Reading Log Freebie

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Hi everyone!

A few years ago, I started keeping a list on my phone of all the books I’d read for the year. I have loved doing this because my memory is really bad, and if someone asks me what books I’ve read lately, I can never remember. However, now I can easily reference my list and recommend the books I’ve loved.

Goodreads is obviously a great resource for doing this as well, but I just haven’t found the time to log in and record all the books I read.

But then I started thinking about my kids. They read a lot, but I can never remember which kid read which books. That and a couple of them said they didn’t like reading, claiming that they didn’t read very much. But I knew that if they recorded the books they read, by the time the year ended, they would be surprised. Plus, I think it’s fun to look back at what books I’ve read over the past year— I figured they’d enjoy that, too.

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So I made this handy dandy reading log, and it’s free! Download it, print it out, and hang it on the wall in your child’s room. Or put it in their school binder. Wherever. Each time they finish a book, they can write it down and rate it.

I think this is a great way for kids to realize just how much they actually are reading and to reflect on books they’ve loved (or hated).

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes with my kids, and I’d love to hear how it goes with yours! And don’t forget to download your free copy HERE.

Happy reading!!


Interview with Hannah Holt

Hannah Holt is just your everyday children’s author… with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

First, thanks so much for hosting me! From the time I was little, I enjoyed writing and telling stories. In fourth grade, I wrote forty pages of my first attempted novel. As a teen, I created elaborate bedtime stories for the children I tended. However, my family is full of scientists and engineers. I didn't know the first thing about writing as a career, so I majored in engineering. It wasn't until years later that I submitted my first manuscript to a publisher.


Can you tell me about your new book coming out?

My book, A Father's Love, celebrates animal dads around the world. There's also a secondary layer of exploring colors in different habitats. From the jacket flap:

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Throughout the animal kingdom, in every part of the world, fathers love and care for their babies. This book takes readers around the globe and across the animal kingdom, showcasing the many ways fathers have of demonstrating their love. Whether it's a penguin papa snuggling with his baby in the frosty white snow, a lion dad playing with his cub in a yellow field, or a seahorse father protecting his young inside his pouch in the deep blue ocean, we see that a father's love comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Kirkus calls it, "A sweet bedtime book about fathers and how their “love is everywhere.”

I dedicated this book to my husband, but really it's for all dads.

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What were your books inspired by?

As I mentioned earlier, my family is very science-focused. In fact, my first book, The Diamond and the Boy, is a biography of my inventor grandfather, H. Tracy Hall. Maybe science is in my DNA. Maybe I'm just curious about the world, but the manuscripts I write tend to be nonfiction or informational fiction. There's so much to explore about the world, and I want to know it all.



How have the illustrations for your books matched up with what you originally imagined them to be?

I usually don't have a firm vision for what the illustration style should be. My illustration ideas are more like a dream--vague ideas of what could be. I feel very lucky to have been paired with amazing illustrators like Jay Fleck and Yee Von Chan.

Did you always want to be a children's book writer?

No. Despite my love for writing and storytelling, I didn't believe I was very good at it. I applied for honors English almost every year in high school and was rejected a lot. My senior year, I didn't even apply for the program. My handwriting and spelling lagged behind my peers, and my teachers let me know it.

I thought I would spend my life designing bridges. If you told me twenty years ago I would be where I am now, I probably would have laughed. I didn't know "professional children's book writer" was a possibility for me.

What is your favorite picture book?

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Instead, can I tell you about a book that hasn't been released yet? I first heard about A Small World by Ishta Mercurio back when it sold. The book description is lovely, and I can't wait for it be released this summer:

When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms. But as she grows, the world grows too. It expands outward—from her family, to her friends, to the city, to the countryside. And as it expands, so does Nanda’s wonder in the underlying shapes and structures patterning it: cogs and wheels, fractals in snowflakes. Eventually, Nanda’s studies lead her to become an astronaut and see the small, round shape of Earth far away. A geometric meditation on wonder, Small World is a modern classic that expresses our big and small place in the vast universe.

Where can we find you online?

Twitter: @hannahwholt

Website: https://hannahholt.com/


Thanks for joining us, Hannah!

How to Grow Your Following on Instagram as a Picture Book Author or Illustrator

Okay. You’ve created an Instagram account (Why Instagram? Read this post.) You’ve got a list of what to post (Need more ideas? Read this post.).

Now how do you grow your following?

The first thing to remember is that (for most of us) growing a following is slow going. Don’t get discouraged… stay patient and keep the long view in mind. Unless you get super famous overnight or buy followers (not a good idea), you are just not going to get thousands of followers super fast. But in time, you will get them.

How to Grow Your Following:

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Use hashtags

To be honest, I find hashtags annoying. But they are necessary. If you’re like me, and they bug you, put them in the comments so they aren’t so blatantly in your face. Hashtags allow people with similar interests to find you. If you use hashtag #picturebookauthor, for example, people trying to find picture book authors can find you. Boom. Automatic followers.


