Book Reviews · Dive Into Diversity

Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea

I chose a very special book for my second post for Dive Into Diversity. My son, Mason, will be seven years old next month. After he was born, my friend came from Idaho to visit us in Oregon. She brought Mason a beautiful book as well as an inspiring CD for me. I am listening to Women of the World: Acoustic as I write this post. I hadn’t listened to this music in a long time. I also hadn’t read Listen to the Wind in a long time. Mason is now old enough to appreciate this beautiful true story about compassion, celebrating culture, and working together to make the world a better place through education and peace.

Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson ~ art by Susan L. Roth

Listen to the wind

Greg Mortenson stumbled, lost and delirious, into a remote Himalayan village after a failed climb up K2. The villagers saved his life, and he vowed to return and build them a school. The remarkable story of his promise kept is now perfect for reading aloud. Told in the voice of Korphe’s children, this story illuminates the humanity and culture of a relevant and distant part of the world in gorgeous collage, while sharing a riveting example of how one person can change thousands of lives.

The first page of Listen to the Wind introduces young readers to the children of Korphe.

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The last three sentences draw the reader in and set up the story.

“We study in the school that we helped build.

Before our school was built,

we had lessons outside.

We wrote with sticks,

on the ground.”

We learn how the people of Korphe helped Dr. Greg and how Dr. Greg wanted to give back to the people of Korphe. Dr. Greg asked the wise man how he could help. The wise man said, “Listen to the wind.”

Dr. Greg closed his eyes and heard the voices of the children.


The language throughout the entire book is inviting. I love the use of “folds” to describe the mountains.

“We watched him walk away until he disappeared into the folds of the mountains.”


Susan L. Roth’s collage illustrations are breath-taking. I had a difficult time deciding which pages to include in this post!


The outcome of all their hard work is displayed powerfully in the final spread, which includes a letter from the children of Korphe and an illustration of them studying in their new school.

“We are the children of Korphe. Can you hear our voices?

Listen to the wind . . .”



The end of the book includes a beautiful Korphe scrapbook as well as an artist’s note.


My favorite photograph in the scrapbook is of Haji Ali, the wise man who tells Dr. Greg to “listen to the wind.”


To learn more about the story behind Listen to the Wind visit Three Cups of Tea.





Picture Book Pass it On

MARCH-ing Books to Kids

I believe books are one of the most special gifts we can give children. According to Reading is Fundamental (RIF), nearly two-thirds of low-income families in the U.S. DO NOT own books. The literacy initiative Picture Book Pass it On is working hard to get books into the hands of less fortunate children.

I was super excited when I discovered Picture Book Pass it On. I singed five copies of my picture book, Mama’s Purse, and headed down to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance to donate them. Then I wrote a blog post and completed the three PBPiO calls to action. What an incredible feeling to help children in my community!

I love reading. I love picture books. I love helping kids. When I learned about MARCH-ing Books to Kids, I said, “Count me in!”

Picture Book Pass it On is encouraging folks to participate in MARCH-ing Books to Kids during the month of March. The founder of PBPiO, Michelle Eastman, has given kid lit lovers and authors another wonderful opportunity to help children in need through the  Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, Storybook Project.

Michelle discusses the details of MARCH-ing Books to Kids and the VNS Storybook Project in her post:

MARCH-ing Books to Kids…Calling all Book Lovers and Authors to Make a Difference to a Child in Need…

According to Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Nearly two-thirds of low-income families in the U.S. DO NOT own books.  That is just plain wrong.  But, we can help fix it.

girl wagon

I believe that every child’s Bill of Rights should be indelibly inked with the right to have picture books read to him/her and to own their very own books.  Many of us take for granted the sacred ritual of cracking open a picture book, and cuddling together while the words and pictures collectively take us away.  You can probably recall having been read to by your parents or caregivers.  You likely hold a special picture book, from your childhood, close to your heart.  And, until now, you’ve probably not given much thought to how profound that experience can be.

Imagine, never having that.

I CAN imagine a child, growing up, never knowing the power of a picture book.  I WAS that child.  I DO want to lead the charge to ink “Picture Book” on every child’s Bill of Rights.  I’m a mom, teacher, and children’s author who believes, passionately, that we should never, ever, underestimate the power of a picture book.

I celebrate the power of the picture book through my Picture Book Pass it On (#PBPiO) project, encouraging people to donate books to kids in need.

Throughout the month of March we are launching a special initiative called “MARCHing Books to Kids”.  PBPiO encourages book lovers to donate a favorite children’s book, and we invite children’s authors to donate signed copies of their books to the Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, Storybook Project.  The Storybook Project recruits, screens and trains volunteers to work with incarcerated parents and/or grandparents at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women (ICIW) in Mitchellville, Iowa and the Newton Correctional Release Center (CNRC) in Newton, Iowa. Once per month, volunteers work with the mother, grandmother or father. The parent/grandparent and volunteer choose a book from the Storybook library that is appropriate for the child. The parent or grandparent reads the book while the volunteer records the reading onto a digital voice recorder. The book and CD are mailed to the child.

