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Kerri Kokias: Will Write for Cookies Plus Critique Giveaway


Plate of Cookies




Kerri Kokias Headshot



I met today’s guest in Picture the Books 2017. Debut picture book authors together, we really had no clue as to how the process of publication worked. As Robert Burns said in To a Mouse: The best laid schemes o’mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” Which in plain English means, sometimes your plans don’t work out exactly as you thought they would. There can be all kinds of hold-ups in the publishing industry…that’s just how it is. So here it is 2018, and Kerri and I are part of Epic Eighteens, the group formed to give support and encouragement to debut picture book authors and illustrators with books coming out this year.

Now it looks like there is a chance Sweet Dreams, Sarah may be pushed back even further to 2019, but I’m thrilled to welcome Kerri and congratulate her on her exceedingly beautiful 2018 picture book debut!!! 

Kerri’s writing features unique structures, playful language, humor, tension, tenderness, simple text, and complicated characters. She has a good vision for how text and art can work together to tell a complete story. Kerri credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper.  Kerri lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two children, and three dogs.

book covers for sisters

Hello, Kerri! Thanks so much for stopping by! We enjoyed finding out about SNOW SISTERS yesterday on Perfect Picture Book Friday and everyone is excited to hear a little bit more about you.

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

KERRI: In my youngest reading memories I was a big fan of anything written by Shel Silverstein, James Marshall, Arnold Lobel, Judith Viorst, and William Steig. As I got a little older I liked books by Beverly Clearly, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and Ann Martin. I still treasure these author’s books and expect that I’ll never outgrow them.

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

KERRI: Hmm, I started to say that I wish I knew how long it was going to take me to get published, but then I realized that it was probably a good thing that I didn’t.  (12 years!) I guess I would reframe that a little and say that I wish I knew that a career as an author doesn’t really come easy for anyone, even if it may look like it from the outside. I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of author friends through the years and everyone’s path to publication is different, but every one includes a lot of hard work, determination, grit, a little luck and some disappointment along the way.  And as best as I call tell, this doesn’t change post publication either.


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

KERRI: I can tell you the most unusual place I have even written- at the swimming pool while swimming laps. There was one particular manuscript I was working on that I kept getting ideas for while I was swimming. So I kept a waterproof notebook at the end of the pool and would jot down notes between laps. But more ordinarily, I have a nice space with my picture book collection set up in my basement but I usually prefer to just sit on my living room couch or at my kitchen table and write on my laptop. Occasionally, if I’m having a hard time staying focused I’ll go to the library or a coffee shop to work. One thing that I’ve noticed is that I often come up with my best ideas when I’m driving or falling asleep. So a surprising amount of my writing originates as notes taken on my phone or whatever scrap of paper happens to be nearby. I have learned the hard way that these pieces of inspiration are lost if I don’t record them immediately, so I know to pull the car over when I need to jot something down and that it’s worth it to turn on that bedside lamp at record my idea even if it’s tempting to just roll-pver and fall asleep.

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

KERRI: I’m not very structured with my writing time (gasp!) and have never had much luck with the old butt in the chair technique. I’m more prone to just go about my day and write as the muse strikes. However, projects are ALWAYS stewing in my brain, even if I don’t have anything on paper to show for it. I take notes throughout the day and typically when enough of them build up I feel motivated to sit down and pull them together.

ME: Why do you write for children?

KERRI: Kids are my favorite kind of people!

ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. 

KERRI:  I often hear beginning aspiring authors say that they can write better stories than what’s already out there. My advice here is that people’s tastes vary, and there is an audience for just about anything. So don’t compare your writing to books that are outside of your taste; compare it to the books that you most admire.  Take your time striving to get your work the best that it can be.

ME: What awesome advice, Kerri. TAKE YOUR TIME STRIVING TO GET YOUR WORK THE BEST THAT IT CAN BE!!! That’s a great mantra for all of us!

