It’s about Being A Bridge with Megan Lacera

Hi friends! We’re continuing our journey of connecting to our childhood today with Megan Lacera! She is part of the husband wife team that created Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies. What a brilliant twist to have the zombie child try to introduce the parents to veggies! This book over flows with creativity and fun, which definitely has kids asking to read it again. I wonder what inspired Megan when she was young. Let’s find out!

Hi Megan! Can you tell us your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

I have too many book memories to remember my first! I started reading early and devoured as many stories as I could get my hands on. But one that comes to mind is reading WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein. It was a revelation to me; the simple, hilarious, and often poignant illustrations…the collection of stories/poems that shifted effortlessly from inspiration to irreverent. Many books up until that point felt like they were talking down to me or forcing a lesson. SIDEWALK never felt like that. There is a poem called “Sister for Sale” and it’s brilliant. I have a sister and I love her, but gosh, some days when we were young…yep, that poem got right to the core of frustration. Looking at the work now, Silverstein doesn’t shy away from the full complexity of childhood and humanity, and I think that’s why it continued to captivate.

Megan, you make so many good points here that I’m going to take a little time to unpack them. I LOVE that you connected to Shel’s approach. SIDEWALK does meet a child on their level and doesn’t sugar coat anything that they might be feeling. The book makes things real for kids in a way they can relate to. This is so important to highlight! You mentioned “Sisters for Sale,” which gets right to the not so great part of siblings. And it’s okay! You can agree, laugh, or even respond, “Yeah, that’s how I feel!” It connects so clearly to the reader on an emotional level they can understand. This is not to be confused with talking down to children. Children are smart, and they will respond to a book with excitement, or just the opposite. As creatives, we aren’t here to tell kids what to do. We are to write stories to meet them where they are in a way they can understand.

For my follow up, in what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

For me, reading is a bridge to understanding, connection, intellectual growth, emotional depth, empathy, curiosity, spirituality, and love. I hope my work will be a piece of that bridge for others!

What a beautiful visual, Megan! A bridge to so many wonderful things. This is what we’re trying to do with #Books4KarachiKids.

Megan, thank you for taking the time today to talk with us. Have a great rest of the week everyone!

It’s about Joy with Matt Forrest Esenwine

Hello everyone, and thank you for visiting!

I am fortunate that the wonderfully talented Matt Forrest Esenwine has agreed to join the conversation today. Matt is an accomplished author/illustrator of numerous books including Flashlight Night, Elliot, the Heart Shaped Frog, and the beautifully stunning Once Upon Another Time.

Matt, what was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

Thanks for reaching out! I had several favorite books as a child, but the three that always come to mind are “Mr. Snitzel’s Cookies” by Jane Flory, “The Land of Noom” by Johnny Gruelle (the guy who created Raggedy Ann), and the most significant, “The Secret Place and Other Poems” by Dorothy Aldis. This last book helped me develop a love of poetry and greatly influenced my writing style and sensibilities…even though I never knew that until I was an adult.

I love that these books stayed with you and their effect became evident when you were an adult. It shows us the staying power and impact of what we read as children.

My follow up question then is, in what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

I hope my writing simply brings readers joy – whether it’s through encouraging their use of imagination such as “Flashlight Night,” better appreciating the world around them such as “Once Upon,” or helping them to realize they can stand up for what’s right, as I do in my next book, “I Am Today.” I don’t like books that set out to teach a lesson – although there’s nothing wrong with a lesson being taught – but the main focus of a picture book should be the story, the joy.

Joy, yes! This is so important for us as creatives to remember! We want children to enjoy reading, listening to stories, going on adventures and seeing the beautiful art of the illustrations. It is with this joy they experience that will encourage them to continue to read. We are hoping that the joy of reading is brought into the lives of children in Karachi.

Thank you so much, Matt, for your time and sharing your thoughts with us today. Please be sure to check out Matt’s books and look for Elliot, the Heart Shaped Frog out now! Thanks everyone!

