Hi everyone, welcome  to the first instalment following Vivian on her travels to Australia and New Zealand.

I promised to post videos and pictures and I’ve decided to leave the videos till I’m at home or at least post in facebook, but here are some photos for you to enjoy.   Since Vivian has already landed and been in Sydney for the last couple of days sightseeing on and off the buses, cruising the harbour and enjoying a personal tour of Sydney with Susanne Gervay  the RA for SCBWI Aust East/NZ , I thought I would quickly show you our first night together.  Catching up with fellow 12x12ers and the kidlit community along with meeting the lovely Essie White of Storm Literary Agency and some of the Storm family.  (what a lovely bunch they are)  Enjoy!

Roomies  with Maria Marshall and Vivian Kirkfield.   What a blast and so wonderful to finally meet up with my dear sweet friend and critique buddy.  So looking forward to the adventures we will have over the next few weeks.



12×12 Kaye Baille and Susanne Gervay.







Above with Essie White of Storm Literacy   and the Storm Australian and New Zealand family.

After meeting so many wonderful kidlit people we nipped out for a bite to eat at a local Thai restaurant.





Will be back with more soon.  Keep an eye out for me. )

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Oh, Guilty Heart! – The 4th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest!

Yep it’s that wonderful time of year.  When hearts are a fluttering, love is in the air and someone somewhere is holding an expensive bunch of red roses and a delicious box of chocolates.  (Well I can only hope)  It’s Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny Writing Contest. The rules are it must be no more than 214 words (not counting the heading) in which someone feels guilty.   Age appropriate for Picture book and posted on your blog and linked to Susanna’s blog by February 14th by 11:59 PM EDT

Here is mine…

Podgy’s Guilty Secret.

Podgy a tubby mischievous little dog, loves to eat anything and everything!

He loves his neighbour Clarkie too.

Afternoons Podgy nose flattened against fence, waits for Clarkie.

Podgy notices the gate a jar.

Thinks Podgy I’ll wait at Clarkie’s letter box.

But a square prettily wrapped box with red bow and heart attached smells too tempting for Podgy .

Podgy sniffs until OOPS! It fell.

Yummy chocolates everywhere.

Podgy wolfs some down.

Hears Clarkie approach and sneaks back to his yard.

Feeling ill, drops wrappers and curls up on his front porch.

His master takes him to the vet.

In the early evening Podgy now home and feeling better sees Clarkie in his bedroom window looking sad.

His mother standing over him.

“You are grounded after school for a week, having eaten my chocolates.” said Clarkie’s mum.

Podgy’s eyes mist over. His tender stomach rumbles. He felt bad for poor Clarkie.

I know thinks Podgy and races through his house out the front door picks up wrappers as he passes.

Scrapping and barking at Clarkie’s front door alerts Clarkie’s mum.

When she sees the wrappers and Podgy’s master explains that Podgy had been sick. They all realised who had eaten her Valentines chocolates.

All was forgiven and Podgy and Clarkie ran out to play.


Whew! Done… Now hop over to Susanna’s Blog and check out all the other fantastic entries.  Oh and did I tell you there are great prizes up for grabs too.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Anticipating the Sydney SCBWI Conference 2019 and a dear Kidlit friend, Vivian Kirkfield’s Adventures down-under!

There is nothing like a conference to bring people from around the world together, and Sydney’s SCBWI Conference in two weeks is no different. While some will come from countries where they are still shovelling snow in 6degC or 42F the rest of us down-under are enjoying soaking in 26degC or 78F at the beach while fires rage in some areas near houses where vegetation is timber dry in both Australia and New Zealand.

