ELLEN LEVENTHAL: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway


Plate of Cookies





I’m always encouraging new writers to participate in contests and challenges because doing that builds our writing muscles. But there is another even more important reason: we interact with other writers and are able to build our writing community which will encourage and support us over the years. I met today’s guest back in 2014 when we both participated in Angie Karcher’s RhyPiBoMo (Rhyming Picture Book Month). The name of the challenge was changed to Rhyme Revolution…but that friendship did not change…it only grew stronger.

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Her writing usually contains universal themes to which children can relate–even if the thoughts occasionally come from talking cows or lambs.  She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing in some capacity. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and the author of Lola Can’t Leap. 

Her picture book based on the many flood disasters she and her family endured, Flood of Kindness, has helped many children cope with loss. And her newest book, Debbie’s Song: The Debbie Friedman Story, illustrated by Natalia Grebtsova, launches from Kar Ben on April 4th! She has been published in magazines and newspapers as well as in short story and poetry anthologies. Ellen loves school visits! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to www.Ellenleventhal.com

And the lovely Ellen is offering a giveaway: winner’s choice of an Ask-Me-Anything Zoom chat (those can be so valuable!) or a copy of her newest book, DEBBIE’S SONG: The Debbie Friedman Story, illustrated by Natalia Grebtsova and published by Kar-Ben. Please make sure you leave a comment and share this post on your social media so that the world hears DEBBIE’S SONG.

ME: And now I know everyone is excited to learn more about our guest. This is Ellen’s second turn up at bat for Will Write for Cookies. The last time was in 2017 – and I think she actually made some references to the answers she gave then. Welcome to Picture Books Help Kids Soar, dear friend. We are so happy you are here!
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

ELLEN: Hi Vivian! Thank you for inviting me back to your blog.This is the same answer as I gave in 2017! I can’t remember all the authors’ names, but I sure do remember the stories. A few of the many picture books that stick in my mind are all the Curious George books (especially the hospital one, for some reason), Babar, Madeline, and Caps for Sale. I can remember trying to balance a bunch of hats on my head like the man in Caps for Sale. As I got a little older, I read all the Nancy Drew books as well as the Cherry Ames series. Some people may not be familiar with Cherry Ames, but she was a nursing student and then a nurse. I lived close to a hospital, and I really wanted to be a nurse, just like Cherry Ames. Hmm…as I re-read this, I see I had kind of a “hospital thing” going on when I was a kid. That couldn’t be farther from who I am now.

ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

ELLEN: I wish I had known about the wonderful Kid Lit community and the importance of finding a kind, but honest critique group when I was first starting out. I had no idea where to find certain resources, and it was easy to feel alone. Finding that was a game changer.

I also wish I knew more about the process itself and of course the slow timeline.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

ELLEN: I love to get ideas anywhere, but I’m definitely more in the “work zone” when I’m working on my laptop in my home office. However, I do remember pulling out my research and writing a draft of DEBBIE’S SONG on a plane. I also did that with a story I’m tweaking now, but after brainstorming and possibly jotting down a sloppy copy, I do most of my work in my office (or kitchen when I need a change of scenery). I’d like to be one of those people who can write in a coffee shop, but I get too distracted. However, sometimes I come up with ideas when I’m there people watching, so maybe I’ll try that again.

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

ELLEN: I have been trying to get a schedule for years, and I’m almost there! My problem is that I need to make sure I use my time to actually write and not just work on other aspects of this business. I try to write in the morning, take a break, and then work on critiques, reviews, blog posts, etc. And if the muse stirkes while I’m doing something else, I definitely stop what I’m doing and jot notes down…even if it’s the middle of the night. Often, I’ll get a “great” idea in the middle of the night, scribble it down, and when I go to work on it in the morning, either I can’t read what I wrote, or I realize it was far from a great idea! Oh, and when I say “morning” I mean around 8:00 or so. I do not get up at 5:00 am to write. I give SO much credit to people who do.

ME: Why do you write for children?

ELLEN: I’ve worked with children in some capacity my whole adult life. It feels natural for me to write for them. I looked at what I wrote in 2017, and my answer is pretty much the same. Children need to feel like they belong. They need to feel that they are not alone in their fears, dreams, and idiosyncrasies. I saw that especially after writing A FLOOD OF KINDNESS.  If I can at least try to add to a child’s sense of self while making them smile, it’s something I need to do.

