Teddy’s Precious Gift

We are thrilled to have author Michelle Nott with us today. This fall, her newest picture book releases, Teddy, Let’s Go!, and illustrated by Nahid Kazemi. She shares such a beautiful story about a Grandmother giving her newborn grandchild a teddy bear she made herself. Teddy takes the reader on an unforgettable adventure about love and friendship.

Tina: Thank you for visiting today, Michelle! This is a precious story to share. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

Michelle: Thanks for having me! When I’m drafting a new picture book, I write it all out as it comes to mind without stopping to really edit. Once I have the full story in front of me, I know my characters, their emotional arc, and the story arc, then I start cutting anything that would be easily shown in the illustrations. If a detail is necessary to have in an image but is not obvious from the text, then I will add an illustration note. 

Every action, scene, and sensory element must move the story forward. There is no room for extra words, no matter how beautifully written or how funny they are. It can be hard to cut favorite lines (I cut and paste them into another document to save them). But for the sake of story, only keep what is essential. 

Try to keep these questions in mind: 

Does the action add to the understanding of the character and/or move the story forward?

Does a particular scene provide essential information about the characters or forward the plot in such a way that could not be incorporated anywhere else? 

As for sensory elements, do they add to or distract from the character development or narrative?

Tina: Those are great suggestions, and often easier said than done.  Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?

Michelle: Yes, before writing picture books, I wrote and published poetry. So, I like to use poetic devices to enhance my writing. I find that having a background in poetry has helped me keep a close eye on word count and how to say as much as I can with as few words as possible. 

For example, in my debut picture book Teddy Let’s Go!, which is told from a teddy bear’s point of view, I wanted the reader to understand immediately that a grandmother has made this precious gift and that the teddy feels how much love she has given him to pass on. Without saying all that outright, my first line is simply, “The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear.” From that one line, the illustrator created four images, three of which lead up to it.  

Tina: What a gorgeous first line. Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

Michelle: Of course, to follow up on my previous answer, the following lines are rather an example of where I was telling too much in a very early draft (from 2012): 

“With every paw [the grandmother] sewed, she smiled. With every arm attached, she laughed. 

And with stiff fingers, she stuffed me with all the love she had. Up into my ears. Around my belly. Down to my toes. The opening was just under my bum. She patched it with a label: 

‘Specially hand-made by Grandma.’”

All those lines became simply:

“The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear.”

Everything I had written in that earlier draft of this scene was long cut before I ever queried my agent. In the end, however, Nahid Kazemi’s illustrations brilliantly convey everything I had wanted to express, and without illustration notes. 

When writing stories, we must keep in mind to “show, don’t tell.” But I think we also need to remember to “show just enough, and don’t tell.” Never underestimate the imagination of the reader nor that of the illustrator.

Tina: An excellent point. The illustrations show as much heart as your writing. Your words and her art blend perfectly. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

Michelle: Storyboarding my manuscript helps me balance what to show and what to tell. Even though my characters are stick figures and my trees look like lollipops, it’s really helpful to imagine how the story could appear on the page. As I do this, I can more easily see what lines actually work best as illustrations and, therefore, do not need to be written out. There shouldn’t be any redundancy between the images and the text. 

Tina: That’s a really strong strategy. Thank you for sharing such valuable information and strategies. Wishing you and Teddy every success as his story enters the world!

Michelle Nott is a former educator (pre-K to 12, French and Creative Writing), freelance editor, published poet, and children’s book author. She writes fiction and nonfiction, in prose and verse. She has authored two early readers, Freddy, Hoppie and the Eyeglasses and Dragon Amy’s Flames. Her debut picture book, Teddy Let’s Go!, releases this fall from Enchanted Lion Books . 

Michelle grew up in the U.S. and has lived in Europe for extended periods of time. She holds American and French citizenship and is bilingual, English and French. Her extensive travel around the U.S., Europe, and Africa fuels her imagination and appreciation for story, art, and world cultures.

You can find Michelle online at:







You can pre-order your copy here:

Barnes & Noble


Independent Booksellers



Today we have a special guest, friend and critique partner, Yvona Fast. She shares the emotional story of her mother’s childhood experiences during the Holocaust in her upcoming middle grade book, GOOD IN THE MIDST OF EVIL, with Clear Fork Publishing. Dana Fast is one of many whose personal experiences during such a horrific time, have given her the strength she has today.

TS: Welcome, Yvona! I am so excited to read your book and hear about how your mother’s important story came to be. Her experiences help us understand our world’s history, especially such difficult times.

AF: Thank you, Tina. Yes, they really do!

