Jennifer Swanson has a new non-ficiton picture book, BEASTLY BIONICS, published by National Geographic Kids. Jennifer has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is 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 Jennifer, especially at this stressful time when authors and illustrators need to promote their books completely online.

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!


Discover how the natural world inspires innovation in science and technology to create the latest and greatest breakthroughs and discoveries in this exciting book.

Did you know that scientists have developed a bionic tool shaped like an elephant’s trunk that helps lift heavy objects? Or that the needle-like pointed beak of the kingfisher bird encouraged engineers in Japan to change the design of the Shinkansen “bullet trains” to reduce noise? Across multiple fields of study and methods of problem-solving, scientists are turning to biomimicry, or engineering inspired by biology or nature, to make all kinds of cool technological advancements. From robots that protect people and gather information to everyday inventions, like reflectors on the roads and ice-proof coatings for airplanes, to new sources of renewable energy, this book dives into the ways that nature can give us ideas on how to improve our world. Discover more than 40 examples of technology influenced by animals, learn about some of the incredible creatures who have inspired multiple creations, and meet some of the scientists and the stories behind their inventions.



The journey for all of my books about science start in the same way, back when I was a kid. I have loved science my whole life. When I was 7 years old, I started a science club in my garage. I used to look at flowers and leaves through the microscope my mom bought me to see if I could discover how they were made. My dad had a work bench back then and I was right there with my brothers making cars, gadgets, and all kinds of little inventions. For those of you that remember, MacGyver was one of my favorite shows growing up, too. When I began writing professionally (many years later), it only seemed natural that I write about the STEM/STEAM topics I love.

I’ve discovered that my favorite type of books to write are the ones about engineering and technology, because that’s what fascinates me. Learning how engineers and scientists identify a problem and then set about solving it is just amazing to me.

When I discovered the field of biomimicry, the science of studying nature and then mimicking it to create something helpful to humans, I was hooked. I started the research and got more and more excited. There was SO MUCH being done in this field. I knew I had to share it with young readers.

I wrote up a quick proposal and sent it to my National Geographic Kids editor. She was very interested, particularly because NGKids prides themselves on introducing awesome STEM/STEAM topics to kids. Add to that their amazing photographers and photo editors, and I’m thrilled to say that this book turned out to be a vivid and unique look at an exciting STEM field.

When you’re writing a tech-heavy book for kids, the big question is, where do you start? Of course, the goal is to present your topic in the most unique and exciting way.

For that, I always ask myself one question—

“If I were a 10-year-old kid, what would I want to know about biomimicry/bionics? ”

That question has served me well for many of my books. For example, in my Save the Crash-test Dummies book, it is the history of car safety engineering told through the lens of a crash-test dummy. And in my Astronaut-Aquanaut book it gave readers a unique compare and contrast look at two distinctly different environments.

But while those two books had some narrative in them, Beastly Bionics lent itself to a highly expository structure. For two reasons—

  1. I wanted to put in as many inventions as possible.
  2. Almost all of the inventions in the book are still in development. Not many of them have made it out of the prototype stage yet.

So I settled on an invention a spread. Each page has different sections in as you can see below. Each one explains a different part of the process.

They are:

Design Dilemma

Building Bionics

Helpful Additions

Did You Know?

Because I think STEM/STEAM books are best when they are a bit of both expository and narrative, each chapter starts out with a little story

For me, the excitement of this topic is what work is being done NOW. I felt very strongly that this book should not just include technology that has been proven, but also technology that is still in the creative process. I want to show young readers what is possible and how they can imagine something and work to make it a reality. The idea is a bit revolutionary in terms of children’s books, because most books cover information that has already been proven. Thankfully, my But National Geographic Kids editor agreed.

There is one section in each chapter that addresses more in-depth how the engineer or scientist developed the idea. This was my way of showing kids how the creator thought up this project. And hopefully, they will be surprised at just what gave the engineer/scientist their idea.

I hope they see this book as an exciting peek into the laboratories of actual science and engineering being created as they “watch”.  The book was structured to introduce the readers to the animals, and their unique characteristics that can help humans, and then how the engineers and scientists used that as inspiration to create these robots. This book will hopefully engage readers and get them to think about the world around them and be inspired by what they see. After all, nature is an amazingly wonderful template filled with awesome animals to mimic.

How would I love this book to be used by teachers/librarians? Allow your student’s imaginations to soar. Ask them to go out, find an animal, observe it, and then design a bionic invention from that animal that could help someone. I’d love to know, — What would YOU design?


Jennifer began her writing career at the age of five when she wrote and illustrated books for her kindergarten class. A self-professed science geek, Jennifer has always been captivated by the world around her and is curious to understand how it works. As a young childe she used to gather leaves and flowers and look at them under a microscope, wade through her backyard creek, and tromp through woods. She has carried that love of science her whole life.

Jennifer has a B.S. in chemistry from the U. S. Naval Academy and an M.S. Ed in K-8 science from Walden University. In addition to being an award-winning author, she is also a middle school science instructor for John Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth.

Now, Jennifer Swanson is the award winning author of over 40+ nonfiction books for children, mostly about science and technology. Jennifer’s love of STEM began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science and technology resonates in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge), Astronaut-Aquanaut, and Save the Crash-test Dummies. Her books have received many accolades including the starred reviews, Booklist Best Tech books list, Green Earth Book Honor Award, a Florida Book Award, and multiple California Reading Association awards, and National Science Teaching BEST STEM awards. her BRAIN GAMES book was even #13 on the The 50 Best Science books Ever Written.

Jennifer, Thank you for sharing your book and journey with us. It seems everyone is fascinated with nature and the creatures in our world. I love that you brought science and technology together and show us how studying nature and then mimicking it can create something helpful to humans. I know kids and adults will be drawn to this book. Good luck!

Talk tomorrow,



Danielle Dufayet won

OTIS P. OLIVER PROTESTS by Keri Caliborne Boyle


L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest is an opportunity for new writers of science fiction and fantasy to have their work judged by some of the masters in the field and discovered by a wide audience.

No entry fee is required and entrants retain all publication rights.

Deadline: June 30th

Entries in the Writers of the Future Contest are adjudicated only by professional writers. Prizes of $1000, $750 and $500 are awarded every three months. From the four quarterly 1st Place winners each year, a panel of judges select one story as the grand prize winner. The writer of the grand-prize-winning story receives the L. Ron Hubbard Golden Pen Award and an additional $5000 cash prize.



For those of you who love to read the book journeys. I am running this book feature again, since it somehow posted last week without the journey. Take a look.

Still time to participate in the book giveaway. Use this link to get in the running and leave a comment and/or share on social media.

Brooke Hecker’s debut picture book, LETTER’S FROM MY TOOTH FAIRY, Illustrated by Deborah Melmon and published by Sleeping Bear Press came out last month. Sleeping Bear Press 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 Brooke and Deborah!

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!