To participate in MARCHing Books to Kids, please follow the 3 calls to action:

#1 Pledge to donate a new picture book/s to Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, Storybook Project.  Authors are invited to sign their books.  Please include a note stating that your book is part of the Picture Book Pass it On/MARCHing Books to Kids initiative.  Books may be mailed to:

VNS of Iowa, Storybook Project

c/o Tabby Kuehl

1111 9th Street

Suite 320

Des Moines, Iowa 50314

#2 Post your pledge on our Facebook page .  Share it on your blog and on social media.  Please include our badge and #PBPiO, and #MARCHingBookstoKids

#3 Pass it on.  When you post about your pledge, challenge one or more friends to join your #PBPiO  giving chain.  Encourage them to take the pledge and keep passing it on…

If distance prohibits your ability to mail books to the Storybook Project.  Please consider donating books to children in need in your own community.  Oh, and be sure to share your giving story on our Facebook page We love to see how books are reaching kids all over the globe.

Please feel free to contact me at

Thank you for making the difference in the lives of children and families!

PBPiO badge

My 3 Calls to Action:

#1 Pledge: I pledge to donate five signed copies of my picture book, Mama’s Purse, to the Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, Storybook Project.

#2 Post: I will share my pledge on the Picture Book Pass it On #PBPiO Facebook page, my blog, and social media:

Facebook author page

Facebook blog page

Facebook book page



#3 Pass it on: I challenge YOU to join the #PBPiO giving chain. Take the pledge and keep passing it on!


Children's books

Big Bad Bubble + More Marvelous Books By Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri

We are huge Adam Rubin/Daniel Salmieri fans. I get the same response every time we read one of their books. “Read it again, Mom!” And again. And again. And again. All their books are clever, fun to read, and down right hilarious. Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri make a great picture book team. Daniel Salmieri’s art is a perfect match for Adam Rubin’s words.

Those Darn Squirrels

those darn squirrels

Old Man Fookwire is a grump who only likes to paint pictures of birds that visit his backyard. The problem is, they fly south every winter, leaving him sad and lonely. So he decides to get them to stay by putting up beautiful birdfeeders filled with seeds and berries. Unfortunately, the squirrels like the treats, too, and make a daring raid on the feeders. The conflict escalates—until the birds depart (as usual), and the squirrels come up with a plan that charms the old grump.

Squirrels love to pester our dog, but this squirrel crossed the line.

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Gutsy squirrel eating Charlie’s food!

Secret Pizza Party

secret pizza party

How does Racoon love pizza? Oh, let him count the ways. He loves the gooey cheesy-ness, salty pepperoni-ness, sweet sweet tomato-ness, and of course the crispity crunchity crust. But someone is always chasing poor Raccoon away from his favorite food with a broom! What’s a hungry raccoon to do? Plan an elaborate secret pizza party, of course!
But shhh! It’s a secret! In fact, you should probably just forget I told you. Nope, no secret pizza party happening here.You didn’t already tell all your friends, did you? Uh oh . . .

Be prepared for pizza requests after reading Secret Pizza Party!

Sophie enjoying her pizza after reading Secret Pizza Party.

Dragons Love Tacos

dragons love pizza

Dragons love tacos. They love chicken tacos, beef tacos, great big tacos, and teeny tiny tacos. So if you want to lure a bunch of dragons to your party, you should definitely serve tacos. Buckets and buckets of tacos. Unfortunately, where there are tacos, there is also salsa. And if a dragon accidentally eats spicy salsa . . . oh, boy. You’re in red-hot trouble.

Sophie made her dragon pretend tacos after reading Dragons Love Tacos.

Pinky the dragon.

Big Bad Bubble

big bad bubble

An ordinary bubble may seem pretty harmless to you. To the monsters of La La Land, however, a fragile, shimmering bubble is an object of terror, and when the frightening habits of bubbles are detailed by a fear-mongering monster, Yerbert, Froofle, and Wumpus run away and cry. But with encouragement from the narrator and from readers—“Go on, Wumpus, you can do it. (Tell Wumpus he can do it.)”—the three learn to confront their fears and triumph over the bubbles!

Big Bad Bubble is by far my children’s favorite Adam Rubin/Daniel Salmieri book. It is wonderful when we discover books that they BOTH love. Mason, six, and Sophie, two, think Big Bad Bubble is the funniest book ever written.

Mogo’s fear of bubbles began when a chewing gum bubble attacked his face when he was a young monster.


Mogo teaches the other monsters why they should fear bubbles. Bubbles are sneaky. They travel in packs. Summer is the feeding frenzy for bubbles.


The narrator encourages the reader to disagree with Mogo, and to cheer on the other monsters.


Tell Wumpus he can do it.


Yerburt, use you fangs.


Froofle, use your claws.


Mogo finally discovers that he can pop bubbles, too.


There is a fun twist at the end of the book that made my kids laugh and laugh.

What did we do after we read Big Bad Bubble for the 17th time? Went outside to blow bubbles, of course!


We can’t wait for the next Adam Rubin/Daniel Salmieri book!

