Author Guest Post: “Where Story Ideas Come From & Why Personal Narrative Writing Works Best for Me” by Charlotte Offsay, Author of Challah Day!


“Where Story Ideas Come From & Why Personal Narrative Writing Works Best for Me”

One of my favorite questions to ask other authors is where their story ideas come from. It fascinates me that everyone seems to harness creativity differently. Some authors I know will take two things that ton’s typically go together and combine them into a story, for example mashing vampires and a beach vacation lead author Laura Lavoie to write Vampire Vacation. Other authors will create lists – emotions, settings, types of narrators etc. – and challenge themselves to combine them into a story.

Personally, I prefer Personal Narrative Writing and tend to mine my own life for story ideas. I find that when I write from experience or from the heart, it shines through in my writing and brings out my best work. Since I write picture books, I like to take my own personal experiences and then channel them through a child lens and onto the page.

Take for example my upcoming picture book Challah Day! illustrated by the talented Jason Kirschner (8/1/23 from Holiday House). The idea for Challah Day! was born out of a personal experience close to my heart – my love of baking challah with my two young children.

Book Description: Challah Day! is a joyful, rhyming story about a Jewish holiday food that’s baked with love. From kneading sticky dough to gathering with family around the table, Challah Day! celebrates family, food, heritage, and tradition! Join this happy family as they bake delicious braided egg bread for their Friday night Shabbat dinner.

I began making challah with my two young children when they grew old enough to stop trying to eat the raw dough. Making Challah with them has brought clouds of flour, broken eggs, endless laughter, delicious bread and a beautiful timeless tradition into our home. Channeling my joy of baking together led to my writing the first draft of Challah Day! after one particularly giggle-filled baking session.

I sat down and wrote an upbeat, rhyming story about a family baking challah together for Shabbat. I included fun details from my own life, for example one page reads:

Crack the eggs – one… two… three… four
Extra if some hit the floor.

These lines were inspired by the countless eggs my children broke while learning to master cracking eggs.

The lines…

Chocolate? Raisins? Which to use?
It’s not hard for us to choose!

…come from my daughter who loves to try and fit an entire bag of chocolate chips into her challah dough.

And the lines…

Grandma lights the candles bright.
She and Grandpa hold us tight.

…were inspired by my in-laws who still scoop my children close every time we light the Shabbat candles together.

Mining personal experiences for story ideas can be a great way to help students create their own stories – everyone has a story to tell! Students can choose to stick close to their personal experiences the way I did with Challah Day! or they can use the concept as inspiration and then take artistic license.

Personal Narrative Writing Prompts:

  1. Write about a food that you love to cook or bake with your family.
  2. Describe a favorite tradition or holiday.
  3. Where is your favorite place to visit and why?
  4. What was the best day you have ever had?
  5. Write about your first sleepover
  6. What is something that you are proud of?
  7. What is the silliest thing that has ever happened to you?


  1. Pick a personal narrative writing prompt.
  2. Who are the characters in your story?
  3. What are the steps or order of events in your story?
  4. What fun personal details can you add?
  5. Write an opening line that will introduce your character and make your reader want to keep reading. For example, “The silliest thing that ever happened to me was ____” Or “I am proud of ____ because _____.”
  6. Write about the events that happened in your story while keeping the action moving forward. Follow your order of events using words such as: First, Next, Then, Finally.
  7. Incorporate your fun personal details as you write just like I did for Challah Day! Add adjectives/describing words and answer the following questions within your story: Who, What, Where, Why or How.
  8. Conclude your story with one of the following:
    1. How things ended
    2. What you learned
    3. What you will never forget
    4. How the story changed you/made you look at the world differently
    5. What you look forward to doing next time

Happy creating!

About the Author: CHARLOTTE OFFSAY was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again.

Charlotte is the author of The Quiet Forest, illustrated by Abi Cushman (Paula Wiseman Books, 2024), Challah Day!, illustrated by Jason Kirschner (Holiday House, 2023), A Grandma’s Magic, illustrated by Asa Gilland (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, April 2022), The Big Beach Cleanup, illustrated by Kate Rewse (Albert Whitman, 2021), and How to Return a Monster, illustrated by Rea Zhai (Beaming Books, 2021).

