Interview with author Toni Buzzeo

By Laurie Knowlton

I'd like to introduce a new friend, Toni Buzzeo. I met Toni while in Florida. Prior to meeting Toni I'd read a preview of When Sue Met Sue, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. The article caught my attention because of my love of fossils.

Not long afterwards I met Toni. When I entered her home I saw her author copy of new book sitting on her coffee table. I picked it up immediately, recognizing it. “I know this book!” I said. “I read about it!"

We quickly became friends, talking about writing, publishing, a love of fossils! After enjoying our time together, I knew our readers would love to get to know Toni also.


New York Times bestselling children’s author Toni Buzzeo has published 27 picture books for kids as well as 11 books for teachers and librarians. Toni and her books have won many awards, including a 2013 Caldecott Honor for One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small. She writes for a broad audience, from the very youngest readers through elementary-aged children. Her characters are sometimes real and sometimes fictional, sometimes human and sometimes animals whose experiences echo those of a human child. No matter what, her characters are as lovable as the children Toni writes for. Before publishing for children, Toni was a Maine elementary school librarian and college and high school writing teacher. Now she lives and writes full time from her charming writing cottage in Arlington, Massachusetts. For lots more information, visit

What inspired you to write When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex?

After I published A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss (Dial, 2015), I knew that I had found a publishing niche I wanted to continue to occupy—telling the stories of inspiring women scientists in illustrated picture book biographies. So, I put out a call to my school librarian community on the LM_NET listserv and asked for suggestions. When someone mentioned Sue Hendrickson, I dug into preliminary research and loved what I found—that she was yet another self-taught scientist, like Cynthia Moss, another woman so strong and independent that she devoted her life to the work she trained herself for, in Sue’s case, a life of discovery. A major event of that life of discovery was her encounter, in 1990, with the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever uncovered. Not only did she use her skills and knowledge as a paleontologist, Sue also trusted her intuition—the entirely internal sense that the cliff, seven miles away, was calling to her, as indeed, it was!

You have two very different books about dinosaurs: No T. Rex in the Library and When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex. Can you share some insight on the similarities and differences in writing these two books?

Would it do to just say that they are completely different in every way? That is almost true, actually. While No T. Rex in the Library (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is fiction with a young character who misbehaves in the library and brings a T. rex to life from a book, thus causing ensuing impossible events such as a broken aquarium and knights doing synchronized swimming in the spilled pool of water, When Sue Found Sue (Abrams, 2019) is nonfiction, featuring the accurate story of Sue Hendrickson’s life, from her shy and lonely childhood to her astonishing and unlikely discovery of the largest T. rex skeleton ever uncovered.

However, it is true that a single author—me!—wrote both of these books. And that author is not even a huge dinosaur-nerd. While I think dinos are cool, and I am curious about them, they aren’t the thing I am most passionate about. Actually, the thing I am most passionate about is writing.

I noticed you have several series books. How is writing a series different that a single title?

The answer is different depending on the genre. For the fiction books I have written in series, the Dawdle Duckling (Dial) and Adventure Annie (Dial) books, there are several advantages. First, as the fiction author, you already know your character and how he or she will react to the situations you put her or him into. And, to some extent, you know the secondary characters. You may even know the setting. The challenge in that can be to come up with unexpected plot twists that challenge the well-known character.

For nonfiction, such as my Whose? (Abrams Appleseed) series, what you have at the outset is a predictable format. For each of these board books, for instance, I know that I will be focusing on six professions and that the professions will be revealed through a guessing game which will require the young reader to identify the tools or vehicle that the professional uses to accomplish her or his work. Beyond that and the requirements of a rhyming text following a prescribed pattern, the content is entirely unique.

What is the most exciting event you had as a writer researching for a book?