When I was growing up and we studied history and the Holocaust, I would ask Mom questions – I knew she had lived through it – but she never would talk about it. It was only later, when I was in my forties that she started talking.

Her brother – who is 5 years younger – asked her to write it down for his kids, since he remembered so little, being so young. This was in the 1990s. I was in Europe working in Yugoslavia, Poland and Slovakia from 1989 – 1995, and she typed it on our friend Olga’s word processor… it wasn’t even a computer back then. I just recently came across this early draft when cleaning out the filing cabinet. 

Her friends in Poland wanted to read it – so she wrote it in Polish for them, using the same word processor… 

When I came back to the states, I read both versions – and they were not identical. She recalled different things each time. 

TS: Wow, so fascinating. I am sure after so many years, sitting down to write the difficult memories in both languages must have been very challenging.

AF: This really inspired me to want to share her story. I was living and working in Rochester, NY, then, and combined both versions into one, editing as I went. I tried submitting the story to publishers, but there was no interest. 

A few years later, in 2010, a friend of Mom’s, Andrea, asked if she could write mom’s story down. She was on the board of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Society in Montreal, Quebec, and they were looking for Holocaust stories to publish. 

We told her the story was already written – and in 2011 they published it, with only minor edits, under the title, MY NINE LIVES. When I said we wanted a thousand copies, they thought we were crazy… but we have sold most of them. The nonprofit only publishes the books, but they do not distribute them, so the only way to get a copy is either through the agency or through us. 

Mom is well-known in our community, since she has worked here and lived here and volunteered for various organizations from the local library to the Visitor’s Interpretive Center, and served as a Master Gardener Volunteer for years, giving talks on gardening, composting, preserving food, and so on. Over a hundred people came to her book release party. 

TS: She is amazing! You must be so proud of her.

AF: I really am. But I wanted a wider market for the book, beyond our small village. Since there are about a dozen books with the title MY NINE LIVES, I wanted a unique title that fit. A friend, Karen Davidson, designed a more engaging cover. These are things that are important to book marketing… the cover and the title. 

A friend offered to help me publish it through Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) but part-way through she dropped the project. Her Apple computer and my IBM version did not seem to work together well. That’s when I sent a copy of MY NINE LIVES to Caliie Metler of Clear Fork Publishing. She loved the book and offered to publish it under the Rise Imprint – books that empower women and teach them to rise. 

TS: Yvona, how wonderful for your mother and your family to be able to do this for her. Great thinking on your part to submit her story to Clear Fork and the RISE Imprint is a perfect fit.

AF: My mom, Dana, is definitely a strong, independent woman. Her life made her that way. 

I say she wrote the book – it is her story. She claims I wrote it. I definitely edited and improved it, but the story and voice are clearly hers. 

TS: Something tells me both of you are sharing this important history, together. We wish you every success as the release her incredible story releases Tuesday, April 5th!

Yvona Fast grew up on three continents, speaking three languages by age ten. She thought many of her challenges were due to these changes in culture, but in her forties she discovered she is neurodivergent and needs words – not pictures – to understand her world, a condition known as Nonverbal Learning Disability. 

Her love of books and language first led her to become a librarian, and later, to writing. She has written articles and essays, writes a weekly food column for her local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and has published several books, including three poetry chapter books. Her first book, Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning Disability, was published in 2004 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Learn more about Yvona and her writing at www.yvonafast.com. Follow her on Twitter at yvonawrites, or on Facebook at Words Are My World or Author Yvona Fast.  

To order the book, visit:

Clear Fork Publishing

Barnes and Noble



What is Haiku?

Simple, direct, and intense, haiku are descriptive nature poems written in the present tense (here and now). They contain a fleeting natural image and an aha! moment when something unexpected happens – a surprise ending. The goal is for the reader to experience the moment in a new way.

A haiku consists of three phrases that include a seasonal reference (kigo) and are joined with a ‘cutting word’ (kireji). The form was popularized by the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694). One of the most famous haiku poems is Bashō’s Frog Haiku. There are many English translations of the poem; here are three:

Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.

ancient is the pond —

     suddenly a frog leaps — now!

          the water echoes.

Breaking the silence

Of an ancient pond,

A frog jumped into water —

A deep resonance.

We see two juxtaposed images from nature – an ancient silent pond and a jumping frog. We hear the sound of the splash into the water (the surprise ending).

Japanese haiku poems were translated into English and French at the beginning of the 20th century and became popular by the middle of the 20th century. Today, these short image poems are among the most popular poetry forms in the world.

While English haiku are most often written as three lines where the middle line is longer, Japanese haiku frequently appear as a single line. When this happens in English, the poems are often called monoku.

