Back-To-School Read: TWO TOUGH TRUCKS

Think a truck book can’t be filled with musicality, empathy, and friendship? Think again! TWO TOUGH TRUCKS written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung (out today from Scholastic) puts a new spin on vehicle books by wrapping up a sweet story in a tough cover. It’s also a perfect back-to-school read, especially for kids having a bumpy start to the school year.


From the title alone I knew TWO TOUGH TRUCKS would be a hit in my house. I have two small truck lovers–not unlike the titular trucks, Mack and Rig. What I didn’t expect was how the text would hum and zip through a multi-layered story that touches on empathy, growth, and friendship before crossing the finish line.

Without further ado, let’s get to the story. First, a synopsis:

Two trucks off to school for their first day of class. One riding the brakes. One hitting the gas.

Mack and Rig couldn’t be more different. One loves the fast lane. The other, the off-ramp.

But when they’re forced to pair up on their first day of school, can Mack and Rig figure out a way to get along and learn what it really means to be a tough truck? Get ready to vroom and zoom your way to fun and friendship with these two lovable and tough trucks!

What my preschooler loves about this book

As expected, this book is incredibly kid-friendly.

Vehicle sounds are always a hit, but TWO TOUGH TRUCKS elevates the form to pure poetry. The rhythm and rhyme are sure to appeal to even the most reticent reader, and Leung’s eye-catching illustrations complement the text’s energy.

The story follows literal twists and turns–moving quickly across landscapes. Clever page turns build suspense and keep kids fully engaged in the story.

What I love about this book

Under the story’s energetic packaging are surprisingly gentle themes, including one of my favorites–the growth mindset.

Mack and Rig have different problems, both familiar to most parents and teachers. One struggles with a new assignment. The other breezes at first, but wants to quit when things get hard. In the end, they help each other through obstacles and become friends along the way.

Set on the first day of school, TWO TOUGH TRUCKS is hopeful read for kids who will be encountering new challenges and personalities in their classrooms.

And one that will keep them smiling from beginning to end. Order it here (or get it at your favorite bookstore!)


Preschooler-Approved Picture Book: TRUCKER AND TRAIN

There was never any doubt that a a book called TRUCKER AND TRAIN would end up a Preschooler-Approved Picture Book. If there’s one thing my kid loves more than trains, it’s trucks. But, Hannah Stark’s wonderful debut (illustrated by Bob Kolar) goes well beyond its kid-friendly premise to create something magical.


TRUCKER AND TRAIN arrives at the station on August 6th from Clarion Books. Let’s start with a synopsis:

Trucker, the big rig, loves to rule the road with his size, strength, and mighty horn. The other vehicles swerve and shake as Trucker blasts past, expecting them to follow along in awe. Then Trucker meets the louder, stronger, and kinder Train. He sees how the other vehicles gleam and swoon when Train is around. And he wonders, Why don’t they ever gleam at me?

Trucker just wants Train to go away . . . until a broken railroad crossing signal changes everything. Can Trucker use his size and strength for the good of his fellow vehicles before it’s too late?

Why My Preschooler Loves This Book

This book is kid-friendly from start to finish. My preschooler particularly loved Stark’s deft use of onomatopoeia (trains in our home will forever go “tic-a-tic-a-clack, tic-a-tic-a-clack). The story is packed full of wonderful sounds and rhythm that suggesting a buzzing and lively highway. Entering TRUCKER AND TRAIN’s world is guaranteed fun.

There are also great educational hooks that my kid ate up. Counting by twos? Yes, please! Easy-to-read repeated words? Youbetcha! The engaging story sneaks in the educational bits so they go down as easily as veggies hidden in mac-and-cheese.

Why I Love This Book

Seeing my kid so excited about reading always melts my heart. But, there’s so much here to love. All the great sounds mean I make my kid laugh when I read it–and it’s fun for me every time. And, above all, the story’s message of friendship and kindness is a winner.

Order your copy here.  Learn more about TRUCKER AND TRAIN–with fun activities coming soon–on Hannah’s website.

Kids’ Summer Read: THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST

This week, we’re taking a break from our Preschooler-Approved Picture Book series to bring you a perfect read for school-aged kids (and just in time for summer!): THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST by Lydia Lukidis (illustrated by Andre Ceolin).

