I’m also thrilled to shared several recent interviews I’ve done with great folks in the picture book community. I’ve talked a lot about my path to publication, writing process, and advice to other writers.
Interview with Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez of Math is Everywhere. Read here.
Tuesday Debut with Susanna Leonard Hill. Read here.
Panel interview with Maria Marshall on upcoming nonfiction. Read here.
A wonderful review of Pando from Helen Ishmurzin. Read here.
Another wonderful review of Pando from Andrea Koehle Jones. Read here.
More interviews and events to come! Happy reading!
Buckle up! It’s debut time! In exactly one month, my debut picture book, Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees (illustrated by Turine Tran), will hit shelves.
If you preorder (or already have), I will send you a signed bookplate for your copy, and you will be entered to win a Grow Your Own Aspen kit! How cool is that?! You will also be entered to win a *second* signed copy of Pando to share with a friend or leave in a Free Little Library.
Preorders help create book buzz, help new bookstores and readers discover the book by increasing its ranking, and help you get your copy ASAP. They can even influence an author’s future book deals by showing how well their books sell (or don’t). In fact, preordering from an independent bookstore is the single most important thing you can do to support an author (especially a debut author like me).
You can grab a copy from:
Leopard Print Books, who will be hosting my virtual launch party on 8/22 (registration details coming soon).
A story’s first line is an invitation to the reader. In a few short phrases, the author introduces the subject and tone of the story, creating context and mood. This is particularly true of picture books, where low word counts create even more pressure for an opening line that pulls the reader in. So much pressure can make finding just the right words challenging.
Today, I’m going to show you the transformation of my debut’s opening line. Keep reading to the end for details on a critique GIVEAWAY! (Spoiler: everyone who enters wins!)
Finding the Right Words
When I was getting ready to query the manuscript that became my debut, Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees (illustrated by Turine Tran, out from Capstone on August 1st), I thought I had a solid opening.
The environmentally-focused story, which tells the story of 47,000 Aspen trees connected by their roots to form one of the world’s largest living organisms, began with a somewhat long introduction of the trees and their roots.
Then, I entered the fabulous #PBParty contest, where the submission required only sending the first 50 words. Looking at my first 50 words, I realized that there was no tension in my opening. It was all introduction.
I redesigned and tightened the opening to make the best impression I could–cutting the second paragraph to get to meat of the story sooner. I entered the contest with high hopes, but in a crowded field, I didn’t make it to the final round where agents and editors could request my work.
I was a bit crushed, but I kept going. As I read through the finalists’ entries, I saw that agent Mary Cummings was participating in the contest and was looking for books like mine. Feeling hopeful, I sent her my query with this opening line:
“Thousands of trees stand in one grove
So many trees that you could start counting at dawn
And keep counting until the moon rose.”
But when I heard back from Mary, the opening line was the first thing she wanted to change. She pointed out that my opening lines sounded like an attempt at rhyme. A near-rhyme at the beginning of a non-rhyming story sets the wrong expectations for a reader. This invitation-to-the-reader was for the wrong party.
Looking back at this now, I also see that while it introduces the trees, it doesn’t do much other than that and is a bit overwrought.
With Mary’s feedback, I decided to reimagine my opening (again). I wanted to foreshadow the story’s tension between nature and development. I thought of starting with the image of a highway near the forest. I came up with “Near a highway, a forest stands firm.”
It had tension, and I liked the idea of the forest enduring or “standing firm.” And it was a lot shorter (a plus in my book)! But it didn’t sound quite right to my ear. I wanted an adjective before “highway.” A word to describe its sound. But what? I couldn’t find the right word.
I did what any young(ish) person in 2019 would do. I turned to the internet! In the private Facebook group of the 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, I asked for suggestions to describe the sound of a highway. Someone suggested “humming,” which I loved the alliteration of.
I revised to “Near a humming highway, a forest stands firm.” I sent that opening to Mary, which she liked and submitted to publishers.
After getting an offer from Capstone, I began revisions with my wonderful editor. She suggested adding the word “giant” to give the audience a sense of the size of the forest (while that had been the singular focus of my earlier drafts, it wasn’t even included in my revised opening line). So, I revised one last time.
