Happy Book Birthday PLANET OCEAN: Why We All Need A Healthy Ocean + 5 Qs for Patricia Newman

Happy Book Birthday to Patricia Newman’s
PLANET OCEAN: Why We All Need A Healthy Ocean

(Millbrook / Lerner, Annie Crawley / Photographer)

#1 New Release in Children’s Australia & Oceania History

Have I mentioned I love this book?

Full disclosure: Patti is a dear friend and critique partner, and we were SCBWI Co-RA’s together a lonnnng time ago–but I would be singing the praises of PLANET OCEAN even if we’d never met.

Still–don’t take my word for it: 

‘We all have a story to tell’ photographer Crawley says. In her daily life, she teaches land-dwellers to dive in the ocean, encouraging them to appreciate it and to share its beauty―and its problems. Newman’s words and Crawley’s pictures do just that for young readers here, with a clear narrative that combines science, images, and the voices of young divers and Indigenous peoples to get across their point…Worth exploring in depth.

Kirkus Reviews

Click above image to view trailer.

In celebration of this much-needed book, here are:
5 Questions for Patricia Newman

Q 1. How did you find/choose the many amazing child and teen activists you interview in PLANET OCEAN?

Patricia Newman: Annie and I had a great time researching Planet Ocean and developing new friendships. Elise, Kalil, Nico, and Abbey are members of Annie’s Dive Team (who I met when I traveled to Seattle for research). Our Iñupiat Arctic expert introduced us to Eben Hopson. Annie knew Helen Pananggung and the children from many trips to Indonesia. We’d been following Juliana v US in the news and Annie was fortunate enough to meet with one of the lawyers, who introduced us to Aji.

We chose these kids/teens based on their unique voices, their reliance on the ocean, and the variety of approaches they use to speak up for the ocean

Q 2. My favorite quote from the interviews–and there are many–is, “I’m not fighting climate change. I’m fighting for human change.” (17-year-old activist Aji Piper). What is one of yours?

Patricia Newman: I really like this question because interviews are a huge part of my books. And I love using quotes because they convey so much emotion. It’s impossible to choose only one, so here is a sampling of my favorites:

On page 21, scientist Derya Akkaynak says, “A colleague and I showed light moves through the ocean differently and we derived new math.” Just think about that. New math. I get goosebumps thinking about these scientists who are inventing new technologies to help us understand our ocean.

On page 28, scientist Iris Kemp says, “I read—a lot. And I read biographies of scientists—a lot.” Proof that nonfiction children’s books matter!

On page 29-30, Lummi Nation elder and fisherman Dana Wilson says, “If we can’t go out and catch fish, it affects our way of life, our health, our spirituality. Without them, we lose everything.” Dana’s emotional words put the climate crisis in stark relief.

On page 37, Iñupiat teen Eben Hopson says, “Seeing how climate change affects my people scares me. What will the ice be like for future spring whale hunts?” As temperatures climb in the Arctic, the entire Iñupiat way of life will change. How can that not be scary?

And on page 49, Elizabeth Zajaczkowski says, “For years other people have represented me, but now that I’m eighteen I’m talking to you as a registered voter.” I love that Elizabeth is holding elected officials to task. There’s power in her words!

QR codes sprinkled throughout the book give readers a “below-the-surface” perspective.

Q 3. Creating such an important nonfiction book like this takes a tremendous team. What does it mean to you to have teamed up again with oceanographer Annie Crawley and editor Carol Hinz? Besides the interviewees and contributors, who else is on your team?

Patricia Newman: You’re absolutely right, Erin, and my Planet Ocean team was the best in the business. Annie is not only a diver, photographer, and filmmaker, she’s also an ocean expert. We worked closely developing the text, the photo captions, and the back matter.

Carol Hinz is now the Associate Publisher of the Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda imprints at Lerner Publishing. Planet Ocean is our sixth book together, and I can hear her voice in my head as I write—what’s important, what concepts need unpacking, and what needs to be left on the cutting room floor so to speak.

But bookmaking requires more than just the three of us.

My agent, Deborah Warren, believed in this project from the start and sold it to Carol.

My critique group read early drafts that were…well, terrible.

Lerner’s terrific art team, Danielle Carnito, Emily Harris, and Erica Johnson, created a layout that allowed for big photos. They worked with us when we swapped one image for another and guided us through image resolution requirements. These women were also responsible for the graphics and maps in the book.

