Jessica Petersen: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway Prize Package


Plate of Cookies






Choo-choo! Will Write for Cookies is coming down the track…with another 2017 debut picture book author as our engineer.

Jessica Petersen started inventing new tricks for old tracks when her son was a train-obsessed toddler. Their adventures inspire her blog, Play Trains! (, where she writes about playing, learning, and reading with kids who love trains. She wrote, photographed, and illustrated OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS in her home in Seattle, Washington, where she lives with her husband, her son, and lots of happy wooden train tracks.


Is everyone onboard? The conductor says relax, sit back, and enjoy the interview.

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


In elementary school, Jasper Tomkins came to my school — I’m pretty sure that was the only author visit I ever experienced as a kid — and I loved his whimsical books that anthropomorphize unlikely subjects, particularly the cloud in Nimby and the mountains in The Catalog. Years later, I was so happy to find copies of those books for my son, and in retrospect, I would guess his books were one of the things that started me down the path to bringing wooden train tracks to life in my own book.

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


Perfection isn’t a goal on the first draft. Get the story down first, then get the story right, and then you can start trying to make the words sing.

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?


You may notice that the very blue walls are the same color as the walls in the playroom in Old Tracks, New Tricks. My office is does triple duty as a writing room, photo/video studio, and play room for my son (he picked out the bright paint color, which I love too). I wrote (and photographed) most of the book there, although I also spent a lot of time drawing strange looks as I tapped out the meter of the verse on coffee shop tables.


I used to write many of my rough drafts longhand as a way of digging deeper into emotions, but I mostly work on my laptop now. When I’m writing rhyming verse or a lot of dialogue, I hear the words in my mind. They don’t stop to wait for me, so I need to type to keep up with 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 write anytime I can. I used to be much more particular before my son came along. Children can be a great motivator to learn to write anytime, anywhere, with any amount of distraction. My big challenge now is that illustrating and promoting the book have taken up so much of my time for so long that I’m out of the writing habit. But I have another picture book in the works that I’m really excited about, so I’m hoping to figure out how to balance it all this spring.

ME: Why do you write for children?


I used to work on fantasy novels aimed at adults, but I made the switch to children’s books when my son was younger, about four years ago. I loved the books I was reading to him, of course, but more than that, having him around made me think about what kind of work I was putting out there in the world, about how I could help kids learn about the world and how to approach life in a strong, kind, creative way.

creative ways to use tracks

ME: Jessica, 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.


It can be a long, long journey from the first draft of your first manuscript until the day you see your first book in print. Look at that as an opportunity. Take the time to learn your craft, to build your writing community, to try different styles and forms of writing. Enjoy having the time to go down creative roads that don’t seem to lead anywhere. You never know when they’re going to be a shortcut. If I hadn’t gotten distracted from the novel I was writing to play around with fabric designs, I never would’ve been inspired to draw a sad train track, crying because it was left out of a full circle of happy tracks. (And yes, I’m going to use that to justify creative forms of procrastination for the rest of my life!)

One of my favorite things about Old Tracks, New Tricks is that I’ve been getting to collaborate with kids through the website (, where they can have grown ups submit photos of track tricks and adventures, and I add the faces in the same way I illustrated the book. I’ve been surprised and delighted by the creative ideas the kids are sending in — it’s even more fun than adding the faces to my own photos! I also decorated and painted a set of trains and tracks to look like characters from the book, and I’m taking them to train shows and other events so my son and I can share them with other children. It’s so cool to see my trains moving around the tracks, like they’ve rolled out of the pages of the book and come to life. As an author or illustrator, if you can play and create with your audience, it gives you a chance to connect in a significant, memorable way, for both you and your readers.

ME: I love this advice, Jessica. Especially about finding a way to play and create with your audience…great tip for authors to remember at book events.

You can visit Jessica online at, on Twitter at @j_e_petersen, and on Instagram at @playtrains. And you can meet the little train tracks at, or on Instagram at @oldtracksnewtricks.

And now for one of my favorite parts of Will Write for Cookies…the treat recipe!

Coal Cupcakes


These are by far the best, most moist and chocolately cupcakes I’ve ever tasted — and I trained as a pastry chef before I got into writing! We use a King Arthur Flour cupcake recipe (, but mix them up with black cocoa ( so they’re super dark. We started calling them “coal cupcakes” ( when I made them for my son’s third train-themed birthday party in the row. After making a Thomas tiered cake for the first one and a 3D fondant-covered Thomas cake for the second one, I dropped the ball and didn’t have time to even decorate the cupcakes. But I convinced my kiddo that they looked like lumps of coal, and he loved them. The lucky thing is that they’re so good, they don’t even need icing — perfect for those of us who don’t really like icing very much in the first place!

