Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Jen Malia's :Connor and Taekwondo Tournament + Book Review by Kathy Halsey

Book Review by Kathy Halsey

I first met author Jen Malia this past November at NCTE 2023 in a group of SCBWI Northern Ohio and Central-South Ohio friends. We were Facetiming with former SCBWI NO Illustrator Coordinator Merrill Rainey. Authors were spilling out of their chairs, onto the floor, happy to meet new authors and share experiences. 

Later I “met” her again as a member of the Soaring ‘20s Debut group that has stayed together since their debut for marketing purposes. (genius idea IMO). The GROG blog has reviewed debut group books before in our 10-year blog journey. I was thrilled to get an ARC of Jen’s newest book to review book 3 in her chapter book series The Infinity Rainbow Club.

 Even though Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament is the third book in the series,  it stands on its own even if a reader hasn’t read the other two books. From the beginning I was hooked by the main character Connor vs. his archenemy, Wyatt. They face off sparring in Master Park’s Taekwondo dojang, gradually get to know each other at school and finally support each other as friends. 

The Taekwondo scenes throughout the book are filled with authentic, action-packed scenes that will engage readers as well as teach them more about the art and practice of this Korean martial art form. Backmatter with Junior Belt ranks and Korean terms are a great addition to this book featuring a boy with ADHD and other neurodivergent characters who we get to know in the classroom, at home, and in their Taekwondo practice, teams, and tournaments. 

The themes of perseverance, focus, struggling through tough situations apply specifically to each character’s brain difference, but also apply universally to readers who don’t face these challenges. Peter Francis’s black and white illustrations detail the moves, stances, and forms of Taekwondo making this chapter book even more inviting.

As a former K-12 school librarian, I see this series as filling a need for more chapter books with neurodiverse characters going through typical chapter book experiences. Jen has also piqued my interest in Taekwondo, too.

(P.S. Don't forget to day is Day 7 of our 10 Year Anniversary Party. Check out today's prize & Rafflecopter here:)

Interview with Jen Malia

Kathy: Tell us a little about yourself. 

Jen: I’m the autistic author of the children’s chapter book/lower middle grade series, The Infinity Rainbow Club, and the picture book, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism. I live in Virginia Beach with my husband and three kids. I love running, taekwondo, hiking, and outdoor adventures. I’ve traveled to 20 countries around the world and many places in America.

For four years, I lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates as an assistant professor of writing at the American University of Sharjah. I currently work as a professor of English and the creative writing coordinator at Norfolk State University. I have a PhD in English from the University of Southern California, and I’m currently working on my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Kathy: What inspired you to write Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament?

Jen: As an autistic mom of three neurodivergent children, I write the books I didn’t know I needed, but wish I had, as an undiagnosed autistic girl, and the books I want my neurodivergent kids and other kids like them to have now. I was diagnosed with ASD in my late thirties, and I’m self-diagnosed with ADHD and OCD.

My family of five, including my husband and three kids, has different combinations of ASD, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia. In The Infinity Rainbow Club series, I draw on my own and my kids’ experiences with neurodivergence. Each book is told from a different point of view and centers the voices of neurodivergent kids.

Jen, family, Connor (book3) and Taekwondo!

Kathy: How did you get the idea for this next book in the INFINITY RAINBOW CLUB series?

Jen: For Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament, I knew that I wanted to focus the internal plot on Connor, a fourth-grade boy with ADHD, who has to work on his focus at the taekwondo dojang, in school, and at home. I also wanted to develop the external plot around Connor’s goal of earning his taekwondo junior black belt and competing in a taekwondo tournament.

In this chapter book, I draw on my own and my kids’ experiences with ADHD and taekwondo. A lot of the scenes with Connor in the dojang are based on my experiences testing for my taekwondo black belt and sparring in tournaments.

Kathy: How long did it take to write this story?

Jen: I wrote three books for the Infinity Rainbow Club series in a little over a year. I had about four months between contract deadlines, and each book turned out to be around 18,000 words. While I was drafting Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament, I was completing copy edits for the first book in the series, Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge, and developmental edits for the second book, Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit. It was the ultimate test of multitasking book projects!


Kathy: How long did it take to sell this story? 

Jen: Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament was part of a 3-book deal. My agent sold the series on proposal to the same editor that I worked with for my debut picture book, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism.

Kathy: What do you hope readers take away from reading this book?

