Meet Traci Sorell!

Traci Sorell author of the Siebert Award-Winning book We are Grateful will join NF Fest to discuss writing from an informed cultural point of view. Traci will share her passion of writing stories for young people and her mission to add to the canon of literature showing that Native Nations and their citizens still exist and thrive in the world today. Read more about Traci and her books at

A Few of My Favorite Picture Books

By Gloria Reichert

If you are a picture book writer, you know how important it is to keep up with books that have been recently published. These books let us know what topics are current and provide inspiration in many ways. Several picture books have caught my attention because of their messages and/or illustrations.  Even though my list could go on and on, this short list of creative books provides some wonderful mentor texts for writers to consider.

Giraffe Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith

“I feel bad about my neck. I do. I can’t hide it,” says Edward, the giraffe. He lists the reasons his neck gives him problems and also the ways he has tried to camouflage his neck. He envies other animals’ necks - until he meets Cyrus, the Turtle. The wonderfully creative illustrations and page folds further enhance the text and add to the enjoyment of the book. This companion book to Penguin Problems by the same team presents some important thoughts for all to consider.

Thank You, Omu, written and illustrated by Oge Mora

In this heartwarming tale, Omu looks forward to enjoying the pot of stew she is cooking for her evening meal. Its scrumptious smell drifts through the neighborhood. Drawn by the delicious scent, folks from the neighborhood knock on her door all day long. What should Omu do? Should she share with all these people? What will she have for dinner when her stew is gone? The ending is this 2019 Caldecott Honor Book is wonderful, and the fantastic cut paper designs supplement the text beautifully. I personally could read this book over and over. 

My Heart, written and illustrated by Corinne Luyken

    “My heart is a window.
      My heart is a slide.
      My heart can be closed
     or opened up wide.”

The sparse lyrical text and exquisite illustrations guide the reader to an important theme: our hearts can guide us through all that befalls us if we listen to it. This book contains many messages about love and acceptance and should be required reading for everyone.

The next two books caught my attention because of the unique main characters – a rotten potato and a brick! They teach us that literally anything can become the main character in a story.

Rot, The Cutest in the World, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton

Rot, an adorable mutant potato, loves competitions and decides to enter a “Cutest in the World Contest.” He is certain he will win – until he sees the other contestants. Rot tries different things until he decides to just be himself.

Brick, Who Found Herself in Architecture, written by Joshua Dean Stein, illustrated by Julia Rothman

When Brick is a baby, she wonders what she might become and sets off on a journey to find her place in the world. She visits well-known brick structures around the world. The interesting back matter focuses on the architecture used in the book.

Hello, Lighthouse, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

This 2019 Caldecott winner showcases the gorgeous integration of text and illustration and serves as an outstanding mentor text. It transforms facts about lighthouses into a lyrical story about a lighthouse and its last keeper. This book is an excellent example of “showing,” not “telling.”

Hopefully, some of these books will inspire you and lead you to success in your own creative endeavors.

Self-Editing Tips from Two-4-One Kid Critiques

By Jean Daigneau and Gloria G. Adams

We started Two-4-One in the fall of 2016 and have been busy ever since doing critique edits for writers. Our service is unique in that we offer two separate critiques, one from each of us, plus a collaborative summation.     

We see a number of issues regularly, particularly in picture and chapter book manuscripts. Here are a few things to watch out for or to add to your own stories to make your writing stronger. 

~Jean and Gloria

1.    Telling not Showing. This is probably the granddaddy of them all. When you tell your reader what is happening or what a character is feeling, you give reader information, rather than allowing him or her to experience it.

Use actions to show emotions. Instead of “Jeff was nervous,” say “Jeff squirmed in his seat, tapped his pencil on the desk, kept blinking his eyes and clearing his throat.”
Check out The Six Pens’ blog post on this subject by Gloria Reichert, March, 2019.

