Perfect Picture Book Friday – A Round Up Of Groundhogs!

It’s the Perfect Picture Book Friday before Groundhog Day (which, as you know, we are very partial to around here 🙂 ) so Phyllis insisted I thought, for fun, that we feature her book I’d share a roundup of Groundhog Day titles – three that have already been reviewed for PPBF and one new one! 🙂

Some of my (and Phyllis’s 🙂 ) favorite Groundhog Day titles:

Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, Holiday House 2005 (yes, ok, we are biased 🙂 ) – reviewed for Perfect Picture Books by Beth Stilborn


Substitute Groundhog by Pat Miller, illustrated by Kathi Ember, Albert Whitman & Co – reviewed for Perfect Picture Books by Jennifer Rumberger

Substitute Groundhog

Groundhug Day by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by Christopher Denise, Disney-Hyperion, December 2017  – reviewed for Perfect Picture Books HERE


And one that hasn’t been on PPBF yet (as far as I know) that is an older title but was well-loved in my house! 🙂

Gretchen Groundhog It’s Your Day

Greta Groundhog

Title: Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day!

Written By: Abby Levine

Illustrated By: Nancy Cote

Albert Whitman & Co, November 1998, fiction

Suitable For Ages: 5 and up

Themes/Topics: holidays (Groundhog Day), emotions (feeling shy), overcoming a fear

Opening: “It was a dark and snowy night.  Gretchen Groundhog sat in her burrow, worrying.  In a few days it would be February 2, when the world would be watching the little town of Piccadilly.
On that day, for the first time, Gretchen would step from her burrow to stand before TV cameras, newspaper reporters, tourists, all the townsfolk, and a brass band.  Everyone would be waiting as Gretchen looked for her shadow.

Brief Synopsis: Gretchen must carry on the family tradition of stepping out on the morning of February 2 to search for her shadow, but she is too shy to “Go Out” and face the crowd of people.  After much worrying, she musters up courage when she learns that throughout history groundhogs have been afraid to “Go Out” the first time.

Links To Resources: Groundhog Day Crafts and Activities; make your own Groundhog Day prediction: 6 more weeks of winter or early spring???!!! 🙂

Why I Like This Book: Any youngster who has ever felt apprehensive at the idea of being in the spotlight will relate to shy Gretchen.  Lots of children feel shy at the idea of meeting other kids for the first time, or of entering a new classroom, or of standing at the front of the class for a spelling bee or to give a report, so they will easily understand how Gretchen feels at the idea of having to face crowds of people, TV cameras and newspaper reporters.  Gretchen’s courage is bolstered when the town historian’s daughter arrives with a box of notes written by Gretchen’s ancestors (Goody Groundhog, who sailed on the Mayflower; George Groundhog, who fought at Valley Forge; and Gloria Groundhog, movie star 🙂 ), all confessing their fear of “Going Out.”  Gretchen writes a few words of her own for the history box and then finds she can face her fear.  A fun story accompanied by warm, appealing art that lots of kids will enjoy for Groundhog Day!

I hope you enjoy all of these titles as much as Phyllis and I do 🙂

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

PPBF folks, please add your titles and post-specific links (and any other info you feel like filling out 🙂 ) to the form below so we can all come see what fabulous picture books you’ve chosen to share this week!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!!! 🙂

Happy Groundhog Day!!! (and here’s hoping we get an early spring 🙂 )


Tuesday Debut – Presenting Vivian Kirkfield!

Welcome back to another exciting episode of Tuesday Debuts, Everyone!

We had a bit of a hiatus there where no one stepped up for the limelight!

But now we’re back and better than ever, starting strong in 2019 with none other than the fabulous Vivian Kirkfield!

I have known Vivian since she first dipped her toe into the world of writing picture books, and it has been such a pleasure to see her grow as a writer to the point where she has 3 picture books coming out this year!  THREE!!! I feel like a proud mama bird watching her little chick take wing and fly 🙂

So, welcome, Vivian!  THRILLED to have you here, sharing your very first published picture book on its very first day in the world!

VIVIAN: Thank you so much, Susanna, for featuring me on your blog today! And how auspicious – as today is Pippa’s birthday since February 5, 2019 is the official launch date of Pippa’s Passover Plate!

Pippa’s Passover Plate
by Vivian Kirkfield
illustrated by Jill Weber
published by Holiday House
February 5, 2019
Fiction, ages 3-7.

cover on amazon

Quiver! Quaver! Shiver! Shake! Cats and snakes and owls make Pippa Mouse cringe and quake. But, when Pippa Mouse can’t find her special Seder plate, she ventures out, questions each one, discovers that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and uncovers the whereabouts of her dish before the sun sets and the Passover holiday starts. A Joyful Tale of Courage and Friendship.


SUSANNA: Where did the idea for this book come from?

