Jill Esbaum: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway







As soon as I got involved with this incredible kit lit community, there were certain names that kept cropping up…people who were successful authors, generous mentors, and totally cool human beings. One of the coolest is our guest today…and I’ve been honored to hear her speak TWICE in the last few months…in April, at the Wild Wild Midwest SCBWI in Chicago and then in July, at the WOW Retreat in Georgia. Each time, Jill radiated her special passion for picture books and writing for children, and each time I took away a renewed sense of purpose and a ton of great tips.

Jill Esbaum writes picture books filled with humor and heart from her family farm in eastern Iowa. New in 2016 are Teeny Tiny Toady (starred review, Kirkus) and If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party (brand new!). Her books have been nominated for state awards (I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! in Nebraska, Tom’s Tweet in Iowa and South Dakota, Stanza in Indiana), named to the International Reading Association’s Notable Children’s Book list (Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin’!); and featured on Amazon’s Best Book of the Month list (Tom’s Tweet).

Her nonfiction books, all published by National Geographic, include five titles in the Picture the Seasons series, four Angry Birds Playground titles, the Big Book of Who and the Big Book of How, and many books in a new series for 3-6 year olds, Explore My World (just out:  Tigers), as well as a picture book of collective nouns, Animal Groups.


Jill, I’m thrilled to welcome you to Picture Books Help Kids Soar! I know everyone is sitting on the edge of their seats!!! And I want to remind all of you that there will be a giveaway of a copy of Jill’s BRAND NEW picture book, If a T Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party…so please stick with us throughout the post and then leave a comment at the end. Please tell us what was the biggest birthday surprise you (or your child) ever had!

ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?


Carolyn Keene:  A teenager rides around in a zippy convertible, faces danger, meets cute boys, and solves mysteries, all on her own? I wanted to BE Nancy Drew.

Marguerite Henry:  Sadly, no amount of begging changed my parents’ minds about allowing me to keep a pony in our small-town backyard. Lucky for them I’d never heard of miniature horses.

Edward Eager:  Half Magic was my favorite book ever. I think because I always had a cat, and the idea of my kitty talking to me, even in a halfway way, was soooo cool.

 i am cow

ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?


Dear Newbie Me: 

  1. There’s this little thing called conflict….
  2. Don’t send something out the day you finish it!
  3. If you’re writing a character-driven story, make sure your main character is actually in the driver’s seat.
  4. Your MC’s choices + the consequences of those choices = story.

elwood bigfoot


ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find time to write?


I write inside, mostly, in my office, on my desktop iMac. But sometimes I take my laptop out to our covered, elevated (a couple of feet) patio.


Makes the dog (Brodie) happy. When I’m really stuck on a plot line, I like to brainstorm on a yellow legal pad. This is also a good trick for discovering a character’s voice and motivations.

ME: When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?


I do my best “storybuilding” in the morning, my best “emotion layering” late at night. Afternoons are for reading and other hobbies. Writing to a set schedule doesn’t work for me.

teeny tiny toady

ME: Why do you write for children?


Oh, gosh, Vivian. I could go on for paragraphs about this, but what it all boils down to is a) I love kids, and b) I’m IN love with the art form that is picture books. I even talked some fellow picture book builders into joining me in a blog where we share our favorites and discuss why they work:  www.picturebookbuilders.com

ME: Jill, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.


For writers:  See my answer to #2 above. The trouble with writing, though, is that, when we’re brand new to it, we don’t know what we don’t know, you know?  ;)   Here are the stages I went through during the years I was learning to write a publishable picture book story:


  1. This is great! Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I wrote this! I’m a genius! I’m sending it off right now!
  2. This is great! I can’t believe I wrote it! I’m sending it…hm. Maybe I should show it to a critique group before sending it off.
  3. This is … almost great! What’s missing? I have no idea. I’ll show my crit group.
  4. This stinks. But I know this tiny part RIGHT HERE is good. I’ll see what my crit group has to say.
  5. This story is cute, but … my MC feels flat. What’s his motivation? Better work on that.
  6. etc.