I know we are want to thank Kerri for her insights, her generous picture book manuscript critique giveaway, and for spending this precious time with us. But we’re not done yet!

I guess Kerri is part seer…she must have known that here on the East Coast, we have been hit by a blizzard and record cold temperatures and we are in need of some warm beverages. So pull out some of those previous cookie recipes and bake up a hatch and then…

KERRI: How about some hot cocoa to go with all of those cookies?

Homemade Hot Cocoa

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 Cup milk

Dash of salt

Multiply by desired number of servings. Heat until warm. Snuggle up and enjoy!

YUM! And while you are sipping your hot chocolate, don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway of A PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE from the lovely and talented Kerri Kokias! And after you do that, choose one or more of the following to help your favorite author:

1. One of the best ways is to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and other book review sites. 

2. Ask your local library to order the book…many libraries honor patron requests and some even have online request forms.

3. Buy a copy of the book.

4. And most importantly…TALK ABOUT THE BOOK…to friends, family, and anyone who will listen!

Amazingly, it is almost time to start talking about the #50PreciousWords writing challenge. The challenge opens March 2 – it celebrates the birthday of Dr. Seuss – last year we had 253 incredibly wonderful entries and 40 prizes! I’ve already got two kidlit powerhouses to help me. So, if you have a prize you’d like to donate (book, critique, original art, or anything a writer would love to have), please contact me at or via FB or Twitter PM. This challenge brought out amazing talent…the 1st place winner in 2016 already has a contract for that story and a sequel to it! Many people who participated said it was the FIRST time they had ever submitted anything. That is a huge accomplishment for them right there! And the camaraderie and positivity that wove through the thread of over 2000 comments was a testament to what a beautiful kidlit world we are creating! The informational post will go up in mid February, but I just wanted to get the ball rolling.


Tracy Marchini: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway

Will Write for Cookies

Plate of Cookies

Insight, Inspiration, Information

For Writers

Today’s Guest

Marchini-Agent-Photo-cropped (1)


Our kidlit community is populated with amazing people…writers, illustrators, mentors, agents, and editors. Sometimes, these amazing people wear more than one hat. And that is true for our guest today.


Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. Prior to joining BookEnds, Tracy worked as a freelance editor, a Literary Agent’s Assistant, a children’s book reviewer, and a newspaper correspondent. She holds an M.F.A in Writing for Children.


But, she is also a debut picture book author and we reviewed her fabulous CHICKEN NEEDS A NAP yesterday. Please don’t forget to leave a comment on that post to be entered in the giveaway of a copy of her book.


Welcome, Tracy! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us here on Picture Books Help Kids Soar. I can’t wait to get to the Q&A, and I know there is also a sweet treat at the end.


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

TRACY: My favorite picture book was Chatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day by Suzanne Gruber and illustrated by Doug Cushman. There was something about the refrain that I just loved, and has stuck with me all this time.

I also loved Princess Furball by Charlotte Huck and Anita Lobel. The idea of three dresses that fit in tiny walnut shells fascinated me, as well as Lobel’s gorgeous illustrations of the dresses that reflected the sun, moon and stars. (I think even as a kid I liked the idea that you could pack your whole wardrobe in one bag – always ready for travel!)

Finally, I think I still have my copy of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. (And as a Literary Agent and reader, I still love more subversive picture books with a bit of dark humor!)


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

TRACY: Besides learning craft, patience is one of the greatest things you can learn as a writer. Publishing is a slower paced business and learning to write a good picture book takes a lot of trial and error before you get it right!


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

TRACY: I like to write by hand when I’m stuck on something. So if I’m revising, I tend to break out a notebook and write out my inner monologue until I hit the right fix for a manuscript. Sometimes the result is just a page of me asking myself the same question over and over again – but eventually I hit on an answer that works!


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

TRACY: I agent during the day, so my writing tends to happen in spurts outside of working hours. I’ll take a whole weekend day to do nothing but work on my writing, or I’ll break out a manuscript in the evening.