Learn more about Charlotte’s work at and follow her on Twitter and Tiktok at @COffsay and on Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations. Charlotte is represented by Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary.

Thank you, Charlotte, for this post about your process and ideas to help kids with theirs!

Author Guest Post: “Learning Empathy, Compassion, and Self-Acceptance from Mooz” by Hasan Namir, Author of Banana Dream


“Learning Empathy, Compassion, and Self-Acceptance from Mooz”

I was born in Baghdad, Iraq and grew up there until I was 11 years old. I remember one time, I was seven years old, my father had just returned from Amman, Jordan, a neighbor country.  His face was beaming with excitement. I could tell he had a surprise for me, my mom and my sister. I was waiting in anticipation when he revealed what he brought cross the border: bananas. I was so excited because we never had bananas in Iraq. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against Iraq. What that meant was countries weren’t allowed to import food, fruits and vegetables into Iraq. Instead the U.N. would give monthly food basket for families that included wheat, flour, sugar, rice, milk powder, tea, salt, detergents, soaps, beans, lentils and cooking oil. The basket didn’t include any fruits, vegetables, meats. Sadly, bananas weren’t allowed to be imported to Iraq and also they weren’t locally grown. I grew up dreaming about bananas, and I would see the fruit only on television. When my father came back from Amman, he had brought bananas with him and I was so happy. I ate so much and I wanted to eat more of them. My mom said to take a breather and not overeat otherwise, I would get a stomach ache. I wanted to bring some bananas to school. My mom wouldn’t let me do that. She didn’t want other kids to see me with them.  

As a kid, I had a lot of unanswered questions. I didn’t understand why my mama wouldn’t let me bring bananas to school. I quickly learned that not everyone was privileged to eat the fruit. Like my parents, I wanted to grow up to be more empathetic and compassionate. 

In 1998, my family immigrated to Canada and I quickly noticed that bananas were plentiful and cheap. Every time I ate the fruit, I had memories of Iraq and how bananas weren’t imported locally. Things have changed in 2003 during the Iraq War. All the sanctions were removed. Bananas became plentiful. I was happy to see Iraqi children being able to eat the fruit. My heart was with all the children who lived through war-stricken Iraq.  

For many years, I wanted to bring the story of bananas in Iraq to life. When my son Malek was born, I knew that I wanted to turn the story into a children’s picture book. As such, I wrote Banana Dream. The story is about Mooz, an Iraqi boy growing up in war-stricken Iraq. His name means Banana in Arabic and he dislikes his name because he feels left out, like an outsider, when all his cousins were named Ali and Mohammad. His classmates mock his name and make fun of him because he was named after a fruit and that was such a strange thing. Mooz was always curious about his name so he asked his mother about it. His mama tells him the story of his birth. After years of being unable to get pregnant, she dreamed that she was feeding a baby a banana. After she told Mooz’s father about the dream, he drove for hours to Amman, Jordan to find her some bananas, and soon after, Mooz was born. After hearing this story, Mooz’s perception of his own name changes for the better. He becomes proud of his name and even defends his classmates who mocked him once again. He has a new appreciation of his name. The story also highlights Mooz’s dream of eating bananas too after sanctions were removed after the Iraq war. I wanted to show the thrill and excitement of Mooz eating a banana for the very first time. It is the same feeling I was having when I had a banana for the first time. It was such a magical feeling. 

I hope with Banana Dream, kids of all ages can learn to be empathetic and compassionate toward anyone who is not as privileged. I knew that I was writing a story about war so I treated it with extra sensitivity. I hope that the young readers will have empathy for Mooz as he goes through his journey of self-acceptance. 

When I wrote this story, I wrote it for my son, Malek, because I want him to read Mooz’s story so he can he learn about the time when bananas weren’t grown in Iraq and they were only just a dream. I hope that Malek and all kids who read the book will have a new appreciation of the fruit. May the story bring joy to all readers and also may it remind them not to take anything for granted. This experience has helped me appreciate the little things in life that I otherwise would not have paid attention to. 

Published July 11th, 2023 by Neal Porter Books

About the Book: A young boy in Iraq yearns to taste the bananas that have been made unavailable by warfare.

