About viviankirkfield

Writer for children - Reader forever - Mom of 3, educator, author of FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK (PomegranateKids, PIPPA'S PASSOVER PLATE (Holiday House), SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books); MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: THE INSPIRING FRIENDSHIP OF ELLA FITZGERALD AND MARILYN MONROE (Little Bee Books); FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jan 19, 2021); PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Bike Around the World (Cawkins Creek/Boyds Mills & Kane, Spring 2023) picture book junkie, lover of travel, hiking, fly-fishing, cooking, and playing Monopoly with my young grandson.

MATT FORREST ESENWINE: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway


Plate of Cookies





I met today’s Will Write for Cookies guest at the New England SCBWI Conference in 2017, I believe. I was helping out in the Meet-the-Mentors room on the first afternoon of the conference – and there were published authors, editors, and agents who had agreed to make themselves available to chat with attendees. Luckily for me, most of the attendees had not arrived yet and so I was able to spend a little time with some of the mentors/faculty. Matt was so generous with sharing his experiences in publishing. And so when I found out that he was adding yet another published book to his credit, I knew I wanted to invite him to share some of his writing journey here on Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

As a former radio broadcaster, Matt Forrest Esenwine spent a good part of his life writing and producing commercials, comedy bits, and news stories. He also wrote poetry, which was published in various national journals and anthologies including the Donald Hall tribute, Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). Little did Matt know all this short-form writing would lead to his debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), which received numerous positive reviews including a Kirkus star, and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids 2017. Matt now has a dozen books out or under contract, including Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books, 2021), co-authored with Charles Ghigna (aka, Father Goose®), a book that ALA’s Booklist calls, “a necessary addition to picture book collections.”

Meanwhile, his children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National GeographicChildren’s Books, 2015), Night Wishes (Eerdmans, 2020), and Construction People (Wordsong, 2020), chosen by Kirkus as one of the Best Picture Books of the Year. Matt lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and more pets than he has fingers, so don’t ask him to count. Connect with Matt and order personally-signed books at MattForrest.com.

I AM TODAY – Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine – Illustrated by Patricia Pessoa

ME: Welcome, Matt! We are so excited to have you here today! Thank you for stopping by to chat and for the generous giveaway of a copy of your newest book, I AM TODAY. I know everyone is excited to learn more about you and your writing journey.

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

MATT: As a kid, I never paid attention to authors – I was more interested in the individual books themselves. I can say my first book of poetry was “A Secret Place and Other Poems” by Dorothy Aldis, which I absolutely loved. I didn’t realize at the time how much of an impact that it would have on my love of poetry and my style of writing. In fact, it was only once I had become fully entrenched in the world of kidlit that I even recognized what an incredible talent Aldis was, and the extent of her contributions to children’s poetry.

I also loved the picture book “Mr. Snitzel’s Cookies” by Jane Flory, about a poor baker who welcomes into his home a beggar – and mysteriously finds all the ingredients he needs to continue his livelihood. I’ve always loved cooking and baking, and this book helped instill in me the importance of kindness. Other favorite books were “The Land of Noom” by Johnny Gruelle (of Raggedy Ann fame), all the Hardy Boys books, and pretty much anything ever written by Isaac Asimov, whose fantastic “Foundation” book series is now a TV series on AppleTV.

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

MATT: Well, I’ve been writing forever, so that’s a bit hard to answer. While cleaning out my parents’ house in preparation for its sale two years ago, I discovered a short “book” of poetry I had made for my mom when I was about 10-11 years old! But the one thing I wish I knew was that…writing can be a career. As a kid – even as a teenager and college student – I never thought of writing as an actual job. And I don’t think a lot of kids do. When you ask most young people what they want to be when they grow up, they’ll usually say doctor, teacher, firefighter, construction worker, etc. – but how many ever say, writer?? We spend years telling kids they need to learn to read and write but never tell them it’s something they can do for a living.

So when I do school visits, I try to impress upon students that if they like writing, if they enjoy telling stories, if they can’t stop doodling or drawing pictures…those are all worthwhile pursuits! Whether it’s writing children’s books or website pages or owner’s manuals or movie scripts (or radio commercials, like I did when I was in broadcasting), writing can be an actual career. Art can be an actual career. Creativity, in all its many forms and configurations, can be an actual career!

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

MATT: I’ll get ideas anywhere and everywhere, but I prefer to write at my computer in my office. I don’t know if it’s because it’s my own space or if it’s because I can type faster than I can write by hand (probably the latter), but I’m definitely more at ease, more creative, and more productive at the ol’ desktop.