Party time! Hop over and read more fabulous kid lit related posts at these link parties: Kid Lit Blog Hop, Booknificent Thursdays, and The Book Nook.






How to Beat Writer’s Block


I am working on multiple manuscripts in various stages of completion. I tried to develop an idea into a rough draft. Nothing. I tried to revise a rough draft. Nada. I tried to tweak a polished manuscript that was still missing something. Zilch. Did I lose my ability to write? What should I do? How will I get unstuck? Panic. Panic. Panic. I turned off my computer. It cannot be forced. The words will come . . .

My #1 job is being a stay-at-home mom. I beat writer’s block by exploring other creative outlets and reading a lot of mentor texts (picture books). I strive to incorporate reading in most of the activities I do with my children.

Idea jar

My two-year-old daughter, Sophie, and I made a rainy day idea jar. Sophie enjoyed coloring, counting, and putting the popsicle sticks in the mason jar. We came up with a lot of fun ideas!

  • Play dress up
  • Build a blanket fort
  • Put a puzzle together
  • Play hide-and-seek
  • Make a collage
  • Jump in puddles
  • Play the djembe
  • Call Grandma
  • Water the plants
  • Play trains
  • Make cookies
  • Paint
  • Pillow fight
  • Draw on the chalkboard
  • Legos
  • Coloring books
  • Play a board game
  • Pick something from the toy box


Sophie was ecstatic with the first idea she picked. I turned up the tunes and we boogied down in the kitchen.


Sophie picked read a book for the next idea. She chose I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau, illustrated by Serge Bloch.


Idea jars are great tools for writing prompts. Pull out three idea sticks and write a story. This exercise helped me come up with two picture book ideas.

Go for a walk

One of the wonderful benefits of being a SCBWI member is receiving the SCBWI magazine. I read a great article in the latest issue about the correlation between walking and creativity.


I grabbed the leash and took my dog, Charlie, for a walk to the river. It worked! Ideas for a revision started popping into my head one after another. I keep a pocket-sized notebook and a pen with me at all times because the best ideas come at the most unexpected times. When I am walking with my children I try to remember to be observant and follow their lead. What do they stop to look at? How do they explain what they see? Children share incredible descriptions of their surroundings. Pay attention and take notes. Then read a book about going for a walk when you get home!

Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora celebrates the rich diversity in America’s neighborhoods. Carmelita greets everyone in her neighborhood as she takes her dog, Manny, for a walk. My son is always asking me how to say hello in different languages. These are the hellos you will find in this book: Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, and Hebrew.


Visit your neighborhood greenhouse


Get away from the gray and gloom of winter and go to the greenhouse! The vibrant and warm atmosphere will stimulate your senses and get the creative juices flowing.


Then read a book about gardens! What Does Bunny See?: A Book of Colors and Flowers by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Maggie Smith is a fun rhyming book with page turns children love. A rabbit explores a garden, finding flowers of every color. Rhyming clues invite the reader to answer the question: What does bunny see?



Study books with creative page turns. How can you build anticipation and make your manuscript interactive?

Be silly!

Don’t be afraid to be silly or get messy. Explore different textures with your kids. Draw designs in flour on the kitchen floor. Make creations out of beans, noodles, buttons, strings, paper bags, and toothpicks. You just might discover a new character or setting for a book.


Make monsters with your kids. What do they name them? What sounds do they make? How do they move? Put your story in motion through play.


I never would have imagined playing with window gel clings would lead to a manuscript idea, but it did! Sophie and I put heart gel clings on a window, a drinking glass, and a toilet paper roll, which she claimed was a telescope.


Sophie had another super idea when she wanted to put the hearts in a book. We picked Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda.

here comes the easter cat

Why should the Easter Bunny get all the love? That’s what Cat would like to know. So he decides to take over: He dons his sparkly suit, jumps on his Harley, and roars off into the night. But it turns out delivering Easter eggs is hard work. And it doesn’t leave much time for naps (of which Cat has taken five–no, seven). So when a pooped-out Easter Bunny shows up, and with a treat for Cat, what will Cat do? His surprise solution will be stylish, smart, and even–yes–kind.


Go to the park

It’s important to be around children if you write for children. I write picture books. My children are the perfect ages for this genre. Parks are great locations if you don’t have children or your children are different ages than your target genre. Listen to what they say. Pay attention to the games they invent. Tune into your imagination by observing children as they play.


Read a book about parks! My son loves Big Machines by Karen Wallace.

big machines

Crash! Scrape! Scrunch! A new park is being built. See big machines in action and find out what they do.

Blog about your writing experiences

What tricks work for you? How do you beat writer’s block? What mentor texts do you recommend? Where do you write? How do you make your writing space work for you? What time of day do you write? Do you write best at home? At a coffee shop? A bookstore? The library?

If you are writing a blog post you are writing something. I often write a blog post when I get stuck on a manuscript. The simple act of writing something else stirs up ideas for other writing projects. It feels great get words on that screen.

Take advantage of the moments when you feel motivated to write. Let your kids occupy themselves even if they turn the house upside down. Leave the mess for later and write, write, write.