My first published book, The Sea Chest (Dial, 2002) in which a ship’s captain and his wife cast their baby upon the ocean waves in a sea chest to save her life, was based on a legend from mid-Coast Maine—a legend that many Mainers believed to be true. As a certified librarian, it was important to me to get to the bottom of the mystery and determine whether I was writing a fiction or nonfiction book! I was delighted when I met Barbara Skinner Rumsey, former director of the Boothbay (Maine) Regional Historical Society who was able to share with me her work in trying to answer that very question. She had done extensive research that included reading page-by-page and word-by-word the lighthouse keeper’s log books from the decade in which the shipwreck was said to have occurred. Barbara found no record of such a storm, no record of a lost ship, and no record of a baby washing ashore on that lighthouse island. My question was answered, and I got to share vicariously in Barbara’s search!

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite books as a child were any of the Beverly Cleary books then in print, including Beezus and Ramona, all of the Henry books, and especially Ellen Tebbets.

What do you like to read now?

I read all genres of children’s books, picture books, middle grade, graphic novels, young adult, and nonfiction. But I also love adult literary fiction, memoir, and the occasional inspirational/lifestyle/philosophy book.

What advice do you have for new writers?

My strongest advice is to take yourself seriously as a writer. In order to do that, you need to join our professional organization, SCBWI (, take as many classes as are available to you and which apply to your work—both locally and online—and attend writing conferences regularly. You also will want to find a critique group (SCBWI can help with that too) and use your membership in that group to learn as much as you can about the revision process and the importance of revising work over and over as you peel away each layer of the onion.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

I love to read. One guilty pleasure is to get up in the morning, make a cup of coffee and, if it’s warm enough, sit out on the back porch (or during my Sarasota, Florida winters, on the lanai) with the sun shining in and read whatever book I’m immersed in until the coffee is gone. If it’s cold here in Arlington, Massachusetts (early spring/late fall), I prop myself up in bed with the mattress warmer on and drink that same cup of coffee while I read. Guiltiest pleasure of all? A second cup of coffee and more chapters. That hardly ever happens though. I’m too much of a first-child rule-follower, even when the rules are my own!

I also love to work with fiber and fabric as my alternate creative outlet, and I spend time every day playing with each of my young grandchildren.

What is the best investment you’ve made in your writing career financially or time wise?

I’ve invested both time and money in attending conferences and workshops all over the country. They’ve given me new knowledge and often new opportunities. There’s no discounting how much there is to learn at every stage of one’s career.

What author do you wish you could sit and have a conversation with?

See my answer to my favorite book as a child. I would love the opportunity to sit down with 103-year-old Beverly Cleary and ask her about how she weathered such a long and successful career and what advice she’d have for someone like me, with 27 books in print and two more under contract.

Short and Sweet

Panster or plotter?
Guilty Food Pleasure? Cake with lots of frosting
Dog or cat person?
Best time to work? Mid-morning or late at night

Paying Attention to Page Turns

By Kate Carroll

I don’t know about you, but if I get a plan for a picture book, I zero in on it immediately, get it out of my head and onto paper, my phone, my computer – OK – maybe a dinner napkin or grocery receipt.  I don’t think about page turns until I've written a draft or two. But when reading what the experts have to say about pagination of picture book manuscripts, it should be a priority.

In picture book creation, a page break has to have purpose.  It has to evoke interest to make the reader want to keep turning the page. With that in mind, a page turn should have a rhythm to accompany that purpose. The words on a page reflect the mood of the scene. Longer sentence patterns, full of imagery may work in one scene of your story, but not in another. Consider being at a place of tension in the story. Short, punchy sentences may be the rhythm. The words in each scene should invite the reader to want something more, or desire to go to the next page. Page turns have just the right amount of lure for the reader. Have you ever read aloud to a child who is trying to get a sneak peek at the next page? Compliments to the author!

Here are some things to consider when breaking your manuscript into spreads or page turns. In Writing Picture Books, Anne Whitford Paul tells us that the hooks found at the end of each chapter in longer books are the page turns in a picture book. They represent moments of wonder for the main character, moments of curiosity, doubt or even discomfort. it is vital that the page turns contain some element of motivation for the reader.