Planet Ocean’s QR codes required another level of expertise. While I wrote scripts, Annie assembled video clips and narrated each video. Kate Campbell created the landing pages readers see when they scan the QR codes with their devices.

And then there’s Lerner’s publicity engine, Lindsay Matvick and Rachel Zugschwert, who asked Annie and me to create a special video that answered the question, why does your library need Planet Ocean<– (Clink link to view.)

I’m sure there are other people behind the scenes that I’ve never met, like the copy editor, whose name I don’t know. But I depend on her to keep me from making a fool of myself with incorrect facts.

Patricia Newman (L) and Annie Crawley (R) really took their “below-the-surface” perspective seriously when creating Planet Ocean! 

Q 4. How is learning to scuba dive like writing nonfiction? How is it different?

Patricia Newman: What a great exercise. Here goes!

Four ways scuba diving is like writing nonfiction:
  • We need special equipment. Divers need tools such as wet suits, air tanks, hoses, flashlights, and masks. Nonfiction writers need primary sources, recorders, cameras, computers, and ideas.
  • We immerse ourselves. While divers swim underwater, nonfiction writers dive into our topics to find the most startling details and creative formats that keep readers turning pages.
  • We need to remain calm under pressure. Annie warns her students not to panic and become bubble-blowing monsters that use up their air. Divers must take slow steady breaths. Nonfiction writers have deadlines that require a cool, steady head. Frequently my editor also asks me to source a quote I’d skipped, which means plowing back through thousands of pages and websites to find it. If it weren’t for meticulous organization, I wouldn’t be able to use the many quotes I rely on, which would definitely turn me into a bubble-blowing air hog!
  • We see new worlds. Scuba allows underwater exploration. Swimming under turtles, diving under Arctic ice, winding through kelp forests. As a nonfiction writer, I meet new people studying amazing aspects of our world. People I never would have met otherwise.
And one way diving and nonfiction writing are different:
  • Divers must breathe pressurized air to equalize the pressure the ocean exerts on their bodies. Normally, the air we breathe isn’t pressurized, so divers have to resurface slowly to minimize nitrogen and helium bubbles (think of a bottle of soda, just opened). A diver who resurfaces too quickly can experience pain, called the bends. But as a nonfiction author, I can “resurface” from a hard day at my computer banging out a rough draft as quickly as I like!

Newman says, “Annie and I want readers to care about our ocean, because we protect what we love.”

Q 5. I love your message that, “Global change starts with stories from our hearts shared again and again.” If young Patti could share a heart story of the ocean, what might it be?

Patricia Newman: Wow, I have so many memories of the ocean and water in general. Digging for quahogs at low tide with my aunt on a Rhode Island beach. Making a huge whale sculpture out of sand with my dad. I remember loads of kids joined us, too! Crabbing off the Jersey shore. The taste of salt on my lips. Feeling the pull of the tide as it retreats out to sea. Sailing with my dad.

These memories formed my earliest impressions of the ocean – a mixture of food, fun, awe, and power. And as I write, I can still feel the feel the sand between my toes.

Patricia Newman‘s books inspire young readers to seek connections to the real world. Her titles encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real world problems and act on behalf of their communities. These books include Sibert Honor title Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; Junior Library Guild Selection Eavesdropping on Elephants; Bank Street College Best Book Zoo Scientists to the RescueBooklist Editor’s Choice Ebola: Fears and Facts; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change.

To learn more visit Patti at www.patriciamnewman.com

and follow her on Twitter: @PatriciaNewman

 Next up on the blog:

Double March Book Birthdays with Rosie Pova and Matt Forrest Esenwine.


Happy Book Birthday to AN EQUAL SHOT = 4 Qs + 3 tips for #kidlit Illustrators just starting out–> from the amazing Dow Phumiruk.

Happy Book Birthday to

An Equal Shot: How the Law Title IX Changed America

Written by Helaine Becker,  AN EQUAL SHOT (Henry Holt) is a nonfiction picture book introduction to the history and importance of Title IX as civil rights legislature, featuring illustrations by Dow Phumiruk*.


Dow rhymes with “wow!” : )

Phumiruk has a sneaky silent h: Poo’ mee ruck.

Interior art by Dow Phumiruk, from AN EQUAL SHOT, written by Helaine Becker (Henry Holt).

