Wednesday, February 28, 2024

MISSY WANTS A MAMMOTH AND I WANT THIS BOOK! Debut Picture Book by Pam Vaughan (review by Kathy Halsey)


Launching Summer 2024!

Why do I love blogging? Part of it is the thrill of featuring friends and their books. Today, I’m featuring my long-time friend, hockey player, cheerleader for those of us still in the query trenches  PAM VAUGHAN and her debut MISSY WANTS A MAMMOTH! 

Missy and Mason’s first book in this new picture book series features the pair at the Natural History Museum, a perfect setting to wonder, wander, and… think about mammoths! (A bit of our history: we met 2013-14 on a now defunct online critique group when we were new to children’s writing. Over the years, Pam introduced me to the NE SCBWI conference, The Writers Loft, and Whispering Pines.

Without Pam,  I wouldn't have known about all these great writing events!

Missy Wants a Mammoth Book Review 

Idealistic, determined Missy has all sorts of plans for mammoth Malcolm, each idea sillier, and more farther-fetched from the one before. (Swinging from Malcolm's tusks? Yes, please!) However, Missy imagines him more as a friend than a pet. But practical, patient brother Mason can’t seem to reign in her imagination or her hope for a BFF, the extinct kind. Missy eventually gets her way and even manages to gift Mason with his own one-of-a-kind pet. 

Illustrator Ariel Landy’s illustrations are bright, engaging, and bring their own energy to Vaughan’s unique telling. Throughout the book, Mason plays hide-and -seek with readers!) Landy’s final illustration makes for the perfect ending with a “mammoth” twist!

Do you see Malcolm's tail? I do!

Pam Vaughan’s debut picture book re-envisions sibling stories and stories of outrageous pets with out-of-the-box ideas and her trademark wit. Add the whimsy and charm of mammoth Malcolm, and you have a read-aloud-again-please book that will have kids imagining their own over-the-top pet wishes. (LOL, parents be warned!) 

MISSY WANTS A MAMMOTH is also more than a pet story, it’s 

  • a sibling series where the siblings get along (in their own way)

  • a look at de-extinction and a lens into science discovery for fascinated kids and educators

  • A main character with spunk and imagination.

Readers will root for Missy to get her way. Children’s writers will want to study the voice and dialogue that reveal personality with such skill. Best, of all, new Missy and Mason books are coming! 

Author Chat with Pam Vaughan

Kathy: It seems ever since we met, I knew about Missy and Mason. Missy and Mason feel like people I know. Can you tell us the origin story of these stories?

Pam: Yes, I’ve known Missy and Mason for quite a while.

One night, I was in bed thinking about a character who wants something she can’t have, and how might she get it. Missy and her wild imagination came to me very clearly as did her realistic-thinking brother, Mason. I had to get up and write down their conversation.
The fun and funny thing about Missy and Mason is that they say stuff and my job is to write it down. 

Kathy: It’s amazing to have characters talk to us, right? You wrote what called to you, and these stories are now becoming real! You persevered doing what you enjoyed. Pam, your dry, subtle humor comes through in these stories. Did you think about marketability or series potential as you wrote about these siblings?

Pam: Thank you! I’m happy to hear that you find the story humorous.

At first I didn’t really know if there was anything to Missy and Mason’s stories. The first time I brought one to a critique group meeting everyone liked it. The funny thing was, at the next meeting, I brought a totally different project and people asked, “This story is good, but do you have any more Missy & Mason stories?” Then they started offering up titles of things that Missy & Mason could want! That gave me confidence that maybe they were worth writing more stories about them.

Since then, I’d always thought about Missy and Mason as a series.

Kathy: You bring up an important point for writers, if  we’re unclear about our, ideas, our critique partners will let us know! Another topic we’ve debated about Missy and Mason is the choice of dialogue. Did you experiment with first person or third person? Why did dialogue work best?

