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. Great Interview- Thanks! My best birthday surprise was a party on my 10th birthday where my mom took me and 5 of my friends to a play put on by Children’s Theatre Workshop. I loved it and later took classes and participated in plays with the Workshop.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, Judy. I’m thrilled you enjoyed the interview..and I LOVED your best birthday surprise! What a cool mom to give you shuch a fab gift…it sounds like a gift that kept on giving. 🙂


  2. What a great post! I especially like: 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?

    This year I have spent a lot of time figuring out what I don’t know and trying to learn it. The WOW Retreat in Atlanta was a big help. AND I got to meet Jill there. She is so nice and her books are great. I can’t wait to read this new one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Jill and Vivian. I love, “Make sure your main character is in the driver’s seat,” is a strong piece of advice. Don’t you just hate it when someone else sneaks in to drive for a sentence or two!
    Jill, I love your straightforward path to tackling a manuscript, here and at WOW.
    As for favorite birthdays

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Vivian and Jill! I really enjoyed your interview. My best birthday surprise was for my 30th birthday. My husband bought me a pink 1956 Ford Fairlane. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great interview, Vivian and Jill! Wonderful advice for going back to make sure our work is as genius as we thought. 😀 Love the view off your patio, Jill!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great interview! I LOVE Elwood Bigfoot!! Honestly, I don’t remember a “big” birthday present, but this year I’m excited because I’m going to a SCBWI conference on my birthday so, Yay!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is great, Jodi! Which conference are you going to? What a fantastic birthday gift. 😉 Hubby just asked me what I want for our anniversary (at the end of this month)…and I told him the NESCBWI Conference next April. 😉


  7. My biggest birthday surprise was when my first grade teacher came to my 6th. birthday party! She was kind and loving and really started my quest to become a teacher just like her!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My best birthday surprise was when my sister & niece from Texas and my daughter from California both arrived out of the clear blue sky in western Iowa to help celebrate my 50th birthday!


  9. Great post, ladies! And this looks like another wonderful book from Jill. 🙂 My best birthday surprise included the yummiest creme brulee ever! 🙂


  10. Thank you, Jill and Vivian, for a great interview. Thank you, Jill, for sharing your writing journey with us. My best birthday surprise was a musical performance (on the patio ) given by my daughter and her best friend 🙂


  11. Helpful information. Thanks, my long lost birthday memory was when my almost one year old brother pulled the tablecloth and my birthday cake ended up on the floor. I was five and don’t remember what happened after that, so I must have been fine with it.


  12. This was a very helpful and encouraging interview Vivian!

    My birthday is Jan 2. Being right after Christmas and mixed in with New Years, I never really had birthday parties. For years on New Year’s we would get together with a few other families and the year of my 40th birthday was no different. My friend, knowing that I am an introvert and parties stress me out, reassured me it would be a small gathering. When we got there I saw a bunch of cars and I was grunching to my husband how there were so many people there. When I walked in everyone yelled surprise! It was a surprise birthday party and I was clueless and felt terrible that I had grunched when so many people came. I actually enjoyed it and I really appreciated that they did something for my birthday.


  13. My favorite birthday party was my 13th. Mom baked a black forest cake and forgot to add vanilla extract to the batter. To make up for it, she used a skewer to poke holes in the cake and drizzled rum over it.

    Thanks for a great post, Jill. I’m going to have my hubby read it because of what you wrote about not rushing kids out of picture books. He always wants my daughter to challenge herself with middle-grade novels, and I’m on the page of encouraging her to include picture books in her reading each day for all the great reasons you mentioned.


  14. What a great interview, chock-full of good advice and yummy ideas. My biggest birthday surprise was when I turned 40 and my husband & his siblings threw me a surprise party that really was a surprise! Best wishes for more publishing success, Jill & Vivian!


  15. Great advice, Jill, about not rushing out of picture books and the “stages” of being a writer. Vivian, a wonderful interview.

    My most memorable birthday, although not the most fun, was my 18th; a snow day at school, and, even pre-Internet, word went round that there was a party at my house. Many folks I didn’t know showed up as a result, including the entire football team. Given that my older brother was the only chaperone, the next day wasn’t pretty as we cleaned up all of the mess. Sadly, my mother still reminds me of the “wild party” I hosted – despite the fact that I played no role in it, besides being the birthday girl.


  16. What a lovely photo of Jill and I loved your interview with her, Vivian. Gosh best birthday… umm maybe my 50th when we had a party and took over the restaurant and 3 of the guys came out in capes and with smoke screen and jiving to music… need I say anymore…lol.


  17. Jill is the best and I love her dearly – she is my idol. Great interview! Best birthday was likely for my daughter’s first birthday years ago – family, sunshine, waterslides and face in the cake – they grow up too quickly.


    My most unusual birthday party guest was Santa Clause! Seriously! Here I was having fun, running around the house all hyped up on cake, and who HO-HO-HOs and walks down the stairs? Santa Clause!
    Did you know my birthday is a week before Christmas? You would think the Big Man would be busy checking that list, right? Nope, we’ll maybe, but he took time out to wish me a Happy Birthday. 🙂


  19. I lost my mother when I was 5 and was raised by my grandparents. One of the few things I have that belonged to her is an old “trunk”. My husband secretly recruited one of my best friends to take it and have it restored. It turned out beautiful and one of the best Christmas gifts ever!


  20. Jill’s advice is so spot on! Love this post, Vivian. And my biggest birthday surprise was probably the year that a blizzard came through just before my birthday, leaving us snowed in and without any birthday presents since my mom hadn’t gone shopping yet. Traumatic for a kid, but hey: it happens. But in second place would be the time I got parakeets for my birthday. So cool!


  21. Jill thank you for all the helpful advise. I can’t wait to read your new book. I also enjoy your site, Picture Builders. Thanks for all you do for the PB community Vivian.


  22. Thank you, Vivian, for sharing this interview with Jill Esbaum. As we learn more about her, we love her even more. The sugar cookie recipe is such a bonus. I especially like the thoughts Jill stated that encourage parents and educators to share the love of picture books with kids of all ages. My favorite memory of a surprise birthday was a scavenger hunt that I created for my husband, Perry. Hugs for both of you.
    ~Suzy Leopold


  23. 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.


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