Thursday, December 15, 2011

Highlights High Five--Quack, quack!

My poem "Garage-Sale Duck" appears in the January 2012 issue of Highlights High Five. [Once I figure out how to make the image bigger, I'll repost!] I LOVE Dan Andreasen's art.

Thanks, Kathleen!


Monday, November 28, 2011


I'm happy to announce that my two nonfiction social studies books for third graders, BLUE JEANS BEFORE THE STORE and BREAD BEFORE THE STORE, have covers! Both books will be released in January 2012 by The Child's World.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"One Small Chair"--Turtle Magazine

Hi everyone!

I'm delighted to share that my poem, "One Small Chair," is in the November/December 2011 issue of Turtle Magazine.

Thanks, Terry! It looks great.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Hi everyone! Hope your summer is in full swing.

I just wanted to pop in and let you know that COLUMBIAKids, an online publication for children of the Washington State Historical Society, has purchased another of my poems! Yay!

"Old Shoes" will be featured in issue 5. I'll let you know when that happens. Thanks, Stephanie!

In other publishing news, more exciting things are coming. Think book length! I can't spill the beans yet, but you'll be the first (okay, maybe second) to know when I can.

Enjoy your summer! And don't forget the sunscreen.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Margo Sorenson, Children's Author

Margo Sorenson is a children's book author with 27 books to her name. Margo's latest, ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN, was published by Marimba Books in April 2011.

Welcome, Margo! Glad you could join us.

Thank you, Jody! I’m very happy to be here.

Tell us about ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN. What's it about?

This is the story of eight-year-old Carol Ann who so does NOT want to move to Hawaii, where everything is so strange and different, and she wishes she were back at her old school. How will she ever feel at home here?

Sounds fun. How did you find Marimba Books? Tell us about your publishing journey with them.

I first began writing ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN in 1989 (no, that’s not a typo!) and I would read the various versions aloud to my middle school students, who would make comments, trying to spare my feelings! I began submitting it to publishers, and it was rejected many, many times. When I’d get feedback from editors, I’d revise it again, and I’d ask my fellow teachers for help, as well. I believed in the story, because I’d seen it reenacted so many times during our ten years in Hawaii, and I wanted to share the aloha spirit that our family had found there. It’s so important not only to show kindness to others, making them feel welcome, but also to be willing to accept that kindness and that wonderful welcome. Coach John Wooden said, “You cannot live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

Twenty-two years later, I was still keeping an eye out for a publisher that I thought might be interested in the story, and lo, and behold, Marimba Books was founded, the perfect publisher for this story. I read about the founding of Marimba Books on the internet and researched the owners, Cheryl and Wade Hudson, who have an outstanding record in multicultural publishing with their other company, Just Us Books. I queried, was asked to send the manuscript, and the Hudsons acquired it, much to my and my family’s joy! They have been wonderful to work with, right from the very beginning, and they chose an illustrator, Priscilla Garcia Burris, who really made Carol Ann, the kids, and the beauty of Hawaii come to life on the pages.

Wow! Twenty-two years? You are the epitome of stick-to-itiveness!

Many people think a picture book author chooses her illustrator. Set the record straight for us. Did you know Priscilla Garcia Burris before CAROL ANN?

No, but I was familiar with her wonderful work and her national reputation as Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, so, needless to say, I was thrilled at the choice! She has truly made Hawaii come alive on the pages with her vibrant colors and empathetic renderings and has put in lots of touches that people who both live and visit there will recognize—touches that will make them smile—like the illustration in which Maile offers Carol Ann a spam musubi – yum!

You've written lots of books for children. Are they all picture books?

Of my 27 published books, only three are picture books: AMBROSE AND THE PRINCESS, AMBROSE AND THE CATHEDRAL DREAM, and ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN. The others are for readers ages 7-14, including FUNNY MAN, which was fortunate enough to be named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in Young Adult Fiction a few years ago. Because I taught middle and high school, I was familiar with that age group and their experiences, so that’s why they comprised my audience at the beginning of my writing journey. I am finding it’s a lot of fun to write word play and whimsy for younger readers, as well.

How long have you been writing seriously?

I wrote my first “book” at age 6, titled LEO AND BO-PEEP, and I illustrated it, too (unfortunately!). I still have it, and it makes me giggle. When I do school visits, the students always ask me this same question, so I show them the tattered and ancient “book,” much to their glee! Writing seriously didn’t begin until 1986 – and that writing was primarily articles about teaching for educational journals such as The English Journal and Independent School.