In an article on the Writers’ Rumpus Blog, Kim Chafee states, “Some page turns happen because it’s the end of a scene or a moment. Some happen to provide a break in the tension. But a purposeful page turn is different. It can be a cliffhanger, a set-up, to add surprise and engage the reader toward a satisfying payoff.”

Suffice it to say, pagination requires our imagination!

Think about books with questions. They automatically lead to a page turn. Rhyming stories tend to have a natural page turn element. Repeat lines often indicate a page turn as well. Check out these examples of stories with great page turns below.

Some agents even prefer paginated manuscript submissions. As always, it’s best to refer to the sub requirements of every agent and editor beforehand.

As an effort to become more fluent with this particular writing task, I encourage you to take the time to paginate your manuscript as you write. Study the craft. Devise a dummy. Find ways to incorporate elements of motivation. Who knows? Someday there may be a kid trying to sneak a peek at your next page!


Cover Reveal: I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures that Look Like Food by Jenna Grodzicki

By Lisa Amstutz

Today, we're thrilled to welcome Jenna Grodzicki to the Six Pens blog to share about her new book, I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food (Oct. 2019, Millbrook Press). I had the privilege of critiquing Jenna's manuscript along the way, and can't wait to see it in print. It's both fun and educational, and I know kids will love it!

So without further ado, here's the cover, which features an edible-looking egg yolk jellyfish!

Jenna, what inspired you to write I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures that Look Like Food?

I stumbled upon this topic completely by accident. In early 2016, I was doing research on lemon sharks for a different manuscript (Finn Finds a Friend, Clear Fork Publishing 2017). I came across an article online called “Fish food: 15 marine animals named by hungry biologists.” The article featured some sea creatures that actually looked like foods we eat, such as the lettuce sea slug and the egg yolk jellyfish. I had never heard of these animals, and I was completely fascinated by them.

I never planned to write nonfiction, but I couldn’t stop thinking about these creatures. They’re so unique, and I was sure kids would be interested in learning about them. So, I started researching and never looked back!

What’s your favorite thing about writing for kids?

I love so many things about being a children’s author. I’ve become passionate about nonfiction, and I love finding quirky topics to research and write about. I also love interacting with young readers. Between school visits, book signings, and library events, I cherish every moment I spend with children. I was a classroom teacher and library media specialist for over a decade and talking with children who are excited about MY books is truly a magical feeling.

What advice do you have for aspiring nonfiction PB writers?

You don’t have to already be an expert in a topic to write about it. You just have to be willing to put in the research. I don’t have a background in science or marine biology. But I used what I knew about conducting research to become an expert on these sea animals. If you find a topic you’re excited about, just go for it!

Publisher's blurb:

Meet some of the wackiest creatures under the sea―creatures that look like food―through eye-catching photos and engaging text. This funny, informative book introduces readers to the egg yolk jellyfish, the lettuce sea slug, the chocolate chip sea star, and many more! Accessible text and engaging photos make this a very fun read. 

Places to Pre-Order I See Sea Food:

Connect with Jenna online:

Twitter - @jennawritesPB

Instagram - @jennawritespb

Facebook - @jennawritesPB 

Interview with Author Michelle Houts

By Lana Koehler

When I first met Michelle Houts, I was introducing her at an SCBWI Conference and had trouble remembering the pronunciation of her name (Houts, like “out”). She was gracious and patient with me. A few years later, we were both authors at the Cincinnati Books By the Bank and she came up and congratulated me as though we were long-lost friends.

Since then, we have maintained contact and she is gracious once again, this time to share her insights as a prolific writer. Her new book, Sea Glass Summer, has received a coveted starred Kirkus review.