Growing up in Iraq after the Gulf War, Mooz didn’t always like his name, which means “banana”. But when he learns the story behind it, he’s proud, even when being teased by his classmates. Now all he yearns for is to taste a banana—a lofty dream in a time when few countries are trading with Iraq, where bananas don’t grow.

Inspired by author Hasan Namir’s own childhood, Banana Dream is at once a celebration of a seemingly ordinary fruit and a snapshot of how war can alter a landscape. Artist Daby Zainab Faidhi’s background in architectural illustration is evident as she brings the story’s setting vividly to life.

★ “This vibrantly illustrated picture book introduces children to the toll of war through a relatable experience: learning the meaning of one’s name. Mooz emerges as a fully formed, layered character, while the Iraq setting is richly drawn. The stylized artwork has an appropriately dreamy feel in places. What’s in a name? Plenty, as this clever and poignant tale makes clear.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

About the Author: Hasan Namir is an award- winning Iraqi-Canadian children’s book author. His debut picture book was The Name I Call Myself. He has also published books of poetry and a novel. He lives in Vancouver with his family. 

Visit him online at
Twitter – @HNamir
Instagram – @Hasan.Namir
Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook – @HolidayHouseBks

Thank you, Hasan, for bringing us Mooz who will truly help readers grow!

Author Guest Post: “Unpacking the Layers of Meaning Hidden within a Picture Book” by Carin Berger, Author of In the Night Garden


“Unpacking the Layers of Meaning Hidden within a Picture Book”

On its face a picture book can seem like a simple thing. After all, most picture books are composed of a mere 16 spreads and a handful of words, plus a jacket, a case, end papers and a title page (all worth taking careful note of!). And yet a good picture book is a multi-layered, complex balancing act with many elements. Ideally, it works on several levels with layers of meaning woven within it that are revealed with repeat readings.

As an author and illustrator, I am fortunate to be able to toggle between visual and textual storytelling and allow a kind of play between the words and pictures. I can build secrets within the illustrations that continue to reveal new things upon multiple visits. I create my collages by hand, working with vintage ephemera, a material that I choose because I love the fact that each piece comes with built-in, hidden stories. One more layer of complexity. My goal is to build depth within my books, so that when they are used in a classroom, they can help foster meaningful discussions, cultivate careful observations, and to deepen visual and textual literacy. In the Night Garden, at first read, might seem to be simply a good night book. It has a lulling rhythm and takes place at night and ends with the phrase “Sleep tight.” An alert reader will notice a black cat who is on every page, and who chaperones the reader through the story, and functions as the narrator. The reader might also notice the passage of seasons within the illustrations. Certain spreads have interesting treats waiting to be discovered, for example the “visual onomatopoeia” in the illustration of the crickets and bullfrogs songs. Or the fact that hidden in the spread of the girl’s bedroom at the end of the book, there are objects from all of the previous spreads. Can you find them?

There are personal nuggets hidden within my books as well. I am a long-time fan of Al Hirschfeld’s illustrations. He always included his daughter’s name, Nina, within his illustrations. I have done this as well. The name of my daughter, Thea, is somewhere, hiding within the illustrations in all of my books including In the Night Garden. You will need sharp eyes, but I bet you can find it. Also keep an eye out for the letter T…as in Thea! In the Night Garden was in part inspired by Thea’s fear of the dark and difficulty in going to sleep at night. I think many children have some anxiety around this transition, and I hope that celebrating the beauty of the darkness will be useful. We used to lie out on the porch, gazing at the stars and identifying unfamiliar sounds as a way to ease her fear. This became a treasured ritual and part of the inspiration of In the Night Garden. My burgeoning love of gardening also inspired the book. I grew up around talented gardeners and I always longed to have my own bit of dirt to garden in. Now that we have our house in the country, I am insatiable. I find it a delight to watch the changes in the garden as seasons pass. There are often magical moments that happen: There was one early morning where I spotted a trio of fox cubs splashing playfully in our stream, and one autumn dusk when a hoot owl was only a few feet away, gazing steadily at me from our apple tree. We watch the dance of fireflies in the summer, and the whirl of bats that swirl above us in the early evening; we marvel at the silent transformation that occurs after a heavy snowfall. In some ways the book is an ode to Cupcake, the name our daughter gave our house, this place that we love. As you can see, it is deeply personal!

