Happy Book Birthday ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS & 6 Qs on 100+ books by Lori Mortensen

Lori Mortensen’s 100th (+) picture book, ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS (Abrams),

released May 4th, with Illustrations by Rob Sayegh Junior:

“Well-written and full of fun surprises.”

― Kirkus Reviews

THAT calls for a blog-party Q & A!


And boy do we have questions!

Q 1. What was the inspiration for ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS?

Lori Mortensen: When I was young, my sister and I used to spend hours drawing at the kitchen table. Since she was nearly three years older than I was, sometimes I’d compare my drawings to her drawings and wonder why mine weren’t as good as hers.

When I decided to write a story about a frustrated young artist name Arlo, I was tickled to imagine that he could see his drawing in a new way and realize that his drawings were actually wonderful all along.

ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS by Lori Mortensen / Abrams / Interior art by Rob Sayegh, Jr. / 2021

Q 2. Were there any surprises that illustrator Rob Sayegh Jr. brought to the book?

Lori Mortensen: I love Rob Sayegh’s illustrations. One of the fun surprises he brought to this story were all the little octopus references he sprinkled throughout the town before the main story begins—signs, the number eight, an octopus here, a tentacle there. Readers can start enjoying Arlo’s story as soon as they open the book and start looking around.

Q 3. I LOVE the word “disaster-piece.” Did you ever write a manuscript (that turned into a book) that felt like a disaster-piece at first? If so, which one—and what made you keep going?

Lori Mortensen: “Disaster-piece” is a great word, isn’t it? I was delighted when I made it up. However, when I begin writing anything, I have to love something about it to keep working on it, so calling it a “disaster-piece” wouldn’t occur to me even though it might be challenging to write.

I’m always very hopeful when I’m working on something because I know it’s only a matter of time before it evolves into something wonderful.

Q 4. What was the most surprising discovery you made –about Arlo, your process, octopuses (octopi?), or the story itself, as your book, ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS, went from idea to published book?

Lori Mortensen: When I begin writing, I don’t always know where I’m going and that was the case when I began writing ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS. I knew he’d try to draw something and it would go horribly wrong in all kinds of fun and imaginative ways. But the question always is—Then, what? That was the challenge. As an author, I realized the story could have gone off in many different directions at that point.

ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS by Lori Mortensen / Abrams / Interior art by Rob Sayegh, Jr. / 2021

Lori Mortensen: However, whatever direction I decided to go, I knew the ending had to be surprising, yet satisfying. So, I sat at my computer with my fingers curled over the keyboard and thought and thought (as many of my characters do—ha, ha!). Hmmm . . .

Spoiler Alert! (Well–sort of…)

Finally, the perfect ending popped into my head. Who knew that an octopus might be having the same sort of bad drawing day as Arlo? One of the joys of writing is taking a kernel of an idea and coaxing it into something meaningful, memorable, and delightfully unexpected.

Q 5. What do you hope young readers will take away from ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS?

Lori Mortensen: That we’re better than we think we are and maybe the best thing about doing anything is the sheer joy of making the effort. In fact, I recently sat down and drew my own ARLO octopus picture. And—I like it! I think Arlo would like it too.

Nice octopus, Lori!
For a fun activity, check out these preliminary Octopus sketches by Rob, and then try to draw your own!

Speaking of which–> download the BONUS activity guide for ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS here!

Q 6. How have you managed to write more than 100 books and 500 stories and articles? (CONGRATULATIONS!) Any tips for those of us with similar writing goals?

Lori Mortensen: Thanks, Erin! That’s a lot of writing, isn’t it? And that’s what it comes down to—parking yourself at the computer and making it happen word by word. Interestingly, many years ago when I first began writing, I set my sights on children’s magazines and set a goal for myself—100 manuscripts sold. I carefully studied what magazines such as Highlights, Ladybug, Wild Outdoor World, The Friend, and many others published. Then, keeping their style, readership, and tone in mind, I sat down and got to work.