It’s about Loving What You Do with Raissa Figueroa

Hi everyone! I am over the moon with happiness because today I get to chat with Raissa Figueroa! She is the illustrator behind the beautiful art in Sophie and Little Star, We Wait for the Sun, Oona and The More The Merrier. I’m a huge fan and am excited to share what stories inspired her and her wish to children everywhere.

Rainbow Bridge from Raissa's Etsy site
https://www.etsy.com/listing/991642294/rainbow-bridge-by-rizzyfig-whimsical?ref=shop_home_active_15&frs=1

Hi Raissa, and thank you for joining us! Can you share with us what your first memory was as a child where you connected to a book?

My mother was avid about reading to my brother and I when we were kids. ‘Twas a very precious night-time ritual. We were expected to be safe and snug in our beds by 8pm if we wanted a story read to us. It was either that or we got to stay up for an extra half hour to watch some of our favorite cartoons. We almost always chose the former. Who would pass up a chance to rest your head on your mom’s lap as she transported you to different worlds? She’d do the voices of different characters and everything! It’s hard to choose just one book as we went through so many, but as an adult a few titles that still stick out in my mind are The Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, Where the Wild Things Are and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful memory! It sounds like your mom put her whole heart into reading to you and your brother. As a mom, I love reading stories with my kids because it is a chance to be close and share a moment, a story, and a journey to another world. When I read, I love hearing the words just as much as seeing the world the illustrators created. The art brings picture books to life, and I love seeing young readers search the pages as the words are read.

In what ways do you hope your art will impact the lives of children?

I can only hope that my art inspires future kids to perhaps pursue illustrating as a career. Growing up I always loved doodling but as time wore on I sort of pushed art aside to focus on a career path that wouldn’t leave me “starving”. It still blows my mind every day that I’m able to do this for a living. Had someone told me it was a legitimate possibility earlier I definitely would have stuck with it! Doing what you love, whatever it may be, is not only just an option, but it’s the best one you can make.

I love that! Being inspired is such an important part of life, and I hope that all children would be given encouragement to explore their interests, whatever they may be. Because with support, children will feel secure to try new things and experiences, which could potentially lead them to their passion in life. #Books4KarachiKids are working to provide access to books for the children of Karachi. We know books open up a world of possibility, and this is something we hope to achieve for them. Thank you for sharing your wishes with us, Raissa. And thank you to the readers. Have a great day everyone!

It’s about Love with Katie Frawley

Hi everyone!

I’m honored because today the fabulous Katie Frawley joins my blog! She’s the author of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places and the co-creator of the #FireButtChallenge on Twitter, where you team up with someone and support each other to write something (story, revision, query) that day. Yes, I am a member and it’s a great way to get words on a page. Now to the fun questions!

Hi, Katie! Thank you for chatting with me today!

Hi, Kelly. I am always glad to help kids get books into their hands! A love of reading is best started young.

I agree! Can you tell us what was your first memory as a child where you were connected to a book?  

I suppose my earliest book memory is The Night Before Christmas. My mom would read it to us every year on Christmas Eve, she in her chair, we four kids gathered around her feet on the floor. She knew every word by heart, so she never had to look at the pages or turn the book toward her. She knew when to turn the page without peeking, which felt a whole lot like Christmas magic to me. She still reads this book every year on Christmas Eve, but now she reads it to her grandchildren.

I can imagine you and your siblings sitting around completely engaged by her reading! There is something so simple, yet so magical about story time. I love that your mom knew all the words by memory. My heart lights up a little more hearing she continues the tradition with her grandchildren. That is a special memory that will stay with your kids when they think of Christmas.

Stories can leave such an impression on the lives of children. In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

I hope to help kids fall in love with books! My second daughter is a bit of a reluctant reader, but I keep telling her, “We just haven’t found the right kind of books for you YET!” I’m so glad there are so many different books out there for the many different kinds of kids. The right book for EVERY kid is out there…somewhere.