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

MATT: Whenever I can! I’m a stay-at-home dad as well as a voiceover talent, and even though the two kids are now back in school (we had to homeschool them last year due to Covid) I still have responsibilities like most folks:  dishes, laundry, garden, pets to feed, errands to run, wood to cut and split. But I try to get a lot of the ‘busy work’ out of the way in the morning, once the kids are on their busses, and then I can sit down and focus on my tasks. Being un-agented, I have to submit all my manuscripts myself, so some days I’m writing cover letters more than picture books; other days I’m voicing TV commercials or video narrations and writing takes a back seat altogether. Sometimes I even write at night, which is actually a very creative time for my brain.

ME: Why do you write for children?

MATT: The short answer: Because writing for adults is boring.

The long answer: Because I’ve written for adults (primarily poetry, and I still do) but have always felt like my poetry wasn’t “adult” enough, that it wasn’t confounding and obtuse enough to be accepted by mainstream academia. You may recall, I got into children’s literature not through writing picture books but through writing poetry; it was only after my children’s poems began getting published in anthologies like “Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed, 2015) and “The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (N.G. Children’s Books, 2015) that the picture books followed.

I grew up on Dorothy Aldis, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, and others who used classic poetic forms and rhymed and had fun with their words – that’s why we call it wordplay and not wordWORK, after all. But so much of modern contemporary poetry just seemed to lack the spark and thrill of what I enjoyed most about poetry. Once I discovered the vast spectrum of children’s poetry being published, however, I felt like I had found my voice – and my audience!

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.

MATT: Aside from what I’ve already said, I think the best advice I can give to newcomers is to understand that this is a skill-based industry and it’s going to take you longer than you realize to learn the industry, learn the craft, learn the market, and learn how to navigate the whole thing. I see so many people submitting to one or two publishers, and after a year they’re fed up and either want to quit writing altogether or go the self-publishing route. Take your time, folks! This is not a business for people who crave instant gratification. My book “Once Upon Another Time” (Beaming Books, 2021) went through about a dozen revisions and 25 rejections before editor Naomi Krueger saw it and jumped at the chance to publish it – and that was with the gravitas of my co-author, Charles Ghigna’s, name attached to it. Persistence, patience, and tenacity are all far more important than talent because even if you have all the talent in the world and have just written the Most Amazing Novel in History, no one is ever going to read it if you give up after your first couple of rejections.

This is also something I remind students. Once you’ve written a story or poem, be prepared to revise it again and again. It may be good, but it can better; and once it is better, it can still probably be better! It is a rare poem or picture book that can be written in one sitting and be good enough for submission. As Jane Yolen says, Do. The Work. Take your time. Trying to do things quickly and without waiting only leads to less-than-stellar work. Do it well, do it better, and then do it again. And above all else…hang in there! As the old saying goes, the only difference between a published author and an unpublished author is one didn’t stop trying.

ME: YES! YES! YES! The only failure is the failure to keep trying! I love all of your insights, Matt! Thank you so much for all of these valuable words of wisdom. And I know you’ve got a few more sweet thoughts for us…with a special recipe that we’ll all be able to use this holiday season.

MATT: This is definitely a favorite at our house and they are a traditional Swedish Christmas cookie!


1 stick butter, softened
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup molasses or dark corn syrup
1 T. each ground cinnamon & ground ginger
1 ½ t. ground cloves
1 t. ground nutmeg
1 t. baking soda
2 T. cream or milk
2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, syrup, spices, and baking soda until blended. On low speed, add cream, then flour, just until blended – do not overmix! Chill at least 30 minutes, or even a couple days in advance.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch, cut into shapes, and place 1-inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 6-8 minutes, until firm and set. Let rest a few minutes, then transfer to rack to cook.

Optional: Dip in white chocolate to add a festive touch, and a nice creamy balance to the spice of the cookies.

HURRAY! Thank you so much for stopping by, Matt. And thank you for the recipe…I love getting new ideas for Holiday baking!

Dear friends, please don’t forget that the best way to help your favorite authors is to buy their books, review their books, tell friends about their books, and ask your local library to purchase copies of their books. And remember to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway of a copy of I AM TODAY!

By the way…we are one of the first stops on Matt’s Book Blog Tour. Here’s a list of where he will be:

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!


Hip, hip, hurray! It’s a COVER REVEAL for an upcoming book from one of my dearest friends and critique partners, Carrie Finison!

And we are in luck because the lovely and talented Carrie was kind enough to stop by to chat with us about the path to publication for this book.


I’m so pleased to share the cover of Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School! illustrated by Erin Kraan, and designed by Nicole Gastonguay. The book comes out July 19, 2022 and I only wish it could hurry just a little faster!
As the parent of a couple of little tortoises, I often felt my stress level rising as the time to leave the house approached. We’re going to be late! Now is not the moment to decide that you need to go to the bathroom, that you want to tie your shoes independently for the first time, or that a complete wardrobe change is necessary before we go! Will we EVER get out the door?