We only improve by practicing and revising. And making lots and LOTS of mistakes. Little by little, our internal editors start to speak up, and sometimes it even feels like they know what they’re talking about! Eventually, we’re able to deconstruct a story to its barest bones in order to figure out how to fix it. Well, ideally.


For parents and educators:  Please, please, please don’t rush kids out of picture books or ever imply that they’re only for little kids. When it comes to picture books, shorter does not mean less sophisticated. Picture books do everything longer books do – take kids to new places, expose them to other cultures, introduce them to new ideas and kindred spirits. They can expand a child’s love of nature, comfort those who feel alone, cheer them when they’re down, allow them to escape their own reality for a short time and live inside somebody else’s life. All this wrapped up in 32 pages? It’s magic, that’s all, for readers of any age.

Jill…you are super cool! What an honor to have you here…you’ve been so very open and honest and majorly helpful!

And for all of you who want to find out more about Jill and her awesome books or get in touch with her:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JEsbaum

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jill.esbaum

Author Website: http://www.jillesbaum.com

Group Blog: www.picturebookbuilders.com

Okay friends…please take a breath…because we are not finished yet. Jill has shared one of her favorite cookie recipes.

JILL: My favorite, easy-and-delicious cookie recipe:

(I double this recipe so I can freeze a bunch.)

Easy Sugar Cookies

2 3/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla (I slop in a little more.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. In small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  2. In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Roll into balls (I use a small cookie scoop) and place onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 8-10 minutes until golden. Cool on wire racks.

Makes 4 dozen cookies

A million thanks, Jill!

t rex

And now, dear friends, don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Jill’s newest picture book. Just tell us what your biggest or most unusual birthday surprise gift or guest was.

Labor Day is just around the corner…schools are starting from coast to coast. All good wishes for students and teachers for the new year!

PPBF: If a T-Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party

Has it been a busy summer for all of you? It definitely has been for me! In July, I attended the WOW Retreat in Georgia! Kristen Fulton organized a conference that was chock full of top notch authors, agents, and editors.

Wow 2016 attendees in T shirts

Presentations, Round Tables, One-on-One Critiques, and close up and personal attention from the faculty just about 24/7 all combined to provide a fantastic week of writing. And I even got to spend quality time with my very own agent, the incredible Essie White.

me and Essie

Then, earlier this month, I went to Dana Farber/Brigham Women’s in Boston for my surgery. I truly need to speak out about the power of positive thinking and prayer. When I woke up from the operation (a bilateral mastectomy), I felt great and continue to do so, without any pain medication whatsoever. Two days after the surgery, I was discharged from the hospital and stopped off for lunch at one of Boston’s  Indian restaurants with my son and daughter.

Indian food after mastectomy

A bona fide miracle! Thank you to EVERYONE who sent healing thoughts, cards, gifts, and most of all, love. According to my surgeon who is a veritable magician, I am CANCER FREE!!!! So back to writing, back to revising, back to critiquing, and back to blogging.

But before we proceed to our Perfect Picture Book Friday review, we need to announce the winner of a copy of Pat Zeitlow Miller’s brand-new picture book, Sophie’s Squash Goes to School.



Congratulations, Jessica…I loved hearing about the dead squirrel you brought to school…and thank you so much to everyone who shared their strangest school show and tell.  Jessica, please email me with your address so I can get the book right out to you: viviankirkfield@gmail.com.

 And now for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday pick!

t rex

If a T-Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party

Written by Jill Esbaum

Illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova

Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books (August 2016)

Ages: 4 and up


Birthdays, dinosaurs


From Amazon:

You never know what will happen when a T. Rex crashes your birthday party. Sure, you’ll be super excited when he turns up at your door. But then he’ll stomp. He’ll ROAR. He’ll look at you as if he’s wondering how you taste with a little mustard. In the end, though, you just may find yourself asking him to come back next year!

