Wednesday, March 31, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 23: Carrie & Kirsti Challenge you to Reflect and Keep Going

Congratulations on completing our month-long picture book craft study! All good things must come to an end, and our 2021 7th-Annual ReFoReMo Challenge is now a wrap. If you are one of those people who can’t bear to see it to end, you’ll be pleased to know our blog runs year-round with weekly posts on Tuesdays. And our very own Janie Reinart motivates you with a brand new Monthly Mini-ReFoReMo Writing Challenge the 3rd Tuesday of every month!

Now it’s in your hands…

You’ve immersed yourself in study and we’d love to hear what was most valuable for you.


Which bits of knowledge will you take to your works in progress?

Which elements do you need to learn more about?

How did different perspectives open your eyes to new learning?

We’re extremely grateful to be surrounded by publishing professionals who care enough to help this free experience continue every year. Please join us in thanking our wonderful team of 2021 presenters! If they have books, please consider reviewing or purchasing them as a way to reciprocate.


Carrie Charley Brown & Kirsti Call

Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Matthew C. Winner

Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Susannah Richards

Kaitlyn Sanchez

Traci Sorell

Don Tate

Erin Dionne

Janie Rienart

Joyce Sweeney

Todd Tarpley

Hayley Barrett

Corey Rosen-Schwartz

Keila V. Dawson

Miranda Paul

Carole Boston Weatherford

Lauren Kerstein

Cindy Schrauben

Kathy Halsey

Sue Ganz-Schmitt

Joana Pastro

We were definitely ALL recipients of a wonderful education this month! 

And yet, there’s still a possibility you could win an additional prize. 

As announced in our ReFoReMo Facebook Group, you will also have the opportunity to... 

...polish up your manuscripts and be exclusive!  Acquisitions Editor Jackie Kruzie at Blue Whale Press is dedicating a submissions page exclusively to registered* ReFoReMo participants. She is currently looking for STEM picture books for both fiction and non-fiction. Her wish list and other guidelines can be found on her website HERE, and her complete Facebook Live interview is in our group. (You might also enjoy a condensed interview below the Rafflecopter.) You will find the dedicated ReFoReMo submissions link listed in the ReFoReMo files of the Facebook Group. The link will be open from April 1 through April 15. She will be closed to all other submissions at this time, so this really is an amazing opportunity!’ll notice one additional bonus prize of a picture book critique from Jackie below, too! 


If you registered for ReFoReMo 2021 by March 1*, made efforts to read & study this month, and commented on every post, you are welcome to enter the Rafflecopter below. We use one Rafflecopter drawing to keep it simple; you will enter one time only. This will put you into a pool from which all prizes are drawn.

The Rafflecopter drawing will be open until this Friday, April 2 and prize winners announced on Tuesday, April 6. That’s 3 days to enter the drawing, so be sure to enter now if you qualify. 


With the upcoming holiday weekend upon us, we’ll need time to draw names and notify winners before they are announced on Tuesday. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 22: Author Joana Pastro Kerplunks into Onomatopoeia

I believe onomatopoeia is so much more than mere representation of sound.

It helps amplify all sorts of actions and, in doing so, all sorts of emotions. In LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, I used “Kerplunk!” repeatedly as a way to introduce a character’s intention. Here are some other examples:

CAN U SAVE THE DAY by Shannon Stocker/ Illustrated by Tom Disbury

Here, the vowels go on strike, making communication rather challenging.

“Instead of bark, the dog said ‘brk.’”

Laughter is guaranteed!


THE LITTLE BLUE COTTAGE by Kelly Jordan/ Illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

Who knew a “honk-honk” and a “beep-beep” could be so heartwarming?

“Then one day a faint beep-beep! echoed in the drive.”


TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING by Teresa Robeson/ Illustrated by Junyi Wu

Lunzi is looking for her friend Huangche. Every “Brrr-ring-ring” fills us with hope and anticipation for their reunion.

“Brrr-ring-ring. Could it be?”


ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT by Lauren H. Kerstein/ Illustrated by Nate Wragg

From the very first page, onomatopoeia sets the tone.

“ZIPEEEEE! WAHOO! Rosie the superdragon saves the world!”

 This story is full of frolicking fun and mishaps!


WOOD, WIRE, WINGS by Kirsten W. Larson/ Illustrated by Tracy Subisak

Here, onomatopoeia helps show Lillian’s inquisitive spirit, hard work, frustrations, excitement and accomplishment when she finally succeeds.

“It lifted off, soaring toward the future . . . BBRRRMM BRRMMMM”.

So go ahead: Add those sounds! Let those feelings soar!

Joana is giving away a copy of LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS to one lucky U.S. winner! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.