As the weeks quickly slip by, packing fever kicks in. What to wear? Casual or smart? Will it be cold or hot? Dress up or down? One or two pairs of shoes? Will it rain or not? Umm… well, all of those. The trick is to take as less as possible. Your day wear could become your nightwear so make sure it doesn’t crease easily… no one will notice…*cough* that much. I’m packing only for three days but my dear friend Vivian, is packing for a month long trip and I chuckled to myself when she mentioned she had been watching Youtube videos on how to pack an overnight bag to last a month. Her suitcase wouldn’t shut, so having to redo it again for the, oh… umpteenth time. Been there done that! Good tip especially beneficial if travelling to countries of differing temperatures… Line your suitcase with a huge flattened paper bag big enough so you can roll your unwanted clothes in and post home to yourself on the day you fly onward, Ie .. shorts, swimsuits and goggles post home if heading on to colder climate or snow gear post home if going on to warmer climate… you get the picture?

Vivian is arriving a few days earlier and will have time to sightsee in Sydney, I on the other hand will be wringing my hands during my three hour afternoon flight, wandering through customs and hailing a taxi. I’m hoping someone I know will be at the hotel when I arrive. It’s nice to see a friendly face when you arrive after travelling alone.

Knowing how loved and respected Vivian is in the wider Kidlit community I have promised – hand on heart– to post videos , photos and comments of the fun and adventures she has while down under, here on the blog which will then be linked to facebook, twitter and Vivian’s blog. So know that you will be along for the ride. You have about two weeks to prepare… clean those reading glasses, organise your comfy chair, chips, dip and coffee or, if you’re Vivian, plenty of popcorn kernels at the ready…oh and hot chocolate of course.

You probably wonder why all the hype, why so special. The truth is we don’t often get many overseas authors down in New Zealand very often. Sure they may go to Australia but not often do they come further down. So when Vivian said she would come on down to see me I was blown away. Jumping on the bed, screaming excited! And when Vivian said she would be happy to speak or read one of her books to kids if ever the opportunity arise I quickly asked our Kiwi SCBWI rep Frances if she would like Vivian to speak at our next meeting. “Of course we would love it” was the reply. Although I have a number of libraries within a 10 minute drive from my home it was while waiting for my husband to finish work one day that I popped in to the small library next door and shyly asked if they would like a visiting American author to read to some kids. They beamed from ear to ear.

The lovely librarian not only is having Vivian in the library on a day she doesn’t normally work but quickly proceeded to get flyers printed for the library and delivered some to local schools as well as putting notices in not one but two local community mags of Vivian’s impending visit. Posters have gone up in windows around the library and entrance of the library and a huge poster is being erected inside the library in the children’s section along with big pictures of Vivian’s books, “ Pippa’s Passover Plate,” “Four Otters Tobogganing,” “Sweet Dreams Sarah” and “Show Me How.” WOW!

As the librarian said to me…two things are most important for Vivian’s visit. Raising awareness and creating atmosphere.   Hmm   well she is doing a great job raising awareness.   Now creating atmosphere I can help with.   She has already made some easy to do masks of otters, mice and other creatures for the kids craft so I got on to props…

Four Otters rose from my dining table and watched while I proceeded to create the ten butterflies from one of Vivian’s books.


Here they have arrived in the library much to the delight of the librarian.

Waiting for Vivian!

Under the heading of “Vivian’s Adventures Down Under” on this blog you can follow

Vivian through videos and pictures of her adventures from the 27th of February. Links will be found on twitter, Facebook and Vivian’s blog. Also the following…

On Friday 8th March will be an exclusive video of Vivian reading Pippa’s Passover, interview and review.

On Friday 15th March is a Birthday special of Four Otters Tobogganing. Zoom in and join us for some celebrating in a live video with Vivian reading this book, interview, review and of course there has to be cake!

On Friday 22nd March will be an interesting video of Vivian reading Sweet Dreams Sarah and interview and review. Although Vivian will have already flown on to Switzerland (not if I can help it), this will be a pre-taped recording on this blog. So don’t forget to tune in.