Read an inspirational book about writing. One of my favorites is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

writing down the bones

I start all my manuscripts with pen and paper because it is a more intimate experience. I feel more connected to my work. I love the rush when ideas come so fast I get a cramp in my hand as it flies across the paper.

Natalie Goldberg writes, “Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.”


Make affirmations and put them in your work area, on the fridge, on a mirror in the bathroom, in your car. Build your confidence. You are a writer! You are a wordsmith! Never give up. Write every chance you get. Don’t worry about grammatical errors. Let go and write, write, write.


Make a victory jar

I am a member of the Facebook group Mothers Writing Picture books. One of the women shared a fabulous idea with the group. She made a mission accomplished jar. Sometimes we can only get in 15-20 minuets of writing per day. I often feel like I am not accomplishing much in such a short amount of time. I decided to make my own victory jar to celebrate my writing accomplishments. Progress is progress whether you write 25 words or 250 words. The next time I am feeling down about my writing journey I will reach inside the jar and remind myself of all my hard work. Celebrate success!


Make an idea jar, go for a walk, visit the greenhouse, be silly, go to the park, write a blog post, make affirmations, make a victory jar, and read! Beat writer’s block and create word strings that sing!


Be sure to check out all the fabulous kid lit related posts on the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

Kid Lit Blog Hop-Button-FINAL


Book Reviews · Dive Into Diversity · Multicultural Children's Book Day

The Sandwich Swap

Multicultural children's book day

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day! Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom have teamed up to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

I try to check out a wide variety of books when we go to the library. I am also participating in the Dive Into Diversity reading challenge. These are the titles my children and I picked out this week:

why mosquitoes

the chicken chasing queen


  • Me I Am! by Jack Prelutsky ~ illustrated by Christine Davenier

Me I am!

The Sandwich Swap by Kelly DiPucchio ~ illustrated by Tricia Tusa

The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich Swap is a story about two friends. Lily eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch. Salma eats a hummus and pita sandwich every day for lunch. Lily has never tasted hummus, and Salma has never tried peanut butter. Lily thinks Salma’s sandwich looks yucky. Salma thinks Lily’s sandwich looks gross. One day, they share their disgust about each other’s sandwiches. Their hurt feelings turn mad and they both say things they don’t mean. A food fight breaks out in the lunch room and all the kids start calling each other names.


The next day, Lily and Salma decide to swap sandwiches. Mmmm! Yummy!


At the end of the book, Salma and Lily meet with the principal to suggest a special event for the school. This spread folds out to reveal a long table with children sharing dishes from all over the world.


The Sandwich Swap celebrates difference and encourages children to learn about cultures through a topic everyone relates to: food. This is a great picture book to pair with a fun family activity. Invite your children to help prepare a meal from a different part of the world.

My son, Mason, is a blue belt in taekwondo. Although he learns a lot in taekwondo, they don’t teach much about South Korea. Mason learned Grand Master’s favorite food is kimchi, and he thinks Grand Master is pretty cool so we will make kimchi for our first dish. Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish of fermented vegetables.

Grand Master
Grand Master signing Mason’s belt at the ATA City of Trees Tournament.

The Sandwich Swap inspired us to learn more about South Korea. First, we looked at a map.

“Wow, South Korea is so far away,” Mason said.

Then I printed a South Korean flag coloring sheet and information about the meaning of the flag.


I am excited to incorporate activities for more multicultural children’s books in my February post for Dive Into Diversity. To learn about participating in Multicultural Children’s book Day click here. There will be a Twitter party tonight at 9 pm EST. Follow #ReadYourWorld to learn about other wonderful multicultural children’s books.

Continue the celebration the rest of the year! Read diverse books for Dive Into Diversity hosted by Rather Be Reading and Reading Wishes!




reading challenge · writing challenge

Reading, Writing, and Revising Challenges

I participated in Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) for the first time last year. I met so many motivated writers and learned about more, and more, and more challenges. I am excited to participate in the Dive Into Diversity reading challenge, 12×12 writing challenge, and ReviMo revising challenge.

What is Dive Into Diversity?


The Dive Into Diversity reading challenge is hosted by Rather Be Reading and Reading Wishes.

Dive Into Diversity officially kicks off on January 1, 2015 and will run through December 31. Each month Reading Wishes and Rather Be Reading (RBR) will publish a diverse post  with a Linky. Simply add a review or post you wrote about diverse books to the Linky, and that’s it!

What does diverse mean exactly?

We loved this explanation from the We Need Diverse Books Tumblr: “We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”

The good stuff.

There are no numbers of books associated with this challenge. Nope. (Though we do hope you challenge yourself to reading at least one diverse book a month.) There is an incentive for those of you who participate each month and also use our hashtag #DiversityDive to spread the word. You know what this means… giveaways and more.

A little help from our friends.

Don’t know where to start and want some suggestions to get you started? No fear, we are here to help! Be sure to check out The Diversity Book Club (they are awesome), Dahlia Adler’s Quiltbag Compredium, and Rebecca’s Diversity Bookshelf on Goodreads.