I’m pleased to welcome Michelle to our Six Pens blog!
Michelle Houts is an author, editor, kidlit enthusiast, writing coach, and preservationist. She writes fiction and nonfiction for the picture book through middle-grader reader. Michelle’s debut middle-grade novel The Beef Princess of Practical County won an IRA Children’s Book Award for Intermediate Fiction. Winterfrost was named a Bank Street Best of 2014 with Outstanding Merit.  She has written the biographies of a ground-breaking woman baseball player, a mid-century modern artist, and the first woman to solo hike the Appalachian Trail. 2019 will see the release of two new picture books.  Sea Glass Summer (Candlewick Press) is illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline and is available May 14th. Silent Swoop: An Owl, an Egg, and a Warm Shirt Pocket, illustrated by Deb Hoeffner (Dawn Publishing) tells the true tale of a Great Horned Owl rescued as an egg releases September 1st. 

Michelle started the 52 Letter Challenge, encourage letter writers of all ages and all over the world to write and send a letter a week for a year.  Find out more about Michelle and the challenge at and on Instagram and Twitter @mhoutswrites .

1.    What inspired you to write your first book?

A longtime friend and English teacher read a letter I wrote to her and said, “You know you’re a novelist, right?” I didn’t know. I’d dabbled in picture books, submitted a little, collected a few rejections, and joined SCBWI. I’d never thought I could write a novel, but this person’s opinion meant a lot to me. I set out to tell a story that only I could tell.

2.    Who are some authors you admire? 

The writings of Katherine Patterson, Cynthia Rylant, and Natalie Babbitt have inspired me immensely. I’ve more recently studied the works of J.R.R.Tolkien and other YA and MG fantasy writers and found so much to admire.

3.    How did you get involved in Ohio University Press’ series, “Biographies for Young  Readers”?

Here’s one for the books: It was all because of rejection. I submitted a picture book manuscript to the Ohio University Press, and the publisher herself called to turn me down. But, she said she’d been pondering the idea of a middle-grade biography series and she was looking for a middle-grade author to write the first book. With a couple of middle-grade books under my belt already, I agreed to the task. Since then, I have not only written the inaugural title and the fifth title in Ohio University Press’s Biographies for Young Readers series, but I’ve signed on as series editor where I’ve had the pleasure of editing six more titles.

4.    Tell us about your new book, Sea Glass Summer. How did it come about?

Several years ago, I became part of a small writers group that met annually in Maine. As a land-locked Ohio girl, I was delighted with the idea sea glass.  The very notion that I might find a small piece of history lying on the pebble beach - a story waiting to be discovered – was fascinating. On the plane from Maine to Ohio, I jotted some notes for a picture book. Of course, that was more than five years ago. Nothing moves quickly in the publishing world.

5.    Tell us about your Little Red Schoolhouse!

I live in rural Ohio, where the landscape is dotted with old barns , sheds, and abandoned one-room schoolhouses. A few years ago, my family bought a farm with a schoolhouse (turned farm shed) on the corner. It was solid, but in need of much repair. I would have been so sad to see it crumble. Since it was just a mile from my home, I decided it would be the perfect writing studio. Three years ago, the renovations were complete, and now, every morning I pinch myself that I get to work in such a wonderful space.

6.    What kind of books do you like to read? 

That’s a question I would have answered differently a year or two ago. I have always read widely in the genres I write: picture books, middle grade fiction and biographies. But this past year I’ve made it goal to expand my reading repertoire. I’ve read some YA science fiction and some middle-grade fantasy, choosing books that I probably would never have chosen in the past, and as a result, I’ve grown as a reader and a writer.

7.    What book has influenced you the most?

Recently, it was Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read it twice and have sections highlighted that I go back to often. It has helped me make sense of the creative life.  As a child Little Women fascinated me. I come from a family of girls, I love historical fiction, and I wanted to be Jo March.

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

Research often takes us places we never expected to go and sometimes we unearth treasures. While researching artist Charley Harper for the book Count the Wings, I found some of his earliest illustration, done for Ford Times Magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. I was particularly fond of his paintings of colorful kites for an article by a new, unknown writer. Her name? Jane Yolen. Weeks later I was with Jane in Massachusettes and was able to bring her a long-forgotten piece from her past.

