On Writing: Start Now (Picture Book Edition)

March 2023 is nearly here – FINALLY! Two years ago, I submitted a manuscript to the Sleeping Bear Press Own Voices, Own Stories Contest. Two years ago, Monica and I signed a contract with Lerner Publishing for Nearer My Freedom. TWO YEARS AGO. This book thing is not for the impatient. This is elephant gestation level working and waiting.

Then one day, after so many months of saying “not yet, not yet”, your book’s birthday is suddenly next week and the early bird pre-orders begin rolling in. It feels so good to have planted those seeds and to watch them bloom.

I take my job as a teacher very seriously. You want to know what is at the heart of my work? Connecting my students with their talents and their dreams. I’ve said this before, but the thing a lot of people say upon hearing my news (after Congratulations) is “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

I always say back, “Then do it. I’ll help you.”

Truly, I believe I was given this opportunity so that I have a platform to encourage others. I won’t waste it. On the eve of my own books being published, I want most to tell other people how they can do it too. While there are absolutely no guarantees in this business (even that I will sell another book in my lifetime!), what is for sure is that you cannot finish what you do not start. Here are five things you can sign up for today so that maybe in the span of time it takes to birth a baby pachyderm, you can send me the link to your first book. I am a bit partial to classes, workshops, and conferences because it turns out the kidlit community is really awesome – connecting with other writers should be the very first step.


For three consecutive Wednesdays (March 8, March 16, and March 23) Author and Hurston/Wright Writer in Residence B. Sharise Moore is sharing all the industry tea. Be sure to pour yourself a cup!

March 31st – April 2nd, Kweli is hosting their annual Children’s Literature Conference. There will be two days of in-person action (Marilyn Nelson! Jacqueline Woodson!) and then a day of virtual programming you can attend from anywhere. I will see you in New York as a Marilyn Nelson workshop is on my craft bucket list.

Who else got Highlights magazine as a child? Well, they have an entire foundation dedicated to supporting people who write for children. In addition to retreats and workshops at their idyllic Pennsylvania headquarters , they have great online programming at the introductory level. This two night mini workshop July 18 – July 20 would be a great first step.

If you want something online, but asyncronous, but with a critique opportunity, this Fundamentals of Writing the Picture Book Course from Writer’s Digest course might be for you. I also definitely recommend regularly reading the magazine.

If you are ready to get really serious, the Writing Barn down in Texas has an online Write, Submit, Support group running for six months starting this spring. While this might be a hefty investment of time and money, aren’t you and your dreams worth it?

So there you have it. Five options for getting started. Today. Two years ago, I did not know any of these resources existed. Here’s hoping they give you a leg up.

And if you are reading this but you don’t want to write picture books, do me a favor and forward this to that person who keeps telling you they wish they could?

*Please note that I have not taken these exact classes with these exact instructors, but I have participated in other programming from these organizations, and it was top notch. No one is paying me either. I just think they would be great first moves.

News and Reviews

  • I will be appearing at Politics & Prose Connecticut Ave in the Children and Teens Department on Wednesday March 8 at 6pm. After shopping there for years, this feels HUGE, and I am so excited. I will be interviewed by two of my talented creative writing students.
  • Nearer My Freedom received a third starred review from Booklist!
  • The incredible Betsy Bird of FUSE 8 wrote an awesome review of Nearer My Freedom. It is chock full of teaching ideas.
  • A-Train Allen also received a lovely review from Booklist: “The energetic text, incorporating abundant action words that are highlighted in a bold, all-caps font, makes for lively reading. It’s also a peppy accompaniment to the bright, page-filling illustrations expressively depicting the diverse cast of characters, including A-Train, who is Black; the friendly interactions he has en route; and the vibrant city where he lives. While the story line itself may be slight, readers will appreciate the upbeat portrayal of a congenial community—and the importance of someone you simply can’t wait to see.

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