In the final book, the opening line reads “Near a humming highway, a giant forest stands firm.”
A lot of work for nine words, but finding the right words is always worth the effort!
In celebration of Earth Day, I am giving away critiques of the first 50 words of any manuscript.
All you have to do is pre-order Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees between April 18-22. Send proof of purchase on one of those dates and your first 50 words of your manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Earth Day Giveaway” in subject line.
There’s so much to love about this book! Let’s start with the obvious: it is, to quote my preschooler, “silly, silly, SILLY!” Each page turn to a new mixed animal sound invites laughter from listeners of all ages. My toddler also got in on the fun, joyfully repeating animal sounds and declaring “COW NO SAY MEOW!””
Older readers will love the narrator’s pun-filled wordplay on each spread, while younger readers will be drawn in by Scott’s colorful and bold illustrations.
Even the book’s endpapers (those are the papers glued to the insides of the front and back covers) continue the fun. In the front, the animals are saying the wrong sounds, but by the back cover, they’re singing the right tunes. Kids of all ages will find much to love in this joyful and udderly silly read.
Order your copy today to see what everyone’s clucking about. And click here to save your seat at a FREE virtual launch event.
About the author
Kirsti Call is the author of Mootilda’s Bad Mood, and other farm-related picture books. She lives outside of Boston where she gets inspiration from her five kids, husband, and backyard chickens. Instagram @kirsticall; kirsticall.com
About the illustrator
By day, Brandon James Scott is a Creative Director working in animation, and by night he illustrates children’s books. For over a decade, Brandon has worked on a range of hit animated entertainment including his own creation, the award-winning preschool series, Justin Time. He’s passionate for projects that value a sense of adventure, levity and heart—those that bring a genuine curiosity for the fantastic and whimsical world around us. A born and raised Canadian, he currently lives with his family in Toronto, Ontario. brandonjamesscott.com
As a picture book creator, getting high-quality feedback on your work can be a huge hurdle to upping your writing game. Good news! Brian Gehrlein (author of THE BOOK OF RULES–out next year–and creator of pbspotlight.com) is running a FANTASTIC critique giveaway this month!
Some of the biggest names in kidlit, including Ame Dykman, Tara Lazar, and ten top agents (and so many more!), are giving away critiques. This is an amazing opportunity to get professional feedback on your work for $0. That’s right. ZERO DOLLARS. My favorite price of all the prices.
So, hurry over to pbspotlight.com to enter to win before doors close on October 30th.
When you think of teaching science, you might imagine dry, boring textbooks. And if you unexpectedly find yourself homeschooling this year, you might be less than enthused about teaching those.
Luckily for you, your local library is chock full of gorgeous, engaging STEM picture books. These books are perfect for early elementary schoolers and also have great read-aloud qualities for preschoolers. If you have older kids, consider using an engaging picture book to ignite interest in a topic before delving deeper into the details.
I firmly believe that picture books are for everyone from babies to adults. Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer used them to prep for his historic winning streak. And these books are not only informative, but beautifully written and illustrated pieces of art.
I am this cow. She is me. We are one. And we are in a bad moooooooood!
Mootilda’s Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Scwartz and Kristi Call and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci comes out September 1st, and I may need all the time between now and then to list all the things I love about it.
The rhyme rolls off the tongue. The puns are hilarious. The story is quick and fun; full of emotion and action.
Despite Mootilda’s titular bad mood, I can’t read a page of this book without smiling. And there’s this:
This refrain is irresistible. If you can read this without moo-ing, I will award the highest award of the Order of Seriousness because is this seriously silly stuff. My two-year-old mooed with delight. My four-year-old giggled. They both mooed for the next twenty minutes.
Which was great because I could do the dishes in peace. Cheapest babysitting I’ve found in years.
In all seriousness, I love this book (if you can’t tell). It’s 32 pages of perfect rhythm, rhyme, and fun. And let’s not forget the bright and beautiful illustrations! They’re just as packed with fun and emotion as the text.
Underneath it all, there’s a wonderful theme of acknowledging and honoring your emotions. Even if you need to moo to do it! This book is a surefire way to get out of a bad moooooooooood!
