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Look what the UPS man brought me!

Laura Sassi’s darling new picture book, GOODNIGHT, MANGER [Zonderkidz], illustrated by Jane Chapman [The Bear books]! It’s all about trying to get a good night’s sleep in a really busy stable, and it’s darling. The rhyming text is sweet and funny; the illustrations are huggable and witty.

Please go buy yourself a copy when it releases on October 6, 2015. It’s the perfect Christmas gift for the baby in your life.

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Hey Everyone,

Remember in early May when Marilou Reeder stopped by and told us about her picture book, THE DARING PRINCE DASHING?

Well now she’s got an awesome Kirkus review to show you! The part I especially like is when they acknowledge that Reeder’s heroine “isn’t in need of saving.” Princess Power!

Read the full review below.


Congratulations, Marilou!

Readers, you can visit Marilou on Twitter @MarilouReeder.

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***Update May 5, 2015***

Thanks again to everyone who entered Marilou’s Cover Reveal Contest. We have a winner!

Danielle Farrelly Modzelewski

Congratulations, Danielle! Send me an email [address in profile], and I’ll forward your information to Marilou.

Thanks for playing, everyone. And congrats on the book, Marilou!


Hey everyone,

I’m thrilled to host my good friend and critique buddy, Marilou Reeder, on Just Kidding. Marilou is a fellow picture book author and an incredibly nice person. That’s why I’m honored she chose my blog to reveal the cover of her debut picture book, THE DARING PRINCE DASHING! (Woot!) Don’t you just love the illustrations by Karl West! You’ll love Prince Dashing’s story, too! Read on for more daring details.

Here’s Marilou:

Hi, everyone! I’m so excited to share the cover of my first picture book, The Daring Prince Dashing, with you. The illustrator is the über talented and hard-working  Karl West. He has added so many fun details in the spreads, and it’s been a real thrill to see my characters come to life through his artwork. This is a debut book for both of us.
The Daring Prince Dashing is about an adventurous prince who finds his kingdom pretty boring until he meets his fearless match. It releases on November 3, 2015.

To celebrate my cover reveal, Jody is hosting a giveaway on her blog beginning today! Just share my cover somewhere on social media (twitter, facebook,  etc.) and then leave a comment on Jody’s blog telling me what you’ve done. You’ll be entered into a drawing for a $15 gift card to Barnes and Noble. The deadline for entering is Monday, May 4th, and the winner will be announced on Jody’s blog the next day. 
Thank you, Jody!

I’m delighted to be part of your cover reveal, Marilou! Congratulations on your first picture book! 

Friends, don’t delay! Share Marilou’s cover, and then dash back here and tell us where you’ve shared! You can find Marilou on twitter @MarilouReeder.

Have a great day, everyone!

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CINDER EDNA by Ellen Jackson…Still delighting readers after 20 years