Finally, and also deeply personal, there is a more profound meaning tucked within the simplicity of In the Night Garden. I hope that the book inspires awe and wonder about nature and night time, as well as about seasons and the sometimes dazzling and sometimes subtle transformations that the natural world helps to highlight. I hope it lulls the reluctant sleeper to sleep. But it is more important to me that In the Night Garden works on a deeper level. I hope that the book can spark curiosity and initiate discussions about learning to explore the unfamiliar in a broader sense. I think fearing the unknown is universal, especially in childhood which is filled with newness and uncertainty. It is my deep wish that In the Night Garden can serve as a tool to start conversations about openness to things we aren’t familiar with, and that it will encourage readers to learn about new things, new people, new ideas. I hope that these conversations can help institute an openness to the “other”, something that I think is incredibly important, especially in these divisive times.

As you can see, picture books are not so simple!

Published July 4th, 2023 by Neal Porter Books

About the Book: A gentle, collage-illustrated bedtime read about the often mysterious and always beautiful experiences to be found in nighttime spaces.

In the night garden fireflies look like fallen stars.
Moonflowers unfurl and release their intoxicating perfume.

In the night garden you can lie
on the cool grass and look up to the
millions and trillions of stars…

In the night garden, nothing is as it seems and everything is made new. Blinking stars and pale moonlight might reveal a lone cat tiptoeing across a roof, luminous flowers unfurling in the cool air, a mama fox escorting her sleepy cubs home. Listen closely and you might hear the wind blowing through the trees, the murmur of a slow stream, or the gentle song of crickets and bullfrogs, lulling you to sleep.

Carin Berger is the award-winning author of The Little Yellow Leaf, New York Times Best Illustrated Book. With soothing words and spectacularly detailed, hand-cut collage artwork, she has fashioned a bedtime book like no other. Curious readers will be rewarded when they look for the mysterious cat that appears on every page!

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

★  “In tandem, the text and art endow nighttime with a sense of whimsy and wonder, and for little ones readying for bed, they’ll find comfort and reassurance for sweeter dreams.”—Booklist, Starred Review

★ “Nighttime is the right time for young readers thanks to this perfect amalgamation of soothing text and image.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

★ “Carin Berger’s sweet, gentle bedtime story is more than just a pretty face; it fully captures the imagination. Using her own garden as a muse, Berger (Finding Spring) takes the unease out of nighttime. . . .”—BookPage, Starred Review

★ “Berger’s attention to detail in the art, alongside her sophisticated and accessible text, creates a magical nighttime world. This spellbinding picture book will undoubtedly hold children in that glorious tension between wide-eyed curiosity and heavy-lidded drowsiness before they drift off to sleep.”—The Horn Book, Starred Review

About the Author: CARIN BERGER is the award-winning author and illustrator of almost a dozen picture books for children, including The Little Yellow Leaf, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book; All of Us; and Finding Spring. She is also the illustrator of Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky, and Are We Pears Yet? by Miranda Paul. She and her family divide their time between NewYork City and “Cupcake,” their home in the Hudson Valley. Carin spends all of her spare time tending her garden. Cupcake makes an appearance in and was the inspiration for In the Night Garden
@carinberger on Twitter
@carinbergerdesign on Instagram

Thank you, Carin, for reminding our readers about the complexity of picture books and their importance in our society!

Author Guest Post: “Middle Graders are Unpredictable–and the Characters we Create for Them Should be, too!” by Linda B. Davis, Author of Food Fight


“Middle Graders are Unpredictable–and the Characters we Create for Them Should be, too!”

As adults, we understand that an individual’s personality cannot be defined with one word. People are complicated and inconsistent—that’s what makes us interesting. Our neighbor yells at the kids who play on his lawn but later gushes over puppies and kittens. A happy-go-lucky waitress cries in the walk-in refrigerator where no one will notice. Kids can sometimes have difficulties recognizing and understanding these inconsistencies in themselves and others.

Recent research has shown that helping children become more aware of their own multifaceted identities and the ability to see themselves from multiple angles can promote flexible thinking and improve problem solving (Gaither, et al). Their findings suggest that learning to see ourselves from many perspectives helps to reduce rigid thinking, which can potentially promote open-mindedness and inclusiveness in a diverse society.