I think you’ve brought up a very important point, Katie. Not all readers are alike or have the same interests. I know my oldest loves fiction while my youngest only wants to have us read nonfiction. Picture books have so many different avenues to grab a readers attention. We’re hoping to bring a variety of books to Karachi, Pakistan because we think it’s important to have a various styles of books for children to read.

Thank you for sharing your time with us today, Katie, and for fostering the love for reading!

It’s about A Springboard to Imagination with Eric Fan

Hi everyone!

I’m really excited because today on my blog I have Eric Fan! He is part of the brother duo that created the amazingly wonderful Ocean Meets Sky, The Night Gardener (which is an all time favorite of mine) and their upcoming book It Fell From The Sky out in September, 2021. (How beautiful is this cover!?)

Eric, what was your first memory as a child where you were connected to a book?  

The first book I can remember that made a profound impact on me when I was a kid was Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. I was obsessed with it, and wanted it read to me every single night for about a year. The moment that Max’s bedroom walls dissolved and yielded to his dream world was the moment I realized that a story could dissolve my own bedroom walls and take me somewhere far away. A book was really a door you could open to another world.

What a powerful memory! I love that the story dissolved your own bedroom walls, and you were transported some place else. I think is so important for us as adults to remember about the impact books have on children. Not only can they be listening to a story, but they can become part of another world. I know your books have had this effect on my children, as Ocean Meets Sky brought so much magic into our story time.

In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

The greatest satisfaction I have from writing stories is when I see them used as a springboard for a child’s own imagination. All the books I loved growing up had a part in shaping my imagination and I hope our books to do the same. Of course, there are themes and messages in our books that I hope come across as well, but there’s nothing quite like seeing a whole class of children who have read your book inspired to write their own stories, or draw their own pictures.

Yes, stories become so much more for kids. It can bring inspiration into their own lives and guide their own creativity and imagination. This is one of the goals for #Books4KarachiKids. We hope to encourage children in Karachi to dream big and explore their imagination. Thank you so much, Eric, for sharing part of your childhood with us and inspiring us all! And make sure to look for the Fan Brother’s new book coming this September!

Have a great day everyone!

It’s about Inspiration with Vivian Kirkfield

Hi everyone and welcome! Today, I’m sharing a new series for our initiative to bring books to the children of Karachi, Pakistan. To understand the impact this could have, I think it’s important to reflect back on our own experience with books as children.

I’m honored to have Vivian Kirkfield as a guest on my blog! She’s an amazing author, advocate for children, and the kidlit community. When I asked if she would be part of #Books4KarachiKids, she was immediately on board! Yet another reason why she’s so special!

Vivian, what was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?


Vivian: I have two early memories that are connected to a book. The first, when I was probably about 3, was sitting on my mother’s lap as she turned the pages of THE LITTLE HOUSE by Virginia Lee Burton. I think with that story, maybe because I was so young, it was the pictures that drew me in – We lived in the projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but every Sunday, we took the train to Brooklyn to visit with my grandmother who lived on a tree-lined street  – and so I could relate to how squished the little house felt. I, too, dreamed of having more space. Happily, when I turned 10, we moved to my grandmother’s house ‘in the country’ – and so the story came true in my own life.

I love the image of you being read to by your mother. Reading provides an opportunity for a special moment between a child and their guardian. It’s a chance to share not just a story, but an experience. Another wonderful thing about picture books is how they come to life through the beautiful illustrations, which definitely draws the reader in even more. I’m interested to hear about your second memory!

Vivian: The second early memory of a special book is from my experience having my tonsils removed. Back in the 1950’s, if a child got a sore throat, doctors were quick to operate and remove the tonsils. I must have been 5 years old and was very excited – they’d promised me ice cream when it was all over. Of course, I had to wait for the ice cream, but when my parents came to visit me in the hospital, they brought something even better – a book! It was a Golden Book version of The Three Little Pigs – and I must have read it a dozen times till I was allowed to go home the next day. I loved the story of these three brothers – all so different and all heading out to live on their own. And I loved that the brother who worked hard and put in the time to build a strong house was able to save his brothers and thwart the wolf. I truly believe that book had a big impact on my own work ethic as I grew up.