Follow people that like posts from accounts similar to yours

It took me awhile to figure this out. One way to get more followers is to follow random people in the hope that they will follow you back. However, tons of followers that don’t engage with your posts won’t do you much good (or feel very fulfilling). So find people that are active on Instagram—people that like and/or comment on posts. These are the people that will actively like your posts if they start following you.

To find these gems, find someone with an account similar to yours. If you’re a picture book author, find an account that posts about picture books. Click on one of the posts, then click on the people who liked that post. Follow those people. There is a much higher chance that active Instagrammers will follow you back, rather than a whole bunch of random people. Not only that, but these are your people. They are interested in the kinds of things you are posting. Cultivate this audience.

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Giveaways

In my experience, giveaways are the fastest way to gain followers. They work even better when someone else hosts the giveaway. I haven’t found that hosting my own giveaways gets me many more followers because it doesn’t give me exposure to new people. But when someone else hosts the giveaway for me, all of their followers see the post, and this can pay off big when it comes to building your following.

That being said, keep in mind that some giveaways will be a flop. I gained 600 new followers in the best giveaway I ever had. Woot woot! But another giveaway only resulted in 12 new followers. There’s no guarantee that giveaways will succeed.. But they are definitely worth trying.

Post consistently

When you post consistently, you retain more of your followers. Despite that, there will always be people that unfollow you. Please don’t let that bother you. It’s just part of the deal. As for frequency, Instagram research has shown that it doesn’t actually matter how often you post, just that you are consistent. When you post consistently and are active on Instagram, Instagram also suggests that people are more likely to follow your account. So there you have it. Research shows that consistent posting can help you get more followers.

Unfollow people that don’t follow you

This doesn’t help you grow your following, but it’s still important. You want to keep your ratio of followers/unfollowers in check. In short, you don’t want to follow thousands more people than are following you. There are apps that will let you know all the people you are following who aren’t following you back. Figure out who they are and unfollow them. It’s a huge pain. Do it anyway. Or make your tech-savvy kid do it for you (I may or may not have used this tactic).

Now you’re set! Good luck, and I wish you thousands of followers overnight! (Or at least the patience to grow your followers into the thousands!)

Interview with Cathy Breisacher

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, attended college at Penn State University and earned my Master’s Degree in School Counseling. I started my career as a high school guidance counselor at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School. After enjoying the counseling world for many years, I decided I wanted to devote more time to writing for children. So I obtained my Master in Library Science Degree, made a career switch and became an elementary school librarian. That move enabled me to immerse more of my time in the kid lit world, and now I have two picture books coming out this spring. I live with my husband in Hollidaysburg, and we enjoy traveling, especially to National Parks.

Can you tell me about your books coming out?

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Yes!
CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, illustrated by Roland Garrigue and published by Charlesbridge, will come out on March 5, 2019.  In the story, Caveboy and Cavegirl are best friends and do all kinds of cavekid activities together. They also share the same birthday! So, with their birthday approaching, each one decides to get something special for the other. They both have something valuable that they can take to Caveman’s Collectibles to trade, but when it’s time to exchange gifts, they are in for a big surprise. However, these Cavekids are resourceful, so they use their imagination and creativity to come up with a way to have a satisfying and very happy birthday.

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CHIP AND CURLY, illustrated by Joshua Heinsz and published by Sleeping Bear Press, will release on May 15, 2019. It is a story about two potatoes, Chip and Curly, who compete against each other in Spud City’s Annual sack race. Chip has his heart set on winning the Golden Bushel Award, but when Curly shows up with a spring in his step, Chip is worried. He practices and gains admiration from the other taters in town, but he wonders if he will be able to get this win in the bag or if his dreams of winning will be mashed.

Where did you get the ideas specifically for these books?

CAVEKID BIRTHDAY was initially inspired by a clipart picture of a caveboy and a cavegirl. I started thinking of a story that I could write using cavekids as my characters. At one point, I decided to mash the cavekids with Christmas, and I started writing. It didn’t take long before the idea of doing a twist on the Gift of the Magi popped into my head. I have always loved O. Henry’s story about the husband and wife who each take their most treasured possession and sell it to buy a perfect gift for the other one.  So I decided to take that premise and have it take place during prehistoric time with cavekids. After many rounds of revision, the Christmas theme changed to a Birthday, and the rest of the story flowed from there. I kept the Gift of the Magi theme, so each of the cavekids ends up trading something they value in order to get the perfect birthday present for their friend. But there is a twist in the end!

