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!

57 thoughts on “Jill Esbaum: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway

  1. Oh birthdays were always a treat for us — I say Us because I have a twin. Our neighbor decorated the cutest cakes for us. We invited a few friends over and ran around outside. Cake, ice cream, potato chips and maybe some kool-aid those were the days. 🙂 Love Jill’s tips. Thanks for sharing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.