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As always, let’s start with a summary of the story:

Arun and Keya find the perfect tree for a tree house. Too bad it comes with a battered bees’ nest! These bees need a new home―right away! Tying into the popular Makers Movement, Makers Make It Work is a series of fun easy-to-read stories that focus on problem-solving and hands-on action. This charming story explores the Makers theme of Beekeeping and includes explanatory sidebars and an insect-related activity for young makers to try themselves!

This book is chock full of fun information about bees and beekeeping that will delight the elementary school crowd, but never loses sight of the story. And, the story is a wonderful mix of overcoming fears, celebrating the environment, and modeling sibling cooperation.

In the beginning of the story, Arun and Keya overcome their (understandable) misgivings about dealing with bees with the help of a patient mentor, Dr. Chen. The book shows how something scary can become something manageable (and even fun) with a little help, know-how, and beekeeping gear.

Once Arun and Keya learn more about bees, they begin to care for the bees and wonder about their well-being. This twist shows how a little knowledge and lead to a greater investment and love for the environment.

Finally, the book shows a wonderful (if somewhat rare) occurrence: two siblings working together and, at the end, truly celebrating one another. Another wonderful aspect of this book is that all the characters are people of color.

This book is a great way to keep kids learning over the summer in a way they’ll actually enjoy. Warning: after reading, your kids may want a beehive for their own backyard.

If you want to take that risk (and I recommend you do), pick up a copy here.


Preschooler-Approved Picture Book: A FATHER’S LOVE

It’s time for another installment of Preschooler-Approved Picture Books! Today, I’m excited to share Hannah Holt’s wonderful A FATHER’S LOVE (illustrated by Yee Von Chan).


This heartwarming picture book is great for Father’s Day, and my preschooler can’t get enough of it.

Let’s start with a quick synopsis of the book:

Throughout the animal kingdom, in every part of the world, fathers love and care for their babies. This book takes readers around the globe and across the animal kingdom, showcasing the many ways fathers have of demonstrating their love. Whether it’s a penguin papa snuggling with his baby in the frosty white snow, a lion dad playing with his cub in a yellow field, or a seahorse father protecting his young inside his pouch in the deep blue ocean, we see that a father’s love comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Why My Kid Loves This Book

A few features of this book make it particularly preschooler-friendly.

  1. Rhythm and rhyme–Holt’s deft use of rhythm and rhyme make the book a delightful read-aloud. The text’s soothing rhythm also gives the book a bedtime feel, though it’s great for reading anytime.
  2. Animals–The book features zoo favorites, like lions and penguins, alongside more obscure animals, like marmosets and emus. My preschooler loves identifying familiar animals and learning about new ones. Older kids would enjoy the book’s backmatter that includes additional information on each species of dads.
  3. Colors–Each animal’s habitat is described with a color with color-coordinated text. The penguins, for example, live in “swirling clouds of frosty white.”  This extra educational hook is particularly appealing to preschoolers, who can use the text’s color to help identify the corresponding words.

Why I Love This Book

While picture books are mostly for children, they’re also for the adult who reads them forty-seven times a day. And, I love A FATHER’S LOVE as much as my kid does.

Not only did he learn things from this book, but so did I. The animals included in the book are diverse with some unexpected species. Who knew that falcon dads sit on the eggs while the moms hunt? Not me!

Speaking of the falcons, I love that the book emphasizes nurturing roles that animal fathers take on and highlights some “non-traditional” roles of animal mothers.

And, then there’s the writing itself. The language is simple enough for a child, but never simplistic.  Every color included in the book, for example, is modified (the lions live in not just a yellow field, but a one of “hazy yellow”). And, the rhymes are unexpected (“hazy yellow” is rhymed with “lazy fellow”). The tone often feels lyrical, which is quite the feat considering the language also had to support rhythm, rhyme, and (oh, yeah) the story.

Most importantly, the book makes a child feel loved and nurtured. And, how could you ask for more than that?

All in all, A FATHER’S LOVE is a beautiful story of paternal love, masterfully-told and beautifully illustrated. And, it’s (not coincidentally) available in time for Father’s Day.

Pick up a copy here for a special dad in your life.