Now back to thinking about my packing…. hmm


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“Perfect Picture Book” Friday


When You’re Going to the Moon

Written by : Sasha Beekman

Illustrated by: Vivienne To

Published by:  Affirm Press, Melbourne, Australia

Ages:   3 – 7 years

Theme: dreams, reaching for the stars. Courage, joy of adventure

Opening Lines: There’s a lot you’ve got to fit in your little green bag when you’re going to the moon.

Synopsis:  Your pet iguana, tap-dancing shoes, an inflatable moose …What else might you need when you’re going to the moon? From an exciting new duo comes a heartfelt story about dreaming your biggest dream and taking it to the stars

Why I like this: In this gorgeously illustrated book a cute pixie girl dreams of going to wonderful places (she sounds just like me). Looking out at the stars on a clear night you can dream of anywhere you want to be. I know! I’ve been there! In these eye popping illustrations our main character marks the spot on the map of home so she knows where to return to. (a little of The Wild Things comes to mind) The text trips, skips and runs across the page in a lyrical fashion as if she is chatting excitedly to us and we must hurry if we are to join her on her journey along with her pet A sweet book to read.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to the moon?

Resources/Findings: A lovely Teachers Guide on the story….

I’m always happy reviewing Picture Books that come my way and share them with you.  If you would like to see more please pop over to Susanna Leonard Hills Blog where there are hundreds of books reviewed by other like minded authors and writers.  Thank you for popping in and I hope you return again soon




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“Perfect Picture Book” Friday

A T-Wit for a T-Woo

Written by : Charlie Farley

Illustrated by: Layn Marlow

Published by:  Orchard Books, April 2018

Ages:   3 – 5 years

Theme: friendship, self-belief

Opening Lines: There once was an owl who lived in a wood, who wanted to do what every owl should.

Synopsis:  There was once an owl who sang to the moonlight and realised that his song was incomplete… a T- Woo without a T-Wit. He searched far and wide for his missing sound, but what he found was the last thing he expected.

Why I like this: Oh my just look at the face of that owl. Doesn’t he just melt your heart? With a cover illustration like this and a catchy title it’s a wonder I found it in the library at all. I would think this adorable book will be snatched up. Written in beautiful simple rhyme that made you feel as though you were flitting through the branches looking for your T-Wit. With the font being large for the T-Wit and T=Woo you can easily imagine a class of kids yelling it out during story-time. Mostly full page illustrations in the moonlight T-Woo looks for his T-Wit, asking various critters along the way and nearly falling into the jaws of Mr Fox. Layn’s clever illustrations give us the hint of T-Woo’s sadness growing in the depths of T-Woo’s eyes.  With the author’s note on the last page that actually caught me by surprise also had a beautiful Aww… moment.   You have just got to pick this one up. I’m going to renew it online so I can keep it a bit longer. )

Resources/Findings:  Owl art for kids…

Resources regarding Owls for kids…

I’m always happy reviewing Picture Books that come my way and share them with you.  If you would like to see more please pop over to Susanna Leonard Hills Blog where there are hundreds of books reviewed by other like minded authors and writers.  Thank you for popping in and I hope you return again soon






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“Perfect Picture Book” Friday

Happy Multicultural Children’s Book Day everyone!   And since I have a lovely writing buddy due to visit me in a months time, all the way from a New England village in the USA,  I thought I would share a tongue-in-cheek story about how the North Island of New Zealand came about.  Since she loves fishing she will get a kick out of this.

Tales of Aotearoa HOW MAUI Fished up the North Island.

Retold by: Donovan Bixley  

Advised and translated by: Dr Darryn Joseph

Published by:  Upstart Press Ltd in 2018

Ages:   4 – 8 years

Theme: cultural, mythical, diverse, fishing, perseverance.

Opening Lines: Back in the day, in a time when the world was new and the sky was fresh, when ancient creatures still walked the land with gods and spirits.

