New Voice: Brenda Maier on Making Picture Books Do Double Duty & The Little Red Fort

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’m overjoyed to feature The Little Red Fort by author Brenda Maier and illustrator Sonia Sánchez (Scholastic, 2018) here on Cynsations.

This new picture book is a contemporary retelling of The Little Red Hen, featuring spunky Ruby and her three brothers who are not interested in helping her build a fort.

I love how Ruby takes matters into her own hands and figures out what needs to be done with a little help from her mother and grandmother.

School Library Journal selected the book for its February 2018 Popular Picks. Scholastic distributed it through its Book Fairs prior to the official March 27 publication date.

I agree with reviewers that it is a great read aloud and the contemporary and lively mixed media illustrations pulled me right into the action. The examples of forts kids can build in the back matter transported me right back to my own childhood.

Let’s hear from Brenda now!

What sparked the idea to write this book?

I have five children (now ages 10-18), and the inspiration for The Little Red Fort came from them. My youngest child was in a Little Red Hen phase, so every day we read that classic folktale before his nap. The Little Red Hen was just lingering in my brain.

One day during this period, I tucked him in and went to check on the other kids in the back yard. They had requisitioned some boards and lattice and worked together to construct a structure they called their ‘fort.’

Those two ideas—the classic tale and my kids’ fort endeavor—converged to become an idea: What if the hen was a girl who wanted to build a fort? The story started there.

Brenda and Traci at 2017 SCBWI L.A. Summer Conference

As an author-teacher/librarian/agent/publicist/editor, how do your various roles inform one another? 

I’m a debut author, but I’m also a teacher and a mother of five. Not surprisingly, both parenting and teaching are essential to my writing. Specifically, I hear and see things that could trigger a story idea.

As a parent, I have always looked for books that have the ability to reinforce the things I value as a parent. Would this one be good for a snuggly bedtime story? Would this one help reinforce the idea that we should be kind and generous? Does this book show that all people are important?

Some of these parent must-haves overlap with my day job, but there are differences.

Tracy Mack from Scholastic summarizes The Little Red Fort

Teachers have to be very efficient with their time, so if I can hit upon something they need to teach or address anyway, that’s a huge bonus.

What connections does this story have to the curriculum? Can I use it to kill two birds with one stone? The Little Red Fort is perfect for comparing and contrasting to the classic folktale, The Little Red Hen.

As a teacher, I know this can be done with a Venn Diagram, a paragraph, or even an essay. There is also a literacy link to multiple STEM options, including inviting the kids to collaborate, design, and build their own scale model forts.

This means this story has value for me as a teacher, because I can use it to launch a writing assignment or an interdisciplinary fort-building challenge. I try to ensure that all of my stories have something that will be important to the parent side of me and the teacher side of me.

Oklahoma SCBWI authors Kim Ventrella, Brenda Maier and Tammi Sauer

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers? 

The single best piece of advice I can give aspiring authors is to read.

  • Read widely in the genre you write. 
  • Join in the writing community. Write manuscripts and join critique groups with the goal of improving your manuscripts. 
  • Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attend craft workshops and conferences. 
  • Always be on the lookout for story ideas, and write them down immediately. These efforts are not optional. 
  • Be not only willing, but eager to put in the work and time that will be required.
Brenda at Kansas-Missouri SCBWI Conference with Sue Gallion, Jess Townes and Tara Luebbe

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

Children’s publishing is such an emotional roller coaster. There are plenty of ‘downs.’ For me, the worst moments are when a manuscript I see a real need for gets rejected.

It’s been good for me to learn how to focus that energy on the next project instead of dwelling too much on things I may not be able to control. With each new submission, the anticipation builds again, and I’m on another one of the ‘up’ moments.

The best moments have been whenever readers expresses how important this book is to them. That’s mind blowing. I have also noticed that as I’m in the maelstrom of interviews and book events with readers—things I’ve dreamt of doing—it can be very easy to forget to stop and savor the moment.

I saw a posted photo of a firefighter in Connecticut reading The Little Red Fort aloud to a group of kids and I thought, “Wow. Somewhere far away there is a real life hero talking about how much the kids liked a book that I wrote.”

The ability to make a connection with people you’ve never met is definitely an ‘up’ moment.

Cynsational Notes


Publishers Weekly said, “Maier keeps her prose spare and preserves the rhythms and taglines of the original…. Ruby’s satisfaction is palpable, and readers won’t fail to grasp the message of self-sufficiency.”

As a young child, Brenda Maier had a grand total of six books; consequently, she spent her summers walking to the local library to get more.

Now she spends her summers driving her own children to the local library, where you may find her in a corner with a stack of picture books. If she’s not there, she’s probably at a bookstore, adding to her much-larger-than-six-books collection.

Brenda lives in Oklahoma with her husband and their five children, who provide endless inspiration for more stories.

She also works with gifted children at a large, local school district.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Author-Teacher Interview: Gene Luen Yang on Writing, Teaching & the Hamline MFA Program

Lean more about Cartoonist and Teacher Gene Luen Yang.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to Cynsations. We last spoke to Dean Mary Francoise Rockcastle about the Hamline MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults back in 2006.



When did you join the faculty? What appealed to you about teaching in a low-residency program?

I joined the faculty of the Hamline MFAC program in the summer of 2012. I visited maybe a year or two before that as a guest speaker. I was only there for a day or two, but I was immediately impressed by the sense of community.

Hamline is a community centered around stories. Everyone is there to learn, and everyone is there to teach.

The low-residency program makes for an intimate experience. This past semester, for instance, I worked with three students. Some faculty take on more, of course, but not that many more.

 When you’re working at that scale, you can give a lot of individualized attention. I can get to know them as writers. I can be more invested in their stories.

What has teaching taught you about your own creative craft and process?