ME: Why do you write for children?

TRACY: I just love how the world has infinite possibilities for children. There’s an incredible sense of freedom (and opportunity for humor!) when you can write from a number of implausible premises.

As someone who read a lot as a child, I also think that reading itself is a fundamental childhood activity and I hope to write (and as an agent, represent) books that foster a love of reading well throughout adulthood. It does make me a little sad when I hear that an adult doesn’t read (and not just because I’m in the book business!)  I can’t help but wonder if they just never found that book that spoke to them as a child.


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. 🙂

TRACY: Make sure to stay current! Picture books that sold twenty years ago might not sell today, because the market has and will continue to change. Today’s picture books – particularly in fiction – have a lower word count, but still have all the same layers (emotional and physical) that earlier, longer works had.

As an agent, I can always tell when an author has written a picture book but hasn’t read a picture book in a long, long time.

WOW! Thank you so much, Tracy! I love that we have been able to get your take on things from two perspectives…as an author AND as an agent. I know this post is going to be shared quite a bit on social media…your comment about knowing when an author hasn’t read a picture book in a long, long time is going to create a run on the libraries, I think. Although with all of the online kidlit challenges throughout the year, I know that most of us read picture books like crazy.

But I will admit that when I first started writing, before I had taken any classes or joined any writing groups, my head was still back in the picture books I had read to my kindergarten students and my own children, so many years before. I needed a wake up call which I got from online challenges and critique buddies.


Thank you so much, Tracy!

To find out more about Tracy, as an agent and as an author:


Twitter: @TracyMarchini

CHICKEN NEEDS A NAP is available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target.


And now, a very special treat…actually one of my favorites. Take it away, Tracy!!!!!

TRACY: I’ve been making my own pizza lately and it’s been working really well!

I use this recipe to make the dough:

and then I cook at 500 degrees for 5 to 6 minutes on a sheet of parchment paper. Then I pull the dough out, add my toppings, and bake it again for another 7 to 8 minutes.

We’ve experimented a lot with trying to get a good crust without a pizza stone, and even though we use a pizza pan to get the dough in and out of the oven more easily, baking directly on parchment paper on the oven rack gives you a great crispy crust that still has a bit of depth/lightness to it.

The recipe makes two 14 inch pizzas, so we almost always have a ball of dough in the freezer now for quick baking!

This is fabulous, Tracy! I can’t wait to try this! You’ve been a delightful guest and we are all very appreciative of your insights.

I’m wishing everyone a wonderful and safe weekend and hope you’ll be back on TUESDAY when my special guests will be the pirates from Henry Herz’ new picture book, CAP’N REX AND HIS CLEVER CREW.

Will Write for Cookies: Anna Forrester



Plate of Cookies






Anna and I connected in the Picture the Books 2017 group. We are on the same page about so many things.

Anna has taught kindergarten (me, too) and second grade, and advocates for and designs landscapes for play; her debut picture book, BAT COUNT came out with Arbordale Publishing in February 2017. BAT COUNT introduces bats, white nose syndrome, and the empowering practice of citizen science in a story of action, reassurance and hope.

 Welcome, Anna! I’m thrilled to have you visiting with us today.

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


I definitely connected more with books than with authors as a kid. We had a lot of Dr. Seuss around our house (I was terrified of those empty green pants), and Sendak. My lesser-known favorite books were Marie Hall Ets’s PLAY WITH ME and Evaline Ness’s SAM BANGS AND MOONSHINE. That little girl who narrates PLAY WITH ME was such a good girl, and Sam, in SAM BANGS AND MOONSHINE was so flawed in such a deep and human way. The two present a pretty interesting contrast.

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


When I started writing, I was totally focused on getting published. And while getting more books out there is still a goal, I’ve found writing, all by itself, to be its own reward. It is such a profound and generative thing — it is this incredible excuse to explore questions and ideas that I love, and to dig into craft; for me, just writing, every day, is the real gift.