Pam: For some reason these characters come to me in dialogue. When I first started querying I remember a particular pass from an agent that said dialogue-only books don’t sell. That surprised me. So, I searched my library and took out as many dialogue-only picture books I could find. Turns out there were tons! I realized that the pass wasn’t personal and it was an opinion, not a fact. But even still, I did play around with writing in narrative, and tried changing POV. But Missy’s voice always comes to me in dialogue. It’s an interesting way to write because all of the context of the story must be conveyed through conversation and assisted by the illustrations.

Imagine all the fun they'll have! Mason, he's not so sure.

Kathy: Speaking of illustrations, did you have many illustrator notes? How did the characters match with your imagined ones?

Pam: I did have some illustrator notes but not a ton. I immensely respect the talent and expertise of illustrators and want them to have room to do their thing. I did give context that the story takes place in a Natural History Museum and a few other locations throughout. And the end needed some notes for clarity.

I tried not to imagine what the characters would look like so I was thrilled with what Ariel Landy created. My heart melted when I saw that she made Missy with strawberry-blond hair like me! We’ve never met or even spoken so I think she may have looked me up, or maybe it was a mere coincidence. Ariel totally knocked the illustrations out of the park! I love them SO much! The way she captured Missy and Mason’s energy, exuberance, and exasperation is remarkable! And how about the vibrant and vivacious palette she used? She totally made magic in MISSY WANTS A MAMMOTH!.

Kathy: Yes, Missy magically has a Pam Vaughan vibe! Ariel created a color palette that really jumps out and hooks readers' eyes. 

Tell us a bit about your writing journey. What was your path to publication like? I know #PBChat Mentorship in 2019 was a big step in your querying process.

Pam: I’ve been on this kidlit writing journey for a while. It doesn’t feel like a long time because it’s been so much fun. I love learning, so that played into the fact that there is a lot to learn especially writing for children.

I pretty much read all sorts of craft books, blogs, & mentor texts. I attended workshops, conferences, retreats. I stopped being afraid to ask questions or be the most clueless one in the room. I inundated myself with trying to learn everything I could about writing.

I went all in and attended conferences and joined online groups and in person communities like The Writers’ Loft. I signed up for a few mentorships. Finally, in 2019 I was picked as a mentee by Anika Denise in #PBChat hosted by Justin Colón. I was so grateful to work with Anika who helped me get Missy/ Mason where it needed to be. In November of 2019, I queried an agent that I was super excited about. He asked to have a call and I signed with him in January of 2020. We sold Missy/Mason in June of 2020.

Coincidentally, I originally met my editor a long time ago at an SCBWI conference and my agent at a Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat. That’s a whole other story! 

Pam, Co-Director of Whispering Pines, MIT Endicott House, 2022 

Kathy: Readers, remember, keep putting yourself out there. Say “yes” like Pam did to all the opportunities you can take on.

Those of us who know Pam, know of her ability to create community in the children’s literature world. She is passionate about helping others and has done so through her leadership roles with SCBWI, The Writers Loft, and the Whispering Pines Writing Retreat. 

When I first started it was hard from a community perspective because I didn’t have one. I remember attending a few SCBWI conferences in New England and being super nervous. I ate lunch by myself because I didn’t know anyone. Even though it was hard to sit alone, I kept attending because I knew I had a lot to learn. (Now that’s grit at work!) 

My local kidlit writer friend Donna Woelki told me about SCBWI local meetups. I attended a couple hosted by Kris Asselin and got to meet a few people. At one of those meet ups, I met Heather Kelly, the founder of The Writers’ Loft which was a community of local writers. I attended meetings and workshops and joined a critique group at The Writers’ Loft and met more people. Then I joined the board and helped coordinate events. Eventually I became the NESCBWI conference photographer, and guess what? I met more people. 

I also had the privilege of attending the Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat a couple of times run by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – and I met more children’s book authors and illustrators and learned so much. Then, I took over running the retreat.

