a one-word “Enjoyed!” is much appreciated.

Let’s DO THIS, friends!

Diana’s wonderful books deserve our support!

To learn more about them, go to

and follow @DianaMWrites on Twitter and @dianamurrayauthor on Instagram.

Next week, we’ll talk to author Lauren Kerstein about her ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOODNIGHT launch with Second Star To the Right, and what’s next in 2021!

Stay safe, friends.

Nonfiction picture books have pandemic Book Birthdays too!

Illus. /Kelly Pousette, DO NOT RAKE YOUR GARDEN IN A PARTY DRESS by Aimée Bissonette

Have you had a birthday during this pandemic?

Do you know friends or family who have had to scale down

or cancel Birthday parties in the past months?

Wonderful children’s authors

have had to do the same!

Aimée Bissonette: It’s been a wild year, hasn’t it? I have four books out this year…

*ED note: Aimée’s 2020 releases = DO NOT RAKE THE GARDEN IN YOUR PARTY DRESS (illus. above), THE TINAJA TONIGHT, DRAGONFLY, and the upcoming WHEN WINTER COMES. See below.

…so I had scheduled so many events: bookstore gatherings, some story time trolley rides, a day at the Minnesota State Fair. I was lucky to get a couple of events in for my first book in March but then . . . well, we all know what happened! Suddenly, all publicity and promotions went virtual and that WAS a challenge.

 Jenna Grodzicki: This launch was definitely not what I expected when I signed the contract for WILD STYLE back in 2019. I want to be in front of readers, placing my book in the hands of kids, so not being able to do that is hard. But the entire kidlit community has stepped up. So many people celebrated with me by sharing WILD STYLE on social media. 


Q 1. How did you “pivot” for these pandemic Book Birthdays? Any tips?

Aimée Bissonette: Thankfully, as is true of so many things in our industry, people surged forward to help. I am extremely grateful to the other picture book writers in #2020BookLook, illustrator Kelly Pousette who created a beautiful trailer for PARTY DRESS, the team at Albert Whitman who stepped up and organized social media training, Twitter book reviewers. Many hands make light work, right? I love this team approach and hope it continues long after “in person” events return.

Ask others to help. Support each other with reviews, tweets, on Instagram.  Not everyone can buy your books, but they can ask their local libraries to add your books to their collections.

Jenna Grodzicki: Like Aimée,  I’m extremely grateful for the two 2020 release groups I’m a part of. The members of 2020BookLook and 20/20 Vision PBs have helped maintain excitement for all the great picture books coming out this year. If you can join a release group, I highly recommend that. Also, check with your publisher about doing virtual read alouds. If you can’t be in person with children, reading to them online is the next best thing. 


Q 2. Both of you have written fiction and non-fiction picture books. How is your NF process different? Or is your approach the same, no matter the genre? 

Aimée Bissonette: My nonfiction writing is much more structured than my fiction writing. I spend a great deal of time researching and outlining.  Nonfiction picture books like DRAGONFLY and THE TINAJA TONIGHT have additional components, too, such as Author Notes and Back matter.  In one way, though, my nonfiction writing is the same as my fiction writing. With both, I know the tone I want to set and the language I want to use pretty much from the start.

Jenna Grodzicki: My NF process starts out differently than when I write fiction. When I come across a strange or interesting fact that I can’t stop thinking about, I do a little research to see if it is a viable topic for a picture book. From there, I’ll throw myself into researching the topic. Once I’m saturated with new information, I’ll start writing. I usually have to play around with different formats before I find the one that makes the most sense for that particular book. 

Jenna Grodzicki’s   WILD STYLE (Millbrook/ a NF photo book/ preschool – 3 ),  is a VERY COOL book about how animals ”dress” & hide themselves to protect from predators and there are photos to prove it! The amazing facts are explained in simple, fun ways, that had me hooked from the start.

