Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 12, 2019

Book Giveaway – LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE by PJ McIlvaine

PJ McIlvaine has written a picture book titled, LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE. She has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping PJ and Leila!

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


Every year Little Lena has to sit at the little table with all the kids. She tries every year to sit at the big table but the grown-ups tell her she’s just not big enough. Little Lena is determined to show everyone how big she is. This book is full of chaos and heartfelt charm.


LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE, my debut picture book, was a breeze to write. The first draft was snatched up in seconds.  Better still, when it sold, I didn’t have to change a single word. I’m a genius!  I have the golden touch! End of story. Ta-da!

Well, maybe this happened in an alternative universe. However, here on Planet Earth, LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE took quite a few unexpected twists and turns.

My Modus Operandi to writing picture books is that they come to me in a wild burst, fast and furious. I’ll frantically work on a draft, and then let it sit maybe days, weeks, or months. My hard drive is littered with such half-baked creations. For me, writing is like yeast based dough, the longer you let it rise, the better the finished product will be.

At the time, I’d just signed with a new agent, and I was eager to show her how prolific I was. The more stories you have out there the better, right? RIGHT? So Little Lena came to me in a hot flash, the story of a determined little girl who was tired of sitting at the little kid’s table with her annoying, ill-mannered cousins. I’d barely typed the last word before I sent it off to my agent, convinced she’d gush over my brilliance.

But just to be on the safe side, I had a couple of beta readers take a gander at it. They all loved the premise—I knew at least that worked—but some did express reservations about how Lena earned her place at the big table. I’d come with the clever idea of Lena saving the holiday repast by putting out a grease fire in the kitchen. I cackled in glee over how wonderful it was, how organic. And since my agent didn’t raise any alarm bells about it, I wasn’t unduly concerned. I was convinced that editors were going to fight over my Lena like fighting over a wishbone.

Soon the book went out on submission to a slew of editors. Before I could figure out how to use a fire extinguisher came a slew of passes. Again, everyone thought the premise was adorable, but not enough to pursue it further.  More disconcerting, several editors opined that the element of Lena putting out the kitchen fire on her own was all wet.  Deflated, I put Lena went on the back burner.

Flash forward a year or so. I’d parted ways with the agent, and beginning the querying process yet again, never a fun thing. I considered pitching Lena to agents, but sadly gave up on that idea because it had already been submitted to publishers.

But I loved Lena and refused to give up on it. I decided to switch tactics: I’d pitch Lena directly to small presses. This was how I landed on Maria, the publisher/editor of Big Belly Book Co.  She replied almost immediately to my query. Once she read the material, Maria fell in love with the character, but she felt it still wasn’t fully basked.

Thus began a furious flurry of revisions over the course of a weekend, constantly trading suggestions, ideas, emails, and drafts until that crucial AHA moment where we, she, me, the Universe, came up with the PERFECT twist ending. We also deep fried how Lena earned her spot at the adult table with something more much organic, kid friendly, and appropriate. The elements had all been there in plain sight, but it took another pair of eyes to push and prod me beyond my comfort zone.

I was already happy with how Lena was shaping up, but getting the amazing artist Leila Nabih on board to illustrate the book was a stroke of genius.  Leila brought Lena and her zany family to life in ways I hadn’t imagined.  Like turkey and stuffing, it was meant to be.

What made the entire process even more special to me was that the genesis of Little Lena came from my own childhood, even though I didn’t fully realize it at the time I first wrote it. You see, I had my own boorish brat at the little kid’s table: my older brother Mikey. He made my life miserable at the kid’s table with his loud noises, awful manners, and rude comments.  Being a prim and proper eater, I was mortified and embarrassed. Now that I’m older, I’ve come to realize just how precious those memories are. My brother tragically passed some years ago, but I know in my heart that whatever table he’s sitting at now, he’s getting a kick out of Lena.

My biggest takeaways from LITTLE LENA AT THE BIG TABLE: Don’t be afraid to dig deep. Write outside of your comfort zone.  When you think it’s done, take a deep breath and put it aside. Wait for it to properly rise. And when other writers point out problematic issues, toss your ego in the garbage. Don’t be that writer who serves up a half-baked book that’s still raw inside.