2.    Double Tags. Tags tell you who is speaking, so you don’t need to double up on them. If you show your character acting or reacting to something along with dialogue, you can reduce word count and make your writing stronger by omitting the tag altogether.

Double Tag example: Joey slid into the driver’s seat. “You coming or not?” he asked. We already know who is speaking (Joey) so “he asked” is not necessary.      Here’s a good article on the many ways to use tags effectively:

3.    Not Enough Story. Editors or agents sometimes use this phrase when the story lacks the basic components to give the reader satisfaction. Your ideas might be good, but if you don’t have enough story, your writing isn’t strong enough to engage your reader to the end. Often increasing the obstacles your main character needs to overcome or adding tension will go a long way to resolving this issue.

Basic plots should begin with an incident that causes a change in the status quo, creating a problem for the main character, followed by steps he/she takes to resolve the problem. Tension should increase until the story reaches a climax or turning point, followed by a resolution and end. This could be very simple or incredibly complex but should still follow a basic pattern that creates a “story arc” with a satisfying ending.

4.    No Character Growth. Your main character must show some change by the end of the story. If your character is exactly the same at the beginning of the story as he or she is at the end, your character lacks growth or development.

Write down your character’s traits, both physical and emotional, at the beginning, then decide what change you want to see at the end. How will he/she learn a lesson or change somehow (be stronger, braver, wiser, etc.?)

5.    Info Dump. Info dump occurs when you give your readers everything you want them to know in your story instead of everything they need to know. Readers only need to read what they need to read. You, however, need to know everything about your story and then learn what to leave out.

Instead of telling your readers the entire back story in the first chapter, drip the information gradually into the story, using dialogue as well as descriptions to move the story along.

6.    Rule of 3. Three is the smallest pattern a person’s brain can recognize, so it works well in a number of scenarios You can use the rule of 3 to show plot points, to introduce characters and/or their names, to add rhythm to your story (or title,) or to provide obstacles for your main character to overcome.

Examples: Itsy, Bitsy, Spider; Three Bears, Three Little Pigs, etc.
Do a quick review of your latest story and see how revising with these ideas in mind can
 improve your writing.

You can learn all about us and our services at

Interview with author Peggy Thomas

By Lisa Amstutz

This week, we're excited to welcome Peggy Thomas to the Six Pens blog to share about her newest book. Peggy loves true stories, and is the author of more than 25 award-winning nonfiction books for children. Her most recent title is Full of Beans, Henry Ford Grows a Car. Peggy co-authored Anatomy of Nonfiction, the only writing guide for children’s NF, and speaks at educational conferences, writer’s workshops, and schools. She is a proud member of SCBWI, the Nonfiction Ninjas, Nonfiction Chicks, iNK Think Tank, and a contributor to the Nonfiction Minute. When not writing, Peggy is a happy empty-nester, garden-dweller, dog-scritcher, cat-cuddler, and grateful traveler.

What inspired you to write this book? What do you want readers to take away from it?

I wrote Full of Beans, in part, to satisfy my own curiosity. When I heard Ford built a soybean car, I had to find out how and why. Other than enjoying the story, I hope it makes kids think about the innovative ways we can use sustainable, recyclable agricultural products in industry.

Tell us a little about your research process for this book.

I learned early on that much of the soybean research had disappeared many years ago, but what remained was housed at the Benson Ford Research Center in Dearborn, Michigan. I spent several days there going through the archives. I found a note from the tailor who made the soybean suit, and menus from Ford’s all soybean dinner parties. On my last day there I found a reel to reel interview with the designer of the car, Lowell Overly. There was no transcript, so, I extended my stay and spent the next day with headphones on and taking notes as fast as I could. It was such a treasure.

What is your writing routine?

When I’m in writing mode I start around 10 in the morning and go until 4 in the afternoon. But many days I am researching, which could be online, on the phone, traveling, or reading.

What kind of books do you like to read?