Little by little my manuscripts sold. Each sale boosted my confidence until I met and exceeded my goal. Confidence from magazines sales gave me confidence to pursue other writing goals in the trade and educational market. Along the way there were plenty of rejections—I still get rejections today—but writing children’s literature is such a extraordinary endeavor, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

My writing tips?

  • Read, read, read. (The best writers are readers.)
  • Think about the stories you like and why you like them.
  • Then, show up and write even if your Muse has taken a hike.
  • Have fun. (My best manuscripts are always the ones I had fun writing.)
  • Write the kinds of stories you’d love to read.

To learn more about Lori Mortensen and her 100+ books (Still amazed!) check out LoriMortensen.com,

read her previous blog post (about Kindergarten Lori),

and follow her on Twitter: @lorimortensen

or Facebook: LoriMortensen.

Lori will also be celebrating ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS at Face in a Book on May 15th 11am-1pm.

Go say HI!!!

Happy #TeacherAppreciationWeek –month, YEAR! + FREEBIES

Just like #EarthDay should be EarthYEAR, Teacher Appreciation Week should be 365 days 24/7 –right?

Shout out to ALL of the teachers and librarians who stepped up to make learning fun and meaningful in the last 14 months. Who’s with me?

Pandemic or not, these amazing, dedicated, nurturing humans did NOT stop.

Look at this wonderful book review Mrs. Flicek’s (WI) 1st graders from King Elementary wrote for DEAR EARTH:

Ms. Zapp (top photo) made these very cool SeeSaw activities for her 2nd grade class–and is using DEAR EARTH as a way to teach Friendly Letters:

Mrs. Hopping‘s TK and Kinders sent pictures of PETER EASTER FROG and sweet thank you notes:

Tina Delekta’s 3rd graders at South Maple Elementary (MI) made these wonderful #EarthDay posters:

Thank you #1–> #Teachers & #Librarians: Harper Collins helped me make a YouTube read-aloud of DEAR EARTH for your classroom! Click this link to view and share. More FREEBIES below.

Mrs. Harris’ students in Virginia helped me unbox my new books, sang Happy Birthday to them, and sent me predictions of what PETER EASTER FROG might look like! What fun! Mrs. Harris is so cool, she made the local news!

We Zoomed and Google Met, some went back hybrid, and I’m telling you, the teachers ALL stepped up.

Check out the blog takeover from Mrs. Howard’s (CA) AWESOME 5th/6th graders from room FIVE04: HERE!

I LOVE these reviews from Mrs. Pete’s 5th graders. (CA)

Thank you #2 for you, dear #teachers & #librarians: Here are the links (Spotify, Apple, iTunes, YouTube, Amazon…pretty exciting!) to my #reading song so you can sing it too: “If you love books and you know it…”

Media Tech Lynn Baker sang it with me at our virtual assembly.

Do you see the cool poster Mrs. Baker (Cambridge Heights Elementary / CA) is sharing in the photo above? That’s the reverse of the book jacket to DEAR EARTH. I’m so thrilled that you can repurpose it and encourage Ss to be Earth Heroes all year long.

Be sure to read Ms. Carrie Strayer’s (WA) 4th grade blog takeover (Here. And here. ):–> “Writing is NEVER wrong.”

After Ms. Wilcox’ 1st graders (MI) read DEAR EARTH… they talked about ways they could be heroes. Yayyy!!!! Each student picked three ways that they would be earth heroes. (See their clever craft projects above.) And since one of their goals was to save electricity, they kept their classroom lights off all day–which is wonderful in so many ways!

Interior DEAR EARTH…From Your Friends in Room 5/ Illus. by Luisa Uribe/ Harper Collins

These letters to earth (above) are from the virtual 1st graders from Gaylord Community School MI.

I could go on and on. But the main message of this post is:


Whether it’s one of your former teachers, your child’s teacher (past or present), or teachers you know who keep moving forward in this craziness because they BELIEVE in kids. And their belief in young people makes a difference EVERY day.