A quick glance at my debut middle grade novel, Food Fight, might suggest that several characters risk being reduced to stereotypes—a quirky loner, a social-climber, a pushy father, and a bully and the kid he is targeting. However, my intention was to create nuanced characters who behave inconsistently and a main character whose conflicting feelings and observations about himself, his parents, and his peers cause him great distress.

Food Fight is the story of eleven-year-old Ben Snyder who is starting middle school. Things go sideways for him right away because his extreme picky eating, which no one has been too concerned with in the past, is suddenly drawing a lot of attention—from his old friends, his weird lab partner, the girl he’s crushing on, and a bully. Before he knows it, Ben finds himself in social free fall, sliding toward the bottom of the middle school food chain. And if that’s not bad enough, he’s facing an upcoming class trip featuring three days and two nights of authentic colonial living—and authentic colonial food that Ben cannot eat.

In preparation for the trip, Ben sees a therapist who suggests that Ben may actually have an eating disorder called ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). ARFID, a relatively new diagnosis, is often characterized as extreme picky eating, but the reality is actually quite serious and can cause significant medical, social, and self-esteem issues. It is described as a lack of interest in eating and/or a complete avoidance of eating particular foods based on sensory characteristics including texture, smell, and color. ARFID is often associated with other sensory disturbances, fears of choking or vomiting, and neurodivergence (although neurotypical kids and adults may also have ARFID).

People living with this condition generally say that most foods don’t seem like something they could even put in their mouth, let alone eat, which results in very restrictive diets limited to foods that feel “safe”—often processed or fast foods, which taste the same every time. And although the clinical definitions are descriptive and accurate, they often do not adequately convey the sheer psychological terror involved with ARFID—some call it a food phobia. People with ARFID do not limit themselves to foods they choose to eat—but to the only foods they can eat.

Although ARFID is a relatively rare condition, estimated to affect between three and five percent of kids, the types of obstacles it presents are universal in the world of middle graders as they confront the age-old question of How do I fit in? The bodies and minds of early adolescents are developing more rapidly than during any other stage of human development except between birth and age two. Even without significant medical or mental health issues, middle schoolers are navigating momentous social and academic challenges as well as shifting power dynamics in relationships with peers and parents—and their feelings and strategies for coping are nuanced and evolving, too.

It would be tempting to portray Ben’s bully as unilaterally bad, but he’s not. Other kids actually find him hilarious, and Ben watches on with surprise as the bully walks away from an opportunity to take revenge on another boy. Ben’s quirky lab partner carries herself with an arrogance that pushes others away, but she is loyal to Ben in ways that his own best friends are not. Ben’s father uses friendly language to shame him about his eating. Ben’s best buddy is intent on building up his own popularity but in the process has forgotten how to be a friend. And Ben himself, who could be easily portrayed as a great kid facing unfair circumstances, makes several bad decisions including lying, breaking rules, and responding to an accusation impulsively.

In a 2019 interview, Mayra Cruz, principal of a public school in Washington, DC, described middle schoolers as “consistently inconsistent” (Wong, 2019). It seems fitting that the characters in the fiction they read should be, too.

  1. Sarah E. Gaither, Samantha P. Fan, Katherine D. Kinzler. Thinking about multiple identities boosts children’s flexible thinking. Developmental Science, 2019: DOI:10.111/desc.12871
  2. Wong, A. Why is Middle School So Hard for So Many People? The Atlantic, October 7, 2019.

Published June 27th, 2023 by Fitzroy Books/Regal House

About the Book: Food Fight is the story of an overnight class trip that becomes a survival mission for an eleven-year-old boy who is learning that his super picky eating is actually an eating disorder called ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder).

Smart and athletic, Ben Snyder is ready to start middle school. But his super picky eating, which has never been a big deal before, is about to take him down. Suddenly everybody’s on his case about what he’s eating and what he’s not—his old friends, his new friends, his weird lab partner, the girl he’s crushing on, and a bully—and Ben finds himself in a social free fall, sliding toward the bottom of the middle school food chain.

Even worse, there’s an upcoming three-day class trip to a colonial farm. Knowing there’s no way he can handle the gag-worthy menu, Ben plans for the trip like a survival mission. Armed with new information about his eating habits, he sets out with three tactical goals: impress the girl, outsmart the bully, and avoid every single meal. But when things go sideways and epic hunger threatens to push him over the edge, Ben must decide how far he will go to fit in and if he has the courage to stand out.