Joana Pastro always wanted to be an artist of some sort. So, she became an architect. But once her first child was born, all the visits to the library, and the countless story times made Joana start dreaming of becoming a children’s book author. After a lot of reading, writing and revising, her dream came true. Her debut picture book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, illustrated by Jhon Ortiz, was published by Boyds Mills Press in 2020. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL, illustrated by Carolina Coroa will be published by Scholastic in November, 2021. Originally from Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three extremely creative children, a rambunctious Morkie, and a needy Maltipoo. Visit her on Twitter @jopastro, Instagram @jppastro , or at

Monday, March 29, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 21: Author/Librarian Kathy Halsey Gives Illustration Insights for Writers

The Caldecott prize criteria states that a picture book “essentially provides the child with a visual experience.” How can writers leave space for illustrators? My mentor texts focus on illustration techniques that add to the story with design layout and composition. 

In Candace Fleming’s Cubs in a Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper, illustrator Julie Downing designed art around text to alleviate dense text blocks. 

·   She broke the action into multiple images for more eye engagement.

·  On the spread when the main character says goodbye to the cub, Candace conveys plot while Julie’s setting emphasizes emotion with a rainy day.

Compelling characters hook readers. If writers delete adjectives, illustrators will describe characters as Isabella Kung does in No Fuzzball.                                                       ·      Fuzzball dominates the cover, a visual suggestion of her prima donna demeanor portrayed in the plot.             ·      In interior spreads, Fuzzball’s tail directs the reader’s eye, creating movement and page turns just like words do.

Writers can partner with the illustrator to magnify theme, too. Lindsay Bonilla’s Polar Bear Island humorously highlights acceptance of others. Illustrator Cinta Villalobos intensifies the theme with end papers showing the island’s transformation.

·      The lack of color on the beginning end papers contrasts with the vibrancy of the island in the back end papers.

·      During read alouds, kids usually notice the change that penguin Kirby brings to a polar-only island by “reading” the end papers.-- 

Back matter matters more when illustrators get creative. Timelines can become features when reimagined with art.

·      In Keila V. Dawson’s Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, illustrator Alleanna Harris recasts the timeline into an actual road with period car models to mark the dates.

The road map timeline could become a classroom poster under the direction of the publisher’s publicity department.

Dive into Megan Dowd Lambert’s
Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See.

·      Meant as practical guide for reimagining storytime, it will revolutionize the way you use words.

·       Use it for how story is woven together with art. Learn how to “think with your eyes.”

·       Peruse the "Glossary of Book and Storytime Terminology" for design terms that illustrators, editors, and other use.

I hope these books help teach how to “think with your eyes” as well as your words by inviting the illustrator into your writing. 

Kathy is giving away a picture book critique (F or NF) or an "Ask Me Anything" phone chat via her perspective as a K-12 school librarian. To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.

Kathy Halsey is Storyteller Academy’s Community Manager and Ambassador. She enjoys writing picture books, humor, and nonfiction. She received a PBChat Twitter Mentorship in 2019. Kathy’s active in SCBWI and blogs with other kid lit writers on the GROG. She serves on the Choose to Read Ohio Advisory Council and speaks at educational and literary conferences. Kathy’s a former K-12 school librarian and children's bookseller. Her passions include reading, gardening, music, OSU and the arts. Kathy lives in Columbus OH with her husband and silly Corgi Wiley. She writes monthly author studies for the Reading for Research Month along with Keila Dawson.

Friday, March 26, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 20: Author Cindy Williams Schrauben Packs a Punch with Humorous Picture Books

Writing humorous picture books takes a great deal of practice. Much like with stand-up comedy there are many details to consider -- how to structure the story arc, pacing, balancing laughs with necessary details, and, of course, when to hit with the punchline. The following titles have helped to inform my current work.  

Potato Pants by Laura Keller

The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Peter Oswald

Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio,

illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

Spring Stinks by Ryan T. Higgins

Bob Not Bob! by Audrey Vernick & Liz Garton Scanlon,

illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Cindy is giving away a picture book critique to one lucky winner! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.


Cindy Williams Schrauben is realizing her dream of writing books for kids. Before embarking on this path, she held positions as a preschool administrator, teacher, and assistant director of a children’s museum. With degrees in english, elementary education, and child psychology, Cindy strives to empower children and books are always a crucial part of that picture. When not writing or honing her craft, Cindy might be found dissecting her grandsons’ shenanigans for story ideas, reading on the floor in the bookstore, or eating ice cream… ideally all at once.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 19: Author Sue Ganz Schmitt Vouches for the Vulnerable

Today’s average-length picture book contains a sparse 500 words. This condensed format gives authors about six minutes to make their audience care about the characters. My favorite picture books use that time to take readers on a journey into the emotional core. This is where audiences simultaneously hear and feel the depth of common story themes, such as love, kindness, and friendship. This is where a picture book becomes the favorite of a child—requested again and again.