Laura Ruby at Hamline; cover of The Real Boy by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond)

I can give you very, very concrete answers here. This semester, one of my students wrote a critical essay on metafiction. Another wrote one about panel shapes in graphic novels. Both were thoughtful and well-researched. Both made me think differently about the project I’m currently working on.

A few semesters ago, my fellow faculty member Laura Ruby (winner of the 2016 Printz Award) gave a lecture on the objective correlative. I think about that all the time now, whenever I’m writing.

Like, all. The. Time.

And those are just a handful of examples. A community has collective wisdom, so when you’re a part of a community, you get to tap into that wisdom.

In addition, preparing and delivering a lecture forces you to really wrestle with your ideas. I’ve always worked through plot and characterization and setting by instinct, which is kind of like walking through your own room in the dark. You know where everything is, generally speaking, but you’re still going to stub your toe every now and then. Teaching plot and characterization and setting is like turning on the light.

Who else is on the faculty, and how would you describe the culture of your learning community?



I have to tell you, the Hamline faculty roster is stacked. Here’s the full list of my fellow faculty members: Swati AvasthiKelly BarnhillCoe BoothMarsha Wilson ChallMatt de la PeñaLisa Jahn-CloughEmily JenkinsRon KoertgeNina LaCourMary LogueJacqueline Briggs MartinMeg Medina, Claire Rudolf MurphyPhyllis RootLaura RubyGary SchmidtEliot SchreferSherri L. SmithLaurel Snyder, and Anne Ursu.

Learn more about Emily Jenkins.

My co-teachers have won practically every award offered by the literary world. Plus, we have folks working in every kids’ book age demographic, publishing format, and genre.

I’ve experienced Hamline to be a place that welcomes every kind of story. The MFAC folks are willing to grow and push and learn.

From your own experience (and those who came before), what growth and changes have you/they seen in your program?

I’ve seen students grow in skill, of course. They come away with better understandings of the craft itself. They learn to critique constructively. They learn to structure and revise. They learn to give from themselves through story.

And just as importantly, they learn to call themselves writers. Many of us write in isolation. Many of us are in families or friend groups that enjoy stories, but don’t really see their relevance. Many of us feel embarrassed to call ourselves writers.

Being a part of a writing community, getting to discuss the minute details of what makes a story work… if you haven’t yet given yourself permission to call yourself a writer, it may be because you need to join a writing community.

Could you describe a typical residency?

Residencies are about nine days long.

Kate DiCamillo teaches a master class at Hamline.

Most mornings, we break into small groups to critique student work. In the afternoons, we have lectures about the residency’s topic.

Topics go through a five-residency cycle: point-of-view, setting, plot, character, theme.

Faculty will sometimes lead workshops focusing on a specific skill.

 Gary Schmidt has done one on writing a great opening chapter. Swati Avasthi taught one on manipulating time.

I’ve done a workshop on writing a graphic novel script.

How about a typical advisor-advisee semester of writing and study?

At the end of the residency, students are assigned a faculty advisor. Each student meets with their advisor to talk over goals and figure out a game plan. Then, over the course of a semester, the student turns in four packets, typically one a month. Packets usually contain forty pages of writing.

Based on the previously-discussed goals, faculty will go over the packet and write a response letter. Some faculty also do phone calls. I usually have an email exchange in addition to the response letter. My relationship with my students is a bit like my editor’s relationship with me.

What do you like best about teaching at Hamline?

I love being a part of the Hamline community. I know I’m there to teach, but I feel like I learn so much.

I love hearing how other writers working in other formats and genres approach their craft. I love seeing my students grow in their storytelling prowess. I love seeing them grow in their confidence.



What would you say to a prospective children’s-YA writer who is considering graduate study?

Find yourself a writing community. Hamline isn’t right for everyone. Low-residency programs in general aren’t right for everyone. However, if you haven’t been able to find a community that suits your needs, or if anything I’ve said up to this point strikes a chord, check us out.

More personally, what was your own apprenticeship like?

I found a community. Early on, I fell in with a group of other comic book creators. We were all in our twenties. We were all at the start of our careers. We were all living in the Bay Area.

For years, we met once a week to write and draw together, and to look over each other’s work.

I never went to an MFA program, so I consider that experience my MFA program equivalent. Almost everyone in that group has now been published in one form or another.

Do you have any particular insights to share for those interested in creating graphic-format literature?



Read lots of comics.

Read lots of everything, but especially comics.

Read all of Scott McCloud‘s craft books: Understanding Comics (1993), Reinventing Comics (2000), and Making Comics (2006)(all William Morrow).

Work through Jessica Abel and Matt Madden‘s Drawing Words and Writing Pictures (First Second, 2008).

After that, give it a go. There are no rules to making comics.

You can write a script or go straight to thumbnail sketches. You can use just about any drawing implement you want to make your pictures. Pick a strategy and a set of tools – don’t worry about whether they’re the right choices because you’re not going to know until you’ve given them a try – and go.

What do you wish you had done differently? What choices were especially fruitful?

I am so, so fortunate to have had the journey I’ve had. I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, for fear of jinxing the whole thing.

I’ve just been incredibly blessed.

My most fruitful choice was joining that group of cartoonists when I was starting out. I got my first publisher through that group. Once one of us got connected, we would introduce everyone else.

What new or recent release of yours should we be sure to read?



I hope you’ll check out Secret Coders (First Second, 2017-), the middle grade graphic novel series I’m doing with my friend Mike Holmes. Mike and I are blending a mystery story with coding lessons. The fifth and sixth volumes come out this year.

I also hope you’ll check out the New Super-Man monthly comic series from DC Comics. I’m writing and Brent Peeples is doing the pencils.

We’re telling the story of a brand-new character in the DC Universe: Kenan Kong, a seventeen year old Chinese kid who inherits Clark Kent’s powers and becomes the Super-Man of China.

What about that project sparked your imagination? What did it teach you in terms of craft and process?