One special rite of passage in childhood is the loss of the first baby tooth. For many children it’s an exhilarating time, while for others the trauma of the first “gap” is cause for mortification. And the journey of losing those baby teeth is not a speedy one–it lasts for nearly six years! In Letters From My Tooth Fairy, Natalie and her devoted tooth fairy exchange letters, asking and answering questions about some of childhood’s most important moments. From the loss of her first tooth as a first grader to losing her last two baby teeth as a confident eleven-year-old, Natalie’s early milestones, including bad school pictures and best friend troubles, are lovingly told through this epistolary relationship. Readers of all ages–those with baby teeth and those years beyond–will cheer for Natalie as she experiences the highs and lows of this time of life. Energetic, colorful artwork perfectly captures the magic of this toothsome tale, making us all wish for our very own tooth fairy.


Letters from My Tooth Fairy is my first book. I had loved to write as a child, particularly things that would make my friends and family laugh, like parodies for TV theme songs, fake newspapers from the perspective of my pets, or a Mad Magazine about my middle school, that I would hand draw and photo-copy at my dad’s office, and then distribute to my classmates. (I recently found an issue of my Middle School Mad Magazine and it holds up!) My parents encouraged my writing, and I had no doubt that one day I would write for my school paper, major in creative writing in college, and more.

When I was in 7th grade, I wrote what I considered to be a “serious” poem about soldiers in the first Gulf War and it was published in the all-school literary magazine. I was so proud and couldn’t wait to come home and show my parents. Later that day at softball practice, I was still on cloud nine, when an older, popular teammate saw my poem, and decided to read it aloud to the entire team. My pride quickly turned to embarrassment, as I realized that she was making fun of me. I can still feel the heat on my cheeks as she laughed and laughed at what I meant to be a mournful and considerate piece of writing. Without giving it much thought, I didn’t write again after that day. I didn’t try out for the school paper. I didn’t take creative writing courses. I never submitted anything else to the literary magazine. I never even put out another issue of Middle School Mad Magazine. Eventually I would make a career working in marketing for a series of cable television networks and I honestly didn’t think much about writing at all.

Cut to twenty five years later, and my daughter Natalie rather dramatically lost her first tooth after falling off the monkey bars at school. She had damaged her top front incisor and the dentist had to pull it out. She was very brave, and received a letter the next morning from the Tooth Fairy that was funny and sweet, and very specific to Natalie’s “heroic story.” As she lost more teeth, the letters continued, and the universe of the Tooth Fairy expanded to include other Tooth Fairies, like when she lost teeth on vacation or on a sleepover. Those letters, combined with Natalie’s own letters to the Tooth Fairy, reflected her growth and development, while following her, and our family, from her pre-reading kindergarten days, to middle school and the brink of adolescence.

Along the way, I was sending each letter to friends and family, and my mother kept telling me that I should turn these into a book. I liked the idea of getting a window into someone’s childhood, all through this relatively specific lens of the Tooth Fairy. In the background of Natalie’s Tooth Fairy letters, you were witnessing all of these milestones in her life – getting a new sibling, moving, and going to sleep away camp, and you also saw some of her everyday childhood concerns, like worrying about looking different, or being jealous of a friend. My mother was right, it was a good idea, but I was not a writer. What business did I have trying to write my first book at 40 years old?

Still, the idea stuck with me, and for about a year, it nagged at me in the back of my mind. I have a friend who writes fiction and she asked around about the pitching process for picture books. The consensus was that for a picture book, I needed to write the entire manuscript before pitching it to an agent. I was advised that the book should cover all twenty childhood teeth, so I talked to my cousin who is an oral surgeon so that I could understand the general age range and order of losing teeth. I wanted to include some educational facts in the book, such as tracking the various kinds of teeth, as well as answer some common questions that kids (and parents) tend to worry about. I remembered that when I got braces, I needed my last molars to be pulled out, and I wanted that to be where the book ended.

Once I had the age range down, I used a list of the twenty childhood teeth as my outline, loosely assigned ages to each, and started to fill in the outline with the real letters that Natalie received from the Tooth Fairy. I probably had six “real” letters at the time, and started brainstorming ideas for the rest. I also fictionalized the existing real letters, and in some cases, divided them into separate teeth: for example, her first tooth was knocked loose at school, and then eventually pulled out by the dentist, which I divided up into three letters – one for her first tooth, one for getting a tooth knocked out at school, and one for getting a tooth pulled by the dentist. Funnily enough, some of the fake letters, like Moving, and Blizzard, ended up becoming real scenarios for Natalie, after I had written them as fiction.

After completing a full draft, I was lucky to work with the agent Elana Roth Parker from Laura Dail Literary Agency. Elana spent a few months with me going back and forth with notes, and we ended up cutting several “Letters”, revising others, and replacing some scenarios with all new ones. Throughout this time, Natalie continued to lose more teeth, so I was able to swap out fictionalized letters with new concepts that I had never even considered before, such as swallowing a tooth. The Swallowed Tooth letter is now one of my favorites, and just the other day, my nephew swallowed his loose tooth while eating breakfast.

Once Elana sold the book to Sleeping Bear Press, I worked with the fantastic editor Barb McNally, and she contracted a very talented and experienced illustrator named Deborah Melmon. I am not an illustrator, and it is a bit nerve wracking to hand off your book to a stranger to do the artwork. I waited anxiously to see how it would all get translated onto the page, and when I first saw Deborah’s art work, I was moved to tears. She captured the love, spirit, and humor of the book in ways that I never thought possible. My favorite illustration is her Tooth Fairy Times newspaper from the Knocked Out letter. It is clever and detailed and hilarious, and took me right back to my Middle School Mad Magazine days and the joys I had writing as a kid, and the future that I now see for myself as a writer.


Brooke Hecker is an author and marketing executive in New York City. She has two daughters, and she sometimes secretly reads their books after they’ve gone to sleep.

Brooke’s debut children’s book Letters from My Tooth Fairy will be released on August 15, 2020, and is based off of the real letters that her daughters have received from their actual Tooth Fairies. Hopefully their Tooth Fairies don’t mind!


Deborah Melmon was featured on Illustrator this Saturday. Over the last ten years, Deborah has illustrated over fifty children’s books which include picture books, readers, and board books. As a free-lance artist, she has also designed greeting cards, gift wrap and fabric. She graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and continued to live in the Bay Area with a nutty terrier named Mack.

My illustration process is a hybrid of pencil sketches, hand-painted backgrounds and textures which I scan into Photoshop and then manipulate digitally. This gives me the ability to submit high resolution art in layers and to also make alterations to the art quickly. I love to create work that is fun and engaging for kids with lots of details and humor.

Brooke thank you for sharing your book and its journey with us. I have a copy of the book and it is great! It is a fun story and the illustrations are perfectly fun, too. Good luck with the book!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 21, 2020

Happy Father’s Day – Fun Facts – Book Winners


Janet Frenck Sheets won KINDERGARTEN HAT by Janet Lawler

Charlotte Sheer won Libraries Most Wanted by Carolyn Leiloglou



Hope you enjoy the illustrations and your day.