VIVIAN: When I jumped into kidlitland in 2012, I began participating in challenges like Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo. (Picture Book Idea Month which is now called Storystorm and held in January and is a FABULOUS way to connect with the community, get inspired, and generate ideas for the coming year) In 2013, one of her guests was Kar Ben editor Joni Sussman who put out a plea for Jewish holiday picture books. I was thrilled that I’d be able to submit directly to an editor and so I sat down to write a story.



SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?

VIVIAN: At that time in my writing career (I had been writing for a bit less than 2 years), I loved to write in rhyme (still do) and so this rhyming pb story about Pippa Mouse flowed from my pen. I usually start my stories in longhand in a composition notebook so I grabbed one and started writing. A picture of a little mouse came into my mind and I saw her hurrying and scurrying to get her house ready for the Passover holiday. But there had to be a problem, right? Our main characters need us to put obstacles in their way. For me, that is the hardest thing to do because in real life, I like to make things smooth for everyone. But I knew that wasn’t going to work for a picture book story. “Throw rocks at your hero,” they tell us. I decided to throw a couple of big rocks at Pippa Mouse…not only couldn’t she find her special Seder plate, but she would have to confront 3 of her natural enemies in order to find it. This story, unlike many others I have written, seemed to flow from my pen and I think I had a rough draft by the end of the day. But it was VERY rough!!!!


SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?

VIVIAN: Pippa’s Passover Plate went through many revisions. What I usually do is write the rough draft. Then I read it aloud and start revising, smoothing it out. This is especially difficult with a rhyming story because you need the rhythm (meter/beat) and rhyme to be PERFECT. But it also has to tell the story…and often, when you ‘make’ it rhyme, it is not what you really want to say or need to say to move the story forward – but you are using certain words because they rhyme. When I feel my story is where I want it…or as good as I can make it, I give it to a couple of my critique buddies. NOTE ABOUT CRITIQUE BUDDIES: DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THEM! Just kidding about leaving home, but I am serious about a writer’s need for trusted feedback AND the support and encouragement that critique partners give you. When I get their feedback, I revise again. And then read it aloud again. And sent it to other critique partners.

SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?

VIVIAN: As a general rule, if my critique buddies say it is ready and it sounds good to my ear and feels good in my heart, I know a manuscript is ready. It still might not be successful (AKA get a book contract)…but we can never make our manuscripts perfect – we have to send them out when they are ‘ready’ which could mean different things to different people. I often record my voice reading it because we hear our voice differently when we are talking from when we are listening to our voice on tape and I often find places that trip me up or that don’t sound quite right and I want to fix those before I submit.


SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?

VIVIAN: When I submitted Pippa’s Passover Plate to the Kar Ben editor, I did not have an agent. And I got a lovely personal rejection, but no encouragement to revise and resubmit. I put the story away and continued writing other stories. I got hooked on writing nonfiction picture book biographies and so the Pippa story sat in my drawer till three years later when, in 2017, a friend reminded me that PJ Library had a contest for Jewish picture book stories and I should submit it. I pulled the story out of the drawer and gave it to one of my new local author/illustrator critique buddies to look over. She read it and fell in love with it and asked if she could bring it to her long -time editor in NYC who she was going to have lunch with the next week. “Sure” I told her. “Why not?”

So, I gave it to Jill Weber on a Friday and she said she’d bring it with her when she went to the city.


SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”?  (Best momen t ever! 🙂 )

VIVIAN: To tell you the truth, I had kind of forgotten about it and late Monday morning I got an email from the editor, telling me she had just read my lovely manuscript and she asked where she should send the contract, to me or to my agent. I WAS SHOCKED! And thrilled, of course. Immediately, I emailed my agent with this subject line:


There was only one change the editor asked for…the original title was Pippa’s Pesach Plate – Pesach is the Hebrew word for the holiday and it fit very well with the rhythm/beat of the story. But the editor felt that the English word for the holiday, Passover, would be more widely known/accepted because a story about facing fears and overcoming obstacles and making friends is a story for all children, not just those of the Jewish faith.

SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?

VIVIAN: I did a happen dance! Then I emailed my son and daughter. And then I had an email exchange with Jill who was as thrilled as I was!

SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?

VIVIAN: The contract was a standard one and there were no surprises. I was happy with the terms. But having an agent is helpful because they look over the contract and make sure there aren’t any funny clauses. But even if you have an agent, I urge authors (and illustrators) to educate themselves by checking out the resources on the SCBWI website and other websites. Every publishing house is different, but the ball park figures for advances are approximately (please don’t hold me to this):

Small house: 0 to $3000

Medium house: $3000 to $5000

Large house: $5000 and up

Of course, these numbers are only approximate and from my own experience…many variables can change them (if you have other books with the house and they sold well, if you are a big-name celebrity, if this is your first book, etc.).