Synopsis:  Maui a young boy dreamed of the day he could go fishing with his older brothers. Each time they came back from fishing they bragged about their catches. Whenever Maui asked to go they shunned and teased him. One night Maui sneaked into the hull of the waka with his own fishing line and his special hook made from the jaw of his late grandmother, and the next day when the brothers were out at sea ready to fish Maui revealed himself. His brothers were horrified and angry but eventually they allowed Maui to fish. When Maui’s line pulled taut they could not believe what he had caught… the biggest fish!   Te Ika-aMaui. The North Island of New Zealand.

Why I like this: This is a comical interpretation of a much loved Maori legend of Maui. It was not the only time he was known to get into mischief. From the colourful bold cover illustration you know that kids (and adults) will be curious and excited to read this story. Beautifully told in typical kiwi tongue-in-cheek such as “I can’t believe that annoying pipsqueak caught it!” and dotted with a few Maori words, the story is wrapped in bright colourful illustrations bringing humour and life to the text, make this delightful fun story easily enjoyed by international readers. Depicted as a young boy persevering to prove his worth Maui appears in many Legends in New Zealand storytelling getting into trouble and always proving that perseverance, patience, tolerance and strength wins out. As I mentioned the illustrations are colourful with great expressions and the inside front cover lists some Maori words with English translation complete with illustrations. The back inside cover has the map of New Zealand as it was first viewed by the Maoris (upside down) with a note from Donovan Bixley of why he depicted the legend as he has.

Resources/Findings:  Sold mostly in New Zealand you can find this book at….

And possibly here…

I’m always happy reviewing Picture Books that come my way and share them with you.  If you would like to see more please pop over to Susanna Leonard Hills Blog where there are hundreds of books reviewed by other like minded authors and writers.  Thank you for popping in and I hope you return again soon.

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“Perfect Picture Book” – Friday

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous – a first day of school dilemma

Written by: Keith Calabrese

Illustrated by: Juana Medina

Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Ages:   4 – 8 years

Theme: Bravery, empowerment, fear

Opening Lines: Today is a big day. Today, Lena starts kindergarten. Lena is very excited.

Synopsis: In the tradition of School’s First Day of School, debut author Keith Calabrese and Pura Belpré Award winner Juana Medina share a sweet, universal story about a clever little girl whose shoes are nervous about the first day of school.

Lena doesn’t want to miss out on her first day of school, but she can’t go without her favorite shoes! How can she convince them to be brave?

Why I like this: A simple universal theme of first day of school jitters this has been cleverly pointed out not in Lena but in her shoes. Although Lena is excited about starting kindergarten her favourite shoes are not. Lena’s encouraging father allows Lena to think of solutions in solving the problem giving her empowerment while supporting her. Lovely mentor text through out with clear lined illustrations.

Resources/Findings:   Here are some great before first day jitters tips for teachers, students and parents…..

I’m always pleased to be able to bring you some more special books that have come my way and be able to share them with you and join other great writers over at Susanna’s Blog, where there are literally hundreds of book reviews to view.  So pop over  and visit the lovely author, Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books.    Her blog is full of resources links and activities associated with books reviewed by many authors

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“Perfect Picture Book” – Friday

Yay!  Perfect Picture Book is back and boy do I have some treats in store for you this year…..

The lines on Nana’s face

Written and Illustrated by: Simona Ciraolo

Published by: Flying Eye Books October 2016

Ages:   3 – 5 years

Theme: Wonder, Memory, Intergeneration

Opening Lines: Today is Nana’s birthday! I know she’s happy because she likes it when we are all together.

Synopsis:  It’s granny’s birthday, but her little granddaughter wonders why, because of the lines on her face, she looks so worried! But they are simply wrinkles, and grandma is very fond of her lines because they are where she keeps her memories.

Why I like this: I love this wrinkle in time story. This is a real treasure. When kids so often wonder at why when we get older more lines cross our face this beautiful story helps them see that they are merely wonders of times gone by. In each line this Nana tells her granddaughter of special moments she remembers from her childhood to present day. This is a heart-warming story, with soft colourful pencil and watercolour illustrations throughout.