What is 12×12?


12 x 12 is a year-long writing challenge where members aim to write 12 complete picture book drafts, one per month, for each 12 months of the year. A draft means a story with a beginning, middle, and end – NOT a submission-ready piece. Founded by picture book author Julie Hedlund, 12 x 12 is going into its fourth year in 2015.

All 12 x 12 members get access to an amazing community of 750+ picture book writers at all levels from absolute beginner to multi-published. 12 x 12 offers motivation, support, and accountability to help you write more (LOTS more!) than you would on your own.

Each month we feature a guest post from a talented, multi-published picture book author. These authors generously give away fabulous prizes to help you with your craft.

You’ll get access to members-only 12 x 12 Facebook group, which serves as a support network, a question and answer pool, and a place to share resources. PLUS, 12 x 12 includes a robust online Membership Forum where members can receive feedback on their work and find critique partners. And that’s only the beginning.

*Click here to learn about the 2015 12×12 team of authors and agents!

General membership registration begins on January 14, 2015.

*Click here to sign up for 2015 registration information

What is ReviMo?


2nd Annual ReviMo – Revise More Picture Books Challenge

*January 11th-17th, 2015*

Got picture book drafts piled up collecting dust? Have critiques for your story, but haven’t done a SINGLE thing to improve it? Need a jumpstart to revise? ReviMo is for you!

Each ReviMo, you will be encouraged to REVISE those picture book manuscripts. There will be blogs, graphics (and perhaps vlogs) encouraging you to take out that poopy first (second, third, fifteenth) draft and breathe new life into it. I hope you will join us!

How do you ReviMo, you ask?

Register for ReviMo:
You must (to be eligible for prizes):

1. Register by commenting below (once only please!). Registration closes 10 pm CST 1/11/15.

2. Keep track of how many days you REVISE a picture book manuscript (you are on the honor system) January 11-17th. Those of you who revise 4+ days will be eligible to win fabulous prizes!! There will be a blog post with Rafflecopter on 18th, you can enter to win. There will be daily posts to motivate and inspire you, you can subscribe to my blog to receive the posts by email!

3What counts as REVISING? Making significant and thoughtful changes to a Picture Book Manuscript. If you go through and change a few words that doesn’t count! I want you to stand your manuscripts on their heads, twirl it around and get that outstanding story out!

4. Comment on the daily posts, thank our guests and let us know how your revisions are going!

And for fun:
1. Join ReviMo Facebook Group, click here.
2. Add a twibbon to your Twitter avatar, click here for bug, ReviMo pig coming soon!
3. Check out the previous ReviMo interviews and posts!
4. Add the Official ReviMo Button (link to to your blog.

*Click here to sign up

Kid Lit

Kid Lit 411 Birthday Bash!


Kid Lit 411 is hosting three days of giveaways to celebrate their one year anniversary!

What is Kid Lit 411?

Welcome to Kidlit411, your one stop information shop for children’s writers and illustrators. Our goal is to organize relevant information about writing and illustrating for children in one handy spot, right here. Our site includes:

  • Topical Pages – links to articles and resources organized by topics.
  • Author & Illustrator Spotlights – each week, we feature an author and an illustrator (or an author-illustrator), who share their experience with you.
  • The Weekly 411 – each week, we compile the new links that were added during the week in an update post. You can receive this by email by subscribing to email updates (in the left hand sidebar).

So spend some time with us! Browse, click, connect and welcome to the world of kid lit writers and illustrators! If you’re serious about committing to kid lit, we highly recommend that you join the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI).

About Us

KIDLIT411 founder, Elaine Kiely Kearns is currently chasing the dream as a published author. Armed with a master’s degree in Education and working from her home office, she spends her time perusing the internet for golden nuggets of information about children’s writing and creating her own picture book and middle grade stories.
Sylvia Liu is the other half of KIDLIT411, keeping the site running, adding links, and overseeing the illustrations and Illustrator Spotlight. She is a writer and illustrator. She is the winner of the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices Award and her winning manuscript, A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, will be published as a picture book.  KIDLIT411 links are also contributed by their critique group buddies, Alayne Kay ChristianRenee LaTulippeYvonne MesTeresa Robeson and VICTORIA RICHARDSON WARNECK.

You Can Contribute!

We welcome links and news for the site. Thanks to Sarah Maynard for helping keep our Writing Challenges and Contests & Awards topics up to date.

We also welcome illustrations for the front page. Please send JPGs of your work and your website to

Connect with Us!

Sign up for email updates, and we will send you a weekly post with all the new links added over the past week (The Weekly 411). Join our Facebook group for information and camaraderie. Join our Facebook manuscript swap group to find critique partners.

Show Your Support!

Put the following badge on your websites and link back to us:

(Banner & logo © 2014 Sylvia Liu)

Kidlit411 web badge

Kid Lit 411 is giving away amazing prizes! Signed copies of fabulous children’s books! Manuscript critiques! Phone consultations with literary agents! Spots in incredible kid lit writing classes! And MORE!