As promised: MORE FREEBIES here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you dear educators. Every. Day.

Most Sincerely,

Erin Dealey

Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a #Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory + 4 Qs for Julie Abery = HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Woo-hooo! Time to celebrate!

Julie Abery’s new narrative nonfiction picture book,


How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory

Kids Can Press / Illus. Chris Sasaki

released TODAY, May 4th, 2021!

A vibrant, original picture book.

Booklist, starred review

Exudes inspiration and dedication.

Kirkus Reviews
A JLG selection

Julie Abery has visited the blog several times this past year, but we have been waiting for SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB!

Check out our previous Book Birthday celebrations for the release of her LITTLE ANIMAL series as well as THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN.

Welcome back, Julie!

Julie Abery: Hello Erin, Such a pleasure to be chatting with you again.

Q 1. When did you first dive into writing for children? What has helped you stay afloat since then?

Julie Abery: My first foray into writing for children was a winter play for the Early Childhood Center where I worked. Dancing snowflakes, ice-skating polar bears, and a missing present rap kept me on my toes as 100 under 5s bumbled around on stage. After writing and producing a few more plays, I finally dived into writing for children more seriously. Over the next few years, I took lots of courses, wrote some wobbly manuscripts, read a lot of mentor texts, and attended a SCBWI conference. When I had really got a grip on my rhythm and rhyming skills, I entered a few contests and slowly I began to find my voice. It was winning one of those contests that opened the door to me signing with an agent and getting my first book contract.

I have a wonderful group of critique buddies and kidlit friends that help me navigate my way through the ups and downs of the children’s publishing world. Writing can often feel like swimming in an endless sea, but if you keep diving in sooner or later you will find that pearl, which might just turn into your next book deal!

Q 2. Which swimming event best describes your writing process for this book?

  • Freestyle
  • Backstroke
  • IM/ Individual Medley (Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly, Freestyle)
  • High Dive
  • Treading water

Julie Abery: This made me smile, Erin! I started my writing process for Sakamoto’s Swim Club on the ‘High Dive’! I was determined to write it in prose. I had the story arc in my head, but when I hit the water, I knew something didn’t feel right. So, I switched to ‘Backstroke’ for a while and let the water gently rush over me and the story deepen in my heart, and that’s when rhyming verse started to flow.  

Ditch swimmers~ interior illustration by Chris Sasaki, from SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB / Julie Abery / Kids Can Press

Q 3. They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Are you more like Coach Sakamoto or his swimmers? Bill Smith?

Julie Abery: What a great question! I must admit that I felt a strong attachment to Coach Sakamoto’s story. As a teacher, Sakamoto worked tirelessly to give the kids he taught the opportunity to be the best they could be. He took the swimmers under his wing and applied his scientific knowledge to develop new techniques and improve his swimmers’ strength and speed, despite barely swimming himself. He encouraged them to apply for swimming scholarships at universities. He was dedicated to his young students, he believed in their potential, and in return they trained hard and adopted his tough work ethic.

I connect with Sakamoto because I have seen first-hand how important teachers can be in their students’ lives. As a teacher of the very young, I have always tried to make their first school experience a positive one, where they can move ahead in education excited to learn and meet their potential. Oh, and one more thing… I am not a great swimmer either!

Interior illustration by Chris Sasaki, from SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB / Julie Abery / Kids Can Press

Q 4. What do you hope young readers will take away from this wonderful book?

Julie Abery: Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a story with many themes: breaking free of disadvantage, the importance of a good coach, pride and dedication to the discipline of a sport. Written in spare rhyming verse, with just a few essential thoughts on every page, I hope that young readers will use the space this creates to reflect and be curious, plunge into Chris Sasaki’s vibrant illustrations, and perhaps be inspired in their own lives. And if they love the story, they should read the author’s note at the back for more detail on the Three-Year Swim Club and take some time to investigate themselves.