CHIP AND CURLY – THE GREAT POTATO RACE was inspired by an annual potato festival near my town.  Every fall in Ebensburg, PA, there is a Potato Festival with large crowds of people, delicious potato food, crafts and games. While at the Potato Festival one year, I felt inspired to write a book with potatoes as the characters. I wanted to have fun with this story and fill it with potato puns to make both adults and kids chuckle. I had a great time thinking of ways to add potato-related words and puns to the story.

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What is your all-time favorite picture book?

CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds. It is told so well. It is fun, clever, imaginative…everything great storytelling should be. There are many books that tie for my second favorite picture book, but CREEPY CARROTS tops the chart. I also love SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE by Mac Barnett– the page turns are brilliant. MOTHER BRUCE by Ryan Higgins is hysterical. THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Swartz shows rhyme at its best. THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen is another favorite, and I also adore all of Kelly DiPucchio’s books.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

I love coming up with a fun idea that I think will make readers smile and laugh. I let my mind think of silly things: What if a hippopotamus went to the moon? What if a bear gets a new haircut? What if a moose tries to play hide-and-seek? I think of something and ask myself: what if, what if, what if? My mind does this every day until something takes up residence in my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. My favorite part of writing is when I get a complete draft written and then I can delve into revising. Revising is my favorite part of writing.

If you could be any book character, who would you be?

I’d probably pick Clementine by Sara Pennypacker or Ramona by Beverly Cleary for their spunk and imagination.   They both make me laugh. I also wouldn’t mind being Hermione Granger for her intelligence, bravery, and loyalty to her friends.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me online at the following places:

Twitter:  @CathyBreisacher

Facebook:  Cathy Breisacher

website:  www.cathybreisacher.com


Thanks so much for joining us, Cathy!!

What to post on Instagram as a Picture Book Author or Illustrator

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For all you picture book authors or illustrators who read last month’s post (find it HERE), I hope I convinced you that Instagram is a must! But what to post? How often? These are great questions, and I wish I had the magic answer.

The truth is, the answer is different for everyone.

That being said, there are some basic guidelines that can help you get started.

First of all, don’t wait until you are published to build your brand. Start now. You can’t gain thousands of followers overnight. It takes a long time and patience. So the sooner you create your author platform, the better.

Once you are published, go ahead and post about your books, but make sure to vary it up with other topics as well. One of the fastest ways to lose followers is to “sell” your book with every post. Ugh. Instead, decide now how you want your brand to look. Are you the crafty writer who writes and loves teddy bears? The snarky writer who loves popsicles? The writer-teacher? Obviously, you are more than your brand, so do some trial and error. Post about things you love, see what people respond to, and adjust. Your “brand” will naturally change over time, and that’s okay.

This leads to the biggest question of all: what to post? There’s no right answer about what to post or what not to post. Some people are extremely personal on Instagram and post pictures of their kids and all of their inner thoughts. Other people are very private and only post information about their books or events they are participating in. And then there’s a whole mixture of in-between folks. This is what I mean about trial and error. Post what you love. You get to decide what you are comfortable with. There are no rules here. Just pay attention to the posts people are responding to. See what they like to see, and let your brand emerge from there.

For example, it’s been proven that pictures with people get more likes and comments than posts without people. There are lots of statistics about this kind of thing. Go ahead and research it, or just watch your feed. You’ll figure it out.

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For those of you still scratching your head and/or watching your heart beat through your chest, I’ve compiled a list of ideas to get you started. Keep in mind—people love getting new ideas, being inspired, and laughing. Creating content that feeds into those desires will automatically add value to what you post. So with that said, here you go.

My “What to Post” list:

·      Memes

·      Inspirational quotes

·      Projects you are working on

·      If you are an illustrator – your art!

·      Things that inspire you

·      Photos of your daily life

·      Books you love

·      Anything book-related (did you eat a muffin that looked like Harry Potter’s head? Take a picture and post about it!)

·      Things that have to do with what you like to write about (You write about cute, fluffy animals? Then you’d better take pics of your neighbors’ new kittens and post it, stat!)

·      Your books

·      Events


Building your Instagram brand takes time and effort, but it’s worth it! Even if you just post once a week to start, it’s still a start! Every little bit helps. There are also a lot of tools like Later, Buffer, or Hootsuite where you can schedule posts to make keeping up with Instagram easier. Feel free to message me with questions.

And good luck!



Interview with Stacy Innerst

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Stacy Innerst is an acclaimed artist, illustrator and arts educator. He was born in Los Angeles and studied Art and History at the University of New Mexico.

His picture books for children have earned a host of starred reviews as well as numerous awards, including a 2017 NY Times/NY Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award (for Ruth Bader Ginsberg), the 2017 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration (for The Music in George’s Head), the BCCB Blue Ribbon, two Parents’ Choice Gold Medals and recognition by the NY Society of Illustrators, the Smithsonian and the American Library Association, among many others. M is for Music was named a 2003 Best Book of the Year by the School Library Journal and Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2011. His paintings and prints have been exhibited widely in New York, California and throughout the United States and abroad. He lives in Pittsburgh.