Today, I’m THRILLED to feature my first “Preschooler-Approved Picture Book” review. And, there’s no better book to start with than Elaine Kiely Kearns’ debut, NOAH NOASAURUS (illustrated by Colin Jack), which will be published on April 1st (no fooling!) by Albert Whitman Company.


Elaine is graciously giving away a SIGNED copy of NOAH NOASAURUS to one lucky reader. For a chance to win, comment below or retweet this post from my Twitter handle (@kateallenfox) by Friday, March 8th.

So, what is a preschooler-approved picture book?

My preschooler is a certified book monster–gobbling down every book he can. But, he finds some books tastier than others. This is the first post in a new series where I’ll profile books that receive his highest seal of approval: endless begging for seconds.

I’ll tell you what he likes about the book and what I like about it as the person who reads it umpteen-and-a-half times a day.

Why Book Monster loves NOAH NOASAURUS

Before we dive in, here’s a quick synopsis of the story:

Noah Noasaurus woke up feeling very No. No to brushing his teeth. No to eating breakfast. And definitely No to playing with his little brother. Things only get worse when Noah goes for a walk and relentlessly cheerful Toby Rex, Brian Brontosaurus, and Ava Ceratops follow him. Together, the group starts a bona fide dino parade that even Noah can’t resist. This lighthearted, whimsical story will have readers laughing along at Noah and his friends—as well as at their own bad moods


When NOAH NOASAURUS landed in my inbox, the kid-appeal was evident at first click. Let’s start with the obvious: dinosaurs. Now, my kid isn’t particularly into dinosaurs (trucks are more his jam), but I’d be hard-pressed to find a child under 5 who is anti-dinosaurs.

Colin Jack’s colorful and inviting illustrations make the most of this perennially popular topic. Noah and his friends are so visually appealing that, despite Noah’s titular grumpiness, I’d invite them in for dinner before even thinking of running away in terror.

The upbeat visuals marry perfectly with the delightful story that follows Noah as he tries to stay in a bad mood, despite the warm support of his family and friends. Small kids are able to follow the story due to its preschooler-friendly word choice and brisk pacing. The narrative arc is also wonderfully applicable to kids in the 3–5 age range, who often find themselves wrestling with their own emotions.

But, what my kid LOVES most about this story is right in the title: the NOs! The repetition of the simple word “no” gives him the opportunity to identify a word. He feels like an active participant in the story’s creation. And, let’s be honest: the kid loves a parent-sanctioned opportunity to yell “NO!”

Why Mom-of-Book-Monster loves NOAH NOASAURUS

So, why do I love this book? For many of the same reasons my kid does, but from a slightly different angle. I love that:

  • he is able to participate in the story, building his reading confidence and enjoyment.
  • the pacing makes it a quick read before nap or bed (or really, anytime he crawls in my lap and tells me to read “the dinosaur book”).
  • the story shows him that bad moods can be overcome and perhaps, more importantly, that bad moods are okay.
  • there are jokes, and I love any picture book that throws a few puns or jokes my way!

NOAH NOASAURUS fires on all cylinders for preschoolers and their grown-ups, and I’m certain would appeal to older kids as well. Heck, I still wake up feeling very “no” a few times a week.

Learn more about Elaine and NOAH NOASAURUS on her website. You can see other reviews and find pre-order info on Goodreads.

Let me know in the comments what makes your favorite picture book particularly kid-friendly. And, don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a SIGNED copy of NOAH NOASAURUS by commenting below or retweeting!

Have a book that you’d like my book monster to devour and review? Send me a note through my contact page!

This is Not My Flower

This Valentine’s Day story is my first entry in one of Susanna Hill’s writing contests. It’s a play on Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat. Hope you enjoy!

This is Not My Flower (214 words)

This is not my flower.

I took it. From right over there.

Ms. Thomas didn’t need it. She has soooo many already.

I don’t have any at all. Or a card or even those chalky heart candies.

She won’t even notice it’s gone!

What if all the other kids see I don’t have a single Valentine?

I’ll tell you what! They’ll think I’m a L-O-S-E-R.

What if Ms. Thomas misses it? No, she won’t! She has like 30 flowers! Who needs 30 flowers?! I mean, save some for the bees! Sheesh, lady!

I need it waaayyyy more.