In 1994, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard published Ellen Jackson’s CINDER EDNA, a fun, twisty take on the traditional Cinderella story. Twenty years later, The Washington Post revisited CINDER EDNA to find out why kids and their
caregivers are still reading and loving this tale. (It’s still in print!)
Ellen has stopped by today to discuss the book and her writing. Thanks for coming, Ellen!
Can you believe it’s been 20 years since CINDER EDNA was published? 
How did you decide to write this story in the first place?
Even as a little girl I was bothered by the Cinderella story (even though it was probably
my favorite fairy tale). For example, I could never understand why the prince
didn’t recognize Cinderella when he came to her house with the glass slipper.
He’d been dancing with her all night, and presumably looking at her. And why
“glass” slippers? That didn’t seem like the best choice of material for a pair
of shoes. My first thought was to write a humorous story that would explain all
those little discrepancies. But then it occurred to me that Cinderella wasn’t
much of a role model either. Why not have my Cinderella be spunkier and more of
a go-getter?
Did the writing come quickly, or did you have to work to get it just right?
The general plot came fairly quickly, but I struggled to get the details just
right. For example, at the end there’s a description of the Cinderella’s life
as a queen and daily routine. I wanted to make it funny, and I rewrote it
several times. And the same was true at the beginning of the book where I tell
about Cinder Edna’s chores. The details had to be funny, but appropriate and
not too distracting.
Was there a message behind the story that you wanted to convey to kids?
I don’t really try to send a message when I write. My primary goal is to entertain and
make children (and, hopefully, their parents) laugh. The “message” or theme
usually creeps in somewhere along the way, but it’s often just a part of how I
look at the world. In the case of CINDER EDNA, I was aware that Cinderella had
led me astray as a child. It instilled in me the idea that I needed to look for
a prince–someone who would sweep me off my feet and provide for all my needs.
And I’d better grow up to be beautiful to attract that prince.
That was just my childish take on the story. Don’t misunderstand, I love fairy tales and
I think that most can be interpreted in more than one way, especially
Cinderella. But I’m not beautiful and I’ve learned that it’s more satisfying to
improve your own life rather than expect a fairy godmother to do it for you.
All this was in the back of my mind when I wrote the story, but I wasn’t really
planning it all out consciously.
After you finished writing the story, how long did it take to sell it?
It took awhile—probably at least two years. It was rejected 40 times before the 41st
publisher acquired it. Some editors thought it should be a “magazine piece.”
Others thought fractured fairy tales were a dying genre. There were a lot of
different reasons why it was rejected.
Tell us about the illustrator, Kevin O’Malley. Had you worked with him before or since?
I’d never worked with Kevin before, nor have I worked with him since. At the time, he was
very much an up and coming illustrator at Lothrop, Lee and
Shepard.  Kevin and I did sign books together at ALA when CINDER EDNA
first came out, so I got to meet him. I thought he was absolutely delightful.
He’s a wonderful performer and very funny.
CINDER EDNA is still going strong as a book. Hasn’t it been performed on stage, too?
Yes, CINDER EDNA has been made into a short film, performed as a play by several
different theater companies, and made into a musical three or four times. My
agent has sold foreign rights to Germany, Korea, and several other countries.
That’s amazing! I’m thrilled for you that this wonderful story–one of my personal
favorites–has touched so many lives. Thanks a bunch for telling us about it,
Ellen. And continued success with your writing!

Readers, you can visit Ellen at http://www.ellenjackson.net/.


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Hey, everyone,

I am thrilled and humbled to share this news: 
                            Nancy Paulsen will be publishing my debut picture book, ROCKY! 
Thanks to my awesome agent, Kathleen Rushall, for sending my little pebble out into the world. And thanks to Nancy for believing in him once he arrived. I can’t wait to start working with her!
Here’s the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement.
April 21, 2014 – ROCKY by Jody Jensen Shaffer
Children’s Picture Book
     Jody Jensen Shaffer’s ROCKY, about a little pebble trying to find his place in the world alongside some famous relatives complete with informational backmatter, to Nancy Paulsen at Nancy Paulsen Books, by Kathleen Rushall at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency (World).

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Interview with picture book author Brianna Caplan Sayres