9.    What work do you wish you had written? Why? 

I wish I had written Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. That book, in my opinion, has everything a great story should have. Depth, beautiful writing, unforgettable characters, suspense, humor, and a thought-provoking premise. I like rereading it every few years just to relive the experience of meeting the Tucks and contemplating a life well lived.

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

We hear so often: To be a successful, you must write every day. That might be true for some, but I have found that for many writers, especially those just starting out, life gets in the way of daily writing. If you have a day job, young children, aging parents, teenagers, or any number of life circumstances, sometimes you have to write when you can. And sometimes you can’t. You’ll make yourself and those around you miserable if you are beating yourself up for not writing on a given day/week/month. Sometimes you have to give yourself permission not to write. That doesn’t mean you allow excuses. You know the difference between procrastination and dealing with life’s important demands. Write often. Write passionately. Write when you can. And don’t torture yourself when you can’t.

Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter?  Fiction pantser. Nonfiction plotter.
Guilty Food Pleasure?  Authentic Chicago pizza
Favorite Hobby? Hiking
Dog or Cat person?  The cat on my lap would be very offended if I said dog. Cat it is.
Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? J.K. Rowling
Do you do your best work in the Morning, Afternoon, or Evening? You forgot Night. Night.

To Be or Not To Be

By Gloria Reichert

Show. Don’t tell.

Writers often hear this excellent advice, but following it poses some challenges. Authors can heed this advice to some degree by choosing to use active verbs instead of passive forms of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, etc).

Active verbs make our writing more descriptive and concise. They enliven it with concrete details. They make it more readable, and they help appeal to the senses. Active verbs move our scenes forward. A well-chosen active verb can eliminate the need for an adverb.

For example, one could write the following sentence using the passive verb “was.”

Robby’s room was messy.

This sentence summarizes the situation. Or one could use active verbs to show how Robby’s room looked.

Robby’s red T-shirt draped the chair by his desk. Socks of various colors tried to escape from the open dresser drawer. Potato chips crumbs littered the floor and formed a trail to the Legos scattered underneath the window. Rumpled sheets and blankets covered the unmade bed. An empty milk glass stood on the nightstand surrounded by chocolate chip cookie crumbs. 

Using active verbs creates a more vivid picture of Robby’s room and also gives some insight into his character traits.

Or consider the following sentence which tells us about Suzie using a passive verb.

Suzie was happy.

Using active verbs shows the reader her happiness and add more emotional intensity to the scene.

Suzie’s face glowed with a radiant smile. Her eyes sparkled. She hummed a lively tune as she skipped down the sidewalk. A small burst of laughter escaped at the sight of two puppies playing in the neighbor’s yard.

Now try your hand at changing these telling sentences into showing ones by using active verbs.

Bobby was lonely.

Ann was surprised.

Gwen was nervous.

Whether or not to use an active or passive verb depends on the writer’s intended purpose. Active verbs emphasize the person or object performing the action. Passive verbs emphasize the person or object receiving the action.

So if you want stronger writing that packs more punch, read over one of your manuscripts and highlight every passive verb. Then go back though the manuscript and replace each passive verb with an active one. Bet you will be pleased with the results.

Show. Don’t tell. Accomplished!


Meet Children’s Book Illustrator Ken Min

By Gloria Adams

Ken is an illustrator and animation storyboard artist for commercials and animated TV shows. His picture book debut, Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji received the picture book honor for Literature from the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA). His illustration work has been recognized numerous times by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles (SILA). Other books Ken has illustrated include Ah-Choo! by Lana Wayne Koehler and Gloria G. Adams, What Does It Mean To Be an Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, Love is Love by Michael Genhart, and Benji, the Bad Day, and Me by Sally J.Pla. Ken makes his home in Burbank, California.

What inspired you to illustrate picture books?