Because the form became so popular with English poetry classes, there are a lot of books written in 5 – 7- 5 haiku. Many well-known children’s writers have written books with haiku for kids. Jane Yolen’s Least things: poems about small natures is a collection of 14 haiku poems illustrated with photos by her son, Jason Stemple, depicting small animals like snails and frogs. Haiku are also included in many of her poetry collections – Eek, you reek!, An Egret’s Day, An Alligator’s Smile all include haiku.

Jack Prelutsky’s If not for the cat: Haiku (pictures by Ted Rand) includes 17 haiku riddles from the point-of-view of various animals: “If not for the cat/And the scarcity of cheese,/I could be content.” Prelutsky includes haiku in some of his other poetry books as well, like Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast: and other tasty poems (illustrated by Ruth Chan; Greenwillow Books, 2021).

H Is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z by Sydell Rosenberg illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi. This haiku ABC book teaches children to observe and captures precious moments of life in the city – moments in nature and moments in humanity. 

Bob Raczka shares boyhood fun through the seasons from his own life and that of his sons in Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys “Icicles dangle/ begging to be broken off / for a short sword fight.”

Two examples of seasonal riddles written in haiku style: Lion of the Sky: Haiku for all seasons by Laura Purdie Salas ill by Merce Lopez).  “I’m cold confetti / falling from a crystal sky / blanketing the lawn.”  Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell illustrated by Bob Shea asks preschoolers to guess what the haiku is about: “sitting for a treat / an eager tail smacks the ground / over and over.”

Wing nuts: screwy haiku by Paul B. Janeczko and J. Patrick Lewis ; illustrated by Tricia Tusa is a collection of haiku puns: “Grumpy bear growl / blends with chirp of rusty hinge: Mom and Dad snoring.”

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku and Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale in Haiku, both by Lee Wardlaw.

Won Ton is about a shelter cat who gets adopted; in the sequel, Won Ton gets a housemate when a dog enters the home.

“Visiting hours!

Yawn. I pretend not to care.

Yet — I sneak a peek.”

Wabi Sabi / by Mark Reibstein ; [illustrations] by Ed Young is a story about a cat named Wabi Sabi who searches for her name.

Three haiku books with holiday themes are:

  • Boo! Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea – a Halloween-themed collection of haiku riddles for young children.
  • Santa Clauses: short poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka (offers a fresh, fun perspective on Santa’s December preparations.
  • Hanukkah haiku by Harriet Ziefert ; paintings by Karla Gudeon. celebrates the eight nights of Hanukkah through haiku.  

Haiku is popular, and there are many books I did not include here, including haiku verse novels for older readers. In many of these books, I find the authors stick to the old syllabic definition of haiku, rather than embracing the imagery and simplicity of a moment in time.

Best in Show, Uncategorized

Everything You Wanted To Know About Underwear And More!

Happy New Year Everyone! We are excited to have Christine Van Zandt on our blog today. I saw her new nonfiction book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, illustrated by Harry Briggs, online and the cover intrigued me. Then I read, laughed, and learned from the first page to the last. What topic accomplishes both of these consistently? Underpants of course. Who doesn’t like learning about underwear? How about what they cover…tushes, old crusty buns? Each chapter is filled with content-based words, facts, images, history, and humor.

TS: Welcome Christine! Your book is a terrific example of nonfiction material kids will love reading. This can be such a funny, awkward, and embarrassing topic for kids. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?

CVZ: Thanks, Tina for having me. Knowing when to show action, scene, and sensory elements is something that comes with practice: writing, reading, and studying the craft. Word choice plays a big role.

Each story is different, therefore, the focus on action, scene, and sensory elements varies. Identify what you want to accomplish with each manuscript. Let’s say your picture book is in rhyme. There are many variations from there. Is it a soothing bedtime book or upbeat? Lyrical? Cumulative? And don’t even get me started on all the different kinds of rhyme schemes! Once you’ve figured out the foundation (structure, plot), then fine-tune the text.

TS: You raise great points. The preplanning aspect for each story is important. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?

CVZ: A tried-and-true method is to go through your manuscript, reviewing only the verbs. Look for “is,” “was,” and “be,” then replace them with more precise verbs. Instead of “The dog was chased by the cat,” saying “The cat chased the dog” gets right to the point without extra words and it shows the action more effectively.

How a sentence is arranged can place emphasis on where you want the reader to focus.

Example 1: Cats are liked by more people than any other pet.

(The emphasis is on “cats.”)

Example 2: People like cats more than any other pet.

(The emphasis is on “people.”)