Secret Coders is my first explicitly educational project. I was a high school computer science teacher for 17 years, so I’ve always been interested in education. Mike and I wanted to figure out how to use comics to teach.

I’ve done some things well and some things not so well. There are a few instances when I let the educational aspect overwhelm the narrative aspect. I think balance is key. Balance is always key.

What was it like, being a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature? Is there a moment that stands out in your memory?

Serving as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature was perhaps the biggest honor of my life. I loved meeting Dr. Carla Hayden for the first time at the National Book Festival. I loved meeting young readers, young authors, and young cartoonists. I don’t care what anyone says about videogames or YouTube or whatever. Kids today love books. Kids today are absolutely hungry for stories, and they love getting their stories through the pages of a good book.



What do you hope for the children’s-YA creative community, looking into the future?

I hope for diversity in every sense of the word. I hope people from every corner of our society will tell their stories, and I hope they find folks who will listen to their stories. I hope authors will try out different publishing formats and genres. Heck, I hope authors invent new publishing formats and genres! I hope our world will be guided and nourished by good stories.

New Voice: Katie Kennedy on Learning to Swear in America

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Katie Kennedy is the first-time author of Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, 2016). From the promotional copy:

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. 

Maybe not kill-all-the-dinosaurs bad, but at least kill-everyone-in-California-and-wipe-out-Japan-with-a-tsunami bad. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been recruited to aid NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster.


The good news is Yuri knows how to stop the asteroid–his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. 

But the trouble is, even though NASA asked for his help, no one there will listen to him. He’s seventeen, and they’ve been studying physics longer than he’s been alive.


Then he meets (pretty, wild, unpredictable) Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and live a life worth saving.


Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with the questions of the universe.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Research was a huge part of writing Learning to Swear in America. The book is about an incoming asteroid, and the main character, Yuri, is a physics genius. I’m not.

I knew I didn’t want the book to be science-free. I mean, how could it be? It would be like a biography of a poet that doesn’t talk about the poetry—it would be missing a crucial element.

A physician friend told me about a Morbidity & Mortality meeting he attended as a young doctor. The physician in charge strode out onto the stage and wrote on the marker board:

  1. I didn’t know enough.
  2. Bad stuff happens.
  3. I was lazy. 

The man turned to the assembled doctors and said, “The first two will happen. You will have patients die for both those reasons.”

Then he slammed the side of his fist against the board and roared, “But by God it better never be because you were too lazy to Do. Your. Job.”

That’s how I felt about approaching research for Learning to Swear. I didn’t know enough. I would make mistakes. But it wouldn’t be for lack of trying.

I read Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Michio Kaku, and articles written by astrophysicists—for astrophysicists. You can find science simplified for the average educated reader—the basics on asteroids, for example. But if you want simplified information on spectral analysis? Forget it.

NASA’s website has all sorts of tables about asteroids, and it was a go-to source—until I discovered that the government shutdown also shuttered NASA. It was inconvenient not to be able to access information on which I was used to relying. It was chilling to realize that the people who usually stand sentry for Earth had been pulled in.

I should mention that a physicist who’s involved in security issues read for me—this is Dr. Robert August—and did me a world of good. Not only did he help me get the equipment right, but he corrected me on little cultural things. For example, he said that the computer programmers would have the name of their favorite pizza place written on their marker board. I included that.

Almost everything in the scenes with the programmers came from information Bob shared. He’s been in these kind of meetings, so that was incredibly helpful.

My biggest problem—outside of lack of background knowledge—was that I had envisioned exacerbating the problem mid-book by having the asteroid’s speed increase, so that it would arrive sooner than they expected.

Then I discovered this would violate the laws of nature.  

Stupid laws of nature.
By this point I had half the book written, and knew I had to find another way to make it harder for Yuri to stop the asteroid.

So I ate a lot of mint chocolate chip ice cream and did more reading—and somewhere in the tiny print I found my answer.

I did a little happy dance, and my husband asked why. “I found a way for an asteroid to smash the Earth, and we couldn’t do anything to stop it!”

He gave me a very strange look.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

Learning to Swear in America is based on an Immanuel Kant quote:

“Do what is right, though the world should perish.”

I teach college history, and we talk about Kant as part of the Enlightenment. That quote is one that hooked my imagination—I remember walking across the college parking lot thinking, Yeah, but what if the world really would perish? What then?

This book is the outgrowth of my conversation with Kant about that.

So I think being an instructor is helpful in several ways. First, history is narrative–essentially I tell stories to my students. Some of them are pretty good!

Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I.

I look at the names in my lectures—the Gracchi, Charlemagne, George Washington—and I’m so grateful that I get to share their stories with my students. What a privilege!

Also—what good practice in storytelling. I get to see immediately when the students’ attention flags.

Second, I come in contact with interesting material all the time, through reading in support of my day job, and even through my own lectures—like the Kant quote.

In fact, the main character of my next book was inspired by an historical figure—but I’m not saying who it is.

New Voice: Kurt Dinan on Don’t Get Caught

Educator’s Guide

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kurt Dinan is the first-time author of Don’t Get Caught (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016). From the promotional copy:

10:00 tonight at the water tower. Tell no one. -Chaos Club

When Max receives a mysterious invite from the untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, he has to ask: why him?


After all, he’s Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life. He’s Just Max. And his favorite heist movies have taught him this situation calls for Rule #4: Be suspicious. But it’s also his one shot to leave Just Max in the dust…


Yeah, not so much. Max and four fellow students-who also received invites-are standing on the newly defaced water tower when campus security “catches” them. Definitely a setup. And this time, Max has had enough. 

It’s time for Rule #7: Always get payback.


Let the prank war begin.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Having a full-time teaching job, papers to grade, and four children under the age of ten, let’s just say that writing time (or any free time for that matter) is pretty sparse. So basically, I’m a anytime/anywhere possible type of writer.