“…Title IX is about more than just giving girls and women the ability to play sports. . .Both an easy-to-read introduction and a powerful reminder that we must always fight for equality.” ―Kirkus Reviews

The TEAM: Dow’s agent Deborah Warren, Christy Ottaviano (editor), Dow, Helaine Becker, and her agent Susan Schulman.

Dow Phumiruk is the award-winning illustrator of COUNTING ON KATHERINE: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo13, which won the Bank Street Cook Prize and was named an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book as well as an NCTM Mathical Honor Book, among many other honors; AN EQUAL SHOT: How the Law Title IX Changed America; MAYA LIN: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, which was an Amazon Best Book of the Year and an NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People; and  ONE GIRL–among others! She is also the author / illustrator of MELA AND THE  ELEPHANT, and HUGSBY, which released in 2020. Dow, who is ALSO a general pediatrician (The “WOW” fits, doesn’t it?), lives in Colorado with her family.

We have Questions for you, Dow Phumiruk!

Q 1. Congratulations on your ever-growing successful #kidlit career! Did young Dow envision any of this as a child? I see you wrote and illustrated your first book, THE PINK AND YELLOW SUNHAT, at age 9. How and when did you realize your creativity could be something more?

Above photo of Dow was featured in an earlier blog post here. 

Dow Phumiruk: Wow, never in a million years would young me have predicted that I would become an author and illustrator of children’s books! It was not on my radar growing up. I loved art as a girl, and my fourth grade book project you mention was something I was very proud of. But I did not ever think to pursue this as a career in adulthood. It took having children and staying home with them (drawing, coloring, and crafting together) to reconnect with my artistic side. My children inspired me! Eventually I joined SCBWI, and that’s where I learned all about the ropes of the industry.

Q 2. What was the biggest challenge you encountered while creating the illustrations for AN EQUAL SHOT? 

Dow Phumiruk: The biggest challenge was figuring out what to draw! The text talks about Title IX, but there are little clues about setting and characters for me to run with and draw – unlike COUNTING ON KATHERINE, with images of Katherine and a progression of her life story being pretty obvious subject matter. Helaine Becker and I were together for that project, with Christy Ottaviano at the helm as editor, as well as for this book. (See Team photo above.)

Interior art by Dow Phumiruk, from AN EQUAL SHOT, written by Helaine Becker (Henry Holt).

How would I draw about a law?

I had to think on how our book would look for a long while! It’s a good example of how authors and illustrators each contribute to making a picture book its best. I think this book will get kids thinking about how they can champion equal rights like Patsy Mink, Shirley Chisholm, Bernice Sandler, and Edith Green did.

Interior art by Dow Phumiruk, from AN EQUAL SHOT, written by Helaine Becker (Henry Holt).

Also for this book, I drew so many people, and that was an ambitious task that was both challenging and exciting. It is fun to imagine being a fly on the wall in congress, for example, or listening to Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. There was much research to do to portray these scenes as accurately as possible.

Interior art by Dow Phumiruk, from AN EQUAL SHOT, written by Helaine Becker (Henry Holt).

Q 3. I read on your blog that you like to set goals. (I’m not surprised!) What are your goals for 2021?

Dow Phumiruk: I am such a list-maker. I love to make them, and goal setting is just another list! This year, I hope to write two chapter books. I’ve never understood how authors of novels can come up with so many characters, settings, plot twists, and other components that make up a book with thousands of words that people want to read! It’s intriguing, and I hope to figure this out. I’ve learned so much about novel writing at conferences, read many articles and blog posts about writing online, and have friends who live and breathe writing novels who could help critique anything I write. But all this knowledge I am surrounded by can’t be used unless I have written something.

Write those drafts!

Is this your hang-up as a writer? Well, writing something gives you a substrate on which to apply what you’ve learned. That draft can be awful! It’s just a draft. And then you can work to revise it. An art analogy would be if you owned a set of carving tools without any wood or marble or clay to work with and shape! This year, I’ll write those drafts.


Another goal I have is to prioritize a good work-life balance. That is a doozy. I don’t manage to protect enough time to read longer books, and this will be even more important as I try to write a chapter book.

Q 4. Do you have any tips for illustrators just starting out in #kidlit?

Dow Phumiruk:

Tip 1: For artists just starting out, find illustrators who are successful in the industry with a style you admire. Then copy them! Don’t try to sell these drawings or anything. Just copy for practice. It’s a way to teach yourself to draw in a marketable style. You may end up merging your style with theirs and come up with your own unique new and improved style.