TS: That’s an awesome strategy to use for strengthening a sentence. I’ll implement that more often in revisions. Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

CVZ: Absolutely. Here is the opening scene to a picture book I’m working on.


I wasn’t going to eat her, even though I easily could. [POV = first-person, mountain lion]

I came down from the hills because I heard her [Suki, the kitten] crying.


Everyone calls me P-22 but my real name is Leonardo Catamount. I’m as famous as the Hollywood sign, but a lot more ferocious.

All animals fear me. They run and hide when I am near. [sun is setting]

But what is that?!

When I drafted this story about the mountain lion and his unlikely (eventual) friendship with a city cat, I jumped into it too quickly. This made the first lines problematic in the same way starting with dialogue can confuse a reader when they don’t yet know the character.

TS: The difference between the two is amazing. Fleshing out details takes time and patience. Thanks for the example. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

CVZ: I belong to several critique groups and their feedback is critical. When it’s not just right, they let me know!

In picture books it may seem counterintuitive that writers focus on showing rather than telling (because picture books are illustrated), however, illustrations should take the story beyond the text, adding another layer of interest. Therefore, for writers, word choice is important.

Of course there are a huge range of manuscripts. For some genres or categories, it’s fine to tell more than show, much depends on what you are writing. Identifying a goal for each project can save time when revising. And, remember that it’s okay to change your mind and go in a new direction—it’s your story!

TS: I couldn’t agree with you more. Critique partners are invaluable. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful strategies. Wishing you every success and looking forward to future books! Happy writing everyone this first month of 2022!

GIVEAWAY: For a chance to win an autographed copy of A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, follow both Christine and I on Twitter, retweet the post, and reply in the comments below that you have done so. (Twitter: @ChristineVZ and @ShepardsonTina We will select a winner on Tuesday, January 18th, at noon, EST.

All book-related images provided by becker&mayer! kids.

Image provided by Marlena Van Zandt.

Christine Van Zandt is the author of the funny nonfiction picture book, A Brief History of Underpants. She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary

You can find Christine online at:

Website: https://christinevanzandt.com/

Twitter: @ChristineVZ

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christine.vanzandt.9

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christine-van-zandt/

literary devices, Uncategorized

Building Blocks to a great story

2021 screamed by like an out-of-control freight train. While it was a year of milestones met, achieving those milestones was a struggle.  I won’t blame COVID.  It gave me more writing time and more reading time.  A positive in a negative situation! 

The blog I am a member of, Wonder of Words, gave me the opportunity to share with readers not only my love of words but also my discoveries as I research for each new post. I love researching words as much as I love building those words into stories. The multitude of literary devices is endless, but I discovered all those devices can be divided into two categories.  Those being literary elements and literary techniques.

Literary elements include plot, setting, and theme, as well as other things.  Every great story will include a well-developed plot and characters that endear themselves to the reader, either because the reader loves them or hates them.  In addition to the plot and well-developed characters, a good writer engages the use of literary techniques that include words or phrases such as metaphors, similes, and alliteration. 

Creating a work of fiction using the multitude of literary techniques is by no means easy but the results can be rewarding.  Every story I write gives me a sense of personal satisfaction.

In an effort to drink in the various devices, I read a plethora of books this year.  Additionally, I diligently worked on my middle grade novel and am happy to report I finally have a first draft.  This did not happen overnight and certainly not by accident.  It was grueling at times.  So much so I wanted to give up and trash it. I must confess, some nights were filled with fitful sleep filled with nightmarish story lines that in the light of day had all but been forgotten.  But it eventually came together because of the encouragement of my fantastic critique partners, and fellow writers in my group coaching class, along with the  partnership I formed with Kathy Derrick and her crew at Pen2Paper. 

I included a word cloud I created with many of the literary devices I researched this year. To create your own word cloud, check out www.wordcloud.com.

If you are looking for more information on any of the literary devices, you can start by checking out https://literarydevices.net/.  A google search will also give you a myriad of choices including https://blog.reedsy.com/literary-devices/, and https://www.masterclass.com/articles/22-essential-literary-devices.

As 2021 winds down, I look forward to 2022.  It will overflow with an abundance of words fit together much like the pieces of a puzzle to create a story brought to life on from a blank page.  I look forward to the thrill I will feel the moment I sit back after having put that last puzzle piece in place, knowing my masterpiece is ready to share with the world.


Writing in Multi-languages

It was such fun to celebrate Candice and Bea Pearl in my last post. Today I’m going to talk about what I’ve been up to.