And now for the giveaways . . .

All giveaways end at noon, on January 15, 2015.

Day 1: All About Picture Books 

  • THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT, signed by author Drew Daywalt
    Win an autographed copy of the New York Times Bestselling (78 weeks and counting) picture book.

the day the crayons quit

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter


*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  • WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? signed by author-illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi (May 2015 publication)
    What is happening to Spencer’s books each night? Find out in Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s first book that she both authors and illustrates, to be published in May 2015.


*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  • OWL MOON signed by Jane Yolen

    Win a signed copy of the Caldecott winning book, OWL MOON. A classic from the distinguished author, Jane Yolen.


*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  • STREGA NONA signed by Tomie DePaola

    Win a signed copy of the Caldecott winning book, STREGA NONA from the distinguished author-illustrator, Tomie DePaola.


*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  • The Penguin Posse Picture Book Critique Pack (7 critiques!)

 The team behind Kidlit411 is part of a picture book critique group composed of agented, contracted, and published children’s authors. If you win this prize, ALL SEVEN OF US will critique ONE of your picture book manuscripts (under 800 words) just as we would each other’s. Having seven critiques of the same story will give you invaluable feedback on what works and what doesn’t in your story. Members of the team include: 

  • Alayne Kay Christian – author of award-winning independently published picture book, BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA (Blue Whale Press) and founder of Sub Six, a writer’s support group for submissions. Her paid critique service is on hiatus now, so this is a great chance to get a critique from her.
  • Elaine Kiely Kearns – elementary school teacher, children’s author, and founder of KidLit411.
  • Renee LaTulippe – kidlit poet with a published collection of poetry and poems in a number of anthologies; co-author of nine award-winning early readers; founder of The Lyrical Language Lab, which teaches kidlit writers to punch up their prose, and children’s poetry blogger at No Water River.
  • Sylvia Liu – children’s author and illustrator who won the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices Award. Her manuscript, A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, will be published as a picture book. The other half of the Kidlit411 team.
  • Yvonne Mes – children’s author and illustrator whose short stories have been published in The School Magazine (Australia) and anthologies. Her picture books, MEET SIDNEY NOLAN (Random House Australia) and OLIVER’S GRUMBLES (Dragon Tales Publishing) are scheduled for publication in late 2015.
  • Teresa Robeson – children’s and adult author who has been published in Babybug, Ladybug, the SCBWI Bulletin, and other magazines; contributor to several science fiction anthologies; represented by Ella Kennen of Corvisiero Literary Agency.
  • Victoria Warneck – children’s writer who has held editorial positions at McGraw-Hill, The MIT Press, Addison-Wesley, and Pearson Education.

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

Day 2: All About Craft

  • The Craft of Writing Picture Books: Two 20 minute Critiques from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and a Discount Code for all FB members for her PB writing course, PICTURE BOOK A TO ZS: CHARACTER BUILDING IN PICTURE BOOKS
    Picture book author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen was featured in our Author Spotlight in September 2014. She is the founder of Kidlit Writing School and an award-winning author whose books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books. Her website is WWW.SUDIPTA.COM and she blogs  at WWW.NERDYCHICKSRULE.COM.
    She is giving away TWO twenty minute critiques by phone for a PB manuscript or the first ten pages of an MG manuscript.
    In addition, all Kidlit411 Facebook members will get a 10% discount for her newest course, PICTURE BOOK A TO ZS: CHARACTER BUILDING IN PICTURE BOOKS, which starts on Jan. 26. Be sure to join our Facebook group to access that code, good only until January 31st, so don’t delay!

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  •  The Craft of Writing Picture Books part 2: Susanna Hill’s Online Course MAKING PICTURE BOOK MAGIC

    Susanna Leonard Hill is the award-winning author of nearly a dozen picture books, including PUNXUTAWNEY PHYLLIS (a Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), NO SWORD FIGHTING IN THE HOUSE (a Junior Library Guild selection), CAN’T SLEEP WITHOUT SHEEP (a Children’s Book of the Month), and NOT YET ROSE (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award winner).Susanna has generously donated her fabulous online course, Making Picture Book Magic for a May (or later) spot (the class is currently full until May). This award winning author also has a very informative and popular blog at Be sure to be on the lookout for her seasonal contests where you can win fantastic prizes! And you can read a fabulous review of her class by KidLit411 editor Sylvia Liu.

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  • The Craft of Writing Middle Grade: Discount Code for KidLit411 Facebook members for Emma Walton Hamilton’s JUST WRITE FOR MIDDLE GRADE COURSE

    Children’s author Emma Walton Hamilton’s courses on writing picture books, middle grade, and YA, are among the best online writing courses available.

    Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor, and arts educator. With her mother, actress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over twenty children’s books, including THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS SERIES. Kidlit411 featured her in the Author Spotlight in September 2014.

    Kidlit411 editor Sylvia Liu took her 14-week course, Just Write for Middle Grade course and reviewed it on her blog: “. . . I basically took an in depth college-level course on novel writing. The amount of information that was packed into their course was staggering. The weekly lessons and assignments covered the gamut of writing chapter books and middle grade books (and any novel, really) from page 1 to The End and after.”