My first published book, in 1991, was one I co-authored with Anne Polkingharn, the wonderful and legendary librarian of the California K-8 school at which I was teaching, Harbor Day School. It was a reading record book with multiple activities for students to report on their reading, titled HOW TO SNEAK UP ON A GOOD BOOK (Perfection Learning), which is now out of print. At the same time, I had just begun working on ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN, and I was writing a work-for-hire for Bantam Sweet Dreams series, under my pseudonym Marcie Kremer, titled ALOHA LOVE (Bantam, 1994, out of print), a very “demure” teen romance about two debaters at Aina Hau School (Punahou School, where our daughters attended and where I taught) in Honolulu.

Based on the reading record book, I was offered a contract to write a new series for reluctant readers by Perfection Learning Corporation called Cover-to-Cover, and that snowballed into a total of twenty-one books for them, mostly fiction, but two non-fiction as well, TSUNAMI and HURRICANE, and five time-travel adventure-biographies. Writing for this audience was an exciting challenge, and I studied plotting by John Grisham, Nelson DeMille, and other adult thriller authors, and met with many reluctant readers to try and find out what would hook them into reading the next page. I also have written about 70 unpublished manuscripts (emphasis on the UN!), including YA, middle grade, and picture books, and I continue to revise and submit, revise and submit! When I retired early from teaching in 1994 because of our move to Minnesota, my time was freed up considerably—no more papers to grade or lessons to plan—not to mention that the long winters are perfect for writing!

What has been the most difficult part of the journey for you? The most rewarding?

The most difficult part of the journey for me has been to be patient and to be willing to recognize when some of my favorite words/characters/scenes/plots have to be cut. One of my favorite sayings about writing is one of the “Writer’s Commandments” from Ellen Kozak: “Thou Shalt Not Fall In Love With Thine Own Words.” I think all writers realize that it’s important to know when to put a manuscript away and then take it out to look at it later, with a clearer eye, but it’s not always fun to do that, either! It’s also daunting to field rejections and read (sometimes devastating) critiques, but, if we don’t keep revising and revising and submitting our manuscripts, we’ll never see them in the hands of young readers. Beryl Markham (WEST WITH THE NIGHT) once wrote, “Work and hope. But never hope more than you work.”

The most rewarding part of the journey is when I hear from young readers about one of my books that they’ve read. The reason we writers write is to try to create adventures on the page for our readers, and when those adventures resonate with them, it is very special. I thoroughly enjoy school visits, where I get to meet with young readers and talk with them about the writing process and about reading.

What are you working on next?

I’m always working simultaneously on several manuscripts – I find that it helps me to look at each one more objectively, instead of working on only one at a time. Right now, I’m working on a YA novel set in Italy and on three new picture books, as well as on six others that I’ve written in the last year. There’s always plenty of revising to do, and my wonderful and long-suffering critique partner and middle grade/early chapter book author Bonnie Graves has my back!

What's the best part of being a children's author?

I love to play with words, and, because books were among my best friends when I was growing up, I look forward to trying to create for young readers the same kinds of adventures I enjoyed reading. Kids are ready for new ideas. They embrace new horizons and enjoy being transported to new places and times, identifying with characters in books. The acclaimed author Virginia Hamilton once wrote, “Writing is what you know, remember, and imagine.” It’s so much fun to combine all those facets into a new story to share a new world with young readers.

Thanks, Margo! Much success to you and CAROL ANN!

Thank you so much for your invitation to be here, Jody! Mahalo nui loa!

Readers, learn more about Margo here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gisele LeBlanc, Children's Writer and Publisher

Gisele LeBlanc is a children’s writer and publisher from Canada. Her ezine, Berry Blue Haiku, is her latest venture. Gisele is the former publisher of Dragonfly Spirit.

Hi, Gisele! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us about Berry Blue Haiku. What is it and when did it begin?

The idea for Berry Blue Haiku came at a slow simmer, you could say. The seed got planted when I was still publishing my first online magazine for children, Dragonfly Spirit. We had published a couple of haiku (by Michelle Lord) and I remember being very drawn to the form.

In 2009, I started writing haiku and studying it more seriously, started reading haiku books and online journals, and I became totally captivated. In 2010 I decided I would like to start a poetry magazine for kids and realized there were no haiku magazines devoted to kids. That's when the idea came to fruition.

Who is the audience for BBH?

Our intended audience is children up to age 13, as well as teachers/parents who have an interest in teaching haiku. But the magazine has proved to hold global appeal and is enjoyed by people of all ages.

What kind of response have you gotten to BBH?

The response has been quite positive! Despite its short form, there is so much to learn about haiku. This is why our goal with BBH has always been to help broaden people's haiku awareness and hopefully entice them to experiment with the form.

What interests you about haiku?

Where to begin! There is so much to love about haiku. Firstly, it can be used as a meditative tool since it teaches us to slow down and see the beauty in simple things. Haiku is also about sharing experiences, and it reminds us that we are all one.