But no matter what event I’m at, I remember what it felt like to sit alone, so I always make a point to talk with people (especially if they look lost or alone) and introduce people. (Great suggestion!)

Kathy: Pam,  I know we both feel it’s important to join and give back to our community? Why is that important? 

Pam:  It’s wonderful and helpful to be a part of a community of writers, and/or have writer/illustrator friends, who truly understand the ebb and flow of the whole process. Also, it’s a difficult and challenging industry with many ups and downs. My writing friends have been so helpful by sharing insights, experiences, and inspiration. I’m so lucky to have met so many phenomenal people on my journey.

One really big thing about community is that doing anything is so much better when you are having fun and doing it with others!

Coach Pam motivates on the field with athletes, off field with writers! 

Kathy: Yes, that idea of play and camaraderie comes through in our writing. 

Anyone who has met you knows that you are a source of encouragement and, like me, see you as “Coach Pam.” Does your background in coaching influence you and your writing career?  

Pam: I believe that everyone has unique skills, abilities, and incredible experiences. People forget how special and amazing they are and how important their stories are. Children out there need these stories. Maybe I’m just trying to remind people of that.  

Plus, it is such a privilege and honor to write for children and to create beautiful books that reach children physically and emotionally where they are. If we quit, the kids miss out.  

Kathy: And now, inquiring minds want to know WHY does Missy want a mammoth? 

Pam: Great question!
Who doesn’t want a pet mammoth like Malcolm? He is so cute and cuddly with his fuzzy head and furry belly and he is as sweet as a kitten. He can do tricks and loves picnics and dancing.

Preorder MISSY WANTS a MAMMOTH at Pam's local indie,the Silver Unicorn, here . Pam will sign them and they will ship them. You can use the Bookshop link here. Order wherever you choose.

Pam Vaughan:




Ariel Landy :


Pam Vaughan lives with her family across from a pond on a cul-de-sac in central Massachusetts. She’s director of Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat and co-ARA of New England’s SCBWI chapter. When she’s not writing books for kids, she loves walking in the woods and playing ice hockey. Missy Wants a Mammoth is her first book.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Author Interview: Hope Lim and Sourgrass

Today I welcome author Hope Lim to the Grog Blog! I first heard of Hope with her first picture book, I Am a Bird (2021). Since then, she's had two more picture books published, with her fourth one, Sourgrass, a beautiful friendship story, out on March 26th from Beach Lane Books. 

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I love to run. I started to run when I came to America and did not enjoy it at first because of cramps I would get. But I kept running because I felt much lighter in my heart and body in the end. After I experienced a runner’s high for the first time, running became an integral part of my daily life. I use my running as time to reflect or connect with the many sights and sounds around me. It’s amazing how I encounter something new every time I’m out running. In addition to the wonders in nature, seeing so many people out running and being in that anonymous group of people with the bond of running always lifts my heart.

 2. What inspired you to write Sourgrass? How did you get the idea?

The idea for SOURGRASS came to me when I spotted the single stem of sourgrass poking through the tiniest crack in our fence. Its five leaves were in my yard and the rest of stem and roots were in our neighbor’s yard. I pondered about its meaning and named it ‘hope,’ after noticing how the way it grew through the fence, a wall of separation, seemed to showcase nature’s wonderous power of making the impossible possible. I knew there was a story in that single stem of sourgrass and later created a first draft, which marked the beginning of a year long journey to SOURGRASS, a story of friendship, memories, and hope. I also happened to ruminate on the meaning of trust and wanted to convey the act of placing trust in a friend as something beautiful and perhaps even noble. 

3. How long did it take to write this story?

I wrote my first draft shortly after I spotted the single stem of sourgrass back in February 2021, and spent much of that year writing and re-writing SOURGRASS until it was finally ready for submission. After it was sold, I revised it more following my editor’s thoughtful revision notes that not only resonated with me at every level but also added depth of emotion to SOURGRASS.   