Hey, Everyone,
Today I’m hosting picture book author Brianna Caplan Sayres.
Welcome, Brianna! DIGGERS is delightful! How did you find your publisher?
I met my wonderful editor at a
critique. (I promise, I had been doing this long enough to know that you should
never expect to get a manuscript acquired from a critique. But this time it
happened. Yay!)
I had signed up for a small
group critique with a Random House editor to be held at the Jennifer De Chiarra
literary agency. (Thanks so much to Jennifer De Chiarra and to Stacy Mozer for
these awesome critique opportunities!) So I sent off two manuscripts.
The morning of the critique, I
got an email with the title of one of the manuscripts. Was the editor writing
me for some reason?
Then I read the email. It wasn’t
from the editor who was giving me the critique. It was from a wonderful agent I
had submitted to via an online form a month or two earlier. The agent (now my wonderful agent) liked my manuscript
and wondered if I had anything else.
“Did I have anything
else?!?!?!” Yes!!!
So I went off to the critique in
a very good mood. What a great day!
Then the editor passed out the
amazingly detailed written critiques she had prepared for each of us. She was
so thoughtful. As I began to skim through mine, I was very pleased. She was
very complimentary about my first manuscript and believed it would find an
editor. Hooray!
Then I read what she had to say
about my manuscript. Again, she was very complimentary, but the final line
really got me. She “would like to consider acquiring it for their list”
Oh my!!!
In the next few weeks, I signed
with my agent. Hooray! She liked many of the manuscripts I had sent her. Soon
after we heard from my editor, and WHERE DO DIGGERS SLEEP AT NIGHT? was
acquired. It was quite the whirlwind (though as I waited to hear back time
seemed to pass very slowly :o) .)  
But that November day when I first
heard from both my agent and my editor was incredible!
What was the editing process like?
My editor and I went through
three or four rounds of revisions on DIGGERS. The first round was right after
it was acquired. I completed the revisions that my editor had suggested on my
manuscript in her initial critique. I removed some verses entirely and replaced
them with others. Others I polished to make them flow better.
Then we went through another round or so of “flow revisions.” Getting the garbage truck verse just right was challenging, but kids really like how funny it ended up with the stinky “Peeyoo!” (Thanks to my awesome editor for that fantastic suggestion!)
And during that round of
revisions is when I changed the tractor verse from “Do their dads sing Old
MacDonald for a barnyard bedtime song?” to “Do their dads sing Old TruckDonald
for a barnyard bedtime song?” That idea just came to me as I was making
the verse flow better and it has been another hit with my young readers. During
the truck slumber parties I often do for little ones, we all have a grand time
singing Old Truckdonald. :o)
Also, my editor suggested
changing one of my verses to make it about monster trucks. Some parents and
grandparents have mentioned how much their kids appreciate the inclusion of
monster trucks, so this was another awesome suggestion!
Finally, my editor came back to
me with one more super-important question. I had not answered the question I
posed in my title. Where DO diggers sleep at night? Yikes! How could I NOT answer
that question? But, how COULD I answer that question? After some thought, I
added two more verses that imagined where all the trucks could be sleeping…
though I kept it in question form just like the rest of the manuscript.
Working with my editor was wonderful!
In each round of revision, she challenged me to make the manuscript better and
Your second picture book, TIARA-SAURUS REX, sounds delightful! Can you tell
us a bit about it, without giving away the plot?

My agent nicely described it as
“a tale of a very competitive dinosaur named Tina and some disappearing
contestants at the Miss Dinosaur Pagaent.”
How did you get the idea for this book?
came from a joke. One day for some reason, I joked to my husband about a
dinosaur beauty pageant. He laughed and told me, “That could be a picture
book.” The idea stuck in my head and I kept working on it through many,
many rounds of revisions. (In fact, I even wrote a blog post about this one
titled “How Many Times Can I Revise 500 Words?”)

TIARA-SAURUS REX will be published by Bloomsbury
in 2014. Can you tell us about
the acquisitions process?

My wonderful editor at Bloomsbury wrote back to my agent and said that she was
in the process of prepping the manuscript for an acquisition meeting with her
group. From the time we got that email, I was so excited and so nervous. What
were the chances of my manuscript going through acquisitions? I knew that many
manuscripts got that far and still got rejected. So I hoped and waited. (And
the NY Metro area had a major storm during that time that shut everything down.)

About a month later I got a
phone call from my awesome agent. We were going to get an offer! And then came
the email with the offer! It was real!
What else are you working on?
I’ve got a lot of other fun
picture books in the works. A couple about dinosaurs, a couple about jazz, and
one fun one about a dragon.
Now that you’re officially an author (woot!), what is the
most surprising thing about it? What’s the most rewarding?

I think the most surprising
thing about officially being an author is how badly I keep wanting to get the
next book published. Somehow in my dreams of being an author, I always imagined
how wonderful it would be to get a book published. (Which it is! Yay!) But in
my dreams, I almost imagined that as the end. But in real life, it is fantastic
to get a book published…. and I can’t wait to work on getting the next one
out there (and hopefully the next one and the next one and the next one!).
The most rewarding thing is hearing that kids enjoy my book. That it is being read every night or memorized or has become a favorite. That is an awesome feeling!
I am also loving getting to do school
and bookstore visits. I was a classroom teacher for many years and I love to teach
writing. It is so much fun to get to be the visiting author who teaches kids
about writing.
Thanks for visiting with us today and telling
us about your publishing journey, Brianna. Best of luck with the rest of the trip!