Tip 2: Also, really study art that you like. What is it that appeals to you?

  • Is it the palette: is it more limited than what you use?
  • Is it the lighting: have you learned how to best manage contrast and saturation in your work?
  • Is it the composition: have you learned to design a nice background and foreground with your characters well-positioned?
  • Have you used all of these tools to help lead your viewer’s eye to where the action is?
  • And lastly, is it the anatomy?

These all form the foundation for a successful illustration, and you can take time to dig deeply into each to improve your work.

Tip 3: Make sure you can draw stories. This means that your art needs to be more than just nice scenery. In your portfolio, you should demonstrate that you can show characters (people or animals) who are doing something that could be part of a story. The narrative quality of art is integral to children’s book illustration.

Happy Book Birthday to AN EQUAL SHOT! 

Thank you so much for sharing such helpful insights, Dow. 

I look forward to your next project, HELLO TREE, written by Ana Crespo (Little Brown) which releases this September. 

To learn more about Dow and her work, see ArtByDow

and follow her on social media:

Twitter @DowPhumiruk 

Instagram: dowphumiruk

Up next on the blog: Patricia Newman talks about her new nonfiction MG,

PLANET OCEAN–Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean. 

7 Qs with Sandra Nickel about her NEW nonfiction pb, The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

I’m completely starstruck by Sandra Nickel’s new NF picture book:

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe 

Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams

releasing March 2, 2021

Click here to view trailer. 

I was hooked from the start by the lyrical title of Sandra Nickel’s #must-read NF picture book biography, and it certainly lived up to its promise. Readers of all ages will be drawn in by young Vera, growing, questioning, and persisting in a world where women were to be seen and not LEARN or–heaven forbid–enter the man’s world of astronomy. Nickel’s lovely imagery is equally matched by Aimée Sicuro’s magical illustrations.

This book is truly “made of stars.”

Interior art from The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe by Sandra Nickel / Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams.

“This engaging biography will appeal to budding scientists, particularly those with a penchant for sky searching.”  ― Kirkus Reviews

And we get to learn more about it!

Q 1. When and how did you first learn about Vera Rubin?

Sandra Nickel: I learned about Vera the day after she died. The New York Times put out a long, beautiful tribute to her, and Kate Hosford, a fellow picture book author, told me about it. I was immediately captivated by Vera and her accomplishments. I was also heartbroken. She had showed what no other scientist had been able to prove—that dark matter makes up 80 percent of the universe—yet she had been passed over year after year for the Nobel Prize in physics, as it was given to men and never a woman. It was so immensely unjust that I started researching Vera’s story that day. I can’t give a Nobel, but I can tell kids all over America about the incredible woman and scientist that Vera Rubin was.

Vera Rubin working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., in 1965. Photo Credit: Carnegie Institution

Q2. Are there any qualities in Vera Rubin that you see in yourself—or you wish you had?

Sandra Nickel: There are many qualities I admire in Vera. One is the love and dedication she gave her children. In fact, her dedication, in a way, led to her discovery of dark matter. Other astronomers were racing to gather data so they could be the first to pull ahead of the pack with new theories and observations in other areas of astronomy. Vera didn’t have the time to join the race because of the time she gave her children. Instead, she chose to look at questions no one else was looking at. By doing so, she made the immense discoveries relating to dark matter. 

Vera also showed her love and pride for her children by putting them on her CV, which is magnificent! Why aren’t we all doing that?

Q3. Which of your many previous jobs have most influenced your career as an author? (ED Note—I’m a theater teacher and my husband is an attorney so I’m guessing one of your answers is actor or lawyer, but then again there’s Playground supervisor… Nurses Aid…)

Sandra Nickel: I think about this question all the time. Recently, I’ve come to it from the other side, asking: What inside me drew me to each of these different jobs? One thing is a love of stories and storytelling. This is how I ended up acting and lawyering—and writing, of course. But through journeying through all these different jobs, I’ve come to realize that storytelling—and storylistening—is the yarn that bound me to each of them. It didn’t really matter if I was in a nighttime room in an old folks home or on the grass of a playground or taking an order at a restaurant, the story of each person is what I noticed and keep to this day.

Q4. Taking a page from your own blog… What’s on your street? Your desk? Your TO DO list?