KAYLA HARREN: Featured on Illustrator Saturday


Honoring thy father is a concept that dates back to the very roots of human civilization. But the day meant to really make your dad feel special is far, far newer than that — at least in the U.S. While Mother’s Day was established officially in 1914, Father’s Day had a 64-year long road to becoming an officially recognized holiday. It was President Lyndon B. Johnson who declared the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, though it was not yet made a permanent national holiday. It took President Nixon’s re-election campaign to get an official proclamation signed in 1972 to recognize this day as a federal holiday, which is now celebrated with food, gifts, and quality time together. 

Here are some other fun Father’s Day Facts:

1) Father’s Day was invented by American Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd who wanted to honour her father, a veteran who had, as a single parent, raised his six children. The first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910.

2) Unlike Mother’s Day, Father’s Day was originally met with laughter. It was the target of much satire, parody and derision with a local newspaper complaining that it would lead to mindless promotions such as ‘National Clean Your Desk Day’.

3) The first American president to support the concept of Father’s day was President Calvin Coolidge, who did so in 1924… but it wasn’t until in the year 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation that resulted in the declaration of the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day.

4) According to greetings card makers Hallmark, Father’s Day is the fifth-largest card-sending holiday.

5) In Germany, Father’s Day is celebrated differently from other parts of the world. Männertag (Men’s day) is celebrated by getting drunk with wagons of beer and indulging in regional food. Police and emergency services are in high alert during the day.

6) Going for a floral gift? Traditionally fathers should be given the gift of white or red roses. The rose is the official flower for Father’s Day. Wearing a red rose signifies a living father, while a white one represents deceased father.

7) Surprisingly, the trusty slipper gift isn’t the most popular Father’s Day present – it’s actually a tie.

8) The world record for having the most number of children officially recorded is 69 by the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev (1707-1782), a peasant from Moscow. His first wife gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets.

9) Over 40 countries around the world have a special day to honor dads.

VIVIEN MILDERBERG: Featured on Illustrator Saturday

KATY BETZ: Featured on Illustrator Saturday

ANDRE CEOLIN – Featured on Illustrator Saturday 


Roger Roth – Featured on Illustrator Saturday  

KATHRYN HOWARD: Featured on Illustrator Saturday.

PATRICE BARTON – Featured on Illustrator Saturday 

CONSTANZE VON KITZING – Featured on Illustrator Saturday   


Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 20, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Ellen Rooney

Ellen is an illustrator, designer, and artist. She’s from the state of Massachusetts, but now lives in the southern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Her first picture book as illustrator, Her Fearless Run, was published in April, 2019 and busy working on more!

Ellen loves graphic shapes, textured colour, printmaking, drawing outdoors, painting. Her hidden art powers are released when cutting up paper. As a designer, her superpower is x-ray vision: if she stares at dense information, she can see its lovely skeleton just waiting to be shown to the world. She  thinks this is why she really loves interpretive design (stuff like museum exhibits and nature trails). Or, she says, “Maybe I’m just a big nerd. Who can say?”

“I love what I do. I get to collaborate with nice, interesting people from all over the place to make wonderful things I couldn’t make on my own.”


Thinking about ideas and flow using pencils

Digital Sketch to explore lightning and start looking at pages

Cut paper sketching at full trim size to play with layout and shapes.

Digital grey scale sktech at full trim size.

Final color artwork finished in Photoshop.

Interview with Ellen Rooney

How long have you been illustrating?

I did a few pieces here and there over the years, but I think my current “career” goes back to around 2012/2013 when I did a few editorial pieces for magazines. I started working on my first picture book in 2017.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

This goes way back, but I illustrated a book of haiku about Spam. Less said about that the better!

What inspired you to move from Massachusetts to southern Okanagan valley in British Columbia?

It’s not as direct a journey as that sounds. I met my Canadian husband when he was working in Massachusetts and when we got married we decided to move to Victoria, BC. A few years ago we came to the Okanagan to be closer to his family.

Did you go to school for art? Where you go and what did you study?

I have a chequered past with art school. Drawing and painting were part of my undergraduate studies years ago. Then I did evening classes in graphic design. Later I got a BFA after moving to Victoria BC. But I probably learned the most through illustration-focused online classes.

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

I took several of Lilla Rogers’ Make Art That Sells classes online. The instruction is really high quality, and the community of fellow artists around them is so inspiring. She and art director Zoe Tucker developed a book on illustrating children’s books in 2016. It was so useful I took it twice!

Do you feel school helped you develop your style?

Everything helped. I mix media a lot so all my explorations of art have benefitted my current way of working. I’ve always liked collage, but it doesn’t tend to be something you study directly. I have taken a number of printmaking classes and always felt very at-home there. I think printmaking has a kinship with collage and has definitely influenced how I work. So has working as a graphic designer.

Did the school help you find work when you graduated?

The online classes helped. They focused less on technique – everyone has their own approach to that – but filled in the gap of professional skills in the field of illustration. They really focused on creating pieces that demonstrate the skills needed for picture book work. Those pieces led to my first picture book project.

What type of work did you do when you started your career?

I’ve worked in graphic design for many years, and occasionally had the chance to do illustration work as part of my design work. I did a few editorial illustrations for magazines.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

Picture books were always something I dreamed of doing but I always had a lot of interests, and for some years I was going in too many directions. I didn’t know how to focus myself to reach that goal. After we moved to Canada I took some time to reconnect with making art, including studying at the University of Victoria fine arts program. I loved my classes but realized my tendencies were not toward a fine art practice. I was drawn toward the work of illustrators and the medium of the book.

Have you always used cut paper to do your illustrations?

I have an eclectic style, and sometimes I do my cutting with a digital tool like Photoshop. But cutting and collaging has been part of my process for years, so yes.

Was Her Fearless Run you first picture book?

Yes, it was. I couldn’t have asked for a better first manuscript to illustrate.

How did Page Street Kids find you to illustrate the book?

Kristen Nobles saw my online portfolio. I believe she found it through the directory “Women who draw”

Do you have an artist rep, or an agent? If so who, how, and when did you connect? If not, would you be interested in finding one?

No, I don’t have an agent or rep now. I might be interested at some point, if the right one came along.

I just featured Dusk Explorers on Writing and Illustrating this month. Did you sign a two book deal with Page Street Kids when you illustrated Her Fearless Run?

No, two separate contracts. Once I had finished the art for Her Fearless Run, they offered me Dusk Explorers.

How long did PSK give you to illustrate that book?

About 9 months

Have you done any illustrations for other books?

Yes. Grandmother School, by Rina Singh and published by Orca, came out in May. I just finished work on Sounds All Around: The Science of How Sound Works (by Susan Hughes) with Kids Can Press, due out next year.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines? If so, who?


