Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 30, 2020

Book Giveaway: A YEAR OF EVERYDAY WONDERS by Cheryl Klein


From first haircut to first ice-cream cone, each year brings a new cycle of experiences

With each new year come countless little wonders. From the highs—first snowfall, first new umbrella, first beach trip—to the lows—first missed bus, first lost umbrella, first sunburn—every year older means another cycle of everyday experiences.
In their clever, playful, observant picture book, acclaimed author Cheryl B. Klein and illustrator Qin Leng explore many truths of childhood through a calendar year of small moments that, all together, comprise what it is to be a kid.


A Year of Everyday Wonders came out of my brain.

“Well, duh,” you say. “ALL books come from writers’ brains. What other body part would they come from?”

(Don’t answer that. Especially if you’re a second-grade boy.)

But no, this one really came out of my brain — or more precisely, the way my brain works, the patterns it’s built up for its own happiness, functioning, and optimization over the course of forty-two years of life.

One of those patterns is OCCASIONS. Ever since I was a child, I’ve liked celebrating things, and finding things to celebrate:  my birthday, a friend’s birthday, my half-birthday, the last day of school, my family’s first trip to a little lake beach in the summer, the first snowfall of the year, or the first time I wear a new dress. Over time, this broadened out to include firsts and lasts of all kinds: the first time I take my heavy blanket off my bed in spring, and put it back on in the fall; my first ice cream cone of the summer, and pumpkin spice item in the autumn; a last day at a job, or a first visit to a new restaurant. I don’t celebrate most of these in any way besides noticing the event, the first or last. But that noticing does create a brief moment of pleasure — at a new beginning or ending, as well as participating in the pattern of occasions at all — and offers a way of keeping my life fresh for myself (especially, I will add, in the “Groundhog Day” repetition of 2020).

A related observational pattern is THE THING THAT WATCHES. All writers have this pattern, I think (and indeed this one takes its name for me from the website of another writer, Maud Newton: While real life is going on around us, we might be participating in the conversation or the action, but something else in us is standing separate, watching. It takes notes on how an experience feels or how people react. It thinks, I could do something with that. The vast majority of the material that the Thing That Watches collects is simply absorbed into our understanding of reality, and it then comes out when we sit down to create characters and a world. But sometimes the Thing fixes on some idea or item in particular, and that leads directly to a book.

A third pattern is LISTS. The world is wide and chaotic, and the method my brain chooses to simplify and organize it is, most often, a list. (You’ll see that I am engaged in this pattern right now.) The items in these lists often get organized via another pattern, which we might call NARRATIVE STRUCTURE-FINDING, growing out of my life as a reader and my job as a children’s book editor: what is the start of the story, where is the climax, how do the list items lead from one to the next, how does it all connect? (This applies to even a grocery list, as I put together the story of how I’ll move from one aisle to a next and what I’ll collect on the way.)

Finally, this one isn’t a pattern of my brain so much as an impetus to creative work in general — what I guess I might call THE BERNHARDT PRINCIPLE. In 2016, just before my adult book The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults was published, I finally worked out a story for a list of rhyming words that had been rattling around in my brain for years. That story became my first picture book, Wings. My agent sold it to a lovely editor, Emma Ledbetter of Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, and I now knew something about myself I hadn’t known before:  I could write decent picture books, and I enjoyed doing so. The great actress Sarah Bernhardt once said, “Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” In other words, getting into a creative habit leads to doing more creative work; and after generating a creative energy in myself by writing Wings, I wanted to keep that energy going.

So in the fall of 2017, the Thing That Watches noticed that I was marking an Occasion. (Perhaps the turning of the leaves? I don’t remember.) It also recognized that I marked Occasions all year round, that I could indeed make a List of such events, organized by the Narrative Structure of a year. The Bernhardt Principle said, “You could make a picture-book text out of that.”

And so I sat down and did it.

Two more items that are worth noting about this book and its journey:  First, the text was very deliberately written to be completed by an illustrator. It begins:

First day of the new year

First wakeup

First waffles

First fight with your brother

First snowfall

First snowballs

First hot chocolate

First stories

A protagonist is not specified here in any way—gender, race, class (other than this family being secure enough to own a waffle iron), geographic location (other than the action happening somewhere that it snows in January, which could be most of the Northern Hemisphere). That meant the illustrator would establish all of those things through the details shown in the pictures . . . and this delighted me, because I knew a good illustrator could have a lot of fun with the text, and I was curious to see in what directions an artist might take it.

My agent sent the manuscript out to editors late in the year, and nothing quite worked out for it. But then, in June of 2018, we heard from Emma, who by then had become the editorial director for picture books at Abrams Books for Young Readers. She remembered the manuscript from its earlier submission; she wanted to work with the illustrator Qin Leng, who was gifted at making everyday domestic moments magical; and she thought Qin could do a marvelous job illustrating the text. And she was right!

So the second item, following out of the first, is that A Year of Everyday Wonders exists because of Qin and her brain, as much as my own. And I couldn’t be happier about that.



Cheryl Klein is the editorial director at Lee & Low Books. She is also the author of two adult books, The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults and Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, and three picture books, Wings, Thunder Trucks, and A Year of Magical Thinking. Prior to her work at Lee & Low, she spent sixteen years at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, where she published a wide array of acclaimed titles and served as the continuity editor for the last two books of the Harry Potter series. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and can be found online here and as @chavelaque.



Qin Leng is a designer and illustrator known for her illustrations of children books. She graduated from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and has received many awards for her animated short films and artwork.

Throughout her career, Qin has illustrated picture books, magazines and book covers with publishers around the world. Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, written by Chieri Uegaki, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and received the APALA Award for best picture book.

She lives in Toronto, with her husband and her son.


Cheryl, thanks for sharing your book and journey with us. I love how you bought us a book of first experiences through a Childs eye. Qin did a fabulous job bringing your story to life. Good luck with the book.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Cheryl, what a great post. I really enjoyed “living” vicariously through your capture and creation of the idea and love what Qin did with the illustrations. Her reminds me of Shirley Hughes’ illustrations, such magical everyday family occurrences. Can’t wait to see this book. Congrats!


  2. wonderful concept


  3. This is lovely! I would love to win a copy.


  4. This book looks adorable! Congratulations, Cheryl and Qin!

    I will tweet this and I follow by email. 🙂


  5. Reblogged this on Terry Pierce and commented:
    This looks like a lovely picture book that celebrates everyday occassions a child might experience. So important, especially in these times, to stop and appreciate simple pleasures.


  6. Love this -looks wonderful -congrats!


  7. Congrats, Cheryl & Qin! This sounds like a fantastic picture book.


  8. Congratulations, Cheryl and Qin! Looks like a wonderful book!


  9. So needed! We need things to celebrate.


  10. Sounds wonderful! Congratulations to Cheryl and Qin!!


  11. What a great idea! I can’t wait to read the book.


  12. This sounds absolutely fabulous! Cheryl Klein truly does write the magic words!


  13. This looks like a perfectly enchanting book. The illustrations are adorable. Thanks for the post.


  14. This looks wonderful!


  15. What a great idea! Looks wonderful. Congrats, Cheryl & Qin!! Great work.


  16. Perfect blend of words and art!
    I shared –


  17. What a wonderful post! I loved hearing the story of how this book came to be. And I’d love to win a copy (and I subscribe). Happy New Year to all!


  18. I enjoyed the back story of this book & how the illustrator brought the sparse text to life.


  19. What a special book. This will open up conversations with children about their own everydays.


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