And the thing of it is, it really doesn’t matter what your advance is. (other than for your own personal vanity or some bill that needs to be paid) In the end, if your book does okay, you will make the same, whether you get a big advance, small advance, or no advance at all. And, if the publisher gives you a big advance and your book doesn’t do well, and it doesn’t earn out what they paid you, they may not be anxious to buy your next book. Whereas, if they give you a smaller advance, but the book does well, you will make the money in royalties (because you don’t get a PENNY until your book earns out…that means, until your book sells enough copies to pay back the publisher for your advance). And, if your book earns out, the publisher will be more willing to buy another book from you.

Here’s a link to an SCBWI FAQ on this:

And here’s a link to a wonderful survey author Hannah Holt conducted:



SUSANNA: What can you tell us about the editorial process?

VIVIAN: The editorial process for Pippa’s Passover Plate was, as I mentioned, almost non-existent for me. The editor emailed and asked for a word doc of the manuscript. She asked if I minded changing the title. And that was that.

However, that is not how it usually goes. With four other book contracts under my belt (and one of them is a 9-story compilation book), I can attest to the fact that usually, there is a lot more revision that goes on. With Sweet Dreams, Sarah, that editor had several minor tweaks to suggest, plus she wanted an additional line in the ending. Then, when illustrations needed to be changed for historical accuracy, the editor and I decided there should be some minor text changes as well and I completely rewrote the author’s note.


Sweet Dreams Cover Template Revised

With Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book,the editor had almost no changes in the text of the story, but we had quite a few revisions for the back matter.

four otters cover amazon

With Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020), the editor and I had an intense back and forth email communication for a week…every day, she would email the manuscript with a minor suggestion and I would fix it and send it back that evening. And the next morning, she’d send it again, with a new little tweak request. But, by the end of the week, we were done and they were ready to hire the illustrator. As I mentioned, every publishing house is different, every editor is different, every manuscript is different…it’s hard to say what the process will be like for a future story.

SUSANNA: Can you tell us about your experience of the illustration process?

VIVIAN: As I mentioned previously, because each manuscript, house, editor, illustrator is different, what happens with one story is probably never going to happen with another. With Pippa’s Passover Plate, everything was perfect! Because the illustrator was my friend and critique buddy as well as being a fabulous artist and a truly fine person, I never had one moment of unease. I knew that my story was in good hands and Jill shared with me freely the sketches, book dummy, and finished art. It was truly a joy to work with her and with Holiday House.

This is not how it always is…in fact, I can guarantee that this is not how it usually is. Many editors do not want the authors to be collaborating with the illustrators. They fear the author will try to overpower the illustrator with her own vision for the story. And perhaps badger the illustrator and keep the illustrator from moving forward. I’ve been pretty lucky…my experiences with all but one of my books have been incredible.

I do not use art notes, except in rare instances when the text doesn’t spell out the action. That said, I went back to my old manuscript and found that there was one illustration note in the Pippa story:


At the bottom – something round.

Can you guess what Pippa found?

Ball and coin and old tin can,

bottle cap and rusty pan,

globe to circumnavigate.

Best of all – the Pesach plate!

Fish swims up with mouse in tow. (illo: Mouse is brought to the surface on the back of the fish)

To the Seder all will go.

SUSANNA: Unfortunately we don’t have the illustration available to go with that note, but here are a couple others so you can see how wonderful the art is! 🙂




SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?

VIVIAN: We are just getting reviews now. I think reviews are very important for the book…but I also think as writers, we need to observe them and accept them and not let the ones that aren’t positive get under our skin. One review is, after all, only one person’s opinion. 😊The only one I’ve seen for PIPPA, other than almost a dozen lovely ones on Goodreads, was from Kirkus…and it was both disappointing and hilarious and just about the same number of words as the story itself.

A mouse searches for and finally finds her missing Seder plate. Pippa is an industrious house-cleaning mouse. And no wonder—Passover is starting this very evening. Dusting and sweeping finished, she turns her attention to setting the table as a pot of chicken stew bubbles away on the stovetop. But there is one very important object that is missing: the “special Seder plate.” Frantically, the mouse searches through boxes and cupboards and finally ventures into the yard. First she encounters a very large cat and asks if it has seen the plate. “No,” answers the cat and points her to a snake, who sends her to an owl, who directs her to Golda Fish, prettily swimming in the water. Success! Kirkfield’s little tale is written in rhyming couplets with much repetition of “QUIVER! QUAVER! SHIVER! SHAKE!” for emphasis with each interaction with a predator, so readers will be mightily puzzled when the formerly frightful critters join Pippa at the holiday table. Weber’s gouache, crayon, and collage illustrations are sweetly pretty. The final illustration features a Seder plate with transliterated Hebrew and an English translation of the components. Readers familiar with the holiday may find this mildly enjoyable, but others will likely want and need more information. In the end too much is left unanswered, making this book pleasant but only passable. (Picture book. 3-5)


Personally, as a former kindergarten and Head Start teacher, I doubt very much that children ages 3 to 5 will find it ‘mightily puzzling’ that a bunch of animals end up being friends. And if I were Jill, I’d be ‘mightily insulted’ that my beautiful art was considered ‘sweetly pretty’…and honestly, I have never seen a fish ‘prettily swimming.” I’m glad the reviewer felt that readers would find it ‘mildly enjoyable’…and in my opinion, the book is more than ‘passable’. And I don’t think there was ‘much repetition’ of the refrain – there were three instances, which, for a picture book, is just about perfect. But this is how this particular reviewer felt and she is entitled to her opinion. Hopefully, the parents who read this story and the children who listen to it will think otherwise.


SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?

VIVIAN: From offer to first copy in hand? Oh, my goodness. This is a wake-up call to many of us. In fact, I just got an email from someone who wanted to hire me for a critique quickly because she wants to have her book published right away so that she can supplement her retirement income this year. Hmmm. That is not how it this publishing business works.


The offer was made at the end of 2017.  Jill did an unbelievable job getting illustrations done so a book dummy could be produced for the editor to take to the 2018 Bologna Book Fair which was only 3 months away. And the book was scheduled to launch February 5, 2019 and I got my first author copy by the end of the summer of 2018. But I have yet to get the additional author copies that were part of the contract, although I am sure they will arrive in due course. With traditional publishing, I’d say the fastest turnaround might be 18 months, although with PIPPA, it will be 16 months. But it could be many YEARS, as with Sweet Dreams, Sarah, which was signed at the end of 2015 and is launching May 1, 2019. As I said before, different editors, different publishing houses, different illustrators, different manuscripts. Everything has a bearing on the time it takes to bring a book to life.


SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?

VIVIAN: Holiday House connected with PJ Library, a big organization that provides books for Jewish families. They approved Pippa’s Passover Platewhich means they order a whole bunch (don’t know how many) and they create back matter and their own jacket flap information for their audience. We have a publicist who says she will help set up book events – but I haven’t heard anything about that yet. They are supposed to have sent the book to hundreds of reviewers, including the ones I recommended, as well as newspapers and other news media outlets. They have a presence at many conferences around the world and across this country, as well as catalogs that are hopefully featuring the book.

SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.

VIVIAN: Fortunately, I’m pretty active on my blog and on social media like Facebook and Twitter. I’ve contacted many book reviewers and bloggers and have arranged for guest posts and Q&A’s (like this one – thank you so much, Susanna!) – a kind of 5-month book blog tour because it is for all three books and it started in January. I’m also a member of two debut picture book groups for authors and illustrators and we support each other by reviewing on Goodreads and Amazon. I reached out to several conferences and will be on the program for some of them. My round the world trip starting in February is one way I will spread the word about three of my 2019 books. I plan to take a copy of each and will photograph them at various landmarks and post to social media in a ‘Where in the World is Carmen Santiago’ fashion. Jill plans to create a Pippa stuffed animal which will be featured in each photo also. She’s working on bookmarks and I’m going to ask her about coloring pages for my blog for parents to print out for their kids. When I get back from the Bologna Book Fair, Jill and I will do some joint events at a local bookstore and also at a local temple.


SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?

VIVIAN: I jumped into writing picture books in a serious way in 2012 when I joined Julie Hedlund’s first 12×12 Writing Challenge. I’d already been blogging for a year and was reviewing picture books every Friday, linking up to you, Susanna. In fact, your Perfect Picture Book Friday posts were where I meet writers who dreamed of becoming published authors and I realized that was my dream as well. My first picture book, Sweet Dreams, Sarah (first book signed will not be the first book out), was signed at the end of 2015…four years from when I started writing seriously.

SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?

VIVIAN: As I mentioned, it took four years from when I decided to become a picture book author. This picture book writing journey is a process…it’s like making a pizza…in fact, that’s my presentation for the Sydney SCBWI conference in a few weeks. There are certain ingredients and you have to follow the steps.

And if you don’t give up, it will definitely happen.


SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Vivian! We are all grateful to you for sharing your experience and wish you great success with your book!


VIVIAN: Thank you so much for having me, Susanna. And for providing such a vibrant platform for aspiring and seasoned authors and illustrators.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 10.39.16 PM

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at national writers’ conferences. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter,Pinterest,Instagram,Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found


Readers, if you have questions for Vivian, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond. (Although I think she might be traveling around the world at the moment, so you might have to be a little patient 🙂 )

You may purchase VIvian’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)


We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:

– purchasing their books

– recommending their books to friends and family

– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians

– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores

– sharing their books on social media

– reviewing their books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other sites where people go to learn about books.

Thank you all for stopping by to read today!  Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday!  Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 🙂


Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts?  Check them out!

Christy Mihaly – Hey! Hey! Hay! A Tale of Bales And The Machines That Make Them

Jessie Oliveros – The Remember Balloons

Beth Anderson – An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin And Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution

Hannah Holt – The Diamond And The Boy

Laura Renauld – Porcupine’s Pie

Annie Romano – Before You Sleep: A Bedtime Book Of Gratitude

Melissa Stoller – Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

Sherry Howard – Rock And Roll Woods

Kate Narita – 100 Bugs! A Counting Book

The Tuesday Debut Debut – Presenting Christy Mihaly!