Do you know what bug carries a stack of dead ants in its back–and WHY? What makes flamingo feathers pinker–and waterproofed? Who catches a free ride on the back of a crab–and provides protection too?

The answers are in WILD STYLE.

Wow, this was FASCINATING! Really well-written and organized to make it easy for kids to understand. Huge, bright photos show close-up details. Lots of “gross-out” appeal (a bug that carries a bunch of glued-together ant corpses on its back?? Yikes!). Extra info about each animal at the back. This is definitely a winner. Would easily hold anyone’s attention (kid or grown-up) and inspire a love of biology/ Diana Murray

Jenna Grodzicki: I’m so proud of WILD STYLE. It may have been my favorite to research. Crabs who wear hats and wave pom-poms? Insect larvae that wear their own poop? I hope kids will enjoy reading about the wild style some animals have and why that style is necessary for their survival.

THE TINAJA TONIGHT by Aimée Bissonette (Albert Whitman/ an Imagine This! book / NF/ preschool-3 / Illus. Syd Weiler)  offers an intriguing glimpse of desert wildlife and water at night in the Southwest, with stunning graphic art by Syd Weiler. 

“Bissonette’s poetic narrative, sprinkled with alliteration, leads readers seamlessly from one desert denizen to another…Clarifying information bites regarding each featured element or animal accompanies the text…this exploration of water’s vital presence in an arid environment is sure to please.” ―Kirkus Reviews

Also out this month, DRAGONFLY by Aimée Bissonette (Albert Whitman/ an Imagine This! book / NF/ preschool-3/  Illus. Catherine Pearson) is full of dragonflies, pond life, entomology, and STEM details for curious young minds!

“Pearson’s illustrations will engage young readers, and Bissonette’s informative text will encourage them to learn more…An excellent resource for students.”

School Library Journal

Aren’t these three nonfiction books captivating?

Q 3. What surprises did you discover while researching these fascinating subjects?

Aimée Bissonette: I am a true nature nerd and love to research, so even though I started with subjects I thought I knew a lot about, I learned so many cool new facts. For instance, dragonflies have been around for 300 million years. And in writing THE TINAJA TONIGHT, I learned desert quail actually prefer running to flying when they need to escape sticky situations.  The plump little birds can run 20 mph!

Jenna Grodzicki: One of my favorite OMG moments in writing WILD STYLE had to do with the pom-pom crab. (above) The pom-pom crab holds one anemone in each claw. The stinging cells in the anemones deter predators. A scientist I spoke with about this crab revealed an incredible fact. The species of anemone that the pom-pom crab holds has NEVER been spotted on its own. Scientists have only ever seen this species in the claws of pom-pom crabs! Isn’t that amazing?

Ideas & Inspirations

Q 4. What inspired you to write these books? Where did the ideas come from?

Aimée Bissonette: I have been fascinated by dragonflies since I was little – especially their flying abilities.  I wanted young readers to learn about and not be afraid of these big, beautiful bugs. The Tinaja story comes straight from my Arizona hiking vacations with my kids. We all love red rock country.

Jenna Grodzicki: In 2018, I came across a National Geographic article entitled “Natural Bling: 6 Amazing Animals That Decorate Themselves.” It was a total OMG moment. Which animals decorate themselves? Why do they do this? Why didn’t I know about this? I needed to know more. And I knew if I found these animals intriguing, kids would, too. 

What’s next?

Q 5. What new projects are you working on now?

Aimée Bissonette: I am working on two nonfiction picture books that will come out Fall 2021. The first is on the “second life” of trees.  Do you know how much work trees do after they die with regard to our forests, wildlife, and environment? The death of trees is critical to nature. The second is a book on artificial reefs – coral reefs that form on sunken ships and other undersea objects, including vessels sunk on purpose.

Jenna Grodzicki: I have a fiction picture book coming out in 2021, HARMONY HUMBOLT: PERFECT PETS QUEEN (Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by the amazing Mirka Hokkanen. I currently have two manuscripts out on submission. And I just came across another amazing fact that I’m excited to start researching. 