I can put it in my mouth and dance a tango.

I can put in my hair and dance a hula.

I can pull off each petal, make a wish, and let it float on the wind to a fairy wish-granter…There are like 50 wishes here!

I have so many wishes!

I’d wish for cookies—like the ones Ms. Thomas brings us on Fridays.

I’d wish for books—like the ones in the classroom…

Most of all, I’d wish for a friend—like Ms. Thomas is.

Ms. Thomas!

[Ms. Thomas]: Yes, Liam?

This is not my flower.

[Ms. Thomas]: Of course it is. I brought one for everyone.

Really?! Can I give mine back to you?

…Can I have a cookie?


9 Publishers Accepting Unagented Picture Book Submissions

Whether or not to seek agent representation is one of the biggest decisions in an author’s career. If you find yourself unagented by choice or by circumstance, however, finding publishers who accept unagented submissions is critical.

While odds may be long in the slush pile, they’re better than no odds at all. Here are nine publishers (in alphabetical order) I’ve found that currently accept unagented picture book submissions.

[Note: Please research all publishers thoroughly before submitting your work.]


What they’re looking for:  According to its website, Charlesbridge is seeking stories for young readers that “offer accurate information, promote a positive worldview, and embrace a child’s innate sense of wonder and fun.”

How to submit: By mail. Details here.

Chronicle Books

What they’re looking for: According to its website, “Chronicle Books publishes an eclectic mixture of traditional and innovative children’s books. We are looking for projects that have a unique bent—be it in subject matter, writing style, or illustrative technique—and that will lend our list a distinctive flair. We are interested in fiction and nonfiction books for children of all ages, as well as board books, decks, activity kits, and other unusual or ‘novelty’ formats.”

How to submit: By mail. Details here.

Creston Books

What they’re looking for: According to its website, “Creston Books is author/illustrator driven, with talented, award-winning creators given more editorial freedom and control than in a typical New York house. ”

How to submit: By email or contact form. Details here.

Holiday House

What they’re looking for: According to their website, they specialize in

  • Stories for ages four and up
  • “Quality hardcovers”
  • No mass-market books (e.g., activity books, pop-ups)

How to submit: By email or mail. Details here.

Innovation Press

What they’re looking for: According to their website, they are seeking submissions

  • “that appeal primarily to a PreK-5th grade audience”
  • “hybrid texts that blend fiction elements with nonfiction elements”
  • “that make [them] laugh”
  • have an #ownvoices perspective

How to submit: By email. Details here.

Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books)

What they’re looking for: Little Bigfoot, the children’s book imprint of Sasquatch Books, introduces the wonder found in the Pacific Northwest to young children and their families across the country.”

How to submit: By mail. Details here.

Page Street Publishing

What they’re looking for: According to its website, Page Street Publishing “publish[es] children’s books focusing on new talent and artist-led narrative picture books in all genres for ages 4-8, biographies for ages 8-12, occasionally board books for ages 0-3, and visually driven concept books.”

How to submit: By email. Details here.

Penny Candy–Open February and March only

What they’re looking for: Penny Candy focuses on “underrepresented, unheard, or forgotten voices.” Additionally, owing to their founders being poets, they are interested in finding work that reflects their belief that language is an “intricate, complex, wonderful, and diverse affair.”

How to submit: Through Submittable (open only in February and March). Details here.

Sky Pony Press (Skyhorse Publishing)

What they’re looking for: Sky Pony is open to all genres and is looking for “original concepts, fresh voices, and writing that knocks us off [their] feet.”

How to submit: By email. Details here.

Kondo-ing My Writing Word-by-Word

As previous blog posts attest, I relish a Netflix binge. And, last month, Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up was quite bingeable.

For those unacquainted, the show–based on Kondo’s bestselling book–helps clutter-prone Americans free themselves from unneeded possessions. The foundation of Kondo’s method is to keep only items that “spark joy.”

As a lover of decluttering, this “spark joy” business was music to my ears (though, by the end of the show, it was so oft-repeated, it sounded more like an earworm than a symphony). (Un)fortunately for me, I was teetering on the edge of minimalism after a big move and had almost nothing left to toss. Was I doomed to live vicariously through other people’s decluttering?