    Discount code: For our Facebook members, Emma is offering a 10% discount to her Just Write for Middle Grade course. To access the code, please join our Facebook group. This code is good until January 31, 2015.

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  • The Craft of Revision: Line Notes and 30 Minute Phone Call with Editor Elizabeth Laws on a PB manuscript or 20 pages of an MG/YA manuscript

    A self-described children’s and young adult literature fanatic, Elizabeth Law has worked in the publishing field her whole life, first as an Editor at Viking Children’s Books and Puffin Books, then later as Associate Publisher at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers and as Publisher at Egmont USA.

    Currently working as a consultant to authors and editors, Elizabeth has edited 15 New York Times bestselling titles and many American Library Association Notable Books and Best Books for Young Adults Adults. Among the many authors she has edited and published are Adam Rapp, Allen Zadoff, Dan Gutman, Holly Black, Tony diTerlizzi, Andrew Clements, Malorie Blackman, Hilary Knight, G. Brian Karas, Micol Ostow, Ilsa J. Bick and Michael Grant.

    The members of the Kidlit411 team personally recommend Elizabeth’s top notched consultation services and featured her in an Editor Spotlight in September 2014. Be sure to check out the interview for her excellent submission advice. Her website is, and her blog contains invaluable advice.

    Elizabeth is donating her time and expertise. She will review a PB manuscript or 20 pages of an MG/YA manuscript, provide line notes, and meet with you by phone for 30 minutes to go over your manuscript and answer any questions you may have about the 
    business, including questions about agents, submissions, and more.

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

  •  The Craft of Illustration: Will Terry & Jake Parker’s ILLUSTRATING CHILDREN’S BOOKS ($300 value)Author-illustrator Will Terry is known in the kidlit community for his vibrant illustrations and the education he provides on his blog, YouTube videos, and online classes (Folio Academy and The School of Visual Storytelling, or SVS). He was featured in our Author-Illustrator Spotlight in April 2014.
    © Will Terry

    Together with Jake Parker, illustrator, animation designer and comic artist, the SVS is launching a comprehensive illustration course, Illustrating Children’s Books, beginning on January 6 and running through March.

    This professional level online class has two parts. Part 1 (Creating the Artwork) will cover the development of content. It does not focus on mediums, but will teach the decision making process (creating characters, designing the illustration, POV, developing mood, unity of background, thumbnails, roughs, etc.). Part 2 (Business and Marketing) covers the business side of illustration, from submitting to marketing to making dummies to negotiating contracts. A 200 page PDF accompanies this course along with a 20 page assignment workbook.

    Will and Jake have generously donated this course, a $300 value. This is not the live course (which is sold out), but the recorded online version, which will be made available after each live class.

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

 Day 3: Agent Spotlight: Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary (Plus Giveaway)

Agent Lori Kilkelly

As the final day of Kidlit 411’s Birthday Bash, we are pleased to feature Lori Kilkelly, agent at Rodeen Literary Management, an agency representing children’s writers and illustrators, in the Agent Spotlight. 

If you have a completed PB or MG, be sure to enter into her giveaway to bypass the slush pile and query her!

Welcome, Lori!

When did you decide to become an agent?

I wish I could sum this up in a short and sweet kind of way but sadly, I’m going to bore the heck out of all your readers right off the bat.

In ’08 I was a Chicago sales rep covering a seven-state territory and I traveled a LOT. The kind of travel where you fly to a place and then drive to 5 cities while there, organizing 10-15 appointments along the way. I adored my clients but I was exhausted of this tedious travel (one flight cancellation and your whole schedule needed to be rebooked!)

I’ve always been a crazy obsessed fan-girl kind of reader so as I began researching other job opportunities, I also began contemplating other careers. In my research I stumbled across information about the Denver Publishing Institute (DPI), founded in the ’70s at University of Denver by publishing legend Elizabeth Geiser. I applied and was accepted. Unlike most attendees I wasn’t 23 and I wasn’t planning to move to NY and be an editor.

The role of agent seemed to perfectly fulfill my love for my clients, my obsession with reading and my background in marketing. As luck would have it, Paul Rodeen was also a Chicago DPI alum and took me under his wing. I’m now in my fifth year with RLM.

Many writers are on a quest to find an agent. If you could have the perfect client, what characteristics would that client have?

I love that all of my clients are very different – even if I could, I wouldn’t have them all be the same. In addition to being unique people, because I take on my clients at a very measured pace, they are each in a different place in their career. I strive to provide each client with attention personalized to their specific needs.

The one characteristic that I’d say all of my clients have is a willingness and desire to continue honing their craft driven by the belief that growing and learning continues throughout a career, whether writing, illustrating or both.

What do you look for when considering a potential client? Does online presence help? Hinder?

I’m interested in representing someone’s career, not in selling a single manuscript. So, after the submission ms intrigues me, I’ll ask to see more work.