Can you see why these authors deserve a (virtual) party?

SNEAKY SEGUE to this fun picture book, DO NOT RAKE YOUR GARDEN IN A PARTY DRESS –also by Aimée Bissonette

(Cameron Books/ Illus. Kelly Pousette) released last March 2020

–which definitely deserves a party–don’t you think?

“The warning DO NOT RAKE YOUR GARDEN IN A PARTY DRESS precedes a chain of whimsical consequences in this pretty, airy picture book by Aimée Bissonette, illustrated by Kelly Pousette. A doll-like child preparing for an outdoor tea party in the aforementioned dress is caught in a gust of wind and tossed into the clouds, then deposited by a bald eagle into its nest of fuzzy fledglings, from which she free-falls through tall trees filled with chirping bluebirds and cute squirrels into a pond where her dress becomes a parachute and she frolics with otters…” —NYT


And a friendly reminder….

Three easy (and FREE) ways to support authors

publishing in a pandemic: 

  1. Promote their books on social media.
  2. Post positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and help get the word out.
  3. Reach out to your local library and request they add new books to their collection. 

Thank you Aimée Bissonette and Jenna Grodzicki for joining the blog today. 

To learn more about these authors and their books go to

Aimé and

HEY–what if we all wish them a Happy Book Birthday on Twitter–right now?



Next week we’ll be celebrating THREE pandemic book birthdays

with #2020BookLook author Diana Murray. 

Stay safe! 

Happy Book Birthday to THIS OLD DOG (Brockenbrough/ Alborozo/ Levine Querido)

Happy Book Birthday to THIS OLD DOG

by Martha Brockenbrough

Levine Querido / Illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo

“A lovely celebration of toddler-dog love…”

Booklist, starred review

In celebration of THIS OLD DOG’s release, here are

9 Questions with the wonderful and prolific

Martha Brockenbrough*

*Rhymes with “broken-toe.”  

Q 1: What was the inspiration for THIS OLD DOG—

a new baby arrival, a faithful old dog, or______?

Martha Brockenbrough: This one is ripped right out of the headlines of my life. I’ve had dogs since I was ten years old. Right after I graduated from college, I adopted a two-year-old dog who was my constant companion, my confidante, my best friend. I had her until my first daughter was three years old and watching their relationship bloom was one of my biggest joys. There is something so wonderful when an old dog loves a young child with gentleness and wisdom. 

Lucy and Misty, September of 2003

The key to this book was finding Old Dog’s voice. Years after I’d said goodbye to my first dog, I was walking another old dog (slowly, slowly) and thinking about all the words a dog knows. What they had in common was that they were all one syllable. So I wrote the book entirely with one syllable words, and doing that made the story feel right. I broke the pattern on the last page, tucking in a three-syllable word. I did that deliberately, because the combination of the girl plus the dog was more than the sum of their parts. To me, that was the level of care that the subject deserved, and it’s what makes the text part of the story work.

THIS OLD DOG interior, art by Gabriel Alborozo

Q 2: What surprises did illustrator, Gabriel Alborozo, bring to the project?

Martha Brockenbrough: Whenever I work on a picture book, I have illustrations in mind. Pictures are half of the story (at least!), and so you have to both evoke them and leave room for them. I’d envisioned something that feels just like Gabe’s work, but my feeble imagination could never have come up with the gorgeous colors and layered images. I have stared at these pages for hours and the art and characterization is beautiful, soulful, funny, and sweet. I guess I’m saying he brought stuff I didn’t even dream was possible. I love it unabashedly, the way a dog loves a ball. 

THIS OLD DOG, Interior art, Gabriel Alborozo.