Do you have a studio in your house?


Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate more picture books?

Yes. I would love to write my own. But I’m finding it slow going!

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I work full time but that includes graphic design projects as well as illustration. Illustration is taking more of my time these days, probably 60%.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

I wouldn’t say never, but probably not. I really appreciate the role of the publisher and what they bring to the process.

I know you will have many successes looming in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

That’s kind of you to say. To me it feels like a huge success to be in the place I am right now. Busy with several book projects and more on the way. Having the opportunity to work with manuscripts I love and collaborate with wonderful people in publishing, and seeing the books come out and land in the hands of readers. I have to step back and really be grateful that I’m finally doing this.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Hmm. To actually create final art for a book, the answer is probably collage with textured and painted papers. But drawing in a sketchbook with my pencil is my happy place to be.

Has that changed over time?

My illustration process changes all the time. Because I am mixing together a lot of materials, I’m always discovering new favorites or looking for a materials that fit each new project. So it is essentially the same process but always changing too.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

I often sketch with an iPad (an older, smaller model at present) and finish my artwork digitally on an iMac. I do have a drawing tablet for the computer – an old school Wacom pad that still works so I keep using it.

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

[see photos for some examples]

It’s very eclectic. The photos show some of the materials that were used for Dusk Explorers. I created textures with gouache and coloured pencil on dark paper. I often work on shapes by cutting up plain black paper or construction paper. I scan in a variety of textures and collage and paint with them digitally.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Lately I haven’t had as much time to play and experiment outside of my current projects. But each project includes a phase of playing with materials and finding the right mixture for that particular project.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Definitely. I use reference throughout the project. If it’s a biography I spend lots of time on research and collecting reference images. I also look for other sources of information about the subject, like interviews and other books about them. You never know what kind of details you’ll discover. In fact it’s sometimes hard to know where to stop with research.

Dusk Explorers was more open-ended, which was fun. I was able to generate a lot more reference from observation, which I really enjoy doing. I took walks around my neighborhood in the summer evenings and sketch details: gardens, walls and fences, types of houses, lighting and clouds.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Definitely. Somehow projects keep finding me and I have the internet to thank for that.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Writing and illustrating my own work is a goal. I also dream of doing books in different media; I’d love to do more hands-on work and less digital. I would love to do a whole book using printmaking techniques, and a book just with very simple textured collage.

What are you working on now?

At this moment, I’m working on final artwork for two books. Heart of the Storm (by Sharon Mentyka), a biography of basketball player Sue Bird, will be part of Little Bigfoot’s “Growing to Greatness” biography series. I am also working on a second nonfiction picture book for Kids Can Press. It’s a companion to the book about sound, called Lights Day and Night: The Science of How Light Works by Susan Hughes.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Dollar store paper! And old phone books. For Dusk Explorers I wanted to work on page compositions at the full trim size and be able to play around a lot with cut paper shapes. I buy sketchbooks and construction paper at the dollar store, and use whatever scrap paper I had around. It let me generate composition ideas in a very flexible and experimental way. When I had something I felt was starting to work, I took a photo. I would then use the photo as a starting point for a digital sketch. I don’t use this technique for every project, but it definitely influenced Dusk Explorers.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

I think for me the turning point was focus. I was making art all different ways for years, which has all been useful in my process. However I wasn’t making work that would get me work. I learned to do that through some very focused classes that helped me understand how to equip myself to complete a picture book from start to finish.

Thank you Ellen for sharing your talent and expertise with us. I really appreciate all your thorough answers. Make sure to let us know about your future books. I would love to share them with everyone.

To see more of Ellen’s work, you can visit her at:




Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 19, 2020

June’s Agent of the Month Interview Part Two

It is my pleasure to announce that Katherine Wessbecher at Bradford Literary is our Agent of the Month for June. Scroll down for Part Two of my Interview with Katherine. First Page submission guidelines follow.

Katherine Wessbecher

Bradford Literary Agency

Katherine joined the Bradford Literary Agency in 2020. Prior to becoming an agent, Katherine edited children’s and young adult books at Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, and was the science and technology editor at an academic book review journal. She holds a B.A. in English from the College of William and Mary.

As an editor, Katherine worked with debut and veteran authors, including Sherri L. Smith, Stacey Lee, Keir Graff, Jeff Seymour, and Eliot Sappingfield. She brings to her work a nuanced understanding of the publishing industry and a practiced editorial eye.

Katherine is looking for children’s books (picture books through YA), upmarket adult fiction, and narrative nonfiction for all ages.

In MG and YA, historical fiction and fantasy have been favorites since she was young. But more than genre, she’s looking for the kinds of stories that transport her: to the past, an imagined world, or a perspective wholly different from her own. She’s drawn to stories that push readers to question their assumptions of the world. She’s interested in humorous voices; she’s also a fan of epistolary novels and other unexpected storytelling techniques, like Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files series or Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.

Her favorite picture books are the kind that make both kids and grown-ups laugh. Inventive premises, twist endings, and quirky characters are all good ways to pique her interest.

Katherine is looking for upmarket adult fiction that straddles the literary and commercial divide. Books that inspire her list run the gamut from Where’d You Go, Bernadette to Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. She loves unexpected takes on familiar stories and flawed yet endearing characters. Katherine is actively seeking adult and juvenile narrative nonfiction—particularly projects that highlight stories the history textbooks left out. In the same vein, she’d love to work with nonfiction graphic novel projects like John Hendrix’s The Faithful Spy.

Katherine is not looking for: adult genre fiction (romance, thriller, high fantasy/sci fi), business, poetry, memoirs, or screenplays.

Twitter: @KatWessbecher

Prior to joining Bradford Literary in early 2020, I acquired and edited children’s books at Putnam and was the science and technology editor for an academic book review journal. I’ve got room to grow my client list and am actively seeking new clients in both children’s and adult.I’m most excited by stories that transport me: to the past, to an imagined world, to a perspective wholly different from my own. I’m drawn to stories which push readers to question their assumptions of the world. I’m all for immersive storylines and plot twists I don’t see coming, but first and foremost, I need to connect with the characters on an emotional level (bonus points if they can make me laugh or cry!).

One of the best ways to stand out in my submissions inbox is with a distinctive voice. I’ve got an inexplicable love for unexpected narrative techniques, so send me your epistolary novels in the vein of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files series, Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, or Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Humor is always welcome!

For MG and YA, I’m fond of historical fiction—particularly from settings and perspectives we don’t often read about—and contemporary stories with fresh voices that don’t shy away from weightier themes. On the fantasy and science fiction side, grounded and high are both welcome, as long as worldbuilding doesn’t get in the way of the characters.

On the adult side, I’m selectively seeking upmarket fiction that straddles the literary and commercial divide. I love unexpected takes on familiar stories and flawed yet endearing characters. I’m not seeking genre projects at this time (e.g., no adult romance, mystery, sf/f).