I write in the mornings before my students arrive, on my lunch break, in the fifteen minutes before I head home to get the kids, during my kids’ practices, or in the time after the kids go to bed if I’m not too tired and my brain is still functioning.

It can be a very piecemeal process, but I’m not too hard on myself and have a very realistic goal–500 words a day. When I get that finished, I don’t stress out about my writing the rest of the day.

That’s nice in that it allows me to focus my efforts and energy in other places they are needed.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

Follow @kurtdinan on Twitter

Other writers have good-naturedly ribbed me for having a secret “in” to the world of teenagers, and I suppose I do. I’m surrounded by them all day, and I hear their conversations, their worries, their humor, etc. I get to use all of that when I’m writing.

Being a writer has helped me immensely in the classroom though because kids love my honesty about how hard writing can be, about revision and brainstorming techniques I’ve learned, and about how you want to write something you’re proud of, not just something you’ve finished.

 Basically, I’m not just someone forcing them to write, I’m someone going through a lot of the same struggles they are, and a lot of them appreciate that.

Author-Teacher Interview: Esther Hershenhorn

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Esther, welcome back to Cynsations! What’s new in your writing-teacher life?

I’m happy to report: the teaching part of my teaching-author life is taking off in all sorts of new directions this year, literally and figuratively. I continue to teach writing for children workshops at both the University of Chicago’s Graham School’s Writer’s Studio and Chicago’s Newberry Library, where I’ve taught since 2001 in alternating seasons.

However, this April and May I’ll be facilitating a Writers Group at the Writer’s Studio for middle grade and young adult novelists. This June I’m introducing a new hands-on workshop in which writers use common marketing tools to create a GPS to guide their final submission-worthy revisions.

Both institutions bring me stellar students from all walks of life, so committed to telling their stories to children they wring me out like a sponge.

I love it and remain “Jewish-Mama proud” as they fully immerse themselves in learning and honing their craft.

Come July, I’ll be flying northeast to Landgrove, Vermont, where I’m honored to continue Barbara Seuling’s venerable Manuscript Workshop from July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn.

I’m back in Chicago July 23 through Aug. 3, again honored, this time to facilitate a writing for children workshop, along with Joan Bauer and Sara Holbrook, in Judson University’s Doctoral program.

We’ll spend time on campus grounding the soon-to-graduate Doctorate in Literacy candidates in the Children’s Book World’s story-telling opportunities and possibilities; we’ll then retreat to a northern Michigan resort where we’ll work one-one-one with our writers to help each ready his or her manuscript.

How exciting that you’ll be leading the Manuscript Workshop at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont! Would you please tell us about the history of the program?

The one-and-only Barbara Seuling – children’s book author of more than 60 titles, illustrator, former children’s book editor and esteemed children’s book writing teacher, founded The Manuscript Workshop in New York City in 1982, moving it to Vermont in 1992 and then to the Landgrove Inn these last few years.

That’s Barbara Seuling, the expert author, as in How To Write A Children’s Book and Get It Published (Wiley, 2004), Barbara Seuling, whose dedication to craft and children’s literature as well as to her students and fellow children’s book creators is known to all in the children’s book world.

I’m mindful I’m stepping into some mighty huge shoes.

An early brochure’s cover quote underscored Barbara’s heart and the workshop’s intent: “Spread your writer’s wings…and discover how high you can soar.”

Countless working writers who attended the workshop and retreat have indeed flown high, connecting with fellow writers, learning new skills and polishing their work.

The good news is: my heart lies with Barbara’s; the workshop’s intent remains the same.

The small (up to eight writers) week-long workshop continues its tradition of offering insightful, informative and inspiring one-to-one student-teacher connections.

Morning sessions include hands-on writing exercises and instruction on craft – story and its structure, format and genre considerations, the young reader’s needs.

Afternoons are set aside for individual writing and/or re-visioning of manuscripts, optional special interest sessions or free time.

Evening sessions focus on readings of the day’s work and guided critiques.

Throughout the week, focused food-for-thought conversations at meals highlight the writing process, paths to publications, writer’s tips and sustaining the creative spirit.

Appropriately enough, manuscript workshop founder Barbara Seuling ices the week’s cake with a guest speaker visit.

How about your personal philosophy of teaching? What should your students expect from you?

As corny as it sounds, like Barbara I do things “the old-fashioned way” – up close and personal, eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart.

In my humble opinion: each of us has a story and the right to tell that story. It’s my job, as well as a privilege, to help the writer do just that if children are his or her audience. I do indeed invest in that story – in its construct, its telling, its place within the body of children’s literature.

But as important, I also invest in the writer. Knowing what our characters want/need/wish for and why isn’t enough; we need to know our own what’s and why’s. As Marion Dane Bauer taught me, the writer needs to be somewhere in his story if it’s to re-sound in the reader’s heart.

This was a truth that came late to me in my own path to publication, a career that – proudly – earned me the title “The Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.”

Again, it might sound corny, but I do my best to give my students and the writers I coach what I needed while out and about on my own writer’s plotline: I needed someone seeding me, feeding me, cheering me on, believing in my story, believing in me.

Like the earlier-mentioned Jewish Mama, I’m tough – because children deserve the very best, I nurture and I take enormous pride in the strides my students and coached writers – my “storied treasures” – continue to make.

One of the great lures of any workshop is the location. How would you describe it?

I cannot tell a lie: I’ve yet to visit the Green Mountains in person!

However, I’m counting the days ‘til I arrive.

Paging through Vermont travel guides and scrolling down the pages of online Vermont websites, I know what awaits me: majestic mountain peaks, rolling hills, picturesque valleys and verdant forests, scenic roads, hiking trails and quaint charming towns. “Idyllic” is the word most travel writers choose to describe the Green Mountain State.

Tom and Maureen Checchia, proprietors of the historic Landgrove Inn, known, incidentally, for its award-winning meals, describe their country inn and town as “authentically Vermont.”