I used to work in book stores early on. The children’s section was the one area no one wanted to have to clean up or straighten at the end of the day because it was always a mess and chaotic. Note to readers and parents: Please be sure to pick up after yourself or child when visiting the book store. It’s only polite. One time, it was my turn and while cleaning up, I really started to take notice of all the different books we had. Just really noticing the breadth and variety of art styles. At this time, I had probably just graduated from art school and was looking to see where I fit in, in regard to the art world. This was definitely one area that caught my interest. Of course, it took another 10 years before I really got serious about it, but that’s another story.

Who are some authors and illustrators that you admire?

There are so many. But as far as who influenced my artistic style- it would have to be Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle and the Provensens, Alice & Martin. I just admired their clean lines and shapes as well as their sense of color. Someone more recent would be Jon Klassen, Annette Marnat and Christian Robinson.

What’s your favorite medium in which to create?

If you had asked me maybe 3 years ago, I would probably have said that I like to sketch with a pencil (blue), paper and an eraser. But now I really enjoy working digitally. (the ‘undo’ button really eases my anxiety and stress level) And with the variety of digital brush line styles, I can mimic line qualities that really please me.

What’s on your bucket list for your career as an illustrator?

Still trying to crack the “author” part of author/illustrator.

If you weren’t an artist, what else would you like to do for a living?

My mother used to tell me that when I was little, I was crazy about dinosaurs and that I wanted to be a dinosaur doctor. (not that dinosaurs have much use for doctors nowadays.)

What kinds of books do you like to read?

In general, mostly works of fiction. (my favorite book is “The Great Gatsby”). But I also read art books (for the pictures), comics (both books and strips), and I get recommendations of MG and YA books from friends to read.

What book or book illustrator has influenced you the most?

I’m assuming you are referring to children’s literature (for the record, my favorite book is The Great Gatsby. Did I mention that already?? :P) I do admire the whimsy of the Pooh books, and when I try to write, I like to read certain books to get my mind in the right head space. So books like Extra Yarn and City Dog, Country Frog often help me find my voice. 

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?

Can I say Fitzgerald?!? (do you sense a pattern?!?) Makes one wonder what kind of children’s book Scott would have written if he put his mind to it…and a dinner with him probably would not involve much food, just drinks. Lots of it!

Thinking about children’s book authors, I might say Ezra Jack Keats. He is a huge inspiration on my art styling and it would be nice to talk to him about his work and to thank him. Also, I’m very fortunate to live in an area with lots of fellow illustrators and authors around, so now and then we will get together for a bite. And those are such enjoyable and lively times.

What did you do when you worked at Nickelodeon?

I worked as a storyboard artist at Nickelodeon and more recently at Warner Bros in TV animation. Storyboarding is visualizing your movie/TV show/game before you roll the camera or begin animation. It's part of the pre-production process. As with writing, you might fashion an outline first so you know the steps you will take in your story.

It's the same with storyboarding. Think of it as drawing out a comic (book) to "see" where the events of your story take place, where the action is directed, who is in the shot, how the story progresses in an orderly fashion. It's also where you can try different shots & set ups and determine the best course of action for your story before you commit a lot of your resources to the finished product.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to new/aspiring illustrators?

 Work at your craft and be patient. It will happen if you give it time.

Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Definitely a plotter.

Guilty Food Pleasure?  I’m definitely a PIE guy.

Favorite Hobby? Who has time for hobbies with stuff to draw! Ha ha 

Dog or Cat person? meow

Do you do your best work in the Morning, Afternoon, or Evening? Late mornings, for sure, I’m at my “freshest”. Then I roll into the afternoons and probably lose steam by the evening. I guess I have that “business person” work ethic. I’m not necessarily a ‘nite owl’ or a vampire. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Most of my friends do their best work in the wee hours.

Interview with Author Michelle Medlock Adams

By Lisa Amstutz

Today we're happy to welcome Michelle Medlock Adams to the Six Pens blog. Michelle is a prolific author, teacher, and popular speaker at schools, writing conferences, etc. Today, we're talking about one of her new books, Dinosaur Devotions.