Like Sandra, I own a publishing business. In 2019, my sister and I opened Pavlova Press and we are currently publishing anthologies so we can help new voices be heard. Our latest volume is called Ngā Ripo Wai | Swirling Waters. It contains over 50 short stories or poems from 44 contributors and is written in English and Māori. The book celebrates both current connections and the history of our local region. It was here, two hundred years ago, that two Māori chiefs drew their individual marks on the Deed of Sale for about 13,000 acres of land in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. This sale allowed the establishment of the local Mission Station and the town that now has the honour of being the country’s longest continually occupied joint Māori–European settlement.

The voices in Ngā Ripo Wai | Swirling Waters come from new and experienced writers; from young and old; and from Māori, Pākehā (European New Zealanders) and other ethnicities. The writing is from people who have felt the connection and who celebrate the people and the area. The video below is from a live TV interview about the book.

Ngā Ripo Wai | Swirling Waters is by no means the first book to inter-weave two languages and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. Yara Rodrigues Fowler highlights her top ten bilingual books here. I’ve read two on the list and am looking forward to exploring some of the others. There are also a number of children’s books appearing in multi-languages in New Zealand and around the world. Take time out these holidays to read some in a language you are interested in exploring.

As well as being a publisher, I’m also a writing coach and currently have a number of clients working on novels from paranormal to crime to literary fiction, science fiction and historical fiction. Trisha Harmon is one of them. She has finished her manuscript and is now submitting to agents. Her YA novel centres around seventeen-year-old Claire who gets a second chance at love when she discovers she can see her dead boyfriend’s ghost. The domino effect of his death reveals a family secret that leads to Claire healing parts of herself that she wasn’t aware were broken. If this sounds like the sort of story you or your teenager might be interested in you can follow her writing Facebook page here – you won’t be disappointed, I promise!

If you are writing a novel and would like to join our writing support group on Facebook you can do that here.

Until next time, happy writing and reading, everyone, and please don’t leave your 2022 goals until 1 January – make them now so they don’t become just another New Year’s resolution that tails off around March.

Best in Show, Uncategorized

Friendship and Empathy: Helping A Friend Who Has Experienced Trauma

Have you ever wondered how some authors take heavy topics and show their story in a way that helps others be more mindful of others’ feelings? Joanna Rowland is very experienced in this area and in her newest picture book, Big Bear Was Not The Same, she accomplishes just this! Beautifully illustrated by John Ledda, Joanna and John show readers how to be more empathetic and supportive to a friend who has experienced a traumatic event. I’m so glad Joanna could stop by to talk about her book today!

TS: Hi Joanna! Your book is such a good reminder of how to be there for someone. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

JR: One of the things I love about picture books is that illustrators can show so much through their illustrations that I don’t need to tell. I have one line, “Little Bear tried all sorts of things to cheer up Big Bear. But nothing worked.” It was so fun to see the ways illustrator John Ledda used to show Little Bear trying to cheer up Big Bear. I don’t need to tell the reader in words what was happening because they can see it in the pictures. Because the story I wrote is about trauma and responses to trauma, it was important for me to sometimes say the action. One example: “Oh, no! said Big Bear, and he ran away.” I felt it was important to say the action when it was a response to trauma to help kids better understand how someone might act when they are traumatized. In Big Bear Was Not The Same, Big Bear has been traumatized by a forest fire. When things remind Big Bear of the forest fire, he responds with fight, flight, or freeze. It was important to show Big Bear having that action when things reminded him of the fire. I think learning about how people who have PTSD respond to things, helped me know I needed to have more action scenes when Big Bear was triggered.

When I was writing the story, my critique partners were great for letting me know if it felt like something was missing. My books are always better by seeing how they respond to what I write and their feedback. 

TS: You made great decisions in those scenes especially because young kids are just learning about life and some of the difficulties they may experience. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?  

JR: Reading picture books is a great way to learn about language and craft. I read different picture books every day. One of the fabulous perks of teaching five-year-olds. I love reading lyrical books. Cynthia Rylant does a beautiful job of using descriptive language in her books.

When I’m trying to make a word list, I like Word Hippo   https://www.wordhippo.com/

I also like looking up idioms here https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/ I find idioms can be a fun way to help me think more creatively on how I want to use words.

TS: These are terrific resources. Thank you for sharing! Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

 JR: Sure, this is an Early draft of Big Bear text example with too much telling:

It was only a matter of time before something set off Big Bear to think and feel

like the day in the woods was happening all over.

Sometimes, a smell set off Big Bear.

And Big Bear ran away.

It was only campers having dinner. But Big Bear relived that scary moment in the woods anyway.

Final version of Big Bear text example:

Some days, Little Bear and Big Bear had good days that almost felt normal.

But one smell could change it all.