Q 3: Which of your following book titles best describes your writing process:

  5. THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH– Oh, definitely this one. I write for love. I write all sorts of books because I love the world and I love young readers and still feel like I could walk right through a membrane of time separating me from my own childhood and adolescence. It was a fraught time for me and my goal is always to reach a hand out to young readers and pull them safely forward with honest words. The death part is this: I am acutely aware of my own mortality, and thanks to having written that book and spent so much time in the company of metaphorical death, I don’t fear the experience any more than I feared my own birth. My work between now and then is to bring as much love to the world as I can, love that takes many forms.

4 Starred Reviews: PW, Kirkus, Booklist, and The Bulletin.
Washington State Book Award
Kirkus Prize Finalist
A YALSA Teens Top Ten Title
A PW Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Editors’ Choice

Q 4: Has your writing life “pivoted” during COVID19 and the pandemic? How?

Martha Brockenbrough: It’s been hard to focus at times. I don’t think I’m alone there. This was entirely unnecessary suffering, made worse by leadership that refused to do the right and difficult thing and then use the power of our collective resources to help people through. I urge anyone who thinks it had to be this way to look at what other countries did and how they are faring. Good government matters and this is a painful, devastating reminder.

I’ve traveled far less for obvious reasons, and that’s been good for me personally, even as I miss my colleagues and the in-person discussions about writing immensely. But I’m an introvert who needs lots of time to think, and that’s what this has been. I’ve drafted several new picture books (who knows if they’ll sell), revised a novel coming out from Scholastic, and researched another nonfiction work that Feiwel & Friends will publish. So I’m doing my best to make the most of the time, to see it in some ways as a gift, even as I ache for everyone suffering.

Adding our dear Max and G here–because Martha’s THIS OLD DOG will resonate with dog lovers everywhere! (Including our house.)

Q 5: They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical.

Are you more like the little girl or the old dog?

Martha Brockenbrough: Oh, I am both. And both are my daughter and my dearly departed old dog. And I was also the young parent so busy with the bustle of life that I often felt impatient at the poky pace of my dog and my toddler. I’m at a spot now where I can see being a little girl in love with a dog, being a dog delighted to have someone to savor the world with, and a parent feeling a bit overwhelmed by the pressure of it all. And I love all of those experiences with their tender edges.

“Painstaking research, straightforward delivery, and succinct explanations make this a smart addition to nonfiction collections.” ―School Library Journal, starred review

Q 6: Tell us about your other September release: UNPRESIDENTED / Sept. 15 

Martha Brockenbrough: UNPRESIDENTED is the paperback version of my Donald Trump biography, which to me remains a definitive chronology of his life not just for young readers, but anyone who isn’t necessarily a political junkie but has been awakened by the time. The book establishes the patterns of who Trump is based on the span of his life, and it makes it pretty easy (and harrowing) to predict what comes next. The paperback version is updated with an epilogue that takes us through March of this year, so the impeachment and the early stages of COVID, when devastating missteps were made that put us where we are today. 

Q 7: Do you still have a family band? Are you the bass player, lead vocals, percussion?

Martha Brockenbrough: My elder daughter is in college now (and headed back next week). She’s really the force behind it. But when we did play together, I was very much in the background on the mandolin, which is a wonderful instrument because it’s so light and bright.

Q 8: Can you tell us about your current WIPs?

Martha Brockenbrough : I’d love to tell you about a couple of books I have coming out next year. I have a chapter book series with Levine Querido, the publisher of THIS OLD DOG. The Frank and Sunny series is about a rather fusty cat named Frank and the puppy who comes to destroy his life. It’s a series for very new readers and I love it. It’s simple, sweet, and funny—something I would have LOVED as a child.

via PW/ Children’s Bookshelf 7.16.20

With Little,Brown, I have a picture book written with Grace Lin called I AM AN AMERICAN: THE WONG KIM ARK STORY, and it’s about the young man whose Supreme Court case established birthright citizenship in America. Julia Kuo is illustrating and her work is stunning. It’s an incredibly important story that not enough people know, and one of my passions is making stories like these accessible and compelling to young readers. This is where our characters is forged, and I love showing kids examples of people with great courage.