Sandra Nickel: This is so much fun! I’ve never had the chance to be on this side of the What Was on questions. So, let’s see, What Was on Sandra’s. . .

Street: Lots and lots of grapevines. In the 12th century monks terraced the land around the road I live on in Switzerland. They planted white grapes for winemaking and folks still grow the same grapes today. If you continue downhill through the vines, you run into Lake Geneva and after about 8 miles of water, you run into the French Alps on the opposite side. It’s an unbelievably beautiful part of the world.

Desk: Not very much. I’m a bit of a neat nick when it comes to my desk. But behind me are shelves stockpiled and messy with picture books, favorite things, old family photos, and my picture-book muses.

TO DO List: Read the 39 books of the 21 other authors in my fabulous promotional group, The 2021derfuls. Prepare for school and bookstore visits coming up in February and March. Attend the SCBWI Golden Kite Gala, to celebrate the finalist books, among which is Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. Elevate Women.

Click here for fun NACHO’S NACHOS activities!

Q5. What might we find on Vera Rubin’s TO DO list?

Sandra Nickel: Elevate Women. (Yes, it’s true, I copied her for my own list.) Vera Rubin always made time to support women. She read their articles. She discussed their ideas. And when committees met to award prizes, she picked up the phone to make sure the committees didn’t forget the impressive women in her field.

Interior art from The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe by Sandra Nickel / Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams.

Q6. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Sandra Nickel: You can overcome roadblocks. You can forge your own path that is different from how others are doing things. And, for my young girl readers, despite what the weight of history may tell you, you can make incredible contributions to the world, whether it’s in science, in the arts, or as a citizen of the world.

Interior art from The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe by Sandra Nickel / Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams.

Q7. Can you tell us about your next project, BREAKING THROUGH THE CLOUDS?

Sandra Nickel: With pleasure. Breaking Through The Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson is about the first female meteorologist in the world.

As with astronomy, meteorology was a real boys club in the 1940s and 1950s. The male meteorologists actively worked to keep women out. One professor at the University of Chicago even told Joanne Simpson that “No woman ever got a Doctorate in Meteorology. And no woman ever will.” The male meteorologists also ridiculed her for being interested in clouds, which they thought didn’t affect the weather in any significant way. Well, Joanne was tough as nails—and stubborn—and she proved them all wrong. She not only earned her doctorate in meteorology, her work with clouds sparked an entire branch of science. Like Vera, Joanne was also a huge supporter of other women. A young female meteorologist, who flourished in the wake of Joanne and her work, said Joanne Simpson didn’t simply blaze a trail for women, “she blazed a road.”

I don’t have a cover yet for Breaking Through the Clouds, but here is a photo of Dr. Joanne Simpson in 1956 at the Woodshole Oceanographic Institute. Photo Credit: Nasa Archive


To learn more about Sandra and her books check out sandranickel.com  and follow her on

Twitter: @senickel 

Instagram: sandranickel

Next up on the blog:

Happy Book Birthday to

Dow Phumiruk, illustrator of…

 An Equal Shot: How the Law Title IX Changed America 

Written by Helaine Becker / Henry Holt

We’re Ba-ack! 4th Grade Blog Takeover–part 2 = Writing is not like Math.

Hi Again–Room 313 is back from Bainbridge Island, WA, with a few thoughts about writing, and a few poems that we wrote with Erin Dealey!

That’s our teacher, Ms. Strayer (above), with two of Erin Dealey’s books.

We read a bunch of them. See our last blog takeover (click here) for the reviews.

This blog post is about our writing.

Writing is a way to share our opinions. Writing is not like Math, where there is only one right answer. Some of us thought writing poems would be boring and painful but it wasn’t.

Poems can be about things you like:

You can share your feelings.

I hate to write 

Writing is kinda fun

Fun = Sam 

Sam is my friend 

Friends, I only have a couple 

                                         by Liam

Poems can be about your pets! 

Nora (my dog) is the best, 

best at running

Running fast 

Fast eating too,

She is so cute!

        by Luisa

Poems express our feelings. 

This poem is about report cards,

report cards are scary,

scary things are worth screaming,

screaming is normal,

normal is this,

this is a poem about report cards

                                         by Sam

Poems can surprise you! 

Poems can make you smile. 

