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.


HENHADHERHAMKristi, Elise, and I have an easy reading assignment for those following our KEM book reviews. July’s selection features early reader Hen Had Her Ham.

We wanted to show that learning to read is no longer limited by dry and out-of-date Dick and Jane book selections. The simple text and storyline of Hen Had Her Ham may deceive people into believing easy readers are easy to write. Anyone who has tried it knows that writing with short, easy to sound out words in a pleasing way is no easy task. We formed KEM GEMs to learn from the masters.

Join the conversation. Read our Hen Had Her Ham reviews and share your thoughts in the pertaining KEM GEMS COMMENTS section. We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so come and visit often. We’re excited to observe and learn with you!


ON DECK (Posted on the 15th)


Sometimes we can see more clearly from a distance.

When my daughter was in her early twenties, she handed me a photo of twelve dashing young men. She contemplated dating one of them and asked me to pick “the one”.

“Him?” I pointed.





“Sigh. No.”

Finally there was only one guy left.

“Never mind.” She snatched the photo and marched to her room.

In hindsight, the young man she picked turned out to be a great catch, but not for my daughter. They just weren’t right for each other. Even in a photograph, my mother’s intuition told me he wasn’t “the one”. Luckily, they never dated. And she found her true love.

This is how it is with my writers’ groups. I can become enamored with weak characters, silly gags, lame story lines, and superfluous sentences, but my writing friends aren’t so blinded by infatuation. From a distance, they can see what’s not right for me and my story.

I wouldn’t trade my critique partners for anything. They will save me from settling for the wrong manuscript.

Now if they could just help me choose broccoli over chocolate.

One More Moment, Please

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.

FIXMEUP600Piglet and Pooh’s thoughtful exchange opens the “Fix Me Up” music video featuring Zach Sobiech, Sammy Brown, and Reed Redmond of A Firm Handshake.

The “Fix Me Up” soundtrack sprouted from the trio’s resolve to bring beauty and goodness out of 18-year-old Zach’s terminal diagnosis and impending death from osteosarcoma. In “Fix Me Up” Sammy pleads, “One more moment, please.” The Piglet/Pooh dialog fittingly echoes Sammy and Zach’s heartache, love, dread, and hope. By communicating their conflicting emotions with such urgent truth and transparency, the life-long friends remind us that sooner is better. Their message has hit a universal cord, as proven by Zach’s #1 hit single “Clouds”.

Bestselling children’s book author Kate DiCamillo uses music to create a specific mood in her books. In 2006, a New York Public Library Author Chat participant asked,”Which music would be the best soundtracks to accompany your books?”

DiCamillo answered,  “I wrote Despereaux to Bach, Winn-Dixie to Van Morrison, Edward to Rachmaninoff. Does that help?”

I’ve toiled to find the perfect songs for my work.  For children’s books, I’ve found that Veggietales Radio produces better results than Etta James. For my family memoir, baroque keeps me serious, but too stuffy. Buddy Holly helps me remember, but I find myself dancing instead of writing and regressing to an age nobody else remembers.  Colbie Callait helps me forget, but that’s not good when you’re writing a memoir.

I could waste a lot of time selecting songs and never do the work. My distracted mind needs music of focused urgency. Tuesday, my craft received a defribulating jolt when I won the “Fix Me Up” Deluxe Edition CD and music video DVD in a door prize drawing.

I’d already received a what-are-you-waiting-for kick in the pants while laughing, crying, and crying some more through Zach’s mother Laura Sobiech’s memoir, Fly a Little Higher.

Laura wrote Fly a Little Higher  in only twelve weeks, just months after her son’s death–with no lack of professionalism or clarity. I hadn’t been so inspired by a family story since Atticus raised Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird. And I’d never experienced such a graceful, life-giving death in someone so young–or old–ever. The Sobiech experience spoke to me. It said, “What are you waiting for?”

I bought extras for gifts. Shhhh.

I bought extras for gifts. Shhhh.


Zach (and Laura) raised the bar to billowy heights, but Zach’s short life reminds us to share our talents, not hide or waste them. And now we have his music to encourage and inspire us to reach higher in whatever we’re doing.

Now my favorite ear candy while writing for children: “Sandcastles” and “Star Hopping”. For living, breathing, memoir writing, and everything else: the “Fix Me Up” soundtrack set to repeat.

A Firm Handshake‘s melodies soar; their words stir, yet fill you with hope. By baring and sharing the fruit of their young, wise souls, the trio challenges others to be real, to step into the unknown despite our fears, and to live while dying.

“Because, let’s face it–we’re all dying.” ~ Laura Sobiech.

To experience more of this story, go to Zach Sobiech’s Page on the Children’s Cancer Research Fund website, especially SoulPancake’s  documentaries preceding and one year after Zach’s death.

Other links for you

I’ll leave you with KS95′s Largest Choir’s singing “Clouds” .

Zach Sobiech-RIP
May 3, 1995 – May 20, 2013

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.”



Did you know that some people call the total solar eclipse Nature’s Greatest Coincidence? During this phenomena, the moon and the sun look the same size from the earth. But the moon is 400 time smaller. Coincidentally, (or not), the sun circles the earth 400 times as far away as the moon. That’s why they seem the same size to us. If the moon were even a few miles smaller in circumference, it wouldn’t hide the face of the sun.

If these amazing facts eluded you and you snored through the first lunar eclipse of 2014, you can redeem yourself by reading and reviewing our June KEM GEM, Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. Learn with us about Saturn, Polaris, and the Big Dipper while experiencing a total solar eclipse.

Before this middle grade novel, I didn’t even know the difference between a lunar and solar eclipse. My knowledge of astronomy consisted of other people’s experiences and a dimming childhood memory of staring at a slit in a black piece of construction paper toward a darkening sky while saying “ooh and ahh” because everyone else said “ooh and ahh”.

Sadly, the song “You’re So Vain”, had tainted my galaxy-gazing experience. Carly Simon reprimanded a guy who probably thinks this post is about him. He flew his Lear Jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun–while jilting her. I adored Carly Simon. You can understand my pain.

Every Soul a Star Book trailer by Sarah Simmons

Wendy Mass broadened Kristy’s, Elise’s, and my world. Please, join the conversation. Read our Every Soul a Star reviews and share your thoughts in the pertaining KEM GEMS COMMENTS section. We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so come and visit often. We’re excited to become better observers with you!


ON DECK (Posted on the 15th)

  • July 15 – Hen Had Her Ham by Meish Goldish; illustrated by Andy San Diego
  • August 15 – Kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
  • September 15 – 1 Zany Zoo by Lori Degman; illustrated by Colin Jack