Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 18, 2022

Book Giveaway: CELEBRATE!: A Happy Book of Firsts by Janet Lawler

Janet Lawler has written a new picture book, CELEBRATE!: A Happy Book of Firsts, illustrated by Brittany Baugus and published by Feiwel & Friends on October 25th. They have agreed to send a copy to the one lucky winner in the US.

Just leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Let me know other things you did to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Janet and Brittany.

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. If you want to make sure you don’t miss seeing that you won, please click “Notify Me of Follow-Up Comments by Email” box. I will leave a comment in reply if you win the book. Thanks!


Our first words, our first steps, these and so much more are things we celebrate!

But when a bird flaps its wings for the first time, or a kitten makes its first climb―do they also celebrate?

Celebrate! is a sweet and joyous rhyming picture book about life’s milestones, how we celebrate, and wondering what else we might accomplish in our lives as we grow!


When sharing a book’s journey to publication, I must sift through scraps of paper, scribbled notes, marked-up manuscripts, incomplete files, and e-mail exchanges with a multitude of professional colleagues. This effort always reminds me of what a long and complicated process it is to get a picture book published! It also gives me the opportunity to feel grateful for the many people who support and contribute to each book’s journey.

I don’t have an exact date for when I began to work on CELEBRATE! I have early versions that I know precede one that is dated in 2011, so it is likely that I began writing this in 2010. From the outset, I had a simple idea that it would be fun to imagine how critters in the animal kingdom might celebrate “firsts.”  We see lots of books about celebrations of human firsts such as baby’s first steps, first word, first bike ride, etc. But what about animals?

My earliest version of this text was 160 words and began:

Do animals celebrate, too,

whenever they do something new?

My musings continued as I imagined what other animals might be doing for the first time:

A fawn standing up on all fours,

A lion the first time it roars,

A peacock parading his tail,

A bunny that finds a new trail…

A woodpecker testing its beak,

An ostrich deciding to peek… 

I read my earliest manuscript to my critique group. A colleague suggested narrowing my focus to animals living in the same habitat. This would make the story more cohesive and easier for an illustrator to tackle. I revised the text by a third, eliminating all the above except the bunny line! (The remaining 100 words included only animals from a country/rural setting.)

I also slightly revised my beginning to clearly invite the reader to “imagine” what these animals might feel and do. (I also write nonfiction, and I am very mindful when writing about animals to let little readers know if I am sharing fact or fiction.)

During the ensuing decade, I did some submitting on my own. There were months and years when this was on a back burner. A couple of years ago, I shared the manuscript with my agent. She made a few suggestions, and I revised a bit more before she began submissions. I was more than ready to celebrate when the manuscript was acquired by Feiwel & Friends in June of 2020!

A few months later, my editor Anna Roberto sent some minor revision requests on the text. She also asked about the approach we were going to take going forward: In terms of execution, do we want to see just the baby animals or did we want to work in some human babies having firsts alongside the animals in a fluid, seamless way that doesn’t seem out of place? If that’s the case, do we want to work in some text with human firsts too…?

I seriously considered revising the text to add human firsts, but I concluded that adding such text created two big issues. First, it would be difficult to determine what “firsts,” at what ages, to include. And second, and maybe more importantly, trying to add in human “firsts” would make the rhyming text far too long and tedious. On a Zoom call, Anna and I agreed that human parallels should be developed through the art and not the text.

On that same call, Anna showed me samples of a couple of illustrators. I thought Brittany Baugus’s charming style and palette would work beautifully with my text. Anna also asked me to think about the book’s title. Shortly thereafter, she proposed a great subtitle that would give my simple CELEBRATE! more context: Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts.

Ihad the opportunity to review sketches in the summer of 2021. Brittany had created a substory of a family experiencing the “firsts” of a young child juxtaposed with the animal “firsts.” I made a few comments and was very happy to see the final art depicting a smooth transition/age range of a child of roughly 0­–3, in a diverse family.