Q 9: What question do you wish I’d asked? 

Martha Brockenbrough: I always love being asked my best advice for writers. And it’s this: Love the work. The work is reading and knowing what’s out there. It’s in understanding how the books we love work, which requires studying them closely. It means giving yourself time to learn the craft, which is subtle and complex (despite what the celebrities always say on national TV). The more you love the work, the more you will do it, and the better work you will produce. And that’s what our children deserve: beautiful books made with everything we have to give.

Thank you, thank you, Martha for sharing your thoughts today.

You can learn more about Martha & her books on her website, in this interview with Mr. Schu: Watch. Connect. Read, by following Martha on Twitter: @mbrockenbrough  or  Facebook.

You can also check out (and purchase) any of her amazing books on Indiebound. 

Happy Reading, friends–


It’s (almost) Gurple and Preen’s #BookBirthday!

I am honored and excited to chat with

author Linda Sue Park (L.) and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi (R.)

about their wonderful picture book,

GURPLE AND PREEN–a Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

which releases NEXT WEEK.

Let the cosmic adventures begin! 

Q1 What was the inspiration for GURPLE AND PREEN. Which came first? The broken crayon doodles or the story? 

DEBBIE: I found out that Linda Sue Park liked my broken crayon doodles when she emailed to ask if she could buy a print of one of them.

Debbie’s first broken crayon drawing!

I remember being SO THRILLED; I am a longtime fan of Linda Sue’s work, plus we have the same awesome agent, Ginger Knowlton.

I created and sent a print but refused to take any payment. Linda Sue made a donation to We Need Diverse Books in my name instead.

Sometime later, we found ourselves both on faculty at the SCBWI Northern Ohio regional conference (top photo), and talked about my broken crayon art. Linda Sue said she assumed that I was working on my own story, and I confessed that I had been unable to come up with a story that I wanted to illustrate. We talked some more, and I was over-the-moon excited when Linda Sue agreed to try writing a story for my broken crayon art.


LINDA SUE: Debbie’s broken-crayon concept was of course the main inspiration. So I knew the story would have to somehow involve BREAKAGE.

When I combined that idea with the robot I loved, I came up with the idea of a story set in space, and a rocket crash-landing. The story went through several drafts–I think the version that’s being published is number fifteen–under the guidance of S&S editor Justin Chanda, who asked helpful questions every step of the way.

Q. 2 They say every book is a bit autobiographical in some way. Are you more like Gurple or Preen?

DEBBIE: I’m more like Gurple on some days, more like Preen on others. Like Gurple, I tend to get easily stressed sometimes, especially when I’m trying to do too many things. Like Preen, I like to recycle objects, especially incorporating them into found object art. The latter tendency makes me a bit of a packrat.

LINDA SUE: My family would say unanimously that I’m more like Gurple, always running around yelling and waving my arms. They’re wrong, of course. I’m Preen–I love to get things done! But I don’t wear a bow.

Q 3 I see that you both like board games. Which board game best describes your #kidlit careers? 

  1. Chutes and Ladders
  2. Battleship
  3. Risk
  4. Trivial Pursuit
  5. _________________other. (Your Choice)

DEBBIE: This is a great question but tough to answer! Chutes and Ladders is mostly based on luck, so while I do believe that there is an element of luck in my children’s book career, there were also a lot of choices. Battleship is too conflict-y and represents what happened to me; in contrast, I found that so much of my career success has been because of people HELPING me. Ditto for Risk. I don’t see any connection with Trivial Pursuit, and I’m also terrible at the game. If I was going to choose one game, it would probably be a semi-cooperative board game in which everyone works together to some extent, but each individual also has their own goals to achieve, like Nemesis.

LINDA SUE: Scrabble. And I used to be big on trivia games, but as I get older, I find that my memory just isn’t what it used to be. Sigh.