Almost everything. Mostly nonfiction. The one thing I don’t read much of is fantasy. I love reading history, natural history, as well as fiction and NF based in other cultures.

What book has influenced you the most?

My favorite writing book is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, it has been revised many times, and I have every edition.

What was your most unusual or funny experience as a writer?

It is a toss up between cooking larvae for an article about eating insects, and taking an elephant’s temperature. Research is a great excuse to do amazing things.

What book do you wish you had written? Why?

I see books all the time that I wish I had written, but Dianna Hutts Aston’s An Egg is Quiet is lovely for its brevity, clarity, and elegance.  I tend to be too wordy. I admire anyone who can write nonfiction under 500 words.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to writers?

Don’t worry about what everyone else is writing. Tell your stories. Comparing yourself to others wastes time and silences creativity. 

Short and Sweet: 

Pantser or Plotter?  Pantser

Guilty Food Pleasure?  Popcorn

Favorite Hobby? Gardening

Dog or Cat person?  Both – I have 2 dogs and 5 cats. Weight-wise it evens out.

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? My Mom and Dad. I miss them.

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Morning

You can find Peggy online at:

Instagram: peggy.thomas.writes
Twitter: @pegtwrite

Book Launch Celebration!

By Jean Daigneau
Published by Chicago Review Press, October 1, 2019, Grade Level: 4-7

Jean Daigneau’s work has appeared in a number of publications, including Highlights for Children, My Friend magazine, The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, and The Guide to Literary Agents. She has sold educational testing material, poetry, greeting card text, and crafts. She currently writes a quarterly column for Children’sBook Insider called Genre Spotlight and serves on the Northern Ohio SCBWI board. She and business partner Gloria G. Adams own a critique editing company, Two-4-One Kid Critiques, LLC, that offers two critique edits for the price of one. Jean is represented by Vicki Selvaggio of Storm Literary Agency.

What was your reason for wanting to write Code Cracking for Kids?
Honestly? I wanted to sell a book! But really, Six Pens author Lisa Amstutz and I were talking about her recent projects. She mentioned Chicago Review Press as a place to send a non-fiction query. I know a couple of other CRP authors, who have written specifically for CRP’s For Kids series, so I did some homework. I’m a bit of a math geek and love just about any kind of puzzle, including jigsaws and math and word puzzles. And, I had started an early reader book that used historical secret codes as the premise to time travel, so codes and ciphers seemed like a good fit.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
This is the first non-fiction book I’ve done. Although I love research, I didn’t have a clue about formatting that involves subheadings, photo placement, and photo captions. Then, too, I was responsible for getting all of the photos. I had to speak to the editor by phone to understand what specs were needed to find high resolution photos that were the right size. The entire project involved a huge learning curve.

What was it like to write for Chicago Review Press?
 Horrible. Just kidding! I only said that so everyone doesn’t query them! They were great. The editors answered questions patiently and in a timely manner. But while there was not a lot of major rewriting, it was interesting to see how much back and forth there was, especially after I was moved from the senior editor to the development editor at that phase of the project. And, like other non-fiction writing, sometimes the response time for me to get back to the editor was pretty short.

What was one fascinating secret code or spy story you learned from researching this book?
Actually, for me, it wasn’t always a code or cipher that piqued my interest, but other fascinating stories. I happened upon information about Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, who disguised military fortification information in drawings of butterflies. Then too, imagine being a Roman slave and having a message tattooed on your shaved head. Pity the poor guy who had to take back a response!

What tips do you have for authors who are interested in writing nonfiction books for kids? Document, document, document! Obviously, keeping track of research and where you find information is crucial, as well as using reliable sources. If a fact needs to be double-checked, it can save tons of time to be able to get your hands on an article quickly. Then, too, things happen in the best of circumstances. At one point, my entire project and photo permissions got lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, I had backed it up.  In the case of two photos I was purchasing to use from Siberia, I never did hear back from my contact to actually make payment. I was so glad I had a signed CRP form that gave me permission to use the photos, because they were two images I really wanted to include.