With this book, I wanted to show my kids the understanding and grace that I often couldn’t in the moment of gathering our things and trying to be on time for school. Because the truth is, we all have struggled at some point with being late no matter how hard we tried to hurry up and go faster. And when you are NOT built for speed, that struggle is all the more difficult. In the story, Little Tortoise finds a moment of connection between herself and her new teacher. As it turns out, Mr. Sloth completely understands her struggle to be on time! My hope is that adults and kids who read this book together will find a similar moment of understanding and connection.

To learn more about Carrie and her books:

Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including Dozens of Doughnuts (2020), Don’t Hug Doug (2021), and the forthcoming Lulu & Zoey: A Sister Story, and Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School! (2022). She lives outside of Boston with her husband, son, and daughter, and two cats who permit her to work in their cozy attic office. For updates and giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter or Instagram.

Doesn’t this sound like a story young kids would love to hear? I totally remember those early morning meltdown moments and my attempts to get the kids moving just a little bit faster. And what do you think of the cover? Adorable, right?

Please remember, dear friends, that the best way to thank an author for her book is to buy it (you can preorder this one), review it, tell friends about it, add it to your Goodreads Want-To-Read list, and ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection.

I hope you all have a beautiful week. Wednesday I’ll be presenting a webinar for SCBWI Israel, Crafting Nonfiction That Grabs Kids’ Imagination. The organizer told me that over 100 people signed up…I’m excited!

NANCY CHURNIN: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway


Plate of Cookies




The Fabulous Nancy Churnin

I met today’s Will Write for Cookies guest in a nonfiction picture book writing challenge over five years ago. At the time, I think she had one book deal signed. The book wasn’t coming out till the next year, but when we started critiquing together, I KNEW there would be many more to come. I’m going to share Nancy’s ‘official’ bio, but her unofficial bio goes something like this: Incredible writer. True friend. Compassionate human. Generous soul. Spot on critique partner. Top notch marketing guru. And one of the smartest people I know!

Nancy Churnin is the award-winning author of ten picture books about people who persevered to achieve their dreams and make the world a better place. Among her awards: a Junior Library Guild selection, starred reviews, multiple National Council for the Social Studies Notables, multiple Silver Eureka Awards, multiple inclusions on A Mighty Girl list, Sydney Taylor Notable, Towner Award nominee, Sakura Medal finalist, Notable Book for a Global Society, Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award and the South Asia Book Award. DEAR MR. DICKENS and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE, THE STORY OF Henrietta Szold, FOUNDER OF HADASSAH, came out in October 2021. A native New Yorker, Nancy lives in North Texas with her husband, a dog named Dog, and two cantankerous cats.

Nancy with only some of her books!

ME: Welcome, Nancy! What a thrill it is to have you stop by Picture Books Help Kids Soar! Your picture books definitely help kids soar!!! Thank you so much for the generous giveaway of a copy of one of your new books – and the winner can choose which one. And now I know everyone is excited to find out a little bit more about you and your writing journey, so let’s get started.

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

NANCY: My answers to this questions change every day and could go on endlessly as I read everything I could and loved it all! But one thing that’s a constant is my love for L. Frank Baum and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was the first book my mother read to me, one chapter a night, when I was a kid, with the original illustrations by W.W. Denslow. It was in a sense, the template for what I was later to understand a story to be – a quest journey, but with a little girl instead of a warrior, torn away from home by a natural disaster. She has adventures and she must find the bravery within herself, to make it home safely, while protecting her dog and the friends she makes along the way. Much later, as a writer of children’s books, I’ve grown to cherish this quote from Baum: “I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp, which when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward.” Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion still cracks me up (especially now that I have a dog that hates taking baths). The illustrations by Margaret Bloy Graham made you see it all from Harry’s mud-loving point of view. I read Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson over and over. What a wonderful ode to the power and wonder of creativity. Mr. Pine’s Mixed-Up Signs by Leonard Kessler was another favorite. It makes me laugh, but when you think about it, that’s another story of the power of words. Of all the Dr. Seuss books, The Sneetches and Other Stories was my favorite because of how simply and profoundly it showed the foolishness of prejudice and how easy it is for someone to take advantage of that prejudice to make you act against your own interests as well as what’s right for your community. I was also a great fan of Louisa May Alcott and read every book by her I could find. Funny thing is that her Little Women led me to Charles Dickens, the subject of my Dear Mr. Dickens, as Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy were so obsessed with Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers!

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

NANCY: To trust the journey. Before your first book comes out, there is so much anxiety that you will never have a book out. Now I know that each book takes as long as it takes. Some of mine have flown with as little as two months from manuscript to acceptance. Others have taken years. Two have taken more than a decade apiece. All stories, being new to the world, require a lot of work and revision, but if you commit and put your whole heart into it, you will get where you need to go. Always keep your eye on the goal, which is not to hold on to particular words or phrases or preconceived notions about what you may have thought your book was about when you started, but to have the best book possible, one that will make a difference in children’s lives and stand the test of time. If you believe in it – and remember you have to be the first and best advocate for your story – keep going until you will find the right home for it.