I think it’s important to highlight how something you read when you were five, impacted your work ethic as an adult. This is the positive power of picture books! You have written many lovely books for children, including From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves, Sweet Dreams, Sarah, and Pippa’s Passover Plate.
In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

Vivian: Books were such an important part of my life as I was growing up – fairytales, folktales, stories of true heroes and heroines or fantastical ones – they entertained me and educated me, but most importantly, they inspired me. That is what I hope my writing will do for children – and in the end, perhaps ignite that spark of curiosity that will lead them to ask questions, find their passion, and pursue a life of purpose. 

Inspiration brings hope, change, and the possibility of something greater. This is what we are trying to do with Books4KarachiKids. We wish for the children to have the opportunity to immerse themselves in various different kinds of picture books. We hope to foster their love for reading, imagining, and discovering. Thank you so much, Vivian, for speaking with me today. Please be sure to check out all of Vivian’s books on her website viviankirkfield.com.

If you would like to be featured in this series, please let me know! Thank you everyone!

A Chat with Marzieh Abbas and Books For Karachi Kids

I’m thrilled to be talking with Marzieh Abbas today. Marzieh is spearheading a collaborative effort to bring books to the children of Karachi, Pakistan. She mentioned her desire for children in her community to have books, and the writing community of Twitter joined her mission.

Thank you so much for joining me, Marzieh! Before we discuss Books for Karachi Kids, we’d love to learn a little bit about you and how you came into writing.

Marzieh: Hi Kelly, I’m so honored to be here talking about books! I came to writing through  some combination of fate and chance and I’m so glad I did! I’ve always loved reading but I never dreamt of being a writer! I am a business graduate, living in Karachi, Pakistan and I used to run a very successful home-based bakery for eight years. It brought me a lot of joy and I loved creating themed desserts and working with some of the best party planners in the city. 

Wow, that’s so exciting! I think there’s such an art to baking. Definitely a recipe that calls for a pinch of science and a handful of love. But I’m guessing things changed as life steered you in a different direction.

Marzieh: In May of 2019, a little after my second child turned two, I was on a hiatus from baking; it was the month of Ramadan and summer time in Pakistan and I just couldn’t handle orders. I missed baking though and began writing to process the withdrawal symptoms (because baking is very therapeutic for me) and the demands of motherhood. And what started as a journal for myself, soon morphed into letters to my kids and then fictional stories depicting a family like ours. On a whim I decided to research publishers and have my first two books traditionally published by niche Mulsim publishers, one in the US and one in the UK. 

Soon after I wrote ABCs of Pakistan and it was picked up by a Pakistani publisher. I took Mira’s Children’s Book Academy course in August 2019 and made lots of friends in the writing community. I also joined Twitter around the same time and found the #WritingCommunity to be extremely helpful. To keep myself accountable and as a challenge to read more kidlit, I set up a Facebook group called Children’s Book Reviews (CBR Global). With the pandemic I was able to attend a lot more virtual conferences. I began querying around March of 2020. And signed with my lovely agent, Lynnette Novak of the Seymour Agency, in September 2020. 

You definitely dedicated yourself to learning the craft and it shows! I want to highlight how you took things you loved from your life and wrote about them. Stories can be strong for many reasons, but personal experience can really add a layer of heart that can connect you to your readers. I also hear that you just received a six book publishing contract! Congratulations

Marzieh: Thank you! It is indeed exciting. It’s a chapter book series with ABDO publishing about a Muslim family and their everyday adventures. My agent passed on a call for submissions and I dove right in. I read chapter books, lots and lots of them (the e-versions; we don’t get the latest books at bookstores in Pakistan very often)! I also heard lots of chapter books being read aloud by authors, teachers and librarians on youtube because of the pandemic. I was waiting for edit notes from my editor on my first book deal (A DUPATTA IS…) and was able to do a thorough study. Chapter books are so different from picture books or MG! I found a critique group by posting on SCBWI’s Blueboard and after a few quick rounds of revision (the deadline for submission was super short) I submitted one complete book and a pitch for five more. Luckily the editors at ABDO loved my writing and found the perfect illustrator, Lala Stellune, for the project.