The artwork for your pictures books is very unique. How did you develop that style of art?

I’ve always had a painterly, loose style and I studied painting and printmaking in college so that carried over into my work as an illustrator. I never really set out to develop an illustration style, per se, but I suppose I have over the years.

It’s more a function of doing what comes naturally and making pictures that I find pleasing rather than settling on a style. I love the way paint looks when it’s brushed onto a surface so that dictates pretty much everything I do.

How much planning and research do you do before you actually start painting?

The research component of my nonfiction picture books is actually quite time-consuming, but it’s also quite fun. The historical research leads me in directions that I might not otherwise go in picture-making. Part of my process is watching films that are set in the period I’m illustrating or researching the art and music of the era.

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Which picture book was your favorite to work on?

I’ve liked them all for different reasons, but The Music in George’s Head was especially gratifying. I really liked being able to visually represent Gershwin’s music. It was a kind of visual poetry for me.


Who is your favorite illustrator?

If I have to pick just one children’s book illustrator, I’d say Edward Ardizzone or Leonard Weisgard, I think, but it’s tough! Tough question! It changes from day to day. A few of my favorite artists and illustrators, in no particular order: Vladimir Radunsky, Quentin Blake, Robert Lawson, Carson Ellis, Wanda Ga’g, Sydney Smith, Edward Gorey, Eva Bednářová, Roger Duvoisin, William Joyce, Oliver Jeffers, Lopez Rubio, Leonard Weisgard, Antonin Clave, Pablo Picasso, Edward Ardizzone, Ludwig Bemelmans, Sean Qualls, Willem de Kooning.

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Do you have any upcoming books?

I’ve recently completed two picture books and the cover and interior illustrations for a middle grade chapter book. They should all be out next year. They are:

Saving Lady Liberty: Joseph Pulitzer’s Fight for the Statue of Liberty, by Claudia Friddell, Calkins Creek

The Book Rescuer, by Sue Macy, Simon and Schuster

The Mostly True Story of Pudding Tat, Adventuring Cat, by Caroline Adderson, Groundwood Books.

I’m super excited about all three! They’re wonderfully written books by excellent authors.

Where can your fans find you?

I’m on social media-- mostly on Instagram but also Twitter and Facebook --@stacyinnerst. My website is stacyinnerst.com.

Thanks so much for joining us, Stacy!!

Creative Christmas Present: How to Make Your Own I Spy Book

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I made my two oldest kids picture books about them and wanted to do this for each of my children. However, the more kids I had, the busier I got, and this seemed less feasible. When it came time for me to give my third child his book for Christmas, I already had a 4th baby and didn’t have time to paint or illustrate a new book. My older kids were obsessed with I Spy books at the time, so I decided to make our own personalized I Spy Book, called I Spy the Chous.

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I found a little toy to represent each one of my four children. These included Strawberry Shortcake, Batman, a Geotrax guy, and a little Playmobil guy. Then I found a little animal to be each child’s pet. Since I planned on having another child in the future, I included a little plastic baby. (And thank goodness I did!)

Using their toys, I set up scenes and hid the characters and animals among the toys. Then I took a picture. I set up about eight different scenes and wrote a short narrative about the four kids taking a trip through Toyland and all the places they went.

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At the back of the book, I included a picture of the pets, so they could go back and look for those.

This has become one of our favorite books. Now that my oldest kids are 14, 12, and 10, a lot of the toys in those pictures are long gone. Some of them we still have for their little brothers to play with. But looking through the I Spy book is like a walk down memory lane of all the favorite toys they used to play with. Plus, they still love finding “themselves” and their pets.

This is a really fun personal Christmas gift that’s not very time consuming and will be sure to become one of your family favorites!

Interview with Susan Hans O'Connor, owner of the Penguin Bookshop

Susan Hans O’Connor is the owner of the Penguin Bookshop, an independent bookstore located in Sewickley, PA since 1929. She has owned the store for five years and works tirelessly to bring her community a place to converse, buy books, and meet authors. We are so happy to interview her and learn more about her and the Penguin Bookshop!

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I began my publishing career back in the 90s (yes...I’m ancient :-)). I was doing temp work in NYC, and the agency sent me to Penguin Books. I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw the big Penguin logo behind the receptionist’s desk. I had always been a big reader and a writer and devoured books published by Penguin, but growing up in the Midwest, I never really thought about HOW or WHERE a book was created. The people there were all so nice and smart, and their talent was inspiring. Long story short, I ended up taking a permanent job there as an Editorial Assistant to two big-shot editors.

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Why did you decide to buy the Penguin Bookshop?

