Guest Post: Carmen Oliver: Cover Reveal & How to Create An Author Program That Schools Will Want

Carmen signing her first book contract

By Carmen Oliver
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

You’ve inked your first book sale. Congratulations!

Now, you’re busy getting ready for your big launch date, and you’re beginning to think about doing school visits.

But before you can connect with your student audience, you first have to create a presentation.

If you’re like most authors, this is where you begin to listen to your IE (internal editor), who is nattering incessantly in your ear.

  • You have nothing to say. Zilch. 
  • Everything has already been said. 
  • Why would they want you? You are a nobody. 

And because your IE is great at intimidating you – you begin to believe it and think that maybe they have a point.

Wrong. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ve got this. You’re in control.

And the reason why is this….

The key to creating an author program that schools will want is all about tapping into your authenticity. Let me say that again. Authenticity.

So what do I mean by that?

“What Are You Passionate About?” 



Carmen speaking at Sommer Elementary

I’m passionate about making a difference in the world…one word at a time. Serving is one of my gifts.

One of the reasons I joined the Canadian police force known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), at the age of nineteen was that I wanted to contribute to the world in a way that would have a positive impact.

My passion was there, but my focus was misguided.

After I did a lot of soul searching, I remembered how much I loved to tell stories when I was young. And write poetry. And share other people’s stories.

When I realized that I knew I could pour myself into writing books for kids. If I could write stories and create books, then they could, too. I believe that you can follow your dreams no matter how old or young you are. Age is not a factor. It’s not a condition I ever consider. And I also believe in never giving up. That if you set your mind on something, you can accomplish anything.

I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.

Those elements make up my core beliefs. They’re in everything I do. So shouldn’t some of those things be included in my presentations for students? They should, right?

Carmen writing at author Donna Janell Bowman‘s Lake House

What are you passionate about? What matters to you?

Just like our stories – what you have to say matters. So spend some time thinking about this and journaling. Tap into your authentic self and then massage this into your presentations. Your heart. Your soul. Your passions. And you will always stand out from the crowd.

Because no one has your voice.

Because you have something important to say.

Because there’s no one else like you.

With my next book A Voice For The Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions To Save A Rare Animal, illustrated by Katy Dockrill (Kids Can Press, May 7, 2019), I’ve already begun to think about new presentations based on that book and how my own personal journey can be shared in authentic ways with my audiences.

How has my own struggles mirrored those of the protagonist D. Simon Jackson? How can I share my passions with readers in a way that will make a difference with them and resonate? What are the takeaways?

With every book you write, there’s a new piece of yourself for readers to discover. Each book reveals another one of your passions.

You need to incorporate this into your presentations. And if you do, I’m positive that schools will want to book you.

Passion is contagious and courageous. So turn off your IE and get to work. I, along with your readers, want to hear about what you’re passionate about. We want to be inspired.

Cynsational Notes

The faculty from Crafting Successful Author Visits in 2018 at the Highlights Foundation

Carmen will co-teach a related workshop, Crafting Successful Author Visits, from April 28 to May 3 at the Highlights Foundation in Milanville, Pennsylvania.

Cover Reveal: Donna Janell Bowman on Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words

By Gayleen Rabakukk

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Check out the cover of Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, a nonfiction picture book by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Peachtree, April 2018). From the promotional copy:

Long before he was our beloved president, Abraham Lincoln was known for his smarts and his knee-slapping humor. 


In 1842, that got him into a heap of trouble. When he clashed with James Shields, a political rival, Lincoln came up with a rascally plan.

It was silly.

It was clever.

It was a great big mistake!

Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel!

Lincoln would need his wit and a healthy dose of humility to save his career—and even his life.

A rare look at the more human side of Abraham Lincoln and how the lessons he learned made him a better man.

Donna says:

“It always happens that, when I’m researching for one book, ideas for other books pop up. That’s what happened in 2012, when I came across a one-line mention of Abraham Lincoln’s duel. 

“At first, it was as if my brain couldn’t register that our most revered, monumentalized American figure did something so controversial and dangerous. 

“The research journey that followed revealed a great deal about the evolution of Lincoln’s character. He was a real, fallible, sometimes-naughty guy, just like the rest of us. How refreshing!

“Lincoln could have allowed his mistakes to define him, but he chose instead to learn from them. 

“Now that is something to admire, isn’t it? How lucky for our country that his duel ended without arrest or death. Either of those outcomes could have changed the future of the United States.

“I was fortunate that my Peachtree editor, Kathy Landwehr, included me in the illustrator-selection process. At the top of both of our wish lists was S.D. Schindler, the artistic talent behind many books for children, including Barb Rosenstock’s Ben Franklin’s Big Splash (Calkins Creek, 2014), Verla Kay’s Hornbooks and Inkwells (Penguin-Putnam, 2011), and Phil Bildner’s The Unforgettable Season (Penguin, 2011).

“Wait til you see the interior art when Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words releases April 1, 2018 (no fooling!). 