WOW…we always used to threaten the kids that they’d get lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings…I actually would LOVE to get a couple of these!

Jessica…we want to thank you so very much…I know everyone gained valuable insight from your answers…and we’ll all gain a couple of extra pounds on the scale from your ‘lumps of coal’. Congratulations on a wonderful book and on just chugging along on your dream track! Your vision and persistence brought success!

And now, dear readers, please don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the awesome gift package giveaway from Jessica. A signed copy of OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS, a personalized wooden track, and a sheet of decals for a young child to decorate their own.


I hope you all have a beautiful week. Storms are ahead for New England…but THE CLOCKS ARE TURNING BACK! Don’t forget DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME is this weekend.

40 thoughts on “Jessica Petersen: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway Prize Package

  1. I saw this post first thing this morning, and immediately bought this book! Our kids have been receiving pieces of track in multiple packages from family, since Christmas! We can’t wait to teach those old tracks new tricks! What a delightful and original book! I love the stickers for the faces, too. Those sculptures are positively inspired! Incredible!


  2. What a fascinating post. Jessica’ book looks amazing. It looks like it would encourage kids (and their parents) to be creative in the way they use their train tracks. That’s a big plus in my books. And coal cupcakes – Yum! I’ll have to try some.


  3. Love this! And I too, have immersed myself into the audience for my children’s chapter book series. I meet with a first grade class at the school where I work part-time. Every Friday I visit them and we discuss what they have been doing and I tell them what I am planning for Chloe’s adventures that week. (The teacher and I sent home permission slips to include the first names of the classmates.) I write the story out in a somewhat condensed fashion in a blog post each week. Then later, I turn the story from there into chapter books. This has allowed me to make Chloe a real first grader, not a “dumbed down” adult version – if that makes sense. I catch on to what is important to them. Like one of the latest “big deals” has been losing teeth. That was a really popular part of Chloe’s story when she lost her first tooth. Thanks for sharing your insight into writing for kids!


  4. My Dad worked for the railroad and I fell in love with trains 🙂 I look forward to reading Old Tracks, New Tricks. Thank you, Vivian and Jessica, for the inspiration and the recipe to those tasty lumps of coal!


    • Thank you, Charlotte! I got my love of trains from my dad, too, although just through his model trains. He used to get me to go to sleep as a baby by sitting with me and letting me watch their lights go around and around in the dark.


  5. What fun to play and write not only with your son, but with your readers sending in pictures😊 Jessica, congratulations on your book baby.


  6. Congratulations on your debut picture book, Old Tracks, New Tricks, Jessica. How creative! I have a grandson that would go CRAZY for your book – and his birthday is coming up. I, also, look forward to reading it. Just a thought: You could bake mini coal cupcakes and load them into your train’s coal car for school visits, book signings, etc!


    • Thank you! And that’s a great idea with the cupcakes! And I’ve been meaning to get my husband to 3D print me some train track cookie cutters…with a piping bag full of melted chocolate chips and a bag of those sugar googly eyes, I could have edible tracks for kids to decorate. 🙂


    • Thanks! The endpapers were fun to make, especially because they were the last image I worked on before I turned in the illustrations and they kind of brought me full circle back to the skills I learned when I was doing the fabric designs that led to the story.


  7. This is a wonderful post with such great advice about writing. OLD TRACKS, NEW TRICKS looks like such a fun book. Thank you, Jessica and Vivian.


  8. Congratulations on all your creative work, Jessica. I am going to see if my local library can purchase this book for lots of children to enjoy.
    Thanks Vivian, for this great interview with Jessica.
    (Getting ready to set our clocks ahead tonight.)


  9. How amazingly clever. I need a few kids around to give me that kind of inspiration. Thanks for taking us on this fun train ride.


  10. What fun, Jessica. My grandsons inherited all their grandfather’s old tracks. The two year olds love putting the tracks together and watching the train, while the 7 year old prefers to be the engineer. We have a family dinner tomorrow, so your cupcakes will be a perfect dessert for the three boys.


  11. Wonderful insight into the pre-publication and post-publication phases of your picture book journey. I love that you now visit train shows with your son & display the trains from the book.

    Great interview, Vivian. Stay safe & warm in the storms!


  12. Very cool book and a great post! I loved (and really needed to read) your description of the looooong time it took to publish. Thanks! I’m looking forward to reading your next books, Jessica, and Vivian – thank you for another wonderful post!


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