Hey, Hey, Hay!  Welcome to Tuesday Debuts!

In this new series, we’re going to get all the juicy details from first-time picture book authors about how they went from pre-published to published.  I hope it will be interesting, informative, and inspirational for all of us – published and yet-to-be-published alike.  It’s always fun to hear the story behind the story, and there is always so much we can learn from each other!  I hope you’ll get a sense of the hands-on publishing process and that the information shared here might help you in your own journey by giving you tips or even giving you inspiration from another author’s process to spark new work of your own!

So!  Without further ado…

Introducing Christy’s first picture book:

Hey, Hey, Hay! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make Them)
By Christy Mihaly, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Holiday House, August 14, 2018
Informational picture book
4-8 years

HEY, HEY, HAY! Cover
In this joyful rhyming story, a farm girl brings the reader along as she and her mother make hay. She introduces each of the machines they use to cut, dry, and bale the grass, as they “store summer in a bale.”

And now, introducing Christy!


Chirsty Mihaly, debut picture book author, canoeing (which may or may not have anything to do with either haying or writing but is still beautiful and fun 🙂 )


SLH: Welcome, Christy!  Thank you so much for joining us today, and for being the guinea pig for this new series – so brave of you!  There will be extra chocolate in your Christmas stocking 🙂  Let’s start from the beginning.  Where did the idea for this book come from?

CM: The idea for this book showed up right under my nose, in the summer of 2014. I was working on a couple of picture book biographies (which are still unpublished) when my family moved to a new home surrounded by hayfields. The process of turning grass into hay was beautiful and fascinating. The scent of new-mown grass filled the air and the rhythm of the machines (mower, tedder, baler, hay!) got into my head. Then these lines started running around in my mind: “Listen and I’ll tell the tale of storing summer in a bale.”


Haying in action! The inspiration for this book!

SLH: How long did it take you to write this book?

CM: I wrote the first draft—which was basically a poem—over several weeks of on-and-off writing. It was short, sweet, and rhyming. But it wasn’t very good. Revising and polishing (with some sitting and stewing) took about seven months more.

SLH: Did you go through many revisions?

CM: Yes. I began with a poem called “Haying Time.” At first it didn’t occur to me that this could constitute a book. Then, when I realized that haymaking had picture book potential, I put on my nonfiction-writer hat. I could not find another book for kids about how hay is made. I researched all about hay and hayfields and haying technology and the history of hay. I wrote a manuscript with layered text and all kinds of sidebars (Monet painted famous pictures of haystacks! In the old days, people used scythes!) and footnotes. Eventually my critique partners convinced me to simplify (thank goodness) back down to a straightforward rhyming story.

I made many changes in the words of the text. How’s this for a sample stanza of the original poem: “The baler forms it into bales/While I keep watch, in case it fails.”


There’s one revision I’m particularly happy that I made: in the original version, the child narrator helped Dad with the haying; I changed it to helping Mom. Because many farmers are women.


interior spread showing Farmer Mom 🙂


SLH: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?

CM: I had been submitting other manuscripts, so I should have known, but I was so excited to send this one out that I made the mistake of submitting it too soon. And it was rejected.

After that, I took a break from it. Then I signed up for an online writing course and brought the HAY manuscript to the class for a critique. My classmates and instructor confirmed that it had potential, and they suggested ways to make it snappier. After about 5 months of revisions, I knew it was really ready to submit.

SLH: When and how did you submit?

CM: I give credit to my writing buddies for what finally happened with HAY. At the urging of several critique partners, I applied to the Falling Leaves writing conference, which was new to me. For the editor’s one-on-one critique, I submitted a different nonfiction manuscript, which I’d been working on forever. I was accepted to the conference, and my assigned editor loved that manuscript (though it’s unpublished still). She didn’t like HAY at all—she doesn’t do rhyming books.

But! Another editor at Falling Leaves that year was Grace Maccarone, executive editor at Holiday House. I was impressed with her; she seemed calm and wise and funny. Based on what she said she was seeking (and that she liked rhyme), I thought HAY might be a good fit for her. However, (see #4 above), I needed to revise first.

I reviewed other Holiday House books and saw that many were related to farming and food. That seemed like a good sign. So about four months after meeting Grace, I emailed my revised manuscript, now called “Mower, Tedder, Baler—Hay!” to her. I mentioned that we’d met at Falling Leaves, I cited other farm-related books from Holiday House, and I crossed my fingers.