Resources/Findings: The author’s website….

I’m always pleased to be able to bring you some more special books that have come my way and be able to share them with you and join other great writers over at Susanna’s Blog, where there are literally hundreds of book reviews to view.  So pop over  and visit the lovely author, Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books.    Her blog is full of resources links and activities associated with books reviewed by many authors



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After arriving earlier in the day to a rather wet Auckland , renowned Author/Illustrator Rosemary Wells in an informal get together spoke to our NZ SCBWI group at The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop last share her wisdom and tips on her craft.  Gathering around after refreshments many of our kiwi authors and illustrators also gave a show and tell of their books introducing Rosemary to NZ children’s literature.  She marvelled at the illustrations of many of the books on show.

I loved listening to Rosemary tell of how her ideas come to her. An example was a refrain she wrote in the car and then the next day she wrote the story.   Also her thoughts on how children’s literature is received.  It’s true much of NZ’s literature is specific to NZ and while people enjoy reading it, it is not so easily picked up by American publishers.   Rosemary’s advice on writing what you know,  and write universal themes will gain a wider readership outside NZ, leaving the NZ specific’s in the background.  When an idea strikes, for her the words come first before illustrations.  Without words there is no story.

We were very lucky to have Rosemary Wells chat with us, and we delighted in her advice and encouragement.  After two days in Auckland Rosemary and her daughter are off to New Plymouth and Christchurch to visit friends. 

Rosemary Wells is an American writer and illustrator of over 120 children’s books. She is well known for the Max & Ruby series  Noisy Nara, and Yoko.  She travels all over the States as a tireless advocate for literacy. She worked as an art director and designer before illustrating her first book. 


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THE DIAMOND & THE BOY: Thirteen Different Openings

I’m so proud to introduce the author of The Diamond and The Boy, Hannah Holt. A dear friend and critique buddy for the past seven years I have come to know Hannah never does things by halves. Many of you in the children’s writing world will know how dedicated she is to her writing, her resilience and perseverance, and attention to detail, much like the character in her debut picture book. But then I guess that should come as no surprise when THE BOY is her Grandfather – H Tracy Hall. Her first draft for this story was written in 2012 and the story is only just published this year. Hannah endured the parting of ways with two different agents before this book sold. During that time Hannah worked on about six picture books at a time. She wrote a dozen stories before starting this one and has worked on around a hundred different stories in between the first draft and publication of The Diamond and The Boy. She read journals, letters, newspaper articles and interviewed some of Tracy’s children. Dedicated to detail Hannah’s research was ongoing as the story kept changing and she needed more research with each revision. Hannah persevered into bringing this unique story to life. She would be the first to say it takes a long long time to get just the right voice or theme to make it so unique that finally your gut is telling you this is it. So often people think writing a Picture Book is easy. But really only the best ones get through, and this is how… Here Hannah shares the beginnings of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY…


I tried many openings for The Diamond and the Boy before landing on just the right fit. The following shows a progression over time. Also I offer my insights on the development:

1) The first draft

In 1923, the city of Ogden, Utah hissed and whooshed with the… smelled of diesel smoke and dusty boxcars. Phonographs played leftover war-tunes from The War to End All Wars, and east of the tracks — living in a tent with a piano — was a boy named Tracy who needed to know how everything worked.

Too much description! This reads like a novel.

2) The first revision

(1923) The city of Ogden clacked and hissed with the whoosh of trains, and east of the tracks — living in a tent with a piano — was a boy named Tracy who wanted to know how everything worked.

Better but I’m still trying to cram too much information into my opening lines.

3) Starting with action

Tracy crawled into the air vent at the back of his classroom. It was dark as coal dust. Feet thudded outside. A whistle sounded. More rustling. Silence. School had ended and he wouldn’t have to go home with a bloody nose today.

Opening with action is good, but perhaps diving right into bloody noses isn’t desirable for my target audience.