Interior illustration by Chris Sasaki, from SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB / Julie Abery / Kids Can Press

Julie Abery: Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Erin.

Happy swimming!

Thank YOU, Julie, for sharing this fabulous book with us.

To learn more about Julie Abery, follow her on Twitter:  @juliedawnabery  

Instagram:  juliedawnabery , Facebook,  and her website: LittleRedStoryShed

Happy (almost) Book Birthday Karen Yin WHOLE WHALE = 8 Qs + Inclusion + STEM

I’m thrilled to help celebrate the Book Birthday of WHOLE WHALE on the blog today, the wonderful debut picture book by Karen Yin, Illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff / Barefoot Books / releasing SOON!

Time for some questions!

Q 1.     What was the inspiration for WHOLE WHALE?

Karen Yin: I love wordplay, so when the words “whole whale” popped into my mind after I woke up, I was so taken with the sound of it that I ran to my desk to write it down. That sounds like a typical writer thing to do, but that was a first for me! Many of my stories are driven by titles, and this was no different.

Q 2.     Which of the 100 animals in your book might best represent your writing process for WHOLE WHALE?

Octopus? Bee? Sloth? Giraffe?

Karen Yin: My writing process was bee-like. A refrain kept buzzing in my head—“But surely not a whole whale!” Despite my best intentions, the story insisted on being born as rhyme. The refrain eventually became “But can we fit a whole blue whale?” for rhythm and other reasons, but I still get the chills when I read the original draft. It’s like looking at a photo of your child when they were an infant. When I treated myself to a blue whale plush to celebrate the book’s arrival, I named her Surely.

Surely, the plush blue whale!

Q 3.  Were there any surprises that illustrator Nelleke Verhoeff brought to the book?

Karen Yin: In this meta story, one hundred animals congregate in the pages of the book. I envisioned the spreads filling up with creatures crammed every which way, making the inclusion of a whole blue whale unimaginable. In reality, the repetition had potential to look like wrapping paper, so Nelleke had a cool idea: She zooms in on different animals and plays with size, perspective, and personality as the book fills up. I can’t get enough of her whimsical animals. There’s always something new to look at. I’m so glad Barefoot Books paired us together. Her creative approach matches my raucous text beautifully.

Interior WHOLE WHALE by Karen Yin, Illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff, Barefoot Books

Q 4. Congratulations on your debut picture book!

a.     Any advice for beginning, not-yet-published #kidlit writers?  

Karen Yin: Patience, persistence, and pie.

b.     What prompted the leap from writing flash fiction to picture books?

Karen Yin: To me, picture books are flash fiction for children. By the time I wrote my first picture book in 2019, I had written part of a novel, several scripts, and a dozen short stories. Writing flash fiction helped me write picture books, because I was accustomed to thinking in tight language and story structures. I also have a background in design and art, so it was satisfying to bring my passions together. My meandering journey of going from long form to progressively shorter forms taught me to treasure the power of a single word. I’m out on sub right now with an offbeat board book—wish me luck!

Q 5.     I love your rhyming text (and I’m very picky). Were there any mentor texts you used or influences recent or long ago, that inspired you to write in rhyme?

Karen Yin: Thank you! Two lines in Whole Whale are: “A mink, a moose, a mouse caboose. A monkey and a mother goose.” That was my not-so-secret nod to Mother Goose, the fictional author of English nursery rhymes. When I wrote it, I didn’t think this private joke would survive later revisions, because it was the first thing that flew out of my brain. But it reminds me of my book-filled childhood full of whimsy and humor, so I couldn’t bear to rewrite it. And now Mother Goose is a literal goose.

Interior WHOLE WHALE by Karen Yin, Illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff, Barefoot Books

Q 6.     I am a big fan of books about inclusion, and WHOLE WHALE is inclusion + STEM = win-win!

“When everybody makes some space,

One more can always find a place.”