SLH: When did you get “the call”?  (Best moment ever! 🙂 )

CM: So … I have learned that this part is unusual (though remember HAY had been through prior rejections and revisions). I emailed the manuscript to Grace on a Friday. The following Monday, she emailed back. She said she thought HAY was “adorable” and that she’d share it with her colleagues at their next editorial meeting! [We interrupt this program to say how awesome is THAT?!  We all dream of a response like that, and speaking for myself, I’ve never gotten a positive reply in 3 days!  WOW! 🙂 ]

Of course, I didn’t know when that was going to be, and I was too nervous to ask, so I just waited. And waited. And waited. Two weeks later, Grace emailed again with an offer to publish the book.

dog bale

Christy’s dog, wildly excited about the book sale, pointing out a round bale in the field

SLH: How did you celebrate signing your contract?  (If you care to share 🙂 )

CM: I believe it was a quiet celebration at home. I may have been in shock.

SLH: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?

CM: I had no idea what to expect. I remember mostly the excitement of an offer. One thing that sticks in my mind is that it took much longer than I’d anticipated to receive the contract. The document didn’t arrive until several months after the offer (and negotiation), which I hadn’t realized was normal.

I didn’t have an agent, so I found a knowledgeable lawyer (referred by another writer I met at Falling Leaves) to help review the offer and contract—I think the cost was about $250 and it was well worth it. It was reassuring to have an experienced person evaluate the offer. She said the basics (advance, royalties, etc.) were good, and we just negotiated to improve little things like getting more author copies of the book.

Aside from SLH: for the curious, I usually get 10-20 author copies of my books, and 5% is a pretty standard royalty percentage for authors (may be different for illustrators or author/illustrators) on hard covers from traditional trade publishers although there is variation on both those things.

SLH: Tell us about the editorial process?

CM: I generally enjoy working with editors. With HAY, it was great. It was clear that Grace cared about the book as much as I did.

One editorial discussion we had was about switchel, the traditional haymakers’ drink. In the initial offer, Grace indicated that her colleagues had an issue with my use of the term switchel. They thought it was too obscure – kids wouldn’t know it. (Of course they wouldn’t! That was the point.) I argued that kids would enjoy learning this fun new word.

Eventually, in the final edits, switchel stayed. It helped that there’s a company in Brooklyn, NY, that makes and bottles switchel. We included “switchel” as a term in the book’s glossary of haymaking terms, and also added a recipe so families could make their own switchel. Win-win!

SLH: Tell us about your experience of the illustration process?

CM: About six months after we signed the contract, I went to the SCBWI conference in New York, and Grace invited me to meet her in her office on Madison Avenue. (Squeee!) She took me to lunch, where she told me she’d signed Joe Cepeda to illustrate HAY. I was excited because I knew his work – he is very well established, a great artist, and in fact had illustrated a friend’s picture book years before.

After that, there was more than a year of waiting for Joe to complete the art. When she received his illustrations, Grace worked on the layout of the book. She sent me a pdf of the first pass: scans of Joe’s paintings, with the text laid out page by page, and post-its and mark-ups with questions and notes. Woo! It was a thrill to see that. I loved the vision that Joe brought to the book. He took this little Vermont story and made it universal, painting a beautiful farm that could be in the Midwest or the west as easily as in the east. I’m especially thrilled that he portrayed my first-person narrator as a girl.


Grace’s office with HAY underway

With the layout, Grace sent a mark-up of my text, with suggested revisions. After that, we had several phone conversations to go over questions. We adjusted a few lines to make the words consistent with the illustrations. Because it’s a rhyming book, those small revisions can be tricky. I provided Grace with alternatives for substitute couplets that might work, and she selected her favorite.

Then, Grace and the designers adjusted the page breaks, the end papers, the design and location of the glossary and the recipe, the dedication – all those little things that are so important in the book’s look and feel. Grace sent me updated pdf’s showing these steps. We made sure the illustrations accurately portrayed the haying process. Finally it was out of my hands and I could (try to) relax in the knowledge that our book was going to be gorgeous.

SLH: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?

CM: Yes! Grace (and the publicity folks at Holiday House, who are also lovely) forwarded me advance copies of the Kirkus and SLJ reviews. I was really nervous about reviews, and very relieved when the reviewers “got” my book and wrote about it positively. Whew.

SLH: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?

CM: Two years and 10 months.

Aside from SLH: I’ve had picture books come together in as short as just over a year to as long as one that’s been in process for 6 years and isn’t out yet, but I think 2 – 2.5 years is pretty average… in so far as anything in this business is average 🙂


SLH: If your book has been out for at least one statement cycle, has it earned out yet?

CM: Oh, now you are making me nervous.

SLH: That was a trick question for you because your book just came out today!  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention 🙂  Get back to us in 6-12 months 🙂

SLH: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.

CM: As a committed introvert, I find all of this outside my comfort zone. But because this is my first trade book I resolved to learn what I needed to learn, and do what I needed to do, to promote it. I joined the “Epic Eighteen” gang, a group of debut picture book writers and illustrators whose first books are scheduled for 2018 release (many thanks to Hannah Holt and friends). This has been an incredibly helpful source of information-sharing and support through a shared Facebook page, a mutual blog, and some in-person meetings.