In picture books, my favorites are the kind that make both kids and grown-ups guffaw. Inventive premises, twist endings, and quirky characters are all good ways to pique my interest. I’m a better fit for narrative texts than concept-driven ones.

I’d love to find great adult and juvenile narrative nonfiction—particularly projects that highlight the people and stories the history books left out.

Below is Part Two of My Interview with Katherine:

What are your feelings about prologues?

Prologues are fine, but in some of the submissions I see, the prologue becomes a crutch. The story kicks off with a tense, high-stakes, fragmentary scene, then shifts to a placid Chapter One full of backstory and exposition. Don’t rely on your prologue to hook your audience! I should be able to skip it and still want to keep reading.

Do you have a place where you keep writers up-to-date on what you would like to see? Blog?

The best place to stay current with what I’m looking for is at my agency bio and my profile over at Manuscript Wish List.

Do you give editorial feedback to your clients?

As a former editor I’m pretty hands-on here. I enjoy collaborating with writers on revisions and helping them get their projects in the best shape possible before going out on submission. Clients should expect developmental and/or line edits, depending on what each project needs. Before offering rep I like to hop on the phone with an author to gauge their openness to revisions and see if we’re on the same page in terms of a general direction.

Have you ever represented a children’s book illustrator? Does an illustrator have to write before you would represent them?

For now, I’m focused on authors and author-illustrators. That could change, though!

What is your typical response time to email/phone calls with your clients?

Usually within a business day!

How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during the submission process?

I generally default to email for quick questions and updates and phone calls when a dialogue would be more productive. During the submission process, I pass along updates as I get them.

What happens if you don’t sell a book? Would you drop the writer if he or she wanted to self-publish a book you could not place?

I would encourage a client not to make that decision prematurely, but I wouldn’t automatically part ways with someone who wanted to self-publish a project that doesn’t sell. Self-publishing takes time and effort, though, and it may be in the author’s best interests to work on something new instead. A book deal for a new project sometimes opens doors for the earlier one.

How many editors would you go to before giving up?

Every submission situation is different, so it’s hard to give a number. Just as with querying, there’s a lot to be learned from editor rejections! Submitting to editors in multiple rounds allows us to take their feedback into account, revise, and go out to a new batch of editors with a better manuscript. But sometimes hitting pause and moving on to something new is the right call.

Would you ever send a manuscript to another agent at Bradford if it was good, but not your style?

Yes, this happens all the time!

What do you think of digital and audio books? Are they part of every sale these days?

The audio and ebook terms are negotiated up front in pretty much every book contract, even picture books, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a book will always be available simultaneously in print, digital, and audio formats. Sometimes publishers wait to see if print sales are strong enough to justify producing an audio edition.

Do you handle your own foreign/film rights contracts or does your firm have someone else who handles those contracts?

The excellent Taryn Fagerness Agency represents Bradford’s clients’ work abroad, and we have relationships with film agents.

Do you see any new trends building in the industry?

Graphic novels, and graphic nonfiction, are still growing. There is an ongoing need for more underrepresented voices across the board. I’ve also heard from editors actively looking to add nonfiction picture books to their lists (beyond just picture book biographies).

Any words of wisdom on how a writer can improve their writing, secure an agent, and get published?

Find a critique partner! Get comfortable with the process of using other people’s feedback to hone your writing; you can learn a great deal as well by thoughtfully critiquing others’ work. Writing and querying can feel lonely, so seek out company—look into online communities and mentorship programs like like PBChat or Author Mentor Match, and attend conferences and workshops if you can.

Would you like to attend other conferences, workshops writer’s retreats?

I’m open to invites! My events all went virtual this year, so I’m looking forward to meeting with writers in person again someday soon.




In the subject line, please write “June 2020 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).

PLEASE name the Word document file by putting 2020 JUNE  – Your Name – Title of first page. Thank you.

REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED! Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page.

Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: June 19th. – noon EST

RESULTS: June 26th.

Talk tomorrow,


Cristina Lalli has written and illustrated a new picture book, NOLA’S SCRIBBLES SAVE THE DAY. It’s published by Page Street Kids and hits bookstores on June 23rd. Page Street Kids has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is 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 Cristina, especially at this stressful time when authors and illustrators need to promote their books completely online.

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!


Nola loves her scribbles. They go with her wherever she goes. But she can’t seem to share her scribbles with others―no one seems to understand the imaginative world she’s created for herself. Frustrated and uninspired, Nola draws a blank. A big, boring blank.

But when Nola falls deep into a creative slump, she discovers she’s not alone. If she can find the courage to share her scribbled ideas again, she may just inspire others to think outside the box and give their ideas a try too.

With playful illustrations, this imaginative tale shows readers of all ages the power in persevering to create and embrace unique expression.


Nola’s Scribbles… began as some of my own scribbles and a vague idea about a young girl and her difficulties with the creative process. I had wanted to focus on the idea of scribbling to portray the uninhibited way that children draw before they’re taught anything about the symbols we use to visually communicate, or the idea of perspective, or any kind of drawing instruction, and the immediate aftermath or crushing of the spirit once taught that something doesn’t look “right.” I think it’s relatable to anyone who has struggled with what they want to make and how to communicate it. In addition, whenever I get stressed out and don’t know what to draw or write, I make these almost meditative scribbles and doodles- so it lent itself perfectly to Nola’s character.

The initial concept began about 5 years ago, while I was living and working in the UK and completing the Masters of Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. It was an amazing program, but I felt inadequate compared to my peers, as it had been several years since I had been able to focus on honing my drawing skills. That struggle to find a balance between what I wanted to express, and how I was going to approach it, was my own parallel narrative.

I had shown an early dummy of the book at the Bologna Book Fair in Italy, and received lots of positive feedback from editors, but ultimately no publishing contract. From there, I was approached by a literary agent based in the U.S., and we signed a contract for one year. She had floated my dummy around a bit, but again a bit of interest but no promising future home for this story. I decided not to renew the contract with the agent and became much more proactive in marketing my own work. I joined SCBWI, attended a few conferences participating in portfolio and dummy reviews, and began to research publishers who would accept unsolicited manuscripts. I feel really grateful to have been able to send out my work to publishers and agents who were taking open and unagented submissions- this is how I found Page Street Kids. I remember the thrilling feeling when I knew they were serious about taking a chance on me, and they patiently worked with me to get my first book to where it is now. The concept, text, and illustrations all went through an incredible amount of restructuring but it was all a working lesson for me.

It is both an amazing and terrifying feeling now that my work is finally getting into the hands of children! I am worried that they won’t like it, or that it won’t be understood– but that is exactly the lesson Nola is giving in the book. I’m just going to continue making what I feel I connected with as a child, or I observe other children connecting with, and hopefully there will be a  lot of children out there who can relate.

There will be a virtual storytime on the Page Street Kids Instagram page on the release date, June 23rd– please check it out! Thank you!