When we first relocated to Pittsburgh in 2003, I looked for a way to continue my editorial work, but it wasn’t easy. So I did freelance editing, and then I got a Masters Degree in Education and my Teaching Certificate so that I could teach English and writing, which I always thought would be fun. While I was long-term subbing in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, I also began working as a bookseller at the Penguin Bookshop. I loved it. In the store, I felt reconnected to my publishing roots. Then it just so happened that Janet McDanel wanted to sell the business in 2013, just a few months after I started working there. And the rest is history. :-)

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Why is it important to shop locally, and what do independent bookstores do for the community?

Shopping locally is all about creating the kind of communities we want to live in.  Do you want to be able to literally walk down the street and go into a coffee shop, pick up a cute scarf for Aunt Harriet, have your kids ride their bikes into town for some special candy, then stop in for storytime and a book recommendation? Or do you want to stay at home and order everything from your computer, while your town looks like a wasteland? In the end, it’s a choice.

Independent bookstores provide conversation and connection. We bring in authors, both locally and nationally, who spark those conversations, conversations we might not otherwise have.  We give back to our local library, Y, and other organizations. We provide part-time jobs for students and contribute to the local tax base. We have a national presence in the book community, as members of the American Booksellers Association, which is good for our town and good for Pittsburgh. Thanks to the Penguin Bookshop, the White Whale, and Riverstone Books, Pittsburgh will be the host city in the summer of 2019 to the ABA’s Children’s Institute, a national conference that brings in hundreds of booksellers and publishers from around the country. This wouldn’t have happened without the bookstores we have here.

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What do you see for the future of independent bookstores, and how can we help ensure their success?

The future of independent bookstores depends on you, the community.  Successful bookstores meet the needs of their communities, which we try to do everyday, but the community has to want a local bookstore in their town and demonstrate that interest by shopping there.


What’s the most important thing you have learned as a small business owner?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one, because I have learned SO MUCH in the last five years. I think one thing that stands out is that for a business our size in a community of our size, it is important to focus on the things that really matter. I can’t change the demographics of our town or force people to walk through our doors. But what I can do is work to create a bookstore, built on an 89 year history, that is relevant to the community, and that the community still finds valuable. This is what I have tried to do since buying the store in 2014.

Thanks so much for joining us, Susan!

You heard her folks - the best way to keep independent bookstores alive is to shop there. If you haven’t visited the Penguin Bookshop yet, I encourage you to do so! Its local charm and great books will keep you coming back!

The Power of Instagram for Picture Book Authors and Illustrators

A lot of new authors ask me if they have to be on social media. The answer is YES. And for most of us, it takes a LONG time to build a following, so the sooner you start, the better.

But which social media platforms are most important for a writer?

For most writers, the answer would be Twitter. The publishing world is very present on Twitter – it’s the social media platform that agents and publishers most often emphasize for new writers.

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However, for you picture book authors/illustrators out there, I would (gasp!) disagree with the general Twitter consensus.

For us, Instagram is the way to go.

But why? You ask. Let me count the ways.

First, that’s where your audience is. As a picture book writer/illustrator, your primary audience is parents or teachers of babies and preschoolers, most of whom are people in their late twenties to early forties. According to the article, “Social Media Demographics to Inform a Better Segmentation Strategy,” 59% of 18-29 year olds and 33% of 30-49 year olds use Instagram.  In comparison, only 36% of 18-29 year olds and 23% of 30-49 year olds use Twitter. A higher percentage of your audience is checking their Instagram feeds than scrolling through the latest tweets.

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Second, picture books are very visual, and Instagram is all about images. Give people images of your book, and they will remember it that much more easily!

Finally, one of the best marketing tools for picture book writers/illustrators is the plethora of Instagram moms who love books. There are loads of Instagram accounts dedicated purely to picture books. Bookstagram is a thing. And this is the kind of community you want to be part of. You need all those picture-book-loving moms  (and dads, though they are admittedly fewer and farther between on social media) talking and posting about your book. Find them. Follow them. Make comments on their posts. Then, message them and ask them if they’d like a free copy of your book. If they love it, would they be willing to post about it? Some will say no. But most will say yes! And mailing a free copy of your book from home? That’s about the cheapest marketing out there. And when someone else posts about your book, boom. All of their followers see it, and the word spreads.

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So yes, jump on Twitter and Facebook, but consider turning your focus to Instagram. Even if you aren’t published, you can start growing a community of book-loving people. In fact, it’s actually best to get started before you’re published.

Which leads to the inevitable question: What to post? Looks like you better come back for next month’s blog post!

Interview with Caroline Carlson

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Caroline Carlson is the author of many books for young readers, including The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, The World’s Greatest Detective, and The Door at the End of the World, coming in April 2019. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found taking a long walk, baking cookies, or attempting to get lost in a good book.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your new book, The Door at the End of the World?