Leading up to the book’s release, I sent many emails to the very helpful publicity folks at Holiday House. They answered my clueless questions and explained how this stressful process works. They sent out hundreds of advance copies to reviewers, and submitted my book to book festivals, etc. They also explained that the writer is generally responsible for the rest of the promotional tasks.

I set up a pre-order campaign with my local indie bookstore, Bear Pond Books. Folks who place advance orders online from Bear Pond receive a discount and special gift, and once the book is out I sign the books, with a personalization if requested, and Bear Pond ships them out.

I also ordered postcards, bookmarks, and bookplates (to personalize books for people that buy their own elsewhere) using art from the book. (The author pays for these.) Preparing for readings at bookstores and libraries, I developed book-specific crafts and hay-related activities to engage the kids. To practice reading my book to kids, I read an advance copy to a local first grade class (and got some helpful feedback). And I read it to my 2-year-old grandson, who is too young for the book but who loved the tractor pictures and thereafter greeted me by saying “Nana! Book! Hey, Hey, Hay!!!”


Future hay-er, Christy’s grandson 🙂

I arranged with some fabulous kidlit bloggers to do interviews and posts for a blog around the release. And I scheduled a bunch of HAY events: a reading and hay activities at a farm, library story times, bookstore readings, an appearance at university book festival, another at an arts festival in a small town . . . and we’ll see how all that goes!


reading to first-graders

Things I didn’t do (because you can’t do everything): a book trailer, stickers, and tattoos. Oh, and a huge launch party. I decided a small celebration is more my speed.

SLH: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?

CM: Short answer: almost four years.

More info: I started putting serious energy into writing for kids in the fall of 2011. I focused on magazine submissions, and was thrilled to see my first story published in an (unpaid) online magazine in 2012. As I learned more about the magazine market, I sent out queries and more submissions and started selling articles.

And it turned out that HAY was not my first published book, although it is my first trade book. In 2015 I began writing books for the educational market on a work-for-hire basis, and I’ve now published 7 in that market.

SLH: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?

CM: I think of myself as a nonfiction writer, so it’s ironic that HAY, a book featuring a fictional narrator, is my first published picture book. It’s informational of course (back matter!), but fiction. I’m glad that when this unexpected idea came wafting over the hayfields to find me, even though was so unlike the historical stories I thought I was meant to tell, I ran with it.

SLH:  Christy, thank you so much for kicking off our new series so fabulously!  I know I speak for all of us when I wish you the very best with your book!  For those who would like to support Christy, please shop for her book at your favorite bookseller, make sure your local library has a copy (you can request they get one if they don’t already have it), read her book and post reviews on GoodReads and any online bookstore you frequent, or share a nice review on your blog or FB page, donate a copy to your child’s school library, consider as a gift to a young reader in your life, stand on a street corner and wave flyers, or anything else you can think of! 🙂

If you’d like to know more about Christy or be in touch with her online, you can find her here:

Website: closeup

Twitter: @CMwriter4kids

Instagram: @Christy Mihaly

Facebook author page:

Blogging at GROG:

Thanks again to Christy for participating, and to all of you for reading!  If you have any questions for Christy, please use the comment section below!

P.S. We started Tuesday Debuts today even though many of us (myself included) are technically on Summer Blogcation because today is the day of Christy’s book release.  The series will continue with regularity in September.  We’re just whetting your appetite 🙂

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Happy Groundhog Day!


It’s Groundhog Day!

And you know what that means!!! 🙂

Punxsutawney Phyllis herself will be up and at ’em as soon as it’s light to make her prediction about whether we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring!  (Fingers, toes, eyes, paws, etc. crossed for the latter! 🙂 )

As it happens, however, Phyllis and I are off to an all-day school visit the second she’s made her prediction, so you’ll have to wait to find out what she says!  And we are not here to participate actively in PPBF…

…so at the risk of tooting our own horn, Phyllis and I would like to direct you to Beth Stilborn’s Perfect Picture Book blog post on Punxsutawney Phyllis for today’s Perfect Picture Book.


We hope you will read Beth’s post and then enjoy our book with all your friends and relations, human and groundhog!

Also, Phyllis being Phyllis, she would love fan mail in the comments, so feel free to write to her 🙂

I’m skipping most of the PPBF categories because they’re on Beth’s post, just making sure everyone sees the accompanying resources!

Links To Resources: coloring pages and activities (scroll down to Punxsutawney Phyllis to make your selection); classroom guides (scroll down to Punxsutawney Phyllis to make your selection); Groundhog Day Cupcakes

Why I Like This Book: I think I’m probably too biased to answer that question 🙂  See what Beth has to say 🙂

I hope you enjoy it as much as Phyllis and I do 🙂

Before we go, Groundhog Day Cupcakes, anyone???!!!

Groundhog Day Cupcakes

Recipe HERE at Bakerella

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

PPBF folks, please add your titles and post-specific links (and any other info you feel like filling out 🙂 ) to the form below so we can all come see what fabulous picture books you’ve chosen to share this week!