I believe online presence is essential in today’s marketplace. All of my clients have an online presence and I prefer a website as well, though writers have to be a bit more creative in concept until they have a book published.

Of course most people realize that in the somewhat anonymous world of social media, it can be easy to over-share. Funny story – one of our long-married clients had his FB status listed as “open-relationship” so I approached him gently and said, look, that’s cool, it’s your life, but maybe, you know, since this is children’s lit, we just leave that blank or else lock down your FB account so it’s not so public. Turns out he had no idea this was selected and received many an enthusiastic congratulations when he corrected the setting to “Married”!

What do you look for in evaluating picture books? What is your taste? What are your favorite PBs?

First and foremost, a story that will interest a child, not a story that an adult wants to tell to a child.

I love humor but I also love heartwarming.

Generally rhyming isn’t for me.

I love when a story that’s been told a million times in a million different ways surprises me.

Too many favorites so I’ll just pick one classic from my youth – CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS by Judi and Ronald Barrett. If you haven’t read it; it’s not the movie.

What genres do you represent, and do you prefer to see one over another?

While Paul represents almost exclusively picture book and graphic novel author/illustrators and illustrators, generally taking on established authors and illustrators, I’m on the lookout for author/illustrators as well as MG and YA authors.

What are some of your personal dos and don’ts for those writers trying to get an agent?

DO: Your research – read submission guidelines for each agency to which you submit – look on FB pages and agency websites.

DON’T: Assume every agency’s guidelines are the same.

DO: Find an agent’s name to put at the top of your email but indicate if you’re willing to have other agents within in the agency review your sub.

DON’T: Submit without knowing what type of work the agency represents (I can’t tell you how many adult submissions we receive!)

DO: Have a friend/spouse/child proof your email and turn on spellcheck! And DO remember to update the agency name if you’ve included it in the body of the email.

DON’T: (This one might upset a few people, but hear me out.) Tell me in your query that your child inspired you to write this ms. I realize Judith Viorst’s son inspired her to write ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. And it’s awesome (I read it 1 million times, according to my mother and pbs were a LOT longer back then!) And lots of people are inspired to write wonderful books because of their children.

However, you have limited space in a query, and I personally don’t feel that having a child uniquely qualifies a person to write a great ms; so leave it out! Tell me about your qualifications in terms of field(s) of study, occupation, how long you’ve been writing, whether you participate in SCBWI, awards, other books published, etc.

I’m looking first and foremost for someone who has made writing a priority and has usually cranked out lots of crummy mss along with some fairly awesome stuff over a number years of hard work. Later, when we know each other, we’ll happily chat about how your child(ren) inspired you to become a writer.

What are the best and worst parts of being an agent?


  • Only being able to fit a certain amount of reading into each day and wishing I had more time to read and review submissions.
  • Seeing my clients cope with the waiting (oh the patience necessary in this field!) and the “rejection”; although there’s also a satisfaction to knowing a client is growing and accepting that it’s not personal when a project just isn’t right for a particular editor. And of course, having the context of rejection makes a project being acquired that much sweeter – that’s a “BEST.”
  • When an editor who really wants to acquire your client’s ms loses in auction; calling that person to tell them they didn’t get it. Not a fan.


Absolutely everything else:

  • My amazingly awesome clients.
  • Brilliant editors who help make the work the best it can be.
  • The children’s publishing community, which I’ve found to be fantastically tight-knit. There’s so much collaboration and promotion of their colleagues’ work on a daily basis.
  • Seeing a book in print for the first time, when it began as a spark of an idea in your client’s mind.

Can you explain how your author/agent relationship works?

My overarching approach is that my client and I are partners in their publishing career. I believe my role as an agent is to be what my client needs me to be, for them. I tend toward being very hands on, but I represent some clients who have been doing this on their own for years and don’t need me to walk them through each step.

All of my clients run story ideas by me of course, and Paul and I each review every client ms that comes in the door, then we discuss our thoughts and provide feedback.

Beyond that we strive to make all of our clients feel that they are part of the RLM team. Being a writer/illustrator can be lonely – not everyone has a multi-person art studio to go to each day – so, I encourage my clients to “friend” each other on FB, to reach out to their colleagues and ask about watercolors and paper, to join writing groups. And, of course, it’s always nice to get the group together over a glass of wine.

What’s your best piece of advice for writers?

(Just one?!) Write as frequently as possible – every day if you can – and don’t wait for ideal conditions and don’t expect every word to be revolutionary – some days are all about the delete key.

Join a writer’s group with brutally honest, (but constructively so) members.

And read everything you can get your hands on in the genre/age range you want to publish.

Thanks much for your interest and happy creating! 

Thank you so much for the interview, Lori!

Find out more about Rodeen Literary Management by following their Facebook page, Twitter feed (@RodeenLiterary) or website, (where submission guidelines are found).

Giveaway: If you have a completed PB or MG manuscript, you may enter this giveaway. If you win, you will be invited to submit your completed PB or the first 10 pages of your MG manuscript with a pitch summary.

*Click here to enter the Rafflecopter

Good luck!