Dinosaur Devotions is a 160-page book geared toward grades 3-7. Each two-page spread introduces a dinosaur, then ties in characteristics of that animal with a Bible verse, journaling prompt, and "Digging Deeper" thought. The text is written at a level that is easy for kids to understand, with fun, colorful illustrations.  


Welcome, Michelle! Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
I’m a Hoosier through and through—born and raised in Southern Indiana and a graduate of Indiana University School of Journalism. I began my writing career as a newspaper reporter, served as a stringer for the Associated Press, and eventually moved to Texas to take a feature writing position with a worldwide ministry magazine. That’s where I began writing for children.

One day my boss came into my office and explained that the writer who had been crafting the children’s stories was moving to the Internet department. Then he said, “You have kids, right?” I nodded, “Yes, I have two little girls.” “Good,” he said. “You can write the children’s stories then.” I remember thinking, “Just because I have kids doesn’t mean I can write for them.” But I’m a researcher so I read every book I could find about writing for children, and I joined the local chapter of SCBWI and began learning. I fell in love with writing for children during that season, and it’s been a love affair ever since.

How did Dinosaur Devotions come about?

Well, my youngest daughter, Allyson, wasn’t your typical girly girl, growing up. She loved dinosaurs and lizards. In fact, she had an African Fat-tailed Lizard for almost a decade. His name was Rocky. Anyway, because she loved dinosaurs so much, we checked out lots of dinosaur books from our library. And, I discovered I was also fascinated with dinosaurs. Since we were living in Texas at the time, we were able to see dinosaur footprints and fossils near Glen Rose, Texas. It was very cool.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago…I was writing another devotional book for adults on the theme of nature, and as I wrote about various animals, I started thinking about how fun it would be to write devotionals about dinosaurs. I liked the alliteration of “Dinosaur Devotions,” so I I made that the working title and pitched the idea to an editor friend of mine. She loved it! That was the confirmation I needed to move forward. I truly believe God started me on this Jurassic journey many years ago.

What's your favorite dinosaur?

I'd have to say the Parasaurolophus. It was quite an odd-looking dinosaur. It had a hollow tube-like crest on its head, and that crest often grew 6 feet long. Here's the coolest thing--it made a musical sound sort of like a trumpet! Some experts say the crest made a low B-flat sound, sort of like you might hear from an elephant, and that’s how it communicated with other dinosaurs. This dino had its own musical instrument attached to his head. I think that's really awesome!

You have written adult and children’s books. Which are harder and why?

Writing for children is much harder but it’s also way more fun. It’s more difficult because you have to say so much in so few words. And you have to write it in such a way that kids won’t be off your lap and down the hall before you’re done with the book.

If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?

Relax and enjoy the journey a little more. When I was younger, I was always looking to the next deadline, the next contract, the next conference. Today, I still plan ahead, but I am enjoying this writing journey a lot more. I feel so blessed to get to do what I do fulltime.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

The money we spent so that I could attend the Write-to-Publish writers conference at Wheaton College in 2000. That conference was life-changing for me. I pitched a book to the late Denny Boultinghouse at Howard Books, and he rejected it within the first minute of our 15-min. appointment. So, to fill the time, I told him about another book idea I’d had while reading a magazine on the plane. “That I like,” he said, and proceeded to help me outline the book. The following year, that book, “Living the Love Chapter” was published and earned me “Writer of the Year.” It was a career-changing moment for me.

What tips do you have for writers wanting to break into the children's devotional market?

First off, study the mechanics of devotions. As you'll see from reading children's devo books, most have sort of a pattern--a scripture; a thought for the day; a journaling exercise; a prayer; and of course, the main story and teaching. And, often devotional books for kids are themed. This goes for adult devotional books, too. I actually teach a course on Serious Writer Academy called, "The Do's and Don’ts of Devotional Writing" that would prove helpful to any writer wanting to learn more about devo writing. As far as finding markets, "The Christian Writers Market Guide 2019" will help you identify magazine and book markets for your children's devotionals.

Thanks again, Michelle!

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