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

NANCY: Inside – but everywhere! Laptop, iPad, pen and paper. Wherever and whenever the inspiration strikes in addition to my regular writing schedule.

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

NANCY: I am a morning person, but I will just keep going as long as I can. Sometimes ideas strike late at night, which is why I always keep a pen and paper and iPad near my bed.

ME: Why do you write for children?

NANCY: I write for children for the same reason that C.S. Lewis said he did: “because a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say.” It just feels as if the stories I want to tell – stories about kindness, stories about ordinary people who have a dream and through persistence succeed in making those dreams come true and making the world a better place, all flow most naturally in children’s book form. I also have to say that as readers, children are absolutely wonderful. They are honest. They are open. They will let you know right away what works and what doesn’t. I learn from them all the time – and I love learning! Most important, if your story succeeds in touching their heart or making them think, it will become part of them and what they become and pass on to others forever.

ME: Oh my, Nancy! What a lot of the very best of reasons! Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. And do you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, as well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear?

NANCY: Don’t waste time wishing you had written someone else’s books or had someone else’s ideas. Dig deep to find the ideas and the voice that are uniquely yours, that we have been waiting to hear. No one thinks exactly like you. No one expresses themselves exactly like you. These differences are your strengths. You can learn from others, but you don’t want to be like others. You want to take the bits that work for you, meld them with the bits that are all yours, and create something new. You can do that and the world will be a better place for you having done that.

For parents, educators and librarians, I want to say that I love this opportunity to partner with you on helping our kids blossom and grow. My mother is a retired teacher and I always make sure to have free teacher guides, resources, and projects for each book with dedicated project pages on my website, nancychurnin.com, where I share, with permission, the great things kids do. The advice I give other writers is actually the same that I give kids – and everybody. Not one of us is exactly like anyone else, nor should we try to be. Your differences can be your gifts. Find your own unique perspective and insights about the world and find a way to share them. My highest goal for my books is that the experience doesn’t end on the last page, but it leaves kids inspired to be the heroes and heroines of their own lives. My greatest pleasure is when I hear from you about the kind and compassionate things your children have been inspired to do.

Wow! Wow! Wow! What a fabulous goal for any writer! Thank you so much, Nancy!

To connect with Nancy and find out more about her books:

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nancy.churnin
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NancyChurninBooks
On Twitter: @nchurnin
On Instagram: @nchurnin
And on her website, https://www.nancychurnin.com, you’ll find links for teacher guides and information about the various challenges that children can participate in for each of her books.

But, dear friends, Nancy isn’t finished sharing her sweet awesomeness with us! Take it away, Nancy!

NANCY: Sufganiyot –jelly  doughnuts –are a favorite treat for Hanukkah. And when I want to make this treat, I go to one of the best cooks I know, my niece Carolyn Nash, who borrowed this from Jamie Geller’s Quick & Kosher cookbook.


• 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour• 2 (8-ounce) cartons vanilla low-fat yogurt• 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar• 2 eggs• 6 cups canola oil• 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar• 1 cup seedless strawberry jelly


1. In a large bowl, place flour, yogurt, vanilla sugar and eggs.

2. Knead until all ingredients are combined and a sticky, doughy batter is formed. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. 

3. Heat 6 cups canola oil in a 6-quart stockpot, covered, over medium heat.

4. When dough is ready, uncover oil and raise heat to high.

5. Scoop out a tablespoonful of batter and drop in oil. Don’t make the doughnuts too big, so they can cook through. 

6. You should be able to fry about 7 doughnuts at a time. Using a slotted spoon, turn doughnuts when halfway browned, about 30 seconds to 1minute. Fry for another 2 to 3 minutes or until entire doughnut is deep golden brown and cooked through.

7. Remove doughnuts and let cool on paper towel-lined plates. Repeat previous two steps with remaining batter. 

8. Fill a squeeze bottle with jelly and inject a little into each doughnut. 

9. Roll each doughnut in confectioners’ sugar. Or shake 3 doughnuts at a time in a paper bag filled with confectioners’ sugar. 

YIELD: 14 doughnuts

YUMMY! Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe and for all of your insights, Nancy. I wonder who is going to give these a try for the holidays? And before you check out your pantry to see what ingredients you need to get, make sure you leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway of a copy of either DEAR MR. DICKENS or QUEEN TO THE RESCUE.

And remember, the best way to thank an author for writing the books that you love is to buy a copy if you can, review the book, tell friends about it, and ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! Please stay safe and well.