Happy Groundhog Day, enjoy the cupcakes, and have a wonderful weekend, everyone!!! 🙂

Perfect Picture Book Friday – April Fool…. Phyllis! :)

It’s April!  It’s April!!!

Hurray!  Hurray!!!

I love April!

Even though it’s supposed to be about April showers, it makes me think of new spring grass, baby animals, the rich scent of warming earth, shy leaves unfurling, apple blossoms… and birthday cake 🙂

And what do you know?  After the hardcover went out of print in January, APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS! arrived on Kindle on Wednesday – just in time for April Fools’ Day!

I’m so excited I’m running a teensy contest to get the word out.  Every time between now and midnight that you share about APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS on FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram with hashtag #aprilfoolphyllis (so I can keep track and find them all… and it wouldn’t hurt if you tag me on FB!)) you will get an entry to a raffle.  The more shares, the more chances to win!  Then this weekend I will select at random 1 person who will win a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate, and 5 people who will each win a Kindle copy of APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS! to be delivered to the person of their choice (yourself, if you’d like it, or a little person in your life who would enjoy it 🙂 )  So please, help me share the good news! 🙂

Although I would never post my own books on Perfect Picture Book Friday (because that is a level of horn-tooting I’m extremely uncomfortable with!), in honor of it actually being April Fools Day on a Perfect Picture Book Friday when a new version just came out bringing my little book back from the land of Out of Print, the lovely and talented Beth Stilborn, who very sweetly reviewed APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS for PPBF on March 9, 2012, has most kindly and generously given me permission to post her review here on my blog today.  Thank you, Beth, for the lovely review and the permission to reprint from your blog.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you’re the cat’s (or maybe in this case the groundhog’s 🙂 ) pajamas!!!

Any of you who don’t know Beth, please go visit her blog!  She writes a wonderful one!  And she offers copyediting for all levels of fiction through her Flubs 2 Fixes website (

So without further ado…


Title: April Fool, Phyllis!

Author: Susanna Leonard Hill

Illustrator: Jeffrey Ebbeler

Publisher: New York: Holiday House, 2011

Genre: Picture book, fiction

Audience Age: 5-8

Theme: April Fool’s Day, trusting your instincts, respecting other’s advice, changing seasons, treasure hunts, riddles.

Opening Sentences: Phyllis knew everything about the weather.

After all, she was Punxsutawney Phyllis, Weather Prophet Extraordinaire!

So when she woke up on April first, the day of the Spring Treasure Hunt, it took only one whiff of the morning air to tell her something wasn’t right.

Synopsis: Phyllis is certain that there’s a storm brewing, but no-one will believe her, because it’s April Fool’s Day. Everyone is too excited about the Spring Treasure Hunt to pay attention to Phyllis’ continued warnings. The Treasure Hunt provides clues in riddles that children will enjoy guessing along with the young groundhogs in the story. Each riddle leads them closer to the treasure, further from home – and closer to the snowstorm that’s coming. They finally realize that Phyllis was telling the truth about the weather. (Of course she was! She’s Punxsutawney Phyllis, after all!) They do make it home safely – but Phyllis has the last laugh.

Why I liked this book: As in the first of Susanna Leonard Hill’s delightful Phyllis series, Phyllis shows herself to be a spunky and resourceful little groundhog, wise beyond her years, and a lot of fun to be around. The theme of April Fool’s Day jokes is something children can easily relate to, as is the problem of not being taken seriously. The riddles are great fun, as the obvious answer is not the correct answer, so the reader and read-to have to think. The story keeps the reader turning the pages, eager to find out what will happen next, and the illustrations are a delight. Kids will love that Phyllis gets the last laugh on everyone.

Activities/Resources: The author gives a page of information about April Fool’s Day at the back of the book, and has classroom guides and activities on her website .

There’s some history of April Fool’s Day (in kid-friendly text) at Mr. Donn’s resource site.

A to Z Teacher Stuff has lots of April Fool’s activities.

Lesson Planet has lesson plans using riddles as a teaching tool.

Story Arts has a story treasure hunt.

Lesson Planet’s treasure hunt lesson plans include math treasure hunts, map-reading treasure hunts, even a treasure hunt in the school library.

Availability: Readily available in hardcover. (And now for Kindle!)

Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”

Reblogged from Beth Stilborn

Thank you all for indulging me and Phyllis in our wild and crazy April Fools’ Day celebrating (and horn-tooting) 🙂

PPBF peeps, please add your post-specific link (post-specific PLEASE!!! not general blog link!) to the list below so we can all come see your fabulous picks for the upcoming weekend (which looks to be a cold/rainy/snowy one perfect for curling up with picture books!)

(And here we go again with this google form/spreadsheet which I feel in my bones I’m going to mess up but don’t worry, if I do I’ll fix it once I get help from my in-house computer genius later in the day!)


Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!!! 🙂