About the Author: Linda B. Davis has always been curious about why we do the things we do. As a social worker in a community mental health setting, Linda became passionate about the need for accurate and accessible mental health information in children’s literature. She is a member of SCBWI and active in the Chicago writing community. She enjoys traveling, gardening, and buying more books than she can possibly read. Food Fight is her first novel.

Thank you, Linda, for honoring the complexity of middle graders!

Author Guest Post: “What is it Like to be a Dog?” by Dr. John Bradshaw, Author of A First Guide to Dogs: Understanding Your Very Best Friend


“What is it Like to be a Dog?”

My middle-schooler grandkids love their superheroes. Posters of their favorites adorn their bedroom walls, their T-shirts feature costumed crusaders extolling their superpowers. Yet few parents realize that the family dog has his or her own set of superpowers, not so flashy as those of their two-legged fictional counterparts, but, in their own way, just as enthralling. If only more people would take the time to wonder, “what is it like to be a dog?” (or, indeed, any other animal).

Imaginary worlds are the very stuff of childhood, and nowadays we have the knowledge to stretch children’s imaginations to include the worlds of animals as well as humans and their ilk. Over the past hundred years or so, science has revealed just how many differences there are between reality as we know it, and the many parallel but distinctive realities inhabited by other animals. The family dog is probably the most accessible example, but any animal could serve, whether the family cat, a small furry, or even a bird perched on a wire outside an apartment window. Any one of these could lead to valuable insights into how the animals around us live in their own worlds.

Dogs make great subjects for such flights of fancy, and not only because they’re so familiar to us. Their version of the family home overlaps with ours a lot – otherwise we’d find them difficult to live with, and vice versa – but there are also many intriguing differences that I reveal in my book for middle-graders, “A First Guide To Dogs”. Dogs can hear high-pitched sounds that we can’t, they’re red-green color-blind and permanently long-sighted, their sense of smell is thousands of times better than ours, and they have a whole other “nose” that sits between their actual nose and the roof of their mouths, that helps them to decode – and perhaps store – the individual smells of other dogs. Indeed, dogs’ social lives revolve around these smells, hence the care with which they choose a place to pee, and their obsession with sniffing underneath each other’s tails.

It’s not only the physical world that must seem different to a dog. Their minds work differently too, even though their brains are laid out in a similar way to ours. Scientists are still arguing about whether dogs are aware of themselves to the same extent that we are (probably not so much), but we are now sure that their sense of time is different to ours. Dogs live much more in the here-and-now than we do, having only a limited perception of the past and even less of a grasp of the future. This has profound implications for the way they interpret our actions. Most pertinently, they seem unable to understand that whenever we leave the home, they should expect us to return. Left home alone, many dogs fear they have been abandoned for good, raising their stress levels sky-high. A simple training regime can overcome this, but too few owners understand the necessity.

Dogs’ lives can also provide great lessons for thinking about what “well-being” really means. Hold on, surely everyone loves their dog, right? But that’s no guarantee that dogs will always get the happiness they deserve. The problems come when dogs get treated as if they were just little people, not animals with their own priorities. How would middle-schoolers feel if their parents ripped their screens out of their hands every time they saw a message from a friend? Yet that’s exactly what dogs must experience when they’re yanked away from every interesting smell by the leash tightening around their neck.

Dogs – and other animals – can provide a springboard for amazing journeys into other worlds, now that science has given us so much insight into their minds and how they interpret their surroundings. Thinking about dogs, especially, can give us a close-to-home stimulus for the imagination, whether the focus of the class is science, or ethics, even creative writing.

Published June 13th, 2023 by Penguin Workshop

About the Book: Featuring fun illustrations (by Clare Elsom) and easy how-tos from animal expert Dr. John Bradshaw!

Uncovering the secret lives of pets, Dr. John Bradshaw invites young readers to learn more about their closest companions: their dogs! Told from the point of view of Rusty the Terrier, this lively, illustrated book gives kids a front-seat view to the everyday lives of dogs, sharing lessons and growing children into the best pet owners they can be.