Jen: I hope that neurodivergent kids see themselves in this book and that their neurotypical peers understand better what it’s like to have a different brain. Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament is not so much a book about ADHD as a book about a boy who happens to have ADHD going about his everyday life at home, in the taekwondo dojang, and at school.

I hope kids will be inspired by Connor’s story of perseverance. In his words, “to not give up even when it’s hard to keep going.” I want to encourage more kids to participate in sports like Connor too. Some parents have already told me that their kids signed up for taekwondo or other martial arts after reading Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament.

Kathy:What do you like most about Peter Francis’ illustrations? What surprised you about the illustrations?

Jen: I love the level of detail in Peter’s illustrations. The characters really come to life on the page. I got to see every stage of how the illustrations for the book developed and to provide feedback along the way.

For Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament, Peter and I went back and forth via my editor to get the forms, stances, kicks, punches, board breaks, and sparring moves right. I was surprised with how much I fell in love with the illustrations for this series. I can’t picture the stories being illustrated any other way.

Peter Francis, illustrator

Kathy: What advice do you have for writers interested in chapter books?


Jen: Chapter books are a tough sell because they are almost always part of a series, which means a publisher has to commit to buying multiple books from an author. To stand out, aspiring authors need a unique concept that can be explored across multiple books.


Using the concept for my series as an example, I created a club-based series, which is clear from the title, the Infinity Rainbow Club. The infinity rainbow is the symbol for neurodivergence. In this series, I wanted to center kids with different brains—the roughly 1 in 5 kids who are neurodivergent. I emphasized in my series proposal that hardly any chapter books have neurodivergent protagonists despite the large number of kids with diagnoses like ASD, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia to show the need for more books like mine in the market.


Kathy: What’s next for you?


Jen:I’m currently working on a middle grade horror novel and some picture books.

Kathy: Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Jen: You can learn more about me, my books, essays, and speaking on my website at

Biography: Jen Malia is a professor of English and the creative writing coordinator at Norfolk State University. Originally from Pittsburgh, Jen currently lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and three kids. Jen has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Woman's Day, Glamour, Self, and others. Jen is the author of Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism as well as the Infinity Rainbow Club series. Jen was diagnosed with ASD in her late thirties and has three neurodivergent kids with different combinations of ASD, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia.

Contact Information for Jen Malia 


Twitter: @JenMaliaBooks

Instagram: @jenmaliabooks

Facebook: @MomWithAutism

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! Celebrating GROG Blog’s 10th ~ By Julie Phend

Happy Tenth Anniversary, GROG!

The GROG Blog has been offering support, information, and encouragement to members of the children's writing community for ten years! To celebrate this milestone, we're going to review GROG's history and mission and highlight some of the people who have made this wonderful resource happen. And for you, our readers, we're offering gifts and prizes as a thank-you for spreading the word. 

Intrigued? Read on.

The GROG Mission:
To provide:
    G: Guidance and support
    R: Resources on the craft of writing
    O: Opportunities to expand our skills
    G: Great folks who support readers and writers of all ages.
That spells GROG!

How Did GROG Get Started?
2014 WOW Retreat
The GROG origin story began in the mountains of Georgia in the summers of 2013-2014 when a group of writers who didn't know each other bonded at the Week of Writing (WOW) nonfiction writing retreat. GROG evolved out of their desire to gather a group of writers to form a new blog about children's literature. Being energetic, intrepid souls, these writers made their vision a reality.

Kathy Halsey & Christy Mihaly

Two of the writers at that original event, Kathy Halsey and Christy Mihaly, are still writing for the GROG blog. GROG grew by inviting writers from all over the world through online forums.

One of the original online recruits is Tina Cho.  
"In 2014, I was living
Tina Cho
in South Korea with my husband and kids," she said. "I had started writing in 2008, so when we moved to Korea, I participated virtually in critique groups, blogs, and social media groups. I started with the GROG blog when I took Kristin Fulton's nonfiction picture book biography class online. Todd Burleson was in the class, and he asked if we'd like to continue together and write a blog. I joined and have been submitting blog posts ever since."

Let's give a SHOUT OUT  to original Groggers Tina Cho, Kathy Halsey, and Christy Mihaly, who have been contributing great information for TEN YEARS! 

Watching the GROG Grow

The first GROG post came out on February 24, 2014. At that time, there were fourteen contributing writers. GROG came out daily, with a different focus each day. Talk about ambitious! 

Here's a quote from one of the first posts on March 22, 2014: "Why are we doing this? The answer is simple. It is for YOU--the writers, librarians, teachers, and lovers of books--especially books for young readers." That's still true today.