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Sure! It’s about a girl named Lucy who lives at the end of the world—the place where her world is connected by a magical door to the next world over. Lucy works as the Gatekeeper’s assistant, helping people who want to travel between the worlds by stamping their passports and making sure their paperwork is in order. It’s not a particularly exciting job, but Lucy knows she’s not the sort of person who’s meant to lead a particularly exciting life.

Then the Gatekeeper goes missing in another world, the door at the end of the world breaks, and Lucy is sure it’s all her fault. She sets out to fix the door and set things right. Without quite meaning to, she collects traveling companions along the way: a boy who might be a prince, a girl who might be a criminal, and a whole bunch of magical bees. And together, they discover that they’ve stumbled onto a dangerous plot that could put all eight of the connected worlds at risk. With the fabric of space and time falling down around their ears, they race through the worlds to stop the plot, find the villain, and rescue the Gatekeeper. Truthfully, it’s a lot more excitement than Lucy bargained for. She’s never had to save the world before—and now, somehow, she’s got to find a way to save eight of them.


There are eight worlds in The Door at the End of the World. Did you plan out each world before you started writing or did they come to you as you wrote?

I’m normally a meticulous planner, but nothing much about The Door at the End of the World was planned—especially not the other worlds! I was racing to get a draft down on paper, and I didn’t even have time to put together my usual outline; I had to sit down each morning in front of a blank page knowing very little about what would happen next. But that mix of excitement and sheer terror made the writing process a lot of fun.

When I first came up with the idea for the book, I didn’t actually intend to send the characters on a journey through lots of different worlds. (At one point there were twelve worlds, but I had to whittle the number down to keep it more manageable.) Creating one imaginary world for the story seemed like a lot of work as it was, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull off building seven more. But I realized pretty quickly that you can’t write a book about other worlds without actually sending your characters to explore those worlds for themselves! So I decided to take a bit of a worldbuilding shortcut by giving each world a particular characteristic it was famous for: its advanced technology, for example, or its maritime culture, or its vast number of cows. My characters do visit all eight worlds, but they only spend a lot of time in four of them—and one of those four is our own. It’s the first time any book of mine has been set even partially in the real world. Actually, I found that part of the book really tricky to write. When I’m writing about places I make up from scratch, I don’t have to worry about real-world inconveniences like the distance from New Zealand to Colorado, or how a group of otherworld travelers would be able to make it past TSA security screening at the airport.

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You have four novels published and one coming out in 2019. How are your books similar? How are they different?

My first three books—the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy—are fantasy adventures, my book The World’s Greatest Detective is a murder mystery for kids, and with The Door at the End of the World I’ve come back to fantasy, or at least to speculative fiction. It’s got a different sort of magical flavor from the Pirates trilogy. It’s also the first book I’ve written that’s not a riff on a well-known genre. My Pirates books play with the conventions of stories like Treasure Island, and The World’s Greatest Detective is a sendup of classic mysteries like the Sherlock Holmes stories, but The Door at the End of the World doesn’t play with the tropes of existing stories in that way. It’s something that’s entirely my own, and I’m really excited about that.

But I think all of my books are similar in lots of ways, too. All of them are adventure stories. All of them are mysteries in one way or another—I can’t resist a good plot twist or a revelation of a character’s secret identity. I try to give each one of my books a good dollop of humor. And I’m usually drawn to characters who are searching for their place in the world, trying to figure out where they belong, who they belong with, and what kind of person they want to be. I think a lot of my readers are grappling with those issues as well, so I hope they’re able to find a few kindred spirits in my books.

Are you as adventurous as the characters in your books?

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Not at all! I’ve never been a pirate on the high seas (I get seasick). I’ve never solved a murder (that sounds kind of dangerous). And I’ve never had to race through eight different worlds or repair the fabric of space and time, though I think I’d like to try that if I had the opportunity. But I’m generally a pretty cautious, rule-following sort of person. I’d make a terrible protagonist in an adventure story. I do like traveling, though, and trying new foods, and going on small everyday adventures in my neighborhood. I will occasionally get lost-on-purpose in the park near my house, as long as I’m reasonably sure I’ll be able to get myself found again.

What was your favorite book when you were ten?

I loved The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I still do. It’s got a brilliant mix of mythology, magic, adventure, and a sense of place so strong it will sweep you right out of your reading chair.

How can your fans find you?

I love hearing from readers! On the internet, you can find me on Facebook (facebook.com/carolinecarlsonbooks), Twitter (@carolinetc), Instagram (@carolinecarlsonbooks), and through my website, carolinecarlsonbooks.com. I love visiting schools and talking to readers, either in person or through a video chat service like Skype. If you’re a teacher or librarian, you can find out more about that on my website.



Thanks for joining us, Caroline! Be sure to check out her books!