Cristina Lalli has always believed that books have a special power. She received a Masters of Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art and has worked in Chicago, New York, and London as a designer, illustrator, and educator. Now settled in Portland, Oregon, she is an active member of SCBWI.

She received a Portfolio Honor Award at SCBWI LA 2018, and was the recipient of the SCBWI 2018 Don Freeman Grant for a pre-published work. This is her debut picture book.

Cristina, thank you for sharing your book and its journey with us. I have a copy and the story of your art not be understood and the feeling of falling into a blank page and not being able to pull yourself out is something creative people can identify with. Besides it being a fun story, the illustrations are perfectly fun, too. Good luck with this very creative book!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 17, 2020

Agent Kaitlyn Johnson – Belcastro Literary Agency

Kaitlyn Johnson is now a Literary Agent with Belcastro Literary Agency, She is accepting submissions for Upper MG, YA, and Adult.

She would love seeing contemporary from voices not already flooding our bookshelves, perspectives that not everyone can claim to be familiar with. She wants fantasy/urban fantasy from non-American/non-European myths and legends, paranormal relevant to the culture and plot. Her paranormal tastes fluctuate, but she’s dying for a great ghost story or ghost hunter story! Also totally interested in vampires (contemporary or historical) if you give her the humor and whimsy of What We Do In The Shadows or some completely new, unique angle for vampires. Give her historical from places we never hear of, battles and events and changes that shifted world views yet never feature in mainstream discussions. Reading of people completely unlike herself, in places she’d love to explore and learn of, captivates her.

She’d love more LGBTQ+ storylines in all genres and ages (especially bi, ace, and trans voices!). Especially MG with first crushes. People just being people and living life and not necessarily focusing on being forced to explain themselves. Kaitlyn loves enemies-to-lovers and blind dates and villain romances. She also is very much looking for more main characters living with mental health issues or disability.

Upper MG

  • Fantasy (high, urban, or magical realism)
  • Contemporary
  • light Sci Fi
  • Horror or Paranormal (more creepy dolls, ghosts, and curses, less blood and guts)
  • Historical

Young Adult

  • Fantasy (high, urban, or magical realism)
  • Contemporary
  • Contemporary Romance
  • Historical
  • Paranormal (ghosts, witches, and vampires if unique; open to new legends/creatures)


  • Fantasy
  • light Sci Fi
  • Historical
  • Contemporary Romance/Rom-Com

For all ages, I really want historical that focuses on perspectives and places not in the mainstream. Give me legends, myths, events, battles that aren’t the everyday titles we see all the time. I’m not huge on retellings unless it’s in-depth and really makes me dig to figure out what story we’re rediscovering. I also really want more LGBTQ+ storylines and mental health themes and love stories where the people are just PEOPLE and it doesn’t have to be expressly about an issue.

Kaitlyn’s Specific wishlist:

  • I’m not huge on retellings. They need to be so deep and layered, that I have to dig before I realize what the retelling actually is based off. I’d love a gender-swap of Hercules retelling aaaand an Atlantis retelling (yes, the freaking amazing movie version).
  • Funny, witty contemporary romance that makes me laugh or heart-squishing romance the likes of Gayle Forman. I’m not a fan of uber dominating men or jock/sports storylines. Probably also not a good fit for female divas as main characters either (whether labeled diva for money, personality, or fashion, just not a fan of reading it). But I DEFF want feminists who find inclusive, non violent ways of pushing back the patriarchy (all genders).
  • I absolutely love darker voices in YA if tackling mental health issues and I’d love to see MG take on some deeper themes (homelessness, foster homes, autism, racism, feminism, etc.). Still looking for an amazing creepy mermaid/siren book as well as a Madame de Pompadour historical! Parent/teen dynamics like those in Easy A are on the wishlist. I also think a rom-com b/w workers in a house redesign or the client/contractor would be hilarious.
  • Really wanting contemporary, modern Wiccan, too, like with homes of hanging herbs and jars of remedies and cats!
  • MG with creepy freaking dolls or poltergeists; no clowns, please!
  • Very much want Graphic Novels! Check my MSWL Twitter posts for specifics

Here’s a run-down of genres she wants in age groups:

Upper MG
– Fantasy, Contemporary, light Sci Fi, Horror (more creepy dolls and curses, less blood and guts), Historical

Young Adult
– Fantasy (high, urban, or magical realism), Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, Historical, Paranormal (ghosts, witches, and vampires if unique; open to new legends/creatures)

– Fantasy, Light Sci Fi, Historical, Contemporary Romance

She does NOT accept:

  • Nonfiction
  • Chapter/Picture Books
  • Thriller/Suspense/Mystery
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Novellas/Poetry/Short Story Collections
  • Stories heavily dependent on religious motives/events/themes
  • Stories heavily dependent on rape, drug or physical abuse
  • Stories focusing on Henry VIII, Shakespeare, American Civil War, or Greek gods/myths

At the end of the day, though, I just want great writing! Lyrical, literary, commercial—if the voice is strong, I’ll take a look. You may just surprise me!

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be emailed to

Belcastro Literary Agency utilizes Query Manager for all submissions. To query me, please be sure to follow this link and fill out all mandatory blanks (I require a query, synopsis, and first five pages). Submit here: 

Talk tomorrow,


Kimberly Derting , Shelli R. Johannes have a new picture book, LIBBY LOVES SCIENCE, Illustrated by Joelle Murray and published by Greenwillow Books. Kimberly and Shelli 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 Kimberly and Shelli!

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!


Libby loves science! In this STEM-themed picture book, a companion to the popular Cece Loves Science, Libby and her friends are put in charge of the science booth at their school fair. There’s only one problem: No one is visiting their booth! Does everyone think science is boring?

Libby and her friends use teamwork, creativity, and just a bit of chemistry to turn things around and prove that science is for everyone. Perfect for aspiring scientists, story times, classrooms, home-schooling, and fans of Andrea Beaty’s Ada Twist, Scientist. Includes a glossary and four super-fun experiments to try at home!

Libby Loves Science is just right for fans of Rosie Revere, Engineer and What Do You Do with an Idea? and anyone who loves to ask questions and learn about the world.

BOOK’S JOURNEY by Shelli R. Johannes:

Kim and I never saw ourselves as picture book authors.

Between the two of us, we had written and published 15 young adult novels. For over ten years, we had been critique partners/best friends/partners-in-crime. We had reviewed each other’s work, given brutally-honest constructive feedback, cried with each other over our failures, and celebrated each other’s successes.

Then, in 2013, my daughter turned nine. She was a natural-born scientist. She loved all things science— science clubs, science fairs, science camps. She experimented all the time. She even asked Santa for a professional microscope when she was only seven years old. Her dream has always been to be a Veterinarian— to the extent that she has read the College Vet Manual from cover to cover. Just for fun.

That year, though, when I asked my daughter if she was excited about science camp, she surprisingly said no. When I asked why, she said…(wait for it!), “Because science is for boys and it’s not fun anymore.”