Why I like this book:

  • So funny…and full of tongue in cheek humor…and I’ve found, from reading hundreds of picture books with my grandson, that kids LOVE funny books!
  • Great illustrations – bright, simple, and lots of color!
  • Dinosaurs, birthday parties…need I say more?


From the author’s website, an activity kit for a birthday party: http://www.jillesbaum.com/assets/t.rex-party-kit.pdf

Other reviews of this book:


Interview with the illustrator and a giveaway on Jill’s blog:


 Logo final BB2 1 inch 300dpi

 This post is part of a series for parents and teachers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays hosted by Susannah Leonard Hill. Click on her link and find lots of other picture book suggestions with summaries and activities.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, dear friends and readers. And please don’t forget to come back tomorrow for:

Will Write for Cookies





Pat Zietlow Miller: Will Write for Cookies PLUS GIVEAWAY





pat headshot


Writing a book is a big thing. And getting it published is even bigger. My guest today is amazing…she has done this not once, not twice, but many times…and she is not done yet. That’s why I was so thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for Will Write for Cookies.

Pat Zietlow Miller has five picture books in print and five more on the way. Her debut, SOPHIE’ S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book text, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. It also won the Midwest Region Crystal Kite Award and was a Cybils’ finalist. WHEREVER YOU GO briefly made Midwest Booksellers bestseller list and won a Crystal Kite Award and SHARING THE BREAD was the No. 1 Amazon.com release for new Thanksgiving books. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two particular cats.

Please make sure you read down to the end of the post to find out how to get entered into the GIVEAWAY for a copy of Pat’s newest book, Sophie’s Squash Goes to School.

I know Pat’s got so many insights to share with us…so let’s get to it!

WELCOME, PAT!  We are so happy to have you here today.

ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?


My two favorite books as a child were THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Patterson. I was in awe of both of them and the shiny Newbery Award stickers on their book jackets. I read them and re-read them. And, when my youngest read THE WESTING GAME and midway through told me, “I think Angela is the bomber.” I just about burst with pride.

 I also read a ton of Paul Zindel when I was in middle school. Other books I remember reading and re-reading were the ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN series, the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series and the BOXCAR CHILDREN series. We also had tons of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries in my house.

Interestingly enough, as someone who loves picture books like I do, I remember very few picture books from my childhood. I can only think of three that I remember reading – WHEN I HAVE A LITTLE GIRL by Charlotte Zolotow, MY FIRST COUNTING BOOK by Lilian Moore and THE GOLDEN EGG BOOK by Margaret Wise Brown.

I remember more picture books from when I a teen and young adult because I’d read them in the library and the bookstore. In fact, when I was in college, I bought my very own copy of ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY because I loved it – and Judith Viorst – so much. Note: I still do. She is my picture book writing idol.

book cover

ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?


Two things:

  1. That you’ll always have something to worry about even when you’ve achieved what you thought were your goals. Publishing that first book is awesome, but it doesn’t erase any self-doubt you might be carrying around.
  2. That worrying, in general, is useless. I know this now, but that doesn’t mean I always can avoid it. But now, at least, I try to recognize it for what it is and either head it off at the pass or channel it into a more productive direction. So much of publishing is out of an author’s control, so focusing on the activities that you truly have some say over is the only way to stay sane.

ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find time to write?


 I write inside. I’m a bit of a fragile flower when it comes to outdoor activities. I get hives if I’m in the sun for too long and I don’t handle extreme heat well. So I’ll always go for the climate-controlled activity.

Usually, I write at my kitchen table using my laptop with the rest of my family going about its business around me.

On very rare and lucky days, I’ll take my laptop to the Fitchburg Public Library and set up shop there. It’s peaceful and quiet and lovely, and being surrounded by so many books is inspiring. It’s good karma. As an aside, I’m always surprised by how many adults talk loudly on their cell phones in the library. I’m not someone who thinks libraries should be silent, but people there should be considerate of the people around them.