Mootilda’s Bad Mood is available for pre-order here! It’s perfect for fans of Click, Clack, Moo, Little Blue Truck, and laughing in general.
Need some good news? Two Tough Trucks has a sequel! And, it’s coming out in less than a month. WOO-HOO!
Last year, I wrote about the delightful Two Tough Trucks as a zippy and fun addition to the back-to-school genre. That its sequel, Two Tough Trucks Get Lost(written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Hilary Leung), would come out during this strange back-to-school season seems like fate.
Two Tough Trucks Get Lost echoes the zooming language and playful illustrations of its predecessor, while showing Rig and Mac dealing with fear and complex emotions as they get lost in the desert.
The book is just as fun for preschoolers as the first with great language, intrigue, and the beautiful backdrop of the American Southwest. But the book also has unexpected depth.
It opened a conversation with my preschooler about his fears (and who doesn’t have some of those right now?). I loved that both Mac and Rig, who are coded as male, are unabashedly afraid and concerned for each other while still being “tough.” Male characters, especially vehicles, still rarely cry in children’s books. I appreciated how Mac and Rig modeled expressing emotions in healthy ways.
In this back-to-school season when there isn’t much to go back to, we’re all feeling a little lost. Seeing two tough trucks find their way home was a comfort and a joy to my truck-loving boys.
Two Tough Trucks Get Lost is out September 1st from Orchard Books/Scholastic. Find your copy here!
And keep your eyes on this space! Next week, we’ll be featuring another fun and fabulous read from Corey Rosen Schwartz that will have you mooing in delight!
It’s a strange time right now. There’s uncertainty and anxiety and cabin fever. And, in difficult times, there are stories. Stories can entertain, transport, and comfort. And, picture books, in particular, foster closeness between reader and listener, parent and child.
That’s why I’m highlighting a fabulous new picture book, which is itself an ode to books and the beauty of a bedtime story. HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS by Janet Sumner Johnson and illustrated by Courtney Dawson is a perfect read for your favorite bookworm.
First a summary:
Shailey loves bedtime, especially reading with her dad. But her dad starts a new job, and it gets in the way of their bedtime routine. So Shailey takes action! She fires her dad, posts a Help Wanted sign, and starts interviews immediately. She is thrilled when her favorite characters from fairytales line up to apply. But Sleeping Beauty can’t stay awake, the Gingerbread Man steals her book, and Snow White brings along her whole team. Shailey is running out of options. Is bedtime ruined forever?
This picture book has loads of humor with unexpected and fun twists on familiar stories. Kids will love guessing who’s going to apply to be Shaileys reader next and what havoc they might wreak. Dawson’s playful art complements Johnson’s clever text, giving the story a light and fun feel (and who doesn’t need that right now?).
But, in the end, it’s the story’s heart that makes it an instant bedtime classic. Because, in the end, there’s no replacing Dad at bedtime. There’s no replacing the coziness of reading with someone you love. And, in difficult times, there’s no replacing the closeness between reader and listener, parent and child.
So grab a copy of HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS here and enjoy a heartwarming story in difficult times.
This is the third in my series of nonfiction picture book reviews (read the first and second) that explores what makes outstanding nonfiction. Have a nonfiction picture book you love? Let me know in comments!
WATER IS WATER (written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin) is a book that I beg my children to read–not that they object. It’s the kind of book that amazes me with its simplicity and poetry. The kind of book I wish I wrote.
Photo credit: my four-year-old.
WATER IS WATER follows the water cycle. It has a wonderful concept, built-in tension for every page turn, perfect rhyme, and a satisfying conclusion (not always easy to pull-off in nonfiction). It is simple, but never simplistic–a great feat for a picture book in my opinion.
Each part of the water cycle is described with kid-relatable examples that celebrate the simple joys of childhood. I love that Paul has taken a science concept and turned it into something familiar and wondrous, beautiful and inviting.
Jason Chin’s art adds an entire storyline that is exclusively told in the illustrations, which perfectly compliments Paul’s sparse poetry.
This book is one my toddler begs for again and again (and he’s not my bookworm child) and one I adore reading.