Number One Tip for Authors about Social Media from a Bookseller

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If there’s any advice I can give writers, it’s make yourself easy to find on social media!  Your handle should be your name. The same name that is on your books. Simple as that. If your name is taken, put author or writer or books or whatever after your name! Not in front of your name!!

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I have worked at Penguin Bookshop as a Storytime leader and bookseller for three years now. I love to post about the books we use during Storytime as well as events and other new books I love in the store.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to tag an author when I post about their book, but I can’t find them. And we all know time is limited. So when I post about a book on Instagram or Twitter, I type in the @ symbol and the author’s name as it appears on their book. If it doesn’t pop up immediately or isn’t clear which social media handle is theirs, I don’t have time to search for them. So they don’t get tagged.

Why does this matter? Because the business of writing is all about relationships. And if you know who is posting about you, you can thank them, chat with them, form a relationship. Not to mention it’s super easy marketing to retweet or repost an unsolicited post about your book from someone else. It not only makes them feel good, but it also helps get the word out about your book.

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So save booksellers the trouble of trying to track you down. Make yourself easy to find. If you already have an account with a confusing handle, it’s easy to change! Remember, booksellers want to help promote the authors they love. So make it as easy as possible to do so!

Interview with Samantha Steiger Smith

I’m so excited to start a new feature of interviewing authors and illustrators on my blog! Today we welcome Sam Smith, a local Pittsburgh children’s book writer. Sam’s book, Cate’s Magic Garden, is about a little caterpillar that brings a garden back to life through the power of positive thinking and kind words.

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

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I grew up in Randolph, NJ (about an hour outside of NYC) and went to college at the University of Virginia, where I earned my bachelor’s in English. I started my career in advertising in Baltimore, MD and then Capitol Hill, DC, working for several ad agencies as a media supervisor. Then I finally got brave and made the jump to copywriter; writing had been my passion since I was a little girl. I enjoyed working for an agency, but when I had the chance to strike out on my own, I did! I became a freelance writer in 2006, and in 2008, my husband and I and our 2-year-old son moved to Pittsburgh so my husband could follow his dream to work in his family’s business, a 117 year-old foundry in the heart of the city. We love the area, and I recently fulfilled another childhood dream, which was to publish a children’s book! I live with my husband, sons Sutter (12) and Graham (8) and kitten Penelope.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes! Pretty much since I was six and told my parents I wanted to be Robert Frost when I grew up. My dad gently told me that it might be a difficult living. I’m happy to report that writing can be a great and exciting profession these days, especially since you can work from anywhere! Funny story: when I was ten, I wrote a poem about a butterfly….and my book is about a very similar one—I did not remember this coincidence until very recently.

How did Cate come about?

CATE was not born the way children’s books usually are—she came about rather backwards. My step-sister, Megan, put me in touch with my now co-author, Betsy Coffeen. Betsy is a dedicated Childhelp Wings Advisor and wanted to create a fundraiser for the organization, which helps prevent child abuse. We started with a story about a bunch of kids on the playground and a bullying situation, since that aligned nicely with Childhelp’s mission, but the story just didn’t feel right yet. Then the garden idea just popped into my head. First, we explored a world where a grumpy group of bugs dug holes with their negativity, literally. But this theme started getting too dark for a children’s book. That’s when my publisher had a great idea that turned the book and the entire message around. She harnessed the power of positivity and kindness. And we made the connection that words change worlds, which is a very powerful and exciting message.

We were grateful to have Ginger Seehafer join our team and truly bring the story to life through her beautiful illustrations. And Rachel Eeva Smith helped create this inspiring book with her expert book design. Amy Cherrix of Two Hoots Press finally brought CATE’S MAGIC GARDEN out into the world, and she continues to be a huge champion of its message.

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Cate was published in connection with Childhelp. Can you tell us more about that?

Childhelp is an amazing organization, founded in 1959 by two actresses, Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O’Meara from the popular tv show, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Since its inception, Childhelp has helped over 10 million victims of child abuse and neglect and is internationally renowned. Yvonne and Sara have both been honored by almost every president since Carter and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize eight times, among other important recognitions. Their work is vitally important, and I’m honored to support them. A portion of proceeds from the book go to Childhelp.

Where can readers find you and your book?

Me? Probably in a library, at my computer or on the soccer field! But seriously, CATE and I have been fortunate enough to visit several Pittsburgh area schools to talk about the power of positivity and kindness. I’ve done a number of readings/signings at local bookstores, including Penguin Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, Riverstone Bookstore, Learning Express at the Galleria and Learning Express of Bakery Square. My books are also available at Malaprops in Asheville, NC; How To Live in Beach Haven, NJ; Cover to Cover in Columbus, OH and Book Soup in LA! You can find them online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Thanks for joining us, Sam! Be sure to check out her book!

Storytime: Letter Q

Welcome Song:

(to the tune of Farmer and the Dell)

            We clap and sing hello,

            We clap and sing hello,

            With our friends at storytime,

            We clap and sing hello!