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 used to write a lot by hand – morning pages, first drafts, etc. – in these great little notebooks that my husband brings me from his job. But the truth is: my brain is SO much faster than my hand, so my fingers cramped up. Plus my handwriting is almost illegible – even to me.

            Now I mostly write a lot on the computer –even my morning pages. I feel a little bit guilty about that, but it’s good to be able to read what I write.


            I still write a few things by hand, in those notebooks: workshops and meeting notes (I seem to focus and absorb better if I’m writing) and occasional poetry (always free verse – I’m hopeless at more structured poetry).

            I have an old typewriter (manual — not electric) that sometimes I write on as well. When you’re typing you can’t constantly self-edit like you do on computer (technically you can, but it’s not worth the effort), so the words just flow. At the same time it is SO physical and tactile: your fingers have to really work, and it is noisy. I love it – and am always blown away by how different my writing is when I type. Plus it’s legible.

            As for where: absolutely anywhere – though I do log a lot of desk time.

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?


Notes and scribbling happen any time. But otherwise: mornings. My brain is so much better earlier in the day. If I have a deadline I’ll do late, but I am so much slower and foggier.

ME: Why do you write for children?


Kate DiCamillo said about writing for children, “I love that books for kids allow for magic and demand hope.” HOPE is the real magnet for me. It is such a powerful – and necessary – ingredient in children’s books and in life.

            A couple of weeks ago I went to hear the essayist Rebecca Solnit speak, and she put another overlay on the idea of HOPE that really resonated with me as well. She was talking about the tools that artists and writers need to have at their disposal in order to work through the overwhelming helplessness that so many of us feel in the face of the challenges of what’s been dubbed the Anthropocene Era: climate change and mass extinctions and their seemingly inevitable outcomes.

            Solnit talked about HOPE as a critical tool, because hope is forward-looking – focused on the future — and it contains, within it, the seed of POSSIBILITY. And when you think about it, POSSIBILITY is what we all seem to always be exploring in our stories, and what we want children to experience a sense of, too.

            Aside from writing about writing for children or – in my other life – about their play, writing for adults was never something I felt drawn to.

ME: That is so exciting, Anna. Yes, possibility! That’s what my #50PreciousWordsforKids is all about…creating an opportunity…a platform…for kids to become the storyteller and use their imaginations. Is there anything you’d like to say directly to parents and teachers?


Apropos of HOPE and POSSIBILITY: both are incredibly empowering. It is so important that we are always offering children opportunities to experience their own agency and cultivating in them a sense of their own ability to impact their world for good. Skills are important, but only to the degree that they enable us to DO.


 To find out more about Anna and her books:

Her website: Hmmmm:

 or on Twitter @annaforr.

And Anna has a special recipe to share with us.


 This super-simple recipe is my great, great grandmother’s. It makes a savory treat that is one of my – and my kids’ – all- time favorite comfort foods. (My mom used to make them when company came over; we make them all the time.)


2 c. grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 c. soft butter

2 c. sifted flour

1 t. salt

dash of cayenne pepper

pecan on top (optional)


Cream the cheese and butter together. Add flour, salt and cayenne and mix until dough is smooth and well-blended. Roll and shape dough into rolls about one inch in diameter.

 Chill two hours, or until dough is firm. (We often double the recipe and leave a few logs in the fridge for a few days.)

 Preheat oven to 350. Slice the dough into thin rounds – roughly ¼” thick.

 Place on ungreased cookie sheets about one inch apart add set a pecan of on top of each.

 Bake for 12-15” or until slightly brown.

 Remove cheesies from sheet with spatula and let cool on a brown paper grocery bag (the grocery bag is a key part of the tradition).

This looks really yummy, Anna! Thank you so much for sharing your great-great-grandmother’s recipe with us.

I think this would be fun to do with my grandson…he loves Cheese Doodles.

Have a great weekend, everyone! And stay tuned for tomorrow’s #50PreciousWordsforKids post.   

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