“Til then, check out this gorgeous cover! Don’t you love how oppositional Lincoln and his foe appear and how the placement of the book’s title—and its reference to the inciting incident—divide the men so intensely? 

“I love, love, love it. I hope you will, too.”



Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the picture book biography Step Right Up: How Doc And Jim Key Taught The World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016), which earned many accolades, including three starred reviews, a Writer’s League of Texas Book Award, and a Carter G. Woodson Award Honor from NCSS. It was also named an ALA Notable Book, a NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended book and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Donna has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and enjoys speaking with and mentoring writers of all ages. She lives near Austin, Texas and is represented by Erin MurphyErin Murphy Literary Agency.

Event Report & Videos: Don Tate Launches Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author-illustrator Don Tate hosted a tremendous, successful book launch for Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017) Sept. 9 at BookPeople in Austin. From the promotional copy:

Friedrich Müller was born sickly and weak, yet he longed to be athletic and strong, like ancient Greek and Roman gladiators. Little Friedrich Müller exercised and exercised but to no avail.

As a young man, Müller found himself under the tutelage of a professional body builder. He learned to work out harder. He lifted heavier weights. Over time, he got bigger and stronger. Then he changed his name to Eugen Sandow.

After defeating the strongest of all strongmen in Europe, Eugen Sandow became a super star. Eventually, he become known as “The Strongest Man on Earth.” Everyone wanted to become “as strong as Sandow.”

Inspired by his own experiences in the sport of body-building, Don Tate tells the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about exercise and physical fitness.

Backmatter includes more information about Sandow, with suggestions for exercise. An author’s note and extensive bibliography are included.

Fans wore fake mustaches in honor of Sandow’s.

 About the Event

Don’s wife, Tamera Diggs-Tate, welcomed the crowd, introduced him and explained his personal connection to the book’s subject matter–a history of competitive body building. Then Don took the podium, offering the stories behind the stories. From there, the event featured strong-man lifts, a push-ups and popcorn eating competition for kids and a jaw-dropping tie-in cake by Akiko White.

A celebration of conditioning, strength, and grace. 

Book & Cake Videos

Guest Post: Melissa Stewart on Concept Picture Books

By Melissa Stewart
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Most people in the children’s literature community are familiar with picture book biographies, but did you know that there’s a second major category of nonfiction picture books?

It’s time to shine some light on concept picture books.

A concept picture book explores an abstract idea or process, and in many cases, offers a unique perspective or new way of seeing things.

This approach works well for authors interested in focusing on patterns and cycles in the natural world, animal behavior and adaptations, and math concepts.

Picture book biographies have a narrative writing style and a chronological sequence structure.

In contrast, concept books usually employ an expository writing style. And they can feature any of the six major text structures now being taught in most schools (description, sequence, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect, problem & solution).

Sometimes they make clever use of a unique text structure that perfectly matches the book’s topic.

Here are some examples:

In most cases, a picture book biography has a third-person point of view, and the voice is either lively or lyrical, depending on the subject’s personality. Once again, concept picture books offer greater diversity.

The voice can fall anywhere along the lively-to-lyrical continuum.

The point of view can vary, too. Plenty of concept books have a second-person point of view, and a few recent titles boldly employ a first-person point of view. One of my favorites is The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin (Henry Holt, 2015).

With so many choices, how do writers narrow their options? It isn’t easy.

What it comes down to for me is finding the best possible way to delight as well as inform young readers. Once I stumble upon the special bit of magic that allows me to accomplish this goal, I take out my writer’s toolbox and start tinkering.

I consider various text structures and writing styles. I think about voice and point of view and the best way to use language devices. Then I plunge into the writing and see where the ideas swirling in my head take me.

For Feathers: Not Just for Flying (illustrated by Sarah Brannen) (Charlesbridge, 2014), I crafted a lyrical voice that I hoped would awaken the young reader’s sense of wonder.

The strong compare-and-contrast text structure assists children in making connections among the sixteen different examples in the book.

For Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, June 13, 2017), I took a different approach.

The book features an intriguing title, fabulous illustrations by the uber-talented Steve Jenkins, and an interactive question-and-answer text structure that makes it perfect for read alouds.

Secondary text supports and expands on the book’s main ideas, allowing readers to thoroughly explore how and why animals use sounds to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

If you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of concept picture books, I encourage you to read and analyze a broad range of the books listed above, considering (1) what makes them special and (2) what tools the authors employed as they crafted the texts.

Cynsational Notes


Kirkus Reviews gave Can an Aardvark Bark? a starred review. Peek: “Prolific science writer Stewart always chooses appealing facts, but what makes this collection work so well is the skillful presentation by both author and illustrator.”

A curriculum guide, storytime guide and activities are available from the author. A book trailer is available on Vimeo.


Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 science books for children, including Can an Aardvark Bark?; No Monkeys, No Chocolate; and Feathers: Not Just for Flying.

She is the co-author, with Nancy Chesley, of Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 (Stenhouse Publishers, 2014) and Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, 3-5 (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016).

Melissa maintains the blog Celebrate Science and serves on the board of advisors for the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators.