Friday, June 25, 2021

Jill Esbaum Interview and Book Giveaway!

Happy summer! I'm glad to be back for one more visit to share an interview with our dear friend Jill Esbaum, who is a brilliant writer, a former Teaching Author, and a genuinely nice person. Jill lives on a family farm in eastern Iowa and is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books for kids. Please visit her website for more information or follow her group blog, Picture Book Builders.

Jill Esbaum

We're giving away a copy of the first book in Jill's delightful new graphic early reader series, Thunder and Cluck. You can enter below, but first, find out more about Jill and her books.


Who or what inspired the characters Thunder and Cluck?

The opening scene sort of fell into my head one morning in that fuzzy period just before you wake. When these two kooky prehistoric characters started talking, I thought the best thing to do was take notes and hope they kept it up.
Friends Do Not Eat Friends is the first book
in Jill Esbaum's new graphic early reader series.

How is planning and writing a series different from writing a stand-alone book? Can you give us any hints about other books in the series?

This is the first time I've done any kind of fiction series, and it wasn't planned, so an expert, I am not. I first wrote Thunder & Cluck as a picture book, a funny story of how they became unlikely friends. That was rejected a few times. My agent suggested I use these characters to write a 3,000 word young chapter book. That manuscript had a nibble, but was ultimately rejected, as well. My agent then suggested I try the duo in an early reader--a pair of manuscripts she could submit together. 

Too invested in these characters to throw in the towel, I cut and cut and cut until nothing was left but a 500-word, all-dialogue story. My stubbornness paid off when we got the call that Simon & Schuster wanted Thunder & Cluck - Friends Do Not Eat Friends as one of the lead titles in their new graphic early readers line. A happy dance moment, for sure!

They wanted to release three books quickly, so then came the frantic planning of book #3. Fortunately, I had that chapter book to pull scenes from. Guess it's true that nothing you write ever goes to waste. Book #2, Thunder & Cluck - The Brave Friend Leads the Way, will release in late August. In that story, the duo clashes over which of them is braver. Next spring comes Book #3, Thunder & Cluck - Smart vs Strong.

Did you have to learn any new techniques to write in the graphic format? Did you have to modify your usual writing process? If so, how? 

No, I wasn't even aware it would be a graphic format until the manuscripts sold. After the first book's art was in, I learned my series would be a Level One, which meant I had to eliminate all contractions. That, I learned, was easier said than done -- tough to keep characters sounding natural when every can't becomes cannot, etc. But I'm a word nerd, so revision is my idea of fun.

Inside the first book: Thunder meets Cluck.

You’ve written a number of funny books. Does humor come naturally to you, or do you have to work at it?

Both. Lines that make me laugh out loud the first three or four times I read a manuscript quickly lose that element of surprise. By the 50th read, those funny bits are stale, stale, stale--or maybe I've tweaked the story structure so they no longer even work. But the revision process, when I'm honing the voice and really knowing, finally, what I want the story to sound like, often leads to serendipitous moments, when lines pop up I never would have thought of the first 50 times through. 

Many early readers have strict requirements, such as using specific vocabulary, avoiding contractions, and defining new words in the text, all of which could add more words. It seems to me that the graphic format would require a writer to be very brief. How do you balance those requirements?

Parameters are imperative, of course, but I don't have any in mind while creating. I've perused K-2 word lists, so those are likely stuck in my head. Or it could be that my writing spills out at a 1st-grade level because of the many books I've written for National Geographic over the years. 

Or maybe I just think/talk like a 6 year old. 

All I know when I begin is that I have about 500 words and 64 pages to play with. One of the most enjoyable things about writing these is that I get to add very detailed art notes that include body language, attitude, facial expressions...that's a blast and an ENTIRELY different mindset from writing picture books. Once I saw the kind of magic brilliant illustrator Miles Thompson was capable of, the writing/cutting process became a lot more fun. 

Here's another sneak peek.

Do you have a favorite piece of advice for writers? 

Learn to critique your own work as an editor would. You can develop your critical eye by 1) endless reading and writing, and 2) critiquing other people's manuscripts in a crit group or some kind of manuscript exchange. There's nothing like critiquing other people's writing to help you zero in on your own problem areas. 


Thank you so much, Jill! We're all looking forward to reading more of your work, and we wish you the best of luck with this series!

And now for the giveaway! To enter our drawing, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. (Note: if the widget doesn't appear, click on the link at the end of this post that says "a Rafflecopter giveaway" to enter.)

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today!

If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA RAFFLECOPTER BELOW. The giveaway ends July 9, 2021 and is open to U.S. residents only.

If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

Good luck!

Posted by JoAnn Early Macken

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Important Info for Email Subscribers

Here are two bits of important information for our email subscribers:

1) We're migrating to a new email subscription service

Google will soon be discontinuing Feedburner, which is the software we've always used for the TeachingAuthors email list. So we'll be migrating our email list to software. If you're an email subscriber, there are several things we want you to know:

  • We're hoping the transition will be seamless. However, if you stop getting our emails, please visit the TeachingAuthors site and enter your email address in the sidebar box labeled SUBSCRIBE VIA FOLLOW.IT. Then be sure to verify your subscription when you receive the confirmation email.
  • The "from" field of our future emails will now read "" That means you'll no longer be able to reply directly to our emails. If you have questions or comments that you don't want to post using the comments option on the TeachingAuthors site itself, you may email us via teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.
  • In the first email you receive from us via, you'll need to confirm that you want to continue receiving our TeachingAuthors posts. If you don't, will remove you from our subscription list. 
You don't want to miss our next scheduled post, which will include a book giveaway!  If it doesn't arrive in your inbox by Sunday, June 27, 2021, be sure to read it on the TeachingAuthors site.

2) What you may have missed from Zeena's latest post

Unfortunately, due to issues with our blogging software, video clips no longer appear in our post emails. That means that if you didn't read Zeena's last post online, you missed seeing some wonderful videos that really bring her post to life. (The large gaps in the email message are where the videos should have appeared!) When you're done reading this email, I encourage you to go to the TeachingAuthors site to watch the video clips. They feature the locations that inspired Zeena's book and the setting where the play based on her story was staged. You'll find them here.

That's all for now. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Story of my Story - Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story

 When I close my eyes, I am right back in that moment when the story of Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story jumped into my heart.  I don’t find stories.  Stories find me.  Once they find me, they haunt me until I tell them.  It’s a funny relationship we have.


     I am a public-school kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles.  My school is located in the Mar Vista/Venice Beach area.  We are a waystation for monarchs so it’s not unusual to see these beautiful creatures grace our playground.  In fact, they are our official mascot. They flit, flutter, and swoop as children's laughter and sounds of play can be heard in the background. 



     One day at recess time, I was walking on my way back to the classroom from the main office.  In between the classrooms, a majestic monarch butterfly fluttered about, landing on the flowers in the garden boxes.  I was mesmerized by the moment.  I wondered, “ What must that butterfly see and experience?”  As I wondered, I was struck by the sad, bittersweet thought that the life cycle of this monarch was almost done.  It had only about two weeks to live.  I was fascinated by both the strength of this creature and the fragility of life.  In that moment, the  character of Orange was born and the story of the little caterpillar who wanted to grow up and fly with it, found me.


     I am a great lover of irony.   The story developed around the  friendship between a young caterpillar at the beginning of its life cycle and an elder butterfly at the end of its life cycle. The story was  anchored in the two points of view from the different stages of the life cycle and the  perspectives each can offer the other.  A caterpillar who sees everything in life for the first time  and can’t wait to grow up and fly with its friend and a butterfly who fondly remembers its youth while sharing the beauty and wonder that comes with experience and age.  It was important that the story not just focus on the perspective of the adult,  but  respect the voice of the child, giving equal value to both viewpoints.  

     It was an ironic story of longing. Youth wanting to catch up with age, and age savoring its memories of youth. The two at different stages of their lives, meeting in that wondrous two-week window when both were able to connect, love, appreciate, and admire each other. 


     I am always surrounded by the joy of 5-year-olds. The story came to life in my kindergarten world of youthful energy.   Originally titled Orange, it was a story of friendship, love, loss, grief, and renewal. 

      One of the first times I shared my story with a large, public critique group of children’s book authors, I read the manuscript not knowing what to expect.  The story was rough and unrefined. I didn’t understand rhythm, lyrical language, or  word choice.  It was both exhilarating and terrifying to reach the end and experience the response.  A woman sobbed.  She had connected with the grief in the story.  It had triggered her own loss and touched her. The room was moved. The story had taken listeners to a place where they had felt big emotions.  I thought I had done my job as a writer.  But the manuscript had miles to go and so did I in my development of craft.  