ME: When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?


I have a full-time day job, so I mostly write in the evening or on weekends.

But ideas can come at any time – they don’t care where I am. Sometimes, when I’m not at home, I’ll get inspired and scrawl the idea for a story on whatever piece of paper happens to be handy and then I’ll take it home with me to work on when I’m free.

 sophie squash school

ME: Why do you write for children?


I don’t know. That’s a good question.  Maybe because books were so important to me as a child. I’ve always loved kids’ books. I loved them when I was a kid and when I was a teen and I love them now that I’m an adult.

I’ve always felt drawn to kids’ books – almost like a magnetic pull. It’s an attraction that draws me to them and makes me read them and admire them and smell them and hold them and admire them some more and tell others about them and then do it all over again. And while I like reading adult books too, that same pull is not there.

ME: Pat, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.


Writing a really good picture book is hard.

You can feel like you’re so close, but still know that: Something. Is. Just. Not. Right. And no matter how many shiny parts your book has, it won’t really glow until you figure out what’s not working. So give yourself time. Don’t rush to finish. Don’t rush to publish. Set things aside. Write new things. Revisit previous manuscripts and see what fresh perspective you might find. The results will be worth the wait. And even then, even when you think you’ve truly done it, if you wait a few more weeks you’ll look at your work and think, “Hmmm … If I just changed this one part, this story would be SO MUCH BETTER.”

To give you an idea of how THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, one of my now-published books, moved through this process, here’s a blog post I wrote.

Always remember what you’re going for. Something that’s SO MUCH BETTER than what you have right now.

Kate Messner wrote a blog about this that says it better than I did. So take a moment and read Picture Books Math (And Why You Should Write Something New).

Pat. I know everyone is going to get so much out of this interview. I’m hopping over to reread those two links you provided…I hope everyone else does, too.

And for all of you who want to find out more about Pat and her delightful books or get in touch with her, she blogs about the craft of writing picture books at www.picturebookbuilders.com. You can also connect with her on Twitter @PatZMiller.

SPOILER ALERT: The following recipe is guaranteed to knock your socks off and please every sweet-treat-loving palette.

Pat says, “This recipe is, hands-down, my family’s favorite cookie. We make it every Christmas and at various other times during the year. I got it from a friend when I was a newly married graduate student, and I’ve made it ever since.”

Chocolate-Chip Pistachio Cookies


3¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter (Do not use margarine. The cookies won’t be nearly as good. Trust me on this.)

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips

¼ cup crushed walnuts

1 3¾-ounce box of instant pistachio pudding

Red and green M&Ms, cinnamon candies or chocolate chips for garnish.



Sift dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix. Add dry ingredients and mix again. Set aside a quarter of the dough and add the walnuts to it. Add the pudding mix and the chocolate chips to the rest of the dough and knead until it turns green.  Shape the dough with the chocolate chips into balls. Place on cookie sheet and flatten slightly with a glass dipped in flour. Shape the walnut dough into smaller balls and place one on top of each flattened cookie. Garnish with an M&M, cinnamon candy or another chocolate chip. Bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes. (Do not overbake or let the cookies get brown around the edges. They won’t be nearly as good. Trust me on this.)

Okay, Pat…we totally trust you on this!

And another thing we will trust is that Pat’s newest book, Sophie’s Squash Goes to School, rocks! Yesterday, in the Perfect Picture Book Friday post, when we announced the winner of City Shapes, by Diana Murray, I mentioned there would be another great GIVEAWAY today. Please leave your comment below for a chance to win a brand new copy of Sophie’s Squash Goes to School. Just tell us what was the STRANGEST thing you or your kids ever brought to school.

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend…I’ll be leaving for the WOW Retreat on Sunday…can’t wait to hug all my dear writer friends. It will be a great way to pump me up for my upcoming surgery on August 3rd. I may not be posting again until our August Will Write for Cookies interview with Jill Esbaum. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

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