I’ve loved learning about your journey! And now, it seems your path is again leading you on another new adventure. Recently on Twitter, you had wished for books for the children in Karachi. What is their literary experience currently like?

Marzieh: These kids attend English and English-medium schools. Some are private schools which do have libraries, but I’ve personally visited them and they are fairly dated, plus the private school libraries aren’t accessible to everyone. Some schools are run by foundations which run on donations. 

But there is no public library system in Pakistan, and it is my dream to get one going. A truly inviting space for kids to enjoy and share their excitement for books, without having to pay a membership fee.

I love this idea and fully support bringing books to the children of Karachi. It is because of your wish that a group of us through Twitter created Books for Karachi Kids. We see this as a collaborative effort to share books with a community that otherwise doesn’t have access, as you have described. What do you see as the greatest impact that books could have for them, and what would this mean to you and your community

Marzieh: Unfortunately in Pakistan very few kids read for leisure. We have no public libraries with a dedicated, inviting children’s section. Books are considered an expense rather than an investment. Many publishers do not distribute to Pakistan and private booksellers often get very limited titles at a very high cost (due to taxes and shipping costs) and they often don’t arrive in the market until years after release, if at all. I feel there is so much to enjoy in literature. I myself was completely unaware of the kinds of books being published in recent years. I think the Harry Potter series caught on here too, but many people don’t know of the wealth of information and the way non-fiction and other heavy topics are creatively approached in kidlit these days.

When public libraries in the US opened up after the covid restrictions were lifted and Americans were able to physically browse through books, (yeay!) it made me wonder how amazing that feeling must be! Holding a hard copy of a recent release in Pakistan! And that’s exactly what I tweeted and a wonderful bunch of creatives have risen to aid me in realizing my dream!

And we’re thrilled to be able to work with you on this! What do you wish for the children in Karachi?  

Marzieh: I ultimately hope to change the reading culture in Pakistan- from reading just course-related books, to leisure reading. I hope parents will see how books make it so easy for kids to open up and talk about topics we may never have approached, to heal through the hope offered in children’s books and to truly enjoy books, whether they have a moral or not.

I also hope readers will eventually be sophisticated enough, and the love for books will grow enough, to ultimately create a viable market for foreign publishers to bulk ship and sell books in Pakistan and beyond. This way the cost for books will also fall, and more people will be able to buy them too. 

Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Marzieh! I am so happy to be part of this team, and can’t wait to help the children of Karachi. I’ll be providing information on how to donate and where donations can be sent once plans are more finalized. I know you’ve been contacting numerous agencies and locations and it seems we’re getting closer to sharing that information.  A special thank you to our team members: Carrie Boone, Amy Miller, Mark Wright, Jenny Mattern, Jyothi Nookula, Kaye Wright, Krista Legge, Mary Hellen Berg and Tony Tong. 

And lastly, I am giving away one non rhyming picture book critique to a randomly chosen winner. If you’d like to be entered, please follow Marzieh Abbas on Twitter @MarziehAbbas and comment either on this post or on Twitter. Giveaway ends on 6/11/21 at 12pm EST. Have a great day everyone and stay tuned for more exciting new from #Books4KarachiKids!  

SPRING FLING CONTEST: READY, SET, GROW!

Hi everyone! Spring is a wonderful time of year that STEMS with renewal, growth, and possibilities. As writers, we weather the storm of revisions, submissions, and passes. But, by digging down deep and connecting to our roots, we’re made stronger. I hope this Spring brings everyone budding success!

The warmer weather also brings us the uplifting SpringFling writing contest! My entry focuses on Mother Nature, and I hope you like it!

(GIF from Tenor)

READY, SET, GROW!

Good morning and welcome to The Annual Spring Race.