The post listed the fourteen original bloggers: Jan Godown Annino, Tina Cho, Christy Mihaly, Sherri Jones Rivers, Patricia Toht, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Leslie Colin Tribble, Pam Vaughn, Suzy Leopold, Janie Reinart, Todd Burleston, Kathy Halsey, Cheryl Mansfield, and Jackie Wellington. I'm sure many of their names are familiar. (You can read the full post here.)
An early WOW Retreat
With some of the original Groggers

Over the years, the GROG blog has evolved and changed. Some bloggers moved on, and new voices were added. We now post weekly instead of every day. But our mission is unchanged. GROG remains a great place of enlightenment and support in the children's writing community.

Did You Say Something about GIFTS and PRIZES?

You bet! Keep reading to learn how. (Even that has roots in the past.)

How does a new blog get readers?

With a Blog Launch, of course. GROG's launch ran from March 24-April 7, 2014. Bloggers conducted a raffle, giving away free books and services. Readers could enter by visiting the blog and leaving a comment, signing up to subscribe, and re-posting about GROG on social media. The more you did to spread the word, the better your chance of winning a prize.

It worked, too. In its first year, the GROG blog had over 59,000 page views and 16,732 visitors from all over the world. (See the whole post at Happy One Year Anniversary )

As of today, GROG has 851, 244 views with 13,483 comments on 814 posts. Well done, Groggers!

Happy Ten Year Anniversary: 
GROG Giveaway!
In celebration of our tenth anniversary, we're doing another giveaway. Here's your chance to be part of our story and win some fabulous prizes.

How to Enter the Raffle:

We're giving away 10 prizes over 10 days! To enter, you need to comment on a blog post and follow the GROG Blog. For an extra entry, reblog a post on another form of social media and share the link.

What Can You Win?

Here are the prizes and the date entries will open for each one, as well as link to follow:




Day 1

3/20 Tina Cho, My Breakfast with Jesus


Day 2

3/21 Sue Heavenrich, The Pie that Molly Grew


Day 3

3/22 Eileen Meyer, The Superlative A Lincoln and swag bag


Day 4

3/23 Christy Mihaly, three-book package: Little Golden Book about Mel Brooks; Patience, Patches; and choice of Free for You and Me or The Supreme Court and Us


Day 5

3/24 Julie Phend, D-Day and Beyond: A True Story of Escape and POW Survival


Day 6

3/25 Tina Cho, God's Little Astronomer





Day 7

3/26 An Ask Me Anything Zoom chat with author, speaker, former librarian Kathy Halsey (For more information, see Ask Infowoman: A Library Consult )


Day 8

3/27 An Ask Me Anything Zoom chat with author Sue Heavenrich


Day 9

3/28 A nonfiction manuscript critique from author, editor, and agent Fran Hodgkins (1500 words, max. )


Day 10

3/29 One ten-page fiction manuscript critique by author Julie Phend



THANK YOU for being a GROG reader and helping us spread the word about this great resource. Sign up to follow us each Wednesday for informative new posts and Blasts from the Past, where you'll find previous posts that are still relevant today. 

Look for a post on May 29, when I'll interview some long-time Groggers about what's changed in the world of children's publishing over the past ten years.

And good luck with the RAFFLE!



Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Why Authors Need to Self Promote and How to Go About It ~ Guest Post By Joyana Peters

Self Promotion! Do I Have To?

Many writers shy away from self promotion. They don’t like the idea of tooting their own horn. But if we don’t promote ourselves as authors, no one else will. It’s all about believing in ourselves and our work.  

What Exactly is Self Promotion?

We constantly hear about marketing and how important it is. But what about self promotion? What exactly is self promotion and why is it important? Join me below to discuss the differences and learn how authors can incorporate some simple self promotion examples into their tool belts.

Differences between Self Promotion and Marketing

Let's start by defining marketing. Marketing is defined as the activity of promoting and selling products or services. Simple enough, right? You want to sell your book- you need to market it. But one of the biggest mistakes I see authors make is thinking their marketing should focus solely on their book. That's where self promotion comes in.

Technically, self promotion is presenting yourself as an accomplished, skilled, capable person. But in fact, it's more about building a connection with your readers and building a brand that supersedes one individual book.

Why You Need an Author Brand

I recently had an intake coaching session with an author. While doing a website audit for her, I discovered that her website name was not her own name, but her book's name. When I asked her what she'd do when she wrote a new book, she was stumped. "I hadn't thought about that," she admitted.