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Picture Book Author Diana Murray

Hey everyone,

Today we’ve been joined by children’s picture book author Diana Murray.

Thanks for stopping by, Diana!  How did you begin writing for children?

When I was eight years old, I wrote and illustrated my first book. Instead of trying to get it published, I buried it under a tree. I imagined that archeologists might find it someday and put it on display in some shiny, futuristic museum.

In college, I majored in psychology and (unofficially) minored in art. After that, I worked in the field of graphic design. When I left my job to stay home with my first daughter, I started reading her picture books. Lots and lots of picture books. I had never really been exposed to that genre before. I had never had that magical “picture book experience” as a kid. It felt wonderful to share those moments of bonding with my daughter. I began to fall in love with picture books and buy them by the dozens. I had picture books squeezed onto every shelf in my apartment (not to mention the chairs and tables). How did I not know about them before? They were the perfect blend of everything I adored–art, creativity, philosophy, psychology, humor, wordplay, quiet, conciseness–all in an attention-span-friendly, easy-to-share package.

After some fumbling around, I finally joined SCBWI around 2007. I started exchanging manuscripts with other writers, making some contacts, and learning the basics.

You’ve been published in lots of great children’s magazines.  Tell us about your magazine work.

When I started writing, I focused on picture books exclusively. But in 2008 I joined a great critique group and soon began to write more and more short poems. I got better at interpreting criticism and applying it to my own revisions, as well as offering constructive criticism to others. Slowly but surely, my form rejections turned into personal rejections with invites to submit again, and finally, acceptances. My first acceptance to a major children’s magazine came from Spider in 2010. Since then, I’ve sold twelve poems to Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, and Highlights Hello, as well as one poem to Clubhouse Jr. It’s worth noting that some magazines take many months to respond to submissions, so the process can take awhile. “Unwelcome to Opposite Island” was the first poem I ever got to see in print. It was published in the July 2012 issue of Highlights. It was wonderful to see how the illustrator could bring it to life.

Your story, GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, won the 2010 Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators’ Barbara Karlin Grant, awarded to an aspiring picture book author. Tell us about the story and your win.

The manuscript grew out of a concept I had for a quirky, messy character. The plot for the story kicked around in my mind for a few weeks, and once I started writing, it just poured out. Sometimes I forget this, but I was about seven months pregnant at the time! Anyway, I could tell from the reaction of my crit group that I might be onto something. I polished it up a bit and sent it off with my grant application. I got the call in early July. I didn’t pick up, as I assumed a telemarketer had been calling me all day. When I listened to the message, I nearly fell over in shock. It was just the confidence boost I needed. I felt like things were finally starting to come together. That was the first time I openly shared my secret passion with my family (not including my husband, of course, who had been supportive all along).

There’s a bit more about my experience winning the grant here: http://taralazar.com/2010/07/06/piboidmo-success-story/.

More recently, you landed an agent and sold your first THREE picture books! Can you give us some details?

When I read about my agent, who was new, I had a strong feeling that she might be “the one”. I queried her with GRIMELDA. In a couple of weeks, she wrote me back that she really liked it, was sharing it around, and that she wanted to see what I else I had. I selected five more manuscripts to send to her. After a great phone conversation, we decided to work together, with an initial focus on selling two picture books: GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, and NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN.

There’s more about my experience getting an agent here: http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com/2012/09/how-diana-murray-got-her-agent-plus.html.

At this time, I can’t give too many specifics about what went down, exactly. But to sum things up, NED and GRIMELDA both sold pretty quickly. GRIMELDA sold in a two-book deal, so that will be my first experience writing a manuscript under contract. It’s extremely exciting!

What advice do you have for those who write poetry or picture books for children?

Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre, never stop learning, write what excites you, crit and be critted (both equally important), revise wisely, don’t get stuck on one manuscript, take chances, and have fun!

There’s some more advice here: http://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/write-like-a-top-chef-with-diana-murray/.

Thanks for sharing a bit about your writing, Diana.  Good luck!
Thanks so much for having me, Jody, and congratulations on your new and upcoming releases!

Diana Murray is a picture book author and poet represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. She lives in the Bronx with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. http://www.dianamurray.com.

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