But what is it about the emotional core that creates this effect? Hidden here is the golden nugget of many well-loved picture books—vulnerability. Authors can strategically polish it up and place it into their picture book text to hook audiences while the clock is ticking. It can be found in the story tone, setting, a character’s lack, a single line, or a through-line. Here are some books that sizzle with vulnerability:

Can I Be Your Dog – by Troy Cummins

Escargot by Dashka Slater

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

Take a Picture of Me James  Van Der Zee by Andrea J. Loney

Julian is a Mermaid - by Jessica Love

Sue is donating three of her picture books, That Monster on the Block , Now I'm a Bird , and Planet Kindergartenone to 3 different lucky winners! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.

SUE GANZ-SCHMITT is an award-winning children’s book author, musical theater producer, and philanthropist. She holds an MFA degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a Bachelor of Science degree from San Diego State University in Business Marketing.


She has traveled to China to help medically challenged orphans and has set up a birthing clinic in rural India. She has performed on Broadway, run marathons, and swum with sharks. Sue has also served as a NASA Social correspondent, a volunteer for The Planetary Society, and as a space advocate to congress.


Sue’s books include: That Monster on the Block, Now I’m a Bird, Planet Kindergarten, Planet Kindergarten 100: Days in Orbit, The Princess and the Peanut: A Royally Allergic Fairytale, and Even Superheroes Get Diabetes.


You can find her at: and on Twitter: @sueganzschmitt

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 18: Author Lauren Kerstein Focuses on Feelings

As an author and critiquer, I focus on feelings, resonance, and the emotional arc of the story. The following mentor texts pack a powerful emotional punch.

I AM THE STORM by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple/ Illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell


“But when the wind and sea calmed, as hurricanes always do, we went back home. It’s okay to be scared.”


PARKER LOOKS UP: AN EXTRAORDINARY MOMENT by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry/ Illustrated by Brittany Jackson


““She is a queen,” Parker whispered, unable to look away, to move, to breathe. In that moment, Parker saw more than just a portrait—she saw a road before her with endless possibilities.”


I AM EVERY GOOD THING by Derrick Barnes/ Illustrated by Gordon C. James


“I’m the BOOM-BAP—


when the bass line thumps and the

kick drum jumps.

I’m the perfect beat, the perfect rhyme,

keeping everything on point and

always on time—”


DEAR EARTH… FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5 by Erin Dealey/ Illustrated by Luisa Uribe


“Your letter arrived on the wind. A whisper of hope in the night.”


THE REMEMBER BALLOONS by Jessie Oliveros/ Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte


“Every time I almost reach it, but it always slips away.” 


Below you’ll find a collage of additional mentor texts. I included my latest, HOME FOR A WHILE (Magination Press/Illustrated by Natalia Moore). I poured out my therapist's heart into Calvin’s story, and hope it gives readers the opportunity to “feel all the feels.”


Reach deep inside. Make your readers cry, gasp, and laugh. Make your readers feel!

Lauren is giving away 2 different prizes to two lucky winners: 1) A 45-minute Zoom or phone consultation to discuss ideas, and assess viability, marketability, and the heart of your manuscript. 2) A swag package. To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.

Lauren Kerstein is an author and psychotherapist. She is a Jersey girl at heart who currently lives in Colorado with her husband, their two, daughters, and their rescue dog. Lauren is the author of the Rosie the Dragon and Charlie picture book series (Illustrated by Nate Wragg/Two Lions). Her latest picture book, HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press) moved into shelves February 2, 2021. Lauren also writes books in her field. Lauren is one of the founders of #ReVISIONweek, a judge with Rate Your Story, runs a critique business, and is a long-time member of 12x12 and SCBWI. Her writing goals are simple. Read voraciously. Embrace feedback. Grow each day. Work hard. Be passionate. Write courageously. Touch children’s hearts. You can visit her at, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@LaurenKerstein) and FB (

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 17: Author/Poet Carole Boston Weatherford Leans into Language

These titles differ in genre and theme. Yet, lyricism distinguishes each of these texts. Each one features language that elevates the narratives. Note the elements that distinguish each of these texts: the staggered lines and near rhyme of Giant Squid, the majestic metaphors of Crown and All Because You Matter and the momentum-building repetition in The Stuff of Stars and The Undefeated. Figurative language sets the tone and transports the reader to the depths of the ocean, to the birth of the universe, and to the heart and soul, the past and future of Black America. Crown’s subtitle calls it an “ode.” The jacket flap for Undefeated bills it as a “love letter.” I call them all “poetry.”

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The Stuff of Stars illustrated by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated Ekua Holmes

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Crown by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon James

Carole is donating a 30-minute coaching session to one lucky winner! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 1, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.

Carole Boston Weatherford is the author of more than 50 books, including Caldecott Honor winners Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. A Sibert Honor winner and two-time NAACP Image Award recipient, she won a Newbery Honor for Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, illustrated by Michele Wood. Carole mines the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles to fill in the gaps in American history and to set the record straight. She is a professor at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.