This is not uncommon for new authors. They're understandably excited about launching their first book and all their efforts are on selling and marketing that book for success. However, you need to think about the long game. Hopefully, you WILL write more than one book and you'll want readers to buy that book too. That's where brand identity comes in.

What’s Brand Identity?

Brand identity is necessary for a business. It helps build loyalty and a trust in the style and quality of a book with your name on it. If you want to make being an author your JOB and your BUSINESS, you must promote your brand—you have to commit to self promoting.

You can do this by first determining what is the common theme in your current stories and what you want to write about in the future. For instance, I write historical fiction. I can see myself writing about different time periods and different kinds of people. But one thing I know my books will all have in common is that they'll all be about women. And those women will be fighting for change. So, my brand identity? I write about women in history overcoming obstacles to fight for change. This is what I tell people when they ask about my books. It’s what I've built my website and social media platform messaging around. When readers find and follow me, they know exactly what to expect from my books.

More Self Promotion Examples

The other important part of self promotion is selling yourself. We need to build relationships with our readers and allow them to see us as people. I know some of you authors are shaking in your boots right now. The last thing most of us want to do is spotlight ourselves. That's why we hide behind our books, right? But if we're unwilling to open up and share, our books will languish and never get read. So, let's see if we can find a comfortable way to work some of these self promotion examples into our regular routines.

Work Your Livelihood into Conversations

I tell people I'm an author. I'm not saying I walk around introducing myself that way. But I do seize on natural opportunities to bring it into conversation. And with my books on Amazon, there's an immediate opportunity to make a sale once I do. I've sold books in the pediatrician's office, in the dentist chair, on an airplane, on the sidelines of a soccer game. When there's an opportunity to bring up what I do, I take it. But to make sure this feels natural and easy, I've made sure to perfect an elevator pitch synopsis of what my book is about.

Perfect Your Elevator Pitch

Have you ever been asked what your book is about and find yourself freezing or launching into a long-winded explanation where you can see the person's eyes glazing over? We've all been there. That's why it is crucial to master your elevator pitch synopsis. This is simply a two or three sentence description of your book. For me, I say- "I created a fictional character who escapes from Russia at the beginning of the revolution. She settles on the Lower East Side of New York and is involved in the 1909 Garment Worker's Uprising. She's then involved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and its aftermath."

My elevator pitch immediately identifies my book's genre--historical fiction--and the time period I'm writing about- early 1900s. It also gives an overview of the main historical events and obstacles my character faces.

Using this elevator pitch and being nervy enough to bring my book up in conversation, I've not only gotten sales, I've landed speaking engagements, bookstore signings and invitations to and festivals other events. I'm constantly on the prowl. Both for selling opportunities and also chances to network and add to my Rolodex of contacts. You never know when they'll come in handy.

Promoting Ourselves on Social Media

Ah, social media: the dreaded word. I find that one reason people have such apprehension about using social media to market is they don't know what to post. For starters, you need to know that social media is not where you'll sell books. Social media does not translate to sales. So why waste your time? What's the purpose?

To network and build a community of followers. If nurtured with a targeted purpose that follows your brand identity, social media can translate to an engaged audience who WILL sign up for your newsletter, like your posts, be your beta readers and early reviewers--and yes, some will also buy your books. But more importantly, they'll be loyal because they feel like they know and care about YOU. That will go a lot further than one person who buys one of your books from Amazon or a shelf in a bookstore.

Think of it this way—you can market to sell one book once. This can be done with targeted ads, book promo newsletter features, virtual book tours, etc. All this can and should be done, too. But if you promote yourself—you'll be nurturing a loyal base of readers who will buy every book you ever write. You do the math.

Joyana Peters is the award-winning Indie author of the historical fiction novels The Girl From Saint Petersburg and The Girl in the Triangle. She is also an author business coach offering guidance and resources for authors at all stages of their publication journeys. You can follow her @JoyanaPetersAuthor on social media and check out more of her author business resources at You can also sign up for her free author newsletter with weekly tips and tools at

Be sure to sign up to subscribe to the GROG Blog in the box on the top right of the page!

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Celebrating Women's History in Picture Books

by Sue Heavenrich

It’s Women’s History Month and Calkins Creek has a bunch of wonderful women’s biographies for kids. These picture book biographies are aimed at the 7-10-year-old crowd and range from 40 to 48 pages. The women featured in these stories followed their passions and curiosity. They met with challenges and persevered. Some helped create something new; some raised awareness about an issue; all will have you asking: why haven’t we heard their stories before?