Q 4 I love this blurb for GURPLE AND PREEN:

“With a bit of teamwork

and a universe of creativity,

anything is possible!”


What does it mean to you to have teamed up together on this project? *And are you cooking up more collaborations?

DEBBIE: I love that this project happened because of a conversation that Linda Sue and I had at an SCBWI regional conference. Yes, it might still have happened in some other way, but I’m grateful to the SCBWI (and especially the organizers of the SCBWI Northern Ohio regional conference) for events at which conversations and creative collaborations like this can happen!

LINDA SUE: For me, this collaboration was unique. I’d never written a story based on an illustrative concept. It was challenging because I kept trying to include as many broken-crayon scenes as possible…and in doing so, I would end up with a series of scenes that weren’t a real story. It took me several tries before I figured out that the story had to come first. Sheesh, you’d think I would know that by now!

And yes, I love that SCBWI played a role in bringing this book to life.

Click here to find out more about SCBWI.

Q5 What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made in creating this book?

DEBBIE: You never know what will come out of a broken crayon — like THIS BOOK!

LINDA SUE: I got a peek into the illustration process that I’d never experienced with my previous picture books. Because of the unique nature of this collaboration, I was shown sketches and other parts of Debbie’s process much earlier than usual. I especially loved learning a little about Debbie’s revision journey. When she revised any part of the art, she had to re-draw, re-photograph, and re-digitize the whole thing! That seems to me a lot harder than deleting and re-typing.

Debbie photographing the crayons.

Q 6  Please tell us about your other projects, just released or in the works. 

DEBBIE: Projects I’m working on right now include illustrations for I’M SORRY, the newest in the I’M…. picture books series about kids’ emotions, written by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster), as well as my own middle grade writing projects. 








LINDA SUE: My most recent middle-grade novel is PRAIRIE LOTUS (Clarion / HMH), historical fiction set in the 1880s. It’s about a 14-year-old girl named Hanna, trying to find her place in a new town on the prairie, where she’s not welcome because she’s part-Asian. I hope readers will enjoy learning about the details of Hanna’s daily life (there are worms in the flour! Yuck!), and that the story will make them think about the parallels between her world and ours.

SIX starred reviews!

I also have a poetry collection coming out in Spring 2021. THE ONE THING YOU’D SAVE (Clarion/HMH)  is set in a classroom where the teacher and students are having a discussion. The teacher asks a hypothetical question: If there were a fire in your home, what is the one thing you would save? The poems are all written using the sijo syllabic format, a traditional Korean verse form. And the book is fully illustrated by Robert Sae Heng.

What question do you wish I’d asked? 


Q. Who was the awesome art director behind GURPLE AND PREEN? 

Photo cred: MiG Writers

A. I’m so glad you asked! I am so lucky to be working with Laurent Linn at Simon & Schuster. He is everything an illustrator could hope for in an art director.


Q: What do you hope young readers will take away from GURPLE & PREEN?

A: Recycle, re-purpose, re-use! That’s what Debbie’s ‘found-object’ art is all about, and it’s what young people are going to have to do to save the planet.

Looks like GURPLE AND PREEN will help too!

To learn more about Linda Sue & Debbie,

check out their web sites

and follow them on Twitter:

Linda Sue Park:    Twitter: @LindaSuePark 

Debbie Ridpath Ohi:        Twitter: @InkyElbows

Huge thanks to you both for sharing your thoughts–and talents–with us. 

Next up: Celebrate the Sept. 1st Book Birthday of Martha Brockenbrough’s THIS OLD DOG. (Levine Querido, illus. Gabriel Alborozo)

As for “Recycle, re-purpose, re-use” and saving the planet–I can’t wait to share my picture book,  DEAR EARTH–From Your Friends in Room 5, illustrated by the fabulous Luisa Uribe, coming from Harper Collins Dec. 1st. 



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