 “Perceptive and engaging—essential reading for anyone seeking greater understanding of their four-legged best friends.” — Kirkus, starred review

About the Author: John Bradshaw is the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in the U.K. He has studied the behavior of domestic cats and dogs for more than 25 years.

Thank you, John, for this fun look into the minds of dogs!

Author Guest Post: “Notice What You Feel” by Christie Matheson, Author of Select


“Notice What You Feel”

There’s a short scene in my book Select during which the main character, Alex, notices a woman across a crowded city street running to catch a bus. She’s carrying heavy bags and moving as fast as she can. A man waiting at the bus stop sees her, and Alex assumes he will alert the bus driver so the bus can wait a few seconds for her to get on. But the man doesn’t do that, and the bus speeds away, leaving the woman alone and distressed on the sidewalk.

Alex feels sad and frustrated that she couldn’t do anything to help—and that the man chose not to help when he could have. She pays attention to her feelings, and thinks about the people in this world who choose to help when they can, and those who choose not to help.

This scene was inspired by reality. Not too long before I wrote that scene, I saw this exact thing happen from a distance. It made my heart hurt for the woman who was left on the sidewalk with her heavy bags. I wished I could have done something to help. And as soon as I had the chance, I wrote about it quickly in my notebook and later wrote the scene. Is it critical to the plot of the book? No, not really. Does it help us understand how Alex sees people and the world? I hope so.

Every day, we will witness and experience things that make us feel something. It might be sadness, or a glimmer of joy, or full-blown excitement, or a sense of unexpected calm. It might happen while we are out and about, or at home, or while reading. When we are struck by noticeable feelings, I think it’s important that we take the time to notice them. Pay attention to them. Wonder about them. (What was it that caused the feeling? Why?) Feel them fully. And maybe write about them.

Noticing our feelings and what sparks them can help us be more present and aware of what’s happening in the world, and possibly deepen our understanding of ourselves and others.

It can also help us to think more clearly about books. After reading a chapter or a whole book, we can ask ourselves: Which scenes made me feel something? What did they make me feel? Why? Do I want to read more books that make me feel this way?

And finally, if you write down the tiny details of something you saw or experienced, and how it made you feel, that just might go into a book you write!

Published May 9th, 2023 by Random House Books for Young Readers

About the Book: One girl and her soccer team take a stand against the bullies who push them too far in this brave, inspiring novel that celebrates girl power and the true spirit of sports. Perfect for readers who love The Crossover and Fighting Words.

“A tale of terrific girl power and athleticism.” —Kirkus Reviews

Twelve-year-old Alex loves playing soccer, and she’s good at it, too. Very good. When her skills land her a free ride to play for Select, an elite soccer club, it feels like a huge opportunity. Joining Select could be the key to a college scholarship and a bright future—one that Alex’s family can’t promise her.

But as the team gets better and better, her new coach pushes the players harder and harder, until soccer starts to feel more like punishment than fun. And then there comes a point where enough is enough, and Alex and her teammates must take a stand to find a better way to make their soccer dreams come true.

Powerful and inspiring, Select explores the important difference between positive and negative coaching and celebrates the true spirit of sports.

About the Author: Christie Matheson is the author of Shelter and is also the author-illustrator of many picture books, including Tap the Magic TreeTouch the Brightest Star, and Bird Watch. She lives in San Francisco with her family.

Thank you, Christie, for this wonderful writing tip!

Author Guest Post: “Big Ideas: Ways of Making Abstract Concepts More Tangible for Students” by Laura Wippell, Author of Feeling Hopeful


“Big Ideas: Ways of Making Abstract Concepts More Tangible for Students”

One of my favourite things about picture books is their ability to communicate BIG IDEAS, BIG EMOTIONS and BIG ISSUES on their relatively small pages.

In an age of book bans it’s extremely encouraging to see authors continuing to tackle these big subjects within picture books, but is it something we are doing enough of in our classrooms?

I’m an Australian teacher who has been teaching English to students in Chile for almost a decade.  It can be challenging to explore BIG ideas with my ESL primary school students, who often need extra support when it comes to vocabulary or finding ways to describe these non-tangible concepts.  So, what I try to do is find ways to help them visualise these abstract concepts, or make them more tangible.