Final review of the text involved quite a bit of back and forth on punctuation, which sounds funny for a book that’s only 100 or so words long. But the punctuation makes a big difference in how the reader comprehends the spare story and moves through the animal spreads. We got it just right in the end.

I am grateful that my editor’s vision directed this book in a way that resulted in a heartwarming book for the youngest audiences, with my text providing a unique take on the magic of early accomplishments. Brittany’s art, and her precious cover, will beg readers to pick up the book and share their own cozy journey with Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts.

And on October 25th, when the book releases, I will pop a bottle to celebrate with my critique group, and later, with my family. Each such celebration is a first for me that never grows old!


Janet Lawler has published more than 30 fiction and nonfiction picture books and early readers. Her work has appeared in Scholastic Book Clubs and the Children’s Book of the Month Club and has been translated into several languages. She is a Connecticut Book Award finalist, winner of the Connecticut Press Club 1st place Award for Children’s Books–Fiction, and her work has received starred reviews.

Janet’s recent titles include OCEANS OF LOVE (Viking, 2022) and WALRUS SONG (Candlewick, 2021; Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection). THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOPE will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2023.

Janet is fascinated by the natural world and finds humor and hope in everyday life. She loves how words make music, and she marvels at the way illustrators add layers to her stories. Learn more at


Brittany Baugus graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in the summer of 2019, with a degree in illustration.

Her digital artwork tends to focus on the importance of shape, color, and texture, and how all three harmonize to create a wonderful composition. Today, her work is mostly geared toward toward children’s T.V., film, and publication.

Represented by the Bright Agency

Thank you Janet for sharing your book and journey with us. This book is so much fun. As parents we know all about firsts and wait and watch for them, but children may not think of first unless they have a younger sibling. I love how you tied with journey with animals and thier first.I am sure kids and parents alike witll love this book and celebrate firsts. Brittany did a wonderful job creating the illustrations to help you tell this story. Good luck with the book! CELEBRATE!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This book has adorable illustrations and sounds heartwarming. I can picture adults and littles cuddling up and smiling while reading this book. I’m an email subscriber and shared on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and tumblr.


    • Thanks so much, Danielle! The book makes me smile every time I look at it – not because I wrote it, but because of Brittany’s adorable art!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the affirmation in this post. I, too, have a few picture books in the works, at various stages in the process. This encouraged me greatly. I would love this beautiful little book!


    • Thank you, Linda. I think persistence and passion are two essentials for anyone writing picture books. Keep at it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for all of that backstory–all for 100 words. Amazing. Will share on FB, Twitter, and Pinterest.


    • I know the backstory seemed long, but I actually cut it back by a lot! Most picture books are long journeys, especially for the author, I think!


      • As a picture book writer wannabe, it’s great to hear that stories take a long time. Mine is, that’s for sure!


  4. There is so much to LOVE is this sweet ‘little'(100 well-chosen words!) picture book which will make the perfect baby shower —and first birthday—gift! Kathy, Yes I receive- and devour- your newsletter!


    • I was super-excited to give the first baby shower gift of an author copy of this book to a dear niece last weekend! Only 5 more days until it releases!


  5. I love this idea so much. It looks to be well done! Congrats on this lovely book.


    • Thanks so much, Marci.


  6. What a neat concept and sweet story and illustrations! Love to see high quality rhyme getting published too!


    • Thank you, Hannah. Yes, rhyme “done right” works so well for little ones. Writers who love and master verse should take publisher cautions against it with a grain of salt, I think. It is especially suited for the youngest audiences.


      • 😊 I taught 1st grade for 5 years…you definitely don’t have to convince me!! But it’s really reassuring to hear success stories from the publishing side.


  7. This book is so adorable! Congratulations, Janet!

    (Kathy, I have a copy, so if my name is pulled, please choose someone else to win a copy.)


    • Thank you, Angie, for stopping by here, and for asking some great interview questions that will help spread the word about this book over on your blog, Love, Laughter, and Life. Merci!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are welcome, Janet! 🙂


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