The truth is: a whole lot of magic can happen when we leave our known and familiar writing rooms, when we take ourselves and our stories to new places and spaces and surround ourselves with like-minded, like-hearted folks who share our passion.

Tell us more what you’re doing in your writing life.

Ah! The author part of teaching-author.

Alas, when I do claim writing time between my teaching and coaching, my work, like my teaching, has taken off in new directions, literally and figuratively. Now, when I do write, I’m usually writing nonfiction.

I found this funny at first, since I was somewhat reluctant to join my fellow TeachingAuthors bloggers, certain the writing would not fulfill me as my fiction did. (How wrong I was!)

I also found my reluctance ironic. I minored in journalism at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication and cut my writer’s teeth working for a local newspaper, then educational text book publishers.

Researching and writing S is for Story, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear, 2009) turned me around 360°. The writing itself, straightforward and concrete, came so naturally, lost as I was in that creative flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi advocates.

Recently I began blogging for the American Writer’s Museum, scheduled to open in Chicago in late 2016/early 2017.

Given my love of Chicago and All Things Children’s Book, my posts have featured Shel Silverstein (“A Chicago Gift Named Shel”), L. Frank Baum (“Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan!”) and The Center for the Book’s Letters About Literature project (“Dear Author”). Future posts will feature Gene Luen Yang (the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature), the Walter Dean Meyers Award and a favorite author’s upcoming 100th Birthday.

Currently, I’m working with a graphic designer to create a new alphabet book concept.

And that one middle grade fictional character whose story grabbed my heart a life-time ago?

Fortunately, she’s making herself known on a daily basis.

How would you say your journey has evolved over time?

Leo the Late Bloomer and I have much in common.

For starters, like most beginning children’s book writers, I had no idea I was embarking on a journey, and a Hero’s Journey, to boot.

I was simply writing a picture book to be published in time for my son’s third birthday. It would be easy. It would be fun. And how nice that while doing so I could realize my childhood dream of seeing my name on the cover of a children’s book. I mean, I did teach fifth grade, right? I did write for newspapers, yes? I did write text books.

Fast forward lots of years dotted with lots of rejections and “oh, no!” Moments, past lots of twists and turns, not to mention lots of mentors and allies. To my amazement, as story helps the reader discover/uncover/recover his story, writing – and revising – my never-published picture books and middle grade fiction helped me discover/uncover/recover my story. I’d finally found my voice. I could speak from the heart. Published picture books soon indeed followed.

But wait! Just as the hero surprisingly returns with something so much better than what he first sought, I did too.

Once published, I went on to become a teacher and coach of children’s book writers.

In Elizabeth Strout’s new novel My Name is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016), the title character and narrator shares remembered advice from a famous author whose writing workshop she’d attended. “You will have only one story,” Sarah Payne told the class. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

I agree.

I’ve come to see that all of my books, whether fiction or nonfiction, picture book or novel, and all of my characters from Lowell Piggott to the referenced and cited children’s book creators in S is for Story, tell the reader: you matter!

Which is just what I tell my students and writers.

In so many inevitable yet surprising ways, I now understand my story may well be helping other writers tell their stories.

I look forward to doing just that July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.

Through February, The Inn offers a discount for accommodations. You can email Tom Chechhia at vtinn@sover.net.

Interested writers can also email me their questions at esthersh@aol.com.

Guest Interview: Author Eric Pinder on Writing Picture Books & How to Share With a Bear

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Eric Pinder is the author of four picture books and four adult nonfiction books. His most recent release is How to Share With a Bear, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015). From the promotional copy:

The perfect thing to do on a chilly day is to make a cave. But comfy caves never stay empty for long….


What can you do when a bear takes over your cave? Try to distract him with a trail of blueberries? Some honey? A nice, long back scratch? 

How to Share With a Bear is a story about how although it’s not always easy, sharing with a sibling can be the most fun!

Congratulations on How to Share With a Bear! Tell me about the inspiration for this story.

Being a kid should automatically count as credit toward getting a degree in architecture, because we’ve all made blanket forts and blanket caves as kids. What’s more fun? I think every uncle, aunt, parent, and babysitter has had to master the architecture of a blanket cave at some point, too. Often it’s a collaborative effort, in the same way that reading a picture book is a shared experience.

For How to Share with a Bear, I had the blanket cave setting in mind from the start. The word “cave” got me thinking about real caves, and what you might find in one. That led naturally to a bear.

How or when did you make that leap in your imagination from bears being scary creatures that could eat you to being a cuddly companion?

William Faulkner’s “The Bear” was an early influence, even before I started writing for children. And no one gets through high school without seeing Shakespeare’s bear chase characters right off the stage. So we have this perception of bears as big and scary, but in childhood we’re also familiar with Fozzy Bear, Yogi Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and our own teddy bears.

Hear the word “bear” and you don’t know at first which you’re going to get: the terrifying grizzly or the funny, cuddly kind of bear. The very word “bear” creates uncertainty, all on its own.

Uncertainty creates tension and suspense. And suspense makes readers keep turning the pages. We have these two dueling, conflicting perceptions of bears lodged in our minds from an early age, and I think the subtle tension that evokes is what makes bears so great for storytelling.

Cat in the Clouds, If All the Animals Came Inside, Share with a Bear… I’m sensing a theme with animals and nature.

One of my earliest favorite memories is camping with my dad in Baxter State Park on a rainy afternoon when suddenly a moose stuck its head right into our leanto to say hi. I didn’t have that day in mind when writing If All the Animals Came Inside, but now that I think about it, that memory must have been an influence all along.

I know you spend a lot of time outdoors and have even written some books for grownups on that subject. Can you tell me what prompted you to write for children and what has been the biggest challenge in crafting stories for young readers?