Where Do We Get Our Inspiration to Write?

By Lana Wayne Koehler

I always thought that being a writer meant that there were nice stories to write and that editors and publishers bought them. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“I admire anyone who has the guts to write anything at all.” 
E.B. White
The first children’s book that I ever wrote, and the reason that I became a children’s writer, was terrible! I remember bringing it to my first critique meeting. Convinced that it was the most wonderful story ever written (don’t we all!), I volunteered to read it for the group. Afterward, there was no applause, no standing ovation, and no whistles from the crowd. Instead, the leader pronounced it “interesting”. I was devastated!

Fighting back the tears through the rest of the meeting, I couldn’t wait until it was all over and I would take my precious story and go home, never to come back to this horrible place and certainly never to write again.

On the way out, one of the ladies at the meeting invited me to come out for coffee with the group. She also said that she like my story. She liked it! She really liked it! I digress.

I went for coffee and the rest was history.

“What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.” 
- F . Scott Fitzgerald

The truth is, I had a lot to learn. I still have a lot to learn! The discouragement that I felt turned into determination. I began to take classes. Lots of classes. And, eventually, I joined my local chapter of SCBWI. There, I finally met kindred spirits who understood my writer’s angst, and I learned the rules for writing for children.

"There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” 
- W. Somerset Maugham

I began to write about new and more interesting topics that interested me. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my allergist’s office and realized that there were no children’s picture books about allergies that I went home and wrote one! With the help of my co-author, Gloria G. Adams, our book, Ah-Choo! was finished and published in 2016. What was my inspiration? The allergies that I have struggled with for years!

“Write like it matters, and it will” 
- Libba Bray

Inspiration can come in many forms and from many sources. My current project, a biography, has yet to be sold, despite my longing for others to know about this person as I do. I continue to submit to a variety of editors and publishers in the hope of enticing someone to buy it.

In the meantime, I will always look for new topics to write about in unusual ways or from unusual places. I hope that you will, too.

“What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about.” 
- Julie Wright

Interview with author Carol Wulff

By Gloria G. Adams

Carol Wulff, LSW is a Licensed Social Worker and mother of a child with anxiety.  Remembering how painful it was to witness her child’s mind racing just to get through the simplest of tasks, she vowed to one day write a book to help others learn how to tackle those annoying “what-if ” thoughts. Cognitive reframing — seeing the same situation in a new way — empowered her child to manage the anxiety and approach new situations with confidence.  She created William, The What-If Wonder to help children learn how to use their power to change their view and see past their worrisome thoughts.  Carol lives in Medina, Ohio with her husband and three children.

What inspired you to write William the What-if Wonder? What do you want readers to take away?
My son was my inspiration to write this book.  At a young age he worried about every new situation.  Birthday parties, sleepovers, and going to school were difficult for him.  But once he learned how to manage his worry thoughts through “cognitive reframing” (or seeing the same situation in a new view), he began to conquer each new situation like a boss!  It took a lot of courage, but the end result was that it allowed him to be a kid again.  The worries no longer managed him, rather, he managed his worries.  I wanted to help other children believe that they too can conquer their worry by “bossing it back.”  The book sends the message to kids that they have the power within to think past their worries.

Why did you choose to publish it independently?

I try to think that it’s not because I’m a control freak, but maybe it was! With the subject I address in my book it was important that I always had control of how it was presented.  I was also very sensitive to how I wanted William to be portrayed as I did not want a gloom and doom looking character.  I was afraid by turning him over to a traditional publisher I may lose control of his image. I have the utmost respect for traditional publishing but for me independent publishing made the most sense.

What were some of the challenges you faced with publishing it?