PJ McIlvaine was born with a pen in her hand, a prolific and creative children’s author/screenwriter/writer/journalist. Her debut picture book Little Lena and the Big Table (June 2019, Big Belly Book Co.), illustrations by Leila Nabih, is about a determined little girl tired of being stuck with her annoying cousins at the kid’s table for holiday meals, only to discover that the big table isn’t any better.

PJ is also a co-host of #PBPitch, the premiere Twitter pitch party for picture book creators.

PJ has been published in numerous outlets including The New York Times and Newsday, and is a regular contributor for The Children’s Book Insider newsletter (paid firewall), writing about the path to publication and interviews with established and debut kid lit authors.

Also,she is critically acclaimed Showtime original family movie MY HORRIBLE YEAR with Mimi Rogers, Karen Allen, and Eric Stoltz, was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.

PJ is now represented by the amazing Heather Cashman of Storm Literary Agency.


Leila’s illustrations combine hand drawn lines and digital elements. She loves drawing bunnies and cats, as well as little boys and girls. At the moment she is working on a few self initiated educational projects to benefit her two year old toddler and submitting picture book dummies to a variety of publishing houses. She has self published a couple of books and is currently working on another two. She has also been commissioned to design and create picture books as gifts for little children from their parents, aunts or friends.

Leila has a French baccalauréat in sciences, a Bachelors degree in chemistry with a thesis in organic chemistry, a Masters degree in international business and a certificate of achievement in illustrating children’s books from a London based school. She speaks several languages and have grown up and lived in around 10 countries across the world (so far). Leila was featured on Illustrator Saturday.

PJ thank you for sharing your book and its’ process with us. I can remember wanting to sit at the big table. It was like a right of passage. I am sure kids will find this a fun read. The combo of your text and Leila’s art makes this book something special. Good Luck!

Talk tomorrow,




  1. Oh yes, the big table! Not the same issues here, but when I was little, all the kids in our large extended family sat at the kids’ table – which was actually really fun. But, of course, we all wanted to grow up and be allowed at the big people’s table. Well, funny thing for us was, when we got big enough, there still wasn’t enough table space! And not long after, most of us had our own babies and were expected to sit with them to watch over them! We laughed really hard sharing this observation in our twenties. Plus, how would the cousin who started the ritual of “testing” the chocolates in the big special box of various types get away with this if we were right under the grownups noses? So I am certain your story is going to be a hit with readers.

    My process is much the same as yours – well except that I’m illustrating as well. Which brings me hope. Thanks for sharing the details!

    – bonnie “fireUrchin” lambourn


  2. Great article. Your path to publication is a great lesson to us all. Perseverance, being open to new ideas, and having creative feedback are all so important. I can’t wait to get a copy of this! Congratulations PJ, from a fellow Storm Sister!


  3. What a cute book! There is always one “bigger” kid who is trying so hard to make it to the big table. Even with our grands, the oldest is very proud of fitting in, the next in line is anxiously waiting to get there, and the next in line loudly complains! The two littlest could care less right now. LOL. Adorable story. Congratulations!

    I will share on Twitter and I follow by email, Kathy. 🙂


  4. We had a kids table at my grandparents’ house at Thanksgiving!


  5. This book is the sweetest! Such a relatable book for everyone and so well done! 🙂


  6. It’s reassuring to hear that you struggled through a lot of false starts before finding your perfect ending. I can’t wait to see the twist! (Kathy, I subscribe to this blog.)


  7. I tweeted the link =)


  8. This book looks really cute. Thanks for the story of your journey.


  9. Thanks for sharing your book’s journey. It’s encouraging to see a story has potential, just needs the right direction. Shared on Twitter and receive your daily emails.


  10. Love hearing about the process and cant wait to read this book!


  11. Love this interview ! Thank you for the hope and inspiration for a new writer 🙂


  12. A very interesting pathway to publication! Thank you for sharing. I think a lot of kids will relate to the “kids” table! I look forward to reading it. The illustrations are wonderful!

    I shared on twitter. I get your blog everyday!


  13. The twists and turns to get Little Lena out in the world, glad you persevered. As you know, Pj, I really enjoy your book. It’s so relatable!


  14. We had a kids table when the entire family gets together for holidays but now with quite a number of grandchildren they won’t all fit! Thank you for sharing your road to publication and congratulations!

    I receive and enjoy your blog every day, Kathy.


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