One day a strange thing happened: Everyone in my circle of friends started having kids. Their houses were suddenly full of books by Seuss and Boynton and Silverstein. I’ve always liked poetry, and writing picture books is similar; they’re both read aloud—performed—so the sound and rhythm of each word and syllable matters. It’s almost like writing a song. Reading those old favorite books on friends’ shelves and hearing them performed out loud reminded me of how much fun they are. I had to start writing some of my own.

Writing for any age group is challenging. The biggest challenge with picture books is appealing to two different audiences at the same time: the grownup reading the book, and the child listening to them read. Re-watching Sesame Street recently made me appreciate how well they often write on two levels like that. One Sesame Street skit features a bear who is a writer. The bear’s name is Flo. It took me a second to connect the dots: Flo Bear, i.e. Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary. Clever joke! That second level of understanding flew completely over my head when I saw skits like that as a toddler, but it didn’t confuse or distract me, either. Watching it as a grownup, it made me chuckle.

What’s your process like? Do your stories simmer in your head for a long time before you sit down at the computer?

I leave a plate of cookies next to my laptop overnight and hope that elves will write the story for me. Then I get up the next morning, eat one of the stale cookies, mutter about elves, and start typing away on my own. To force myself to make time to write, I’ll put background music on the CD player and make a rule: no checking email or playing Scrabble or anything else but writing until the music stops. Usually the first half-hour is agonizing, but then I’ll get momentum.

Sometimes a single sentence or an opening scene will simmers for months before the rest of the story appears. At other times, like a gift from the Muses, a whole first draft will appear on the page in one sudden creative burst. But that’s rare. I should probably bake more cookies for the Muses.


You also teach creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Does that also feed your creativity?

The best way to describe teaching is “exhausting but rewarding.” Lesson prep and commenting on student stories is time-consuming, but it’s worth it. Sometimes a student’s story or poem will be so good that it makes me grin the whole time I’m reading it. Just being part of a community where everyone loves books, talks about books, and asks smart questions about books on a weekly basis sparks creativity.

Of course, there are times when I wish I’d assigned less homework. (Right now, my students are probably saying, “Yeah, us too.”) It takes energy and time to critically read and edit dozens of pages of stories by others between classes, and that does leave less time and energy for your own creative work. It makes sticking to a regular writing schedule, even if it’s only an hour a day, extra important.

For most teachers the summer—blissful, leisurely summer—is the most productive season for our own writing. But the books we read and the classroom conversations we have during the rest of the year definitely fuel new writing projects.


I frequently see Facebook posts of you selling books at Farmers Markets. Tell me more about this unique venue choice.

A middle-schooler at an author event said, “Hey, my mom runs the farmers’ market. You should sell your books there.”

That’s not a venue that would ever have occurred to me, but, being a starving writer in need of money, I filed the idea away and gave it a try.

The first day I sold $200 worth of books. People like getting signed copies. Even on rainy days when I sell nothing, it’s still fun to meet and talk to people. You can tell who the teachers and school librarians are.

The best part is seeing kids who really love books. A beginning reader at one market slowly read If All the Animals Came Inside aloud to his grandma, pausing every now and then to say, “Did you write this page and this page?” and “What the heck’s a yak!?” It was like listening to a funny DVD commentary for my own book. Halfway through, he told me, “You’re actually doing a really good job writing this. So far.” Kids are the bluntest and best of literary critics.

At some markets I’m the only writer there, sandwiched between vegetable stands, maple syrup, and corn on the cob. Other towns combine farmers’ markets with craft fairs, so there are painters, wood-carvers, and photographers there, too.

One tip for doing book-signings at venues like this is that it helps to have at least three or four different books on your table. People like to see a selection and be able to browse. I’ve seen authors with only a single title at their table, and they’ve struggled. The more covers you have on display, the more eye-catching your table will be.

What’s coming up next?

Another picture book with Stephanie Graegin, How to Build a Snow Bear, is coming in 2016, and The Perfect Pillow, illustrated by Chris Sheban, in 2017. The latter has animals but surprisingly no bears, which may be a first for me.

I also just finished a big revision of a creative nonfiction manuscript about adventures in teaching. That one does have bears, and wolves, and even a camel. So I guess I’m not done writing about animals just yet.


I read about the bats being cut from How to Share With a Bear – any plans for bat inclusion in future books? Or do you have something against bats?

I love bats! They eat mosquitoes and have sonar as a superpower. Sometimes a scene, like the one with the bats, is good on its own, but the story as a whole is stronger without it.

I save deleted scenes and pruned sentences in a folder called “Scraps.” Sometimes they’ll get used or adapted later in a different story.

Cynsational Notes

Both Eric and Gayleen are alums of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program and graduated in the Winter 2011 class known as the Bat Poets.

New Voice: Cindy L. Rodriguez on When Reason Breaks

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cindy L. Rodriguez is the first-time author of When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury, 2015). From the promotional copy:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. 

Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. 

Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.


In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Writing with assistant Ozzie

My manuscript went through tons of pre-contract revisions. I first revised based on my agent’s feedback prior to going on submission to editors. The rejections with notes were helpful because we saw trends and knew those aspects needed to be fixed.

Around the same time, the editor who would eventually buy my novel wanted revisions before she’d take it to her team. She sent general notes and line-edited the first 40 pages, so I could really understand both the global and line-level changes she wanted.

These included scaling back the adult character, Ms. Diaz, further developing some of the secondary characters, and working on making the two main teen characters distinct and the diary entries and letters indistinct, meaning they had to read as if they could have been written by either girl.

This version was the one that ended with a contract.

But, as we all know, revising doesn’t end there. After the contract, I received a four-page, business-style editorial letter with further revisions needed.

This part of the process involved some back-and-forth through emails, and the draft traveled between me and my editor a few times—to get certain scenes just right—before it was approved for the next step, which was copy editing.

Throughout all this, I sometimes felt frustrated—I’m not going to lie—because it’s a long, emotionally draining process.