4) The attempted prologue

Diamond are usually born in the hearts of mountains. Far below whispering peaks, rocks melt like butter in an oven. Crumbly stones are crushed, cooked, and changed into something stronger. Without the pressure, without the heat, a diamond could never be. Every carbon based thing ─ even peanut butter ─ has the potential to become diamond. The difference between jewels and a pencil is the amount of work put into it.

Maybe a prologue could work for a picture book, but it’s sort of an odd choice. Still this was probably the genesis of what became my side-by-side telling. This is the first time I started writing about the natural process of creating diamonds.

5) The fictionalized letters with Thomas Edison

Dear Mr. Edison,

I found a book about you in the library. Did you really invent all those things? You must have, or I suppose they wouldn’t write about it.

I want to be an inventor, too. Most of the time I practice on our kitchen table. Tonight Mother let me saw and drill on it while she made dinner. Wendell complained that his beans tasted like sawdust, but I thought they were fine.

Someday I want to have a big lab in New York like you. Did you invent anything today?


Tracy Hall

This version was never going to work. What if a child reading this book had thought the letters were real? Plus the text was humdrum. Even so, I’m starting to play with the format and testing the boundaries for what is possible.

6) Rhyming attempt #1

When Tracy Hall was two feet tall,

his mother built a chain link wall

around the yard to pen him in.

He scaled the fencing with a grin.

So bad. Maybe I could have found a way to write this story in rhyme, but the rhymes in this version are bland and forced.

7) Trying LIGHT as a theme

Tracy Hall liked shiny things. As a toddler he loved watching the streetcars near his home. He wanted to be near them. Really near them.

Chasing shining things as a theme fell flat. It was all sparkle and no substance.

8) Trying DARKNESS as a theme

Dark. Inside the air vent, it was coal black. Feet thudded nearby. A whistle blew. Then, silence. School was over.

This is a heavy revision of opening #3. Ultimately, it was too dark.

9) Changing the point of view to his mother

Tracy Hall cooed in his sleep. Momma shifted his hat and kissed him. For the last several months, she’d turned every spare scrap into baby clothes. Now she couldn’t stop smiling.

It wasn’t child-centered enough. Why would a child want to read this?

10) Rhyming attempt #2

In a tiny, tired town,

near the noisy streetcar tracks,

lived a dusty little boy,

peering through a fence’s cracks.

Nope, nope, nope! Okay, moving on…

11) Trying it from the point of view of myself

Diamonds. Tougher than a locomotive. More dazzling than glass. They stand for power and beauty.

But before a diamond is a diamond, it’s something else.

Although the opening lines don’t really show it, I go on to tell the story as myself in the first person. I talk about “my grandpa” and “my relationship” with him. It didn’t feel right inserting myself into the story.

12) The first side-by-side telling

Before a diamond is a diamond it’s something else. Maybe a stick. Some dirt. But usually it’s a gray lump deep inside the earth that’s never seen the sun.

Before Tracy Hall was a famous scientist, he worked at a lab and dreamed of building a machine to make diamonds. Other people told him, no. That wasn’t his job. Stick to the chemicals.

HERE IT IS! I finally found the right direction, but it’s too wordy.

13) The first side-by-side revision


named Graphite…


A BOY named Tracy…

I really simplify things in this opening! I have another dozen drafts after landing on these opening lines (fixing the plot and wording); however, after this the opening lines remain the same!

I asked Hannah if at any time did she feel like giving up and if so what made her keep going?

Hannah: Sure. I felt very discouraged at times. However, I realized there are no deadlines for success. I changed my mindset from “if I get published” to “when I’m published” and just settled in for the long ride. I’ve talked about one particularly hard challenge I had to overcome in this interview:

A shining light among the Kidlit community Hannah is often found on facebook in Kidlit411, 12×12, Sub It Club, and more.

Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond and The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies. You can find her on Twitter and at her website: Although she no longer works in engineering she does love creating survey results for childrens’ writers on her blog.



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