Then, I realized I could Kondo-ize my writing. Unnecessary words clutter even my most-revised work. And short-form pieces, like picture books, buckle under the weight. Could I trim my weigh to a better book? It was worth a shot.

At the top of the cut list: “that,” “just,” “so,” “but,” and “and.” Adverbs (heaven forbid). Dependent phrases.

I tried to get back to basics: subject-(zesty) verb-object.

Has it worked? Not entirely. I still love some word-clutter (source: this blog post). But, like the Americans on Kondo’s show, I’ve improved (but maybe still have a closet of figurines in the guest bedroom).

Still, when I revise, now I think about every word. Do I need it? Does it spark joy? Or, to borrow from Gandhi, does it improve upon the silence?



Writing: The Joy and Self-Doubt

I remember when writing was pure joy. I was nine. I wrote poems. They were short. They were about small things that captivated me. I thought they were lovely. I still think they’re lovely.

I got older. A niggling question entered my brain: was any of it good? Writing was still a joy. But that joy was rarely unaccompanied by its obnoxious companion: self-doubt.

As I started writing more “seriously,” I also began taking myself too seriously. Eventually, I remembered that this was supposed to fun.

Good writing is a joy to read. That’s doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious in topic or tone, of course. But, the writer’s joy in the written word is there on the page, not hidden behind self-consciousness.

A good writer tells the reader, “Come with me. I have something to show you.” Without confidence, who will want to follow me?

I’m taking a page from nine-year-old me. I’m remembering that this was supposed to be fun and letting the words fall where they may.

Critique (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Critique. Depending on where you are in your writing journey that word might inspire fear or excitement–or both! For a long time, I was terrified of critique, and I kept my work cocooned in my Google docs where prying eyes couldn’t reach it. Part of me knew I was stunting my growth as a writer by not getting feedback, but the thought of criticism was too scary to face. What if my work was terrible?

Critique is fun–really!

As I got more serious about writing, I knew I had to overcome my fears. I started small. I used the KidLit 411 Manuscript Swap (more info on it here) Sending out my work made my heart race a bit, and I avoided looking at the feedback until I was well-rested and in a good frame of mind (something I still do). But, I discovered something amazing: critique was fun!

Pretty much every time I send out a story to other writers, I get comments that make me go, “Ahhh! Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s exhilarating to get closer to the best version of my story, and other writers consistently see opportunities to make my pieces better. They help me raise the stakes, perfect my pacing, or make my ending just a bit more satisfying. Without other writers, I would keep missing opportunities to bring my work to the next level.

I also love giving feedback on other people’s work. When I swap stories, I’m amazed at the inventiveness and creativity of other writers, which makes me feel better about rejections (the competition is pretty amazing!). And, by seeing multiple drafts of another writer’s work, I get a sense for how a work progresses from first draft to final. Even better, my feedback and suggestions helped another writer improve her work, which gives me both the warm-and-fuzzies and a confidence boost. Remember that you–yes, you–have something to offer other writers.

How to find critique groups and partners

Are you excited about critique yet? Awesome! …Now what? For a long time, I didn’t know how to find critique groups. My friends and family were supportive but didn’t bring a writer’s lens to how to improve my work (or didn’t want to hurt my feelings).

As with many problems, the internet is here to help. (Note: my suggestions here are specific to kidlit.) I’ve already mentioned the KidLit 411 Manuscript Swap, which is a great place to start. Another huge resource is SCBWI. Join and attend meetings in your local area. I’ve consistently found other writers looking for critique partners, and they’re awesome people who love to nerd out about children’s books. What could be better? Resolve to swap contact info with at least three people at your next SCBWI meeting.

Not a member of SCBWI? You can still often join the Facebook group for your local chapter and post to see if there local writers who want to form a group. There are other online resources to help you improve your writing including the Children’s Book Academy and the 12 x 12 Challenge. These resources are not free, but come highly recommended for newer writers.

The most important thing is to find something that works for you. I enjoy meeting with critique groups and partners in person, but also appreciate additional feedback I can get from online groups. Setting a monthly critique group meeting encourages me to keep writing new picture books, so I have new work to share. Before my monthly meeting, I can use the KidLit 411 page to get one round of feedback, and then I get another at my in-person meeting. All these little milestones and deadlines keep me energized and writing.

What works for you?