How do you research something you cannot see– and never will? Guest blog post with Nancy castaldo


So happy to be invited to be part of Nancy Castaldo’s blog series on researching STEM kidlit. Nancy is an award-winning author, photographer, and environmental educator and it is an honor to know her. From her website:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years.

Her 2016 title THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World (now in paperback, too) introduces older readers to the importance of seeds, farming, and the crisis we currently face. It received the Green Earth Book Award and many other accolades.

Her latest is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Other books include SCBWI Crystal Kite recipients BEASTLY BRAINS: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel and SNIFFER DOGS: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World.

Her research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia and she loves sharing her adventures with her readers. She has conducted programs at the Boston Children’s Museum, Atlanta Zoo, Tennessee Aquarium, among others and has spoken at the Science Teachers Association of New York State, NCTE, Texas Library Association, and New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
HONORS:Many of Nancy’s books have received recognition, including an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Smithsonian Notable Book For Children, a NSTA Outstanding Science Trade title, Crystal Kite Awards, Green Earth Book Award, and Junior Library Guild Selections.

​In addition to these accolades, she was honored to be the recipient of the 2007 New York State Outdoor Education Association’s Art and Literature Award for the body of her work. As a long-time environmental educator, she treasures this honor and hopes to empower more children with her books about the Earth.

I hope you’ll consider Nancy’s books as gifts for yourself and for young people who are learning about the fragile and wonderful world we call home.

Why are pre-orders important for book sales and authors?

PictureAuthor Andrea Bartz schools us on why it is important to pre-order books — and especially to pre-order from independent bookstores. This information appeared as a series of tweets on the Twitter. The individual tweets were threaded together by an app called Threader. Very cool, eh?

After reading, please consider pre-ordering a book!
Andrea Bartz@andibartzAuthor of THE LOST NIGHT (@People calls it an “impressive debut with a nerve-racking finish” & Mila Kunis is developing it for TV) & THE HERD (out March 2020)Nov. 05, 2019  

You have probably heard me stating that preordering a book from an independent bookseller is the most impactful thing you can do if you’re going to buy an author’s book. Lately some of you wonderful people have asked for more detail, so I thought I’d explain!

WHAT COUNTS AS AN INDIE BOOKSTORE? Click-to-buy (ahem), B&N, and other huge chains aren’t independent bookstores. No hate, but I’m talking about locally owned, community booksellers.
When you preorder from one of those, an actual human sees the sale and thinks, “There’s local interest in this book! I should look into it.” Maybe they’ll be inspired to devote some table space to it when it comes out, or even to read it themselves and make it a staff pick.
Your preorder from an indie bookstore also makes a book more likely to hit the NYT bestseller list (#dreamingbig), since the Times system heavily weights purchases at small, privately owned book shops.
HOW CAN I FIND ONE? Go to  and enter your zip code on the right, where it says “locate an independent, local bookstore.” (cc @indiebound)
BUT WILL THEY STOCK IT? That’s where your preorder makes a huge difference: It puts it on the bookseller’s radar and makes them more likely to stock it! But even if they decide not to put it on shelves, they will order it just for you and let you know when it’s in.
BUT NOTHING’S NEAR ME! That’s okay. You can still preorder from an indie bookstore and they’ll ship it to you for a few bucks more; if you preorder from @booksaremagicbk in Brooklyn, I’ll sign it for you at my launch party!
You can also preorder a book directly from , and they’ll split the profit between their member bookstores.
BUT I REALLY JUST WANT TO USE AMZN…That’s okay, too! Every single preorder matters and lets a publisher know there’s early interest. I just wanted to share more info. Buying books is an amazing act, no matter where or how you do it! Thx, friends. ?

You can follow @andibartz.


Have you heard about #KidsNeedMentors? It’s a grassroots program started by a group of passionate people (teachers and a children’s book author/illustrator) who want to move the needle on literacy through real connections between children’s book creators and students.

I’d heard about the inaugural program last year and was bummed that I missed the window to apply. However, this year I was Janie on the Spot with my app and in late August, I received my pairing!

Ms. Stewart and I began to correspond (excitedly! with lots of !!!) and are developing a plan for connecting using the underpinnings of her literacy goals for the year.