Big Bear froze. 

“Don’t worry, Big Bear. It’s just kids making s’mores. You’re so big and brave. Nothing can scare you. Right?”

But Big Bear shivered.

Little Bear worried. “Do you want a hug?”

But Big Bear didn’t answer.

TS: I love the difference between the two versions. Much more emotion and heart in your final version! How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

JR: I do learn from rejections. Pre agent, I used to send things out too soon occasionally, and if they didn’t connect emotionally, I knew I needed to go back to find the heart. My critique group is great at letting me know when I’ve hit that right emotional chord. So, if you aren’t in a critique group, find one. They are so valuable. Honestly some books can take me years to get right, and some weeks. Explore different structures with how to write your book, try writing it in different points of view, and revise. Big Bear took quite a few drafts because I wrote it in 3rd person and most of my other published books have been written in 1st person, so it was a learning curve for me to think about dialogue and how to write the action scenes in the book. Sometimes it’s okay to tell. I felt it was important to say the words, “Big Bear froze,” because freezing is one of the responses people have when they have been through a traumatic event. But I think leaving more room for the illustrator whenever possible, makes for a stronger book.  See how other authors show the balance in published books. You will learn so much from reading. What showed the action? Was it dialogue, text, or the illustration? Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment. Copy your manuscript and practice deleting chunks to see if it’s better with or without. Sometimes less words, is more powerful. But most importantly, keep trying

TS: Critique partners are those objective eyes and ears. Reading other books is such a great habit to develop, I agree. Wishing you continued success with Big Bear, Little Bear and future books. Thank you for stopping by!

Joanna Rowland grew up in Sacramento, California, where she still lives today with her husband and three children. She teaches kindergarten by day and writes picture books at night. In the summer you’ll find her by water or cozying up with a book. She is the author of The Memory Box: A Book about Grief; The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families; Stay Through The Storm; When Things are Hard, Remember; and Always Mom, Forever Dad.

You can find Joanna online at:

Website: https://www.writerrowland.com/

Twitter: @WriterRowland  

Instagram:  @writerrowland 

Facebook: Joanna Rowland


Showing Through Real World Issues

We have a real treat today! Welcome back to Annette Schottenfeld whose second picture book, OBI’S MUD BATH, just released with Clear Fork Publishing. Several stories are crafted from our own family experiences such as Annette’s March release entitled NOT SO FAST, MAX: A ROSH HASHANAH VISIT WITH GRANDMA, and global issues that take hold our hearts such as OBI’S MUD BATH. Annette, welcome back and congratulations on your second release!

AS: Hi Tina! I’m thrilled to be here.

TS: Obi is such a lovable and endearing character. The reader finds himself rooting for Obi from the beginning. How did you develop Obi’s character traits?

AS: Thank you Tina! When writing OBI’S MUD BATH, I wanted readers to genuinely care about the main character and his problem. After reading many picture books and making note of what drew me in, I worked on creating a voice for Obi that would tug at readers’ hearts. My goal was for the little rhino to showcase his determination, playfulness, innocence, and belief that anything is possible. 

I brought many versions of the story to my fabulous critique partners and Obi slowly became a recognizable character. Then, when I took The Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books at The Children’s Book Academy during the summer of 2018, the Academy’s founder, Dr. Mira Reisberg – who also became the editor and art director for OBI’S MUD BATH – fell in love with Obi and she, along with a critique group I was paired with in the class (which included you, Tina!), helped me define his voice further.

Dr. Reisberg selected and worked with Obi’s super talented illustrator, Folasade Adeshida, who mirrored Obi’s voice in her illustrations. The little rhino’s expressions, body language, and movements created by Folasade perfectly paired with the voice my words had given him. The result was a character that readers could get behind!

TS: The unfolding of the illustrating process is so exciting! I loved meeting Obi in your early drafts. OBI’S MUD BATH is inspired by true events that took place in Zimbabwe. Could you share with us the connection?

AS: The idea for OBI’S MUD BATH began while I was reading a news article. On a scorching, hot day in Zimbabwe, a little rhino bull named Mark was searching for juicy greenery. Unfortunately, there was litter on the ground. His snout and horn became stuck in a tire, and he couldn’t eat or drink. A team of vets came to his rescue and, thankfully, Mark made a full recovery.

The scene kept playing in my mind. I pictured the little rhino full of determination, exhausted, and then finally free. I envisioned a picture book that was not only fun to read, but that could also give back to help the environment. And Obi was born!

This is an example of how anything can spark a story idea and lead to something wonderful.