Here are three examples of how I’ve done that:

  • Show, don’t tell

When it comes to ESL classes, students have sometimes shown anxiety when I introduce a new concept, because while they might know what it is, they haven’t heard the term before in English, and it sounds big and scary.  When starting a new unit, I’ve learned that it’s best to retain a bit of mystery, and rather than telling students what our new unit will be about, I use inquiry activities such as the Question Formulation Technique, or Project Zero’s Thinking Routines from Harvard.  One example is their Name, Describe, Act activity.

Here’s how I’ve adapted that activity for my class:

I wanted to talk about fear as an emotion (a fairly abstract concept), so I displayed an emoji on the board and the students had to try to name it, describe it, and explain what sort of actions that emoji might produce.

The great thing about inquiry activities is that the students’ answers can give you a good indication about their prior knowledge on the subject, and how much support you might need to give them in the upcoming classes.

  • Food is a love language!

I’ve come across quite a few language and cultural barriers since living in Chile, but one sure way of breaking them down is through food.  Gosh, Chile has some incredible food!  From its soft, spongy marraqueta bread, to its creamy ‘manjar’ or ‘dulce de leche’ as it’s often referred to in other countries, to its colourful rainbow of seasonal berries and fruits, there’s something here for every appetite.  Food is a fantastic way to find common ground when meeting someone new, both in and out of the classroom.

Since food is so universal, I find it to be a great tool for making connections to more abstract ideas or concepts with students.  When I tutored students one-on-one, I was able to bring a few snacks for us to smell and nibble on and then compare each snack to something abstract, like an emotion or even a character from a book.

If the visual aspect of food wasn’t enough for them to make connections, the students could use their sense of touch, smell and taste to make surprising connections to those intangible concepts.  I once heard that watermelon was chosen to represent fear, because of all of those scary dark seeds that are hidden within.  Who would have thought?

For bigger classes at school where food sharing can sometimes be tricky or not allowed, you can always show high resolution pictures or videos.  The Hiho Kids channel on YouTube has a lot of cute videos of children trying food from around the world.

  • Differentiation is key

If food isn’t your thing, you might like to get your students to choose how they would like to describe a concept in a more tangible way.

For example, if you are exploring ‘fear’, they could choose between one of the following options:

  • If they had to write a letter to their fear, what would they say to it? Here you can always use vocabulary lists for extra support.
  • How would they represent fear in a dance? What music genre would they dance to?
  • What about a meme? If they had to sum up what their fear looks like in one meme or gif, what would it be?
  • How would they draw their fear? What does fear look like to them?

If you’re wondering why I’ve used fear as an example in my activities, it’s because it’s something that I feel we need to talk more about.  As teachers we often have a lot of social-emotional check-ins with our students about how they are feeling, but sometimes we need to dig deeper and look at their current fears in order to understand why someone might be feeling a certain way.

Fear can be tough to explore, so I wrote a picture book about it.


About the Book: In my picture book, Feeling Hopeful, Hope takes on the form of a happy, somersaulting dragon, who is hunting Fear.  Fear appears as a creature that likes to climb on children so they feel its full weight and presence.  Don’t worry though, there is a happy ending!

Far above the world, Hope the dragon somersaults through the sky, protecting those below.  But he encounters a formidable opponent in Fear.  Fear proves no match for Hope, until he meets a curious character, The Reader.  And it’s inside The Reader’s vast library that Hope finds what he’s looking for, plus much more…

This lyrical story has an uplifting SEL message and contains themes of hope, fear, the importance of reading and friendship.  While this book is marketed at a younger audience of up to six years old, I’ve used it with students up to 11 years old, and all of them have been able to make surprising, honest and beautiful connections.

That’s the beauty of working with BIG ideas, emotions and issues – they really have no age limit.

You can find a free teaching resource for Feeling Hopeful on my website at, which contains activities aimed at helping students visualise hope and fear.  Please feel free to reach out with comments or questions via my contact page.

About the Author: Laura is a children’s author.  In 2022, she won the Bee Ethicool author contest, which received over five thousand entries.  Laura’s debut picture book, Feeling Hopeful, is out now with Ethicool Books.  As an Australian living in Chile, Laura loves writing imaginative children’s books that make you feel local, and think global.  Laura has a background in Education, and is passionate about sharing her books with children and educators around the world.  Visit her at

Thank you, Laura, for these activities for the classroom!