“One day, a still day when the hot air hummed, the humans came.”
~ Ivan, page 128 in THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

THEONEANDONLYIVAN600Folks, there’s one and only book like Katherine Applegate’s THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. It’s no wonder that it won the 2013 Newbery Medal  and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. And that’s why we’ve featured the middle grade novel as our October KEM GEM. Based on a true story, it’s written in the truly unique voice of a silverback gorilla with an unusual penchant for painting.

Patricia Castaleo’s illustrations are . . . Well, see for yourself. Don’t they tug at your heart?IVANBACKCOVER

Our library had so many holds on this book, I finally purchased my own copy.  Read The One and Only Ivan to learn why this book is so popular among people of all ages and why we think it’s a story that needed to be told. Read our KEM GEM review and join the conversation.   Please share your thoughts with us in The One and Only Ivan COMMENTS section. We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so plan to visit often. We’re excited to read and learn with you!





B J Brilliant

Someone once said “A picture book without pictures is like the Pips without Gladys Knight.”

BJ Novak proved this wrong.


BUSYTOWNIIAny children’s book writer or illustrator would think they’d gone to Heaven if their work was brought to life in a musical. That’s why Richard Scarry is probably smiling right now. His awesome picture books have  achieved that prestigious honor with Busytown The Musicaladapted by playwright Kevin Kling and composer Michael Koerner.

Yesterday, my daughter, three granddaughters, and I attended this lively, pickle-car, chug-a-wug-a-choo-choo show at the Children’s Theater in Minneapolis.  I’ll be honest. I enjoyed it as much as anyone. My cheeks still hurt from ginning.
The caliber of acting, singing, and performing far exceeded my expectations. The show was almost over before I realized only six actors played the bazillion busy parts. The most phenomenal multitasker, however, was the one-woman organist/flutist/kazooist/percussionist/every-instrumentalist who played the musical accompaniment. (Sorry, I don’t know her name.)

Reed Sigmund, the  actor who played Huckle the Cat (and a back-up singing nurse and various other characters) had the  voice and endearing presence of Chris Farley. I kept hoping he would break into lame ninja moves or warn the kids about living in a van down by the river.

Meghan Kreidler played a brassy mail carrier so well, she reminded me of Rosie O’Donnell in A League of Her Own. And she had no problem seamlessly transitioning into a lovesick nurse, Grocer Cat, a train car, or a busy commuter.

Dean Holt had the perfect voice and feathered hat-wearing head for heart-throb Lowly Worm.

I’d mention all the cast members and behind-the-scenes stars, but you need to  experience the colorful set, funny costumes, energetic choreography and happy audience yourself. Busytown the Musical is playing until October 26, so get your tickets now.

CHILDRENSTHEATERCheck out other Children’s Theater Company productions. We’re bringing in the holiday spirit with The Grinch Stole Christmas. (I can’t wait to meet Cindy Lou Who. Can you?)

And, remember, there’s no better way to get your children’s book creations in shape for future musicals than the 2014 MN Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Annual Conference. It’s not too late to register!

2014 MN SCBWI Annual Conference

Writing well involves community. A fabulous opportunity awaits you in just two-and-a-half weeks. The 2014 Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators will hold their annual conference.

2014_ConferenceTearOffPosterforWebThe first perk of the conference will be the wisdom you’ll gain; the second, the relationships you’ll develop.

If you haven’t signed up, it’s not too late. We can’t wait to see you there!…/2014-mn-scbwi-conference…/

1 ZANY Picture Book

Many children’s book legends were/are also picture book poets: A. A. Milne, Theodor Seuss Geisel, Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Judith Viorst, Dan Yaccarino, Anna Dewdney, Corey Rosen . . .

But go to any writer’s conference and someone will beg you not to write a rhyming picture book. Why? Because agents, editors, and publishers are drowning in poorly written submissions.

What makes a rhyming picture book so hard to write or publish?

  • Phrases need to read smoothly, with precise beats, using words that are fresh, original, and intriguing—not the standard “you”, “to”, and “blue”.
  • Each rhyme should be pure, but not forced. A book with too many near-rhymes, like “tag” and “bake” will annoy, not entertain its readers.
  • A good picture book requires a plot that unfolds naturally, without being manipulated to fit rhymes.
  • Rhyming stories are difficult to translate into other languages. These limitations make them a bigger challenge to market internationally.

DegmanOneZanyZooYet, what books do you most cherish from your childhood? We’re willing to bet there’s at least one rhyming picture book on your list. For these reasons we chose Lori Degman’s 1 Zany Zoo as our September KEM GEM. We bow to anyone who can write the elusive  picture book rhymes.

Speaking for myself:
Lori Degman, I’m not worthy.

Everyone’s invited to join the KEM GEM conversation.  Read why we chose 1 Zany Zoo and share your thoughts with us in the
1 Zany Zoo COMMENTS section. We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so plan to visit often. We’re excited to learn with you!

How KEM GEMS started.






KiraKiraI think you’ll enjoy our eighth KEM GEM, middle grade novel, Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kahodata.

Elise, of our KEM trio, heard Kahodata speak at the 2014 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference in Los Angeles, California, two weekends ago. This happened months after we’d selected Kira-kira as a KEM GEM, so Elise was excited to learn more about the story behind the story. Kahodata shared that the inspiration for this 2005 Newbery winning story, came from the life and death of her beloved dog. Based on this story, that must have been one delightful pet.

If you’re new to our KEM GEM page, we developed this monthly reading and writing exercise to grow as children’s book creators. As a team we’ve committed to an ambitious reading regimen. This prompts conversation about writing and illustrative styles, trends, points of view, plot arcs, character arcs, believability, voice, creativity, timelessness, cohesiveness, and skill.

Out of our reading lists, each of us selected four books–one in each genre (picture book, chapter book/easy reader, middle grade, and young adult)–to write about and recommend for the year. All three of us deliberate to agree before a book can rise to the top as a KEM GEM.

We would be delighted for you to join the conversation.  Read why we chose Kira-kira and share your thoughts with us in the KIRA-KIRA COMMENTS section(in 1-150 words). We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so plan to visit often. We’re excited to learn with you!




California Dreamin’

Beloved author/illustrator sightings of Aaron Becker, Tomie dePaola, Judy Blume, and more; favored agent schmoozing, preferred publisher swooning . . . I’m living vicariously through my creative friends as they message me from the 43rd Annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

Through technology, I can be a little birdie in the corner as Elise Parsley, represented by Steven Malk, debuts as the one of Writers House’s newest authors/illustrators; Alicia Schwab meets fellow authors/illustrators represented by her new agent, Jodell Sadler, of Sadler Children’s Literary; and Kristi Herro networks to find the perfect advocates to promote her work. They generously share their experience, so I can experience it, too. I’m so happy and lucky to be welcomed along in spirit. Thanks, friends!

My best wishes and support goes to them and all who work so diligently to bring joy, learning, and growth to the world through children’s literature.  For all seeking to be discovered and all seeking to discover them, here’s rooting for an extra-fruitful conference.