I wanted the book to make a difference on a larger scale, and a portion of the proceeds from OBI’S MUD BATH will be donated to Water.org, an organization which empowers families around the world with access to safe water and sanitation. Check out: Shop to Support .

To ensure that the book represented an accurate depiction of the landscape, wildlife, cultural appropriateness, and language of the area, Esau Mavindidze, a native of Zimbabwe and Shona language expert, was instrumental as a cultural sensitivity reader for OBI’S MUD BATH. Thank you Esau!

TS: What an amazing experience to have Esau share his insights! Obi’s new friends are a diverse group of characters. How did you decide on these specific ones to compliment Obi’s character and challenges?

AS: Yes, Obi’s friends are certainly fun! They added another layer to the story and were crafted to help with pacing.

I researched animals found in Zimbabwe that were not predators of each other. There was no room for a scuffle!

Each of Obi’s friends also has a distinct voice. The language they use, paired with their movements, tells readers a lot about them. They all add value to Obi’s quest.

Rufaro, the ostrich, is gentle and offers Obi comfort.

Tenda, the giraffe, has better eyesight and a longer neck than Obi, to search for a mud bath.

Moyo, the elephant, is older and sympathizes with Obi.

Let’s face it, we all need buddies to help us out occasionally. Showing readers the friends working together – teamwork – was an important concept to include. This is what leads Obi to come up with a solution to his problem.

TS: I agree! What do you hope will be the reader’s lasting impression or message learned from reading Obi’s story?

AS: I hope reading OBI’S MUD BATH leaves readers thinking about:

A determined young rhino…teamwork…believing…taking care of our environment…and, ooey, gooey mud!

TS: Thank you for sharing with us your process for showing such an important character like Obi!

Annette Schottenfeld is the author of Obi’s Mud Bath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida and Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit with Grandma (Kalaniot Books), illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham.

Annette is passionate about writing for children, hip-hop dance, and environmental issues, believing all have the power to change lives. A registered dietitian and expert baker, she created the decadent Uglie Muffin. Shhh, the recipe is a secret! Annette lives in New York with her husband and two kids.

You can find Annette online on TwitterFacebook, or annetteschottenfeld.com.



Counting Syllables

Counting Syllables: From Haiku to Tricube

Many teachers use haiku as a way of teaching kids about syllables. Then you get this:

(Source: a facebook meme. I don’t know who first posted this.)

I say it’s not.

Elementary school teachers have long used the haiku in lessons on syllables. But a haiku is much more than syllable count. In fact, many modern English haiku don’t count syllables at all. And some are only one line – these are called monoku.

A haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form that goes back hundreds of years. It is a short nature poem, a flash of awareness in the present moment – like a snapshot from a camera capturing a moment in time. It juxtaposes two images, and ends with an unexpected surprise. It focuses on imagery, but is not just a description or narrative. The emotion comes through the awareness and surprise at the end. 

One of the most famous examples is Basho’s frog poem where the frog jumps into the pond. It depicts a moment in time. An old pond / frog jumps in / Splash! You see the two images – the pond and the frog – and the splash is the unexpected ending.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to many translations of Basho’s famous frog poem:


If you want to teach about syllables – and math – try the Tricube form invented by Phillip Larrea. The poem has three stanzas. Each stanza has three lines, and each line has three syllables.

Here is a tricube I wrote about summer:

Hot, hazy.

Slow, lazy.

It’s Summer.

Photo credit: Edward Kanze, naturalist and author.

Bird and breeze  

sing summer


Photo Credit: Gabrielle Copeland Schoeffield

Flowers bloom,

sweet perfume

of summer.

Photo credit: Edward Kanze, naturalist and author.

I learned about the tricube from poet and children’s author Matt Forrest Essenwine. You can check out his blog posts about this poetry form here: https://mattforrest.wordpress.com/2021/04/29/poetry-friday-have-you-tried-a-tricube-the-roundup-is-here/

and here:


 Like a haiku, the tricube poem uses few words to convey a thought – so it forces the poet to think about word choice in order to incorporate imagery, emotion, and wordplay.

If you try writing your own tricube poem, post it in the comments.


The Wonder of Words Update Part 2

This is part two of “Goodness me – where did those three years go?” As I mentioned in my previous post a few months ago, Candice, Gabrielle, Sandra, Tina, Yvona and I met through Julie Hedland’s 12 Days of Christmas and started a picture book critique group in 2017. Nine months later we started The Wonder of Words blog. I asked everyone to reflect on how far they’d come in their writing and reading since we started the blog. Candice, Yvona and Gabrielle’s answers are in my previous post and Sandra’s, Tina’s and mine are in this post. I hope you enjoy our reflections.