It can also be used as a therapeutic or journaling tool to express emotions or to capture everyday moments. Its short form is also perfect for honing writing skills, since strong and specific word usage is essential.

Is the standard form--5, 7, 5 syllables--still used?

From my understanding, most traditional Japanese haiku (which tends to focus on nature elements) still follows the format of 5-7-5 sound units (called on or kana in Japanese). But Japanese sound units are not counted the same way as English syllables. Therein lies the misconception of this so-called "rule." Many North American poets and translators agree that something in the proximity of 11 English syllables is a close equivalent to the 17 phonetic units used in Japanese haiku.

This doesn't mean that haiku written in 5-7-5 shouldn't be done, or that it is wrong—there are many wonderful haiku published in the 5-7-5 form—but writing a haiku this way, without employing needless words, is a challenging task.

Berry Blue Haiku is undergoing some changes. Tell us about them.

The March issue of Berry Blue Haiku was the last we will be publishing in this format. To alleviate costs and the level of work involved, we're considering publishing BBH as an annual anthology.

We have also made all issues, current and past, available for free. These can be accessed through our CurrClick homepage.

All teaching resources, such as articles, crafts, and lessons, will be available for free through our blog or website (which is currently under construction), where we will also be featuring interviews and contests.

Sounds like a great new direction for BBH. Congratulations, Gisele, and good luck!

Thank you, Jody, for inviting us to your blog! We are very happy to have had this chance to share information about Berry Blue Haiku!

Update May 5, 2011: Readers, I just received this email from Gisele about the future of Berry Blue Haiku. You can read it here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bridget Heos, Picture Book Author

What To Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (And Curious Kids) (Lerner) is Kansas City author Bridget Heos’ first picture book, released this month. Bridget has joined us today to tell us about her book and her journey.

Welcome, Bridget, and congratulations on your new book! Tell us about it.

Well, up to now, all parenting guides have been for humans. That’s great…if you’re a human. What if you’re a fly? What if you’re a dragonfly? What if you’re a butterfly? Let’s widen the net. What if you’re anything ending in “fly?”
That’s who this book is for. And: children.
It teaches them all about larvae. (Larvae are any baby insects that don’t look like their parents.) It’s a great book for teachers teaching metamorphosis or insect units.

Sounds great! I saw much earlier versions of your manuscript, so I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished product.

Take us back a bit. When and how did you learn Lerner wanted your book?

Well, I’d sent it to 13 editors (a good, unlucky number!) Rejected! Then I sent it to my now agent Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She took me on as a client and soon after let me know that Carol Hinz at Lerner was interested. It ended up selling in an auction, with Lerner offering a three-book deal. The next two books are What to Expect When You’re Expecting Pocket Babies and What to Expect When You’re Expecting Crocodilians. Carol--and Lerner—are awesome. They’re in Minneapolis. Being from the Midwest, I love that Minneapolis is a children’s book mecca. I hope to visit someday soon and soak it all in.

What have you learned along the way about publishing?

Well, it’s good to have an agent. Without Kelly, I’m confident I wouldn’t have sold any books. Also, she takes care of contracts and negotiations. And she’s very encouraging. This is a nice business. (To me it feels like I arrived at work to find that all of my colleagues are my sweet kindergarten teacher, Arlene Davis.) But it’s also a tough business, so it’s nice to have somebody on your side.

Secondly, you have to write a lot of books to make a living. I’m writing 12 this year, including work-for-hires, but it took me several years and a lot of pavement pounding, plus Kelly’s help to line up that many. (Work-for-hires are books in which the publisher develops the idea and asks you to write it for a flat fee—no royalties. They don’t pay as much as other books, but they pay faster.)
Currently, I work about 60 hours a week. I’m not complaining! Work is a blessing. I’m starting to write fictional picture books and to do some travel for nonfiction work. I should have a few exciting announcements about book deals later this year.

How have you been promoting your book?

I’ve done a library visit at The Plaza Library, part of The Kansas City Public Library system. I also have a library visit coming up through The Johnson County Public Library Dia! Children’s Book Day, on April 30 at the Oak Park Library. To promote these events, I gave the libraries silkworms as mascots. They’re basically the Official Mascots of Picture Books Being Awesome. I have a Facebook Page @Author Bridget Heos, where I share news about picture books, nonfiction children’s books, my books, and thoughts about professional wrestling (which is an interest.) I also got the chance to be in "The Kansas City Star" FYI section and on Fox 4 Morning News, through Save Everything! (and the Picture Book.)

That said, the publicity staff at Lerner has done much of the work. They sent galleys or copies to several bloggers and librarian and teacher journals. They’ve also met personally with some of these people—flying to New York in some cases. Through that effort, I’ve been featured in A Fuse #8 Production, Kirkus Reviews, and Instructor magazine (published by Scholastic.) They are also very encouraging of my publicity efforts (or publicity stunts, as my dad calls them.)