4. How long did it take to sell this story?

After I finished my “final” version of SOURGRASS in November 2021, my agent submitted it in February 2022, and it was sold in the same month. The flurry of exchanges with two amazing editors was quite unforgettable, and I’m so grateful for their vision and love for bringing SOURGRASS to the world.

5. What do you hope readers take away from reading this book?

I love how spring returns every year with so much hope and promise. In SOURGRASS, a story of return and renewal, Sofia learns to live in hope, trusting that what she loves will eventually return and appreciating her friendship with May. I think hope and trust go together, and like Sofia, I want readers to feel hopeful and optimistic in a difficult time of inevitable changes, such as parting with a friend. Sofia rises above the uncertainty and doubt brought by distance and finds a way to keep her trust in May and their friendship. I wanted to write a story where this take on the world prevails and gets rewarded in the end.

6. What is your favorite part of the illustrations?

This was a hard question to answer, because I can’t pick just one. I love everything Shahrzad Maydani did in SOURGRASS, including her choice of vibrant colors reminiscent of spring, the additional storyline she created using two stuffed animals, and the child-like expressions and movements Sofia and May share. I was particularly impressed by the cinematic way Shahrzad captured significant moments in SOURGRASS, where readers are facing the same direction as the characters, and this perspective is repeated later in other meaningful scenes. The two stuffed animals coming alive is another magical touch, and they always make me smile. One of the best parts of being a picture book writer is when the final art of the book arrives like a gift, and I get to re-live that special moment every time I open the book. 

7.  What was most surprising about the illustrations? 

I remembered my heart beating fast during the first read of the color proofs of SOURGRASS, and I was moved to tears when I closed the last page. Some of Shahrzad’s illustrations brought back memories from childhood, which had been stored in colorful still images inside me, mirroring what sourgrass does in the story. I often use the word, ‘glorious’ to describe one bright afternoon when I ran through the golden fields, catching dragonflies, and tasting wild berries off bushes. Those childhood images have a dreamy quality, even surreal, in part because they only exist as memories. And I see and feel the same emotive quality in the way Shahrzad captured Sofia and May’s shared memories. And I would say that was most surprising about her illustration. I am still awed by the bittersweetness she conveyed in her art.

8. What advice do you have for writers?

 Once I was told that every book has its own journey, and I think the same thing applies to writers. I have learned the importance of being gentle and patient with ourselves while making our journeys uniquely our own. 

9. What’s next for you?

I have a new book, AT THE WINDOW, illustrated by the amazing Qin Leng, scheduled to come out in spring 2025 by Candlewick Press. It’s a story about a special connection, changes, and a shift of perspective told through the eyes of a child whose relationship with her neighbor enables her to discover new things in an unexpected way.

HopeLim is the author of I AM A BIRD by Hyewon Yum; MY TREE by Il Sung Na; and MOMMY’S HOMETOWN by Jamie Kim. She lives in San Francisco, where she spots the yellow flowers of sourgrass every spring. Her upcoming book, SOURGRASS, will be released by Beach Lane Books/ S&S on March 26, 2024

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Friday, February 16, 2024

What's It All About? An Idea for Focusing Your Manuscript by Fran Hodgkins

 As part of some freelance editing I've been doing lately, I've been writing marketing materials. I realized that this would be a useful tool for focusing your manuscript.

First, there are short and long book summaries. You can think of these as jacket-flap copy or a back of the book copy, or as an elevator pitch. I start writing with the short summary, with a hook—a snappy sentence that will catch interest. Questions and startling statements are good attention-getters!

For example, I've written this short summary for my picture book, How People Learned to Fly:

Do you dream about flying? People have wanted to fly like birds for centuries. But how? What did people need to learn before they could fly? In this picture book, readers explore the experiments and discoveries that human beings made before they soared.

The short summary, which should run less than 50 words, is the basis of the long one (about 150 words). (I suppose if you're more of a subtractor than an adder, you can reverse the order!).