That tiara is sparkly 

Sparkly like jewels 

Jewels make me do the opposite of frown

Frown is the opposite of smile

Smiles make my day just like that

That tiara is sparkly

by Hannah

Poems can help you get through tough times. 

Poems can be about sports. 

Taekwondo is fun.

Fun things like weapons and sparring. 

Sparring is a part of taekwondo .

Taekwondo is a cool sport.

                                       by Cristina

Poems aren’t boring after all!

See what we mean? 

My underwear 

My closet is full of underwear everywhere 

Underwear is taking over 

My poem is over. Underwear.

                                       by Sean

We hope you liked our poems.

(You can tell us in the comments if you want!)

Thanks, Erin Dealey. We think you’re funny.
We like your books.
We voted on our favorites.

 Happy Book Birthday PETER EASTER FROG! 

Bye bye. That’s all for now from Room 313. Except:

And…check out this reading song from Erin Dealey:

Click here and sing-along! 

(also on YouTube and iTunes!)

Happy #BookBirthday to HOME FOR A WHILE by Lauren Kerstein + #BookGiveaway

Today on the blog, we get to ask my friend, #kidlit author & clinical social worker, Lauren Kerstein questions about her new book HOME FOR A WHILE–illustrated by Natalia Moore / Magination Press–which releases today! (Cue confetti!)

Check out this **STARRED REVIEW**

HOME FOR A WHILE “takes apart the fostering experience as few books have-from the newcomer’s point of view…VERDICT Most books with this much purpose fall down on the ­lessons. This one transcends them, for a true story of how a home happens.”

 — School Library Journal

Happy Book birthday to HOME FOR A WHILE, Lauren. Everything about this book is so huggable!

Lauren Kerstein: Awww! Thank you so much!

Q1. I love your YouTube reading of HOME FOR A WHILE, and the activities you share about how to take charge of your feelings. What big feelings have you experienced as HOME FOR A WHILE went from idea seed to manuscript to this Book Launch?

Lauren Kerstein: I am so happy to hear you enjoyed the reading and activities. Wow! I must admit, I have had a lot of BIG feelings. This book poured out of my therapist’s heart. The first twenty or so times I read it, I either teared up or outright cried. I can finally read it without crying. On the flip side, I have experienced so much joy watching this book—this tribute to all of the amazing children and families with whom I’ve worked—come to life. I am excited for the world to meet Calvin!

Q2. I remember last Sept. when we celebrated your second Rosie the Dragon & Charlie book, you told us HOME FOR A WHILE is “straight from your therapist’s heart.” What did you mean by that?

Lauren Kerstein: For years, I worked with children who were in and out of foster care, or who were on the brink of foster care. I watched them struggle to make meaning out of their worlds and of themselves. I wanted to write a book that not only paid homage to them, but also offered a way to help ALL children see their strengths. I hoped I could add some light to dark times, and highlight the incredible resilience and fortitude of the children with whom I’d worked. I also wanted to offer emotion regulation strategies that any child might embrace. Finally, I worked with wonderful, caring foster parents, and I wanted to show the positive ways a person can impact another.

Q3. Given that this is such a unique approach to an important topic, and Magination Press, the children’s imprint of the American Psychological Association, makes sure their books include relevant back matter written by experts or professionals, how did you decide what back matter to include?

Lauren Kerstein: For the first time in a book by Magination Press, the back matter is only available online. Magination Press decided to give the text the breathing space it needed and offer the supplemental information on their website. I decided to focus on emotion regulation in my back matter. We all need help managing our emotions (especially right now) and that felt most helpful and relevant to me.

Q4. How is your work as a clinical social worker similar to writing picture books? How is it different? (and HOW do you balance your time?)

Lauren Kerstein: I love this question! I actually find that there are a lot of commonalities between therapy and writing.

As an author and a therapist, I need to:

  • Identify and build on strengths.
  • Dig deeper into the heart of the conflict.
  • Look beyond the surface of the character/person to their true selves.
  • Think about what growth looks like for that specific person/character.
  • Harness creativity.
  • Be open to feedback.
  • Embrace flexibility.
  • Help the character/person see the amazing qualities they bring to the proverbial table.
  • Identify the back story.
  • Individualize the process for each and every person/book.
  • I also love to ask my clients a developmentally appropriate version of the following questions: If you were reading about this situation in a fiction book, what would you want the character to do? What would you like to see happen? Looking at it through this lens really seems to help.