Tell us about your career. How long you’ve been writing, what caused you to want to write for children, and what’s coming up for you.

I always wanted to be a writer. Now, looking back, it’s obvious I would fall in love with writing children’s books. I was obsessed with Beatrix Potter. I loved musicals about orphans, such as Oliver! and Annie, and that theme is popular in children’s literature. In 5th grade, my friend and I put on a neighborhood play of The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, featuring the music of—get this, Weird Al Yankovic—who is now also a children’s book writer!

But I didn’t know much about children’s books. Now, I see how my sons are with sports—they know the stats, the players, the intangibles. I didn’t have that kind of behind-the-scenes knowledge of children’s books, even though I loved them as much as my sons love sports today.

When my oldest son was little, he became obsessed with nonfiction. After reading about 100 nonfiction books to him (mostly about turtles but some about dinosaurs,) I fell in love with them. I felt so knowledgeable about turtles! And many of them were beautifully written, such as The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, by Barbara Kerley, ill. by Brian Selznick. I thought, “I wonder who writes all these nonfiction books?” I think I googled that very question. I had been writing for newspapers and magazines for several years, so nonfiction seemed like a natural fit. Eventually, I found a local writer’s group. I went to some events and then wrote What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae. My friend Ann Ingalls, who also writes nonfiction books for children, helped me a lot when I was getting started.

You’re also involved in a campaign to save the picture book called, appropriately enough, Save Everything! (and the picture book). Fill us in. What’s this about and how can people participate?

Save Everything! (and the Picture Book) is a program in which children read picture books, write reviews, and win picture books. The purpose is to show people the wide variety of picture books available to children of all ages. For instance, a second grader could spend an entire summer reading picture books solely about baseball. (My middle son did just that!) Picture books are great for literacy, imagination, and entertainment.

There is a new theme each month. (In June, it’s baseball.) This month it’s Save the Bookworms! (and the Picture Books They Eat.) You can visit to download the March flyer. There are book suggestions (including mine, this month!) but you can read any picture book about insects or books. Kids can win books, and teachers can win a basket of books for their classrooms.

What advice would you give to those entering the world of children’s writing? What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

I read somewhere that you need to read 100 books in your genre and write for 10 years before…I can’t remember what exactly is supposed to happen at that point. But those numbers are absolutely accurate. After reading the 100 picture books on Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 Top 100 Picture Books Poll, fictional picture books started to click for me. Prior to writing nonfiction, I’d probably read more than 100 nonfiction picture books. Also, I’ve now been a writer for nearly 10 years. Like I said, I can’t remember what’s supposed to happen at this point. But from a craftsmanship perspective, I feel like I sort of know what I’m doing—though I still have a lot to learn.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Toothless" Illustrator, Marcus Cutler

Hey everyone!

Guess what I found today? A blog about my recent poem in Humpty Dumpty, "Toothless," and its fabu illustrator, Marcus Cutler. Check it out.

Great job, Marcus! I lOVE it!

Here's Marcus's personal blog.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Interview on PeoplePlace

Hey, everyone!

Brian Humek, fellow children's writer and all-around great guy, interviewed me recently for his PeoplePlace blog.

Here's the link.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Honda Had a Sleepover at Wal-Mart

Yesterday was one of those days, one that you really don't want to end. At one point, my daughter, son and I were all in the livingroom engrossed in one of The Hunger Games novels. Bliss. It was their last day before winter break was over.

After dinner, the kids went to piano lessons with my husband while I ran errands. My first stop was the library. I needed more picture books and I wanted to take a peek at my most recent poem in Humpty Dumpty.

While I was there, I mentioned my poem to one of the librarians. She celebrated with me earlier when Babybug published my poem. She oohed and aahed and I blushed.

Then I was off to Wal-Mart. If I hurried, I could get my shopping done before the kids got home. As I drove down the dark street, I noticed a little fuzzy thing crossing the road. A possum. I'd seen possums before of course, many that had been hit crossing the road, but this one was in tact, fuzzy, waddly and scurrying like mad, if that's what you call a possum waddle.

Got to Wal-Mart, did my shopping, got in the car, and it didn't start. I waited, tried again. Nothing. Called my husband's cell and our home number. Nobody answered. So I waited. Suddenly all that waiting reminded me of something--publishing! Just kidding. I'm very patient.

When they got home, my husband called, brought his jumper cables, and tried to jump start the car. Unfortuatnely my Honda had other ideas. Which is how and why my Honda had a sleepover at Wal-Mart.

Even with my car situation, I wouldn't give back yesterday for anything.

Happy New Year!