This haunted me. How could such a strong, bold little girl—one I’ve always encouraged, whose father has a Ph.D. in science, and whose teachers always praised—get the message that “science was for boys?” I suddenly realized that there were influences in the world I could not control. That other voices were competing for my child’s attention.

I called Kim to vent, and Kim, having been a Biology major in college, commiserated—her youngest daughter had gone through something similar when she was young. We discussed how impressionable kids are when they are. To think that a girl’s views could be so heavily influenced by media, friends, or even strangers. As mothers, that alarmed us!

Shouldn’t our voices be the most important ones?

Then, we had an idea, “What if we wrote a Fancy Nancy for Science?”

The first hurdle was telling our agents. Since they work at the same literary agency, we got them on the phone and explained what we were planning.

(Dramatic reenactment for entertainment purposes)

 “Guess what? We’re going to write a picture book!” We said to them. “Together!”

 “But…you’re thriller writers,” they said.

 “Yeah, but we’re gonna write a fun picture book about science!” we said.

 “But…you’re YA authors.”

 “Yeah! So we’re gonna learn how to write a picture book,” we said.

 “Then do it!”

 Looking back, we’re pretty sure our agents were as perplexed as we were, but they gave us the green light anyway!

First, Kim and I had to study the craft. We Googled, “how to write a picture book?” We spent time researching, reading picture books, learning the rules, almost avoiding the do’s and don’t’s, and creating the right format.

Then, we needed a story. Since Kim and I both have fur babies dogs, we chose to give our character a dog who was equally as mischievous as our own. Einstein would be our science test subject. We eventually decided to center the book around a question to investigate, to ask something we as humans wonder about and ponder daily…the most important and confusing question in life: “Do dogs eat vegetables?”

Our first version was around 2,000 words (aka. Don’t #1 – That’s TOO LONG for a picture book!). The versions that followed required several rounds of revisions from our agents, rejections from editors, and editorial comments before we got to the Cece Loves Science that is in stores today.

In the end, we were lucky enough to land on the desk of Virginia Duncan, publisher at Greenwillow/Harpercollins. As the stars would have it, Virginia’s daughter was a similar age to mine and had said something along the same line. We signed a two-book deal that later expanded into a six-book deal with I-Can-Reads and an all-new character in Libby Loves Science.

Thus, the “Loves Science” series was born.

Kim and I are committed to being positive influences in the lives of today’s children—especially young girls. We hope our message of smart, strong girls, friendship, and inclusion makes a difference.

We want to be strong voices in literature. And we are proud that the “Loves Science” series is doing just that.


Kimberly Derting is the author of the award-winning young adult THE BODY FINDER seriesTHE PLEDGE trilogy, and THE TAKING trilogy. She has also co-authored the new picture book series CECE LOVES SCIENCE with Shelli R. Johannes. Her books have been translated into 15 languages, and both THE BODY FINDER and THE PLEDGE were YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selections. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where the gloomy weather is ideal for writing anything dark and creepy. Her three beautiful (and often mouthy) children serve as an endless source of inspiration and frequently find the things they say buried in the pages of their mother’s books or on Twitter for the world to see.


Shelli R. Johannes is coauthor of the six books in the LOVES SCIENCE PB series including CECE LOVES SCIENCE, (co/Kimberly Derting/HarperCollins Greenwillow), the upcoming THESAURUS (Penguin/Philomel, Summer 2021) and HOW TO BE A UNICORN (HarperChildren’s Fall 2021).

She is also the critically-acclaimed author of teen novels and thrillers (written as SR Johannes) including the NATURE OF GRACE series (Untraceable), Uncontrollable, Unstoppable), REWIRED, & ON THE BRIGHT SIDE.

Shelli never warmed up to creepy-crawly bugs, but she always loved zoology and biology. In fact, she can often be found on highways and country roads saving strays and other jaywalking critters, or volunteering with animal conservation groups like the Atlanta Zoo, the Dolphin Project, and Bosley’s puppy orphanage. After earning a master’s in marketing and working in Corporate America as an SVP, Shelli traded out her heels and suits for flip-flops and jeans so she could follow her passion of writing.

Shelli lives in Atlanta with pack: British husband, two kids, one bird, one fish, and two crazy-haired dogs who hate veggies.

Shelli and Kimberly, Thank you for sharing your book and journey with us. It looks like a fun book that will help encourage little girls to get excited about science. I am sure parents and teachers will welcome buying this book to share with the children around them. Good luck with the book!

Talk tomorrow,




2020 African American Voices in Children’s Literature: Writing Contest

Sponsored by Strive Publishing and Free Spirit Publishing

Deadline extended! Open for submissions through August 31, 2020.

The contest is open to authors of African American heritage who are residents of Minnesota and at the time of entry are at least 18 years of age and residing in Minnesota.

About Strive Publishing

Strive Publishing’s vision is to be the leading publishing company in providing contemporary African American stories. We will begin by filling the need for picture books and young adult novels that our children can see themselves in and will work toward filling the need for African American adult representation in other genres. Through publishing and illuminating the stories of creativity, wonder, determination, and success of generations of African Americans, we will help tear down stereotypes and build up bridges that connect to a more diverse publishing industry.

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Strive Publishing exists to help solve two problems: the need for culturally relevant children’s books and the underrepresentation of African American authors. While giving all children the opportunity to see African American culture from different perspectives, Strive Publishing aims to create opportunities for emerging African American authors. We all have a stake in the critical work of getting books by and about African Americans into the hands of all children, and we can make the greatest impact by working together.

About Free Spirit Publishing

Whether at home, at school, or out in the world, all kids face challenges in their lives. No matter how many choices, changes, and opportunities young people encounter, Free Spirit has had the same mission for more than 35 years: to provide children and teens—and the adults who care for and about them—with the tools they need to think for themselves, overcome challenges, and make a difference in the world.

Minneapolis-based Free Spirit Publishing is known for its unique understanding of what kids want and need to navigate life successfully. We’re not afraid to tackle tough topics such as teen depression, kids and anxiety, grief and loss, juvenile justice, and conflict resolution. Free Spirit also offers sound advice with a sense of humor on relevant issues including stress management, character building, school success, self-esteem, community involvement, youth leadership, and more. We aim to meet all kids—toddlers, teens, and everyone in between—where they are (not where we wish they were), and support them to develop their talents, build resiliency, and foster a positive outlook on life so they can reach their goals.


Eligible entries will include original fiction or nonfiction board books for ages 0–4 (50–125 words) and picture books for ages 4–8 (300–800 words) featuring contemporary African American characters and culture and focusing on one or more of the following topics: character development, self-esteem, diversity, getting along with others, engaging with family and community, or other topics related to positive childhood development.