We’ve started with a google sheet organized by month and our first interaction will be a video chat with her students to share Top 5’s: 5 things about ourselves and 5 books we want to read this year. A little package is headed their way (shhhh!) and I’m looking forward to all the ways we connect about books, reading, writing, and exploring this big, wide world through literacy.

Here are the organizers of #KidsNeedMentors with their Twitter handles. Feel free to follow them!
Jarrett Lerner, author-illustrator (@JarrettLerner)
Kristen Picone, 5th Grade Educator (@Kpteach5)
Kristen Crouch, 5th Grade Educator (@KCreadsALOT)

To learn more about the program, visit Jarrett Lerner’s blog HERE and HERE. Follow #KidsNeedMentors on Twitter and Instagram to see all the ways that creators and students are connecting. It’s truly inspiring.

Wondering how to combine ELA and STEM?

Author and empower-er Patricia Newman hosts a blog series called LitLinks for teachers and learners about how to connect English Language Arts (ELA) with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). She’s using children’s books as the connector. I was thrilled to receive an invitation to contribute to the series and talk about how to use STRETCH TO THE SUN: FROM A TINY SPROUT TO THE TALLEST TREE ON EARTH in the classroom. Click HERE to view the post. I hope you can use some of the tools I shared with your young learners. Let me know below if something resonates with you.

I hope you’ll follow Patricia’s blog and find her on Twitter. She’s working hard to support teachers and now we can support her!

How To Build a Better Story Without Writing It

PictureRecently I had the opportunity to be a special guest as part of the Picture Books and All That Jazz Workshop (PB & J) at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center. You can see I was jazzed about being part of this workshop. And a Highlights experience has been on my bucket list for years, so…CHECK!

Now, I’ve attended literally hundreds of workshops, webinars, seminars, sessions, intensives and breakouts over the years and frankly, I’m usually not surprised these days by “how to write a story” material. However, during the Highlights workshop, co-instructor, Darcy Pattison, offered an approach that I found both helpful and unique.  I’m going to give you the cliff notes version here. (If you want the longer, better version, you’ll need to attend PB & J next year!) 

Darcy is the author of many award-winning fiction and nonfiction children’s books and writing instruction books so she understands story making. She lead us through an exercise in which we we TALKED TO a partner about our work in progress picture book story. We took turns telling our story quickly, then in more depth, and finally in enough depth that we had to really think about details and layers.

All of this happened without one letter of the story being written (or typed).  Because we weren’t committed to something on paper or screen, we could morph it based on reactions from our partners and our own reaction when hearing it.

When it came time to write, we began with a story that had been tested and thought through.

Guess what? The benefit of the oral storytelling approach surprised me! It shifted my view and my future approach to works-in-progress. Darcy mentioned she uses this exercise with students in workshops, too, and they also make great strides.

​Innovative first grade teacher, Mrs. Sarchet in BC, Canada, takes the idea one step further and provides ‘loose parts’ for her students to build their stories before “capturing” them on paper or screen. Check out her blogs for more info.


“Telling a story from summer memories” Mrs. Sarchet

I’m hoping Darcy will add this element to her next workshop!

So if you are looking for a way to build your next story, find a partner, or a pet or even a microphone, and tell it before you write it.

Tell me how it goes!

Looking to Up Your Picture Book Game?


I’m pleased as punch to be a Special Guest for the fifth Picture Books and All That Jazz Workshop at Highlights. Every year, this Workshop receives high praise from attendees. The Workshop is run by award winning authors, Darcy Pattison and Leslie Helakoski (also an author/illustrator) who focus on helping writers bring their manuscripts to higher levels. Here is the webpage from Highlights with much more information. A quick video below will likely get you all JAZZED UP. There are a literally only a few open seats so if you are thinking about it, don’t think anymore — just click TO REGISTER. Hope to see you there!

The Surprise, The Honor, and The Challenge

“Here lies one doubly blessed. She was happy and she knew it.”  — ​Gwen Frostic’s epitaph written by herself


The Surprise
On March 9th, 2019, during the Michigan Reading Association‘s (MRA) annual literacy conference, I was honored with their 2019 Gwen Frostic Award.

