Calling all NF writers!

This week I wanted to introduce you to a new - and FREE - activity for nonfiction writers.

NF Fest, organized by the Nonfiction Chicks in February, is a month-long crash course in writing nonfiction for children. Participants will learn the craft from 29 authors and others in NF publishing through daily posts. Daily activities will get you writing and researching in small steps. It's all free, and there will be prizes!

For more information, and to view the posts in February, see Join the NF Fest Facebook community at for updates and discussion.
This year's bloggers will include:

Karen Blumenthal/Candace Fleming
Beth Anderson
Carla McClafferty
Melissa Stewart
Heidi Stemple
Barb Kramer
Sophia Gholz
Nancy Turminelly
Donna Bowman
Mary Kay Carson
Traci Sorrell
Cynthia Levinson
Jen Bryant
Jill Esbaum
Kerry McManus, Marketing Director
Don Tate
Meeg Pincus
Lisa Schnell
Susannah Deevers
Vivian Kirkfield
Kelly Halls
Stacey Graham, agent
Bethany Hegedus
Alice Duncan
Rob Sanders
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Chris Mihaly
Steve Swinburne

Holiday Gifts for Writers

Need ideas for holiday gifts for your fellow writers? 
Looking for ideas that people can get for YOU, their favorite writer?
We’ve put together some gift ideas that might be just what you’re looking for!


 How about a mug, tote or T-shirt with a special saying
 about books, reading, writing or editing?
 Check out Café Press and Out of Print.


Etsy is a good place to start to look for writers’ jewelry. Find clever ideas for necklaces, pins, bracelets, earrings, rings and even cuff links.


Pay for subscriptions to newsletters such as Children’s Book Insider, or membership sites like 12 x 12 and SCBWI, subscription boxes and streaming services for writers. Check out this link for subscription box ideas:


Fill their stockings with writing software, file folders, paper clips, notepads, pens, printer ink, or gift cards to office supply stores, bookstores, or Amazon.


Help your author friends realize their writing goals with a planner for 2020 or a journal for jotting down inspirations and ideas.  


Help pay for a manuscript edit, to have a website built, attend a conference, take a writing course, or spend a weekend at a writers’ retreat. Unworkshops at Highlights cost $150.00/day.


Check out The Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market 2020, Guide to Literary Agents 2020, or the many books on the process of writing and/or publishing that can be found on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and the iBookstore.


What do writers want most? Time to write! Offer to babysit or help take care of a loved one while they get away for some alone time to finish that manuscript.

Or, create a special space for your writer with a sign that reads: DO NOT DISTURB – CREATIVITY IN PROGRESS.

Meet Author Dori Hillestad Butler

by Gloria G. Adams

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 50 books for young readers including

 the two-time Geisel Honor award winning King & Kayla series, Edgar award winning Buddy Files 

series, and the Haunted Library series. Dori has also been a ghost writer for the Boxcar Children and

 other popular series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, board games, walking her dog, and

 playing with the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra. She grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in

Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area.

Dori, what inspired you to write your first book?

That was a long time ago! 😊 My first book was the Great Tooth Fairy Rip Off and I guess I was inspired by the kids who lived in the house behind mine. I was working on a short story for a magazine and I could hear the neighbor kids playing. It sounded like the little brother had lost his first tooth and all the kids were bragging about how much money they’d gotten from the tooth fairy. I started thinking about what would happen if this little boy didn’t get as much as the other kids got. What might he do? That became the Great Tooth Fairy Rip Off.

Who are some Authors that you admire?
I read and enjoy many books by many different authors, but I try not to “admire” other authors because that can start a dangerous spiral of comparisons.

What kinds of books do you like to read?

Mostly contemporary fiction. Mysteries. Humor. Dog stories. You know…the same kind of stuff I like to write.

 What is your writing process? (Outline, start in the middle, scenes, etc.)

I usually outline. Then I start at the beginning. I tend to revise (a lot!) as I’m writing. The downside to that is it takes me a while to write a draft. But the upside is it tends to be a pretty clean draft. That’s not to say I don’t revise after I have a draft. I revise a lot! I will revise until my editor says I can’t revise anymore. I love the revision process because then I have words I can work with. The blank page scares me.

What was your most unusual/funny/heartwarming experience as a writer?

I think the most heartwarming experience I’ve ever had was when a 5th grader raised the money for my author visit all by herself. I didn’t know that’s what she was doing. She was a fan of my Monkey Man books and she e-mailed me and asked if I’d visit her school. She wasn’t the first student to ask me about school visits. I told her the same thing I told the others: I would love to visit her school, but an official invitation has to come from an adult at her school, not from her. I thought it that was the end of it. It usually is. 😊 But a few months later, I received an official invitation from the school. And they told me they thought I should know that this student wanted me to come so badly that she raised the money for my visit herself. You can still read about it in her own words right here:

Congratulations on winning an Edgar Award! What made you decide to write mysteries?

Thank you! I’ve always loved mysteries. Reading them and writing them. I was in high school when I was first aware of the Edgar Award. I worked in my city library in high school and I was shelving a book by Joan Lowery Nixon, who was one of my favorite authors. The cover of the book said she was an “Edgar Award winning author.” So I looked up what that meant…and dreamed of winning that award myself one day.
Have you written one particular book that you love more than the others?

No, that’s like asking me to choose between my children.

The Haunted Library books are fun to read. What gave you the idea for writing them?

It was actually book 6 of my Buddy Files series. I had created this family of ghosts that I thought would live in the school where Buddy, the hero of my Buddy Files series, was a therapy dog. He’d be the only one who could see and interact with them. But my husband thought my story was too much about the ghosts and not enough about the dog. He said, “If you want to write a ghost series, write a ghost series. But this is your dog series. This book needs to focus more of the dog.” He was right. Also, I did want to write a ghost series. So, I took that family of ghosts out of the Buddy Files and gave them their own series: The Haunted Library.

What are the challenges of writing series books?

I love writing series books, but I think my biggest problem with them is sometimes I want to do something in a later book and can’t because it would be inconsistent with something else I’ve already established in the series. You can’t go back and revise previous books once they’re already published, so you’re limited by what you’ve already written.

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

The best advice I have to offer is: never give up! It sounds pat, but it’s true. Never give up is the secret to becoming a published writer.

Short and Sweet:
·             Pantser or Plotter? Plotter
·             Guilty Food Pleasure? Chocolate
·             Favorite Hobby? Playing mandolin
·             Dog or Cat person? Dog person. Well…both. But really dog.
·             Do you do your best work in the Morning, Afternoon, or Evening? Morning

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