So, when the manuscript was sent back again and again with more notes, I’d sometimes wonder if I’d ever get it right.

In hindsight, though, all of the changes my editor requested were spot on and helped to shape the story into its best possible version. Nothing she proposed didn’t sit right with me.

Some authors have had the opposite experience, so I was lucky that way.

I’ve learned that revision is a hugely important and necessary part of the process, so my advice to other writers is to listen, be open to the suggestions, and be willing to make major changes if it means creating a better story.

near the Emily Dickinson House/Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

What about being a teacher hasn’t been a blessing?

My students have influenced me in countless ways as both a person and writer. In general, though, being a teacher means I have direct access to today’s young people. I get to see how they dress and talk and what they talk about. I witness teen life first hand instead of having to eavesdrop on conversations at the mall or watch countless YouTube videos.

Some things haven’t changed since my teen years, like the emotions and confusion that are part of coming of age, but of course, many things have changed. I’m lucky that I get to interact with young people every day and learn about their lives.

They often say something, and I tell them, “That’s going to end up in a book one day.”

They just laugh and tell me I’d better spell their name right!

Cynsational Screening Room

New Voice: Paul Greci on Surving Bear Island

Paul Greci

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Paul Greci is the first-time author of Surviving Bear Island (Move, 2015)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

How did you approach the research process for your story? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

The research for Surviving Bear Island was very hands on and spans twenty-five years. Since my teenage years, I have always been drawn to remote places. I have worked in roadless areas on the North and West Coasts of Alaska doing field biology. I have witnessed 12,000 walrus hauled out on a beach, 120,000 caribou crossing the tundra, and Killer Whales hunting and eating a porpoise.

Even though none of the above experiences are directly in this book, my long history of extended wilderness travel permeates the story on many levels.

sea lions

In 1991, I went on my first sea kayaking trip, which was a nine-week, 500-mile journey in Prince William Sound on the South Central Alaska Coastline where Surviving Bear Island is set.

Since then I have returned almost every year to paddle part of the Sound, doing trips ranging from one week to one month both solo and with friends.

kayak

On my wilderness trips I have always kept journals. When I decided to try to write a story set in Prince William Sound, my journal entries became much more detailed regarding what I was experiencing at both the sensory and emotional levels.

On one trip my wife and I spent several days circumnavigating an island and that island became the template for the fictional Bear Island in my story. I took very detailed setting notes and was able to use them, sometimes word for word, in parts of the story.

Without creating spoilers for people who may read Surviving Bear Island, many of the experiences that the main character has are inspired by experiences that I have had. Basically, I used my experiences as springboards for some of the trials that Tom faces in the story.

“a terrific thrill on the page.” — Kirkus Reviews

As I started to add new incidents not inspired directly by my experiences, I tried to experience or replicate what I was writing. For example, Tom has an emergency blanket that in damaged in a fire. For research, I burned part of an emergency blanket to see how it would respond to fire and it turned out to be quite different than how I imagined it. Instead of bursting into flames, it melted and made crackling noises.

I have been fortunate to have witnessed bears fishing for salmon, to have paddled a kayak in large stormy seas without disaster, to have spent extended periods of time in remote places cut off from all other human contact so where you are becomes your whole world and you can experience a place deeply and without distractions.

The main roadblock I ran into when writing Surviving Bear Island was how to write a story with primarily one character and have it have authentic emotional depth and complexity. Early drafts of my story were very plot heavy and episodic.

As the years went by and I wrote other stories where characters were interacting with each other, I developed my skills for exploring emotional depth, and also for writing in first person. I think those other manuscripts I wrote gave me the tools I needed to transform a single-character third-person narrative into a single-character first-person narrative that was much more character-driven and emotionally authentic.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

My identity as a writer has informed my identity as a teacher in significant ways. I have spent most of my teaching career working with struggling and reluctant readers and writers. As a writer teaching writing, I brought to my teaching a passion and enthusiasm for something I love, coupled with experience. I tried to design writing activities that as a writer were meaningful.

Paul writing on his treadmill desk.

When I was teaching fiction writing to my fifth graders, I did every pre-writing and writing activity that I required my students to do, with the end result being that each student would write, edit and revise a short story.

Each morning during writing time I would start by sharing how I had completed the assignment that I was about to give them. I would show them what I had done and answer questions and then they would apply whatever the lesson was to the story they were writing.

When I taught high school English in an alternative school for students who had exhausted all their other public school options, a job I held for fifteen years, I tried to honor student differences and strengths by using more of an open format for teaching writing.

As a writer, I wrote what moved me, and as a teacher I let my students write what moved them. Some wrote science fiction stories, some wrote essays about challenges in their lives, others wrote poetry. There were some writing assignments tied to the reading/literature part of the class, but for the straight writing I gave my students room to roam and tried to support their interests.

Many experiences of being a teacher have also informed the part of me that is a writer.

When I worked as a Naturalist for a few different outdoor education programs, I had my students build shelters for a survival activity weekly. Years later, when I was writing Surviving Bear Island I mined those memories and used them to inform my writing when Tom, the main character, needed to build shelters.

Prince William Sound

Teaching in an alternative high school setting for fifteen years helped me to stay in touch with the issues and challenges that young people face daily. I also got to witness how incredibly strong individuals can be even when they are facing circumstances that are overwhelming, like homelessness, changing foster homes on short notice, or dealing with an abusive family member. I developed a deep respect and compassion for students who were going through difficult times.

My students were my greatest teachers, and I hope the characters I create are as complex as the amazing people I’ve been fortunate to interact with as teacher over the years.

a rare warm day

Cynsational Notes

Surviving Bear Island is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Guest Post: Cecilia Galante on Where to Start Your Story?

Cecilia Galante

By Cecilia Galante
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

One of the things I’ve noticed my graduate creative writing students struggling with is where exactly to start in a book.