            (wave, stomp, march, wiggle, blink, waddle)

 

Alphabet Song: Use shakers while singing!

 

Introduce Letter:

            Show kids a flashcard of the letter Q.

            Sing “The Q says q, the Q says q, every letter makes a sound, the Q says q.”

 

Book 1: Little Quack by Lauren Thompson and Derek Anderson

 

Activity: Sing “Five Little Ducks” and emphasize the quacking part!

 

Book 2: Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

 

Activity: Quilting!

Talk about quilts and bring in lacing cards. Have the kids practice “sewing” a quilt by lacing the yarn through the lacing card.

 

Book 3: The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

 

Review: Show letter flashcard and say the sound again

 

Craft: Letter Q quail

 

 

Storytime: Letter X

Welcome Song:

(to the tune of Farmer and the Dell)

            We clap and sing hello,

            We clap and sing hello,

            With our friends at storytime,

            We clap and sing hello!

            (wave, stomp, march, wiggle, blink, waddle)

 

Alphabet Song: Use shakers while singing!

 

Introduce Letter:

            Show kids a flashcard of the letter X.

            Sing “The X says x, the X says x, every letter makes a sound, the X says x.”

 

Book 1: What’s that Sound? Instruments

 

Activity: Bring a xylophone and let the kids take turns playing it.

 

Book 2: Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

 

Activity: Talk about x-rays!

Pretend to take x-rays of the kids arms and wrap them in ace bandages.

 

Book 3: The Adventures of Taxi Dog by Debra and Sal Barracca

 

Review: Show letter flashcard and say the sound again

 

Craft: Letter X x-ray

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Storytime: Letter Y

Welcome Song: (to the tune of Farmer and the Dell)

            We clap and sing hello,

            We clap and sing hello,

            With our friends at storytime,

            We clap and sing hello!

            (wave, stomp, march, wiggle, blink, waddle)

 

Alphabet Song: Use shakers while singing!

 

Introduce Letter:

            Show kids a flashcard of the letter Y.

            Sing “The Y says yyy, the Y says yyy, every letter makes a sound, the Y says yyy.”

 

Book 1: Good Night Yoga by Diane Kovanda and Adam Gamble

 

Activity: Yoga!

Teach the kids easy yoga poses.

 

Book 2: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

 

Activity: Yarn Play

Give each kid a long piece of yarn – what can they do with it? Swirl it? Make a snake? Wrap it around something?

 

Book 3: What Color is It? by Agnese Baruzzi

 

Review: Show letter flashcard and say the sound again

 

Craft: Letter Y yak

 

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Storytime: Letter E

Welcome Song: (to the tune of Farmer and the Dell)

            We clap and sing hello,

            We clap and sing hello,

            With our friends at storytime,

            We clap and sing hello!

            (wave, stomp, march, wiggle, blink, waddle)

 

Alphabet Song: Use shakers while singing!

 

Introduce Letter:

            Show kids a flashcard of the letter E.

            Sing “The E says eee, the E says eee, every letter makes a sound, the E says eee.”

 

Book 1: We’re Going on an Egg Hunt

 

Activity: Egg Hunt!

Write letters on the outside of plastic eggs, and have the kids find eggs with the letter E on them.

Book 2: Do Your Ears Hang Low by Jenny Cooper

 

Activity: Relay race!

Put plastic eggs on plastic spoons and have the kids walk across the room.

 

Book 3: 10 Easter Egg Hunters by Janet Schulman and Linda Davick

 

Review: Show letter flashcard and say the sound again

 

Craft: Letter E egg

Storytime: Letter K

Welcome Song: (to the tune of Farmer and the Dell)

            We clap and sing hello,

            We clap and sing hello,

            With our friends at storytime,

            We clap and sing hello!

            (wave, stomp, march, wiggle, blink, waddle)

 

Alphabet Song: Use shakers while singing!

 

Introduce Letter:

            Show kids a flashcard of the letter K.

            Sing “The K says k, the K says k, every letter makes a sound, the K says k.”

 

Book 1: What Color is a Kiss? by Rocio Bonilla

 

Activity: Types of Kisses

Print out the following pictures and when you hold them up, have the kids do that kind of kiss:

Grandma (grab cheeks and squeeze)

Fish (purse lips and move them)

Movie star (blow big ones)

Rabbit (wiggle nose)

Dog (stick out your tongue and lick)

Butterfly (bat your eyelashes)

 

Book 2: Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

 

Activity: Lock and Key Match

 

Print out a set of keys and locks that match by color. Pass out the keys to the kids and place the locks on your flannel board. Call out a lock by color and have the child with the matching key come place it on the flannel board.

 

Book 3: The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

 

Review: Show letter flashcard and say the sound again

 

Craft: Letter K kite