        The word count was way too long and suddenly, the manuscript was a play.  I was delighted to work with my young students to build the story and present it at a dedication ceremony to unveil a section of our campus, known as, The Wildlands.   The characters became more fully developed as I co-created with the 5-year-olds in my class.  The play was performed 7 years ago by students who  culminated from our school last year, the same year the book debuted.   Bittersweet.   I can still hear their youthful and poignant delivery of the lines as they flit, fluttered, and flew around the outdoor native garden.   It was the beginning of a journey.  




     My story of the little caterpillar and Orange had come to life, but it was still not ready for submission.  The manuscript  stretched beyond what was reasonable for a picture book, well over 1200 words!  Like many novice picture book writers, I did not yet understand the concept of word count and the process of precise word choice.  It went through many revisions. Then, it went through many rejections.   Rejections inform revisions.  Revisions made me a stronger writer.  They helped me develop my craft.  

      In the beginning, like most writers, my craft was not developed enough to tell the story in a way that was industry worthy.  I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in the early spring of 2014.  I thought I was ready.  I had a story that made grownups cry and children flit, flutter and fly.  I only needed one yes.  I was confident and na├»ve. I entered the contests, but never won.  I queried agents and editors, but always got a no.

     Like so many authors who had gone before me, I queried way too early. It takes time to hone your craft.  I joined critique groups and listened to my critique partners.  I worked the text over and over again. And when I thought I was ready, I queried again.  But, it also takes time to learn to query.

     As a kindergarten teacher, I read picture books every day.  I’m lucky.  It’s part of my job.  In addition to reading constantly, I wrote more stories.  Different stories.  I moved on and didn’t put all my eggs in that one basket.  I attended a class at Otis College of Art and Design and was mentored by an amazing children’s book author, Deborah Norse Lattimore.  Who knew that so many stories would find me and expect to be written?  And with each story, my craft improved.  Orange, was in the distant past.  A bit forgotten.

     A different story poured out of me in January 2018.  This manuscript caught the eye of that one yes I needed.  An agent, a friend of my fabulous teacher, agreed to represent the manuscript, Egyptian Lullaby.

     Egyptian Lullaby, wound its way through many editors who expressed interest and then passed.  Finally, an editor was interested but there were developmental edits to make before an offer would be considered.  So close, but no book deal, yet. And then, suddenly a curveball. Someone else was also interested.  I had to make a choice and ultimately placed that manuscript with a home I felt was the most appropriate for the subject matter.  In making that difficult choice, disappointment was expressed. I wondered if the manuscript, Orange, had some of the same elements that the manuscript I had just sold elsewhere had.  I wondered if the editor would be interested in it.  I felt like it was a much better fit.  And it was!  After more developmental edits on the manuscript of Orange, I now had two book deals. Two years later, it was not the first manuscript, Egyptian Lullaby, but rather a renamed Orange (Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story) that I debuted with.  

     As I prepared to do my part to release this book, I thought with my head, with my logic, and  I leaned into my experiences as a teacher.  I expected that teachers would be most interested in the scientific principles embedded in the story. This book was a useful tool for educators to facilitate the learning of concrete and tangible science concepts like the life cycle of the monarch. What got lost along the way as I focused on marketing and sales, was the essence of the story.  

     When my mother read the story recently for the first time, she finished by saying, “Wow, that’s kind of a sad story.”  I’d forgotten the impact that the initial story had as a whole. 

     And then the Corona Virus hit and life as we knew it was turned upside down.  The global pandemic stopped everything in its tracks.  My debut book release in May of 2020 and all the events that were planned, my daughter’s senior year in high school and all the activities expected, my student’s kindergarten year and all our unfinished time together. And then the unthinkable.  

     I unexpectedly lost my own beloved aunt to Covid-19.  Numb and paralyzed,  sometimes it takes great disturbances in the universe to shake you to your core, to bring your sense of purpose and meaning back into focus.  


     It all came bubbling up and I was back full circle.  I had written a book about the monarch butterfly life cycle with my head, but with my heart I had written a story about friendship, love, loss, and renewal.  This was a grief book. A story to help children make sense of their world during a senseless pandemic that we were all struggling to understand.    

     I am heartbroken to think of the children who have lost their beloved grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles.  So many elders lost.  

     I hope I have done my job as an author and given children who have suffered a loss, a path to their healing.  I hope I have done justice to this story that found me so many years ago, a story of connection, cycles, transformation, and last goodbyes.