I’ve had two students fill up the first 40 pages of their novels with excruciating back-story details involving family history, blood-lines, place of birth, and so on.

Another one began her book with a five-year-old protagonist relaying her ideas on life, which might have worked if any of her musings had eventually found their way into her adult life. (They did not.)

The truth is, it is a very difficult process to figure out where in your character’s life you should start telling his or her story. But it’s not impossible.

Here are a few pointers that have helped me navigate this process in my own writing:

1. Don’t ever start at the beginning. Unless you’re writing a memoir, starting out with your character as a kid and then following them up through the teen years and into adulthood is not only boring, it’s missing the point of writing good fiction.

(Random House, April 28)

Most people don’t read books to learn how other people navigate their entire lives; they read books to learn how others navigate a certain part of their lives. The hell of eighth grade perhaps, or a loveless marriage. Don’t cheat your readers by weighing down enormous life experiences such as these other unnecessary ones.

Start right at the crux of things, where the details are the ugliest. The truest. Your readers will trust you right away.

2. Back off the back-story. Even if writers don’t start at the beginning of their characters lives, a lot of them still seem to think that they have to get into all their messy histories, as if apologizing beforehand for all the coming mistakes he or she is going to make.

Don’t fall into that sandpit. Not only will your reader get bored by all the unnecessary details, your story will stop dead in its tracks, which is certain death for both the reader and the writer.

That’s not to say of course, that you don’t need some back-story. Every character needs a little fleshing out when it comes to their pasts. But insert that kind of information sporadically, here and there in little fits and starts, especially when things come up in the present that remind the character of the past.

3. Write big. Right away.

All I knew, when I sat down to write my first book, The Patron Saint of Butterflies (Bloomsbury, 2009), was that I had a scene in my head that had to be put on paper. The scene involved a little boy whose finger was accidentally amputated in a door.

I could see this scene in my head. I could feel it. Taste it. I wrote it out in two days, flush with detail, pulsing with life. And from that scene, the next one came. And then the next, until, a year or so later, the book was finished.

But the finger amputation scene did not end up being the beginning of the book. In fact, it ended up being somewhere in the middle. But because I’d pulled up the anchor and started somewhere, the ship had been allowed to set sail.

Don’t get bogged down by the details of starting. Just start. And if you’re like me, start with something big. Something exciting. Something that makes you want to get back into the chair every morning and keep writing.

And one day, maybe much sooner than you think, you might find yourself climbing up on that deck to see something that looks very much like the end in the not so distant shore.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Dianne White on Doing the Work & Not Giving Up

By Dianne White
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I haven’t always been a writer – at least not in the way I assume my friends who write must have been as children growing up.

I never wrote stories I couldn’t wait to share with my parents and teachers; I was not the kid who stapled lined pages together to write and illustrate my own books; I never kept a journal, and I’m not one of those people with rich imaginations able to tell grand stories at the drop of a hat.

I’m not at all like many writers I admire who are either far more gifted than me or simply have a voice and heart that seems to easily capture on paper that intangible something that makes a reader fall in love with a book.

So, how did I end up with a debut picture book published by my dream editor and illustrated by a Caldecott artist? Serendipity and something more.


Blue on Blue (Beach Lane, 2014) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime books. It was quickly written and sold to the first editor who saw it. This does not usually happen! Nor has it happened with any other manuscript I’ve written over more years that I care to mention. But the happy journey of Blue on Blue’s publication points to the few things that I, and every pre-published or published children’s writer, have the power to control: Do the work and don’t give up.

an author in the making

Do the work – put in your 10,000 – or less, or more – hours of practice. However many hours it takes you is really all that matters. So don’t compare. Ask any published author and they’ll tell you that each book is its own puzzle. What sometimes looks easy to the outsider is never exactly as it seems. But practice and study and an attitude that understands there’s always room for growth will never disappoint.

As a primary grade teacher who earned a credential in the late 80’s during the height of core lit and thematic units, I had only just begun to understand the power, width, and breadth of the picture book genre. I fell in love and wanted to write such books.

But like most things, wanting to do something and learning to do it well don’t always go hand in hand. The work must be so grounded in passion that you’re willing to do what it takes to get you there. Writing is hard, and publishing is a business, after all. Writing is also art, so go in expecting to face rejection – lots of it – with the knowledge that it will never be as easy as it looks.

Okay. Sure. There will be people who will reach their publishing goals faster than you. But, in the end, we reach our goals our own way, and if it takes you longer than you think it should, then do yourself a favor and embrace the journey. Because, honestly, that’s one of the very best things about the children’s book community – the awesome, and very supportive people you’ll meet along the way. Be sure to take time to appreciate that goodness and the many terrific people rooting for you.

Don’t give up – this is where your level of passion comes into play. Writing for kids is an honor and a gift. Treasure it and understand that it is your passion that will keep you plugging away, rethinking, and revising.

When Blue on Blue debuted on Dec, 9, it was almost six years from acquisition to publication. In every single way, it’s been worth the wait. It’s a book I’m deeply proud of, most especially because it reflects the vision of a group of dedicated picture book lovers– editor Allyn Johnston, illustrator Beth Krommes, and art director Lauren Rille.

Picture books exist because of this community of artists, all of who contribute something wonderful and unique to the projects they’re involved in.

I continue to work on new picture book ideas, but I’m enjoying this time of “firsts.” It’s been a long but worthwhile journey and I can’t wait to see what new experiences and wonderful things lie just around the corner.

Cynsational Notes

Dianne White has lived and traveled around the world and now calls Arizona home. She holds an elementary bilingual teaching credential and a master’s in Language and Literacy. In 2007, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

After teaching students of all ages for 25 years, she now writes full-time. Her first picture book, Blue on Blue, illustrated by 2009 Caldecott winner, Beth Krommes, is published by Beach Lane Books.

Illustration by Beth Krommes; learn more about Blue on Blue!

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