Then, think about who would enjoy your book, and write statements about them that complete this sentence: "This book is for anyone who . . . ."  For example, if you're working on a maritime adventure, your statements could include: "This book is for anyone who loves seafaring history." 

 BISAC subject codes come next. These are classification codes produced by the Book Industry Study Group. Find them here, The codes are grouped into topic areas that range from Antiques and Collectibles to Young Adult Nonfiction. Each topic is then broken down into subcategories. I've found browsing the categories has helped me get a firm idea of what my story is about, whether I'm working on fiction or nonfiction. 

When you open a topic, you'll see a listing like this:


As yout can see from the listing for "Baby Animals," the list gets fairly granular! However, I'm not staying that you should include the BISAC codes in your cover letter or proposal? No. However, this will give you idea of where in the great galaxy of books your book may fit. That will help libraries and booksellers to understand your book and decide where to shelve it. What if there's no BISAC code? As granular as this list may be, it is also inclusive because every topic area starts with a "General" category.

The BISAC topics also help me to figure out where to look for comp titles. Comp titles have been the biggest stumbling block I face when working on a proposal, but having the BISAC at hand saves me hours of time searching for titles. I use them on Amazon or WorldCat, typing keywords from the topic into the search bar and narrowing the search down with the tools available on the site:

An Amazon search based on a BISAC code.


 WorldCat allows you to find titles held in libraries around the world. 

When you've gotten your search underway, you'll be able to narrow your search to recent titles to include on your proposal. (And discover which publishers have titles on the same topic, so you know they may not be best to approach!)

I'm going to try this method for my next manuscript, and I'll let you know how it goes! If you try it, please let me know how it works for you.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Introducing Illustrator Marta Álvarez by Tina Cho


Today I welcome award winning illustrator, Marta Álvarez Miguéns. She is the illustrator of our new picture book, God's Little Astronomer, out February 20, from Penguin Random House's Christian Imprint, Waterbrook. You might recognize her name from other books she's illustrated, most notably, Shark Lady. To see a sneak peak of our book, click this link. 

Tell us a little about yourself.

     I am a children's book illustrator who lives in Coruña, a city in northern Spain facing the Atlantic Sea. I have been illustrating books since 2001 for Spanish publishers and since 2014 for publishers mainly in the US and UK, although many of my books have already been translated into many languages such as Chinese, Swedish or Japanese.

     How many books have you illustrated?

I have illustrated around 40 children's books and some textbooks as well.

     What made you decide to take on God’s Little Astronomer?

I have always been interested in topics about science and nature and I had barely had the opportunity to illustrate about the universe and its mysteries. So when they offered me this project with such an original approach, it seemed great to me. The story is engaging, educational and combined with an inspiring Bible verse. Because Faith and Science should not be incompatible.

    What kind of research did you do for this book?

Since my job is to add images to the story, my research is quite visual. I have to see photos of everything, of what the Milky Way looks like, the appearance of a comet, a rocket, the planets, starsetc. Always looking for reliable sources. Then I have to digest everything to simplify it and show it in a way that is attractive to children.

    Tell us about your illustration process.

First I usually make a design of the main character of the story. Then if the book is non-fiction, I document and take references to start with the first line sketches. In this phase I pay close attention to the composition and point of view of each scene and what I want to show or where I want to show more emphasis. Here I try things until everything fits like a puzzle. Sometimes my sketches are not very defined and are like scribbles and I think “my goodness, I hope the editor understands this”… I don't like to define them too much, because as they can undergo many changes, I prefer that they simply point to a general idea of composition. Then I like to be more specific, especially in the final art phase. Once the sketches are approved I would move on to color, where I usually add more details or elements that did not appear very specific in the sketches.

     How did you come up with the girl main character? And I’m happy the other character is an Asian boy, which isn’t as popular in books, especially nonfiction. I’m glad to see a diverse cast of characters.