And once a teacher, always a teacher so getting to share my love of literacy, compassion, and kindness with kids is a bonus.

ME: Also, 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.

ELLEN: So usually, my advice for aspiring authors is to find an honest, but kind critique group, read a lot in your genre, persevere, and grow a thick skin.(Ok, it’s more than that, but that’s basically it.) But now, I want to share advice I learned the hard way. Keeping your eye on the prize is important, but it’s not the only thing. We spend a lot of time querying, dealing with rejection, researching agents and editors. Sometimes it can suck the joy out of your day. Step back and try to make peace with the process. Don’t ONLY look at what you hope to be the end result. Take a step back and write what makes you happy. Spend time (even virtually) with other writers who you respect and who respect you. This will boost you up and you will be better able to create, which of course, will push you closer to the prize.

One thing that I’d like to tell librarians, educators, and parents is THANK YOU for what you do. It’s been a difficult few years, and you were there for our children through it all. Thank you!

And thank YOU, Vivian, for all you do!

ME: What amazing advice!!! Ellen is so spot on with her emphasis on surrounding yourself with that community of writers who get you – and who will support and encourage you! And Ellen has something else to share…a fabulous recipe for banana muffins!!!

ELLEN: During our enforced isolation during the pandemic, I turned to baking, as I’m sure many other did. These muffins were a favorite with my family.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (188g) all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345g) mashed bananas (about 4 medium or 3 large ripe bananas)
  • 6 Tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, melted (or melted coconut oil)
  • 2/3 cup (135g) packed light or dark brown sugar (or coconut sugar)*
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) milk*
  • optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F (218°C). Spray a 12-count muffin pan with nonstick spray or use cupcake liners.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer, mash the bananas. On medium speed, beat or whisk in the melted butter, brown sugar, egg, vanilla extract, and milk. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then beat or whisk until combined. If adding nuts or chocolate chips, fold them in now. Batter will be thick.
  3. Spoon the batter into liners, filling them all the way to the top. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F, then, keeping the muffins in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°C). Bake for an additional 16–18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The total time these muffins take in the oven is about 21–23 minutes, give or take. (For mini muffins, bake 12–14 total minutes at 350°F (177°C).) Allow the muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the muffin pan, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.

YUMMMMMM! I do love banana muffins! Thank you so much, Ellen. And thank you for the inspiring words!
I hope everyone leaves a comment to be entered in the giveaway…and please share the post on social media so that more people can discover DEBBIE’S SONG! And remember, dear friends, the best way we can show an author how much we love her book is to:
Buy it
Review it (Interestingly, Amazon let me review DEBBIE’S SONG even though the launch date is April 4th.
Tell friends about it (and share on Social Media with the cover photo)
Ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection

I hope you all have a beautiful weekend.
I just had to share one more thing: I’ve been distributing prizes for #50PreciousWords and when I got to #21, DEAR BIG BODY, on Tuesday, I reached out to Ebony Lynn Mudd to find out which prize she wanted to choose. I’ll bet you won’t guess what she said.
She thanked me and said she was thrilled she’d placed in the winners circle, but that she has a wonderful agent and fabulous critique buddies and that she wanted to gift her spot to the next in line. Folks, for me, that is modeling the kindness and compassion and generosity of spirit that we hope to inspire our young children to embrace. Which means we will have an ‘extra’ prize at the end…I’m not sure how I will handle it…perhaps toss all the HM #’s in a hat and pick one out. Thank you so much, Ebony!

26 thoughts on “ELLEN LEVENTHAL: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway

  1. 1.Love the advice to spend time with writers you respect and who respect you
    2. Love Ellen’s book – and the cover is so beautiful!
    3. I’m glad that I am not the only writer who cannot wake up at 5 am to write 🙂
    4. And finally, love the banana muffin recipe!!!

    Thank you Vivian and Ellen for this lovely interview

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations, dear Ellen! I ordered Debbie’s Song today! I have every one of your books and love all of them. I can’t wait for this one to arrive. I’m so excited for you!


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