To begin with, I knew nothing about publishing.  I only knew I had a message to kids and parents that needed to be delivered.  The road to publishing is overwhelming when your first step is turning to Google and typing in, “how to publish a children’s book.”  The flood of information to sort through was at times unbearable.  So honestly, in hindsight, it was sorting through all the steps and understanding all the choices that are in front of you. Just learning the terminology of the industry took time.  It was also challenging to balance business with passion.  This means I had to become my own CEO.  CEO’s have to care about things like image, budget, strategy, and outcomes.  That’s a whole different role than that of “author”.  But it was a good challenge and I came out of this feeling rather accomplished that I was able to wear both hats.  It was a learning experience for sure and I could have never done it without partnering with those that have gone before me in the indie publishing world.  They were an amazing support system throughout the journey.

What is your writing routine?

My best creative time is when I’m mowing the grass!  That doesn’t help in the winter months of course but I have at least 90 minutes a week in the summer to let my creative thoughts wander.  I also think a lot while driving.  I have note pads in my car, by my bed, in my kitchen and I jot my thoughts down as they float through my head.  I do not write every day but it’s always on my mind.  My writing area is in the office at home and it’s usually late at night when I get the most accomplished. 

What authors inspire you?

Allison Krouse Rosenthal.  I was very saddened by her death.  She brightened the world with her words. I especially like her book entitled I Wish You More. Her words are inspiring and will leave a mark on your heart. 

What are some of your favorite books?

I love the book Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller.  Her subject matter hits home with me as I collected baby potatoes in my sock drawer when my Dad and I were harvesting the garden back in the day! Also, another book by Allison Krouse Rosenthal, Dear Girl. I gave this book to both of my college age daughters. It’s so hard to pick favorites!

When you aren’t writing, what do you like to read?

Any children’s book of course, but on the flip side I enjoy reading autobiographies, and biographies.

What are you working on now?

I decided to make William, The What-If Wonder a series.  I have been asked by parents, grandparents, teachers and therapists to create more books that deal with the many worries that an anxious child might experience.  Currently William, The What-If Wonder, On His First Sleepover is in the making!   Our illustrator is now working on it as we speak.  My goal is a 2020 release. We have several other topics to cover so I think I will be writing for a while!

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a writer?

That’s a big question!  The subject of anxiety can be emotional when talking to a parent and how it affects their child. I have spoken with many parents and witnessed many tears including my own.  But my most rewarding experience took place at a book signing.  A first-grade teacher was buying a book for her class.  Her husband asked if she would buy him one. She chuckled and said, “you can read mine when we get home.”  He replied, “No, I want my own, because this is the first time I have learned what I can do to help calm the worries in my head.”  He came back to me before he left the book fair and hugged me. He told me that in all the years he has struggled with anxiety, my book has provided him the words he needed to help himself. It was humbling to know the message in my book was so far reaching.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

If you feel there is a story or message inside of you that needs to be told, then tell it.  Passion will drive you to the finish line.  Meet others who have gone before you in this publishing world.  Their insight is valuable and they “know the ropes.”  Attend a workshop on how to write a book (lots of local offerings). Do not rely on family to read your material and provide feedback. They will tell you it’s good even if it’s not. You must reach out to strangers who will be brutally honest.  Your worst critique will be the most valuable.  And yes, it will hurt, discourage you, and probably make you really mad.  But it’s that type of feedback that will take you to the next level.  

Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Pantser - the momentum of building the story keeps me motivated.

Guilty Food Pleasure? Merry Mint Sundae from Mary Coyle’s in Akron, Ohio.  (Peppermint candy ice cream with hot fudge sauce!)

Favorite Hobby?
Star gazing.  Is that a hobby?  I can’t keep my eyes off the sky no matter what time of day it is!

Dog or Cat person? Dog!

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?
I would like to have dinner with Benjamin Franklin!

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? I do my best work in the late hours of the evening. 

Find Carol on social media:
Twitter:      @whatifwonder
Instagram:  @thewhatifwonder