I’m your host, Mother Nature.

Like bears waking from hibernation, our contestants are grumbling.

And rumbling.

And shifting in their beds.

It’s time.

Flowers, start your engines!

Ready…

Set…

GROW!

Who will make the first move?

It looks like…

Crocus!

She may be small, but she is mighty!

Can this tiny little flower pull it off?

Not if Hyacinth has anything to say about it.

Making his move, they’re stem and stem!

But wait!

Tulip breaks her bulb next.

Followed by Daffodil.

What a race!

They’re nearing the top.

Climbing.

Reaching.

Stretching.

And it looks like it’s…

CROCUS!

This dainty flower proves she strong and beautiful.

Followed by Hyacinth, Tulip, then Daffodil.

The real winners though, are their admirers.

Thanks again for tuning in.

And make sure to stop and smell the flowers!

When You Receive a Pass: Ways to Cope and Keep Going

You poured your heart and soul into your manuscript. It took weeks, months, years to get it just right. Then after doing research, you’ve found the perfect agent, the one that fits just right. And you press submit! A mix of excitement and worry hits you simultaneously. Did I spell their name right? Did I make any typos!? Did I send the right document? After some deep breathing (and perhaps checking your already sent work) you’re ready for the next part. Waiting.

How to keep busy when waiting to hear back from an agent, editor, or writing contest.

Write. Staying busy helps distract us from the waiting game. Maybe use all of your nervous energy and convert it into a new story, blog post, or poem. Critique someone else’s work, watch a webinar. These all allow you to stay creative and productive. Allow yourself to write what your mood feels like.

OR….

Take a brain break! Do something unrelated. Get out into nature. Take a walk, run, have a cup or tea/coffee outside in your backyard or local park. Call friends that you haven’t talked to in a while. Or read a book! This is how I became encouraged to write in the first place. And going back to ENJOYING just reading a book for all of its goodness has always been a good decision.

After all the waiting, you finally hear back from the agent/editor/contest and it’s a no. UGH. Let’s sit with these feelings for a bit because it’s okay to admit how hard it is! It’s disappointing, discouraging, and does hurt because our writing is us, our hard work, our heart, and our thoughts. It feels personal – but remember they aren’t rejecting YOU as a person. They are PASSING on a project that isn’t right for them, that they aren’t 100% passionate about. Would you want an agent that didn’t feel like they could represent your work? Of who wasn’t as in love with it, and didn’t see it for all of its goodness? No, of course not. BUT that doesn’t make the “no” any easier.

This, my friends, is the hardest part of writing for me. I write heart books, books that deal with big feelings and situations for little children. Because to children, these feelings ARE big, and they don’t have the coping strategies to deal with them. I write to help them see that these feelings are okay, and hopefully bring their grownup and them closer together. So when I’ve poured my heart into these books, a “pass” really stings. Is it easy to keep going? No. But I couldn’t imagine not writing. Even if that means years (yikes) of passes. Because these stories matter to me. And hopefully one day, they’ll matter to children.

So take heart my friends. Know I am feeling the sting right along with you. You can always reach out to me and I promise to help any way I can. I wish you luck on your writing journey. Stay strong!

Writing Contest: Vivian Kirkfields 50 Precious Words

Hi everyone! On this beautiful sunny morning, I’m reflecting and taking a minute to slow things down. This was partly the inspiration for the story I’m sharing with you today. It was written for Vivian Kirfields 50 Precious Words contest. That’s right, you have to write a complete story using only 50 words. (I do love a good contest!) It is a story that speaks of the simple things in life combined with the love we have for our grandparents. I hope you enjoy it!

THE SKIPPING STONES

The best stones rest
in the shade of
the weeping willow.

Grandpa taught me so.

Smooth.
Light.
Lean.

Elbow back.
Release!
Kerplunk.

Again!
Plop.

My shoes shuffle the dirt.
A breeze whispers, "Try again".

I choose another.
Then-
      skim,
            skim,
                skim!

Just like Grandpa used to do.