The Fabulous Fannie Farmer: Kitchen Scientist and America’s Cook, by Emma Bland Smith; illustrated by Susan Reagan (released January) 

I grew up with The Fanny Farmer Cookbook on a kitchen shelf, so what a pleasant surprise to see this book celebrate her life. When you want to make a stew or bake a cake, the recipes in your cookbooks list how much of each ingredient you need: a cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda… But back in the 1800, when Fannie was learning to cook with her mother, recipes were often “cloudier than clam chowder, and the measurements could be downright silly,” writes Emma Bland Smith. A recipe might call for a “suspicion” of nutmeg, a “pinch” of salt, or enough yeast to make the bread “light” – whatever that means.

As Fannie cooked food, something revolutionary was simmering in her mind. You see, she was a scientist, and she noticed (through trial and error) that consistent and precise measurements made a difference in the outcome of cakes and other foods. So she created a cookbook with recipes written so that no matter who cooked them, the result would be the same. 

One of a Kind: The Life of Sydney Taylor, by Richard Michelson; illustrated by Sarah Green (released February)

This book is about books, writing, and an author driven to write her stories because she didn’t see her family and culture mentioned in the books she read as a child. Sydney Taylor didn’t set out to become an author; she simply began writing stories for her daughter. Stories about growing up Jewish, about celebrating the holidays, about family life. She never expected her stories would see publication, but they did – and they appealed to a broad range of readers. More than that, they won awards and inspired others to write their stories. Perhaps you have heard of the Sydney Taylor award, presented for books that authentically portray the Jewish experience. 

Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World, by Vivian Kirkfield; illustrated by Alison Jay (released February)

Annie Londonderry wanted to cycle around the world to win a prize - $10,000! That would really help he pay the bills… but first, she’d have to learn how to ride a bike. So she signs up for lessons from a local bicycle academy and began pedaling. 

“Neighbors scoffed. Strangers sneered. But Annie persevered.” Author, Vivian Kirkfield introduces us to this intrepid adventurer using lyrical language, teasing us with internal rhymes and alliteration. She layers in the details, such as how Annie took off from Boston with only one extra pair of underwear. And she includes important stuff, like how Annie took only a single pair of extra underwear with her – tucked into a pocket. And then there’s the delicious repetition of “pedal, balance, steer.”

Cactus Queen: Minerva Hoyt Establishes Joshua Tree National Park, by Lori Alexander; illustrated by Jenn Ely (released this month)

What if you knew a place that was filled with thorny, spiny beauty and dainty wildflowers, but all other people saw was a wasteland? In the early 1900s that’s how people thought of the Mohave desert. It was a place where you could dig up Joshua trees and yucca plants to put in your garden, and the trees provided wood for furniture. But it was so desolate. There was nothing there.

What if you noticed that, after a few years, the desert plants didn’t grow back? The wild animals, having lost their homes, moved away? If you were Minerva, you’d find a way to help the desert recover – even if it meant going all the way to Philadelphia or Washington to show others how important the desert is. This is a great story about a desire to save an iconic desert area – Joshua Tree National Park.

Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World, by Jill Esbaum; illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (releases next week)

Geneva loved birds. After feeding the chickens, she’d head out to watch the birds around her family’s farm (even the hawk family that occasionally snacked on chickens!). She watched nests and wrote stories about birds and their behavior. And when an editor said they’d publish her stories, Gene was excited – until she learned the illustrator would use stuffed birds as models to draw from. Nope! She wanted photos, and that meant getting a camera and learning to use it. And then lugging the 40-pound beast through brambles and hip-deep swamp water. This book may inspire the young birders in your family!

Skybound: Starring Mary Myers as Carlotta, Daredevil Aeronaut and Scientist, by Sue Ganz-Schmitt; illustrated by Iacopo Bruno (releases in April)

When Mary grew up, young girls were expected to marry, have children, and “stay tethered to their homes.” But not Mary. She dreamed of flying. Even when she did marry, she didn’t settle into the kitchen. Instead, she began researching aeronautics and meteorology. She and her husband developed a fabric for making hot air balloons, and also designed balloons. But Mary had questions: which balloon shape performs best? How do currents and weather affect them? She became an aeronautical science, going up into the air to answer those questions – and more.

What stories do YOU want to share with your children, your friends, your students?  Why not write them down?

Calkins Creek provided copies of these books for review. They are an imprint of Astra Publishing. You can learn more about their books - and check out activity guides - at their website here.