I hadn’t a speck of an inkling this was in the works. So imagine my confusion when I was packing up my belongings after a presentation and was commanded to the late afternoon general assembly by a dear friend, author, and MRA board member, Deb Gonzalez. I think her exact text read, “Get here. Now.” She immediately ushered me to a seat in the front row of a 1700-person packed room. Call me perplexed but I didn’t have to wonder long because about a second later, the Award was described and I was announced as this year’s recipient.

The Honor
​From the MRA websiteGwen Frostic Award
“In 2006 the Michigan Reading Association established a Board Award that would honor a Michigan author and/or illustrator. The candidate must have strongly influenced literacy in Michigan in any dimension of literacy: which may include but is not limited to: children’s fiction/nonfiction, young adult fiction/nonfiction, adult fiction/nonfiction, drama, song, poetry, newspaper, magazine or multimedia.”

Sara Gwendolen Frostic was a beloved artist, author, and lecturer sharing “her observations of the universe.” She was owner and president of Presscraft Papers, Gwen Frostic Prints, of Benzonia.  Gwen was awarded honorary degrees from many colleges and universities, was inducted into the Michigan’s Women’s Hall of Fame, and was even given her own day, May 23rd, known as Gwen Frostic Day in Michigan.

Her nature-inspired art themes resonate deeply with me as does her willingness to pursue her passion for creativity. Her art is breathtaking in its simplicity, the way it engages the eye, and in its respect for subject. Through Gwen’s art, we learn about the subject in its environment and like her printmaking technique, that subject is indelibly imprinted in our hearts.


The official Gwen Frostic website is linked HERE. I hope you visit and learn more about her and her work. PLUS, we now have a picture book about Gwen! NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY, a Michigan Notable Book,  was written by author friend, Lindsey McDivitt, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewan and published by Sleeping Bear Press.  Feel free to add this book to your collection and share with young readers.

The Challenge
The candidate must have strongly influenced literacy in Michigan in any dimension of literacy…” Although the Award language is past-tense, this moment has stoked my commitment to positively influence literacy in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I also challenge you — writer, illustrator, storyteller, teacher, librarian, parent, and/or guardian of our most special people on Earth — to positively influence literacy in any dimension that YOU can. 

Thank you to the Michigan Reading Association Board for this surprise, this honor, and this challenge.

To Gwen! To children! To books!

Pish, Posh, Let’s Get Cleaned Up


A quick look at the magazine rack at checkout counters reveals that January is the month to clean up and organize. I’m following suit inside my house but it dawned on me that I should peek into my digital home, too. 
Good thing I did because my online profiles looked like this…messy, cluttered, and disorganized. 

Cases in point:
1. My Google Knowledge Panel shows a book with no cover image and my profile picture is outdated. I’m in the process of getting verified as a the owner of that Knowledge Panel so I can make changes to it. Wish me luck.
2. The SEO site description on my website was clunky and didn’t reflect my current writing emphasis. 
​3. My Amazon Author profile was out of date even though I did revise it before the launch of STRETCH TO THE SUN in October.
4. My SCBWI profile was out of date. Gulp. 
5. My Facebook profile? Old and boring. Needed an overhaul. 
Thankfully, my Twitter profile was okay.
How do you look to the online world? Need a dustin’? I’m right in there with you. 

Agent Linda Epstein Dishes On Rejection

No nonsense literary agent Linda Epstein offers up some thoughts about rejection. The format you see below is created through an app called Thread Reader in which all the tweets in a thread are stitched together so you can read them more easily — like a blog post. It’s pretty cool stuff.
Read Linda’s thoughts and breathe them in. Remember that rejections are passes on work and represent opportunities.
Cheers, my friends.

What To Do While You Are Waiting. And Waiting. And Waiting…


Multi-published author, Lisa Amstutzoffers a helpful post for writers who are trying to traditionally publish their first book and experience long periods of time waiting for answers.

[Let me interject that published authors wait, too. In fact, I double dare you to find a published author that doesn’t!]

Remember Newton’s first law, “…a body in motion stays in motion?” It was meant to describe a physics concept but it also applies to writers — pre-published and published. We must keep moving toward our goals. Lisa helps us realize there are many ways to augment the goal of debut and sharpen our skills and connections in the process. 

What do you do while waiting that augments your career?