The truth is that at first I thought of the character in a practical way and with a color palette. I like my illustrations to be with very vibrant and contrasting colors. As the illustrations about space could all end up being a very dark and monotonous blue, the color had to come from the characters. So I wanted the protagonist to have red hair, which my editor liked, but there also had to be a lot of diversity among the protagonists. Although red-haired people usually have white skin, there is also a percentage of red-haired people with other skin tones and we decided to design it that way. Then I remembered a British sci-fi series with puppets from the 80s: “Terrahawks” and one of the protagonists, Captain Kate Kestrel, was black with pink curly hair and I thought it was fantastic.

We also included an Asian child who would expand the range of diversity and who would interact with the protagonist to give a little more life to the space. In the end I think the two characters turned out super adorable.

     What is your favorite spread and why?       

I think it's hard for me to choose just one. I have many favorites! I love the illustration of the comet because of how simple it is and at the same time impressive.

I really like the two children inside the rocket, one floating right side up and one upside down, showing the lack of gravity. I really like playing with symmetry in illustrations.

And also the illustration of the girl shining like a star. All thanks to the inspiring text of the

      What was the hardest part about illustrating this book?

The hardest thing sometimes is trying to be as scientifically accurate as possible but at the same time keeping things simple and accessible for children. And since a picture book is made between the collaboration of a writer, an illustrator and an editor, we also always have to find a point at which we are all happy with the result.

     What’s next for you?

     Well, now I am working on the next book in this series, “God's Little Oceanographer” which this time is starring the Asian boy who appears here. I think it is looking beautiful.

     Any advice for budding illustrators/writers?

My advice is to be persistent. At first it is difficult to enter this world, but once you start, if you do it well, more and more projects tend to come. It’s necessary to work on a good portfolio of images, and if possible, present your own project or in collaboration with another writer/illustrator.  It’s also good to illustrate a classic story so that publishers can see how you perform in a narrative sequence. And always, always, once you start working on this, join an association of writers or illustrators to guide you with agreements and how to budget. We should not give away our work in exchange for publication, or in exchange for promotion, we already have that in our social networks. At the end this is like any other job that has to pay the bills.

What do you like to do for fun?

Many things! I like to dance lindy hop, learn to play the piano, watch a lot of movies, make delicious meals, play with my cats, walk through the forest, listen to music, travel

Favorite working time: 

Something between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. I'm not a person before 10 in the morning

Favorite snack:

70% chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts

Favorite part of outer space:

The constellations. I love those imaginary figures drawn in the sky that come from Greek mythology. It is a gift to be able to see the starry sky at night and feel that you are a small dot in the immensity of the universe, that we are part of something much bigger.

Anything else youd like to tell us?

It has been a pleasure to participate in this interview and illustrate this beautiful book. Thank you very much Tina.

Ah, thank you so much, Marta! I love your work and can't wait to see our next book together, God's Little Oceanographer, coming in 2025!

Marta Álvarez is an author and children´s book illustrator living in A Coruña, Spain.

She graduated in Psychology from the University of Santiago de Compostela in 2001, however her real passion was always drawing doodles in the margins of the notebooks.

 Marta debuts in 2002 writing and illustrating her first picture book "¡Cómo está o galiñeiro!" published by Xerais. Since then, she has worked for several Spanish and international publishing houses.

 In 2007 her artwork was selected and exhibited at the Bratislava Biennial of Illustration (BIB).

She illustrated "Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean´s Most Fearless Scientist", which was named one of the Best Children´s Books of 2017 by Parents Magazine, and won the Blue Spruce Award in 2018. She also illustrated the funny and charming illustrations of "What is Poo?", which won the Silver Award at the Junior Design Awards 2017 and The Girl Who Heard the Music: How One Pianist and 85,000 Bottles and Cans Brought New Hope to an Islanda 2023 Cybils award Finalist.

 Marta Álvarez is a member of the Galician Illustrators Association (AGPI).

Follow her on Instagram 


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