All entries must be your original work, unpublished, and not accepted for publication anywhere at the time they are entered in the contest. Please include the following items in your entry:

  • Picture book text along with illustration ideas
  • A letter briefly describing your book, specifying the intended audience (including age range), and telling why you decided to write it
  • A brief biography and current email address

Awards & Cash Prizes

First Place: $1,000 cash prize, a T-shirt from Strive, a tote bag from Free Spirit, and a meeting with Mary Taris, founder of Strive, and an editor from Free Spirit to discuss the winner’s project. The winning submission will be seriously considered for publication by Free Spirit, cobranded with Strive; however, publication is not guaranteed.
Second Place: $500 cash prize, a T-shirt from Strive, and a tote bag from Free Spirit
Third Place: $250 cash prize, a T-shirt from Strive, and a tote bag from Free Spirit

Want to share this contest on Twitter? Click here.

To Submit an Entry Online

  1. Title the manuscript and include your name on each page
  2. Upload your entry on Submittable:


To Submit an Entry via Email

  1. Title the manuscript and include your name on each page
  2. Send your entry as an attachment in Word or as a PDF
  3. Email to

To Submit an Entry via Mail

  1. Title the manuscript and include your name on each page.
  2. Print out your submission double-spaced on letter-sized paper and mail to:
Strive/Free Spirit Writing Contest
Free Spirit Publishing
6325 Sandburg Road, Suite 100
Minneapolis, MN 55427-3674

Judging Criteria

  • Cultural relevance and authentic voice
  • Presentation (follows submission guidelines, neatness, legibility)
  • Suitability (fits publishing category; targeted age group and length are appropriate for children’s manuscripts)
  • Content (tightness, clarity, structure, strength of lead/beginning, transitions, impact, satisfactory close)
  • Alignment with the spirit of the Contest
  • For nonfiction proposals: logical flow, accuracy of information, sound advice

Winner Notification

Winners will be notified by email on or around September 30, 2020.  All potential winners are subject to verification. Each prizewinner may be required to sign and return to Sponsor, within ten (10) days of the date notice is sent, an affidavit of eligibility/liability and publicity release (except where prohibited) in order to claim their prize if applicable. If a potential winner of any prize cannot be contacted, fails to sign or return the affidavit of eligibility/liability and publicity release within the required time period, the prize or prize notification is returned as undeliverable, or the potential winner is deemed ineligible, the potential winner forfeits prize, and Sponsor will award the applicable prize to an alternative winner selected from all remaining eligible entries. Upon confirmation of eligibility, prizes will be awarded no later than October 31, 2020. Prizes will be awarded in accordance with these Official Rules. Sponsor’s determination of eligibility and selection of winners is binding on all participants.

The total number of prizes is three (3). The total prize value for all three (3) prizes is $1,750 in cash plus merchandise listed in the prize descriptions. All prizes will be awarded in connection with this Contest in accordance with the Official Rules. Within approximately thirty (30) days after confirmation of the winners, Sponsor will provide the winners with their prizes (e.g., check, gift certificate, or other document giving winner unconditional right to receive the respective prize). All prizes are nontransferable and nonassignable, and noncash prizes cannot be redeemed for cash. All costs, fees, expenses, and taxes (including, without limitation, federal, state, and local taxes) associated with any element of a prize are the sole responsibility of the winners.

Everyone who enters the contest has the chance at publication.

Click here to share this contest on Twitter!

Winners List

A Winners List will be posted at and after winners have been announced.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 14, 2020

NO FEE: Drue Heinz Literature Prize

Drue Heinz Literature Prize

The Drue Heinz Literature Prize recognizes and supports writers of short fiction and makes their work available to readers around the world. The award is open to authors who have published a book-length collection of fiction or at least three short stories or novellas in commercial magazines or literary journals.

Manuscripts are judged anonymously by nationally known writers. Past judges have included Robert Penn Warren, Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood, Russell Banks, Rick Moody, and Joan Didion.

Winners receive a cash prize of $15,000, publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and support in the nation-wide promotion of their book.

2020 Drue Heinz Prize Winner

The winner of the 2020 Drue Heinz Prize is Caroline Kim for The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories. University of Pittsburgh Press will publish Kim’s collection in fall 2020. Read more about this year’s winner on our news page.

Submission Guidelines


  1. The award is open to writers who have published a novel or a book-length collection of fiction with a reputable book publisher, or a minimum of three short stories or novellas in magazines or journals of national distribution. Digital-only publication and self-publication do not count toward this requirement.
  2. The award is open to writers in English, whether or not they are citizens of the United States.
  3. University of Pittsburgh employees, former employees, current students, and those who have been students within the last three years are not eligible for the award.
  4. Translations are not eligible if the translation was not done by the author.
  5. Eligible submissions include an unpublished manuscript of short stories; two or more novellas (a novella may comprise a maximum of 130 double-spaced typed pages); or a combination of one or more novellas and short stories. Novellas are only accepted as part of a larger collection. Manuscripts may be no fewer than 150 and no more than 300 pages. Prior publication of your manuscript as a whole in any format (including electronic) makes it ineligible.
  6. Stories or novellas previously published in magazines or journals or in book form as part of an anthology are eligible.
  7. Manuscripts may also be under consideration by other publishers, but if a manuscript is accepted for publication elsewhere and you wish to accept this offer, please notify the Press immediately. Manuscripts under contract elsewhere are no longer eligible for the Prize.
  8. Authors may submit more than one manuscript to the competition as long as one manuscript or a portion thereof does not duplicate material submitted in another manuscript.


Manuscripts must be received during May and June. That is, they must be postmarked on or after May 1 and on or before June 30.


Submittable contest site:

  1. During the submission period (May 1 – June 30) simply click the link above. You’ll be taken to our secure web page where you’ll find easy-to-follow instructions:
  2. Manuscripts must be double-spaced and pages must be numbered consecutively.
  3. Each submission must include a list of all of the writer’s published short fiction work, with full citations. You will be given an opportunity to enter this information into a field in Submittable.
  4. Manuscripts will be judged anonymously. Therefore, the author’s name, other identifying information, and publication information must not appear within the manuscript. Only your uploaded manuscript is visible to the judges.


  1. Manuscripts must be double-spaced on quality white paper, unbound, and pages must be numbered consecutively. Clean, legible photocopies on high quality white paper are acceptable.
  2. Manuscripts will be judged anonymously. Each manuscript should have two cover pages: one listing the title of the manuscript and the author’s name, address, e-mail address (if available), and telephone number; and a second listing only the manuscript title. The author’s name, other identifying information, and publication information must not appear after the first cover page.
  3. Manuscripts will not be returned. Enclose a self-addressed stamped postcard for acknowledgement of receipt. For results, please check our website.

Send submissions to:

Drue Heinz Literature Prize
University of Pittsburgh Press
7500 Thomas Blvd., 4th floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

All submissions must be postmarked on or after May 1 and on or before June 30. Note: 15260 is the correct and exclusive zip code for the University of Pittsburgh and the Press. For UPS, FedEx, etc., zip code 15208 should be used. If you have any questions about these guidelines, please e-mail

Talk tomorrow,


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