I asked everyone these questions:

  1. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your writing evolved?
  2. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your reading evolved?
  3. What is the biggest thing you have learned over the past two and a half years?
  4. Do you have any advice for readers and/or writers of children’s literature?


So much has changed in two and a half years – both personally and professionally – that I feel like a completely different writer at this point. This is partly due to an evolution in my writing style and experiences as a published author. However, it is also from the changes 2020 brought to my life and the new adventure I embarked on when opening Gnome Road Publishing earlier this year. I am a more efficient writer now (by necessity), more clearly tuned-in to the development of characters and story arc, and more patient with the publishing process. This critique group, and the support of other fabulous critique partners, were huge confidence boosts when I needed it most and a driving force behind improvements in my written work. 

I still read a lot of different stories, but now these are not only books from the library or my children’s bookshelves, but also in the form of hundreds of manuscripts submissions at Gnome Road Publishing. I also provide picture book critique services as time allows, which is to say, not very often at this point. And then, of course, there are the books sitting on my nightstand that cover non “work-related” subjects that have always interested me such as psychology, neuroscience, biological or natural disasters, and historical mysteries/treasures. Every once in a while, I might pile on something to do with law and ethics.

I don’t know that there is a single “biggest” thing I’ve learned during this time. But patience has certainly become my friend, in a love-hate sort of way. Although I still struggle with patience, it is definitely something I have learned to use (embrace?) more wisely now. 

My advice to other writers (and illustrators!) is to be open. Open to possibilities. Open to changes. Open to other people with other ways of seeing things. This will give you the greatest opportunity to grow.” 


During the last two and a half years, I have taken several writing courses, read many books, critiqued many manuscripts, and written more of my own. All of these activities have helped take my writing to a new levels. I have really dug deeper into a few genres that I would like to create more stories for. Picture books, chapter books and nonfiction are all very different yet have unlimited opportunities to share unique stories. Looking at story structures, reading other author blog posts, participating in professional writing groups continue to help me develop my skills. This past year, I became an agented writer which has introduced me to another community of writers within the industry and I am learning so much.

I continue to learn that writing is a journey that takes time. In the beginning, I wrote stories and truly improved them to the point that I felt I was ready to begin querying. Like so many others, I now look back and realize I was not as ready as I thought. I needed to develop and define my skills more. This all takes practice, patience, persistence, and passion. We all lead very busy lives and adding the desire to write for children is no small task. I continue to learn writing is one piece of a much broader picture as you also need to learn marketing, participate in writing groups, which all take time. Using a separate planner just for writing tasks to organize my weeks separate from my family or teaching planner has helped so much!

As you start your writing journey always remember your “why”. The road is filled with ups and downs, and believe it or not this is a great thing. It is through these that you learn so much about yourself. Be patient. Everything will fall into place over time. Become a part of some wonderful online writing groups and meet other authors. It truly takes a village to become a writer. So many others, in classes and in critique groups, have helped me when I did not know which way to turn. I enjoy doing the same for others because it is awesome to see others reach their dreams. There are so many incredibly talented people in this community to learn from.


And now I get to answer the questions I posed to the others. My writing is continually evolving as I discover more about my own voice and read the great variety of voices from other writers. In fact voice has become a prime consideration not only in my own writing but also in my clients’ writing and in the writing of those who submit to my publishing house, Pavlova Press. Which brings me to two major new writing directions for me: not only have I become a publisher, but I have also left my teaching role at the local polytechnic where I taught creative writing and now work with clients from all around the world helping them write their own novels with a strong focus on voice.

When I’m not reading submissions for Pavlova Press or the work of my clients, I am reading middle grade novels and non-fiction, primarily around psychology. There has been one diversion from this: Uprooted by Naomi Novik which is a glorious and original fantasy novel with a strong voice.

It will come as no surprise that the biggest thing I have learned over the past two and a half years is all around voice. I have been working with this concept for a long time and it is only in the last couple of years that it has all clicked into place. I have also discovered a concept that I call The Itch which is at the very heart of every story and the very reason a particular story has to be written. It goes beyond theme and idea, although it could be one or other of those, and goes to the very heart of the writer. I am not the first person to realise this I’m sure, but it has been a very exciting discovery.

In general, I am working to become someone who gives less advice and who listens more, so the fact that I asked the question about what advice we can offer is intriguing. Let me answer my advice question with a thought rather than advice: at some point you will have far more tools than you actually need to write your story, to the point that learning just one more thing becomes a wonderful distraction to writing. STOP! Stop collecting tools and just start writing. If you find there’s something else you genuinely need to learn, you can come back to it later once you know what it is.