Might you share a few thoughts on empathy and inclusion in #kidlit, or perhaps recommend other picture books with these themes?

Karen Yin: In Whole Whale, the animals had a Big Conundrum: One of them couldn’t fit inside the book. I wanted children to know that, like the animals, they can question the boundaries they’ve been given and be creative in solving problems. If we all worked together to make space, how many more of us can come and play? For more books on inclusion and social justice, please check out my Bookshop affiliate storefront, DiversePictureBooks.com.

Q 7.  Are there any other fun surprises in Whole Whale?

Karen Yin: My editor, Kate DePalma, and the Barefoot Books team really poured their hearts into this book. When I found out they had painstakingly created a page at the end showing all one hundred animals, with names and numbers, my heart exploded. (It was a mess.) When I wrote it, I imagined it would be fun for kids to find and count the animals, and Barefoot really pushed the STEM aspect of Whole Whale.

Q 8. Can you tell us about your upcoming book, SO NOT GHOUL (Page Street Kids / Fall 2022) and any other projects in the queue?

Karen Yin: Absolutely! So Not Ghoul is about a Chinese American ghost who has trouble fitting in at school because she doesn’t wear a sheet and chains like the other ghosts. It has Chinese-style rituals, ghost proverbs, and Mandarin puns. Page Street Kids shared sketches with me last week, and I’m swooning! It’s a story that’s close to my heart, and I hope everyone loves it.

Oooh–can’t wait to read it!

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today.

To learn more about Karen Yin and her books, see her website: karenyin.com

Follow her on Twitter @KarenYin

and Facebook: KarenYin

Go and wish her a Happy Book Birthday!

Poetry Month + World Book Day + Poem in your Pocket day = “The Book Report” by Erin Dealey

Happy Poetry Month everyone!

My poem, “The Book Report,” works for Poetry Month AND World Book Day OR Poem in your Pocket Day.

See below for the video of me sharing it, or the poem to print out for your class to read together.

Click HERE to watch “The Book Report” video I recorded for PoetryBoost.com.

Or you can check it out on the PoetryBoost.com website here.

Or print this out and put it in your pocket to share with others.

Have fun!

The Book Report

–a poem in two voices

(one of them has homework to do…)

by Erin Dealey

That book you wrote!

That book you wrote!

How did you write that book you wrote?

Did you write it with a pen?

Scratch out words and start again?

Did you sit at your computer?

Wishing you could ride your scooter?

Then your mom said, “Homework, Sam.”

Author, Help!  I’m in a jam.

Do you have a special muse?

Lucky fish or writing shoes?

Crystal ball or magic rock?

Do they work with writer’s block?!

See, I have this book report.

I picked your book because it’s short.

My best friend says it’s also funny.

Do you make a ton of money ———————————————————> ????

Reader, (May I call you Sam?)

Sorry that you’re in a jam.

Tell me, have you read my book?

Given it a teensy look?

That book you wrote!

That book you wrote!

I did not read that book you wrote.

But aren’t you a celebrity?

Say– Could you write this thing for me?

Please! My brain!

It’s stressed. It’s strained.

Did you write it on a train?

At the ocean? When it rained ——————————————————->????

Not on a train, Sam. Not at the sea.

Not in a car, Sam. Don’t you see?

What if you just take a look,

a tiny peek inside my book?

Then maybe you’ll find what you need.

Sam, all you have to do is read.


That book you wrote!

That book you wrote!

Guess what? I READ that book you wrote!

I do not need a lucky fish.

No will-you-do-my-homework wish.

I read your book. I did it! See?

Say–did you write it just for me?

It’s actually good.

You’re number one!

Who knew that reading could be fun?

I’m going to tell everyone!

And best of all,


Ps Thank you, thank you for all the #BookLove for DEAR EARTH…From your Friends in Room 5.

My wish is for all of us to celebrate Earth Day every day, all year.

Want to be an EARTH HERO? You can start here!