Balance: Ha! Although my ability to achieve some level of balance has improved, I must admit (in case it wasn’t already obvious) that I’m a bit of a workaholic. But, I’m lucky because I really enjoy my work! In reality, I don’t think of balance as a destination, I think of it as a journey. Here are some strategies that help me on this important journey:

  • I have been slowly decreasing my private practice so that I can increase my writing.
  • I have a rule that I can’t add something to my plate unless I take something off. (This works about 45% of the time.)
  • I deem Wednesdays writing-task only days (Wacky Writing Wednesday) and ensure that I leave about half of the day for creation or revision.
  • I try to “touch” my writing every day, even if it is only for a moment. Connecting on some level with my writing makes the day feel brighter. I often use a 30 or 60-minute sand timer and then either work on ideas, revise, create, research, or review past ideas to see which ones I’d like to explore next.
  • I think of Thursdays as private practice catch-up days.
  • I try to schedule clients only a few days a week and protect other days.
  • I make sure to exercise every single day.
  • I take a 14-minute nap to recharge if I need it.
  • I read wonderful books in a lovely bubble bath every single night!
  • I try to meditate for the last few minutes of my bath.
  • Although I sign into social media, I don’t scroll. I use my trusty sand timer or a stopwatch to limit how much time I’ll allow myself to be on Twitter, FB, and Instagram.
  • Finally, I never used to watch much television, but during the pandemic, my family and I have been watching a variety of entertaining shows together. It is wonderful to have that designated, predictable time to relax together!

So the answer to your question is that I try to find balance by avoiding rabbit holes, and incorporating enriching activities into each day

Q5. What do you hope readers—young and old–will take away from this book?

Lauren Kerstein: I hope readers will walk away with a new perspective—a paradigm shift of sorts. I hope that instead of focusing on their weaknesses, they will see their strengths. And I hope readers will learn that all feelings are okay. It is important to let ourselves feel, even though it is painful and hard. Finally, I hope readers see that although we can’t control tough times, we can control the strategies we employ in the midst of our struggles. We can all be superheroes like Calvin! And finally, may we all have a Maggie in our lives! (Fun fact: I chose the name Maggie because we had the most amazing, intuitive, sweet, and loving rescue dog named Maggie. She passed away, but her unconditional love will remain in our hearts forever.)

Q6. What do you hope the future holds for Calvin?

Lauren Kerstein: I hope that even if Calvin is only with Maggie for a while, his newfound trust, emotion regulation strategies, and ability to see his strengths will support and bolster him wherever he might go.


HOME FOR A WHILE “…is as much a model for foster parents as it is a story to provide validation of foster children’s experiences…Gentle and wise—especially as a read for foster parents.” 

  Kirkus Reviews 



Lauren Kerstein is an author and psychotherapist. She is a Jersey girl at heart who currently lives in Colorado with her husband, their two dragons…er, daughters, and their rescue dog. Lauren is the author of the Rosie the Dragon and Charlie picture book series (Illustrated by Nate Wragg/Two Lions). Her latest picture book, HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press) moves into shelves February 2, 2021. Lauren also writes books in her field. Lauren is one of the founders of #ReVISIONweek, a judge with Rate Your Story, runs a critique business, and is a long-time member of 12×12 and SCBWI.

Her writing goals are simple. Read voraciously. Embrace feedback. Grow each day. Work hard. Be passionate. Write courageously. Touch children’s hearts.

Thank you so much for joining us, Lauren!

#BookGiveaway news: Lauren would love to give away a copy of HOME FOR A WHILE plus some cool PB swag! To enter RT this post on Twitter, Instagram and/or FB, and be sure to tag us both. For bonus points, and another chance at the giveaway, add a comment below and tell us who you’ll be reading this book to.

You can visit Lauren at www.LaurenKerstein.net, and follow her on Twitter @LaurenKerstein , Instagram (laurenkerstein) and FB (https://www.facebook.com/laurenkersteinauthor).

Next up on the blog:


Feb. 9th: Part 2 of Room 313’s Blog Takeover–> WRITING POETRY!

Feb. 16th : #Kidlit author Sandra Nickel talks about her out-of-this-world picture book biography:

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe.

Last but not least–this Thursday,

in honor of all the

I LOVE TO READ events and #WRADs,

my first record,

If You Love Books and You Know It

will drop!

Stay tuned. (Literally!)