By Zeena M. Pliska

Hello, Little One:  A Monarch Butterfly Story
Written by Zeena M. Pliska Illustrated by Fiona Halliday
Published by Page Street Kids
Published on May 12, 2020

Egyptian Lullaby
Written by Zeena M. Pliska Illustrated by Hatem Aly
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Coming Spring 2022

To learn more about me click here

Friday, June 11, 2021

Poem That Changes Everything

Howdy Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to PF is below).

Today I'm sharing a recent post from author/poet Alison McGhee's glorious blog...a poem that will change everything for you. 

I promise.

I subscribe to Alison's blog; each poem she chooses floats into my inbox as Poem of the Week. The gift is not only Alison's choice of poems, but her short intros to each poem, which are as gorgeous as the poems she chooses:

Here's the link to the poem she sent May 29, 2021--do click on it...her brief intros are definitely worth reading. But here's the poem if you can't click:

by Cathy Ross

If the moon came out only once a month
people would appreciate it more. They’d mark it
in their datebooks, take a walk by moonlight, notice
how their bedroom window framed its silver smile.
And if the moon came out just once a year,
it would be a holiday, with tinsel streamers
tied to lampposts, stores closing early
so no one has to work on lunar eve,
travelers rushing to get home by moon-night,
celebrations with champagne and cheese.
Folks would stay awake ’til dawn
to watch it turn transparent and slowly fade away.
And if the moon came out randomly,
the world would be on wide alert, never knowing
when it might appear, spotters scanning empty skies,
weathermen on TV giving odds—“a 10% chance
of moon tonight”—and when it suddenly began to rise,
everyone would cry “the moon is out,” crowds
would fill the streets, jostling and pointing,
night events would be canceled,
moon-closure signs posted on the doors.
And if the moon rose but once a century,
ascending luminous and lush on a long-awaited night,
all humans on the planet would gather
in huddled, whispering groups
to stare in awe, dazzled by its brilliance,
enchanted by its spell. Years later,
they would tell their children, “Yes, I saw it once.
Maybe you will live to see it too.”
But the moon is always with us,
an old familiar face, like the mantel clock,
so no one pays it much attention.
why not go outside and gaze up in wonder,
as if you’d never seen it before,
as if it were a miracle,
as if you had been waiting
all your life.

For more information on Cathy Ross, check out her website.

I imitated this poem, choosing my own subject, playing it out, as Cathy Ross did. Amazing. Try it!

from pixabay

Carol's hosting today at Carol's Corner

Posted with love by April Halprin Wayland

Friday, June 4, 2021

Getting Out of the Mud with an Ekphrastic Poem

Happy Poetry Friday! You'll find my first ever ekphrastic poem below.

I have to admit: I wasn't excited at the prospect of blogging on the topic of "patience, persistence, and perseverance" today. I haven't been doing a very good job practicing any of these traits lately. Part of the reason has to do with distractions related to personal issues. But it's also because of the stage of my current writing project--I recently started submitting it to agents. My strategy is to submit to a select few agents who seem like the best match for my manuscript. Researching those agents is a slow, time-consuming process. Some days, it feels like a full-time job. And it requires a lot of that first "P:" Patience, as I wait to hear back. 

Normally, I'd use this waiting time to occupy myself with other writing projects. But the ones I've tried working on don't seem to be going anywhere. So I'm feeling a lot like this tortoise--stuck in the mud!

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Re-reading JoAnn's post for this series helped pinpoint my problem. JoAnn wrote: "I've found over the years that I feel better when I write at least a little something every day. I miss it when I don't."

I've definitely been missing writing. So I'm trying to again write "a little something" most days, if not every day. Poems are the perfect medium for this, since they can be quite short yet still satisfying.

Just this week, I learned about the Poetry Sisters' May ekphrastic poetry challenge. I don't recall having ever written an ekphrastic poem before. So, even though I'm too late to be part of the challenge, I thought I'd try my hand at writing one for today. My first step was looking up the definition. According to this website: "An ekphrastic poem is based on a work of art. Usually, ekphrastic poems are written about a painting, but they can also be based on a sculpture, an object, or even architecture." 

The Poetry Sisters' challenge was to write about a photograph of a work of art. I decided to write my ekphrastic poem about a photograph, too--one I came across while looking for the above turtle-in-the-mud photo:

Photo by Jozsef Hocza on Unsplash

I came up with this ekphrastic haiku for the photo (and my own plight):

slow going ahead
but it feels good to be free
and moving forward

©2021 Carmela A. Martino. All rights reserved.


Be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup by Margaret at Reflections on the Teche.

Happy writing!